Stuart texted Neha a few days after they left the Google campus. He said that he missed everybody and looked forward to them all working together again.
I miss you, too she texted back.
I didn’t say I missed you specifically, btw. I miss everybody. Don’t go getting a big head.
Neha pictured Stuart’s face as he wrote the text and sent it. Had that come from anyone else, she’d have wanted to find him and punch him. But she’d grown familiar with Stuart’s smirk and sense of humor.
Wait, this is Stuart? Ohhhh, I thought I was talking to Lyle
Ha. Oh, ha.
He texted again a few days later, just to see what she was up to. They soon fell into a pattern of texting random things about their day, funny things they saw or heard, or photos. Stuart texted her pictures of whatever he was eating, held up next to his face with an expression that spoke volumes about the food. Raised eyebrows and an open mouth next to a huge ice cream cone. A frown next to a spear of broccoli on a fork. Big, frightened eyes and lip chewing next to a gummy bear that was easily the size of his face.
Won it in a contest, guess how many gummy bears in the jar. It’s obscene, isn’t it?
You would know.
OH MY GOD
One month after they parted ways at Google, Stuart asked if he could come see her. They’d exchanged hundreds of texts and had even talked on the phone a few times. She’d heard in detail how his roommate had been sick for two days after getting drunk and eating most of the baby-sized gummy bear. Too much detail, really.
They’d never really hugged over the summer, maybe a high-five or an enthusiastic look. Stuart didn’t seem to be a hugger. He hugged his phone, and he’d dropped the physical walls at the strip club and gotten close to some of the dancers there, but sober Stuart wasn’t touchy-feely.
When he loped toward her across the grass, backpack on, familiar beanie on his head, Neha held her hand up for a fist bump. Stuart bumped it, but then pulled her into a quick hug. Sort of a bro hug--hand patting the back, bodies not pressed too close. But it was a hug.
“I get hugs now?”
“We’ll be working at Google together. Why not?”
Neha had missed his grin. Once he’d gotten his nose out of his phone, she’d noticed just how cute it was.
They walked together to the main coffee shop on campus, and caught up. Then they talked about their interests, their friends, families, their lives, in a way they hadn’t over the summer. Each shared things neither knew about the other, and it felt completely natural.
Stuart’s phone lay on the table the whole time, and when she looked around the room or someone stopped to say hi, Stuart picked it up and thumbed it furiously. He wasn’t umbilically attached to it like he had been before, but it seemed he had to have regular hits.
As they walked out of the coffee shop, someone waved at Neha. When she turned back, Stuart was finishing his text. She swiped the phone out of his hand. “What are you so busy doing on this thing all the time?”
Stuart grabbed for it. “Hey! Now, that’s . . . that’s a violation.” He tried to reach around her from each side, but she was smaller and faster, and spun out of his grasp. “That’s private . . . personal . . . personal stuff!”
It wasn’t easy to read while spinning and evading Stuart, but Neha managed. “Oh my god, your friend Reg actually uses the word adorbs? Just in texting, or does he say it in real life?” Neha giggled and held tight to the phone, even though Stuart had his arms around her from behind and had managed to get a firm grip on it.
“Oh,” she breathed. “You . . . oh.” Stuart had snapped a picture of her in the coffee shop when she was smiling, talking to a friend, and sent it to his friend, saying isn’t she gorgeous? Reg had agreed and said she was “adorbs.”
“Thiiiis is embarrassing. Humiliating, even.” Stuart pulled the phone away and shoved it into his pocket. “I’m not a stalker or anything, really.”
“I didn’t think you were.” Neha beamed at him. She could feel it in the way her cheeks felt like they might explode. Stuart thought she was gorgeous.
“So, gorgeous, huh?”
Stuart shrugged, but looked all around Neha, never quite meeting her eyes. “I think so, yeah.” He pulled his beanie off and ran his fingers through his hair, which only made it messier.
“What about the girls at the strip club. I mean, you looked like a bobble-head doll, and pole dancing and all aaaaannngngngggg with your tongue hanging out.” She did an imitation of him when he’d been at his drunkest and most let me grind against something oh my god moment of the night.
“What about that? Did I do that? No.” His normally pale cheeks were the cutest shade of pink. He pushed his glasses up, and her heart did not just flutter. Seriously.
“You did. And maybe I’m gorgeous because I’m the only girl in the group, and you’re not all that experienced with girls, hence your testosterone explosion at the club. Maybe you think they’re all gorgeous, too. So it’s not that special a thing for you to say.”
“Why did I come here?” Stuart threw his hands out to his sides, but he smiled. “Why did I bother?”
“Maybe I’m the only girl you’ve really talked to lately that isn’t on the other end of a cell phone connection.”
He pointed at her. “Okay, that much is true. But I think you’re gorgeous because you are, not because you’re the only pretty girl I know. You’re just . . . the prettiest, and the smartest. And the club, pffft.” He waved a hand in the air. “They’re selling sex. That’s not gorgeous, it’s just . . . sex. Totally different. Plus, tequila. I should get a pass because of that alone.”
He looked down at his feet and shifted his weight from foot to foot. “So you don’t think it was creepy of me to send your picture to my friend?”
“Is he creepy?”
“No.” He squinted at her. “Maybe a little? But not in the way you’re thinking?”
Neha laughed. Had he been quite this cute over the summer? “Okay.”
She nodded and stepped forward, then pressed a quick kiss to his lips. “Okay.”
“Have dinner with me.”
Neha tilted her head from side to side and started walking back toward her dorm. “Hmmm. Dinner. I was going to have dinner at some point anyway, so I guess your presence during the meal would be acceptable. You, though, not Reg or however many friends you might text about how amazing I am?”
“Only a few friends.” They walked a little further. “Are all smart, gorgeous girls wiseacres like you?”
“Wiseacres? Oh my god, have you been borrowing Billy and Nick’s old Encyclopedia Britannicas, or what?”
“No, I looked it up on the line, on the Google.”
They both laughed as they made their way to Neha’s dorm. Stuart waited outside while she changed her shirt, then put his backpack in her closet and finger-combed his hair in front of her mirror.
He grabbed the knob of the top drawer of the small bureau in her room. “Private stuff in here, Nee? Private like in-a-phone private? Hmm?”
Neha reached toward him. “Nnnyes!” Underwear drawer, oh god. And he called me Nee. He feels familiar enough to shorten my name!
Stuart whipped the drawer open, arching an eyebrow at her and shaking his head. Neha stopped a few steps away and put her fingertips over her lips, willing him to not look down.
“Undies,” he said, as he glanced down, then back up quickly all the way to the ceiling, his cheeks gone a little pinker than earlier, which was impressive. Stuart pulled his phone out of his pocket, held it a few inches above the drawer, then dropped it in dramatically. He pushed the drawer closed. “I used to be on my phone all the time to keep from being bored. Now I have something much more interesting to look at it." He gestured at her. "Definitely not boring. And now there's no one for me to text at dinner and tell how gorgeous and smart and snarky and awesome you are.” Stuart held his arm out, like a gentleman wearing a suit about to take a lady to dinner, rather than a college student in worn khakis with a beanie in his pocket.
“No one to tell, except you.”
Neha took his arm with a little bow. They grinned at each other all the way out of her dorm.
“Your phone isn’t sending someone video of my underwear, is it?”
“Oh my god, Neha.” Stuart laughed, stopped walking and turned to face her, hands on her arms. “You’re so paranoid, and smart-assed, and . . . kind of perfect.” He kissed her. As they walked on, she patted her pocket for her phone. If he used the bathroom at dinner, she had people to text and tell all about just how adorbs he was.