Learning to Love Another
This is the final chapter in the Learning to Love Another series. It was difficult to write because it's an erotic historical representation of my current partner. It has been a large mental shift to write as I was then about the people we were then, rather than the people we are now. I am deeply in love with this woman, so it may be a bit over the top on what might be considered inconsequential details from someone who didn't live it.
Also, Tess has read and approved this representation of herself, though she did say that I make her out to be cooler than she feels most of the time. Such is the way we view the people we love. I have also edited out her accent, because it just became onerous to continue to represent in print.
Lastly, because this is the final chapter in Learning to Love Another, it's very long and slow. Some readers will undoubtedly find it pedantic and tedious. There is not nearly as much sex in this final chapter as the other chapters either. I apologize for that, but it's the way it came out on the page. The more I wrote, the more I realized that I wanted to say. Maybe I really wrote it for myself just to help me remember and preserve it. That's plausible, but I have no critical distance.
I appreciate you more than you can know of you stick all the way through this one. Yes, this chapter is about falling in love, but it's also about growing up. You'll see.
"This is our thermodynamics wing. Labs back through here, director's office here, data servers are back there somewhere too. They keep a separate system from general engineering, which we're trying to fix. It doesn't make sense for us to have to maintain two separate configuration management systems for the two groups and a whole different setup for the software guys. It has just been challenging to get it all glued together."
The Director of General Engineering, that is Kevin, was giving me the drinking-from-the-firehose tour of the facility where I now worked. I would be doing basically the same job I had been in my old office, but in the main facility of the company and with potential for advancement. I recognized a few of the names I saw on office doors from press releases and company newsletters. This was going to be a cultural adjustment of scale.
Displacement is always hard. I had found a small basement apartment with dedicated outside access for myself and Fabby Cat less than 20 miles from the new office, so that was good. It was safe and secure, but not as nice as the place I had just left next door to Ethan. I was going to miss the windows and the balcony I had enjoyed, but this place had a small garage where I would eventually park my bike and store my bike tools and gear. That was enough of a plus (along with the price) that I would take the sacrifice of the windows and balcony. I would just have to be cautious about not allowing the place to become cave-like. At least there was a small covered porch next to the door where I could sit outside if I chose to.
It was also not too far from a health club where I had signed up for pool access. I still had to have that. Between swimming and learning to ride, I figured I could combat the depression that was going to settle in. It also helped a lot that Angel made the long trip to help me move. As a housewarming gift, she bought me some good lighting that helped brighten the place up in very beautiful and tasteful ways and new sheets and towels because (in her words) it was a fresh start after all. She's so good to me. Finally, I got two full nights of snuggling with her in the bed to remind me of how tight we still were and how much we still loved each other. I think we both needed that to recover from recent personal losses. Fabulous was super mopey too, so having Angel around brightened her up as well.
"Because we have you assigned to the --classified-- program, you'll probably be over here a good bit instead of on our side of the building. You still report up the development path chain to me, but the thermo lab has better terminals for the modeling and simulations you will need to do, and the stakeholders for that data are over here anyway," Kevin continued.
"Will my badge work on all the doors?"
"It should, but we'll make sure your clearance gets added if it doesn't. In fact, let's stop by the director's office on the way out and find out if there's any reason that can't be the case."
We rounded the corner back to the director's office. The door, which said "Dr. Wörlein" on an engraved plastic plate and "Dr. Who?" on a blue sticker under that, was open. There was a clean, orderly desk right by the door and an expanse of terminals and lab equipment on benches that stretched back into the long room. Diplomas and certifications papered the walls along with science fiction posters and product posters. I immediately thought I would probably like this director.
Also, rather striking was the buxom blonde at the desk by the door. I know buxom is an anachronistic word for someone my age, but it really was the first thing that came to mind. She was dressed conservatively, but it was immediately clear how beautiful she was. "Stunning" was not an inappropriate word to describe the minimal but precise makeup, fashionable glasses, well fitted clothes over undisguisable curves, and carefully arranged cascades of pale blonde hair. Her face was classically beautiful, and well... not to put too brutal a point on it... spacey and innocent in a bimbo-like way. In fact, when we walked in, she was glazed over, staring off into space, and chewing the end of a pen in a way that would be immediately sexualized by any male within sight. I figured she was the 'decorative' sort of administrative assistant.
"Tess, this is Elain -- she just transferred in from Mechanical over in the controls group. I'm showing her around."
"Hi," I said. "Pleased to meet you."
She stood to accept my handshake and replied, "Tess Wörlein. I am in charge of how we move the heat around."
The breathy voice made my pussy tingle involuntarily, but the words and odd accent hit me like a brick. This hot woman was the director.
"Ha!" said Tess. "That usually makes the interns blush, but you went pale."
"My apologies, Dr. Wörlein," I recovered. "I'm a bit overwhelmed and nervous to be here."
"Call me Tess," she waved dismissively. "I work for a living, just like everybody else. I'll set your key card number to work on our doors. Come by any time."
I looked more closely up at the wall while Kevin asked her a question and there it was on one of the diplomas: Astrid Tesseract Wörlein, Doctor of Philosophy Applied Physics. "Tesseract"... how awesome is that? So that's where the "Tess" came from. Wait a second... all the diplomas on the wall belonged to her: B.S. in Mathematics, B.S. in Physics, B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, M.S. in Mathematics, M.S. in Applied Physics, Ph.D. in Applied Physics, Certificate of Completion in Ballroom Dancing -- Second Level (no kidding). All the degrees were from big name institutions too. The lady's brain was legitimate.
I found myself surprised at how intimidated I felt, and that should tell you a lot about me right there. I was probably at least as pretty (with some sort of objectivity) as she was, plus I had the unusual red hair and even bigger tits than she did, so it wasn't a just a female presence or physical status thing. Knowing that nobody gets to a director's position in our firm by accident, and taking into account the expansive credentials, this lady's mental mastery was staggering. In the most honest and shallow terms -- I was used to being the hot engineer girl who was also very smart and very good at her job, but this lady was just plain boss on all levels.
And that was about that. I didn't have anything to do with Tess or even really see her except in passing for about six months. I was spending all my time coming up to speed in the new job and then learning to ride motorcycles, recovering from my dirt bike injuries, and entertaining a fling with a certain biker chick. I wasn't officially in Tess's department or in her direct chain of supervision, but her name appeared on my six-month review as a contributor. I guess she was at least tangentially paying some attention to my work. The upside to that review was an immediate promotion to lead within my group, a small bonus (with which I bought my 250cc sport bike and new leathers), and a pay raise.
My team began directly supporting a program in Tess's department after that, but we were still under separate supervision because of the way things were budgeted. However, that meant that I saw her nearly every day. This was also about the time Sarah and I were playing, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my heart.
About five months later we were running into a major problem. We were part way through MIL-STD environmental qualification on something for the program, and my group and test systems were having a "spirited discussion" over a test failure. They were riding my ass about errors in our analysis, and I was riding theirs right back over test set up. It got nasty enough that Kevin and Tess had to intervene, and the other lead and I got called into a collective ass-chewing in Tess's office.
The test systems team lead (we'll call him Dick, because it's easy to remember) apologized first and pledged teamwork resolution, blah, blah, blah. I refused to apologize at all.
"Excuse me?" said Tess.
"No, I'm not apologizing for anything," I reaffirmed. "I'm right, and I stand by my work."
"Elain," interjected Kevin, "Remember it's not you versus Dick. It's you and Dick against the problem."
"Dick is the problem, Kevin. I've checked my end of things. He hasn't."
"I trust my team, and I trust my analysis. We've checked and rechecked. It isn't the design. The numbers don't lie. It's the test set up."
"It can't be," argued Dick.
"Why not?" calmly from Tess.
"We've done this test a hundred times. Our set up method is rock solid."
"But did you check?" Tess countered, still calmly.
"I'm sure it's not the problem."
"But... did... you... check?"
"No, Tess. I didn't."
"Then go do it. Now!"
"Fine, goddammit," Dick stalked out of the office.
We all waited in uncomfortable silence, until Kevin couldn't stand it any longer.
"I hope you're right Elain. You're putting a lot of your credibility on the line."
"I hope you are as well," said Tess unexpectedly. "A set up issue is a lot cheaper and faster to fix than a design, tooling, and prototype cycle."
"Which is why we exhaustively modeled it, Tess. You know I don't shortcut analysis."
The phone rang.
"Wörlein -- go ahead -- you are on speaker."
"It's a test equipment issue. The unit set up is fine, but there is leak in one of the seals on the thermal chamber. It was blasting the heat to try to compensate, and we were over-testing the unit by about 12°C without air circulation. I have the thermocouple tracks that show it."
I pointed at a plot on one of my analysis sheets that showed a probable failure point at 12.4°C above limit. Tess and Kevin nodded.
"Next step?" asked Tess.
"It will take a month to get this chamber fixed, but I recommend we boot the --other classified project-- out of the other identical chamber and use it to finish qual for score. They were calibrated at the same time, so no issue there, and we only lose half a day moving the unit under test over and setting it up again. We can run the test profile overnight."
"Do it," said Tess.
"One more thing," said Dick.
"I'm sorry I didn't check before getting into an argument over it. It literally took two minutes to identify the issue once I bothered to look. It won't happen again."
"Apology accepted," said Tess immediately. "Also, you called with a ready solution -- that goes a long way."
"I need to apologize too," I admitted. "It wasn't personal, Dick, and I'm sorry if I made it out to be. I wasn't trying blame you, only the set-up. Kevin was right. I should have helped you check rather than grandstand."
"I'll remember that if it comes up again. You clearly know what you're doing," said Dick. "Now let me get folks started shifting units."
(Not as much of a) Dick (a he used to be) hung up and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
"Well, crisis averted, cheap solution presented, everybody all warm and fuzzy again," said Kevin. "What's that make us?"
"Big damn heroes, sir," I said automatically.
"Ain't we just," responded Tess.
Both Tess and I froze, having given two halves of a quote from an episode of Firefly.
Kevin rolled his eyes, "I was looking for 'a good team'... y'all get back to work." And he walked out shaking his head.
"Did you just think, 'Yes sir, Captain Tight-Pants'?" I asked cautiously after Kevin was out of earshot.
"Inescapably," confirmed Tess, suppressing her laughter as hard as she could.
"You know we could derail the rest of the day just on Firefly quotes, right?"
"But now is not the time."
"One question only then -- Mal or Simon?"
"Zoë," she said, and winked.
"I'll be in my bunk," I said and winked too as I left her office.
Forgive that foray into geekdom. If it was incomprehensible to you, look up a Wiki for information on the Firefly series. It was an amazing show cut tragically short, and I would encourage you to watch its 14 episodes if you have the time and the inclination.
What was important about that brief exchange was that Tess and I had just established an unusual common ground and had both dropped subtle hints to each other. I was suddenly motivated to find out a lot more about this lady.
Tess and I joked frequently after that. Our shared love of science fiction and fantasy was ripe fodder for puns and references. It was an ongoing game of 'can you catch this obscure reference?'. My knowledge of Middle Earth far outstripped hers, but her encyclopedic knowledge of Dr. Who baffled me. I had never followed that series, but I went to the library and checked out a bunch of videos try to educate myself on it. It wasn't out of sense of competition either, I realized. I just really wanted her to like me.
Tess was unapologetically herself. Brilliant and quirky and authoritative and gorgeous -- it was all real and who she was all the time. I realize in writing this how much she was like Angel in that regard and why they ended up getting along so well when they met. Tess, just like Angel, was genuine. You know how much I value what we have called 'the straight talk flag' in this series? That was Tess's normal operating procedure
Tess also had an amazing work ethic. She approached her job with a kind of infectious joy for problem solving that garnered a huge loyalty in her department and from everyone her department relied on. If there was a full court press to get something done, Tess would be at the front of it and see it through along with everyone else. She could let her professionals do their jobs (because they were professionals after all) without micromanaging them but was always in the middle of it to remove obstacles and offer guidance. She was one of the best loved and most feared directors in the company. Feared? Absolutely. You never wanted to be labeled 'an obstacle to be removed'. However, most of the people we work with don't fear Tess; they only fear disappointing Tess because they respect her so much.
Lastly, Tess was charismatic and had a genuine Southern charm despite being the child of Austrian immigrants. As I described in my piece Marrying Angel: Tess was born in Tennessee and grew up speaking a weird combination of the local East Tennessee dialect, plus German and Hungarian at home. It's a completely charming and disarming kind of Dolly Parton meets Heidi Klum sound, if you can imagine.
We worked a lot of long hours and shared a lot of successes and a few failures (which she always recast as learning experiences) in that year following the test equipment argument. We already respected each other as coworkers, but we honestly became friends.
My cell phone rang. It was eleven o'clock at night on a Friday, and I was still at work. Certification deadlines are a pain, but that's why we get paid the big bucks.
"Elain, are you still in the building?" came Tess's voice over the tiny speaker phone.
"Yeah, I'm changing into my leathers in my office. I'll still set the alarm on my way out, don't worry."
"I'm in the parking lot. My car won't start, and physical plant has already gone home. I think it's just the battery, can you jump it off?"
"Not from the bike, but I can take a look. Give me a minute."
I finished suiting up and packing my tailbag in about three minutes and then set the alarm and found Tess in the parking lot with the hood up on her Audi. Long story short, it didn't appear to be the battery. All her electrics worked fine, so my guess was --
"I think it's the starter."
"Can you fix it?"
"Not here and maybe not at all. The starter is under the AC compressor I think, maybe even under the engine. I'd need it on a lift or to take a lot out in order to get to it. I think this is one to leave to the professionals."
"Fucksticks!" she shouted to the parking lot at large.
"Creative!" I laughed.
"How the hell do I get home?"
"Do you have AAA?"
"Obviously not then. Tell you what, you call a tow truck to take the car to your service center. I'll get you home."
"You don't have a car here."
"True, but I do have a spare helmet in my office. Or I could ride home and come back with my embarrassment for a car."
"No, I don't want to be here alone. I'll ride on the bike with you if you think it's safe."
"Of course, I'll just need to dial the suspension a bit, and we'll be fine."
We did just that. I idled the bike around to her side of the parking lot, got out my under-seat toolkit and did the adjustments while the flatbed was on its way. Then while they loaded Tess's A4, we went inside together to pick up the spare helmet. My Sidi boots clumped ominously in the dark, silent office.
"Ah, the pitter-patter of tiny feet, in huge combat boots."
"One of you is gonna fall and die, and I'm not cleaning it up!" I responded, completing the Firefly quote into the echoing hallway. She's so much fun.
"That's why we need the helmet."
I took it down from the top of my office bookshelf and handed it to her.
"Hooters?" she read on the back of the helmet. "Don't tell me you actually eat there."
"No," I laughed and probably blushed a bit. "We all had nicknames in my MSF Basic Rider Course. 'Hooters' was mine and believe me it was one of the more flattering ones. The name just stuck after the course. My friend BB put that sticker on one day, and I can't get it off. It's one reason I replaced that helmet with this new one. There's nothing wrong with that one though. My new Shoei is just quieter and lighter. Here is a denim jacket you can wear, too. It's not leather, but it's better than nothing. You don't have boots, so you'll need to keep your feet glued to the passenger pegs."
"Do you think the jacket will button up over my -- well, you know."