While Kathleen was getting herself an apartment, Lucy was getting herself laid.
Right there, on the lab table, just feet away from the stinky paper-lined cages where the rats chattered and squeaked and ate and shat constantly.
She wasn't planning on having sex when she first headed into work late that afternoon. She was working on a grant proposal, and a lot of the information she needed was in the lab, so she figured she'd just take her laptop and write there. She had left a message for James letting him know that's where she'd be, and he called her back just as she was walking into the building to say, “I’ll meet you there with a bottle of wine in an hour-what goes well with rat, red or white?” and so she was smiling as she flipped her phone shut and didn't even hear David coming up the steps behind her until he said, “Hey, world, Lucy Cameron's smiling. This has got to be a first.”
She spun around.
“Jesus,” she said. “You scared me.”
“Imagine how I felt. Seeing you smile. Must be awfully cold in hell right about now.”
“You're so funny,” Lucy said. “You're just so incredibly funny, David. Has anyone ever told you how funny you are?”
“Frequently,” he said. “But I never get tired of hearing it.”
“Just too funny for words,” she said. They had reached the front door of their building. She waited, and he reached forward and opened the door for her, then gestured her through with an exaggeratedly gallant arm sweep. She walked through and kept going.
“But you were smiling,” David said, scuttling to catch up with her. He was a small guy and his legs were shorter than hers.
“Was I?” Lucy said. “I must have been thinking about how nice it was going to be to have the lab all to myself. Have you noticed the smile's gone since you showed up?”
“Yeah, I noticed.” He hunched into himself as they walked down the hallway, and she wondered if she had genuinely hurt his feelings. Not that she cared. She was annoyed at him for being there. As lab partners went, he was a decent one and she didn't really have anything against him, but just by showing up he was going to ruin her romantic evening with James.
“Why are you here, anyway?” Lucy said as he unlocked the door to their lab and held it open for her. “It's Sunday.”
“Picking up my laptop-I left it here last night.”
“You were here last night?”
“Yeah.” He shut the door behind them. “I had some writing to do and it's quieter here than anywhere else. My roommate had some kind of stomach bug and kept barfing in our toilet. I had to get out.”
“Still,” she said. “Saturday night, David? No parties? No nightclubs? You're ruining my image of you as a wild party animal.”
“Shut up,” he said. “What were you doing that was so wild and crazy?”
“Knitting and watching TV.”
“Woo-hoo,” he said. “Your life is just as exciting as mine. So where was our friend James that you were at home alone on a Saturday night?”
“Our friend James leads his own life. We're not joined at the hip.”
“That's not what I’ve heard.” He made his eyebrows go up and down.
“Oh, now that one's clever,” she said. “You should write that one down.”
He went to his desk. “Good. The laptop's still here. My entire identity is on that hard drive. Without it, I’m nothing.”
“Glad you found it then,” Lucy said, pulling out her own chair and sitting down. “Don't let the door hit you on the way out.”
“Oh, am I leaving?”
“You don't have to on my account,” she said. “But it's a beautiful day. You should be taking advantage of the sunlight before it's all gone.”
He squinted at her. “Why do I get the feeling you want me out of here? What are you planning, Lucy?”
“Nothing.” Lucy shrugged and opened a book. “Stay or go. I don't care.”
“Don't worry.” He thrust his computer into its carrying case. “I’m leaving. I can't stand the way the rats are looking at me tonight-like they know their hours are numbered.”
“Oh, right,” Lucy said. “Tomorrow's Monday.”
“If it's Monday, it must be rat-killing day. And they say there are no good jobs left in America.” He turned to the cages. “Goodbye, my friends. Enjoy your last meal in peace. Have sex, get drunk, say goodbye to the kids-do whatever needs to be done, knowing that tomorrow morning you will be sacrificing your lives for the greater good.”
“That would be our greater good, not theirs,” Lucy said.
“Shh,” David said. “Don't tell them that. I had them feeling all good and martyr-y about things. They'll be dreaming of little rat virgins in heaven tonight.”
“Just say goodbye to the rats and go, will you?”
“I’m gone. I’ll see you bright and early ma~Nana, Luce.”
“Bye.” He left, and she breathed a sigh of relief. So she and James would have the lab to themselves after all.
James was later than he said. He was always later than he said, but he always arrived with such a flurry of noise and energy that it was impossible to stay angry at him. He had also forgotten the wine, but when Lucy pointed that out, he said he figured instead of having wine there, they'd go out for a nice dinner as soon as-
“As soon as what?” she said when he paused, and he got that grin on his face, like he had heard a joke no one else had heard, and it was the wickedest joke anyone had ever told. And then he was on her like they hadn't had sex in days-which they hadn't, because he had been out of town at a conference where he was lecturing on adrenal insufficiency in rats with the JRL mutation and its implications for humans with Addison's disease-and she was resisting a little, laughing, and only a little and only because resisting made it more fun, meant he had to work a little harder to get her where he wanted her, which, as it turned out, was down on her back on her own desk, books and papers and computer shoved aside, just a couple of pencils left digging into her shoulders, her legs dangling off the desk, James standing between her thighs, busily working on the snap to her jeans and-
“Wait,” she said, pushing herself up on her elbows. “Lock the door.”
“Why?” he said. “You expecting company? It's Sunday.”
“David was here earlier. You never know.”
“The more the merrier,” he said, but he moved away and locked the door and by the time he was back she had not only unsnapped her snap for him but also unzipped her zipper, and it was clear that the resistance she had put up had been entirely for show, and that she was completely and entirely willing. The grin returned to James's face. His pants came down even more quickly than hers and he was nudging her thighs apart with his own before she had even settled back down in place.
“Go ahead,” James whispered in her ear at one point. “Make noise. You know you want to.”
She was able to gasp out the words, “Don't. Tell me. What I want.” But he was right-James was always right-and soon after that she had reached a place where even the fact that she could be overheard by someone walking down the hallway wasn't a sobering enough thought to control the moan of pleasure escaping from her lips.
As if in response, there was a sudden loud squeal from the other side of the room, which was soon followed by a chorus of squeaks and chatters.
“What the hell-?” James said. He had collapsed on top of her, but he raised his head a few inches off her chest to look around.
“It's the rats,” Lucy said hoarsely. “I think they approve.”
“Of course they approve. It's your basic biological drive at its best.” He kissed her shoulder. “And I do mean at its best.” He pushed himself up on his arms and gently pulled out of her. “We've got to stop meeting like this,” he added as he reached down for his pants, which were around his ankles. “The rodents are beginning to talk.”
Lucy quickly slithered down off the desk and pulled on her own jeans. The lights were on in the lab, and she wasn't comfortable having him see her naked. Residual self-consciousness from her older, fatter days. Of course, in her older, fatter days there were no gorgeous postdocs diving between her legs in the workplace.
“So… dinner?” said James before they had even finished adjusting their clothing. Lucy sometimes wondered if James might have a mild case of ADHD, since he always seemed to be moving on to the next thing and lost interest in subjects and activities with frightening speed. Things were always interesting when he was around. They were just never calm or quiet.
As they walked out onto the street together, she looked around, hoping people would see her with him. In college, she would have killed to have gone out with someone who looked like James-sleek and long-haired and thin-hipped… None of which she herself had been back then, come to think of it.
Actually, back then she would have killed to have gone out with James himself-she knew who he was because, even though he was also an undergraduate, just two years ahead of her, he was already famous in the department for having co-authored an article with a tenured professor. Someone pointed James out to Lucy at a party soon after, and she was shocked at how young and cute he was. She had assumed the famous James Shields would be your basic science nerd. But the guy was hot.
Unfortunately, Lucy was not. Not back then. She was a junior in college and weighed a good forty pounds more than she should have. The freshman ten had come and stayed for a nice long visit and invited its friend, the sophomore fifteen, to come join the party. And she hadn't exactly been svelte back in high school. So she went around in overalls and sweatshirts and figured she'd be the kind of girl who got by on brilliance instead of looks. Besides, she was still one of only a few females in her advanced bio classes, and guys were interested in her simply because she had breasts and a vagina. A few extra pounds didn't matter to most of them-just added to the mouthfeel.
Of course, the guys who were interested in her back then- fat butt, overalls, glasses, and all-were guys who themselves were… well, like David, her current lab partner. That is, perfectly decent guys without an ounce of flair or sexuality. Seeing James Shields in the midst of them all that night was like seeing a shining-coated yellow Labrador in a room full of gray and white mutts.
He was so far out of her league that Lucy hadn't given him another thought until they both ended up on the same research project years later-he was supervising it, and she and David worked under him. She had reinvented herself in the intervening six years, had lost over forty pounds, swapped the glasses for contacts, and learned to dress like an adult. James was no longer out of her league, a fact that he realized almost immediately but which took her a little longer to absorb. Even after dating him for a few months, she was still sort of amazed to find herself walking around arm in arm with someone like him.
“Oh, fuck it all to hell!” he said suddenly and dropped her arm.
“What?” Then she saw what he was looking at. “Oh, shit” she said.
Someone had thrown a pail of dark red paint over the top of James's Ridgeline pickup. Red had dripped down off the roof and onto all the windows. Scrawled in black spray paint across the doors and hood were the words “Killer,” “Murderer,” and, “Animals are people, too.”
“Jesus fuck it all!” James said, circling the car like an angry animal. “I was inside for less than half an hour. They must have been following me. God damn it! Now I’ll have to spend all night filling out reports at the police station and trying to get this clean. Those fucking, fucking, cocksucking assholes.”
“I’m so sorry,” Lucy said. “I can't believe they did it again.”
“I should have parked in the garage,” he said. “I’m an idiot. I figured I was safe on a Sunday afternoon for twenty fucking minutes.”
“I’m sorry. If I hadn't asked you to come-”
He wasn't even listening. “This is the third time this year and the police still haven't caught them. They haven't even tried to catch them.”
“It's awful,” she said.
“We're talking hate crime here,” he said. “Punishable by law.” He thumped the truck with his fist. “Man, I’d like to see these fuckers locked up for years! Let them take it up the ass in prison for a while before they go around dumping paint on people's cars again.”
“Whoa there,” Lucy said. “Let's keep it in perspective-these guys aren't skinheads or anything like that.”
He turned on her with a pounce. “Are you defending this?”
Lucy put her hands up. “God, no! This paint thing sucks. But you have to admit it's not like they're racists or murderers or anything like that. They want to keep animals from being tortured and killed. They're wrong, but they're not totally evil.”
“Being this stupid is totally evil,” he said. “It's worse than evil. Jesus, Lucy, I can't believe you would defend them.”
“I’m not defending them,” she said. “They're stupid assholes for targeting scientists doing valid experiments. But sometimes it takes stupid asshole extremists to get people to really think about what they're doing. When we sac rats it's legitimate, but I don't think cosmetics companies should just go and-”
“Oh, please,” he said. “Don't waste my time with that shit.”
“I know you're mad about the car-”
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m fucking pissed.” He unlocked his front door and pulled it open. “I’m going to the police station. You can come with me or not. I don't care.”
“If you want the company-”
“I said I don't care.”
“Fine, then,” Lucy said. “Go by yourself.”
And he did.
Lucy spent the evening at home alone. Since they hadn't made it to dinner, she ate an apple and a small piece of cheese, just as happy not to have to face the calories of a full meal, then worked on a grant proposal for a while, but got bored with that after an hour or so and decided she wanted to do something more fun with her Sunday night than write about rat adrenal glands, so she took out her knitting and worked on it while she watched a soapy medical drama on TV.
After an hour or so, she tried the scarf around her neck and decided it was the right length. She bound off the end and held it up to look at it. It needed something more. Fringe. She searched through her leftover bits of yarn and found a deep blue that looked good with the metallic blue of the scarf. She cut it into short, even pieces and pulled several strands through the ends of the scarf about one half inch apart to make the fringe. She was so absorbed in what she was doing she didn't even notice that the TV channel she was watching had switched to showing a late-night rerun of an eighties sitcom she had never liked in the first place.
It took several rings before she realized it was her phone and not the TV set that was ringing.
She put the scarf down and reached for the phone.
“It's me,” said James.
“Hey,” she said. “How'd it go with the police?”
“Oh, you know. The usual. They took some photos and wrote up a report. Nothing will come of it. I went to the carwash and got most of the paint off.”
“That's good,” she said.
“I guess… So, listen, Luce, I’ve got some stuff to do tomorrow. And Tuesday I have this stupid thing down at Irvine and won't be back until late. Can I see you Wednesday night?”
“Yeah. Wednesday's good.”
“Great,” he said. “Sorry about losing my temper today.”
“It's okay,” she said. “You had every right to be in a bad mood.”
“Yeah, and you were saying some pretty stupid things. But it's okay. And by the way, I forgot to tell you I loved what we did earlier-too bad this had to ruin it. We'll try to keep the mood a little longer on Wednesday, okay? Maybe even make it to dinner? I’ll call you at the lab, or just come by.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll be there all day.” But he had already hung up.
She went back to her fringe, and in a fever of industry didn't stop until she had finished it all. She dampened and blocked the scarf and left it to dry on the ironing table. It was already after one when she crawled into bed.
The next morning she woke up with a delicious sense of possibility: she could start a new knitting project. Maybe she'd tackle something more intricate than a scarf this time. Before going into work, she spent an hour online looking through patterns and pictures, trying to find something that inspired her. Pretty soon she realized she was looking almost entirely at men's sweaters.
She and James had been going out for six months. She had never been so in love with a guy before, never felt her body leap to someone's touch the way it did at just the thought of James's hand on her.
It would be wonderful to see him in a sweater she had knit, to watch him walk out into the world wearing something that marked him as hers for everyone to see. If she started it now, she could have it done by Christmas.
Online again late that night, she found a design for an oversize man's cabled sweater in dark red. It was the kind of thing James tended to wear, anyway, only if she made it, she'd buy better yarn than he was used to-like a soft wool with a touch of silk or linen in it. It would be wildly expensive, but she didn't mind spending a lot on his Christmas present.
Later, though, it occurred to her that she probably shouldn't buy the wool in dark red. Another color might be… better.