The summer between my junior and senior year in high school, I attended a six-week NSF program at San Diego State University. Fifty chemistry students and fifty math students from around the country attended this pre-college summer session. We lived in the dorms, the girls on one end of the campus, the boys on the other end.
We had a seven o'clock curfew. The boys didn't. At night, they would come over to our dorm to hang out in the rec room until nine o'clock, when the Resident Assistant booted them from the building. There was a television set in the far corner of the room, but we played ping pong, trading places at the single table. This is where I fell for a guy in the chem program.
He was smart. Funny. And a very good ping pong player. I was better, thanks to years of playing against the skills of my father. Night after night he returned and waited for his chance to play me. The "ping pong protocol" had evolved into a simple procedure: The winner played the next person in line. Since none of the other girls wanted to play (they spent their time chatting up and flirting with the guy of their choice) I played most of the evening, until I begged off to go upstairs and do homework.
By the second week, John would arrive around seven and wait his turn to challenge me. Once I beat him, we'd walk around in the courtyard and talk to each other. A few times I arranged to sign out with him as my escort. I had to check in with the RA when I returned by nine. We went to the weekly amphitheater screenings of movies that were no longer in the theaters, along with the regular college students who were attending the university summer session.
By the fourth week, John and I were "an item." The frat guys were coming over to play ping pong with "the high school girl." I remained undefeated, and a lot of money changed hands...I think.
By the fifth week I was tired of the homework and the difficult level of the classes. I much preferred helping the chemistry girls across the hall with their labs. There were only fourteen girls between the two programs. That gave us our pick of eight-six mostly nerdy guys.
But John played varsity football. He was the captain of his high school's debate team. And he certainly didn't look—or act—like a nerd.
During our last week, we both felt the tension. We lived over five hundred miles apart. We'd probably never see each other again. He took me out for an ice cream cone. As we talked about what we expected from our senior years and what colleges we hoped to attend, he looked at me and said, "You're not a normal girl."
Did he think I was...weird?
I bit out the words, "What. Do. You. Mean?"
At that point he knew he was in trouble. If he'd been trying to break up with me, it was the perfect line. But his face told me he wasn't being mean.
Somewhat mollified, I considered that I'd never felt like I fit in with other girls. I didn't like to gossip; I didn't like to talk on the phone for hours. I didn't like to flirt or manipulate guys. I knew what I wanted as an adult, and I was determined to have that life.
John sat on the bench we were sharing and looked at me while I processed what he'd said and what I thought about it. When I took a deep breath, he rushed out, "It was a compliment. I meant it as a compliment."
I smiled. "I know. Thank you."
I saw him twice my senior year and we exchanged a few letters during our freshman year at college. I haven't heard from him since. But the compliment helped me during the rough times in college, when I was the only female in upper division math classes. It helped me when I became the first female secondary math department chair.
And it probably saved my future husband from a black eye when I asked him why he wanted to marry me. His answer? "Because you're not a normal woman."
Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong. She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard, putting the finishing touches on P.R.I.S.M. Book Two.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.
When she’s not hanging out at YA Outside the Lines, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen