This took a turn for the somber I didn’t anticipate. Fallout from RealLife, I guess. There was more Nichole was going to say, but it was obvious I had to let Teresa have her say.
What a day.
It was a week of accelerating change. In the mornings, Nichole and Mackenzie would share ideas for breakfast; well, for her breakfast. At class during the day, she continued her starring role as an agent of change or consternation, depending on the subject. That, culminating Friday afternoon when she and Professor Vincent concluded another of their lively exchanges.
“I sometimes wonder who’s teaching this class,” they heard Teresa mutter. Vincent smiled at that.
“Starting Monday, she is!” He pointed at Nichole with his left.
Everyone stared at him.
“Excuse me?” Nichole asked.
“Got it cleared with the head of the college Wednesday,” he said, capping his marker and placing it onto the dry-erase board. “But, I didn’t want any disruption to our already disrupted routine, so I waited until now.”
He extended his right hand to Nichole.
“Congratulations, Teaching Assistant Clarke!”
She shook his hand, honestly surprised. John and Sanjay clapped, joined a moment later by Teresa. When they stopped, she spoke up.
“What… what shall be my duties?”
“Good! Right to the point!” He nodded at her. “You’re taking over this class. I’ll be using what you’ve shown me and the other professors to put together a class/lab for the next semester.”
He picked up his briefcase and made for the door.
“Professor!” Sanjay called. Vincent paused in the doorway. “What will this new class be about?”
“Not sure about the title, yet,” he said towards the hallway. He turned his head back. There was a sly look in his eyes. “But we’ll be making an AI. Bye, now!”
After his departure, no one moved for a few seconds. Teresa stood.
“Let’s go,” she announced.
“Let’s…?” Nichole began.
“…go?” John echoed. “We are? Where? Why?”
“Aren’t you just filled with questions!” The headstrong young woman said, stuffing her things into her bag. “Zom’s, to celebrate Miss Perfect’s new job.”
She linked her left arm into Nichole’s right.
“And even better, she’s paying!”
Everyone except Nichole was grinning.
They sat outside, but, as it was raining, at a table next to the wall. For just after four o’clock on a Friday, they’d been lucky to find a seat anywhere.
“But I knew you lovelies were coming, so I’d reserved it for you!” Nike had exclaimed when they’d first wandered into his place. True enough: not only was there a ‘Reserved’ card out, there was already a bottle of wine and two pints of ale. Nichole sniffed at what looked like ice water with a lemon slice; no, a hint of alcohol. Nike could be downright creepy, sometimes.
Teresa, across from Nichole, poured a great helping from the bottle to her glass. She raised it.
“Teaching Assistant Clarke!” She cried.
“Cheers!” The two young men echoed.
Teresa took three big gulps and put down her glass with some force.
“God, but I hate you, sometimes!” She only half muttered.
“Hey, Trees, that’s uncalled for!” John objected, looking left at her. “Sure, she knows more than us, for now, but hell, you know more than I do, and I don’t recall you getting outta your chair to teach!”
Sanjay seemed uncomfortable at both of their statements but stayed still next to Nichole. Taking a draw off his ale, it seemed John was just getting started.
“And, considering your Dad – ”
“Okay!” Teresa barked at him. “I’m sorry!”
She drank more wine and let her eyes come up to Nichole’s.
“I’m sorry. You’ve earned and deserve it.”
Nichole reached her hands two thirds of the way across the little table. Her palms up. She waited.
With a sigh, Teresa took them with hers.
“Of course! Thank you for being my friend!”
Everyone relaxed. John talked a little about his fiancée, who lived and worked on a dairy farm about half a day’s ride by horse south of the City. Sanjay amazed them with word from home – via a friend’s shortwave set – that India had two men in orbit, for at least two more days.
That provoked another sigh from Teresa.
“And we go to bed worrying about being eaten alive…” She raised her voice. “Hey! Ni-”
With his hand on her shoulder, he set another bottle onto their table, giving a wink to Nichole while taking the empty.
“Hey, guys,” Teresa said at the two. “Blow. We’ve got women shit to talk about; you know, periods and all.”
Sanjay looked mortally embarrassed but John just laughed. They congratulated Nichole one last time and faded into the gray light rain.
I don’t have periods, Nichole thought. This conversation will be very disappointing for her!
Her friend reached across the table and seized her glass, taking a small drink.
“Well,” she said with surprise, “there is a little alcohol in there! For someone who looks Irish, you sure don’t act like one!”
She set the glass back in front of Nichole.
“Am I Irish?” Nichole was older at teasing out implied meaning. “No.”
Teresa stared at some point far away. For once, she didn’t reach for her glass.
“Grandpa was Black,” she began, still unfocused. “An NCO in the Air Force at Clark, outside Manila. Married a local; petit riche, but still had their Spanish surname. They told grandma she was dead to their family, for marrying an animal.”
She took a drink. Her gaze was now on the table.
“Grandpa loved the AF; wouldn’t retire. They rattled around from base to base. When Dad was born…” A sigh. “On Okinawa, they moved back to the ‘States. Wanted him raised somewhere safe and free of race-hate.”
Nichole remained silent for what she knew was a kind of confessional.
“The hate on the East and Left Coasts was a surprise!” Teresa chuckled. “They moved to Florida; easier to get along with Cubans than up-east Yankees! When Dad was seventeen, he, too, joined the Air Force… it was only – ”
“Teresa?” Nichole gently cut in. “I am very happy to know more about you, however – ”
Without looking up, Teresa’s right hand held Nichole’s left.
A small squeeze back.
“Of course,” Nichole barely said.
“What was I…? Oh: Dad met Mom in Dayton, at Wright-Pat…” She stopped to laugh, and now took a long drink from her glass. “Dad could never resist top heavy red-heads, and Mom was all that!”
She laughed. Nichole chose to laugh, a little, with her.
“After his sixteen years, I’ve no idea why he chose to settle here, in Portland. Sure, it was a hardcore Prog city, but it was also very, very White.” She let her eyes roam over Nichole’s skin for just few moments. “What was he thinking?”
Another drink; she leaned back in her chair.
“It was a fun place to grow up. Dad went up the ladder in local politics – fast – so I was both a princess and an adornment as a mongrel!”
Nichole allowed herself a small sip of her drink. Even in Japanese, a <mix> was something of a pejorative term, no matter how cute the child.
Her friend poured the last of the bottle into her large glass.
“Dang. Dad’d been Mayor for all of six months when the Breakup began.” For the first time, Teresa’s voice caught.
“Friend?” Nichole ventured, “it’s getting late…?”
“Mom,” a gulp of wine, “Mom was worried sick about her folks back in Ohio. Dad had his hands full here, saving the City… Mom…”
A sob. Nichole did not panic, but she did something she did not understand. She asked for help with her mind. What was it humans called that?
“Pray,” Nike said, his hand on her left shoulder as he knelt at their table, “what was it you need, love?”
“I… nothing. But my friend…!” Nichole made a wave across the table as Teresa kept her head down.
“Sir.” Another of his minions; indistinguishable from Gary.
“Please escort Miss Johnson home.”
Just as Gary had done with Joe, Mike gently, but with direct strength, took Teresa’s shoulders and brought her to her feet. Nichole expected an outburst at that. She instead watched her lean into the young man. She saw her mouth barely move. With slow care, they were away.
Nichole was older to take great care around Nike.
“You heard that?” She asked.
“Oh, sure!” His smile ended at his mouth.
“How much do I owe you?”
He took his eyes from the fading forms of the girl and his man to Nichole’s.
“Never mind. You’re paying in real coin, correct?” He put his right hand onto her left elbow. “Let’s go inside and settle up!”