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Lessons in Love
We were between the end of brunch and the start of the dinner rush, so the place was pretty quiet. There were a couple of university students at the little round tables by the big front window, heads bent over their laptops. An old guy at the counter was nursing a cup of coffee and reading the local paper. Still normal.
My best friend, Simone Amrou, was in the corner booth cramming for tomorrow’s biology test. Definitely normal. “Opposites attract” was a perfectly sound scientific principle (magnetism, anyone?), but even if it wasn’t, I would have believed it based on my lifelong friendship with Simone.
Exhibit A? I’d started studying for the test the same day Mr. Ba announced it two weeks earlier. Simone? Not so much.
“Help me, Bailey!” she wailed as I straightened the salt and pepper shakers on the next table. She widened her puppy-dog brown eyes and stared at me soulfully. That generally worked on guys, especially paired with her exotic good looks. On me? Nuh-uh.
“I told you to read the chapters as we went along.” I flicked a stray cupcake crumb off a chair with my rag. “Then you wouldn’t have to cram at the last minute.”
“I know, Miss Logic, I know.” Simone sighed, poufing out her already-full lips to blow a strand of wavy dark hair out of her face. “But I was busy with that English paper all last week, and then Matt wanted to hang out at the park yesterday—”
This time it was my cousin calling me from behind the counter. Susannah was nineteen, four years older than me, and a sophomore at the university.
“Be right back,” I told Simone. When I reached the counter, Susannah was staring at the cash register with a peevish expression on her round, pretty face. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Did Methuselah die again?”
That was what we called the ancient cash register, which had been around since my great-grandparents started the business. My family was nothing if not consistent.
“Not this time, thank goodness.” Susannah smiled, making deep dimples appear on both cheeks. “Do you know where your mom put the register tapes? I can’t find them, and she just left to pick up your sister at gymnastics. I can call her, but you know she never picks up when she’s driving, and—”
“No, it’s okay. I’ll find them.” I hurried through the swinging saloon-style doors leading into the kitchen. My dad and Uncle Rick—Susannah’s father—were just coming in from the delivery bay out back, both of them lugging tubs of donut glaze.
“Can you get the door, Bailey?” Dad grunted as he hoisted his tubs onto the big marble-topped island where Mom and Great-Aunt Ellen rolled out the pastry for the bakery business and the bread for the deli stuff.
I kicked the door shut, then grabbed one of the tubs my uncle was juggling and set it on the stainless-steel counter along the wall. “Suz can’t find the register tapes,” I said. “Has Mom been reorganizing again?”
My dad traded an amused look with Uncle Rick, who was Mom’s brother. “Always,” Dad said. “Check the blue cabinet. I think she put the office supplies in there this time.”
“Thanks.” I headed for the supply room. Everyone in the family knew Mom loved to reorganize. The problem was, she usually moved everything around and then forgot to tell anyone else where she put it all.
When I passed through the kitchen again, Dad was stowing the last of the tubs under the counter, and Uncle Rick was on the phone.
“Three dozen mixed sandwiches for a week from Saturday?” He jotted something on a pad. “Got it. Will that be delivery or pickup?”
“Spring Thing order?” I asked Dad quietly. The Spring Thing was an annual event at the university—three days of fun, special events, and goofiness to celebrate spring before the crunch of finals set in.
“Guess so.” He rubbed his bald spot the way he always did when he was distracted. “Can’t believe how many orders we’ve got already. Gonna be a busy weekend.”
“That’s good, right? The more orders we get, the more money we make.”
He grinned and tousled my chin-length brown hair as if I were still eight years old. “That’s my girl,” he said. “Always the math whiz!”
“Funny.” I smacked his hand away with a laugh, then headed out front with the register tape.
Susannah was on a stool behind the deli case, hunched over a thick textbook. The page it was open to had tons of tiny text and no pictures at all.
“Got a test coming up?” I asked.
“Always.” Susannah wrinkled her nose and glared at the book. “Tell me again why I decided to major in business administration? This stuff just doesn’t make any sense!”
The little brass bell over the door jingled. A man I vaguely recognized as one of the English professors at the university came in.
Susannah watched as the professor paused to scan the specials board. “Is Deena back from break yet?” she asked me. “Looks like I’m about to have a sandwich order. And the evening crowd will start trickling in pretty soon.”
“Don’t think so, but our dads are both back there.” I flipped open Methuselah’s case, which gave way with a creak, and quickly changed out the tape. “They can make a sandwich if they have to.”
As Susannah greeted the customer, I headed over to see how Simone was doing. She grabbed my arm and dragged me down onto the seat beside her. “You have to help me, Bails!” She sounded desperate. “I’m so going to flunk tomorrow!”
I glanced at the table. Her textbook was covered in Post-it notes, and other random bits of paper were scattered everywhere. “Okay, where are you stuck?”
“Everywhere,” she moaned. “Starting with, what’s the difference between DNA and RNA again?”
I sighed. Sadly, this too was normal.
“Okay, so they’re both nucleic acids, right?” I said.
She looked blank. “Right?”
“Simone! Didn’t you do any of the reading?” This was bad even for her. Mr. Ba’s class was tough, and he didn’t tolerate slackers. It was an accelerated class, and he expected his students to be serious about learning. I loved that. It made me feel like I was already in college learning real stuff instead of marking time in high school.
“I read it.” Simone stuck her lower lip out in that cute little pout that drove boys crazy. “I just didn’t understand it. We can’t all be science geniuses like you, Myers.”
The bell jingled again as another customer came in. I glanced over automatically. I didn’t recognize him, which definitely wasn’t normal, since he was a guy about my own age. There was only one high school in our town, and it was small enough for everyone to know everyone else, by face if not necessarily by name.
Simone spotted the new arrival too. “Who’s that?” she hissed, elbowing me hard in the ribs.
“Ow! I don’t know.” I rubbed my ribs and sneaked another look at the guy. He was in line behind the professor, checking out the stuff in the bakery display case while he waited. Kind of tall. Dark brown hair that curled at the temples and the back of his neck. A nose that was a little long and slopey in a way that made his whole face more interesting.
“Maybe he goes to that Catholic school out by the mall,” Simone whispered. “Oh! Or he could be a senior from out of town who’s touring the campus.”
“He doesn’t look old enough to be a senior.” I shot her a sly look. “But it’s a good thing if he’s from out of town. You’re going out with Matt now, remember? And this guy looks like just the type to tempt you—you know, tall, dark, and handsome.”
She tore her gaze away from the guy just long enough to raise one perfectly groomed eyebrow at me. “Yeah, he is pretty cute. It’s not like you to notice that, though, Bails.”
“What? I have eyes.” I quickly busied myself straightening her mess of papers. “So back to DNA versus RNA . . .”
“That can wait. Come on, let’s go say hi.” Simone shoved me out of the booth so energetically I almost hit the floor. I recovered with a less-than-graceful lurch and a grab at the nearest table. Tossing a look toward the counter, I was relieved to see that the guy had his back to me.
“Wait,” I hissed. “What are you going to say to him?”
Simone ignored me, grabbing my hand and dragging me along. With my free hand, I quickly smoothed down my hair as best I could. How much had Dad messed it up just now?
And more to the point, what difference did it make? As soon as Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome got a look at Simone, he wouldn’t spare a glance for my hair if it was on fire. That was life, and I was used to it. Kind of liked it, actually—it saved me from a lot of embarrassment and stress. Because while I had no trouble chatting with other girls or adults, I was notoriously tongue-tied around guys my own age. I just never seemed to know what to say when faced with that Y chromosome. I was pretty sure it was some kind of syndrome. Maybe I could do a study on it after med school.
Simone, however, was not similarly afflicted. “Hi, there!” she said brightly, tapping the guy on the shoulder. “I’m Simone, and this is my friend Bailey. Are you new in town?”
The guy looked startled, but then he smiled. “Is it that obvious?”
Simone let out her giddiest, most charming laugh. “Only because this is, like, the smallest town in the universe. Right, Bails?”
“Uh?” I said. “I mean, yeah. Except for the university. If you include the student body, I mean, it’s actually quite . . . But that’s not, you know . . .”
Okay, yes, I was floundering. Obviously. Luckily, Simone came to the rescue. “So are you here for a campus tour, or what?” she asked the guy.
“Not exactly.” He looked even cuter when he smiled. “My family just moved here. Actually, we’re in the middle of moving in right now—that’s why my parents sent me out to pick up some food.” He gestured vaguely at the deli counter. “Our new kitchen’s kind of a mess.”
“You came to the right place,” Simone told him. “Eats has the best food in town—just ask Bailey. Her family has run it for like the past million years.”
“Really? Cool.” The guy turned and studied my face. His eyes were very blue. I held my breath. What was I supposed to do now? My mind was a vacuum. Not as in vacuum cleaner. As in the scientific term for a complete absence of matter or substance.
This time it was Susannah who came to my rescue. “Can I help you?” she called out as the professor moved out of the way, clutching a steaming cup of coffee.
“Yeah, thanks.” Mr. Blue Eyes stepped forward. “I need to order some sandwiches to go. . . .”
As he started to give his order, I yanked Simone away. “We should get back to studying.”
“Are you mental? We can’t abandon your hot new friend.” She poked me in the side, making me squawk. “Didn’t you see how he was looking at you? And he’s obviously smart, too. Just your type.”
“What? No. What do you—shut up.” I frowned at her.
The loud cha-ching! of Methuselah’s cash drawer distracted me. I glanced over just as Susannah said “Okay, that’ll be about five, ten minutes.”
“Thanks.” The guy barely had time to turn and face us again before Simone reached out and tugged lightly on the sleeve of his T-shirt.
“MIT, huh?” she said. “That just happens to be Bailey’s dream school.”
I blinked, noticing his shirt for the first time. It was gray with the red MIT logo emblazoned across the chest. How had I missed that? Or wait—had my subconscious mind somehow picked up on it without telling the rest of me? Maybe that explained why my attention was drawn to this guy with the strength of a neodymium magnet.
“Yeah, both my parents went there,” the guy said. “By the way, I’m Logan. Logan Morse.”
“Like Morse code?” I blurted out.
See? Hopeless at talking to guys.
Logan laughed. “No relation, as far as I know.”
“So Logan,” Simone said. “Why’d your family move here?”
“My mom just landed a tenure-track job at the university. Physics. She’s really psyched about it.”
“Physics? Your mom’s a scientist?” I said, interested enough to forget my discomfort for a second.
“Bailey’s a scientist too,” Simone piped up. “Our bio teacher says she’ll probably win the Nobel Prize someday.”
I shot her a murderous look. Mr. Ba so hadn’t said that.
“Really? Cool.” Logan gave me another of those appraising blue-eyed looks.
“Um . . .” As I was figuring out whether it was actually scientifically possible to die of embarrassment, three or four people burst into Eats, laughing and talking loudly. College rugby players, I guessed, based on their clothes and the mud covering every inch of them from hair to cleats. Eats was a favorite stop after sports practices thanks to our Belly Buster specials.
“Suz!” one of the rugby players shouted. “Feed us, woman!”
Susannah rolled her eyes and smiled at the player and his friends, then glanced at me. “Think I’m going to need a little help back here, Bailey,” she said.
“I’ve got it!” Simone exclaimed before I could answer. “I’ll go make sandwiches. You stay right here, Bails.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but it was too late. She was already scooting behind the counter. Simone worked at Eats part-time in the summer, so Susannah just nodded as she pushed past, heading for the kitchen.
As the rugby players clustered around the register, Logan and I stepped back. “This seems like a cool place,” he said. “So your family has owned it for a long time, huh?”
“Ages. Since before my mom was born, actually.” I was glad he seemed to be ignoring Simone’s ridiculous Nobel Prize comment. Still, I couldn’t resist turning the topic back to science. “So your mom’s a physics prof? And she went to MIT?”
“Yeah. She and Dad met there as undergrads. He’s a science guy too—paleontology. He’s been working on a book while Mom climbs her way up the academic ranks.”
“Works her way up?” I was distracted by the way his lips went a little bit crooked when he smiled, though I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t usually notice stuff like that about random strangers unless I was doing research for a human-genetics project or something.
“Yeah,” he said. “First she was finishing up her PhD; then she had a bunch of nontenured jobs and stuff. So we’ve lived in a bunch of different places.”
“Really? Like where?”
Logan leaned against an empty table. “We just moved here from Switzerland. Before that was Boston—we were only there for a year—and then Tokyo and California. We also spent a couple of summers in Botswana for Dad’s research. And one in Singapore for Mom’s.”
“Wow.” I wondered what it would be like to live that way—moving to a new city or country every couple of years.
“So what about you?” Logan asked. “Have you always lived here?”
“Uh-huh.” I shrugged. “Totally boring, right?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” He flashed me that off-kilter smile. “There’s something kind of nice about knowing where you belong. Maybe I’ll finally find out what that’s like. It looks like this time my family might actually stay put for a while.”
“Oh.” I’d observed Simone talking to guys for long enough to know that she’d probably have a flirty comeback for a comment like that. Me? Not so much. For a moment I’d almost forgotten I was talking to a guy. Now it all came crashing back, and Logan and I stood there staring at each other for what felt like forever but was probably only a few seconds.
“So,” he said at last, “what’s the local high school like? I’m starting there tomorrow, and I could use any tips you can give me.”
“It’s okay, I guess.” I tried to think of something witty to say but came up empty. “Um, just a typical high school.”
The door flew open again. This time at least half a dozen more rugby players poured in. At the same time, Susannah hit the little silver bell by the register.
“Morse!” she called out. “Order’s up!”
“That’s me.” Logan glanced over. “I should get going, I guess. Looks like things are getting busy.”
“Yeah. They probably need me to help back there.” I stepped aside as a rugby player barreled past, shouting something about a bacon craving.
“Okay.” Logan hesitated, shooting another look in Susannah’s direction, then turning back to me. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow, right, Bailey? You and—um, your friend.”
I blinked. Had my ears deceived me, or had this cute guy actually remembered my name—and forgotten Simone’s? That had never happened before.
“Yeah,” I said just as Susannah shouted my name, sounding frazzled.
“Guess you’d better go. See you.” With one last smile, Logan eased his way through the shifting mass of rugby players to grab the big white bag with his name scrawled on it. I noticed there was a smiley face drawn in the O—Simone’s work, obviously.
Seconds later he was on his way out. I watched him go, feeling oddly disappointed. I figured it was probably because I hadn’t learned more about his mother. It was always cool to hear about successful women in science. It gave me hope that my dreams of becoming a biomedical researcher someday could actually come true.
Simone made a beeline for me when I entered the kitchen. “Well?” she demanded. “Tell me everything!”
“Everything?” I grabbed an apron from the hook by the door and tied it around my waist. “That’ll take a while.”
“Ha-ha, very funny. You know what I mean.” She jabbed me in the arm with a latex-gloved finger. “Logan. You. What happened after I left? Did he ask you out?”
“What? No!” I shot a look at my dad and Uncle Rick to make sure they hadn’t overheard. “Are you crazy?”
“Girls!” Uncle Rick’s voice rang out from the other end of the huge stainless-steel table, where he was rapidly assembling a pair of roast-beef subs. “More work, less gossip, please.”
“You’re crazy if you missed the way Logan was checking you out,” Simone hissed.
There was no more time for talking. Which was just as well, since I had no idea what to say to that.
Posted February 11, 2014
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