Basic Chemistry

Part Three: Creating Chemistry

Author’s Notes:  This is a Jixemitri Circle Writing Project Special Anniversary #8 submission.  Once again, all of the items were put in retroactively, so I apologize if they’re rather glaring.  *g*  Also, once again, a big Bob-White thank you to Susan, my favorite partner in crime. :)

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There's no way you can create chemistry where none exists.
                                                      –Michael Parkinson

While Honey and Dan were having their subway adventure, Brian and Lexi were settling their check at the diner and shrugging on their spring jackets. Although Lexi had accepted his apology, Brian still felt as though there was something between them—a tension that he was not used to, nor could he explain. And he somehow knew that he had put it there.

And it would be up to him to remove it.

On the heels of this thought came a wave of resentment. Wait a minute, his brain rebelled. Why do I have fix it? What did I do? He and Lexi had both been irritable at the table. He had offered an olive branch, which Lexi had appeared to accept, but then she had suddenly shrunk back into her seat and pretended to concentrate on her food.

Brian wracked his brain in an attempt to determine what it was that he could have said or done to upset his girlfriend. He had admitted to Lexi that he had been stupidly jealous. He had admitted that he had acted like a jerk. He had apologized for both of these things. The only thing he had done was be nice to his childhood friends.

Wait a minute, he thought again. He had been nice to Honey. Could Lexi be upset about that? Did she not believe that he was over her?

And then a new realization dawned on Brian. He had said "still." He had said that he did not "still" have feelings for Honey. Which implied that he once had.

Had he? Did he have true romantic feelings for Honey that went beyond the comfortable friendship that they had always shared? At one point, he had certainly thought that he had feelings for the girl next door, but that had been when they were much younger. He had been a dumb-struck fifteen-year-old kid, newly home from camp, and she had been the new girl, energetically flying down the path between their houses toward him, her honey hair flying out behind her like gold ribbons catching the morning sun. Of course she had caught his attention, captivated him. But that was over. Kid stuff.

Wasn’t it?

Oh, boy. Brian Belden, normally the most sensible, the most responsible person in any crowd—Brian Belden suddenly had two women on his mind.

Am I in trouble!

* * *

Later that night, Honey lay in bed, tossing and turning. She had thoroughly enjoyed her evening with Dan, especially the jovial subway ride to her stop. Dan had tried to insist that he needed to walk her from the subway stop to her apartment building, much like Brian himself had insisted that he needed to escort her from his dorm to the subway, but Honey had asserted that she was fine. Dan still had several stops and a subway line change before he made it back to his apartment, and she did not want him taking the time to walk her home before he continued his rather long journey.

She also had not invited him to spend the night, so after a rather sloppy, wet kiss, the two had parted ways. Usually, if they’d been out rather late, Honey invited him to stay at her place, but she hadn’t this time. She told herself that the reason was that Dan didn’t have a change of clothes with him, but deep down, she knew that wasn’t the truth. The truth was that she was not sure why she hadn’t invited him to stay over.

Honey tossed again, throwing her body violently over to the other side of the bed, facing that wall. She gave a deep sigh. Would sleep come? Would she finally be able to calm her racing mind enough for sleep to embrace her?

Embrace her like Dan would be right now if it was not for…

For what? Brian? Was spending time with her old friend the new factor throwing her ability to sleep right out the window? Or was it watching him with the sunny blonde from southern California?

Hadn’t this been resolved two years ago?

What was wrong with her?

Honey again sighed violently and twisted her body in the other direction, her long, lean legs tangling with the sheets and frustrating her even more. Finally, she sat up straight and looked out her window into the darkened sky.

"That’s it!" she muttered to herself. "I need to do something."

Suddenly, she knew what that something was. She threw the covers off and padded to the living room. Her black leather laptop case was where she had placed it when she had entered the apartment earlier that evening. It was a black shadow next to the unusually large tan couch, and Honey moved toward it. After she had retrieved it, she returned to her bedroom and sat down at the modest desk, getting the computer out and firing it up. As she waited for the computer to boot up, she thought about how perfect this type of outlet would be in this situation.

Honey hadn’t lived with her parents as a child, and as a result, she had become very good at correspondence. While she was away at boarding school or camp, she had written her mother and father long, detailed letters, describing exactly was she was up to and itemizing all of her activities in her childish script. She delighted in telling her parents the events that made up her life, thinking that this would bring them closer together despite their physical distance. But then, as she got older, she began to feel as though her parents didn’t love her. She convinced herself that her globe-trotting parents didn’t care a bit about her, and this conviction had been strengthened by an overheard conversation between two maids. With the doubts that she had already been harboring, it was easy to believe that her mother didn’t love her because she hadn’t been a boy. With those heavy thoughts, she also convinced herself that her parents didn’t want to hear from her and that her letters were nothing but a bore and a bother to her busy mother and father.

But writing had still been a part of her. She had done it too regularly and for too long to give it up instantly. So, instead of abandoning it completely, she transferred the practice to journals. In her eyes, nothing had really changed. No one read her diary entries, just as she was sure that no one had ever read her many letters from school and camp.

The regular journaling had continued until her family moved to the Manor House. There she had met Trixie Belden and Jim Frayne, and things had begun to happen. Pretty soon, she was too busy living life to write about it. With the exception of her annual journal entry on December 31, which summed up the previous year’s events, Honey hadn’t regularly journaled since those lonely days at Briar Hall.

But now, Honey decided, it was time, once again, to journal. The tools might have changed—her notebook computer and word processing software much more sophisticated than her old spiral notebook and ballpoint pens—but the feelings had not. And the feelings poured out onto the screen.

March 27

I feel really corny starting with "Dear Diary," but that is essentially what this is. A dear diary moment. Meh! I haven’t really detailed my feelings in a journal for years—six to be exact. Every year on New Year’s Eve, I would write an annual entry about some of Trixie’s and my adventures. There wasn’t a lot of detail, though, as Trixie and I collected newspaper clippings of our exploits and put them into our scrapbooks, so I didn’t write a lot about the things we did. I don’t know why I felt compelled every year, on the last day of the year, to write a journal entry in my old notebooks. I guess it doesn’t really matter. The point is, I wasn’t journaling about my feelings, the way I had begun to before we moved to Manor House. Mostly that was because the reasons that I used to write—loneliness, boredom, as a way to pretend that my mother and father were like a real mother and father and actually cared about what their daughter was up to—disappeared when my dad bought the Manor House and moved us all up to Sleepyside. I wasn’t lonely, not with Trixie and Jim and the rest of the Bob-Whites around, and I certainly wasn’t bored with Trixie Belden as my best friend. As Jim once said, Trixie Belden was enough "extracurricular activities" for the entire State of New York.

The best thing about the move, though, was that I realized that my mother and father did love me. And that they had read all of the letters I had sent them over the years. They thought that just because I had stopped sending them letters that I had either outgrown it or had decided that I didn’t care about them. What a silly bunch of idiots we were back then! Fortunately, Miss Trask saved us all from staying permanently damaged, and we became a real family. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.

Things have been really good ever since then. I made it through junior high and high school. I got to belong to the secret club like I always wanted to. We even had a clubhouse. I met a wonderful man and fell in love. And when he didn’t want me, I fell in love with another wonderful man.

Except, diary, it didn’t exactly happen like that. I met a boy, and I thought maybe I liked him. And then we all met this other boy. And we asked him to be in our club. We were all friends and hung around and traveled and solved mysteries. But then I got older, and my crush for the first boy grew. Meanwhile, the second boy was apparently developing feelings for me that I never knew about. And then the first boy went to college and met someone else and broke my heart. But it was okay, because this other boy, this second boy, was my friend, and we hung around a lot and had a lot of fun together. And then we fell in love.

And it was all good.

Until this afternoon. Oh, diary! Why couldn’t I be good at organic chemistry? Or Brian be bad at it? Or live across the country from me instead of just across New York City? I spent time with him again today. Just the two of us. No Dan. No Lexi. Just us, like it used to be. And it felt really nice. And natural. And comfortable. Like it should have been that way all along.

But that’s just wrong! I feel just as comfortable and natural and nice with Dan, and he loves me back, unlike Brian, so why do I feel this way? Why did I appreciate hanging out with Brian so much when Dan is the one who has my heart? And he does, diary, he truly does. He makes me feel like no person, including Brian Belden, ever has.

Are these just residual feelings? Leftover from when everyone thought that we were going to be together? Did I mention that, diary? That everyone—everyone!—thought that Brian and I would be together.

So why aren’t we together? And why do I care? Are these phantom feelings, like people who lose a limb but can still feel the pain long after the limb is gone? Or are they real? And if they are real, what do I do?

Oh, diary!

Honey moved her hands away from the keyboard of her laptop computer and sat, staring at the brilliant glow of the screen, a stark contrast from the darkness beyond her desk. She had decided that she needed to write, to pour out her feelings, to have that release that writing down her feelings gave her. She had forgotten what this felt like. Pouring your soul out to an inanimate object, be it a notebook or a computer or whatever, and knowing that it would keep your most intimate secrets. It had been a long time since she had confessed her feelings in such a manner, and, truth be told, she wondered if she was ready to do so now.

The words, staring back at her, were a black-and-white reminder of the jumbled thoughts that jumped around her confused and tired brain. These were bewildering thoughts. Thoughts that she was not ready to admit even existed. But here, in black and white, they did exist. They could not be denied.

And Honey wanted to deny them. Now that they were out, she wanted to take them back. To pretend that they did not exist. These words, wrought from her confused state in the middle of the night, should not exist.

She turned her head to look over her shoulder at the digital clock on her nightstand. 3:24 a.m. She should have been asleep hours ago. If she had been asleep, these words wouldn’t have screamed their way out of her head, through her fingers, and landed on the screen in front of her. They simply wouldn’t exist.

Honey would make them not exist.

With a flick of her wrist and the tap of an elegant finger, the words were gone. And, with a little amnesia, she could pretend that they never had existed at all.

The feelings behind them, she was afraid, would not be ignored so easily.

With a sinking feeling, she powered off her laptop computer and closed the lid. The process of pouring out her feelings into this electronic diary was exhausting. Or maybe her mind had finally caught up with her body and realized how tired it was. At any rate, it was time to sleep. It was time to release her brain from its prison of awakeness and forget about the events of the day. Honey tried to reason with herself, reminding herself that there was nothing particularly remarkable about the day’s events. She had gone to class. She had gotten tutored in organic chemistry. She had had dinner with Dan at their favorite diner.

And feelings have been re-awakened today, her logical brain rudely reminded her. With that thought, Honey was once again wide awake. Even as she slid beneath the warmth of the flannel sheets, she knew that she would not be able to sleep. How could she sleep when her thoughts and feelings had the potential to make several people very unhappy?

It was not a pretty thought. And so, Honey lay awake, her hazel eyes wide open and fixed on the white ceiling above her, and waited for dawn to come. Maybe in the harsh light of day her feelings would seem ridiculous. They could not be comforted and cosseted and allowed to grow as they were here in the quiet stillness of the night. And, before she shut her eyes, dawn had broken on another day.

* * *

Meanwhile, Dan awoke that morning with an inexplicable feeling of unease that he was not able to brush off. Something was bothering him, but he couldn’t quite place what. He and Honey had had a nice evening the night before at a place where the warm cocoon of childhood still wrapped him in its embrace.

Then why did he feel so unnerved? Although awkward at first, dinner with Brian and his girlfriend had actually been nice. It had been good to see Lexi again and to spend time with Brian, something he hadn’t done in years and found that he missed. The train ride home had been a lot of fun, with Honey in rare form in one of her teasing moods. Despite the joviality and the fact that it had been rather late, however, she had not invited him to stay at her place.

He hadn’t thought about that fact last night, but it had obviously simmered in his unconscious overnight, because he realized that this niggling thought was the source of his discomfort.

Honey usually suggested that he spend the night when they were out on a weeknight. His classroom buildings were much closer to her apartment than to his meager accommodations, so it was an easier commute for him. He had even packed a change of clothes and his toothbrush in his backpack just in case, although he hadn’t mentioned that to Honey.

It wasn’t a big deal, Dan knew. They spent the night apart more often than they spent the night together, so why was it suddenly a concern?

Because she had spent the afternoon with Brian.

That shouldn’t make a difference, but Dan suspected that it did. Had something happened between the two of them? Dan immediately dismissed that notion. He knew his girlfriend, and he knew her well. Very well. She had an innate goodness about her that served as a strong moral compass and a conscience that would never let her keep anything so important from him. That, combined with her inability to keep a secret, convinced him that nothing had happened. Her hazel eyes had been warm and loving and clear when she had looked at him. Dan then remembered the look of pure delight and happiness that had swept over her face when she had seen him waiting at the subway stop. If anything untoward had happened with Brian, she never would have looked so happy and free of guilt.

Dan finally figured that he must be imagining things. Honey had probably not asked him to spend the night last night because she had assumed that he didn’t have a change of clothes. Or something like that. It didn’t matter.

Dan turned to look at his alarm clock and realized that he’d better get moving if he didn’t want to be late for his first class. He had an eight o’clock class three days a week, as much as he had tried to avoid it when he planned his class schedule for the semester. To be a liberal arts major and be able to sleep in! Di always spoke of her afternoon classes at Ithaca College that allowed her to enjoy an evening social life with her artsy friends.

He dragged himself out of bed and crossed his bedroom. He grabbed the clothes that he planned on wearing that day and headed toward the bathroom. He needed to shower quickly, as his roommate would need the shower. Jason didn’t have class on Friday mornings, but he had to be to his job at the music store early every Friday morning to catalog the Thursday afternoon shipments that the store received each week.

Once in the shower, Dan let the hot water run over his body, rinsing away the tension. Everything was fine with Honey. It was.

So why was he trying so hard to convince himself?

Dan finished his shower and quickly got dressed. Breakfast was a piece of toast slathered in chunky peanut butter, which was washed down with a glass of milk. Breakfast accomplished, Dan charged through the living room, unceremoniously stuffing a book he needed into his backpack and finally heading out the door. Dan lived on the fourth floor of a rundown building in a less-than-desirable section of the Lower East Side, and he knew that Honey was not thrilled about where he lived, but he needed as much of his college fund money as possible to go for tuition and books and not other expenses. So far, he had managed to get by with very few student loans, and he wanted to keep it that way.

When his mother and father had been alive, they had lived on a meager military salary only, without his mother working outside the home. Following the death of his father, he and his mother had scraped by in Hell’s Kitchen, with his mother working two jobs to supplement the paltry military survivor benefits. He and his mother had survived because of their ability to live simply. After his mother had died and he was on the streets, Dan often didn’t know where his next meal was going to come from or where he would be able to sleep. The frugality he and his mother had exercised seemed extravagant by comparison. Then, when he had moved to the woods outside of Sleepyside, he had led a very simple life with Mr. Maypenny. Despite the fact that he knew that Honey worried about him, he also knew that he had survived much worse conditions. Not having student loans hanging over his head at the end of his four years of college would be worth continuing his spartan existence for a few more years.

From time to time, he did feel a pang over Honey’s concern. He didn’t like that she worried about him, and he really wasn’t happy that he had given her a reason to worry. He had assured her that he was just fine—and he was—but he had had to admit that he didn’t live in the most desirable location when he had realized that he did not want Honey coming to his apartment by herself. It killed him that his girlfriend couldn’t just drop by and visit him on a whim, and he knew that Honey wasn’t very happy about this fact, either. Ever the good sport, though, she had respected his decision to save money and had agreed not to travel to his apartment by herself.

Dan quickly walked to the nearest subway stop to his apartment building. The stop was several blocks away, but this fact had allowed the apartment to fall within Dan’s price range, and Dan had never minded walking. Once he was finally underground and on his way, he settled back into his seat and pulled out the textbook for his criminology class. He re-read the homework assignment from the previous class and felt fairly confident about the material. His assigned reading for that morning was finished, but he was still several stops from his station. He needed to read William Faulkner’s The Mansion and write an essay for his Literature 233 class, but he wasn’t in the mood to read a depressing Southern story. Instead, Dan noted that there were no women or older people who needed a seat and then closed his eyes, his head resting on the back of the seat with his longish dark hair spilling over the back of his jacket.

He listened to the elderly gentleman a few seats over loudly complaining to himself about the prices of various items he was finding advertised in his newspaper. "In 1948, I can tell you that a car didn’t cost $50,000! Heck, a house didn’t cost that! What do these young whippersnappers want with a car that costs so much anyway! Madness! It’s madness, I tell you!"

Dan grinned to himself. There was nothing like the New York subway. He listened to the old man rail on about the prices of gas, coffee, and bread compared to 1948 before the man exited the train a couple of stops later. With no reading assignment or crazy dialogue to occupy his mind, his thoughts began to churn. Dan knew he was driving himself crazy thinking about Honey and Brian, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself.

Okay, he thought, if Honey is pulling away, it could be for a number of reasons. She’s stressed about her basic chemistry class, for one. Basic chemistry.

Basic chemistry.

Was that it? Was that what this was about? Brian and Honey had always shared a basic chemistry. Everyone knew it. But because Brian and Honey had not pursued a relationship, that basic chemistry had never been allowed to fizzle out naturally—and Dan was sure that it would have had the pair actually gotten together. If the chemistry had been too strong to ignore, both Brian and Honey would have acted on it a long time ago. If the chemistry had been so strong, Brian wouldn’t have gotten himself involved with two different women at Columbia and Honey would’ve been a lot more heartbroken on receiving Brian’s letter than she had been.

No, the only chemistry that had been too hard to ignore was between himself and Honey.

Of course, Dan knew that Honey had never been able to forget that she had once shared something with Brian. Brian probably felt the same way. Dan had always known, at some level, that these emotions, which had not been dealt with, were going to rear their ugly heads—and now was that time. He wondered if Honey even realized it yet.

This was actually a good thing, Dan decided. Before he and Honey could think about a future together, think about the things that he wanted to pursue with her—like marriage and a family—she needed to deal with these unresolved feelings. And so did Brian.

Dan could handle this. Honey and Brian may have shared some basic chemistry, but he and Honey shared a whole hell of a lot more than that. They had a deep, emotional connection with their own chemistry. The chemistry that Honey and Dan shared was more than basic.

Advanced chemistry? Dan thought to himself and then chuckled out loud. Now that he felt in control of the situation again, he relaxed. He would help Honey explore this basic chemistry with Brian. And in the end, their relationship would be even stronger for it.

Wouldn’t it?

* * *

Later that day, Honey sat through her afternoon class in a fog. The previous night’s lack of sleep had caught up with her. Angela, her lab partner, shot her worried looks through the lecture, but Honey was too exhausted to notice. Instead, she was desperately trying to understand what her professor was saying so that she could make notes coherent enough to be understood later. At this point, however, she wasn’t even sure that she would be able to read her own handwriting, let alone understand the underlying material the notes described.

At the end of class, she yawned deeply.

"Late night last night?" Angela asked lightly as she backed up her notebook, textbook, and writing utensils and placed them neatly in their appropriate pockets in her backpack.

"You could say that," Honey answered, stifling another yawn as she packed up her own materials.

"Oooh, yum," Angela said with a knowing smile as she slid into her dark emerald spring jacket.

Honey managed to laugh as she shook her head. She had just thrown the last of her things in her backpack and had slung the bag over her shoulder after putting on her own jacket. "No, it wasn’t like that. I couldn’t sleep, and then at 3 o’clock, I had the brilliant idea of getting up to journal about all of the thoughts that weren’t allowing me to sleep!" Honey rolled her eyes at this last statement, remembering the regret that she had felt at allowing her thoughts to escape the safe confines of her brain.

Angela looked at her thoughtfully. "Something going on?" she asked casually as the two girls started weaving their way through the seats to the aisle so that they could walk up the stairs toward the exit.

Honey didn’t answer at first. She hesitated, wondering exactly how she was supposed to answer Angela if she didn’t know exactly what was going on herself. Also, she wondered if she really should share something so personal to her friend before she talked to Dan.

Honey’s silence spoke volumes to Angela, and the redhead wondered what was going on with her lab partner. Honey was normally a very level-headed woman. She took everything in stride and had not had a very stressful adjustment period after she had started college. That was one of the things that had impressed Angela about her new friend. So many other freshmen seemed to go crazy when they were on their own for the first time, either taking their new-found liberties and freedom to a dangerous extreme or missing their old life so much that they were practically incapacitated and dropped out after the first semester. But Honey wasn’t like that. Outside of class, she studied hard, visited Sleepyside and her friend Di at Ithaca College when her schedule allowed, and balanced the rest of her time between her boyfriend and friends she had made in her classes. Honey Wheeler was one of the most well-rounded, well-balanced people that Angela knew. If she wasn’t so sweet, Angela would hate her for it.

Honey didn’t look particularly troubled, Angela noted, just… perplexed. The redhead waited patiently for Honey to weigh her thoughts and make up her mind about what she wanted to say—or didn’t want to say. The pair exited the classroom and made their way down a corridor filled with other students hurrying to their classes.

"Wanna go to Cosi and have some s’mores and tell me what’s going on?" Angela asked, hoping that Honey would take her up on the offer. Not only did she want to spend more time with her friend, but Honey looked as though she could use some enjoyment, and what could be more enjoyable than making s’mores over a Sterno can in downtown New York?

Honey hesitated, but then decided that it would be a much needed diversion. "Yeah, s’mores at Cosi sound fun," she agreed.

"Great!" Angela said, and the two girls exited the classroom building and headed to the nearby Cosi while Angela made small talk. She wanted to wait until they were settled in the coffee shop before delving into anything major with Honey.

Finally, after the two girls were sitting at a small table in the crowded coffee shop roasting marshmallows over the small heater, Angela broached the subject of what was bothering Honey again.

"I am not exactly sure what’s going on," Honey finally admitted to her friend, placing her golden marshmallow on the chocolate and graham cracker she had waiting. "I spent some time with an old friend yesterday, and I have all of these…feelings that I don’t understand."

Angela nodded, processing this. "What kind of an old friend? An old boyfriend?"

Honey promptly shook her head. "Not exactly," she answered. "He’s Trixie’s older brother." She didn’t have to explain who Trixie was because Angela had heard all about Honey’s best friend and had even met her during Christmas break. "I met him not long after I met Trixie. He and their other brother, Mart, had been at camp when I moved to Sleepyside. We had been there about a month or so before they came home. I still remember the morning that he and Mart came home from camp, the morning I met him…them," she corrected herself, but Angela had already noticed the Freudian slip and the soft, almost dreamy quality on Honey’s face as she recalled the moment that she had met the older brother of her best friend.

"Anyway," Honey continued, "we were all very young, very innocent kids. Country kids for the most part. It was clear that Jim and Trixie were going to end up together, and, of course, everyone knew about the attraction that Mart and Di had had for each other since they were, like, six. So, I think everyone just assumed that Brian and I would end up together. I don’t know if everyone felt that way because it was convenient to pair us off, or if people really thought that we were that compatible, like Jim and Trixie or Mart and Di. When you get right down to it, I honestly don’t know whether I felt we would eventually get together because it was easy or if I truly had feelings for him. At any rate, he met someone else when he went away to college. I don’t know exactly what happened, because Brian won’t talk about it, but I think she might have hurt him pretty badly. Jim implied that she was a hypocrite and a liar, but I don’t know anything for sure. Anyway, after that debacle, he started dating Lexi, and he really seems to be absolutely head-over-heels in love with her, and she is really nice and sweet and obviously loves him, too." Honey finally paused to take a breath.

Angela, having eaten an entire s’more while Honey had been speaking, took up the story where Honey had left off, while Honey took a satisfying bite of her own treat. "So, you spent the day with him yesterday and all of these feelings that you’ve never talked about with each other—or even acknowledged—are still completely unresolved, and because they’re still not resolved, they’re there, and you feel guilty."

Honey swallowed the gooey bite and then sighed resignedly at Angela’s astuteness. "Yeah. That about sums it up."

Angela continued, "And now you need to determine if you ever really had feelings for Brian or if these are just residual ‘don’t-mean-anything’ feelings that can be easily dealt with and then shelved forever."

"That’s exactly it," Honey agreed.

Angela, however, was not done. "And you’re afraid that these old feelings for Brian might be real and you’ll wreck a bunch of relationships."

Having the situation stated in such blunt terms made Honey cringe, but she couldn’t fault Angela for such an honest assessment. "I wish I could say that I don’t know what you’re talking about," Honey said ruefully, contemplating another bite of s’more.

"Well, it just makes sense to me. How many years did you, your family, and your friends think that you and Brian would get together?" Angela asked as she prepared another marshmallow for roasting.

"Oh, I don’t know," Honey said as she considered Angela’s question. "Two or three."

"That’s a long time. Do you know if Brian thought you guys would end up together?"

Honey shrugged as she finished her s’more. After a drink of iced chai, she said, "I don’t know. I assumed he did at the time because everyone around us was assuming, and so I just assumed that he assumed, too, you know?"

Angela chuckled. "I do know, because I’m used to how you talk after six months of listening to you. But six months ago, no, I wouldn’t’ve had any clue about what you just said," she teased.

Honey grinned. "I know. Trixie and I practically had our own language when we were kids. The Bob-Whites got so that they could understand us, so we never thought much about it. I wonder if people at Michigan State are having as much trouble translating Trixie’s sentences!"

"Probably," Angela said with an affectionate smile for her friend. "But that’s neither here nor there. Did Brian give you any indication that he thought that the two of you would get together?" Angela asked, getting the conversation back on topic.

"Things were kind of awkward between us, and I don’t think that I was the only one putting that out there. He was really nervous about telling me about his first girlfriend. Why would he be if he considered me just a friend?" Honey asked almost rhetorically, but Angela answered.

"Good point. I think he must have felt the same way. And you guys never dealt with it before. I think you need to. For everyone’s sake."

Honey sighed. "You’re right," she conceded, nervously chewing her lip at the thought of discussing all of this with Brian. Or worse—with Dan.

Angela, seeing her friend’s consternation and knowing that she had made her point, deftly changed the subject to a lighter topic. Honey and Angela finished their sweet treats while talking of less-loaded subjects than Honey’s relationship with Brian.

* * *

After the two had left the coffeehouse, Honey headed back to her apartment. Once there, she sat down on her couch and just stared at the wall. Did she want to try journaling again? Write Dan a letter? Write Brian a letter? In the end, she decided to distract herself with television and peppermint ice cream, despite the fact that she had just devoured marshmallows and chocolate. Within a few moments, though, she realized that there was nothing on that she wanted to watch, and she threw down the remote in frustration. She finished her dish of ice cream and thought for a moment.

Against her better judgment, Honey decided to pull out the box of high school mementos from the closet of the spare bedroom.

She sat down on the floor of the room and methodically explored the contents of the box. She set aside a Magic 8 Ball and the key to the Ten Acres summerhouse that Jim had given her as a memento and then flipped quickly through her most recent scrapbook, which summarized some of the later exploits of the seven Bob-Whites. She giggled out loud when she came across a picture of the club members, each wearing a blue or yellow rain poncho. She and Trixie had forgotten to consult Mr. Maypenny’s Farmer’s Almanac before planning that particular event, but the rain had only added to the merriment of the afternoon. The picture on the next page detailed the two leaders of the club, Jim and Trixie, playing a rousing game of air hockey in the Lynches’ game room. Much had been at stake that night, as the winner got to choose the evening’s movie. In the end, Trixie had won, and the seven of them had settled down to watch a classic murder mystery.

Once she had finished looking at that scrapbook, she set it aside and pulled out another item from the box. Her hands brought out a sheath of papers, filled with the writing of seven different people. One night that they had all stayed over at the Manor House, the power had gone out. To entertain themselves, they had written a story together. Honey remembered how fun it had been to write a paragraph or two, trying to shield the hastily scribbled words from prying eyes while balancing a flashlight over the page. The notebook had then been passed on to the next person, who wrote another paragraph or two…or three or four, even. The story hadn’t made much sense in the end, but it had been a fun way to spend a Bob-White evening in the dark. After re-reading the story and chuckling over its pleasurable absurdity, she set it aside and looked inside the box once more.

This time, Honey found the first scrapbook she had completed after moving to Sleepyside and perused its pages. Images of the Silver Swan and Di’s red trailer, six Bob-Whites dressed identically in red jackets and devil masks, the clubhouse in various stages of completion, desert scenes, shelves filled with antiques, an ice carnival, Happy Valley Farm, the Ozarks, Cobbett’s Island, and Mr. Carver’s antebellum mansion filled her eyes as she turned the pages, remembering a more innocent time when the only thing that she had to worry about was getting kidnapped in an abandoned barn or being held at gunpoint on a deserted riverboat. In some ways, those were so much easier than navigating this thing called love…

Filled with nostalgia, Honey put the scrapbook down and blindly grabbed for the next object in the box. Her fingers closed in on a soft object, and she pulled it out. As she looked down and fully grasped what her fingers held, she gasped out loud.

There, in her hands, was the gift that Brian had given her before he had left for college. She stared at it for several moments, and suddenly she knew her course of action. She got up and determinedly walked to the kitchen phone, only pausing a moment to look at the paper above the phone before determinedly jabbing in a series of numbers. She listened to the ringing on the other end of the line before Brian picked up the telephone, sounding flustered…or maybe just distracted, Honey decided.

"Hello?"

"Hi, it’s me. Honey."

Suddenly there was a loud crash at the end of her words, and a frustratedly muttered, "Damn it!" Honey waited patiently, only slightly alarmed at what might be going on on the other end of the phone.

"I’m sorry," Brian finally said into the phone.

"Is this a bad time?"

"No, not really." Brian sighed.

"What happened?"

"Apparently, someone set a bottle of perfume on the edge of the desk near the phone and didn’t screw the cap on."

Honey felt an inexplicable thrill soar through her at his obvious annoyance at someone who must have been Lexi.

Brian continued, "When I grabbed the phone, the cord tangled with the perfume and nearly knocked it off. I jumped to catch it and banged into the desk chair, stubbing my toe and managing to knock the chair over in the process. And then the perfume landed on the floor anyway and leaked out onto the carpet to boot." Brian finished his narrative with a long drawn out, suffering sigh.

"I’m sorry, Brian. That really sucks that Lexi left her perfume out where you could knock it over," Honey said, trying to console her friend.

"Oh, it wasn’t Lexi," Brian said, still sounding very distracted over the perfume clean-up process.

"Oh?" Honey asked in surprise. Who else could have left perfume in Brian’s apartment?

"It was a fellow RA," Brian explained, as if reading Honey’s mind. "She just got back from a spring break trip to the British Virgin Isles. She stocked up on this really cheap lime perfume, cologne, whatever, which apparently is all the rage down there. She’s been passing them out to everyone, and she thought that Lexi might like some. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I can’t stand the stuff and would never want my girlfriend to smell like that!"

Honey giggled in spite of herself at Brian’s indignation. "And now your poor carpet is going to smell like that," she commiserated with a rueful grin at her end of the phone.

Brian groaned. "Yeah, thanks for reminding me," he chided, but Honey was relieved that he was sounding more cheerful. "Anyway, you obviously called for a reason, and you don’t need to hear about my carpet woes. Do you need more help with your basic chemistry stuff? Do you want to get together again?"

"Would that be a big deal, Brian? I don’t want to be an imposition," Honey said, sidestepping the issue of what she wanted to talk about when they got together.

"It’s not a big deal at all," Brian assured her. "Do you want to get together tomorrow? Maybe in the afternoon some time?"

Honey nodded as she spoke, despite the fact that he couldn’t see her. "I’d like that, Brian. What time do you want me to be there?"

Brian paused, and Honey began to wonder if she had said the wrong thing.

"I’ve never seen your place," Brian finally said.

"No, you haven’t," Honey said slowly, wondering what point he was trying to make. Was Brian asking for an invitation to her apartment? Did she dare read something into that? "Did you want to see it?"

"I’d love to. Would you mind meeting at your place instead of mine?"

"Not at all," Honey assured him. "I just don’t want to be an imposition or a bother to you. Are you really sure that you want to travel all of this way to get to my place?"

"You did the traveling last time," Brian pointed out.

"I know, but I’m the one who needs help, so it’s only fair that I do the traveling," Honey returned.

"I really would like to see where you live," Brian explained. "I…I don’t know what any of the Bob-Whites’ places look like, except Mart’s," he rushed on, as though making a terrible confession. "It’s weird, not knowing where my siblings and my friends live, and…and I want to change that."

Honey’s heart melted at the sound of Brian sounding so lost. "It’s okay you haven’t seen anyone’s place," she reassured him. "We’ve all been so busy, and no one holds it against you. I haven’t seen Trixie or Jim’s places out in Michigan. There’s been no time for a road trip since school began. It really isn’t a big deal," she finished.

"It still bothers me," Brian said in a quiet voice. Honey knew that voice.

"Okay," she said slowly. "You’re welcome to come see my place, if that’s what will make you happy. What time will you be here? I’ll have to wait for you in the lobby, and you’ll have to show a piece of identification to come up to my apartment with me."

"Is noon okay? Maybe we can order a pizza or something for lunch," Brian suggested.

"That sounds good," Honey agreed, hoping that Dan would not mind that she was essentially making weekend lunch plans that did not include him. There was no way that she could say what she needed to to Brian with Dan present. She gave Brian directions to her apartment building before hanging up the phone. Honey was ashamed at the giddy feelings that were arising within her, but she couldn’t help but thinking that maybe there was something to these feelings…that they might be real after all.

With a course of action decided, she was suddenly so calm and focused that she completed quite a bit of studying within the next hour or so. She even thought she might be getting the hang of this chemistry stuff.

 

My carryover items, although not required, were:  any holiday between November 1 and February 1 (#2.1), someone collecting something (SA#5), essay (#2.2), scrapbook (#2.3), finding a sweet memento of someone’s past (#2.4), shower (SA#6), leader (#2.5), hockey (#2.6), something found in a stack of old newspapers or magazines (the summerhouse key was found in a stack of old newspapers in The Secret of the Mansion; CWP SA#7), relatives you don’t see often (Brian doesn’t see Mart or Trixie very often; #2.7), blue or yellow rain ponchos (#2.8), peppermint ice cream (#2.9).

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