"I’M WITH CUPID"
Johnny B hurried down the hall to H.I.T. lab. When the boys from the lab called him for an emergency “only he could handle” he knew to get there fast – on Valentine’s Day or not.
He jogged past Miss Nance’s desk which was so full of pink and white balloons, all sporting secret admirer tags, that she was completely hidden behind them. All he heard was a “Good morning, Mr. Bukowski” as he passed and pushed open the lab doors.
He stepped inside and looked around, expecting to see some sparking mass of scientific equipment on the verge of giving the basement a skylight.
Only… everything looked completely normal.
Well, normal for H.I.T. standards; he wasn’t sure why there was a Flock of Seagulls album being dunked in a fish tank by a volunteer wearing a scuba helmet, but he wasn’t going to go over and find out.
Billy and El were standing together working on an experiment of some kind involving a radio antenna, a table full of electronics, and an egg of Silly Putty.
“Hey, what’s the ‘emergency’?” Johnny B asked, walking toward his two friends in lab coats. He didn’t like being pulled from practice for no good reason…
As soon as Billy saw Johnny B he dropped what he doing.
“B-Man!” Billy exulted, stepping around the strewn table and over to Johnny B. “The B-Meister. The Fonz of the Modern Day. The Duuude of Coooool.”
Johnny B gave El a long-suffering look. They both knew Billy’s buttering up. El just shrugged and went back to the experiment. Billy put his arm around Johnny B’s shoulders and pulled him in conspiratorially.
“Can I ask you some advice?”
“Sure,” Johnny B replied, using one word to say ‘You can ask all you want, friend, but I give no guarantee I’ll answer until I find out what this is all about.’
“What do you give a girl for Valentine’s Day?” If Billy had been wearing a tuxedo, he’d have been described as a nervous groom.
Johnny B considered for a moment. “What should you get Jane for Valentine’s?” Why beat around the bush?
“Well, maybe…” Which meant ‘Yes.’
“Why ask me?”
“Are you kidding me? I mean, c’mon. You’re—you’re ‘Mr. Cool’ in leather and jeans. You’ve got the smooth groove going on. You’ve got girls falling at your feet.” Billy paused. “And besides, I’ve already asked everyone at work.”
Johnny B thought about all the girls in his past. In his past. “Yaknow, getting the girl and keeping the girl are two different things.” He continued when it looked like Billy was going to interrupt. “You’ve kept the girl, Hayes. You and Jane have something. She likes you, even in your condition,” Johnny B ended with a smirk.
Billy started at that. “My condition? What do you mean, my ‘condition’? Yaknow, not everyone can—”
Johnny B held up a hand. “Hey, I just meant it as an observation; I wasn’t trying to be mean. My point is: You and Jane really have something. So why not be yourself? It’s been working.”
“I dunno…” Billy said, unconvinced. He dragged his toe on the tile, thinking.
“Why not give the typical Valentine gifts?” Johnny B offered. He really did want to see Billy's predicament favorably solved. If just so Billy didn’t go around looking like a Pound Puppy.
Billy waved his hands in front of him like he was pushing away a proffered gift. “Chocolates? No way! Jane already thinks she’s fat. And, and, and—flowers? I don’t even know what her favorite kind are. I mean, I don’t wanna give her ones she’s gotten before and hates, yaknow.”
“Ask Gloria,” Johnny B said wisely. “I’m sure they’ve talked about it. She’d know.”
“Yeah right,” Billy rolled his head. “Like that would work. You know Glo – she’s young, she’s romantic – she’d probably have me down on my knee pro—she’s walking in the lab,” Billy finished, shutting up quickly.
Johnny B turned around and saw Gloria enter the lab. Jane was right behind her. Gloria had a bounce to her step; Jane was not so exuberant. Gloria stepped aside, with a smile on her face, leaving Jane in the open, with the floor so to speak.
“Hayes,” Jane began. “These are for you.” She stepped forward before she changed her mind and placed a bright-red, ribbon-sealed box of chocolates in Billy’s hands.
Billy stared in shock. “Wha-wha—What are these?”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, silly” Jane said instead of answering.
“But, but, I was going to…”
“It’s the 80’s, Hayes, the woman can take the lead,” Jane said pointedly, preventing Billy from putting his foot in his mouth.
Billy smiled; he liked it when Jane got righteous. He pulled the ribbon off the heart-shaped box, opened it, and pulled out one of little chocolatey clusters. “Nutty Buddies! My fave! How did you—”
Jane smiled, pleased, and Gloria beamed. Johnny B and El joined in the smiling, too. Johnny B playfully elbowed Gloria, with a smirk that said ‘I guess TK isn’t your only power.’ Gloria’s smiled broadened.
“Wow, thanks!” Billy gushed to Jane. He put his arm around her and gave her a ‘thank you’ peck on the cheek.
“You’re welcome,” Jane replied.
“No, really, thank you,” Billy said, meaning for more than the chocolates. He put his other arm around her and gave her a proper hug. His hand found its way to her belly and her baby bump and he pulled back. “Wait.”
Billy glanced at Johnny B. ‘Be yourself,’ huh? “Wait, I got something for you, too,” he told Jane.
Billy turned to a storage pile and began digging around. “I have it here somewhere.” He dug through a stack of overdue reports, searching. “I know it’s here, just a sec.” He lifted an old paper plate that probably could have been identified as having been used for lunch had it been analyzed fifteen days ago and pushed to the bottom of the stack. He finally pulled out what he was looking for.
Billy turned toward Jane and held up a tiny Misfits of Science tank top. The white shirt with pink and black lettering had been shrunk down to the size of an infant onesie.
Jane stared at it and put her hand to her mouth, tears forming in her eyes. “Oh, Billy,” she whispered. He accepted her. He accepted her past, and her mistakes. And he was willing to love her. He was willing to love both of them. And she had to admit that, even through all of his Billy-ness, Billy was the sweetest guy she had ever known.
“I kinda put it in the thermo-infuser instead of the dryer,” Billy said in an attempt to diffuse the moment. “So I thought, ‘Hey, this would be great for—yaknow.’”
“Oh, Billy,” Jane repeated. She threw her arms around him and they embraced. Billy gave her more than a peck this time.
El laughed and gave the couple happy applause. Johnny B swept Gloria up in a ‘Way to go!’ electro-twister hug. Gloria looked even more happy than before and watched Billy and Jane.
It was at that moment that Dick Stetmeyer walked in the lab. His eyes went right to his head research scientist. Right to the position his head research scientist was in. A position that would make Cary Grant jealous. Although right now he'd rather it were Cary Grant – he wasn't on company time. “What is the meaning—?!
Before he could finish, El grabbed him by the shoulders and steered him into a tight U-turn, right back toward the door. “It’s for an experiment,” El excused, guiding Stetmeyer out.
Love was an experiment. One that the world could use a lot more data collection on.