About three weeks later, Calvin and Elizabeth were walking out to the parking lot, their voices raised.
“Your idea is completely misguided,” she said. “You’re overlooking the fundamental nature of protein synthesis.”
“On the contrary,” he said, thinking that no one had ever called any of his ideas misguided and now that somehow had, he didn’t particularly like it, “I can’t believe how you completely ignore the molecular struc—”
“I’m not ignoring—”
“You’re forgetting the two covalent—” “It’s three covalent bonds—”
“Yes, but only when—”
“Look,” she interrupted sharply as they stopped in front of her car. “This is a problem.”
“What’s a problem?”
“You,” she said firmly, pointing both hands at him. “You’re the problem.”
“Because we disagree?”
“That’s not the problem,” she said. “Well then, what?”
“It’s…” She waved her hand uncertainly, then looked off into the distance.
Calvin exhaled, and laying his hand on the roof of her old blue Plymouth, waited for the rebuff he knew was coming.
In the last few weeks, he and Elizabeth had met six times—twice for lunch and four times for coffee—and each time it had been both the high and low point of his day. The high point because she was the most intelligent, insightful, intriguing—and yes—the most alarmingly attractive woman he’d ever met in his life. The low point: she always seemed in a hurry to leave. And whenever she did, he felt desperate and depressed for the rest of the day.
“The recent silkworm findings,” she was saying. “In the latest issue of
Science Journal. That’s what I meant by the complicated part.”
He nodded as if he understood, but he didn’t and not just about the silkworms. Each time they’d met, he’d gone out of his way to prove that he had absolutely no interest in her beyond a professional capacity. He hadn’t offered to buy her coffee, he hadn’t volunteered to carry her lunch tray, he hadn’t even opened a door for her—including that time when her arms were so full of books he couldn’t even see her head. Nor did he faint when she accidentally backed into him at the sink and he caught a whiff of her hair. He didn’t even know hair could smell like that—as if it had been washed in a basin of flowers. Was she to give him no credit for his work-and-nothing-more behavior? The whole thing was infuriating.
“The part about bombykol,” she said. “In silkworms.”
“Sure,” he answered dully, thinking of how stupid he’d been the first time he’d met her. Called her a secretary. Kicked her out of his lab. And then what about later? He’d thrown up on her. She said it didn’t matter, but had she ever worn that yellow dress again? No. It was obvious to him that even though she said she didn’t hold a grudge, she did. As a champion grudge holder himself, he knew how it worked.
“It’s a chemical messenger,” she said. “In female silkworms.” “Worms,” he said sarcastically. “Great.”
She took a step back, surprised by his flippancy. “You’re not interested,” she said, the tips of her ears reddening.
“Not at all.”
Elizabeth took a short breath in and busied herself by searching in her purse for her keys.
What a huge disappointment. She’d finally met someone she could actually talk to—someone she found infinitely intelligent, insightful, intriguing (and alarmingly attractive whenever he smiled)—and he had no interest in her. None. They’d met six times in the last few weeks, and each time she’d kept it all business and so had he—although his was almost to the point of rudeness. That day when she couldn’t even see the door because her arms were full of books? He couldn’t be bothered to help. And yet each time they were together, she felt this practically irresistible urge to kiss him. Which was extremely unlike her. And yet after each meeting—which she ended as soon as she could because she was afraid she would kiss him—she felt desperate and depressed for the rest of the day.
“I need to go,” she said.
“Business as usual,” he retorted. But neither of them moved, instead turning their heads in opposite directions as if looking for the person they’d actually meant to meet in the parking lot even though it was almost seven o’clock on a Friday night and the south lot now contained only two cars: hers and his.
“Big plans for the weekend?” he finally ventured. “Yes,” she lied.
“Enjoy,” he snapped. Then he turned and walked away.
She watched him for a moment, then got in her car and closed her eyes. Calvin wasn’t stupid. He read Science Journal. He must have known what she was implying when she mentioned bombykol, the pheromone released by female silkworms to attract male mates. Worms, he’d said almost cruelly. What a jerk. And what a fool she’d been—so blatantly broaching the subject of love in a parking lot, only to get rejected.
You’re not interested, she’d said.
Not at all, he’d replied.
She opened her eyes and shoved the key in the ignition. He probably assumed she was only after more lab equipment anyway. Because in a man’s mind, why else would a woman mention bombykol on a Friday
evening in an empty parking lot when the soft breeze was coming out of the west carrying the scent of her extremely expensive shampoo directly into his nasal cavity unless it was all part of a plot to get more beakers? She couldn’t think of another reason. Except for the real one. She was falling in love with him.
Just then there was a sharp rap to her left. She looked up to find Calvin motioning for her to roll down her window.
“I’m not after your damn lab equipment!” she barked as she lowered the pane that separated them.
“And I’m not the problem,” he snapped as he bent down to face her straight on.
Elizabeth looked back at him, fuming. How dare he? Calvin looked back at her. How dare she?
And then that feeling came over her again, the one she had every time she was with him, but this time she acted on it, reaching out with both hands to draw his face to hers, their first kiss cementing a permanent bond that even chemistry could not explain.