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Cocky Nerd by Kayley Loring (1)

Prologue

JOHN – TWO YEARS AGO

The music of Tchaikovsky has always quickened my blood, but right now it is contributing to the uncontrollable stiff one that is thankfully covered by the bouquet I hold in my lap. Not that anyone else would notice. The audience is too busy being captivated by the crescendo of the booming orchestra, the dreamy backlit gauzy scrim, and the members of the Pittsburgh Ballet who are flying through the air on stage before us, barefoot in leotards and stunning.

I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve attended a professional ballet performance. I went to Olivia’s dance recital when she was twelve, but that was just girls in tutus and an old lady playing the piano in a warm studio. This is grand and breathtaking on every level. A modern choreography of a classical ballet—Swan Lake. Fascinating.

Most of the eyes in this theater are no doubt trained on the prima ballerina, but mine are irrevocably fixed on Olivia. She is in the Corps de Ballet, an “apprentice” it says in the program, but surely I’m not the only one who can see that she is the most beautiful and riveting dancer of the entire company.

She is poetry in motion and I’m a brain that happens to be attached to a body. For years, she has been the woman who invades my brain, reminding me that I have a body, a body that wants hers. Every line of logic has led me to the conclusion that we don’t belong together. Every memory of her curves, of the words from her lips, leads me back to the part of me that is wordless, free of thoughts. In that place I know that I will only ever feel whole if I’m with her.

She doesn’t know I’m here. Her brother definitely doesn’t know I’m here. I didn’t know I would be here until six hours ago, but it’s one of the best spontaneous decisions I’ve ever made.

Now I understand why she decided to devote her life to this.

Now I understand that she’s brilliant.

Now I know that I will do whatever I can to help her achieve her goals.

I’m having a full-body shiver of acknowledgment and joy, like when I realized I actually understood Einstein’s mathematical equation for the theory of general relativity. Just like that elegant equation that describes space-time and how it’s related to matter and energy, this realization connects me to a moment in the future when she’s mine, to the moment in the past when I first admitted to myself that I was attracted to her, while also illuminating everything about my life that matters, the history and expansion of my universe, how and why things have evolved the way they have. Olivia is the sun, and without knowing it, she is telling me how to move.

This is a moment that I’ll remember my whole life, like when I had the idea for my startup.

One day I’ll look back on this moment when I realized that I’m going to marry my best friend’s little sister.

We haven’t seen each other in nearly four years. She probably still thinks of me as an annoying geek. She’s probably in love with someone else. But one day. The gravitational pull goes both ways. Mine will only grow stronger.

Once the applause and my private shameless physiological excitement has subsided, I wait for most of the audience to clear out of the building before taking the lavender bouquet to the interior door with a sign that says To Backstage. There is a polite young gay man with an iPad who’s asking people for their names and checking a list. I’m not on a list. He’ll have to talk to someone on his headset to ask her if it’s okay to send me back. I’ll have to wait around and make small talk with strangers. It may not be worth it.

There’s a leather jacket-clad man in front of me who has long-ish sandy blonde hair. He smells like pot, synthetic musk and artsy-fartsy bullshit. He’s talking to his agent on his cell phone and I can see that he wears an engraved silver ring on his pinky finger. I hate him. He is holding a generic bouquet of red roses.

He tells the man at the door that he’s going back to visit with several people that he knows, but the roses are for Olivia Montgomery. His name, he says, is Julian Bartlett.

Who the fuck are you, Julian Bartlett?

The door guy’s eyes light up. Christ, this guy must be somebody important in the ballet world. I guess that’s a thing.

“Oh of course, Mr. Bartlett, I’m a huge fan of your work. Olivia’s expecting you.”

Good luck with that, buddy. She thinks red roses are a cliché. Her brother would hate you, her entire family would hate you.

“Mmm, those smell wonderful.” The door guy leans in to inhale my lavender bouquet. “Who are you here to see?”

“Um. No one. Can you make sure that Olivia Montgomery gets these?”

“Sure. Is there a card? Will she know who they’re from?”

“No. She’ll have no idea. Just make sure she gets them.”

This changes nothing. I’m only twenty-five. She’s only twenty-one. I’ll wait. I’ll use this time to work more. I’ll get richer. More established. I’ll get better at everything. I’ll get in better shape.

I’ll get in better shape than that guy. He’s probably all skinny with ropey muscles. He probably shaves his whole body and yells out his own name when he comes. Julian. What a bullshit name.

That guy’s nobody. He doesn’t matter. He’s just one of the guys she’s with before me. I’m the guy who knows her. I’m the man she marries. Eventually.

I just hope I don’t fuck things up.