The older woman peered at her over her glasses. “There are two things I wanted to discuss with you. The first is Christos. The subject, the true subject, of his term assignment has been brought to my attention. I’ve told him to change it or fail and be subject to disciplinary action. I will not have stalker behaviour excused as one of my projects. I can only apologise for not catching it sooner.”
Psyche breathed out a surprised thanks, which Janet waved off. “You shouldn’t have to thank people for a little basic consideration.”
Psyche tried to seem casual and uncaring. “I look like a doll, so people think I have the feelings and personality of one too.”
Janet shook her head, then changed the subject. “I do have some good news for you. One of our top industry mentors reviewed my class’s images, including a couple of the ones I developed for you, and they’re impressed by your sense of composition and use of light. They’d like to tutor you in the film development part of this unit.”
Psyche gasped in excitement, then paled. “Is it a man?”
Janet nodded. “A man who hasn’t seen a picture of you, didn’t recognise your name when I told him, after the review, and will only be working with you in the darkroom. He won’t know what you look like, any more than you’d be able to recognise him in the street.”
Could she trust this opportunity? It felt too good to be true.
Janet must have read something of her feelings from her expression. “He’s never made this offer before, usually he just funnels feedback and suggestions through me. I will be at my desk, right outside the darkroom door, and if you ever feel uncomfortable or threatened, either leave, or use some of your friend Persephone’s manoeuvres, then leave. I’ll support you.”
Psyche could feel the grin spreading across her face, exhilaration racing through her veins like fizzy sunshine. “When do I need to be there, and what do I need to bring?”
Janet smiled approvingly. “You’re booked in for the hour after your Typography class on Friday afternoon and bring any rolls of film you’ve not yet had developed.”
Persephone was suspicious, but after hearing what Janet had said, she shrugged. “Sounds legit, I’m going to keep Janet company for the first week or two though. Come over for dinner and I’ll run you through some additional moves.”
Psyche paused and Persephone added. “Don’t worry, Mother-Dearest and friends are all at some three-day strategy offsite at a swanky stately home with a big wine cellar, you won’t have to make polite conversation.”
“In that case, I’d love to. It’ll be fun and keep me out of Aglaura’s orbit for a few more hours.”
Persephone rolled her eyes. “You need a new living situation. For that matter, so do I. Our home lives suck.”
She was right, but Aglaura and Cilippe were daughters of a friend of her father, and sharing with them had been the only way she’d been able to talk him into letting her move out of the family home.
The week dragged by, but finally, it was Friday, and Typography was winding to a close.
As the rest of the class packed up and chatted about pub sessions, Psyche gathered her things, checked the rolls of film she’d been trying to develop since last term were still safely tucked in the side pocket of her bag, again, and headed for the door.
Christos was lurking in the corridor. He scurried to her side, trying to be casual. “Hey, was hoping I’d bump into you. I wanted to ask you about some stuff.”
Psyche sighed internally and kept walking, Christos stayed beside her, and kept talking. “I’m re-thinking my assignment for Janet’s class, you know? It’s not really a strong enough idea, and I reckon I’d be better doing a bunch of portraits of one person, in a bunch of different places and set-ups you know?”
She walked faster, he wound up for his pitch. “So I figure we can help each other out right? I mean, a girl as pretty has you, you’d have to be looking for work as a model, so how about I do your portfolio for you as my assignment?”
Psyche gritted her teeth. “No.”
“You don’t want to be a model? That’s cool, I’d still do a really good job of them. Make it a bit more of a range, you know? Some cute girlfriend-style pics, and then maybe some glamour shots,” he raised his eyebrows suggestively.
They’d reached the door of Janet’s classroom, which doubled as her photography lab and office. Psyche slipped inside, but Christos followed. He grimaced when he saw Janet sitting at her desk.
“Hey, Janet, I’m just helping Psyche out with a darkroom session if the lab’s free. Going to show her some cool developing techniques.”
Janet replied. “The lab is not free, and I thought I made myself clear. If your term project includes a single image of Psyche, you will be expelled for harassment.”
She nodded to Psyche. “Go on through, your tutor’s already setting things up.”
Leaving Christos’s whining voice behind, Psyche slipped into the darkroom, closed the door and looked around.
A low voice, deep and smooth as melted chocolate, came from the storage section, hidden behind a heavy curtain. “Flick over to the safelight, it’s best to get your eyes used to working in it, rather than switching back and forth.”
Psyche looked around, found the switches, then stood there, clutching her bag defensively in the low, red glow of the safelight.
The curtain moved and a tall, broad-shouldered figure moved into the main area, and stopped. She thought he was probably looking her over. His face was completely in shadow, but she saw his head tip to one side a little, then he took a small step back.
“From what I hear, you have very good reason to be wary of someone like me in a space like this. Thank you for trusting Janet enough to come here.”
What a strange thing to say, but it made her feel better; her heart calmed, she felt her shoulders ease, and her grasp on the thick canvas strap on her bag loosen.
She found a small, nervous smile and said. “Thank you for liking my pictures enough to help me.”
He seemed to relax a little at that, funny to think he might have been worried too. “You have a good eye, and I could see you improving over the weeks, which means you pay attention. It was fairly clear a number of your classmates don’t.”
And with that, they were talking, discussing effects, and frustrations, and solutions, and her bag was tucked in the cupboard by the door, and a roll of practice film from his camera was set on the countertop beside the tanks, the enlarger and the chemical trays for developing the prints and he was patiently stepping her through the process.
They were starting on the film he supplied, rather than risk any of her photos on novice mistakes, he showed her how to transfer it to a reel, and then into a developing tank, and through the various chemical solutions to develop, then fix, the negative image.
Finally, she unwound the film and hung it to dry on the line inside the storage cupboard.
She’d never made it through the whole process before, even when other women from the class had partnered her. One had tried the same tricks as the boys, the other two had used the opportunity to harangue her over their boyfriends’ behaviour.
Her mentor said. “Well done. It’ll be safe there until next week, then we can look at choosing images for enlargement and printing.”
He cleared his throat. “And I will make the admission now, that I believe I have you on this film reel. I was taking pictures around the college the day I spoke with Janet and snapped a shot of Persephone in the café.”
Psyche frowned. “How do you know Persephone? Is she aware you took it?”
“Yes, she is, I’m to destroy it forever if she doesn’t look properly badass – her words – and I do the occasional shoot for Z Corp. She sometimes lurks in their head office’s photo studio to get away from her mother, so we’ve talked a few times.”
That was good, she’d had a horrible Christos moment when he’d first mentioned the picture, but now it was fine. She asked. “Is that all we can do this week? I’d like to learn more.”
He chuckled, low and resonant, her knees wobbled, who knew that could happen? He said. “We’ve been in here well over the allotted hour and you’ll find you have a lot to think through once you leave. Make notes as soon as you can and come back next week with your questions.”
She sighed. “I can’t believe I have to leave it a whole week. I’ve learned so much.”
He tipped his head again, maybe it was something he did when he was thinking. “Let me talk to Janet, see if there are other times available that fit in with both your schedule and mine.”
“That would be wonderful, thank you so much. So, um, I guess I’ll see you next week?”
He nodded. “You will. Now let me get some film I have in the storage area under cover before you switch the lights over and leave.”
He vanished behind the curtain, and a minute or so later called out. “It’s safe. See you next week.”
Psyche fumbled the main light back on, wincing a little at the brightness, then retrieved her bag and fumbled the door open. “Okay, thanks, um, bye.”
She all but skipped out of the room, pulling the door shut behind her and beaming at the world. Janet looked up from her desk. “Went well then?”
Psyche hugged herself. “I learned so much. And I never felt uncomfortable.”
Janet looked over to where Persephone sat by the window, closing her book. “I told you so.”
Persephone grinned. “Better safe than sorry and all that. I’m pleased to hear it.”
She pushed her book into her bag and stood. “Come on then, dinner’s on me. You can tell me all about it, and then I can tell you my news.”