Valerie tapped her foot impatiently on the stage. She was great at math, not at speeches, and this whole magna cum laude award and the notoriety that went with it was not comfortable to her.
“And so, as we honor the Master’s students of 2014 we would like to introduce our very special guest…”
Oh crap. Is that vomit in the back of her throat? No, not now…not now. A giant gulp and breath. Gross, gross.
Nervously standing behind the podium now. Papers jiggling. She still had to use papers. Couldn’t read from a damn laptop or prompter when she was this nervous. Her sentences wouldn’t make sense. The “I am proud to represent the third vector of the raster component…” incident was not yet out of her mind. None of that speech had made any sense. At all.
“Well, I…I certainly am grateful,” she began. “I am not alone in standing up here today. I would like to thank the fellows I have worked with…professors, students, colleagues…”
Oh the vomit taste was still there. Get through this. Quickly.
” ….I was certainly proud to be a part of the project, in collaboration with our fine geography and earth science divisions. Also the contributions of Dr. Nagaski from… in… our meteorology department…were invaluable…”
Her knees were about to buckle right underneath her.
“So once again, thank you. I will be taking sabbatical this fall to explore some independent research.” As far away from here as possible…
“And now I’d like to present my mentor, Dr. Rodriguez…”
She wobbled carefully back to her seat. Breathe, breathe.
The after party was worthwhile. Gerald Nagaski slipped a glass into her hand as soon as she got there. “I placed a bottle under that table–there.” He whispered to her. “Just for you.”
“Oh great, so now I get to fall on my ass twice today. I won’t drink it all, but thanks.”
“You didn’t fall. I caught you.”
Bethanne Rodriguez approached, grinning and holding her martini glass like someone might try to snatch it from her. A man with crooked features but an oddly sophisticated air accompanied her.
“Valerie! Gerald, would you be so kind as to fetch Dr. Spencer here some refreshment? Steven, what would you like?”
“Um, just a gin, but I can get is myself…”
“Tosh.” Valerie had never heard Bethanne use that word, “Now off, Gerald. See you shortly.”
“Valerie, Steven Spencer. Steven, Valerie.” How much had Bethanne to drink? She was gregarious, vivacious. Totally unlike her. Valerie shook Steven’s hand.
“Steven, I’m sure you heard Valerie’s speech today. She’s come up with some astonishing figures on this project with those sad little soil scientists.”
“I most certainly did. And I think the work with the earth science department was groundbreaking–no pun intended.”
A bizarre eruption of giggles from Bethanne, and what appear to be false chortles from Steven.
“Valerie, Steven is withe the University of Commerce and Growth–you’ve surely heard of them?”
“UCAG? Of course.” Weird name for a university, and an even weirder acronym. It did not roll off the tongue.
“Actually,” Steven presented a card. “We’ve been following your research for quite some time. Please contact me. A major project is in the works. Not much time to explain here…ahhhh, thank you, Gerald.”
Did Gerry already know this guy? There seemed almost a familiarity there. No, Valerie was terrible at reading humans. Must be the wine, the stress of the day.
“Anyway, Valerie, please let Steven know as soon as you have some time. I’m sure you’ll want a few days to recover from…well, today.”
Bethanne cocked her head awkwardly. “Steven, let’s over to Cynthia. She’s anxious to tell you about her advancement on that project I told you about.”
“Of course. Valerie, I have some time next Wednesday if you do.”
“Odd.” Coming from Gerry, this meant a truly unusual event.
“Very,” Valerie bit her lip, “very.”