MY FRIENDS CAN READ IT FOR FREE (Excerpt 44 from THE HARVEST of REASON) Since John had joined their research group, Maddie had been thrown into his company almost constantly. READ MORE

(If you’re here for the first time check out excerpts 1-43 in earlier Blogs )


Since John had joined their research group, Maddie had been thrown into his company almost constantly. They had been up to Hancock and Arlington together at least half a dozen times. They had seen each other at research group meetings, in the lab, in the grad office, and in the computer room.

Her resolution to see him through the lens of friendship was not working so well. Not that their friendship was unsatisfactory. No. It was definitely growing into a nice friendship. They made each other laugh, they argued over serious and mundane things. Maddie had helped bring him up to speed on the protein project and one of their discussions had been about the usefulness of high protein lines.

“Well, what good is high protein if it lowers the yield?” he had said, “Farmers are not going to go for that. No way, no how. I know them. They just won’t buy into it.”

“John, in some of these third world countries beans are the main source of protein in the family diet. Of course high protein is important! An increase of a few percentage points would make all the difference in the nutrition of children.”

“Maybe. But what I’m saying is that the market is what dictates what farmers grow. Not researchers like us who think something is a good idea.”

“So it’s not even worth trying? Is that what you’re saying, Mr. status quo?”

“What did you call me?”

“That’s what you are. You’re going to be a conventional breeder all the way. Never push the envelope, never test the dogma.” She leaned over and whispered, “John! You gotta think outside the box.”

He snorted, then asked, “Okay, so what would you do?”

“I wouldn’t start out with the premise that it’s impossible! Why can’t we look for transgressive segregants[i]? Lines with high protein and high yield?”

“Oh, I see, you want it all. No trade offs. I’m afraid that’s not how it works. The plant’s metabolism won’t pump out double the protein and double the carbohydrates with the same level of input. Remember the principle of component compensation[ii]?”

“Yes, I remember compensation. But how do you know that you can’t increase the input part of the equation? Have you tested the hypothesis? No! You haven’t. That’s great science, John.”

He had no comeback so she went on. “Listen, I believe they’re there. Lines with high protein and high yield. We just have to go find them. I mean, make them. Make the crosses, search the progeny for recombinants. We have the perfect tools.”

He looked at her, thinking deeply. “Did you make some of those crosses already? With the wild high protein lines, I mean?”

“Yeah. My first year.”

“What generation are they at now?”

“F2. You know…” She looked as if a light bulb had just gone on in her brain.

He seemed to pick up on her thoughts. “I could screen the F2 lines for nutrient uptake efficiency!”

“Uh-hum. Then you could see if changing the nutrient uptake capacity would affect the compensation equation,” Maddie said.

“You’re saying if we increase the resource pool maybe we can increase both the protein and yield.”


“Do you have enough seed?” he asked.

“Sure. It’s yours if you want it,” she said.

“Wait. This would be a collaboration, after all, the idea is yours.”

He wasn’t taking any credit that wasn’t his. She liked his integrity. “So long as you do all the work,” she joked.

“Why not? You’ve done most of it already,” he answered seriously.

“Not by a long shot, buddy. I’d like to see how you’re going to come up with a screening procedure.”

“That’s nothing,” he said, “what we gotta worry about is if Dan can come up with some money for the Biotron.[iii]

“Oh, is it very expensive?”

“Yep! But there’s no other way to do nutrient studies than in a completely controlled environment,” he said. “Speaking of Dan, I got a meeting with him tomorrow morning. You want to help pitch the idea?”

“Sure!” She was busy at the computer lab tomorrow morning but she had just changed her plans.

She was moved beyond words that he asked, that he was offering her a collaboration, and including her in the first steps of it.

When Maddie told Lisa her feelings she said, “Why are you so surprised Maddie? That’s what you are, his professional colleague! Goodness, you’re less than a year from finishing your Ph.D. yourself.”

“I don’t know, it’s just that I’ve had to fight for everything I ever got. My fellowships, my thesis project, all these I had to sell myself, or sell somebody on the idea of giving me a shot. I’ve never had anybody offer me a collaboration just like that. I mean…he really listened to me, Lisa.” She ended on a quiet note, as if this in itself was the startling fact.

“Yep. John will do that,” Lisa nodded cryptically, and then became quiet. She looked like she was holding something back.

Maddie’s curiosity was stirred once again. “What do you mean about John? And…and how come you two are so close anyways?”

Lisa looked a little uncomfortable. “Maddie, there’s some stuff in my past I never told you about. I guess I was, still am, too ashamed to talk about it. Shit.”

Maddie waited.

“When I was an undergrad — I told you I used to work for John — well, during that time I was living with a boyfriend who…used to beat me up pretty bad. I was really kind of messed up, I guess. ‘Cause my parents treated each other pretty bad—you know they’re divorced—I didn’t know what respect was, what a healthy relationship is supposed to be like. So I took a lot of crap. Anyhow, John got suspicious, I guess, after he saw me with a black eye a couple of times. So he started talking to me. It took a while, but he finally talked me into leaving the creep.”

“Oh, Lisa.” Maddie had tears in her eyes, both out of compassion for her friend and at having this facet of John revealed to her. She went over and hugged her.

Lisa tried to put things on a lighter note by adding, “Yeah, and the best part of it is that when Steve started bothering me, after I left him, John beat the shit out of him!!”

“No!” Maddie’s hand went to her mouth.

“Honest to God! He gave him the tanning of his life, told him if he ever came around me again he wouldn’t be able to walk straight ’cause he was gonna break every one of his ribs.”

“I can’t believe it.” She was smiling in spite of the fact that it wasn’t funny.

“Believe it. That’s John for you.”

That moment was a turning point for Maddie. It was in that moment she realized her feelings for John went way beyond friendship. And that she didn’t even care about his good looks any more. That is, they didn’t frighten her. Because she could see the human being underneath.

What she was really attracted to was his character. Just look at him! He was caring, he was upright, he was loyal, he was good. He was just so…good! A good man. Now, if somebody would just knock a little sense into him regarding women—that he couldn’t have them all—then he’d be perfect!

When she left Lisa and walked back to her office she was in a daze. She was reviewing John in her mind, as if he were a multifaceted gem. From every side that she examined him, he was smooth and free of blemish.

She couldn’t remember what she had disliked in him at first. Now, she was remembering only how he had helped her: at Hancock that first time, then he had helped her with her seminar slides. God! And he had helped her with the rapist, then with her prelims. It seemed she couldn’t turn around without him being there to help her.

In the last two years it was almost as if he had been her guardian angel. She couldn’t quite put into words the feeling he engendered in her. It was as if someone was in her corner, watching her back, and she felt safe. He made her feel safe.

But it was more. He gave her something, something she couldn’t quite get by herself. It was self-confidence, that’s what she got from him! It was a funny thing to get from another human being, but because he treated her as though she were unafraid, she rose to that expectation. Maybe he didn’t see the fear in her eyes, or if he did he ignored it, and proceeded as if it weren’t there, so she forgot about it herself.

Even beyond that, though, he treated her as though she were solid, and competent. She felt herself validated by his treatment. And God, her whole life had been a longing to be validated, truly recognized for her worth, both in potential and actuality, for someone to believe in her one hundred percent. Sure, she had gotten that from her parents, but that didn’t count, because it was their job to see the best in her. There must be someone else, outside her family, to recognize her, to believe in her completely. It was a primordial thing, this longing for unconditional love. She was sure the whole earth rotated on this axis and she now knew that she herself had been searching for it all her life.

Hours passed by and Maddie sat at her desk pondering all these things. Everyone left for dinner but she stayed. In a very real way Maddie was undergoing a birth in consciousness, and it was a process that went on for several days. Eventually, she began asking herself what to do about these feelings.

It was a question which she put to Lisa, as a hypothetical.

“Well, who are we talking about here?” Lisa asked immediately.

Maddie eyed the open door of Lisa’s office. “John…Pitts,” she whispered.

Lisa turned away, rolling her eyes. Should she blurt it out that Maddie had it made?

“What do you think you should do?” she said, stalling for time.

“Well, do you think I even have a chance?”

Lisa spluttered, “Maddie, take a look at yourself! You could have any guy you wanted!”

In the back of Maddie’s mind she made a note of Lisa’s unhesitating encouragement. It was just another sign of Lisa’s lack of racial prejudice. Funny how one thought of these things at the oddest times.

“So, how do I get him to notice me?” she asked.

Lisa prevaricated. “Oh, you’ll think of something.”

“Lisa!” Maddie said in exasperated tones, “I need something specific. I Don’t Know What to Do!”

“Oh! Quit being a ninny,” Lisa answered as if she were talking to a child, “you’ll think of something!”

“Thanks. Thanks a lot!” She stormed out of Lisa’s office in a huff and walked down the hallway, only to nearly collide with John as she rounded the corner.

“Oh! John. I’m sorry!”

“Maddie! You okay? We have a habit of bumping into each other, don’t we?” He frowned. “What’s the matter, you’re looking at me kind of funny.”

Maddie was having difficulty with her breathing. She looked at his face as if it were for the first time. That beloved face, those penetrating blue eyes. His nose was straight, not bent. His lips couldn’t be called full, but they weren’t thin either. And he was just the right height for her to lean her head on his shoulder. Oh, what a jumble her emotions were in. And how excruciating this longing was. She swallowed and almost reached out to kiss the little triangle in his neck, nuzzle her head under his.

“Maddie?” he asked again.

What was the matter with him, why couldn’t he read her mind? She shook herself out of her stupor.

“I’m…fine, John,” she managed to squeeze out before she walked away. When she got to her desk she sat with her hands over her eyes, straining.

What am I going to do? What? Their relationship was so platonic, so darn professional. Gosh, it was as if that kiss had never happened. How was she going to turn this into something else? The right kind of something else?

Put your mind to this, Maddie. You can do it.

But she couldn’t do anything about it except stare at him, it seemed. The next few days, whenever they saw each other in the office she felt tongue-tied.

And then, he stopped by her desk to tell her Dr. Gates had come through and found some extra funding for their high protein/high yield project, and she blurted out, “That’s great! We should celebrate!”

He blinked once, then said “Yeah, we should. Want to go out to dinner?”

“Uh-hum. Sure.” It couldn’t be this easy.

“Good. I’ll pick you up around eight.” he said smoothly and then walked out the door.

Had she just agreed to go out on a date with him?

Suddenly, Maddie panicked. She had nothing to wear! She had to go and buy something. It was only two o’clock and she had plenty of work left to do. She grabbed her backpack and left for the day.

[i] Transgressive segregants – Lines that inherit the traits of both of its parents.

[ii] Principle of component compensation – If the plant increases one component it will compensate by decreasing another. For example, if the number of seeds per pod is increased, the size of the seeds will decrease so that yield will remain the same.

[iii] Biotron – a facility with completely controlled environment used for very specific experiments.



Hey! I’m really interested in your comments.* Please join this global bookclub discussion by leaving a comment below (in the comments box)

DISCUSSION QUESTION 44:  Does another person’s treatment contribute to or take away from our self-esteem?

*(feel free to post your own question for group discussion)

*(you can also post your comment on facebook and start your own discussion with friends) ____________________________________


About rheaharmsen

Rhea Harmsen is a scientist, novelist and author of Language of the Spirit, a volume of selected poems. She has also released three novels, The Harvest of Reason, Intermarry, and God Created Women. Harmsen was born in a family with a black father and a white mother at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states. Her parents gave her a vision of world citizenship that informs her writing and her lifestyle and has caused her to reject traditional views of race and gender. Harmsen's article "Science in the Hands of Women: Present Barriers, Future Promise" appeared in World Order in 1998 and provides the foundation for the story line for her novel The Harvest of Reason. She co-published the Monroeville Race Unity Forum Bulletin and authored many poems on racial topics, crystallizing the "conversation on race" in the novel Intermarry. Her work with domestic violence survivors in Puerto Rico inspired the novel God Created Women. Harmsen holds a doctorate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently resides in Puerto Rico. Upcomming projects are described in her web page at
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