Exposure

Christos and Patrick weren’t pestering her as much. They were still around, but every time she started talking about her photos and what she was learning, they’d slink away, scowling. It happened one day over lunch and as Patrick stomped off to get a coffee, a girl at the same table, Psyche thought her name was Neela, sniggered. “You’re so gone on that mentor of yours, even that bonehead can see you’re never going to look at him twice. About time.”

Psyche could feel her cheeks heating. “It’s just that he’s a great teacher and…”

Neela waved a hand, still sniggering. “Yeah, yeah, I know all the teacher student inappropriateness stuff but I’m telling you, if Mr Mysterious doesn’t ask you out for dinner at the end of term, I’m going to lose a very large bet and go after him personally.”

That conversation made her next darkroom session a little awkward, but he coaxed her troubles from her, then said. “Tell your friend her money’s safe, but it doesn’t mean you have to say ‘yes’.”

Psyche felt the heat racing up her face again but couldn’t stop the shy grin peeping through. “I’d like to.”

His shoulders relaxed and the tip of his head in the shadows somehow said he was smiling too. “Good. Now let’s get back to work so you can blow them all away with your project.”

She floated home afterwards and was surprised to find Aglaura and Cilippe sharing a bottle of wine on the sofa, they were normally down at the pub on a Friday night. She happily accepted their invitation to join them for a glass and some girl talk.

It seemed their version of girl talk was comparing notes on the men they were seeing; how rich, how generous, how important, how well-connected. All too soon, they turned to Psyche.

Cilippe’s smile didn’t reach her eyes. “And how about you? Our cousin says you’re head-over-heels for one of your teachers.”

Psyche choked on her sip of wine. “I’m not… he’s mentoring me in photography and nothing’s happened.”

Aglaura was lounging across one armrest of the sofa like a watchful cat. “What’s he like? Is he handsome? How old is he? Where does he live? What’s his wealth profile?”

Cilippe giggled. “From what I heard, she doesn’t even know his name.”

Psyche put her wine glass down, she didn’t like it anyway. “You’re right, I don’t know his name, or his shoe size, or what he paid in tax last year. What I do know is that he’s kind, and clever, and treats me with respect.”

Both her flatmates started laughing, and kept going, their jeering, hooting guffaws echoing in her ears.

Finally, Aglaura mopped her eyes and said. “Poor naïve little Psyche, always chasing after fairy tales and rainbows. I’ll bet you next month’s rent your perfect man turns out to be ugly as sin, the same age as your father, or married with kids.”

Cilippe poured more wine and sniggered. “I bet he’s all three, and with no money. If he was at all honest or decent, you’d know who he was.”

Psyche felt her stomach churn, what if they were right? What if he was playing her for a fool? She thought back to her afternoons in the darkroom. No, he was decent, she knew it.

She firmed her jaw. “You can say what you like, but we’re going out to dinner after term’s finished and then I’ll be able to tell you he’s every bit as wonderful as I already know he is.”

That set the other two off laughing again, until Psyche interrupted them. “And I didn’t know you had any cousins in my course.”

Cilippe waved a hand. “Christos said he preferred to, erhm, ‘woo’ you on his own merits, rather than taking advantage of our relationship.”

Aglaura snorted out wine. “Woo? He never said that, he just wants to get her in the sack.”

Her sister rolled her eyes. “Yes, but you don’t say that in front of Psyche, she’s all about ‘respect’ and ‘commitment’ and ‘who they are inside’.”

And what was wrong with that? She would never understand these two, and the more time she spent with them, the less she wanted to.

They both contained their laughter, although Cilippe continued to snicker, as Aglaura tried to look serious. “Seriously, Sweetie, you’d be far better off with Christos. He’ll show you a good time, and take you to nice places. If you’re smart, you’ll be able to use him as a stepping stone to someone a bit more desirable than a photography tutor.”

“And yet I find my photography tutor infinitely more appealing than Christos.”

Psyche stood and left the room, Aglaura calling after her. “You forgot your wine,” while Cilippe said, “I so need to text that to Chrissy-boy, best burn ever.”

Psyche wondered what else Cilippe had texted to her cousin, as Christos scowled and sulked any time he caught sight of her in the following days. Since that meant he wasn’t invading her space or trying out new pick-up lines, she was quite grateful for whatever it was her flatmate had sent.

Far too soon, it was Friday afternoon in the second last week of term, and Psyche headed for the darkroom, head full of ideas and techniques for the final image in her Analogue Imagery assignment. She passed Christos lurking in the hallway, grumbling to Patrick about something, and waved to Janet as she crossed the classroom.

Slipping inside the darkroom, she dumped her bag in the cupboard by the door and flipped the light switch to the dim red glow they’d be working in for the next hour or so. Her tutor always stayed in the curtained-off storage area until the safelight came on. She often wondered why, but refused to dwell on it, her flatmates and classmates were having too much fun with their speculations, she didn’t need to add her own questions to the mix.

He pulled aside the curtain and joined her at the counter, and she gladly pushed her wayward thoughts aside, focusing on the negative image she wanted to enlarge and enhance in that session.

They spoke about her ideas for the image and moved together and around each other with the ease of practice and personal comfort.

Psyche was setting up the chemical mix for the stop bath, thankful the acid had been pre-measured as her face mask was fogging up her safety goggles. As she unscrewed the top of the small bottle, the door to the darkroom burst open and someone thudded into her, mashing her into the counter top and jolting the hand about to pour the acid.

She kept hold of the bottle, but its contents erupted, and in horrible slow motion, she watched it arc up, then splatter down, all over her beloved mentor. He shouted in pain, pulling off his shirt as the liquid bit through the fabric, his goggles and mask falling away as he tugged the t-shirt forward.

It was Eros. Her mentor, her trusted advisor, the man she was counting the days to date, was Eros.

Then the world came into focus again and Janet was at the door, yelling about water and an ambulance and Christos was leaning into her, gaping at the man he’d broken in on. Psyche grabbed his ear and twisted until he writhed. “Get away from me or Janet will be calling the police as well.”

He staggered back, still staring at Eros. Free of the revolting man’s weight, Psyche reached for Eros, wanting to help him, but he shrank from her touch.

Water arrived, and then Janet was yelling even louder about drinking glasses being no use and to get buckets. There was noise and confusion and people everywhere, and the lights were so bright and all Psyche could see was the livid red burns blooming across Eros’s chest and throat. She’d done that, she’d burnt him, and now he didn’t want her near him.

She breathed through the black spots dancing in front of her eyes, unable to move as the ambulance officers arrived and bundled him onto a stretcher and out the door.

With him gone, silence fell, everyone was still, their faces shocked. Janet spoke first, her voice too calm, her teeth gritted. “Whoever finds that… Christos… first. Inform him he’s expelled, with criminal charges likely pending.”

The other people in the room scattered, tapping at, and whispering into, their phones. Janet stormed out behind them, probably to talk to the principal. Psyche stayed where she was, propped up against the darkroom counter, staring at nothing until her knees gave way and she crumpled to the floor, sobbing.

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