Holtzmann sat at her prototype work bench with the beginning stages of a multi-use ghost trap scattered in front of her. She was trying to create something they could use on busts that involved more than one ghost so they didn't have to lug multiple ghost traps around. It would save space. And back pain.
Trying to fit multiple psychokinetic energy sinks in the space of a single ghost trap was proving to be tricky, though. Holtzmann knew the solution was there, but it had been eluding her for hours now. She picked up her cup and pulled a swig of soda through the straw for extra brain fuel.
"So what's the deal with you and Erin?"
Patty had sat down at the work bench awhile ago (possibly longer than Holtzmann had been aware of) just to chat and do her grad school reading. Apparently, the background noise of Holtzmann working helped her concentrate. Made sense. The noise helped Holtzmann concentrate too.
Patty's question was kind of out the blue, though. Holtz didn't remember them talking about Erin.
"Why?" She toyed with the straw of her cup. "Is she mad about something?"
"Plotting another prank?"
Patty frowned. "Lord, I hope not. She needs to just stay away from pranks. I still don't know what she was thinking last time."
Holtzmann grinned around her straw. Erin had finally gotten fed up with Holtzmann's pranks and tried to set up a prank of her own out of revenge. Only somewhere her brain had mixed up 'hilarious yet harmless joke' with 'utter insanity' and had almost gotten them all killed. Or would have almost gotten them killed if the prank had been able to play out like it was meant to, but instead the whole scheme fell apart before Erin could even lure them out the door. It had been awesome.
Patty continued. "No, I just meant why you flirt with her all the time? She's not going to notice, or I guess, she's not going to notice that what you're doing is flirting."
"Yeah, I know." Holtzmann put down her cup and picked up her screwdriver: the fun tiny one with the magnetic tip.
"You know?" Patty said. "Then, why you flirting with her?"
Holtzmann tapped the tip of the screwdriver to the center of her goggles. There was a slight resistance everytime she pulled it away. "I need her to like me." Maybe if she used one energy sink and made multiple cells in the trap -- but how to open and close the cells independently?
"Because you like her," Patty said.
Patty nodded. "Yeah, that's what I thought."
Holtzmann stopped her screwdriver tapping and lowered her hand away from her goggles. Patty had a tone in her voice. Holtz didn't understand what kind of tone it was, but she knew it wasn't a normal tone.
"Erin is important to Abby," she tried explaining further. "So I need Erin to like me."
Patty looked confused. "I'm sorry, how are those two things connected?"
How were they not connected? Holtzmann wouldn't have thought that needed an explanation. "Abby's my friend, my only friend for a long time. And Erin and Abby are...." She tapped her hands against the work bench, trying to come up with an alternative way to say important.
"They're...." Holtzmann waved her hands in the air and unintentionally jabbed her forehead with the screwdriver. "Erin and Abby are Erin and Abby."
They were best friends before Holtzmann and Abby had been best friends. They had grown up together and had figured out all those equations and theories about the barrier and attracting ghosts (and had published them in a book that had nearly destroyed the world in an apocalypse so that was kind of a major thing). Erin and Abby were Erin and Abby which meant for Holtzmann and Abby to still be Holtzmann and Abby now, Erin needed to like Holtzmann. It wasn't a complicated formula to work out. It was basic foiling.
Patty's eyes widened. "Wait, are you saying there's something between those two?" Holtzmann raised an eyebrow while Patty shook her head. "Didn't expect that one. I thought Erin was straight."
Holtzmann raised both eyebrows. "Straight?"
"I thought she liked men," Patty clarified.
Now, Holtzmann scrunched her nose up. "Only?"
"Never mind," Patty said. "It's none of my business what they get up to. I guess I'm still confused why you're flirting with Erin, though, if she's with Abby."
She was still confused about this? "Because I like Abby, she's important to me."
"So... you're trying to make Abby jealous or something?"
Her confusion must have showed up accurately on her face, because Patty shook her head and rambled on. "I was just wondering, I don't know. I want to make sure I'm not gonna have to deal with any relationship drama or love triangles or any of that. Or hell, being a fourth wheel to some polyamorous arrangement. I don't want that either."
Holtzmann's confusion deepened. "Abby and Erin are together. Unless Erin is straight. I'm no longer clear about that."
"And if she is straight, you'd want to be with Abby?" Patty asked.
Holtzmann didn't know how to answer that, because she didn't entirely understand the question. She reached out for her Pringles can and popped a chip in her mouth. Pringles were easier to understand. The same equation could be applied to every chip to measure its curve, plus they were fracking delicious.
She settled for answering the part she did understand. "I operate under the assumption that heterosexuality is a myth."
Patty shrugged her shoulders. "It doesn't matter. It's none of my business." She stood up from the work bench which surprised Holtzmann. Then, she gathered her textbooks and flashed a smile. "I think I'll head downstairs and check in with the others. Make sure you come up for air soon, okay Holtz?"
Holtzmann felt like she'd been sliced through the middle.
"What?" Patty stopped mid-turn and looked back.
Holtzmann took a breath. "You call me Holtzy."
"But you just called me Holtz."
"Yeah, I did." Patty shifted on her feet and looked away. She matched the body language Holtzmann had memorized as 'uncomfortable'. Holtz continued to stare, though, until she got an answer.
"I guess," Patty said, "I was just up here to find out if you liked Erin cause I've kind of been liking you and didn't want to step into anything. And you do. Or you like Abby, I don't know. It's fine."
Holtzmann absentmindedly picked up another chip from her tube of Pringles. "Like as in romantically like a crush?"
"Yeah, like a crush."
The chip didn't make it all the way to her mouth.
"Like I said, it's fine," Patty rushed on. "I just wanted to know what was going on, and now I do. We're good."
She started to leave again and Holtzmann called out, "Wait!"
Patty waited and turned around.
Holtzmann sucked in a breath and carefully held eye contact with one of Patty's eyebrows. "Patty, would you like to go on a date with me?"
By some miracle, her voice had remained steady through the question, and she exhaled in relief.
"Are you for real asking me out after you just got done telling me how you liked two other people?"
Holtzmann frowned. She'd done this wrong somehow, but where was the error? "I like you, too. In a crush way. I want -- I'd like to go on a date with you."
Patty stared for a moment, and then a slow smile broke across her face. "Yeah, okay, we'll go on a date, then."
Holtzmann's heart started to race.
"We can do dinner on our own tonight, how does that sound?"
Holtzmann managed to nod, and Patty's smile grew.
"Okay, then. I'll find you later tonight," Patty said. "For our date. And I know how you are when you try and pick out a restaurant, so I'll take care of everything, okay?" She winked. "Just dress like you, baby, and don't worry about a thing."
The combination of the wink and the baby made Holtzmann's stomach swoosh, and she bit down on her straw still dangling near her mouth. The straw was a chip, and crumbs went everywhere.
Still smiling, Patty turned and finally left the lab. Holtzmann spun a slow circle on her stool, letting her brain catch up to the tingling in her veins.
She was going on a date. With Patty. She had a date with Patty.