So last week we met Tom's mom and brother as he swung through Austin on his way toward California... and Kate Ramsey. He's at the conference now, and their paths are set to collide soon, but Tom still has to figure out what to do about his family. And part of that involves the infamous father figure.
Don't forget that you can skip forward a few months and read all about Kate and Tom in The Science of Attraction. And please let me know what you think of The Prelude to Attraction as it unfolds!
The Prelude to Attraction (Part 3)
In spite of my preoccupation with all the incoming messages—a near-constant stream of tits and guilt—the conference has been pretty fucking incredible so far. It’s relatively small as these things go, a few hundred people at most, and the program is astounding. The organizers have managed to score a stellar line-up of speakers, and they’ve left plenty of time for discussion, which is where the real science gets done.
I presented my work in a poster session yesterday, so now it’s all about checking out other people’s work, fielding questions from people I didn’t get to talk to during my session, and looking for the next career step.
Poster sessions are kind of fun, if a little exhausting. You basically stand in front of a poster describing all the blood, sweat and tears you’ve shed in the past two or three years, and then spill your guts out to anyone who’ll stop long enough to listen. It’s a little like being a performing monkey.
Thankfully, these things nearly always involve beer, so they’re pretty easy to navigate. I’d been meaning to check out the other posters in my session yesterday, but I was literally inundated with people wanting to hear about my experiments, and when the place cleared out, I was almost too tired to move. I can run ten miles without breaking much of a sweat, but talking science for a couple of hours can seriously waste me away sometimes.
I left the place with a bunch of other students who were heading out in search of burritos and more beer. There were a couple of girls in the group who had started to make flirty eyes at me, which was entertaining for a while at least. But I was bone-tired and couldn’t even fathom following through with a one-night stand.
Same story. Twenty-seven, and already through with casual sex.
I did make the effort at breakfast this morning though. I found the two of them in the hotel restaurant and we shared a table. It turns out the girls both work in L.A., despite one of them being Greek and the other Singaporean. They were still very flirty, oddly almost more so with each other than with me, and something in the back of my head told me that this would have been a serious turn on a couple of years ago. I filed the thought away in case I had a sudden change of heart, and left them to go find a seat in the auditorium.
Saskia’s message showed up halfway through the third session of the day, which really made me wonder why—or where—she was running around topless at five o’clock in the afternoon.
I’m still toying with the idea of responding to it in the middle of the last session of the day, when my phone buzzes again. I brace myself for another nudie pic, and wonder in passing if I shouldn’t just block her texts. Instead, I’m knocked sideways when I see the message from my brother, this one just a little more harsh than the rest.
Don’t be a dick, Tom. Mom’s had enough men fucking her around to last a lifetime. I’ve done my time, now it’s your turn.
And Jesus Christ, I want to smash the screen. It’s not just that Nate’s guilt trip tugs at my own misgivings about leaving my mom alone in Austin. But now he’s comparing me to our dad, which is just about as low a blow as he could possibly inflict.
Here is the long and short of my relationship with my dad: he gives me money, I take it.
I haven’t seen him for more than an hour in five years. I know that sounds callous, but the guy’s a prick and an hour-long lunch date is about as much as I can stomach these days.
My father and his sister inherited my grandparents’ tiny ranch when their mom died some fifteen years ago. I have really fond memories of kicking around up there when Nate and I were kids, but by all other accounts, the place was a shit hole, and barely made enough to pay for the couple of farm hands required to keep it running. Imagine my father’s surprise, then, when he had someone survey the land right before selling it off, and found he was the proud owner of a fucking motherload of oil.
That’s how we went from being moderately well-off during childhood, to being stinking rich all through our teens. And how my dad went from being a fairly nice, if frustrated, family man, to being the world’s largest asshole. He eventually sold his little private accountancy practice, and retired for good, but not before fucking his secretary six ways to Sunday and comprehensively breaking my mom’s heart.
The general feeling now is that she is way better off without him, but it’s taken us all a while to make peace with the new status quo. And so now you see why Nate’s message is making me fume. I’m not my dad, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let him guilt me into thinking I am.
But it’s more than that too. I’m also angry about the fact that he’s completely ignoring my mom’s point of view in this whole thing. Obviously, it’s pretty convenient for me to side with her when she says she doesn’t want me moving back home. But Nate is acting like he alone knows what’s best for everyone. And in doing so, he seems a lot more like my dad than I’ve ever been.
So I’m sitting there in the third row of this auditorium full of scientists, and trying to figure out how to respond to his message. Answering Saskia’s booty call suddenly seems like a much smaller problem.
I don't know you about you, but I'm ready for another piece of the Tom Baker puzzle. When we left him last week, he was moaning about what to do with his life, and how to dodge the very obvious affections of a smitten psych major. (And let's face it, who wouldn't be smitten with the lovely Dr Baker.)
But now it's time to meet big brother Nate…
The Prelude to Attraction (Part 2)
The third problem is closely related to the second, because it involves the endless texts I’ve been getting from my brother, Nate, ever since I stopped in back home on my way to this conference in San Francisco.
Nate and his fiancée Jess live around the corner from my mom’s place, so my visits invariably involve a lot of big brother time. Ordinarily, I fucking love it. Nate and I have always been close, even when he was busy pounding the shit out of me when we were little kids. Seeing him the three or four times a year I make it back to Austin is half the reason I bother going at all.
But this time things were different.
This time, we hadn’t even cracked our beers before Nate was telling me the news about Jess’s new job.
“So we’re moving to New York,” he said out of the blue, as we stepped out into his yard.
“Excuse me?” I said, half-convinced I’d heard him wrong. He rocked back on his heels and smiled thinly.
“Jess landed a job with some kickass firm in the city, so we’re moving there in a month,” he said.
“But what about Mom?” I said, like it was a reflex.
“Yeah, about that,” he started, his expression flattening out. Something told me I didn’t want to hear what was coming next.
“I was thinking you could move back here once you’ve finished studying,” he said. “We’ll be looking to rent out the house anyway. You could move in.”
“And do what?” I said dumbly. A part of me was already numb to the idea.
“I don’t know,” he said. “What you do. There is a university here, you know.”
“I know,” I snapped, regressing about two decades with a single retort.
And I did—I do know it. The department in Austin is pretty goddamn impressive too. But for all my whining about being spoiled for choice, the second I felt Nate narrowing my options down to a single university in a single town, I started to feel an almost visceral longing for all the roads I would otherwise have taken.
“I’ve been thinking about going overseas,” I said quickly, winging it.
“A while,” I lied. “It’s the best thing for my career.” Which is probably true, all things considered.
“Yeah, well, we can’t leave Mom here all by herself.”
There was a snort and a giggle from somewhere inside Nate’s kitchen.
“You most certainly can,” my mom said, appearing suddenly at the door with Jess in tow. “If either of you boys even thinks of changing your life plans to hang around in Texas waiting on me, I will personally see to it that you get the sense slapped into you.”
“Mom,” Nate moaned, moving over to slide an arm around her shoulders. “We just want to make sure that you’re being looked after.”
“I know,” she said, planting a kiss on his cheek. “And you’re very sweet.”
She motioned for me to join them, and pulled me in to her free side when I obliged.
“But also very silly,” she added. “And somewhat overbearing.”
Nate rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“Look,” she said. “Your father and I split up over a decade ago now, and while I’ve really enjoyed having you boys around, I’m sure I can get along just fine without you.”
“Tom needs to go out and see the world,” she added. “And you and Jess do too.”
She looked over at my almost-sister-in-law, who beamed back at us.
“Besides,” she said carefully, “I’ve been thinking about getting into internet dating, and I can’t do that with you cramping my style all the time.”
We both groaned and stepped straight out of our familial embrace.
Mom’s dating history hasn’t exactly been a closed book in the years since she left our dad, but neither Nate nor I like hearing about it. Although we’re both glad that she doesn’t have to endure his particular brand of dickishness anymore, we’d prefer not to know about how she’s now spending her nights.
“Okay, family meeting over,” Nate said. “Let’s get this barbecue happening.”
The rest of the night slid by without any more talk of me moving back home, but Nate caught me by the elbow as we were on our way out.
“I’m serious about this, man,” he said, the context implicit. “I think you should consider it.”
And now here I am, days later, with a phone full of brotherly texts reminding me how far Austin is from the East Coast, and how good a son I would be if I packed up all my dreams and shipped them back to his place.
Of course the real problem is that I’m staring down the barrel of another six months of thesis hell, but don’t even get me started on that.
Here's a little treat for those of you who have read (or want to read) The Science of Attraction. It's a peek inside Tom Baker's head, a year or so before he moves to Germany and sweeps Kate Ramsey off her stilettos. It's a novella in progress and you'll see bits and pieces of the story show up here in the coming weeks. This is the first instalment. Enjoy!
The Prelude to Attraction (Part 1)
I’ve got three problems, and literally zero solutions in sight.
The first should be an easy fix, but it’s proving to be more difficult than I’d anticipated.
Her name is Saskia Harding, and she’s beautiful, smart as a whip— but seriously crazy. Like bat-shit crazy. I hooked up with her at a friend’s party a few months back, and now she won’t stop calling me.
Ordinarily I’d be all for a girl sexting me incessantly. Her propositions seem to get lewder and more outrageous the longer I hold out on her.
And the thing is, we had a lot of fun together that night. Her roommate Lisa and I work in the same lab, and she’d just defended her PhD thesis, so she’d invited all the guys over to celebrate. Saskia’s non-biologist friends had rounded out the party, which was looking like it might otherwise dissolve into nerd territory. Mixing psych and drama majors with a bunch of scientists is evidently not quite as bad an idea as it sounds.
At some point during the course of the evening, Saskia had simply walked up to me, grabbed a fistful of my shirt, and said, “I think it’s time you and I got naked together.”
And that was it. We disappeared into her bedroom and spent the rest of the night there, losing ourselves in a few hours of mindless sex.
But that’s exactly the problem: it’s all about the sex, and somehow that whole scene just doesn’t appeal to me anymore.
I know, right? There must be something wrong with me. I’m twenty-seven and already jaded. It’s almost embarrassing to admit it, but I’m just not into meaningless encounters anymore. Or, to put it more accurately, I don’t mind meaningless encounters, just as long as they happen with a different woman each night. Simulating a relationship when there’s nothing left once the endorphins have settled just leaves me feeling cold.
Saskia texted me an hour ago with a picture of her tits and a message that sounded borderline psychotic.
Tooooooooom (she seriously spelled it like that) the girls miss you. Come home now pwease.
I spent no more than three hours with her ‘girls’ over two months ago. I very much doubt that they even remember me. And yet apparently I’m missed. Saskia was quick to agree that our encounter was nothing more than a bit of dirty fun when we talked about it the week after it happened. But somehow my insistence that it was a one-time thing has fallen on very deaf ears. I must be the worst booty call in history.
So that’s problem number one.
My second predicament is what the hell I’m going to do with myself next year once I’m through with my PhD. The world is my proverbial oyster and it’s scaring the proverbial shit out of me.
My adviser Simon is not being particularly helpful either. I know that he’ll come through for me when I figure out where I do want to go. He knows everyone who’s anyone, and his recommendation, on top of my Harvard stamp of approval, should make getting my first job in research fairly easy. But for some reason Simon is being decidedly quiet on the decision front. He’s not even hinting at where he thinks I should go.
I live in one of the greatest cities in the world to do research in biology, but I can’t just sit around and bounce from lab to lab. I’ll be the first to admit that my research career will only stagnate if I hang out in Cambridge forever. I need to get out—ideally, out of the States—and experience something new, if I’m really going to make a name for myself in biology. Simon managed to score a faculty job at Harvard after studying there, but even he started out with a bunch of years in England right after he finished his thesis.
So I know I need to get out. What I don’t know is where the hell I’m going to go. The options are endless, and entirely overwhelming.
My only consolation is that I’ve actually summoned up the initiative to apply for a fellowship that would at least sort out my funding for the next three years. It’s small solace—and it’s not in the bank yet—but at least it’s a step in the right direction. It would mean I could take the money anywhere in the world, and work with whomever I choose, so long as they have bench space in their lab and a willingness to have me around.
The lovely folks at Inkslinger kicked off my first ever blog tour today. The Science of Attraction will be bouncing around the interwebs for the next week, leaving excerpts, interviews and guest posts in its wake. Please come by and tell me what you think. You can also go into the running to win a gift card and a pair of nerd-glam DNA earrings!
I made a storyboard for The Science of Attraction late last year — a collection of photos that reflected all the images that had been bouncing around in my head while I was writing. I made it long after the book had been written and sent out into the ether, so it wasn’t really a creative device as much as a fun way of revisiting the story and mapping it out. But it was lovely to see the way the action fanned out over the continent, and I’ve resolved to do the same for each book I write, while I write it. Next up is The Music of Temptation, which is due out at the end of March, and involves a tour bus (and thus even more travel).