She's not one of his students—he's pretty sure from vague recall that she's part of Aldridge's lab—so he stumbles at the name, reaching out with a clumsy hand. But the girl turns immediately, looks him over and smiles.
"I think this is yours." He holds out the notebook. "You dropped it."
There are two of them, both looking not a day over nineteen. The other bites her lip, hiding a grin. Grant coughs.
"Uh...thanks." They walk away. Five, ten seconds pass, and he hears laughter, fading with the quick thud of their boots down the corridor.
And then there's a chuckle behind him.
Grant turns. Expression unchanged, he holds up a finger.
"Don't say a word," he mutters. "Not a single word."
With a twist of his cane and a very small smile, Ian Malcolm shifts his weight from one leg to the other.
"I wouldn't dream of it," he says.
The lecture circuit, as Malcolm tells him, is a killer. Especially if you happen to be sporting one mean son of a bitch of a broken leg, courtesy of a single, thrill-raising weekend that included the very worst example of what happens when men with money play at science, and instead of Disneyland, get a sixty-five million year old headache.
On the other hand, a limp does lend a certain, eccentric weightiness that tends to win arguments as well as sympathy. This is quite a good thing. Apparently.
They share beers in Grant's apartment, sitting in low light on opposite ends of a worn leather couch. There's a message from Ellie on his cell. It's eight a.m in Moscow; he listens back again as Malcolm struggles with a packet of cashews and mutters something about Asimov and the redshift, and contemplates calling. But then he's being handed another beer, and discovers that his encounter with the two grad students has been upgraded, in Malcolm's now slightly drunken evaluation, to one of the ten teacher-student commandments one is apparently, under no circumstance whatsoever, supposed to break.
Grant laughs out loud. "Really?" he asks. "There's a dropped-book cliché now?"
"Oh, absolutely. And to be perfectly honest," Malcolm says, aiming the neck of his bottle in Grant's direction, "I'm a little concerned that it's taken you this long to fall prey to its murky depths." He contemplates the silence for a moment, and adds, "Says he who has no regrets..."
"Why does that not surprise me."
He picks up the cellphone again. The screen lights up, sending odd-angled shadows across his face. Malcolm watches him.
"You know that there are eleven time zones across Russia. D'you think Ellie's chosen to go digging up fossilised plants across one of the largest land masses on the planet just so the two of you can play phone tag for the term of your tenured life?"
Grant pockets the cell again. He rubs his eyes tiredly. "God," he says. "I don't know. Maybe."
"Ah, the pessimist slash optimist." Malcolm smiles. "Keep it up, my good man. Keep it up."
"Well, this pessimist slash whatever has a seminar on what fossilised worms got up to in their down time at first light, and tenured or not, usually can't find a car space to save himself." Grant stands up, wincing a little. "So I'm turning in. Your flight's at ten, right?"
Malcolm tosses a bottle cap from hand to hand, and with a sigh, reaches for his cane. "Correct. New Hampshire and the prep class from hell. I tell you, those kids have a twisted view of the proper way to treat their honorable visiting scholars. But we struggle on. Because there's something kind of, oh, I don't know, small about the world when you've had the hot, stinking jaws of Mama Rex tell you what's real. So..."
Still seated, he turns and looks up at Grant, his expression hard to make out in the faint light. "So I guess I'll see you in a corridor some time."
He gets up the next morning to find Malcolm already gone. He stands in the middle of the living room, coffee in hand, and flips open his cell.
"I think I might be turning into a cliché," Grant says.
On the other end, there is a long silence. When she speaks, Ellie's voice is thick with sleep.
"Alan...did no one ever tell you not to drink with mathematicians?"
Twenty-two time zones away. He's almost sure he can hear her smile.