“Yes. My associates at Newberry, and one of my friends at Preeze Laboratories.”
Jodie didn’t know about Preeze Laboratories, but Newberry was one of the most la-de-da colleges in the United States, and everybody was always bragging about the fact that it was located right here in DuPage County.
“That’s right. Don’t you teach science or something?”
“I’m a physicist. I teach graduate classes in relativistic quantum field theory. I also have special funding through Preeze Labs that lets me investigate top quarks with other physicists.”
“No shit. You must have been a real brain in high school.”
“I didn’t spend much time in high school. I started college when I was fourteen.” One more tear trickled down her cheeks, but, if anything, she sat even straighter.
“Fourteen? Get out of here.”
“By the time I was twenty, I had my Ph.D.” Something inside her seemed to give way. She set her elbows on the table, balled her hands into fists, and propped her forehead on top of them. Her shoulders trembled, but she made no noise, and the sight of this dignified woman coming all unraveled was so pathetic that Jodie couldn’t help feeling sorry for her. She was also curious.
“You got troubles with your boyfriend?”
She kept her head ducked and shook her head. “I don’t have a boyfriend. I did. Dr. Craig Elkhart. We were together for six years.”
So the geek wasn’t a dike. “Long time.”
She lifted her head, and although her cheeks were wet, her jaw had a stubborn set to it. “He just married a twenty-year-old data-entry clerk named Pamela. When he left me, he said, ‘I’m sorry, Jane, but you don’t excite me anymore.’ ”
Considering Dr. J’s, basic uptight personality, Jodie couldn’t exactly blame him, but it had still been a shitty thing to say. “Men are basically assholes.”
“That’s not the worst part.” She clasped her hands together. “The worst part is that we were together for six years, and I don’t miss him.”
“Then what are you so broke up about?” The coffee was done, and she got up to fill their mugs.
“It’s not Craig. I’m just . . . It’s nothing, really. I shouldn’t be going on like this. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“You’re thirty-four years old and somebody gave you a Jiffy Lube gift certificate for your birthday. Anybody would be bummed.”
She shuddered. “This is the same house I grew up in; did you know that? After Dad died, I was going to sell it, but I never got around to it.” Her voice developed a faraway sound, as if she’d forgotten Jodie was there. “I was doing research on ultrarelativistic heavy-ion collisions, and I didn’t want any distractions. Work has always been the center of my life. Until I was thirty, it was enough. But then one birthday followed another.”
“And you finally figured out all that physics stuff isn’t giving you any thrills in bed at night, right?”
She started, almost as if she’d forgotten Jodie was there. Then she shrugged. “It’s not just that. Frankly, I believe sex is overrated.” Uncomfortable, she looked down at her hands. “It’s more a sense of connection.”
“You don’t get much more connected than when you’re burning up the mattress.”
“Yes, well, that’s assuming one burns it up. Personally . . .” She sniffed and stood, slipping the tissues into the pocket of her trousers where they didn’t presume to leave a bump. “When I speak of connection, I’m thinking of something more lasting than sex.”