Albert Girardo, Chair of the Department of Fashion Technology, just could not find that damn cubbyhole. At least that was what everyone called them, the tiny rooms overlooking the multipurpose room in the Student Union where they had those dances and other big events. Every student tutor had one, and the one he was looking for was 2-07. But they only went up to 2-06 and then there was the fire exit. So he had to backtrack . . .
He hardly ever came here. All his work was in Thayer Hall right next to his special parking place. On this sunny, melting-snow day he had unwisely worn moccasins and his feet got a little wet coming down that unfamiliar concourse. He got his first real look at that statue Wanamaker spoke about: “Tami Takes Flight”. A good piece of work, abstract but not too weird. That was his motto, a good rule to live by in his field, how he and his department fought for and won a measure of respectability during his fifteen years at its helm: Don’t Be Too Weird.
So this little errand cut across his grain in so many ways. But with a student who lived without the benefit of clothing it was just no surprise that all the usual rules were reversed. That she was a salt-of-the-earth, working class type, so rare in his field, made her all the more unforgettable. He vividly remembered the last time he was down this way. It was last spring, a warm day in May, flowers in bloom. They hadn’t cut the grass yet and the lawn in front of the Union was a bit overgrown. He had been roped into one of those godawful Department Head get-togethers, spending all morning in the multipurpose room with the twelve most boring persons on the planet.
It was a relief to finally get out, around lunchtime. Clouds were overhead, possibly threatening rain, and the air was heavy with the scent of growing grass, a gentle warm breeze. He approached the lawn and saw people lined in front of it, maybe two dozen, most still well clothed as if it were still a chilly spring, some more appropriately in shirtsleeves. He ambled up to the edge in his lazy, old-man way, and stopped short when he saw what they were looking at.
It was Campbell-Frank’s only naked student, sleeping in the lush uncut grass. Other free-spirited students had occasionally dozed off there, in the sun, but always on blankets after a little picnic. And always clothed.
She was on her side, upper leg extended in front of her, in blissful slumber. Grass stains were on her soles. Her butt cheeks were parted and everyone could see her anus -- was it winking at them in the breeze? Now she turned, pulling her leg across, and in the process uprooting some grass. It stayed between her toes as if she had grabbed it deliberately and now she was on her back, her legs splayed wide open so that everyone could see inside her womanly cave. She stretched her arms up and her tummy became almost freakishly concave, ribs visible over the tracery of well-developed abs, breasts high and firm with erect nipples poking up at the gray sky. A few strands of grass were caught up in her lush pubic hair. And now she sighed. “Mmmmmmm . . .”, as earthy and natural as the scented breeze.
It was a wave partly of lust but also of wonder that riffled through the watchers. And envy, how it must feel like to roll naked in the grass. Two of those old Chalfont Institute professors stood next to him, one puffing on his pipe. You could tell those old German guys anywhere. “I’m jealous now,” one said. The pipe puffer said, “Ah Fritz, if Youth only knew, if Age only could!”
Girardo had stayed to watch her lolling around for a few minutes and then she awoke, sitting up with wild hair, elbows on her knees, smiling a little absently at the people around her as if remembering an old joke. Then he left, as the crowd dispersed, some saying hi to the naked girl, others as if embarrassed at having been caught looking. Girardo was gay through and through, but a sight like that sticks with you no matter who you are.
Now -- this one’s 2-01, now 2-03, this must be the odd numbers corridor finally --
Her door was open and he hesitated before making his presence known. She was facing away from him, leaning back on her chair, reading a text, pencil in her mouth. One foot was way, way up over her head, the heel propped up on the wall in the tiny room. Only a trained gymnast, like she was, could stretch like that. The other foot was up on the ledge of the little window that looked down on the multipurpose room. She held a pen between the third and fourth toes that she tapped idly against the sill. Girardo was reminded of the student who did that project on toe rings a few years ago, who said, “Toes are the new fingers.” Well for Ms. Smithers, it was all the same.
Her desk was strewn with books, papers, a laptop. And what looked like a wedding ring, though it seemed too small to go on her finger. There was a shelf above that had some pictures and some type of geometric sculptures with magnetic sticks.
Finally he cleared his throat.
“Oh hi Mr. Girardo,” she said, quickly swiveling around, putting her book down, and about to stand up.
“Stay seated, please,” he said, quite surprised. Years ago students would stand up when a professor came in, but not recently.
She sat obediently waiting for him to speak.
“Um, how are you doing?”
“Fine, busy as always,” she said. “I like it that way.”
He looked at the upper shelf. “Did you make this? It’s very pretty.”
“It’s a dodecahedron. One of the regular polyhedrons.”
“Oh. A dodeca . . .”
“That means twelve. It has twelve sides.”
“Hmm . . .Looks like more than twelve to me.”
“The sides are pentagons. You have to stellate them to make it rigid.”
“Oh right . . . of course.” He looked at it for a moment as if knowing what she was talking about. “Tami, mind if I sit?” He grabbed a chair that had been out in the hall and sat facing her. She was upright in her chair, hands folded attentively. Her feet were on the floor, curled inward, the pen still in her toes.
“Dr. Wanamaker and I agree, your portfolio is outstanding.”
She seemed to blush. “Thank you.”
“We have a proposal for you.” Knowing he was about to explain something totally new to her, he went slowly despite her high intelligence. “There is something called the International Fashion Industry Foundation. It’s a group endowed by various fashion houses, that acts as like a trade group, a clearinghouse of information, and also advocates for designer and models and other tradespeople. And every year the foundation has a, uh, competition for students. This year is the 37th annual. We would like to invite you to make a submission, enter the competition. In other words, sponsor you.”
She seemed stunned. “But . . . I’m not a fashion major.”
“That’s not important. What is, is that we think you display an extraordinary amount of originality. Maybe it’s you’re, uh, situation . . .” He found himself glancing down at her clit and immediately regretted the reference. Her clit was poking out a little -- he heard it always did, except when she was out in the cold and it retracted between those plum-colored lips. He thought he detected a faint whiff of female musk. Then he brought his mind back on track. “But you have a view to fashion that is unique and should be made better known, and should be further developed if you wish . . . We don’t just ask anyone. We don’t do this every year. In fact we haven’t sponsored a student in five years. So you see what a compliment this is meant to be.”
“Gosh . . . thanks . . .” She was still in shock.
“You will need to put together a submission portfolio. You can select from your existing one -- the limit is ten designs -- or make up a new one. Probably selecting from the one you have is best, because the deadline is only in two weeks. Dr. Wanamaker will help you out with the details.”
Tami looked down.
“That’s the first stage. Then they select the ten or twelve best entries and present a fashion show, slash, awards ceremony. I have to say that they have several hundred submissions every year, so the odds of getting picked for the show are slim. This year it’s in Montreal. And then, there’s the prizes. First prize is a fellowship with room and board at a leading institution. This year it’s somewhere that you especially might have an interest in.”
“What do you mean?”
“The fellowship, which would begin next fall, is in your home town, at the Rhode Island School of Design.”
Tami looked up, nonplussed. “Rizdy?” Which is how Providence natives refer to RISD.
Girardo nodded. “Again, I have to say, excellent as your work is, the odds of getting chosen are quite long. But even being allowed to submit is an honor. We get to put forth candidates because our department is on the International panel. Only about sixty schools around the world are on it.”
Tami looked at him and then looked over at a pad on the desk. “I -- I don’t know what to say. This is so . . .”
“Now Tami, you don’t have to go through with this. I know you are involved in other projects and fashion is not the center of your life.” God, was that ever an understatement, he told himself.
“Well yes, I was working on that polymer fabric with Gretchen -- ”
“Maybe you can incorporate that into your submission. Ever think of that?”
“The fabric -- it’s designed for military use.”
“So? Does that mean you CAN’T use it to design regular clothes? Look Tami, the International is not a red carpet type fashion show like you see on TV. These are serious industry people who help decide mass production. What regular people wear. Practical stuff.”
He told himself: I’m dropping hints that are so heavy that they’re apt to break this poor girl’s [bare] toes. Best back off. She will submit what she wants to submit, as weird as it may be. That is, if she accepts. Part of him wanted her to refuse. That would be a relief. On the other hand, Shel was right. Offering her the chance was really the right thing to do.
“Rizdy . . . But can I go there if I’m . . .” She looked down at her breasts, the big dark brown nipples, toughened and always erect.
Quite unlike the little pink nips Girardo had seen on countless anorexic models. What would Tami be -- a 34C? He was under no illusions about it -- gay designers really would rather be working with breastless young men. One of Wanamaker’s pet peeves. He kidded Wanamaker about his name and his lusting after certain models, his hetero desire for the female form, his breast fetish, but his colleague had a point. To be true to what they were doing, designers of women’s clothing should use models who look more like this superb naked young woman.
“From what I understand,” he said, “your allergy is being treated at the Chalfont Institute.” At least that’s what Abu Jamal told him when Girardo called him last week. It was hard to understand that guy’s Pakistani accent. He was polite but hesitant to give details. Girardo was well aware how sensitive the topic was over at that place, and couldn’t really blame him for that.
“Well yes,” Tami said uncertainly. “. . . Can I think about this?”
“Of course. When you decide, call Shel, Dr. Wanamaker. His extension is 2141.” To his surprise Tami brought her left foot way up, the one with the pen, and scribbled the number on the pad, all without moving her arms or hands.
“Well let us know,” he concluded. “And if you accept, congratulations.” He got up and turned to leave.
“I -- I don’t know. But thank you very much.”
He smiled. “You deserve it, Tami. . . And oh, before I forget.” He turned back to her. “The submissions are not secret, of course. The names of candidates are listed in the trade publications. So you might be, in fact probably will be, getting calls and offers to market your designs. It’s O.K. to get into contracts, we don’t have any business telling our students what or what not to do.
“But we always suggest that the student create a brand name and logo for his or her work, and attach it to every design. Get copyright protection. The way I learned it was to mail the designs to yourself and keep the envelope sealed. That fixes the date you came up with the ideas. And be careful what you sign. Professor Konrad, two doors down from me, he’s also an intellectual property lawyer and can advise you on common pitfalls.
“But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me repeat, no matter how good you are, the odds of actually winning are very low. But I think you should give it a shot.”
Tami seemed about to say something but then stopped. She looked down and stretched her arms downward, then placed them on her lap. She idly tugged at her pubic hair.
Then she looked up and said politely, “Thank you. I’ll let you know in a few days.”
“Good.” Girardo left the naked student to be alone with her thoughts. And then passed her cubbyhole a few seconds later because he was lost. Tami had to get up and walk him back to the elevator.
As the elevator opened, a tall Latina-looking girl in sweat clothes came out. She gave Tami a little kiss and went with her back to the cubbyhole where they closed the door behind them.