Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 51byrpsuch©
Now that cell phones are ubiquitous, there is almost no place and no time you cannot reach someone if you need to.
This, however, requires you to keep your phone on.
That shouldn't be a problem because you can always use vibrate if you don't want your ring to disturb other people. It seemed Jeff had not mastered this concept.
It was the second week of November. I returned to our place in the middle of the afternoon. I put down my books and went to the kitchen to make myself a snack.
As I was deciding what I wanted, the phone rang. When I lifted the receiver I noticed there were thirteen messages on the answering machine.
"Ashley, is Jeff there?" It was Sunny. Her voice was controlled but just this side of panic.
"No. He gets back from class around dinner time. Uh, 5:30 to 6:00."
"Is there any way you can get a hold of him?"
This was getting scary. The voice, the urgency conveyed by the fourteen calls, the request to contact him immediately told me he wasn't going to be pleased with the subject of the call.
"I don't know. I don't know his schedule. There hasn't been any reason to contact him during class so we never discussed it. What's going on?"
I chose to avoid, "What's wrong?" to avoid implying bad news, though I knew it was coming.
"Louis had a heart attack. We don't know how bad yet, but it's serious."
"Oh, my God. I'm sorry. I'll have him call you the minute he gets in. In the mean time, I'm going to gas up the car and make us sandwiches for the trip.
"We'll leave as soon as he gets back. Is there anything I can bring or do that would be helpful? Can I make sandwiches for you? Can I call anybody? What can I do?"
I didn't wait for answers; I was just throwing out questions as quickly as I could think of them. This was terrible.
"No," said Sunny. "I've, we're calling people, letting them know. We'll be able to get something to eat. They're doing tests now and they really don't know anything yet.
"At least I hope they don't know anything rather than keeping it from us. No, I'm just letting my emotions get the best of me. We've just got to wait until they can tell us how bad it is or isn't."
"We'll get there as soon as we possibly can, Sunny. And I promise to have Jeff call you the second he gets in."
I did my job. I went to the local 7/11, filled up and got us a bunch of subs. I bought way more than we needed just in case somebody at the hospital didn't eat before we got there.
I did it slowly, but by the time I got home, it was only 4:00.
I was too antsy to watch TV.
The laundry was done. The place was clean.
I wished somehow I could just jump over the next hour and a half and head home with Jeff. I had to do something to keep my mind occupied. There was no point in worrying about Louis. There was nothing I could do.
So I worried about Jeff.
He was running himself ragged and I was worried about his health. He hadn't taken care of himself when I had the flu. He stayed up late and got up early. He was so tired that sometimes he nodded off when he was studying.
The only exercise he got was when we danced.
Was Louis the same way? I hoped he was okay.
I wasn't the only one who noticed.
Jeff's faculty advisor had stopped by the previous weekend to chat with him. I offered to leave them alone but Jeff said he had no problem with my staying.
"Jeff," he said, "I've had a long and pretty distinguished career at this University. I thought I had seen everything, but you've introduced a whole new brand of craziness."
Jeff and I just waited for him to continue.
"I've gotten complaints from almost all the assistants and professors teaching your courses. They asked me to see if I can convince you not to be so damn well prepared for their classes."
Jeff was so shocked he wasn't able to muster so much as a, "What?"
After a while he did say, "I don't understand."
"Well, they say it's bad enough they never have a question you can't answer. But you answer with details and footnotes and caveats and other considerations and this guy has a different take on it and if you look at it from the point of view of that, and so on.
"You're burning them out. Many of the students can't follow what you're talking about. You're also driving your fellow students crazy. You have all of them worried they're going to flunk out.
"They listen to you in class and even though they know they're covering the material and understand what they're supposed to, they're scared they are missing something. They're worried they really don't understand the material.
"I know your approach is great when you're trying to analyze a situation, but everybody else is just trying to learn the basics of how things work. Can't you just answer a question without giving the entire history of how people came to understand it?"
Good luck, I thought. I've made no progress on that front and I think I can count on my finger how many times Jeff just gave a simple answer - one.
"I know it sounds ridiculous when I say it but could you do a little less work for your courses? Could you try to be just a little bit of a slacker?"
I started, then cut off a snort laugh. They looked at me. I held up my hands in front of me. I'm not saying anything, guys.
Jeff didn't speak slacker. He shrugged like he had no idea how to respond because he had no idea how to respond.
"College is supposed to be fun, Jeff. Use some of the time to play a sport, find a hobby, or just rest. You look kind of beat.
"Look, you don't have to follow my suggestions, but you'd make everybody else feel more relieved if you didn't work so hard. It's up to you. You'll do great either way."
He got up and they shook hands.
Before he left he had another thought.
"You know, Jeff, if you can't see your way clear to easing off, maybe you could just cut some more classes. I was told there was a brief period when you weren't coming to class. The professors told me it was a relief to them, their assistants and the students. Think about it."
That was the most bizarre conversation I'd ever heard.
"Nice meeting you, Ashley," he said as he headed for the door.
It was too soon to tell if Jeff had taken it to heart.
If he didn't change, I'd have to find a way to get him to relax. Maybe I could seduce him repeatedly.
There was no point in packing anything. We both had whatever we needed back at our parents' houses.
I'd heard surprisingly little from my father. It was possible he had just decided to accept the situation. It was possible Jeff would decide to become a slacker.
Mom was in frequent contact to let me know what was happening with the wedding. We were supposed to be planning it together, but she and Dad had so many requirements I had very little say about what happened and how it happened.
I guess I was like a princess at her royal wedding. With protocol and affairs of state taking precedence, she couldn't exactly tell the queen she wanted balloons instead of flowers and, by the way, could we have some of those cocktail franks as appetizers.
I thought about my options for graduate school. I had taken too many business courses to graduate in time with any other major. But I could prepare for grad school by loading up on useful electives next semester since I was finishing my required courses this one. I was considering psychology courses to help me learn how to subtly get Jeff to change.
Then, Jeff came in the door.
I had managed to fill up over an hour and a half with my rambling thoughts.
"Jeff, call your mother immediately. We're heading to Philly. Your father had a heart attack."
He expressed shock and tried to ask some questions, but all I would say to him was, "Call!"
When he did, all I would say was, "Let's go."