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The Theory of Balance

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Mac checked his watch again. He wasn’t worried yet, not really. However it was unlike Jack to invite him somewhere and then be late himself. Especially lunch at his favorite restaurant. There was no way Jack would miss a chance of eating one of the Grill’s famous burgers without very good reason. 

As he stacked his silverware into a tower that could balance his water glass and looked for other things within reach to add to the tower he wondered also if the reason Jack enjoyed coming here was because the tables were covered in paper and crayons were provided on each one. 

The outdoor patio was packed, as expected during a lunch rush, but one table over a hushed conversation caught his attention. It was between a waitress and a girl who he’d been watching for some time now. She’d been there when he arrived but hadn’t ordered anything yet, sipping ice water and watching the door to the main part of the restaurant with nervous expectation ever since he sat down. Every time the waitress came by she’d waved her away with a smile and every time the waitress left her table she’d sighed, the sighs getting less hopeful each time. 

He’d noticed her because her outfit seemed like it would be more appropriate for a magician's assistant at a children’s birthday party rather than a lunch at a nice restaurant, but he’d kept watching her because of her drawing. She’d picked up the crayons very early on and had a beautifully detailed mural going on her side of the table. Some of the trees had grown out onto the other side, where her mysterious partner would be sitting, but somehow Mac figured they wouldn’t mind. Not because they would see it and appreciate it, but because it seemed like they weren’t coming at all. 

Shelby, Jack’s favorite waitress at this particular establishment, was standing next to the girl with an empathetic but firm look. “I’m so sorry ma’am, but we do need the table if you’re not going to order anything.” 

Another sigh came from the girl and she set down the crayon she was holding. “I understand, it’s okay.” 

As the girl situated herself to leave, Mac’s phone buzzed on the table. A text from Jack read, “Sorry, something came up. Helping a neighbor move something. Rain check?”  

“Is she cute at least?” Mac texted back in record time, standing just as the girl next to him reached for her purse. “Excuse me, it seems I may have been stood up and… well I hate eating alone. Would you mind if I joined you? I know it seems forward but, I’ve been admiring your artwork and you seem like you’d make great company.” 

The girl looked up and over at him, her eyes widening a little. She was obviously a bit startled but as she paused and set her purse back down he took that as a win. “I… yes, thank you.” 

Shelby sent a grateful smile in Mac’s direction before coming and moving his water glass carefully from the tower he’d created for it and swapping it out for the empty one at the new table. “You want the usual Mac?” She asked, bringing out her memo pad as he sat down in the new chair. 

“Yes, please.” He smiled at the girl across from him, which she returned with renewed warmth. 

“And for you, ma’am?” 

As she explained her order to Shelby, his phone buzzed. Jack again. “Cuter than you.” He chuckled, and as he looked back up the waitress was gone and the girl was watching him with a hesitant smile. 

“Your name is Mac?” She asked. 

He shrugged, teasing as he leaned forward on the table a bit, “That’s my preference, my full name gets me beaten up on the playground.” 

She laughed brightly, a curl of red hair falling out of her loose bun and into her eyes. “It can’t be worse than mine.” She replied as she brushed it back. 

“What’s yours?” 

“Oh no, I asked you first.” 

“Fair Enough…” He took a deep breath and put on his most serious face. “Angus. Angus MacGyver.” 

She grimaced. “Actually, I think you really do have me beat. At least I’ve never been compared to a burger special.” 

Oh, Jack would like her. “Your turn.” 

“Avonlea Whittaker. Most people call me Anne.” She laughed again, her nose scrunching up. “I don’t know what my parents were thinking.” 

Mac’s mouth quirked into a smile. “I think it’s nice.” 

Avonlea pursed her lips as if she was trying not to smile back, but her eyes were sparkling. “Thank you.” She paused and then looked down at her hands where they were settled on top of her crayon mural. “Really though, thank you. You didn’t have to come to my rescue like that. I’m glad you did though.” 

“I am too.” Mac unrolled his silverware and started to balance it on top of his cup absentmindedly. “So, who is the jerk that stood you up anyway?” 

“Blind date.” She shook her head, “So honestly I don’t even know who they are. They probably took one look at me and decided I was a bit too ‘magic school bus’ and left without saying anything…” Avonlea shrugged, her tone surprisingly accepting. “I mean, I don’t blame them… I came from work and I may or may not be way too into my job.”

“Your job being…?”

“Elementary school teacher.” She said, laughing as she pointed out her planet print skirt and sparkly sweater. “Would have thought that was fairly obvious.”

“I was shooting for magician’s assistant, but honestly elementary teacher sounds way better.” He was starting to get hooked on the way she smiled at him every time he spoke. World’s most genuinely sweet human. Right here. He almost found himself wanting to hunt down the guy who almost ruined her day by ghosting her, but instead just turned his attention back to her as she asked him a question. 

“Does your job have something to do with engineering?” She was asking, watching him balance more and more silverware, toothpicks, and crayons into a gravity-defying tower. 

He stopped for a second and looked up at her then back to his tower. “Sort of I guess… I just really enjoy doing things with my hands. I like being able to create something new out of other things that are unexpected. I’m just good at it.” 

“How are you doing that anyway?” She asked as she bent over to look at the tower from another angle, “It seems illogically sturdy.” 

“Well you see, The balance of an object has everything to do with the distribution of mass in the object. The center of mass, or barycenter, of an object is a point where-” He cut himself off out of habit, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand in embarrassment “-Ah, you probably don’t want to hear the science behind it.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Avonlea tilted her head, watching him with such genuine interest that he felt his heart skip a beat, “Please, go ahead.”

“Really?”

“Of course.” She shook her head, chuckling. “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to learn.” 

Mac could feel himself beaming at her like she was some sort of intricate equation he’d just managed to solve. He launched into a detailed explanation of how he was able to balance just about anything using laws of physics and the center of mass on an object without any further hesitation. His companion remained riveted the entire time, only interjecting every so often to make thoughtful observations or ask an appropriate question. He barely even noticed as their meals were delivered to the table, though he did stop mid-thought to take a bite of his burger before continuing to make the tower higher. 

By the time he was done Avonlea had finished her salad and he’d only made it halfway through his entree. He looked down at his plate and then at hers and back up to her smiling face with an embarrassed grin. “Ah, sorry, I’ve been talking a lot.”

“You don’t have to apologize, I’m really enjoying myself.” She replied, her tone sincere. “Do people often cut you off when you’re explaining something?” 

Well usually it’s just because it’s faster to let me do my thing and they don’t want to die but… 

“Yeah… I mean, I know I have the tendency to make people feel dumb, but I don’t mean it to come off that way.”  He said as he took another bite of his food, watching her as if waiting for confirmation. 

Avonlea laughed, shaking her head as she played with the straw in her water. “I didn’t feel that way at all… I mean, sure you’re definitely smarter than I am when it comes to science and math, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still smart in my own right. You just know a lot of stuff.”

“Exactly!” Mac flung his hands out in relief. “Yes, that’s… exactly.” 

His shoulders relaxed completely as he watched her smile at him. She was just so warm and inviting. She made him feel like he could easily spend the whole afternoon here talking to her. He opened his mouth to say as much when his phone buzzed in his pocket. This time it was Matty. 

“Is something wrong?” Avonlea asked a few moments after his face fell. 

“Yeah… I mean no!” Mac said, absentmindedly at first before his head jerked up and he ran a hand through his hair. “I mean… yeah, it’s work, I’ve gotta go.” He flagged Shelby down and asked for the bill, “My treat, it’s the least I can do after your date ruined everything.” 

“Oh, thank you but…” Avonlea bit her lip slightly and her cheeks turned pink behind her freckles, “Actually I think they made the whole thing better.” She smiled at Mac, her eyes searching his. 

She’s been enjoying this just as much as I have. Mac thought in relief. He smiled back, “Yeah, I guess they did.” 

“Here…” She pulled a sticky note in the shape of a cactus out of her purse and wrote something on it before handing it across the table to him, “My number. In case you ever need someone to rant sciency things at.” 

He chuckled, taking it and smiling at her handwriting before standing and nodding at her, “Prepare yourself to be called often then.” 

“The pleasure would be mine.” She grinned up at him, standing as well. 

Mac wanted to say something more, something smoother. Maybe ask her on another date, as crazy as that sounded with what he did for work. His phone buzzed again and he groaned, “I really have to go, but I’ll text you, I will.” He grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair and waved as he walked away, his eyes so focused on her that he nearly ran into the doorframe of the restaurant entrance. 

“I look forward to it!” She called after him, waving back and hiding a laugh behind her hands as he almost tripped. 

He had her number programmed into his phone before he even got to his car.

 


 

“What are you doing?” Samantha Cage asked in confusion as she walked into the lab to find Riley, Jack, and Bozer all huddled around a computer monitor together. 

Jack waved a hand at her “Shhhhh, it’s going so well, we’re trying to watch.” 

“You do realize there’s no sound, only video, right?” Riley asked, rolling her eyes at him, “We can talk.” 

Bozer turned and just smiled and shrugged at Cage, not making a sound. 

“This is a moment we are all gonna remember for the rest of our lives,” Jack was saying adamantly, “I’m not gonna miss a second of it, ‘specially as I’m the one who made it happen okay?” 

“What did you make happen?” Cage asked, ignoring his plea for silence. 

“He set Mac up on a blind date…” Riley said. 

“... except Mac doesn’t know.” Bozer finished. 

“Shhhhhhhhh.” Jack smacked them both on the side of their arms. 

Samantha moved closer so she could get a better look at the monitor and saw security camera footage playing of Mac and a redheaded girl eating together on a patio. “Is that The Grill?” She asked, trying not to focus on the way Mac was smiling and gesturing in excitement as he built a tower out of silverware. 

“Yeah, I told Mac to meet me there for lunch, but then I cancelled.” 

“I’m ashamed to admit that I helped him get her there by making a fake account on an online dating website, inviting her there at the same time, and standing her up.” Riley says with pursed lips, looking annoyed with even herself. 

“Wait, Jack, you know this girl?” The tone Cage used was obvious even to Jack. 

“I met her at a special showing of the entire Die Hard series last week.” He raised a finger at her, “Now before you go on and say she’s not Mac’s type, I knew that already. I know he usually dates athletic bimbos, or super secret spy girls that betray him-”

“TOO SOON.” Both Riley and Bozer shouted in unison, not slowing Jack down in the slightest.

“- But this girl is cute as a button, sweeter than pie, and she’s witty to boot. I think she could really do Mac some good and it’s about time my boy had a romantic interest of some sort.” 

Samantha stayed quiet, watching the screen again. 

Riley looked from the screen then back to her, her face blossoming with some sort of secret realization. When Cage met her eyes though she looked away, embarrassed. 

“What, aw naw why’s he leavin?” Jack motioned at the screen in disappointment as all their phones went off at the same time. “It was goin’ so well!” 

“Matty, war room, now.” Riley held up her phone for him to see and shut off the feed before standing and leaving the room. 

Jack followed behind, muttering to himself, “I sure hope that boy at least asked her out again. I’ll kick his ass I swear…”