Chapter 187: Ps and CuesAlexandra Erin on November 9, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie Sells Herself Short
The first time I’d visited Professor Stone in his office, I’d spent a lot of time angsting over it in the time that led up to it because he shared a hallway underneath the Archimedes Center with Professor Ariadne Einhorn, an elven history teacher with a serious bias against all things demonic… or halfway demonic, as was my case.
This time it was less of a big deal, both because I’d already faced down a potential confrontation before and because I’d completely forgotten about it until I was almost to their offices. Nothing came of it, anyway. It looked like a light was on behind the glass pane set in Einhorn’s door, but Professor Stone’s door was open and so I went directly into the doorway and knocked on it.
“Hello, Professor?” I called. He wasn’t in sight, but since his door was open I took it as given that he was in.
Professor Stone’s actual office was small, but it was more of an antechamber for his workshop than anything else. Possibly his activities in tinkering around and cobbling together intersected with his classroom curricula often enough to justify this, but I doubted anyone would mind if they didn’t. Presumably the university or the individual department assigned the space and left it up to the individual instructors to decide what to do with it. That Professor Stone had given most of his over to his hobby meant he was on campus and in his office more often than if he had to go elsewhere to indulge.
He stepped into view from the larger back room. I was surprised to see him dressed in denim coveralls with a leather apron rather than his usual style, which ran towards things like a tailored tweed suit with a waistcoat of shining mail. But then, it was Saturday and so he wouldn’t have to change for class if he wanted to wear something a little more… well, not really more durable, since tweed was pretty tough, but something he wouldn’t mind messing up.
He had a red-tipped paintbrush in his hand, but there wasn’t a spot of paint on his clothes.
“Ah, Ms. Mackenzie, come in,” he said, and I did, beckoning Two forward behind me so I could take the opportunity to shut the door. He looked at the paintbrush in his hand. “I’ll just get rid of this… please excuse me for one moment.”
He disappeared for a few seconds and came back out, without the apron or the brush.
“I do apologize for my appearance,” he said.
“No problem… I’m sorry to take you away from your project,” I said.
“Not at all!” he said. “I’m just getting an early start on some Khersentide gifts, but you are very welcome any time my door is open, and especially now. Why don’t you make the introductions?”
“Oh… Two, this is my aesthetics professor I was telling you about, Professor Stone,” I said. “Professor, this is Two.”
“I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance, Ms. Two,” Professor Stone said, bowing. “I have long been an admirer of your decoration skills.”
“Thank you,” Two said. “I am very pleased to make your acquaintance as well.”
“I’ve told Two that you’re looking for an assistant,” I said, fearing that the two would circle around the topic with formal pleasantries and pleasant formalities if left to their own devices. Two tended to follow the cues of others in conversation, especially if it was with people she didn’t know well.
“The right assistant,” Professor Stone said. “There would have to be something of a trial period to determine that, of course.”
Two didn’t say anything to that. I knew before I looked at her face for confirmation that she’d be worried, and what was concerning her.
“Is there a specific criteria you’d be looking at?” I asked. “Two does better when she knows what’s expected of her.”
“Ah. Well. I didn’t mean to give cause for alarm,” he said, and he seemed genuinely distressed. “It wouldn’t be anything like a pop quiz… what I’d be looking for is basic compatibility, something that is hard to put into words in a formal sense. But I wouldn’t expect anyone to be a mind reader… the first thing I would ask of you, Ms. Two, would be that you work alongside me to my specifications, which can be somewhat exacting. I gather that wouldn’t be a problem?”
“I do not think that it would be,” Two said.
“Exacting is kind of her favorite flavor of specification,” I said.
“Of that, I have little doubt,” Professor Stone said. “The other thing I would ask is for a second pair of eyes and another brain, from time to time… being able to follow directions and focus on a task are rare enough talents, but on occasion I would ask you your opinion as well, on matters of aesthetic choice. Is that something you would be comfortable with?”
“Would you be relying on my opinion?” Two asked.
“Not, I think, in the sense that you mean it,” Professor Stone said. “I have my own style and I’m used to making up my own mind… but I do not make my devices solely to delight myself, or at least, ideally that is not the case. Hence the desire to have a second opinion. But a trial period will give us time to get used to one another, and if you find that I am leaning too heavily on you, we can adjust the process if possible, or dissolve the arrangement amicably if not, with no harm done.”
“I would need to return to my old job if that happened,” Two said. Her voice was not quite matter-of-fact… I mean, except in the way that everything she said was. It sounded like she was voicing an objection, though I’m not sure it would have been apparent to anyone who was less familiar with her communication style.
“Do you see a problem with that, Two?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Do you think you would have hard time getting back in if it didn’t work out?”
“I do not know,” Two said, frowning… I understood exactly how she felt. It was basically the same dilemma I’d faced about staying in Professor Stone’s class or not, and what to do about Acantha. It was one thing to make an informed decision, but making a choice when you didn’t even know enough to be able to make an educated guess about the odds that it would turn out well?
“Are you so attached to your position that you would be sorry to see it go?” Professor Stone asked. “I would think a young woman of your diverse skills would have an easier time than most finding employment.”
“There are only so many jobs on campus,” Two said. “And there are a lot of students who need them. The housekeeping position is the closest to fitting my needs.”
“Ah. Then it doesn’t fit your needs,” Professor Stone said. “How about this, then? I’ll offer you my own personal placement program. If we do not work out, then I will help you find employment that does fit your needs. That way, there is no risk, and I dare say your situation will improve either way.”
“Okay,” Two said.
“I should probably leave before you get down to details,” I said, a little reluctantly since I hadn’t really established any kind of in for myself, apart from whatever additional goodwill the professor had.
“Actually, if Ms. Two doesn’t mind your presence and you have nowhere else to be, I wish you would stay,” Professor Stone said, to my relief. “You have proven adept at fostering communication where my understanding is lacking… I fear I am missing cues that are more obvious to you.”
“I don’t mind,” Two said.
“…okay then,” I said.
“To begin with, I’m afraid I can’t offer anything like full-time employment,” Professor Stone said. “Being as I have a full-time job myself, and while I might in the fullness of time leave some tasks for you to complete in my absence, there will be limits to how often that will be feasible and I should like to avoid it, to begin with.”
“Okay,” Two said.
“She’s been looking for a job that will give her less hours and more flexible ones than the housekeeping job,” I said, since she didn’t seem inclined to elaborate on her acceptance of his statement.
“There is some flexibility to my avocation, but I would need to know your availability in advance, even if it does vary from week to week,” Professor Stone said. “The amount of work I would call on you for in a week would depend on my needs, but we could put a reasonable cap on them.”
“Okay,” Two said, after several seconds of processing.
“I take it that means you have no objections?” he asked.
“It does not mean that, but I do have no objections,” Twosaid.
“Wonderful!” Professor Stone said. “I assume you have to give the housekeeping department notice?”
“Yes,” Two said. “Not everyone does, but we are supposed to give notice before the shifts are made for the week.”
“I suppose that makes it too late for next week… so, if you give notice now, we can start the week after,” Professor Stone said. “In the spirit of not losing anything, how about we start with a weekly salary based on what you would earn in your current position, as shown on your pay slips? Just during the acclimation period, you understand… if things work out, I’ll pay you something more commensurate with your abilities, but there won’t be much in the way of heavy lifting, so to speak, during the early days.”
“Okay,” Two said.
“He wants to know if you agree to that,” I told her.
“Ah, yes,” the professor said. “Exactly so.”
“Oh. I do agree to that,” Two said.
“If you don’t ask her a question, she kind of defaults to being told,” I said.
“I shall endeavor to keep that in mind,” Professor Stone said. “If you would not mind coming along during our first sessions, it might make things a little bit easier, while we’re still getting used to each other… my shop will be a tight enough fit for two people, which is part of why a trial period will be so crucial, but I think we can make do for a few days.”
“I think that would be a good idea,” I said. “I would love a chance to see you at work.”
“Wonderful!” Professor Stone said. “I’ll arrange a similar stipend for you, of course.”
“That’s not necessary,” I said. “I think the chance to learn from watching you should be rewarding enough.”
“Ah, well, consider this a bonus lesson: your time and your skills are valuable,” he said. “Even if the skill is as limited as knowing how to communicate with a single person, it’s still valuable to me if you have it and I need it.”
“That’s… more mercenary than I would have expected from you,” I said.
“The reason I have the leisure to pursue the projects that I choose at a pace that pleases me is because I was not averse to making money from my talents when I was younger,” he said. “Money isn’t everything, Ms. Mackenzie… it’s only the first thing. But, it’s a rather pleasant Saturday, I’m sure you have places you’d rather be, and I have a circus caravan that needs a base coat.”
“I’m surprised you do that by hand,” I said.
“Oh, no, that would be much too messy!” he said. “I use a brush.”