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Authors: A.M. Khalifa

Crushed

BOOK: Crushed
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“Crushed”

A short story by A.M. Khalifa © 2014 

 

Of all the girls who turned me down in high school, only Ashley Sakowski broke my heart. I never blamed her for snubbing me, but I loathed her for leading me on and making me think I stood a fighting chance.

Back then I was your archetypal geek. Smart and into computers in a creepy, OCD way. Tousled hair, waxy complexion and pudgy. Horn-rimmed glasses a given. Nothing I wore had the slightest suspicion of cutting-edge or cool. I dressed to cover my nakedness, not to make a statement or appeal to anyone. My chances with the opposite sex were at best comatose on arrival.

I fell for Ashley and came crashing down like a big sack of shit in the worst possible way. The self-immolating, warty, messy, sleepless-nights-crying-in-bed, I-can-hardly-breathe, kill-me-now sort of way. The type of love that forces you to surrender your dignity and self-esteem at the door.

As a teenager, hitting on girls was a combination of self-indulgence and masochism on my part. Just a horny dork being fresh, knowing I stood no chance and that the harder I tried, the more I would get burned.

With Ashley, and for the first time in my life, it was my heart doing the talking, aching, and yearning rather than just my loins. I fantasized about spending the rest of my life as her appendage. I knew hell would freeze over first before that would happen so settled instead for the lesser pleasure of worshipping her from far. Every night I would retreat to the safety of my fertile mind and spawn elaborate fantasies and conversations with her. Pathetic things like picking out names for our future children and choosing the fabric colors of our curtains.

Then one day when I was minding my own business and being the insignificant high school microbe that I was, she begins talking to me in the hallway.

“We should hang out,” she declared as if I was a newly sanctioned piece of bread, previously suspected of being moldy.

And hang out we did.

She was sweet and funny and attentive and pressed my most sensitive buttons. How was I supposed to avoid not falling for her even more when she was saying what she was saying? Like how she preferred the under-stated good looks of a man with brains, far more than handsome men lacking IQ firepower. Music to any nerd’s ears, right? I melted like butter under her innuendos and physical contact. She liked to brush up against my skin as if by accident, then stare at me with sultry, deep eyes filled with endless possibilities.

For the first time ever a woman was conversing with me as if my opinions really mattered, or as if my life was interesting and worth dwelling upon.

Then as abruptly as it all started, it all stopped. Ashley led me to the water’s edge but right before I could quench my thirst, she waved a wand and replaced the freshwater stream with a parched desert. She ejected me without the mercy of a parachute.

Overnight, I went from being her soul-mate back to the invisible dweeb. During our short-lived three-week interaction—I could hardly call it a relationship—she had hinted she may go to the school prom with me. In my inexperienced, love-starved mind, I dreamed she would use the event to declare her undying affection and kiss me in front of the whole school to turn the frog into a prince. To rescue me once and forever from Loserville.

Not that you didn’t see this coming, but it was all a ruse. Ashley was failing her computer science class and needed someone to help her with the assignments. Unwittingly and because I was smitten blind, I saved her from a big fat F. It must have been a no-brainer for her: flirt with a nerd to get him to serve your academic interests, then, when you’re home-free, dump him back to the swamp where you first found him.

I wish this story had some original twist I could delight you with, but what happened next was text-book high school angst. Not only did Ashley terminate any contact with me like I ceased to exist, but she went to the prom with Jake Balantine, a perfect human specimen who become her boyfriend for the remainder of our high school years. Jake was everything I wasn’t—a beautiful, physically superior jock with formidable social power. Later, I heard, he got her knocked up and they married when they were college juniors.

They say our tragedies and heartbreaks define us and transform us into stronger, future-versions of ourselves. That’s probably true in my case as you will soon find out, but rather melodramatic for my taste. Heartbreak stinks and if you could live without being rejected and humiliated, you wouldn’t be worse off for it. The only thing better than not having your heart broken is to have it mended.

Like a man, I stomached Ashley-gate and moved forward. I heeded the lessons from the scam and vowed I would never be taken advantage of again.

After high school, life started to incrementally improve for me.

Studying artificial intelligence at MIT, I finally found myself in a setting where being brilliant mattered more than being beautiful. In time I began to grow up and blossom. I don’t know about you, but I always had this image of places like MIT being a colony of brainy rejects. That I would fit right in. But nothing could be further from the truth. Instead I found a colony of smart, socially adjusted kids who wanted to hang out. The world outside high school was not a black and white division of geeks versus jocks, or nerd girls against babes. There was every shade of normal and a world of amazing people who began rubbing off on me.

I started taking better care of my body and paying more attention to how I presented myself to the world. It’s mind-boggling what contact lenses, the rays of the sun on your skin, a year at the gym, an expensive haircut and some attention to your wardrobe can do to transform an awkward boy into a confident man.

Underneath my nerd disguise lived a pretty good looking young fellow who I had kept imprisoned all my life. Perhaps because I hailed from a family of scientists who cared more about ideas than appearances, I had never learned the fundamentals of looking the part. But college changed all that.

By my junior year I had shaved off my maladjusted exoskeleton and morphed into a social super hero. I had taught myself about everything you need to thrive in high society. I read voraciously and learned from history. I allowed music and art to refine my sensibilities and soften my heart. I paid attention to emotions rather than just quantifiable ideas.  And I surrounded myself with a network of high-stake players and supportive friends who always challenged me to reach my best. In high school the operating standard was to trample on the weak and worship the strong. At MIT and beyond I found people who inspired me because they believed in me. My confidence began to sky-rocket and my checkered past mattered less and less in my mind as I set out to conquer the future and change the world.

I dated like a junkie, dipping my cup in every well I came across until the void of deprivation I had grown up with was filled and patched forever.

In my senior year at MIT I fell in love with the woman who would become my wife and my partner. Melinda Brand.

I had gone back home to Oakland to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Both Melinda’s parents and mine were friends from their high school days, all brilliant minds in one capacity or the other. They were intrigued why Melinda and I had never hung out in high school, even though we were in the same grade and apparently mirror images of each other. The answer to that seemed obvious in my mind. I barely took notice of Melinda, or any other girl nerd, precisely because they were the female versions of me. Two invisible souls can hardly perceive one another.

During college I had become shrewd about wiggling out of my parent's never ending campaigns to set me up with good girls they thought were perfect for me. My standards had understandably shifted and I could no longer trust their definition of good girls to line up with mine. Not to mention I was doing pretty fine seducing any number of stunning ladies all on my very own.

Still, the name Melinda Brand never went away. Hoping I could get my parents to stop badgering me about her, I finally caved in during that last Thanksgiving break before I graduated. I’d give them a lousy hour of my life with the Brands over for coffee at our place, hoping this would be the end of it.

I came home on the day thirty minutes late, hoping my nonchalance and rudeness would send a clear message to that Melinda character not to get her hopes up because I wasn’t going to be interested.

As I emerged from my car, I saw something that promised to distract me even more from the hell waiting inside my parents’ house, a young woman in rust-colored leather getting off a Harley. She parked in front of our neighbor’s, her long hair cascading down to her waist as she took off her helmet. Her body cut through the air with grace as she made her way to the front door. But this was the house of Berthold’s who to the best of my knowledge only had two boys. And if they did have a daughter, and she looked like this, how could I have missed her?

“Nice ride. Bobcat?”

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” she said, burrowing through me with laser green eyes.

I am usually subtle when sizing up a woman with the intent to make a move, but as I moved closer it was obvious this one was off the charts. Taller than most, ample where it mattered, curves carved in heaven, and pouty lips. And those eyes…

I took off my shades and caught a suspicion of a smirk on her face, like she too was secretly admiring what she saw.

“Larry,” I said extending my hand in peace.

She bit her lips.

“Larry. What kind of name is that?”

“A regular name, only like a gazillion times more awesome.”

“If you were an accountant or a country clerk, sure.”

“Happy to change it for you if you like.”

“Really?” She smiled.

“Really. I just have one condition.”

She titled her head to the side, her eyes probing me. “And that would be?”

“I take you out for dinner tonight.”

“You don’t say.”

“I just did.”

“Let me get this straight, Larry. You’d change your name for one lousy date with a girl you only just met. Is that how desperate you are?”

“Desperate is a loaded word. I prefer…eager.”

“Sure you do.”

“I’m a gentleman like that.”

“What would you change it to?”

“Let me guess, you’d prefer Igor, Winston, or Maxwell.”

“Would you consider Stanley or Herbert?”

“High school crushes?”

“Way better. Life idols. Stanely Cohen and Herbert Boyer invented DNA cloning—”

“Which allowed genes to be transplanted between biological species. Their work gave birth to genetic engineering,” I finished her sentence for her.

“I am impressed Herb.”

She winked at me with the confidence of a middle-aged hairy biker and the measured seduction of a high-society hooker.

“While we are on the subject of herbs, shall we say eight?”

“Eight what?”

“Pick you up for dinner, tonight.”

“You’re not planning on letting it go are you?”

“Our entire species would have been extinct if the male variant took no for an answer.”

“Now you’re turning me on, Herb,” she said running her hands through her hair in mock arousal. “Keep talking evolution and we could skip dinner altogether...”

“Except we need to eat.”

“So just dinner?”

“Well, dinner and drinks, dinner and life-changing conversation, dinner and the best time of your life,” I said returning her wink.

She eyed me from top to bottom.

“If it’s okay with your parole officer and we’ll stay within the range of your ankle bracelet, I’ll say yes.”

“Smart girl.’

“Wait. Only if it’s dinner and those things you mentioned, but nothing else. Are we clear?”

“Oh, come on! You think all men are wired that way?”

“I don’t think it, I know it.” She smiled.

“That’s harsh.”

“I study biomedical engineering at Harvard. I’ve seen the male source code and it’s not pretty. Fortunately, nothing I can’t fix in a Petri dish.”

“Show off.”

“Me? Look at your smug smile and that convertible you drive. You’ve left nothing for your mid-life crisis.

“You’re funny,” I sniggered.

“Say, what do you do, Herb?”

“I am a senior at MIT—”

“We’re practically neighbors! Doing what?”

“Artificial intelligence. My dream is to build an improved human brain, free of all our existing flaws.”

“You mean you want to improve female, logic, admit it.”

“You did, I didn’t,” I said, my eyes beaming, unable to hide how much I was enjoying this exchange.

“Typical male. Instead of fixing what we already have, you want to scrap everything and build from scratch.”

“You know… I’m really already looking forward to dinner,” I said as I scribbled my phone number on a gas station receipt and handed it to her.

“Shit, you really are called Larry!” She screeched as she looked at the piece of paper.

I didn’t quite get her excitement, but when I saw her pulling out her own pen and scribbling her details, I fell for her a tiny little bit more.
She walks around with a pen. Now how hot is that?

BOOK: Crushed
2.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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