Chapter no 28

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)

My mind had gone blank. at is a standard phrase, and an exaggeration of the situation. My brain stem continued to function, my heart still beat, I did not forget to breathe. I was able to pack my bag, consume breakfast in my room, navigate to JFK, negotiate check-in, and board the plane to Los Angeles. I managed to communicate with Rosie to the extent that it was necessary to coordinate these activities.

But reflective functioning was suspended. e reason was obvious— emotional overload ! My normally well-managed emotions had been allowed out in New York—on the advice of Claudia, a qualified clinical psychologist

—and had been dangerously overstimulated. Now they were running amok in my brain, crippling my ability to think. And I needed all my thinking ability to analyze the problem.

Rosie had the window seat and I was by the aisle. I followed the pre-takeoff safety procedures, for once not dwelling on their unjustified assumptions and irrational priorities. In the event of impending disaster, we would all have something to do. I was in the opposite position. Incapacitated.

Rosie put her hand on my arm. “How are you feeling, Don?”

I tried to focus on analyzing one aspect of the experience and the corresponding emotional reaction. I knew where to start. Logically, I did not need to go back to my room to get Gene’s book. Showing a book to Rosie was not part of the original scenario I had planned back in Melbourne when I prepared for a sexual encounter. I may be socially inept, but with the kiss under way, and Rosie wearing only a towel, there should have been no diculties in proceeding. My knowledge of positions was a bonus but probably irrelevant the first time.

So why did my instincts drive me to a course of action that ultimately sabotaged the opportunity? e first-level answer was obvious. ey were telling me not to proceed. But why? I identified three possibilities.

  1. I was afraid that I would fail to perform sexually.

    It did not take long to dismiss this possibility. I might well have been less competent than a more experienced person and could even have been rendered impotent by fear, though I considered this unlikely. But I was accustomed to being embarrassed, even in front of Rosie. e sexual drive was much stronger than any requirement to protect my image.

  2. No condom.

    I realized, on reflection, that Rosie had probably assumed that I had left her room to collect or purchase a condom. Obviously I should have obtained one, in line with all recommendations on safe sex, and presumably the concierge would have some for emergencies, along with spare toothbrushes and razors. e fact that I did not do so was further evidence that subconsciously I did not expect to proceed. Gene had once told me a story about racing around Cairo in a taxi trying to find a condom vendor. My motivation had clearly not been as strong.

  3. I could not deal with the emotional consequences.

e third possibility only entered my mind after I eliminated the first and second. I immediately knew—instinctively!—that it was the correct one. My brain was already emotionally overloaded. It was not the death-defying climb from the surgeon’s window or the memory of being interrogated in a dark cellar by a bearded psychiatrist who would stop at nothing to protect his secret. It was not even the experience of holding Rosie’s hand from the museum to the subway, although that was a contributor. It was the total experience of hanging out with Rosie in New York.

My instincts were telling me that if I added any more to this experience

—if I added the literally mind-blowing experience of having sex with her— my emotions would take over my brain. And they would drive me toward a relationship with Rosie. at would be a disaster for two reasons. e first

was that she was totally unsuitable in the longer term. e second was that she had made it clear that such a relationship would not extend beyond our time in New York. ese reasons were completely contradictory, mutually exclusive, and based on entirely dierent premises. I had no idea which one was correct.

We were in the final stages of our descent into LAX. I turned to Rosie. It had been several hours since she asked her question, and I had now given it considerable thought. How was I feeling?

“Confused,” I said to her.

I expected her to have forgotten the question, but perhaps the answer made sense in any case.

“Welcome to the real world.”

• • •

I managed to stay awake for the first six hours of the fifteen-hour flight home from LA in order to reset my internal clock, but it was dicult.

Rosie had slept for a few hours, then watched a movie. I looked over and saw that she was crying. She removed her headphones and wiped her eyes.

“You’re crying,” I said. “Is there a problem?”

“Busted,” said Rosie. “It’s just a sad story. Bridges of Madison County. I presume you don’t cry at movies.”

“Correct.” I realized that this might be viewed as a negative, so added, in defense, “It seems to be a predominantly female behavior.”

anks for that.” Rosie went quiet again but seemed to have recovered from the sadness that the movie had stimulated.

“Tell me,” she said, “do you feel anything when you watch a movie?

You’ve seen Casablanca?”

I was familiar with this question. Gene and Claudia had asked it after we watched a DVD together. So my answer was the result of reflection.

“I’ve seen several romantic movies. e answer is no. Unlike Gene and Claudia, and apparently the majority of the human race, I am not emotionally aected by love stories. I don’t appear to be wired for that response.”

• • •

I visited Claudia and Gene for dinner on Sunday night. I was feeling unusually jet-lagged, and as a result had some diculty in providing a

coherent account of the trip. I tried to talk about my meeting with David Borenstein at Columbia, what I saw at the museums, and the meal at Momofuku Ko, but they were obsessed with grilling me about my interactions with Rosie. I could not reasonably be expected to remember every detail. And obviously I could not talk about the Father Project activities.

Claudia was very pleased with the scarf, but it provided another opportunity for interrogation. “Did Rosie help you choose this?”

Rosie, Rosie, Rosie.

e sales assistant recommended it. It was very straightforward.”

As I left, Claudia said, “So, Don, are you planning to see Rosie again?” “Next Saturday,” I said, truthfully, not bothering to tell her that it was

not a social occasion: we had scheduled the afternoon to analyze the DNA. She seemed satisfied.

• • •

I was eating lunch alone in the University Club, reviewing the Father Project file, when Gene arrived with his meal and a glass of wine and sat opposite me. I tried to put the file away but succeeded only in giving him the correct impression that I was trying to hide something. Gene suddenly looked over at the service counter, behind me.

“Oh God!” he said.

I turned to look and Gene snatched the folder, laughing.

at’s private,” I said, but Gene had opened it. e photo of the graduating class was on top.

Gene seemed genuinely surprised. “My God. Where did you get this?” He was studying the photo intently. “It must be thirty years old. What’s all the scribble?”

“Organizing a reunion,” I said. “Helping a friend. Weeks ago.” It was a good answer, considering the short time I had to formulate it, but it did have a major defect. Gene detected it.

“A friend? Right. One of your many friends. You should have invited me.”


“Who do you think took the photo?”

Of course. Someone had been required to take the photo. I was too stunned to speak.

“I was the only outsider,” said Gene. “e genetics tutor. Big night— everyone pumped, no partners. Hottest ticket in town.”

Gene pointed to a face in the photo. I had always focused on the males and never looked for Rosie’s mother. But now that Gene was pointing to her, she was easy to identify. e resemblance was obvious, including the red hair, although the color was less dramatic than Rosie’s. She was standing between Isaac Esler and Georey Case. As in Isaac Esler’s wedding photo, Case was smiling broadly.

“Bernadette O’Connor.” Gene sipped his wine. “Irish.”

I was familiar with the tone of Gene’s statement. ere was a reason for his remembering this particular woman, and it was not that she was Rosie’s mother. In fact, it seemed that he didn’t know the connection, and I made a quick decision not to inform him.

His finger moved one space to the left.

“Georey Case. Not a great return on his tuition fees.” “He died, correct?”

“Killed himself.”

is was new information. “Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure,” said Gene. “Come on, what’s this about?” I ignored the question. “Why did he do it?”

“Probably forgot to take his lithium,” said Gene. “He had bipolar disorder. Life of the party on a good day.” He looked at me. I assumed he was about to interrogate me as to the reason for my interest in Georey Case and the reunion, and I was thinking frantically to invent a plausible explanation. I was saved by an empty pepper grinder. Gene gave it a twist, then walked away to exchange it. I used a table napkin to swab his wineglass and left before he returned.

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