They went to their favourite Italian place, just far enough from the college that most students didn’t know it existed. It was comfortable, and local, and the regulars were masters of the silent, condemning stare if any newcomer tried to approach Persephone and Psyche’s table. If the interloper failed to take the hint, the manager, an elegant, dainty man from southern Italy, had been known to lead them away by the ear.
Over garlic bread, red wine, and the world’s greatest bolognaise, Psyche bubbled and burbled over her lesson in the darkroom, Persephone said the right things at the right times and laughed when Psyche blushed at her own enthusiasm. “If only those desperadoes knew. The way to your heart is through basic respect and teaching you to play with chemicals.”
Their tiramisu was being served when a man approached their table, Persephone waved off the manager. “Don’t worry, I know this one.”
She propped her chin on her hand and batted her eyes. “Hello Hermes.”
The man rolled his eyes. “Don’t be cute, I’ve been trying to track you down since lunchtime. Parcel for you, no need to sign.”
He plonked a package on the table, raised a judgemental brow at Psyche, then sauntered out of the restaurant. Psyche was fairly sure the gay couple at the table in the front had been checking out his butt. She was also fairly sure he knew; there’d been an extra little strut in his step when he’d neared the door.
She pulled her attention back to Persephone, who was sniggering at her. “Don’t tell me you think Hermes is hot.”
Psyche spluttered, then laughed. “Not my type but a lot easier to look at than Patrick or Christos.”
“I will give you that. He’s a snarky know-it-all though and runs to Daddy Zeus with everything.”
“Zeus is his father?”
Persephone snorted. “Zeus is the father of at least half the management team in Z Corp. If anyone there is in any position of power, assume nepotism.”
Psyche said. “But they seem very good at what they do.”
“Oh, they are. The consequences for mediocre performance aren’t pretty.”
Persephone turned her attention to the box next to her wine glass. “Now is this from the mother or the lover?”
Psyche choked. “The who?”
Her friend went red. “That’s my news, I’ve met someone. He works for Z Corp, and mother is going to have an absolute fit when she finds out. I’m moving in with him this weekend, which means I have to drop out of college, at least for this term, so she can’t track me down in class.”
Persephone was opening the box as she spoke; inside was a new mobile. She read the accompanying note aloud. Credible sources say your dear mama has tracking software on your phone. I thought you might like a new one.
Persephone scowled. “If I wasn’t already in love with him, I’d move in just to get away from that controlling old bat.”
She pulled her old phone out of her bag and started transferring numbers, then looked at Psyche. “I’m moving in with him tomorrow, so if you hear I’ve disappeared, I’m fine, it’s just Mother trying to panic you into finding me.”
This was happening awfully fast, Psyche asked. “Can I phone you?”
Persephone shook her head. “If mother’s on the war path, she’ll get hold of your phone. I’ll call you in a few weeks, so please don’t auto-block unknown numbers for a bit, maybe just let them go to voicemail.”
Psyche bit her lip. “Be careful, make sure you have a way out.”
Persephone squeezed her hand comfortingly and smiled. She looked calm, confident, and radiant. “I do, but I won’t need it, he’s wonderful.”
They went their separate ways home a short time later, Psyche feeling sadly deflated after the excitement of her tutorial session. What was she going to do without Persephone? It wasn’t even the protection she provided from the Patricks and Christoses of the world, it was having someone to talk to, and laugh with, and not worry about why they were being nice.
She spent the weekend out and about, behind her camera, gathering shots for developing and avoiding her flatmates. On Monday she got an email from Janet; her mentor had agreed to a second session, last thing on Wednesdays. He’d also given her an assignment for their next meeting, she was to take photos of reflections for them to work on in the darkroom. She was also to pick up Friday’s negatives from Janet and choose one to enlarge into a print.
She grinned all the way to her first lecture, then remembered Persephone had gone. Patrick immediately sat next to her, she ignored him. It was easy enough to do when it was their class on Design Thinking, with guest lecturers each week who rattled through terrifying amounts of information in the hour allotted.
This week it was Hestia, who headed up the homewares product lines for Z Corp Fashion. An ageless, dignified woman with a kind smile, her talk started out deceptively simple but quickly moved into details of psychology, ergonomics, and aesthetic moods, that left Psyche’s head spinning.
As the lecture ended and Psyche tried to work out how to avoid Patrick tailing her on the way out, one of the admin staff poked their head around the classroom door. “Is Psyche here?”
She raised her hand and the woman beckoned. “Could you come along to the office? We have a visitor with some questions you might be able to help with.”
Psyche gathered her things and stood. Patrick scrambled up behind her, and the woman frowned. “Only Psyche, thank you.”
She joined the woman at the door and followed her down the hallway to the main office. “Who am I meeting with?”
Her question was met with a grimace. “Demeter, Persephone’s mother. She’s claiming her daughter’s been kidnapped and we’re hoping you can shed a little bit of light on things.”
It seemed Persephone had been right to not give Psyche her new phone number, Psyche found Demeter intimidating at the best of times, let alone when she was on the warpath.
She took a deep breath, reminded herself that Persephone had promised she’d be fine, and she knew what she was doing, and walked into the principal’s conference room.
Persephone’s mother sat at the head of the table, as polished and poised as ever, a frown pulling down the corners of her mouth and faintly creasing her brow. She looked more annoyed and put out than upset.
Her eyes flicked over Psyche and she sniffed. “I might have known you’d be involved.”
Psyche raised a brow and waited in silence. She might feel intimidated, but she wasn’t about to show it.
Demeter snapped her fingers. “Come on then girl, out with it, who’s taken my daughter.”
Psyche shrugged. “No one as far as I know. She told me last week she was moving in with her boyfriend and would be out of touch for a bit.”
The older woman’s eyes narrowed. “And who is this boyfriend?”
Psyche shrugged again, it seemed to annoy Demeter and she’d take anything she could get in this battle. “I don’t know. Persephone said you’d try and bully it out of me, so she wouldn’t tell. Same as she wouldn’t give me her new phone number when she found out you were stalking the old one.”
The principal cleared her throat before Demeter could fire back. “It seems Psyche has been able to confirm the message we received from your daughter over the weekend. I’m afraid we can’t help you further.”
She nodded to Psyche. “Thank you for your help, and honesty, you may go.”
As Psyche shut the door behind her, she heard Demeter begin to shout. She whispered to the woman who’d delivered her to the office. “You might want to page the principal with an urgent problem.”
The woman turned her head, heard the muffled yells, and gave Psyche a long-suffering look. “Helicopter parents are the worst.”
She picked up the microphone for the school’s intercom system, and called the principal, then nodded to Psyche. “Best make yourself scarce.”
Psyche wasn’t sure what it was about facing down Demeter, but it gave her the confidence to push back on both Patrick and Christos when they overstepped the bounds of respect in the following days. Other students proved to be unexpected allies and Psyche found herself part of a laughing, chattering group of classmates, sharing notes and complaining about unreasonable deadlines.
Her favourite times of the week though, were the darkroom sessions on Wednesdays and Fridays. It was ridiculous, she didn’t even know his name, but she didn’t need to, he was right there beside her in the shadowy dimness of the red safelight, answering her questions, showing her the effects of different chemicals, sequences and timings. As the weeks passed, she found herself inching closer as they swirled the photographic paper in its series of baths, leaning into him as he showed her the finer elements to enhance, and what to look for when she later checked the print in full light.
Each week he gave her a new assignment. She’d bring in the roll of film on the Friday and develop the negatives, then they’d experiment with different processing techniques on her favourite image from the collection on the Wednesday.
Her term assignment for Janet’s class was taking shape, a series of candid shots of groups of people in different places and times of day. As the term progressed, and her knowledge and skills grew, she pushed herself into photographing scenes with unusual lighting, and night time shots.