Nerd Romance — Touching Conversations

“How do you feel about holding hands?” “In general, or with you in particular?”

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

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.

If you do want to read the one before, it’s here:

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. 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 (with help from E’s sister, a nerd in high school who is now at college), 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.

K got his sandwich and chips out, but waited for E to join him before he started eating lunch. While she was getting settled in the chair across the cafeteria table from him, he pulled out his copy of the list and studied it.

“Okay, as an early item on the list, we have, ‘Determine mutually agreeable rules about touching’” K announced. He folded the paper and returned it to his pocket as E started on her own sandwich. “So… what exactly are we touching?”

E coughed slightly as a crumb went down her windpipe. When she recovered she said, “Yes! Exactly! That’s what we have to figure out. But you don’t need to talk about the list at every lunch, K, we could just talk about regular stuff. Like regular people.” Or at least as regular as you and I get.

K looked slightly puzzled. “Okay, first of all, my sister tells me I don’t do ‘regular people’ right, but… okay, that’s part of the practice relationship, valid point. But backtracking, we’re touching what?”

E grinned at him. “No, we’re touching who.”

K rolled his eyes. “I dunno.”

Both of them spoke simultaneously. “THIRD BASE!”

You can be a pain at times, K, but I don’t care what your sister the Princess Bitch says, you’re a lot more fun that regular people. “Anyway, persons in a relationship engage in mutual contact of a physical nature, hereafter referred to as ‘touching.’ The purpose of discussing the rules about touching is to avoid hurt feelings, disagreements, and possibly sudden knees to the other person’s crotch. If you know what I mean.”

He popped a chip into his mouth and gave her half an eye over the top of his glasses. “You got this from your sister. I’m starting to recognize a pattern in list items.”

She waved her unsandwiched hand dismissively. “Irrelevant, but yes, Mel cited an instance where she almost crippled her date when she thought he was trying to grope her at a frat party; it turned out the poor guy was just trying to retrieve some food off her shirt before it went down her cleavage. Anyway, people starting off a relationship — ” she waved her hand back and forth between them in case he was unsure about whom she was speaking “ — need to make sure they have the same basic ground rules when it comes to touching. Ooh, for example! Okay, when we shared the popcorn during Holy Grail, you got weird when our hands touched in the popcorn.”

“I just — “ K looked frustrated. “I was not weird, I just, I dunno, I wasn’t expecting it. I never shared popcorn at a movie before. I reached into the bucket, I wasn’t looking, you had your hand already in there, it was, like, unexpected, y’know?”

“And you didn’t eat any more popcorn for the next three movie scenes.”

“That’s… that’s not weird, E, that’s just… I was caught off guard.” He picked up his sandwich, pulled off a piece, and popped it into his mouth.

And you’ve grown up with your sister calling you weird all your life, and you don’t like it. I need to remember that. “Sorry, K, I just meant — well, never mind, anyway, my point is that we need to talk about things like that beforehand, or probably more during, because we’re still learning. Okay, so from now on, when we share popcorn, we need to make sure the other person has their hand out before we put ours in. Easy enough.” She gave him what was intended as a reassuring smile.

K finished what was left of his sandwich and resumed working on his chips. The two of them ate quietly for several minutes before he said, “Okay, we can do that, sure, but… I don’t want to make it seem like I don’t want to touch your hand, or anything. I mean, we touched hands a lot of times after that, right? In the popcorn? And it was okay. I kind of…” He seemed to be looking for words. He looked toward the ceiling above her and cocked his head slightly.

Huh, Dad does that. Is there some reservoir of knowledge that I carry around, floating above me, that only certain guys can see? “See, when we did that, I thought it was fine.” She hesitated. Am I going to freak him out? Please be cool, K. “Actually, I kind of liked it. It was — ”

“It was nice. I’m sorry I acted weird, E, I’m sorry. Once I got used to it, it was nice. I act weird, sometimes, I know, I’m trying to be better.” He finished his chips in their mutual silence. As he started to clean up his lunch debris, he looked like he had an idea. “Have you seen Young Frankenstein? It’s Saturday bargain matinee tomorrow.”

She smiled. “I did. I could see it again. I like Mel Brooks.”

“Okay. Meet there, or I pick you up?”

“Can you pick me up? We just have one car.”

“Okay. Two? No, travel time, one-thirty?”

“Make it closer to one, K, we have stuff to talk about before we go in.”

“Okay!” He smiled at her. On the other side of the cafeteria, someone made a sound like a dog’s howl. K snapped into an attentive pose. “Werewolf!”

E put on an expression of exaggerated concern. She pointed in no particular direction. “There… wolf.” She pointed in another direction. “There… castle.”

K stared at her with mock seriousness. “Why are you talking like that?”

They stared at each other for several seconds before bursting into laughter. It went on for a bit before K suddenly put his hand on his chest. E shot him a questioning look.

“If I laugh right after I eat, I get hiccups.” He seemed to be holding his breath. Finally he let it out. “I’m okay!” And then hiccuped.

She was watching for him from the front window, so she was out the door and almost to the curb before he stopped the Renault in front of her house, several minutes after the agreed-upon time. She waved him off when he started to get out, opening her door and getting in. “Hi, K! So we’re getting your mom’s car this time?”

K checked over his left shoulder for traffic before putting the car into motion. “I didn’t mention why I needed Mom’s car until I left. I’m a little late because I got a long explanation from Dad about why Young Frankenstein is totally inappropriate for a date.” I’m just going to keep making mistake after mistake, but fortunately for me I have my father and sister to point out each one for me. “Did your folks give you any grief?”

“In the twenty seconds I gave them before I dashed out the door after I saw you coming? No, not yet, we’ll see when I get home. Which will be either ‘later,’ according to Dad, or ‘no later than six, young lady,’ according to my mother.” E shrugged. “Whatever.”

K gave her a quick look and a grin. “You live life on the edge, E. Good for you!” He turned onto the main road toward the theater. “So what are we talking about before the movie?”

“So, resuming our discussion on touching, with particular emphasis on protocols to follow regarding movies or similar dates. How do you feel about holding hands?”

“In general, or with you in particular? OW!” he exclaimed in mock pain as his passenger gave him a light blow on his arm. “I should have borrowed the Buick, there’s safety in distance. Okay, um, I’m for it? I guess? Well, not at school, but that’s not the case here, right? Um, sure. Do you mean, like into the theater, or while in the theater? I’m just thinking we might see somebody we know going in.”

E digested that. “Yes, just while we’re in the theater. Well, after we’re done with the popcorn. We’re getting popcorn, right?”

K glanced her way with disbelief. “I’m sorry, did you just suggest that we might actually go to a movie and not get popcorn? I — I — I am shocked, shocked, at the very concept! Next you might suggest a baseball game without the national anthem at the start! I never suspected you had Communist tendencies!”

She laughed. “Cute. Okay, we go in to our seats, not holding hands — wait, we’ll have popcorn and sodas, we’ll have our hands full anyway — and we’ll need one hand to eat the popcorn, the other to hold the bucket, which we’ll have to take turns so we can drink our sodas. So we finish the popcorn, and then hold hands. Right?”

“Right! Um, except…” Is this appropriate for a second date? Third date, second movie, whatever? Am I going to seem like I’m trying to pull something? It’s E, it’s fine, ask her, we’ll talk about it. “Okay, um, my only basis for even asking this is a Bill Cosby comedy routine, but, um, my arm around your shoulder? Shoulders? Should I put my arm around you, I guess is what I’m asking?”

“Ah. See, this is why we discuss these things beforehand.” E pondered while K navigated traffic. “Um, sure? I guess? I dunno, K, this may be something we have to work out by doing.”

“Is this appropriate for a third date?”

E snorted. “I’m sorry, like I would know? Although…” K looked at her quickly; she seemed to be considering options. “Okay, I wasn’t going to mention this, but my sister thinks we shouldn’t have kissed on our first date. She said that should not happen until the second date, earliest.” She shrugged. “Sorry, K, they were back-ordered on that dating manual, there was nothing about the topic in Encyclopedia Britannica, I couldn’t get through on the dating help line… I thought dates always ended with a goodnight kiss, y’know?”

K nodded sympathetically. “Once again, Hollywood has failed us as the definitive guide to how to behave in modern society.” He sighed for effect. “Okay, the horse is gone and the barn is burned down. Or whatever. So I guess we try it and see how it goes. The arm and shoulders thing, I mean. I don’t think it’ll be a big deal.”

“Unless you’re trying for second base, or whatever.”

The Abbott and Costello routine? What? He turned into the theater parking lot, found a spot — not hard, on a Saturday afternoon — and turned off the car before asking, “I give up. Second base?”

E groaned and half-turned to face him. “I was afraid you wouldn’t know either. Okay, so in the girls locker room after PE, I hear senior girls talking about being out with their dates, and one of them was talking about this guy who thought he was God’s gift to women, and he put his arm around her, and she said something like, ‘So then he thinks he’s just gonna walk to second base, and I cut him off hard,’ and the girls around her laughed in kind of a mean way. So putting your arm around me can get you to second base. Or not.”

Baseball. What would dating have to do with baseball? “And we don’t even know what first base is, do we?” E shook her head. “Okay, well, it sounds dirty, whatever it is, so I guess we just take it slow and… you tell me if I do something that makes you feel uncomfortable? Or weird? Or… we talk, okay, E? Partners?” He held out his hand.

She laughed and shook his hand. “Partners!” She gave his hand a squeeze, but didn’t let go. They looked at each other as the seconds stretched out.

“So. What’s our understanding about holding hands in the car?” K grinned, but didn’t try to take his hand away.

“Um… okay, only while you are not driving, okay? Parked is fine. From a safety point of view, and all.” They stayed smiling at each other for several more seconds before E cautioned, “Okay, I am switching hands, okay? Otherwise this is a little awkward.” She took hold of his right hand with her left before releasing her right hand. They each relaxed back into their car seats, watching each other and smiling.

This feels silly, I guess. But this feels really nice. Do I wait for her to say something? What do I say? He took a quick look around the nearly empty parking lot. “There’s almost nobody here. We could walk in holding hands. Nobody would see us. How’s — would you be okay with that?”

She did her own look around before speaking. “Sure! We need to get popcorn and soda, still, and I should probably use the ladies room, I kinda rushed out of the house. And they’ll have previews and stuff. So this would be a good time to go in.” She let go his hand, unbuckled her seat belt, started to open her door before she saw K racing around to open it for her, shut it. K opened her door, let her out, closed the door behind her, and then seemed momentarily at a loss. She held out her right hand. “A lady always leaves the right hand of her escort free. That way he can draw his sword if attacked.”

Really? Wow. He took her hand and they started walking toward the theater entrance. He gave her a side glance. “Did you read that, or are you making it up?”

She raised her head slightly as she spoke in a regal voice. “A gentleman, sir, never questions the veracity of a lady! Her reputation and her probity are always deemed to be impeccable!”

K snorted. “That’s what I thought. I’m gonna hafta get better about reading you, E.” He held open the entrance door for her and released her hand.

“Thank you, good sir!” E told him in a sickly-sweet voice, and then added in her normal tones, “And good luck with that!”

K headed for the concession stand as E steered herself to the restrooms.

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Jack Herlocker

Jack Herlocker

Husband & retiree. Developer, tech writer, & IT geek. I fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches. Occasionally do weird & goofy things.