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sugar and spite

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SUGAR AND SPITE

pilot

 


When the alarm on the bedside table rang, at exactly six o’clock in the morning, Therese’s eyes immediately opened wide, as if she didn’t get any sleep throughout the night.

She let out a loud groan, disappointed in the night’s lack of rest, and frantically pulled away the sheets, stepping out of the bed. She absolutely adored being able to study at UCLA, one of the best universities in the country; however, things were becoming a little repetitive after three years of studying for the same beloved, yet deeply yearned for BA in Fine Arts.


She didn’t want to seem ungrateful, especially when considering the two hundred grand of student loans she was sitting on in order to afford that school; still, she was also slowly – and painfully – realizing how difficult it was for artists to truly make a living out of their work, and that awareness had started to agonizingly build up a tingling sense of anxiety inside, which screamed “GRADUATION” in capital letters.
What separated her from graduation was merely a year and nine exams, all of which she was quite excited to prepare.
All but one.
Critical issues in Fine Art” was one of the few modules she had yet to embark on and, although the sound of it was quite appealing to her thirst for knowledge of everything-art-related, that module had a reputation for being taught by the actual worst teacher at UCLA, and rumor had it she only had that job because “she’d slept her way through", or at least that’s what her friend Genevieve always used to say about this Abby person, whenever the topic came up.


According to Gen, who’d taken the module before, Abby Gerhard was the most boring lecturer ever, and she wasn’t even particularly clever, which made her lectures the plague of the degree. Some kind of paying-your-dues thing.


Fair enough, Therese thought, as she was getting ready for the first lecture with Abby Gerhard of her entire academic career.


She wasn’t particularly happy about wasting a module she thought would be incredibly interesting; however, every cloud has a silver lining, and hers included being able to pretty much exploit three full hours to catch up with something else instead of paying attention to the otherwise useless lecture.


With that thought in mind, Therese jumped in the shower, fantasizing about the work she would have anticipated later that day.

 



With a steamy Americano in her hands Therese sat in the outer circle, the farther from the lecturer, next to Genevieve.


She fell onto the seat, shaking, trying to shake off the coldness of the 14 degrees typical of the beginning of November, when the temperatures drop dramatically.


Genevieve turned to her with what could only be defined as sarcastic excitement. “I’m so happy to start this module, again! You know how they say, all good things come in threes… I’d say this would be the right fucking time to let me pass this exam. Ugh. I’m so sick of it.”
Therese laughed, and she was just about to reply with the same snarky tone when she was interrupted by a literal celestial vision.
The most gorgeous creature she’d ever seen in her life was standing right in front of her, just a few miles away, and she only noticed having her mouth agape after solid minutes of staring.
Therese was absolutely shook, and slowly started realizing this sort of blonde Greek divinity in front of them did not match Genevieve’s recounts of Abby Gerhard at all.


Where was the horrible, frizzy dark hair? What about the button nose, and the awful taste in clothing?

All she could see was this tall, graceful, absolutely alien blue-eyed woman, with golden locks, perfectly sculpted cheekbones and an incredible, unbelievable body, wrapped in the most sophisticated pair of black pants and beige silk blouse she’d ever seen.
She had confirmation to her doubts by Gen, who only got her head up from her laptop to exclaim “who the fuck is this?”.


Therese had the brief impression that the stunning woman had turned her head to look at them, just for the fraction of a second, and then her gaze went suddenly neutral.


She cleared her throat, and everybody in the room stopped and stared.


“My name is Carol Aird. I am here to cover Professor Gerhard, as she has taken some time out of the university. Therefore, I will be teaching you this whole academic year.
I don’t know if or how you are used to work with Professor Gerhard, but I want to see very hard work and a high rate of participation from you, and I’d expect nothing less. You were given an opportunity to study this degree at this university, and I won’t let you waste it.
If you are not intentioned in investing a huge deal of your time and your efforts in this, the door is right behind you. That being said, we may begin.”
Everyone in the room kept staring quietly for a solid minute, nobody dared to move.
The silence was only interrupted by the rustling of paper and the sound of fifty laptops turning on at the same time.

“Great! I’m never going to pass this exam” Genevieve uttered, throwing her hands in the air.


Therese found herself completely unable to find the words, nor the appropriate reaction to answer back.
Professor Carol Aird.

Chapter Text

SUGAR AND SPITE

II. a turquoise dot

 

 

She moved her weight from one foot to another, once again, frowning at the canvas in front of her. She held her gaze up, then down, she moved to the right and to the left, in what could only be described as an agonizing cycle and, without even realising it, while staring at that turquoise dot in the middle of a pink-ish mess, she was sitting on the floor with her legs crossed. She let out a deep sigh, and moved barefoot through the open-space living room, all the way to the kitchen. She grabbed a wide glass and took it out of the wooden cabinet, to then fill it with tap water. She took a long sip, and her head naturally wandered towards the noise coming for the small television in the living room. Some guy was going on about the latest scandal in the local elections, but Therese wasn’t paying much attention. 

She really liked her apartment, it was the very first place she ever picked for herself and which truly felt like her own, well-earned nest. It wasn’t much to be fair, it was rather small and neutrally coloured, but she loved the feeling of it. It genuinely felt like home in there. 

Of course, she’d get kind of lonely at times, but her past experiences definitely taught her she’d pick loneliness over the sacrifice of having to compromise with other human beings any day and, truthfully, she always developed a nostalgic longing for it, whenever she was missing for more than a couple of days. She loved her independence, and cherished her loneliness. Maybe that’s what she was trying to express in her painting, she thought. Loneliness. That daunting, satisfying, at times overwhelming feeling of knowing you’re on your own, and that you can’t truly rely on anyone. 

Of course, she had her parents, and her friends, and Genevieve. But, somehow, Therese felt like that was not quite it. Like it wasn’t supposed to feel that way, true intimacy. Loneliness had always had a way of creeping back in, of making her realise its presence, of letting her know it never really left. 

Therese glanced at the canvas sitting in the middle of the living room again. She looked at that small, almost imperceptible blue dot, and all of the pink threads surrounding it, stealing the scene, being the main attraction of the painting and, somehow, it all made sense. She smiled slightly. Yes, that’s the emotion she was going to go for.

 


 

  “I’m sorry, I think I’ve suddenly gone deaf? What did you say, girl? You wanna show your sad, little, poor-orphan-girl painting to Aird ? Are you insane?” Genevieve burst out, quite literally laughing to tears, while holding a glass of rosé in her hand. She was shaking so hard Therese got worried she might spill some of it on her carpet. She always felt a bit weird whenever Genevieve, a pale, blonde, skinny and frail white girl put up that fake-badass tone. She sounded like she’d just gone out of an episode of Orange is the New Black , and it kind of made Therese cringe. 

“So? She’s our lecturer! I’m allowed to ask for a little advice!” She replied, somewhat offended.

Genevieve looked at her straight in the eyes. “Therese, she doesn’t even fucking know us. Trust me, she will not give a fuck about the way you felt when you painted a stupid dot in a different shade”

“Well, I didn’t say I’d show her right now, did I?” She said, as she gave Genevieve a miffed look. “Also, might I add I think I should kick your ass out of my house? You’re the worst friend, AND you’re also insulting my work”, Therese added with a smug face. Genevieve giggled in response. “You’d never do it”

“Yeah? And why not?”

“Because you’re a softie, you’re mummy’s little girl”, she pouted mockingly, softening her eyes to make an impression of Therese. “And you want Prof. Aird to be your new mummy, don’t you?”. At that point, she’d also taken up a girly, childish voice, and Therese was about to snap back, when Genevieve kept on talking again. “And also ‘cause I brought you these” she said, taking a box of limited edition lime Pringles out of her purse. “Now, if you want me out… these are coming with me. And so is your Netflix date for tonight”. Therese smiled. Maybe her friend was right after all, maybe she should have waited some more before showing Carol Aird her work. Maybe she could have worked on something that would have come out way better. And then Prof. Aird would have been truly impressed with her skills, she would have complimented her, and she would have said, with a wide smile and a sincerely surprised look in her turquoise eyes, how she’d never seen such a raw talent among her students.

“You stupid motherfucker” she snapped back, grinning through her teeth and hugging Genevieve tightly, only to steal the pringles from her hands afterwards.

 


 

  “Oh, for Chrissake, look at you” Carol muttered, an appalled expression framing her eyes. She closed the door behind her, entering her house, and she dryly threw the keys on the small table upon the entrance. She closed her eyes and petted her hair briefly, as a way of trying to contain her anger and disgust. When she looked up again, Harge was staring at her through the darkness, spread on the couch, the only lighting coming from the television sitting in the middle of the living room. And, in all frankness, he did not look very joyful to see her.

“Where the fuck have you been, Carol? It’s fucking midnight” he gritted his teeth, visibly trying to remain calm, although his tone betrayed his true emotions. 

“Well, I am a grown woman, aren’t I, Harge?” She snapped back. She’d have replied anything, minus answering his question.

“You are my wife” he said, his tone somehow softening.

“That, I wouldn’t be so sure about”

Harge vehemently got up from the couch, in a snap movement. Her instinct gave her bluffing away, as she naturally stepped back in what was a very tough reaction to describe. Was it fear? Perhaps, repulsion? She did not know. Maybe it was both of them, two different, though very clear emotions which, once mixed together, had been the fatal combination to her marriage. She felt the wooden texture of the door touching her back.

He stepped closer, until he was standing one centimeter from her face. Harge stopped and stared at her for what felt like a solid minute. “You better watch it, Carol.” He turned his back on her and started walking towards the centre of the living room, shutting the television down. “I don’t care what you do. But, help me God, if you’re this indecent again I swear to you I won’t be as nice”.

 


 

  “Back in the old days, art was purchased predominantly for direct consumption.” Carol was saying, while pointing at one of the slides which showed the Water Lilies Series by Claude Monet. “You bought a painting because you liked it, you hung it on the living room wall and derived satisfaction by admiring it”. She stepped closer to the centre of the lecture room. “Today, the art industry is valued at roughly 50 billion dollars globally”. She stared intensely at every single student in the room, from side to side. Slowly. “Can anybody name the three attributes that are crucial to the investment asset in the art industry?”

Pause. Silence. Some guy was looking in a different direction, as if he wanted to hide, or be somewhere else, suddenly disappear. Bingo. Those were her favourites. “Warren, perhaps?” The young man scoffed, almost imperceptibly; however, Carol noticed it. She noticed every single detail, for that matter. Always.

“Opaque pricing?” He tried.

“Yes, and?”

Once again, Warren looked away, and Carol was already tired of him.

“Anybody else?” she asked.

“It would be non-standardisation, opaque pricing, and…” She turned her eyes and pointed them at the brunette, petite girl who was talking. She couldn’t really remember her name, it had to be quite exotic. Bennett, maybe?

“... and the industry itself needs to be unregulated”. 

She was good, though. Maybe she should have remembered her name.

“Yes. The lack of these attributes make the art industry susceptible to manipulation. How come?”

“In antiquity, its importance was in the fact that the painting had signalling values, implying that you could always showcase it. But,”

“Raise your voice. We can’t hear you. Be confident”

Therese looked at her, utterly surprised, and she could literally feel her cheeks flushing. She knew they’d have to be crimson red. She spoke again, not knowing the source of that courage, with a hint of a trembling voice.

“... But it wasn’t yet an asset for investment.  Because the meaning of art has changed from antiquity, the predominant factor that drives sales of artwork nowadays is its investment value and its forecasted value in the future.”

“Very well, Miss…”

“Belivet.”

“Miss Belivet is absolutely right. These are just a few of the issues plaguing the art industry on a global level...”

Therese turned her head around, only to find Genevieve staring at her with her mouth agape. “That wasn’t even in the frigging reading, Therese!” she whispered, visibly distressed. The brunette shrugged in response, with an almost imperceptible smile on her face which highlighted her ridiculously cute cheek dimples. “You’re really trying to impress her”, she added, giving her a smug look.

“I guess I am”, Therese replied, before returning her attention to Professor Aird. 

 


  

  She decided she was going to do it. Once the lecture was over, she would have gotten up and gotten her ass down the ramp of stairs, she would have gone straight to her lecturer and she would have shown her the painting she’d been working on. In her imagination, Carol would have greeted her warmly and would have been thrilled for Therese to share her art with her. She hoped she would get some useful advice and, why not, maybe a tiny bit of praise. “ It never harmed anyone ”, she thought to herself. Of course, a part of her was very nervous for Prof. Aird to actually appreciate her work. But, quite frankly, she hadn’t been able to think about anything else for the entire duration of the lecture, so at that point she had developed a sense of ‘wanting to get it over with’ that made her overcome any anxiety or fear of rejection she might have been feeling. 

However, when she did get her moment at last and was finally facing the fascinating, mysterious, gorgeous Carol Aird in that same, now empty room, she suddenly got an urge to run away, and the very real presentiment that the whole thing was going to be a disaster. As a matter of fact, she realised her lecturer wasn’t looking very keen to engage in any kind of conversation. She had a stern look on her face, and was gathering her personal effects without raising her head at all. Actually, more than gathering she was scattering her stuff all over the place.

“Professor Aird? I am so… sorry to bother you” she attempted to say, trying a soft approach. Carol finally raised her head to look at her. However, she did not smile as Therese had imagined in her fantasy. Actually, she was staring at her with such a neutral expression Therese could have swore she might have turned invisible.

“I was just wondering whether… erm… whether you’d be so kind to take a look at something I’ve been working on… if that’s not a problem for you. You see, I” she stopped talking abruptly as she was interrupted by Carol.

“Look… Belivet, right?” Therese nodded forcefully.

“I’m very sorry if I gave you the wrong impression, I really don’t appreciate suck-ups and I honestly don’t think I’m the person you’re looking for in this case. Perhaps I can direct you towards some of my brilliant colleagues, who I’m sure would be very happy to help you”.

Therese looked at her for what felt like an eternity, without being able to utter a single sound. Her imagination had played her. What she had been picturing, too. “Oh.” She managed to say in the end, her brain bursting as Genevieve’s word kept buzzing and humming in her ears. “No problem, nevermind” she managed to add. She turned her back to her lecturer, walking as fast as physically possible, while leaving her dignity behind, with her. “Sorry I have wasted your time”, she said lastly, while storming out of the room, her voice cracking.

Chapter Text

SUGAR AND SPITE

III. when we have sufficiently tortured each other

 

Something very disheartening and much too recurrent throughout Therese’s life, resembling loss of focus and nervousness, had always accompanied her and dictated her behaviour in multiple occasions. A hopeless dreamer and constant perfectionist, Therese had led an ambition-driven existence up to that point, and she wasn’t exactly planning on changing anytime soon. However, more often than not, the value she attributed to every single opportunity she truly cared about had led her to approach the roads bringing her closer to the goal with a rather intense rate of anxiety. In the past, it had happened quite a lot. Submitting her application for UCLA literally took her something like four to five months to be able to complete it and send it in a state which kind of resembled some type of peace of mind, but which really was exhaustion from going over every detail a thousand times a day. In order to deal with that kind of stress, it was almost natural for her to fully dissociate herself from the worry she felt, as if in an attempt to ignore her responsibilities and shut the world outside. This was one of those occasions and, by now, Therese had grown to being quite familiar with the feeling. Except she couldn’t toss her responsibilities aside, in this instance. Even if it meant having to deal with the person she was starting to despise the most. 

It had been a long night, indeed. Therese looked at the time: it was almost three in the morning. Nonetheless, she picked up the phone. “Gen” she said, as soon as she heard noise on the other side of the line. “You won’t believe it”. Genevieve sounded genuinely curious when she replied with “what?”, and Therese felt instantly relieved with her newfound knowledge that she hadn’t harassed her friend in the middle of the night while she might have been sleeping or engaged in something else. She had just finished giving shape to that thought when she heard a male tone on the background coming from Gen’s phone. Therese widened her eyes, terribly at fault. “Oh my God, you’re busy, I’m so sorry, I’ll call you in the morning, I thought-” She heard Gen laughing out loud, and blinked. “Don’t worry, Terry. I told you I’m seeing Dannie. We were just chilling”. Therese heard him shouting “HI THERESE!” while still away from the phone. “Right”, she proceeded on saying. “So… inviting him back to yours. Things are serious with this guy, huh?”

“Well… you’ll see it for yourself. Don’t forget you’re meeting us tomorrow night at Tiki-ti. It’s just downtown.” She heard Therese sigh.

“Yeah, I guess it’s feasible… I kind of want to meet this Dannie guy” she replied, resembling not exactly the spitting image of excitement.

“You’ll see. He’s so much fun.” Therese bit her lip and nodded, even though Genevieve couldn’t see her. “Okay”, she said.

“So, what’s the latest news you were dying to tell me?”. The e-mail she just got flashed back very vividly, and Therese (which didn’t believe she could hate the information that was in it more) felt another pang of pain. “Mr. Beckner reached back about the internship request” she heard herself saying. “You won’t believe it. Apparently every lecturer has a certain quota, some kind of set number of students whose applications they can take on, and they can’t exceed that number”. Genevieve gasped, already foreseeing what was coming next. “Guess who’s the only lecturer who still has to reach the number of students she is willing to help” Therese concluded, helplessly rolling her eyes while uttering the words. “I swear to God I’d rather die than ask her to help me. We saw how that one went”

Genevieve snorted. “Maybe she was just in a bad mood” she said. Therese was about to snap, when she added “But I see where you’re coming from. Definitely not very kind of her”

“I’d like to spare me the humiliation, perhaps”. She heard some kind of rustling noise coming from the phone, and heard Gen giggling. “Sorry” she said. “Dannie is…” she very clearly moved away from the phone. “Stop it!” Therese heard again, and then Gen took the mobile back. “He’s just teasing me. I have to go.” Therese opened her mouth to talk, but her friend preceded her. “Look, you and I know how much you care about this internship. It could mean so much for the gallery. Don’t let any rude bitch get in the way!”. Therese found herself stuck in a rarefied state of mindless awareness. “You said it yourself, she’s supposed to help you. Go get it, girl!”. Before Therese could say something, Gen excused herself and hung up after saying, with a very hurried tone, “I really need to go now, see you tomorrow, love you”, and Therese could just picture her flushed look and pink cheeks while, in all probability, Dannie was cuddling her. Fair enough. At least one of them was getting cuddled. She looked back at the inbox folder of her e-post and sighed. Genevieve was right. She had no choice but to face the three-headed, blue-eyed monster. Alone.

 


 

Therese tried to make her way through the crowd that was slammed over the dance floor, with two full pints of some kind of green, blue-ish liquid in her hands, while shakily walking towards Gen and Dannie’s table in the corner. The wooden floor was sticky and she could hardly tell where she was going or if she was about to jump into something or someone, for that matter. She cursed herself under her breath for accepting the invitation. She furtherly cursed herself for her, she now realized, very poor choice of clothing items. Her elephant jeans were driving her insane as they kept strolling on the dirty floor, and the turtleneck but sleeveless top had made sure she’d feel as if she were being choked to death in the unbearable heat of the bar, while also getting all kinds of substances on her bare arms. Screw cute, she should have gone in her sweatpants. She tried to put on her best face anyway as she approached the two, and a faint smile came out. “Here we go” she said, letting an ‘oof’ sound out as she dropped the pints on the table. “Thanks”, she heard Dannie saying. Therese raised her head and was met by a curious, attentive look and his most charming smile which, to be honest, sent her a surge through her spine in what she felt as discomfort. Had he just been inappropriate? Perhaps she was just being extra perceptive though, she did feel kind of dizzy anyway. “Sure” she said, nodding, and turned to face Genevieve. 

“So, Therese”, Danny started.  Here we go again , she thought, suddenly freezing. “It’s really nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you, haven’t I?” he playfully smacked Gen on the shoulder, to Therese’s relief, because that did feel appropriate. It’s not like she didn’t like Dannie. He was quite handsome, funny and light-hearted, and seemed like a smart guy. But she just couldn’t imagine being involved with him like that and, most of all, he was her best friend’s… boyfriend? Companion? Lover? She hadn’t really figured it out yet. “Likewise”, she replied, just as the silence was starting to feel awkward. “I’ve heard enough about you too”. She could spot Gen grinning on the side. 

“Genevieve told me your dream is to open an art gallery, that’s… neat”.

“Yeah”, she nodded. “That should be the plan.”

“And some professor of yours doesn’t want to help you or something?” Therese froze and, before she could help it, went pale. She had forced herself to wipe Carol Aird off of her mind at least for the night, and Dannie mentioning her was not helping. At all. She nodded feebly. Danny chuckled. “What on earth did you do to her that made her hate you so much?”

Therese suddenly went from pale to bright red, in a time span of less than two seconds, and thinned her lips. How dare he assume things about her so light-heartedly and interrogate her about them? They’d known each other for fifteen minutes, tops! He must had noticed the distress on her face, because his eyes immediately flashed with regret. “I mean… why is she being so tough?”

Therese saw Genevieve with a panicky expression reflected on her own face. Then she squeezed her eyes forcibly, took a deep breath and cleared her throat. “I’m not sure. I guess she must be a very frustrated woman”

“That is for sure. She was so unfair” Genevieve said, tagging herself along.

“Why’s that?” Dannie asked with genuine curiosity in his voice. Therese took pity of him, and felt sorry for snapping so bad.

“She was just really bitchy about something. God, I hate that I ever have to talk to her again” she tapped her hand on her slightly sweaty forehead. Even the simple thought of that woman made her hyperventilate with rage, and humiliation flushed all over her body again. “I’m just terribly worried my only opportunity to get that internship is going to shatter as soon as my application form gets in her hands” she said, finally relaxing and disclosing some more information.

“Here, here” Gen said, tapping her fingers on Therese’s shoulders and forcing her to take a sip of the bubbly green liquid. “You’ll feel much better”. Therese squeezed her eyes in disgust, but kept on sipping while pursing her lips. “You know, I can picture her writing my reference already”. Dannie looked at her. She began, trying her best to mimic her lecturer’s grave tone and carefully chosen lexicon, although not fully realizing what she was saying. 

“Dear Human Resources Team at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 

I strongly advise you not to offer a placement to my referee, as she attends classes with the bare minimum level of attention and engagement required from this great institution which, by the way , she is not adept to be a part of; for Therese Belivet is rather puerile and I am sure suck-ups would not be a great asset for your company. 

Sincerely, Carol Aird, the biggest bitch of all time”

By the time she’d finished, Dannie and Genevieve were looking at her with both shocked and amused expressions on their faces, and Dannie took the chance to interrupt the silence as he burst out laughing. 

Not so funny when she actually does it , Therese thought, but didn’t say anything.

 


 

“I had a hell of a day, dear, but I wouldn’t want to bum you out by telling you about it”. Muffled noises of protest could be heard from the other side of the phone. “Well, I’d have to point out every single excruciating detail of what’s wrong with the higher education system nowadays. I think that would take some time, wouldn’t it?”. Carol tilted her head and giggled and, just as she did, she could sense some kind of dark sarcasm in her tone. “You’re right, I am rather sure you know something about it”. 

She gazed at the official UCLA logo that was taped all over her office. “I guess you just wouldn’t expect it from a fine institution like this. Not so much trouble, anyway”. 

She paused for a second. “Then again, maybe some of it is my own fault”, she heard herself saying, and she bit her lip. “Well… you know. Me and Harge… we’re going through a rough patch. As always”. The angles of her mouth raised in a bitter smile, and she rolled her eyes. “Sometimes I feel like I’m not paying nearly enough attention, like… Oh, I don’t know.” She moved in her chair, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. “Like I’m not investing the passion that used to burn me alive. I used to be really good at this.” She stopped. Just for a second, though. “To hell with it, I used to be the best. I mean, can you believe I was summoned in and basically reprimanded by McCullough today?”

Just as she was speaking, a knock on the door literally froze Carol’s heart. She widened her eyes, as she placed the cellphone on the desk, wondering about who could possibly be bothering her at seven in the evening. In her academic office. Could it be Harge? Had he finally gone insane, at last?

No. No, she thought, it couldn’t have been Harge. The touch on the door was light and shaky, the sound of the knocks almost faint. And Harge would have never had the decency to knock the door instead of storming in, without thinking twice about it.

“Come in” she said at last, her very well trained tone taking over, and perfectly hiding her surprise and uncertainty. Instead, she sounded annoyed. She waited (im)patiently and, after half a second, she saw (to her utter disbelief) no one but Therese Belivet herself making her way through the door. Carol had to fight the urge to literally drop her jaw open. 

The audacity

She instantly wondered about how much of what she was saying the girl could have heard, and a surge of raging adrenaline grew throughout her body. 

“H-hello” Therese muttered and, once again, Carol had to fight her urge. Her urge not to snort in annoyance. In what was her experience of a lifetime, people had always made sure she’d be damn aware women would never be able to get whatever it is that they wanted, if they did not have the guts to show some confidence. She’d told that girl as much. Clearly, she hadn’t taken her advice. Well. She was the only one at loss. Carol was sure as hell holding on onto her own confidence.

She looked up at her with a very neutral look on her face. But the very fact that she was facing the girl meant she had to go on and get the business done. Quickly. 

Therese seemed to take the hint.

“I’m… I have to ask you whether you might be willing to write a r-reference… for… erm. For an internship I’m applying for. I’d have to put you down as my tutor. If you’d be fine with it.” Therese had started blushing just as she opened her mouth to talk, and her face was now full-on red. She could feel her cheeks burning, and hated herself for it.

“You… have to? You have to ask me?” Carol repeated, raising her brow. She, quite literally, could not believe it. 

She was sure, absolutely positive, she’d been called out by the director of undergraduate studies earlier that day because of the girl who was now awkwardly standing right in the middle of her office, asking for her help . Of course, that dirty little Jodie McCullough had jumped at the chance of reprimanding her for something so mundane as having to spend her precious time taking on other people’s work. Or her lack thereof. She mentally scanned through all the concerns she already had and considered how busy she was. Her marriage was literally falling apart. And yet, she was being called out for not wasting her time writing some recommendation for people she didn’t even know, more often than not. 

“Yes. I e-mailed…” Mr. Beckner , Therese was about to let slip out of her mouth, who, by the way, is much, much nicer and approachable than you . But then she thought mentioning names and pointing fingers couldn’t be a very good idea. “Someone else before. Apparently there’s some sort of set number of student allowance or something?” 

Carol squeezed her eyes in disgust and pinched the bridge of her nose, taking the information in. “Yes”. She said absentmindedly, and yet it somehow managed to come out as cold. 

Yes, and you totally knew about it, didn’t you? Carol thought, and definitely did not say out loud. Surely she must have known, and she must have thought Carol wouldn’t be willing on helping many students, so she’d still have to fill the required yearly quota. And the motif? Oh , yes. It all added up in Carol’s head.

The girl must have been hung up on the other day, when was it? Last Wednesday, Thursday perhaps? When she’d declined her request to look at her work. Well. She could have been gentler, definitely, but it still didn’t make up for the fact that freaking Belivet here had gone to McCullough, crying and complaining about her mean professor. And then had the guts to show up at seven o’clock in the evening and ask for her help.

She looked at the small, wide-eyed, delicate girl in front of her. She looked nervous.

“So you waltzed in here, asking me to be so kind to take the time to write you a reference, because there was no one else available?” Her eyes were ice-cold, and her tone lowered to a whisper on the last part of the question. Therese shuddered so hard at it, Carol thought she might burst out crying. 

However, the second she’d finished talking, she suddenly realized something that had been in front of her the whole time. Belivet went to McCullough to complain about last week’s confrontation, and she knew Carol would find out. And she got stuck having to ask her for a favour anyway. She must have had to set aside quite a lot of self-respect in order to show up in that office, Carol considered. 

She briefly took pity of her and, before she could help it, her gaze had softened the slightest bit. 

“Fine” she said sharply, before she could change her mind. Therese was looking at her in utter disbelief and, to be honest, she seemed thoroughly confused. “Where are you going to apply?”

The impatient look in her eyes gave Therese the stimulus to wake up from her trance.

“Erm. Definitely the MET.” She replied.

Shit. The MET was going to suck up a LOT of their time. Belivet had to know that much. “The MET” she repeated pensively, and brought a hand to her chin. “Well. This is going to take quite a long time, if you ask me. That’s if you want to have a shot at actually making it, of course”. She saw Therese’s expression change, and her mouth starting to widen as if she was about to reply, and decided there was nothing to add to the current conversation that wasn’t going to be simple platitudes. So she finally unpinned her gaze from the girl - whom she’d been staring at for ten wholesome minutes, Carol realized -, and took the mobile phone which had previously been abandoned on the desk in her hands. 

“Abby? Do excuse me, I need to go. Something came up. I’ll call you later.”

Therese couldn’t believe her eyes. Someone had been listening and witnessing their whole encounter, for the entire time, on the other side of the phone.

Chapter Text

SUGAR AND SPITE

IV. the eighth day of the week

 

 

 

On the following Monday, Therese left the lecture hall after a long day of seminars, waved Genevieve goodbye and reached for her phone. As she started walking towards the opposite side of campus, she dialed a number. The phone rang for a couple of seconds before the screen signalled the beginning of the call. She put the phone to her ear, smiling to herself.

“Hi”

“Hi sweetheart. Is everything alright?”

Hearing her mum’s tender and low voice filled Therese with graciousness. “Yes, yes, how are you?” She quickly replied, instantly glad of her own decision to pick up the phone and call. She would need this for later.

“Well. I’ve seen better times, indeed.” Therese bit her lip.

“I am quite nervous myself these days”, she said.

“Why’s that?” Helen asked.

“Um… just, you know” Therese started, eyeing the cloudy weather above her. “With the internship application and stuff” she rushed to the end of the sentence, barely making an effort not to slur the words together. She heard the other line go full-on silent.

“Ah… I see” she heard her mum uneasily say after a while. Helen Belivet was a very loving, strong-willed woman, and as such she could hardly bear when things didn’t exactly go her way. Her daughter’s decision to move literally across the country, thus far away from her home, was one of those things. 

On the other hand, Therese wouldn’t have been described by anybody (nor she would have described herself) as particularly talkative, but it was a given fact that she would just start rambling on about random topics in tense situations, in what were very clear attempts to shift the addressee’s attention somewhere else. It didn’t always work, though. 

“You know, I’m trying to do my best, but my application supervisor is this really bitchy professor and having to spend extra time with her outside of class is really testing me, y’know”. 

“Therese!” Her mother called out, “I taught you better than addressing your professor as ‘bitchy’”. Therese made a conscious effort to stop herself from snorting loudly.

“Yeah, sorry” she offered absentmindedly. “I am actually on my way to see her now, so I’ll talk to you later perhaps?” she heard her own voice rising with hope at the end of the sentence.

“Alright then.” Helen seemed only briefly brought back to the conversation at the mention of its end. “Love you”

“Yeah, I love you too.” Therese hung up the phone and sighed loudly. She raised her gaze up from the floor, and was met with the wooden surface of Prof. Aird’s office. She timidly knocked on the door, making sure to keep her touch light.

“Come in.”

Professor Aird’s algid tone seemed to freeze her to her core, as always. There was some kind of edge, of acute sharpness, one couldn’t quite describe it, which made her tremble with no exceptions ever. As she opened the door, her only coherent thought was “brace yourselves , folks ”. 

 

On Wednesday, Prof. Beckner’s lecture on Canova’s neoclassical sculptural technique, though quite enjoyable, had thrown Therese into a state of utter despair. She kept staring at the clock on the wall behind her professor’s shoulders, painfully aware he was taking way too much time to wrap it up, and she would undoubtedly end up being late to meet Prof. Aird. The thought sent such a strong surge of terror down her spine she felt she might actually be physically sick. Holding onto the idea of the biggest aspiration of her entire life was, at that point, the only source of motivation keeping her going; however, had she been slightly less convinced of her own goals and ambitions, she would have given up at once, no doubt, no regret. She sighed out loud. “Don't worry”, Genevieve had unpromptedly said, eyeing her with a frowned expression on her face. “She'll understand”.

Therese was very much doubting so.

 

Friday came, and with it what was making Therese’s life utterly miserable resurfaced once more. She truly wasn't looking forward to sitting in a cold room for three hours, forcing herself to try and focus while she couldn't get her mind to work properly even if she tried. She wasn’t expecting much, either, considering the absolute disaster the previous meeting had been, but she was willing to give it a try. What truly got her was the inexplicability of her professor’s genuine, deep hatred of her guts. It made her feel so out of place all the time and, as much as she despised admitting it, she couldn’t help but feel stupid. Professor Aird would not snap at her anymore, or throw a tantrum, or make a scene, but she had a much worse way of expressing her dislike; namely, through deadly glares and subtle but equally edgy casual comments she would drop in the most unexpected circumstances. Those were the moments Therese was truly starting to fear, which sometimes prevented her from getting her fair share of nightly rest. She sighed, and knocked on the door of her office.

 


 

The following Tuesday, Therese had fetched two coffees from the cafeteria on central campus while heading towards Prof. Aird’s office. 

With shaky and slightly sweaty hands, she placed one of them on the wooden desk and dragged it across it, from one side to the other, with the palm of her hand. She was so self-conscious she only then realized she was staring at the cups instead of the person sitting across her, so she all but forced herself to raise her gaze in a useless attempt to keep at least some of her dignity. The whole thing was meant as a peace offering act, so it couldn’t really go wrong, she thought while trying to convince herself, really. Therese gulped and gasped. 

“I, um-” No stammering , she thought. And raise your voice . She looked up again. Confidence . “I didn’t know which coffee you fancied, so I went for a black americano”. She paused, studying her professor’s inscrutable expression. “Thought it would be much needed”.

Carol nodded silently.

 

By the time Friday rolled around, Therese had stopped expecting any kind of pleasurable sensation stemming from the weekly meetings with her tutor. They were rather something she feared, a condition which required some sort of anesthetic, namely all-nighters of harmless but very drunk fun each time she was painfully aware she’d have to deal with Carol Aird at the following sunrise. Prof. Aird was always in a rather foul mood, which darkened her own, almost by reflection. Therese had expected the whole coffee gesture to patch things up a little but, with no little disappointment, she had realized she was in no such luck. She did have to recognize, though, that Prof. Aird was the absolute best when it came down to the actual development of her MET application. She would always select the sharpest words and most effective communicative forms to transmit a specific message, and wasted no time whatsoever in distractions. One could argue she was impatient, rude, cold and, quite frankly, a bitch. But, in spite of herself, Therese had to admit she also was remarkably witty, sharp, knowledgeable, intuitive, experienced. So elegant in her ruthlessness. Overall, deeply fascinating. Therese shook her head, and woke up from her daydream. 

Prof. Aird was staring at her with a puzzled expression and furrowed brows. The young girl couldn’t help but gape. 

“What?” She offered, her mouth suddenly gone dry.

“I said” Carol began, exhaling deeply. “Have you given any thought to how you’ll manage the deadline for the first selection? I told you I will not by any means be able to make the Tuesday session”. 

Therese just kept gazing at her, at loss for words. A surge of adrenaline went down her spine. She had completely forgotten about it. “Um” she tried, before curtly being cut off by Carol, who threw her hands in the air in a rather theatrical display of impatience. 

“This wouldn’t even be a problem if it weren’t for that deadline on Wednesday. Who picks Wednesday for a deadline, anyways? Ridiculous” she said, while grabbing a packet of cigarettes. Sobranie Black Russian , Therese briefly read on it. Carol took one out of the packet and lighted it, not even asking her student whether she would mind. The consideration was fleeting, though, because in one smooth movement Carol took a drag from the cigarette and inhaled deeply only to let it out with a little whimper and an almost inaudible moan. Therese suppressed the urge to gasp, cry and laugh with hysteria, all at once. “Professor-” she tried. But clearly the utterly complex, unreadable creature in front of her was struggling in some kind of internal battle, because she immediately squeezed her eyes closed at the sound of Therese’s voice. So, Therese shut the hell up and waited. Just when she was starting to think her professor wouldn’t add anything, she noticed a little twitching on the corner of her mouth.

“Perhaps you could come to my house” she finally let out, so atypically fast and under breath that, for a brief second, Therese thought she must have heard wrong.

“Excuse me?” She asked, though quite rhetorically.

“Well.” Carol said. “I am well aware of how inappropriate this might sound, but it’s not nearly as inappropriate as having you miss that damned deadline” she spoke, once again with her firm and detached tone, which oddly comforted Therese on this occasion. “It will be very unlikely for me to be available to meet anywhere else. My husband is out of town, and my child is at home.” She took another drag of the cigarette, slowly. “Not that I should explain myself, anyway.”, she noted then. Therese couldn’t help but blush.

“Of course not”

Her professor stared at her with a bemused expression and eyes full of laughter. Wow , it was the first time Therese ever saw her like that, the young woman thought, and kind of hated herself for it. 

“Of course not - what? Coming to my house or not explaining myself?”

“You don’t owe me any explanation. Or to anyone else, for that matter.” Therese heard herself saying, and quietly congratulated herself on her own eloquence. “I’d be happy to come to your place” she added straight away, in fear of being interrupted. 

If Carol was surprised, she didn’t seem to show it. However, the bemused expression on her face was gone.

“Fine - that’s that then.” She looked up at Therese. “I’ll meet you here on Tuesday at 18.30 sharp”.




 

She might kidnap and murder me and throw me off of some bridge , Therese briefly thought, tucking her phone in the pockets of her blue, plaid dress while she hopped in the passenger seat of her professor’s car. She tried not to look across, but her side sight couldn’t help but catch a glimpse of golden blonde curls, which made her shiver. This is insane , she thought, fidgeting nervously. The driver caught the movement and probably felt, in her own way, sympathy, because the next thing she said had sounded horribly similar to an encouragement. “Let’s just get this done and be over with it, okay?” Therese nodded. This was going to be okay. Extremely weird and unsettling, but okay.

As they approached what was then revealed to be a ridiculously big (and weirdly good looking) building, Therese realized she had seen that place over and over again in the past, but couldn’t quite figure out why it seemed so familiar. It was then that Carol pulled over, and Therese hissed as she felt a sharp pain to her stomach, when the realization that they had, indeed, arrived hit her. Desperately looking around for cues which might have distracted her, she spotted a brunette little girl peeping through one of the windows overlooking the parking lot. She had wide eyes and the hint of a smirk on her lips, though non-malicious, and kept looking around, eyeing them with curiosity. Therese could tell the little girl was Carol’s daughter straight away. The unmistakable evidence for that was found in Carol’s wide smile as she looked up to the window herself and waved in greeting. It was the first time Therese ever saw all of her facial traits going soft at once, and facing upwards. She had a glow in her expression, one couldn’t quite pin it down, and it filled Therese with joy and surprise. She was even more surprised to realize she felt genuinely relieved at the thought that, at the end of the day, Carol was not always that grumpy and unpleasant, that she was capable of being affectionate, of loving someone. She turned around only to find Carol eyeing her curiously. “Shall we?” she said, and Therese woke up from her trance at once.

Therese looked at her watch. She would have checked the time on the display of her iPhone, like any other kid on earth, but she was too nervous to take it out in fear of being reprimanded by her professor, sitting across from her on a dark green velvet armchair. It must have been two hours or so, since they first came in. After jumping up and down at the presence of a stranger in her house, the kid (called Rindy, she found out) was lazily standing next to the family cook while she made something that, Therese had to admit, smelled absolutely amazing all the way to the living room. She briefly wondered how a university professor could afford a personal cook and that really cool, not to mention humongous apartment, and realized Professor Aird must have been rich or something. Family rich, or marriage rich. Just rich-rich. As Carol went over the essay she had prepared for the meeting, Therese looked around for the first time since she set foot in that place. The living room was swamped in dark colours, and the darkness of the evening permeated it, only interrupted by the dim lightning of multiple table lamps, inlaid in polychrome wood, possibly Italian, but recalling African art in their print. They created a sweet, gentle atmosphere, completed by the weak, strangely warm breeze coming from the slightly open French windows. In the surrealism of it, Therese almost felt at peace.

“Mooooom!” Both Carol and Therese jumped three feet in the air at the sound, startled. Rindy’s little dress appeared, fluttering in the room. “Yes, sweetheart?” Carol said, obviously finding her composure the millisecond after. 

“Is daddy coming for dinner?”

Carol grimaced. “I am not sure honey. He’s been working a lot, you know? Just have Sarah keep an extra portion for him?”. Rindy’s eyes widened in a gleeful expression. “OK. I am happy he is not coming”. Oh God . Therese wanted to disappear and be buried ten feet under. What was she doing there? In her mean professor’s house? Listening to her kid hate on her own father? And the woman’s expression was no help either. She somehow looked shocked and not surprised at the same time.

“Rindy, this is not the time, okay? Just go help Sarah, honey” She said, through gritted teeth.

“OK” Rindy replied, clearly still glowing happy from the news. “Sorry mom, I am just happy because I love you so so much more”

“I love you too baby, now please let me just finish here with Therese, okay?”

Rindy nodded vigorously. “It was nice to meet you Terézzz” she said, imitating her mother’s demeanor. “Sorry my mom was mean to you. But she is always good.” She went all the way across the living room, to the little coffee table next to Therese. The girl looked in shock as Rindy’s chubby hands took ahold of the china from the tea set Therese had previously used with a grace and composure a normal 5-year-old absolutely should not have. And, as Rindy laid down, she whispered in her ear “just don’t make her angry”.

The whole drive back to campus had been silent, except for Carol insisting that she would accompany her all the way to her house because it was “way too late, and way too dark for a young woman like her to be wandering the streets alone”. She even added that she would not go to jail for her. Therese chuckled inwardly. Rindy Aird was really something, and her mother even more. When they reached her modest studio apartment Therese thanked her professor, and her gratitude was sincere for the first time. She had taken the time to truly help her and went out of her way (namely, all the way to her house) to do so. It might have been the weirdest thing that ever happened to her, but for a moment the sting Therese felt from their first encounter seemed to slightly fade. Only once she was climbing up the stairs, the doorway to her building had been shut and she had mindfully observed Carol’s car fading in the night, only then she thought of checking her phone. There were six missed calls from Genevieve. She quickly tapped on the screen and returned the call. It was 10.30 at night. 

“Oh my God, Therese! I’ve been worried sick!” Genevieve barked through the phone. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes... everything is fine”, Therese heard herself reply, in a distant tone, while she stared at the stars illuminating the night outside of her apartment.