“You did it again,” Laurie sighs as we ride home together.
“Did what?” I ask. I haven’t a clue what she is talking about.
“Put another boy under your spell,” she replies.
Chapter 26: Planting Seeds
“What do you mean?” I ask. “How did I a put a boy under my spell? What spell are you talking about?”
“You seem have this effect on the good boys,” she replies. “They seem to feel comfortable around you then—bam—they fall for you. I’ve worked with Andy two afternoons now and he didn’t relax around me once until you showed up and started talking with him. I mean, it’s like he’s scared of me or something. But you—he has no problem around you. After fifteen minutes with you, it’s like you’re best friends. After half an hour they’d follow you anywhere. You didn’t use any feminine wiles or anything. I don’t know how you do it. I know it’s not intentional, but most girls would give anything to learn how to attract guys like you do.”
“So, we hit it off as friends,” I agree defensively, “how does that mean that he’s fallen for me?”
“You certainly have a lot left to learn, girl,” she says. “Didn’t you notice how he seemed to forget that I was even there after a while? I swear, it’s like the rest of the world ceased to exist for him. I think I could have stripped off all my clothes and he wouldn’t even have noticed.”
“I’d have noticed,” I point out, earning a warning look from her. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I would have noticed her in the same way that Chris would have. “Anyway, what’s wrong with having a good conversation?”
“Oh, there’s nothing wrong with a good conversation,” she replies, “especially if you don’t mind someone falling for you.”
“I think that you’re over reacting,” I inform her. “It’s just that we hit it off as friends.”
She gives me that look again. You know, the one that says: ‘I’m right. Just wait and see.’
I wonder if I should tell her about Dan and Ben. Neither of those guys are the typical ‘good’ boy types. I figure that maybe she should know.
“Ah, I don’t think it’s just the ‘good’ boys,” I mention. This comment really makes her prick up her ears.
“What do you mean?” she asks. “You mean there’s somebody I don’t know about?”
“How about Dan and Mrs. Harrison’s son, Ben?” I let out cautiously.
“Dan and Ben?” she exclaims. “You’ve got to tell me about this, girl. How d’you know?”
“Well,” I begin, “Chris got this email from Dan this morning that goes on about your cousin. He’s really taken with Tina, even to the point that he’s thinking of dumping Suzie if he can make it with her.”
“No way!” she exclaims. “He and Suzie have been an item for a long time now. We must find a way to cool his jets. I’d hate to see Suzie get hurt.”
“Me too,” I agree, thinking, ‘I have no desire to get cozy with my best buddy either. That’d be just too weird.’
“So what about Ben?” she asks. “What’s going on there? Ben is really a bit of a jerk. Not the worst, but still a jerk.”
I check to make sure that my cell phone recording device is turned off—and make sure that Laurie does the same—before continuing. There is still a chance that they’d be turned on remotely, but I’m hoping not. I don’t intend to talk about our suspicions of the security team, but I’m likely to say uncomplimentary things about my boss’s son.
“His mother told me about it this morning,” I tell her. “Apparently I’m all he can talk about these days. Fortunately, Mrs. Harrison says that he doesn’t know who I really am. The really weird thing is that I think she was trying to set me up with him. It’s like she was wondering if I’d be interested in dating him.”
“Weird,” she agrees. “Like, really weird.”
“Anyway,” I continue, “I seem to be attracting quite a fan club. What with Joey and Don in Alaska and now Dan, Ben, and—you say—Andy in California I think that my dance card is getting pretty full.”
She laughs, “I’d say! You’ll be the most popular girl in town by the end of the week if you keep this up. That is, you’ll be popular with the guys; the girls—on the other hand—will hate you if you manage to distract their boyfriends or guys they’re interested in.”
Oh joy. I can’t say that I ever wanted to be the center of attention—particularly as a sex object for the guys and an enemy for the girls.
“What do I do when one of these guys asks me on a date?” I ask.
“You could give them the talk that you gave to Joey and Don,” she replies, “or you can go out with them.”
“I think that I’ll take option number one,” I tell her.
“Why? Aren’t you interested to find out what it’s like to date as a girl?” she asks. “It’d be a unique experience.”
“If you recall, I didn’t ask for this adventure,” I reply. “I could have lived my whole life without being a girl—like every other guy. Sure, dating a guy might be interesting, but there is still only one person that I’d like to date and I’ll have to wait till fall for that.”
“Yeah,” she responds, “but now that you’re here, why not take advantage of it? Tina can date without messing up my relationship with Chris. You’ll be back to your old self in a couple of months and maybe—just maybe—you’ll be more empathetic for us girls when we start dating again if you’ve had some of the experiences we girls face.”
“The same could be said to you as well,” I point out. “If you’d just spend three months as a boy then you’d be more empathetic for us guys.”
“True,” she agrees, “but I don’t have that opportunity. You do, so I think that you should make the most of it.”
“We’ll see,” I respond noncommittally.
We spend the rest of the afternoon out on the back patio reviewing the files of the various suspects and considering our next moves. It seems as if I am really in with the Sommers now. I should be able to learn more about what makes their family tick pretty soon. I really don’t see Dr. Sommers as a threat, but you never know.
The Langs are another story. We are both worried that it’d be too easy to lose the tenuous relationship that we’ve started with Andy. One, or both of us needs to get closer to him. I’m pretty tied up with the Sommers and the running team right now, so we decide that Laurie should press the relationship, though she is skeptical about success because she still thinks that Andy has a thing for me. I decide to stay out of the picture for now and see what happens.
Laurie tells me about a conversation that she had with her mother about Mrs. Harrison and Dr. Lang while I was out running this morning. Aunt Jen pretty much confirmed that there is a bad relationship there. She said that she doesn’t know the whole story but it seems there are legitimate complaints on both sides. The feedback doesn’t help us too much with figuring out whom to trust.
I contemplate telling Laurie about my conversation with Dr. Quinn this morning but, in the end, decide to tell her only part of the story. I feel guilty about it, but I feel that we need to limit those in the know about our little deception until it is done with. What I do tell her is my Father’s observation that he thinks that Mrs. Harrison is just aggressive in doing her job.
Concerning the other people on the list, we decide to just see what naturally happens until our controller asks us to do something different.
After dinner, I ask Laurie to help me learn more about makeup. I’ve been reading some of the teen mags and realize I have a lot to learn about the subject before I’ll be up to speed with my new peers. I figured that she’d give me a hard time about the request but, instead, she seems pleased with the idea. We pull out a few magazines and spend the rest of the evening experimenting with different looks. We also play with our hairstyles. I find myself wishing that my hair was longer. I now have a pretty good idea what makeup and hair supplies that I need to get for myself so we plan a shopping expedition for later in the week.
It’s Tuesday morning—the big day for ‘discovering’ the mislaid secret stuff. It appears that I am to be assigned to the Ignition Facility for at least another week. Like last week, I man—or is that woman?—the front desk in the Director’s office, answer the phone, and run menial errands as requested.
Monday was uneventful as far as work goes. I didn’t make any noticeable progress in my mission. Also, I did not get any response to my weekend activities. I half expected to get some response from my handlers to my recorded conversations with the Sommers and Andy but there was nothing. The evening was spent with Caitlin and the running team. It seems that we pick up one or two additional people each practice so we have a pretty good size group running together now. Some of the guys are—even though they try to cover it up—there to ogle my backside as I run. They seem to hang out behind me as we run. A couple of the bolder ones are obviously trying to impress me with childish antics. It is sooo funny to watch. After running, Caitlin and I hung out at her house where we spent time out by their pool just talking and braiding each other’s hair. I’m totally inept at it, but with instruction from Caitlin I got better as the evening progressed. Caitlin pointed out that this activity would be better if I let my hair grow out more. I find that I really like having my hair worked on. It’s very relaxing.
Nothing particularly new about her family situation came out during our visit. The conversation wandered from the running team, the continuing torture at McDonalds, the injustice of parents, her perception that I needed to change my fashion sense to include more revealing clothes, and which guys she finds to be cute in her school class. I did learn a lot about what girls think about the guys in our class. It was an eye opening experience. As I reflected on the experience afterwards, I realized that—at the time—I didn’t think that there was anything strange about our conversation even though it was totally different than anything that I’d ever experienced as a guy.
Anyway, back to the present: this morning there is a meeting in the conference room so I am left alone most of the morning as everyone else seems to be part of the meeting. This gives me time to browse through the desk—as if I’m bored. Eventually I find my way into the file drawer and, sure enough, the promised file is there with a ‘Top Secret’ label on it. It is misfiled as if it was hurriedly placed there. I take a photo of the drawer plainly showing the file then slip the file into a plastic bag. When I get a chance to go to the ladies room, I take the bag with me and am able to photograph the dozen pages that make up the report. The report appears to have something to do about a breakthrough in laser technology for small weapons use but I don’t understand the technical details. When I’m done with the photographs and return the file to where I found it, I hit the button sequence on my cell phone to transmit the images to the security team.
The next challenge is to leave my cell phone in record mode in the break room when I return from lunch. I’ve been leaving it lying around a lot the past week, so people are used to seeing it where it doesn’t belong. Being mislaid in the break room should not arouse any suspicions. The only danger is that some well meaning person will return it to me before we can get what I need.
As I make my way to the cafeteria to meet Laurie for lunch, I run into Tiff and invite her to join us.
“I was just on my way there,” she says. “I’m meeting someone else there or I’d love to join you. Maybe some other time.”
“What’s his name?” I ask as we walk to the cafeteria together.
“Who said that it was a guy?” she asks. I notice that she is turning slightly pink as she blushes.
“No one,” I reply, “it just seems that you are pretty excited about lunch. I figured that it must be a guy.”
“He’s just a guy that I met in my section,” she admits. “He’s also a summer intern and working on some engineering aspects of the project.”
“Is he cute?” I ask.
“I think so,” she replies with a grin, “but don’t tell him that.”
“So,” she says, changing the subject, “how are things with you? Are you getting settled? Have you met any cute guys?”
“I’m doing well,” I reply. “Everyone that I’ve met so far has been very nice. I’m starting to find my way around. I just wish that I had a car of my own to use. And as far as guys go, I seem to have picked up a couple of admirers but I’m not really in the market for a boyfriend right now.”
“Why not?” she asks. “Is there somebody waiting for you in Alaska?”
“Not really,” I say, “I’m just not ready for the complication right now. After all, I’ll be leaving to go home at the end of the summer and I don’t think that a long distance relationship would work. I’m not interested in the pain of a breakup either.”
“You sound just like my brother, Chris,” she observes. “He tends to avoid anything which might end in trouble. You ought to get out and live a little on the wild side. You might find that the fun is worth the heartache. It’s a gamble, but you can enjoy the ride. Like gambling, the fun is in doing it, not whether or not you win.”
“I don’t mind hanging out with friends,” I say, “but I’m just not ready for a romantic entanglement.”
“Well, girl,” Tiff says as we arrive at the cafeteria, “give it some thought. Boyfriends can be kind’a fun.” She should know, I think to myself. She’s had enough of them over the years. “There’s my friend. See ya later, Tina”
“Bye,” I respond. What is it with everyone? It would seem that getting a boyfriend is the most important thing for a single girl to do.
Looking around I see Laurie is already in line getting food. I join her and we find an open table in a corner of the room. From where we are sitting, I can see Tiff with her new target. She’s obviously taken with the guy. If it wasn’t for the geeky glasses he’d even be cute. He looks pretty fit for a geek.
“What are you staring at?” Laurie asks.
“Tiff,” I indicate with my eyes, “is making the moves on one of her new co-workers. We walked over here together and it would seem that she thinks that there is some potential there.”
Laurie looks over at the couple and comments, “He is pretty good looking in a geeky kind of way.”
“You should know,” I point out with a grin, “as you’ve spent a lot of time with Chris.”
“Yeah,” she admits, “I seem to have a thing for at least one running geek. They kind’a grow on you.”
“Tiff thinks that I should find myself a boyfriend for the summer,” I comment. “What is it with you girls? It seems that getting a boyfriend is top priority.”
“I don’t know,” she replies. “I guess that it is just nice to have a boy that makes you feel special. Chris is pretty good at it most of the time. I know that I am number one in his book—well, maybe number two, after running—and it makes me feel warm inside. He makes me feel like a queen and I like that. Maybe you should try it.
“I’ve been thinking about the Andy situation,” she continues. “I called him last night while you were out with Caitlin to see if we could arrange another lesson. He seemed to be a little skittish. I think I’m coming on too strong. We did set something up for tonight after dinner but he seemed nervous about it. He asked if you’d be there. I got the impression that he wants you there. Anyway, I still think that he likes you and things might be easier if you can show up. Maybe you should be the one to get close to him.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m thinking that if I stay out of the way, that you’ll have better luck. Also, I don’t have much in common with him.”
“I’m getting the impression,” she responds, “that I’ll lose this one. You’re our best chance. Please, Tina, just come by the park tonight after your run. I’ll have spent an hour with him by then and we’ll see how far I get. Also, if you connect with Andy, then you can make it appear to the other kids that he’s your boyfriend, then it will keep the other boys at bay. What do you think?”
I have been getting concerned with all the male attention that I’ve been attracting lately. In fact, I’ve been feeling pretty defensive. Laurie has a point about getting a boyfriend. It would help insulate me from the predators. He doesn’t need to be a real boyfriend—he just has to appear that way to the other kids.
“There are several problems with the idea,” I point out to her. “Not the first of which, I’m not ready to be anyone’s girlfriend. Another issue has to do with my disappearing act at the end of the summer. A boyfriend would want to keep in touch with Tina after she leaves.”
“And Caitlin and your other friends won’t?” she asks. “Your becoming popular will make it difficult for you to disappear gracefully.”
She has a point there. “Maybe Andy and I can be ‘just good friends’,” I relent. “It would get me into their lives so that I can see if Dr. Lang is doing something that he shouldn’t.”
“So you’ll come by after running?” she asks hopefully.
“I’ll be sweaty and smelly,” I remind her, “but yes, I’ll be there. Caitlin’s working tonight so I won’t be able to hang out with her anyway.”
“Great,” she exclaims. “I’ll let Andy know when I see him.”
“Don’t expect me to jump into his arms,” I warn her. “I’ll just try to be his friend.”
Back at the office, I stop in the break room for a few minutes to make sure that the coffee machine is filled—one of my more technical duties—and manage to leave my cell phone on the counter near the coffee supplies.
I notice an old friend of Dr. Quinn’s entering the break room with a couple of colleagues a short time later. I’m pretty sure that this is show time, but decide to leave the phone in there for a few more hours just to be sure.
I didn’t need to worry about collecting it. One of the other women in the office noticed the misplaced phone about mid afternoon and returned it to me with an admonishment to keep track of my valuables.
Arriving at the High School to meet the other runners, I notice Coach Arnold is there chatting with a couple of the other kids who beat me there. One of them—my old buddy Dan—sees me coming and points me out to the Coach.
As I approach the group, the Coach greets me with a handshake, “So you’re the famous Tina,” he begins. “I’m Coach Arnold, the running coach at the school. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
I blush as I respond, “Nice to meet you, Coach. I don’t think that I’m exactly famous.”
“You are with these boys,” he says—embarrassing the small group of guys. “I’ve had troubles for years getting my runners to work out in the off season. I can usually only get a couple of kids to work out. But you—the new girl in town—come along and within a week you have most of the team training every evening.”
“Actually,” I tell him, “You can thank Caitlin for that. She’s the one that got everyone together. I just needed a running partner.”
“Caitlin may have called everyone,” he responds with a grin, “but—from what I hear from the boys—you are the draw. Anyway, this is looking like a regular running team. If everyone keeps this up we should have the best team around in the fall. I hear that you’re just here for the summer. That’s too bad. If you’re half the runner everyone tells me, you’d be the top girl in the region.”
“I think they’re exaggerating,” I tell him with a slight blush. “I just like to run. I’m not all that fast.”
“You sound just like Chris Quinn,” he observes. “Too bad you won’t get to meet him. I think that you two probably have a lot in common.” If you only knew, I think to myself. “Chris always says that he’s not very good then he goes out and kicks everyone’s ass. He doesn’t seem to get the message that he really is very good. The victories don’t go to his head. We could use a few more like him.” His last comment was directed to the gathering group.
“Hey, Coach,” Dan asks, “Do you think that you can help us train this summer?”
“Dan,” the Coach replies, “You know that we can’t officially start training as a school team until August, but I don’t see why I can’t help as long as nothing is mandatory.”
Coach Arnold is a pretty accomplished runner himself. I also know that he is a morning runner from past experience so getting him to work out in the evenings may be a problem. He does have a young family after all.
“Let me think about what I can do to help you,” the Coach continues. “I can’t stay long tonight. I just wanted to see if the rumors about all this running are true and to meet Tina the running sensation. I take it that you all have been doing distance training. What do you think about mixing in some speed training as well?”
This idea brings groans from the group. What the Coach means is interval training which is really hard on the body. The end effect, however, is that everyone’s times get quicker when we mix in some interval training with our distance running. High school races are generally pretty short so speed training is important.
In end, we agree to do some intervals once a week, starting tomorrow. We’ll find out who the serious runners then. I wonder if Caitlin will show up when she gets the word about the new training. Intervals are one bit of hard work that the girls—Caitlin in particular—have historically not taken seriously.
By now, the entire group has arrived, so we stretch then take off for a five mile run. There is a short cut along the way that reduces the distance to three miles and many of the slower runners take that route so that we all end up back at the school within ten minutes of each other.
I have borrowed Aunt Jen’s bicycle to get around—she doesn’t seem to use it much—so I use it to head out to find Laurie and Andy.
I find them at the park painting the old building that is in the middle of the park. Andy is standing behind Laurie, patiently giving encouragement and tips as she works. Parking the bike, I join them. The painting seems to be going quite well. I never realized that Laurie had any interest in painting. She’s pretty good for a beginner.
Andy seems happy to see me, but is still a bit tongue tied.
“Hey, Andy,” I say in greeting. “How’s my cousin doing?”
“She’s pretty good,” he replies.
“Hello, cousin,” Laurie says as she looks up from her work. She looks relieved to see me. “Whew, somebody could use a shower. You must have had a good run.”
“I’m not sure what your problem is, Cuz’,” I respond airily. “It’s just the smell of honest work. And, yes, I did have a good run. Thank you for noticing”
She just sticks her tongue out at me. I notice that Andy is keeping his distance as well.
I tell them about meeting the running coach and our plans for a bit more intensive training.
“You really do like running, don’t you?” Andy asks.
“Yeah, I do,” I reply. “It is nice to have something to focus on and feel good about. Everyone needs something like that in their lives. What's it for you?”
“I guess it’s art and photography for me,” he answers. “I also like computers a lot. I’ve been learning to use them for working with my art.”
“You mean Photoshop and stuff like that?” I ask.
“Yeah, but I’ve been learning a little web publishing and programming,” He replies. “I like experimenting with web site design.”
“That’s really cool,” I say. “I do some programming, but not much web based stuff. I’d like to see what you do. Have you got anything on-line yet?”
We spend the next half hour looking at some of his stuff on my smart cell phone which has internet capabilities—of course. Andy’s tongue becomes untied as he loses himself in explaining his work. He has done some really cool stuff. More than your average basic html coding. He apparently is using an old computer as a server at home so he can do just about anything he wants without worrying about space limitations. I’d like to know how to do that. Andy seems to have forgotten about helping Laurie as he enthusiastically shows off his work.
Laurie has been quietly continued work on her painting as Andy and I have been focused on my small screen. Andy—by necessity of the seeing the screen—has scooted close to me on the park bench. He seems to have forgotten about my sweaty smell.
“Uh, guys,” Laurie interrupts. “It’s getting late. Tina and I need to get home.”
Look up from the miniature computer screen; we notice that it is starting to get dark. The park’s lights have even come on. Where did the time go?
“Oh, yeah,” I say. “Laurie’s right. We need to get going. I really do need a shower. Thanks so much, Andy, for showing me your web sites. I’d really like to learn how to do this stuff. I have some ideas about programming that might really add to what you’ve done. Maybe we should find some more time to talk about this. We really need to have a computer handy so that we can experiment when we do get together.”
“I’ve got everything on my computer, obviously,” he says. “Why don’t you come to my house and we can work on it?”
“Sure,” I agree. “‘When?’ is the big question. I’ve got running every evening during the week which doesn’t leave much time in the evenings and you work on the weekends.”
“How about Saturday after I get off?” he asks. “I’m done by four.”
“You know that Saturday’s the Fourth of July, don’t you?” I ask in reply. “I hear that there are some great fireworks out at the rodeo grounds.”
“Oh, I forgot about that,” he replies with a touch of disappointment.
“How about we spend some time at your house then meet up with Laurie and go watch the fireworks?” I suggest. “That way we can do both things.”
“I suppose we could do that,” he agrees.
“It sounds like fun,” Laurie agrees.
“Great,” I agree. “It’s a date.”
My last comment causes Laurie to grin and Andy to turn white. I don’t think that he was thinking ‘date’. I wasn’t really either, the words just slipped out of my mouth without my thinking about it.
“So,” Laurie says as we bike back to her house in the dark, “you’re actually going on a date.”
“This is not a ‘date’ date,” I try to explain. “Just a couple of friends getting together to work on a project then hanging out at the fireworks with my favorite cousin.”
“Whatever,” she says with a knowing smile as if she’s not really buying the argument.
Thanks, again, to Gabi for making this more readable.
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