FROM THE STARS
The green messenger icon on the bottom of my computer screen beeps. It’s Miriam. Her little chat bubble says, “Lunch?”
My heart does the usual split leap in my chest, because Miriam Haworth, the most incredibly gorgeous creature God has ever created, has asked me to lunch. Every time we go out, my reaction is the same—racing heartbeats followed by a sensation close to how flying must feel like. I’ve come to call it the Haworth effect.
She joined Weltman & Co only four months ago, but the day I was called to set up her computer will be carved in my mind for a long time.
The Accounts team, her department, is located on the highest floor and has a fantastic view of Manhattan. The IT department, on the other hand, sits somewhere between Hell and the building’s garage—a pokey little hole with no windows. So when I was called to set up Miriam’s computer, I was happy to go up, even if only for half an hour.
Miriam was waiting for me when the elevator door opened. She wore a black skirt and suit jacket, and beneath it she had a white T-shirt that featured Ben Kenobi from Star Wars saying, “You did not see this girl.”
It’s hard to explain how awesome that was to me.
She smiled the most dazzling smile I had ever seen. I kid you not, it would have put any supermodel to shame. Brown freckles lightly peppered her nose and cheeks, and her green eyes shone with a newcomer’s glee. Her sleek brown hair hung in a low ponytail, making her look smart and professional, and her lips were coated with a glossy lipstick that begged me to kiss her.
“You must be Miriam?” I said, extending my hand.
She shook my sweaty palm, her skin soft and perfect. I was used to the inevitable jittering stomach and cold sweat caused by the sighting of a pretty girl, but this…this was different.
“Call me Mir,” she said with a dazzling smile. “Like your earlier space station.”
I chuckled. “No one told me I owned it.”
“Oh, my apologies, I meant the space station.”
Beautiful and nicknamed after a space station? Right there and then, Miriam was the epitome of amazing, at least to me. I can’t explain why she captivated me so much. It’s something that just was, like boson particles or my dad’s talent for baking apple strudels.
The chat bubble writes, “James? Are you there or have you been kidnapped by the mob?”
Oh, right, lunch! “Sorry, I had to take care of something,” I type. “Meet you in the lobby in five.”
Miriam quickly became my friend—don’t ask me how. Pretty, unobtainable girls like her usually run away from nerdy guys as if we have leprosy, but Miriam broke that trend. And this is exactly why she’ll never know how I feel about her. I’m fully aware of what happens when a guy like me reveals his feelings to a girl like Miriam—I’ve got twenty-four years of experience with that. He hears the usual, “Oh, but we’re such great friends,” or “You’re a brother to me,” and then she never talks to him again.
Nope, thank you very much. Platonic works fine for me.
Miriam waits by the lobby’s revolving door. Her hair is loose today, and she tucks a strand behind her ear in that typical girlie-girl fashion.
“Hey,” I say, trying to sound cool, looking for that sweet spot between nonchalance and friendliness.
“Hey,” she replies in the exact same manner, almost as if she’s mimicking me. “How’s the Batcave?”
“The usual.” We leave the building and stroll toward a small bistro down the street. “I could use an Alfred the butler, though.”
She lets out this unladylike laugh, something close to a pig grunt that magically sounds adorable. “Who wouldn’t, am I correct? That would be groovy.”
Miriam gets common expressions wrong sometimes. She told me she spent her youth in Sweden, but she has no accent. If it weren’t for the misplaced slangs and her overly formal speech, anyone would think she was born and raised in America.
I chuckle. “I don’t think anyone has used ‘groovy’ since the seventies.”
She frowns. “Are you certain?”
“Then what do humans, I mean, people. What do people use?”
Typical Miriam, calling people “humans”. I guess sometimes she’s a little lost in translation. “‘Cool’ or ‘awesome’ would’ve been fine.”
She nods to herself. “Interesting… ”
When we get to the restaurant, we sit down and order. While waiting, we approach several topics, from Doctor Who to Star Wars to comic books. I’m teaching Miriam the way of the Geek, and she even calls herself my Padawan now.
Once we’re done talking about Marvel vs DC—she’s a DC girl and I’m a Marvel guy, kind of like Romeo and Juliet—, she leans in closer and whispers, “James, may I ask you a favor?”
“Tell me about dating.”
Holy shit, that came out of nowhere. Heat shoots up my head. “I-I, hmm, what do you mean?”
That familiar sparkle shines in her eyes, the one that comes up when she wants to learn something new, and it’s one of those perfect moments that makes you stop and stare. “Explain to me what it’s like to go on a date.” She looks left and right as if we’re talking about something forbidden, but she smiles in the way of someone who’s eager to break a rule.
“I-I…” Get it together, James. “It’s all right, I guess. I’m not exactly an expert. You probably know way more than I do.”
“Incorrect. I’m the opposite of an expert in this…art,” she mutters.
I can’t help but chuckle. “Come on, Mir, that’s impossible. You’re the most fantastic girl I know.”
“Whether this is true or not, it’s irrelevant.” She bites her lower lip and shakes her head slightly. “I suppose it’s better this way. I’ll keep being a loner like Bruce Wayne.” She winks at me. “Which is fine, considering he’s Batman.”
I should’ve said I could be her date. Should’ve said I could show her. Instead, I said, “Welcome to the team.”
Our orders arrive and Miriam fills her mouth with a third of a hamburger that’s half the size of mine.
Chicks and their tiny stomachs.
Miriam looks so cute with her cheeks puffed up. Her looks might’ve captivated me first, but the full package is the reason I’m in this deep.
“A buck for your thoughts,” Miriam says with a mouth half-full.
Before shoving some fries in my mouth, I correct her. “It’s a penny for your thoughts, not a buck.”
She looks down as if she’s mentally chiding herself. “Ah, of course.” When she glances at my burger, her brows furrow in the way of a curious child. “Do you have a black hole in your stomach?”
“Why would you think that?”
“Well, where do all the calories go? You eat like a bull, but you remain as thin as a stick.”
Not the first time I’ve heard this. “Good metabolism, I guess.”
She rolls her eyes. “And why don’t you wear glasses? You insist that you’re a geek, though geeks wear glasses. I’ve seen it on TV.”
I can’t help but smirk. Sometimes Miriam blurts out a swarm of questions about me, and I’m not what people would call an interesting guy. That’s part of Miriam’s magic: she makes me feel like I’m the most awesome person on Earth. Maybe, and that’s a huge maybe, she thinks I’m a cool guy. If that’s not proof we were made to be together, I don’t know what is… and here I am again, wishing for the impossible. That’s the thing with hope: it has a way of growing in you like weeds have their way of growing, well, everywhere.
I dip a couple of fries into a puddle of ketchup. “Life isn’t like on TV, Mir.”
She takes another bite. “I’m simply stating that if you were like the geeks on TV, you’d have neat and tidy hair.” She looks up at me with those sharp green eyes that always seem to peer into my soul.
Neat hair and glasses? Does she mean the geeky dudes from the nineties or something? I squirm under the intensity of her gaze. Being in the spotlight is not my thing. Looking at my feet, I say all at once, “Can we stop talking about me?”
She’s right, though. At least about my hair. It’s a shaggy mess, too curly and too wild to tame, but I kind of like it. It supports itself with zero chemical help and only occasional curls fall over my forehead. I thought about shaving it once, but Mom told me to keep it because you never know when baldness might strike, and at least I’ll have enjoyed my time with a mane of untamable hair before most of it falls off.
Miriam giggles. “Sorry if I made you uncomfortable, James. It’s just that you’re too attractive to fit the stereotype.”
I turn to stone from top to bottom. I don’t think I’m even breathing, but I’m definitely gaping.
Did she say she finds me handsome?
“It’s fine,” I say, blinking back to life. “If it’ll make you happy, I’ll change my hair and put on some glasses.”
She frowns. “Why?”
Oh, Miriam, always so curious. “I’d do anything to make you happy.”
Shit, how did I let that slip?
She knits her eyebrows. “That doesn’t make sense. Why would you change for someone else?”
Cold sweat beads on my forehead. “Some people enjoy making others happy?” Shoot, why did this sentence come out as a question? Keep your cool, James!
“Not always,” she counters. “Common knowledge says you shouldn’t change to please others, correct?”
I do my best to shrug carelessly. “Well, yeah, but you’re my friend. Can we change the subject?”
“Certainly, though I need to understand—”
I clear my throat. “So, did you watch the Star Trek: TNG episode I told you about?”
She nods slowly as if she still can’t wrap her head around what just happened. Let’s hope it stays that way.
“Yes.” She stirs her milkshake with the straw. “The concept of living a whole lifetime in a few moments was beautiful.”
“It’s considered one of the best TNG episodes.”
“Hmm,” is all she says.
A light pressure pinches the back of my head, almost as if tentacles were digging into my brain. I’m probably getting a headache from all the fuss, though I can’t remember the last time I had a headache…
Miriam is staring at me in a way I’ve never seen before, almost as if she’s shooting lasers with her eyes. Almost as if she’s causing my headache. But that’s nonsense.
“James, if you at least told me, I wouldn’t have to…” She stops.
Have to what?
“Never mind,” she says.
After that, Miriam becomes extremely pensive, and although I speak a number of things and discuss a ton of events, she keeps quiet for the rest of our lunch.
I don’t hear from her after that. Days pass and she doesn’t contact me. She doesn’t answer my texts either. Well, she does, but all she says is, “Sorry, I’m quite busy.” Nothing more.
I’ve ruined everything, haven’t I? Like I always do when it comes to girls.