So these days, unfortunately, a call from my mother triggers mild nausea.
She doesn’t seem to be in the mood for small talk. “What night are you arriving for the party?”
I take a few moments to figure out what she’s referring to, vaguely staring at the still-scrolling chat screen on my computer. Finally: “What?”
“Your birthday,” she says. “I assume we’re celebrating it here?”
“I assumed I’d just have drinks out with friends, or whatever.”
“It may be just a go-out-for-drinks birthday for you, but thirty-two years ago,” my mother says, voice thin with emotion, “I pushed out the most—”
“—beautiful baby boy—”
“It took twenty-seven hours of hard labor,” she reminds me. “You were nine pounds, fourteen ounces! Do you have any idea how big that is? Oh, how I tore.”
I rub my temples. “Thank you for enduring that.”
“So, if you think you’re celebrating this day anywhere but with me?” She pauses, and when I don’t reply she says simply, “Think again.”
“Okay, let me check my calendar.” I minimize the chat window, catching only a gif Millie sent of Kristen Bell pretending her middle finger is a tube of lipstick, and peek at my calendar. “April second is a Monday,” I say.
“Come the weekend before. Bring Chris. And Millie.”
Her words snag the last shred of hope I see to avoid this. “But if I bring Chris and Millie, I have to bring Alex and Ed.” My mom gently tolerates Alex, who, among other things, somehow managed to turn half of her guest towels green, and Ed, whom my mom has accidentally seen naked on three separate occasions.
Mom sighs. “Fine. Just this time, no nude races in the vineyards.”
Exhaling slowly, I give in. “I’ll do what I can, but you know they’re hard to control.”
I think that’s all I’ll have to endure for today, until she says, “Hopefully your father has gotten his head out of his ass by then.”
At a loss, I can manage only an “Oh?”
“I bought new lingerie, but he still—”
My internal organs tangle and the words burst out of me. “Oh, crap, I’m late to a meeting, Mom.”
Untroubled by my abrupt departure, she kisses me through the phone. “Love you, Reidey.”
It wasn’t entirely a lie. I do have a meeting . . . fifteen minutes after I end the call with my mom. Which affords me enough time to hit the coffee kiosk and swing by my lab to grab Ed.
He meets me in the hall, deliberately ignoring my pointed look as I catch him tossing his lab coat over the chair closest to the door.
“Shaylene all set?” I ask.
He nods. “They’re fucking HEK cells, Reid, and Shaylene is super smart. She didn’t really need help.”
She may be “super smart,” but Shaylene is a first-year graduate student in my lab, with minimal hands-on bench work experience under her belt. As someone who claims to aspire to be a career postdoc in my lab, Ed has taken on the role of mentoring the new graduate students. But he sometimes forgets that we aren’t all born knowing molecular biology.
“Besides,” he says, “I’ve got to work on this essay for Millie.”
It takes me a beat to get his meaning. “The dating profile?”
He runs a harried hand through his wild curls. I catch a glimpse of sweat forming right at his hairline. “Yeah.”
“Ed, I think you might be taking this a bit seriously.”
He stops near the water fountain and bends, slurping. Coming up, he swipes at the water running down his chin. “Chris has me all stressed out, man. And look at you guys! What if it’s just me who doesn’t get a date? It’s Chris—Mr. Deep-Voiced Chemist, and you—Mr. Lifeguard-Body Neuro-Geek, and Alex—the hot Latin lover who bangs women in that darkroom every fucking day. Then there’s me. Seth Rogen but Somehow Even Pastier.”
I start to reply that I think he’s actually more Zach Galifianakis but do a double take as we pass the darkroom in question, noting the IN USE sign lit up on the outside. “Wait, what did you say about Alex?”
“Dude, everyone knows that’s where he gets laid, like, all the fucking time.” Ed waves me off and stops me outside the department conference room. “But what if I agreed to this, and you all end up with dates for the banquet, and those dates turn into more, and where does that leave me?”
I have a flash of realization that this really matters to Ed, that deep down, this chubby science nerd really does want to meet someone and build something lasting. But since I don’t think he’d appreciate the condescending vibe of this new awareness of mine, I clap a reassuring hand on his shoulder and go for glib: “You’ll find someone. And if not, you’ve always got Cheetos and Madden NFL 18.”
“Man, fuck you.”
Thankfully, only one other person has arrived already to overhear this. Unfortunately, it’s the neurobiology department chair, Scott Ilian. He looks up, but noting that it’s just Ed, blinks back down to the journal article in front of him. “Gentlemen.”
The faculty meetings are so tedious that even I, an admitted workaholic, often want to slowly bleed myself to death at some point during the back-and-forth. Each week, emeritus professors return to continue to feel valuable—but mostly to hear themselves speak—most often on new department policies they know nothing about and which will not impact their retired lives in the slightest. New faculty want to be seen and heard and will fervently advocate for technology the department has either already considered and rejected, or can’t justify purchasing for use by only one or two labs. There will be a segment where a decision is being made, and everyone generally agrees but needs to make the point themselves, which results in ten people saying the same thing, just mildly rephrased each time.
Forty-five minutes in, and in the depths of the Rephrasing Phase, I take a deep, steadying breath and glance around the room.
Norm McMaster, our oldest faculty member, with ears the size of shoes, is asleep with his chin to his chest. Annika Stark, the department’s only neuroendocrinologist, is staring daggers at her nemesis/fuck buddy, Isaac Helm, who is currently rewording Scott’s point about the need for more stringent admissions criteria. Deborah recently had to kick a student out of her lab for failing classes two terms in a row, and Isaac is clearly just poking the bear, hoping for a fight that may or may not end up as sex later.
Sitting in his normal spot toward the back of the room, Ed is surreptitiously playing Clash of Clans on his phone. My own screen lights up with a text from Alex, sent only to me and the other guys.
Dude, did you guys see what Millie sent?
Chris replies a moment later.
These profiles are good.
I slide my phone onto the table, resisting the urge to check my email right now. Did Millie end up rewriting our dating profiles after all? And if she did mine . . . is that weird? What would she say? My name is Reid Campbell, I’m 31, six foot two, and when I’m not being a workaholic idiot, I enjoy running, manning the barbecue, and having astonishing sex with my best friend?
When I return to my office, I see that, in fact, it’s far, far better than that.
From: Morris, Millie
To: Campbell, Reid
I wrote this because yours came into my head, and then I realized I had to write all of them because I am an enabler and way too nice to all four of you. If you don’t like it, don’t tell me. I just wasted like an hour on these.
I was raised on a vineyard and live near the ocean, yet I know neither how to make wine nor surf. But I do love to be outdoors: hiking, sailing, even hanging on the beach with friends. My travel bucket list is a mile long. I have weekends where I’m kicking back at home, catching up on Netflix, and weekends where I take off on a road trip with friends to find the newest, greatest brewpub. I’ve run a few marathons, but can never resist cookies, or barbecue. I’m probably considered old-fashioned when it comes to dating—I think a first date is dinner, not just drinks—but I was raised by a woman who thinks a man needs to take his time and earn respect, and I agree. I absolutely love what I do for work, but am looking for someone to help me find adventure elsewhere, too. If you think we might be a good fit, I’d love to hear from you.