De rerum natura
“Come in, Miss Fairchild,” called the clear baritone voice from behind the closed door.
Theodora Fairchild blinked at her fist, raised to knock. Did Dr. d’Amboise have closed-circuit cameras trained on his doorway? She almost glanced behind her to search for hidden lenses, then gave herself a mental shake, straightened her skirt, and turned the polished brass doorknob.
A man with sleek silver hair looked up at her from a large mahogany desk, regarding her with interest and something suspiciously like amusement. Before she had more than an instant to wonder why, he’d risen and stepped forward to meet her. “Salve, mea amica. Welcome to John Winthrop University.”
She shook his proffered hand. “Gratias, Magister d’Amboise. Hic gaudeo esse.” Wow. Chairmen of Classical Language departments weren’t supposed to be so attractive. He looked more like a wealthy polo player than head of one of the most distinguished classics departments outside of Europe. She couldn’t help covertly admiring his broad shoulders and the easy grace of his movements. His blue button-down shirt, sleeves casually rolled up over tanned forearms, bore an expensive logo.
He laughed and held up one hand. “I’m afraid that exhausts my conversational Latin. Greek’s my subject. Won’t you sit down, Miss Fairchild? Do you prefer to be called Theodora?” He waved her into the leather wingback in front of the desk and resumed his own seat. On the linenfold-paneled wall behind him were shelves with a few red-figured Greek vases and fragments of stone statuary. They didn’t look like copies. Wow again.
She tore her attention away from them. “Just Theo is fine. Fewer syllables.”
“But Theodora is a beautiful name. ‘Beloved of the god.’” He leaned back in his chair and gazed at her.
Theo shifted uncomfortably. His turquoise eyes were disquieting; they were slightly prominent, which might account for her feeling that they saw everything about her. “I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she said to fill the silence.
“Hmm? Oh, not at all. I did request new students to stop by, which is why you are here, I assume. Now, let’s see…” He picked up a pen and tapped it on the blotter. “Double major in Latin and history, with interests in historiography and, ah, the Republic/Empire transition? Three years teaching middle school Latin, and now here?”
How did he know all that without looking it up? “You have an amazing memory, Dr. d’Amboise.”
He smiled again. “Please call me Julian. I imagine it might be difficult to go back to living like a student again. You’re in the graduate student residence hall, yes? Finding decent affordable apartments in Boston is a nightmare, but maybe next year something better will turn up. Di always seems to be looking for roommates in that house of hers. Professor Hunter, that is. She teaches Greek and coaches field hockey.” He examined her, head to one side, and his eyes narrowed once more. “Though you may not fit in with that crowd. It will be interesting to see.”
This wasn’t going quite as she had expected. There was a subtext running through Dr. d’Amboise’s conversation that she couldn’t quite read. She felt as if she were being assessed and measured for—for what? She reached for her notebook to cover her confusion.
“I’ve got my course list here,” she said, flipping it open. Anything to evade those all-knowing eyes. “Dr. Waterman suggested I take his Advanced Latin Rhetoric and Composition and Dr. Forge-Smythe’s Pre-Roman Italy. And maybe the course on Roman Religious Thought and Philosophy that’s being offered in the Philosophy Department.”
“Ah. Are you interested in religion?” Dr. d’Amboise—how could she call this elegant, self-assured man by his first name?—leaned forward.
“I’m interested in anything Roman. But religion was in as much turmoil as politics at end of the Republican era.”
“It was indeed.” He sighed. “Will you be studying early Christianity as well?”
“It’s beyond my period. Besides, I find pagans more intriguing.”
“Do you?” Dr. d’Amboise rose and passed behind Theo’s chair to one of the room’s tall windows. He pushed aside the heavy draperies. Late August sun flooded the room.
“What do you find intriguing about pagans?” He leaned against the sill, watching her.
She turned in her chair and squinted up at him, silhouetted in the glowing window. “In the case of the Romans, how religion reflected their cultural attitudes. It was highly practical. Their gods had roles and duties that they were expected to perform in exchange for worship and sacrifice. Christianity was nothing like that. Though the Roman gods were in many ways just reflections of the Greek pantheon.”
“And does your interest extend to them as well?” There was a smile in his voice though she couldn’t see his face.
“How can it not?” She hesitated, then said in a rush, “I grew up on the stories of the gods. My father’s an amateur classics scholar and read me Ovid’s Metamorphoses instead of fairy tales. I’ll take Zeus and Athena over St. Paul any day. And—well, this will sound silly, I’m sure, but there’s an old story in my family that we’re descended from a child Emperor Constantine had with a native woman when he was with the army in Britain. Dad always says that Constantine was a complete spoilsport because he ended official worship of the old gods and it was up to us to keep alive the old stories that our ancestor tried to smother.” She gave him what she hoped was a self-deprecating smile.
Dr. d’Amboise was silent, watching her from within his halo of light. Damn. Had she sounded like a silly schoolgirl, rattling on about mythology and Daddy’s crazy story?
“My dear Theodora,” he said at last. No laughter edged his words. “I can see we chose this year’s students well.”
He left the window and prowled gracefully back toward her, seating himself on the edge of his desk in front of her. “Are you sure I can’t interest you in studying Greek with me? If you love Ovid, you’d also love Hesiod and Homer. I’d be happy to tutor you myself.”
His smile was wide and charming. Theo began to feel oddly warm. Hmm, Greek. She’d never had time or opportunity to explore Greek very much. It had always been Latin for her. But maybe it was time to expand her horizons a little—
“She’ll be busy enough with her required classes, Julian.”
The deep, disapproving voice hit her like a splash of cold water. She looked back over the top of her chair. Dr. Arthur Waterman, senior professor of Latin, stood with crossed arms in the doorway, his eyes grim above his full salt-and-pepper beard. The stern expression on his face contrasted sharply with his exuberantly flowered blue-and-red Hawaiian shirt.
“Hello, Arthur. Nice shirt. Didn’t hear you knock,” said Dr. d’Amboise cheerfully. He didn’t move from his perch next to Theo.
“That’s because I didn’t. Good afternoon, Theo.”
“Hello, Dr. Waterman.” She started to rise. Dr. d’Amboise glanced at her and she sat down again. His look had felt like hands pushing her back into her chair.
“I think Theodora has much potential, Arthur. Surely a working knowledge of ancient Greek will enhance her Latin scholarship.” Dr. d’Amboise smiled down at her.
“She and I have discussed the matter already, Julian. Her schedule will be full both semesters this year.” Dr. Waterman came to stand next to Theo’s chair.
“Oh, you and your required courses. After three years of teaching Latin, I doubt she needs a course in rhetoric—”
Dr. Waterman ignored him. “Stop by my office tomorrow morning around eight, Theo. I’ll go to registration with you.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that—”
“Yes, I do.” His face was stern. “I’ll see you at eight.”
Theo got the hint and stood up. She was relieved to find that this time she could. “Yes, Dr. Waterman. Thank you for meeting with me, Dr. d’Amboise.”
“Julian, my dear. We’re not formal in this department. At least, some of us aren’t.” He rose and extended his hand to her again, holding it a fraction of a second too long. “I’ll look forward to chatting with you tomorrow at the department dinner.”
“Thank you, Dr. d’Amb—Julian. Good-bye.” Theo nodded at Dr. Waterman as she passed him. He smiled back, but his eyes were somber.
She slipped out the door, shutting it behind her, then leaned against the wall next to it and closed her eyes with a sigh. Obviously there was bad blood between the two professors who just happened to be her degree advisor and her department head. Would she be drawn into it too? This was why she’d been nervous about returning to school for her doctorate—the politics, the turf issues and squabbles over issues real or imaginary. But it was too late now. She was committed—
“Was it that bad?”
People walked too quietly on these thick carpets. Theo opened her eyes.
A man stood before her, smiling companionably as if they’d just shared a joke. She couldn’t help smiling back into his deep-set gray eyes, then got caught by the small dimples that punctuated the corners of his mouth. They contrasted with the stern brows and thin, ascetic face framed by high cheekbones that reminded her of a painting of an early Christian martyr. He seemed too old to be a student despite his longish dark hair, but not self-important enough to be a faculty member. Whoever he was, those dimples were wreaking havoc in her midsection.