Chemistry of Love


"May I join you, Dennis?"

Dennis looked a bit surprised but not unwelcoming. "Sure! You're not with your friend?"

"Bill? He's at the gym trying to turn into a linebacker overnight," Jay quipped.

Dennis laughed, the loudest noise Jay had ever heard out of him. "No offense, but no way he's ever going to get there!"

"I know," Jay commiserated. "I've known him since eighth grade. He always was a legend in his own mind."

"Who isn't at that age?" Dennis asked.

"No kidding. Listen, you're a chem major, aren't you?"

Dennis nodded.

"Could I trouble you for some help with my homework? I mean, some hints if I get stuck on anything?"

"You're my hero for asking!" Dennis exclaimed. "Listen, I'm a paper corrector for Professor Mahre, in her 101 class, and some of the stupid mistakes I've seen...I wish more people would ask me first! Yeah, just come by my room anytime!"

Jay sighed. "Wow, that's a relief! I could sure use the help. Just today --"

"What're you doing here, guy?" came Bill's voice from over Jay's shoulder. He turned to see his friend standing above him with his tray.

"Eating dinner, what's it look like?" Jay said.

"No shit, I mean here without me. I came looking for you after I got back from the gym and your roommate hadn't seen you. I figured you'd disappeared off to the library again."

"I did, for a while," Jay said. "I just didn't know when you were gonna be done. Anyway, plenty of room here, join us!"

"Can't, guy, I'm off to eat with the men." He beckoned two tables over with his head, to where a handful of burly guys were eating. "I'm bonding with them at the gym. Gotta keep it up at dinner, too."

"See you later," Jay and Dennis said in unison.

"Later, Jay," Bill said over his shoulder.

Dennis didn't look annoyed at being ignored. He only looked intrigued. "Has he always been..." he began.

"Yes, always," Jay replied with a nod and a wry grin.

Bill strode confidently to the jocks' table and plopped down beside the clean-cut blond guy he'd seen with Jen a time or two -- surely he'd have some dirt on her. "'Evening," he said.

"Hey, man," he said. "Saw you at the gym, I think?

"Yeah," Bill said. "Bulking up for football. Name's Bill, by the way."

"I'm Brett. I was on the team last fall. Not sure if I'm gonna do it again next year. Coach is a real piece of work. Ain't that right, Jimmy?" He grinned at the guy sitting across the table from him, whom Bill didn't recognize.

"Helps when you go to practice, Brett," Jimmy shot back. To Bill he added, "Not that I blame him. He's dating this chick, totally worth missing practice for."

"More the other way around, I found Jen because I was sick of coach's bullshit," Brett said. "Anyway...Bob, was it?"

"Bill." He managed to say it with an even voice as he swallowed his heart -- who knew this hunk was dating Jen?

"Bill. Sorry. Anyway, if you're serious about the game, you'll be fine, but he does expect you to take it seriously. And no offense, but you'd better bulk up fast, too."

"Already working on that," Bill said.

"You're in Ms. Schilling's class, aren't you?" Jimmy asked. "Chemistry?"

"Me and half my class, I think," Bill said, grateful for the subject change.

"Oh, then you know my girlfriend," Brett said. "Jen Peterson."

"Sounds familiar," Bill managed to say.

"You've probably heard her," Jimmy said. "She's the one always asking questions that were answered in last night's homework, only she hasn't gotten to it yet."

"Watch it, dude," Brett said.

"Hey, I don't blame her," Jimmy said. "Her roommate's also in the class and she's a freakin' genius, probably the best student in the class. Real weirdo, too, never talks to anyone."

"Dude!" Brett snapped. "Lay off Kathy. She doesn't like to talk, so what? She's a sweetheart, and she's saving Jen's ass in that class, too."

"All right, all right," Jimmy said. "Could be Miss America for all I know, just that she never says anything to anyone. That's why I don't know, man!"

"My best friend is like that, too," Bill said. "I'm with you, Brett, nothing wrong with that." If you can't beat 'em, kiss up to 'em for information, he thought to himself.

"Yeah!" Brett said with a grin, and Bill sensed he'd made a new friend in the bastard. "Besides, if you get to know her a little, she opens up a lot," Brett said. "Like I said, a sweetheart. You know, I think she's got her eye on some guy in that class, too. What do you think of that, Jimmy?"

"I think she's doing a great job of hiding it, like everything else."

"Jen and I had dinner with her just the other night," Brett continued. "I teased her a bit about finding a date for the spring dance, and she surprised Jen and me both, said she did have someone in mind. Something about chemistry class, too. She was looking for ideas on how to catch his eye, but she said she's hopeless at flirting. Jen said afterward she's right about that, she is hopeless."

"Most of us are," Bill forced himself to say, already plotting how to become Brett's best friend and be the next one in line when he ditched Jen. "I wonder if we can help with that?"

"First, we need to know who the guy is," Brett said. "Jen said all she knew was the guy was really funny. Kathy told her some joke about a businessman throwing his lawyer out the window, couldn't even get through it without laughing, and she said some guy from chem told it to her and added what a great guy he was."

"Throwing his lawyer out the window?" Jimmy repeated. "Sounds like a good joke all right. You know that one, Bill?"

"Huh? Sorry?" Bill hadn't heard Jimmy at all, as he was panicking -- that was his joke! If he was going to have to compete with Brett here, he did not need a mousy little thing like Kathy clinging to him on top of that! As Jimmy repeated his comment and Bill agreed with it, he was silently plotting next steps. It wouldn't do to break Kathy's heart; that'd get him on Brett's bad side and, worse, Jen's. Then there'd be no chance with her ever. No, he'd have to set her heart on someone else somehow. But who'd bother with such a shy little baby?

It didn't take Bill long to think of the answer. Jay. Hadn't he said he was interested in her anyway? It'd never work out, of course, for the reasons Bill had laid out that very day -- those two would never find two words to say to each other, and then what? But that wouldn't be his problem. Maybe the experience would even help them both grow up a bit and come out of their shells. That was the ticket all right! It'd be for their own good, and he would once again have a clear shot at Jen just as soon as Brett decided to bang a cheerleader instead.

"You know, guys, I think I know who it might be," Bill said.

"Who?" Brett asked.

"I'd better not say until I discuss it with him. Let me see if he's interested."

"If he isn't, he's a moron," Brett said. "Kathy's a treasure."

Bill mused that Brett could make his job a lot easier if he just acted on that admiration. But he knew better than to say so.

There was no time to lose. After dinner, Bill was off to Jay's dorm to test the waters for his plan. There'd be a little backtracking for him to do after his comments that afternoon, but so what? He shuffled up the steps to Jay's floor, where half a dozen of the doors were open as usual with students at work inside. But Jay's room was closed and locked, and Bill's knock went unanswered.

Off to the library until it closes, no doubt, Bill thought bitterly. Well, it could wait one day. It was only late March and the semester was barely half over, after all. Plenty of time to get them together before summer.

Late March...a wicked grin spread across Bill's lips. This coming Saturday was April Fool's Day, and those two shy little babies deserved an April Fool's joke to remember! What better way to get them to grow up? That was the ticket all right.

As Bill retreated down the hall, Dennis appeared in the men's room doorway. "Cat got your tongue again?" Bill needled him as he passed by.

"You're the one who didn't even say hello at dinner!" Dennis retorted.

"I don't talk to nutcases," Bill said without looking back. "Don't need you latching on to me just 'cause I was friendly once." As he banged out the stairwell door, he made a mental note to also advise Jay to keep his distance from that freak. Jay never had known what was good for him!

That very evening, Jay was off to the library after dinner to try to make some sense of his chemistry homework. Usually he put that off until just before his lab sessions with Kathy, but now he realized that was only because he hadn't cared about looking clueless without her help. His first run through the problem set that night left him feeling more clueless than ever, but at least he was prepared to tell Dennis what he didn't understand at their first tutoring session the next day.

That session wasn't half as intimidating as Jay had suspected. Dennis' room looked just about as dimly lit and messy as Jay had always imagined, strewn everywhere with half-emptied boxes of textbooks -- "I never really move all the way in, it's not really home," he explained when he saw Jay looking around -- but he was friendly in his own awkward way. Jay, with his long history of being put down for being quiet and shy, was nothing if not sympathetic.

In any event, he was only there to learn, and learn he did. It took them well over an hour, but when Dennis finally snapped his last textbook shut, Jay understood nearly everything. "Thank you," he said, standing up. "No more mooching off my lab partner for a change!"

"I bet he'll appreciate that," Dennis said.

"She," Jay corrected.

"Oh, that's why you want to get better at this stuff!" Dennis laughed.

No point in denying it. "Exactly," Jay grinned. "Smart is sexy, after all."

"Which one is your partner? Smart or sexy?"

"Both, man," Jay sighed as he zipped up his backpack. "Brilliant and beautiful."

Dennis being Dennis, Jay read nothing into the fact that he responded only with a grin and a nod as Jay let himself out of his new friend's room.

Jay was careful to be business as usual when he arrived at the chem lab the next day, with one exception. He'd asked Kathy for help with his homework so many times that they had taken to going over it routinely after the lab work was done. This time, for the first time since at least October, Jay simply gathered his papers together and made to leave. "My turn to type up the report, isn't it?" he asked.

"Yes," said Kathy. "But, don't you want to go over the homework?"

"Good idea." He did his best not to look proud as he pulled it out of his notebook and handed it to her. But he couldn't keep the smile off his face completely as Kathy pored over his answers and compared them to hers.

Fortunately for Jay, she didn't notice, because his answer to the next-to-last question caught her full attention. "Wow. Good work, but I think you've got this one wrong..." She looked through her own answer, line by line. "Oh, wait a minute -- you got it right! I balanced the equation wrong. Jay, thank you!"

"Thanks for what?" His modesty wasn't at all feigned. "You've caught dozens of mistakes for me, you know. I'm just glad if I can return the favor for once."

"You did," Kathy looked over his answer again. "Listen, could I borrow this to go over the equation again?"

Jay saw his chance, and to heck with Bill! "We could go work on it together now. Want to go get a coffee at the union?"

And then it was Kathy's turn to try to hide her grin and not quite succeed.

It did not take her long to make sense of the problem now that she had seen the correct answer. As she sipped her coffee and tuned out the din around them and made stilted small talk with Jay, what Kathy did puzzle over was how he'd stepped up his work so quickly. But it didn't really matter to her. "It's great to see you improving so much, Jay," she said after completing her revisions to her homework. Recalling what Jen had said, she added, "I hope I never made you feel stupid before."

"You didn't make me feel stupid, I was stupid!" Jay replied with a gentle laugh. "That's why I worked so hard on this one, it's about time I pull my own weight."

Kathy laughed, but added, "Don't be so hard on yourself, Jay. No offense, but I can see this stuff doesn't come naturally to you. Just like humanities stuff doesn't come naturally to me."

"That's true," Jay admitted. "I just didn't want to...I mean, I feel like I've been piggybacking on you, and that's not right."

"No! I never felt that way! I could see you were trying!" In that tender moment, Kathy forgot herself and touched his hand. She pulled it away once she realized the line she had crossed, but it was long enough for her to notice the contact was delightful. Just like in the Laura Stewart books, only Jay wasn't a dashing young noble or a rebellious stable boy.

In that magical moment, though, he was just as cute as she always imagined them.

"Christ, Kathy, you sound like a seventh grader at her first dance!" Jen needled her a few hours later in their room. "So you touched his hand. Don't tell me you believe in fireworks!"

"I don't!" Kathy protested. " felt so good! I don't know why, but it did!"

"I know why," Jen shot back. She picked up Kathy's current Laura Stewart book off her desk and began flipping through it. "No doubt there's something in here that'll explain it," she said as Kathy looked on, half hurt and half bemused. "Oh, here we go! "The kindness of their bodies rubbing together produced an elixir she found intangible, yet as real as any jolt of energy from out of the blue."

"That's about sex, not just touching hands," Kathy protested.

"Is it?" Jen looked back at the book to see Kathy was right, it was in the midst of a very steamy scene. Then she looked back at her shy, conservative friend with a grin. "Just what do you do with these books when I'm not around? How did you recognize that little snippet so quickly?"

Remembering her newfound resolve, Kathy denied nothing. "What do you think I do, Jen? I don't have a boyfriend, do I?"

"I did not need to know that!" Jen shut the book as if it were contaminated and, in her hurry to unhand it, she absentmindedly set it down on her own dresser rather than Kathy's.

"Then you shouldn't have asked!" Kathy laughed, utterly pleased with her lack of shame all of a sudden.

"I was joking! I figured no way you ever play with yourself!"

"Why wouldn't I?" Kathy asked. "I'm an adult woman with urges just like you!"

Jen shook her head. "I guess I just never thought of you that way. Some girls do it, some don't, and you just scream 'don't' to me. But either way, this Jay kid -- I mean, he's a little boy! He never says anything! And I still think he's just using you!"

"Does that mean I'm using him because I'm also not a big talker? Besides, he's doing an awfully good job of it if he did better on the homework than I did," Kathy replied.

Jen paused in surprise. "He did?"

"Yes! That's what I was just telling you!"

"I guess I wasn't listening." Jen had suddenly put two and two together as a conversation from earlier that day replayed in her mind. She opted not to tell Kathy just yet what she had figured out. She was still rather bewildered at Kathy's own revelation. But at that moment she decided to stop meddling between Kathy and Jay.

"You never do listen when it's about Jay!" Kathy was uncharacteristically angry now. "Jen, he's a nice guy and he's trying to learn!"

"I guess you're right," Jen said. Suddenly she felt very guilty.

"And yes, he's shy. So am I! And he's probably sick and tired of everyone telling him that's a bad thing, just like I am. Jen, do you know what it's like when an extrovert like you says a thing like that to us? We can't just flip a switch and be more talkative! And we shouldn't have to!" Kathy took a deep breath and stood up -- it was time to leave for dinner anyway, and she was feeling too agitated to just sit there any longer.

"Kathy," Jen said in the most conciliatory tone she could muster.


"I'm sorry. You're right. I'm sorry." She opened her arms for an apologetic hug, and Kathy somewhat reticently accepted the gesture. "I'll keep my mouth shut about Jay from now on."

"Thank you," Kathy said. "I can tell you still don't like him, though."

"I don't," Jen admitted. "I still don't trust him. But he's not my lab partner. Dinner?"

"Sure, but can we not talk about Jay?" Kathy asked. "I can see we're not going to see eye to eye on him."

"Plenty of other stuff to talk about besides guys, isn't there?" Jen pointed out. And they were off.

Bill had brought along his political science book for the stakeout outside Jen and Kathy's dorm, but by the time they appeared in the doorway he had given up on even pretending to be interested in it. The hour or so he waited seemed to drag on forever, and he was having second thoughts about the prank...would it really do Jay any good to get his heart broken by that mousy little brat? But as soon as his beloved Jen appeared at last, accompanied as usual by her irritating little friend, Bill's resolve returned in full force. He just had to get Kathy off his case if he ever wanted a chance with Jen, and if it led to her or Jay or both getting hurt, well, all was fair in love and war! And hadn't he been trying to draw Jay out of his shell for years?

He waited to get up off the bench until he was sure Jen hadn't noticed him, and then he walked briskly to the dorm, pulling the blue envelope out of its hiding place in his book along the way.

Halfway up the stairs, it occurred to Bill that they might not have even locked the door. Lots of students didn't, on their too-trusting campus. He had planned to simply slide the note under their door, but if he could actually get inside...

As luck would have it, the doorknob turned at his discreet touch. After a quick look around to make sure none of their floormates were watching, Bill slipped inside and clicked the door shut behind him. The darkened room was neither the wonderland of lust he had imagined Jen's room would be nor the pink-drenched girly lair he'd imagined Kathy's room would be -- in fact, it looked a lot like his own room. Nevertheless, Bill enjoyed a quick look around and thrilled to the sense of knowing so much more about where Jen lived. He would be seeing a lot more of this room one of these days!

The only telltale sign of whose room he was in was the silly romance novel perched on one of the dressers. Concluding that must be Kathy's dresser, he set his sights on the top drawer of the other one. Before his nerve could desert him, Bill gently pulled the drawer open and reached in. To his delight, he drew out a pair of blue plaid panties. He couldn't resist one luxurious sniff, which betrayed nothing but a faint smell of detergent. Nevertheless, it set his imagination running wild to think just where this cloth had been.

After stuffing the panties in his jacket pocket, Bill set the blue envelope on the floor inside the door so it would look like Jay had slipped it under, and checked the peephole to see that the coast was clear. It was, and moments later he was home free with his prize burning up his pocket. He was already hard as a rock imagining Jen in her panties -- now his panties -- and hoped against hope that his roommate wouldn't be home just now. Some things couldn't wait until after dinner!

"How was Jen?" Jay asked Bill the next day when they met for Sunday brunch at the dining hall.

"Jen?" Bill was equal parts titillated and embarrassed as he recalled all he'd gotten up to with his stolen treasure the night before.

"You went out with her last night, didn't you?" Jay asked.

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