Grace and the Greek Warrior, Part 5: A Writing Prompt Serial

Inspired by this prompt from hourlywritingprompts.

Catch up with previous parts here or on Wattpad.

One Good Day

The knock on her office door startled Grace.  She slammed her sketchbook shut and shuffled some papers on top of it.  “Come in,” she called.

The door opened a crack, and one of the new crop of professors stuck his head inside.  Grace had met him before, and seen him around campus from time to time.  She remembered his wavy brown hair and tendency to roll up the sleeves of his button-down shirts, but she couldn’t recall his name.

Since he wasn’t a member of the art history department, she forgave herself the lapse in memory, but she was still bewildered by his presence at her door.  “Yes?” she asked politely.

He glanced at the disorganized mess on her desk and stepped inside.  “Is this a bad time?”

“Since I don’t know why you’re here, I can’t really say,” Grace said.  “But I can tell you my desk usually looks like this, if that makes you more comfortable.”

He smiled and held out his hand.  “Cameron Gladwell.”  The name clicked in her head, linking up with a brief conversation about the irritating shortage of parking on north campus.  “We met at the beginning of the year, but since that was months ago, I can’t blame you for forgetting.”

“Of course,” Grace replied, standing and shaking his hand.  “Biology department, right?”

He nodded.  “One-year visiting professor.  But this morning I got the good news–I’ve been asked to stay on.  Professor Bennett is retiring.”

“Congratulations,” Grace said with genuine warmth.  Though she hardly knew him, that was the sort of good news any professor would celebrate.

“And, since it’s been such a good day, I thought I might press my luck and trek over here from my cramped office in Williams Hall and ask you out for a drink.”

“Really?”  Grace dropped back into her chair.  “I can’t say I expected that.”

“I would have asked you when we first met, but I know better than to get entangled with a colleague when my post is only temporary.  For my sake, and my reputation’s. But now that I’m staying…”

The fluttering excitement of being asked on a date–well, drinks, at least–warred in her heart with a sinking feeling that starting a new relationship would cut into her time with Perseus.

The mere fact that it presented a conflict set warning sirens blaring in Grace’s head, and she glanced down at the pile of papers hiding her sketchbook.  It was Friday, and she’d intended to go the day before.  She’d told Perseus she would.

But she hadn’t.  Because showing him her art, even the smallest, meanest sketch, was an alarming prospect.  Never mind how ridiculous it was to hold it up so that he could see it, and what explanation she might give if anyone caught her in the act.  There simply was none but the truth, and the truth was unbelievable.

Even more alarming was how, over the past two nights, her imaginary Perseus had invaded her dreams.  She had only pictured him as flesh and blood for a few seconds, that first time, but the image had haunted her ever since.  She’d begun to imagine him everywhere, doing the most ordinary things: going for a run on a sunny day, grocery shopping with her, stretched out on her couch reading.  The idea of him in a supermarket was enchanting–had anyone ever told him about freezers and ice cream?–but it was that last image that really captured her.  Perseus’ curly head resting on the arm of the couch while his long fingers turned the pages.

Last night, she’d dreamed he was chopping bell peppers in her kitchen, glancing over when she came in to check on his progress with dinner.

There was nothing sexual about either her sleeping dreams or her waking ones, but making Perseus real–or rather, making him alive–and a part of her life…Grace thought she’d almost be more comfortable if she were fantasizing about sex.  That, at least, was an acceptable sort of fantasy.

She’d fallen for the wrong man before, a man she knew she couldn’t have–but falling in love with a man cursed to stone made that seem like nothing at all.

Perseus was the least accessible man on the planet, and Grace was kicking herself for wanting nothing more than to hear his laugh echoing through her mind.  It was the best laugh she could ever remember hearing.

Looking up at her new potential suitor, she wondered what his laugh sounded like.  “Professor Gladwell…”

“Cameron, please,” he interrupted.  “Cam, if you actually get to liking me at all.”

His self-deprecating tone was mild enough not to be off-putting, so she smiled.  “Cameron, then.  I’m Grace.”

“Oh, I know.”

“But it feels strange to say yes to drinks when I haven’t introduced myself.”

Cameron grinned.  “Fair enough.  So, that’s a yes, then?”

Grace nodded, then reached across the mess on her desk to her business card holder.  She lifted one free and hunted down a pen, scrawling her cell phone number on the back.  When she handed it to Cameron, he stowed it in his shirt pocket–dark-red check, sleeves rolled up–then bent down to do the same on his own card, using the tiny clear area at the very corner of her desk.  She used his lack of focus on her to appraise the corded muscle of his forearms.  Even if the rolled sleeves were an affectation for just that reason, she didn’t begrudge him.  And his hands were fantastic.

Grace pushed the sudden image of Perseus with a chef’s knife in his hands out of her mind, and smiled at Cameron as she took his number.

“When were you thinking?” she asked, tucking the card into her purse.

“I hate to seem pushy, but I really am having the greatest day I’ve had in a long time.  Tonight?”

Grace could feel the presence of her sketchbook, like it was the guilty beating of her heart.  Though what exactly brought Poe to mind, she couldn’t have said.  “I can’t.  I have plans with a friend.  Tomorrow?”

Cameron winced.  “Not unless you want to get drunk with half the biology department and a good number of the chemistry professors.  I’ve devoted all my non-dating time so far this year making friends, and they’re throwing me a party.  Not the sort of thing that makes for a successful first date.”

“As much fun as it would be to see Professor Higgins wasted…”

Cameron’s wince evolved into a shudder.  “She’s not invited.  The guys already warned me she gets handsy.”

Grace spared a moment to wonder if his forthrightness was the result of confidence or obliviousness.  Because they’d hadn’t been speaking for five minutes yet, and he was treating her like a friend.

But then, if he was good at making friends, that was hardly a point against him.  “Monday, then,” she heard herself saying.  “Nobody ever has plans on a Monday.  And I think I can trust you not to want either of us to show up hungover to our Tuesday classes.”

Cameron chuckled.  “Tuesday’s my lab day.  If I show up to that hungover, the students will be on me like piranhas and nothing will get done.  One drink, Grace.  Maybe two.”

“Deal,” she said.  She glanced at the clock, but it was only to give her an excuse–she needed to make herself leave, or she’d keep talking to him.  And she had another attractive man waiting on her.  “I hate to push you out the door, but I need to get going soon, and I should at least try to organize this mess before then.”

“I hear you,” Cameron said, flicking his eyes over her desk again.  Grace thanked her stars that she’d thought to hide her sketchbook.  “See you Monday, Grace.”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

The moment the door closed behind him, Grace gathered all the loose papers into one pile, tapped it straight on her desk, and left it there.  She usually kept office hours on Sunday, and it could wait to be sorted until then.  The sketchbook went into her purse, the purse went over her shoulder, and then Grace went out the door.

Maybe Cameron would distract her from Perseus, and maybe that would even be a good thing.  But no matter what happened in her life, in his, she was his only friend.  And she’d left him waiting for her an extra day.  Cameron had been brave enough to ask her out without any run-around, and she admired that–so it would be her example to follow about getting past her own insecurities.

Her heart raced as she drove through town to the museum, but she wasn’t sure if it was because of the man she’d just seen, or the one she was about to.

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