Rory’s Story Cubes Challenge – Week 5

Prompts: L/corner/alphabet block, keyhole, castle/tower, snoring/sleeping, ghost/trick-or-treat/Halloween/shadow, sad face, magic wand, scales (of justice), airplane

Lockstep

Will checked his watch. Just another 15 minutes — if they were on time — and then he could be free of this hellhole. Even with headphones on, he could hear the man next to him snoring away. He tried to block out the noise, bent on finishing the crossword. It was a simple one really. Clues any halfway-intelligent person could solve. He shook his head as he read adjoining clues, filling in A-L-P-H-A and O-M-E-G-A in the appropriate squares.

At least he wouldn’t have to deal with Eleanor at the airport. She’d planned to meet him; he’d convinced her otherwise. Professor Marsden — no, he’d insisted Will call him Bob — would ask the same damned question he’d been deflecting for years — why didn’t Will marry her already?

Eleanor had never asked the question; she seemed quite happy with the status quo. Then, she’d spent enough time in academia to know that with marriage came all the responsibilities that went with being a professor’s wife, and she would prefer to focus on her own work at the museum. In another department, that would get her a pass. Arts and Sciences, or even Fine Arts. But the Business School was a different story. Running a corporation would be one thing. Pottering around a museum, quite something else.

A shadow fell across the seat, and he looked up to see the flight attendant.

“Sir, you’ll have to put that up.”

He nodded, folding the tray table back into the seat. The magazine went back in the pocket, and Will tried to straighten his long legs, stretching them into the aisle.

The time until he was finally able to get onto the walkway and truly stretch them was interminable. He quickly caught up to Marsden, who had spent the flight in first class, courtesy of a wife with a high-powered corporate job and lots of frequent-flier miles.

“As much as I enjoy these conferences, a chance to get out of the ivory tower for a few days, it’s always nice to get home.” Marsden switched his laptop case to his other hand. “Julia will take me out for a nice meal, since she doesn’t cook. The children all are away at school, so once I get home, I can relax and put my feet up.”

Will nodded, and thought of the leftovers Ellie would have waiting for him. Or maybe she would insist on making him a sandwich, even though Sundays were days they fended for themselves with whatever was in the refrigerator. “Do you have any early classes tomorrow, sir?”

Marsden shook his head. “One of the privileges of rank is that early morning Monday classes are taught by somebody else.” He smiled. “Once you get tenure, you’ll reap those benefits as well.”

“If I get tenure.” Will couldn’t help the reply. The dean hadn’t been making encouraging noises.

“Your scholarship is impeccable, your credentials are sound.” Marsden paused.

“But?”

“We are a conservative school.” He waited a beat. “The more bohemian departments can afford professors with… unorthodox living arrangements.”

Will’s hand tightened on his carry-on handle. “Unorthodox.”

Marsden nodded. “If you were to marry Eleanor, that would be acceptable. Or to be single, as some of my colleagues are. But to be with somebody more than a decade and not be married has some on the faculty wondering how that speaks to your character. When they are weighing their decision, that will be one element on the scales.”

“And to marry somebody who doesn’t fit their standards of a faculty wife?”

Marsden said nothing, merely shook his head. “If you’ll excuse me, Julia will be waiting for me outside.” He stopped, looked at Will. “Is Eleanor waiting?”

“I told her I’d take the Metro.”

“Ah, yes. One of the many reasons I enjoy living within walking distance of campus. No need for such arrangements.” Marsden started walking again. “I hope this was an educational weekend for you.”

“It certainly opened doors for a lot of potential research.” He tried not to think about the locks it might be adding to his life. Will made his way outside. Tenure review would begin next semester. Before then, he needed to make some changes. If only he had a magic wand that could make the hard choices for him.

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