The next day, Nick sat at the pub working on grading some tests. Tired, he set his pen down and rubbed his eyes. While on campus, all his extra time was spent working on the grant and though making progress, he was behind on grading the students in his classes. So today on Sunday, Nick used his free day to catch up. As he graded the last test, Nick was thankful he was in summer session so therefore the class attendance was light.
“Hey,” came a voice he knew far too well.
Even though he had just marked the test score, Nick hesitated to look up. He wasn’t in the mood to talk to her.
But a trivial detail like that wouldn’t stop her, she pulled back the chair across from him and sat down. Nick had no choice but to look in her big brown eyes as she asked, “How are you doing?”
“Fine, Chelsea,” Nick struggled to say her name. A few weeks ago, Chelsea had wanted to be friends and though he turned her down, it was much easier then. Witnessing her around town kissing Dr. Wonderful, it was harder to talk to her, even when she was alone.
He started to gather his papers to put them away in his briefcase, knowing that it looked like he was leaving because of her instead of being done grading. Honestly though, would he be looking to leave right now if she wasn’t there? Nick didn’t dwell on the answer to that.
“Don’t leave.” Chelsea said. There was a tone of sadness in her voice and Nick steeled himself.
“What do you want, Chelsea?”
“I just… I didn’t get to say hi to you yesterday.”
Nick paused at that. Did she even know he was at the party? That seemed unlikely; she barely came up for air with Jonas. “I left early.”
“I know, I hope… I hope it wasn’t because of me and Daniel.”
Nick managed to hide a sneer. He hated hearing her say Daniel. Was it really just a few months ago that they sat here happy and laughing, before all hell broke loose with her family? Nick lied, “It wasn’t.”
“Again, what do you want, Chelsea?” sighed Nick.
“I want to be friends. I miss… spending time with you.” Nick could almost laugh. He missed her too but it wasn’t the same thing.
“I already told you we can’t.”
“I know you did but that was a long time ago. And you accused me of missing you because I was alone at the time. You can see now that I still miss you even dating.”
“It was three weeks, Chelsea, and it’s not enough time for me to ignore you with another man.”
The look she gave him unnerved Nick. Why was she doing this? She pressed on, “Three weeks is more than enough time to…”
“To what? Change your heart? Maybe for you, not for me.”
Anger flashed across her features briefly but she let it go, “I never meant to hurt you.”
Nick had told her once he believed her, but here she was again, pushing friendship when she knew it hurt him to be around her. When he didn’t say anything, Chelsea brought up the Fourth of July party that her Dad and Hope would be throwing. He knew she wanted to know if he was attending. Before he could answer, someone else spoke, “Professor Fallon?”
Nick and Chelsea turned to see a young man about nineteen standing before them. He looked nervous and unsure if he should have interrupted. Nick didn’t recognize him as one of his students. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to bother you,” he said.
“You’re not bothering us,” Nick answered, taking a brief glance at Chelsea who was now staring at the floor. “How can I help you?”
“I just wanted… I wanted to let you know I heard your seminar you gave this winter? Science in Applied Concepts?”
Nick nodded, he gave the seminar back in February. It was his last project before the grant.
“I just wanted to let you know I went to hear it because of this girl I was seeing so I wasn’t really there for…” he stopped, realizing he was saying too much and should just get to the point, “I wanted to say listening to your speech it was really fascinating and made me go ahead and decide to major in science.”
Nick was surprised at that but had to hide back a grin. One couldn’t major in science so he asked the student, “What department?”
The kid laughed, “I don’t know yet, I just started taking classes this summer and I have to admit a lot of it’s cool. I mean some of it’s boring too…” that got a snicker from Chelsea whom Nick ignored. “But I know this is what I want to do in my life, I just wanted to let you know how awesome your talk was and I can’t wait to sign up for anymore you might have.” With that, the young man walked off.
Nick felt his face flush realizing what just happened. This was the first time a student had chosen science as a major due to his influence and it was a bit overwhelming. He risked a glance at Chelsea who was beaming with pride. “I told you.”
Confused, Nick asked, “Told me what?”
“I told you that speech would be fine. Don’t you remember, you practiced for days, I could practically recite it myself.”
Nick smiled at the memory; he had never conducted a one day seminar before and had been nervous. He bugged Chelsea leading up to it and now felt guilty recalling how she must have grown tired of hearing the same thing over and over. “Yeah, sorry about that. I’m sure it was boring.”
Chelsea laughed, “No, actually it wasn’t. I mean, hearing it a dozen times should have gotten old but for some reason it didn’t.”
“Well, I was really nervous,” Nick remembered. “I remember the night before I was practically shaking at the thought of what could go wrong.”
“I know, but I think I knew exactly how to get your mind off…” Chelsea stopped before completing the sentence. She and Nick stared at each other remembering just what she had done to distract him from his worries. Unable to stand being around Chelsea, he darted up grabbing the rest of his papers and book bag, running out the door. He barely noticed Stephanie walking in.
Concerned, Stephanie walked up to Chelsea who looked like she was in shock, “What was that about?” Her friend just stared at her.
Outside, Nick struggled with the papers he was holding and his bag with the rest of his work. He had grabbed everything so quickly it was an unstable mess in his arms. Trying to concentrate on putting the bag down on the nearby bench so he could then organize the papers, he didn’t hear the person walking up behind him until she was right on top of him. “Professor!”
Nick dropped everything he was holding. Hearing Nicole laugh had him gritting his teeth. Without saying anything to her, he stooped down and began grabbing the disorganized mess beneath him. He just didn’t need this right now.
Nicole walked around Nick to see his face. Her smile disappeared when she saw his pained expression. Something was wrong. Immediately kneeling down she began helping him with the papers and apologizing for scaring him. She was relieved when Nick insisted it wasn’t her.
“What is it then?”
She saw the tension in Nick’s body and she guessed, “Chelsea?”
He nodded, “Bingo.”
Now with all papers in each other their hands, they used the nearby bench to not just sit but get his work straight. Nick began going through the papers trying to get them into some semblance of an order.
Nicole watched him for a few minutes, noticing how focused he was. Guys who could devote their full attention to a menial task tended to excite her and Nicole briefly wondered if he was this attentive to everything he did. Shaking the dangerous thought off, after all, he was way too young for her, Nicole chose to give him some advice, “Nick, you have to learn to quit torturing yourself like this. You need to stay away from her and Daniel.”
“Well, I try,” he said.
She rolled her eyes, “Yeah, at her family’s pub. No chance of running into her here.”
Nick sighed; Nicole was right. But still, what just happened wasn’t exactly his fault. “I know, but I wish she would just leave me alone. I can’t be friends with her no matter how much she insists…”
“Wait! She approached you and wanted to be friends?”
Nick nodded. Nicole glanced inside and she caught a glimpse of Chelsea sitting with Stephanie, the brunette looking miserable. Curious, Nicole asked, “And this wasn’t the first time she approached you?”
Nick told Nicole about both encounters, one from three weeks ago and just now. Everything all the way up to when the student interrupted. He didn’t share what made him bolt from Chelsea’s presence, that was too personal, but was straightforward with everything else.
“Wow,” Nicole said shocked. “Maybe dating a surgeon isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean she sounds like she is really missing you, and judging by the face she has now, she might not be so out of love with you as you’d think.”
Nick stared at Nicole, daring to hope she was telling the truth. Could what Chelsea felt for Jonas be only infatuation? He didn’t know what to think of that but before he could really wrap his mind around the idea, he heard a voice behind them, a voice that made Nick’s skin crawl.
They turned to see Daniel talking on the phone about some medical case, probably a colleague at the hospital, he was walking and gesturing, oblivious to those around him. When he ended the call, he looked over to them both and smiled awkwardly. Mumbling a quick hello, he walked to the door and went in. Nick’s optimism disappeared at the sight of him. Glancing back at Nicole, he shook his head, “No, Daniel Jonas represents everything that I’m not. He’s exciting hunky doctor, I’m boring geeky professor. Plus, he’s not just good looks, but he’s got money, a great reputation in his profession, all while traveling the world surfing and battling sharks.”
“Battling sharks? What the…”
“I don’t know, but he’s told people that, I’ve heard it from multiple sources.”
While Nick placed all his papers back in the bag, Nicole looked inside and watched as Daniel sat down with Chelsea and Stephanie. Daniel Jonas was a great looking man and to hear he was a renowned doctor really did make him even more attractive, but his extra curricular activities gave Nicole pause. Before she could mention this to Nick, he had stood up, saying, “Why would Chelsea ever want to go back to a guy like me?”
Nicole watched him walk away. Making up her mind, she walked inside. Initially she came to the pub to get an order she called in, but now she had wanted to append to that plan.
After after getting her food from Caroline, Nicole turned and looked at the three of them sitting at the table. She still didn’t understand what Daniel saw in Chelsea, the girl was so young and still in college and it seemed so unlikely to attract a guy like him. On the other hand, Nicole thought, she was finding Nick to be way more interesting than he appeared to be, so maybe the same could be said for her former step granddaughter.
Putting a smile on her face, Nicole waltzed up to their table. “Hi!” The surprised reactions from them didn’t faze her one bit. Only Daniel said hello.
“Nicole,” Chelsea said coldly trying to make her voice sound dismissive. Nicole was great at ignoring dismissive.
“So how is my ex-husband?”
“My GRANDFATHER,” Chelsea said emphasizing the last word, “He’s fine. He’s so happy now to be freshly divorced.”
Nicole continued to smile and answered, “Excellent, I’m glad to hear that. I worried about him so when I was living in LA.”
“You lived in LA?” The three women all glanced at Daniel whose demeanor had brightened. “I used to live in LA.”
Nicole glanced down at Chelsea who was now staring at Daniel. Not sure where the doctor was going with this, Nicole followed, “Did you now?”
“I sure did. Did you ever ride the Pacific Pipeline?”
Now Nicole was confused. What was he talking about? “Um, what?”
“Surfing, did you ever surf?”
“Um, no, not really,” Nicole said, fully expecting Daniel to go back to his coffee.
But he didn’t, “You didn’t surf? How long did you live in LA?”
“A few years, I was out there…”
“A few years? And you never surfed? I’d think a young, healthy woman like you would jump at the chance to ride the tide.” Daniel didn’t end there, he started talking about waves and life and though Nicole was an accomplished actress, when listening to some drone on about subjects that they only wanted to hear, the absurdity that this surgeon was being this pushy about this subject kept her from putting on her game face. It became more obvious to her exactly why Chelsea was missing Nick now.
Cutting him short, Nicole checked her watch and said, “Well, even though I could stand here all day listening to how cool surfing is, I am afraid I’ll have to head out into our Midwestern city and get some errands done. So glad we don’t have those temptations that plague the Pacific. I’d bet nobody could get anything done!” With that she walked out of the pub and once outside into the air, Nicole belted out a huge laugh.
Back inside, Chelsea was livid, “Why did you do that?”
“Do what?” Daniel asked.
“She was dissing you!”
Daniel gave Chelsea a funny look, “Chelsea, I like to talk about surfing, just because other people don’t always appreciate it won’t stop me from talking about it.” Daniel’s cell phone rang cutting off Chelsea’s chance to argue. “I have to take this, it’s about a patient.”
As he walked away, Chelsea looked at Stephanie who seemed to have forgotten already what just transpired. However, Chelsea didn’t want to let it go. “Can you believe that?”
“Daniel needs to understand when people aren’t wanting to hear him talk about stuff they aren’t into.”
Stephanie wasn’t sure how to respond to this. Though sometimes she got tired of hearing about a sport that wasn’t immediately available in Salem, it didn’t bother her that much. It was Daniel’s passion after all. “We all talk about stuff that we are into, Chelsea.”
“Yeah, but we know when to stop.”
“Not necessarily, I know Max and me used to go on and on about racing…”
“That was your job, of course you lived it.”
Stephanie shrugged, “Ok, well, how about Nick. He will go on and on about whatever documentary he just watched or some new article he read in one of his science mags…”
“That’s different,” Chelsea said shaking her head.
“Well,” Chelsea wasn’t sure how, it just was, “I don’t know, it just is.”
When Stephanie’s look told Chelsea she hadn’t convinced her, the brunette began searching for a reason, “It’s just…well when Nick does it, he’s so cute about it.”
For the second time that day, Chelsea went white at the shock of what she just said. Stephanie repeated her friend, “Let me get this straight, Nick is cute, but Daniel isn’t?”
Chelsea swallowed and then shook her head, laughing. “That isn’t what I meant. Look, let’s just drop it. Let’s go play darts or something.”