Artifacts of Affection (CH2)

Trigger warning: depiction of sexual harassment. Drug use. Grad school.

Chapter Two

At half past one, Corrine barreled in and plopped her bag into the chair. “You’ll never guess!”

“Probably not,” Olivia agreed without looking up from her journal.

“I’m in,” Corrine said.

“The Royal Academy?” Olivia glanced up.

Corrine’s brilliant blue eyes glowed. She nodded excitedly and bounded out, headed for the breakroom. She returned with the bag and her own carton of milk. “Dr. Kayoto got the call today, the letter’s in the mail. I’ve got an acting slot this fall or next, and an opera slot next fall or the year after.”

“Eighteen months?” Olivia said, puzzled. “That’s a while off.”

“The program’s worth it,” Corrine gushed. “Now all we have to do it pay for it.”

Olivia sighed. “Right. Eighteen months is awfully soon. Any scholarships?”

Corrine shrugged. “I’ll know more when the packet gets here. Dr. Kayoto didn’t think to ask. He was pleased, but most people applying to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts aren’t below the poverty line.” Corrine crunched half a carrot while reaching for Olivia’s keyboard. “I have to tweet this.”

“Wait for the hard copy,” Olivia said. “Just… to be on the safe side.”

Corrine sighed dramatically and groaned. “Audacity, thy name is not Olivia. They wouldn’t have called if they hadn’t accepted me.”

“Still. Please?” Olivia pushed wayward curls out of her face. The one feature she shared with her far prettier, far more dramatically colored sister was their mother’s thick, ringleted hair. Corrine kept hers and their baby sister’s trimmed just below their jaw lines, but Olivia left hers long and braided. Some never failed to escape.

“Fine. You’re a killjoy, but I love you anyway,” Corrine finally said. She chewed quickly through her lunch, then stared at Olivia. “You’re … all wound up. Your aura’s all wrong.”

Olivia snorted. Corrine went through mystical phases — sometimes on trend, sometimes trendsetting, almost always irritating but genuinely felt and well-intentioned. “Troy is being Troy and I have a meeting with… I guess with the money as you theater people call it, this afternoon. I’m completely unprepared. Dr. Barron only told me an hour ago.”

“The bills?” Corrine said sympathetically, if uncomprehendingly, and rummaged through her bag. “A-ha!” She laid a soft sage blouse, a hairbrush, two things that might have been Elizabethan mantilla combs, a pair of low heels and a bottle of hair lacquer on the desk, then extracted a cosmetics case. “I can’t help much with the meeting, but I can make you presentable. Pull your shades while I get the door. Your knees aren’t filthy, you must have been indoors today. Change blouses, wear your cardi, ditch your Doc Martens. You want mod-chic, not industrial safari. And empty your pockets. You’ve got a toolbox in there. Let me tame your mop.”

“Back off, beauty school drop-out,” Olivia said. “Academia here, not business or poli sci.” Olivia grabbed one of the mantilla combs, wound her braid into a coil, and stabbed the comb through. Corrine took it away and did it properly.

“Thanks,” Olivia said, patting the result, but ignored the mirror Corrine offered and refused to give her face over for sponge, puff and brushes.

“You’ll do fine,” Corrine said. “People love you when you talk about Renaissance privy pits and Albigensian ruins. You never make them feel stupid and you love it so much, they wonder how they’ve lived without knowing why castles got demolished. Lip gloss?”

Olivia shook her head. Corrine put everything away. “Thanks for trying to help me, We’ll make pesto when we know for certain, and crepes with fresh strawberries.” Olivia came around and gave her sister a hug. “I’m so proud of you.”

Corrine, half a head shorter, squeezed back. “You’ll do fine, even if you won’t let me help you make a stellar first impression. You’re gorgeous, you know — it’s really not fair, you got brains and beauty. I’d be dead if you were in my field.”

“Lucky you, I got the stage-fright,” Olivia said dryly, not letting Corrine hear the doubt praise always raised. “No worries there.”

“I have to run. Brad and Zoe and Shel and I are doing a final review.” She kissed Olivia’s cheek. “Good luck.” She shouldered her bag and yanked open the door.

The door across the hall was open, emitting a piece of pop-rap that had become all too familiar to Olivia. David Mahon apparently had a specific playlist of sexually aggressive songs to trigger whenever Olivia and Corrine emerged from behind her closed door, and the others in the corridor were supervising labs or classes. The volume made further conversation difficult. “You know I like to watch, you know I like to see it, I’m kinda freaky, mama,” the speakers growled. Mahon had his Nikes on the desk, tilted back in his chair, with a journal in hand. “Yo, girls,” he yelled over the blare. “Freeboard House is ravin’ tonight. Come get your freak on. Everybody’s welcome, but lez-sister acts get free top shelf.”

If this had ever been flirting, it had long since mutated. “Your top shelf is all rufies, all the time,” Corrine replied sunnily. “You wanna file the sexual harassment form this time, Liv?”

“Better from you. The regents take undergrad reports more seriously.” Olivia tapped the button on the digital voice recorder she used for lecture notes for those with limited vision or reading disabilities.

“Finest GBH in the state, no craptascular rufies. Can roll, too, if that’s your thing. The X is fiiiine, not speedy at all. And a kilo of prime hydroponic Sinsemilla Nirvana, farmer’s market fresh. Flavors of tangerine, minerals and pineapple with a Granny Smith crispness. Anything you want, ladies, cuz you in the mood would blow my mind. I’m the walking Rick Roll — never gonna give me up, never gonna let you down –”

Corrine turned back to Olivia and mouthed, surreal pickup line. Date rape, X, YouTube pranks. This must be charm on his planet. They got a moment of silence before a pop song about kissing a girl started. Olivia liked her music like her chocolate — hard, complex, bitter and dark. By now, the Twinkie-ness of the mindless pop grated Olivia worse than the content and intent. You safe if I go? Corrine mouthed.

Olivia nodded. Mahon was a jerk and had the personal appeal of a corpse flower, but he wasn’t violent. He hadn’t grown up since middle school, and his time in the frat hadn’t improved his social skills, but Olivia was certain that if Mahon was going to hurt her, he would have tried long since. At least he’s got a connoisseur’s palate for weed. He’d be dangerous if his drug of choice was meth.

“Later,” Corrie shouted and walked away, singing. She projected her caustic riot-grrl torch song to the cheap seats, overwhelming the auto-tuned pop piece. Olivia filled out the sexual harassment form, printed it, signed it, and folded it around the memory chip. She’d drop it in the Dean’s office.

“How many times I gotta beg, Livvie?” Dave called. “I got no probs if my women entertain each other. Hotties like you, gotta expect some sharing.”

“I wasn’t aware you had tried anything but coercion, intimidation and humiliation.” She collected her stacks for the lab, locked the door and walked down the hall.

“Christ, Liv, it’s a joke! I think you’re both hotties. Don’t be a bitch.”

“Explain your joke to the Regents.” Mahon had gone to school with both of them since their elementary days, and this had become a habit. Usually, they ignored and avoided him, but the last year had been difficult. Mahon was in his first year of his doctoral work in paleoarcheology. His department shared a building with Anthropology. Did he decide to dig up arthropods just to irritate me? Unfortunately for Olivia, he seemed capable of both research and site work no matter how stoned, so the chances of him washing out seemed small. I’ve got to finish the satellite data on the Harrowing of Northern England. I have to get out of here.

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