A Brave Face On Things
Author's Note: This story takes place in a parallel universe. Terminology specific to that world will be explained at the end.
I write this because I need to vent. I don't think I can tell my colleagues and I haven't worked up the courage to tell my mum…
Since I got my PHD I've taught the undergraduates and I don't complain. Hey, I enjoy it. I think of it as like having a lot of friends.
Well I have a sense of duty and it is my duty to do what it takes to make sure my students pass. I should take an interest in each one of them and if they are failing my class, then I should understand why and do something. I am right about this, I know. But is it an excuse?
In the second session of Genetics Level One, Jack failed completely in the task of splicing the synthamoebas at a molecular genetic level. If he had known the sequences, he would have known how to do it. My other students had done their homework and they could mix the genes of the emerald specimen with the speckly one.
I asked him to stay behind to see me afterwards. He's taller than me, but I had a higher stall so that we could look each other in the eye. I took off my glasses, so as to put him more at his ease, because my eyes are still normal. Oh my gosh, he is so sooo gorgeous. I think he has the most beautiful face I have ever seen, freckles everywhere and such a sculpted jaw… Looking into his hazel eyes I suddenly felt self-conscious. I had hoped I was over this, but no – confronted with a stunning red head and there I was, back to square one again. He had a full on view of my disfigured face and I knew that I was staring.
I pulled myself together. "Jack, is there any aspect of the sequencing you would like to ask me about?"
The sunlight streaming in through the windows glinted off his auburn hair. He held my gaze… he has such dreamy eyes. "I've a confession to make, Professor. I didn't study. I…" His hazel eyes shimmered with tears.
I felt anxious and reached out to touch his arm. "Jack, would it help to talk about it?"
He nodded and I stood up. "Then come to my rooms, for a cup of tea."
In my living room I poured out the tea and sat opposite him across the table. I thought at the time that it had been so long since I sat across the table from anyone so attractive. Oh planets, am I so shallow as to judge by appearances? Me, of all people? Was that why I was so eager for him to take me into his confidence? Did I just want to stare at his freckled face which made me feel like I would like to kiss him...
"Tell me whatever you feel comfortable sharing, Jack dear," I said aloud.
"Call me Jenny."
"Yes, Jenny. My girlfriend's broken up with me. It's because I'm now so far away, but before I left she said she would make a long distance relationship work."
He was crying now. I couldn't bear to see that. I led him to the couch and put my arms around him, gently stroking his back. "There my dear, let it out." Oh stars, his touch was making me feel all warm and tingly. I looked up at him and brushed a tear away from his cheek. The silver comet lighting floating near the ceiling made his eyes shine bright with tears.
"You're such a nice, handsome young man. You will find the right one for you, no trouble." I wanted to say something more meaningful. "You can tell me anything. I – When my boyfriend dumped me for a girl who was not disfigured I-" I was trying to put him at his ease, but realised mid-sentence that it would sound like I was pitying myself. Like saying, 'hey, you're still a pretty face at least, so don't complain.'
He frowned. "You're not disfigured."
I chuckled. "You're sweet. But my face will always show the result of a failed experiment."
"I read your book. I see a brave woman with a true scientific mind."
I felt a swell of emotion and wished I could actually kiss him at that moment. "I'm so lucky to have a student like you. I'd love it if you'd stay to dinner, dear."
We had roast vierhahnchen for dinner while I spoke more of the glories of genetics and the reason for my assignment.
"The purpose is to demonstrate how well the speckly genes mix with the emerald ones." I paused feeling somewhat self-conscious. He was listening attentively, however and I really thought I should not get like a ditzy schoolgirl. I was his teacher after all. So after dinner I helped him with the assignments. I so want him to do well…
The next day on the way to the Genetics Theory classroom I happened to hear Jack in conversation with another boy in the stairwell below and they mentioned my name. I dodged into an empty classroom so that I could overhear them. Wasn't that a mature thing to do? What's worse, I knew that one should never eavesdrop on people, but I really wanted to know what he thought of me.
I heard the other boy first. "What's up with her face? She's so freaky."
"Don't talk about her that way. She's a smart and kind woman. I always wanted a teacher like her when I was at school." Ohh it was a joy to hear Jack's indignation on my behalf. I didn't care that that other boy was backbiting me. Actually I was grateful, because if he hadn't, I wouldn't have heard Jack defending me. I was the teacher he had always wanted! I walked on air on my way up to the theory classroom.
I beamed at Jack as my students filed in and he smiled in return. Oh by the Moon, he has such a beautiful smile, such pearly white teeth. I've done the presentation time and again, but now I just could not keep my gaze from flickering to his freckled face in the front row throughout.
My introductory material concerns laws around genetic engineering. My slideshow is free for anyone to make use of if they so wish. I start out by explaining the twentieth century legislation prohibiting genetic engineering of people and then some modern history to spice things up while giving them the terminology.
"So in 1997 the now defunct firm, Genutec broke this law by creating the DAX – a genetically engineered man or GEM. They created a false fertility clinic and gave his sperm out in great quantities to women and couples desperate to be parents and it was much more effective than human sperm at fertilising an egg, able to move many times faster and to survive in a woman's body for weeks.
The children of Genutec are known as GEM/human hybrids or simply 'hybrids.'
"Now it is certainly not the fault of the hybrids how they were conceived and any reasonable person can see that. But those that are not reasonable, especially the group Humans Against Monsters or HAM, hold it against them."
Jack put up his hand. "HAM tried to invoke the old eugenicist movement when bashing the hybrids, saying 'weren't Genutec as bad as the eugenicists,' but at the same time they blame the hybrids for how they were born, just as the eugenicists would. They have no logic."
I beamed at him. "An excellent point. My dears, you can all learn from Jack." I had been very aware of his gaze all session. That morning I had donned my prettiest dress and I had fixed up my hair, putting it into a pony tail instead of my usual tight bun. Yes, I wanted him to notice me. Well, to notice me, but not look too closely at my face. I was especially glad that he was taking such an interest in the lesson I wanted to impart.
As usual, I set the students to work in pairs discussing societies perceptions of Genetic Engineering and its abuses. Jack was working with a girl named Franzi and I admit I spent more time engaging with them than I should and hardly had time to get round to all the pairs. Franzi smirked as I realised the time and hurried over to the next pair. I wonder if she could guess my thoughts. I was feeling all of a fluster at the end when my students filed out. Jack hung back though and I looked up at him, feeling hopeful. He offered to carry my case for me on the way back to my rooms. "Why you're the perfect gentleman," I told him and we made our way to my quarters for lemonade, tea and scones, over which we discussed our lesson that afternoon.
Jack spread jam on a scone. "It's a terrible shame that the hybrids cannot be students here. That's the kind of rule HAM would make."
How right he is. I love it when my students have a clearly formed sense of justice. I felt a warm and happy glow of love for this beautiful and wonderful person. "I wish my superiors were as wise as you."
He gazed at me with those wide hazel eyes.
"When I read your book I saw you as the wise one. How you pointed out that any research that benefits humanity should be considered. I was really rooting for your research on Cystic Fibrosis to work out. And that was so brave to give your personal reason." The personal reason was that I lost my father to Cystic Fibrosis. He reached out for my hand over the table and I slipped mine in his gazing up at him, my eyes anchored by his beautiful face. Oh sun and stars, that my writing had moved him almost overwhelmed me with gratitude. I realised then that I was falling too fast. Jack is so perfect, such a compassionate and thoughtful soul and he enjoyed my writing! And to be blunt, it helped that he was so hot. Yes, now I've admitted it. Since I was little I always wished I could have been blessed with skin tone like his… and freckles!
There were tears in my eyes. "Darling, I-" He gently stroked the back of my hand
"Your old boyfriend was a fool," he said suddenly.
"Please sit with me," I blurted.
Back on the couch, his arms were around me this time. I needed to confide in him. "When Dad died I was deeply hurt. I have written that that was why I wanted to be a geneticist. But emotionally I was never the same again. I couldn't make a presentation in front of people for a long, long time."
He hugged me close and I pressed my rubbery face into his chest, giving a little moan. "You did a fine job today, Jenny."
I looked up. Tears, my tears had left tear stains on his shirt. "And my early research left me with this hideous green face, and the way my features move… it's grotesque. I thought I'd come to terms with it. I thought I had three different times, but something always happens and my self-esteem goes down the toilet again."
He frowned. "It really isn't as bad as you're making out, Jenny. Grotesque? That's nonsense." He flashed a cheeky grin at me. "Someone like me has no problem with the way you look. So who cares about anyone who does?"
I chuckled. Suddenly I really did not want to be alone that evening. Or I didn't want Jack to go yet. Well both, really. "Please stay this evening?" I looked up at him. I know my anxiety was really showing.
synthamoeba = a large genetically engineered single celled organism
vierhahnchen = a small genetically engineered variant on a chicken, with four legs