Laura looked very thoughtful for a moment. "David, if I am recognized, our story is a romantic tryst. I was very reluctant to ask you to risk your reputation with me like this. I know you've said okay, but... Is this really okay?"
"It's wonderfully okay Laura. I've dreamed of working physics issues with you for the last three years. To also have the opportunity to socialize, to develop a friendship with you perhaps... I really can't describe how happy I am. And as for my reputation, Ha! My rep right now is that of an amiable nerd who doesn't know the first thing about girls. If our cover story comes out that I got a beautiful young woman to spend nine days in a hotel with me on a vacation island... Well, my reputation is going to shoot way, way up! I was more concerned with your reputation actually. Is it okay for faculty to get involved with undergrads?"
"You're not a student at my schools, it's not an issue. If you were though, things might be a bit... well, delicate, but perhaps manageable. I've had discussions about this with the department heads and administration of both Cal Tech and Princeton. Cal Tech was a little more relaxed about the issue. They realize my age is in the undergraduate population. They don't want even the appearance of sex getting exchanged for grades or research opportunities. I agree fully with them on this. They left the matter somewhat open-ended as a kindness to me. That if I ever did have a romantic interest with a student, just to be open about it and bring the matter to them and see if we could work things out..."
David nodded, and looked at the traffic for a few minutes. "Laura, I do recognize your concerns, the need for a cover story, at least at a high level. Knowledge that we are collaborating would draw attention to my paper in Q.I.T. At a low level, I just don't know why this is such an issue. There are major pieces of this I'm just not getting. I have been making some guesses though. I can't wait to start working with you and seeing if some of my guesses are right."
"Ah, just a bit more patience David. I have a lot to tell you, about a completely personal experiment I did based on your theoretical work... I think things will become clear to you very soon..."
"Laura, wake up."
Laura opened her eyes. She appeared to David to have trouble focusing, and her whole body continued to tremble. "David? What? David?"
"You're either very sick, or having hell's own version of a nightmare. Do you need a doctor? I don't think you have a fever..." Laura woke up enough to realize David was sitting on the edge of her bed, lightly petting her head from her temple to her ear.
Laura was silent for a moment, collecting herself, feeling herself calmed by the gentle caress. "The latter. There is no need for a doctor. What was I doing? You are all dressed?! Is it morning?"
"No. A little after 2 AM. I looked at you from the door, and then got dressed before coming in here. I didn't want to do anything inappropriate..."
"What was I doing?"
"Crying... No, softer than that... Whimpering... And shaking... It looked kind of scary..."
"It was a very vivid dream. I've always been a very vivid dreamer, even as a young girl. Sights, sounds, smells, touch, emotions... Oh, the emotions! Almost as real as awake.... This dream was a memory of something particularly horrible..."
"I've read your biography on the web. I know you're an orphan from the Bosnian war. There was no description though of the details. Nor should there be... Amy's plane got delayed a bit at the airport. I asked her what it was like to live with you during your high school years. Amy holds you in incredible esteem, and she is also discrete. We didn't speak about your past..."
"Yes, Amy is discrete. And I am discrete. And you are not. I mean that as a compliment. I am shy in many ways, and am discrete in support of my shyness. Amy tells me you are shy in some ways too, yet you manage not to be discrete. How is this possible, how do you do this?"
David continued to caress Laura's head as he pondered her question. "I am shy, but the rewards for reaching out to people are fabulous. It feels wonderful to pet you like this in friendship. I'm trusting that you know I'm trying to be affectionate and not sexy... For the last several years, I've been pushing myself to be more social... And somehow, I think I'm still missing the gist of your question..."
"Ah. I was thinking of your conversation with Amy at the airport. Amy has an extremely high opinion of you, and I think her judgment of character is excellent! But you gave Amy explicit permission to tell me everything she knew about you. Amy and I talked at length... I was very interested... Why were you so indiscrete?"
"Oh. In our phone conversation that morning, you made it quite clear that our collaboration would be not just on physics, but also on moral issues. To collaborate on morality, I thought it would help you to understand who I am."
"Of course! Thank you... Amy told me about how you were mocked as a child, how you were beaten, how you were saved by your sister..."
David continued to stroke Laura's head, allowing the caress to brush lightly over her ear and continue down the side of her neck. He gave her a warm smile. Laura smiled back, and the smile lit up her eyes. David bent down and kissed her temple. "The hardest part in some sense wasn't all the physical pain, but the fact that I just lay there on the floor while Maggie was fighting. I was so deeply ashamed that I didn't rise up and stand by her side. That I slipped away from a duty to be courageous..."
"Exactly! My grandfather intentionally started an argument with paramilitary murderers in order to give me an opportunity to slip away. He was shot to death minutes later. I felt the exact same guilt... The dream I just had was a sharp memory from that time, two days after he was murdered. I was alone, and frightened to death, and my mind was filled with despair and loss, and my heart was full of hate."
David was just silent for a moment, absorbing what Laura had said. "Laura, these must be extremely painful memories. I don't want to drag them out of you. Won't that increase the pain?"
"I don't know. But you are right, the rewards for indiscretion and reaching out to people can be fabulous. You are offering me both friendship and affection, and I want to accept the offers. I want to return some of the trust you're giving me..." Laura reached up and held the hand that was petting her head, moving it to her lips and kissing it. Releasing his hand, she sat up and began to tell her story...
"It was about three hours before dawn when my grandfather was murdered and I started to run from the paramilitary. I was fifteen at the time, trying to force myself to act and think like an adult, but feeling all the emotions of an abandoned child. I was a farm girl. I knew if I could reach the deep forest, I'd have a decent chance of survival. But I was in flat farm country. In American slang, I was a sitting duck. My plan was to go to ground during the day, and head for the forest at night. That first night I got lucky. I entered a partially burned building just before dawn, and found a good hiding place inside. The floor felt sticky under my bare feet."
"Dawn came, and I realized that the building was full of corpses. I think the paramilitary had herded a group of people into it, and then had thrown in grenades through the windows. Most of the bodies showed obvious blast damage... Some where shredded..."
Laura just stopped for a while, and then her lip began to tremble. David reached down and took off his shoes, and then slid across the bed to sit by Laura's side. He reached up and put an arm around her shoulder. After a moment, Laura sighed and rested her head against his shoulder. David bent his head and rested it against Laura's. She continued her story.
"The corpses were actually protecting me. The smell and the bloody floor were keeping the paramilitary from searching the house. But I was too inexperienced in being hunted to recognize this. I left the house after dusk, ungrateful for the service the corpses had given me. I think I made about 10 kilometers that night. I still had another 30 to go before I could reach the deep forest..."
"I chose a clean, empty building for sleep shortly before dawn. It was a terrible mistake. I woke up less than an hour later from the sounds of brakes squealing on a jeep. The house was surrounded by my enemy. I looked around the room in panic, there appeared to be no place to hide. But the walls were of very rough stone. I climbed them with my bare hands and feet. I got up to the truss roof, and stretched myself flat on one of the main cross beams..."
"A few minutes later the men entered the room. They talked calmly about their designated locate-eliminate grid areas for the day. I realized they were turning the building into a command center. I remained motionless on the beam. It was a bit thinner than my shoulder width, anyone looking up intently would see the slight curve of my body. But the ceiling area was dark, and there was no reason to look up and stare..."
"It was the first day in July, and the air at the ceiling was beastly hot. The day lasted forever. I was terrified and dehydrated. I worried that my sweat might drip off the beam, revealing me. I did not dare fall asleep, even though I was exhausted. Just one sound or movement from me, and I would have suffered a slow rape followed by a quick bullet..."
"In the late afternoon, I think there was some unexpected meeting happening nearby. A high-ranking person was to give a pep talk to the troops. The building was left vacant for a brief while. I managed to make it outside and hide in a ditch until nightfall..."
"I had learned my lesson. I slept with corpses for the following days, pulling their bodies over me, moving at night until I finally made it to the deep forest. I was relatively safe there. The deadly game of hide-and-seek went on, but I became very good at becoming invisible. Physically I was pretty safe in foraging for food and water at night, and going deep to ground in the day."
"But in the shadows of my mind, my dreams had become a horror. My fear of the war had turned into a huge monster, in the shape of a gigantic black ostrich. In my dreams I called it the war-bird, and it was hunting me. In every sleep I dreamed I was naked, with the war-bird searching for me in the darkness. I was forced to walk and even crawl across corpses to escape, feeling their blood and their bodies beneath mine, hoping that the corpses would forgive me for desecrating them. About three months earlier, my mother had been raped and butchered, and my father and twin brother shot to death. I helped identify their bodies. I also lost my two younger sisters to a sniper... Katja was 9, Natalie was only 7... In my dreams, I had to crawl across my family's torn bodies, over and over and over again..." Laura let out a soft wail of despair and collapsed into David's lap. "Oh David, the guilt and the hate were tearing me apart!"
Laura broke down in sobs, weeping into David's lap. Her cries were so soft David could barely hear them, but he felt the sobs racking her body. David's mind was in turmoil, desperately searching for some idea that would comfort her. At a loss for how to comfort Laura's mind, he decided to try at least to comfort her body. He turned off the lights and put a pillow under her head, and then curled up right behind her, covering them both with a sheet and blanket. He put his arm around her shoulder and tried to hold her as gently and as chastely as he could, resting his face next to the back of her head. Laura continued to sob silently in his arms...
Time passed and eventually David thought that holding Laura was beginning to help. Her body had stopped most of its shaking, and she was breathing in slow deep gasps, and letting her breath out in long sighs. She reached up and pulled David's hand and arm away from her shoulder, and David at first thought she wanted him to let her go. But then Laura wrapped his arm around her waist, across and below her stomach, and she let out a deep sigh as the last of her shakings ended. She rested her own arm above his, holding his arm to her body and pressing her body back against his. David felt her warmth through her nightgown.
"Oh, this is a fine mess... but a necessary one," she said softly.
"Laura, how do you survive?"
"Now, you mean? Through redemption. After a month in the forest, I was rescued by a Dutch U.N. patrol. The night before that happened, I had a final dream with the war-bird. In it, I renounced all my hatred of my family's murderers, and in His mercy God redeemed me and took away my guilt. I'm at peace now. But I'm also a vivid dreamer. Sometimes I dream of the time before my redemption. My honorary sisters in high- school were incredible. They loved me so much! Their love shielded me, shielded me not from the sorrow of these dreams, but from their pain. My sisters still love me, but we just don't see each other that often. Sometimes now, the pain slips through..."
Laura shifted slightly, curling her body to cuddle more closely. "David, thank you for being with me... and holding me. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be indiscrete. I've only told one other person in my life about this, and even then not in such graphic detail..."
"One of your sisters? Amy?"
"No actually. Steve, Jill's husband. And he told Jill. This all happened when we were in high-school. No one else knows... I thought it necessary for Steve to know at the time. I think it necessary for you to know now, though for different reasons."
"Earlier this night, after you fell asleep on the couch, I was still awake, thinking about the last two days. After all our phone conversations, I really enjoyed finally meeting you Thursday evening at my talk. And tonight, riding in the car with you, standing by your side on the ferry as we watched the cold ocean and the stars, I felt peaceful and excited at the same time. In the car with you... Usually I feel very shy with young men my age. But with you I didn't feel shy at all. I felt playful! I was lying here in this bed, remembering how much I enjoyed our ride together. I remembered feeling a thrill when you were talking about your reputation, and you referred to me as a beautiful young woman. I started wondering if you really did think of me as pretty. I fell asleep hoping that you did."
"David, I've never dated. In high-school my reputation as a genius made me unattractive to the boys. After high-school I went to getting my doctorate in less than a year. And learning how to be a good professor these one and a half years since... Well, I took no time for dating. I didn't have peers that were my age, and I am so shy, I didn't look for romance elsewhere. Ha! Once I won my Nobel prizes, I got all sorts of crazy offers of marriage on the Internet... But David, don't you see why this night was necessary? I don't know if you'll ever desire to date me, but if you do, these dreams are a part of who I am. As Americans say, you deserve a good look at the complete package!"
David did not reply in words. He hugged Laura instead and kissed the back of her neck. Laura let out a deep sigh and pushed her hips back into David's. Over the next minutes he felt all tension leave her body. She was soon in a peaceful sleep, David feeling her calm breathing with his hand resting on her nightgown across her abdomen. David slipped back to the couch.
After breakfast, Laura and David walked along Pequot Avenue to the shore, looking eastward at the rising sun. The road and the bicycle path along the beach were deserted. David offered Laura his hand, which she accepted with a warm smile. Laura returned to gazing at the ocean, sniffing and breathing deeply of the salt air.
"Ah, that was a really nice meal. It was kind of the restaurant to be open so early, we were the only customers... I think I'm going to remember the beauty of my stay here with you forever."
"I turned on the TV while you were in the shower, to catch the weather report. We really lucked out Laura. It should be close to freezing this afternoon, and well above freezing for the next several days. The famous New England January thaw! It's been so dry this last month, all the bike paths are clear of snow, and we have the whole island to ourselves! Perhaps tomorrow, we can bike down to Edgartown from here. It's only about 5 miles, hugging the shore line all the way. It's beautiful! And sometime we can drive to the southwest end of the island, you don't want to miss the hikes along Lighthouse Road. And the State Forest in the center of the island is very nice too..."
"I take it you've been here before!"
"Ha! Yes, my parents used to bring Maggie and me here on summer vacations sometime. This place is a real tourist trap then. So crowded, sad in a way. But now, it's empty. So serene! And almost as beautiful as you are."
"David, are you thinking of this as our honeymoon? Wait! That was unkind. I shouldn't joke like this."
"Oh no Laura. I'm hoping you and I are feeling the same emotions. I find myself thinking a lot about you, how pretty and wonderful you are. I find myself wondering how to tell you yes to your uncertainty last night; that I really do want to date you, without being clingy... I really, really don't want to do anything to drive you away from me. It's a little nervous fear mixed in with a huge desire to pursue and capture you!"
Laura said nothing for a while. Then she reached over and hugged David's waist and kissed his cheek. David noticed her eyes were moist with tears, but they were also brilliantly alive from the smile on her lips. "My heart is like this too, a whirlwind of hope and anticipation, mixing with a sharp fear not to do anything to blow my chances. And our current hotel living arrangement is not ideal for a courtship dance..."
"I know. I feel it too. We need time, time to come together and move apart, time to test our bonds, time to judge the movement from independence to interdependence... Laura, how about we pledge not to get too sexy with each other while we're here on the island. Learn how to care for each other first. I'm afraid of getting too sexy with you too fast... as something that might later drive you away. But I'm thrilled at the thought of being affectionate with you now!"
"Yes! Thank you! These are my feelings too. David, I feel the same struggle within me, between a desire to be honest and a desire not to be clingy and blow my chances. But my desire to be honest is winning out. I know my own heart, and I want to be indiscrete. I want to tell you that I love you."
The two stood by the ocean, side by side, leaning their heads together and watching the waves. After a short while, Laura smiled at David and pulled on his waist, beckoning him to follow her back to the hotel. "We have so much to work on. Thank you for being so patient with me... If you remember, earlier this month I called you from the Max- Planck Institute in Garching. The Germans had this really nifty cross-shredder in a store. It cuts in both the X and Y directions, producing little flakes of paper less than 1 mm square. Almost silent too... I have one in my suitcase... Let's remember never to leave any notes around that are not in our immediate possession..."
"Okay. Wow! My darling secret agent has returned! I can't wait to be briefed on our mission!"
A short time later they were sitting by their table in their suite, a large pile of blank notepads nearby. Laura looked at David, smiled and said, "Before we dive into the physics, let me ask you something. How did you get your idea for the chatterbox resonance? Could you lay out the steps you took from the current understanding of what's published in quantum interface physics, to your new idea?"