The premise: A physics professor isn't happy when he learns his sister and her twin daughters have purchased him a date. Will it turn out to be a disaster?
Read part one here.
And now, Part Two! (UNDER THE CUT)
The ice had been broken, but Stan still felt tongue-tied. In the classroom, he’d had no trouble having academic discussions with Cole. Somehow it was different when the man smiled across the table at him. And, he admitted to himself, when he knew Cole was attracted to him. That changed everything. This was a social situation now, a date. Outside his comfort zone. Stan racked his mind for something to say that wouldn’t come across as dull.
His uncertainty must have been obvious. Cole started the conversational ball rolling. “It’s been what, five years? How have you been?”
“I’ve been very well.” Stan took a sip of his wine to moisten his dry throat. “I was granted tenure right after you graduated, and I’ve been doing a great deal of research.” He refrained from going into detail. His sister had scolded him about boring people by talking too much about his work.
Cole’s eyes lit up at that. “I read your article in the Journal of Theoretical Physics. Your theory was fascinating. Have your experiments continued to back it up?”
Surprised, Stan set his wine glass back on the table. Maybe Adrianne’s advice didn’t apply when talking to former physics students. “So far, yes. Dr. Carlson and I are working on a follow-up paper right now.”
“Dr. Carlson was my advisor. Brilliant man, but kind of hard to talk to.”
Stan stifled a smile. He’d been accused of the same many times. Dr. Carlson took the antisocial, scatterbrained physics professor act quite a bit further than he did, though. Even Stan found him difficult to talk to if they weren’t discussing something related to their field, and that was saying something.
The waiter chose that moment to arrive, bearing a basket of breadsticks and a two artfully arranged salads. He placed a plate in front of each of them with a flourish, leaving the breadsticks in the center of the table. “Can I get you gentlemen anything else right now?”
Cole glanced at the table. “Nothing for me, thanks.”
Stan shook his head.
“Your entrees will be out in a few minutes.” The waiter executed a half-bow that somehow managed not to look ridiculous and left them alone again.
The waiter’s appearance had broken the conversational flow. Cole forked up a bite of salad. Stan took another sip of his wine. Realizing he had been rather rude, he asked, “What have you been doing since you graduated?”
“After I got my BS, I decided I wanted to teach. I went for my MA in education. I moved back here a couple of years ago to teach physics and calculus at the high school.” Cole pushed his salad around on his plate and peered up at Stan through his eyelashes as if expecting a negative reaction.
Some physicists did look down on high school teachers, believing they taught because they couldn’t hack it in the research world. Stan didn’t agree. “That’s wonderful. One of my high school teachers got me interested in physics. Maybe you can do the same for your students.”
“That’s what I’m hoping to do. I love watching the kids’ faces light up when they understand a hard concept.” Cole’s own face was animated, alight with enthusiasm. “One of them wanted to start a robotics team and asked me to be the advisor. We went to the state competition. We didn’t win, but they did a phenomenal job.”
Stan couldn’t help smiling. Cole’s enthusiasm was contagious. Not to mention incredibly appealing. “It sounds like you’re a great teacher.”
Cole’s cheeks reddened. He held Stan’s gaze long enough for Stan to see his eyes were dark blue. “I learned from the best.”
Now it was Stan’s turn to blush. He opened his mouth to reply, although he had no idea what he was going to say.
Fortunately, the waiter appeared, saving him from any potentially embarrassing remarks. “Your dinners, sirs.” Cole had ordered the veal scaloppini, and Stan the shellfish risotto. When he set the plate in front of Stan, the waiter murmured, “Mussels are said to have the same effect as oysters. Isn’t that interesting?” Then he winked at Stan.
Stan stared at him.
Cole choked on a bite of his food and coughed.
The waiter, once more solicitous and professional, pulled an extra napkin from his pocket. “Are you all right, sir?”
“Fine,” Cole whispered. He took a large gulp of his water.
Stan knew his face had to be flaming, but he managed a smile for the waiter. “I think that’ll be all we need for now. Thank you.”
“Of course. Enjoy your meal.” The young man winked at him again and walked off, a little swish in his step as if he knew they were both watching him.
Stan looked down at his shellfish risotto. Several large mussels were arranged throughout the dish. The same effect as oysters…More heat flooded his cheeks. What had he been thinking, ordering such a thing? What must Cole be thinking? Was it too late to go hide behind a potted plant or under a table? “Good God.”
A soft chuckle made him look up. Cole looked torn between amusement and astonishment. “Our waiter is something else.”
“Yes.” That was obvious.
“Did he really just wink at you?”
“Yes. Yes, he did.”
They stared at each other for several seconds. Then they both burst out laughing. Sobering, Cole mimicked, “Mussels are said to have the same effect as oysters.”
Stan feigned surprise.
Cole managed to keep a straight face long enough to add, “Isn’t that interesting?”
They lasted about half a second before they started laughing again. A group of four diners seated at the closest table to them gave them disapproving stares. Neither of them cared.
At last, they were able to control their hilarity. Cole picked up his fork and resumed eating. Stan moved his napkin to his lap and prepared to do the same.
Sotto voce, Cole said, “Make sure you eat all those mussels.” The smile he gave Stan was anything but joking.
Stan shivered and reached for his fork.