*This story contains strong language, drinking, university politics and things left unsaid.
Video Lives Forever
“You owe me about a hundred more lunches to make up for this,” I told John under my breath as I took a flute of bad champagne from a passing waiter.
“Did you have to wear those heels? You’re about three feet taller than me now,” he shot back, louder than necessary and with a definite slur.
I rolled my eyes and wished Helen was here. She couldn’t stop him drinking but she at least knew how to get him to go home before he embarrassed himself. “Let’s go see if they have any more of those spring rolls you liked,” I said and steered him toward the buffet with a hand on his shoulder.
He followed placidly around the tables. I almost had him to the buffet when he slipped out of my grip with surprising dexterity and made a straight line to the bar tucked in the corner. “Well damn,” I said with resignation. I followed, not wanting to be on my own if Miller caught up to me again. He had already had an in depth conversation with my cleavage about how I would be going so much farther with my research if I’d only stayed with him and his team.
John was bent far over the bar in earnest conversation with the bartender when I approached. “No, no, then you put the shot glass in the other glass, that’s the depth charge part.”
I was raising my hand to tap him on the shoulder, or pull him away from the bar by force, when I heard a voice behind me.
“There’s no stopping him now. I’d just let it go.”
I turned to see a woman a few feet down the bar watching both of us with interest. “Excuse me?”
She nodded her head toward John and her gray hair flashed in the low light. “Dawson has been doing this at parties since they invented them. It’s like his party trick. Adds a little touch of something to the evening.” I couldn’t be sure but it seemed like she winked.
I jumped when I felt a hand on my elbow.
“Hey, you haven’t met Grace yet.” John tugged on my arm until I bent low enough for him to say, “She’s on the grant board,” in a very loud whisper.
She watched us with a smile that was trying to hold back a laugh. She came forward, set her glass on the bar and offered her hand. “Grace Redding. Of course everyone knows who you are, doctor,” she added when I opened my mouth to reply. Her hand was dry and too warm when I shook it.
“Grace invited us tonight. I don’t see Will anywhere around, hiding him again?” John asked. He had a tight grip my arm to keep from swaying.
She made a casual gesture toward the far side of the room. “Chatting up some adoring TAs. As long as he can stand, that is.”
“You don’t need to stand with TAs,” John said almost absently. He looked hard across the room and must have spotted whoever they were talking about because he let go of my arm and lurched across the floor. “Hey Will!” he called and waved his arm over his head.
I rolled my eyes and watched his unsteady progress.
“He’ll need a few more before he falls. And then he and Will can prop each other up.” Redding leaned against the bar with one elbow and stirred her drink. It was something clear with three cherries floating in it.
“I hope so. I can’t carry him to the car.” I wasn’t sure what to say. No one ever said anything about John’s party behavior and suddenly I felt responsible. Even more responsible when I remembered that this woman sat on the board that decided the future of our project.
“It’s a shame we didn’t get to meet earlier. I could have introduced you to some of the other committee members. They all ran out of here after dinner,” she said and sipped her drink.
I didn’t mind missing a long rehash off everything that was in my grant proposal. “That is a shame. I’m going to be in town for a few weeks at least, I’m sure we’ll be able to meet another time,” I said with a credible impression of sincerity.
“I’m sure we will.” She took another sip, watching me over the rim of her glass. “You haven’t been here before have you? Philadelphia is a pretty nice town if you know where to go.”
Her eyes were flat gray and they bored into mine. I motioned to the bartender for an excuse to look away. “I don’t think I’m going to have much time for sightseeing. I was here when I was a kid anyway, the liberty bell, the science center, all of that.” The bartender came to our end of the bar. “Jack and coke,” I said.
I wasn’t looking at her but I knew she had moved closer. We stood side by side at the bar, both leaning against it. “What are you doing tomorrow night?” she asked.
I was glad I was looking at the bartender; my surprise couldn’t have been as evident in profile. I turned my head to see Redding observing me with a look of easy nonchalance. “I was going to put in some time at the lab,” I said. I didn’t want to alienate a board member but I wasn’t going to blindly commit myself.
She nodded, her expression serene. “I’d like you to consider taking a few hours off. I’m having some people over for a little wine tasting party. Gary Lincoln and Craig Daniels will be there, then you’ll have met at least three of us before your application goes through the review process.”
I hitched a smile on my face in the wake of the implied threat. “I’m sure I can fit it in.”