The Physics Professor and the Latte

Submitted for Contest #63 in response to: Set your story in a coffee shop that’s just introduced a new line of autumnal drinks.... view prompt

85 comments

Submitted on 10/11/2020

Categories: American Contemporary Romance

It wasn’t like Dr. Stevens to spend $4.38 for coffee. 

Not coffee—a latte. A latte was essentially a fancy espresso with a thin layer of foamed milk. Either way, $4.38 was an egregious amount of money to spend on a beverage for a young professor with crushing student loans. A young professor who would have been just as happy sipping the dregs from the burnt coffee pot in the faculty lounge. A young professor who wasn’t sure about his students' abilities, whether they would put in the hard work and dedication necessary to understand the beauty of physics. 

$4.38 for coffee. Did he need a decorative swirl to justify the expense of a latte

He thought about the formulas for oscillations and mechanical waves that made the coffee swirls possible. This passed the time while he checked his watch and waited.

Perhaps he should order his coffee now? 

According to the laws of thermodynamics, the coffee would cool too quickly. Of course, this was relative to how much energy would be given off by the styrofoam cup compared to the time it would take the coffee to lose its energy. He mentally drew up the equations.

Dr. Stevens waited outside the coffee shop for the one friend whom he had made at the university since joining the faculty. She taught in the humanities department. 

He looked at his watch again. From the sidewalk, he watched cars start and stop at random intervals, mentally running through a calculus proof of centripetal acceleration.

“Sorry I’m late,” she repeated, more loudly. 

“Oh, I didn’t see you,” he smiled sheepishly. She’d startled him.

“This coffee shop is fun. You’ll like it!” she beamed. She liked everything, like most humanities professors. The humanities building brimmed with effervescent idealists, all on the cusp of discovering revelations about the human condition. Its lobbies with overstuffed couches with festive throw pillows and “contemplating chairs” invited minds to ruminate. 


As for the physics building? The gray slab had the worst lighting on campus, tacitly alerting future engineering students that they’d sold their souls for endless physics and calculus courses. 

Dr. Stevens’ new friend opened the door to the coffee shop for both of them.

“See the specials on the chalkboard? Every month the coffee shop picks a theme. Since October is cuffing season—”

“Excuse me. Cuffing season?” Dr. Stevens inquired. 

“Every October. When there’s a chill in the air, an energy? You haven’t noticed students pairing off, sometimes right in the hallway? It’s the time of year to find a mate to cozy up with for the winter months,” she laughed, a sound as melodious as windchimes. He knew the sound of her laugh was simply vibrations in the air traveling in longitudinal waves. 

Yet, still. 

“Oh, cuffing season, I see,” Dr. Stevens said.

“So there are eight special lattes,” she explained. “They are all based on the eight types of love, according to the Greeks.”

“I didn’t think I’d need a humanities professor to order a cup of coffee,” Dr. Stevens said seriously, but she laughed at his wit. 

“There’s Autumnal Agape with cinnamon and vanilla. Agape is unconditional love,” she said.

“Like a mother’s love?”

“More like Jesus,” she replied. 

“That seems like a bridge too far. How about the 911 Mania with Irish crème? That sounds good,” he suggested.

“Mania means obsessive love. It’ll get you a restraining order.”

“I’ll pass on that one,” he said. They both looked at each other and nodded in mutual agreement.

“Let’s see. How about Pint of Pragma with toffee and buttered rum?”

“It sounds like old people smell,” he replied, knowing that quantum physics purported that smell depended on the shapes of molecules, not age. 

“Makes sense that you’d feel that way as pragma is love that has matured over time. It’s like watching your grandparents hold hands, assuming they are still married,” she added quickly.

“They’re dead, so let’s pass on the pragma.”

“Next one. Let’s see,” she squinted. Her nose scrunched up in an adorable way, a way that Dr. Stevens stared at for a bit too long. “Steaming Storge with hazelnut? Fabulous Philia with raspberry? Both have heavy friendship connotations.”

“Friendship is all right,” he wavered a bit.

“Ah! Peppermint Philautia, the love of self. Perfect for you!” she beamed.

“Do I come across that arrogant?” He was stung.

“No,” she laughed her windchime laugh. “Philautia is self care, self-compassion. It’s a healthy love.”

I’ve had years of self care, Dr. Stevens thought. Years in the lab with Michelson and Morley's luminiferous ether experiment and Minkowski's spacetime and the Lorentz transformation. No where in Einstein's velocity addition did anyone mention anything about cuffing season. 

“You could try Elderberry Eros,” she looked at him slyly.

“Eros—”

“Hot unchecked passion. Perfectly fine for a lost weekend in Vegas. The type of love that burns hot and bright, yet burns out fast. The Greeks were actually afraid of Eros, afraid of losing control,” she explained.

Eros is basically combustion, Dr. Stevens surmised. A chemical reaction between substances. There would be a generation of heat and light in the form of flame

“I’m not sure what elderberry tastes like, so I’m not going to risk my $4.38,” he said flatly. She again thought he was joking and laughed, putting her hand on his arm. It felt nice there.

“Last one. Red Licorice Ludus.”

“I love red licorice!” he exclaimed, pulling out his wallet. “What exactly is ludus? Can I get arrested for it?”

“Ludus is the Greeks’ playful form of love. It’s a crush. The starting point for young lovers,” she said.

“That is the perfect cup of coffee for cuffing season,” he thought, calculating how cozy it would be to cuddle up with her. 

With that, Dr. Stevens paid $8.76 for two Red Licorice Ludus Lattes, and even tossed the extra $1.24 in the tip jar on the way out of the coffee shop with the humanities professor. 

 



 


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85 comments

Laura Clark
20:09 Oct 16, 2020

I love socially awkward physics professor and bubbly fun humanities professor romance ❤️ He’s so perfectly written - I love him. I love how varied your writing is whilst still being excellent. You got raaaaange.

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Deidra Lovegren
20:54 Oct 16, 2020

Have we met? You seem so familiar...

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Laura Clark
20:59 Oct 16, 2020

Oh you’d remember me, baby.

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Deidra Lovegren
21:02 Oct 16, 2020

Right. At the TESCO when I was a lesbian for five minutes. I live in Virginia with Thom Brodkin now.

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Laura Clark
21:14 Oct 16, 2020

I have nothing but jealousy. He’s a handsome fella.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:43 Oct 17, 2020

Handsome, yes. But his grammar and mechanics are atrocious; he wouldn't know a comma if it violated him, but his content and general bon homie is good. B+

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Sarah Greenwood
04:19 Oct 16, 2020

I particularly like stories that teach me things. Love the Greek interwoven. This piece just feel ‘smart.’ And I loved your first line especially. So subtle but I had to know what happened. Awesome job as always

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Deidra Lovegren
09:16 Oct 16, 2020

High praise Indeed! Those Greeks figured everything out — codifying for all Western civilization. I played with mythology in “Seven Greek Gods Walk into a Bar” — always fun to write about imperfect deities. Like ex-boyfriends...Haha

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Sarah Greenwood
13:06 Oct 16, 2020

😆

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Aisa M
06:54 Oct 11, 2020

Wow! This is short and sweet. Love the girl's voice. Love the Greek explanations. Just love this!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:34 Oct 11, 2020

Cuffing season! No one is immune. :)

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Rayhan Hidayat
04:40 Oct 11, 2020

This reminds me of the overpriced seasonal specials at my university cafe, which I always fall for (I’m a sucker for having an entire Flake shoved into my cup) This was such a fun read, anyway. The nuances in dialogue that hint at their intentions were amazing. And viewing everything in a scientific light is a great way to make a compelling narrative voice. Always a pleasure to read your stuff Deidra! 😙

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Deidra Lovegren
17:35 Oct 11, 2020

I'm just glad I can google scientific factoids...because we all know numbers are the devil's alphabet. I had to work out the cost of the lattes a few times to make sure the amounts were correct.

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Rayhan Hidayat
00:09 Oct 12, 2020

Honestly I thought for a second you might have majored in physics! But yes, the internet is our best friend

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Deidra Lovegren
00:54 Oct 12, 2020

I’m just waiting for some nerd to tell me I’ve botched the science entirely — setting humanity back centuries 😜

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Rayhan Hidayat
01:22 Oct 12, 2020

Haha, I suppose it IS a matter of time before a certain rocket scientist named Charles Stucker finds this story

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Deidra Lovegren
01:23 Oct 12, 2020

I think he’s torn me apart before, so come at me Mother Stucker!!

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15:29 Oct 15, 2020

Romance is cool and you did a good job on this one. I can see them later in his apartment that smells of cheap perfume. It's nice to just imagine everything. She talks a lot. Is that good? I'll tell you this though: At the start, you mentioned how he only considered the humanities professor as a friend, and only halfway are we introduced to the new feelings in his heart. Correct? I saw a thread between you and Tyler where you both think because she let him pay for the drinks, she just might be using him. I'd say probably with capital lett...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:09 Oct 15, 2020

I thinks she's all right. Tyler must have had a bad experiences with an English major in college; but, the humanities professor is just searching for a good solid guy. I think the poor physics professor turns this friendly meet up into a date, broadcasting his future intentions by buying her coffee. When I was dating my husband, I found his checkbook in the glove box of his car while he was pumping gas. Of course I looked at his balance. He had spent 1/2 of his total account on flowers for me. At that time, he was broke, but spent almost 5...

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Tyler Runde
04:14 Oct 11, 2020

I'm just going to come out and say it, the humanities professor is a hussy! By the end of the story Dr. Stevens pays $8.76 for both of their lattes, when at the beginning he was having great difficulty justifying paying $4.38 just for his own. This man just got taken for a ride! Dr. Stevens expressed no romantic interest in the humanities professor at the beginning of this story(!), as evidenced by how he referred to her as just a "friend" twice before she showed up, as well as stating, "Friendship is all right", later on (though by that ...

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Deidra Lovegren
17:56 Oct 11, 2020

First of all, where have you been my whole life? I have referred a few friends over to see your amazing work. I particularly liked the LAVA and ORGY stories, which probably gives you a horrible (and correct) impression of me. Thanks for a comment (that literally is longer than my story.) I enjoy Dr. Stevens' discomfort, strung out in front of the coffee shop, waiting for his "friend." She knows what she is doing. (I'm sure he arrived 5-7 minutes early, too, calculating the traffic patterns.) OF COURSE the Humanities Professor is t...

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Tyler Runde
00:38 Oct 12, 2020

I just feel bad for the guy. Often, relationships end because the parties involved each have widely varying beliefs about what the relationship actually is. I can see this story picking up several months later as the weather begins to warm again. During this time, Dr. Stevens has driven himself further and further into debt by lavishing the humanities professor with dinners and gifts and nights out. And now he's utterly convinced that she's the one and he's splurged on the most expensive engagement ring he possibly can(not) afford. He's e...

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Deidra Lovegren
01:05 Oct 12, 2020

Look, she’s a humanities professor...by Winter Solstice she will discover she is a latent bisexual and will start dating a female grad student named Apple. She will travel to Paraguay 🇵🇾 before teaching her new elective: “The Vulva’s Battle Against the Patriarchy” Dr. Stevens will meet an Episcopalian preschool teacher and cook Hamburger Helper in their 3-bedroom Cape Cod house in the college town. He will make tenure almost immediately. His wife will container garden and scrapbook the twins’ childhoods. Dr. Stevens will coach their w...

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Leo Greer
12:58 Oct 20, 2020

I laughed at this comment string. Congrats on imagination guys. XD

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Deidra Lovegren
13:28 Oct 20, 2020

Thanks, Leo. Jump on it. The water is fine :)

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Pragya Rathore
04:06 Oct 11, 2020

Sweet romances are really your thing, aren't they? This reminded me of Sheldon Cooper from TBBT. I laughed aloud at this part: "$4.38 for coffee. Did he need a decorative swirl to justify the expense of a latte?" I also loved how the professor kept inserting complex physics into mundane, simple things. And this was certainly informative about the different types of love :p A heartwarming, light-hearted and entertaining story.

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Deidra Lovegren
17:59 Oct 11, 2020

I guess. I had a wife chop up and BBQ her husband last week, so I guess things all even out. :)

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Madria Johnston
17:10 Oct 21, 2020

Good story I like any stories about coffee shops

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Deidra Lovegren
17:46 Oct 21, 2020

They're where all the cool kids go.

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Maverick Cotsen
19:14 Oct 20, 2020

This was honestly some of the most creative social comments on young teachers that I have read. You really drove home the points you emphasized, and you should write more like this

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Deidra Lovegren
20:08 Oct 20, 2020

I'll give it a shot, Maverick. Thanks for your comment :)

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Leo Greer
13:06 Oct 20, 2020

Entertaining, laced with subtle tension and interesting thought pieces. I just enjoyed reading this. Don't have the heart to critique whatever tiny issues might be wrong with this. Great job, keep on writing!

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Deidra Lovegren
13:30 Oct 20, 2020

Feel free to critique at will. Minor issues are my favorite things to correct. Always looking to progress and get better. HAVE AT IT, MAN.

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Deidra Lovegren
13:30 Oct 20, 2020

Feel free to critique at will. Minor issues are my favorite things to correct. Always looking to progress and get better. HAVE AT IT, MAN.

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Leo Greer
13:53 Oct 20, 2020

Meh, maybe I shall, but personally I feel with comedic pieces logic is overrated. Literally, the only thing I saw was that perhaps the exposition describing the contrasting college buildings was a little upfront? Their separate workplaces, however, tell us a lot about both professors, and their personalities. I wouldn't change it.

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Kylie Rudolf
17:31 Oct 19, 2020

He is so well put together! You perfectly describe the feelings of doubt and want for a $5 cup of caffeine

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Deidra Lovegren
19:31 Oct 19, 2020

Starbucks is printing money. What a racket :)

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Emily :3
15:07 Oct 19, 2020

I love this! I study Ancient Greek at school and reading this made me so happy UwU

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Deidra Lovegren
19:41 Oct 19, 2020

Thanks Emily! Let me know if I got anything wrong. You might like my "Seven Greek Gods Walk into a Bar" -- very obscure Greek Gods. Aphrodite's retinue are running around and eating/drinking in chain restaurants...

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Emily :3
14:09 Oct 20, 2020

I will definitely check it out <3

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Emily :3
17:04 Oct 20, 2020

I just read it and omg, I love ittt! Minor gods are so underrated and I absolutely love the way you described their personalities. While I was scrolling through your stories I noticed that there’s one that starts with a Latin sentence: I study Latin as well, so I’ll definitely read it now:)

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Deidra Lovegren
20:10 Oct 20, 2020

It's Latin for "Motherfucker." So....................................... Just read the prompt. It was shortlisted, I think. Surprising due to all the cursing. But if your mother banged your fiance at your wedding, I think you are entitled a few F-bombs.

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Galaxy Cat
11:16 Oct 19, 2020

His reaction when she said that it meant obsessive love and could get a restraining order.

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Tom Bradbury
00:15 Oct 19, 2020

Your writing has very pleasant rhythm. It flows so effortlessly from one part to the next.

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Deidra Lovegren
00:46 Oct 19, 2020

Sweet ❤️

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Rachel Sundar
19:03 Oct 18, 2020

I love this story!! I like how you spend the whole time describing all the drinks! Its really entertaining!! Great job!!

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Deidra Lovegren
20:19 Oct 18, 2020

YAY

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Roger Meachem
10:31 Oct 18, 2020

For a start the vocabulary is fun! Peppermint Philautia, Pint of Pragma with toffee and buttered rum. I hope some Barista, somewhere is reading this. Then you add the spice of physics, just enough to get the point without going too deep. Your characters are believable, poor Stevens, but how did he get so lucky as to meet the humanities prof - whose name we never get to know? The coffee-shop idea works of course because you use the coffees to uncover Steven's character, and the reader knows this and is eager to read on. The structure is neat ...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:05 Oct 18, 2020

Alliteration always brings the fun. As for not going "too deep" with physics -- I had to laugh. My paper-thin knowledge of any left brain activities renders me almost useless. The scrunched up nose did it for our boy. Humanities professor had him from the start, being late, causing his desire to wax. She played him like a harp, a lyre, a cupid's bow.

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Jim Snyder
09:13 Oct 18, 2020

I've definitely had a couple of professor-friends in this ilk. I love the characterization. Absolutely perfect! Of course, I'm also a fan of the varieties of Greek love, and tying them all together with a coffee shop is perfect! All around excellent tale!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:02 Oct 18, 2020

Nothing like falling in love in fall. Pity about the Humanities, hopefully not disappearing from the college campuses entirely. If this becomes just a STEM world, it will be awfully cold and lonely.

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Julie Ward
23:46 Oct 17, 2020

Your story was right under mine when I posted it and I loved the title so I opened it up. What a treat! So creative - I like the way you wove the plot around the names of the coffees. I could tell that you had a lot of fun with those names. I also really enjoyed the interplay between the characters - and how Dr. Stevens forgot all about how much the drinks cost. That made me chuckle!

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Deidra Lovegren
01:06 Oct 18, 2020

YAY Cuffing season :)

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Julie Ward
19:04 Oct 19, 2020

The most wonderful time of the year! LOL!

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Deidra Lovegren
19:33 Oct 19, 2020

Until the Turkey Drop (Thanksgiving) or Christmas Dump (no presents for you!) or the Valentine's Day blow off :)

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Julie Ward
22:31 Oct 19, 2020

And so it goes until the summer hook-up...or the vacation fling...

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Deidra Lovegren
22:33 Oct 19, 2020

It's the CIRCLE OF LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFE Ingonyama nengw' enamabala Ingonyama nengw' enamabala Ingonyama nengw' enamabala Ingonyama nengw' enamabala Ingonyama nengw' enamabala

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Rachel Macmorran
21:28 Oct 17, 2020

You got the science all wrong. 😉 It’s OK—you got the frisson all right. Hapless physics professor could only have been more out-maneuvered if he had left holding the leash of her golden doodle, Aristotle so she could re-button his askew cardigan.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:42 Oct 17, 2020

I was hoping no one would notice my botch of a science blathering. Oh well... Cardigan totally askew, and probably dirty. Labradoodle is named Plato, not Aristotle.

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Rachel Macmorran
16:54 Oct 18, 2020

Ha! Plato, of course!

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Howard Halsall
07:42 Oct 15, 2020

I adored your story and loved the frisson between the two characters. Having said that, I think the beginning was a tad slow to get going. However, much like my favourite singing kettle, the pace soon picked up. It rapidly progressed from a gentle simmer to maintain a steady rolling boil and ended with a delightful whistle. Well done. I look forward to reading your next piece.

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Deidra Lovegren
16:04 Oct 15, 2020

Thanks, HH :) "Ay me! For aught that I could ever read / Could ever hear by tale or history /The course of true love never did run smooth."

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Howard Halsall
17:45 Oct 15, 2020

“...O hell, to choose love by another’s eyes!“ ... :)

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Deidra Lovegren
19:45 Oct 15, 2020

"Exit, Pursued By A Bear"

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Howard Halsall
23:32 Oct 15, 2020

The question remains. To which genre does the bear belong? Is Antigonus’ death by bear the final “act” in the tragedy? Or does it kick off the comedy and set the tone for the second half of the play?.... :)

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Deidra Lovegren
00:36 Oct 16, 2020

OK, Howard. You win. I give up. Which story should I read of yours first? I'm intrigued now.

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