DISCLAIMER: Don't own anything associated with the show… I just like playing with the characters in it from time to time. Dance Monkeys! Dance!
SPOILERS: None - Alternate Universe
WORD COUNT: 24,400 (Oh yes, the epic is back)
SUMMARY: The whole CSI cast is transported to into 1959 California, and taking up residence in a high school. My entry for the History 101 AU Challenge on the 1Hour2Write LJ Comm.
A/N: I blame this fic on the sponsor of the challenge. But the length and detail is all my insanity. There are others behind the scenes on this one, and to them I am deeply grateful for their insight and patience. All flaws and errors are mine, so feel free to blame me.
REVIEWS: Reviews are the way I know if people are enjoying the work or not. So, if you leave one, THANKS! And if not, I hope you found at least a little something to brighten your day, and thanks for taking the time to read.
Woodrow Wilson Senior High School
Santa Monica, CA
Shuffling through the latest round of absentee slips, Dr. Gilbert Grissom busied himself as he waited for the superintendent of schools to arrive. Dr. Robbins' call started out as a welcome surprise. Woodrow Wilson Senior High School had been short two teachers since their physical science veteran, Mr. Cavallo, finally retired. The man should have retired five years before, but Robert was determined to be the oldest working teacher in the California school system. When he had his seventy-second birthday shortly after the school year began, he finally achieved his goal and his wife practically locked him in the house until he signed the retirement papers.
Dr. Grissom chuckled to himself as he recalled Robert explaining why he would not be able to complete the semester. All the while, he could hear the man's wife clucking at him in the background.
When the clattering sound of the second bell rang out, his nervousness became readily apparent as he jumped. Dr. Robbins would be arriving with the new science teacher very soon.
His anxiety had little to do with the teacher's credentials. He was honestly impressed with the qualifications of this new employee; Bachelor's of Science from NYU, and Master's Degree in Physics from Columbia University, not to mention currently studying with the great educator and scientific mind, Richard Feynman at the California Institute of Technology. Gil Grissom practically had to pinch himself as the superintendent described his new teacher, right up until the moment Dr. Robbins said she was the best qualified teacher he had met in many years.
After the arrival of the new biology teacher in the previous school year, the last thing Dr. Grissom wanted was another female teacher in the science department. As it was, the young men of his high school were learning far more about biology than was ever in the approved curriculum. Miss Simms was an exceptionally talented teacher, but she was also a very attractive young woman. Adding to that, the fact that she was from the new school of thought regarding education practices posed a great distraction for their students.
Over the previous few years the school had undergone integration and the full scale transition away from specialized studies tracks to a broader liberal arts education. The students were exposed to all facets of education, giving them more opportunities for learning throughout the full spectrum of academia. This "big picture" approach was difficult for many of the teachers at Woodrow Wilson, but Dr. Grissom welcomed the well-rounded education it would provide his students. What he did not like was the more familiar methods of delivery that came with many of the practitioners of this philosophy.
He believed there should exist a level of separation between the students and the teachers. In his opinion, there was respect inherent within that formal separation, which gave the teacher the focused attention of their students. His detractors, however, would argue that his idea of respect was actually fear, and education through fear was one step toward fascism. He hated that analogy.
Before he could take his thoughts any further down that path, the voice of his secretary caught his ear as she greeted the superintendent. Within a short moment, the intercom in his desk buzzed. "Dr. Grissom?"
He clicked the large button and answered, "Yes, Judy."
"Dr. Robbins is here with his guest. Are you ready?" Her extra chipper voice never failed to give him a small smile.
Instead of answering her again, he walked to his door and opened it to the outer office. "I believe so." The diminutive woman nearly leapt from her chair with fright, and he fought to keep his amusement in check.
The older man awkwardly lumbered around the secretary's desk to meet him. "Still keeping the staff on their toes, I see, Gilbert." With his left hand, the one not encased within a crutch, Dr. Robbins reached out to shake his hand.
"I do my best, Albert." He gladly took the man's hand and greeted him properly. Dr. Robbins had been the principal at his first teaching assignment, and he was proud to not only call the man a colleague, but also a friend.
As his gaze turned behind him, Dr. Grissom followed the same path. He was not prepared for what he would find there. "Gilbert… This is your new physical science teacher, Miss Sara Sidle."
His eyes landed first on her carefully subdued grin. She was obviously attempting to give a very serious first impression, but that grin was etched into a bright and shining face. Her hair was shorter than most, but the subtle waves throughout told him it was most likely quite curly, given half the chance. Her eyes were dark not only from their rich brown color, but also from the thick mascara and eyeliner she wore. She was the epitome of simple elegance, without all of the pomp that so many women had fallen victim to in recent times.
As he began to lose himself in her eyes, she cleared her throat and spoke, "Pleased to finally meet you, Dr. Grissom. Albert has spoken of you so often, I feel as though I already know you."
It was difficult, but he managed to keep himself from shaking the cobwebs loose in his head as he struggled to rejoin the conversation. "Ah, well… Thank you. I think."
Stepping back, away from his door, Dr. Grissom gestured for his guests to enter the office. Dr. Robbins slowly limped his way inside. He would have offered his mentor a hand, but he knew there was no point. Albert was a very proud man, and he never let his disability get in the way of living his life. And outside of being denied by the War Department when he hobbled down to the enlistment office after the planes flew over Pearl Harbor, he had yet to find something he was unable to do.
Still caught up in the recollection of his admiration for a friend, he was not ready for Miss Sidle. Dr. Grissom quickly adjusted his glasses in order to focus on Dr. Robbins' guest as she walked into his office.
He realized instantly that Miss Sidle was very tall, perhaps taller than he was. She wore clothing even darker than her hair, with one of those fashionable charcoal black pencil skirts fitting closely to her slender figure. There was a matching jacket accentuating her decidedly feminine frame. He could see a rich cordovan knit turtleneck peeking out above the narrow lapels of her jacket. The top disappeared into the long line of her neck as it just reached her hairline.
As his bespectacled gaze reached her hair, she turned into his office and he found himself staring at her back. The simple yet elegant lines of her suit were seen with more clarity from the rear thanks to the long line of her back. When he caught his gaze dropping lower to follow the rhythm of her swaying hips, he forced himself to quickly look away.
Tearing his eyes away, he found he had been discovered, as was evidenced by the mirthful expression on his secretary's face. A flood of embarrassment filled his cheeks as Judy waggled her finger at him in a playful gesture of "shame on you."
Quickly following his guests inside, Dr. Grissom worked to affect his professional façade for the meeting.
Oblivious to anything else, Judy Tremont was focused entirely on the door to her boss' office. And when the journalism teacher began to speak, she nearly came out of her skin.
"Sorry it took me so long, Judy, but those monkeys Dr. Gideon sent me are completely useless. The little delinquents were too busy sniffing the Ditto paper instead of turning the crank." Archie Johnson set the stack of lightly purple printed copies down in front of Judy as she clutched at her chest.
"Shush! Do you always have to enter a room talking?" She pointed over her shoulder at the office door and whispered, "Dr. Grissom is in a meeting."
"Ahhhh…" Archie nodded his head and removed his thick black framed glasses as he pulled out a handkerchief to wipe the lenses off. "Which of our finer citizens is in there getting their rear handed to them today?"
"If I'm right…it's Dr. Grissom." Judy gave him a wicked grin that made him smirk.
"Is that so?" He put on his glasses and squinted at the door as if he could see through the wood. "Who's in there?"
"This isn't about that article we ran in the paper, is it? Because I told him I would take the heat for that one if it came down to brass tacks." Archie's back straightened in an instant, worried that his judgment call was coming back to haunt their principal.
"No, it's not that. Heck, I only got one parent call over the whole thing. And no one listens to Mr. Uptight Ecklie any old way." Judy put a calming hand on his forearm and Archie stood down. "No, he's in there with Dr. Robbins because of the new science teacher."
"Well, that's different." Archie visibly relaxed with the information. "So, we're finally getting a new teacher, huh?" Seeing her nod in affirmation, Archie shrugged and deposited his hands into his suit jacket pockets. "That's good. Maybe then Hodges will stop belly-aching about how over-worked he is, and how no one else in the whole school understands the sacrifice he's making for Dr. Grissom."
Judy shook her head in disgust. "I keep wondering how that guy ever got a teaching degree. I mean," She leaned forward and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper, "he's just a creepy little rat fink, if you ask me."
"You'll get no argument from me." After thinking about it, Archie was puzzled as to what the trouble was and he asked, "So, why is the big man in trouble if we're getting a new teacher?
"You haven't seen the new girl yet." Judy's salacious wink told him all he needed to know and both his eyebrows rose in surprise.
"That good, huh?"
Judy grinned and only said, "She's from New York City."
"Big deal… Mr. Keppler's from New York and he's about provocative as a plate of milk toast." Archie shrugged off her answer.
"Mr. Keppler is from Long Island. This one went to NYU and Columbia, and now she's working toward her PhD in physics at Caltech." He could tell she was impressed with the information, but to Archie it spelled only one thing; just another science nerd.
"Right, but what's that got to do with why Dr. Grissom is in trouble? I know he used to be a biology teacher and all, but a girl in that field? She's gotta be a first class, grade A lab rat." She met his analysis with a laugh that forced Judy to cover her mouth in a hurry.
Shaking her head, she whispered very softly, "Not even close, Mr. Archibald Katsuo Johnson. This one looks like she just stepped off the front page of Vogue."
Archie returned to squinting at the door. "Is that so?" He stayed that way until he heard Judy's disgusted snort. "Well, I guess if you like that sort of thing." He turned his gaze back to Judy and smiled to make up for his mistake, but then a thought crossed his mind. "Say, you don't mean that Dr. Grissom is into that sort of thing, do you?
She seemed to ignore him at first, scribbling something in her steno pad. Archie knew he was in trouble by the way she chewed on the inside of her cheek instead of acknowledging him.
"Judy, I swear, that's not my thing. I was just intrigued. That's all, I swear. Scout's Honor." He held his right hand up in the common three-fingered gesture as he spoke.
Judy finally relaxed and quietly asked, "Promise?"
"I swear…" Archie swallowed hard and said the one thing he knew she would believe, "on my mother's grave."
When she smiled timidly, he knew they were square again. "Well, she's very pretty, anyway."
"She'd have to be to even get the old man to notice. Like Marilyn Monroe pretty, even." As he finally cleared the notion from his head, Archie remembered that he had other business to attend to before his newest student helpers started getting restless again.
He sat on the edge of her desk and leaned in closely when he softly whispered, "Enough about the boss…are we still on for tonight? I've sure got a swell spot picked out this time."
Dr. Grissom watched with a disciplined calm as the young woman attempted to allay his fears regarding her work and theories as they might be practiced within the walls of his school. "And I want you to know that I fully understand some of my methods will need to be adjusted for the high school environment." Miss Sidle spoke from her perch upon the edge of his guest chair, and he gave her his full attention as the explanation became more animated.
"Much of what I hope to accomplish here is to find the most effective means of delivering the material, but by no means does that mean the students will be short-changed on the content or comprehension." He could tell she was quite sure of herself and her methodologies, but he was happy to see she was also willing to allow that they were not perfect.
"I am certainly not here to try and prove just how smart I am, but to truly advance the process by which we teach the sciences in our school systems. And to make that happen I honestly believe this form of integrated teaching is necessary. That will, of course, require the input of the other staff members." He was taken by her passion for the ideas she was describing. Miss Sidle believed she was going to make a difference with these new methods. Her openness toward refining those methods and for receiving counsel of others in the determination of those alterations was indeed refreshing.
"I can promise that you will have cooperation for this endeavor. However, I cannot say you will find it without opposition in the beginning, Miss Sidle." She gave him a knowing nod. It was as though she had already factored that notion into her equations, and was prepared with permutation number seventy-one for that variable reaction. Dr. Grissom had to quash the chuckle forming in his gut as the idea came to him.
"There are those who are indeed set in their ways, but we have done our best here at Woodrow Wilson to keep things as open as possible to the growth of the educational process, as well as the growth of our students." He would have been happy to debate the finer points of her suppositions for the duration of the school day, but a glance at his watch told him that his available time had drawn to a close. "I hope you will enjoy your time with us, Miss Sidle and I am looking forward to the experience."
As their meeting came to an end, Dr. Grissom stood and rounded the corner of the desk to bid his guests adieu. Taking the cue, Albert looked at his watch and remarked about the time. "My goodness, we have been at it a while, haven't we?"
Reaching out for her hand, he found that he had been pleasantly surprised by the young woman's ethics, by her ideas on education, but most of all he was impressed with the work she was doing on her doctorate.
To be assisting Feynman with his research was a coup on its own, but she was also working on her own theories, as well as attempting to show merit for the methods of science instruction she began developing as a graduate student.
Their school would act as her laboratory to prove the validity of these very progressive ideas. While it was exhilarating to be on the forefront of educational advances, it was also a terrifying prospect for Dr. Grissom as an administrator.
The new teaching methods, however, were not his biggest worry. It was not the affect of her teaching that concerned him. As he watched her stand with a quiet grace and smooth out her suit jacket and skirt, he was far more worried about the affect of Miss Sidle herself on the school's eager young men.
"Thank you for your time, Gilbert. It is always a good day when we can pass the time together, but with such a successful partnership underway as well, I am most pleased."
The sound of Albert's voice declaring the meeting a success shook him from his thoughts as realized he still held the woman's long fingered hand within his grasp. Releasing it, he tried to nonchalantly move to the door without giving his slip any significance,
"And I can assure you, Miss Sidle… Dr. Grissom runs quite possibly the tightest ship in the entire district. The only time I have to come out this way is to meet him for our monthly tee time at the club." He awkwardly got to his feet and repositioned his crutch as he stood upright.
"I have heard golf is major activity out here. I may have to give it a go some time." Miss Sidle gently took Albert's elbow as he began to wobble a little, and Dr. Grissom was impressed with the ease in which she moved to salvage the older man's dignity.
Trying to draw the attention away from Albert's misstep, Grissom asked the young woman, "Have you never played?"
"No, Dr. Grissom. I'm afraid there isn't much room for golf courses in Greenwich Village. And besides, I think the Hudson would be an exceptionally vicious water hazard."
Their combined laughter masked the sound of the office door and the three walked out into a somewhat disturbing scene. The journalism teacher was seated rather suspiciously on the secretary's desk. Immediately upon seeing the trio Mr. Johnson leapt from the desk and stood guiltily away from Miss Tremont. "Dr. Grissom, I was ah, um, just ah, you know, um…"
"Mr. Johnson just finished with the minutes for the PTA meeting tomorrow and was dropping them off." Judy stood nervously at her desk, her hands wringing out the guilt she seemed to share with Mr. Johnson.
With the raise of an eyebrow, Dr. Grissom silently let them both know they would be discussing the matter at a later time. "Very well… Mr. Johnson, could you please have your student volunteers deliver messages to the teacher's rooms informing them about a brief meeting before school tomorrow in the lunchroom?"
"Ah, yes sir." Mr. Johnson continued to stand firmly in place.
"Now would be good, Mr. Johnson." Dr. Grissom's tone was dark and commanding, and it worked instantly. Without another word, Mr. Johnson bolted out of the office.
Albert patted Miss Sidle's hand on his arm and chuckled, "A tight ship, my dear. A very tight ship."
The lunchroom was not an unusual place to find the din of conversation, but it was not typically present at seven in the morning, long before the students began to arrive for the day. But this day was different, and every teacher gathered there knew it. The whole school was abuzz with excitement when they learned a new teacher would soon be joining the staff.
At the center of the room, one group of teachers was interrogating the only members of their staff to have seen the new girl first hand.
In a plain black suit and white shirt, the exceptionally tall Mr. Brown struck an imposing form, below the neck. However, his close cropped crew-cut, pop-bottle black rimmed glasses and long neck made him stand out far more than being one of the few teachers of color. The man responsible for teaching the students about the Gettysburg Address and how to properly dribble a basketball was quick to ask, "So, where is she from?"
Miss Tremont nodded and answered, "New York City… Some village place I think."
The barely intelligible Mr. Keppler mumbled, "Greenwich… Or the West Village, which is part of Greenwich, which doesn't really matter since everyone just says 'The Village.' But yes, Greenwich Village… Manhattan, actually."
"Greenwich Village, huh…" Miss Webster quickly stepped in to clarify Mr. Keppler's rambling response, as was her habit. "Oooo! That's where Kerouac and Ginsberg were at, isn't it? Is she a Beatnik?" The vivacious math teacher asked in an excited flourish.
Judy's answer matched the woman's excitement. "I wouldn't call her much of a Beatnik, but she's definitely not like anything we're used to around here, that's for sure."
Mr. Johnson elbowed the new student teacher and added, "Like runway model different."
Greg Sanders' jaw hung slightly agape at the salacious aside from Archie. Mr. Stokes appeared in the circle and slapped the young man on the back with his hand as he said, "You keep lookin' like that, Sanders and the girls'll start to think you're a fish. Close the trap, youngster."
Everyone snickered at Mr. Stokes' joke as Greg blushed and closed his mouth. "Look people, there's no sense in standin' here flappin' our jaws about the lady. She'll be here any minute and you can all judge for yourselves."
He moved through the crowd and stopped next to Mr. Hodges, dropping a hand onto the man's shoulder and leaning there for a moment. "I, for one, will just be glad to get our staff back up to a full roster. I've got boys fallin' behind in their science classes thanks to the current situation. Old Man Cavallo wasn't the best in the world, but at least my boys weren't failin'."
"And I suppose it's my fault your reprobate, oversized, pea-brained ball players can't find carbon on the Periodic Table?" With both of his hands on his hips, Mr. Hodges turned to the school's football coach and Phys Ed instructor to defend himself against the obvious slight.
"Well, I don't know, Hodges… Even half blind and nearly deaf Mr. Cavallo could teach 'em that much, so they can't be that bad off."
Joining the crowd at the very last minute, the school's Dean of Girls came walking into the soon to erupt melee, instantly breaking it up. "Would you two boys behave yourselves, please? How are we supposed to control more than a thousand teenagers if the two of you can't even keep a civil tongue in your heads?"
Both men quickly backed down and moved away from each other. The girls of the school were in good hands with Mrs. Willows. And no one, not even the teachers, was willing to stand up to one of her fits.
Straightening the pale yellow sweater resting on her shoulders like a cape, she sought out some assistance with her task. "Now, Mr. Brown, would you help me to get everyone seated before Dr. Grissom and Mr. Brass arrive with our new faculty member, please?" Her request was punctuated with a soft touch on the man's elbow, to be certain he was paying attention.
"Ah, yes, Ma'am." Mr. Brown nervously collected himself and raised his hands to his mouth before he let out a shrill whistle, gaining the attention of the room. "Let's settle down, please."
The whole room took their cues and the conversations settled down to a low murmur as they began to find their seats in time for the meeting.
As Dr. Grissom droned through her background story to the staff gathered in the lunchroom, Miss Sidle waited nervously in the hallway with the school's vice principal, Mr. Brass. He was a bristly haired man of small stature, but a very commanding presence. She could easily see how he became the school's disciplinarian.
When the anticipation finally got to be too much she asked, "Does he always introduce new staff members like this? I mean, I don't think my master's thesis presentation was this nerve wracking."
The stern man's face split into a wide and fatherly grin when he snorted at her anxious question. "A necessary evil, I'm afraid. If we don't give them the full rundown from the get-go, they just spend all their time speculating and making it up for themselves. This way the only gossip running through the school will be which bachelor teacher will take the first at-bat."
"I'm not sure that's exactly better than the alternative," she chuckled softly. The sound of Dr. Grissom's resonating voice continued to filter into the hallway. She was beginning to think his introduction would go on forever.
After thinking about Mr. Brass' statement a little longer, Miss Sidle had another question. "So, are there very many bachelor teachers here?"
The very deliberate raise of his eyebrow at her question was made almost comical by the deep set lines of age on the older man's jowled face. "Do I need to keep an eye on you, Miss Sidle?"
Suddenly realizing how her question must have sounded, she blushed and tried to explain. "No… I am definitely not looking."
It took her another moment to collect herself before she was able to explain, "I was just curious about how much attention I can expect to have to ward off in the near future." He nodded to show his acceptance of her qualifying statement. "I have a great deal of work left to do on my dissertation, and the last thing I need right now are the complications associated with being the new girl next door."
Mr. Brass dragged a hand along his jaw as he contemplated her question. "Well, we do have quite a few roosters around this place, but I'm fairly certain most have been accounted for at this point in time. But, regardless, there are a few you'd do well to avoid at all costs."
"You wouldn't happen to have a list prepared for the new hires?" Miss Sidle almost winked with her last question. She found herself very comfortable around Mr. Brass, but she knew that with the old school administrators it would serve her better to keep a certain amount of professional distance.
"I'll put one together…just for you." Without thinking twice, she smiled brightly at his remark. He quickly returned her smile and she decided that apparently Mr. Brass was not as old school as she first thought.
They turned their attention back to Dr. Grissom when it appeared as though he was nearing the end. But then he launched into a detailed description of her graduate studies and papers. She watched as Mr. Brass shifted from one foot to the other, back and forth, not once locking his knees.
Miss Sidle tried to remember where she had seen that particular quirk before when it suddenly hit her. "Mr. Brass?" He grinned to show he was ready for her question and she politely asked, "You wouldn't happen to be a Marine, would you?"
His brow immediately transformed into a question mark and he returned, "How would you know that?"
"I'm sorry… It was-" She was caught up in the emotion of the memory for a moment and swallowed back the intensity of it before she could explain. "It was the way you were standing there. Shifting back and forth, not locking your knees, the way you held your arms…it reminded me of my father." She swallowed once again, willing the pain to stay down. "When he came back from the Pacific, he carried himself the same way."
Turning to face her fully, Mr. Brass asked, "Where'd he serve?"
"Guadalcanal. With the 1st Marines." There was a reverence in her words, as it was with anyone discussing that brutal and bloody fight.
"Well then, if he came back from that rock, he must have been one heck of a Marine, young lady." There was considerable pride in his voice as he spoke. "I wasn't quite there yet. Came in to the 2nd Marines Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion after the Marshall Islands Campaign. Part of the new troops that boosted it up from Company status in '44." She instantly recognized the same manner of speaking her older brother often used after his time in Korea. It all served to make her feel very comfortable with the gruff administrator.
"You probably covered some of the same sand as my father." The sadness of that fact touched her enough to show through.
Mr. Brass nodded solemnly. No more words passed between them as they listened to Dr. Grissom speak about her work at Caltech.
Miss Sidle watched as he absently spun the golden service ring around his right ring-finger. Sharing so many quirks with her father and brother, she began to wonder if there was some kind of carriage class which all Marines attended in basic training. But her thoughts were interrupted when he looked away, and without warning asked, "How long has he been gone?"
She was not surprised that he figured her out, and she only answered quietly, "Fourty Six."
"Yeah." There was not even a hint of accusation in his response. He simply continued to look in the direction of the lunchroom when he spoke again. "A lot of things in war stay with you. Not everyone can live with that." As she nodded in agreement, she found a solid but gentle hand in her shoulder.
They could both tell that Dr. Grissom was finally winding it up. "Okay, kid… Get ready for your big moment."
It was only Wednesday, but Dr. Grissom felt like the week had suddenly grown by ten days. The strain of bringing in a new staff member was doubled by the impact her presence was already making on the other faculty, as well as the student body. She was the new big thing on the campus, and everyone knew it.
As Mr. Brass would say, "the roosters were strutting through the schoolyard" with the arrival of their new science teacher. He had already been forced to intervene on her behalf when their over-eager student teacher decided to come down with a serious crush on the charming woman. While she appeared to be graciously weathering the storm of his attentions, he felt compelled to set the young man straight on the facts of appropriate behavior among colleagues.
Passing through the lunchroom, he overheard some of the boys discussing her various attributes with great enthusiasm. Although their knowledge of human anatomy was quite impressive, he was not ecstatic about their familiarity with the information as it pertained to one of his staff members.
Quietly standing behind the boys as they launched even further into their repertoire, he deliberately cleared his throat to alert them of his presence.
"Um, Dr. Grissom, hey there." The young man in the letter jacket stuttered, obviously concerned by what the man may have heard.
"Indeed, Mr. Costello." He gave no indication of congeniality to the young man. Instead, he maintained a powerfully stern expression.
"Is there, ah, anything, we could um, do for you, Sir?" The anxiety in the boy's voice should have satisfied his higher brain, but that was not the case today.
"It appears to me that you and Misters Birrer, Thomas and Radford are progressing well ahead of your fellow students in your biology studies." He looked down his nose at the four athletic youths.
Each boy easily beat him in either weight or height, but he was far from a slight man. However, what he may have lacked in physical superiority, Dr. Grissom made up for in sheer presence. One by one, they all cowered under his intense scrutiny. "Given your depth of knowledge on the subject, perhaps you are in need of a greater challenge."
Everyone one of the boys instantly became crestfallen, as they prepared for the worst. "If you would stop by Mr. Brass' office after school, I believe he will have a suitable exercise for the advancement of your education on the matter." They all nodded and returned to their lunch table, all of the swagger gone from their stride.
It was one of his few pleasures as an administrator, the handing out of well-deserved punishments. And given their detailed discussion of Miss Sidle's physical attributes, they should have no problem identifying the taxonomic rankings of the list of animals he left with Mr. Brass.
He began his walk through the corridors shortly after the last clanging bell signaled the floodgates to open and release his students for another day. Dr. Grissom always took one last survey of the building before settling back into his office to complete the day's paperwork. He strolled through the hall contemplating the position he was now in, and the actions it was forcing him to take.
He certainly wanted the position filled, but he was beginning to have serious doubts about the sanity of Dr. Robbins for bringing such a disruptive and distracting influence into his school.
While she did genuinely appear to be asset as a teacher, he was growing worried about her innately engaging personality. After sitting in on her last class that morning, he had no doubt about her ability to inspire the students with the learning process. He was simply more concerned with her natural ability to inspire the students in other less noble pursuits.
As his walk progressed to the science wing, his attention was drawn toward the laboratory room. A pair of extremely animated voices came from the classroom at the far end of the hallway. This would normally be a welcome experience, if it was not for the fact that all the students were gone for the day.
As he got closer, he was able to discern the voices of their new teacher and the obvious twang of their Texas born physical education teacher and football coach.
"C'mon now, you can't be serious… How's that gonna help me?"
"You might find that 'Ole Mr. Newton' has quite a few things that apply to everything you do."
Hearing their exchange, Dr. Grissom was loathe to interrupt, but he found himself unable to walk away. Instead, he listened from the safe distance of the hall.
"Sounds like a bunch of hooey to me." Mr. Stokes particular style of speech often left Dr. Grissom cringing.
"Okay, the First Law of Motion states that," her voice was even, if not a little lower than he was accustomed to in a woman. However, it suited her instructions quite well as she stated, "'Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.'"
"Blah, blah, blah, blah… Still not hearin' anything useful." Dr. Grissom shook his head at the antics of their football coach. The man was an insufferable clod sometimes, and if it were not for his ability to maintain the athletics department, he would have told him so on many an occasion.
"Let's say you've got an open man in the backfield, but he's just standing there with nothing to do." Giving a nod to her ability to connect with the coach on own level, Dr. Grissom was impressed with her quick thinking.
"Somebody's gonna be runnin' laps for the next school year."
Before he had a chance to grow disgusted with Mr. Stokes' lack of seriousness, the new teacher chastised him herself. "If you aren't going to take this seriously, why am I bothering?"
He moved another step closer, allowing him a view of the scene in the classroom from the window.
The coach had his hands up in the air, surrendering to her objection. "Alright, alright… I'm listenin'. Teach me."
He watched as she rolled her eyes at the man before continuing with her lesson. "Okay, the principle is that an object at rest will not move unless it is met with a force. Or, an object in motion will not change its velocity unless acted upon by a force. So, your player, standing in the backfield, is an object at rest-"
"And the force of my hand up the back of his helmet is what's gonna get him movin', right?"
She let out a small laugh with his interruption, and the smile accompanying it brightened her face immensely. "Something like that… But, can you see how physics relates to your work?"
"It's all about motion and energy and forces, right?" Finally, some progress was being made between the two, and Dr. Grissom was happy to see his teachers working together so well.
"At the basest level, but yeah." As she nodded her head, he watched the no longer subtle waves of her hair dance around her face. Over the course of the day, her hair seemed to be curling a bit more. Running a hand across the tightly cropped curls atop his own head, he knew from experience that the ample humidity in the air was the most likely culprit.
Mr. Stokes leaned back against the counter and crossed his arms over his broad chest. "So, what do you want from me?"
Miss Sidle removed her beige colored jacket as she explained, "I want to include Newton's Laws in your instruction with the boys. Show them the physics of their daily lives and how that knowledge can make them better players." Dr. Grissom instantly noticed that the woman's arms were bare without her jacket. It was not uncommon for women to wear sleeveless tops, it was, after all, 1959, but he certainly preferred that his teachers maintain a higher standard.
Before he could formulate a method for bringing this up to the new teacher, the obviously interested Mr. Stokes spoke with a lower tone in his voice. "I'm likin' this so far...but what do I have to do?"
She shrugged her slender shoulders and answered plainly, "Just some simple demonstrations, and I'll incorporate your demonstrations in my classroom, showing them the finer points of the process. By giving them something tangible to relate to, they will be better able to understand the equations."
"Gimme some examples."
"Okay, stand right there." She waited until he moved away from the counter and stood squarely on his feet, and then she stepped in behind him, placing her hands on his arms. The pale peach skin of her arms stood out in stark contrast to the well-tanned skin of the football coach. It was, however, sublimely complimented by the soft chocolate brown of her top. He followed the length of her arm with his eyes until it stopped at the shoulder of the sleeveless knit sweater.
Her continued explanation broke his gaze and he felt a warmth filling his cheeks at the realization he had once again been staring at the new teacher. "Now…I am the force acting upon you, the object, which is impeding upon your velocity. Basically, I have become gravity, which is keeping you from moving forward, much like gravity keeps you tied to the ground."
He turned around as she released her grip and smiled. "I got it, and I can really use that one in wrestling. But what about tackling…wouldn't that fall into your first law thingie?"
"Actually, that would more relate to Newton's Second Law of Motion." She turned to the blackboard and wrote out the familiar equation for Newton's Second Law; F=ma. "In the Second Law, your force is equal to the mass of the object times the rate of acceleration, or velocity."
Nodding his head, the man appeared to be working it all out in his head as he squinted at the blackboard notation. "So, the heavier and faster the player, the greater the force is when acted on by another object?"
"Exactly!" Miss Sidle spun around with her exclamation; an even brighter smile lighting up her face. "But it also means that if one of your smaller players increases his rate of velocity, he would also increase his total force. As well as the converse, one of your slower players would need to have more mass in order to exert greater force upon an object."
"Alright… I'm likin' this physics thing now." Mr. Stokes returned her smile and added a subtle wink, while Dr. Grissom was finding the direction of their conversation to be worrisome.
"And the demonstration for this is easy. Just stand there." As he followed her instruction, Dr. Grissom observed as the woman placed her hands flat on his chest and pushed, barely moving him a discernable amount. "As you can see, with my mass, and minimal velocity, I am unable to move you, the object."
Mr. Stokes moved his hands to rest above his hips, widening his stance. "That's a given."
"But what happens when I back up and increase my velocity?" She took several steps back and then went forward, landing once again on his chest. That time he swayed an inch or more. "With greater velocity, even with my lesser mass, I was able to move you, because my total force was greater than that of the force that holds you in place."
"I can see where this is going." The grin playing at the corner of his mouth was suspect to Dr. Grissom. He could also see where they were going.
"Now, if I once again increase my velocity, thereby increasing my net force, I will be able to move you from your mark." From the window in the door he was able to watch her move to the back of the room and then accelerate forward, launching herself at Mr. Stokes.
When they met, Mr. Stokes changed his stance again, and instead of allowing her to push into his chest, he swept her up into his arms and whirled her around, producing a very distinctive squeal of shock. "Nick!"
The familiarity of her exclamation was more than he was prepared for, and he became locked firmly in place. It was not the kind of behavior he expected from his staff, and it left him feeling extremely uncomfortable and just a bit angry. But as their easy laughter trickled out into the hallway, he found himself unable to interrupt their display in order to correct them.
Spying on people from hallways was another form of unacceptable behavior, and he left the science wing in a hurry to correct his own actions first.
It was only her third day as a high school teacher and she was already exhausted by the experience. She had forgotten exactly what teenagers were really like, and she was beginning to believe she must have skipped that stage of development, since she seemed to have no memory of it. But as she sat quietly at the table in the teacher's lounge trying to eat her lunch, Miss Sidle could not remember a time when she felt so out of her element in a school.
Of course, spending her entire adult life being the youngest person in the room had probably colored her perceptions of the world. Few women entered the field of physics in the first place, but to have also done so as a young woman was practically unheard of in academia. The typical woman in physics, if there was one, came to the field via years of mathematical work, either as a teacher or simply as a mathematician.
It was only by accident that Miss Sidle even delved into the arena of education. She soon learned while working toward her master's degree that not all students entering the collegiate level were nearly as well educated in the sciences as she had been. She began asking these students what were their biggest stumbling blocks to learning the sciences.
The two things she found more and more were their inability to understand how the material related to them and the mathematics. After explaining the phenomenon to her advisor he suggested that she look for ways to combat those problems. With the country striving to compete in the space race, there would be ample money available for grants to study the ways in which the increase of science education could be achieved. And that was what brought her to high school science instruction. She needed a controlled laboratory in which to prove the theories she was developing.
However, she was not exactly ready for the overwhelming experience of such a large school environment. The Village Day School had done nothing to prepare her for such an onslaught of teenage revelry and intrigue. Sometimes being the daughter of a college professor had its drawbacks, and her small, progressive, private instruction prior to college was one of those pitfalls.
Still lost in the thoughts of what had brought her to Woodrow Wilson, Miss Sidle picked absently at the fruit on her plate, until she was drawn out of her thoughts by a kind voice. "I had that same look my first week here."
Miss Sidle looked up into the face of the biology teacher, Miss Wendy Simms. "Pardon?"
"That overwhelmed, tired, confused thing you've got going there. I had that same look when I started here last year." She smiled and nodded her head, knowing the woman was merely trying to make her feel at home. "This place can really bowl you over if you let it, but it's also a fantastic school. Much better than a lot of places, I can tell you that much."
"Have you been to many schools?"
Miss Simms sat down in the chair opposite Sara and contemplated her answer. "As a teacher, this is my fourth school. But as a student, I'm not sure I could actually name them all." The puzzlement must have shown on Miss Sidle's face, because the other woman laughed and then said, "Sorry, but I've spent my whole life traveling from one Army base to another. First, with my father, and then my husband. It's hard to keep up sometimes."
"That could prove daunting, I imagine." Sara quickly tried to steer the conversation away from the military. "How long have you been teaching?"
"A little more than seven years now, since I graduated from Cal-Berkeley in the Spring of '51." She chuckled at something and then said, "And I ended up teaching summer school at The Presidio, which then led to getting married in the base chapel that August."
"Met your husband there, I take it?"
"No, I actually met him when we were children, on a base in Hawaii. I ran into him at The Presidio while he was taking some training, and we just kind of fell over the edge for each other." Miss Simms' comfortable smile told Sara she was indeed a happy woman.
"Oooo… You must have gotten Wendy talking about that husband of hers. She always looks like that when she talks about Tony." Miss Webster entered the teacher's lounge with an excited flair and quickly sat down between to the two women. "Has she told you why she uses her maiden name at school yet?" Sara shook her head no, and the woman excitedly continued. "It's such a great story. You have to tell her, Wendy!"
"Well, if you'd give me a chance, I just might." She made a disapproving face at the new arrival and then turned back to Sara. "When I got my degree and my license, I wasn't married yet. When Tony found out all the trouble I would have to go through to change the name on it, he wouldn't hear of it."
Miss Simms' face definitely took on a dreamy expression as she talked about the actions of her husband. "He told me as long as I was Mrs. Vartann at home, then I could stay Miss Simms in the classroom. He also said he thought the students would probably pay more attention to me if I was a mysterious maid, than if I was the old married lady."
"Isn't that just the sweetest thing, Sara?" Sara smiled and nodded her head at Miss Webster's question.
Any further idle conversation was halted with the arrival of Mr. Brown and Mrs. Willows. Sara was simply glad for the break.
Mr. Brown bowed his head and greeted them with a polite, "Ladies."
Mrs. Willows merely nodded and went to the coffee maker. The quiet in the room must have intrigued her, because when she turned back around she asked, "Gossiping again, Mandy?"
Turning, with an aghast expression on her face, Mandy Webster quickly answered, "No! I was simply helping Sara to get to know everyone better."
"Right." She quirked her eyebrow up and said, "Gossiping it is, then. Which reminds me…I understand from Miss Thomasson that your Math Club meeting went over again last night." There was an accusatory tone in her voice as she made her comment.
"Don't look at me. It's Mr. Keppler who doesn't understand how a clock works. And I told Mr. McKeen that I would take the trash cans to the incinerator myself, so it's not like we kept him late either." Mandy was quick to defend herself from the older woman's assault.
"But the students have other work to complete, Mandy. They can't spend all their time on math and still graduate from school. I had two students falling asleep in class this morning, because they were up late finishing their English assignments." Casting a decidedly unfriendly glare in her direction, Mrs. Willows fired the last shot, "And they were both in Math Club yesterday."
Not willing to allow the woman to have the upper hand, Mandy fired back with, "Duly noted. And when you figure out how to control Mr. Keppler's endless rambling, you be sure to let the rest of us know, won't you?"
Miss Simms and Mr. Brown both turned away from the scene, and Sara knew they were working hard to stifle the laughter Mandy's pointed jab evoked. There was obviously a great deal more going on behind the scenes than she was aware of, as yet.
Trying to ignore the obvious innuendo, Mrs. Willows turned her attention on the new girl. "Miss Sidle, was that monstrosity I saw Mr. Stokes leaning on last night your car?" There was something in the woman's tone that bothered Sara, but she was unable to put a finger on it.
"Ah, probably. He offered to take it into the shop for me." Sara nervously looked around the room as she suddenly appeared to be at the center of attention. "Studebaker's are notoriously temperamental, and he wanted to get it checked out." With all eyes on her she finally realized that the woman was insinuating something about her personal relationship with the football coach.
Thankfully, Mandy came to her rescue. "I picked her up this morning. Nick and I were worried driving that thing across country like she did might have done some damage, so he had an old Marine Corps buddy take a look at it for her." And just to quell any further suspicions about her relationship with Nick, Mandy was quick to add, "They both served under Sara's older brother in Korea."
Mr. Brown attempted to alleviate the somewhat catty nature of the conversation by chiming in with, "Armored Cavalry, wasn't it?"
Mandy smiled at his gesture and answered, "That's right. Nick was a gunner and Ted was the driver. They both served under Sara's brother Dan."
"Oh right. I think I've met Ted a few times." Mr. Brown nodded his head and then asked, "He has that garage over on Laguna and Figueroa, right?"
"That's him. Sweet guy, even if he's not very talkative." Sara breathed a little easier, knowing the tense situation had been diffused by her newfound friend.
Mr. Brass chose that moment to walk into the lounge and interjected, "I can't imagine anyone is very talkative next to you, Mandy." He winked at the women seated around the table as he walked to the coffee pot.
"Now, Jim." Mandy blushed at the older man's joke.
"Sorry, kid, but I only speak the truth. At least, that's what I'm saying this week. Ask me next week and I might give you another story." Everyone laughed at his easy nature and the room instantly became more relaxed.
"Jim, do you have the rest of those progress reports ready for me yet?" Mrs. Willows nervously tightened the sweater around her shoulders as she spoke.
"Ah, not yet. Keppler is supposed to have the advanced math grades back to me after school today. Said something about going long on something or other." Mr. Brass shrugged off the subject of the tedious math teacher as a minor annoyance. "I don't know. I usually stop listening after the first few words out of the man's mouth. Anyway, if he's got them done today, I'll have them in your box by morning, okay?"
"I suppose." She seemed put off by his attitude and stiffened her spine when she finally said, "I'll finish the first round tonight and give them to you in the morning. If you'll excuse me?" She waited until he gave her a wave of his hand before she left the room.
Just barely under his breath, Mr. Brass offered his own commentary on the situation. "I swear, some days…I think that woman needs to get off the broomstick for a while."
Friday was a long time in the making, but it had finally arrived. As Vice Principal James Brass made his rounds through the school during the lunch hour, he found his steps a little lighter than they had been all week. It was progress report season, and as usual, Mrs. Willows was high on the horse to make sure everyone was held accountable for their actions. The only good part of his day all week was his stroll through the halls during the lunch hour.
As he walked casually through the halls, he greatly enjoyed the peace and quiet. The only sounds came from the faint murmur of noise leaking into the halls from the lunch room, and the tight click of his hard soled shoes on the tiled floors, echoing through the halls. Click, click, click. Alone with his thoughts, he made his way through the school, insuring the safety of his students and the staff.
When he neared the hall to the science wing, his peaceful journey was interrupted. The staccato whine of Mr. Hodges voice carried through the vacant hall to assault his ears. He stopped cold and hung his head. Mr. Brass squeezed the bridge of his nose, knowing he would have to deal with the incredibly frustrating little man.
Once he felt prepared to wade into whatever disturbance was brewing, Mr. Brass stepped forward. It quickly became apparent that the heated conversation was happening in the science office. With each step, the voices grew louder.
"I find it in incredibly bad taste that you would involve the Neanderthal set with this scientific research, and yet you are refusing to include your own colleagues in the field. Or are you trying to cut us out to hog the glory for yourself?" Hodges was obviously miffed about something, and Jim Brass knew it was not likely to be settled with a kind word.
"There is little glory in the process of science education in this country, Mr. Hodges. And if you were involved in the field of scientific research, you would understand that all experiments must be conducted in a microcosm, with little room for variation." Mr. Brass stopped at the door, surprised to find the young woman holding her own. "Expanding my theories to include data from another field of study would pervert the data beyond the ability to prove anything."
"Are you trying to insinuate I am not a scientist?" Mr. Hodges' indignation was roiling up into a tempest.
"I am saying that you are not qualified to understand the intricacies of theoretical science research or the fundamental flaws inherent in the current standard of science education in this country." The woman made a good point, and Mr. Brass struggled to keep his chortle of amusement to himself, smothering it beneath his hand.
"This is ridiculous! You have the football coach performing experiments in this nonsense, but refuse to involve my science classes in the process. That is irresponsible behavior. And then you try to insult my intelligence simply because I chose to take my science to the schools, instead of holing up in some university basement smashing magnets together."
"First, I am using the football coach as a means to introduce the fundamentals of physics in everyday life, which is a core principle in my theory of science instruction. Second, I chose to apply my abilities to solving some rather advanced theorems of quantum mechanics in order to help science begin the exploration of outer space in the most advanced laboratories in this country. "
He could tell things were about to get really bad, but when Mr. Brass put his hand on the door knob when Miss Sidle launched into her final assault.
"As opposed to retreating to a nice quiet school room where I could pretend to be superior to everyone else and lord over my students, because I found pure science to be too hard, as you did. And in the course of my studies I discovered a growing problem in the education of our nation's children. So, instead of sitting back and following along on the status quo, I have worked diligently to resolve that failure in our education process and am now attempting to prove, without a doubt, that my solutions can end this backsliding trend which was perpetrated on our youth by such slothful dullards as yourself, Mr. Hodges. "
Listening to her careful, if not harsh, argument, Mr. Brass decided that for once his intervention seemed to be unnecessary. As he stepped back away from the door to continue on his rounds, he heard the quiet applause of the office's other inhabitants.
He walked back through the corridor, shaking his head and smirked as he quietly said, "Go get 'em, Kiddo."
Dr. Grissom slowly climbed the steps to the administrative offices from the main entrance. With the lunch hour over and classes well underway, the remainder of the stragglers had finally entered their classrooms. It was always harder to get the students settled in for learning on a Friday, but he had faith that the staff was always up to the challenge.
When he turned on the landing and looked up the stairs, Dr. Grissom was able to observe a head bobbing back and forth across his horizon. There was someone pacing in the outer office, and judging by the sheer volume of forehead and the bad comb-over style he was able to see from his position, he immediately knew who was impatiently waiting for him.
The rest of the wind ripped from his sails, Dr. Grissom trudged onward and prepared for another marathon gripe session with Mr. Hodges. The man was an insufferable sycophant, a dullard and a horrible teacher to boot. As Dr. Grissom reached that last step, he thought to himself and snorted. And he wears the most unpleasant aftershave known mankind; Eau de Low Tide.
The moment he set his oxford shoe down on the linoleum he was spotted and the chemistry teacher burst out of the office to meet him in the lobby.
"Dr. Grissom! I really need to bring something to your attention. I know you are an exceptionally busy man, but this is crucial, dire even." The tan cardigan with the plaid panels on the front and the brown bowtie did nothing to improve the man's presence as he worked himself into a tizzy with his greeting.
Before he could respond to the man, he had to swallow back the bile as Mr. Hodges smoothed the pomaded comb of hair back down to the side of his head, raking up the mixture of the hair styling chemical and the generally foul aroma of the man into the air. Taking a moment to prevent his stomach contents from making themselves known, Dr. Grissom flatly answered, "I am very busy, Mr. Hodges. What seems to be the crisis this week?"
Turning his hand downward, Mr. Hodges placed his palm on the back of his hip and once again tried to wrangle with the swath of hair. "I think this would be better discussed in private…please?"
Seeing the determination in the man's face, Dr. Grissom knew there would simply be no way out of the discussion. Finally giving in, he dropped his gaze and gestured to office. "After you."
The man's face practically lit up with his answer and he very quickly turned and stepped toward the office. Dr. Grissom, however, walked like a man on his way to meet his fate on the gallows. In many respects, he would have preferred the rope to another conversation with Mr. Hodges.
The students were rapt with attention as Miss Sidle attempted to demonstrate one of the principles of applied physics using a pair of children's toys.
"The Ford truck is traveling on a straight line at a velocity of thirty five miles per hour. And the Chevy truck is traveling in a straight line, on the same plane, in the opposite direction." She placed both die-cast trucks on the island at the front of the classroom as she explained the demonstration.
Before she could finish her description, one of the students had his hand high in the air. Sara checked the seating chart and located his name. "Yes, Daniel?"
"Are you talking about a game of Chicken?" The young man looked confused and shocked at the same time.
His confusion was matched by hers when she asked, "What's 'Chicken'?"
The diminutive girl with the long dark hair in the front row raised her hand and answered, "That's when you have two gearheads with more hot rod than brains racing towards each other until one of them flinches and pulls off to prevent the crash." She gave a pointed look at the first student and then concluded, "The one who flinches is the chicken."
Sara fought to restrain the chuckle in her throat as the boy gave the gesture of a mock arrow striking him. "Thank you, Leah…but no. This is not 'Chicken,' because no one is going to flinch in this demonstration."
"You're gonna crash cars? Why?" Daniel seemed even more confused by Sara's answer, and that was exactly where she wanted him, as well as the other students, who were all paying very close attention.
"No, we're going to use physics to figure out what will happen if these two cars were to collide on this specific path, at specific velocities." She watched as the students began to write notes down in order to keep up. "Because remember, an object will remain in motion unless acted on by another force, which is part of…" Sara waited to hear the answer.
The class did not disappoint as they spoke in unison, "Newton's First Law."
"Very good!" As Sara reveled in the small victory a knock came to the lab room door. "Okay, I have the details listed on the blackboard. I want you all to write them down and decide which formula is going to give you the information you need to determine the outcome."
She watched as all of the students began to write down the information while she walked to the door. She opened it and took a note from the student waiting there for her. Sara checked back to see that her students were still diligently working on the problem, and then she opened the note.
Please come to my office at your earliest convenience regarding an important matter.
The rest of the class was a blur. Sara still connected with the students and managed to employ them in the practical application of Newton's Laws of Motion. But her mind was preoccupied with the note delivered to her classroom.
Sara was at a complete loss as to why the principal needed to see her so urgently. And no matter how she ran the day through her mind she could not come up with a single thing that required any administrative attention.
As soon as the last of her students left the room, Sara quickly put away the trucks and the rest of her materials. After taking one last look around the classroom, satisfied that it was sufficiently tidy for the end of the day, she took the two trash cans and moved them to the classroom door. Shutting off the lights, she took a deep breath and looked at her watch just as the final bell rang for the start of the last class of the day.
She had arranged with Dr. Grissom to keep that period free every day, giving her time to compile the day's data, or to allow her time to drive to Pasadena for meetings with Dr. Feynman when the need arose. Primarily, he was her advisor, but she was also doing work for him whenever she could fit it in. They were both focused on making physics more accessible to the general public, and so their goals often overlapped.
Stopping at the restroom in the teacher's lounge, Sara checked to insure that her appearance was acceptable for a meeting with the principal. She once again silently cursed the abundance of moisture in the air as she struggled to smooth one of the more unruly curls in her hair. Satisfied that she was at least presentable, Sara pulled her jacket hem down one last time and headed off for Dr. Grissom's office.
Arriving at the outer door, Sara took one last deep breath before entering.
"Hello, Miss Sidle. How are you doing today?" the bubbly secretary instantly greeted her.
"Very well, thank you. I am here to-"
She did not bother to wait for Sara's explanation before launching into a long string of dialogue. "Dr. Grissom is out, but he told me to have you wait in his office until he got back, so don't worry about that. He is expecting you, but he's dealing with Mr. Hodges and that always takes forever. Can I get you anything while you're waiting?"
It took Sara several moments before she finally caught up after the woman's rambling machine-gun fire delivery. "Um, no?" Her answer came out as a question and she knew it needed to be corrected. "Thank you, I'm fine. I'll just wait for Dr. Grissom."
After a few more pleasantries, Sara found herself seated inside the principal's office, feeling as though she was about receive a reprimand for some infraction. It gave her just enough time to become completely nervous about the reason for her appearance.
By the time Dr. Grissom's voice trickled in from the outer office she was practically about to come out of her skin.
"I don't care what he says, next time…" The door opened half way during his comment to Miss Tremont. "Do not let that him wait here like that. I refuse to allow this office to become some sort of panic room for his ravings. Is that clear, Judy?" His one large hand still on the doorframe, he waited for her reply.
"Yes, Dr. Grissom. I understand, and it won't happen again." Sara could hear the frustration in the secretary's voice as she answered the man.
"Thank you. Now, could you please look through those detention slips and be sure that Mr. Brass has them before he leaves for the day?" After hearing the woman's affirmative, Dr. Grissom walked into the room.
"Miss Sidle." At first he seemed surprised to see her, but he wasted no time in getting to the meat of the matter. "Thank you for coming so quickly."
"Your note made me believe this was an urgent matter."
"And that it is, in a manner of speaking." Sara's confusion must have been evident on her face, because the man immediately began to explain himself. "I had an impromptu meeting today with one of your colleagues. Mr. Hodges, to be exact." His voice seemed strained as he continued.
"Apparently he is concerned that your procedures are going to prove disruptive to the Science department. And I might be inclined to agree with him at the moment. Can you explain to me why the other teachers in the science department are being excluded from your experiments?"
She tried to stay calm, but her anger over the absurdity of the whole thing quickly got the better of her. "I'm sorry. Are you honestly trying to tell me there's an issue?"
Dr. Grissom stiffened as he sat down in the chair behind his desk. She watched as he ground his jaw for a brief second before carefully responding to her question. "I find your exclusion of the involvement of the other members of the science department to be at issue with the standard operating procedure of this institution."
"I haven't excluded anyone, Dr. Grissom. My findings are available to anyone in the school, and I have been quite clear about inviting the other teachers to observe the process." Sara's spine turned rigid as she defended her practices. "There is nothing exclusionary about my study."
"That is not the information I have been given." Dr. Grissom pushed a pad of paper into his field of view and appeared to be checking his notes. "And I also understand that you have enlisted the assistance of the physical education department, at the expense of the other science teachers."
"Perhaps it is your information that's faulty here. Yes, I have included Mr. Stokes and Mr. Brown in my research, because they are able to show, through practical application, the use of physics in real life demonstrations. I am also going to discuss a few demonstrations with the metal shop teacher, Mr. Dawson. He has already expressed an interest in helping me with a few of the more advanced concepts. Miss Simms plans to tailor sections of her lesson plan to help drive home a few other concepts demonstrated in biology, and Greg-…" Sara stopped when she saw him twitch at her use of the familiar when referring to the excitable student teacher.
She quickly corrected herself, not wanting to offend the man's sensibilities. "Mr. Sanders has volunteered to assist with the data compilation." He still seemed to retain the same strained posture as when she made her protocol slip and it confused her. But she carried on and continued with her final conclusion. "So, as you can see, I have covered all of the bases available within the most controlled areas of demonstration and analysis to provide the cleanest and most incontrovertible data for my dissertation."
He appeared to be chewing on something as she waited for him to respond to her explanation of the situation. When his lips pursed into some indefinable expression, Sara worried she may have crossed the line in her zeal to defend herself and her actions.
"I see. And so what you are really saying is that there is no discernable method for using chemistry as a way to demonstrate these principles, and as a direct result a political hand-grenade gets dropped into my lap. Is that correct?" Sara could sense the anger in every deliberately voiced syllable, but she was unsure about to whom it was being directed.
"Not in the basic terms of the spectrum of the class. Anything beyond those principles and the scope of the class would pervert the data and make it useless in proving my theories." Sara tried to keep her tone even and devoid of emotion, as it seemed that there was enough of that already.
"You make a valid point. Also, it would appear that my information was, at the very least, incomplete." He seemed to calm a bit and sat back in his chair for a moment. She waited, because it seemed as though Dr. Grissom was trying to decide what to say next.
"May I ask if you offered to involve Mr. Hodges in any way on this project?" Sara was sure she saw his eyebrow rise slightly over the top of his glasses as he asked his pointed question.
Sara finally understood where the trouble stemmed from, but she was not in the mood to placate the egotistical Mr. Hodges any longer. "Dr. Grissom… I may not be accustomed to the politics of a high school environment, but I am not ignorant of human nature. Obviously Mr. Hodges is taking offense to his perceived exclusion from my research here at your school. May I be frank with you?"
He nodded, letting her know that she should continue.
"While I can appreciate that this puts you in a precarious position, I cannot and will not allow my work to be subverted by another man's ridiculous sense of self-importance. Mr. Hodges was given the opportunity to participate in the data compilation of this project, as it is the only thing he is qualified to assist with. He was not satisfied with that restrictive position, but that is not my problem." She fixed him with a steely glare which told him without uncertainty she was a serious adversary.
"And these other teachers have better credentials?" His question was instantly met with her ire. There was something about his whole demeanor that seemed to get under her skin in a way which she was not used to dealing.
Without skipping a beat, Sara was determined to show him exactly how well she operated. "Misters Stokes, Brown and Dawson have a specific expertise which allows me to utilize them in some practical demonstrations. Miss Simms has degrees in both secondary education and biology, and is working towards her master's degree in biology. As such, I have authorized her participation as my assistant to help satisfy some of her credits toward that degree. Mr. Sanders is in much the same position, as he applies to graduate school, and he needed the research experience for his acceptance into a program. I do not make arbitrary decisions based on politics or emotion. My work is very important to me, Dr. Grissom. And I do not take chances with it simply to satisfy one man's bruised ego."
"I see." His face remained without a hint of what he was thinking and it only served to aggravate her further.
"I am quite serious Dr. Grissom. And if this problem is going to interfere with that work, then I will gladly take my leave from this school and try to find a more suitable place to complete my research." Sara wanted to end the conversation right there, but he seemed to have a different opinion.
"Is that so, Miss Sidle?"
"It is, Dr. Grissom. I am not here to make things difficult, but I am also not going to subject myself to someone else's selfish rantings and whims. Life is far too short, Sir, for that kind of misery." She was about to launch into full on assault of the ills within a system that created such egomaniacal windbags as Mr. Hodges when Dr. Grissom smirked at her.
"You find this funny?" Her tone was quite indignant.
"Funny? No. But it is highly amusing." He leaned forward into his desk. "Miss Sidle, you've just stated, almost word for word, a very similar argument I made to Dr. Robbins, in an office much like this one, more than fifteen years ago."
Sara felt the heat rise in her cheeks as she began to blush with his explanation. "Oh…"
She watched as he tried to diplomatically restrain his laughter. Sara continued to blush with embarrassment, but she did have to admit that the whole thing was a little humorous and she smiled.
"I am sorry for the trouble, Miss Sidle, and I will do my best to deal with the situation." He stood up from his chair and began to walk toward the door. "I won't keep you any longer. I am sure you have had quite enough excitement for your first week."
Standing up, Sara once again took a moment to straighten her clothes before she turned to face the principal. "I hope I haven't said anything to offend you, Dr. Grissom."
He smiled again and Sara found herself fascinated by the way the skin around his eyes crinkled up around them, bringing a distinct sparkle to light, even through his glasses. "Not at all, In fact, it was refreshing to have someone so effectively and vehemently defend their position without once resorting to false flattery or flowery shows of importance." He bowed his head for brief moment as he held his hand out for hers. "Thank you, it has indeed been an honor to debate with you today."
She was unable to stop the giggle that erupted from her throat as she continued to blush. It was childish, but there was something about him which foiled all of her normal defenses. Sara fought back the giggles and gave him a subdued smile before giving herself leave. "Thank you, Dr. Grissom."
Lowering her gaze to the floor, she quickly departed the office and headed straight for her desk in the science wing. She had a lot of work left to do before ending her day, and she was going to have to clear her head of everything from their conversation if she expected to get anything done at all before she had to leave.
The week had been long and he was glad to see the final cars leaving the parking lot for the weekend as Dr. Grissom stared out of his office window. The window overlooked the athletic fields and the faculty parking area. It afforded him a chance to watch the ballgames as well as keeping tabs on his less than punctual staff members
Breathing deeply, he could smell the freshly turned earth on the baseball diamonds. The groundskeeper was preparing the fields for the winter treatments. The winters in Southern California were not the cold retreat of the rest of the country, but they did have to revive the fields now and then to prevent the weeds in the base path, and to keep the clay fresh for each baseball season.
Typically, he waited until the athletic practices were concluded before he made his own departure from the school, but some days he found himself staring out the window waiting for Mr. Stokes to finally reach his car at the end of the day. This was one of those days.
As he looked down at his watch, he calculated that it would probably be another ten minutes before Mr. Stokes climbed into his bright red, white coved, chrome trimmed 1957 Chevrolet Corvette.
The color alone made it stand out in a teacher's parking lot, but the convertible sports car was ostentatiously over the top for a high school faculty member. However, Mr. Nick Stokes was not your ordinary school teacher. The youngest son of an oil man and a Texas socialite, he practically had a new car every year thanks to an older brother with a Chevrolet dealership and a deep seeded respect for his little brother the war hero.
Mr. Stokes could have had his choice of schools, or careers, for that matter. And while he started out on that path, attending Princeton University as a collegiate athlete, he was compelled by a sense of duty to enlist in the Marines when war broke out in Korea. Upon returning to the States, he completed his degree at the University of Texas and went into coaching.
Filled with the pride of his military service, and confident in his athletic abilities, Nick Stokes was quickly becoming one of the most successful football coaches in the history of the California school system. Dr. Grissom knew that he had been approached by more than one university to join their coaching staffs, but he also knew that the man was quite happy in his current position.
Dr. Grissom smiled, knowing he managed to successfully create a nurturing environment for not only their students, but for his faculty as well. Comforted in that thought, he was caught unawares when an unexpected figure crossed the faculty parking lot to stand beside the red sports car. Carrying a rather substantial armload of books, Miss Sidle leaned back against the door of the car as she continued to study a composition book sitting open atop the pile.
With a defeated sigh, Dr. Grissom realized that whoever had chosen Mr. Stokes in the betting pool for the first move on the new teacher must have won a nice pot. Between the previous scene he witnessed in the laboratory and the fact that Miss Sidle was obviously waiting for him, it seemed he had not only made the first move, but Mr. Stokes was as much the consummate ladies man as the staff long purported him to be.
While the man possessed many admirable traits, Dr. Grissom found his devil may care attitude to be out of place with his position at the school and for his age. Texas playboy was not a thing anyone should aspire to, and it certainly was not the kind of thing he wanted as an example for his students. He was willing to overlook the flaw in the past, because Mr. Stokes seemed to confine his questionable activities outside the realm of the school. Seeing it come to the school was another matter altogether.
His eyes still riveted to the young woman in the parking lot, he was unable to turn away even though he considered it beyond appropriate. Such voyeuristic behavior was not something he condoned, but he found himself fascinated by the woman's carriage as she continued to study some pertinent piece of information carried in that composition book. Perhaps it was some new equation attempting to solve the mysteries of quantum mechanics, or it might be a particularly troublesome bit of data from her research in science education reform.
There was something inherently captivating about a woman with such astounding intelligence, but even more so with a woman of her uncommon beauty as well.
She was indeed an incredibly attractive woman, and she was possessed of a grace and quiet elegance that practically sang with vitality and pure splendor. Miss Sidle was not one of those women taken with over adorning themselves with cosmetics and baubles.
The only jewelry he noticed on her person throughout the week was a simple gold cross or a classic strand of pearls and a thin banded gold bracelet with a single charm dangling from it. He supposed she was one of those women who tried for an understated and simple look, but her delicate beauty would always shine through.
He watched as she reached for the pencil mostly hidden by her hair, tucked in behind her ear. When she began to scribble furiously across the pages, Dr. Grissom imagined that she had just come to some startling epiphany which would completely reshape the world of physics. But it was dashed when she just as quickly began to erase every word of her discovery.
Dr. Grissom's focus was pulled away from her when Mr. Stokes ran up to his car and surprised the young woman with a shout.
In a flash, Dr. Grissom's cheeks flooded with embarrassment. He had been day dreaming, and that was simply not something a fourty-seven year old high school administrator should be doing with his precious time. And he most certainly should never have been day dreaming about members of his staff.
No matter how attractive that staff member might be, he was fifteen years her senior and a professional superior. It would not do for him to be wasting time mooning after the young woman, especially when she was quite obviously enamored with tall, burly, swaggering Texans.
He turned away from the window and sat down at this desk with a stack of progress reports. The last thing he wanted to do was to have any chance of running into someone as he left the building.
He proceeded to get a head start on the progress reports until it was time to leave for his monthly card game. Dr. Grissom was happy to be alone with his private embarrassment.
It had taken her the better part of a week, but Miss Sidle was still struggling with the letter she wanted to send to her older brother back in New York. Every time she was sure of what to say, she would furiously begin to write, stop, read it over again and erase the whole passage. It was a slow and arduous process, frustrating her to no end.
Her brother Dan was a wonderful man in every way, but he also worried incessantly about his unmarried, too smart for her own good, little sister. And he always had.
When their father left to fight in the Great War, Dan naturally stepped into the shoes of the "man of the family," even though he was barely more than a boy at the time. And that most definitely included worrying about his little sister.
He seemed to be intent on worrying about her on every topic, from her diet and sleep schedule to her potential years as an old maid thanks to her insistence on being "too smart for her own good."
In her eyes, she was barely thirty-two years old and still had so much life yet to live. There were theories to prove or disprove, there were places to go, there were things to see, there were so many more experiences yet to be had. She had only barely scratched the surface on the possibilities in her life. Possibilities granted to her by the service Dan and their father gave to protect their country. And she was going to grab hold of each of those gifts and treasure them forever.
Dan was happily heading up the civil engineering program at Columbia University and raising his burgeoning family. He even made a place for their mother to live with them, and they were all content with the path their lives had taken. She simply wished they could afford her the same consideration.
Her mother had finally come to terms with the fact that Sara was going to live her own life, but that still left her brother Dan. He was slowly coming around, but the move to California was the hardest on him. While he was happy that she was selected to work under such a well-known and highly respected member of the physics community, he wished that she had taken the much closer fellowship at Princeton instead.
Her brother eventually accepted that in order for her to realize her dreams she would have to make the move, but it still worried him to have her so far away. That worry was only assuaged when he discovered his old war buddies would be near by to keep tabs on her for him. And as much as she wanted to do everything on her own, she had to admit that it was nice to have a few familiar faces to connect with, being so far from home.
Nick Stokes was a good man, and he had nothing but respect and total admiration for her brother and the time they served together. As a result, with him around, it was a bit like having a surrogate brother. Right down to his need to torment her.
This was evidenced once again when he ran up to the car and pounded on it to startle her from her thoughts and nearly made her dump the stack of books in her arms. "Nick!"
"Gotcha again." His deep belly laughing was a soothing balm to her frazzled nerves, and she reluctantly smiled at him.
"Next time, a simple 'Hey Sara!' will do." She gave him a mock glare to try and make a point, but his broad and contagious smile was still firmly in place.
"Anyway, I just need to grab my briefcase from the school and then we can go get your car." He was already quick timing it into the school as he spoke.
She called after him, "Does that mean it's passed inspection now?"
"Only until we can find you a real car," he shouted over his shoulder as a blue Impala pulled in beside her.
Miss Webster rolled down her window and leaned out of the driver's side to say, "Don't let him give you any guff about that car. He thinks just because it didn't come off of his brother's car lot, it can't be any good."
"Between you and me…I hate that car." She leaned forward conspiratorially and whispered, "You didn't hear this from me…but I really want a Karmann Ghia, or an Alfa Romeo Sprint."
"Blasphemer!" Mandy shouted in false astonishment. "You could get shot for saying stuff like that, ya know." Her delighted giggles were still hanging in the air when Nick finally returned.
"What are you women cluckin' about now?" Nick asked as he slipped in to properly greet the bubbly woman in the blue sedan. "Afternoon, Lady." He punctuated the greeting with a chaste kiss on her lips and a wide grin.
"We were just talking about what kind of car would be good for Sara." Mandy's cheeks pinked with the gesture and she tried to hide it with talking.
"Ah." Nick quickly opened the passenger door for Sara and turned his thoughts inward with the scowl that formed on his face. "I'm thinkin' either a Delray or a Biscayne. Convertible, of course. We got to get some color in them cheeks somehow." He winked at the woman as she pulled her long legs into his sports car.
"Well, I'll leave you to sort out her car. I need to get ready for my hot date tonight." Mandy gave Sara a mischievous smile as she explained.
Nick's scowl was back in place, but it was obvious it was being done only for affect. "I sure hope this fella of yours knows what he's gettin' himself into, Miss Webster. 'Cause I may have to give him what for if he's not treatin' you right."
"I'd beat you to it, you better believe it." Mandy glared at him for a moment before the shining smile split her face.
Pounding on the white top of her car, he laughed and sent Mandy on her way. "Off with you!"
When he closed the driver's door behind him and put on his sunglasses, Nick turned to Sara and said, "I'm sure you'd rather have some cute little import, but I think everybody'd sleep a lot better if you had a little more car around you for protection out on these open roads, Sara. This ain't New York, kid, and there are some real crazies out on the roads around here. And I can definitely get you a great deal on a nice Chevy."
Sara screwed up her face into a very serious expression and then raised a single eyebrow when she asked, "With or without the longhorns?"
Every chair was precisely chosen for the inhabitant, each snack bowl suited to the tastes of the guest, and the music selections resting on the phonograph chosen to appeal to each member of the table. Dr. Jason Gideon was a most fastidious host, catering to the needs of every guest whenever humanly possible. However, there was an ulterior motive to this particular event. He wanted no distractions when they played cards at his house, because he wanted to win, and his turn to host was the only chance he had to control the environment to insure this outcome.
It was the second Friday of the month and that meant it was time for their monthly game night. His wife Sarah would always spend the night with her sister in Los Angeles when it was his turn to host, and he would keep the house open the whole next day to air out the cigar smoke before she returned. And on the nights when the game was hosted by one of the others, he would return home late into the night and find the blankets and his pajamas waiting for him on the couch.
While he never wished to disturb her sleep when coming in late, she was also very sensitive to the cigar smoke smell which would permeate his being after each game. He came in, put his malodorous clothing in the wash, and changed in the laundry room before curling up in the couch for the remainder of the night. Theirs was a life of routine and order, and poker night was simply a part of the larger pattern which made up that life.
As a psychologist and guidance counselor, his work was solving the intricate puzzles of the adolescent human mind. It was a world ruled by chaos and disorder on every level. But in his home, he and his wife maintained order and decorum at all times. And Mrs. Gideon knew all about order, as a university librarian, she was well versed in the rules and practices of order.
Their house was filled to the rafters with books and the trinkets collected over a lifetime together. It offered comfort and great peace to both of them, to be surrounded by knowledge and literature at all times. However, game nights were held in the basement, under a lone ceiling light, on a card table, with an odd assortment of chairs. The phonograph was an old one, and Jason had moved it down there to try and drown out the sound of the rickety old icebox they kept in the basement in the event of a need for more space.
In that basement, Jason Gideon controlled every aspect of the environment, and that gave him a sense of peace and confidence.
When the careful rap on the basement door was heard, Jason knew that his first guest had arrived. Dr. Robbins was the other reason they had their game nights in his basement. To ask the man to climb the steps necessary to hold the game upstairs would have been an uncivilized act.
Jason smiled as he opened the door. "Dr. Robbins, I presume."
"I would certainly hope so, since it is his Scotch we'll be drinking this fine October evening." The two men enjoyed a polite amount of laughter at the joke, as Jason took his coat.
They made casual small talk as Jason took the Scotch to the bar and poured them each a Scotch and soda. "I've had some rather favorable reports regarding your newest hire, Albert."
"I had no doubts, Jason. None at all." Albert gratefully took the glass and waited for his friend to raise his in a toast.
"To absent friends?" His glass tilted in the direction of the older man as he waited for him to return to the phrase.
"To absent friends." They each took a savoring sip from their glasses and sat comfortably back in their respective seats.
Jason remarked, "I must admit, that I expected far more of a fuss being made over the addition. If for no other reason than because she is not the norm for this part of the country."
"True. She is definitely not your typical California girl, but I think that actually helps to make people take her more seriously. But then again…" Albert gave him a devilish wink and said, "She's got quite the quick wit to back up the smarts."
"Oh yes." Jason nodded to show his agreement. "Jim tells me she's already managed to get Mr. Hodges squared away, and in record time, no less."
Albert huffed at the notion, "Ha, if I thought she couldn't deal with that folderol I wouldn't have hired her in the first place."
They were still laughing about his analysis of the woman's abilities when a knock was heard at the door.
Judging from the quiet and unobtrusive nature of the knock, Jason immediately deduced it to be Dr. Grissom. For a man with such a commanding and authoritative presence, he was exceptionally endowed with an ability to remain almost invisible when he wished it.
Upon opening the door, Jason knew that his supposition was correct. Dr. Gil Grissom solemnly stood his post until Jason invited him in. "Always happy to see you, Gil. Come on in."
"Thank you, Jason. And I hope we haven't chased your poor wife away once more." Never one to arrive empty-handed, Gil passed him a bag containing a bottle of single malt Scotch and a bottle of red wine. "I remembered that she enjoyed that Pinot Noir we had at Mr. Cavallo's retirement party, and I thought it might be a suitable peace offering."
"I'll be sure to tell Sarah you said as much. But please, don't worry about her. She enjoys the excuse to stay in Los Angeles and go shopping with her sister." He closed the door behind Gil as the man crossed the room to greet his friend and mentor.
"Albert, I see you're doing as well as ever." Gil bent down and shook the man's hand.
"Clean living and staying out of my wife's way as much as humanly possible is the key." The men laughed at Albert's joke as Jason went to the bar to prepare Gil's usual; Scotch Neat.
They busied themselves with discussions of the upcoming presidential race, the economic woes of the recent recession, and the heat lasting so late into the year, as they awaited the arrival of their fourth.
Jim Brass was the only member of their little club who still had a child at home. Waiting until after his service in the Marine Corps, Jim married late and his daughter Ellie was only twelve years old. As a result, he was always the last man to arrive, enabling him time to have dinner with his family before his wife dropped him off at the host's home. When it was his turn to host, Gil graciously allowed him to use his home instead of trying to uproot Jim's wife and daughter.
The conversation eventually meandered its way around to work as they waited.
"Gil, I hear from Jason that things are going well with your new addition. I would be interested in hearing your opinions on the matter." Albert swirled the slightly bubbling amber liquid in his glass as he spoke.
"I think perhaps it's too early to call it a success, Albert. After all, the poor woman has been there less than a week." Jason listened as Gil coyly attempted to steer the conversation away from the topic. "But I can say without reservation that your student teaching program is off to a fantastic start. Young Mr. Sanders is learning a great deal about the practical application of his studies, and Miss Simms was an excellent choice for a mentor."
"Good to hear. Quite a remarkable woman, that Miss Simms." Albert tipped his drink in her name as he continued, "She and her husband have lived quite the adventurous life, and I was thrilled they chose our little community to settle down into."
"Remarkable is an appropriate description, though I do question the use of her maiden name." Ever the traditionalist, Gil was still struggling with that little quirk in the young biology teacher.
"It gives her an air of mystery, Gil. And if using that name is all it takes to keep the interest of her students focused, I, for one, am all for it." Jason did enjoy pushing Gil's buttons from time to time, just to see how the normally stoic man would react.
"And where is her sense of propriety in that mystery? I suppose I simply find it to be a bit off putting." Gil sipped at his Scotch and Jason could see his fervent hope that the conversation would soon turn to another topic.
"Perhaps, but her husband was the one to suggest it, and that's all the assurance I need. The times are changing, my dear friend, and I highly suspect this is only a fraction of what we have in store for us." Albert smiled brightly with that statement and then concluded, "And for myself, I have to say that it's a welcome change. I would not have my daughters enduring the hardships my dear wife has suffered in the larger world."
Sitting back with the weight of his thoughts, Albert continued, "They have already benefited from the sacrifices of their mothers, and it is my fervent hope my grandchildren never know a world with such restrictions. I wish that one day, I'll be able tell them horrifying tales of the times when children had to go to separate schools because of their skin color, and were not allowed to learn and advance simply because of their gender."
"You, my dear friend, are an optimist. I cannot imagine that much progress in such a short span of time." Gil raised his glass to his friends, "To progress and optimism, may they both find a happy medium."
After swallowing down the toast, Jason offered one last opinion, "Perhaps you've not met our children, Gil. I know for a fact that my Penelope is not one to temper progress in favor of peace. No, she will work until her last breath to advance the causes of women. And I have no doubt Albert's girls are any less ambitious."
"A truer statement I have never heard, old friend. My Judy and I have raised two very intelligent and caring young women. But we have also raised two incredibly independent and diligent members of this society." Albert chuckled and added, "My oldest has already volunteered to work for the DNC next year during the presidential race. She's thoroughly convinced that if another Republican candidate is elected into the Oval Office the whole country will face economic and social collapse."
"Teresa is the one that got in trouble for defacing an 'I Like Ike' button in high school, is she not?" Jason was always having trouble keeping the Robbins girls apart.
"One and the same. She has always run to the dramatic side of things, I'm afraid. But she gets that from her mother." They all laughed, knowing the real truth of the matter.
In the middle of their laughter, another knock came to the basement door. Jason rose and crossed the room. "Perhaps Jim could offer an opposing position on that little statement."
He opened the door upon the smiling face of their fourth and final member. "'Bout time, I was beginning to think I was gonna be stuck playing Parcheesi with the wife again tonight."
"A fate worse than death, to be sure." Jason gestured his friend to come inside.
"How's life treatin' ya fellas?" Jim entered and immediately removed his blazer.
"Quite well, until you showed up, of course." Albert was the first to level a volley of wit for the evening.
"Sounds to me like maybe someone needs to lose some money tonight…just to keep you humble, of course." Jim shot right back at the man as he made his way to the bar.
"First, you would have to figure out how to beat one of us." Gil was quick to join in on the fray.
"Keep it up, laughing boy." Jim poured himself a double and downed it right off. "Okay, now that I'm caught up, let's get this thing started."
Gratefully enjoying one another's company, the four men moved into their positions around the card table, each taking up their respective seat. Jim left his jacket resting on the stool at the bar and then reached into the breast pocket to retrieve his contribution to the evening.
"Old buddy of mine came across a great find, and he brought me a whole box of these Cuban beauties when he was in San Diego last week." He arrived at the table unfolding a leather sheath of cigars for his companions. "Cohibas."
Shaking his head, Albert took the hand rolled Cuban cigar and said, "One of these days, you will have to introduce me to these friends of yours, Jim."
Jim gave the others a wink as he continued to pass out the cigars and quipped, "Nah, if I did that, then you wouldn't have any reason to keep a middle man like me around."
Once everyone was seated and the cards dealt, the conversation grew much lighter. The normal banter of men in a friendly competition was common, even for them. They were a strange group for a poker game; educators, scholars and veterans.
Most would find their friendship to be an odd affair, but Jason knew that there was certain symbiotic nature to their relationship. Each brought something vital to the group and as a whole they were the perfect mix of personalities and intellects. Jason was the introspective analyst, Albert offered the wisdom of his years and experiences, Jim was the voice of the common man with the wit and wisdom taught to him by a difficult life, and Gil was their defacto conscience and voice of objectivity.
It was that voice of objectivity which often invoked a bit of the devil in Jim Brass. He was determined to keep the solemn and stoic Dr. Grissom on his toes and occasionally knock him off of them. On poker nights, this was doubly true.
"Check to you, Jason." Jim took a deliberate pull from his bottle of beer as he deferred to the man on his left. "So, the wife and I took Ellie out for some ice cream before they dropped me off tonight."
"Call." Jason put his bet into the center of the pot, keeping the game moving as they continued to chat. "Another chocolate ripple night, Jim?"
"Hey, with that new Baskin-Robbins shop, I can try a different flavor every night, if I want." Jason laughed at the obvious joke regarding the company's advertising.
"Jim, you are the exact person they create those campaigns to reach." Gil shook his head in mock disgust as he placed his own bet in the pot.
"Yeah, well, I must not be the only one. Ran into some familiar faces there at the ice cream shop tonight." He waited until everyone had placed their bets and then he laid his cards down. "Full house, Kings over Jacks." There were enough groans around the table to provide Jim with a wide grin as he collected the pot for himself.
"So, which of our finer students were mooning over a table at each other this evening, Jim?" Jason asked as he stood to retrieve another drink from the ice box.
"I don't remember seeing any of the kids there tonight, actually. Probably already at the drive-in, I bet." He busied himself with stacking his newly acquired chips in front of his drink.
"Then who did you see?" Gil was oddly intrigued by Jim's idle conversation, and Jason wondered what could have piqued his curiosity in such a way.
"A couple of our fine upstanding faculty members, out for nice big banana split to share." Jim practically sang the little piece of gossip, and Jason thought he even looked a bit like a canary sitting there.
"Then I already know the culprits. There was a bit of that nonsense in my outer office this week." Gil scoffed at the information and got up from the table to freshen his drink.
"Oh please… Like Archie Johnson has the courage to do anything public like that. No, I'm afraid your poor secretary will have to pine away in obscurity for a while longer." Jim immediately shrugged off Gil's conclusion as false and picked up the cards to begin shuffling.
"Okay, I'll bite." Albert jumped into the conversation. "Who did you see, Jim?"
"Well, I'm glad you asked me that, Albert." He gave the older man a wink to show his good spirits. "I actually ran into our illustrious football coach with a rather attractive brunette on his arm, beaming to high heaven."
Jason was astonished to see Gil sigh with that piece of information, and he waited to see how the whole thing played out. It appeared to him that Jim had finally found something to rattle Gil's cage over.
"Yes, well, I was already aware of that little fact as well." Gil took the card dealt to him and covered it with his hand as Jim continued around the table.
"And you didn't think to share that with me?" Jim questioned with mock sincerity.
"As if you weren't already in on that one? I know for a fact that you visit with Mr. Stokes almost daily, Jim." There was just a touch of annoyance in Gil's voice as he slid the next card into the stack under his palm.
"Do I detect a note of derision in your remarks, Dr. Grissom?" Jason decided to get in on the action this evening.
"Jason, if I wanted your professional opinion, I would ask for it. Now, the bet is yours, or are you not playing?" Gil was busy rearranging the cards in his hand, a sure sign that something was getting to him.
Looking briefly at the cards in front of him, Jason grabbed a nickel chip and tossed it into the center of the table. "I'm in." He took his seat again and continued the torment. "So, for those of us not in the know…who was young Mr. Stokes escorting this evening?"
Jim waited for Gil to reluctantly ante up his bet before he answered the question. "From the nice rock on her finger, I'd say Stokes has gotten himself a fiancé."
"Is that so?" Albert seemed intrigued by the conversation with that.
Gil snorted at the information and shook his head in disgust. "You would think the woman had more sense than that. Rushing into such things never yields positive results."
"What rush?" Jim was confused by the comment. "Those two have been steadies for almost two years now. I'm surprised she's waited this long, to be honest."
"I was not aware they'd known each other that long." It was Gil's turn to show his confusion and Jason was beginning to think it was contagious, because he was completely lost by that point.
"Ya know, Gil." Jim tossed in another two chips to raise the bet. "Raise, two bits. I would think that big brain of yours would let you figure this stuff out a lot quicker. You being the boss and all, you really should know what your employees are up to."
The blood was beginning to boil beneath Gil's skin and Jason could actually watch his color change with his mood. "And how do you suppose I know anything about someone who has barely worked for me even a week?"
"Wait, you think Stokes is foolin' around with the new girl?" They all watched the blood wash right away from Gil's face with Jim's question. "Wowsa! You really do, don't you? Well, old friend, let me be the first to apologize."
"What are you talking about?" His anger was getting the better of his ability to remain calm and Jason hoped they all managed to survive the aftermath of this particular battle.
"Stokes and Miss Webster have been dating for close to two years, and I guess the cowboy finally decided to pop the question tonight. They were out getting some ice cream to celebrate her answer." Jim turned his attention back to his cards, giving his friend a chance to recover from the news.
"I call." Jason quickly put his chips in, waiting to see how the whole thing played out.
"But I saw him with Miss Sidle this afternoon." The confusion on his face could have been read by a two year old.
"Probably taking her to get that rattle-trap Studebaker from the garage. Nicky boy promised her brother he'd look after her while she was in California." Brass waited for the rest of the table to react to his raise.
"She mentioned her brother having someone out here to keep tabs on her. Glad to hear it's such a first class man as that… I call." Albert advanced the bet to Gil and they all waited.
Not wanting to keep the table in silence, Jim continued talking. "That's right. Her brother was his CO over in Korea. A good man, according to Nick. Kept their whole fire team in good stead during their tour of duty. Teaches engineering at Columbia, I think she said. All in all, a first rate family from what I can tell."
Gil continued to stare blankly at his cards when Jason picked up the conversation. "Yes, indeed. She and I had a very interesting conversation about her mother's participation within the literary community of Greenwich Village. She's retired now, but she once taught literature at NYU, and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the young poets and writers in that part of the city. Once instructed Mr. Ginsberg, I hear. And she and her husband were proponents of many of the more progressive forms of education at the primary level. Miss Sidle attended one of the Day School academies in the Village."
"One of the many reasons I saw her as the perfect catalyst for our secondary programs. She's not only a brilliant scholar, but she sees the world in these new perspectives that will help to advance our students to the forefront of their peers." Albert nodded his head in agreement with the others before lightly tapping Gil's elbow. "And it certainly doesn't hurt for her to be so easy on the eyes, either. Keeping the young men's attentions, and giving our young ladies a fine example on which to model themselves, right Gil?"
"What?" He looked up from his cards with a start and Jim was forced to stifle his laugh. "Oh, um, I fold." He stood up from the table and excused himself. "I'm going to get a little air."
After he was safely outside, Albert looked down his nose at Jim and said, "If you're bucking for the worst friend of the year award, Jim, you have certainly gotten my vote."
"What?!" Jim was instantly on the defensive. "Like I'm supposed to know he's got the eye for her?"
Jason decided to end the line of discussion with his own brand of wit. "Exactly… Why ever would he be interested in an intelligent, articulate, witty, resourceful, accomplished, tall, beautiful woman? Complete lunacy is the only answer."
Poker night was his chance to relax with old friends and exercise the strategy muscles in his brain, but that was all ruined in a blinding instant. Instead, Dr. Grissom spent the entire evening replaying the week in his head and ended up losing fifteen dollars before the night came to a close. He never lost money on poker night.
Eighteen holes of golf the next morning had yet to relieve him of the stress from the week, or the previous night. After turning in the most dismal scorecard in his ten year history at the club, he climbed into his car and headed for the school. He decided work might be the best cure for his frustration.
As he pulled his government surplus black Packard into the faculty parking area, he was surprised to find several cars parked there. Jogging his memory, he remembered there was an away game for the football team, and Mr. Brown was probably assisting with the chaperone duties for the students. It would also explain why Mrs. Willows' Buick was parked next to Mr. Brown's green Dodge Coronet. The cheerleaders would be on the buses with the ball players, and Mrs. Willows always requested one of the other male coaches come along to keep the peace.
He immediately noticed the shiny blue and white Impala parked near the gym and winced with the thought. Not seeing the Corvette anywhere, he was forced to assume that Mr. Stokes had gotten a ride from his new fiancé. And the thought made him realize just how foolish he had been. They were right there in front of him the entire time, and he failed to notice the relationship they never attempted to hide from him in the first place.
Shaking his head in disgust, Dr. Grissom parked his car and headed inside. Everyone would be at the game, and he had enough time to collect some paperwork to take home for the weekend. Work was a constant source of comfort for the tireless administrator, and he was certain it would be an effective means of distraction from his other woes.
Upon entering the school, Dr. Grissom was determined to retrieve his paperwork and make a hasty retreat before anyone knew he was there. It was silly, but he wanted to escape the notice of anyone, and he could not recall the time of the day's game.
He cleared the lunchroom without any trouble, but when he tried to walk past the second main hallway he instantly noticed the faint volume of noise traveling through the hall. It was Saturday, and there should never be the din of students leaking out into those corridors on a Saturday. He carefully trained his ears to seek out the source of the sound and began walking to find it.
Dr. Grissom quickly dismissed the English and the Social Studies departments and continued down the hall in search of the disturbance. As he grew closer, he began to understand that what he was hearing was in fact music. He was unable to make it out, as yet, but it carried the distinct pattern and cadence of music. He was also able to discern it was emanating from the science department.
Turning into the science wing, he was finally able to confirm it was indeed music, and it was being played quite loudly. In fact, he would normally consider it to be a rather inappropriate level for music to be played. This was made even more true when he at last recognized the music itself; Ray Charles. It appeared to be some live recording, because, as the music faded down, applause replaced it in a flash. While he had no qualms with the man or his music, there was a time and a place for such things and his school was certainly not either one of those.
Not bothering to wait until seeing who dared disturb the peace and sanctity of his school in such a manner, he simply burst into the room to put a stop to such shenanigans. However, the music was at such a volume inside the classroom, no one noticed his entrance.
He moved straight to the phonograph, not even looking for a person before he reduced the volume on the player, only to replace it with his own bellowing. "That is more than enough, thank you very much!"
The shriek which came from the back of the room nearly deafened him, and he turned to find an exceptionally frightened Miss Sidle clutching at her chest with one hand and the other holding her up against the blackboard. "What are you doing here?"
His anger afforded him the ability to respond quickly, "I believe that is my question, Miss Sidle."
She took several large breaths and tried to steady her nerves before finally speaking. "I'm sorry, Dr. Grissom, but you surprised me. I didn't think there would be anyone else here." She took another breath and tugged at the hem of her sweater before speaking again. "I needed some place to work while my apartment was being painted and Mr. Brass said it would be all right to come here. Was he mistaken? Because I can always spend the weekend in Pasadena and do this there."
The unbelievably foolish feelings returned with a vengeance as he watched the woman begin to collect her things. "No…" He tried to formulate an appropriate response without appearing anymore idiotic in the process. "I was simply unaware, and I was not prepared for the…noise…on a Saturday afternoon."
She quickly recovered her senses and offered, "I would hardly call Ray Charles 'noise,' but if you prefer-"
"I would prefer that the volume of Mr. Charles be kept to an acceptable level." He reached back and turned the dial back up to the audible range just as Mr. Charles' "I've Got a Woman" began to play. "I was more concerned with the disturbance, than the content of your musical preferences."
"Ah, well that's the product of working in a crowded lab with ten other grad students. The only way to block out the other activity in the room was to blare the music. There is a certain amount of peace to be found in the absolute immersion of sound." She reopened her book and retrieved the chalk from the floor where she had dropped it. "But I will keep the volume down in the future, Dr. Grissom."
Before she could turn back to her work, Dr. Grissom was struck by the intricacy of the equations being worked out on the blackboard. "What exactly is that you're working on?"
She looked at the board and asked, "This?" When he nodded, she simply explained, "Oh, just some scaling equations that I'm trying to prepare for Richard. He needs them for a lecture he's preparing for the American Physical Society meeting at Caltech in December. He's been working on a new concept for microscopy."
"And this is part of your fellowship?" He did his best to try and make out any of the notations, but they appeared to be well out of his realm of knowledge.
"Not…exactly." The tone of her voice intrigued him and he gave her a questioning glare. "It's ah, kind of embarrassing."
"I find it difficult to believe that theoretical physics could be, in any way, embarrassing." Dr. Grissom pulled the handkerchief from his pocket and removed his glasses to clean the lenses as he waited for her explanation.
"Well, it is true that part of my fellowship involves assisting Dr. Feynman with his research, and that naturally relates to helping him prepare for lectures. But this…" She pointed back at the chalk scribblings on slate and smiled, a slight pink rising in her cheeks as she did. "This is kind of what I do for…for fun."
He was unable to restrain the deep laugh that erupted from his chest. "Quantum Mechanics? For a lark?" Dr. Grissom continued to chuckle at the very thought of it.
"See… I told you it was embarrassing." Miss Sidle clutched the book from her arm tight to her chest as the pink turned a bright red.
Dr. Grissom brought his laughter under control once he realized that the young woman was indeed embarrassed by her admission. "Please, pardon my laughter. I am simply unaccustomed to someone else finding such delight in an academic pursuit."
"I don't understand, what do you mean someone else?" She still held tight to her book, much like a shield, and he felt his own embarrassment growing with her apprehension.
In order to level the playing field, he made his own admission. "If you ever find yourself in need of the phylogenetic tree of Spermophilus beecheyi, better known as the California ground squirrel, please, stop by my office."
"That would make sense, as a biologist, being interested in phylogenetics." She relaxed a bit with his revelation.
"I suppose, at the heart, it all boils down to solving puzzles. For me, the origins of the species are the great mystery. And for you, it is the universe and how it functions. We all have our quests, and it is our unquenchable thirst for knowledge which drives us onward." There was a peaceful smile on his face as he related his philosophy to her.
"Be careful, Dr. Grissom. Someone might accuse you of being a romantic."
He chuffed at her response, but it reminded him of a quote. "Perhaps, but 'We travellers are in very hard circumstances. If we say nothing but what has been said before us, we are dull and have observed nothing. If we tell anything new, we are laughed at as fabulous and romantic.'"
Her delightful laughter filled the space between them as he spoke the last word. "You know, it's not everyday I hear a man quote the Lady Montagu." Miss Sidle gave him a careful look and then added, "I am definitely intrigued."
"No intrigue involved. An only mother's son, whose eyes failed her in her final days, and possessed an affection for the British society figures of the eighteenth century." She nodded to show her understanding, but he continued. "One of her favorite books was Letters and Works, a collection of the Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's correspondences, prepared by her then aging granddaughter in 1837."
"My mother preferred the 1860 collection by the Lord Wharncliffe, her great-grandson; The Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu." Miss Sidle set her book down on the counter and leaned against it as she explained. "She felt that the Lady Louisa Stuart withheld some of the more controversial letters, while Lord Wharncliffe used the assistance of other scholars to promote a more complete collection, without the censorship shown by the Lady Stuart."
"Mr. Brass tells me your mother was a professor of literature, is that right?" Dr. Grissom crossed his arms over his chest as he waited for her answer.
Miss Sidle nodded. "Yes, she is, well, she was, and sort of still is, but yes."
"You seem a bit confused with your answer." His brow rose without bidding as he spoke. It seemed odd to him that she would have trouble answering such a simple question.
"You haven't met my mother." The exasperation showed plainly on her face and gestures.. "She claims that she's retired, and spends her days with my brother's two children. But evenings and weekends she can usually be found at some coffee house in the Village holding court, regaling the unwashed masses of newfound Beatniks on the virtues of a full education in the arts, and reading sonnets from any number of obscure tomes to the resounding applause of snapping fingers."
"I imagine that it must make her very happy." He chuckled at her frustration and tried to fathom what his own mother would have made of the world they lived in now.
Smiling brightly, Miss Sidle agreed with his analysis. "That it does. But it's a little unnerving knowing that your own mother is considered more hip than you are."
"I have lived my entire life that way." He knew that fact to be true, more so than any other in his knowledge.
She regarded him with look of mock incredulity and said, "I don't believe a word of it. You are the epitome of cool, Dr. Grissom." Miss Sidle gave him half of a wink as she gestured at his attire. Having come straight from the club, he was the picture of conservatism, right down to the top buttoned, long sleeved, knit golf shirt.
"Yes, well, we must dress for the environment in which we operate, and I'm afraid the club is far from a fashionable hot spot." He rocked back and forth in his black on brown saddle shoes as he looked down at his beige, loosely cut trousers. He relaxed his arms when he noticed how tightly his charcoal polo shirt clung to his softening midsection.
"Perhaps not the height of New York fashion, but it's still a far cry from the gray flannel suits you wear during the week." He looked up in time to see her turn away, a slight blush rising on her cheeks.
Dr. Grissom took a moment to catalog her appearance, and he was surprised not to have noticed her black slacks until that moment. They revealed exactly what he suspected; she had quite long and lithe legs beneath those tapered skirts she was accustomed to wear during the week. However, it was her sleeveless mock turtleneck which stood out in stark contrast to her more professional attire. Not just for the soft color of lilacs, but also for the closeness of the fit, hugging tightly to every curve.
"One could make the same argument for yourself, Miss Sidle." Her cheeks filled with red at his words, and he found himself fascinated with her reaction. "I can honestly say that I have not seen a sweater quite that color before."
Miss Sidle struggled to keep a nervous smile from her face, and failed miserably as she finally answered, "Well, I will be sure to tell my mother. It was a birthday gift. I don't usually get anything quite so…colorful for myself." She pulled at the hem of her sweater with her unease. "But she thought it would help me to fit in out here, I suppose."
"A wise woman, your mother." For a few moments their eyes locked together, and in those brief moments he felt a shift in his world. Breaking his gaze, he held his wrist up to look at his watch and prepared his excuse. "Well, I should let you get back to your work. I am sorry for keeping you so long."
He turned and walked for the door. Stopping to look back, he offered, "Enjoy your quest through the mysteries, Miss Sidle." He took the brightness of her smile with him through the empty halls of the school as he walked to his office.
It was a strange experience for him, to find himself drawn to another person, any person, with such ease, and yet the same experience was filled with so much apprehension. Without thought, he reached out to her, asking for her insights, wanting to put her at ease, and all the while wishing that she saw him as something other than what he was; a middle aged, very confirmed bachelor with little redeeming value.
Sitting down at his desk, Dr. Grissom let his thoughts drift into the realm of the possible. He tried to imagine a world where he was able to speak his mind without fear of reprisals. He dreamed of a world where he always knew the right thing to say in every situation. He hoped for a time where age and profession did not prohibit the choices he could make. But when his hand rested on the stack of progress reports that needed his attention, the reality of his life became all too clear.
As Dr. Grissom collected the stack of reports and stood up from his desk, he released a deep and resigned sigh. Grabbing the well-worn, leather-bound book of Shakespearian sonnets from his shelf, he shook his head and added it to the pile tucked under his arm. When he reached the door, his hand hovered over the light switch as he turned to gaze back into his office. He sighed again and said to no one, "'Aye, there's the rub.' You are just a middle aged, confirmed bachelor with little to no redeeming value." He clicked off the light and closed the door.
Working on the parameters to scale a refracting lens down by ten one thousandths, Sara grew incredibly frustrated. She was a well qualified, deeply committed scientist, and yet she was reduced to a giggling female simply because some man noticed her sweater. She had half a mind to throw the garment out, except… "It was nice to be noticed for a change."
So much of her adult life had been spent buried in a book, or locked away in a lab, surrounded by other dedicated scientists, where no one paid any attention to what you were wearing, let alone the color. She had forgotten what it was like to be among the living again. Her mother was right, much to her chagrin, she did need to get a life. Thankfully for her, Dr. Feynman felt the same way.
Feynman was the one encouraging her to test out her theories in a real world setting. He felt, and she agreed, that in order to prove their merit, her philosophies of education had to be successful outside of the vacuum of purely academic exploration. She would need to have real success in an average classroom, before she could convince anyone that her methods were the right path for science education. But they also knew that their biggest hurdle would be the administration. That was why he suggested the move to California, where there were a number of more progressive school systems.
The initial move was fine, eight weeks over the summer to insure that she was making the right decision. Sara assisted him with the lecture series he was attempting to prepare, and pitched in on some of the other projects swirling around his lab at Caltech. Despite her best efforts as a born and bred New Yorker, she fell in love with the place. The clean ocean air, the fruit orchards in the valleys, the green grass everywhere she looked, and the sun.
The sun was her undoing. Sara suddenly discovered that she simply adored having so much light around her over the course of the day. Not to mention the glorious sunsets she witnessed over the Pacific Ocean. She was hooked before the first week was done, and spent the next seven trying to come up with a way to break it to her mother and brother.
However, in true Laura Sidle style, her mother took one look at her when she stepped off of the plane after eight weeks and exclaimed, "Pack it in, Danny Boy… Your sister is a California girl now." Her mother always seemed to know, before anyone else, just what her path would be. Sara only wished her mother was there now to keep her going in the right direction.
She stared at the hand holding the chalk for several moments, trying to remember where she was in the calculation, but ended up drawing a complete blank. The sound from the phonograph lowered until it was just the needle scratching a bare spot on the platter, soon followed by the next selection on the album; A Fool for You. Sara shook her head in disgust and chuffed, "Figures."
Talking to herself was quickly becoming a bad habit. Still shaking her head, she returned her attention to the composition book with her notes and tried to find the appropriate place to pick up her work again.
About halfway into the song, her attention was quickly drawn elsewhere.
"Still at it, I see." Dr. Grissom spoke from the safety of the doorway, across the room.
She fumbled with an answer, "What? Oh, um, yes. Still at it… Mostly." She had no clue why her capacity for speech seemed to be impaired whenever Dr. Grissom was involved, but it was beginning to bother her.
"I am sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you again," he turned to point back over his shoulder, "but I could hear the music as I was walking to my car-"
Embarrassed to have messed up again, she immediately reached out to the phonograph and tried to shut it off in a rush. "I turned it down. Do I need to-"
He held up a hand to stop her and said softly, "No, it's not that. The volume was perfectly acceptable. Actually, I was curious as to what album that was."
Sara relaxed for only a moment, and then she struggled with his question, "Oh… Ah, it's Ray Charles?"
"No, I recognized the artist…but the album, it did not sound familiar." There was a gentle smile on his face as he spoke, and she felt compelled to smile back.
"Oh, right. Um, it's a new one." She leaned over the phonograph to read the label. "'Ray Charles at Newport.' My brother gave it to me before I left New York, so it may have been an advance copy. His wife still works part-time for her brother at Atlantic Records. But I'm pretty sure it's out in stores now." Sara was mentally berating herself for talking so much.
She had no idea why he needed to know how she came about acquiring the album. And he certainly would have no interest in where her sister-in-law worked, but she simply could not stop herself from telling him everything that popped into her mind.
He nodded graciously and smiled again. "Thank you. I will have to stop by the music shop this week and look for that one."
He was about to say goodbye when a question flew out of her mouth, "A music fan, are you?"
"I certainly enjoy music, yes. Though, I typically steer away from some of the more modern choices available."
"I bet you're one of those Big Band guys, aren't you?" She was quite sure she sounded exactly like the young girls in her classes with the question. Sara told herself that the next words out of her mouth better sound like she had a graduate degree, or she was likely to die from humiliation.
"A little, though not as much as you might imagine, Miss Sidle." There was enough condescension in his tone to make her feel like she had just been caught talking in class. And just when she thought he was ready to make a hasty retreat, he asked her a question instead. "Other than Mr. Charles, where do your musical interests lie?"
"This would be your cue to run screaming from the room…" She laughed nervously and then continued when his eyebrow rose conspicuously on his forehead. "Jazz, of course," she explained. As he nodded to show her that he was still listening, she began to click off the list, "Um, the instrumental stuff from the Big Band era, my father's fault, Strauss and Vivaldi, my mother's, the blues, obviously, and I've been finding some interesting stuff in the new folk movement. My mother, however, has been trying to get me interested in opera, but I guess I just haven't found anything that's really spoken to me yet, so it's been kind of a failed experiment so far." She finally heard the droning of own voice, realized how foolish she must have sounded and stopped abruptly. "Sorry, I tend to run on a bit when the topic is music."
He laughed. Dr. Grissom actually laughed at her desperation. That was when she began to feel about two inches tall. "Pardon me…" He struggled to control his laughter as he spoke. "It's just not very often that anyone is willing to give me more than a brief and very specific answer to any question I ask. And when the topic is music, even my friends keep things simple, because they grow tired of hearing me expound upon my views regarding the matter." His laughter finally came under control, leaving only a comfortable smile on his face. "You mentioned the blues…do you have an interest beyond Mr. Charles?"
"Oh! Definitely! Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, and the list could go on for miles." Sara stopped herself before she ramped up again. Hoping to recover some of her dignity she took a deep breath and offered, "But right now I'm still trying to recover from the news about Billie Holiday's death. Such a tragic waste."
Dr. Grissom lowered his gaze to the floor and softly nodded his head. "Indeed it was." He was silent for a few moments and she was drawing in a breath to break the stalemate when he began to speak again. "When I heard the news, I could not help but remember the last performance of hers I was able to attend. It should have been obvious to anyone in her circle that she was in dire need of help…" She felt the pain in each of his words, and it made her almost want to cry. "But I suppose you simply cannot help someone who does not wish it."
His words twisted up inside of her as she related them to her own life; to her father's life. While he returned to them from the Great War, it was not the man she remembered as her father. He tried, he tried so very hard to be the man he once was, but his time in the battlefields changed him. Gone were the smiles he once shared with her, replaced with the hazy eyed gaze of too much morphine.
When he finally killed the pain of his memories, he had also killed the last remnants of her father. She asked her brother why it had to happen and he could only say, "Not everyone wants the help we have to offer, Sara Girl."
"We can only get out of life what we put into it." Her words came without conscious thought, but they were the words which drove her forward every day of her life.
"I'm sorry. It sounds callous, I know. But I truly believe that if you only focus on yourself, everything outside of your focus falls away. So, if you finally try to reach out, there's likely to be nothing left outside of that focus to reach for. That is, if you don't put any energy into the world, there can be no energy for you to take out of it." Growing frustrated with her inability to express her views articulately, Sara stopped.
Looking into Dr. Grissom's eyes for any hint of understanding, she asked, "I'm not making any sense, am I?"
He smiled. His smiles were comforting, and they helped to lessen the uneasiness she felt when talking to him. She wished that he would smile more, and then she would not have to worry about talking so much to cover up her insecurities around him.
Nodding his head, he answered, "No, I believe I understand what you're trying to say. Something along the lines of we create our own environment through our actions, or perhaps that we are the designers of our own destinies?"
"Yes, that's it, but said much better than I was mangling it, for certain." She chuffed when her words began to sound familiar to her. "For a minute there I was about to spout off with that ridiculous pseudoscientific bunk about the 'Law of Attraction.'"
His smile was back, and it nearly beamed at her as Sara watched him put the pieces of her comments together. "Oh yes, the notion that all matter is energy and thought is merely another form of energy, which can affect all others. Boiling down to the idea that by focusing on a thing with your thoughts, you will bring it about, or attract it with that thought energy." With a raised brow in her direction, he sought confirmation for his conclusion. "Am I correct?"
Enjoying the light-hearted exchange after so much tension, she smiled and nodded her head. "Yes, you are. But the theory is not. It's total stuff and nonsense, if you ask anyone in the scientific community, myself included."
"Academia, in general, tends to hold the same opinion. After all, if this were true, time would be an obsolete construct, from all the clockwatching taking place in schools across the globe." She laughed outright when he rolled his eyes with his anecdotal reply.
"Exactly!" Sara was quickly caught up in the thrill of sharing knowledge, and plowed ahead. "The whole thing is simply a bastardization of the basics of Newton's Universal Law of Gravitation. And perhaps a little too much philosophizing while under the influence." Without thinking she practically winked at him with her last bit of humor.
Horrified by her lapse in decorum, Sara was frightened she had crossed a line. But her fear was quickly put aside by the sound of his careful laughter. "My apologies, really. It's simply very encouraging to hear such passion in the sciences again, the true sciences." She was thrilled to have found another person that was not intimidated by her field, and was instead grateful for it and for their conversation together.
However, when he looked down at his watch, she knew that the conversation was about to come to an abrupt end. "It would appear that the time has gotten away from me. I don't want to keep you any-"
In desperation, she put forth her best effort to maintain the connection, if only for a little while. "Would like to get a cup of coffee, or something?"
Sara saw the apprehension on his face, and quickly tried to explain herself. "I'm sorry. I'm not trying to be forward, I just… I'm supposed to be spending the night with Mandy, Miss Webster?"
He nodded his understanding and she continued, "She's a wonderful person and all, but she's just gotten engaged and she talks incessantly anyway, and I'm just not up for hearing about weddings and dresses and place settings at the moment." There was no smile to greet her when she rattled off her list of grievances, so she forged on ahead. "I was just hoping to avoid the melee a little while longer, and we were having such a nice con-"
It was back, that smile, and when he held up his hand to stop her from blathering on, she stopped cold. "I was just about to say…I hate to keep you from your work any longer, but I just wondering if you would care to get some dinner with me. There's a lovely diner, just down the road from here. Nothing fancy, but the food is good and the service is friendly. And they never seem to mind when I spread my phylogentic trees all over the table." He paused, taking another moment to smile at her and then he asked, "Would you like to have dinner with me, Miss Sidle?"
Her mouth moved, but she was certain that no words were being formed. Her mind raced with a thousand things all at once, but over the maddening hordes of thoughts there was one prevailing item, taking precedence and volume over all others. "Yes, I would love to, Dr. Grissom."
She cautiously watched as he extended his arm for her to take. Sara felt a flutter in her stomach as she touched her fingers to his forearm. His smile seemed to grow softer, and then he covered her hand with his when he said, "Please, call me Gil."