Harper purchased her favorite drink at the campus coffee shop– a mocha with extra whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. She knew that the additional sugar and fat wouldn’t do her lucious figure any favors, but she didn’t care. It had taken years for her to become comfortable with her body. She knew her curves were nothing to be ashamed of, and the occasional comment from a random man would no longer affect her self-esteem.
She sipped on her warm and sugary beverage as she headed down the narrow and winding corridors of the administrative building. Her kitten heels clicked loudly on the linoleum floors as she checked her watch. She was running late, again. She silently cursed her snooze button as she broke into a lazy jog, until she had finally reached the crowded conference room she was meant to be in.
Dilens University’s department heads were convening today, as they did every month. Harper had only been appointed to the head of the English department two years ago, and she felt that she was still finding her footing. She was unstoppable when lecturing and researching, but was overcome by a crushing sense of imposter syndrome anytime she had to meet with her colleagues. The stress of it all made it difficult to control the stutter she’d been battling since childhood.
Since Harper had arrived late, the only remaining seat was directly across from Macy Nguyen, head of the science department. Harper settled into an uncomfortable leather chair, attempting to avoid eye contact with the woman sitting before her.
Macy and Harper were the only female department heads. Harper had thought that would make them fast friends, but the opposite seemed to be true. All departments were constantly fighting for additional funding, as the university could only parse out so much extra money for projects and research endeavors. It was every faculty member for themselves. Friendships were nearly impossible between departments.
Mr. Dubois, one of the university administrators, rose from his seat and stood before the group of professors. “Now that everyone is here,” he said, sparing an annoyed glance at Harper. “We can get started. Director Ridgewood was unable to come and listen to your proposals, so I’ll be filling in. This is just a chance for you to pitch ideas and get feedback before submitting your formal proposals at the end of the next month. We’ll start with the social studies department. Whenever you’re ready Professor Drake.”
Harper nervously shuffled her papers while Professor Drake spoke. She mentally reviewed what she’d gone over the night before. She’d practiced in the mirror nearly five times.
“Professor Miller,” Mr. Dubois said, turning his attention to Harper. “What is your proposal?”
Harper cleared her throat, taking a sip of her drink before starting. “The English department is hoping to receive funding for some misprinted bibles that were recently recovered from a monastery in Edinborough. They’re exceedingly r-rare and in need of restoration work. It’d be helpful to the research myself and two of my colleagues are doing. After being restored and studied, they could be put on display in the campus museum with the rest of the editions we’ve accumulated. It’s rare enough that we m-might be able to turn a profit if enough people come to visit.”
Mr. Dubois hummed thoughtfully. “Interesting. Try and collect some data on current museum attendance when compiling your formal proposal.” He then turned his attention to the woman sitting across from Harper. “Professor Nguyen, it's your turn to share for the science department.”
Macy Nguyen gave a polite, but undeniably cool smile to the group. She casually tapped her red nails against the table top.
“The greenhouses aren’t large enough to grow everything we need for our research on the medicinal properties of certain flora. We’d like to create an arboretum. It would allow us to grow more of what we need to expand our research. The public would enjoy the creation of a new visiting center, which we could charge entrance to. I can guarantee we’ll get community support. It’ll doubtlessly generate more money than some dusty old books,” she added.
Harper bristled at the jab. “Professor,” she said, turning her attention to Macy. “I’ll h-have you k-know–”
“Ladies,” Mr. Dubois cut in. “This is not the time for a cat fight. You can save your bickering for later.”
Harper shot Macy a glare that she hoped was intimidating (it was not), before Mr. Dubois moved on to different department matters.
After what felt like an eternity, the meeting ended and the professors were dismissed to their usual duties. Macy stayed behind to fix her makeup and Harper waited until they were the only two people left in the conference room.
“Was that really necessary?” Harper huffed when they were finally alone.
“What?” Macy replied, all feigned innocence.
Harper rolled her eyes, unamused by the other woman’s charade. “You didn’t need to belittle my proposal while pitching your own. It was totally uncalled for. It gave them yet another reason to think w-women are ill-suited to be department heads.”
“I’m pretty sure it was your response that did that. Don’t take it personally, Miller. You should know, it’s every department for themselves.”
“Is that why you’ve t-thwarted so many of my proposals in the past?”
“Thwarted?” Macy sneered. “Who even talks like that?”
“An English professor!” Harper snapped. “If you feel so strongly about your own proposal, you wouldn't criticize mine.”
Macy closed her hand mirror and gave a frown. “I’m not sure if I should find your naivety endearing or sad. Regardless, this is a waste of my time. I have a proposal to write.”
With that, Macy gracefully extracted herself from her leather chair and strutted out of the room. She left Harper to sit there and silently seeth.
She could admit that Professor Nguyen was beautiful, but damn it all if she wasn’t completely insufferable. Harper angrily stalked back to her office, grateful she had something to look forward to later that night.
Macy Nguyen left the department head meeting feeling somewhat guilty. She did not like being near Harper Miller. It was a special type of torture associating with a woman who was gorgeous, but completely irritating.
What was Macy supposed to do? Not fight for her arboretum to be built? Her whole department was counting on her. A pair of hazel doe eyes wasn’t going to change that.
Macy was surprised Professor Miller had kept her nose out of a book long enough to have a proper conversation with her. Harper was usually the first to leave the room when their meetings were finished. She was a competent and an extremely beloved professor, but she lacked the competitive edge it took to run a department effectively. She was as intimidating as a rose petal.
The only other professor Harper ever talked to was Oliver Messenger, another member of the English department. There were rampant rumors about their relationship, but that was none of her business.
Macy walked by her office and pointedly ignored the stack of papers there that needed grading. That was future Macy’s problem. Instead, she opted to visit the crowded greenhouse she helped run. She sat among the newly sprouted flowers, looking forward to her plans for that evening.
Six Months Ago
Long black fingernails tapped nervously against slate grey countertops.
This is humiliating, Macy thought to herself. Maybe I should just crawl into a hole and die instead.
Macy slowly extracted the slip of paper she’d received from her friend Nora and stared at the phone number. Apparently, the worker on the other end of the phone was highly recommended.
A sex line. Was she really that desperate for connection? Nora seemed to think it would help her release some steam, and she usually gave spot on advice. But still.
Nora had given her the card nearly a month ago, but Macy had been too proud to consider it at the time. She’d crumpled it into her clutch, thanking Nora but assuring her that it was unnecessary. But damn it all if she wasn’t feeling horny and lonely at the moment.
She stood from her kitchen table and moved for her wine cabinet. She poured herself a generous glass of red and took some deep gulps before sitting down and picking up the card again.
She scanned it for the operating hours and saw that the line was currently open. She supposed it wouldn’t hurt to try it at least once.
She released a shuddering breath. It’s now or never.
She took out her iPhone and typed in the number before she could change her mind. She heard a few rings before an automated voice asked for her credit card number. She entered it and waited with bated breath for a human to answer.
“You’ve reached Luna,” a sultry voice purred. “How can I please you tonight?”
Macy clenched her jaw, panic rising in her gut. Say something, damn it!
“Hello?” the posh voice repeated. “Is anyone there?”
“Hi,” Macy replied. No other words came. She cursed herself for not practicing an opening line before calling.
“Hi, yourself,” Luna replied, her voice laced with amusement. “I’m glad you didn’t hang up. What should I call you, sweet thing?”
Macy hesitated for a moment, deciding how honest she should be. “Uh, Em. You can call me Em.”
“Em,” Luna repeated slowly. “I like that name. Is this your first time calling a line like this, Em?”
Macy gave an embarrassed sigh, scrubbing her hand over her face. “Is it that obvious?”
There was a smile in the replying voice, but it held no judgment. “There’s no need to be embarrassed, darling. I just need to know, are you ready to have some fun?”
“That would be fucking amazing,” she sighed, slumping against the kitchen chair.
“Perfect. Amazing fucks are my specialty.”