Chapter 30: As Far As I Can Run
"Temperance, could you stay behind?"
"Yes, Dr. Stires." Temperance gathered her things.
The other students filed out, including Maria and Jasmina, who were still together, much to Temperance's surprise. According to what she'd understood, relationships begun under high-stress situations rarely survived, and humans were not geared toward monogamy. Still, it hadn't been even a year, so perhaps this was a comfortable dalliance.
Temperance had spoken to Jasmina about digs in Srebrenica, and Jasmina had shared the program she was applying to. They needed trained participants, so it was possible Temperance would join Jasmina for two months in the former Yugoslavia this summer. That would test the staying power of the women's relationship.
Temperance was beginning to consider pursuing a sexual relationship. It would not be long before her lack of experience would work against her in acquiring a partner even for casual sexual fulfillment.
She approached Dr. Stires.
"I have a surprise for you," he said.
"What is it?"
"A surprise. Let's go back to my office." He raised his eyebrows then turned.
She smiled as she followed him. Dr. Stires was her leading choice for a partner. She found his face symmetrical and pleasing. He was intelligent, steadfast, a good leader. Her genitals warmed when she watched him lecture. He challenged her and demanded that she take risks rather than play it safe. He was somewhat older and therefore probably experienced, a good choice to guide her in a first sexual encounter. He was also easy to talk to, so she had no doubt she would be comfortable sharing the sexual preferences she had discovered in her masturbatory experimentation.
Yes, she thought. Dr. Stires was a good choice.
His office had books piled on every surface. He held up The Journal of Forensic Sciences. "It's our article on the Guatemala dig," he announced.
She grabbed the journal. "You got your author's copy already?"
She flipped to it. Her third publication. Her first co-written article. She beamed as she read, seeing her comments and Dr. Stires' intertwined, remembering how he'd competed with her and challenged her to greater achievement. Yes, this was an excellent collaboration to maintain.
"Congratulations, Temperance." He was still smiling. His face was pleasant when he smiled.
"Congratulations to you, too." She stepped closer to him. "I would like to pursue more than an academic relationship with you."
He stepped back. "Temperance, I can't do that. The university would view it as an abuse of power." He frowned, keeping her at arm's length with an outstretched hand.
Temperance frowned. "But...this is my idea, and you said yourself we're intellectual peers."
He kept shaking his head, but she could see his eyes had dilated slightly. She aroused him. "Yes, but I'm on your thesis committee."
She shrugged, stepping toward him. "You're not my primary faculty advisor, though. And if it bothers you, I'll ask for a replacement. I certainly know my own mind, and anthropology shows us that society's edicts, while important considerations, are flawed if adhered to with too great of rigidity."
He looked to the side, then back at her, then from her eyes to her lips and back at her lips. Finally he took a deep breath and said, "Violating societal norms is an act for those who are defying societal structures. We both value that structure."
She smiled and took another step closer. "But we're able to make independent determinations about where that structure may be too restrictive for individuals. And while many people are protected by these rules, we need no such protection if we enter into an adult relationship with established boundaries and expectations." She stepped closer, and he licked his lips. She smiled. "Of course, if you're concerned about the appearance of disregard for societal norms, we could avoid mixing our personal and professional lives and have a relationship that is kept separate of our academic interactions."
"That proposal sounds well-reasoned, Temperance." This time his eyes didn't leave her lips.
"In fact, we could clarify the separate roles by naming protocols." He smelled musky, and she dropped her voice a register. "I could call you Michael in private interaction." Her stomach tensed, but she pressed on. "And you can call me Tempe."
He smiled. "You drive a hard bargain. Should we try dinner tonight?"
Temperance pinned up her hair and checked the back in the small mirror in the bathroom of her tiny studio apartment. Her one pantsuit was crisply ironed and fit perfectly; she'd spent quite a bit of her carefully-saved assistantship funds on it. She put on her mother's earrings, the same ones she'd worn to all three of the job interviews she'd had thus far. She applied the little bit of makeup Heather had taught her to use, picked up the leather satchel that had been a "finished with dissertation" gift from Michael, and declared herself ready.
She arrived early at the conference room and sat in the single chair reserved for her, hands folded in her lap. She'd seen other students preparing for the defense portions of their degrees, and they'd always looked so stressed as to seem nearly panicked. She didn't understand how they could be both competent in the field and that afraid of doing poorly. Temperance's supervisor had commented extensively on her work, like everyone's supervisor. She had added sections, revised, clarified, and proofread equally extensively. The defense, at this point, seemed like a formality.
Even so, she'd scheduled her defense for November in case they found typos or wanted minor corrections. That way her degree would be conferred in December.
Dr. Sternberg arrived first, her ubiquitous cane in hand, looking typically stern. Students frequently chuckled over the confluence of her appearance and name, but Temperance pointed out that it merely meant "star mountain" in German. Dr. Blackwood arrived with Dr. Anigbogu. Michael was the last to arrive, smiling with the expression he'd told her last night was his "knock 'em dead" look.
"Why would I wish to knock my defense committee dead?" she'd asked. "That would prevent them from acknowledging my success."
Michael had laughed and kissed her forehead. "It just means that you're so powerful you could knock them down. And I'm looking forward to watching you do it."
It was still a ridiculous phrase, but the faith Michael had in her was oddly reassuring. She knew she'd done well, and it was strange to value someone else's opinion of her so highly.
The defense went exactly as she expected. Every question the professors posed was one she'd anticipated. She quoted her dissertation, her published work, and the references she'd cited. Dr. Blackwood commented on Temperance's recall. Dr. Sternberg said that, in thirty years, she had never heard a defense so thoroughly sourced and detailed. Dr. Anigbogu asked to keep his notes. Michael just smiled.
The group unanimously decided to accept the dissertation without corrections or revisions, and even applauded her.
On the way out of the building to the dinner he'd promised, Michael said in her ear, "I've never seen such positive feedback. You sure knocked 'em dead, Tempe."
Temperance handed in her final copies of her dissertation to the graduate office the next morning. The prior two weeks had involved very little sleep, as she'd ridden the adrenaline high of achievement. Last night's celebrations had included highly satisfying sex, but she'd still been in bed by nine and had slept twelve straight hours.
She expected to feel elation or excitement as she left the office. Accomplishment warmed her as she skipped down five flights of stairs and out into the crisp smell of winter air blowing onto campus from Lake Michigan, but she felt like she was forgetting something. Something important wasn't done.
She biked back to her apartment. Even the adrenaline surge of having to swerve away from being hit by a car didn't push away the nagging sense that something wasn't quite set.
She locked her bike and unlocked the front door of her building. Her building. She didn't know where she was going to live now, or what she was going to do. Despite her scholarships, fellowships, and savings, she had well over ten thousand dollars of student loans and no job. She contemplated going back out and riding up and down the lakefront as she turned the key in the little metal door of her mailbox.
Instead of the usual collection of junk mail, inside was a single, off-white envelope.
The return address on the envelope read "Jeffersonian Institution, Washington, DC."
Temperance held it carefully. The same numb chill she'd felt when she'd held her acceptance letter from Northwestern went down her arms and through her belly.
While the envelope was sealed, it was like Schrödinger's cat: the letter held both acceptance and rejection.
There were countless other candidates in a variety of specializations. She knew the Jeffersonian was considering a variety of specialties for the Medico-Legal position, and while the Jeffersonian could hire from a large pool of candidates, she was sure they'd hire a forensic anthropologist. That would make the first museum on the east coast with such an expert on staff.
Michael had applied and interviewed for this job. She was the better writer, but he had more field and teaching experience.
No matter the outcome, she and Michael would be living in different cities before the end of the year. She'd miss him, but she'd known it was only for a while when she'd initiated their relationship.
She turned the envelope over in her hand. It smelled like dust and chemicals and history, just like the lab, even after its time in transit.
When the Jeffersonian had flown her to D.C. to interview, she'd been impressed by the history of the city, the ease of the public transport system, and the facilities of the Medico-Legal Lab. The position offered excellent opportunities for travel and independent research, and Temperance felt that she could fit into that environment.
She could taste her desire for the job.
She climbed the stairs to her third floor apartment and locked the door behind her. She was in private now. It was time. Acceptance or rejection.
She slit open the envelope flap. Her stomach fluttered. A quick scan and her breath caught as relief and excitement flowed through her.
November 25, 1998
Dear Dr. Brennan:
We are pleased to offer you a position as the Medico-Legal Lab's forensic anthropologist at the Jeffersonian Institute, to begin as soon in December as you can arrive. We hope that you will find a scientific and professional home with us in a relationship that will be mutually beneficial.
I look forward to your positive response.
Dr. Daniel Goodman
Director, Medico-Legal Lab
The letter was offering her what she had been missing for the past seven years: a home. This would be a professional home, on she had worked to build and for which she was uniquely prepared. She would make a difference there. What she did would matter.
She opened the bottom drawer of her battered filing cabinet and removed the gift-wrapped boxes she'd carried for nearly six years. Maybe it was time to open them or discard them, to leave behind the last piece of that home. She noticed her thumb stroking the bright paper and her breath hitched in her throat. She set the presents in a pilfered liquor box and tucked her mother's red scarf carefully around them. She filled the rest of the box, taped it closed, and set it beside the door.
She surveyed the apartment then began to pack the pieces and things she would take with her to her new life.
Thanks upon thanks to my wonderful betas and sounding boards: jsq, bluemorpho, and havocthecat. HUGE and effusive gratitude to my line-editor and prodder to make this story as good as I could at this time, as well as encouragement and sounding board services while I planned and wrote for two years to Ayiana.
Enormous thanks to those of you who have followed and commented on and recced and supported this story. It was one near to my heart that I pondered and planned for a long time, and the incredibly positive response has meant the world to me. Feedback is most assuredly welcome, and all that I have received has been sincerely appreciated. I hope I have succeeded in responding to everyone's comments.