Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 26byrpsuch©
I ran into Jen on campus. It was inevitable.
"Ashley Fine, I can't believe how good you look. I mean you always look fabulous, but you have a kind of glow that makes you look unreal. It's gotta be a guy."
She reached out and touched my arm. A look of astonishment took over her face.
"No, not Jeff."
I must have let out some of the inner glow.
"You lucky girl."
"Maybe he's a lucky guy," I said.
"I think you have changed. You said 'maybe.'"
I giggled but I felt ambivalent. I was doing that a lot lately.
Here was someone who knew Jeff, someone I could talk to about him, who would understand the magic I was seeing in him.
On the other hand, here was someone who knew Jeff, or at least had known him, who would understand the magic I was seeing in him.
I didn't like the idea of having to share him, but that was in the past. The chance to talk with someone other than his mother about him was irresistible.
"He says I've changed. His mom says I've changed," I said.
"You've met his family?"
"Lots of times."
"This must be serious." She had a smile that let me know it was part tease. "Have you taken him home to meet your parents?"
"I'm planning to do that on our 50th anniversary."
"Yeah, I guess you didn't get the way you were by accident."
"How was I?"
Oops, she'd forgotten who she was talking to and momentarily lapsed into candor.
"In control." Controlling.
"You shouldn't be an English major, Jen, you should be training for the diplomatic service. You could sell shit and position it as organic fertilizer, or plant food."
She didn't feel the need to respond.
"I have changed. Jeff says it was there all along. The stuff I cared so much about six months ago just doesn't seem that important anymore."
"I know exactly what you mean. I changed a lot, too, after I met Jeff. He makes you question the reasons you do things."
"I know exactly what you mean. He acts strange sometimes and you come to find out he's actually doing it for a reason."
"And he's so supportive," said Jen.
Would that it were my parents saying this.
"Yeah, but the best thing, and maybe the worst, well, one of the best, I don't know. Anyway, he believes in me, more than I believe in myself. It's scary.
"I feel like I have to work to make sure I don't let him down. But I know that even if I do, he'll keep believing in me."
"Wow." I knew that tone; it was awe.
"Do you want to get some coffee and talk? My treat," I said.
"Who are you and what have you done with Ashley Fine?"
We had engaged in banter before, but this was a genuinely friendly exchange. I was drawn to her.
I had been doing that a lot lately: Sunny, Sandy, Harri, Sam. Was I just trying to score a friend other than Sunny, or was this a real connection?
I had been doing a lot of that lately, too: questioning why I did things.
I never used to do that before. What did it matter why as long as I got what I wanted? Now that wasn't enough.
We walked to Starbucks. I had a vente café mocha with a double shot of espresso. Jennifer had a vente skim caramel macchiato. We could drink until we needed to pee.
"What about you, Jen, do you have somebody special?"
"Not at the moment. I'm looking, but I don't feel any pressure to grab someone up just to have him. I'm also not into that thing we were into with guys who have or will have money. I'd rather have a guy who can add to my life to make me happy."
"Someone like Jeff?" I asked.
"Someone not Jeff, but kind of like Jeff. He's too, Jeff.
"Jeff, is a strange combination. He has amazing emotional maturity in a lot of ways, not even considering how young he is. But in some emotional aspects he's almost clueless.
"And socially, he's damn near lost. He's going to be incredible. He is incredible, but he's just going to keep getting better, you know?"
"Yeah, I know", I said. "I know it's not the real definition, but I tell him he's an idiot savant. And I never know which one is going to show up. But I love them both."
Dr. Goldberg and Mr. Bill I was saving for Jeff and me.
"Yeah. Love. Imagine that.
"Hey, you're not going to believe this, well maybe you will, it looks like Jeff is going to graduate."
"What? This year? How can he do that?"
"I don't know, but he's planning on starting a Ph.D. program here in the fall."
She took a sip.
"Damn. So, are you teaching him how to get around in your social circles?"
That could be taken as catty, but I decided to be generous and view it as naïve.
"That's in his idiot zone. I'm sure he could learn it if he wanted, but there's no chance at all he'd ever be interested. He thinks it's like, crazy. Just imagine him talking to Buffy about her wardrobe at a party."
"A metaphor," I said.
"You're a lot more fun that you used to be. I think you're happier too."
"Thanks. You're not so bad yourself. Any big plans for the summer?"
"Small plans. I'm working in a pilot reading program associated with the Free Library of Philadelphia."
"I thought you were an English major."
"Just a slight change of plans. I think I want to teach so I've been taking enough education credits to graduate on time if I decide that's what I want.
"The job isn't so much for the money, it better not be on what they're paying. It's to find out if it's something I can do and like. Are you still doing the business thing?"
"I've been thinking about it. I have lots of contacts and I do well with people so it would seem to be a good fit. I'm just not excited about the prospect."
I took a sip. Drinking seemed to make the pace more leisurely.
"Is that part of the new you? Did it excite you before?" asked Jen.
I'd been asking myself more and more questions and the conclusions were pretty harsh.
"I don't think I did a lot of reflecting before. I had no doubts about anything, but I don't think that was because I was confident in my choices.
"I'm not sure I made choices. There's stuff you do and stuff you have to do and you do it, you know? Is this making any sense?"
"I'm not sure," said Jen.
Try it another way. Like Jeff says, one on one you get to try everything until you find something that works.
"Hot girl. Guys do what you want. So do most other girls. I know how to play politics. My family has money. You'd think I could do anything I want.
"But all of that pointed me in very few directions and it's like I did the only thing I could. Not just academic either."
Well, here it was. Did I want to take the risk?
What could I possibly gain from sincerity? Maybe a friend?
I didn't have to let it all out at once.
"I never put my feelings on the line. I never cared about anybody. I think it was because that way they couldn't hurt me. If I don't care, what difference does it make how people act towards me? I'm not sure about this, by the way; it's just a theory."
"Interesting theory. I wonder if it applies to me, too."
"You're a hot girl," I said.
Sipping isn't the same as thinking, but it gives you time to think, to consider what you want to say. Jen was sipping a lot and it didn't seem like she was just thirsty.
"So you're saying Jeff could hurt you? You're really?" She shrugged.
"Big time. And I worry about it. What happens when he finds out I'm not this great person he thinks I am? He's so young and smart and a little bit hot. He could get almost anybody."
"Yeah, and he picked you. Jeff's really smart and he's perceptive too. If he thinks you're special, he's probably right."
She reached across the table and squeezed my hand. I still wasn't convinced. I wasn't sure she was either.
Pouring out some of your heart, is this how you develop friends? It's a scary process.
"You know, your summer program sounds interesting. I've always been a voracious reader."
"You're kidding," she said.
"Why doesn't anybody believe I can read?"
"We know you can; nobody thought you actually did."
I didn't suppose it was important to correct the misperception.
Finals were right around the corner, I told Jen I'd give her a call when I got back home.