i asked & the people spoke. i have been having some trouble coming up with fiction ideas, so i tried my hand at a little fan fiction. sometimes it’s easier to come up with plotlines when you’re not simultaneously inventing characters from whole cloth. & because i am a total loser, i stole my characters from the babysitters club. but at least i stole tertiary characters, so i could impose my own personalities on them for the most part. i asked some friends if i should post this ridiculousness on the blog, & people seemed pumped for it, so hear you go. the basic plotline is that we are in modern-day boston, where janine kishi (claudia’s super-genius older sister) & pete black (random dude at stoneybrook middle school who sometimes took claudia or stacey to dances; also developed a huge crush on laine cummings & was elected class president) live as adults. janine is a grad student of molecular biology & pete is a bike mechanic. also, they are dating. pete has to break some bad news to janine one evening…
just to warn you, this is totally unedited. i mean, it’s fan fiction. it’s not like i’m going to workshop this shit. i’m sure there are nits to pick. jared, for one, thinks that an epidemiologist would be the last person on earth to foster a secret passion for fermented foods. but let’s just roll with it, okay?
Dragging on my cigarette, I burrowed back into my Broadway Bicycles hoodie to avoid the drizzle. As I biked home from another day of fixing the bicycles of Cambridge yuppies & hippies alike, I spelled out the name of my girlfriend with each rotation on the pedals. “J-A-N-I-N-E, J-A-N-I-N-E.”
Janine had a late class that night, some kind of molecular biology lab. I always asked about her classes & tried my hardest to follow along, but when she got going on school, she didn’t slow down for us mere mortals to try to catch up or disappoint her with oafish questions. I sometimes felt stupid around her, which was kind of ridiculous. I was not a dumb guy. I was class president every year from eighth grade through the end of high school, when I was elected student body president. I was the class salutatorian, right behind Emily Bernstein. I scored a 1980 on my SATs, & was accepted to MIT. I’d been planning a physics major…& I admit, I’d been following Janine.
Janine was an astonishing woman. Surprising no one, she was valedictorian of her class at Stoneybrook High School, walked away with a 2350 on the SAT, & received a full scholarship to MIT. She became a biology major, & within two years, she had narrowed her focus to studying epidemiology from a bacterial & viral perspective—-which means creating new scientific understanding of the ways diseases are passed from person to person, or animal to person, or person to animal. She had taken two years off after high school to intern with Doctors Without Borders—-a gig that was of course supposed to be mainly paper-shuffling administrative gofer work for a girl fresh out of high school, but eventually some of the doctor volunteers were surreptitiously allowing her to examine their field notes, research, & experiments on the spread of diseases impacting disaster-struck nations, like cholera & malaria. She developed cutting edge computer models charting the efficacy of preventive techniques like village hand-washing stations, well locations, & the dispersal of free mosquito nets. She became passionate about the intersections of medicine & social justice. If we’re being honest, she became quite radical.
I met Janine when I was a freshman in high school. She was a senior. She could have graduated early & been in college by the time she was 16, but her parents encouraged her to try to enjoy her youth even while she devoted herself to academics, so she challenged herself by enrolling in classes at the local community college. As did I—not because I am in any way as brilliant as Janine, but because I thought string theory was kind of interesting. I was a nerdy kid, I read a lot of science fiction, I liked movies about aliens….Learning about physics for real seemed like a logical extension of those interests, & I knew it would look sharp on a college application.
Janine was in my class. I was awed by her. She digested the complicated precepts of string theory like she was just sitting there reciting the alphabet. She made physics seem effortless–& even then, physics wasn’t really her passion. I have always had a weakness for smart girls. In fact, I’d previously dated Janine’s sister’s best friend, Stacey McGill, a math savant. She solved calculus problems just for fun. Things didn’t work out because we were thirteen & thirteen-year-olds don’t fall in love for good. In high school, I was pulled more into Janine’s academic orbit (though we didn’t really become an item until had both moved to Boston, five years previous) while Stacey became a little more interested in partying.
I didn’t consider at the time that fourteen-year-olds don’t really fall in love for good either, & I was fourteen when I first fell for Janine.
Janine & I had a beautiful apartment just outside Central Square, in Cambridge. Biking one direction up Cambridge Street, I could be at the bike shop in under fifteen minutes. Biking (& Janine always bikes—one of the many shared interests that unites us) in the other direction, Janine could be at MIT in under fifteen minutes. Our apartment was a maze of tiny rooms lit by antique ceiling fixtures, with huge casement windows on every wall. It got amazing light during the day, regardless of season, & at night, we could see downtown Boston all lit up across the river. We had a spectacular view of the Fourth of July fireworks from the roof, where we kept a large container garden. Janine grew cabbage to make her own kimchee—-despite, being Japanese American, Janine loved her Korean kimchee. But Janine loved all East Asian food, & she loved fermented food. I chalked it up to her studies of bacteria. She had a lot of ideas about how we could boost our immune systems by eating the cultures one finds in sauerkraut, kimchee, raw milk (which she bought at the farmer’s market in Somerville even though it was illegal), etc.
“Jesus Christ, Janine, you almost gave me a heart attack!” I clutched my chest & leaned back against the kitchen counter. Janine was curled up on the couch in the semi-darkness of our living room, buried beneath a quilt with a notebook . “I thought you had a late lab tonight.”
“Re-scheduled. The prof is presenting at an epidemiology conference, remember? In San Diego?”
“Right. Well, I sure am happy to see you.” I collapsed on to the couch & wrapped my arms around her.
“I’m happy to see you too. How was work today?”
“The usual. Changed about twenty flats, installed five of those industrial-sized bike baskets for people who do all their shopping in the street markets–”
“Hey. The street markets are one of the great things about living in the Boston area.”
“I agree. But at least you knew how to install your basket yourself. I mean, it’s not complicated. A dog with thumbs could do it.”
“Did you get to work on anything cool?”
“Yeah, Danny came by & we worked on his triple tall bike.”
“Did he persist in calling you by your full name?”
“Of course. ‘Pete Black, let’s weld this fucker. Pete Black, let’s paint some fucking tiger stripes on it.’”
“Did you tell him what I said about how calling three bikes welded together a triple tall bike is a misnomer, as two bikes welded together is simply a tall bike, so he’d have to stack six bikes on top of each other to earn the distinction of being a triple?”
“Yeah, but he just said, ‘Your girlfriend is probably over-thinking this.’”
Janine laughed. “I probably am.”
“What did you get up to today?”
“Well, I had my meeting with the physician from Mass General regarding the World Health Organization findings on the use of checklists to reduce hospital error. He was intrigued by the computer models I worked up to increase compliance.”
“The Indian guy?”
“So what does that mean for you?”
“It means that I might be flown to Amsterdam next year to attend the WHO general conference. Just as a spectator, of course, but if one of the models is approved for a study, it’s a feather in my cap & Atul can pull some strings to ensure that I’m part of the team synthesizing the data.”
“Holy shit, Janine! That’s huge!”
She smiled. “It is. Not bad at all for someone still finishing grad school.”
“You’ll be accepted into the doctoral program of your choice.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is still hypothetical.”
“Would you want to stay in Boston? Maybe try for Harvard? Or even stay at MIT?”
“I would like to stay in Boston. It’s near our families, & there’s always a chance you might want to finish your degree at some point….”
I frowned & folded my hands in my lap. “Sweetie, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I just don’t have your smarts. I couldn’t hack those science classes, even the intro courses. I don’t even know if my records would even apply toward a second a attempt, considering I quit four years ago.”
“Don’t put yourself down, Pete. I wouldn’t be with you if I didn’t think you were smart.”
“Really? So you were dating Charlie Thomas in high school because of his big sexy brain?”
“I never dated Charlie Thomas! Why is this rumor so persistent?”
“Well, what did he do with himself for half an hour three times a week when he was driving his sister your your place for those babysitting meetings? Trevor Sandbourne always thought you guys were getting a little frisky.”
“Trevor Sandbourne is a fucking asshole.”
“He’s a writer. He’s got an agent trying to sell his first novel.”
“Right, just what the world needs. Another member of the ‘Hey Guys, I’m a Tortured White Guy with Pretensions to Revolution’ literary mediocrity society. The world already has one Chuck Palahuniak too many.”
“Okay, he’s pretentious. But you’re not answering the question. Where was Charlie during the babysitting meetings?”
“How would I know? Out in the car working on his fantasy football charts or something. Trust me, nothing ever happened between Charlie Thomas & I.”
“I know. I just like to torment you….Speaking of tormenting you, Trevor actually called me yesterday.”
“Why on earth are you still friends with him?”
“We’re not really ‘friends’. But…I don’t know. I kind of grew up with the guy. I’ve known him for years. You still keep in touch with your old friends.”
“Yes, it’s one of the many perils of social networking.”
“Well, Trevor is coming to Boston. He’s attending some kind of writing workshop.”
“Of course he is. I suppose the 826 Project is involved in some capacity.”
“The 826 Project boosts literacy in teenagers! Come on, Janine. You are such a hater.”
“But that’s why you love me.” She smiled up at me.
“Yes, it is.” I kissed her nose. “The thing is, he, uh…Trevor needs a place to stay for a few days.”
“Yeah, I told him he could stay here. Just for three days! & he’s going to be out at his workshop for most of the time!”
“Pete, I hate Trevor. He creeps on me. I think he’s an Asian fetishist.”
“Yeah….” I sighed. “He probably is.”
“& he treated my sister very disrespectfully when they broke up.”
“But that was five years ago.”
“Really? Shall I call Claudia right now & ask if she’s forgiven him for hacking her website & adorning it with pornographic images he created by Photoshopping her head on to his Asian fetish filth? Because I bet she’s totally over it & would love to come visit with us while he’s in town. We can all go out for burgers & beers & reminisce about old times.”
“Okay, Trevor is a dick. But I already told him he could stay.”
Janine sighed. “Fine. He can stay. But don’t expect me to be nice to him. I will be polite, but I will not be nice, & if he starts some kind of nasty business, he’s going to wish he hadn’t.” She flipped the quilt off her lap & stood up. “I need special tea. Do you want special tea?”
“I’d love some special tea. Thanks, Janine.”
“Right.” She paused on her way to the kitchen. “Fuck this, actually. I need a cigarette.”
We took the quilt out on to our balcony & smoked in silence, watching the sun set over gray & icy Charles River.
to be continued…