“Doctor Jenkins, it’s an honor.” Wyatt shook off his surprise and smiled, taking the hand of the young man approaching him.
“Thank you,” he replied, clearing his throat and adjusting the strap of his messenger bag. “I’m sorry, but I was expecting Doctor Bissonnette.”
“Right.” The man before him laughed awkwardly, scratching the back of his head and looking at the ground in what appeared to be extreme embarrassment.
“Right,” Wyatt repeated slowly. “No one told me she’d be sending someone in her place, so I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”
“Right!” Wyatt almost laughed at the mortified expression that took over the face of his welcome party of one. “I’m Ron Giles, um, Giles. I’m a DPhil student here at Oxford and I’ve been working with Mia, Doctor Bissonnette, for the past couple of years.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Giles the DPhil.” Wyatt had known the terminology in Oxford would be different, but he hadn’t realized how much of a conscious effort he’d have to make to not accidentally call his doctoral grad students in Oxford Ph.D. students.
“Thank you, Doctor Jenkins.” Giles seemed relieved, though the anxiousness still hadn’t faded from his features. “I apologize that Mia, ah, Doctor Bissonnette, couldn’t be here, there was… an emergency in the lab, I guess? She asked me to cover for her since Professor Flinch insisted you’d be more comfortable with a personal tour before the entire faculty swoops in to get a piece of you.”
Wyatt laughed at the bluntness of Giles’s words. He was sure Flinch hadn’t meant for that last line to reach Wyatt’s ears, but he was fond of the older man’s grumpy candor. It was one of the reasons he had agreed to the position, not the top reason but a nice icing on the cake of considerations to leave his home and family and travel across the ocean.
“Nothing to apologize about.” Wyatt smiled reassuringly. “And, please, call me Wyatt.”
“Right,” Giles said again, his posture further relaxing, and he gestured down the path towards the impressive building that shone of age-old stories and legends. However impressive the universities back home were, the ancient knowledge that radiated from these walls was unsurpassed.
Giles’s tour was thorough and surprisingly engaging. The man was full of exuberance and he obviously loved Oxford. Wyatt had a feeling he would like working with him.
The last stop of their tour was the hub, a modest complex consisting of a large research lab and two smaller labs that were for specialized applications of their ongoing research. A common area set as a circular space with laptop stations, a small kitchenette and coffee machine, and an eating area for people to take their lunch breaks together rounded out the tour.
“Are all the hubs like this?” Wyatt wondered, eyes scanning his surroundings in appreciation.
“The university tries to make the hubs as welcoming and comfortable as possible,” Giles answered, pointing at a door at one end of the common area. “That’s Mia’s office.” Then he pointed at a door on the other end. “That one is yours.”
“Great. Is Mia in her office?”
“Probably in the main lab.” He gestured for Wyatt to walk first and Wyatt nodded, shaking off the uneasiness as he approached the translucent glass door, where he swiped his card against the pad and watched the door slide left to reveal a spotless white lab, his new realm.
Wyatt had never met Doctor Bissonnette in person, despite their research being closely aligned, but he was well aware of her work and reputation. Revolutionary is the most accurate word he had read to describe her studies and theories on the fine line between genetics and psychology. If it weren’t for her name attached to the hub, Wyatt probably wouldn’t have been so fast to agree to the position.
He recognized her right away, her aura of authority, the way she seemed to be the center of gravity in the room even though she was tucked in a corner hunched over datasheets, and he took his time observing her as he slowly approached.
Mia’s frame was swallowed by her lab coat, her choppy platinum bob hiding her profile, but Wyatt got the distinct impression that her delicate features, which he’d seen in headshots, were completely misleading.
“Doctor Bissonnette?” Her face turned up, and he forgot what it was he wanted to say. Her eyes were a blue so dark that they seemed almost purple, mesmerizing despite the disinterest in them.
“Yes?” Her bored tone, accompanied by a distinctively French accent, snapped him out of his daze, and he smiled, stretching out his hand.
“I know,” she replied with that same flat tone, ignoring his hand. It struck him as oddly impolite of her, but he dropped his hand and kept his voice kind and conversational.
“I’m flattered.” Wyatt leaned on the edge of the table, eyeing the papers in front of Mia. “I’m a big fan of your work.”
“Are you, now?” Mia’s eyebrow arched in skepticism, and she leaned back in her chair, crossing her legs.
“Yes, your theory on modulated perceptions with regards to genetic disposition was one of the most fascinating papers I’ve ever read.” Her neutral expression hadn’t changed an inch, not even a flick of recognition in her eyes. “Your ability to combine both psychological and physical studies in genetic research is awe-inspiring.”
“Unique?” she prodded, and Wyatt nodded, glad she took his compliments at face value and hoping this is a first step to establish a working relationship as equals.
“Well, not unique enough, it seems.” She collected her papers with a resigned sigh and calmly stood, her willowy frame making her no less intimidating than if she stood a foot taller than him. “I’ll see you at your welcome party tonight, Doctor Jenkins.”
“I’d like to have a chance to speak with you beforehand.” Wyatt straightened, facing her with full intent of blocking her path. “We’re going to be working closely together, we should at least have a formal conversation on the future of the hub.”
“Of course.” Mia nodded tightly, leading the way to her office. It was unconventional, considering their respective roles, that they weren’t meeting in his office, but Wyatt didn’t want to do anything to further aggravate her so he dutifully followed, patiently waiting for her to hang her lab coat on a hook beside the door.
“What can I do for you, Doctor Jenkins?” Mia asked once they were seated on opposite sides of her desk.
“Well, you’ve been in that lab longer than anyone, aside from Professor Flinch,” Wyatt paused at the flash of anger and hurt in Mia’s eyes, wondering what he had said that caused such a reaction and considering his next words. “I’d like to receive a full breakdown of the staff, projects, existing and potential funding, any lab intrigues I should be aware of.”
The last request was said in an air of jest with a smirk to go with it, but Mia’s expression was anything but amused. Instead of answering, she bent down and opened a drawer, pulling out a heavy folder.
“It’s all in there, including protocols.” She slid the file his way. “I suggest you go over the files and we’ll set up another meeting for any questions.”
“Does this include the intrigues?” Wyatt tapped the blue cover of the folder, trying his luck at joking again, only to receive an offended scowl.
“There’s no intrigue in my lab, Doctor Jenkins.” Mia wasn’t even attempting to warm up to him, and as much as it was starting to get on his nerves, Wyatt forced himself to stay calm and reply with a tight nod. “Anything else?”
“I’d appreciate you calling me Wyatt.”
“If you insist.” There was no enthusiasm in Mia’s smile, just the odd sense that she was doing the bare minimum to onboard him, and not gladly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to call it a day and get ready for that party.”
They walked out of her office in silence, Wyatt going to stand next to Giles as they both watched Mia walk away.
Once she was out of sight, Wyatt turned to Giles. “What’s her problem?”
“Mia was being groomed for your position,” Giles explained. “She feels ripped off considering you only got it because of who your dad is.”
Wyatt could only assume his gaze reflected the surge of anger he felt at the words when Giles cringed.
“I earned this position, fair and square, through hard work.” Wyatt could hear the building anger seep into his voice. He could have handled Mia’s resentment at being overlooked, but her spreading rumors that the family name was his only merit for being here was unacceptable.
“I know, I’ve read all your publications, you’re a brilliant scientist,” Giles hurried to reassure him. “But that’s what Mia feels.”
“Well, Mia will have to learn to live with my being the boss.” Wyatt didn’t wait for Giles to reply, just walked off into his own office and shut the door behind him, immediately starting to pace.
If there’s one thing that got Wyatt riled up, it was people who looked at him only to see his father. Hard as Wyatt worked to step out from his monumental shadow, it somehow lurked at every corner. Wyatt had hoped Oxford would be different, that he’d been invited here because of his groundbreaking research in a field they were looking to expand in.
He held no illusions that his family name was a consideration in the faculty’s invitation, but he was confident that the real value he brought to the table were his reputation as a scientist and notable achievements. Now, Mia had his confidence wavering, and that was unacceptable.
Mia had to go.