Talking Science Over Tiramisu

In ‘Elevated Inferno,’ Monet opens up about balancing her engineering dreams and her parents’ expectations.

The following is an excerpt from Elevated Inferno by Carlotta Ardell.

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Elevated Inferno: Monet's Moment


Rhys sat across from Monet, looking at her in the candlelight. She was even more beautiful than the last time he saw her. She had a light peach blush on her cheeks that was accented by the light shimmering of her lip gloss. Rhys noticed how often she wore peach and thought it must be her favorite color.

The way she nervously licked her lips drew his eyes to the lusciousness and he found himself hard pressed not to lean across the table and taste them. She wore part of her hair up in a curly, high ponytail while the remaining braids cascaded down her back. It gave her an ethereal, soft, angelic appearance that Rhys couldn’t get enough of.

A jumper and peach colored t-shirt underneath coupled with high wedge heels gave Rhys a scrumptious view of her firm legs and thighs. The short jumper landed right on her hips to accent her curves as she walked.

Rhys’s thoughts were interrupted by Monet’s inquisitive eyebrows.

“I’m sorry?” Rhys asked.

Monet chuckled as she repeated her statement. “I said it appears that you and I have switched places.”

Rhys wrinkled his eyebrows. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean.” Monet finished chewing her pasta and picked up her wine glass. “It appears that your mind is somewhere else tonight and you’re not eating. That was me the other night.” She indicated his untouched plate.

“Oh, I see.” He picked up his fork to start on his spaghetti with meat sauce. After taking a couple of bites he responded. “You’re just so breathtakingly beautiful. I’m mesmerized.”

Monet rolled her eyes and frowned. “Oh, stop it! Does that line work on the other girls?”

“No lines here. Don’t you believe you’re beautiful?”

“I guess so. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” He could see her blushing.

Monet looked to the side. “It’s just strange to hear. It’s nice. I’m just sometimes too hard on myself. Mya always says she wishes I could see myself the way others see me.” She sighed and looked down at her hands resting on the linen napkin in her lap.

“I’m sorry to hear that because I think you’re great, but I think you know that already,” Rhys smirked with empathy in his eyes.

“Thank you.”

“So why do you think that is?” Rhys asked, his voice low as he sipped his wine.

“Well, for one my father is extremely religious, been a church deacon my entire life. He believes strongly in the traditional patriarchal family model. You know, man as head of the household, wife whose only job is to serve him, cook, clean, take care of the kids. So on and so on.” Monet waved her hand.

“That was all fine and good for him and my mom,” Monet went on. “But when he tried to impose his values on me, it all went to hell. Well, almost to hell. My older sister, by 5 minutes, was more than happy to walk in my parents footsteps. Me not being willing to fall in line was like the end of the world for them.” She paused, then plunged on.

“This little college thing was fine and good as long as I got an M-R-S while getting the B-S. Those hopes were dashed when things fell apart with my ex. When I graduated from college with no prospect of a man, going on for further education was really just a waste of time in their opinion. That energy could be better spent on getting a spouse and being fruitful and multiplying.” Monet shook her head.

“I really feel like the outcast of the family at times, and it has done a number on my self-esteem. I’m constantly working on myself by journaling, reading self-help books and talking it out with my sister circle.”

“I hate that for you.” Rhys said. “Trust me. I know what it’s like to disappoint your parents by choosing to go your own way. They have to remember, that it’s your life, not theirs. Unfortunately, no matter how old we get, they always see us as children.” Rhys offered her a soft smile.

“Very true, but still frustrating.” Monet let out a long sigh as she reached across the table to grab the bottle and refill her glass. “Rhys, this is so good, your cooking is almost as good as my favorite Italian restaurant, Maggiano’s.”

At that response, Rhys choked on his water.

Monet looked up with a worried frown. “Are you okay?”

Rhys nodded quickly as he wiped his mouth and cleared his throat, “So, tell me more about your thesis.”

“Well, it is based on the work of Dr. Ayanna Howard. She’s the Dean of the College of Engineering at Ohio State University, one of the few Black women roboticists and used to work at NASA. I’ve been a fan of hers since I was a little girl. I love the work that she’s done in artificial intelligence, human-robot interaction including tutor robots. That’s what I wanna do. Use robots to help children with special needs. When I discovered Dr. Jackson’s class as an undergraduate and saw that I could do some work like that with her, I was all in.”

Rhys watched Monet’s eyes light up and her face transform as she talked about her desire to use robots to help people. He was immediately drawn closer to her.

They were kindred spirits in their passion for helping people. Rhys found it incredibly sexy, as he did everything about her. He was also happy to see the change of subject improved her mood.

“So, is that also the story behind the robot tattoo?” Rhys asked.

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Monet’s face turn bright red as she stopped chewing and looked up at him. He loved the way her ring twinkled when she wrinkled her nose.

“Well, I do love robots, but I also had a bet with Mya,” Monet said with a slight smile as she wiped her mouth.

“May I ask what the bet was?” He was intrigued.

“You’ve asked enough questions, Mr. Man. My turn,” Monet winked at him as she wiped her fingers on her napkin.

“Alright, touché. How about we take dessert in the living room, then you can ask your questions,” Rhys said as he stood, dishes in hand and headed to the kitchen.

Rhys and Monet sat in the living room in the middle of the sofa. After they quietly devoured the tiramisu, they placed their cleaned dishes on the co!ee table.

“Tiramisu is one of my favorites. I swear this tastes just like Maggiano’s.” Monet said as she licked the spoon before placing it with the dish.

Rhys sat down his wine glass to join the dessert dishes. “Alright, Monet. I’m busted.”

Monet looked at him with an eyebrow lifted.

“I have a confession to make.”

“Umm, okay what is it?”

“I ordered takeout from Maggiano’s. I put everything in serving dishes before you got here.” Rhys watched Monet’s eyes widen in surprise. He quickly continued. “I mean. I can cook a little, but I can’t burn like this.” He looked at Monet with sheepish eyes, trying to plead for forgiveness.

Monet laughed as she leaned over and playfully punched Rhys on the shoulder. “Oh, you sneak. You tried to fake me out with takeout food?”

Rhys feigned hurt and clutched his shoulder. “Yeah, I did but think about it like this. It’s only because I really wanted to impress you. I had to make up for our first date.”

“Whatever hashtag Fireman Bae,” Monet said as she used air quotes around his internet moniker.

“Alright enough with that Fireman Bae stuff, now. I get enough of that ribbing from my brother, cousin, and the crew at the station,” Rhys said as he adjusted his pants and stretched out his long legs to get more comfortable. He looked up to see Monet watching his movements with rapt attention.

Get it together, Rhys. Think about puppies or your mom or something before you scare this woman and send her running and screaming out of here.

Monet cleared her throat as she slowly moved her eyes from his body to the mantle over the “replace. There were several family photos that she examined, then she spoke in a husky tone.

“So, tell me something about you that I don’t already know.”

Rhys looked heavenward while gripping his chin. “Hmm, good one. Let me think.” Then he snapped. “Okay. I used to want to be an engineer. An electrical engineer to be exact.”

“Oh really? Tell me more.”

“Well, as I mentioned, I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter ever since I was a kid. I was just fascinated by everything from the ladder, engine, pole, uniforms, hoses, you name it. Then when I was in boy scouts, we went to a firehouse to see what they did, and I was sold. Like you, I have parents who are very opinionated about my career and personal choices, so I took a slight detour from my dreams to satisfy them.” He paused, gazing into space for a moment.

“This is how I ended up at Morehouse majoring in engineering,” he continued. “Pledging my frat, and walking in my brother and father’s footsteps. Until one day, I woke up and realized how absolutely miserable I was. I dropped out after my sophomore year and immediately set in motion the plan that would make me happy. I had to learn that you can’t live your life for anyone else. You only get one to live and you have to be true to yourself. Be authentic. You know what I’m saying?”

“I do, indeed.”

Rhys watched a slight sadness cloud her eyes.

“How did your parents take it?” Monet asked wistfully. “Well, I told my mom first because in her eyes, her boys can do no wrong. She was disappointed but quickly got over it when I explained how miserable I was. Then, I had her as an ally with my dad. He took a bit more convincing and was really not happy about wasting two years of tuition at Morehouse but eventually came around. Besides, he got one lawyer out of the deal.” Rhys shrugged.

“Khiran is well on his way to being partner. Things went pretty good. until two years later, my cousin Zion did almost the same thing when he announced he was going to be an EMT instead of an accountant like his father, my dad’s brother. Now the two of us are considered the rebels of the family. They like to say it in jest. At least most of the time.”

Rhys looked over at Monet. He loved the way that she made a slight frown of her brow and wrinkled her nose when she listened intently.

It was as if she was analyzing and evaluating his every word. This was such a welcome change from Liliana, who was typically on her phone, reapplying lip gloss or daydreaming when the attention was on anyone other than herself for more than five minutes.

“Wow, that’s really wonderful. I wish my family was so understanding. It really hurts to not be understood and supported, ya know?” Monet asked as she glanced at Rhys.

Rhys reached to pick up Monet’s hand. “I do. I’m sure they’ll come around,” he said as he began to slowly caress her palm with his thumb.

Monet smiled weakly, her eyes moving away from his.

Excerpted from Elevated Inferno. Copyright © 2022 by Carlotta Ardell. Excerpted by permission of Rebellion LIT LLC. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Writer

About Carlotta Berry

Dr. Carlotta Berry is a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana.

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