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 high school in the 1970s. They call each other by their initials, so she is “E” and he is “K.” They are engaging 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 is a mutually beneficial partnership, and not in any way a romantic association. Originally they kept the whole thing a secret from other kids at school, but that fell apart before long, so now they are “out” as boyfriend/girlfriend. K’s mother, who is also the high school nurse, thinks the practice relationship would be a wonderful opportunity for K to enhance his knowledge of girls and support their needs, specifically dealing with periods.
“I have a book you need to read,” E announced to her practice boyfriend as she sat down with him for lunch.
K regarded this with some suspicion. Uh oh. Is this a case of, “I found a book I really like so I think you should read it” kind of thing? Our tastes don’t match. “Is it a mystery? I’m not against mysteries, per se, but they’re just not my thing. Really science fiction is more my bag.” Although… hmmm, a review I read said Caves of Steel was kind of both. I wonder if she’s thinking of that one?
E thought briefly as she checked out her chips, with an aside to her absent mother. “Fritos? Really, Mom? No, K, not a mystery. Actually — ” She sniffed a corn chip suspiciously before eating it. “Actually, K, it’s more of an anti-mystery book. It reveals things about women you didn’t know. That even I didn’t know, despite being a woman, and all. Mel found out about it at Stanford, she put me on to it. Have you ever heard of Our Bodies, Ourselves?”
K blinked several times, then looked around quickly to make sure nobody was in earshot before leaning closer to her and lowering his voice. “E! That’s — that’s a sex book!”
“It is not! It talks about the many aspects of being a woman, sexuality is one of them, it mentions that. That doesn’t make it a sex book, K!”
“It has pictures of people having sex!” whispered K fiercely, again looking around to make sure no one was close. He was starting to blush.
“It does not!” E rebutted firmly in her normal voice. “There’s — oh, wait, I know the one you’re thinking about, okay, valid point, although that’s just a drawing, as I remember. Wait, how do you know this? You’ve seen the book?”
K was definitely blushing now. “It’s — the Book Stall has it as ‘Book of the Month,’ so it was on display, and when I was waiting for Mrs. Fowler for something I picked one up and was leafing through it and there were naked pictures of women — pictures of naked women — and I put it back quickly before Mrs. Fowler caught me. But it’s — ” He leaned even closer to E while still whispering. “Kids come in the shop! And the books are just sitting there where anybody could look at them! With no warnings or anything!” Hold on! How does E know all this? His voice went back to normal. “Wait. When were you looking at it?”
“I bought it. Mrs. F. approves. She thinks girls like me need to know these things.”
They can’t just sell this stuff to under-age people! Can they?! “And… and she let you?”
E rolled her eyes. “Good gosh, K, you are such a child sometimes! Yes, Mrs. F. let a fellow woman purchase a book intended to let women learn more about being women. Get over it, okay?” Seeing K starting to shift into defensive mode, she added, “And I think you should read it. Not for our practice relationship, so much, as I think it would be a good idea for real relationships you have in the future, okay? There are things every guy should know about women, just basic stuff.” As K started to open his mouth she cut him off with, “It works out better for both parties, in the long run. You’ll see.”
Wait. Was this what Mom was talking about the other day at dinner? Being supportive of my practice girlfriend’s needs while she’s on her period? “Ah. Okay. Sorry, sorry, I see what you mean now. Sorry. Umm…” This is embarrassing. I don’t even know when my sister’s period is! On the other hand, E brought it up, right? So she’s obviously okay talking about it. “Actually, it’s kind of weird, but my mom was talking about it at dinner recently. She said that you and I need to discuss it.”
E’s mouth paused open as she was about to take a bite of sandwich. She withdrew the sandwich to ask, “Your mother brought this up? What?!”
What? She knows what Mom is like. “Sure. She says it’s important for the guy in a relationship to understand feminine needs. Right?”
E was starting to blush. “Um, yes, in theory, but ahhhh… I don’t think that’s actually going to apply to us. I mean, to you and me. The two of us. Together. So much.”
“Well, my mom disagrees.” Maybe E’s worried that I’ll be too embarrassed? Fine, E, after that crack about me being a child, let’s just see who is more mature! “So, anyway, when is your period?”
E opened her mouth. Closed it. Started to say something, paused, and closed her mouth again. Blinked several times.
K took advantage of the lull in the conversation to finish his sandwich.
“Your mom was talking about periods. Menstrual functions. Feminine cycles. Got it.”
Which is not what you were talking about? Then I’m totally lost. “And you were talking about…?”
“Um, sex. Having sex. Things a guy should know. About women. When having sex. With the, um, woman.” She was about to add something, thought better of it, and instead became engrossed with checking the contents of her lunch bag to see if there was anything in it she might have missed. Possibly.
The rest of their lunch was finished in silence.
As the bell rang and they were collecting their stuff, K worked up the nerve to ask, “So, you never answered, when is your period?”
E snorted. “None of your business! And what are you going to do, carry around spare tampons in your purse?” She stalked off.
Actually, Mom suggested my wallet. I’m pretty sure they’re too big for that. Maybe a pocket? Wait, whatzizname, he carries a pack of cigarettes in his socks, that could work. Maybe.
K greeted E as soon as she walked into English class.
“What are you doing on Saturday? Wait, rephrase: how would you like to come out on a rocket shoot tomorrow after lunch?”
And hello to you, too! We’re just never going to make that automatic, are we? E plopped her books on her desk, then sat sideways in her seat so she could talk to K more directly. “Sure. Sounds great. What’s a rocket shoot?”
“It’s…” K blinked. “It’s… y’know… shooting rockets. Model rockets. Launching them. Ones we’ve built. That we launch.”
E looked at him over the top of her glasses. And I would know all about these because… wait wait wait! Her head came to attention and her eyes opened slightly. “Rockets! Got it! Those things on display on the shelves in your room. Okay. Wait, you said you used to do that a lot in junior high, but not so much lately.”
“Yes, true, however, I ran into some of my old junior high friends in the hall, and we all decided it would be cool to launch a few, for old times sake. Nelson said he’d bring his girlfriend, so I asked if I could bring you.” K smiled happily.
So now we’re going to “bring the girlfriend” events? “So you asked your friends if I could come before you asked me if I wanted to?”
“Um…” K’s eyes went up briefly as he considered, then back down to her. “Yes. I thought that was the right way to do it.”
That’s my boy! E patted his hand. “Good call. There’s hope for you yet.”
K picked her up the next day, driving his mother’s car. Model rockets, varying in size from a few inches to over a yard high, were carefully placed in the back seat, along with what appeared to be a large toolbox. They drove out to the former athletic field of what had previously been a neighboring school; K explained it was bigger than the fields at their high school, and other than not getting mowed often enough was a great place to launch.
Two other cars were already there. K parked and started unloading, giving E two of the rockets to carry over to the launch site that two boys were setting up.
Hey, I know these guys! “Nels! Oz! You two never told me you were into shooting off missiles on your days off!”
Nelson shielded his eyes from the sun to see who was talking. “Props! What are you — wait, you’re not ‘The Girlfriend,’ are you? What has you hanging with this excuse for a physical specimen? Lose a bet?”
E gave him a playful punch on the arm and made a rude noise. “How’s Godot going? As awful as I’ve heard?”
K carefully put down his gear and the remaining rockets, and faced everyone with a confused look. “So everybody knows each other? What?” He looked at E. “Props?”
Osborne stood up after hooking up the wires to the rocket on the launch pad. “You mean you didn’t know that your girlfriend is, like, the usual props mistress for the drama group? She’s only been doing this for like, I dunno, two years now?”
E explained, “Until the group decided to stage an ultra-minimalist Waiting for Godot for the spring set, making my services unnecessary. So I got a new hobby.” She grinned in K’s direction. That would be you, hon. “Speaking of girlfriends, aren’t we missing somebody?”
Nelson shrugged. “Marie begged off. Something about preferring to watch paint dry, or something. She’s not into this, I guess.”
Osborne was holding up a streamer to test the wind direction and force. “I think we are set for our first shot, people. Wind is moderate out of the east, giving us a good recovery area downfield. Recovery team, please take your positions.”
K took a good look at the rocket on the pad for the first time. “Oz, is that the Olympus II? If so, we’ll need to get, what, twenty feet down range? Maybe twenty-five?”
Osborne looked apologetically at E. “The Olympus II was somewhat under-powered. It, um, did not perform as I intended.” He spoke more loudly toward Nelson and K. “This, gents, is the redesigned Olympus III! I made it multi-engined and reinforced the parachute mount, so we should get more altitude than the Olympus II and avoid the unfortunate self-destruction of the Olympus I. Prepare to be impressed!”
Nelson and K remained in their locations, roughly twenty yards downwind, by E’s estimate. “Oz, I know it’s my first launch and all, but I don’t think they’re intimidated by your promises, so far. Where do you want me?” Isn’t there supposed to be a sandbagged bunker or something? In case it blows up?
“You’re fine right there. Good view when it takes off.” Osborne noticed E had her fingers in her ears. “What are you doing?”
“It’s going to be noisy, right?” E’s voice was a little louder than normal.
Osborne opened his mouth, closed it, and commenced with the launch procedure. He inserted the large safety pin into the controller in his hand; a bright light flashed on. “LAUNCHER IS ARMED!” he announced. “IGNITION IN FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE, LIFTOFF!”
There was a moderate WHOOSH as the rocket took off on two tongues of fire, gaining speed and altitude. Okay, that wasn’t too bad, noise-wise, and wow! That thing is still going UP! “Do they always curve in flight like that?” The rocket was arcing toward the east, into the wind and away from the recovery area. After several seconds there was a puff of white smoke, and a red parachute deployed. It was high enough to be barely visible.
Nelson had jogged back to the launch area. “Hey Oz — ”
“Yeah, I know, the wind caught it and it angled into it. I made the fins too big.” Osborne had an unhappy look.
K joined them. “And the chute too small. It’s coming down too fast.” The rocket and parachute were coming down more slowly than they’d gone up, but still with a good deal of speed. “It’s gonna crack up in the parking lot, Oz!”
All four of them started moving at a jog toward the parking lot, eyes fixed on the Olympus III. “I got it!” E suddenly shouted, and sprinted ahead. She snagged the parachute in mid-air before the rocket would have hit the asphalt, and turned to the boys in triumph.
All three were gaping at her. “Um, Props? We don’t usually do that. It can be dangerous.” Osborne suddenly realized he sounded ungrateful. “But thanks! Thank you very much! That was great! Really ballsy!”
E, breathing hard from exertion as well as adrenaline, handed over the rocket to its owner, and asked K, “Why is it dangerous? It’s not heavy. Didn’t seem like a big deal.”
“Somebody was trying to catch one coming down, and it hit him in the head. There was some blood. We couldn’t drive yet, back then, and it kind of freaked out my mom,” explained Nelson.
“Minor head wounds show a lot of blood — ” began K.
“And another time somebody was chasing one, stepped in a hole, and nearly broke his ankle. Fortunately his mom was driving us that time, so she knew how to treat it — ”
“Which is why we stopped using that prairie area, Nels! JEEZ, you guys, she’ll think I’m some sort of, I dunno, accident-prone something-or-other!” K was starting to look ticked off.
“Hey, Props, did he ever show you his burn scars?” asked Osborne. Seeing K’s expression, he added, “Just askin’!”
Later, on the ride back (after several more launches and two more catches by E), she patted her practice boyfriend on the back of his head. “You alright, K? You’re not saying much. Did I embarrass you in front of your friends?” Did I hurt your macho sensibilities? I have to remember to be more careful about that.
K glanced at her, then returned his attention to the road. “It’s like… there’s a whole ‘nuther side to you I’ve never seen before! You just…” K shook his head.
At the next stoplight, E leaned closer to him and whispered in her best Elmer Fudd voice, “Be vewy vewy quiet… I’m catching WOCKETS!” She grinned madly and wiggled her eyebrows.
K rolled his eyes.
Next: things that boys and girls will never understand about the other sex. EV-er!
Nerd Romance—Getting to Know All(?) About You
“Boys should not be allowed to buy beer, vote in national elections, or procreate. Ever!”
And the entire collection: