Many people have asked me why I don't date. They find it hard to believe that a straight, semi-attractive girl like myself would refuse the advances of anyone, especially Joey Dixon, the campus drug dealer. He thought it was funny when I tripped over my two feet to get away from him and he had assumed that my blush was from our close proximity.
"Ok," Mallory, my best friend, agrees, "So Joey is a little creepy."
"See!" I exclaim and then stuff my clothing into the machine. "Now you understand."
"But," she interjects, folding her t-shirt with precision, "then again, have you seen his ass?"
My eyes narrow in annoyance. "I'm not dating a drug dealer," I finally conclude, inserting my coins into the change machine. "No matter how good his ass looks in track pants."
Mallory grins a little. "Come on, Fred. Not everyone's going to turn out like Seth."
I think my parents were high on marijuana and watching Lord of the Rings when they thought of my baby name. Close friends call me Fred, but my real name is Aelfraed. It means "Elf counselor" and is, sufficient to say, an incredible icebreaker.
"Don't bring that up," I warn weakly, slumping into the hard chair. "Worst, traumatic experience of my life."
"I find it kind of funny," she says.
Let me tell you, it was anything but funny.
I was thirteen years old and sitting in Seth Gordon's basement. My hands were sticky and my breaths were coming out a little labored. I tried shielding that fact by inhaling through my nose and concentrating on the movie playing.
"Maybe it was an iguana," Michael said from the TV screen.
I mused at how we, the considered social pariah of our middle school, had chosen E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial as the movie for our first date. My friends didn't see what I saw in Seth. Kids called him "Poindexter" instead of his real name and liked to tease him about his never-ending list of allergies. But I thought he was great.
When my cell phone started flashing, I hurriedly turned to look at Seth. "I have to go home," I muttered. "My mom's calling."
"Okay," he said, his glazed eyes meeting mine. I stared at his freckles as he grabbed the remote and paused the movie. He stood before me and held out a hand, which I considered a chivalrous act that no other boy in eighth grade would do.
As we walked side by side, I slipped a mint in my mouth. Just in case, I assured myself nervously. Bad breath would not do. We reached the front door. "I had a good time, Seth," I said as cheerfully as I could. My heart was pounding like a drumbeat in one of Shakira's music videos.
"Me too," he said quietly. He was more reserved than other kids.
"I'll see you tomorrow?" I questioned.
He nodded but we continued to stare at each other. Finally, he leaned towards me and my eyes widened a fraction. Our lips met in an awkward embrace and my hands clutched his scrawny shoulders. I thought all was going well until Seth immediately pulled back, his eyes wide.
"I... I..." He started to gasp. "Did you... mint... allergic..."
His eyelids fluttered shut as he crumpled to the ground. In nervous confusion, I swooped to the ground. "Seth? Seth?" I frantically called, shaking his comatose body.
That's when it occurred to me. Seth was severely allergic to Mentha, more commonly known as the mint leaf.
I stuff my clothing into the back of Mallory's car as she walks out of the Laundromat. "Whatever happened to that Seth kid anyway?" she wants to know.
"His parents hated me and refused to let me talk to him," I say as I open the passenger door. "He became an ultra genius and got into one of those ivy league schools or whatever. Never saw him again."
"Romantic," she waggles her eyebrows.
I smile dryly but say nothing as she starts the engine and peels out of the parking lot. I begin to reach for the radio but Mallory slaps my hand away. "Stop," she threatens. She's uptight and believes that music will distract her and cause a car accident. "Oh, Fred, I'm going for a study group later. It's for my Psych final. Want to join me?"
"As if," I roll my eyes.
Mallory looks affronted. "Psychology is very interesting, excuse you."
"I'd rather not learn about Freud's psychosexual stages and have your nerdy friends make corny jokes about my name. I'll stick to eating junk food and watching The Office." I turn away to the window.
"That was once! What's so creepy about the anal and phallic stages anyway?" When she gets no response, she continues. "Whatever. But I heard from Christy that Joey's going to creep around our dorm later tonight." Her voice sounds suspiciously smug.
My head turns back to her. "Why would he do that?"
"He wants to take you out," she says, a grin sneaking up on her face. "Show you a good time."
I blanch somewhat, imagining his leer. The last thing I want to see on a Saturday night is Joey's face. Swallowing, "How long is your study session?"
"Oh, a couple hours," Mallory says nonchalantly.
Mallory: 1, Fred: 0.
"Guys, this is my best friend Aelfraed!" Mallory says with barely concealed excitement.
Some members of the group turn their head from where they are sitting. They are clustered around a circular table in the middle of the local Starbucks, attempting to look intellectual. Seth never flaunted his smarts, I think unconsciously but then I internally smack myself.
"Hi," some say in unison.
I wave weakly.
"Aelfraed?" one guy jokes. "That's an interesting name."
I shoot Mallory a look and her lips twitch. "Call me Fred," I say and slip into a chair.
"Ok, since everyone's finally here," a prissy blonde states, narrowing her eyes at Mallory, "we can begin. I was thinking we should begin with the approaches and then continue onto brain structures."
"Hold up, we're actually going to study?" a boy next to me complains. His fingers run through his auburn hair as he leans against his chair.
"Yes, you dimwit," the blonde counters. "You're so lazy, Ryan."
Ryan sips his coffee.
"Can we order drinks?" I ask, trying to relieve some tension. Talk about awkward.
The blonde opens her mouth, probably to refuse us, but Mallory pulls me out of my chair. "We'll be back."
"Tell me again why we're doing this?" I question as we stand in the line.
Mallory sighs. "Don't turn around, but look at the guy in the varsity jacket." I turn my head slightly and attempt to find the guy. Once I've located him, my mouth drops a bit.
"Hot damn," I say. "Wow."
"I know," she laughs. "His name's Nolan and he's always talking about this group study session he always goes to. Decided I'd try and see what it was all about."
"Wow," I repeat, still staring at him. His blue eyes flit to me accidentally and I look away. "That explains so much, Mal. You don't even know."
Her smile lingers on her face as she stares straight ahead. "Stop being so sarcastic."
"Will do," I salute her.
The people in front of us finally leave and I turn to the barista. "Hi, can I have a tall chai latte?" I say pleasantly.
He nods easily and looks at Mallory expectantly. "I'll take a grande nonfat caramel macchiato..." she pauses. "With no foam."
Drama queen, I think with a slight smile.
I turn back to him and my eyes vacantly pass over his nametag. Seth, it reads in bold font. My throat goes dry and sweat slips from my pores. It's just a name, I assure myself, but my eyes try to examine his face. As if he realizes my struggle, he turns away to make our drinks.
"Mallory," I whisper harshly.
She looks at me with an upturned eyebrow.
"Did you see his nametag?" I bite my lip.
"No," she says. "Why?"
"Seth," I mouth and her jaw drops. She starts laughing and I slap her arm in attempt to get her to shut up. "Stop, he's going to look over."
"Are you sure that's him?" she says.
I ponder over her words and examine his familiar unruly, dark hair. I need another look at his face. After what seems like an eternity, Seth finishes our drinks and turns back to us. "That'll be four ninety one," he says crisply. His brown eyes meet mine.
"Uh," I croak out. "Okay." I fish out my wallet and pay for our drinks.
We walk halfway back to the table before I turn to her. "That looks just like him," I admit. "But it can't be. He should be in Harvard or Yale or MIT. Not back home."
"He's pretty cute," Mallory observes. "Looks geeky, though."
I place a hand on my hip. "What's wrong with being a little geeky?"
"Oh nothing," she says casually. "You just seem to show a lot of resentment for the nerd population." Ignoring my glare, she continues, "Maybe you're taking out your anger for Seth's absence on people who remind you of him."
"That didn't make sense," I retort and we make our way back to the nerd herd.
I sit and watch as Ryan flicks paper balls into the hoody of the girl two seats away from him. I inadvertently laugh at his antics. He smirks.
"Um," Nolan says, squinting at his textbook. "What does a damaged reticular formation cause again?"
The blonde perks and I can literally see her trying to file through all the information in her head to find the answer. "It's, um, a... hold on I forgot..."
"It results in lack of consciousness," Mallory interjects sweetly, which makes Nolan pause and look at her.
Maybe Seth had a damaged reticular formation, I think hopefully to myself. But then I shake my head.
My eyes flicker back unconsciously to the counter and see Seth chatting with one of his coworkers. I try to figure out if it really is him or if my imagination has just went haywire. I remember in seventh grade World History he told me he had a birthmark on his hipbone the shape of New Jersey.
Somehow I doubt he will peel his shirt off and show me.
"The hypothalamus is the master control center for eating, drinking and sex," the blonde replies flirtily to one of Nolan's questions.
"Stop Marissa, no one likes you," Ryan quips.
Her eyebrows pull together in irritation but she ignores him. I see Mallory smiling from the corner of my eye.
I grab her pencil and rip the edge of her paper. Should I approach Seth? I push it towards her.
Yeah. Invite him to a Star Trek convention afterwards. I read her reply with finesse before nodding and slipping a piece of gum into my mouth.
"Wish me luck," I whisper before standing and walking back towards the line. I feel nervous but don't dwell on it.
"What can I get you?" he asks.
My fingers drum against the counter. "Do you like Star Trek?" I blurt and then I close my eyes. I am stupid, I repeatedly think in my head. So stupid.
"Not really," he replies. I open my eyes and see he's smiling. "I'm more of a Battlestar Galactica kind of guy."
My whole arm erupts in goose bumps at his response. "Are you Seth Gordon?" I finally ask.
His eyes are set on mine. "Yes," he reveals. "Hi Fred."
"You remember me?" I inquire, astonished.
"I have good memory," he chimes good naturedly. "Besides, who could forget you?"
I turn my head to look at Mallory, who's watching us intently. She shoots me a thumbs up. "Well, Seth, I happen to have tickets to a Battlestar Galactica convention and I was wondering if you'd like to accompany me."
I really don't have tickets but I nervously await his response.
"Why me?" he questions as he cleans a glass.
"Well," I begin, "why not you?"
"That's a nerd joke, isn't it," he says with a little smile.
My palms are beginning to feel sweaty again. My mind suddenly flashes back to when we were in his basement, huddled on the couch. At my lack of response, he nods, "I'll go."
"Ok," I mumble at a loss for words. "Why aren't you in college?"
"Graduated a year early," he chuckles and I feel impressed. "Came back home to live with the family and I got this job at the coffee shop while I took a year off from everything."
"Do your parents still despise me?" I wonder.
"Sure do," he says, flipping the glass into a tray. "They bring you up at family reunions and talk about how you were a terrible influence. You've got a hate club."
"Oh joy," I laugh.
I only realize how much time has passed when Mallory comes up to us. "Study sessions over. You coming with me, Elf counselor?"
"Sure," I say but inwardly pout. "I'll be there in a minute."
She leaves and I look back at Seth. "So maybe you should give me your number so I can contact you for the convention?" I petition sweetly.
"Ah, always the wise one," he notes. He pulls out a pen from his jean pocket and grabs a napkin. For some reason I find that incredibly sexy. He scribbles for over a minute and then he folds it carefully into a flower.
"Clever," I say, observing his origami art. I take it from his hand and wave goodbye as I walk out to the car.
As Mallory drives back to campus, I hesitantly unfold the note. I skim over his number. Hey, Fred. Just thought you might want to be aware of my other allergies for our second date: shellfish, walnuts, soy, and ragweed pollen. P.S. Call me when you get home.
"Oh God," I murmur and lean my flushed forehead against the cold glass window.
"What?" Mallory asks, glancing at me.
"I think I'm in love."