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Dear Dr. Everton:
We regret to inform you that the National Science Research Board has decided not to fund your project. While we found merit in what you are doing, we were not convinced that you have the staff and facilities necessary for the ongoing development and sustainability of the project beyond the monies you requested.
If you would like to appeal this decision, please go to our Web site
Brenda Everton calmly put the letter down on her desk. She had no urge to crumple or throw it, but accepted it for what it was: a rejection. She swung around in her chair and stared out her office window. She placed her hands on her arm rest. "Damn," she said in a soft whisper that quickly disappeared in the empty room. She listened to the sound of the clock, which seemed to keep time with the light drizzle of rain outside and the footsteps walking past her closed door. A leaf slammed against her window, its yellow color translucent in the watery autumn sunlight revealing its intricate veins. In the distance, she caught a glimpse of Seattle's majestic Mount Rainier. The wind soon swept the leaf away and Brenda removed her gaze from the window. "Damn," she said again, this time resigned, but no louder than before.
Her simple response gave no indication that the letter meant the end of three years of research, or the possibility that she'd lose her house. But the prospect of homelessness wasn't something to make Brenda panic. She wasn't prone to extreme, uncontrolled emotions. She had the cool, logical mind of a scientista biologist to be exactand she was used to solving problems, or challenges, as she preferred to call them. She would solve this one. She hadto.
Although Brenda did not like the idea of losing her home, the prospect of having to end her project was her number one concern. She hadn't gone through years of schooling, taking risksincluding mortgaging her houseand putting her social life on hold, to have it end now. No merit? What did they mean? It was obvious they just needed an excuse to reject her. She knew that her research project, developing a disease-resistant plankton, would revitalize a failing fishing industry on the entire West Coast. Over the past twenty years, from the Pacific Northwest up to Alaska, there had been a dramatic drop in the number of selected fish species because of pollution and environmental factors that had practically wiped out their key food source. She and her team had worked tirelessly and had finally been able to grow a plankton utilizing a revolutionary technology they had developed. All she needed was two more years of funding, then she would be able to put it on the market and it would pay for itself and more.
Brenda turned back to her desk and stared at the letter, wishing it would reveal the specific answers she needed. What did they mean she lacked the staff and facilities? Why did they think she was applying for the funds in the first place? She had hired the best and although they were small in number, they made up for it with their commitment and research experience. Two researchers had graduated from Ivy League schools.
Failure meant going back to teaching again, and worst of all, explaining to her mother why she had devoted her life to her career instead of getting remarried.
It didn't matter that Brenda had seven brothers, each in different relationshipssome beginning and others endingto keep her mother occupied. As the only girl, her mother worried most about her. Brenda glanced at a wall full of degrees. She knew they weren't enough, and neither was her position as principal investigator and lead scientist on her project, but pleasing her mother had never been easy. If Brenda focused on men, her mother wanted her to focus on her career; if she focused on her career, her mother wanted her to focus on men and right now, her mother wanted a marriage license.
She'd given her that pleasure once before, producing a son-in-law any mother would be proud of but the marriage had been a disaster. Her mother would have to deal with the fact that her only daughter never planned to marry again.
She wanted to make a name for herself. She wanted to make a difference, leave a legacy. This was her chance and Brenda knew this was the project that would succeed, but she needed more money.
Brenda had fought hard to make it in the predominantly male domain of research biologists. Growing up, she'd fought her brothers for recognition in the household and now she fought a larger establishment. Sometimes she wondered if people were against her ideas or her personally.
But right now she had no time for those thoughts. She needed to put personal doubts and prejudices aside. She needed a solution. She needed to talk to someone. Brenda lifted the phone and called her colleague Chuck Lawson. Moments later he entered her office.
Brenda didn't think anything could clash with the color white, but Chuck's checkered yellow and orange tie did a good job. The embroidered name on his jacket looked like Chock instead of Chuck because the u was too close, but it suited him. He was chock full of energy. Chuck was over sixty but moved like a man of forty. "You wanted to see me?" he said, his green eyes wide and his hands clasped together as if anticipating bad news.
He always anticipated bad news. If the sky was sunny he found a cloud, if rain fell he expected a flood. He was a brilliant scientist andunfortunatelyhis predictions were usually right.
Brenda lifted the letter and handed it to him. "Read this."
Chuck pulled out his reading glasses and put them on. Brenda could not help noticing how odd he looked in the dainty, deep red, wire glasses. They were obviously a woman's pair, but he'd been so pleased when he'd purchased them neither she or other members on the team had been able to tell him the truth.
Chuck's eyes widened as he scanned the contents of the letter, and his breathing grew shallow. "We're ruined," he said as though the building threatened to collapse on them. "This is a disaster."
Brenda maintained her soft tone. "This is not a disaster."
His voice rose. "Not a disaster? We need that money. We can't go on without it."
He waved the letter, his voice rising to a shriek. "Do you know what this means?"
"Of course I do."
He ignored her. "It means we'll have to stop paying the researchers. No money for the lab. No money for new equipment. No money for upkeep of the equipment we have. No money for"
"I know," she said with an edge of impatience. "Sit down."
He placed the letter on the table as though it were a snake, then rubbed his hands together. "What are we going to do?" He began to pace.
"Do you know the type of people most likely to die in an emergency?"
He shook his head.
"People who panic." She gestured to a chair. "Sit down and breathe."
He grabbed the chair, collapsed into it and stared at her as though she were his life preserver. "You have a plan, right? That's why you called me in here."
At that moment Brenda regretted making that decision. "Not yet," she said with reluctance, but determined to be honest.
He shook his head and groaned. "This is awful." He pulled off his glasses. "It's the end of all of our hard work." He cleaned the lens with his tie.
"Stop saying that. Labeling a problem doesn't help you solve it. Now I need you to relax. This isn't the end for us." She pushed a box of tissues toward him. "Pull yourself together. I need you to be strong."
Chuck grabbed a tissue and wiped his forehead. The room wasn't hot but sweat streamed down his face, making his pink cheeks shiny and dampening the wisps of silvery blond hair that barely covered his bald spot. He would have made a comical figure if she didn't care so much about him, but right now, his worried state bothered her.
Brenda was aware that he'd faced disaster before and it had nearly ruined him. He'd taken another big gamble when he decided to work with her, and she was determined to make sure he ended up okay.
The two had met several years ago at the university when his career was plummeting from bad partnerships and projects, and hers was rapidly growing because of good connections and a famous husband. There were whispers about Chuck's failed experiments, lack of publishing credits and inability to achieve tenure. Their meeting had been an accident. She'd had an appointment to meet Dr. Landson, one of the most esteemed research scientists at the time, but had gone to Chuck's office instead.
They started talking and discovered they had a lot in common. At the time, Brenda was in the process of going through a divorce and desperate to create a new life, apart from her husband's, and needed an intelligent and hardworking partner. Chuck was a perfect choice. She soon discovered that they worked well together. He kept her from being too serious while she kept him focused.
"Everything will work out," she said gently.
He crumpled the tissue in his hand. "I'm not too worried about the project. It's you I'm worried about. You've put everything into this."
Brenda shrugged, trying to be nonchalant about the magnitude of the problem, although she knew it was serious. "I always rise to the top."
"Should we tell the team?"
"No, there's no use worrying them. We have four months' worth of funding left. That should give me enough time." She looked at Chuck's worried face. "I knew this was a gamble when I started."
"But you thought you would win."
"I haven't lost yet," she said working hard to keep any doubt from her expression.
Chuck opened his mouth, then closed it. He grabbed another tissue.
Brenda watched him with growing uneasiness. Chuck was brilliant at solving scientific problems, but he was not a person to call in a crisis. Perhaps it hadn't been a good idea to let him know. She'd made a poor judgment. She hadn't wanted to carry the burden alone, but knew she would have to. Over the years she had discovered that not all men were strong. Her younger brother, Clement, was just like Chuck. He was very kind, worried too much and never stood up for himself. Which explained why at age twenty-eight he was working for a boss who bullied him.
She had to reassure Chuck. Brenda suddenly snapped her fingers, as though something had come to her. "I have an idea," she lied.
Chuck's eyes brightened; he leaned forward, eager. "You do? What is it?"
"I can't tell you yet. It's just in the planning stages, but I'm certain that it will solve all of our problems."
His voice held such hope it made her want to weep. "Yes. I should have thought of it before. I'm sorry I worried you for no reason."
He sighed with relief and threw the tissues away. "That's okay. I knew you would figure out something."
"That's all then."
Chuck stood, then glanced at the letter. "You can throw that thing away. We don't need their money, right?" He looked at her again for reassurance.
Brenda forced a smile. "Right."
He opened the door with his back straight and his head held high, then left.
Brenda buried her head in her hands.
The door opened again. "Brenda?"
She lifted her head and saw Chuck smiling.
"Don't wait too long to tell me what the idea is. I may be able to help, remember I'm good with grant writing."
"Yes, I know."
He closed the door. Brenda rested her head back and shut her eyes. For the first time in ten years she wished she had a cigarette. She didn't care if she'd have to stand outside in the drizzling rain squeezed into the designated smoking section, in order to fill her lungs with the hot smoke and nicotine high she desperately needed at that moment.
Brenda sat up and glanced at her watch. Wishing was impractical. She couldn't think about smoking now. She needed to think and there was one place where she did that best: Sam's Coffee House.