Artifacts of Affection (CH5)

Chapter Five

While HiveCor may have hired Olivia, she still had classes, and when she returned to her office after proctoring one group of freshmen through their final exams several days later, she found her sister and her employer chatting, Corrine comfortable in Olivia’s chair. Avery spent most of his time at campus, actually in the guest chair in her office. His presence should have been annoying in such a small space, but he was remarkably easy to work with and around. He even saved his calls for when Olivia was in the classroom or the lab.

“There you are,” Corrine said. “I thought the freshmen had eaten you alive. Are you done?”

“I am. That was the last lot,” Olivia said, satisfied. “How’d you do?”

“I’m graduating,” Corrine said flippantly, as if it was a near thing. “I invited Avery to our celebratory dinner, hope you don’t mind; I told him it would be pretty simple.”

Olivia went a little white around the lips, but said nothing. “Really, Corrine. How did you do?”

“Three eight,” she said finally, looking put out. “Probably magna, not summa, though. Stiff competition.”

“Splendid.” Olivia beamed. “It was kind of you to make the invitation, but I’m sure Mr. Godwin has better things to do with his time than waste it with us.”

“Actually, I’ve accepted.” He looked up from his laptop. “Unless that’s a problem.”

“No, I just don’t want to impose on your time,” Olivia said.

“You are such a goose,” Corrine said. “The poor man’s living out of a suitcase at the Hyatt. I’d be ecstatic to get an invitation to a real house after that.”

“I was,” he said. “What should I bring? Dessert? Wine?”

“As you please,” Olivia said distantly. She tried to catch Corrine’s eye so they could have a brief and pointed conversation in the hallway, but Corrine refused to be caught.

“Anyway, I just came to tell you I’m done, I’m going home to have a nap, and I’ll pick up chicken and make the pesto.” Corrine kissed Olivia’s cheek and whispered, “Be mad at me on Saturday.”

Olivia handed her their shared debit card. “Be careful with it.”

“Nope, I’m going to blow everything on heroin and porn.” She breezed out.

Mr. Godwin said softly, “If you’d prefer, I’ll have something sudden come up and send my regrets.”

She blushed furiously. “No, not at all. We just rarely have guests, that’s all.”

“I thought maybe you didn’t want to socialize with me.”

“No. Forgive my utter lack of manners, Mr. Godwin.” She thumbed through the mail she’d picked up at her box in the staff room and avoided him as best as possible in a room crowded with books and files.

“Avery, please. May I presume a bit more and ask you to have supper with me? Tonight? And introduce your family to me before we go?”

“I don’t think – ”

“What I told your sister is true; I’ve spent months in hotel rooms, essentially by myself. My people skills are rusty, and I didn’t have many to start. Just acquaintances, colleagues. Please?”

“I really can’t … You’re welcome to come meet my mother and Susannah, and come tomorrow night, but I… I’ve spent my allowance.”

“My treat.”

“Then it’s a date, which violates University ethics policy,” she said.

“We’ll make it a working supper, and charge it to HiveCor,” he pursued. “That’s allowed, isn’t it?”

“I suppose, but – ”

“Yes or no?” He caught her wrist. “Supper?”

She pulled away gently, not wanting to snatch her hand away, but nearly positive this wasn’t a good idea. “I suppose. But I must be here early tomorrow. I’ve got to get these grades finished.”

“As you wish,” he said. “Can I help? After all, the faster you’re done with this, the faster we can start.”

“No, and I can’t leave until Susannah’s out of school, anyway. Only six days, as she tells us every night.”

“Six school days?” he asked.

“Yes. She figured the number of hours, minutes and seconds during dinner last night.”

“I’d think in your family, with your mother being a doctor of letters, your father a chemist, you and Corrine so obviously academic, that she’d love school.”

“She’s bored.”

His phone rang, and he stepped into the hall, and the subject was abandoned for the rest of the afternoon.

At the end of her day, Olivia sighed. “Are you sure you want to run this gauntlet?”

“Of course. I’ll meet them sometime, right?” He grinned. “If not now, then in Silver Bay. I get to be there, in one place most of the time, till this project’s done.”

“It’s your funeral,” she said, and shouldered her bag. “Come on, then.”

At the exit from Gidde Hall, Olivia turned left when Avery turned right. “Where are you going?”

“My bike,” he said. “I’d rather not leave it here overnight.”

“You travel with a bike?”

“Sure. Doesn’t everyone?” Olivia followed him to the bike rack, where half the bikes were missing seats, handlebars, or wheels. Avery unlocked a nondescript, mud spattered mountain bike.

“Everyone overlooks it,” he said, and strapped his laptop case to the package carrier on the back. “May I carry your books?”

“Thank you, no,” Olivia said.

“Anyway, why is Susannah bored?”

“Oh, that.” She laughed. “For the reasons you pointed out. She’s got us in college, an academic mother, and Dad was brilliant. She’s got the best of both heritage and environment, and she’s totally unsuited for public school.”

“Private school?” Avery suggested.

“Boulder’s an expensive town,” she said. “Both secular private schools cost more than out-of-state tuition here and Susannah’s militantly opposed to Catholic or Christian school. She’d like to homeschool, but the state requires students in a homeschool program have an approved curricula, and at her level, those are almost as expensive as private school. It wouldn’t be so bad, I suppose, but most faculty brats — children — ”

“I caught that,” he chuckled.

“I was one so I can say that. Most faculty kids attend either private school or University Charter. Susannah’s been on the waiting list for University Charter for three years. Faculty get first chance, then employees, then students, then the public. Susannah’s not my child, Mom’s not faculty anymore, so she’s last on the list. The school district has a typical town-gown problem — the University doesn’t pay property taxes, so the schools are underfunded.”

“It frustrates her, does it?”

“Terribly. Susannah is brilliant — she scares me a little. She skipped third grade, and I believe she’ll skip a year of high school, too. We try to keep her busy, and Mom and I feel pretty married to the special ed director to keep her in appropriate work, but Susie considers formal education a waste of time. In her case, I don’t disagree.”

“Hm. Private school may not be the answer,” he mused. “Some of mine were stifling. What does she plan to do with her life?”

“Everything,” she said ruefully. “She’s a perfect polymath. Polyglot, too. Corrine and I are to blame for that — I was learning Latin when Susannah was a baby, and Corrine was learning French, so we taught her Latin and French with English; she’s studying Russian and German with Mom’s friends, and Spanish at school. She’s a photographer, plays viola, builds robots, amateur astronomer. I think astrophysics is where she’ll end up.”

“How old is this paragon?”

“Thirteen.” She sighed. “And as difficult as thirteen can be.”

“Ah.” He walked beside her in silence for a while, then suddenly said, “I feel about fourteen right now, myself.”

“You mean, walking a girl home from school?” she said. “Sorry. We live so close, it doesn’t make sense to drive or take the bus when the weather’s nice. Parking’s crazy on campus.”

“Thus I travel with a bike,” he said. “Usually, I’m stuck in some urban corridor, where bikes and walking are faster than driving. When I’m not, it’s relaxing. Worth the shipping fees, in general.”

They turned into the old part of town. “Nice neighborhood,” he said.

She smiled at the large lawns, old trees and stately, large houses. “Mom and Dad started the gentrification wave. Our house was a sharehouse when they bought it. Thirty years ago, oil was cheap and nobody wanted to live with broke, noisy students, but Mom’s nineteenth century literature — not just what she taught, sort of what she lives. She wanted a Victorian and ours was available. She and Dad spent two years renovating it, then had me. Then all the other professors got envious of their short commute and we got neighbors. It’s Faculty Row now.”

“It’s gorgeous,” he said. “I imagine afternoon teas and salons in the parlors.”

“It’s drafty, the property taxes are ridiculous, we don’t need nine bedrooms, but we could use a larger kitchen,” she said, but she smiled at the fieldstone walls and slate roof. “We spent last summer re-wiring because we blew fuses whenever Susannah and I tried to use two computers. We finally have enough outlets, but now we need to redo the plumbing.” She sighed. “Not that any of us would change a splinter.”

“Are there more of these in the neighborhood?” he asked.

“One or two are always up for sale,” she said absently. “But I warn you, this is the most expensive neighborhood in the most expensive town in a notoriously expensive state.”

“May I ask a terribly impertinent question?”

“Why we don’t we sell it, use the profits to buy a smaller, more efficient house, and stick the excess in the bank?” she said. “Everyone asks that. This one’s paid for, disabled accessible and convenient. Maybe when Susannah goes to grad school.”

“Actually, I was going to ask if you’d mind me as an occasional neighbor.”

She blinked at him. “If you want. Don’t you live in London?”

“Ask me that later. I see chestnut curls behind the lace on the first floor center window.”

“That would be Susannah. Come on.”

No one, upon entering the Halivand house, could fail to understand where Olivia found her tidy streak. Dust didn’t bother settling, knowing it would be wiped up and vanquished. The hardwood floors shone; the rugs upon them, though faded, were clean and their fringes lay straight.

“Do you have brownies?” Avery asked in a whisper.

“Are you hungry?” Olivia said, sniffing the air. “I think that’s just bread baking.”

“No, house brownies that clean.”

“Oh, no. It doesn’t take long to keep the house neat,” she said, blushing. “And we’re all naturally tidy.”

“You paragons bake your own bread?”

“We have a machine for that,” Susannah said from the top of the stairs. “I took it apart two years ago and fixed it.”

“Susannah found it in the end of term junk pile,” Olivia said. “It had slipped its belt and burned out a bearing. We are quite proud of her deductive skills. Come down and be introduced properly, Suse.”

Susannah looked her eldest sister in the eye. She would be as uncommonly pretty as both of her sisters when she finally passed her gawkish stage, Avery decided, and the overalls and polo shirts didn’t detract. She wore her hair short, like Corrine, though instead of Corrine’s dark brown or Olivia’s copper, Susannah’s hair seemed a blend of the two. She had a pert nose, a mocking mouth, and quick eyes. She bowed in the Japanese fashion rather than extending her hand.

“Susannah, this is Mr. Godwin, who hired me for our summer adventure. Avery, my sister.”

Avery bowed back, and then nodded sharply at Susannah. “I hear you dislike school.”

“I’m bored,” she said. “The industrialized education system is designed specifically to produce conformist anti-intellectual consumers. Once one figures that out, what’s the point?” She shrugged. “Are you staying to dinner? It’s my night to cook. We’re having gazpacho and grilled cheese sandwiches.”

At this combination, he glanced at Olivia, who nodded. “I asked your sister to have dinner with me — ”

“Oh, that’s fine, then. Most people think it’s strange, but we like it.”

“I’m sure,” he said. “Sounds delightful. Do you use bread in your gazpacho?”

“Heresy to not use it,” Susannah said. “The tomatoes are the first of the season. I started the plants indoors in January. Want me to see if Mom can be interrupted?” Susannah said, then ran off without waiting for an answer.

“Gazpacho and grilled cheese?” he said.

Olivia sighed. “We rotate cooking – with four of us, it keeps it from getting onerous. Last summer, Susannah burnt something or broke something – I don’t even recall which now – so we made a rule that she was allowed only to use the waffle iron, the toaster, and the refrigerator when she cooked – we thought we’d eat a lot of waffles on her nights.” She smiled. “We underestimated her, as we usually do. Her gazpacho really is very good.”

“Perhaps I could be convinced,” he said.

“Don’t let her get under your skin.”

“Mom didn’t look up,” Susannah said from the archway, “so she’s deep under. Would you like to see our summer house, Mr. Godwin? It’s nice out there, and the mosquitoes aren’t yet out of basic training.”

“It’s cooler out there,” Olivia said. “Go on.”

Susannah chattered at Avery, asking about Silver Bay and the environs. Olivia kept half an ear on the conversation for as long as she could hear them, then went up to her attic to put away her bag and change her blouse for one less wilted. She tucked the crisp linen shirt in and ran her comb through her hair; she gave up when the mirror told her order would not be imposed in the early summer heat. Instead she turned on the house fan, opened her windows, and went back downstairs.

Rebecca peered into the monitor, completely focused. She wore headphones and seemed not to notice that anyone came into the small room off the kitchen she used as an office. Rather than interrupt her, Olivia went to the study she shared with her sisters and emailed her mother. Then she joined her employer and her sister. Susannah was pouring glasses of her lemonade in the gazebo their father had built the summer Susannah was two.

” — It’s actually one of very few memories I have of him,” Susannah said as Olivia claimed a seat on the shady side of the structure. “He was on the ladder, and I was scared because he was so high up.”

“Then Dad put her in the backpack we used for hiking with her, and took her up on the ladder. She loved it,” Olivia said. “Now, she’s an acrophile.”

Avery smiled. “It’s a lovely summer house. And a lovely garden. I know people in London who would kill for this.”

“Thank you,” Susannah said. “It’s Corrine’s design, but since she’s not here, I’ll claim the credit since I grow the plants.” She looked at Olivia. “Did you message Mom?”

“I did. She should be shutting down soon, I think,” Olivia said. “I apologize for my mother’s absence, Avery. She’s tracking a wild footnote.”

“Susannah said it’s neither intentional nor personal. She made that clear.”

“Susannah,” Olivia said. “Have you let Mr. Godwin get a word in at all?”

“Yes,” Susannah said, stung. “I’m not that much of a chatterbox.”

“I’m sorry,” Olivia said. “How’d school go today?”

“I’ve got detention on Monday.” Susannah shrugged. “Mr. Vandenberg wants a conference with you and Mom before school ends.”

Avery watched Olivia to see her reaction to detention. Most parents would have punished, or at least shown some dismay.

Olivia merely sighed. “What for this time?”

“I was reading when I should have been listening to Ms. Cohn’s lecture on Appomatox Courthouse.”

“Are you still covering the Civil War?” Olivia said, and now displayed something Avery would call dismay. He could see it had nothing to do with Susannah.

“We never get past the Civil War,” Susannah said. “I can pass Ms. Cohn’s test next week, so I was reading.”

“What were you reading?” Olivia asked pointedly.

“Angels in the Machinery: Gender in American Party Politics from the Civil War to the Progressive Era, by Rebecca Edwards. 1997, Oxford University Press,” Susannah said at once. “Strong thesis, she loses focus in the latter chapters,” she added thoughtfully.

Olivia nodded. “All right. I won’t punish you, that’s a reasonable protest against a poor teacher and a broken system. However –”

“You can’t get me out of it, and I’ll have to serve my time on this unjust conviction that comes without trial or jury,” Susannah finished. “I figured.”

“Perhaps next year something will open at Charter,” Olivia said. “Sorry, we’ve been fighting with her history teacher all year,” she added for Avery’s benefit. “Where’s Corrie?”

“She went to the market,” Susannah said. “She should be back soon, too. Oh, there’s Mom.”

Susannah raced up to the house, and helped her mother over the backyard. Avery realized the extent of the ramps and paths, and all the work they represented – work Olivia must have supervised and instigated, if not accomplished herself – and understood another reason why they kept the house. He started to crouch to Mrs. Halivand’s level, but her chair slid upright into a standing position. It really did do everything but vote.

Rebecca Halivand took Avery’s hand and smiled. “It’s so good to meet you,” she said. “You’ve made two of my daughters happy beyond measure, and one nearly so. How often can a mother say that about a single person?”

Avery grinned. “Thanks, I think. I’m glad to have Olivia’s assistance. Has she told you – ”

“Every evening,” Rebecca said. “We’re all fascinated with the idea of a Norse settlement, of course. Wouldn’t that just turn the histories on their ears!”

Eventually, Avery got the chance to sit back and listen, to mother and daughters. He could see where Olivia came by her skin and frame; where Corrine had found her coloring and expressiveness, and where Susannah gained her energy. He could also see why Olivia refused to leave them behind. It would be like amputating a limb. When Corrine arrived some time later, before sunset, but well after the day had cooled, he found himself drawn into their conversation again and the day slipped away from them.

As the sun sank over the hills on the west side of town, Susannah’s eyes grew round and alarmed. “The soup! I never put it together!” She ran for the kitchen before Olivia could call her back.

“We’ll just do salads tonight,” Corrine shrugged it off. “I’ll help her, and she can help me.”

“No, let her go,” Avery said. “I’ll cook.” He pulled out his phone, and walked to the edge of the lawn before Olivia could stop him. When he asked for the address, and she refused to give it, he merely looked at Corrine. “It’s ordered and paid for, Corrine, so you might as well tell me where they should deliver it.”

Corrine shrugged and recited the house number and street. Olivia merely looked mortified.

“Thank you, Mr. Godwin,” Rebecca said, “and thank you from all three of my daughters, even if one hasn’t the manners to thank you herself.” She looked pointedly at Olivia, and then wheeled herself into the house. Corrine stayed a moment longer, then fled.

“You shouldn’t have,” Olivia finally said. “Susie needs to learn to not be absentminded. That’s how she lost her stove privileges.”

“I didn’t order Thai to bail out Susannah,” he said. “I was planning on taking you for supper, and found I wanted to stay here, instead.”

“We’re a madhouse,” she said, “but thank you.”

“It’s the kind of madhouse I’ve always wanted to experience,” he said. “Shall we wait on the front steps, and I’ll explain?”

“At the least – you’ve heard enough about my family. I should return the favor,” she said, and accepted his offer of a hand up. He didn’t release hers, though, and tucked it in his arm before walking around the house with her.

“You know who my mother is, and my interests. We’re not exactly compatible, never really have been. She fell in love with my father well after she’d inherited controlling interest in HiveCor, which was her father’s company. Now, my father’s an art teacher at an alternative high school in Northern California, and an artist. He was in London studying when she met him.” They had reached the front porch, with its steps and swing. He handed her down to the stone steps, then took the seat next to her, and reclaimed her arm.

“Mother is … impulsive about some things. Not business, but her personal life. Dad’s not much better, as it turns out. They married three weeks after they met. They’re the last two people on the planet who should have married, and they knew it four months before I was born. They divorced when I was two months old, but Mother was… Reasonable. She essentially turned Dad into my nanny until I was five.” He sighed.

“She remarried a few months after their divorce, my sister’s father. She picked better there, at least for herself. He’s an international banker with the International Monetary Fund. They lasted three years. She remarried again the next year and had Ryan, and dumped his dad, too. She hasn’t had any more kids, but she’s looking for Mr. Right number fourteen I think. I don’t keep track anymore.

“After my father left, I didn’t really live with her. She’s not… maternal. She kept me in the country with staff until I was ten. My sister split her time between Mother’s London flat and her father here in the states, and Ryan’s father had primary custody of him. Then I went to boarding school. I hated Eton and Andover, liked Armidale in Sydney and St. Columba’s in Dublin. I came home for a couple weeks, went to summer camp, home for a week or two, and back to school. That was my annual migration until Oxford. I saw very little of my mother or my siblings. I never saw my father at all. She kept him out of frame.

“I tracked him down when I was a teenager. We’re friends now. Mother and I don’t get along; my sister and brother are absolutely poisonous. For me, families are vile, but yours is anything but unpleasant.”

“Thanks, but you haven’t seen us on pizza and movie night,” Olivia said softly. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. You had nothing to do with it. I’m just stunned, a little. I want to see more of this family thing.”

“No, I mean, I empathize. I have no idea what growing up was like for you, but – ”

“Actually, growing up wasn’t bad. Like I said, I didn’t see them much. Had I, I’d wear a canvas coat with extra long sleeves. I suppose now, seeing what your family is like, I wish I’d had one similar, but it didn’t happen. Did you go to the zoo as a child?”

“Yes. Dad took us all the time.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way. I feel like I’m at the zoo, and I want to observe you and your family and learn what I missed.”

Olivia patted his hand. “You’re welcome to it.” A battered car, blaring techno, with a lighted sign on top pulled up and a kid in baggy shorts pulled a box out of the front seat and brought it up to the porch. “Godwin?” he asked.

“That’s me,” Avery said, and signed the slip. “I’ve got it, Olivia. Give me a mo.”

Olivia got the hint and went in. Her mother had the table set with the chopsticks, rests, and plates she had bought when she taught English Literature in Japan before she ever met a chemist named Andrew. “Did you apologize for such ungracious behavior?” Rebecca said gently.

“Yes. I’m sorry, Mom.”

Rebecca tugged her down and kissed her cheek. “Why are you so nervous?”

“He’s my employer, Mom.”

“He likes you.”

“I’m the closest thing he has to a friend in the area, but we’re colleagues. That’s it. Don’t read into this.”

“Oi, this looks like a party,” Avery said, and took the box to the kitchen. “Miss Susannah, if we’re to do justice to that work of art in the dining room, we better do some presentation work.”

It took them ten minutes to arrange every dish, mold the rice and compost the cartons. Corrine and Olivia stood behind their chairs, willing to allow Susannah and Avery to make the most of their production.

Susannah gleefully brought in the dishes, allowing Avery to carry the teapot. He put it before Rebecca, and frowned. “Hm…. etiquette fails me.”

“How to seat four women?” Rebecca smiled. “You don’t. Ladies,” she nodded at her daughters, who took their own chairs around the table. Rebecca lowered her chair and Avery took the seat left vacant, between Susannah and Olivia.

“Andrew and I agonized over that for weeks after Corrine was born, and again after Susannah,” Rebecca said. “We chose to raise them with formal manners for their own sakes, hoping for a diplomat, but apparently, no one ever encountered a household of independent women.”

“So they made it up as they went along,” Corrine said. “Grace?” She looked at her sisters, and Avery caught a sparkle in her eye.

“Oh yes!” Susannah said, and hastily put down the spring roll. “Is it my turn?”

“Go ahead,” Corrine said, smiling.

Avery sighed, and Olivia kicked Corrine under the table. She wanted to kick her mother for not stopping this. He doesn’t know we’re not religious, either. She glared at Susannah, who ignored her. Corrine folded her hands in her lap and looked down reverently.

Avery dropped his head, resigned to it.

Susannah said, “Good food, Good curry, Good friends, Let’s hurry.” She returned to her spring roll.

Avery lifted his head and eyed Susannah, then Corrine. Both were unconcernedly filling their plates. Rebecca’s eyes sparkled with amusement, and Olivia looked torn between laughter and a desire to throttle someone.

“You did that to wind me up, didn’t you, Corrie?” Avery asked Corrine.

“Yes. It worked beautifully,” she said sweetly.

He grinned, then chuckled, then gave up and laughed. The Halivand women joined him, enjoying their own long held joke.

After dinner, Avery and Olivia did dishes, though she tried to convince him that it was unnecessary. “Will you walk back with me?” he asked.

“Part way, but…” she bit her lip.

“Yes. I see.” He wiped the platter dry and put it down. “It’s not exactly safe for you to walk alone, is it? I could drive you. I did rent a car, I just don’t use it.”

“Rather pointless, don’t you think? Also, an ethics issue,” she said.


She pulled on a sweater and told her mother where she was going. The moon, a waning quarter, had risen over the old University buildings to the east. Avery pushed his bicycle with one hand.

“Don’t you live in London?” Olivia said. “You said ask later.”

“I don’t live anywhere. I have legal residences in London, San Francisco and Galway, but I’ve traveled most of the last few years.” He shrugged. “This is a nice town. Quieter than Nob Hill, less crowded than London. Better bike paths.”

“Once I get there, I don’t know what will pry me out of Europe,” she mused.

“It’s not what the BBC would have us believe,” he said. “But then again, the US isn’t what CNN would have Europeans believe, either.”

“I know,” she said. “I’ve been several times, a few weeks at a time, on projects. That’s where my interest is.”

“Not entirely. There’s the colony villages on this continent.”

“The Virginia settlements. They’re late, and the concentration and variety is much higher in Europe.”

“Well, if we’re right, this one will be pretty important.” He stopped. “Won’t it?”

Olivia nodded. “But I won’t stay involved. It’s out of my field, really. I know far more about serfs and peasantry than hunter-gatherer and occasional farmers. Norse were not the agriculturalists I know best.”

He looked pained. “You mean, you’ll get this started, document the process of opening the site and verifying it as a medieval settlement, then back out?”

“I can be an adjunct.” She shrugged. “It’s fine, Avery. Who knows? Perhaps it’s really a lost colony, or a hidden Basque outpost. Some culture I know more about.” She smiled. “I can hope. I’ll get a doctorate out of it, which gets me to Europe after Suse is off to college and Corrie’s established.”

“You’re incredible,” he said. “No one sacrifices this way anymore. What Bronte novel did you walk out of?”

“I’m perfectly real and modern,” she said. “Thank you, but people do. Parents do it all the time.”

“Do they?” he said bitterly. “Hadn’t noticed.”

“I’m sorry.” She sighed and held out a hand. “Good night. Thanks for everything.”

Avery took her hand and pulled her close. He kissed her mouth for a long moment before she backed away. “Please don’t,” she said softly, sadly.

“Ethics?” He rolled his eyes toward the dark sky.

“Yes. It’s forbidden. The University doesn’t allow employees to fraternize with anyone who has a financial tie to the institution.”

He sighed, obviously frustrated. “I was hoping you didn’t have those rules that prevent people from acting like rational human beings.”

“It’s worse in academia, Avery. There are so many opportunities for abuse.”

“Of course,” he said. “As you wish.” He said good night, and started to mount up to ride away when he stopped. “Olivia.”

She turned and waited.

“If, at some future date, when all things are made clear and encumbrances and such are vanquished, and neither corporate policies nor University ethics boards can complain, could I try again?”

She watched him for a long moment, oblivious to the sounds of traffic and the night. “Those are a lot of ifs,” she said eventually. “And the future is an uncertain place.” She waved, and turned away.

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