Papers slammed into Demeter’s face. “You’re the one who asked for this!” the man said, after having thrown the bunch at her.
She flinched, but she didn’t look away. Nor did she complain. She just stood there, taking the heat. “Yes, I did, professor.”
The man turned in his chair. It was big and leather and important, and he was a man who had important things to do in his important office at the top of the university. He looked out of the window, up towards the gathering sunsets.
There was silence for a minute. Demeter didn’t dare end it.
The professor turned back towards her and straightened his tie. “I…” he said, gripping the edges of his dark-wooden desk, “didn’t want this. But you insisted, and then I trusted you, so I sold this to the higher-ups. They think it’s brilliant, and they want it done.” He shook his head, “Heavens knows why.” He pointed a finger at her. “So, you, will have to find a way to make this whole deal work.”
“I-I don’t think that’s possible now, sir. I mean, if the couple breaks up, what could I possibly-“
He slammed his hand on the desk, making her flinch. “You are the who brought this to me. Now see to it.”
She nodded, it was almost a bow. “Yes, sir.”
He waved his hand in a dismissing gesture, so Demeter turned away and started to leave. Then she stopped. “Professor?” she asked, her hand on the door handle.
“Yes?” he asked, his patience obviously wearing thin.
“I stand by it,” she said, raising her chin a fraction of a centimetre.
“Stand by what?” he snapped at her.
“Stand by the fact that it’s worthwhile anthropological research, sir. It can help people, especially as we expand more into outer colonies.”
He snorted, turning his face away. “Don’t try to justify your kinks with big talk, you academic whore.”
And with that happy thought, she walked out of the university.
Hara scrunched up her nose and looked around the cafeteria. “This feels weird.”
“Hey, you’re the one who told me to invite someone over and hang out.”
Hara whined. “Yes, I meant someone from the ship. Not from Earth!”
Persephone leaned forward and touched her hand. “It’s no big deal, trust me. You get the hang of it. Just wait for the lag, and then just roll with it. It’s like theatre, someone feeding you the lines.”
“Oh! Like acting! I can do that,” Hara perked up.
They let a minute pass in silence, and it was awkward for the both of them. Then Hara’s eyes opened up to some unseen and unheard message, and she smiled. She made a show of looking around, as if having just arrived there. “Well, this place is interesting. Ironic to think that this cafe is on the other end of the afterburner sunset we see from down here.”
Persephone smiled. “I’m so glad you could make it.”
Hara gave her a warm smile. “Anything for you, dear.”
Persephone bit her lip and looked away. “I wanted to speak to you. Tell you about what happened.”
“Demeter, I was so afraid that I was gonna lose you too. I mean, of course my heart breaks when I think of me and Trip, but you came in my life so suddenly, and we clicked, just like that.” She snapped her fingers.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Hara said, acting as Demeter.
Persephone shut her eyes and relaxed. “That’s awesome.”
“Come on. Girl talk. Tell me what happened,” Demeter said.
Then Persephone went on a winding explanation of why they fought, what Trip said, what he didn’t say, how it related to past fights they’ve had, how it made her feel, how the fact that he wasn’t getting her made her feel, and generally a lot of nuance and detail.
When she was finally done, both their drinks were empty and Hara was sucking her straw making annoying sounds. That wasn’t Demeter, that was Hara’s habit, but Persephone tried to ignore it. She was, after all, filling in for her bestie. And she couldn’t say no, since she was the one who told her to do this. Killing two birds with one stone, that was Persephone. Efficient. But still worthless.
Hara had a deep frown on her face. It was obvious that she was digesting it all, but to be honest, Persephone only cared for Demeter’s opinion. “Hmm…” she said, tapping her lower lip. “There is a way to fix this. I mean, a way to accommodate all parties, both your duty to the colony and Trip’s role as your boyfriend.”
Persephone perked up. “There is? What?”
Demeter leaned forward, put her elbows on the table and rested her head on her hands. “How do you feel about marriage?”