"Emma, who is Harriet Smith and why should I let her into your class?"
Emma Woodhouse looked up to see George Knightley enter her office. "Harriet is the next rising computer science superstar!"
"Okay, what has she done?" George took the seat opposite Emma's desk, and grabbed a handful of candy out of the jar she kept for her students. She frowned at him and moved it out of his reach.
"Well, nothing yet. That's why she needs my class!"
"It's the third week of school," George said. "She's already missed a lot."
"Oh, I don't teach anything until the fourth week."
George sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Emma, do you remember the talk we had when I said you could be my TA?"
"This isn't special treatment!" Emma said.
"Yes, it is," George said. "If Harriet wants to be in your class so badly, she can take it next quarter. If I haven't fired you."
"You would never fire me."
And she grinned at him and pushed the candy dish over.
"If you're trying to bribe me, you need better candy," he said.
But he took some anyway.
After he left her office, Emma slumped against her chair. She was tired of teaching Computer Science 101 classes full of boys. She'd run into Harriet in the cafeteria. She was a freshman and so eager and excited about everything. Emma would love to have that enthusiasm in her class.
But, oh no, George Knightley said no. Annie Taylor had warned her about this. She'd said that Emma thought she could wrap George around her finger and George thought he could convince Emma of anything and that the combination would end in disaster. But Emma had earned her position. George Knightley was the best computer science professor on campus and Emma was the best grad student, so it was only natural that she was his TA. It hadn't been special treatment.
A few hours later, Emma showed up in George's office.
"Okay," she said. "I am going to prove you wrong!"
George glanced at her, typed a bit more, than pushed back from the computer. "Because you, of course, are always right."
"I am going to tutor Harriet and prove she's the next rising computer science superstar!"
"Do I not give you enough to do?" George asked. "Because I have plenty of extra projects for eager grad students."
"I refuse to be in a field dominated by men," Emma said.
"I know," George said. "And I admire your determination."
"So if I prove Harriet has talent, will you let her in my class?"
"No," George said. "But she can take it next quarter."
"Emma, if you want to tutor Harriet, that's fine. But putting her in your class this late in the quarter is setting her up for failure."
"I just want--" Emma broke off and shrugged. "She has something, George."
"Well, I'm all for encouraging young women with an aptitude for computer science." And he grinned at her.
It was, of course, all George's fault she'd ended up here. He'd stayed with Emma and her father during his undergrad work and taken the very Computer Science 101 class Emma now taught. Emma had watched him program over his shoulder and, well, now she was well on her way to a graduate degree in computer science.
She wanted to do that for someone, turn them onto computer science. And, after too many classes where she was the only woman, Emma was on the lookout for women to encourage.
So Emma called Harriet and asked her to meet her at the campus coffee shop.
"I don't understand," Harriet said. She looked at the books piled high around Emma. "You want to tutor me?"
"In computer science?"
"But I don't take computer science."
"I know," Emma said. "But don't you want to?"
"I don't know," Harriet said. "I never thought about it."
"But you said computer science sounded interesting when we met!"
"It does sound interesting!"
"Don't you want to be one of the brave woman who transforms the field?" Emma asked.
"I--want to be a teacher."
"Harriet, countless women have been scared off of computer science because they think they don't have the aptitude. Do you want to be one of those women?"
"Of course not! So let's get to work!"
It was the work of ten minutes to teach Harriet how to program "Hello World." And Harriet was charmed, as she typed the line over and over.
"But I'm not good at computers!"
"You can't say that anymore," Emma said, and smiled in satisfaction.
"Can you look at this?" Emma asked, as she walked into George's office and handed him her laptop.
"Sure," George said. He took the laptop and glanced at it. "This isn't your work."
"No, it's Harriet's."
"She can do this, George," Emma said. "Look at how far she's come in a few weeks."
"Yes," George said. "This is great work. But what about your work? Your actual students' work?"
"My work is fine!"
"Then why haven't I seen any of it since you started teaching Harriet? And how come you haven't submitted any grades for your students?"
"Do you criticize all your TAs like this?"
George shut the laptop and handed it to Emma. "Do I need to tell you how talented you are? You could do great things, Emma, but not if you neglect all your own work."
"Maybe training the next generation of computer scientists is my work."
"You've made a commitment to me and this college," George said. "If you can't fulfill it, then we need to have an entirely different conversation."
"Are you--do you want me to quitI right about?"
"I've been neglecting my work."
"It is, perhaps, your choice to do so," George said.
"But I always value your feedback," Emma said. She glanced at her computer. "For example . . ."
She turned the computer screen toward him and gestured at the code that had been troubling her.
George shook his head. "I am off the clock. Fix your own program."
"Would you help your other grad students?"
George sighed. "That's the problem, Emma. I don't know. You've known me too long. Or maybe I've known you too long. I can't treat you like a regular grad student."
"I know what Annie said."
"I wanted to work with you," Emma said. "Not because you're my friend, but because you're the best."
George smiled. "That's why I wanted to work with you."
"So will you help me with my code?"
And so they stayed in her office until 2AM and it was like a thousand nights before, laughing together and poking holes in each other’s ideas.
"I missed this," Emma said, as they walked out of her office. She rubbed her eyes and yawned, sleepy and so content.
"Me too," George said. "I'm not the one who went away."
"I didn't--" But Emma's words were broken off by another yawn.
George wrapped his arm around her shoulders and gave her quick squeeze. "Get some sleep. We can argue more tomorrow."
"Are you ever going to introduce me to your protégée?" George asked Emma the next week, after she handed him a stack of graded midterms.
"I thought you disapproved of her."
"Only when you neglected the rest of your life for her. Those pieces of code you sent me last night were great, Emma. Clean and elegant."
"Thank you," Emma said. "Do you really want to meet Harriet?"
"Yes, I want to meet the student who has been stealing my best grad student away from me."
"I'll always come back to you."
George smiled at her, then shook his head and looked away. "Oh, you'll leave me someday. You're going to take the field by storm, remember?"
Emma frowned a little. She had never meant that she would do it without him. She didn't think she could, without George's support. He had, in some sense, always been computer science to her. From the time he'd first taught her the "print" command to the extra projects he gave her when she took his 101 class and she already knew it all, until now, he'd always been the first person she'd turned to when she had a problem.
"It's okay, Emma," George said. "Students are meant to leave their teachers. I've always known that."
Very quickly, Harriet had become an important part of Emma's life. It was like if George approved of Harriet, it meant he really did approve of Emma, even when she annoyed him, even when she disappointed him. And if Harriet liked George, then . . . well, Emma just wanted her to like him.
All of that meant that, for the first time ever, Emma was nervous when she walked towards George's office. His door was open, as usual, and he gave her his usual smile.
"George," Emma said. "This is Harriet. Harriet, this is--uh, Dr. Knightley."
He had, she supposed, earned the title she never called him by.
"Hi," Harriet said, in a breathless voice, as she held out her hand.
"Hi," George said, shaking her hand. "I've heard a lot of good things about you."
"Please, sit down," George said.
He raised his eyes at Emma. "You too," he said, when Emma hovered near the doorway.
Emma made a face at him, and then sat down.
"You've been taking all of Emma's time."
"I'm sorry!" Harriet said.
Emma frowned. "Don't listen to him, Harriet."
"So, tell me about yourself," George said.
"My name is Harriet Smith," Harriet said. "I'm a freshman and I'm thinking about majoring in education."
George glanced at Emma. "Education? That's a great choice."
"But not as great as computer science!" Emma said. "Harriet's a freshman. She doesn't have to decide now!"
"We do encourage freshmen to explore their options," George said. "But you can start taking prerequisites now."
"Like Computer Science 101!" Emma said.
"Or something else," George said. "Why don't you talk to Dr. Martin in the education department? He could give you some advice."
"That would be great!" Harriet said.
"George," Emma said. "Don't scare off my future students."
"Emma," George said."Don't browbeat your potential future students students."
"Oh, Emma's been really great!" Harriet said, looking between the two of them. "I was never good at computers before!"
"Yes," George said. "Emma is a wonderful teacher and can teach you a lot. But it is okay if you decide not to take her class."
"I want to!" Harriet said. "I want to be one of the women who transforms the field."
"It is an admirable goal," George said, and Emma smiled. "But why don't you leave me your email address and I can get you in touch with Dr. Martin? He might have ideas for how you can prepare for an education major.”
After walking Harriet out of the building, Emma stormed back to George's office. "What was that? You practically chased her out of the major!"
"She's not in the major!" George said. "I don't think she even wants to be."
"She's a freshman! She doesn't know what she wants!"
"Really?" George asked. "Because you haven't changed since freshman year. In fact, your plan to be 'one of the woman who transforms the field' dates back to your freshman year of high school."
"And Harriet wants that, too!"
"No, she doesn't," George said.
"The field needs her!"
George sighed. "Emma, if Harriet doesn't want it, the field doesn't need her."
Emma spent the next two days looking up profiles of women in computer science. She wrote emails to Harriet with the links and saved them to her drafts folder. She walked by Dr. Martin's office ten times, but never saw Harriet make a visit.
On the third day, she walked into George's office, slumped in his chair, and sighed loudly.
"Yes?" George asked.
Emma sighed again.
George stood up. "Come on," he said. "Let's get some coffee."
He wrapped his arm around Emma's shoulders and they walked out of his office together.
"I didn't mean to push," Emma said once they had sat down in a quiet corner of the coffeeshop.
"I know," George said.
"Don't want to be in a field dominated by men."
"It's not that I don't like men." Emma looked up and grinned at him.
"But Annie left and now it's just you and my dad and--" Emma shrugged.
"Emma, I think it's great that you want to recruit more women to computer science, but--"
"I don't need a lecture."
"I'm your professor," George said. "I'm supposed to give you lectures."
"It's not what I want from you," Emma said.
And then he looked at her for a long time before taking another sip of coffee.
"What?" Emma asked.
George picked up a sugar packet and flipped it in his hands and then shook his head. "Nothing."
"You don't have to take my class," Emma said. She had almost decided to cancel Harriet's tutoring sessions over email, but she owed Harriet a conversation in person.
"I want to take your class!" Harriet said.
"Do you?" Emma asked. "Or do you want to be an education major?"
Harriet frowned. "I can't do both?"
Emma blinked at her.
Harriet leaned across the table. "I always wanted to be a teacher, but I didn't know what I wanted to teach. And then everything you're saying about computer science, maybe I can help train the next generation of--"
"Computer science superstars?"
"Yeah!" Harriet said.
"Harriet," Emma said. "You can do whatever you want. You don't have to teach computer science."
"But I want to!" Harriet said. "I went home for Thanksgiving and told my little sisters all about your tutoring. It was awesome!"
"Really?" Emma asked.
Harriet nodded. "So, I'm going to be in your class next quarter."
So maybe Harriet would contribute to the furtherance of women in computer science. Maybe Emma could still teach her something.
Emma pushed the stack of tests she was grading away from her and turned back to her program. George thought she was pretty close to finished. But if she was almost finished, then she was that much nearer to graduation.
Emma sighed, and logged out of her computer again. Maybe she could convince George to leave early and they could go grab something to eat, watch a movie. Like they used to, back when even George hadn't been consumed by college life.
But as she approached George's office, she heard voices. Emma frowned. She sometimes forgot that she didn't have the only claim on George's attention. He had other students, other friends, maybe a whole life that didn't include her.
She would wait outside George's office then. When were his office hours anyway? But then she recognized the voice.
"Harriet?" Emma said out loud.
She tried to look into the office without George or Harriet seeing her. As soon as she saw them, she knew it was a wasted effort. Their attention was only on each other. And then Harriet leaned forward and hugged George! Like he was, like they were . . .
Emma backed away from the door. No, she was imagining things. She had to be. She couldn't bear any other explanation. George Knightley was hers.
Harriet came out of the office, saw Emma, and said, "Hi, Emma! George is great, isn't he?"
George! Now she was calling him George!
Emma was never sure afterward what she said to Harriet, but, whatever it was, it took several minutes, and then Harriet was saying good-bye.
Emma stood in the hallway. Harriet and George? No, that didn't work at all. She was . . . well, bright and beautiful and kind. And he was . . . brilliant and handsome and of course they would fall for each other. And Emma was left out in the cold.
She stared at George's open doorway and then turned and left.
She didn't want to talk to him right now.
Emma stared at her inbox. Two days ago, Harriet had sent her an excited email. She'd met with Professor Martin, who was great, and George was going to give her tips on how to teach computer science. Everything was wonderful!
Emma hit "reply" on the email and, for the thousandth time, closed the compose box without typing anything. What could she say? She was the one who had drawn Harriet into computer science and introduced her to George. It was all her fault.
And then her email dinged. It was another email from Harriet and all it said was, "Can professors date students?"
"Okay," Emma said, pushing back from her desk. "That's it!"
And she stormed over to George's office. But, once she got there, she couldn't quite go in. She hovered around the doorway and took quick peeks into the office. George was smiling at his computer. An email from Harriet?
She took a step forward and then back and had just decided to leave when George called out to her.
"Are you just lurking in my hallway now?"
Emma walked in and slumped in a chair. "You can't date a student."
She'd meant to yell it at him, but it had come out quietly, dull.
"Emma." And his voice was quiet to match hers.
"No," she said. "Don't."
George took a deep breath. Another one. He looked down at his hands and then to his computer.
Emma pushed her chair back. There was nothing to say then. She stood up and then sat back down.
"I'm sorry," she said. "You are my friend. I don't mean to--Of course, you can say anything to me."
"Emma." He reached his hands across the desk and Emma, hesitant, placed hers in them. He curled his hands around hers. "Your friend. My student. Is that what we are?"
Emma looked at their clasped hands. His thumb ran across the contours of her palm. She couldn't look him in the eyes. "You are my friend, George. I don't think that will ever change, even if--"
She bit her lip and looked away.
"Even if . . . you're with someone else."
"Someone else? Emma."
"Look, I saw you with Harriet," she said. "And she's asking about dating professors and--"
"Harriet?" George asked. "The Harriet who's been spending lots of extra time in Dr. Martin's office?"
"There's nothing going on with me and Harriet," George said.
"Oh!" Emma said. "Then forget everything I said. I'm sorry. I was just jumping to conclusions and this is all silly and I'll just go back to my office now."
And she slipped her hands from his and stood up.
"Okay," George said. "If that's what you want."
And she looked at him and his eyes locked on her.
"Please don't go," he said.
He took a couple of deep breaths, leaned forward and took her hands again, and Emma dared to hope, just a little.
"What are you saying?" she asked.
He laughed a little. "Emma, Harriet's not the student I want to date."
And that gave Emma more hope, but she'd been wrong, so wrong before. "You have to say it."
He laughed a little. "If I loved you less, I might be able talk about it more. I understand if you don't want it. I could've sent better signals, could've—"
Emma pulled him towards her, met him halfway on top of the desk, and kissed him.
"I love you, too."