Two Weeks Earlier
Another week, and the snow had gone from the ground. The winter sun popped out between clouds, appearing unexpectedly at low angles and blinding motorists heading west on the highway.
For Amanda, it was all starting to feel like deja vu.
This week, she took the precaution of visiting the short loan library the evening before her Mesoamerican class. As previously, however, the books she sought were missing. A brief interrogation of Glenn confirmed that, once again, the big-chested blonde had beaten Amanda to the mark.
The following morning Amanda towelled herself off after a shower, combing out her wet dark hair in front of the mirror. She resolved to have a quiet chat with the blonde enigma, today, and to ask her to play nice over the books. Hopefully the girl would see reason; maybe they could even study together.
Amanda dressed herself in jeans, a red check shirt and her trusty converse, then headed out to do battle.
As before, Amanda stopped at the departmental notice boards to check her essay mark. She'd picked a tough question about the excavation of Yaxchilan in the late 1800's. Her research had been extremely thorough and she'd also used her stolen Illiterati Codebook - revealing the meaning of Yaxchilan's hieroglyphic lintels and stairways. Amanda was quietly confident of a top score for this one and, after the initial B+, she wanted to raise her average. Her eyebrows rose, however, as she checked the essay marks:
RACHEL FOX A
AMANDA JONES A-
Amanda had never been disappointed with an 'A-' before. She was not competitive by nature, but she needed to knock this Rachel Fox off her perch... before she got comfortable!
Entering the seminar room, Amanda mused that she would just have to try harder.
The room was packed with the same students as the previous week. Professor Coe stood with his back to Amanda, obscuring from view the person he was talking to. Amanda pulled out her books and notepad as the room hushed expectantly.
Coe turned and strode to the white board at the front of the room; as he stepped aside, Amanda locked on to crystal blue eyes, which stared back at her. The blonde book-stealer was here, and had been talking to the Professor about something; Amanda wondered what.
Dry marker pens squeaked loudly on the shiny surface of the board as the Professor scribbled. But Amanda maintained eye contact with the girl across the room, thinking carefully what she might say to her afterwards. The blonde cocked her head slightly and smiled demurely at Amanda, taking her pencil and beginning to twirl it through her fingers. Today, she wore a form-fitting red t-shirt with an intricate design, including the words bad girl.
"Ladies and gentlemen," began Professor Coe, "I was notably impressed by the quality of your written submissions this week. See that this continues."
Around the room there followed a composite mumble: fifteen people saying 'thank you, sir' more or less at once.
"One submission I found to be particularly exemplary in its comprehension of hieroglyphics," continued the Professor.
Amanda blushed slightly. Hieroglyphics had become a speciality of hers since she'd 'obtained' the Codebook and, following her mini-lecture last week, this had no doubt impressed Coe further.
The Professor went on: "Rarely do I read a piece so insightful that it challenges the accepted axioms of our history. Therefore, I will ask Miss Fox to read aloud from her paper, starting page four."
Amanda was still in shock when the blonde girl across the room took up her paper:
"The form of Maya hieroglyphics from the late-classic period bears little resemblance those of Ancient Egypt," started Rachel Fox - for she and the mystery blonde were one and the same.
So, thought Amanda, she's Rachel. Well this should be interesting.
"This disconnect is unsurprising, given the separation of two thousand years and five thousand miles," Rachel continued, her voice smooth and melodic. "Nevertheless similarities exist that may be overlooked by the inexperienced eye."
Amanda felt a glimmer of recognition. Something was familiar about this.
"When comparing the square Mayan hieroglyph tiles to the quadrate blocks of Egypt or, indeed, ancient Chinese engravings, four similarities can be noted. These should be inexplicable given the lack of contact between the three civilizations," Rachel continued, with authority.
Amanda's face flushed. My words! These are my words! But how.....? She wanted to cry out, as Rachel explained the significance of symbols, animals, orders and patterns, all while the students and Professor Coe listened intently.
Amanda knew it all well; indeed, barely a word of the text had been changed. It came from an exam paper she'd submitted the previous year, after returning from England.
Rachel finished, with 'her' conclusion; explorers, settlers or merchants had circumnavigated the globe by 3000BC. Consistancies in hieroglyphics were the primary evidence for a connection between the different civilizations and epochs. Rachel put her paper down and smiled at Professor Coe, as the students - Amanda apart - broke out in polite applause.
Amanda's heart pumped in her ears. How on Earth had Rachel got her exam paper!?
"Now, Amanda," Professor Coe was next to her, and she hadn't noticed. "Tell us about the Yaxchilan excavation also about Maler and the role of the Peabody Museum."
Amanda's mouth was dry. Her hands and voice shook as she read about the various structures on the site, artefacts recovered from the tombs, the excavation techniques used and the articles in the museum.
All the time, in the corner of Amanda's eye, Rachel scribbled furiously. Argh!.... it felt like this girl was excavating her brain!
Forty minutes later the seminar ended, and the essay questions were distributed. Amanda snatched the paper from the hands of Professor Coe and left quickly to take up position outside in the corridor.
One by one the students emerged; but not Rachel. To Amanda's frustration, she remained inside, talking enthusiastically to Professor Coe. The conversation was not a short one; after ten minutes, Amanda began to feel rather silly waiting.
She wondered: did Rachel know she was there? Was she cleverly trying to wait Amanda out, so she'd give up and leave?
Amanda remained calm and purposeful, despite the maddening nature of the situation. She was not going anywhere. She had another class, Research Methodology, to follow, but she would miss it if she had to.
Eventually, Professor Coe emerged from the room with the words, "Rachel, that's fascinating - we must continue this some other time!" He looked rather surprised to see Amanda, but didn't comment as he scurried past to his office.
Rachel emerged from the seminar room, checking a brief look of surprise as she noticed Amanda; then looked away, attempted a charade of not seeing her - which quickly became ridiculous when Amanda blocked her path.
"Mademoiselle Fox - tu n'a rien à me dire?" Amanda stood with hands on hips.
Rachel sighed and glanced up at Amanda: the two faced each other, up close for the first time.
"Don't sweat it," stated Rachel, wearily, "I'm from Illinois."
"And you seem quite the expert in hieroglyphics." Amanda glared at her accusingly.
"Thank you. That's very kind of you," replied Rachel, insincerely.
"Those interesting - groundbreaking - comparisons... I couldn't have put it better myself!" Amanda goaded her; she'd had thirty minutes to rehearse this.
"What was your inspiration, Rachel? I assume you wrote a full bibliography?"
Rachel fixed her with a sidelong glance: "What are you trying to say, Amanda? Are you accusing me of something?"
"Neither trying, nor accusing," Amanda scolded her, "I recognise my own words."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Rachel, now pushing past Amanda. The close contact revealed a scent of strawberry.
"Hey! You copied the whole thing!" Amanda called after Rachel, setting off in pursuit.
"Don't be ridiculous," Rachel dismissed her, increasing her pace. She made it to the fire door, pushed the bar and emerged with relief into the sunlight. The scowl on her face evaporated in a microsecond and was replaced by a charming smile, as she greeted two large and sporty-looking boys waiting outside. Rachel threw her arms around each one in turn, kissing both cheeks.
"Ryan, Steve, how are you both!" she beamed.
"Hey Rachel? Who's your friend?" asked Steve, looking at Amanda with interest.
Amanda suddenly felt very out of place. What to say?
"Erm..." was all she came out with. A gust of wind blew Amanda's fine brown hair across her face. She shivered and folded her arms.
"Let's go get some lunch," Rachel said, taking a man in each arm and walking off.
"Next time, Erm!" Steve called over his shoulder.
Amanda sighed a deep sigh, then collected herself. It had been a difficult morning. Her confrontation with Rachel hadn't gone as planned, extracting neither confession nor apology.
And now she was late for Research Methodology.
Amanda hurried along.
Damn it, she thought, I forgot to mention the library books!
* * * *
Two hours later, the sun had disappeared, and Amanda was finished for the day. As she headed back to her dorm, the business with Rachel was still at the forefront of her mind. Amanda walked, almost in a daze, ignoring the chill wind; nevertheless, she'd missed lunch and her autopilot brought her past her favourite coffee shop.
Amanda snapped out of it, thinking how much she would love a croissant and a frothy latte, with chocolate flakes on top. Walking past the large windows of the shop, she spotted Glenn sitting inside, cup in hand. He didn't notice Amanda, and seemed deep in conversation with somebody....
....a bob of blonde hair raised Amanda's suspicions. They were confirmed as she caught the profile of (who else?) Rachel Fox.
Were there no depths to which this girl wouldn't sink?! Amanda thought with disbelief: plagiarism first, but now coffee with Glenn??
Amanda decided she was neither hungry or thirsty, and kept on walking.