Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Proofreading with a point

Strange, isn't it: how proofreading can throw you together with thoughts and things you wouldn'tve had or seen otherwise?

All day long, I've been proofreading copies of Young Disciple magazine--and after a whole day of it, let me tell you, I get to the point of either blow-up or ready-to-crash. And yet, looking back, I have to ask myself: When do you get to think so much about so many things while doing your job?

For example, this quote: "Make it a rule, and pray God to help you keep it, never to lie down at night without being able to say, "I have made one human being a little wiser, or a little better, or at least a little happier this day." It makes you think... Have I really, for every day of my life, made one human being wiser, better, or just plain happier? Even a little? If not, what can I do to change that in the future?

Or the story about Erika, who was falsely accused by her friends and then rejected--shunned--by all those who had been the closest to her previously. To see her agonize and cry...pour her heart out to God...and to have everything be righted in His mercy in the end. Why won't my story right itself like that? God must be listening to the cries I've sent up, but why aren't things for me like they were for Erika? Is it partly my fault?

Or the comment in the Bible lesson, that talked about "making a world of an atom", and saying that when this happens, we end up hurting those we love and regretting it with every fiber of our being. Why does that have to be so close, so annoyingly parallel to my situation? Why didn't I get that message before? What can I do to right things? Is there any way to go back and redo? ...can I move on, forgive and be forgiven, and cease to make "worlds of atoms"?

Not even mentioning a thousand other thoughts besides, these things in and of themselves are enough to be food for some serious contemplation. Can you relate to any of that? I sure can--I somehow come upon things in proofreading that hit me so hard that I've been reduced to tears, sitting at my desk: Sobbing in silence because I can't take back what I've already done; I can't redo, can't undo. Life isn't a word processor... Control Z won't work. No such button. A lesson, for me, learned too late for many things... but just in time for others.

So, how about you? Have you been making others lives better, wiser, or happier? Have you been rejected and left alone by friends: falsely accused or hurt? Have you made worlds out of atoms: or had someone else do that to you? It's a pretty easy guess that someone, somewhere out there in the vast world, has experienced experiencing it...and can identify exactly with me.

Funny though, that Jesus went through all that. He never made a world of an atom, but He had it done to Him. He never rejected, He was rejected. He never hurt, He was hurt. He made lives better, wiser, and happier every day of his life--more than just one for every day of his life too!--and yet, how many on Earth made His life better, or happier? It's something to think about... The God of the universes and the Almighty I AM lived through the miserable, painful, tearful existence that has been mine; and by extension, yours. That's incomprehensible...unfathomable... Or, in the well-known words of Zac; "Undeniably, unmistakably, absolutely, completely" amazing.... It's amazing. No questions asked. End of sentence.

So, it's the end of another day. One more day lived through... And still so much to do. There's still time left in the day... And I want to be able to do the greatest amount of good possible to those around me--whether near or far.

"Make it a rule, and pray God to help you keep it, never to lie down at night without being able to say, "I have made one human being a little wiser, or a little better, or at least a little happier this day."

Tale of A Troubadour

Just tryin' to share the joy of proofing...I've been doing it all week. It's your turn!

Feedback is appreciated, and if you know proofreading comments or symbols, they're welcome. I'd give you a run down of what I do, day in and day out, but somehow I'm persuaded I'd lose your interest awfully fast. So I'll give you a story to proofread yourself instead.  ;)

Tale of a Troubadour

Heidi A. Reinecke

I was one of those unfortunate individuals who was home-schooled through grade school and high school, only to be thrown into a college as an adult. I was entirely lost in their system, and pretty much just ignored everyone til an enterprising few befriended me my sophomore year. But then, after my junior year, circumstances dictated a move to another college to finish my 4 year degree…and that’s when the trouble began.

Don’t ask me how it happened. Some call it fate, others luck, and still others Providence; I’m more inclined to say it was logic gone bad at the first. I’d always prided myself on being a very logical individual: and then I met Belle and was proven to be a very illogical fellow, indeed.

I was the “new kid” on the block. 22 years old, just starting at a new college and getting ready for that last upward pull to make it to graduation. I wasn’t daft (although, after reading my story, many will think me so) but I was gullible, and terribly naïve where love and romance were concerned. I had never “chased” a girl before. None had ever caught my attention as worthy of notice up to that point.

She on the other hand, seemed about as different as she could be. I was tall, but so was she, and although I could swear her raised eyebrows came to my nose (that in itself making her far taller than any other girl at the university), she appeared to be about the right height for me. She didn’t have a cheerleader’s figure or face, but she was impossible to overlook. Her hair was long, her eyes were wide, and the minute I saw her I just knew I was in for trouble.

Belle seemed to be such a quiet and composed young lady, and I figured that it wouldn’t be a problem for me to just avoid her and romance in one sweep. However, I soon changed my mind when I found out that she too was a senior, expecting to graduate when I did, and that she was in two of my classes—the two biggest ones at that. I struggled against the idea of making her mine for maybe two weeks; after that, I gave up trying and plotted how best to corner my quarry.

However, the consummation of this strategy was put off for quite some time. Adjusting to a new school was still a foreign thing to me, and I found myself struggling through my classes. I’d enrolled in an intensive Old-English history class, French, advanced Chemistry, and Algebra; the last of the list being to avoid facing calculus. My grades went from A+ to a D- in short order, but studying and keeping my mind on business was difficult with such a distraction as Belle running around campus.

Like I said, I was only 22, and very gullible and naïve. And when the first banquet rolled around, and I got up the courage to send Belle an email and ask her to go with me, and she said she would, I thought my catch was as good as done. My roommate, Nick Williams, however, knew better.

He asked me one night who I was taking to the banquet, and when I said Belle Rodman, he looked up from his papers with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

“Don’t tell me you’re after Belle,” he said slowly, as though greatly amused.

“Laugh all you want,” I returned. “She’s been claimed by no one, although I have yet to see why not.”

“Oh, after tomorrow night you’ll know why not,” Nick said with a chuckle, and turned back to his papers as though to completely ignore me.

“Now look here; what’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded haughtily. “Do you doubt me?”

Nick shook his head slowly. “I don’t doubt you,” he said, “but I know Belle.”

Nick had been going to the university ever since his freshman year; and so had Belle. They’d gone all the way through together, and were obviously good friends. I’d seen them together before, but it never bothered me, as Nick had a girlfriend back in Idaho. Nick and I, as roommates, had become good friends in the first week, although he’d not had a clue about my growing attraction to his friend. I was determined to conquer Belle, whatever the obstacles---however, I wanted to know what I was up against. Nick was no help at all.

“You’ll find out,” was all he told me, and that unsympathetically.

Banquet night came, and I was as ready as could be expected. My grades were a wreck, but no one aside from Nick and my professors knew that; and I had a date with Belle Rodman. I was as happy as a dog with two tails to wag—if you want to call that happy. I was at the girl’s dorm to pick Belle up right on time, and when she came down the stairs she almost blew me over without saying a word.

Her dress wasn’t particularly flashy; far more simple than the dressed up Cinderella’s I saw parading down the steps beside her. She’d done nothing but curl her long hair, and I knew she wasn’t wearing any makeup when I compared her with all those around her. She walked so softly and yet so confidently down those steps, as if she hadn’t a care in world, carrying herself like a queen and looking it every inch.

She was the most beautiful thing I could’ve ever imagined—but being shy, I never said that. And I mean, Nick had warned me about this girl: my idea of a good impression wasn’t to shout for the whole wide world to hear how beautiful she was when we hardly knew each other. Turns out I knew very little about romance…and the female mind in general.

As she spotted me in the crowd, and my eyes locked with hers, I only barely managed a smile. I couldn’t do much other than stare at her dumbly, and didn’t even notice when a solid 3 and a half minutes passed with her standing right in front of me not saying and word, and I just looking at her. Finally though, the object of my reverie turned away and walked towards the door. I had to shake myself, and only barely managed to follow her, feeling incredibly stupid.

“So much for first impressions,” my mind grumbled. “This was a fabulous way to start the evening out.”

When we got outside, Belle walking silently beside me, I knew I had to say something, but hadn’t the slightest idea of what to say. I had a mental battle with myself, trying to decide what would be the best thing to say to the creature beside me, but nothing presented itself as workable, so I stayed silent. We walked all the way from the girl’s dorm to the gym without saying a single word. When we finally got to the gym door, and I held it open for her, I felt like the biggest loser the world had ever seen. I’d make up for it, I resolved; I’m GOING to talk to her.

We found our seats and sat, right next to one another, still not saying a word. Belle looked at me with a perfectly unreadable expression on her face, and then looked away. I came very near speaking when she did so, but couldn’t think of the right thing to say, and so we remained silent. In a sea of happy couples, laughing and talking to each other, we were silent, and I just knew it was my fault.

Dinner was served, the prayer said, and the gym came alive with such racket and talking you’d wonder how in the world anyone was possibly eating and making so much noise at the same time. Belle ate in silence, not saying a word, as did I, although I was nearer speaking than at any other time before. The meal time passed in perfect silence—and it wasn’t until everyone was leaving that I finally had the courage to say something.

We left the gym, headed back to the girl’s dorm, Belle beside me again, neither of us having spoken a word. As we got outside, the vast scope of the starry heavens twinkled down on us, and for the first time I decided to do something very stupid. I’d never spoken a romantic word in my life, and yet, now I put my hand at it, hoping for the best.

“Beautiful night tonight,” I said, hoping my voice sounded far more harmonious and soft than it sounded to me. Belle remained silent a moment…but not for long.

“Oh, you do talk: I’ve been wondering all evening if I was going to have to thank you in sign language.”

I was dumbstruck. Had I heard that right? I looked at her in what was hardly concealed shock, and she looked up at me innocently, as though she’d really meant it.

“Sign language?” I finally sputtered. She nodded demurely.

“I was almost feeling sorry for myself, thinking you to be perfectly mute—actually, the word ‘martyr’ crossed my mind once or twice.”
Here I’m afraid I looked a little indignant, and would’ve thrown a volley of torrential language at her had she not glanced up at me and winked right then. My heart positively melted, and the scathing torrent was stopped. I decided to try again, now that the opening remarks had been made.

“I should’ve spoken sooner,” I admitted, thinking it a good start to our relationship to take responsibility where needed, “but I was a little too overcome to say much.”

To me, this was a perfect opportunity for her to look at me in shock, and ask me what I’d been overcome with, and for me to take her in my arms and tell her exactly what had overcome me. Belle, however, had different ideas.

“Yes, I know: Patrick always smells like garlic. The teachers have tried to get him to stop carrying that clove with him in his shirt pocket, but he won’t.”

Patrick had been the young man seated next to me, and he had faintly smelled of garlic, but I wasn’t opposed to the smell: and, for obvious reasons, her response took me completely aback.

“Garlic?” I asked incredulously. Again, she merely nodded.

“Alright,” I thought, “I’m going to need to be a little more blunt and straightforward if I’m going to get anywhere.”

We were very near the dorm; right outside it in fact; when I sprang what I thought would be the real clincher. As she turned to tell me goodnight, I looked deep into her eyes and said very softly, “If I didn’t know I wasn’t looking at the night sky, I’d be fooled.”

Now, anyone in their right mind can see that that was the most romantic thing I could’ve said in such circumstances, especially having never tried my hand at it before. And when she made no response and merely looked at me, I thought it was working. I was expecting an overcome response when she opened her mouth to say something in return…

“Just as I would’ve been fooled had you never spoken a word,” she replied, as if I hadn’t even said anything out of the ordinary. “Goodnight, Mr. Andrews; I thank you for the silent evening.” And after this, she smiled a little archly and turned on her heel and walked into the girls dorm, leaving a very dumbfounded and frustrated young man on the walk.

I walked back to my dorm feeling more defeated and ridiculous than I ever had in my life. That girl…she… Oh, but it wasn’t any use to sputter and complain. That wink, and the little arch smile had sealed my fate, even though I was a long ways away from sealing hers. I emotionlessly walked into my dorm room and flopped on my bed in a dejected manner, and just lay there for a time, suit coat and all. And then Nick walked in.

He’d been at the room all evening; studying had won out with him and he was planning on acing his biology quiz the next day. He came out of our bathroom in his sweats and a T-shirt, and looked at me, frazzled and worn out lying on my bed, and didn’t say a thing. I finally looked up and saw him staring at me, whereupon he got this most aggravating smile on his face and I was compelled to simply glare at him and look back at the ceiling.

“So how’d the evening go, oh conquering hero?” Nick asked, stretching himself out on his bed, still wearing the Cheshire grin. I scowled at the ceiling.

“I was a perfect dummy,” I finally conceded, “and then when I got the courage to say something and made any attempt to ‘romance’ her, she fired it right back at me.”

Nick nodded sagely. “Ayup, she does that.”

I now sat up, shedding my suit coat and throwing it across the room. The shoes were next, but on a loud “Ahem!” from Nick I refrained from throwing them and merely plunked them loudly on the floor. Nick only watched me unconcernedly, and I knew he was taking great delight in my frustration. Finally, I turned to him and said, “Well, since you know so much, how am I supposed to go about getting her?”

Nick’s quirky smile still remained, but before I could explode at him, he spoke.

“Oh, well, if I thought you wanted my help I could clue you in on a few things—but you can’t possibly want my opinion on the matter.”

I was desperate now: I was stuck between a rock and a hard place—the rock being Belle and the hard place being Nick. I was more sure than ever that I loved Belle, and Nick was just being difficult. But I suddenly realized he probably could help me quite a lot: I mean, he was dating someone, and he knew Belle.

“No, no, no; out with it,” I said in protest. “I’ll be quiet and listen.”

Nick looked me over in a mock critical manner. “Promise?” he asked satirically. I nodded with a roll of my eyes, but Nick settled back into his pillow and was silent a moment.

Finally, he said, “Tomorrow, you’re going to your English history class, aren’t you?” I nodded, thinking him to be completely off his rocker and on the floor.

“I think you’re supposed to be helping me with Belle, not homework,” I said impatiently.

“Your grades could stand some attention too, you know,” Nick pointed out. I threw my hands in the air.

“Hang grades!” I exclaimed. “Who cares about grades when there’s a distraction like this?”

“You do,” Nick said. “Especially when she graduates and dances off into the sunset without you.” At that I sobered up, but Nick seemed to not notice my outburst much.

“At your history class tomorrow, you’re going to learn something that will really help you out in winning Belle,” he finally said slowly, as though he were divulging a terribly well-kept secret to me. I leaned forward now, eager to hear.

“If you take good notes,” he said, “and then review them at the end of the day, you’ll be able to tell exactly what I’m talking about.” Now I fell back in despair.

“Nick, why can’t you just tell me? And how do you know anyway?” He grinned.

“I took that course last year. I remember most of what’s in that textbook, and if you’re studying the era I know you are, then the next months’ lessons are going to hold treasure troves of knowledge to aid you in your pursuit of your lady.” I looked doubtful; but like I said, I was naïve, and so I figured on giving it a go.

“You’re sure about this?” I asked before we shut the lights out. He nodded wisely.

“Absolutely. You won’t be able to miss it. Trust me.”

The lights went off that night, and I was optimistic. I had dreams of bluebells and wedding bells…and another type of Belle—the type whose eyes were easily mistaken for a starry night sky.

I hurried to class the next day, eager to learn and more than ready for my first glimpse at how to win Belle's heart. I sat in my seat and almost impatiently waited for the professor to begin his lecture. Either fortunately or otherwise, Belle wasn't in this class—and I found myself thankful for it. She wouldn't be able to trace my dealings with her to history, at least. Professor Mackins stood up and began to talk and I immediately started taking notes.

I'd never taken so many notes on a single history class as I did that day. I must've written a whole transcript of the professor's talk, and I even wrote in the places where he coughed, so intent was I upon my purpose. By the time class was out and I was running to lunch, it was juggling a 20-page manuscript that looked for the world like an English essay, not notes on Old English history.

I found Nick in a corner and sat in front of him with my food, slapping the notes onto the table in between us. Nick stared at it in disbelief.

“What's that?” he asked, picking it up.

“My notes,” I replied, seating myself. “You told me to take good notes.”

Nick was perfectly silent. He was a still as a tomb for a little while, looking through the notes expressionlessly.

“Did I miss something?” I asked, the fearful thought now arising in my mind that perhaps I'd left the most vital piece of information out. Nick smiled.

“Oh no, not at all. Everything's there that you'll need. I just wasn't quite expecting 20 pages, but that's a good thing. It'll give you more to work off of. First chance tonight, read over that a few times and you'll soon find it.” I nodded, and dug into my food, eager for nighttime to roll around so I could begin looking for the treasured secret.

The rest of the day seemed to drag past, and I was eager to get to my room and have an in-depth look at those notes. I was about to rush out of the chemistry lab when my lab partner, David, called after me, “Andrews! Where are you off to in such a rush?”

Now I could hardly say that I was on a conquest of romance, so I replied that I was going to study history. David looked dumbfounded, and replied, “History? I was gonna ask you to come shoot hoops with me and a few of the guys tonight.”

“Can't,” I replied. “This is a really important history assignment.”

David just shrugged, and off I ran to my room.

I sat at the table, notes in front of me and began to scour them, jotting down everything I thought might be what Nick had been referring to. Lots of things were close fits, but nothing was what I was looking for, and I started to get discouraged.

“...Knights, by rank, were inferior to royalty, though not less revered and honored. Squires were next, occupying a place very similar to that of the knights, but subservient to them. Pages held still a lower rank; with serfs and peasants making up the lowest class, aside from the beggars who frequented many of the old English towns at this time... Many a royal person of that time was devoid of the knowledge of entertaining oneself, and thus, entertainers comprised a class of their own... Jesters, musicians, troubadours, minstrels; all had their parts to play in court life... Out of all of the entertainers class, the minstrel, or troubadour, was the most honored and well-liked, especially by the court ladies. Commonly called the 'storytellers', these individuals were highly classed singers, and generally sang songs of life and romance to their audience, always telling a story as they went. Troubadours most commonly sang of a tragic love story, but always sang of the times in which they lived, and thus capitalized on the hearers sense of romance. Many a lady succumbed to the enchanting fascination of a troubadour through his songs....”

I nearly hit the roof in excitement.

“There is it! There it is! Nick was right!” I fairly shouted. Nick popped into the room just then.

“I was right about what?” he asked, and then catching sight of my notes, said, “Oh, you found it did you?”

“Yes, listen to this!” I said all in a rush and hurriedly began to read the section of text to him, while he wisely listened, nodded his head and stroked his chin. However, as I read it over again, I began to realize something very disturbing, and I read slower and slower til I'd stopped altogether.

“Don't stop now,” Nick said, moving to pull his pajamas on. “You've interested me.” I stared at the page in disbelief.

“I've got to do what?” I exploded. It only just dawned on me that the text seemed to be suggesting that I become a troubadour myself and serenade my desired one with a song of love and life. I nearly fell out of my chair while Nick sat on his bed and listened as I ranted on and on about how I could never do that, and how ridiculous, etc... Finally, though, he spoke sense to my mind.

“Andrews, I'd appreciate it if you'd quit carrying on like that,” he said simply. “You're wearing the magic of the moment away. Now sit still and listen to reason.” I sat still, but with arms crossed and looking the picture of a defiant two-year-old.

“Nick, honestly. I'm not just going to run up to anyone, let alone Belle Rodman, and burst into song about some romance story. I can't even SING!”

“My guess is you've never tried to sing,” Nick countered. “But never mind that. It's going to be the thought that counts. What did that text say? 'Often, minstrels possessed no great talent of voice, but the expression they used and the stories they told gave them far much more power'.”

“And what's that got to do with anything?” I asked, exasperated. Nick sighed heavily.

“You just don't and won't understand. See here; if at some point, occasion presented itself and you were to just start innocently singing a song—softly; not at the top of your lungs obviously—anyone in the general vicinity would of course, ask what you were singing, and you would be compelled to sing a little louder, would you not?”

I conceded this to be true, and before I could object, Nick rushed on.

“So, why not come up with a song that you could sing to 'entrance' your lady? It's a fairly simple thing to do, and you'd have awhile to get ready to do it, and you don't have to have anyone else hear...just somehow manage to get her alone. Surely you're capable of that.”

Again, I conceded that to be true, and once more, tried to make an objection, but Nick wouldn't let me speak.

“It's common knowledge that these troubadours, or minstrels, were highly effectual at gaining the affections of the ladies at the court, and not a few carried away so-called prizes for their efforts. I daresay it will work the same for you.”

“Nick, this sounds like a lot of rubbish to me,” I finally broke in. “What makes you think that Belle would care whether I sang about something or not?”

“History repeats itself, my boy; history! Women are famous for even having fainting spells over a serenade well done.”

“Maybe women are: as far as I know, Belle isn't.”

“She's a woman, and is no exception to that rule.”

“Nick, honestly,” I said. “Do you really think it would do any good?”

Nick was silent a moment, and then said, “Well, there's really only one way to find out. But I wouldn't advise you to try that quite yet.” Now I was puzzled.

“Why not, when you just went to all the trouble of convincing me it was my best course to pursue?”

“To pursue in time,” Nick countered. “You aren't even a day into this process yet.”

“What else could you possibly want me to do?” I asked with a sigh.

“Oh, well, like I said before, if you don't want my help, I don't need to give it. I can remain silent and let you do it your way...” Nick's voice trailed off suggestively and it had the desired result on my mind.

“No, no, Nick don't talk nonsense. Of course I want your help.”

“Alright then, here's my next bit of advice. Keep on scouring your history textbook: there are a lot more things in there for you to find, although I confess I've forgotten the precise locations of the particular pieces. I guess you'll just have to keep a general eye out all the time in that class.”

That class?” I asked dubiously. “You mean there's more in another class?” Nick leaned against the headboard of his bed.

“You're taking French, aren't you?” he asked thoughtfully.

“I am and I wish I'd never enrolled in it,” I replied. “I'm failing it worse than any of the others.”

“Well, that's your own fault,” Nick replied, but then continued, “French is where your next clue lies.”

“FRENCH?” I asked incredulously. Nick nodded emphatically.

“Oh, yes. French is known as the ultimate 'love language'. Everyone knows that a sentence spoken in French to a woman will render her helpless and completely seal a conquest.”

“If she understands French,” I said blackly. “Belle doesn't have a clue what bonjour means any more than I do at this point.”

“No, no, that's the beauty of it,” Nick protested. “See, it's just the tonal quality and ear cavity ring that French has.”

“Ear cavity ring?” I was entirely lost now.

“Yeah,” Nick said, pulling out a book from under his pillow and scouring through it's pages til he found what he was looking for. “Ear cavity ring is the chemical balancing of the inner ear when certain sounds are heard, which produces a sense of love and security in women, and a feeling of strength and courage in men. This is why the French soldiers were some of the strongest and bravest, and why French women were notorious for their romantic lives.”

“That would seem to make a certain amount of sense,” I agreed. And who wouldn't agree? He was reading it out of a book!

“On top of that,” Nick continued, closing the book, “France is the epitome of romance in itself—Paris being the center hub around which every spoke of romance in the mind and on the planet ever revolved. The romantic arts, literature, and even era originated in France, you know.”

“No I didn't know.”

“Well, now you do. Consider yourself informed,” Nick replied cheerfully, and would've slid down into bed right then and gone to sleep had I not stopped him.

“Wait!” I cried. “Don't you dare go to sleep without telling me what all this French knowledge has to do with me and Belle.” Nick looked confused a moment, and then smacked his forehead.

“I went and threw out the whole reason for it, didn't I? Well, see it's like this: with women being prone to fall under a spell of romance at the speaking of French, and you taking French, shouldn't it seem obvious? The university is actually helping you in winning Belle's heart! All you need to do is pay a little more attention in class and get to working on learning a phrase in French: doesn't matter what it is as long as it sounds good.”

“It doesn't matter what it is?” I asked wonderingly. “Why not?”

“Because, as you so wisely pointed out earlier, Belle doesn't know French, and thus it won't matter to her whether you talk about the stars in her eyes or the severe case of rabies your imaginary pet flea had when you turned 60.”

“That seems a little out there.”

“Don't you trust me?”

That said, the lights went off one more time, and again, I fell asleep, determined to do justice to French the next day: no matter what I learned to say.

The weeks that followed passed in almost crazy abandon. I more or less ignored Belle completely, and she returned the favor, which didn't bother me much because Nick had me working on a plan of attack to thoroughly win her heart. He'd convinced me that the troubadour bit would really work, and he even went so far as to put different words to a familiar tune for me. He'd also gotten me to working extra hard on French, and I was already learning the phrase that, literally translated, meant “Your hair looks like fire in a violent storm.” Nick still assured me that it didn't matter what I learned to say, so long as what I said had good “ear cavity ring” and I believed him. I mean, Nick would know, wouldn't he?

Not long after I started intensely working on French, Nick divulged what I believed to be another secret to me. He told me that Algebra could work in my behalf—especially since Belle and I were in the same Algebra class and frequently ended up in the study hall together. I was completely confused.

“Nick, how could the square root of x multiplied by the coefficient of z be romantic?” I asked, lost beyond all hope in trying to discover what he meant. Nick made a face.

“It's not,” he replied. “And if that's what you try to talk to her about, you'll  be sunk.”

“Well?” I demanded, for one split-second wondering if Nick was just leading me on; the next, disregarding that thought, assuming and assuring myself that “Of course not!”

Nick looked at me thoughtfully. “What does 1+1 equal?” he asked, in a measured way. I must've looked baffled, because then he added, “I know; it's harder than people think.”

“Nick!” I exclaimed. “One plus one equals two... Every kindergarten student knows that!”

Nick shook his head. “No, it isn't, actually.”

Now I was completely perplexed.

“But...” I began, only to be interrupted by the presiding genius.

“One plus one equals one,” Nick replied matter-of-factly, as if I had been a dunce not to've known such a thing. I was a little relieved when he said so.

“Ah, no, Nick; you've made a mistake. One multiplied by one equals one.”

But, again, Nick shook his head. “I know that,” he responded. “But I'm telling you that one PLUS one equals ONE.”


“It's true!”

“Prove it,” I said in exasperation, knowing that the only way to get the information out of him was to ask for it.

Nick nodded wisely. “If you add one person, to another person, what do you get?” he asked.

“Two individual people,” I muttered blackly.

“Right,” Nick responded, not paying the least amount of attention to my dark mood. “Now, if you add one personality; one mind; to another, and they click, what do you get?”

“Two individual....” I began, but then stopped. Nick was starting to make sense now. I looked his way and he shook his head slowly, a smile spreading across his face.

“You mean if they blend?” I asked. He nodded.


“And how does that help me, whether or not it makes sense?” I asked. Nick stood to his feet, and walked to the table and motioned me over.

“Sit down,” he said importantly. “I'm going to teach you how to mathematically prove that one plus one equals one, hiding the romantic nuance in the equation.”

I shuffled to the table, and sat down, watching while Nick explained about this theorem, and that proof—gave me a tiny bit of mathematical history, and then proceeded to use all sorts of crazy methods to prove that one plus one did indeed equal one. When he was finished, I had an entire 2 pages, front and back, of his neat handwriting, clearly lining out what proofs to use and how they worked, the one theorem that was needed to complete the last important step, and the little math steps in between. It looked logical enough to me—which is, I suppose, where I made the mistake.

“So that's that,” Nick ended, looking at his watch. “And I need to run to class. I'll give you the rest of the oratory on how this all has to do with Belle when we're back here tonight.”

With that, he leaped up from the table, grabbed his backpack and headed out the door, leaving me sitting there, staring at his work lying on the table. I picked it up in my hands and had a good look over it. Nick surely knows a lot, I thought. It's a wonder that he's teaching me all of this, and I've never even heard of it before. The thought of checking my mathbook to see if he was right crossed my mind, but then I chafed at the idea. Nick wouldn't lie to me; and besides, this looked more like calculus than algebra. But who cared? Belle wouldn't know the difference.

Nick came back to the room that night, and explained everything in detail to me. He showed me how one step was similar to initial attraction, the middle steps to courtship (and used the proofs to verify that) and then the final, big theorem to marriage, proving to me that one plus one equaled one in a romantic sort of way. I believed him, and set about to learning my math a little more readily.

The last tip he gave me of this sort was on Chemistry. He told me that every person's personality had a corresponding chemical, and that, when two chemicals were added to one another, the reaction produced would give a good indication of how two people would interact and react to one another. But, he said, one needed to add the chemicals just so. If one person came into another's environment, then that one would need to be added to the other. If the other way around, well, then the other way around. It made a fairly decent amount of sense to me, and Nick assured me that some time, I should try it. I reminded him that I wasn't about to to this when the whole class was there, and Nick reminded me that Belle had just been switched to Chemistry 1, and that it was likely that she would end up as my lab partner at some point. I conceded this to be true, and determined to, at some point, try this on her as well.

Nick kept me going like this for several months. He had me working on French, Algebra, Old English history, and Chemistry all in one whack, and without me even realizing it, my grades started to rise. Very slowly, but very surely. So slow, in fact, I didn't even notice it til Nick spied my grade report on the table and took a good look at it.

“Say Andrews,” he said in an exclamation of approval, “your grades are astounding!”

“Don't rub it in,” I mumbled.

“No, no, I'm serious!” he said in excitement. “See? You've got a B+ in history, a B in French, a C- in algebra, and a B in chemistry. That's great!”

“You really think they're that great?” I asked, sitting up from my lazy position on my bed.

Nick tossed the grade report back on the table and looked at me critically. “Considering the D's you were getting when you came,” he said, “I'd say those are remarkable. What's changed?”

I shrugged. “I have no idea. You've got me working on this crazy plan to get Belle, and it's making me pay more attention in class, I guess.”

Nick nodded, smothering a smile. “Well, I'm glad I'm not just assisting you in one area.”

I nodded, and fell back on the bed and closed my eyes, just a little too soon to see Nick do a victory punch in the air and silently clap his hands before resuming his normal state and heading to the bathroom.

Then the day came; that fateful day when Nick sat on his bed across the room from me and announced that I was ready to put my plan into action. I was hesitant to agree, but he assured me that I was perfectly ready. My French phrase, “Your hair looks like fire in a violent storm,” I could say with perfect repetition and cadence, and Nick asserted that it had the most flawless ear cavity ring he'd ever heard in all his life. “Makes me want to go out and fight a battle right now!” he said, jumping up and pretending to fight an imaginary foe around the room. When he'd exterminated his invisible enemy, he dropped back to his bed again. The Algebra lesson given me two and a half months before had been completely memorized, and Nick had had me give it to him over and over til I could do it with no help at all, and sound “excruciatingly convincing”, as he put it. The bit about Chemistry was all in order—Nick had told me what chemical my personality corresponded to, and what Belle's did, after giving me a “chemical personality test” he had on his computer, and allegedly giving Belle the same one in a sneaky sort of way. Not long after that, Belle and I were assigned to each other as lab partners, and Nick enthused that the right time had indeed come when that happened. Finally, my troubadour bit: Nick had re-written the lyrics to a song called, “I Dreamed A Dream”, made famous just that year by a British talent-show winner. I'd never heard the song before, and Nick had me listening to it day in and day out, til I could sing it perfectly. The song seemed to be romantic in itself, but Nick grimaced when I said so and asked, “How could tigers be romantic? No, this piece needs a great deal of help,” and then handed me his lyrics to it. Sure, these were unmistakably romantic, and they fit in the song perfectly, but I wasn't sure. Nick finally conceded that I should try everything else first, and save the troubadour bit for last, especially, he averred, since that was likely to be the most effective anyway. According to him, I was ready, and exactly four months after Nick got me to working on all of this, he sent me out on campus to try my schemes.

“Don't try them all at once,” Nick told me seriously as I left that first morning, carrying the algebraic romance sheets with me. “You'll need to wait a couple of weeks or so after this one, if it doesn't work.”

I nodded, and out the door I went, determined to make this one work so I wouldn't have to use any of the others.

The day dragged by, and I was getting impatient by the time study hall rolled around. As I was headed to the library, the thought suddenly struck me that Belle might not be there at all. I was seized with horror, thinking that perhaps I would have to endure the agony of suspense for even longer, but when I entered the library (with a very un-studious bang) I was relieved to find Belle sitting alone at a table, head in one hand, going over her Algebra book with a quick eye. Her pencil was poised in the other hand, and I had to stop and just stare for a time—a privilege I hadn't allowed myself for nearly three and a half months. Finally, though, I had the sense to move over to the table before she could notice her admirer, and I asked if I could sit down. She looked up in surprise, her wide eyes holding that beautiful but perfectly unreadable expression I'd been so entranced by at the first. She finally nodded, and then looked back down at her book, and ignored me. I sat down, spread my things out, and began working, deciding to wait awhile before I launched my first attack.

I'd never worked so hard on Algebra before in my life as I did when I was sitting there with her across from me. I chanced a glance up at her every now and then, reveling in the beauty before me. Eventually, after an hour or so had gone by, and we were quite alone in the library, I decided to spring my assault.

“Belle,” I asked softly, not daring to raise my voice much for fear of the ever-present librarian, “would you mind helping me with something?”

I was surprised at how she responded. She looked up at me, smiled, nodded silently, and waited so patiently for me to tell her what the trouble was that I wished I had a real problem for her to solve and not this silly paperwork. For one terrible moment, I nearly gave it up and asked her to help me with something else, but then decided not to disappoint Nick, and began.

“What does one plus one equal?”

The sweet, compliant look on Belle's face vanished as soon as I said it. Her expression resumed the unreadable stance again and she looked at me in mute, what I took to be, shock.

“One plus one...?” she finally asked, incredulous it seemed, that I didn't know the answer. I nodded, hoping I wasn't ruining everything.  

She held up her hand and very quietly (again, because of the librarian) counted on her fingers, “One, one...TWO.” I shook my head.

“I thought it was one,” I replied, looking down at my papers in feigned confusion. I looked back up at her, and now her expression was more of disbelief than anything else.

“Andrews, I think that's one multiplied by one,” she responded, thinking the ordeal to be over.

“No, I know that, but I always thought that one PLUS one equaled one, as well.” She shook her head and would've looked back down at her papers, but I didn't let her. I began to explain all of what Nick had told me, going off of my paper and then even going so far as to write it all out for her all over again. She watched silently, and when I had finished, said, “I can't say as how I've really heard any of that before.”

“It's not surprising,” I commented. “By definition, it's usually only known to those who are seeking to play it out in the area of their romantic lives.”

“Romance?” For once, I had caused her to question me, and I thrilled at it, thinking that my victory was nigh.

Again, I nodded, and then proceeded to explain to her how all of this correlated to romance, and why, and so on. Again, she listened in silence, and let me rattle on and on til I was done.

When I finished, I sat back in satisfaction, thinking that I had completed the conquest and that my victory would soon be apparent. However, the expected light didn't dawn in her eyes—the recognition and realization I had been counting on didn't appear, and she just stared at me, nearly expressionless. We sat there, looking at each other for a time, and then, without saying a word, she looked back down at her book and began working again. No fireworks, no sparks, no nothing. She merely returned to her math without so much as commenting on my brilliance, and just then the librarian came by, and I was forced to return diligently to my Algebra, all the while bemoaning in my heart that I would indeed have to take the second step. The “romance of the equation explanation”, as Nick called it, had been the most painless one of all of them, and he had me scheduled to try French next. I sighed inwardly, and then looked up as Belle gathered her things, stuffed them in her backpack, and walked away without so much as a goodbye. I watched her go, and I knew that somehow—some way—I was going to conquer her. No matter what it took.

That night, I complained to Nick about my failure, and he listened as I carried on and on about how it hadn't worked and what her response had been and so on. Finally, my voice gave out and I collapsed on the bed, discouraged beyond belief. Nick tried to console me.

“Now see here, Andrews, it can't be nearly so bad as you think,” he said. “Likely as not, she was silent because she recognized the advance you were making on her and it startled her—she's not had many people make advances on her like that before, you know.”

“No, I didn't know,” I replied, finding my voice once again. “But why?”

Nick shrugged. “Not sure why. Her personality and mine were just way too different, or I might've gone after her myself. I couldn't love her like that; she knows it, and the feeling is quite mutual.”

“Does she shun romance then?” I asked.

Nick appeared to be deep in thought, and when he spoke, he measured his words. “No, I wouldn't say that,” he replied slowly. “She just hasn't had much experience with it is all. Wait a couple of weeks, and then try your French and see if that doesn't do any good.”

I agreed to wait, and so I did.

The next couple of weeks passed quietly, easily. Belle didn't ever say much to me, but acknowledged my presence every now and then by a slight smile and tilt of her head. I took this as encouragement, and determined to make the French phrase work if it killed me.

The day came, at long last, when I would try my hand at creating this perfectionary “ear cavity ring” in the inner workings of Belle's ears, and I set out on the day with no small amount of excitement. Nick, once again, had a departing tip. “Remember to say it with a French accent,” he called, as I went out the door, “or it might not work as well!”

I got into the hallway, and suddenly realized that I had no idea what a French accent sounded like. I was very near going back and asking Nick for help when I looked at the clock in the hall, and realized I was already late for class. I ran off, hoping for the best, and wondering if perhaps it wouldn't work so well if I didn't accent it right.

During my break between classes, I ended up in the bathroom, practicing saying “Your hair looks like fire in a violent storm,” in every accent I possibly could muster from my voice box and vocal cords combined. I was in there alone, and when Max came in, I abruptly stopped and turned to him.

“Max, I have a question,” I said seriously, and he looked at me.

“Sure thing, fire ahead,” he replied.

“What would you consider a French accent to sound like?” I asked. Max thought a moment as he stood in front of the mirror, fixing his hair.

“Well, I'd say probably something like so...” and he demonstrated what he thought sounded like a French accent. I repeated it pretty well, and he nodded and then asked, “Why did you want to know?”

“Oh, I have French class today,” I said, completely avoiding the real answer to the question, but satisfying him anyway. I left the bathroom, saying over and over to myself that phrase, using the accent that Max had used, til I was confident that I had a perfect killer.

I made it through most of the day without any opportunity to use my French on Belle, but then my chance came when we passed each other on an empty staircase. No one else was there, and I figured that now would be the best time to say it. As we got closer to one another, I headed up and her headed down, I looked up at her and smiled. She noticed me, and returned the smile quite normally, which gave me quite a turn. I again wished that I just could tell her hello and ask how she was, but decided once again that I had work to do. So, I dipped my head just a little and spoke my French, without saying a word of English beforehand. Belle stopped on the stair she was on, and stared at me. I thought it had worked. She only stood and stared at me...and then, her hand traveled up to the top of her head and she smoothed her hair out before finishing her descent down the stairs without so much as a word to me. I suddenly realized that she had actually understood me—and I finished climbing those stairs feeling like the most rotten and lousy 22 year old that had ever walked planet Earth. Nick was going to hear about this...

And he did. The complaining this time was worse than before, and Nick was sympathetic as ever. He let me rant and rave, and when I finally dropped to my bed, he said calmly, “There, there, you needn't take it to heart so. I'd forgotten her aunt and uncle live in France and she's been there several times before. You still have two more options, and one or the other should be the real clincher.”

I listened in mournful silence as Nick told me how to go about my chemistry bit, and I, with a sigh, determined to try it. Surely adding chemicals in class wasn't going to make any trouble—it had nothing to do with how she looked or anything at least. Or so I thought.

A few more weeks passed. I gave Belle a wide berth, and didn't so much as dare to look at her when we passed each other any more. I was too ashamed that she had actually understood me, and I knew I needed to let a good healthy amount of time elapse before I tried again. At last, however, I was ready, and Belle seemed ready. We were the last ones out of chemistry class, and with Nicks' admonition from that morning (“Be sure you add YOUR chemical to HERS; things could go wrong if you don't..”) still ringing in my head, I worked along with Belle on our experiment until it was completed and she was in the process of putting her lab coat away. I stayed at the table, writing illegible things in my notebook, and when she saw me furiously scribbling, asked if we'd forgotten anything. I looked up, pretending to be surprised.

“Oh no,” I said nonchalantly. “I'm getting ready to do a personality test.” The look on Belle's face betrayed confusion, and she didn't move, but stayed and continued looking at me.

I assured her that that really was what I was going to do, and she asked how one could test a personality by chemicals. This was the opening I'd been waiting for, and I summoned her over to stand on the other side of the table while I prepared. As I got things ready, I explained to her that each person had a chemical that was essentially equal to their personality, and that, when these chemicals were added together, they would produce the reaction that the two people would have in real life. Belle listened with interest, and I found myself enjoying her attention so much that I got the vials mixed up: I'd started out with the one for her near my left hand, but somehow, through the course of my distraction, it ended up near the right hand, and mine by the left hand.

“So,” I said, picking up a vial of a clear liquid, “judging by what I've seen of you, I would assume your personality to be parallel to this one,” and I dumped what looked like a certain amount into the empty vial on my left. Then, I sorted through the other liquids in tiny vials in the vial-holder, and came up with another perfectly clear one. “Ah,” I said, “and here's mine. Let's just see, for an example, what would happen if our personalities were to really be brought into close association with one another.” Belle eyed me a little warily, but she still looked interested. I dumped a pretense calculated amount of “my” chemical into the vial on the right, at first not even noticing that the vial I had had for Belle's chemical was containing mine, and vice versa. Remembering that Nick had told me to add MINE to HERS, I picked up what I thought to be my flask and held it above hers. Just then, I realized I had switched the two vials, and fearing to make a mistake, switched them again so I was holding my vial—containing HER chemical. Looking over the counter at her, I said importantly, “You might like to put your eye-covering on, just for safety's sake.” She did so, and waited. Just as I was about to pour them together, I realized that Nick hadn't told me what these chemicals would do. I paused momentarily, thinking that perhaps I should just forego the experience. However, once more, my sense of duty and longing for Belle's heart won out, and I dramatically poured Belle's chemical into mine, removing my hand with a flourish.

I moved my hand just in time. An explosion unlike anything I had seen in Chemistry class before shot four feet off the top of the counter in a pillar of flame, completely melting the vial the two chemicals were in and leaving nothing but an ugly burnt patch on the counter and ceiling. Chemicals, vial, everything; all were completely gone. Vanished. Belle had even vanished. I was struck with such a frenzy of fear as I had never felt, imagining that soon I'd be on trial for murder, when Belle appeared from behind the counter. She stood up slowly, cautiously, looking wide-eyed at the spot where the explosion had taken place. She surveyed the burnt patch on the counter, and then looked up to see a similar burnt spot on the ceiling. She said absolutely nothing.

As I looked at her, I suddenly realized that the ends of her hair had been burnt off—nearly two inches of it. A gut-wrenching horror broke over me as she looked down at the ends of her hair and stared, still saying nothing. The entire room was perfectly silent, and I didn't dare to say a word to break the ice.

Finally, she looked up at me, and said simply, “Well, I guess that won't be happening.” My heart completely sank—I knew I'd blown it. Literally.

We cleaned up the mess together, and she left without saying another word to me. I headed back for the room, mortified and horror-struck. Nick was in for another tongue-lashing—that much I knew for certain.

This time was worse than either of the times before that. I came back to the room and exploded; just like the chemicals had in the lab; and Nick, once more, was patient with me. When I told him what had happened, however, he nearly exploded as well.

“Andrews, are you trying to burn down the school with your love for Belle?” he asked. “I'm sure your French phrase could've been saved til today—her hair actually got BURNT off?”

“Not much,” I said miserably. “No one else will be able to tell, I'm sure.”

“Except you.”

I nodded, while Nick ran his fingers through his hair. “Well,” he said, “I guess it's over now, anyway. You must've added the wrong one to the other; they shouldnt've reacted like that.”

Again, I conceded that I'd had difficulty in figuring out which was which, and Nick sighed. “At least you've got one more option; that one is bound to work.”

“Nick, after all of this, I don't even feel like trying,” I said dolefully from my pillow, where I'd buried my face.

“Don't be ridiculous,” Nick said, dismissing my plea as not even being worth consideration. “Singing a song isn't anywhere near as dangerous as adding chemicals together, and you've nothing whatever to lose by it.”

“Except all dignity,” I muttered to myself, but Nick pretended not to have heard.

“Give it a few more weeks...maybe even a month, I'd say, before you try your last option. It won't be too hard; and this last one is sure to work.”

I looked up at Nick. “I don't know..” I sighed.

“Don't you trust me?”

It was close to three weeks before I got up the courage to try my last piece of brilliancy. One day, I set out for classes, in one of the pockets on my backpack the paper with the lyrics on it. I didn't really need it—I'd memorized them already. As I went about my day, I hummed the tune while the words played over and over in my head. “I dreamed a dream of you and I...that we were young and life worth living...I dreamed our love would never die...I dreamed that me you had forgiven...” It was similar to the original, but Nick had assured me that this was far better. I wasn't entirely sure, but I was willing for one last try, especially with Nick telling me it was bound to work.

I was confident as I crossed the lawn to the main building, and as I was about to go in, I saw a notice. It was an audition—for a talent show of some sort. I scrutinized it, and noticed Belle's name on the bottom. She was one of the judges! I saw a perfect opportunity to sing the song for her, and  before I knew what I was doing I had signed up to be number 7; I was to be at the gym at 6 o'clock that evening. Without talking to Nick, I ran back into the room and snagged his soundtrack to “I Dreamed A Dream” and put it in my backpack: I was NOT about to sing acapella.

The day passed ploddingly, and finally, right before 6, as I was headed for the gym, Nick caught up with me.

“How'd it go?” he asked.

“It hasn't yet,” I replied.

“What? The day's almost over!”

“I know, I know. I'm going to sing over at the gym.”

Nick looked at me incredulously. “You're kidding, right?”

“No, I'm not,” I said firmly, “I signed up this morning. Belle is one of the judges.”

Nick stopped me in the hallway. “Andrews, I really think you had better just skip out. I don't think you should go.”

Pulling free, I said stubbornly, “Look, Nick; you're the one who got it into my head I should do it, and that's what I intend to do if it kills me.” That said, I walked down the hall and out the door, leaving Nick standing there. However, he soon caught up with me again.

“Now what?” I asked irritably.

“I'm coming with you,” was all he said.

I got to the gym and stepped inside, Nick behind me. I looked at the poster on the second door, and headed in. Nick paused a moment to consider the sign more critically than I had, and then shook his head as he came in. Thinking he had merely looked at Belle's name, I ignored it.

I walked up to the girl sitting at the table and handed her my paper that said I'd signed up and the soundtrack CD that I would be singing with. She looked at them, started, and then looked up at me. She looked at me, then back at my paper, and then back at me; and then, with a giggle, she motioned me to head down the hall to the left, and told me I could head onto the stage from the left-hand door when my name was called. I nodded, thanked her, and headed down. As I was going, I heard the girl ask Nick, “Don't tell me you're here for that too.”

“No,” Nick replied, “I'm just moral support for someone who literally hasn't a clue about what he's getting himself into.” I ignored him.

Nick joined me by the door and looked at me in seriousness.

“Jim,” he said, for the first time using my first name, “I'm serious. I think we should just leave right now.”

“Don't try to convince me again,” I said. “You even said yourself that you'd convinced rocks to fly a different direction when you threw them; you already convinced me that singing was what would win her; and I'm stubborn.”

Nick sighed helplessly. “I'll be here when you get done,” was his despairing reply.

I waited through several performances, listening. Some were okay, but none had been exceptional, and I was determined to stun Belle. She was the only one who mattered. When “Number 7!” was loudly announced from inside, I left my backpack with Nick and stepped through the door and walked onto the stage. I stood there in the very center, looking down at a judge panel of three: Belle Rodman, and two other girls. I thought it strange that no gentlemen had been asked, but disregarded it.

My entrance on stage apparently was rather unexpected to the three judges. Belle looked at me in complete unreadability, but the other two girls were obviously surprised and startled. I stood there in silence, suddenly realizing that the situation, for some reason, was awkward for them as well as me. Finally though, one of the girls cleared her throat.

“Mr. Andrews,” she said, slightly enunciating the “Mr.”, “what are you going to sing for us?” The other girl smothered a giggle, and Belle stared at the bottom of the stage. I suddenly was seized with fear as I realized that these girls all knew the song I was about to sing, and would know that the words had been changed. I miserably told them the song title, and the other two smiled and nodded their heads and one started the CD player. As I waited to begin, I glanced at Belle, who glanced up at me briefly and then looked away again. Disheartened already, I launched into the song...“I dreamed a dream of you and I... When we were young and life worth living... I dreamed our love would never die... I dreamed that me you had forgiven...”

I sang the whole song through, trying desperately to sing it as well as I could, and trying to ignore the amused winks and gestures the two girls were giving each other and the stoic indifference of Belle. When I finished, the two clapped a little and one said, “Thank you, Mr. Andrews; we'll get back to you with the results as soon as possible. Next!” And I exited the stage, knowing I had failed when Belle didn't so much as look at me on my way out.

I got back out and collapsed against the closed door, looking at Nick in defeat. Nick looked truly sympathetic this time, and offered, “You did a good job, Jim. Really, you did. I never heard that song sung so well by any student.”

“Fine lot of good it did me,” I muttered. “She didn't so much as look at me.”

“I'm not surprised,” Nick said simply.

“And why not?!” I exploded. “You're the one who said it would work!”

“And I also told you to just go back to the room before you came here,” Nick replied. “Look.” He pointed to a poster hanging on the wall just opposite of me, and for the first time, I actually read through the fine print below the title. Then it hit me—I had just participated in an audition that was supposed to be strictly for senior GIRLS trying out to sing for graduation!

“Why didn't you tell me?!” I almost shouted, thoroughly mortified and embarrassed now as I thought of what Belle must think of me.

“I tried to...” Nick began, but I didn't let him finish.

“You never said anything of the like!” I continued stormily, “You just let me come over here and make a complete idiot of myself without so much as trying to help!”

“Andrews, listen...” Nick started, but I didn't let him finish. I turned on my heel, and marched down the hallway, Nick behind me once again. I got back out to where the girl sat and just as I was headed out she said sweetly, “Mr. Andrews, you forgot your CD.” I turned around, eyes blazing and marched back over to her table and took the CD case from her, and had turned around to leave when she added, “I heard you sing; you did very well.” I stopped and turned to look at her, and the innocent look on her face infuriated me, and I was about to say something when Nick shoved my backpack into my hands—I'd forgotten it in the hallway. I looked at him, snagged the backpack, and without a word stormed out of the door. Nick looked at the girl at the table, smiled and said thank you, and then followed me out.

I didn't talk to Nick for nearly a week after that. I ignored him at every moment possible, and  walked around campus as impassive as a block of stone. At times, Nick would start to say something, but I'd either breeze out the door, go into the bathroom and shut the door behind me, or put the pillow over my head and pretend to be asleep. For a whole week, I didn't say a thing to him and I didn't let him say a thing to me. Finally though, the following Thursday, Nick had had enough. I came into the room one evening and as soon as I sat on my bed Nick appeared out of the bathroom, in his standard evening T-shirt and sweats and said, “Alright Andrews, enough is enough.”

I was going to head back out the door, but Nick was quicker and got to the door before I could and blocked it. I realized then that he'd locked the bathroom door too, and hidden the key, so I was stuck. I backed away from the door, glaring at him and then sat on my bed heavily and stared out the darkened window. Nick locked the door, but stayed there, determined to have his say.

“I've had enough,” he said.

“So have I,” I returned sharply.

“Andrews, quit acting like a kid.”

“Quit telling me what to do!” I said furiously. “You've been doing it all year and it's only gotten me into trouble!” Nick fell silent and heaved a sigh.

“Look, Jim,” he finally said, leaving the door and sitting on his bed across from me. “I'm sorry about the audition thing. I honestly tried to tell you, but you cut me off every time.” I sighed now; Nick was right—it had been more my fault than  his.

“Alright, alright, I'll admit that,” I said in a more subdued way. “I'm sorry for how terrible I've been this last week.” Nick leaned back on his bed.

“Are you still serious about getting Belle?” he asked quietly, in a very different voice. I shrugged.

“She'll likely never look at me again,” I replied in disappointment.

Nick leaned forward. “I have a suggestion...”

“Oh please!” I said, getting up and flinging my coat and scarf into the closet. “Don't give me any more of your suggestions! Graduation is only two and a half months away and I'd prefer to get out of here and let everyone forget that such a fool ever walked the campus.”

“No, no, I'm serious,” Nick said in protest.

“You were serious every other time before!” I replied heatedly. “And I believed you were really trying to help me and not turn me into the university mascot.”

“I really mean it,” Nick said, honesty showing all over his face. “I have one more suggestion. You don't have to do it if you don't want, but at least hear me out.”

Flopping onto my bed I heaved a sigh. “Alright, Aristotle,” I said in a very condescending way. “Out with it. I'll listen to your high and mighty suggestion.”

“Just be yourself.”

That was all he said, and he said it with so much sincerity I wondered if he'd really said it. I stared at him, unable to comprehend his words.

“Just...what?” I asked slowly.

“Just be yourself,” Nick repeated. “You heard me right.”

“Just be myself?” I asked, still baffled. Nick nodded.

“I don't have any gleaming promises, but it's worth a try, isn't it?” he asked me. “I mean, you have nothing to lose by being yourself—who you really are inside. There's nothing dumb or embarrassing about that, is there?”

I shook my head. “No, there isn't.”

“Well?” Nick asked.

“But...” I said wonderingly, all anger and heat gone from my voice. “How do I be myself? I mean...Just be myself?”

“Andrews, you were just yourself til you saw Belle and you lost it. Just be friendly, cheerful, helpful; smile, wave, and expect no grand responses out of anyone, least of all, Belle. Just be yourself.”

I thought about that a moment. “I guess that can't be too painful,” I finally agreed. “I'll give it a shot. That's probably what I should do anyway.”

Nick nodded. “That's right. Just give it a try—and no matter what happens, you'll enjoy it more.”

“So will the rest of the school,” I muttered, pulling my pajamas out of my dresser drawer, a little of my heated frustration coming back. Nick must've smiled as he slid down into bed, and he called to me as I headed for the bathroom, “Be sure you don't make the light socket explode in there.”

I paused at the entrance to the bathroom and turned back to look at Nick. Before I could fling my hairbrush at him, common sense prevailed, and I quietly went into the bathroom and shut the door.

The next day, I walked back out onto campus a very different person. I smiled and waved at most everyone I passed, and caught up with a few guys I'd shot hoops with at the beginning of the year and slapped them on the backs and shook hands and promptly got invited to play basketball with them that evening, an invitation which I readily accepted. I gave David a high-five as I passed him in the hallway, shouted down the hall to Max, and smiled at Tiffany and Lena. I went through almost the whole day with a smile and a kind act or word for everyone and found myself enjoying it thoroughly.

As the end of the day drew near, I saw Belle crossing the hallway to the chemistry lab. I wasn't scheduled to do chemistry today—Belle and I were no longer lab partners—but I called out to her and when she looked up I smiled and waved at her. Her face was perfectly readable now: shock was written over her every feature. She managed a little smile and waved back and then disappeared. I assumed her shock to have stemmed from the desire to never see me again, but I ignored it and finished my day off at the gym, shooting hoops with the guys.

The next day was similar: I was having so much fun I couldn't stop saying hello and smiling to everyone. Once again, I caught sight of Belle in the hallway; once more, I called her name, smiled and waved to her. And once more, she managed a smile mingled with the shock in her eyes and waved before disappearing.

This went on for a few days—I waving to and smiling at her from a distance, and her always looking shocked and waving back with a small smile that, to me, almost looked pained. I figured she didn't really feel like smiling at or waving to me, but I couldn't help myself. I did it to everyone else too, so why not?

Then, one morning, I was sitting in the cafeteria, alone eating breakfast. Nick was busy, and most of my other guy friends were off doing something else, but I was perfectly contented sitting there at the table. I was enjoying my meal when a tray appeared opposite me and a juice box plunked onto the table. I looked up in time to see Belle; yes, Belle Rodman; sit down across from me and look me in the eye. I just stared at her, and she just stared at me, neither one of us saying a thing. Finally, though, I smiled and said, “Welcome and good morning! How are you?”

Belle appeared to take it all in stride, and she set her notebook to the side and smiled back. “Doing very well. And how are you?”

I responded in the affirmative, and we spent the whole breakfast hour talking to each other. I couldn't help but admire her easy way with words, the way she casually brushed her hair to the side, and the way she laughed. I sat through that meal, inwardly entranced, but outwardly composed and merely enjoying myself. Just as she was getting up to leave, she paused and looked at me.

“Are you very good at Algebra?” she asked. I inwardly cringed. I wondered if she was just taunting me about my stupidity in the “one plus one equals one” bit, but I managed a smile and replied, “Oh, I'm no expert, but I get along alright.”

Belle looked a little uncomfortable, but she continued, “I'm having a little bit of trouble on the lesson the professor went over today—would you mind very much helping me?”

I was stunned. Belle Rodman; asking me, Jim Andrews, for help.

“Why sure!” I replied cheerfully. “Just say the word, and I'm at your service. When and where?”

Belle smiled and seemed to relax. “Is 6:30, in the library okay?”

I smiled back. “Absolutely! I'll be there.”

Her smile was radiant now, and she thanked me and walked away, leaving a very surprised young man to contemplate what had just happened. I looked up, and grinned, and then finished eating my hash browns, unable to keep the smile off my face.

From that day on, I saw and talked to and spent time with Belle almost every day. Whether studying together in the library, walking around campus in the rain, or eating meals together—all was as wonderful and thrilling as I'd hoped it to be from the very beginning. The only problem was that I hadn't asked her any kind of question; and I knew that I needed to before graduation.  Graduation was only a week away, and finals were upon us; I needed to act fast. Thursday night, I figured, would be the perfect time to do it, as finals would be over on Thursday and I could pop the question with a clear conscience and no distractions. I lived in practical agony all week and Nick tried gallantly to keep me concentrated on my tests.

“Look, Jim,” he said Thursday morning. “I know of something that's in this last test that'll really help you out in making your proposal...”

“Oh don't give me any of that garbage,” I said, laughing. “You and your suggestions.”

“I beg to differ!” Nick said, sitting upright. “I'll have you know that you have your straight A's thanks to me and my 'garbage'.”

Now I sat up. “Nick, what are you talking about?”

“See here, young man, if I hadn't filled your ears with a lot of nonsense about your classes helping you in catching Belle, there is no way that you would be acing your tests now.”

Suddenly, I realized something that I really should've figured out before.

“Nick, do you mean to tell me that you fabricated all of that mess just to get me to get my grades up?”

Nick grinned and nodded. “I wasn't exactly expecting you to tell Belle her hair was a mess, or for you to blow up the chemistry lab, or to join a girl's singing audition, but hey; whatever works for you.”

“Nick Williams!” I exploded. “Don't tell me that all that nonsense was completely thought up and made up for the benefit of my grades and nothing else!”

“Alright, I won't tell you that,” Nick calmly replied, flipping through a textbook. “But it's the truth.”

I collapsed back on my bed in shock. “I can't believe you did that.”

Nick made a face. “You better be thankful I did. Your grades would've been a sorry mess if I hadn't.”

I sighed. “I know it.”

Nick jumped up from off the bed and pulled his shoes on. “I gotta run,” he said, “but good luck on the proposal tonight!”

“Thanks a lot!” I called after him, and then muttered, “The crazy genius.”

That night, I had asked Belle if she wanted to go for a walk, and she'd readily agreed to it—it was a tradition by now that we went for a walk somewhere on campus nearly every day, when possible. I joined her outside the girl's dorm and we headed out to the more scenic part of campus. It was late afternoon, and warm; the sun was slowly sinking to the horizon as we headed out, and I was trying to think of how to say what I wanted to. We laughed and talked all the way out to the giant maple tree on the edge of the campus and when we got there the sun had sunk even lower. As we stood there, underneath the tree, admiring the beauty of the sunset, I looked at Belle, standing beside me, and she looked up at me. I didn't say anything and neither did she, until I finally said, “Well, the year's almost over.”

Belle nodded, still looking up at me, something like hope in her eyes. “That it is,” she conceded. “What are you planning to do once you graduate?”

I looked back to the horizon and said, “Well, I got a job offer last week which I'm taking, and I've looked into finding a house in the same vicinity.”

Belle's eyes dropped, and she looked out at the horizon now. “I see.” Her voice sounded of keen disappointment, and I suddenly realized why. Finally, I had finally caught her—she was mine for the taking, if I was smart enough to do so. And I was.

“But I'd rather not go alone,” I added, somehow finding her hand with mine.

I heard her gasp just a little and then she turned and looked at me quite as simultaneously and suddenly as I turned to look at her. Finally, after all these months, my tongue was loosed and I told her exactly what I thought of her and how much I loved her. Belle didn't say anything, but just listened to me in rapt attention, and when I had finished and whispered my question, she responded with a “Yes” so soft and quiet I had to bend close to her to hear it. Once I'd heard it though, there was no turning back. I took her in my arms, just as I'd wanted to that first night after the banquet, and gently kissed her cheek. Belle only stayed still in my embrace, but she finally pulled away and looked at me seriously.

“Jim, I need to know something,” she said. I felt a sudden thrill of fear run through me, but I replied calmly, “Yes, dear?”

“Why did you wait so long to talk to me?” Her eyes were serious; her question sincere. My mind began to turn rapidly. I had talked to her—in fact, I had talked to her a lot! At the banquet, in the study hall, in chemistry class, on the stairway...and then I realized that Belle had just been waiting for me to talk to her---not try to win her through some violently romantic means. I felt a little ashamed, but explained as best I could that I'd been trying to get her attention all year long.

“Oh, is that what the one plus one equals one thing was all about?” she asked, the light I'd been hoping for back then suddenly dawning in her eyes. I nodded, somewhat embarrassed.

“And that's why you did that chemistry test in the lab that day...” she added, and here I broke in.

“Yes, that's why, although it wasn't supposed to explode like that.”

“I don't think I really minded much,” she said with a mischievous smile. “It made your French saying to me true.”

My face turned red. “I really didn't think you'd understand that,” I said.

Belle looked perplexed. “Then why did you say it?” she asked, confused.

I grinned. “Oh, never mind. It was just a strange persuasion.”

Belle looked satisfied and leaned her head forward against my shoulder and as I held her, I started to hum the tune to a song that both of us had heard before.

Belle looked up at me as I hummed the song, and suddenly, realization sprang to every feature of her face as she recognized the tune and recalled the other lyrics, and remembered where she had heard them before. As I finished humming, she said in a choked, half laughing, nearly crying, way, “Don't tell me that you did that for me...”

I smiled and tilted her head up so I could look her in the eyes. “Belle, everything crazy I've done in the last year I've done for you.”

With a happy little cry, she threw her arms up around my neck and I held her close and then sang softly, “I dreamed a dream of you and I...when we were young and life worth living.. I dreamed our love would never die... I dreamed that me you had forgiven....”

The End