Chapter no 18

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)

I texted Gene from the taxi. It was 1:08 a.m., but he had left the ball at the same time as I did and had further to travel. Urgent: Run tomorrow 6 a.m. Gene texted back: Sunday at 8. Bring Bianca’s contact info. I was about to insist on the earlier date when I realized that I could profitably use the time to organize my thoughts.

It seemed obvious that Rosie had invited me to have sex with her. I was right to have avoided the situation. We had both drunk a substantial quantity of champagne, and alcohol is notorious for encouraging unwise decisions about sex. Rosie had the perfect example. Her mother’s decision, doubtless prompted by alcohol, was still causing Rosie significant distress.

My own sexual experience was limited. Gene had advised that it was conventional to wait until the third date, and my relationships had never progressed beyond the first. In fact, Rosie and I had technically had only one date—the night of the Jacket Incident and the Balcony Meal.

I did not use the services of brothels, not for any moral reason, but because I found the idea distasteful. is was not a rational reason, but since the benefits I was seeking were only primitive, a primitive reason was sucient.

But I now seemed to have an opportunity for what Gene would call “no-strings-attached sex.” e required conditions were in place: Rosie and I had clearly agreed that neither of us had an interest in a romantic relationship, then Rosie had indicated that she wanted to have sex with me. Did I want to have sex with Rosie? ere seemed no logical reason not to, leaving me free to obey the dictates of my primitive desires. e answer was an extremely clear yes. Having made this completely rational decision, I could think of nothing else.

On Sunday morning, Gene met me outside his house. I had brought Bianca’s contact details and checked her nationality—Panamanian. Gene was very pleased about the latter.

Gene wanted full details of my encounter with Rosie, but I had decided it was a waste of eort to explain it twice: I would tell him and Claudia together. As I had no other subject to discuss and Gene had diculty in running and speaking concurrently, we spent the next forty-seven minutes in silence.

When we returned to Gene’s house, Claudia and Eugenie were having breakfast.

I sat down and said, “I require some advice.”

“Can it wait?” said Claudia. “We have to take Eugenie to horse riding and then we’re meeting people for brunch.”

“No. I may have made a social error. I broke one of Gene’s rules.”

Gene said, “Don, I think the Panamanian bird has flown. Put that one down to experience.”

e rule applies to Rosie, not Bianca. Never pass up a chance to have sex with a woman under thirty.”

“Gene told you that?” said Claudia.

Carl had entered the room and I prepared to defend myself against his ritual attack, but he stopped to look at his father.

“I thought I should consult with you because you’re a psychologist and with Gene because of his extensive practical experience,” I said.

Gene looked at Claudia, then at Carl.

“In my misspent youth,” he said. “Not my teens.” He turned back to me. “I think this can wait till lunch tomorrow.”

“What about Claudia?” I asked.

Claudia got up from the table. “I’m sure there’s nothing Gene doesn’t know.”

is was encouraging, especially coming from his wife.

• • •

“You said what?” said Gene. We were having lunch in the University Club as scheduled.

“I said that I hadn’t noticed her appearance. I didn’t want her to think I saw her as a sexual object.”

“Jesus,” said Gene. “e one time you think before you speak is the one time you shouldn’t have.”

“I should have said she was beautiful?” I was incredulous.

“Got it in one,” said Gene, incorrectly, as the problem was that I hadn’t gotten it right the first time. “at’ll explain the cake.”

I must have looked blank. For obvious reasons.

“She’s been eating chocolate cake. At her desk. For breakfast.”

is seemed to me to be an unhealthy choice, consistent with smoking, but not an indicator of distress. But Gene assured me that it was to make herself feel better.

Having supplied Gene with the necessary background information, I presented my problem.

“You’re saying she’s not the one,” said Gene. “Not a life partner.”

“Totally unsuitable. But she’s extremely attractive. If I’m going to have uncommitted sex with anyone, she’s the perfect candidate. She has no emotional attachment to me either.”

“So why the stress?” said Gene. “You have had sex before?” “Of course,” I said. “My doctor is strongly in favor.” “Frontiers of medical science,” said Gene.

He was probably making a joke. I think the value of regular sex has been known for some time.

I explained further. “It’s just that adding a second person makes it more complicated.”

“Naturally,” said Gene. “I should have thought of that. Why not get a book?”

• • •

e information was available on the Internet, but a few minutes of examining the search results on “sexual positions” convinced me that the book option would provide a more relevant tutorial with less extraneous information.

I had no diculty finding a suitable book and, back in my oce, selected a random position. It was called the reverse cowboy position (variant 2). I tried it—simple. But, as I had pointed out to Gene, the problem was the involvement of the second person. I got the skeleton from the closet and arranged it on top of me, following the diagram in the book.

ere is a rule at the university that no one opens a door without knocking first. Gene violates it in my case, but we are good friends. I do not consider the Dean my friend. It was an embarrassing moment, especially as the Dean was accompanied by another person, but entirely her fault. It was fortunate that I had kept my clothes on.

“Don,” she said, “if you can leave off repairing that skeleton for a moment, I’d like you to meet Dr. Peter Enticott from the Medical Research Council. I mentioned your work in cirrhosis and he was keen to meet you. To consider a funding package.” She emphasised the last two words as though I was so unconnected with university politics that I might forget that funding was the center of her world. She was right to do so.

I recognized Peter instantly. He was the former father candidate who worked at Deakin University, and who had prompted the cup-stealing incident. He also recognized me.

“Don and I have met,” he said. “His partner is considering applying for the MD program. And we met recently at a social occasion.” He winked at me. “I don’t think you’re paying your academic staff enough.”

We had an excellent discussion about my work with alcoholic mice. Peter seemed highly interested and I had to reassure him repeatedly that I had designed the research so there was no need for external grants. e Dean was making hand signals and contorting her face, and I guessed that she wanted me to misrepresent my study as requiring funding, so that she could divert the money to some project that would not be funded on its merits. I chose to feign a lack of comprehension, but this had the eect of increasing the intensity of the Dean’s signaling. It was only afterward that I realized that I should not have left the sexual positions book open on the floor.

I decided that ten positions would be sucient initially. More could be learned if the initial encounter was successful. It did not take long—less time than learning the cha-cha. In terms of reward for eort, it seemed strongly preferable to dancing and I was greatly looking forward to it.

I went to visit Rosie in her workplace. e PhD students’ area was a windowless space with desks along the walls. I counted eight students, including Rosie and Stefan, whose desk was beside Rosie’s.

Stefan gave me an odd smile. I was still suspicious of him.

“You’re all over Facebook, Don.” He turned to Rosie. “You’ll have to update your relationship status.”

On his screen was a spectacular photo of Rosie and me dancing, similar to the one that the photographer had given me and which now sat by my computer at home. I was spinning Rosie, and her facial expression indicated extreme happiness. I had not technically been “tagged” as I was not registered on Facebook (social networking not being an interest of mine), but our names had been added to the photo: Prof. Don Tillman of Genetics and Rosie Jarman, PhD Candidate, Psychology.

“Don’t talk to me about it,” said Rosie.

“You don’t like the photo?” is seemed a bad sign. “It’s Phil. I don’t want him seeing this.”

Stefan said, “You think your father spends his life looking at Facebook?” “Wait till he calls,” said Rosie. “‘How much does he earn?’ ‘Are you

screwing him?’ ‘What can he bench-press?’”

“Hardly unusual questions for a father to ask about a man who’s dating his daughter,” said Stefan.

“I’m not dating Don. We shared a taxi. at’s all. Right, Don?” “Correct.”

Rosie turned back to Stefan. “So you can stick your little theory where it fits. Permanently.”

“I need to talk to you in private,” I said to Rosie.

She looked at me very directly. “I don’t think there’s anything we need to say in private.”

is seemed odd. But presumably she and Stefan shared information in the same way that Gene and I did. He had accompanied her to the ball.

“I was reconsidering your oer of sex,” I said.

Stefan put his hand over his mouth. ere was quite a long silence; I would estimate six seconds.

en Rosie said, “Don, it was a joke. A joke.”

I could make no sense of this. I could understand that she might have changed her mind. Perhaps the problem around the sexual objectification response had been fatal. But a joke? Surely I could not be so insensitive to social cues to have missed the fact that she was joking. Yes, I could be. I had failed to detect jokes in the past. Frequently. A joke. I had been obsessing about a joke.

“Oh. When should we meet about the other project?” Rosie looked down at her desk. “ere is no other project.”

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