There are so many fragile things, after all.
People break so easily,
And so do dreams and hearts.
~Neil Gaiman "Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonderings"
There were few things in his life Cornelius Robinson could never see himself doing. After all, he was an opened minded, experimental, laid-back, free-thinking, new age kind of 'geek.' He lived for the thrill of the discovery, and at an early age had set forth a personal goal to never close himself off to anything that might merit even one iota of possibility. He would do anything for even the chance of a discovery- no matter how painful the experience might be. He liked to think he had stomached the sushi his mother had brought home that one time with good natured humor. He had bravely dared the three day long camping/fly-fishing expedition that his father and Uncle Joe had so expertly planed. He had even tagged along (at his friend Michael Yagoobian bequest) to a day long baseball seminar and training camp- an event that culminated in a black eye, twisted ankle and a trip to a nurses office- apologizing all the while.
Yes, Cornelius Robinson was quite proud of the fact that his list of unimaginable things could probably fit on a simple half sheet of standard notebook paper, double spaced. However- wherever in existence this hypothetical list now lay, nestled right between his fear of sky diving and his inability to eat anything that could still 'look back' at him from a dish now stood one substantial broken treatise.
Until very recently, Cornelius L. Robinson could never imagine himself ever arguing, sparring, or even contradicting one Franny Framagucci.
Sitting at his costmary lab table at the Singerman Laboratory for advanced research and development deep in the bowls of Ruppel University, the unhappy inventor allowed himself a silent sigh. Taking a slow breath he paused in his calculations, tapping the opposite end of his pen on his chin as though contemplating the equation before him. He was not, however contemplating anything remotely related to math, numbers, or science. His mind was still wrapped around the incalculable dilemma posed by one little fifteen year old girl.
In all honesty he supposed he really had been lying to himself on the matter. After all, everyone argued from time to time. Even his parents were known to have their disagreements, though theirs usually disintegrated quickly into half hearted pillow fights on impromptu games of cat and mouse tag.
So why was this whole thing throwing him for such a loop.
He wanted, no- needed something to blame. Where was the catalyst to all this insanity? There had to be a catalyst! After all every scientist know that any action must be rooted in a source. It was Newton's third law, pure and simple.
But no matter where he looked he could find no source of blame. A part of him wanted to blame her…but the thought just wouldn't stick. How could it 'she was always right'…
Another (much larger part) was itching to blame himself, but he knew he couldn't do that either. After all, he was in the right, even if he didn't know how to explain it to her. The circumstances, though unfortunate, were hardly at fault. The timing also seemed a poor source of blame. No matter where he looked there was simply no clear root to the problem and without a root- how could he fix this; where was the logic he so desperately needed in order to set this right?
The thought haunted him, had consumed him for the past three days almost as much as her accusation had. Hour after hour he had wracked his mind, and still could find but one relatively week, though still valid, culprit for his frustration. Only one thing he could even attempt to place his loathing and contempt for…
His own uncertain, but oh-so 'perfect', future.
Well, more specifically, the future he had unintentionally been privileged to while in the company of one Wilbur Robinson. Everyone had looked so happy, so content when last he saw them, somehow he had just wanted to believe on impulse that it was a static kind of situation, that life could always be that perfect, that unquestioning. He had clearly loved Franny then, and he was quite sure he clearly loved her now…so why did this have to be so complicated…
It didn't matter how much of a scientific persona he put on, he was still a dreamer at heart.
But she was being so irrational…
Finishing up the last of the computation he tossed the clipboard onto the work desk and stared at his colleague across the table. "Got anything yet Aidan?"
The dark skinned, dark eyed twenty-five year old chewed on the end of his pen as he shook his head. "I know the answer's here." he murmured, picking up the clipboard and holding it at arms length as though that would help force the equation into perspective. "I'm, sure its staring me right in the face…laughing at me…"
Despite his fowl mood Cornelius smiled as he watched his partner and friend stare menacingly at the several sheets of paper evidently conspiring against him.
"Hmmm…" The younger inventor pondered for a moment, then with an almost apologetic smile gestured for the other to pass the clipboard over. Aidan hesitated only for a moment before tossing it across the lab table and leaning back, folding his arms behind his head. "Be my guest, I will eat my pocket protector if you figure it out."
Still snickering, Cornelius turned his attention to the stack of papers. Immediately the problem screamed out at him, begging to be corrected. Cornelius however paced himself, pretending to dive into the work as though the equation was quite overwhelming indeed. He had learned very early on that people, particularly scholars, did not like to feel outpaced by someone half (or more frequently a quarter) their age. So he sat and scanned, continuing to tap his pencil to his chin as across the table Aidan studied him with a raised eyebrow.
It wasn't as though Aidan Delatam was dumb; far from it. The man was one of the leading 'up and comers' in theoretical mathematics- he could think in abstracts Cornelius could only dream about. Indeed, if not for Aidan the whole theory of a functioning, economically feasible space elevator would still be little more then a speculative scribble on Cornelius's desk.
Of Middle Eastern descent, Aidan was slender of frame, with a sharp jaw line, a hooked nose and soft brow and eye features that, at first glance, didn't seem to match. His dark, almost black gaze could be a gently or as piercing as he saw fit. He was undoubtedly a detail oriented individual, that much was unmistakable, long fingers accustom to tapping out complex patterns that matched his thought process (a bazaar little habit that Cornelius found both enduring and, at times, unbearable).
Aidan had studied all over the world and was probably one of the best authorities on relativity to date, second only to Einstein himself. It was just, despite all his upper level thinking, the man couldn't always work the simply basic functions of an equation. He could postulate theorems that seemed to effortlessly and elegantly balance the parallel dimensions of vibrating super strings, could flawlessly compute postulations on the interplay of gravity against the strong and week force, could rattle off the digits of pi out to however long you were willing to listen (a neat little parlor trick should the need ever arise) but could instantly drop the ball if asked to add five and three together.
Sometimes Cornelius suspected that spending so much time contemplating the unthinkable Aidan's mind just didn't have room for more benign functions. And how could he blame him- Hard to make space when your world is composed on non existent plains of reality out of everyone else's grasp.
Apart from Goob and Wilber, Aidan was probably the closest thing Cornelius had ever had to a friend. The two were unfathomably similar, from their taste in attire to their classifications as protégé in their respective fields. To the rest for the world the man sitting across from his now was the legendary Dr. Delatam, advent theorist and master mathematician- but to Cornelius he would always just be Aidan, just as he knew to Aidan he would always be…
Cornelius blinked, looking up from the clipboard full of computations to blink blurrily at the older man.
Aidan was glaring at him with a kind of confused worry on his face. "Hey, did an unattended fraction fry out you're frontlet lobe there- you look absolutely lost in yourself over there."
Cornelius flushed slightly, realizing his mind had wonderd off for what had to be the hundredth time since they sat down to recalibrate the rime and tube ratios. "I- ah…no, no I got it. It was right here the whole time. Little bugger snuck on past me too." Quickly he circled the missing 'x' factor and in his own quick hand scribbled out the correct permutation before shoving it back at his companion. "see, try it now."
Aidan eyed the clipboard suspiciously as Cornelius held it over the lab table the two shared. The older mans gaze flickered from the list of computations to the blond inventor and back again before finally reaching out his hand and to take the thing. "Thanks…"
"don't mention it" Cornelius blurted before picking up his own stack of notes and barring himself in his already completed work. A somewhat uncomfortable silence fell in the lab and Cornelius could just feel the other mans eyes on him, unwavering.
"Alright" Aidan spoke so suddenly that Cornelius gave a little start, looking up as though he had been caught doing something he wasn't to be doing. "Alright, that's it. What's going on C? You alright?"
"Ah…Oh- uh nothing. Just fine. why'd you ask?" Cornelius replied on instinct, smiling reassuringly back at the man across the table. Aidan didn't look convinced.
"Well for one, you have been staring at you're computations upside-down for the last two minuets. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's a bit bazaar, even for you."
Cornelius blinked and looked down, surprised to find that he was in fact holding his clipboard upside-down. Sheepishly he tried a half hearted smile as he corrects the thing, turning it over before offering his best dismissive shrug. "Just…trying out a new thing, you know- trying to get a new 'perspective' on the problem." The inventor offered the mathematician a nervous laugh, praying that his pathetic excuse might be enough to squelch his friend's inquest.
Aidan only raised a thick black eyebrow skeptically
"Which brings me to my second point- You've been spacing in and out the past few days. You're usually at your best under pressure and instead you're sitting there with your head somewhere in the Mesosphere. It's not like you."
Damn the man was perceptive; though Cornelius could not help the swell in his heart as he detected genuine concern in the other mans voice and tone. After living with so little, small gestures like that always meant the world to him, regardless of who they came from.
"So I'm a bit off color today-" Cornelius shrugged. "I guess I'm just loosing sleep over the cut funding to our cyber-tubing proposal and with the new deadline a whole month earlier then the …"
Aidan was shaking his head. "Not buying it C; I know you—sleep deprivation makes you gity, not pensive."
This is why Cornelius didn't keep close friends, particularly observant ones like Aidan. The younger inventor grimiest. "Ok, so maybe it's not just the Cyber-tubing proposal…"
"Out with it…"
Cornelius fidgeted in his seat, feeling incredibly self conscious. After all he prided himself on his ability to separate his personal and professional life (who was he kidding, he had no personal life)
Cornelius' head snapped up as he stared at Aidan in disbelief. How could he have…
"Come on C, we're all nerds here-" Aidan chortled, giving Cornelius a knowing look. "I can probably count on one hand the number of girls I'd actually kissed in high school, and that's if I'm generous and include my mom and sis in the equation." He then let out a clipped quick laugh that just as quickly degenerated into a snort. Cornelius smiled and shook his head good naturedly. "Ah the swan song of the lonely AV kid" he mused, and Aidan snorted all the louder.
"It's a symptom all nerds know- we can smell a fellow in distress a mile off. So let it out C, what's on your mind."
Cornelius faltered slightly, not sure how much, if anything he should say. On the one hand this flew in the face of his whole stoic and strict division of personal and professional code of conduct. On the other, it kind of felt nice to have a co-conspirator in this whole affair; someone to confide in and possible even seek a second opinion from.
"Well…" The blond began, suddenly feeling like he was in middle school again. "There's this girl…"
"I knew it!" Aidan interrupted victoriously, giving his comrade a spry smile. Cornelius felt his ears and neck flush slightly with the exuberant attention, but managed to simply raise a critical eyebrow to his friend. After a moment Aidan through up his hands as though in defeat. "Alright, alright, sorry; didn't mean to interrupt or anything."
Cornelius' disapproving look lingered another beat before it dissolved into a smiled. "God I feel like I'm in high school." He moaned, shaking his head. "Alright…there's this girl…and I kind of like her, you know-a whole lot. I mean she's smart, she's funny, beautiful, graceful…"
"And…she wants you to stop following her home, cause your starting to creep her out with the starring, right?
Again Cornelius favored his friend with a stale glare. "I thought we were talking about my problems here, not your rep sheet."
Aidan huffed slightly as if offended. "That was hurtful C; do you really think I would be the kind of man to get caught in such an act?" Cornelius snickered. "So you're more covert in you're stocking methods, is that what I'm hearing?"
"Damn straight. But enough about me, you were telling me about this girl of yours. Is she seeing someone, or is it a distance thing, is she just hard to impress?"
Cornelius shook his head. "No- well,
Aidan paused in his revelry, eyebrow cocked. "Oh…so…"
"So, we have been meeting together for about two months now, at this diner. At first I was just helping her prep a proposal on genetic engineering, but when that was done we just…you know-kept meeting up. Like you know- dating." Cornelius felt his face begin to redden again and he pushed forward. "Anyway, the other day the topic comes up and she asks me- point blank, 'are we dating.'"
"And what did you tell her?" Aidan added quickly, leaning a little more on the lab table as though they were confiding something highly classified. He was clearly getting more enjoyment out of hearing this story then Cornelius was having in relaying it.
"Well, I told her yes. I mean we've been meeting up and going out together long enough that…"
"Woh, A girlfriend?…Congratulations man! When do I get to meet her, does she have any hot friends? Have you kissed her or anything…come on, details, details…"
Cornelius blushed deeper at the attention; feeling slightly overwhelmed with the others clear interest in the case. He was beginning to suspect that Aidan was somehow attempting to live vicariously through Cornelius experience.
"That's the problem." Cornelius interrupted him before his list of 'have you eve…' got out of hand. "The kissing I mean. You know, I would like to; hell I would love to, it's just…well, she's only fifteen."
Aidan blinked back at his friend as though he had just declared that two plus two was equated to 'chicken'.
"So…?" he asked holding his arms out for emphasis. Cornelius shrugged, looking back at his clipboard of computations. "I'm nineteen Aidan. Nineteen! I mean, I know its only four years but you have to admit, there's a big different between someone who's Fifteen and someone who's Nineteen."
His frustration at having to explain this yet again must have shown and Aidan was quick to back off, raising his hand up almost as if in defense. "Aright, calm down there C, it's really not such a big deal…"
"But it is a big deal Aidan." Cornelius was becoming more and more frustrated by the second. Why didn't anyone seem to understand? "I mean, what would people say if this got out!"
"What does it matter what other people say?"
"It matters a lot what people say! My entire carrier is based on what people say! I sneeze and the New York Times is there with a tissue and twenty questions about why I haven't tried to cure the common cold or if I worry that test towards artificial intelligence would eventually lead to the deterioration of the human psyche."
Aidan began to snicker. "That was pretty funny, you have to admit- I thought that one reported was going to have a heart attack, he just couldn't get the questions out fast enough. Crazy nutter seemed convinced that any moment a horde of bionic man eating robots would just jump out of the lab at any moment!"
Cornelius evidently was less amused. Grimacing, he closed his eyes, pushing his glasses a little farther up his face in order to rub the bridge of his nose between forefinger and thumb. "It's just not fair..." he mused under his breath. "I really want this to work, but I don't know how to get through to her..."
For a moment nether spoke
"I see the problem here" Aidan announced with the diagnostic fervor one might proclaimed should a cure for the common cold ever be discovered. Cornelius raised a skeptical eyebrow, leaning forward of folded arms. "Oh yeah? Enlighten me."
His friend grind a little wider. "The problem is that you, Cornelius Robinson, are not nineteen."
Cornelius furrowed his brow in confusion. "You lost me…" he confessed in a flat tone "which ill applied scientific principle told you that load of…"
"Its not science C, its simple observation." Aidan declared, gesturing to Cornelius from across the lab table. "Just look at you, nothing about you is remotely nineteen, and you know it. Nineteen year olds cram for collage exams, go to frat parties, play sports, bum money, smoke weed, hang out and so on and so forth…"
"So, you have three doctorates, several major publications, attend cocktail parties at scientific fundraisers in Paris, currently hold patents on countless world changing inventions, and have on you're speed dial at least thirty-five of the worlds greatest scientific minds to date. Face it C, you may physically be only nineteen, but you live like your Sixty-five! You're not seeing the real age gap here; you're looking at it through some kind of metaphysical, physiological, Einsteinian, time warp version of aging. That's your problem."
Cornelius opened his mouth to protest…and promptly closed it again. Aidan was right. As much as he hated to admit it, the cocky son-of-a- bitch was right! Nothing about him was remotely normal. Was it possible he was the one blowing the whole affair out of proportion? Was it all in his head?
It's not as though he hadn't thought about kissing the girl, quite frequently as a matter a fact (among many other things that the very mention of would turned his ears bright pink). Truth be told, he very much wanted to kiss her. But it was too soon, wasn't it? What if he was pushing her to fast? Even if there age difference wasn't as great as he seemed to think, she was still so young and impressionable. What if he corrupted her somehow, or what if he scared or frightened her away. What if he wasn't any good? He finally had her (kind of), and he wasn't sure he was ready to risk loosing her just yet.
With an aggravated grown of despair the young inventor hid his face in his hand for a moment, trying to get a handle on his thoughts. When he finally looked out from between his fingers he offered his colleague a pitiful moan. "You make it sound so easy…"
Aidan only shook his head.
Cornelius sighed and shook his head too. "I don't know what to do here Aidan" He confessed looking at his friend from between his fingers. "I just…I feel like there's something amiss here. Like if I push too far or too fast I could break her, or corrupt her, or something... I don't know how to explain it, its just…I…" he trailed off, rubbing his neck as he stared down at the lab table. "I just don't know…"
From across the table he could here the quiet 'tisk-tisk' of his friend as he shook his head back and forth slowly. "Man, C. You got it bad." Aidan mused, his head still moving slowly from side to side.
"How do you mean?" Cornelius asked, but his friend gave no reply, shrugging his shoulders as he picked up his clipboard full of calculations. "You should try to find middle ground, you know?" Aidan mused as if to himself, his eyes still scanning the pages of writing before him. "Go out to some clubs, skip some lectures, drink like it's going out of style, and all that. Who knows, maybe you'll find there's something about the wild teenage lifestyle that's actually enjoy."
Cornelius tried a timid smile, though if Aidans' expression was anything to go by he was still a pitiful looking thing. "Maybe…" the younger inventor finally murmured, shaking his head. Feeling even more rejected he stared helplessly down at the black slate of the lab desk and chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully.
A/N: Sorry for the short, relatively un-beta'd chapter- I'll go through and pick it apart properly later on. just trying to push forward.