Lise went to the second floor of the mathematics building, which was where they posted the photos of all the math grad students. Lise had received a response yesterday to her email to Elliot Meyers and now she was curious to see what he looked like. She had mentioned his name to a few other people in the department and although it was clear everyone respected him, it seemed that most of them disliked him.
That was when Lise decided she had to find out what Elliot looked like. She had known enough of those bushy-haired freaks in math who rarely showered, and she wanted to be prepared if he was one of them. Before she came here, she had imagined that Elliot was a nice guy who would be happy to share his knowledge with the other students, but it was very clear that this wasn't the case. Still, he had been cordial in his email. Maybe she could convince him that she was worth teaching.
Lise found the bulletin board with the photos of the grad students. She looked to the top, where the photos of the 4th year students were posted. In the middle of the row was a picture of a guy with very dark hair, pale skin, and brown eyes behind his glasses. Elliot Meyers looked... normal. A little nerdy maybe, but in a cute way. He certainly didn't look like the genius she knew him to be.
"Lise Johnston, right?"
Lise looked up and was surprised to see another student standing beside her. He was tall, fair-haired, and strikingly handsome. This couldn't be a math grad student, Lise thought.
"I'm Brent Armstrong," the boy said, holding out his hand to Lise. He pointed to a picture on the wall. "That's me. I'm in my second year. I couldn't help but notice the only new female student."
Lise felt herself swooning slightly. Brent was really attractive. "It's nice to meet you, Brent."
Brent gestured toward the wall. "Checking out the competition?"
Lise shook her head. "No, I... there's another student who I wanted to meet with and I was just... um, checking him out." She winced at the wording of her sentence.
"Oh, yeah?" Brent raised his eyebrows. "Who?"
"Elliot Meyers." Lise braced herself, knowing what the response would probably be.
"Oh fuck," Brent said. "Excuse my language, but... bad idea, Lise. Really bad idea."
"I've heard Elliot is..."
"He's an asshole, Lise," Brent said soberly. "He's the biggest asshole I've ever known. You should stay away from him. Seriously."
"Bad experience?" she asked.
"You could say so," Brent replied, his eyes darkening.
Lise was afraid to press him for more details. Needless to say, it seemed like nearly all the students in the math department had a grudge against Elliot. Lise looked back up at his photo... he seemed so innocuous. How could he have incurred such hatred?
Even before his meeting with Lise began, Elliot was set to transfer all his teaching responsibilities to her. He got out the roster of students who were supposed to be in his section and the syllabus for the introductory calculus course. Elliot could be very persuasive when he wanted to be and he knew that as the only girl in her class, Lise would be ready to do anything to fit in. All he had to do was ask and he knew she'd agree to do his work for him.
Back when Elliot hadn't been dependent on his wheelchair, he used to try to hide his disability from people who didn't know him well. In college, when he worked as a course assistant, he used to slide his crutches under his desk so that the students coming to his office hours wouldn't be able to see them. The wheelchair was harder to hide. He supposed it was kind of dumb for him to even think about things like that, but he couldn't help it. He had been able-bodied long enough to know how much people thought about disabled individuals.
Women were another matter entirely. One of the best things about math was that there were few women in the field so it wasn't something Elliot ever had to think about. During the day, he rarely thought about girls, and if his thoughts turned to such matters, he'd quickly masturbate to get it out of his system. He had never had a girlfriend, never had sex, and he wouldn't have been surprised if neither of those facts had changed ten or even twenty years from now. Elliot knew he didn't have the social graces to attract a woman and his disability was a further turn-off. When he allowed himself to think about it, he wanted to be with a woman so bad it hurt, but most of the time he was good at distracting himself. After all, he was doing very important work.
Lise arrived so promptly that Elliot had to wonder if she had been pacing outside his office, waiting for it to be time for their appointment. When Elliot first laid eyes on Lise, he had to admit he was a little taken. She was gorgeous. He found himself staring a little bit until he remembered what the purpose of this visit was: for him to get rid of his goddamn calc class.
"Mr. Meyers!" Lise gushed, holding out her hand to him. "It is just an honor to finally meet you!"
Lise held out her hand to him and Elliot took it. She seemed very nervous and Elliot hoped it was because she was meeting, let's face it, a celebrity in the world of algebraic geometry. "You can call me Elliot," he said magnanimously.
Lise nodded vigorously. "Oh, thank you, Elliot..." She blushed, "I have to say, I found your applications of symplectic geometry to enumeration of rational curves in projective spaces to be... well, brilliant."
"Thank you," Elliot said. He raised an eyebrow. "You... understood all that?"
"Well, yes," Lise said. "But, I mean, I'm sure I don't understand it on the level you do..."
Elliot studied Lise's face. God, she was cute. What the hell was a girl like that doing reading about algebraic geometry? I wonder if she'd go out with me, Elliot thought. Then he shook his head. It was one thing that she had a little bit of hero worship--he couldn't let himself get carried away. He wondered if she noticed he was in a wheelchair; if she didn't, she'd realize it soon enough. She was still looking at him like she thought he was a god. "You said you were interested in working with me, Lise?"
"Oh yes," Lise breathed. "Anything you'd like me to do..."
"This is the roster for the calculus class I'm TAing," Elliot said, pushing it across the desk towards her. "I need someone to help me grade their problem sets and exams."
Lise's face fell visibly. "But I thought we could talk about--"
"This is what I need help with," Elliot cut her off. "Will you do it or not?"
She picked up the roster from his desk and looked it over. Elliot had copied it over himself and he knew his handwriting was shit. He used to have decent handwriting, but when he lost strength in his fingers, he began holding the pen in his fist so that his writing looked like chicken scratch.
"Okay," Lise said softly, her enthusiasm gone. When she looked back up at him, she didn't seem like was meeting a celebrity anymore; she just seemed disappointed.
Elliot didn't allow himself to feel guilty. This girl, this first year... she wasn't going to come up with anything worthwhile this year. Elliot's research was groundbreaking and it was criminal that they were wasting his time with this class. "I'll still be teaching the section," Elliot told her, "but I'll drop the problem sets off in your mailbox, okay?"
"Okay," Lise agreed. She lowered her eyes. "It was very nice meeting you, Elliot."
God, this is gut wrenching. But Elliot kept his resolve. It didn't matter how cute Lise was, she was only useful for one thing.
Lise waited until she was safely back in her office before she burst into tears. She felt like she had just been told Santa wasn't real. All through college she had worshiped Elliot Meyers. Truth be told, she had fallen a little bit in love with him through reading his articles, even though she had never seen his face. He was so goddamn brilliant. She knew it was stupid, but every time she saw his name written out, she would run her finger along the words.
And when Lise's eyes first met Elliot's, she felt her heart speed up a few notches. His eyes, now that she could see them up close, were a gentle brown. He had really nice eyes. Then her own eyes had lowered and she saw the wheelchair he was sitting in. Funny how nobody had bothered to mention that Elliot Meyers was crippled.
The wheelchair didn't turn her off though. In fact, it just made Elliot even more interesting. What had turned her off was the lack of emotion in his voice, the way he passed on his work to her like she was nothing. She didn't have to be a Field's Medalist to see that Elliot had absolutely no respect for her or anyone else for that matter. No wonder everyone hated him.
Lise balled up the roster and threw it into the garbage. She couldn't read it anyway. She could tell when she gripped Elliot's hand when they shook hello that his fingers didn't work all that well. He probably had trouble writing.
Maybe I can win his respect, Lise thought. She was discouraged, but she was reluctant to give up. Or maybe she was just stupid.
"Lise? You okay?"
Lise looked up. It was Brent Armstrong, the handsome grad student she had met the other day. Lise wiped her eyes self-consciously. "I... I'm okay."
"Let me guess: you were with Elliot."
"Is it that obvious?" Lise tried to smile. "He is... such an asshole."
"I know," Brent said. His eyes were soft and kind--such a relief after her confrontation with Elliot. "Last year I was just like you. I was eager to learn and of course, I knew all about the work Elliot was doing. So I offered to help him, hoping he might... you know, take me under his wing." Brent shook his head. "I was Elliot Meyers's fucking slave for three months before I told him where he could shove it. Please Lise, don't wait three months."
Lise bit her lip. What Brent was saying made a lot of sense, but... somehow she felt like maybe things would be different with her. Was she just being naive? "What happened to him, Brent? Do you know?"
"I don't know... he's just fucking psycho. Some of these math geniuses get a little shafted in the social skills department..."
"No, I mean... why can't he walk?"
"Oh..." Brent smiled awkwardly. "Nobody ever talks about it. I really don't know. Apparently he's been in the wheelchair the whole time he's been at the university."
Brent leaned against her officemate's desk. "Lise, I was just thinking maybe we could have dinner some time this week and I could tell you a little more about the department and give you some tips..."
Lise smiled, despite herself. "If you want to ask me out, just ask," she teased him.
Brent's face turned red. "Whoa... I... uh..." He cleared his throat. "Okay, can I take you out this Saturday night?"
"Sure," Lise agreed. Maybe Brent wasn't a genius like Elliot, but he was attractive enough to make up for any shortcomings. Besides, a date would take her mind off how scared she was about starting school.
To be continued...