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 sixteen and a junior at Johns-Hopkins University. I had skipped grades a few times. 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. I chose the latter. Funny thing: what used to get me beat up almost every day – intelligence – got me a lot of respect in the university. I arrived home after a series of lectures on Renormalization.
The professor, Dr. Kevin Rosenthal, had interesting ideas on their applications in cold fission. I got some amusement out of seeing most of my older classmates staring slack-jawed after each of Professor Rosenthal’s more abstract lectures. They had stunned looks on their faces when he delved into his own hypotheses regarding Perturbation theory. The non-befuddled ones would 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 his 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 stimulating to the mind as a Penthouse centerfold is to the body.
I threw my jacket over the banister, just inside the back door, and trudged up the stairs to my bedroom. I dropped the load of books from my back to the floor with a satisfying thud and a sigh of relief. I collapsed in front of my computer, flicked it on, grabbed a soda from a mini-fridge nearby and waited for the system to start. Afternoons were when I indulged in my favorite role-playing game, BattleHammer. It’s a swords and sorcery, hack-and-slash, dungeon crawler type RPG. I played the tabletop version on the weekends, but this was my fix between those sessions. As the computer came on, I hit a button on the stereo remote. Seconds later, the first notes from an Imagine Dragons album wafted from the speakers. I cranked up the volume to window vibrating and spun back to the monitor.
I loaded my current favorite BattleHammer avatar, a dark dwarf fighter named Drago the Clanless. He was Clanless because Mordecai, the Rakshasha wizard, had wiped them out. Drago vowed on his dead clans’ souls he’d wear the mage’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 clicked to check his profile. I laughed when I realized the character he was controlling was one of a race called “treebeard” named “Pippin.”
After I played for a few hours, I spun in my chair, and flipped open the mini-fridge. I scowled at its bare shelves. ‘I’ve got to remember to restock.’
I clicked off the stereo, trotted downstairs to get another soda and considered making dinner. Mom wasn’t due home for an hour. Father disappeared around the time I turned three. I didn’t have many memories of him, only a vague short mental film of a shadowy person who seemed to be powerful. I wasn’t too fond of him for what he did, though I harbored a secret desire to meet him.
I grabbed steaks from the refrigerator and tossed them on the counter. Stepping out the back door, I walked over to ignite the charcoal in my grill. I wanted it warming up while I marinated the beef in a glass baking pan. I walked back in and over to the counter. I poured vodka over the beautiful meat (I am an avowed steak lover), adding spices and some extra virgin olive oil. I stuck the pan of steaks in the fridge and stood there; debating what else to make. My cell rang and I answered without looking at the id.
“This is Carter.”
“It’s Daphne,” was the melodious reply.
Daphne Sinclaire is 24, and the most gorgeous lab partner a guy would want. 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 34D-32-38 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 paired by chance 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, in particular when she learned that not only could she not trade partners, but this project would also affect our final marks. She made it crystal 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 right – as usual – about the outcome), I would be able to ask her five questions that she had to answer. 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. Once we’d won, my first question was what her measurements were. So far, it was the only one after two years. Since then, she had 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.
“Certainement. Have you had dinner?”
“You’re welcome join Mom and me. We’re having steak and…Something.”
She laughed, causing a rush of heat to the pit of my stomach. “Alright. What time should I arrive?”
“How about…,” I paused.
“Well?” she prompted.
Daphne 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. A female was about to be a guest of mine for the first time! To ask if I was excited would be like asking if a bear shit in the woods. A major understatement. On a typical day, 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 olive oil and slung them in the oven. I raced upstairs to shower. I arrived in my room before I remembered I had left the blasted thing off. Slapping my forehead in frustration, I hurried down and set it for 350 degrees. I ran back up, stripped and jumped into the shower.
While tying my sneakers, I heard a knock at the front door. I scampered downstairs and swung it open. The sight of her took my breath away. Daphne wore a light green tank top that accentuated her red hair. Emerald eyes were highlighted by purple eye shadow and a black denim mini-skirt that drew my interest. On her left wrist, she had on a gold hoop bracelet and an antique Mickey Mouse wristwatch. Her feet were in black flats. ‘You are so gorgeous.’ I didn’t have the courage to say it aloud.
I stood back and waved her in. She smiled and entered, turning with her right hand positioned so I couldn’t tell 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 which seemed to say, “Look at what I did.”
“Why are you staring?” she asked with a smile.
“Carter,” she said with a rise in inflection at the end. “Don’t.”
I raised my hands in surrender. “Relax. I’m not making another pass. The last attempt and subsequent shooting down was enough of a lesson.”
I took the wine from her, opened the bottle so it could breathe, and placed it on the counter. “Can you think of anything else we should have? Potatoes are baking in the oven.” I gestured at the refrigerator.
Daphne shrugged and opened the doors of the fridge. As 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 rolled up in the alley. She strolled through the back gate and waved. Mom was wearing her usual office uniform: blue jeans, a half-tucked white blouse and black tennis shoes. Her auburn hair pulled into a messy bun. An ink pen stuck out of it. Her laptop was slung over her right shoulder as always. Mom is one of the few women I know who didn’t carry a purse. Her brown eyes seemed tired. She walked over and pulled me down for a forehead kiss. She had to stand on tiptoes to do so; she’s 165.1 centimeters, and I’m 185.42. Yeah, I’m an overachiever in everything.
“Hey, baby,” she said. “How was school?”
“Informative,” I replied, “as always.”
Mom chuckled. “Daphne’s car is parked out front. Will she be 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 meals,” Mom complained, tucking her blouse the rest of the way into her jeans.
“On any other day, I would not. However, since she has asked for homework assistance, don’t you think it’s fair I be compensated for my time?”
Mom shook her head with a laugh and went into the house after readjusting her bun. I saw her greet my study partner through the back window. Twenty minutes after I started, the steaks were done.