Emery Ward couldn’t believe his luck. When his academic advisor mentioned a possible part-time job that included living accommodations, that was lucky strike number one. That the accommodations were in the home of his intellectual hero, Dr. Clarice Tempest, was lucky strike number two.
Emery didn’t think Professor Hecking knew he and his dog Dilbert had been living out of his old VW van. He’d been doing a good job of keeping that a secret. But there were only so many times one could be found snoozing on the couch in the lounge of the philosophy building without raising suspicions.
The retired professor seemed surprised to see him when he stopped by at the scheduled time for his interview. Maybe she’d never met an otaku before.
“Why, you have ears!” said Dr. Tempest. She was adorable. “I mean, why do you have ears, young man?”
Emery giggled. “I’m nekomimi,” he said, “in tribute to Mochizuki.”
She turned abruptly, as if she hadn’t heard him. “Might as well come inside, Cat-ears,” she said over her shoulder, “so we can figure out if this will work or not.”
Emery realized he was being put on notice. Time for his best behavior, then. Time for the charm.
It was easy to charm Wittgy, Dr. Tempest’s handsome Australian shepherd, who leaned into him when he rubbed the pressure point above the right shoulder. Dilbert circled the way he does when he’s chosen a new four-legged friend.
Dr. Tempest was nowhere to be found, so Emery made himself busy in the kitchen, gathering up the forgotten coffee cups, cleaning the sink, unloading the dishwasher.
“Are you still here?” she said as he finished wiping down the counters. “Can you play chess?”
“A philosopher must play chess,” she said. “Might as well get started.”
He calculated five moves out.
“Did you really read my book?” she asked. He had.
“I even wrote about it,” he said. “I want to do my senior project on Wittgenstein.”
“It’s a dead end,” she said, and he didn’t know if she meant the line of study or the chess move.
When they finished the game, she told him to stay for a while. The interview wasn’t over.
“How about if you and Sharkfin stay the night tonight?” she asked. “The couch is comfortable. We have an extra supper bowl for your strange dog.”
She wanted to see how he was at fixing breakfast. “Most important meal, and all that,” she said. “I can never seem to cook the eggs right, anymore,” she said wistfully. “I forget to stir them. That’s bad, isn’t it?” She wandered upstairs.
Emery headed out back to check on the dogs.
They’d become fast friends. In fact, it seemed they’d developed a mutual crush.
“I always suspected you were gay,” he said to Dilbert, who was showing off, chasing his tail.
The lights upstairs went out, so Emery stripped down to his boxers and swam a few laps in the natural pool, under the moonlight.
He felt very free out there, very happy. Maybe, at least for a little while, this was an end to the troubled times. He began to think of breakfast–eggs! Hot eggs! And what if there were English muffins in the cupboard! And he could absolutely make coffee. Hot, steaming coffee! He could go to his ten o’clock class on a full stomach for once.
Heading back indoors, he saw the shepherd standing near the border of poppies and daisies. “Come on, Wittgy,” he said.
“Oh! Pardon me!” He backed up quickly, so as not to see Dr. Tempest, who was bathing herself in the moonlight in the outdoor copper tub that was used to bathe the dogs.
He hadn’t seen a thing. He’d be sure to tell her in the morning.
He supposed he’d have to get used to occurrences like that, if the third lucky strike happened and he were offered the job. A retired philosophy professor is entitled to a bit of eccentricity, he thought to himself as he curled up on the couch and let himself settle into the best night’s sleep he’d had in ages.