Befitting the theme, a romantic coupling by, unbeknownst to them, siblings.
Susan Smith, PhD, laughed, if a bit nervously, as she watched her colleague, Gabe Richards, as he skittered across the icy sidewalk, struggling to maintain his balance. Remarkably, he didn't drop any of the files he was carrying. Just as he reached the far side of the sidewalk, Sue felt her off side rear wheel fall into the pot hole she had successfully navigated around since it had appeared nearly two weeks ago.
She knew from watching other drivers the only way out was in reverse. She shifted gears, eased back out, made her way around the hole and into the faculty parking area. One of the perks of the small Midwestern school was assigned faculty parking. She drove to her space, coincidentally adjacent to that of the man she had just watched perform his impromptu ice ballet. Gathering her bag and brief case, she made her way into the Psych Building, carefully avoiding the black ice area Gabe's performance had warned her about.
When she had joined the faculty that Fall, she had been given an individual office, not much bigger than a large closet, one of several on the top floor of the building. She got off the elevator and turned toward her office, to meet the Department secretary. "Susan, thank goodness, I caught you," said the older woman.
"We had to move your office, yours and Gabe Richards'. The thaw over the weekend did something to the roof and created a leak. Part of the ceiling over your two offices came down. There doesn't appear to be any other damage in your office. We moved your desk, file cabinet and bookshelves to a double office down on five, five-o-seven, I believe. Just look for Gabe, he has the keys. You know him don't you?" Sue nodded.
The secretary went on, "He did his undergraduate work here, fifteen or twenty years ago, now, since he graduated. Met his wife here. Pity, about her. Well, I'm sure you two will get along for the rest of the semester. If you need anything, let me know." And she left the bewildered young assistant professor standing there.
Sue continued toward her old office, to see just what had happened. She found two workmen starting to remove the remains of her ceiling. Approximately a third of the plaster construction was spread over the visitor's area of her office floor. One of the workmen, the regular maintenance man for the building, saw and recognized her. "Hi, there, Dr. Smith. Guess we were lucky it happened over the weekend so nobody got hurt. We've moved your furniture and everything down to 5, into the grad student office next to the Behavior Lab. You'll be in with Dr. Richards; his office was on the other side of that wall," he said pointing to the wall across from the door. "His ceiling came down, too."
"Was there any other damage?"
"Just some water damage in the ceiling, including shorting out the lights on this side of the corridor. None of your stuff was damaged that we could see, just a little dust and debris. We brushed off the bigger pieces."
"Thanks, Hank. I guess I'll go meet my new office mate."
She found her new office with no problem. The door was open, Gabe inside, trying to arrange his area so it was comfortable and efficient. Sue walked in and watched him for a few seconds. She saw a good looking man, in his early forties, his hair just starting to show some silver at the temples. A bit bigger than average build, his carriage reflected time in the military.
She cleared her throat to get his attention. When he turned, she asked "Dr. Richards?" When he nodded, she introduced herself, "Susan Smith, I'm your new office mate." She smiled, then added, "I saw your ice ballet as you were coming in this morning. Do you suppose the gods are trying to tell you something, that, and then walking into this?"
"I doubt it. My gods aren't that subtle. If they had a message, they'd probably e-mail, or at least messenger pigeon it to me. Hi, glad to meet you at last. I've seen you around, but somehow, last semester, we never seemed to cross paths except at that awful President's faculty mixer."
Without seeming to check her out, Gabe saw an attractive, early 30-something, tall, dark haired, blue eyed, slim woman who looked more like one of her students, than a college professor. Her long oval face and big blue eyes made her look like a Modigliani painting, but Modigliani would never have painted that small of a bust, 34A+, maybe.
"The room is practically square, and the door is essentially midline, so I took the liberty of dividing the space by a line between the door and the middle of the windows. Since the window faces mostly north of northwest, neither of us will have to contend with a lot of glare. I had the workmen place your desk next to the window so you could face the door. If that's not satisfactory, I can help you move it. "
"That's fine, thank you. I might have to back it up just a little. I like to be able to reach my books without stretching or moving a lot. But I'll try this for a bit to see."
She looked at the gallery mounted photographs he was hanging on the wall. Some were landscapes, natural and surreal, trees and machines, oddly twisted and strewn about. Some were men, in uniform, in battledress, some twisted in pain, some lounging nude on an island beach. Some were women, all nude, featuring the play of light and shadow on their bodies or portions of their bodies, some in the studio, some in outdoor settings.
"These are great photos. Are they yours?"
"Yes. The men, and the battlefield pictures," he said, pointing to the surreal landscapes, "I took when I was in the service. I was a combat photographer. That was a bit of a misnomer, I never actually got to be in combat to take any photos; but when the fighting was done, and the enemy gone or captured, it was my assignment to record all the carnage I could.
"When I got out, I bought an RV, grabbed my wife and spent a year on the road, photographing all the beauty and grandeur I could find, from the Maine coast to California, from the Columbia River to the Everglades, and everything in between.
"I became fascinated with the interplay of light and shadow, and how we see light and dark. Then, when I listened to music, I found myself attending to the absences of sound as well as the sounds themselves. Pretty soon I was working on a graduate degree in Psych, concentrating on Perception, and here I am."
"Well, if you ever get tired of teaching, it looks like you could make a living with your camera."
"Thank you. The nudes did help pay for grad school. If I had to, I suppose I could again, but it's not something I would look forward to doing." In the hall, a bell sounded. Gabe looked at his watch. "Oops, I have a class. Maybe we could have coffee, or a drink later. I have to run; my class is in the Fine Arts Center. Later." And he was gone.
Sue laughed to herself, watching him hurry out the door. She looked around at her new office space. Considering that he had never talked to her before this morning, he had done a remarkably good job arranging her space. She found the nearby restroom and grabbed several paper towels, wetting about a third of them. Back in their office, she started wiping the dust and debris which the movers had left on their desks and bookcases.
She met her undergraduate Developmental Psychology class, mostly juniors, and announced the room change, with the caveat that, while her office hours were unchanged, for the foreseeable future, they would have to be by appointment only since she was now sharing an office. This minim of a change was met with no discernible response.
However, when she made the announcement to her graduate seminar, comprised of ten women, ages from 27 to 45, the response was quite different. Her seminar was cross listed with the School of Education, and most of the students were from there. One of the Psych students, an outspoken young black woman, asked if it was true she now shared her office with Gabe Richards.
"Yes, Dr. Richards and I are now room...I mean office mates."
The women tittered at her slip of the tongue. Rose, the black woman who had asked the question, broke in, "Susie, any time you want to trade offices, you can have my space." Laughter broke out, accompanied by nods from the other Psych students.
"Is he really that..." one of the younger Ed students started to ask.
Joyce, the oldest student in the seminar, from the School of Education, nodded as she interrupted, "He's even better today than he was as an undergrad, and he was something to see then. I was working on my Masters then, in Art Ed, and we had a photography class together. He was only a junior, but his final project just blew everyone away. It was a series of a dozen nudes, of the same woman, in the throes of a climax. All you saw was her torso, from her knees to her shoulder, but it was one of the most erotic series of photographs I've ever seen.
"It almost got him expelled because some of the older, non-Art faculty thought it was pornographic. The model came forward and said she was aware she was being photographed, and although you could see her mons, and her pubic hair, you couldn't see any part of her labia or her face. No single picture was objectionable, but the series as a whole, they said was prurient. Gabe challenged them to prove it, to put it to a campus wide vote of his peers.
"The complaint was withdrawn, but the traffic through the exhibition area for student art that year was the heaviest ever. I was there when he came to pick up the photos. I heard the instructor tell him he only gave Gabe a B+ for the project because if he had given him an A like he deserved, he would have had to keep the photos and archive them. The instructor said he didn't think Karen, the model, would like that. Then Gabe said, "That's fine, Jack, but in five years who'll give a fuck?" That was fifteen years ago and people still remember."
"I heard he married his model over the summer, finished his degree and went into the service. I was surprised to see him listed on the faculty in the Psychology Department. His undergrad degree is a Bachelor of Fine Arts."
"Maybe it will make sense when I tell you he teaches the Psychology of Perception and the Psychology of Art," Sue spoke up, taking back control of the class. "Now, besides the attractive Dr. Richards, what were we supposed to be discussing today? Rose?"
The new office mates crossed paths again shortly after four o'clock back in their shared quarters. Sue was gathering her stuff to leave when Gabe came in. "Leaving? Have time for a drink? If you do, wait a minute and I'll walk out with you."
Sue sat and watched as Gabe stowed his notes and papers from the day. "Good day?" he asked.
"Interesting day," she replied. "Yours?"
"I think you cursed me with that question about the gods trying to tell me some thing. When I got to my first class this morning, the power was out in the entire Fine Arts building so I couldn't use any of the slides I had planned. Then I was supposed to guest lecture in the Ed building for a class in Organizational Behavior, and when I got there, found the class had been cancelled because the instructor's wife was having a baby. And of course, because of the problem on the tenth floor, my Perception Lab had to be cancelled. Out of four classes today, three were snafued. I hold you responsible."
Sue laughed, a pleasant sound that sent a shiver of excitement down Gabe's spine, ending at his scrotum, and causing an unexplained surge in the area. "You're welcome. I hope you were able to make good use of the time."
He grinned. "As a matter of fact..." He stopped and looked at his desk and book cases. "Somebody has been in to clean," he said turning to look at her desk and her. She couldn't hide the blush. "Thank you."
"It's nothing. Just my yearly bout with the nesting instinct."
"Oh?" he said, smiling, "Is that good or bad?"
"I don't know. So far the only thing it has accomplished is to chase away a few insincere boyfriends. Usually it results in my moving, but since I just did that, it comes out as an urge to clean and cook." She cocked her head to the side. "You were telling me about your day."
Gabe shrugged on his coat. "Over that drink. It was so boring it needs a glass of wine to wash it down." He grabbed his case and stretched his hand out to help her stand. Sue felt a rush of warmth at the contact. Gabe had a chance to reassess the earlier sensation in his scrotum.
The first word out of Sue's mouth when she saw her car was a very unladylike, "Shit!" Her rear passenger tire was flat, the sidewall broken open. "Mother..." she stopped herself, remembering her companion, who was, in an ungentlemanly fashion, trying not to laugh.
"Do you have triple A?" he asked through his smirk. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Gabe pulled his cell phone from his coat pocket and accessed his call list. When the dispatcher answered, he gave them all the requested information, then asked if Gaudry's Garage, across from the college was still a AAA approved vendor. Learning that it was, he asked if they could be sent, since they were practically across the street. The dispatcher claimed they could not guarantee it would be Gaudry, but they'd try.
When AAA disconnected, Gabe immediately placed another call. "Jack, Gabe Richards here. How the hell are you? Yeah, couldn't stay away. Hey, I called to let you know I put in a call to AAA for a tow and asked for you. I'm in the Psych parking lot with a busted side wall on the off-side back tire. Okay, Jack. See you in a few." He turned to Sue. "The call just came in over his radio. He said he'd be here in five or ten minutes."
"Thank you. I hate dealing with cars. I grew up with three brothers and it was nearly impossible to get them out from under the hood."
"That where you picked up your colorful vocabulary?"
She blushed, sending that warm surge through Gabe's groin again. "No," she confessed, "believe it or not, I picked that up as a counselor at a church camp following my junior year in high school. We had a few kids and a couple of counselors from the inner city that year. They had as much influence on us as we did them, I'm afraid."
Just then they saw the tow truck pull into the lot, and waved for it. When Jack got out of the truck, he greeted Gabe with a hearty handshake. Gabe turned to Sue and introduced them. Sue gave Jack the keys to her trunk, telling him the spare was mounted under the car. He removed the crank and threaded it through the hole in the panel just above the rear bumper and engaged the axle operating the scissor mechanism holding the spare in place. He turned the crank, observing the progress of the spare tire. With a disgusted oath, he stood up.
"It's not working. I'll have to tow it to the garage. How long has it been since you've used the spare?" he asked Sue.
"I've had the car two years and never had to use it. The girl I bought it from I don't think used it in the two years she had it. She had to look in the manual to see where it was when I asked about it. Her father gave it to her new, so at least four years."
"Well, you need a new tire anyway. I can lube the screw, for you, so it works, and put on the new tire, but it probably won't get done until seven-thirty or so. I need to call around and see if I can find a tire that size with an all weather tread. Depending on the cost of the tire, it'll cost somewhere between $135 and $175."
Gabe coughed. "Holy shit, Jack! Does that include your usual 40% markup and $60 an hour labor. C'mon, she's a friend."
Jack glared at him. "If you weren't family..." He reached into his cab and extracted a calculator, punched a few numbers, then looked at Sue. "Ninety-five dollars, and you pick it up in the morning."
She looked at Gabe, then nodded, dumbly.
"Thanks, Jack. I really appreciate this," said Gabe, extending his hand. Jack looked at it, considering, then reached out and took it.
"Don't be such a stranger. Deb's gonna ask all sorts of questions I won't have any answers for. You know that. Why'n't you come out Sunday for dinner. Bring your girl," he said, nodding at Sue.
"She's just a friend, Jack. I'll see; have Deb give me a call some evening. It's the same phone number."
"How in hell did you manage that? Don't tell me, I probably don't want to know," he said, shaking his head as he started chaining Sue's small roadster.
"C'mon," Gabe said, drawing Sue to his car. "Let's get in out of the cold. He won't be long." They got into Gabe's vintage Olds Cutlass, which he started to get them warm. "He'll need your ignition key, and the trunk key, too, if it 's separate.
"Do you have a ride to work tomorrow? If not, I'll be glad to swing around and pick you up."
"Thank you, but I can't impose on you like that."
"It's no imposition if I offered. Really."
"Okay," she said, hesitantly. "But only if you let me cook you dinner tonight, unless you have someone else to see." She hoped she had interpreted Jack's reference to her correctly.
"Dinner will be fine. Give you a chance to exercise your nesting instinct."
She smiled, then laughed, with the same response in Gabe as earlier. "Damn," he thought. "What's going on? She's a cute kid, but she is just a kid. Hell, I've got to be, what, twelve, fifteen years older. Too much, that's for damn sure."
She directed him to a small market near her apartment where she picked up some Italian sausage, salad materials and Italian bread. In her apartment, she directed him to a small cabinet and asked him to choose some wine, while she put some water on for pasta. She selected some cans from her pantry, and other ingredients and soon had a delicious smelling sauce simmering on the back of the stove. She split the nearly day old loaf, spread it with soft butter and sprinkled it with powdered garlic and parmesan cheese, then popped it in the oven.
Gabe had successfully used the Rabbit and uncorked a nice Chianti he had found in the cabinet, and brought it and a pair of wine glasses to the table Sue was setting. He caught the aroma coming from the kitchen and suddenly realized how hungry he was.
Before he realized it, dinner was on the table and he was downing his second serving of penne with her version of Bolognese Sauce, a delicious salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and home made garlic bread. As he started to slow down in the middle of the second helping, Sue leaned back and said, "You were telling me about your day."
"Hmm? Oh, you had asked if I was able to use my time off to advantage. I cobbled together a proposal for a short summer course on perception and advertising, how what we perceive depends on what we're expecting, and how culture bound that is."
"How will you account for people's reactions to the unexpected factor? Like this afternoon, when I saw my tire was ruined, my immediate reaction was anger; yours, amusement, I'm sure at my display of anger, but still amusement at something that wasn't supposed to be there. Does your psychology of perception help explain that for the ad men who will come to your class?"
"Explain? Probably not, but it can help them take advantage of such situations, and maybe avoid the pitfalls by not using unexpectedly negative situations, or making better use of humor when they do." He finished wiping up the sauce and washed down the bread and sauce with the last swallow of wine. "This was delicious. I take my hat off to your nesting instinct."
"I thank you, sir and I'm sure my nesting instinct thanks you." She looked at him over her glass as she sipped the last of her Chianti. "May I ask a personal question?"
"You can ask; I won't guarantee an answer."
She nodded. "This morning, damn, was it only this morning, when Sarah told me I'd be sharing an office with you, she made the comment 'Pity about his wife.' and left it at that."