This is bad. So bad.
Remy grabs a university hoodie off the nearest rack and throws it at the cashier along with her credit card. She drums her fingers on the countertop waiting for the half-awake student to finish the transaction, then takes it and sprints out of the bookstore towards the Biology building, cramming the damn thing over her head to cover her coffee-stained blouse. Why do they need to dress business casual, anyway? They’re botanists for goodness’ sake or going to be with any luck. She’d spent most of undergrad in Levis, Carhartt boots or waders with mud up to her knees. It’d been good fun, a lark really.
She enters the Biology building, her sensible flats slipping across the tile as she rushes to make it to their initial meeting. She already received her assignments for the semester, her graduate coursework, TA class, and supervising professor. She hopes Dr. Crowley is nice. She plans to emphasize in medicinal botany, and he’s an expert in poisons--sister studies she supposes. Glancing at the room numbers, she finds her destination and pushes the door open.
Three other students turn to look at her. Great, she’s late. With relief, she sees at least everyone has liberal interpretations of business casual, including one student in a t-shirt that says EAT SHIITAKE on the front who looks unwashed even at a distance.
“You must be Remy,” someone says, a woman standing at the front of the classroom. She wears a loose-fitted button-down and khaki pants, her brown hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. “I’m Dr. Beattie. Take a seat.”
“Sorry I’m late.” The last seat open is next to SHIITAKE, and she scowls when she discovers he smells as bad as he looks.
“Andrew,” he says, extending a hand. She takes it with hesitance and holds her breath.
“All right,” Dr. Beattie says, “now that we’re all here, let’s get started. All the information you need for the next semester is in this packet, so pay attention. You’re grad students now. We won’t be around to hold your hands.” She hands out an information packet at least a half-inch thick. “We’ll start with introductions.”
Three other professors stand up front: a short woman with round features and graying hair, a younger man in a sweater vest and thick-rimmed glasses, and a middling older man who looks like every generic professor she’s crossed paths with in undergrad. Their names are Dr. Porter, Dr. Saxe, and Dr. Wheeler.
Remy raises her hand. “Excuse me, where’s Dr. Crowley? He’s supposed to be my supervisor.”
Beattie makes a face, an amalgamation of annoyance and pain. Behind her, the other professors shift on their feet and look at each other. “He couldn’t make it today, but check your packet for his office hours.”
Remy looks down and flips the page until she finds his name in the directory. Anthony J. Crowley, Ph.D.--office hours Monday and Fridays 7-8 AM.
7-8 AM? she thinks. What bastard would set their hours at the asscrack of dawn on a Monday and a Friday for only one hour? No student would ever get up after a weekend or a Thursday night of drinking before the rest of campus opened to go talk to a professor. She grimaces, and when she looks up she finds Dr. Beattie wearing a matching expression. Great.
Thus begins a long week of trying (and failing) to introduce herself to her own graduate supervisor. She’s meant to be TAing for his Botany 101 class, but she hasn’t even seen a syllabus.
“I have a meeting scheduled already with Dr. Saxe. It’s tomorrow and I’m nervous,” says one of the other grads. They’ve claimed a small office space with mildewed orange carpet and whitewashed brick walls. They have no windows and the fluorescent lightbulb in the far back corner flickers. Effie puts her pile of textbooks on a desk to the far corner and tucks her fluffy blond hair behind her ear. “He specializes in algology, and he’s not bad looking either.”
Remy scowls, shoving her belongings on the only worktop available next to her. Dr. Saxe is alright looking, she concedes, if introverted bookworms were her kind of thing. He’s the youngest of the professors, at least, but who wants to smell and look at algae all day?
“What about you? Have you met Dr. Crowley yet?” Andrew asks. It’s a new day, and he’s switched out his t-shirt for an old gray raglan reading SOMETIMES I WET MY PLANTS. He’s across the room and out of smelling distance.
“Nope,” Remy says, popping the ‘p.’
She goes to his office that afternoon, but the lights are off and there’s a note taped to the door written on printer paper. GO AWAY. OFFICE HOURS START NEXT FRIDAY, it reads. She logs onto the university portal but finds no materials, no books, and no syllabus uploaded for the class. She resorts to sending a short and formal email which absolutely does not sound panicked as a way to introduce herself and receives no response.
She returns to the grad office and finds Effie still there, the only one left. Besides preliminary meetings with their supervisors, they have no real obligations until the semester begins. She’s printed a stack of syllabi and powerpoints in advance for all of their upcoming seminars and has paper punched and sorted them into four separate color-coded binders. “Hi,” she says, without looking up.
Remy stares at her for a second, and then says, “Do you want to get drunk?”
Effie, on the surface, is the exact opposite kind of person as Remy. She wears cute fitted sweaters and has a roundness to her face that does not get mistaken as being fat but instead is considered cherubic. She chooses light and tasteful makeup and keeps her fingernails clean and tidy (despite an apparent interest in mucking through algae). Remy, on the other hand, wakes up about fifteen minutes before she has to leave and brushes her teeth in the shower. Over fish and chips down at the Madcap Brewery, they find out they share a burgeoning, insurmountable quantity of anxiety and an interest in fake paranormal shows pretending to be legitimate.
Effie also has a boyfriend, she tells her. “We met at university and he is just so romantic. He says he wants to propose once I’m out of grad school so we can settle down. He lives back in London, though. He just took a job as an engineer.”
Remy, who has never managed to maintain a relationship for more than a month and has never so much as attracted the attention of somebody described as ‘romantic’ or ‘an engineer,’ says, “Cool.” It’s the start of a beautiful, bonded friendship only two people who are about to spend the next two years in a windowless room crying over their theses could forge.
Remy doesn’t meet Dr. Crowley until the following Tuesday, the first week of term. She chooses a seat at the front of the lecture hall and feels a distinct unease at being the only one over the age of 22 in a room full of a hundred freshman. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is playing on the loudspeakers, but it sounds suspiciously like “Radio Gaga” by Queen.
The faculty entrance at the front of the lecture hall swings open and a man dressed in all black walks in on rubber legs, like any minute his knees will give out on him. He has his fingertips squashed into his straining pockets, the only bit of his hands that will fit. When he reaches the front console, he jabs at the mousepad with one finger several times until the music stops, and then he addresses the silent class with a loose handwave. “Hi,” he says. He’s still wearing his sunglasses.
Dear God , Remy thinks, what have I gotten into?
Dr. Crowley then waves his pointer at the projector at which a picture of himself, more or less in the same outfit, appears on the screen. It reads: ABOUT ME and includes the following information:
- REFER TO ME AS CROWLEY
- NO, I WILL NOT TAKE OFF THE SUNGLASSES
- YES, THE FACE TATTOO IS REAL
In short, the first lecture is wild and the syllabus is chaotic. Remy flips through the handout bewildered. Topics to be covered include very normal expected things such as the basics of plant metabolism and anatomy but also include the language of flowers, plant-based poisons, and how to use them. Like his syllabus, Dr. Crowley is confusing. He’s loud, a bit manic, and maybe on drugs. By the end of fifty minutes, she has no idea what he’s said at all because his muppet mouth and slight lisp are too distracting.
At the end of the lecture, Remy rushes to greet him. He’s already slipped out the door, having brought no materials or objects he needs to pack up, and she accosts him outside the Biology building on the way to the food court. “Dr. Crowley!” she shouts.
He turns to look, spinning in a circle at the sound of his name. His head moves, then his shoulders followed by his hips like an uncoordinated marionette doll. When he catches sight of her running towards him, he frowns.
“Dr. Crowley,” Remy says, panting. She extends her hand out. “I’m Remy, your grad student? I’m TA-ing your Botany 101 class.”
“You are?” he asks.
“Oh,” he says, surprised. He shrugs. “I thought they stopped giving me those after the last one.”
He purses his lips for a minute, pocketing his hands again and rocks back on his heels in thought. “All right,” he says. “Ground rules: My name is Crowley, not Dr. Crowley. We’ll meet Monday afternoons to prepare for the week, and I want papers graded by Sunday evening. Lab is every Thursday from 11-1.”
“I know. It’s in the syllabus.”
“Oh, well then,” he says. Then he nods and continues on his journey away from the Biology building.
What Remy should do is run after him. She doesn’t know what she’d say beyond, “Um, what?” but further clarification seems to be necessary. Instead, her next best option is to return to the grad room and have a good cry. She doesn’t manage to accomplish either of these things--because grad school is a mysterious place where even the simplest decisions get waylaid and induce terrorizing levels of anxiety--and instead runs face-first into a bicyclist while doing an about-face on the sidewalk.
Mid-flight, Remy has a sort of premonition. She sees the cloudy English sky and the shadow of two magpies overhead. She recalls that old nursery rhyme--one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, and four for a boy--and then lands hard on her shoulder on the pavement just shy of cracking her head.
The vision of a man’s face appears, blinking over her. He’s wearing a bright yellow helmet. “Oh my god, are you all right?” he says.
She takes a second to assess, moves her shoulder with a tentative roll, and groans. That’s going to be sore tomorrow. “Yeah, I’ll live,” she says.
“What were you doing walking in front of me?” the man asks.
“What were you doing riding on the sidewalk?”
He gestures at the empty road which also includes an empty bike lane. “I was trying not to get hit by cars, obviously.”
Remy pushes herself up, mindful of her shoulder. It’s only then that the stranger decides to be helpful, and he reaches down to help pull her back on her feet. “I’m Joe,” he says.
“Can I get you a burger at the student center?”
“I have a boyfriend,” she says, although this a blatant lie. She stares at him.
He stares back. “Oh my god, honestly, I only meant it as an apology. I wasn’t trying to ask you out.” He sounds affronted.
In the distant recess of her mind, Remy thinks she may be snapping. She’s having an out of body experience and cannot control the indignation that rises up within her nor the words that tumble out. “What, I’m not good enough to ask out? Who do you think you are, running me over with your bike and then calling me ugly?” Maybe she did hit her head. It’s been a trying day. Her graduate supervisor might be a lunatic and has a face tattoo, and it’s only day two and she’s swamped with reading and labs.
Joe begins to back away, hands up in front of him. They’re beginning to attract a bit of a crowd. “That’s… not what I meant.”
“Likely story,” she says, and then, “I need a nap.”
The next day, Remy stumbles into the grad room with an ill-contained ice-pack wrapped around her shoulder by an ace bandage and sheer force of will. “What happened to you?” Andrew asks. He’s been banished to the far back corner under the flickering fluorescent lightbulb by a vote of the rest of the grad class. His shirt reads PLANTS NOT PANTS.
“I got hit by a bicycle.” She throws her stuff onto the worktop.
He laughs, slapping his hands on his desk. “That was you ?”
Effie turns to look at her, mouth agape. “Are you okay? What happened?”
“It’s a really long story.” It’s not, but everything feels long and difficult right now. “Anyway, I met my supervisor.”
Sadia, another grad student, joins the conversation. “Oooh,” she says. “I saw him walking down the hall. Effie, if you like Dr. Saxe, you’ll definitely like Dr. Crowley.”
“Ew,” Remy says.
“What’s he look like?”
“He’s tall, like at least six feet,” Sadia says. “I saw him in these really cool snakeskin boots and skinny jeans.”
“I’m pretty sure they’re girl jeans,” Remy says.
“And he’s got cool dyed red hair and wears sunglasses--”
“Indoors! He wore sunglasses through the entire lecture!”
“And he’s a bit older than Dr. Saxe but totally dishy.”
Remy makes a gagging sound and pretends to hurl herself over her chair. She regrets this a second later when her shoulder flares in pain. “He’s weird, you guys, extra weird. I have no idea what happened in that first class, and it was Botany 101. Like I should be able to sleep through it and still ace the exam. Everybody was confused. They syllabus is just a trainwreck.”
Effie frowns and pulls open one of her many binders. “We’re supposed to have lab with him this afternoon.”
“What are we studying with him?” Andrew asks.
Effie’s torn between rolling her eyes--doesn’t anyone read ahead?--and outright dread. “We’re studying poisons,” she says.
Dr. Crowley’s graduate lab ends up being at least a bit more organized though no less terrifying than his undergraduate lecture. The four of them walk to the upstairs lab together and are halted at the door when it swings open. He’s waiting for them, eyes peering through the open crack, sunglasses affixed on his face. He shoves a box of nitrile gloves at them followed by four disposable lab coats, all XL. “Put these on first,” he says, “and hurry up.”
They dress in silence. Sadia, a short little thing who just scrapes five feet, drowns in the yellow coat and has to roll the sleeves up several times just to get it above her wrist. When they’re ready, the door swings open and they file in with trepidation.
On the front table of the lab room sit four different plants under glass containers. “Sit down and do not touch anything,” Dr. Crowley says. “We’re studying poisons, and these are all extremely deadly, some even by touch.” They notice he’s not wearing any protective gear, not even gloves. To be fair, they’re nowhere near any of the plants, not yet. “You have two hours to identify each plant, its properties, and uses. Whoever can complete the assignment first gets the first choice on which plant they will get for their final exam.”
Effie’s hand shoots up in the air. “Um, Dr. Crowley--”
“--What’s our final exam?”
He smiles, thin lips pressed together, hands tucked in his pockets. It’s not a genial smile by any means and suggests a threat. “You’ll be creating your own poison from the plant which I will test on myself with an antidote.”
“Awesome,” Andrew says.
Effie gasps. “That cannot be ethical.”
Crowley’s smile doesn’t falter. “You can take it up with Dr. Beattie, but I’ve been running this experiment now for three grad classes straight. Haven’t died yet.” He gestures at the plants. “Take all precautions to not get it on your skin or in any orifice. There are more gloves and protective eyewear if need over there. Best get started.” He claps his hands together, and the four of them startle.
Despite the rather tumultuous beginning to the semester, things start to settle. The four of them find themselves in a sort of fog between their TA appointments, labs, seminars, and studying, waddling about the Biology building in unison like a raft of over-caffeinated penguins laden down with books and coffee. They have Thursday nights, too, when they all cram into the far back booth at the Madcap Brewery, away from all the undergraduates crowding the bar. Sadia impresses everyone that first night with how many cosmopolitans she can throw back and still appear chipper the next day. Meanwhile, Andrew has to fetch water between every glass of wine Effie drinks to stop her from getting blackout drunk. Undergrad had a live and die sort of feel to it, carpe diem. They were young and back from gap years or free from home for the first time, testing limits. Now it’s different. There’s an edge of mania to their drinking knowing they’re all on borrowed time before more papers and more grading and more insane labs.
Crowley’s introductory lectures continue to be just as strange and disorganized as the first day--he yells, a lot , about plant behavior--but it becomes its own sort of predictable too. His special brand of crazy becomes background noise amongst Andrew’s ever-revolving wardrobe of poor-in-taste t-shirts and Dr. Beattie’s obsession with fungi. There’s a daily argument between Effie and Sadia about which professor has a better bum--“Obviously Saxe,” “But he could never squeeze into those tight skinny jeans!”--and someone leaves a hygiene kit on Andrew’s desk in hopes he’ll take the hint. It’s Remy, though she’ll never admit it. This leads to a long rant about how he doesn’t believe in deodorant and that it’s the root of all evil and cancer until Sadia gets out the Febreeze and threatens him.
“Go to your corner!” she shouts, waving the spray bottle.
He covers his eyes and gropes for his desk before hiding behind his desk chair. “Aaagh,” he says.
All-in-all, it feels normal.
Remy’s shoulder heals after about a week and only really twinges in the rain. She forgets all about the loser with his pedestrian-murdering bike until she and Effie are walking from the Biology building to the student center. Effie’s discussing her potential thesis topic--genetically modifying algae to increase further oxygen output while decreasing greenhouse effects--when the zoom of spinning spokes whiz by them. They jump back in surprise, and when Remy recognizes that yellow helmet she shouts, “Watch where you’re going, arse!”
The man--Joe--turns his head around and flips her the bird and continues speeding off to the Humanities building.
“That’s the guy who hit me!” she says.
“What’s he doing on the sidewalk?”
“That’s what I said!”
Effie shakes her head and grabs her by the arm, jerking her towards the student center. “We need to file a report on him. He could get fined, or his bike confiscated, or-or expelled!”
It amounts to nothing when they are unable to provide a name or any evidence of his actions. “Just keep an eye out,” the campus officer says. He doesn’t even look up from his book.
Later, in the grad room where Remy still fumes, Andrew sits in his corner grading papers. “I mean, we could just go slash his tires. You know what his bike looks like.” He’s set up a tower fan to blow his stink in Sadia’s direction in retaliation to the Febreeze.
“You can’t do that,” Effie says. “We need to catch him in the act, gather evidence.”
“And what, send the bike police after him? It’s a red single-speed bike, right? Yellow helmet? Can’t be too many of those around here, and you saw him going to the Humanities building always after lunch. Easy.”
Remy ponders for a moment. Andrew returns to his grading with a shrug, but Effie continues to look offended and appalled. “What do you think, Sadia?”
“Eh, why not? He’s an arse, and he’s got it coming for him.”
This is how they find themselves on a Thursday afternoon after their seminar scoping out the Humanities building. The front entrance faces the main road and has several bike racks around it. Students file in and out of the building between passing time, noses to their phones or heads down with headphones on. Remy spots the bike on the third rack near the back next to a bush. Perfect.
Up close, Andrew claps his hands. “Look, he didn’t even chain his tires to the rack. We could just take off his front tire.”
“What do we do with it?”
“I dunno, throw it in the river?”
“Honestly,” Sadia says, “we could just leave it next to the bike, and he wouldn’t know how to put it back on. He’s studying liberal arts. He has no practical skills.”
They all nod and hum in agreement. It takes quick work, a matter of seconds, before Andrew has the tire off. The girls create a wall around him to stop any onlookers, trying not to appear suspicious, as much as three people watching while someone dismantles a bike can be inconspicuous.
“Hey! What are you doing?”
Oops. They turn to look. Fuck, it’s Joe with two other friends. “Shit, run!” Andrew says, dropping the tire. They take off, the four of them sprinting in opposite directions like startled cats pursued by cucumbers.
That night they get stupid drunk at the Madcap, shooting for quantity over quality. Gone are the cosmos and the house wines. They down pitchers of lite beer like freshman with their first taste of freedom on a budget. They’re foolish and unrestrained, hiccuping with laughter. “The look on his face!” Sadia says. “We should have kept the tire as a souvenir.”
Effie leans on Remy, drunk. She’ll feel it tomorrow. “I’ve never done anything like that before.”
“Good, wasn’t it?” Andrew asks.
Remy looks around the table, this unsuspecting little troop they’ve made, through trial by textbooks, ungraded assignments, and vandalism. “Yeah it was good,” she says. “I’ll drink to that.”
The next morning they stagger in one-by-one. Sadia, per usual, is the first one in, but even she shows the strain of a splitting hangover, and Andrew is still wearing the same clothes from last night. Remy pulls her hood down over her face as she walks through the fluorescent-lit hall to the grad room and catches sight of Dr. Beattie through her office window giving her a look. Effie is the last one to stumble in, hair pulled back into a tight ponytail sans makeup, donning sweatpants and a university tee. She looks how they all feel, like shit.
Within seconds of setting her books down, Dr. Beattie swings open the door to their room, her head peering in with a frown. “Conference room, now.”
“Fuuuuuck,” Andrew says, dropping his head on his desk.
The conference room is another small windowless space with whitewashed walls. The carpets are green but have the same sort mildew smell, and it’s humid. All the professors, including Crowley, are already situated on one side of the long oval table in upright back chairs. One by one, the grad students file in and sit down.
Dr. Beattie takes a position at the front of the room, arms crossed. Her safari meets comfortable grandma look belies the deep expression on her face. It’s like facing Remy’s parents the night after she got so drunk in London one night she woke up on a bus in Chelsea forty minutes from her friend’s house where she was supposed to be. In short: disappointed. “I received an alarming phone call this morning from the department chair of History accusing the four of you--all four!--of vandalizing one of the student’s bikes.”
Andrew folds his arms over his chest. “Why do they think it was us?”
“Because a video of you flapping away like drunken ducks is all over the student Facebook page and circulating on Snapchat,” Dr. Crowley says, sprawled out in his chair.
Remy closes her eyes and tries to remember her breathing mantras. “To be fair, he hit me with his bike, and then he almost did it again two weeks later and gave me two fingers for it.”
“I don’t know what to do with you. The dean wants to expel all four of you, but I talked him out of it. I’ve never been so ashamed,” Beattie says. Her arms flap at her sides, befuddled.
Effie’s on the verge of tears, and honestly, yeah, Remy can relate. This strange group of friends in this middle-of-nowhere university on the south coast is the only thing she has riding for her right now. Nobody goes into a masters for botany and expects to do something big with it. She ended up here because she wanted it like it was the only thing worth wanting and found herself surrounded by a bunch of nerds who wanted it too, histrionics and midnight cry-fests and all. It’s been half a semester, and she’s never been so certain about something in her life. She’s become fast friends with someone who color-codes her favorite types of algae, for god’s sake.
“If I may,” Crowley says. Dr. Beattie looks at him, lips pursed. She gestures at him to continue with a look that suggests she’s only entertaining him because she has no other ideas or options. He’s manspread in his chair, elbows on the armrests, slouched so far back his head is on the chair where his back should be. He gestures with languid, sweeping movements with his teacup, its contents teetering on the edge of spilling over just so. “I have a contact in the history department. Perhaps we can work something out, reparations. No need for expelling or punishing or mowing people over with their bikes.”
“What are you thinking?”
“Let me talk to my acquaintance first. You’ll hear from me by the afternoon.”
Dr. Beattie sighs. It’s a long-suffering sigh, one they’ve all learned to associate with Dr. Crowley. One imagines it was the sigh she gave when he first told her his students would be handling the deadliest, most toxic plants to be found in the world and testing it out on him. “Fine. I have to approve your plan and take it to the dean before anything is officially decided. You’re all dismissed.”
Three shaky hours later, involving four cups of tea, paracetamol, and kicking Andrew out of the room until he showers, Remy receives an e-mail.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bio conference room 37, Monday at 12. MANDATORY. I’m bringing sushi.
“Well that’s not ominous at all,” Sadia says.
The weekend speeds by like a ball on a tether, whipping around its post with all the force of a nine-year-old’s punch. Remy wants sleep, new episodes of Buzzfeed Unsolved Supernatural, and to binge-watch Stranger Things. Instead, she gets overwhelming anxiety over this supposed punishment of Dr. Crowley’s and a fear that Dr. Beattie will change her mind at any time and expel them. She doesn’t know what’s worse, death by poison or by humiliation. Stupid Joe. Stupid history nerds. Stupid freshmen and their underdeveloped critical thinking skills and substandard lab reports.
“I called my sister and cried on the phone for three hours,” Sadia says by way of greeting.
Effie sighs. “I visited my boyfriend in London and hid under a blanket on the couch for 48 hours. We were supposed to go to the West End for a musical.”
“You all need to smoke a bowl,” Andrew says. He has a reddish-pink tinge to his eyes, heavy-lidded and relaxed.
“You got utterly trashed this weekend, didn’t you?” Sadia asks. The implication of, without us? , is apparent in her voice.
“We’re not talking about me. We’re talking about you.”
They move through Dr. Porter’s lab on cell biology like white-collar workers in cubicles, drones going through the motions of moving about petri dishes under microscopes and scribbling indecipherable notes in their lab books. Years later, Remy will look back in search of nostalgia and instead wonder why she drew a doodle of herself being eaten by a Venus flytrap. Ah, grad school.
They show up at the conference room late. They expect to find Dr. Crowley there, positioned in his usual fashion abusing the chair, but are surprised to find four other students present. One of them, to Remy’s great dismay, is Joe.
"Hi," Crowley says, eyes affixed on his phone.
The history grads have positioned themselves along the inside wall of the conference room. It's a mistake, she thinks, to block themselves from the exit. The botany students stare at them.
"So…" Joe says, and he looks as stupid as ever. His head looks a bit misshapen, suggesting perhaps his dumb yellow helmet was a bit too little too late. "What are we doing here?"
Crowley, who continues texting from his phone without looking up, says, "You're going to sit down, eat some food, and talk to each other. You're all adults now, so figure it out."
"She vandalized my bike!"
"After you hit her with it."
"This isn't fair," another history nerd says. He has freckles and red hair and a mousy look, the look of someone who sits inside collecting dust all day. "You're obviously taking sides with them , and we don't have any representation."
"I've extended a lunch invitation to one of your professors who will be joining us shortly." Crowley's phone beeps. "Ah, he's running late. And I'm not representing anybody. I'm just here to make sure the bloodshed stays minimal. If you can't maintain a civil conversation then perhaps Up There was right about the great flood."
"What?" Andrew says.
Crowley responds with an indecipherable sound and a shrug.
"I hope it's Dr. Byrne," the redhead says and his friends nod in agreement.
The door swings open and a very posh, very genial voice says, "So sorry I'm late," followed by a middle-aged man with whitish blond hair, a bow tie, and sweater vest. The looks on the history students' faces suggest this is not Dr. Byrne, who they had hoped for, but instead somebody far worse. The man looks about the room, a bit stunned, and says, "Um, Crowley, I thought we were meeting for lunch."
Crowley claps his hands together in a facsimile of excitement, a cheshire grin on his face. It's the first time he's looked up from his phone. "We are! Dr. Fell, I'm sure you recognize some of these students." He gestures at the group against the far wall.
"Oh! Well yes, hello there," the professor says, looking about. He gives a nervous wave as though he might not actually recognize them or may be terrified of them, perhaps both.
"And these are my students. They're here because they caused a bit of theft and vandalism--" At this, Dr. Fell gasps, "and that one caused a bit of a hit and run."
"Oh, oh my. And we're here to…?"
"Oh, I see," he says, as though he does not. "Say, is that sushi?"
Dr. Crowley pulls out the chair next to him and pushes over a plastic takeout container. "Dragon roll, and there's extra soy sauce in the bag."
"Delightful," Fell says.
Crowley looks up, a sort of manic and perhaps threatening grin on his face. He gestures at the botany students to have a seat and tosses a handful of chopsticks at them. "Well, get to it then."
"Get to what?" Remy asks. She's about as confused as Dr. Fell but a lot less chipper.
Crowley waves his hand, gesturing between the two factions. "Ehh," he says.
In unison, they all sit down. None of them touch the food in the middle of the table. They stare at the history nerds. The nerds stare back. Every so often, silence is punctuated by a delighted sound from Dr. Fell eating his dragon roll. They all cringe and then cringe harder when they realize they are all cringing together. The clock ticks.
Dr. Crowley keeps his chin tucked, absorbed in his phone. Remy's never actually seen him do work besides when he's lecturing, and it's debatable if that even counts. He is studiously NOT LOOKING AT THEM, though it's hard to say with his glasses. Beside him, Dr. Fell continues to work his way through his roll, giving off the impression of being not bothered and quite used to silence and solitude. They're both ignoring each other, and she wonders how the two of them ever managed to meet.
Forty-five uncomfortable minutes in, the redhead raises his hand and says, "May I be excused? I have a TA meeting."
Crowley lifts a hand, again not looking. "Yeah, bye," he says.
The others look at each other and scramble to grab their belongings in a dash to get out the door.
"See you next week, same place and time,” he says, offhand.
They all freeze and look about the room, their faces a mix of confusion and horror. Crowley continues NOT LOOKING AT THEM, the barest twist of a smile on his lips. "Wait, what?" Joe asks.
Crowley lifts his head though it's hard to see just who he's looking at, and his smile grows beatific. "We'll be meeting until something gets sorted between you lot every week until the end of the semester."
"That's for you to figure out." Then, as though he has no waist, he pushes himself upright and saunters out of the room, the first to leave.
In sets the horror.
"He's mad," the redhead says. There’s a tinge of panic to his voice. On that, Remy can agree.
The next week, Crowley provides pizza from the little eatery on high street. By mutual, begrudging agreement, they all decide to eat the proffered food. They are, after all, starving, famished, and wartorn by midterms, and if Remy is looking forward to their meetings on the third week, it’s only because Crowley has surprising taste in food. She still hates the history nerds and Joe, and they are definitely still not talking.
Dr. Fell returns as well, donning a cream-colored sweater vest and the tiniest roundest glasses she’s ever seen. He squints when he peers down over his text, an old mildewed thing she can smell two seats down, jotting little notes in his notebook while continuing to make appreciative dainty noises over his food.
Crowley, on the other hand, eats nothing. He says nothing, looks at no one, and dithers on his phone for the whole forty-five minutes. When Effie tries to thank him for lunch, he grunts and props his feet on the table so his knees bend upwards, hiding his face.
Their weekly lunches become just another thing in a long list of weird and stressful occurrences that make up Remy’s graduate experience. That’s all graduate school is, she realizes, just a long list of very tedious, very strange things she must do in order to get a piece of paper recognizing she has done some stuff. When she calls home and tries to describe her studies to her parents, she gets a lot of ‘ahs’ and ‘oh wows’ because how do you describe classifying a poisonous plant based on its geographic location of origin, taxonomy, and chemical compounds with any real specificity to a banker and homemaker?
“It sounds very dangerous,” her mother says.
It’s amazing , she wants to say.
Then there’s the matter of her thesis which needs to be decided on by the end of the semester. Remy’s main interest and focus in her initial application essay is on medicinal botany, and she has a minor in biochemistry. She wonders about short-term studies on supplements, digging into old tribal medicine practices, naturopathy, and folklore to see if there’s any real relevance to claims about herbs and flowers for healing. There are so many different directions she could go, and the possibilities swallow her up when she thinks about it at night. How would she even conduct a study like that? Who would be her participants?
She arrives early one morning to Crowley’s office hours with a stack of research articles in one hand, a quadruple shot espresso in the other, and is surprised to find him sitting at his desk. He’s the only one there at seven in the morning, lights off, still in his sunglasses. His office has little by way of decoration except for the large, well-cared-for oak desk, and an array of plants lining his window, all in bloom. He closes out of a game of minesweeper when she knocks on the door. “I’m freaking out about my thesis,” she says by way of greeting.
Crowley, who can be the loudest shoutiest lecturer in the entire biology building, also has a way of communicating a hundred things with a single look. He turns in his swivel chair to face her, jaw set and eyebrows raised. He gestures at the chair for her to sit down. She’s sat in front of him many times now for their TA meetings, but often there’s been a stack of lab books to be graded, a laptop, and the Botany 101 powerpoints for the week between them. It’s unnerving to have his undivided attention. He props his elbows on the desk, resting his chin on his hands, and looks.
“I want to do a study on herbal medicine, but I don’t even know where to begin,” she starts. “There are so many folklore stories and supplements on the market without clinical studies. And how do I even begin to assess the effects of herbal treatments on patients, at what quantities, and on who? And then I begin to wonder if it’s really worth it. Like, look at all these pharmaceutical companies who are running these studies that are obviously skewed or funded by biased corporations or interest groups. Would anything I do even make a difference?” She’s escalating now, getting a bit shouty and her hands are sweating, but what if she’s right? What if it doesn’t make a difference at all, and this thing she loves so much amounts to absolutely nothing? “Maybe I should just go into algology like Effie, and stop global warming and water pollution. Maybe that makes more sense.”
Crowley tilts his head and creases his forehead. Then he leans back in his chair and opens his mouth, a series of unintelligible noises spilling forth. “Noooo,” he says. “You think you’d like algae? ”
She shrugs. “Maybe. No. It’d be easier to get my study approved if I was studying algae instead of people.”
“Is there a previous clinical trial that’s piqued your interest? A specific herbal treatment or folklore you’re thinking about?”
Remy looks at her stack of research articles. She’s read everything from the soothing effects of ginger to the unproven effects of saw palmetto on women’s hormones. They’re interesting, sure, but not captivating. She pauses for a second, tapping her pen on the stack of paper in thought. “You know, I’ve actually been kind of interested in belladonna. I know we’re supposed to be focusing on the poisonous effects in our lab, but did you know they’ve used its alkaloids as a mild sedative in the past?”
Crowley smiles, just a slight uptick to his mouth, but the corners of his eyes crease and he lifts his chin just so. “There aren’t many studies of worth out there to prove its effectiveness,” he says. “You’d have your work cut out for you.”
“I could do a literature review, maybe draft a preliminary study in conjunction with someone from biology? A case study?”
“You could. A case study could lead to a very interesting controlled study for your Ph.D.”
She blinks, then swallows. “Oh, um, I hadn’t planned that far.”
“It’s just a thought,” he says. “Belladonna’s an interesting choice. It’s well known in history for its more fatal effects, but I find there are always two sides to every coin, no?”
So yeah, that's how she finds herself drowning in research articles trying to draft a tentative literature review to present to the faculty by the end of the semester. She bounces from grading lab books to slamming shots at the Madcap to dissecting poisonous plants while trying not to die, and whoever said graduate school was nothing like undergrad only knew the half of it. It’s so much more.
By maybe the third or fourth lunch meeting they’ve developed a system where they all file in, divvy up the food and ignore each other for forty-five minutes. Remy brings her grading, and Andrew spends the time with his headphones in and head down on the table. Then it happens. They’re eating finger sandwiches—and where does Crowley find these things?—when Dr. Fell makes a delighted sound and interrupts the tentative peace in the room.
“Crowley,” he says, “these are divine. Where did you find them?”
Crowley, glued to his phone, harrumphs. “Don’t call them divine. They’re from that bakery on Water Street.”
He takes another bite. “Mm, positively heavenly.”
“You must try one.”
By this point, everyone has turned to look at them, though Fell appears oblivious to their audience. It’s the longest conversation they’ve witnessed between the two professors. Remy has a reasonable understanding of Dr. Crowley by this point. He brooks no argument and has a way of shutting down the stupidest comments and arguments with a look. He also never eats, at least not in front of other people, that she’s seen. Poor Dr. Fell seems sweet and well-intentioned and is about to get destroyed if he keeps it up.
“These are as if God made them herself,” he continues.
Crowley makes a disgruntled, affronted sound. “Absolutely not,” he says.
“I’ll desist if you try a bite.”
The tension in the room is electric. Remy is afraid to look at anyone else as if looking away will erase the weird spectacle in front of her. Despite his sunglasses, she can see the flicker of his eyes by the way his forehead creases, looking up. He’s well aware of the scene they’re causing.
“Fine,” he says, turning his head just slightly to the right. He opens his mouth, hands fixed on his phone still.
And Dr. Fell, as if it were nothing, takes the last bite of his sandwich and pops it in Crowley’s mouth.
“What?” Sadia says under her breath. “ What? ”
Crowley chews for a moment, thoughtful. “Yeah, they’re all right,” he says. Judgment made, he returns to his phone. Dr. Fell hums in agreement and then picks up his pen and resumes scribbling notes over his very old and mildewed text.
Remy looks around the room. She looks at her hands and then--just in case--smells them. Is this what happens after long term exposure to poisonous plants? Hallucinations? Across the table, the redhead—Sam—is hyperventilating, crushing his sandwich in his fist. Joe blinks, wide-eyed and stunned. The silence in the room reaches new palpable heights, the hairs on her arms standing straight up like at any moment lightning will strike them all dead for witnessing… whatever that was. Andrew mouths what the fuck like a mantra.
And because graduate life is a bit surreal and like living in a bubble, and because Effie has called crying in hysterics over her supervisory meetings with Dr. Saxe four weeks in a row now, and Andrew has decided that buying more shirts is an acceptable substitute for washing his laundry, the social interactions between Dr. Crowley and Dr. Fell become A THING and a much-needed distraction from the nuclear meltdown that is their lives.
It starts like this:
It’s an average Tuesday. Remy wakes up with a buzz of low-level anxiety after four hours of sleep. This is better than, say, staying up until five in the morning reading textbooks and waking up with highlighter on her face, so it constitutes as a good day. She’s early to the Botany 101 lecture, as usual, and sits in her regular seat up front. The hall is only a quarter-full with ten minutes until the start of class. Most students are late; Dr. Crowley, however, arrives early. This should be enough to set off alarms for he prefers a late, dramatic entrance set to music.
He stands at the front behind the computer, a scowl on his face as he jabs at the mousepad, the crease of his eyebrows furrowed in frustration. This is par for the course, and so she continues to be lured into believing everything is normal.
And then the door to the side entrance swings open and a familiar, congenial face pops in. “Crowley,” Dr. Fell says.
Crowley looks up and his face smooths out, mouth opening just a fraction in surprise. He looks at the other professor the way he did when Remy came to him with her thesis idea, with undivided attention. The corners of his mouth turn upwards.
“I was just, um, in the neighborhood so they say, and I wanted to know your lunch plans.”
“Ehhh,” Crowley says. “I planned on terrorizing my office plants and poking around that botany BioForum.”
“Really, you should stop harassing those poor people. You’ll get yourself banned again.” At this, Crowley makes a face. “Anyway, I was hoping I could tempt you to some…” Dr. Fell trails off and then gestures with a hand. What that gesture implies, Remy can only guess, and it alarms her. Crowley responds in kind with a shrug and a hand wave and then Dr. Fell nods and says, “Well that settles that. I’ll see you at noon,” and leaves.
She grabs her phone and pulls up their grad class group chat, typing a frantic message:
Remy H: oh my god crowley and dr fell are shagging
Effie J: Absolutely not. That is so wrong.
Remy H: fell just came and propositioned him right before lecture like i saw it with my own two eyes
Sadia G: *gag*
After the lecture, Remy stops by the grad room and grabs her laptop to find she has a new friend request on Facebook from a Joseph Wilson along with a new message. It reads: I know we’re supposed to hate each other and all, but do you think something weird’s going on between our professors?
By the end of the week, the history nerds have been added to their group chat, and what once was a semi-civil conversation about coursework and Thursday night drinking plans devolves into a war between two factions, those who think their professors are going at it like two American teens in the back of a Camaro on prom night (Remy, Joe, and Andrew), and those who think their romance is a delicate Victorian courtship yet to be consummated characterized by convivial notes ala carrier pigeons (Effie, Sam, and Sadia). The other two history students, two girls Gabby and Hannah, believe Dr. Fell has and will remain single for the rest of his life because who still wears pleated trousers in the 21st century and why would somebody date that?
“Look, Dr. Fell was all like, ‘I was just in the neighborhood,’ but c’moooon, he has no reason to be in the bio building.” Remy may be a bit drunk, but the fact remains she is right and everyone needs to know it. “He came over just to.. to... tempt him. He said TEMPT. We all know what that means!” She’s shouting over their table in the back at the Madcap, four beers in. The pint glass in her hand feels a bit heavy, but it’s good for slamming on the table to make a point.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Sam says, jabbing a finger at her. “Fell uses all sorts of colloquialisms.”
“Yeah, but everyone knows Crowley doesn’t eat,” Andrew says. “Fell asked him out to lunch, to--you know--”
“Don’t say it,” Sadia says, shaking her head. When Andrew goes to open his mouth, she lunges across the table, knocking over a pint glass. “Don’t say it!”
From behind her hand on his mouth, he shouts a muffled, “EAT ARSE!” The entire table groans.
Weekly lunches between the two departments become anticipated events. Remy even brings popcorn which only gets an eyebrow raise from Crowley before he settles in his chair and ignores everybody. Effie doesn’t blink for the entire time, and Sadia’s frothing at the mouth ready to point out any little detail. The two professors don’t even look at each other.
“Because they’re trying to hide their love, obviously!” Remy says.
Before she knows it, mid-November is in full swing with less than a month left in the semester. The crying and drinking reach an all high peak, and the number of emails she gets from freshman in a panic because they slept through their botany class is overwhelming and debilitating.
“Why are they even taking the class if they’re going to fail out?” she says, staring at a blank lab book someone handed in. “How am I supposed to grade this even?”
“To be fair, sixty percent is passing,” Crowley says. “You forget these are just kids trying to get a science credit. They’re not out to change the world via the power of plants.” He flips through a lab book in record speed, shrugs, and writes a 70% on top.
“Don’t you worry about performance scores in your class?”
“Nah, my student reviews are great. Haven’t you seen my RateMyProfessors ranking?”
She hasn’t, but she’s heard Sadia wax poetic about his tight trousers more times than she wants so she can only imagine what 18-year-old girls have to say about it. For the record, she still thinks his face tattoo is stupid.
There’s a knock on the door and Dr. Fell pops his head in. “Hello, Crowley,” he says. Then he looks at Remy. “Hello… you. Um, did you get my message?”
“About the thing, in the news? You know, like that time in Paris.”
“Which time? 1567 or 1793?”
“Oh, I was rather thinking about the third century.”
“Ohhhh,” Crowley says, nodding. “Yup, I agree.”
“Righty then, tickety boo.” Fell departs.
Remy already has her phone out texting everybody in the group chat.
The whole are they/aren’t they thing is a gigantic distraction, for good or ill. Sam makes a narrated powerpoint screencast detailing all the reasons why they haven’t yet confessed their love to each other that goes on for twenty minutes. The highlights of his argument include, “Dr. Fell wears too many layers,” and “Crowley has zero social skills.” Ergo, they can’t be forking. It’s a compelling argument, but Remy doesn’t buy it.
Later, Joe accosts her on his bike while walking to the student center, once again almost hitting her. “I saw them in the student center during their lunch break,” he says. “Dr. Fell was eating his lunch, and Crowley just sat there.”
“So you know, maybe lunch does just mean lunch instead of--”
“Don’t say it. Please don’t say it.”
Remy growls and stomps around his bike. “You’re a traitor, and I still hate you. And you’re wrong.”
Sadia signs her private emails as TEAM NO BONE ZONE. Life goes on.
And out of all these things, the craziest is her thesis. She sits, drunk as shit in her little studio flat with a bottle of wine, feet dangling over the edge of her loveseat and a packet of hobnobs on her stomach in tears over her literature review. “I hardly have any resources, just anecdotes about medicinal uses of belladonna. I even asked whatsherface--Hannah, that history nerd?--to help me find citations from historical texts, but I can’t find a credible scientific study whatsoever. I’m losing my mind.”
Effie, who sits cross-legged with her back to the base of the loveseat, steals the wine bottle out of her hands and takes a long swig. Her fashion sense has devolved over the semester from cute sweaters and bedazzled jeans to leggings and comfy tunics, her hair pulled back in a sloppy bun. “If I have to smell another algae sample before I die, I will set the bio building on fire,” she says.
“At least you can do a clinical trial on algae. Nobody’s going to approve me poisoning a bunch of people.”
“You don’t have to trial it on people,” Effie says.
Remy throws her head back on the hard armrest. “Well, I’m not going to do it on dogs.”
“No, I mean, what if you do a preliminary study just even trying to isolate the alkaloids you need? Like, what process would you use to do that even?”
She sits up and stares at Effie. “Are you even drunk right now? Who are you?”
Effie shrugs. She looks a bit glassy-eyed, her cheeks flushed, but is for the most part steady. “I think my tolerance has gotten a bit better this semester.”
“I think you’re a genius, is what you are.”
She spends the next week at her computer typing away, slamming espresso, and holding in her pee until the very last second, sprinting to the bathroom. Her desk gets buried under several historical texts and reams of research articles, and on one unfortunate Wednesday, she falls asleep and wakes up with highlighter on her face. She’s feral. The department professors, who are used to the sort of mania that develops in first-year grad students, keep their heads down and leave extra biscuits in the lounge. A mysterious pack of craft beer appears late afternoon one Thursday night and gets consumed within the hour.
They all have their habits and quirks, the little things to get them through until winter break. Sadia takes to singing Britney Spears’ “Lucky” on repeat and will on occasion break out into interpretive dance. Andrew trolls the botany subreddit and yells at the amateur gardeners in all caps. He has several aliases and sock puppets and has made it to the Best Of Reddit three times in the last two weeks. Four days before their thesis proposals are due, Effie storms in, eyes ablaze, and announces, “My boyfriend broke up with me because I talk too much about deforestation, so I told him at least trees can maintain wood.” They’re too frantic to laugh, too tired to cry, so they all get drunk at the Madcap instead.
That Monday, the last Monday before finals, they stagger into the conference room for lunch, hollowed out. Their proposals were due to their supervisors in the morning, and they’re to meet in the afternoon to get approvals. The nerds across the table look just as wrecked, and Joe still has creases on his face from his pillow or perhaps his backpack or whatever soft surface was nearest when he fell asleep. The only person who seems chipper is, of course, Dr. Fell who hums a bit as he samples a samosa. His robins egg blue sweater vest dons a small little orchid flower pinned to the breast, matching his pale pink button-down. Nobody says anything. Remy doesn’t even have the energy to grade assignments so she sits in silence, zoning out on the little takeout carton in front of her.
At the end of forty-five minutes, she looks up and meets Crowley’s sunglasses. He nods at her, just a bit, and tilts his head towards the door. Like a person possessed, she stands and pitches out of the conference room, down the hall, and to his office. She doesn’t hear anything, not her friends saying goodbye nor the sound of office chatter. She stands there in the threshold of his office, limbs stiff at her sides and stares at the little windowsill with all of his plants. He comes around the desk and drops a heavy packet of papers down with a thud. It’s her literature review and thesis proposal.
“It’s not what I want to do, really,” she starts, “but I wasn’t sure how to go about what I really want which is to actually find a medicinal use for belladonna, so I just thought what if I try and isolate what our ancestors used first to see if it was even feasible? And I’m still not really sure how to go about it, but I had this idea--”
Crowley lifts up a hand to silence her. Her mouth clicks shut, and he looks at her, really looks, with an unreadable expression. He’s disappointed, she thinks. I’ve fucked up and this is so stupid, and I should have just done the algae thing--
“Stop,” he says, cutting her thoughts off. “Whatever you’re thinking, just stop. I think it’s brilliant. It’s a brilliant proposal.”
“It is?” Remy asks. She wipes her hands on her jeans and clenches them in a fist. Her fingers shake. “I just feel like it’s only a fraction of what I want to do.”
He leans back on the front of his desk and looks up at the ceiling. “I know all about having big ideas, wanting… grand results,” he says. “It took me a long time to figure out the small pieces are integral to the big picture. You might never get the answer you’re looking for; you might be asking the same damn question until you die, but there’s no such thing as asking the wrong question. The most important thing is how you go about seeking answers.”
He smiles and extends his hand. She takes it. “Congratulations,” he says. “You have another three semesters of hell ahead of you.”
She grins, ecstatic.“I don’t care. It’s going to be amazing.”
It’s not until later when she’s lying on top of her covers, three AM and restless, that she remembers the pale pink orchid on Crowley’s windowsill. Then her phone pings and she rolls over, frowning. Who would be e-mailing at this hour, from a university address no less?
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
PECCATI DI GOLA , Thursday at 7pm. MANDATORY. I’m buying.
Peccati di Gola is a small Italian restaurant on Water Street, a small little bistro outside of any of their budgets. Remy spends about a half an hour fretting over her closet before calling up Sadia and Effie in a panic, and she ends up in one of their shirts and another’s skirt. She chooses her sensible flats, the ones she wore the first day of orientation.
Outside, the eight of them stand huddled in their jackets, their breaths coming out in little puffs. Crowley is late, of course, but they’re all too relieved to care. Remy’s not sure it’s happiness she feels, but perhaps fulfillment. She’s accomplished one-quarter of her master’s degree which is one quarter more than four months ago. It doesn’t sound like much on paper, but it feels momentous to her.
A rumbling sound precedes a large, black classic car as it barrels around the corner. Behind her, Joe gasps. “I think that’s a 1920s Bentley,” he says. “Oh wow.” It careens towards the curb, stopping just before ramming into the pavement in front of a fire zone and the sound of “I’m In Love With My Car” blares out through the windows. Dr. Crowley tips out of it with a wave. He’s wearing a fitted black suit, his customary snakeskin boots, a collarless cream-colored shirt, and a thin red necktie. He goes around back and opens the passenger door, extending an arm to his guest.
Remy sees the fluffy blond hair first and her eyes go wide. Dr. Fell steps out with a neat little jaunt, his face cheery and rose-cheeked from the cold. “Hello!” he says with a bit of a wave. He holds out his elbow for Crowley to take. He seems not to notice the eight pairs of eyes staring at him, but she thinks she sees a bit of color on Crowley’s cheeks as they walk past and into the front entrance, arm-in-arm. She looks at Sadia who is not looking at anybody but internally reassessing her commitment to being TEAM NO BONE ZONE.
“You owe me a tenner,” Andrew says to Effie as they file into the restaurant.
For the next ten minutes, the botany grads and history nerds stare wide-eyed at each other, each gesturing with less and less subtle glances at their two professors as a series of events unfold before them: Dr. Fell takes Crowley’s coat and hangs it up and Crowley pulls out his chair. They bicker over a bottle of wine and share the wine tasting, and once they’ve settled in front of the menus, Crowley drapes an arm over the back of Fell’s chair and manages to look respectable for once instead of abusing whatever piece of furniture he’s chosen to perch himself on.
“Holy shit,” Joe mutters.
Holy shit, Remy thinks, and then again when it hits her. The semester is over. She looks up at the crew around her, the tables pushed together to accommodate them all, her weird little family of people she loves for loving the way she does, to obsession until it’s picked it apart to its very core so they can build it back up anew. She has a thesis, an unexplored line of study that is hers and hers alone, and she has three great friends and four worthy adversaries, and the strangest possible supervisor. It’s good. It’s so good.
The food is brilliant too. She doesn’t know how Crowley keeps finding these amazing places. Once again, he sits with his arms crossed on the table, abstaining from dining, and mulls over a single glass of wine while the rest of them work there way through fresh bruschetta and burrata, entrees of new york strips with lemon asparagus and butternut squash ravioli. She takes a sip of wine just as the server comes back with a dessert menu, and she’s torn between wanting to explode and indulging in just one more bite. She settles on a scoop of coconut cream sorbet topped with mint and chocolate cigars she splits with Effie and Sadia.
“Oh, I’ll take the tiramisu, if you please,” Fell says to the server. Then he looks to Crowley who busies himself by balancing his three different forks into a teepee and touches his arm. He goes unacknowledged. “And my husband will have the panna cotta.”
“I will not,” Crowley says.
“And another glass of the cabernet, thank you.”
Across the table, Sam spits out his water and starts coughing. Joe goes to slap him on the back, and they all look at each other for two beats before Andrew starts laughing. It’s uncontrollable, bubbling out, and they all catch it, the hysteria from four months of anxiety and stress and all-nighters spilling forth.
Dr. Fell is unaware as usual and looks around startled by the uproar. Crowley, however, leans back in his chair, feet flat on the floor, and his hands on the armrests. The smallest of smiles graces his lips, devilish, like a jester sitting on his king’s throne.
It’s good. They’re all so good.