“Sophia Abington,” she told the other student who had introduced herself as Claire Reardon.
“I know.” Claire smiled. “You’re famous.”
Sophia knit her eyebrows and glanced around. “Famous?” she asked.
“Everyone has heard about you. You’re the top girl from Radcliffe last year. The rumor is that Dr. James recommended you for the Harvard medical school.”
“He did—they didn’t accept me,” Sophia began, “but how did you know that?”
“The professors here have all been talking about you. Didn’t you know? It isn’t a bad thing. It’s only that everyone is a little afraid of you because of it.”
“Oh.” Sophia wasn’t sure what to say. She was disappointed to hear that people were afraid of her. She had enough trouble making friends as it was.
“I’m not, though!” Claire chirped. “—afraid of you, I mean. In fact, if you’re finished here for the day, would you like to go have tea somewhere?”
Sophia felt a warm rush of gratitude. She had intended to go right home and review the notes she’d taken in the lectures, but decided to go with Claire instead. Soon she found herself at a small table in the front window of a busy café full of other medical students. The floor was uncovered and a clatter of cups and saucers and spoons rang out over the loud voices and footfalls of patrons.
“Do you live near here?” Claire was asking her in a slightly raised voice as she stirred sugar into her cup. The back of her hand was freckled, like her nose and cheeks.
Sophia looked up. “No,” she said. “I still live in Cambridge in a boarding house there. The rent is so low. It would be foolish to move.”
She didn’t admit that living around the corner from Eden’s old house made her feel closer to her distant love.
“But that’s so far!” Claire chastised. “I wanted to take a house with another girl, but I’m stuck boarding myself. I couldn’t find anyone I liked who was willing to share.”
Sophia thought she heard a hint in Claire’s story, but pretended not to notice. “It’s not so far,” she argued. “I can walk home in half an hour, or take the streetcar. I don’t mind it. I know the other girls in the house. It’s better than having to meet all new ones.”
Claire changed the subject. “What are you dreading this term?” she asked now. “I live in terror of chemistry. Why I need to know it to deliver babies I simply don’t see.”
“I don’t mind chemistry,” Sophia admitted. She rather liked chemistry, but didn’t want to say so after Claire’s confession.
“Of course. Sophia Abington probably doesn’t mind any of it.” And though they were the kind of words Sophia had heard all her life in mockery, Claire’s tone was admiring. “Maybe you’ll be willing to help me with it sometimes?” she asked with a little smile across the rim of her teacup.
“Maybe so,” Sophia said and looked down at her own empty cup. There was a brown ring stained into it two thirds of the way up. “I’d better get home now, though. I’ve got letters to answer.” She smiled and reached for money, but Claire put a hand out to stay her.
“Let me treat you today,” she said. “You can pay another time.”
Sophia thanked her, took her hand again and left the place, taking a deep breath as soon as she was on the street. She blinked hard, tears she didn’t really understand coming suddenly to her eyes.