Chemistry of Love


"Oh! Right!" Bill made a mental note to start writing down all his lies; there was no other way to keep them all straight. "Yeah, she's quite a gal. Had a great time."

"So? Where did you go? What did you talk about?"

"None of your business, Jay. We're not kids anymore, I'm not going to kiss and tell."

"Sorry I asked," Jay said. "I just figured nothing too intimate would happen on the first date."

"This ain't you we're talking about, guy," Bill said. "I move fast. Anyhow, hope you found something to do last night."

"I did," Jay said, ignoring Bill's bombast as he'd been doing for years. "Chemistry. Actually got a question right that Kathy got wrong the other day. I'm hoping to keep up my winning streak."

"Cool." Bill managed to keep a straight face. "I hope that impressed her."

"You do? Weren't you just telling me I ought to forget about her?"

"Yeah, well..." Bill took a long sip of coffee to think. "Talking to Jen last night, I got to hear a lot about her. Sounds like maybe you two are right for each other after all."

"Glad to hear you think so," Jay said. "We went for coffee after our lab on Friday. Not really a date, but it was nice, you know? I think I might ask her out for next weekend."

"Good for you, guy. You should. I mean that."

Jay laughed. "Is that really you, Bill? No smartass comments about how I'm sure to chicken out and cower in the corner?"

"Jay, come on," Bill said. "I'm not that bad!"

"Yeah, you are, Bill."

"All right, I am, but that's why it's great to see you trying harder for once. Do it, ask her out! Go ahead! You can do it."

Though he wasn't at all sure he could, Jay appreciated the vote of confidence. Maybe asking Kathy out -- even if she said no -- would at least get Bill to shut up about his shyness for a change.

He had all afternoon at the library to think about it, followed by a quiet dinner on his own when he couldn't find anyone at the library to join him. All through those hours, the memory of Kathy's agreeable banter and the thrill of their hands touching was never off his mind. Worth the risk, he was nearly sure of that. When he finally returned to his room late that evening, his resolve to ask her was still remarkably intact, if shaky.

That resolve was shaken a bit when he got to his door and found a package leaning against the doorjamb. Something for his carousing roommate, Ken, no doubt, he thought as he bent down to pick it up, and a rather nasty reminder that he could never play the game like Ken could. Kathy would probably laugh him out of town for even trying.

And then he noticed the inscription on the card: "To Jay."

Dumbstruck, he opened the box to find a single yellow rose and a handwritten note. "For a wonderful guy, from a secret admirer!"

"You all right, Jay?" came a voice from down the hall. Ann, the floor's resident advisor.

"Huh? Yeah, thanks, Ann, I'm fine. Just got some really good news!"

"That's good," Ann said. "You looked bewildered."

"That's one word for it all right," Jay agreed.

Was it from Kathy? As he lay the opened box on his desk and pondered the beautiful gift, he considered no other possibility. Like Bill had said, she was even shyer than he was -- of course she wouldn't put her name on it. No doubt she had felt the same magic he had over their coffee on Friday. A modern woman at their very feminist college...of course she wasn't going to sit back and let him make the first move. With that settled, Jay was left with no doubt at all as he settled down on his bed with his chemistry notes to plan on a question or two to impress her with in class tomorrow.

Impress her he did, although he and Bill got to class too late to find a seat anywhere near her and Jen in the crowded classroom. This time there were no rude comments from Professor Schilling when his hand went up, and once she even said, "Good question!" Jay was nearly certain he was glowing and could only hope Kathy noticed from across the room where he couldn't even see her.

To his surprise, Kathy looked quite glowy herself when their eyes finally met after class was dismissed. She showed no sign of being the least bit concerned about his reaction to her gift as she elbowed her way up to him. "Jay!" she said. "Thank you!" To his mystified delight, she threw her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek.

"Well, thank you, too!" he said.

"Oh, you already said that on Friday and I told you it was no problem!"

"What? I mean --"

"That was so thoughtful, Jay! You know, I've been trying to figure out how to tell you the same thing!"

"About our homework?"

Kathy burst out laughing. "You're too much! No need to be shy now, okay? Either of us!"

Jay gave up trying to understand -- this was better still than he'd dared to imagine. "Right! Absolutely right. Say, want to go out Friday? Dinner in town, maybe, and we can talk about anything but chemistry?"

"Yes! Please!" Kathy let him go but was still grinning at him. "God, you don't know how many times I've wished you'd ask me that!"

Out in the hallway, Jen looked on with a knowing twinkle in her eye. Bill, hoping to avoid suspicion, looked at her rather than at Jay and Kathy. When she took no notice of him, he stepped up behind her. "Had a feeling about those two, didn't you?" he said.

"Hm?" Jen turned around. "Who, Kathy and Jay? Yeah. I totally did."

"Glad he finally bit the bullet," Bill said. "I've been telling him since high school, you've got to be in it to win it, guy!"

"You know Jay?" Jen asked. "Sorry, I don't think we've met. I'm Jen."

Bill shook her hand and kept his fury -- she didn't even know who he was?! -- to himself. It made Jay's uncharacteristically energetic prattle when he and Kathy finally parted ways all the more infuriating, but Bill consoled himself with the knowledge that his April Fool's trick seemed to have worked. "So you finally did it?" he asked Jay. "Good on you, guy."

"Thanks," Jay said. "Thanks for the encouragement the other night. It was a big help."

"Anytime. Say...did she say just why she was so happy to see you?"

"That's the weird thing, I really don't know," Jay said. "I mean, I don't care, I was too busy being delighted, but no, she didn't. I mean, she said 'thank you' and hugged me, and all I did was get one problem right on our homework! At least she's easy to please."

"Probably just amazed that you outsmarted her once after all the times she outsmarted you, guy," Bill said, keeping his relief under wraps -- the fool didn't even know!

"Yeah, I know," Jay sighed. "I even sort of apologized for that the other day, but --"

"Aw, fuckin-A, guy!" Bill snapped. "Don't talk like that! Don't take that from anyone, even me! You're a smart guy and she appreciates that. Don't question it!"

"All right, all right," Jay said. "Geez, it's not like you've been needling me about stuff like that half our lives or anything."

"Yeah, I know, but...look, I know you can give as good as you get, Jay. I just don't know why you never do it! Just like I don't know why you never said anything all through school."

Jay nodded. "You're right. Thanks. Listen, I've got to go hit the books. I want to leave plenty of time for my chem tutor so I can impress Kathy again before Friday night."

Chem tutor? Bill didn't ask as he watched his old friend float off across the green in a state of bliss like he'd never seen before. He did ask himself just why he had given Jay that dressing down about taking his nonsense like a doormat. Maybe Jay had just made it too easy for too long. Poor kid. At least his trick had only had positive effects so far. Bill doubted if their date would be anything but a disaster -- he imagined the two of them just making momentary eye-contact with each other and then bursting into embarrassed giggles again and again -- but at least he'd turned Kathy's attention away from himself.

"All the way up, dude," Brett said to Bill an hour later.

"What's that?" Bill let go of the grips and looked up from the bench press, where Brett was spotting him.

"You've got to push the weights all the way up, or lower your weight if you can't do it. Only going up halfway like that is dangerous and it won't build your muscles at all."

"Oh. Right. No, I don't need to lower the weight." Bill took the handles in his hands again and made a ferocious push upward.

"Are you sure, dude? You've got to walk before you can run." When Bill again failed to extend his arms all the way, Brett pushed down on the handle and pulled out the pin. "Let's see how you do with 40 instead of 60," he said.

"I was gonna be fine," Bill grunted. But he did press the 40 successfully.

"See how much better that feels?" Brett said. "Now, ten reps."

Bill was on the seventh rep when he heard Jen. "Hey, you!"

"Hey, sweets," Brett said. Bill was glad he couldn't see them clearly from the bench as he heard them kiss hello. "Bill, do you know Jen?"

"We just met," Jen said. "Hi, Bill." As Bill finished the presses, Jen continued, "His best friend just asked Kathy out. Those two are adorable together!"

"The guy with the lawyer joke?" Brett asked.

"Yeah, she finally told me it was him, just after he asked her," Jen said. "He also sent her the sweetest note the other day! The guy's as shy as she is, but he's a real sweetheart."

Bill found the last couple of reps easier than all the others, as he was suddenly consumed with rage and frustration. So it was Jay all along and he hadn't had to do anything?! He held his tongue; no good could come of the truth now.

"Sweet notes are a shy guy's best friend, aren't they?" Brett asked.

Jen served up a side of insult to Bill's injury: "I couldn't help notice, he did it on Saturday -- you know, April Fool's Day? I spent all Sunday biting my lip so I wouldn't point that out to her, and thank God I didn't, since it wasn't a trick!"

"Bill, your friend sounds like a real romantic," Brett said as Bill finally let go of the grips and sat up.

"Always has been," Bill said, forcing a smile. At least his first clear view of Jen revealed she was wearing a plain white t-shirt and sweatpants. He'd envisioned her in a leotard and yoga pants, and wasn't at all sure he could have controlled himself if that had come true.

"I'm really happy for them, Bill," Jen said. "Aren't you?"


He did manage to keep his temper through the remainder of the workout, and to avoid paying too much undue attention to Jen as she worked the machines. But he opted against showering at the gym because there'd be no hiding his hard-on. He kept that under wraps until he could get back to his dorm and wrap it in Jen's panties to stroke himself ferociously until it hurt.

"He nailed the homework again today!" Kathy said as she rifled through her closet on Friday afternoon. "I mean, I did too this time, but still. He's really stepped up. And now you can't say it's to use me!"

"Sure I can," Jen said from her bed while she waited to critique Kathy's outfit for the date. "I won't, but I could."

"Can't you just be happy for me?!" Kathy said, carrying an armful of her choices out to her bed.

"I am happy for you!" Jen said. "But I know men."

"Do you think Brett is using you?"

"Of course not. I laid down the law with him. You'd better do the same with Jay if things get serious. Speaking of which, I hope you're not planning on that tonight."

"Oh, grow up." Kathy held up her favorite black pants and a starburst print top. "What do you think?"

"Only if he's taking you to an eighties party."

Next came her one and only short dress. "Too slutty for a first date. Especially for you, Kathy."

Kathy dug her longest dress out of the pile. "Too granny, Goldilocks."

Kathy gave her a dirty look, then tried the outfit she'd favored all along: her trusty off-white sweater and a blue floral print skirt. "You'll look like a librarian!" Jen laughed.

Kathy threw the pair down on her bed. "You know what, Jen? Jay asked me out because he likes my style -- and yeah, maybe because he likes that I'm brilliant at chem, too, but not just that, okay? I know you would never wear this, but he didn't ask you out!"

"I know men," Jen reminded her with a sigh. But she made no further comment as Kathy changed into the skirt and sweater, and privately she had to admit that her friend looked great in a girl-next-door sort of way. Perfect for a choir-boy like Jay, she supposed.

"Honestly," she told Jay an hour later over appetizers and drinks, "I knew the first few outfits were all wrong. I was just hoping to shock her into saying this one was great. But she knows me too well."

"It is great," Jay said. "I always have liked the way you dress. I hope it's okay to say that on a first date."

"Thank you! And of course it is. I certainly don't hear it often enough." After a not-unpleasant pause, she added, "It would have been fine for you to say it anytime."

"That's sweet. I almost did, plenty of times, but it was always like, 'no, she's your lab partner'!"

"Why should that have stopped you, Jay?"

"I don't know," Jay admitted. "Just that I already felt like such a dunce next to you, I guess, and that just would have made it weirder."

Kathy sighed. "Jay, is there any way I can convince you I never thought you were a dunce?"

"I believe you!" Jay said. "But I felt like one all the same. Felt, not feel," he added. "I feel now like I'm catching up pretty well."

"And that made it okay for you to send me that note, did it?"

"What note?"

Kathy smiled and took a sip of her diet cola. "Okay, Jay." Reflecting on how shy she was feeling even now, she opted not to press that issue -- it must have been awfully hard for him to do, after all. But she couldn't think of anything else to say, and now the silence grew a bit more awkward. When nothing else came to mind, she felt her usual nervous giggles coming and, as always, she was powerless to stop them. She felt her face flushing as she began to laugh.

"Oh, Kathy, I hope I didn't embarrass you!" Jay said.

"No, not at all!" Kathy said. "It's just...well, you know I'm no good at small talk, and now it's impossible to miss, isn't it?"

"That's just what I like about you, remember?" Jay pointed out. "I'm the same way, aren't I? And I know what it's like to be criticized about that all your life. So I certainly won't give you a hard time about it."

Kathy was delighted. "Thank you. I like that about you too, Jay. You're not all boastful like the other guys." Then just as quickly, she felt another rush of embarrassment coming on. "God, that sounds like something you'd say back in junior high, doesn't it?!"

"It's something I did hear back then," Jay admitted. "It was nice to hear then and it's nice to hear now."

"Thanks!" Kathy could only look down at the table in that moment.

"You know, I'm not sure first-date jitters ever get any easier no matter how much older we get," Jay said. "They don't for me, anyway."

"You're in good company, then!"

"I thought so anyway." With that, Jay reached his hand across the table. Kathy met him halfway and clutched his hand warmly, and she felt that same thrill she'd felt at the student union. Who needed small talk anyhow?!

There was no more awkwardness throughout the evening, as they learned all about one another over dinner and dessert and the long walk through town. Kathy slipped her hand into Jay's as naturally as a glove, and thrilled to the show of affection every time they passed someone else on the sidewalk. She could tell from the look on his face that the feeling was mutual. The evening was still fairly young when they arrived back at her dorm -- not quite ten o'clock yet -- and the knowledge that Jen was surely off with Brett did cross her mind. But it was just too early for that yet.

Fortunately, Jay gave every indication of agreeing. "So, are you free next Friday?" he asked.

"Yes!" Kathy said. "Absolutely! Jay, I..."


"It's just been a wonderful evening. I'm so glad we finally did this. If you want to get together and study on Sunday, we could do that too." Next Friday seemed an awfully long way off.

"That'd be great!" Jay agreed, making a mental note to meet up with Dennis on Saturday. "Good night, Kathy."

He leaned in for a kiss, and Kathy responded in kind, except that he aimed for her cheek and she for his lips. A mutual burst of laughter ensued, and then their lips did meet.

Unbeknownst to one another, both Kathy and Jay made good use of having their rooms to themselves that night. Jay needed several rounds to calm down enough to fall asleep, and he was awakened later than usual the next morning by the ringing phone. "So how far did your blushing flower go last night?" Bill asked without even saying hello when Jay answered.

"What did you say about Jen last week?" Jay replied. "'None of your business,' wasn't it? Speaking of which, did you go out with Jen again last night?"

"None of your business," Bill echoed. "But if you must know, Jay, she knew Kathy was going to be out all evening and she'd have the room to herself, so..."

"Congratulations," Jay said, remembering only now that he'd meant to ask Kathy if her roommate ever talked about Bill; as it was, his name had never come up.

"Now that I've spilled my guts to you, guy..."

"You shouldn't have, though, Bill. None of my business, and what I did is none of yours."

"Don't expect me to believe a couple of squares like you went to bed on the first date, guy."

"I don't, of course," Jay said.

"Right," Bill sighed. "Listen, how about lunch and then maybe I will tell you more about my night if you'll return the favor."

"Can't," Jay wasn't at all sorry to say. "I've got a tutoring session for chem."

"You're meeting her again already?"

"Not with Kathy. You know Dennis, from my floor?"

"That freak? What's got into you, guy?"

"That freak is a genius and a great tutor, and really a pretty nice guy once you get to know him, Bill. What's your problem?"

"I'm more worried about your problem, guy! You want to be a nerd forever or what?"

"After last night? Yes, definitely. I am free for dinner if you want."

"Fine. See you then." Bill hung up.

Jen had really spent the night in Brett's room, so she hadn't yet had a chance to pump Kathy for information on her date when Bill plopped down to join her and Brett for lunch. For that reason, she was pleased to see him. "Hi, Bill!" she said in that chipper tone that had always turned him on, but now annoyed him. "I don't suppose you've heard from Jay yet? I'm dying to hear how he and Kathy got along last night!"

"Too well, from what Jay said," Bill announced.

"Too well?" Brett asked.

"Yeah. Sorry, Jen, but I'm sure Brett knew what I meant, and you probably do too. You know how guys overshare with their friends sometimes after a really good date?"

"Oh, hell, no, Jay told you she went to bed with him?!" Jen was outraged. "No way she'd do that on a first date! I think she's a virgin!"

"What do you expect from an immature little brat like Jay?" Bill replied. "I mean, he's my best friend from way back, but he is an immature little brat. Hell, I think he's a virgin too. Maybe he just wanted me to stop thinking he was."

"He picked the wrong reputation to trash, then," Jen snapped.

"Relax, babe," Brett said. "You're right, he did, and that means no one is going to believe him!"

Jen took a deep breath. "You're right, they won't. Unless..."

"What, babe, you don't think she really did put out?" Brett asked.

"Well," Jen said, "Yeah, possibly. I learned something about her last week that got me wondering if she might. She reads these silly romance novels, by Laura someone, really dramatic purple prose, and I just found out she's been reading the sex scenes over again know."

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