Let me tell you a story. My name is Carter Blake. I live in southwest Baltimore in a row house smack in the center of a shitty neighborhood. I’m fourteen and a junior at Johns-Hopkins University. I had skipped grades a few times in school. Not the easiest way to live, but my options were limited. I’d either be pummeled daily for being a total geek in high school or I’d be a pariah in college. The latter was preferable. As it turned out, the thing that used to get me beat up a lot in middle school – my intelligence – got me a lot of respect in college.
I arrived home after a series of lectures on String theory and particle physics. My professor, Dr. Kevin Rosenthal, had some interesting ideas on their applications in cold fusion. It was amusing to see most of my older classmates staring slack-jawed after one of Professor Rosenthal’s more abstract lectures. They got stunned looks on their faces when he delved into his own hypotheses on String theory. The non-befuddled ones would simply struggle to stay awake due to their all night cram sessions. The Prof frowns on sleeping in class and will use a slumbering student as target practice with a chalk-laden eraser. Unlike my other professors, he preferred chalk boards to dry erase ones. For those three of us still tuned in, his lectures were as mentally stimulating as a Penthouse centerfold was physically.
I threw my jacket over the banister, just inside the front door of my house, and trudged up the stairs to my bedroom. With a satisfying thud and a sigh of relief, I dropped my load of books on the floor. I collapsed in front of my computer, flicked in on, grabbed a soda from my mini-fridge and waited for the system to start up. Afternoons were when I indulged in my favorite role-playing game, BattleHammer. It’s a swords and sorcery, hack-and-slash, dungeon crawler type role-playing game (RPG). I played the tabletop version on the weekends, but this was my fix between sessions. As the computer came on, I hit a button on my stereo remote. Seconds later, the first notes from my favorite rock album began to pound from my speakers. I cranked up the volume and spun back to the monitor.
I loaded my current favorite BattleHammer avatar, a dark dwarf fighter named Drago the Clanless. I played as him on the weekend, too. He was Clanless because Mordecai, the Rakshasha wizard had wiped them out while he patrolled the Utterdark. Upon his return, Drago vowed on his dead clans’ souls he’d wear Mordecai’s guts for garters and his skull for a cap. While I waited for him to load, I received a message from another gamer with the screen name of “Gandalf.” I rolled my eyes at that, and then clicked to check his profile. I laughed when I saw the character he was controlling: it was one of a race called “treebeard” and was named “Pippin”.
I played for a few hours, and then logged off. I spun in my chair, and flipped open the mini-fridge. I scowled at its bare shelves. ‘Remember to restock,’ I thought.
I turned off my stereo, went downstairs to get another soda and considered making dinner. My mom wasn’t due home for another hour. It was just the two of us. My father disappeared around the time I turned three. I didn’t have many memories of him, only a vague short film memory of a seemingly powerful yet shadowy person. I wasn’t too fond of him for what he did, though I desperately, and secretly, wanted to meet him.
I grabbed steaks from the fridge and tossed them on the counter. Stepping out the back door, I quickly ignited the grill. I wanted it warming up while I marinated the beef in a glass baking pan. I poured vodka over the beautiful meat (I am an avowed steak lover), adding my favorite spices and some extra virgin olive oil. I could not wrap my mind around the idea of the so-called “marbled” beef. To me, the fat just got in the way. The fat veins get tough and stringy, making the meat difficult to eat. I stuck the pan of steaks in the fridge and stood there; debating what else I wanted to make. My cell rang and I flipped it open without looking.
“This is Carter,” I answered.
“It’s Daphne,” came the melodious reply.
Daphne Sinclaire is 24, and the most gorgeous lab partner a guy could ask for. She stands at 167.6 cm, and weighs in at 83.9 kilos of firm athleticism. She has coppery red hair, sea foam green eyes and an awesome 40-32-42 body. How do I know her measurements? Simple: I asked. At the start of the semester I won a bet with her. We’d been randomly paired for a science expo which had a cash prize of $5,000 each and, better yet, a write-up in Scientific American. Daphne wasn’t too pleased, especially when she learned that not only could she not trade partners, but this project would also affect our final grade. She made it perfectly clear that she didn’t want her grade to depend on, as she put it, “A little kid.” To attempt to placate her, I declared we’d win. She scoffed. I challenged her to place a wager. The terms were simple: if she won (by our losing), I’d be her personal servant for three years, no task refused. If I won (by being naturally right about the outcome), I could ask her five personal questions, no chance to refuse. Confident that we’d lose, she agreed.
Not only did our exhibition of sustainable cold fission win, we were invited to demonstrate it to all sorts of government officials. Since we’d won, my first question was what her measurements were. So far, it was the only one. She’s since become a lot friendlier.
“What can I do for you?” I asked.
“I’m hoping you’d be willing to assist me with my psych assignment,” she replied.
“Certainly. Bring it over. Have you had dinner yet?”
“You are welcome join my mother and me for dinner. We’re having steak and…something. I haven’t decided what else, yet.”
She laughed, causing a rush of heat to the pit of my stomach.
“Alright,” she said. “What time should I get there?”
“How about…,” I paused.
“Well?” she prompted.
“ASAP,” was my response.
She laughed again, “Roger. Wilco,” then disconnected. I enjoyed hearing the military jargon from her. She’d picked it up from her dad, an Army sergeant.
My heart flipped. I was about to have my first female guest! To say I was excited was a major understatement. Usually, I went over to her apartment on campus. I grabbed three hefty potatoes from the bin, washed them, wrapped them in foil with a dash of salt and E.V.O.O. and slung them in the oven. I raced upstairs to shower. I was in my room before I remembered I had left the oven off. Slapping my forehead in frustration, I ran back down and set it for 350 degrees. I ran back up, stripped and jumped into the shower.
I was tying my sneakers when I heard a knock at the front door. I scampered downstairs and swung it open. There she was. She wore a light green tank top that accentuated her red hair and green eyes, and a black denim mini-skirt that accentuated my interest. She had enough make up on to emphasize her looks. On her left wrist, she had on a gold hoop bracelet and an antique Mickey Mouse wristwatch. Her feet were in black flats.
I stood back and waved her in. She smiled and entered, turning with her right hand positioned so I couldn’t see what she was carrying. After a few moments, she presented a bottle of Pinot Noir with a flourish. I chuckled at the expression on her face. It seemed to say, “Look at what I did!”
“What?” she asked with a smile.
“You look cute.”
“Carter,” she said with a rise in inflection at the end. “Don’t.”
I raised my hands in surrender. “Relax. I wasn’t making another pass. The last attempt and later shooting down was enough of a lesson.”
I took the wine from her, opened it so it could breathe, and placed it on the counter. Gesturing at the fridge, I said, “You think of anything else we should have? I have potatoes baking in the oven.”
Daphne shrugged and pulled open the doors of the fridge. While she searched, I pulled the steaks out and took them over to the grill. They were just beginning to sizzle when my mom’s car pulled up in the alley. She strolled through the back gate and waved. Mom was wearing her usual office uniform: blue jeans, a white blouse and black tennis shoes. Her auburn hair pulled into a bun. Her laptop was slung over her right shoulder as always. My mom is one of the few women I know who didn’t carry a purse. Her warm brown eyes sparkled as she met my green ones. She walked over and pulled me down for a forehead kiss. She had to stand on tiptoes to do so; she’s 165.1 cm, and I’m 185.42 cm. Yeah, I’m an overachiever in everything.
“Hey, baby,” she said. “How was school?”
“Illuminating,” I replied, “as always.”
Mom chuckled. “I noticed Daphne’s car parked out front. Is she staying for dinner?”
“Yes’m. She brought red wine for the two of you. Sounds like she’s making a salad.”
“I wish you wouldn’t ask our guests to assist with dinner,” Mom complained.
“Ordinarily, I probably wouldn’t have. However, she has asked for homework help, so it’s only fair I be compensated for my time.”
Mom shook her head and went into the house. I saw her greet my study partner through the back window. Twenty minutes after I started, the steaks were done.