Nerd Romance—Announcements, Expected and… Not
“I’m not hungry.” “Me neither.”
This is yet another chapter in a series I “finished” last year, but my characters kept talking to me. Then Roz Warren convinced me into fill out the series into a book, so now I’m working on that. Most of what I’ve been doing lately has been filling in gaps or adding to existing material, but this chapter felt like it could stand without the reader having just finished the one before.
Short summary of the story to date:
The series covers two academic over-achievers with limited social skills (aka “nerds”) in the last semester of their junior year in a suburban high school in the 1970s. They call each other by their initials, so she is “E” and he is “K.” They were engaged in a “practice” relationship, working from an agreed upon list of goals, trying to learn to be more like regular people before they head off to college. Both kids agreed that this was a mutually beneficial partnership, and not in any way a romantic association.
Which worked really well. Until it didn’t.
They arranged a clandestine camping trip, during which they planned to have sex. The planned beautiful spring night actually was cold, wet, and awful, so while they did admit to falling in love with each other and shared a sleeping bag, that’s as far as things got. They also decided that the “practice” part of the practice relationship was over, and they were going to be actual boyfriend and girlfriend. That fell apart for a few days, and then everything came together and so did they, having sex in the guest room at K’s house while his parents were out of town.
On a school night.
So there was a frantic rush to get E home before anyone got suspicious. Didn’t quite work; E’s dad figured it out immediately, and when K got home he found his sister had covered up the “crime scene” so their parents wouldn’t suspect.
They have realized that, having crossed over from a practice relationship to an intimate relationship, they need to be more cautious and circumspect. And devote time and attention to finals. Fortunately, the school year is almost over so they have all summer to find opportunities to be together.
She was standing next to his locker when he got to school. She happily announced, “I got a letter. In the mail.” She held up an envelope to prove it.
And how else would a letter get to you? Pony Express? The thought wisely stayed unspoken. She’s excited. Bet I know what this is! Very cool, E, very cool! “Is it from a famous California institution? And did you actually open it beforehand rather than wait to share it with me, your most favorite boyfriend in the world?” K grinned to show he didn’t mean it.
E stuck out her tongue at him. “So you already figured it all out, huh? Guess there’s no point in showing you!” She began to slowly and ostentatiously return the envelope to her backpack, then giggled when K gently confiscated it.
He opened the letter and started to read it. “Hmmm, they used ‘Miss’ instead of ‘Ms’ — sure you want to go to a backward place like that?” That earned him a playful punch on the arm from his girlfriend. “‘We are pleased to offer you early acceptance to the Leland Stanford Junior University, for the term beginning’ and so on and so on.” He leaned over and kissed her quickly. “Congratulations, honey! I’m so proud of you!” He carefully folded the letter, returned it to its envelope, and handed it back to E. “Even if it is only a junior university,” which earned him another tongue display. She stuffed the envelope in her backpack, dropped the backpack on the floor, and threw her arms around K’s neck.
“I got into Stanford!” she squealed gleefully, and somewhat loudly, into K’s ear.
“Oh? I hadn’t heard,” he mumbled into her ear. He gently disengaged her arms just enough so he could pull back slightly and look her in the eye with his arms around her waist. “Seriously, E, I am really, really proud of you! It’s…” Words failing him, he engaged her in a smooch long enough to invite comments and whistles from the students passing by in the hallway. Breaking the lip lock while keeping their arms around each other, he added, “Of course, you realize this reflects highly on me, as well!” Her expression conveyed a high degree of incredulity, followed by an invitation for further explanation. “Okay, see, who has the smartest girlfriend in the whole school?”
She gave a nod of humble acquiescence.
He followed with, “Who has the most amazing girlfriend in the whole school?”
She considered briefly, then replied, “That would be you, also.”
“And who has the most beautiful girlfriend in the whole school?” You really are beautiful, right now, in this moment, and every time you look at me like that. Well, not like that!
E’s expression was obviously meant to tell him he was full of crap.
“Let me rephrase: Who has the girlfriend with the happiest smile right now? Who has the girlfriend with the most wonderful eyes, the most gorgeous face, the most — ” What word am I looking for? I should have practiced this. Too late, just wing it. “The most beautiful look when she sees me, and her face lights up, and she tells me without saying anything that she loves me more than anyone has ever loved anyone ever. And I feel like the most lucky guy who could ever be, because you never look at anyone else that way, and no one will ever look at me the beautiful way you look at me. And there’s — ” He broke off as he saw the tears well up in her eyes. Oh no, that didn’t go right! “I’m sorry, hon, I wasn’t trying to make you sad!”
“You are so full of crap!” she whispered to him. “I love you very much!”
They hugged each other until somebody from E’s home room, passing by, tapped them on the shoulder to remind them they needed to get moving.
Jenn, of all people, was sitting at their lunchtime table in the cafeteria when E got there. K’s sister looked… upset. Angry? Sad? E couldn’t figure her out. And what is she doing in our lunch spot?
As E approached, Jenn stood up. “Don’t sit down, Props, I need to talk to you two. Where’s your boyfriend?” Her tone was matter-of-fact, almost like a TV cop, as she scanned the lunch room occupants behind E.
What is going on? Is something wrong? Something happened to K’s parents? “He usually gets here after I do on — ”
“Never mind, got him. Hey!” Jenn waved at K, just approaching, who was looking as confused as E felt. “Hang on to your lunch, follow me, we’re going outside. No questions, wait until we get there, I have a spot behind the gym.”
Jenn started moving, slowly at first, as she got around the kids milling through the aisles between tables, then briskly as she exited the cafeteria through the doors leading outside. She gave occasional glances over her shoulder to make sure that E and K had not gotten lost. The walk around the school to the back of the gym took a few minutes; E and K pantomimed interrogative looks and clueless responses to each other. Finally Jenn gestured toward a concrete bench while she staked out a piece of brick wall to lean against. She stared at the couple for several seconds before she started to speak.
“Okay, I spent most of history class trying to think of a way to sugar-coat this, and while it was the most productive I’ve been in the class in weeks, I still don’t have a nice way to put this, so I’m just going to shove in the blade hard and fast, alright?” She took a deep breath, then looked at her brother. “Dad got a job.”
That’s good, right? He’s been out of work since, what, last November? More than half a year? E looked at K. His face was frozen, staring at his sister.
“Where,” he stated. Not a question. More like a prompt for the next part of the discussion.
“New York. Upstate. Hudson Valley. Around Albany. Don’t know the name of the company, they do packaging. Management job, like he’s been insisting on.”
K was breathing forcefully. E reached out and took his hand; he grabbed on to hers like he was afraid she was going to be swept away. I suppose I can ask? If I’m included in this discussion, or briefing, or whatever this is? “When?” E asked.
Jenn smiled without humor. “Baby bro gets to finish out junior year, I get to graduate. And then POOF! We’re outa here. Day after graduation. Three weeks. Twenty-four days. House goes on the market this week. So instead of enjoying the last days of senior year, I’m going to be packing up and helping to get the house in order to show to strangers who will be wandering through our rooms at all hours. Oh, and we’ll be going the cheap route the whole way, just so you know. So don’t assume we’ll be paying for something when we can do it ourselves. Like moving.”
“Why the rush? The investments from Grandma’s inheritance are — ”
“There’s no money, bro. Dad lost it. Well, Dad gave it all to Mr. Webber to invest, and Mr. Webber promised to double it or some such bullshit and instead lost it on the ponies or something. For what it’s worth, Mr. Webber is going to jail. Probably. That’s how Mom and Dad found out, when the cops or SEC or somebody contacted them. But his wife has filed for divorce, and everything is in her name, and we are never, ever going to get that money back. We are broke.”
This was their college funds, right? So college — even fancy universities like rich people go to — cost, what, twenty-five hundred a year? So four years, two people, twenty grand, maybe? That’s a lot, sure, but… “How much money did your dad invest?”
“I asked Mom that. Dad didn’t want to talk about it. Mom showed me the statement.” Jenn took a deep breath. “Two hundred forty-three thousand, one hundred twenty-eight dollars. And change. Dad gave him everything we got from Grandma plus our college funds plus their retirement savings. He put all the chips on one number of the roulette wheel, and it’s all gone.” She addressed her brother. “Mom thinks she can get a student loan to cover my tuition, for the first year, anyway, especially if she can get a nursing job in New York. But I’m not going to U of I in the fall. I’m applying to schools in New York, hoping for in-state tuition, maybe in time to start early next year. You, bro, you get to hope that a scholarship works out to somewhere, somehow. Because — ” She gave a phony laugh. “ — because you are smart enough to get financial help, and I’m too much of a screw-up to do that. And that’s not even in the top five of things that are totally fucked up about this whole damn thing.”
“That’s not fair,” whispered K. “I finally get a girlfriend, I finally get somebody special in my life. We were supposed to have senior year together. We’re supposed to have all summer together. This…” E put her arm around him and put his head on her shoulder.
“Yeah. Can’t argue with you. But I asked to talk to you guys first, after Mom and Dad told me last night. They haven’t really been paying attention to you two the last few weeks. I’m pretty sure they still think you’re in a practice relationship. Never mind the other stuff you two have been up to.” Jenn stood upright. “Props, take care of him, okay? I’m supposed to be in class right now, and I need to not miss graduating, it turns out. Sooo… see you guys later, okay?” She leaned over to give her brother a kiss on top of his head before she started to walk away. She turned while still walking to remind them, “Hey! Remember to eat lunch!”
E put both arms around K and hugged him close. I don’t know what to say.
He whispered to her, “You should eat lunch, honey.”
“I’m not hungry.”
E has an idea. It might be a little crazy, but it might work.