The Theory of Attraction

By: Delphine Dryden

Chapter One

The weather forecast called for a high of ninety-nine degrees. Again.

Still two digits, though, no big deal for Houston in August. It felt like melting when you stepped outside, but you were just supposed to pretend like it was not all that hot. People would assure you they’d known much, much worse.

It wasn’t all bad. Hot enough to wilt the lettuce I’d attempted to grow in the backyard, but at least the roses were thriving. I could see them from my computer desk, nodding their pink and crimson heads in a stray breeze. And then a shadow crossed them, blocking their light. Standing up for a better view, I saw my neighbor Ivan heading out for his run.

This told me it was six-thirty, and I needed to stop checking work email from home and get dressed, so I could go into work and continue to check email from there.

I didn’t bother to check the clock, because Ivan was better than a clock. Over the past two years I’d learned his routines until I thought I could probably tell you his location at just about any moment of any day. Not that I’m a stalker. But Ivan loves routine the way some guys love football.

He glanced up at my window and gave a nod and wave, which I returned as I did every weekday morning. I wasn’t awake that early on weekend mornings, although I knew Ivan still went for his run at the same time. Six-thirty in the morning, out for a run each and every day. He took one of three routes, which I knew because I drove past him most mornings on my way to work. One path was for Mondays through Thursdays. He ran a different route on Fridays, and another still on the weekends, to account for differing traffic patterns so his time stayed consistent.

One week, that’s all any good stalker would need to get the entire scoop on Dr. Ivan Reynolds, rocket scientist. But I doubt anyone would ever want to stalk Ivan. Well, maybe if he won a Nobel Prize or something. He’s very much an acquired taste, and it took me a good year at least to realize I’d acquired it.

* * *

The first time I realized Ivan was sexy, he was being an asshole and then a hero.

We were in my apartment, where Ivan seemed to spend an awful lot of time for somebody who claimed not to like being around people. But I liked to cook, and there were a lot of hungry geeks in the complex, so my apartment had become kind of a social hub. Even Ivan seemed to appreciate the food, although in this instance he was more focused on wondering why the astrophysics department had to have a start-of-the-school-year party.

“It’s supposed to help you get to know your colleagues better,” I said. I had my head under the sink, looking for the scrubbing cleanser, so I had to listen hard for his answer.

“But I already know my colleagues. And anybody new, I’ll meet soon enough. They’re people I work with every day. Why am I expected to spend my valuable free time with them as well? And expend social energy on what should just be a crowd of work-related acquaintances?” He asked me these types of questions because my degree was in social anthropology, although I spent my days now writing computer scripts. Ivan’s idea of a good party involved bringing your own computer gaming equipment and Cheetos, then staying up all night virtually shooting your friends.

“Because it’s fun?” I suggested. “You get to loosen up a little, just for one night. Besides, most people don’t really consider social energy to be a finite resource. Partying is not a zero-sum equation.”

I hadn’t always sounded like these guys. But after a year or so living in a townhouse complex populated almost entirely by astrophysicists and computer scientists, you started to pick up the terminology whether you liked it or not. The demographic was due to the fact that most of us worked at the nearby university, and our complex was close to the science buildings. Generally I liked it, because the guys showed me all the cheat codes for computer games, and at least I always knew I had a bunch of willing protectors if my apartment ever got robbed or anything.

“I don’t consider it finite,” Ivan said. “But it’s certainly not infinite. And there’s already enough social obligation surrounding holidays without adding it in at other times. What’s that smell?”

“I have no idea, I can only smell the ant spray from yesterday. Damn. Where’s that new can of cleaner?”

“It’s in your bathroom. Under the left-hand side of the counter, behind the trash can. It shouldn’t be stored so close to the ammonia-based cleaners.”

I narrowly missed cracking my skull as I pulled out of the cabinet. “You moved it?”

“Yes. You always leave the top open instead of sealing it up. There’s chlorine-based powder everywhere. The ammonia cleaner is in a glass bottle. One wrong move and you could have a cloud of toxic gas.”

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