Hi all! It’s been a while since I’ve posted a story here and even longer since I actually wrote anything, but I’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year and, well, this is the result!
I won’t say too much about the story lest I give away too much, but I do hope you all enjoy this story. Of course, any and all feedback is welcomed and greatly appreciated! I’m only posting the first few chapters today, but I have about 25k words already written, so more will follow shortly.
Without further ado, I present The Life and Humiliations of Lavender Fairchild, or A Tale of Diapers and Doctorates.
I checked my eyeliner in the rearview mirror for what must have been at least the tenth time that night, but it was, just like the ninth time, flawless. I’d gone for a much more toned down look this evening than I was used to, trading my usual razor-sharp wings for a simple black lining and keeping my purple eyeshadow modest. I had even resisted the temptation to add any of my usual glitter or other embellishements—at least, I had mostly resisted: there was a single star drawn in black eyeliner just below the outside corner of my right eye, perfectly framed against my eye by my glasses. My eyes might have been all flawless simplicity, but my lipstick was a different story; nervously chewing my bottom lip on the drive here had left it in bad need of a touch up. I smeared more dark red across my lips, wiped the red off my teeth, and suddenly found myself lacking a single reason to continue lingering in my car.
Lingering. What a polite word for procrastinating. Cowering even.
Come on, get your shit together, there’s nothing to be nervous about.
But…isn’t there? This is a big night; it’s really important I don’t screw this up or do anything stupid.
It’s just a friendly dinner; there’s nothing more to it and thinking it might be is how you’ll end up doing something stupid.
But she’s been so…she’s been flirting with me lately, I’m sure of it!
Flirting? With you? She’s just being nice; there’s no way she sees you that way. You’re deluding yourself and going to end up doing something stupid.
You know that, right?
I…yes, of course I know that, but I want to impress her anyway.
Then get your shit together! Keep your head on straight! Come the fuck on!
I was right, I had to get my shit together, and that started with me getting out of my car. I took a deep breath, checked my make up for the eleventh time, and stepped out of my car. I was parked in front of a three-story brick house with an elegant but unadorned façade nestled squarely in the middle of a block of five equally large houses. I checked the house number and compared it to the one in the email she had sent me. A small spike of panic rose in my throat as I confirmed it was the right house—and there I had been, just sitting in my car for the past ten minutes, what if she had seen me? I swallowed hard to push the panic down, put my phone in my purse, and forced myself to walk up to the front door.
The doorbell chimed deep within the brick house, and I waited awkwardly on the front step, suddenly unsure what normal people did with their hands. After cycling through various options, I settled on holding them behind my back just in time for the door to open. I swallowed hard, partly out of nerves and partly because…
Jesus fuck she’s gorgeous.
“Lavender!” She exclaimed brightly from the doorway. She had raven black and wavy hair with hints of grey that made her look as distinguished as her career and wore a tight black dress that clung to her curves with a pink belt that matched her short nails cinched around her waist, translucent black hose, and simple black heels. She opened the screen door for me and gestured for me to enter, “please come in! I’m so glad you could make it; how are you this evening?”
“I’m good, thank you,” I said a little breathlessly as I stepped past her and into the front hallway. I looked around, taking in her home; it was all polished wood, plush area rugs, and books—there were bookcases packed with books along every wall in sight and stray books on almost every surface, including a small stack of three on the fourth step of the staircase leading upstairs.
Ask her how she is, you idiot!
“And, um, how are you, Professor Devereux?”
“Please,” she said with a smile and a light touch on my shoulder, “call me Vivian. My undergrads call me Professor Devereux; we’re colleagues and friends, right?”
“Right,” I gave her a weak smiled and tried to breath out some of the tension that had suddenly wormed its way into my body, “sorry, Pro…uh, Vivian.”
She smiled in a way that made me feel…electric and led me deeper into the house. “Dinner isn’t quite done,” she said as we walked, “but I just need a few more minutes! I do hope you like beef wellington.”
“I, uh, I’ve never had it,” I barely knew what it was except that it was far fancier than what I could afford on the meager stipend I get from my stipend.
“Well, I’m sure you’ll love it; I’m told my beef wellington is to die for.” Professor Devereux…that is, Vivian led me into a room just off the front hallway that appeared to be her living room. There was a plush looking couch with immaculately placed throw pillows in front of a dark wood coffee table covered with papers and, of course, more bookshelves all around the room. “Pardon the mess,” she said, gesturing to the papers, “I was grading papers in front of the TV earlier,” she lowered her voice as she said it as though she were admitting something shameful. “May I offer you a drink? A Martini? A glass of wine?”
“Some wine would be lovely,” I replied.
Just one glass, okay? Enough to calm your nerves but not enough that you’ll do something stupid.
“Excellent,” she said as she walked across the room to a small liquor cabinet nestled between the bookcases, “I have a wonderful pinot noir that will pair excellently with the beef wellington.”
Pinot noir was red, I knew that. Right?
“Thank you, that would be lovely.”
She pulled a wine glass out of the cabinet and popped the cork off a bottle that was already open, “I hope you don’t mind,” she said as she poured, “I’ve already had a glass myself.”
“Not at all, thank you,” I took the glass she offered me (I was right, it was red) and took a sip. It tasted like every other red wine I had ever had, which is to say bitter and dry, but I smiled and nodded when she asked if I liked it. At least I wouldn’t be tempted to drink more than I needed to settle my nerves.
“Well,” she said as she smoothed her dress after a small but awkward silence, “I should go get dinner finished, is there anything I can get you?”
“No, I’m good thank you,” gods I was already being awkward, I had no idea what to say.
“Right then,” she stood there for a moment, as if uncertain whether she should go or not, “I guess…just,” she gestured to the room around us, “make yourself at home, it’ll just be a few minutes.”
“Take your time,” I smiled and looked around, “I’ll just…”
Just what? Oh, gods, she’s looking at you, waiting for you to finish, you’ll just what?
“You know,” I said with a breathy laugh, “I have to admit I’m dying with curiosity to see what you keep on your bookshelves.”
Yes, books! That’s your common ground!
Her face broke into a grin, and she chuckled, “please, sate your curiosity! I think that shelf will be particularly interesting to you!” And with another assurance that she would be just a few minutes, she disappeared back through the door we had entered from.
Taking another sip of my wine, I walked up to the bookcase she had motioned towards. I couldn’t help but smile—displayed right in the center of the bookcase was the Nebula Award for best fantasy novel that she had won for A Restoration of Rainbows, the concluding entry in her bestselling Blood and Pride trilogy. The shelf below showcased the Lambda Literary Awards she had won for A Restoration of Rainbows and the second entry, A Founding of Family. Staring at her awards, I couldn’t help but feel a bit…fangirl-y.
The truth was, even after working with Professor Devereux—er, Vivian for a year, she still made me feel a little star struck. But Vivian wasn’t just a great author, though she was that, she was also a brilliant academic. I loved her novels, and it was certainly a treat to work so closely with an author I respected so much, but it wasn’t why I was working with her. When it came time to pick an advisor to help me write my doctoral dissertation, I picked Vivian for her literary criticism and theory. Vivian had written her own dissertation on misogynistic tropes in fantasy that would go on to be regarded as a seminal text on the subject and since then made a name for herself in academia for her brilliant analyses of gender and sexuality in popular fantasy. Her work had been indispensable and highly influential on my master’s thesis, so to work with her now on my dissertation was nothing short of a dream come true.
And it has nothing to do with how hot she is.
It does have nothing to do with that! I’m a doctoral student who deeply respects the brilliance of her advisor and mentor, not some middle school girl with a crush on her teacher.
But you do have a crush on her.
She’s objectively attractive; I can’t help that I notice that, but I do not have a crush on her!
You’re blushing just thinking about it!
My cheeks were oddly warm, but surely that was just the wine. When had I finished my glass? I still felt anxious, maybe another glass wouldn’t hurt? I was eyeing the bottle on the liquor cabinet shelf, considering whether or not it would be rude to pour myself another glass, when the door to the living room opened.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Vivian’s lips shined a vibrant red that hadn’t been there before, and I couldn’t help but let my eyes linger on how soft they looked. She walked across the room as I assured her it was no problem and grabbed the bottle of wine I had just been eyeing. Without so much as a question, she once again popped the cork and filled my glass. “Well, dinner is served,” she smiled and led me through the second door in the room and into a large dining room. The large, rectangular table in the center of the room had twelve chairs circling it, one at each end and five along each side, but she had set our plates right across from each other in the middle of each side.
“Please,” she said as she set the bottle of wine on the table and pulled out the chair for me, “have a seat.”
Blushing only a little, I thanked her and took the chair, allowing her to push it in for me.
This feels like a date.
Don’t start, this isn’t a date.
It feels like a date!
It’s not a date, you absolute idiot!
“I’m so glad you agreed to join me for dinner,” Vivian said as she walked around the table. “It’s been a while since we’ve gotten to talk in depth about your dissertation, and I’m so looking forward to hearing about what you’ve been working on.”
See? Not a date.
“Thank you so much for inviting me; everything looks absolutely delicious,” and it did. Beef wellington, roasted potatoes with some kind of herbs, and sauteed broccolini studded with big chunks of garlic. My mouth was watering. “I didn’t know you were such a good cook.”
“Well, I love to entertain,” she explained as she sat down and topped off her wine glass, “and cooking the meals myself is so much more…intimate that hiring a caterer.” The way she said “intimate” made the word hang heavily in the air. I took another sip of wine to hide the warmth in my cheeks.
“It looks delicious,” I repeated a little weakly, at a loss for what else to say.
She smiled and took a sip of her own wine, her freshly painted lips leaving dark red prints on the rim of her glass. “So,” she said as she picked up her utensils, “tell me all about your dissertation.”