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between the shadow and the soul

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She’s bored.

Summers are the worst time of year for Eve. For most of her colleagues—her husband included—its wonderful. No students to worry about. Time to take vacations. No being haunted by punctuation errors from students who should certainly by now know what a fragment is and how not to use it in an essay.

Eve hates it.

She’s bored.

And so in the summer, she throws herself into her research. Throws herself into literature reviews and publications about the psychology behind the minds of female assassins. Thankfully, its easy to get a couple of students to apply for summer positions with her for assistance—really, she has students in the department lining out her office door ever since she began teaching her course on psychopathology, with a unit focused specifically on psychopathy, three semesters ago.

It’s thrilling to Eve, to try and understand something she simply can’t fully comprehend, the (not-so) simple why behind the reason someone, a woman, would turn to a life of murder.

It’s fascinating.

It’s caught the attention of her department chair, Dr. Martens.

Eve is really fucking good at her job.

But in that process, she’s become married to her work.

Which is awfully awkward, considering she has a husband.

Who also works at the university.

“Good morning,” Niko calls with a faux joy that Eve has been able to see through for weeks now.

They’re pretending at this point.

At least, Niko is.

“Morning,” Eve replies flatly.

There’s a sigh from Niko as he grabs for a box of cereal from the cabinet behind her.  

“What are you so upset about already this morning?”

Eve rolls her eyes while Niko is still behind her and continues to stare intently at her iPad as she reads through an article about the relationship between the size of the cavum septum pellucidum of the brain and psychopathic traits in incarcerated women.

Niko used to be so secure in their relationship.

Now he’s needy, begs her to spend more time at home, expresses concern about how much time she spends thinking about death and psychopaths.

It’s annoying.

Eve wonders if he’s jealous. Jealous that she’s having more professional success—presenting at conferences and being recognized. That she’s the more well-known Dr. Polastri, even if Niko is very renowned in his own circles.

Media seems to focus more on murder than English literature, and as such, Eve gets more attention.


“You sound angry.”

“You’re reading into things.”


They’ve been struggling for awhile.

Eve realizes its problematic when her coworkers ask how Niko is, and all she can think to answer with is, “he’s nice.”

Like she’s trying to convince herself.

I moved back here and basically married my dad, she had told Dr. Martens when she had first interviewed.

(She then tried and failed to walk that back after she saw the horrified look in Carolyn’s eyes.)

“I haven’t finished my coffee yet, and semester classes start tomorrow. I don’t have everything ready. That’s why I’m upset. Not everything is about you, Niko.”

Eve does regret the way it comes out, just a little. But not enough to apologize.

It’s a flimsy excuse too, and she knows that. Knows that Niko knows that. Eve has plenty ready—she’s just gotten a little too caught up in her research to double-check that she’s printed enough syllabi.

“I can see that,” Niko mumbles.

He wordlessly puts his cereal bowl in the sink and leaves it there. He doesn’t say another word as he moves around their townhome, grabbing his laptop and heading toward the door.

“See you at work,” he calls.

“See you later,” she responds out of reflex, still focused on the article.

It’s only when she gets to the department office that she feels less tense. The walking on eggshells at home with Niko makes her whole body tight, makes her brow furrow until it gives her a headache, just makes her overall angry. Eve hates being home. It feels like a breath of fresh air to be back to her long days at work, where she can stay later now and come up with better excuses to do so later.

Dr. Martens just gives her a firm nod as Eve enters the copy room, and honestly, she’ll take it. Carolyn Martens is a force, a clinical psychology god.

Eve just feels fortunate that the woman pays attention to her.

And that she hasn’t killed Eve yet, considering that the second-year Master’s student that Eve advises is Carolyn’s son, Kenny.

(Eve honestly can’t tell if its made Carolyn like her more or less.)

“Morning, Eve.”

Eve turns to see her friend and coworker Jess sifting through papers in her mailbox.  

“Hey, Jess.”

Eve offers a soft smile and turns her attention to the copier, running her pages of policies and procedures for PSY 475: Psychopathology through.

“You okay?” Jess asks when Eve doesn’t say anymore.

“You seem a bit frazzled.”

“What? No, nothing, its fine.”

But Jess is one of Eve’s closest friends at work. And though the emotional intelligence of the psychology department isn’t as high as one would think, Jess has the awareness to notice that Eve is off.

“Things still rocky with Niko?”

Eve doesn’t answer.

She wouldn’t even say things are rocky.

She’s just bored.

And work makes her happier.

What’s wrong with that?

“Nothing a BJ and a compliment won’t fix in my experience.”

Eve fights the urge to roll her eyes as Jess smirks. Eve doesn’t dignify the comment with a response. They still have sex, which is about the only thing about Niko and Eve that isn’t boring.

(Most of the time.)

They coexist.

Lately, its been less fun to coexist.

Maybe it’ll pass.

Maybe being nicer would help.

And maybe work will put her in a good enough mood to be nice, Eve thinks.

“Speaking of compliments, Hugo is waiting outside your office.”

“Jesus, that kid,” Eve responds, thinking about the junior psych major who is well known around the department.

(Not necessarily for the right reasons.)

“Maybe he can cheer you up.”

Hugo had been in Eve’s social psych class the previous semester, getting braver as the term had gone on with his suggestive comments both toward his classmates (of any gender—Hugo had made it very clear in class one day that he was more about falling in love with people than a particular gender, an odd transition from Eve’s mention of the non-discrimination policy at the university).

Hugo’s ridiculous, a giant child still trying to grow up, but deep down, Eve can’t help but find him endearing.

Maybe even is a little jealous of him.

Because he’s out and about, doing whatever (and whoever) he wants.

Hugo doesn’t seem to lead a boring life.

And Eve can respect that, admire it even. 

“Jess, I am not going to indulge advances from a student.

“Oh, he’s harmless. Just a dumb rich boy who likes to look but doesn’t touch.”

Eve chuckles and, with warm copies in hand, heads back to her office to see Hugo waiting in a chair outside.

“Dr. Polastri, how was your summer?”

“Oh, good. Vacationed in Europe for a couple weeks. Other than that, nothing too exciting.”

She fiddles with her keys and unlocks her office door, Hugo following her inside without bothering to ask.

“Fantastic. Where did you go?”

“Oh, London. Paris. Rome.”

Eve drops the stack of papers in her arms on her desk and takes a seat, Hugo mirroring her movement.

“Did you go with your husband?”

She didn’t.

Niko had been with family in Alaska for two weeks, and Eve decided she would take her own trip instead.

She now considers it the beginning of the end for them.

“Uh, no, actually. It was more of a solo trip.”


Hugo looks concerned, like he’s waiting for Eve to elaborate on it. Like this student of hers can play therapist for her.

She’s not in the mood to talk about Niko with anyone, let alone Hugo.

“So what brings you here before classes have even started, Hugo?”

This seems to be enough to snap him out of it.

“Oh, right. So I really enjoyed when you touched on psychopathology in Social Psych last semester and was actually wondering if I could get involved in some of your research about female assassins and their psychopathic tendencies. Gotta start getting serious about grad school, you know.”

Hugo’s ridiculous, a bit of a lothario, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s brilliant.

(The problem is he knows it, a little too well.)

“Well, typically what we’ll do is set up a short interview with myself, Kenny, and Jess, and if we decide it’s a good fit, then we'll discuss it further with Dr. Martens.”

Honestly, Eve has no doubt it’ll be a good fit.

“Sounds great.”

“Send Jess and me an email to set up a time?”

Hugo nods and rises from the chair across from Eve. He turns around when he reaches the door.

“Oh, and Dr. Polastri?”


He smiles softly, and honestly, it’s the most sincere she thinks she’s ever seen Hugo.

“I hope things get better with your husband.”

Eve hates herself a little when the first thought that comes to her mind is:

Well that makes one of us.

Hugo leaves and shuts the door behind him, thankfully, leaving Eve to her own thoughts.

She sighs and stares at the framed picture on her desk, thinking about everything over the past year or so that’s led to this point.

She looks fondly at the man in the picture and thinks everything started to go downhill everywhere when Bill died.

She misses her best friend.

Bill was the one who helped her get the psychopathology class started, made her a better professor, made her a better person.

Niko never liked him, was always jealous of him.

(The joke was on Niko though because Bill was extremely gay.)

Bill had been the unfortunate victim of a robbery and was stabbed to death outside of a club about a year ago.

And with Bill’s death went Eve’s sense of purpose for awhile.

It had happened last summer, and Eve wasted most of the season in bed wallowing, missing her friend. Until she threw herself into her work and never looked back.

Eve laughs at the irony of being so well-versed in human psychology and how she still falls victims to coping to tragedy in an unhealthy manner.

It’s easy to do.

It’s easy to avoid. To keep herself busy and then when she’s still, and Bill crosses her mind, blame it on being bored.

It’s just easier. Eve turns the picture face-down on her desk and gets up, heads out of the office and toward the bathroom.

She heads inside to find one stall door closed, two feet peeking out underneath the door, and the other with an Out of Order sign.

Eve sighs and waits patiently, taking her hair out from the bun its in, running her hands through it, trying to decide whether she should leave it up or down.

It’s easier to keep it up.

Easier to tame.

A young woman emerges from the stall as Eve continues to play with her hair. She stops at the sink next to her and stares over at Eve, completely lost to the fact that Eve can see her staring.

“Are you alright?”

Eve finds she’s not bothered by it, more than anything she’s just concerned because this woman is looking at her like she’s having an existential crisis just seeing Eve.

Eve stares back.

Her hair is dark blonde (maybe honey). It’s tied back. She’s slim, about 25, Eve decides. Delicate features. Her eyes are sort of cat-like. Wide, but alert. Her lips are full. She has long neck, high cheekbones. Smooth and bright skin. She has a lost look in her eye that was both direct and also chilling.

She’s totally focused, yet almost entirely inaccessible.

There’s something about her that’s so alluring.

(If Bill were here, he knows he’d be giving her shit about it.)

You ever been interested in women?

No, not like that.

Not even ones with cat-like eyes? he’d probably say.

And just like that, the woman bolts toward the door without another word (without even washing her hands, Eve notices).

She wonders what about Eve could have possibly elicited that reaction.

Before the door closes behind her, she turns back toward Eve and in an accent she can’t quite identify, makes a suggestion.

“Wear it down.”

So she does.




She dreams of Anna.

She dreams of Anna loving her, Anna leaving her, Anna telling her she refuses to leave Max.

The dreams become nightmares quickly.

Oksana tosses and turns, burrowing her face deeper into her pillows as she tries to lose consciousness again.

At least then, if she dreams about Anna, she won’t be as aware of it as she is now.


It’s a different voice that says her name now, a child’s voice.

And then a weight dipping the mattress with a sudden force.

“Oksanaaaaaaaa,” it calls again, louder.

Oksana groans, turning over and covering her eyes with her arms as she does so, the weight on the bed being lifted, and the owner of the annoying voice rapidly flickering the bedroom lights on and off.

“Dad said you have to take me to school before you leave. Get up.”

She sighs as she opens her eyes to see Irina standing there with her arms crossed, fully dressed, backpack on and ready to go.

“Wake up, asshole!”

Oksana flashes her a middle finger, and Irina gives her one right back.

Oksana doesn’t move any further.

“I’m going to be late.”

Oksana grabs her phone and looks at the time. They’re definitely going to be late. Oksana has to be at the university in two hours to meet with some professors in the English department, meet with her advisor, get everything all ready for classes tomorrow.

In her half-awake state, she questions why she chose to pursue her doctorate when sleep is so much more appealing.

Oksana finally swings her legs over the side of the bed, tightening the robe around her waist as Irina impatiently taps a foot.

“Calm down.”

“You take forever to get ready! We’re going to be late.”

She walks into her closet, pulling out the outfit she’d chosen for the day and disappearing into the bathroom, leaving the door open just a crack so she can continue to talk to Irina.

“Remind me why your dad couldn’t take you?”

“He left for a business trip early this morning.”

Oksana groans. Her uncle Konstantin should really know better than to leave her alone with Irina when they’re both starting a new school year.

“So I’m stuck with you all by myself for the next few days.”

Oksana pokes her head out of the door as she says it, pulling a fake disgusted face.

Irina rolls her eyes.

“Fuck off.”

Oksana gasps.

“Language! What will your father think I am teaching you?”

Irina just shakes her head as Oksana closes the door completely, leaving Irina waiting outside while she puts on her makeup.

Oksana rushes through it more than she’d like to but is still pleased with how she looks when she finally exits fifteen minutes later.

Irina has become increasingly pouty as she points at the clock.

Yeah, Irina’s definitely going to be late.

Oksana sings along off-key to 80s music in the car just to further bother Irina.

Deep down, she loves her cousin.

(But its more on-brand for them to annoy each other.)

Oksana had moved in with her uncle when Oksana was seven, when her parents were killed in a car crash. She grew up in Russia until she was 18 and moved to America with Konstantin and Irina.

It’s not the worst set-up in the world.

Irina takes after her father (and Oksana) in regards to her attitude.

Oksana will never admit to either of them how much she enjoys it.

It gets boring when she doesn’t have someone to banter with.

And lately, when she’s bored, she just thinks of Anna.

Which is the last thing she wants to do.

Oksana pulls up at Irina’s school, and the teenager mumbles a “thank you” under her breath.

“Smell you later,” Oksana yells out the window, and is met with a glare from Irina.

Oksana drives over to the university, grumbling as she circles around for fifteen minutes trying to find a parking spot, complaining to herself about how schools oversell parking passes and don’t have enough spaces to accommodate.

She finally finds a spot and heads into the nearest classroom building to find a bathroom.

When Oksana emerges from the stall, she swears she’s seeing a ghost.

It’s not Anna.

It’s definitely not Anna.

But one look at the beautiful mess of curly black hair being combed through in the mirror, and Oksana’s heart nearly stops. She tries to make her way up to the sink like a completely normal person but finds her eyes still transfixed on this Asian woman with amazing hair.

The woman’s hands stop suddenly and turn toward Oksana. She watches intently as the woman’s hands drop from her hair.

She’s beautiful.

“Are you alright?”

The moment is broken, and Oksana suddenly returns to reality, realizes that this poor woman probably thinks that she’s insane.

She bolts for the door, pleading internally that this woman will wear her hair down.

Before she can stop herself, Oksana turns around and tells her so.

“Wear it down.”

The woman gives her a confused look, but her hands remain at her sides as Oksana turns away and hopes that she never sees this woman again.

Thank god the English department isn’t in this building.

The woman is probably a professor, probably thinks Oksana is some creep who just wandered in off the street.

It’s a huge school.

She’ll never see her again.  

Later that evening, Oksana is back home, Irina next to her on the couch scrolling through some social media site, when Oksana decides to google search her advisor.

She’s met him in person before for her interview, met him again earlier this morning, knows his accomplishments, knows he’s sought-after as a literature scholar.

But Oksana’s curious.

She types Nikolas Polastri into the search bar.

She finds a private Facebook page that shows the same picture that shows up on the English department website and not much else. She scrolls further down and finds a website for a local bridge club and finds that Dr. Polastri is a bridge tutor, a national champion in the year 1998.

She switches over to the image search, sees a picture of Niko in a large group of people.

Oksana sees a woman posing next to him in the picture and—

Oh fuck.

Oksana clicks the picture and zooms in, and smiling innocently back at her on her laptop screen is the same woman from the bathroom earlier that afternoon.

Oksana gasps aloud, which earns a confused look from Irina. The girl responds by putting in her earbuds and ignoring Oksana.

She pushes the laptop away from her, sucking in a shaky breath at the realization that based on the way Niko’s arm is slung around the woman, she may very well be his wife.

God, she hopes not.

Or this is going to be a long four years.