The Tea Party

The run up to the mid-term exams was pretty tense for us both. We were exceedingly anxious that Jack should pass and sometimes we had to keep the lunar lamps glowing very late so that I could help him get his studying done. Great Galaxy, I was going to bring my dear friend up to the standard in all modules, even if I had to coach him all night, every night I could possibly spare. Fortunately there was no need to go that far.

One night we had been going at it in my quarters until midnight. The lunar lamp blazed brilliant silver near the ceiling. Jack was putting in his best effort as usual, but he was definitely beginning to tire.

"I think we can call it a night now, dear." We plumped down on my couch and I put an arm around him. "You're doing great."

"Thank you so much for all your help, Jen darlin'. Aren't you tired too?"

"When I was an Undergrad I often did all-nighters, the works. I can still do without sleep, even though I no longer have the vigour of my youth."

He laughed, scrunching up his nose. The silvery lamp light glinted off his coppery red hair. "Thirty-two isn't that old."

His laughter is infectious and I began to chuckle. "Not these days. And I enjoy studying with you, Jack. It's like being an Undergrad again and having a study partner."

So it was. And I love his company so. I've already said that he had become more than a student to me. He was my friend and what sort of woman would I be if I were not a loyal friend?

After the exams, we awaited his result on my couch with bated breath. I was anxious, because Jack said that he had suffered from exam nerves in the practical. My Mercury lamp floated above us and the vid screen images coalesced to show the results…

But it was alright, because he passed!

I pretended to ponder something. "Hmm, who was that pretty young fellow who doubted you? I forget his name."

Jack scrunched up his nose adorably. The warm glow of my Venus lamp suffused his exquisite features, making those freckles look even more vibrant. "Can't fool me, Jenny. I know how retentive your memory is."

"You got me there."

We came over all giggly at that. Relief was bubbling in me like champagne. We hugged one another, his firm, muscular form so warm and reassuring and then feeling playful, we rubbed our noses together… Planets, if only that moment could have lasted a lifetime.

Yes, I have a retentive memory and it's been invaluable in remembering lists of micro-genomes. What's more, I have a name for every freckle on his nose, but there's still a long way to go before I name them all. Call it another project.

"Wait." Jack stood up. "I have something important to ask you, Jenny. We've reached a point now…"

I sat rapt and expectant on my couch.

"We are so close now and I wanted to ask something…"

"Yes, dear Jack, we are," I whispered. "Please ask away."

"My mother and Leah, my oldest sister are coming for a visit this Saturday. They've heard so much about you now. I was trying to get my sister to read your book during the summer, but she's strong willed and wouldn't until recently. But now she wants to meet the author. They both want to see you. Do you want to see them?"

What sort of thing had I expected him to ask?

"Hey, of course I want to. We'll schedule afternoon tea. I can make it just before my Luftsauber meeting."

"To think I didn't even know about afternoon tea before coming here and now I see it's an important part of life." He flashed me his glowing smile, hazel eyes sparkling.

"It is. A routine is comforting, darling."

As I lay in my bed that night, the Morpheus lamp a barely perceptible glimmer near the ceiling, I thought about how much I missed the feel of a man's warm body next to mine. I always used to angst over the following question – would Richard have enjoyed making love to me more if it had not been for the result of my lab accident? I couldn't quite seem to get it out of my head. Now the prospect of a life with him were over and my house in the suburbs lay empty. Mum had nagged at me to sell it, but firstly, there's so much Papierkram around selling houses in this country and secondly, I was not emotionally prepared to downgrade on my dreams…

I thought of the house and its different rooms: the room with the double bed, the room I had set aside to be the nursery, the children's bedroom… This line of thinking still made me sad.

I thought about meeting Jack's mum and sister instead. Frankly, I wondered why they had been content for him to leave home. In either of their shoes, I would have wanted to keep him with me! Then I thought about Jack long into the night and got very much happier. This is all part of my confession.

So the following Saturday I went to pick up Jack's mum and sister from the Welcome Hall. I knew who they were at right away, because there is a family resemblance as well as the same cute accents. There can be no doubt at all that they knew who I was at a glance, can there…?

Sarah, his mum, beamed at me. "Professor! Happy out to see yer."

I beamed and shook her hand. "Hallo, Mrs O'Connor. Also delighted. Congratulations on having such a wonderful son. I love teaching him." She smiled so broadly that her eyes crinkled up.

Leah, his sister, nodded. "He didn't always get on well with the brothers at his old school. He's lucky to have a Professor like you, Professor Reingold."

I extended my arms to them both. "Please… call me Jenny. And I'm the lucky one. He has in fact been… the light of my life since he came."

Leah has a gorgeous complexion like her brother's and long, fiery red hair. When I was a girl, that was my dream hair. In my teenage years I even dyed my brown hair red. Such tiny things seem a lifetime ago.

Leah pushed her glorious hair away from her face. "That's his best report yet. Did you think he could do it, ma?"

Sarah looked a little affronted. "Of course."

Leah scratched her freckled nose, looking at me with those intense green eyes. "Clearly he got lucky, having a Professor like you, his messages are all Jenny this and Jenny that. That's why I read yer book. And I notice the other Profs aren't asking us to tea. What can we say?" I felt a warm glow of pride. Oh to be able to roll back the days to this moment when I could look them both in the face and feel proud…

Jack arrived in my parlour soon afterwards with Lucas, another young fellow from my first year class. I was pleased with Lucas for making the effort welcome Jack to UCL and to be his friend. I was pleasantly surprised as well.

I beamed. "Welcome, my dears." My floating teapot emerged from the kitchen. "Cake?" I cut everyone a slice.

I was going to start up a conversation, but Lucas had other ideas. He tugged my sleeve. "Jenny!"

"Yes, Lucas?"

He stared at me with mock gravity. "I touched your piece of cake by accident. You can't possibly eat it now."

I played along. "Eurgh! No, it's alright really." I took a bite out of it.

Lucas grinned at Leah across the table. "We got lucky with Jenny as head of our course this year. It could have been Professor Silbergold. Brrr… I say nothing more." He brushed his fringe of dark hair away from his eyes and pretended to glance this way and that.

Jack shook his head. "Be nice, Lucas."

He's such a darling I had to follow his example? "Now Lucas, she's not that bad."

"Now Jenny, you are a good author," said Leah. Jack eagerly began to agree, but Lucas cut across again.

"I try to write fiction to exercise my brain, but my female characters become strange and intimidating. I don't know what it is."

Jack looked at him, his pretty hazel eyes showing surprise.

"Perhaps you need to get in touch with yer feminine side?" suggested Sarah.

Leah was smirking.

"Jenny's Luftsauger project is at a crucial stage," said Jack, making a valiant effort on my behalf. "The meeting this afternoon is critical to her getting approval. If the larvae go into the oceans now they will soon morph and then rise to repair the damaged skies…"

Lucas shook his head. "Everything scientific gets met with opposition in this country. Especially from HAM. Who wouldn't fear madmen in blood-red robes who attack GEBs and hybrids? I would not draw their gaze."

Leah wrinkled her freckled nose. "What is their deal?"

I grimaced. "It's difficult to know what to compare them to. But pick any historical analogy you think appropriate."

Lucas was making a strange hiccoughing noise. I turned to him and saw his eyes rolling and immediately diagnosed the symptoms of Saphil'd intoxication – the delayed effect kicking in now.

The other three were staring at him curiously. I glanced from Jack's beautiful face to his sister's. They both looked puzzled. Evidently they did not recognise the symptoms brought on by illicit drug taking. "Lucas has been taken ill. So sorry, my dears, I have to get him to sick bay." I linked my arm in Lucas's and hauled him to his feet. I had to get him somewhere quiet before he got in trouble.

I half-carried him down the corridor and on the way a set of Neptune lamps drifted above us, glimmering with their dim blue light. Professor Harmony Silbergold stood before us. She grinned and stared right into my eyes – the way she stares…! She might at least try to spare my feelings. "Undergrads are distracting, aren't they Jen?"

"Harmony – Harm… Lucas is not well."

"And the university has Spartan rules concerning his particular malady." She stood aside. "Have a care…"

I hurried Lucas into the sick bay where I administered the antitoxin myself and sat with him on the leather couch while his breathing steadied. The Uranian lamp above us glowed with a beautiful sea-green light.

I felt his forehead. Temperature normal. "Now have we learned something, Lucas? I know you're not the only one to use Saphil'd, but the UCL rule is suspension or expulsion if you're caught."

He nodded. "Definitely. It won't happen again."

"And why would you take Saphil'd in the first place?"

He pouted. "Being an Undergrad is so boring, Jenny. Can you blame Professor Silbergold for looking down on us? You on the other hand, get some excitement. This meeting you're going to… I'd welcome my nerves being put on the wrack. I hope the oceans will teem with your GEBs."

Lucas might enjoy nerve-wracking things, but I don't. I admit that I wanted to cuddle with Jack on the couch in my own quarters to fortify myself, but there wasn't going to be time… I'd have to hurry back to the tea party to make my excuses.

"Lucas… that's not an excuse for risking your academic career, is it?"

Lucas grinned at me. "Risk? Risk is a part of life. Believe it or not Jenny, you are a role model of mine. You take risks. You're ready to defy HAM for what you believe in. What do that lot think of a Professor who would make a world of GEBs? Especially a woman? I've mentioned I'm not brave enough to draw their gaze."

Lucas definitely had a point…

Terminology used:

Papierkram - cumbersome paperwork

Saphil'd - A recreational drug, comes in different solid and liquid forms, but all glow blue.