"And who is this pretty girl?"
The man takes a step backwards when Beverly looks him in the eye and says, "Beverly Martin".
She's only twelve and she doesn't know why people step back from her undivided attention but she has already begun to enjoy the reaction. It is her first taste of power.
Beverly Martin is a "pretty girl". She has inherited her mother's good looks and her father's pale blue eyes. Her mother warns her daily of the dangers of flattery from men. Beverly doesn't understand exactly what she is meant to fear but she senses the danger. Her father is usually away on business and her flirtatious mother draws a series of men into her family's path. Beverly is always on guard. Her mother has tried to teach her how to be 'charming' but Beverly finds safety in making the people around her ill-at-ease. Eventually, she will grow tall enough to be physically intimidating in heels but at the moment, she is a slip of a girl and she relies on her ice cold eyes to protect her from the unwanted attentions and 'affections' of others.
The man moves away from Beverly and returns his panting attentions to her mother. Later that night, her mother cries as Beverly holds an ice pack to the weeping woman's swollen eye. Beverly won't breath a word of this to her father, she never does. She only has a vague idea of what has happened but before she goes to bed, she practices her cold stare in the mirror. She's seen enough weeping.
Beverly does not celebrate her birthdays, but she is aware of them as they arrive. The morning she turns fifty, she wakes to the sound of her sons arguing in the kitchen.
Edwin's eyes meet hers and they share a moment of camaraderie. For all their brilliance and youthful accomplishments, Leonard and Michael are undeniably teenagers.
As Beverly goes through her morning toiletries, she feels a tinge of shame because she hopes Cassandra will wake up and put an end to the fracas in the kitchen. Her daughter has always had a particular knack for dealing with high emotion that eludes both her parents.
Cassandra is seven months pregnant and the hormonal changes are taking a toll on her work and her marriage. A month ago she called Beverly and asked, "Would it be all right if I spent the rest of my pregnancy living with you and father? I've spoken to the university and I can telecommute and... If I don't get out of this house, I am going to stab Alan in the face while he sleeps."
Alan remains in Baltimore and calls daily for updates. The distance (a little over two hours) has made Cassandra's heart grow fonder but she still opts to stay in New Jersey.
Cassandra had explained, "Mother, I am so emotional right now, I cannot be around normal people. I just need to be here in this soothing, antiseptic, emotionless house."
If she pushed, Cassandra would no doubt have become combative and judgmental so Beverly let the statement stand.
Leonard and Michael are snapping at each other while Cassandra, the oldest by eight years and still the referee after all these years, encourages them both to, "Shut the hell up," and the bickering stops.
Beverly enters the room moments later and is greeted with a chorus of, "Good morning, mother."
"Happy birthday. It's the big 5-0, if I'm not mistaken," adds Cassandra.
Michael and Leonard look guilty, clearly embarrassed they have forgotten the meaningless milestone.
"Indeed," Beverly feels like she should say more on the subject but can't imagine what else there is to say. She has been alive for half a century. Tomorrow, she will have been alive for half and century and one day.
"We should celebrate. Let's go somewhere nice for dinner," Cassandra suggests, "Michael, do have a decent suit you can lend Leonard? Something entirely devoid of corduroy?"
"Sure. Do you have a pair of stilts he can use so it will fit?"
Leonard flicks a forkful of eggs at his younger brother.
Her offspring never acted up so outrageously when they were children. Perhaps she had offered too many external behavioral controls while rearing them and now they lack impulse control. It is a worrisome thought. No matter how successful and remarkable her children are, Beverly is plagued by the fear that she has somehow held them back from reaching their full potential. Edwin dismisses her fears saying, "How could they possibly be smarter or more successful? We could build an addition to the house out of trophies, blue ribbons and plaques." He has a point (facetious as it is) but, by definition, irrational fears cannot be dissipated with logic.
Fortunately for Beverly, Cassandra restores order by yelling, "Our mother has a family history of heart disease, was raised on a diet of fried food, smoked for ten years, works a high stress job and is raising you two brats! We need to celebrate the fact that she's lived this long by dressing up and going to a nice restaurant where we will make the waiters debase themselves by singing an uncopy-righted version of 'Happy Birthday'. Leonard, you will wrangle that clown wig you call hair into something presentable and I will pin you into one of Michael's suits. Michael, you are very tall and handsome and we are all super excited for you so shuuuut up about it. You also faint at the sight of blood and, even seven months pregnant, I know I could kick your skinny ass. I'll make the reservations."
The restaurant is candlelit and while it is very atmospheric, their entire myopic family struggles to read the menu.
Cassandra and Leonard share a menu, both squinting behind their thick glasses.
"Cassandra, it is so strange to see you in glasses!" Leonard exclaims for the third time that evening, "I don't think I've seen you in your glasses since I was in middle school. Remember how we went to get contacts together?"
"Leonard, I am so sorry I mocked you when you couldn't tolerate contact lenses! About three months into my pregnancy, my eyes became so sensitive, I had to go back to glasses. I can barely use drops. It feels like I'm dropping rocks onto my eyeballs."
Leonard frowns, "So I've got the eyes of a pregnant woman?"
Cassandra gingerly pats his heavily gelled hair, "Oh, Leonard. That is the least of your problems."
Leonard smiles at his sister's insult and they both return to the onerous task of examining the menu for an item containing nothing to which Leonard is allergic.
Michael is scanning the room over his glasses. Although he's still in his teens, he has learned to give off an air of confidence and maturity. Beverly is fairly certain he has Antisocial Personality Disorder but would never use the words out loud. She's never articulated her concerns to Edwin but her husband occasionally observes, "That boy is either going to end up the president of the United States or in prison. Perhaps one then the other."
"Mother, now that you are fifty, do you feel affected by the social significance of the milestone? Are you feeling anxiety about being middle aged?" Cassandra asks as she swirls her wine glass full of grape juice, as though to open the bouquet.
"I believe the effects of the cultural stigma took hold when I turned 49. I have found myself more concerned about 'leaving my mark' in the field in the past year and my productivity as increased significantly as a result. I also purchased several expensive face creams despite the dubious science behind their claims to restore elasticity to my skin."
"Mother!" Leonard looks scandalized, "You're a beautiful woman at the top of your field. How can you let yourself be lured in by misogynist and ageist claptrap?"
Beverly marvels at the naivety of today's youth. Leonard honestly believes there is a time in a woman's life when she is not judged by her appearance.
Their waitress is young, pretty and wearing far too much make-up. Michael flirts shamelessly and the young woman seems flustered. Beverly assumes the girl must be new to waitressing as most of Beverly's memories of working the service industry involve repelling the loathsome advances of men.
Cassandra tells the waitress that Michael is a member of his high school's a cappella group "Andante's Inferno". Michael drops his charming facade to glare at his sister while Leonard gives the waitress an apologetic smile. Leonard is too concerned about his height to realize he's handsome and Beverly believes he is better off that way. Men are far too prone to arrogance. Michael has already learned to use his looks to manipulate men and women alike. Although she loves her youngest child dearly, she feels a mild aversion to his presence and sees her discomfort reflected in Cassandra.
As they near the end of their main course, Edwin destroys the calm and friendly atmosphere by asking, "So, when are you boys going to take your SATs again?"
Although they are brothers, barely a year apart in age, sitting next to one another and being asked the same question, Beverly observes not a single hint of camaraderie between them. Leonard stares at his plate, his cheeks turning pink, while Michael stares blankly ahead with his jaw clenched.
Cassandra's shoulders slump, "Do we have to do this?"
"What did I say? The boys can take the test as many times as they want, why not get the best scores they can? Schools are very competitive these days. I want you boys to have every opportunity..."
Beverly tunes out after the phrase 'every opportunity'. It's been her husband's mantra since he turned forty. When Cassandra was applying to colleges, Edwin had driven her crazy by trying to make her consider every possible option from studying abroad at Oxford to attending a small liberal arts college in the states like Sarah Lawrence or Bennington. He told her over and over that she didn't have to follow in her parents' Ivy League footsteps, she was free to be whatever she wanted.
By the time she needed to choose a medical school, Edwin was once again full of advice. This time around, he was eager to pull strings for her and make sure she was able to get into the 'best program' available. Beverly had found it interesting at the time that he had narrowed his views on schooling so drastically in such a short time; then he turned his attentions to his sons. They have always been remarkable students and active in numerous extra circular activities. Leonard is an accomplished cellist and president of his school's debate team while Michael runs track and sings in the school's award winning a cappella group. There is certainly no need to worry about either of them getting into any school, especially when the name Hofstadter carries a healthy amount of weight in the academic world.
The brunt of Edwin's unwanted attention falls on Leonard who wants to do research. His interests lie in the natural sciences but Edwin can still relate to Leonard's ambitions easier than Michael's. Michael wants to be a corporate lawyer.
Beverly is 'of the people' enough to see the humor in Michael's predicament. It is a rare family where wanting to be a lawyer is perceived to be a frivolous decision. Edwin tries to find a way to share his younger son's interests but there is no apparent over-lap. Michael simply is not interested in people, not even from the safe distance of an ivory tower.
This leaves Edwin to pin his hopes entirely on Leonard. He already has his doctor in Cassandra and dearly wishes Leonard would become a chemist. He is convinced the Hofstadters could wipe out malaria by the end of the decade if they worked together. Leonard tries to make his father happy but it is clear his interests are currently of a less practical nature. The more Edwin pushes him, the more Leonard retreats.
Of course, Edwin himself began his career as an anthropologist observing the learning systems of indigenous populations. His current interest in public health derived from his time spent in third world countries, watching people die from hunger and curable diseases, just as Beverly's fascination with neuroscience stems from her years as a therapist trying to figuratively get into the minds of her patients. They have evolved as scientists over time and through experience. She has reminded Edwin, in very blunt terms, that their children need to make their own decisions and their own mistakes but Edwin's logic frequently fails him when it comes to his family. He thinks he can spare his children wasted time and heartache by passing down his wisdom. His behavior stems from love and concern but it manifests itself as obnoxious bullying.
Edwin doesn't know that Leonard already received his early acceptance to the Harvard physics department. Beverly saw the letter when it arrived but is allowing Leonard to choose for himself when he shares the news with Edwin. There will be no controversy regarding the choice of school (Leonard will be a fifth generation legacy) or the department (consistently one of the top ranked in the country). Leonard has clearly made a good choice, what is sure to upset Edwin is the fact Leonard made the decision on his own.
"Edwin, the boys have both obtained SAT scores that are well above average and exceeding the expectations of even the most discerning programs," Beverly makes her announcement while Edwin is in mid-sentence. She knows she shouldn't speak over her husband this way in front of the children but she's tired of the same argument. One can't always be the good co-parent.
Edwin tries to turn his lecture on 'schools these days' towards Beverly but soon wilts under her gaze and lets the topic drop. She gets not so much as an appreciative glance from either son. Michael is making eyes at an attractive young woman across the room, Leonard is glaring daggers into his plate of food.
The Martins don't have much money, but Adele Martin is a skilled seamstress and her girls are always dressed beautifully. Beverly loves Sunday mornings when they all get ready for church in Ma's room. Adele fusses over each flounce and sponge curl before filling the room with a cloud of perfume. Blessed and cursed with a marvelous memory, Beverly clearly recalls the morning they awoke to discover Betty was gone. Fifteen-year-old Betty had been acting strangely for months but Adele assured everyone it was a natural part of being 'that age'. Beverly remembers being disappointed they do not attend church that morning. She spends all week looking forward to that cloud of perfume and it strikes her as odd that Betty would choose to miss the best day of the week.
As days turn into weeks and there is no word from Betty, a solemn hush falls over the family. Words like kidnapping and foul play are spoken when no one thinks Beverly can hear.
"Hofstadter, party of two?"
"Yes," Beverly glances at her watch, it is two minutes until one, "My son should be here in two minutes."
"I'll be happy to seat you as soon as the rest of your party arrives," says the young host, cheerfully. Beverly automatically shoots her a severe look over the rim of her glasses, annoyed by the use of the word 'party' when she's already clearly stated it is her son who will be joining her, and the young woman nervously adds, "Ma'am."
Although the woman failed to understand the cause of her annoyance, she is now clearly flustered so Beverly takes a seat and waits quietly. She knows she could put the girl at ease with a warm smile but she feels no compulsion to make people comfortable.
Beverly has made several attempts to arrange a visit with Leonard since he moved to California and has been rewarded with a series of flimsy excuses. Only when she arranges to attend a conference at the University of California in Los Angeles does Leonard agree to lunch.
He arrives precisely at one, as Beverly expected. His hair is still nearly should length and looks ridiculous and he's wearing the same hooded sweatshirt he's been wearing since high school. Academia allows for a certain degree of eccentricity but she wishes he would make more of an effort to 'dress for success'. He has so much potential but seems determined to sabotage himself at every step. Her attempts to offer advice are invariably met with hostility. Beverly is overly blunt and Leonard is overly sensitive.
The hostess is attractive and Beverly is certain her younger son, Michael, would have had the girl's phone number before leaving the restaurant. Leonard just stares at his shoes until they are seated. When he does look at the hostess, his gaze is a good inch above her eye line.
"What did you say her?" Leonard asks as soon as the hostess is out of ear shot. His voice is full of accusation.
"We had the standard exchange of information. Why do you ask?"
"The poor girl was a nervous wreck."
Leonard has an endless store of compassion and concern for people he doesn't know. He is the personification of the old saying, 'Familiarity breeds contempt'.
"I can't be held responsible for her reaction to our exchange."
Leonard sighs but lets the issue drop without further discussion.
They have a perfunctory discussion of their respective work. Leonard is always a bit irritable when they discuss her work in neuroscience. He continues to resent being treated as a 'lab rat'.
Beverly tries to find an aspect of Leonard's research that is interesting to her. It's all seems like an intellectual exercise to her. Leonard is attempting to measure something that may or may not exist and someday prove an improvable theory. When he speaks of the hypothetical Higgs Boson, she wonders if she was wrong not to send her children to church.
"Have you considered research with real world applications?"
Leonard opens and closes his mouth a few times before letting out a heavy sigh.
"I'll take that as a 'no'."
"Actually," Leonard keeps his eyes on his plate of noodles, "I was offered a job..."
"It's top secret but it's certainly 'real world application' stuff."
"But you haven't accepted the offer?"
Leonard looks up but continues to avoid eye contact, "It's with the government. It's a lot of money and the work is interesting but..."
Beverly automatically slips into therapist mode and adopts a blank face. Leonard's eyes flicker over her countenance, likely checking for judgment, before continuing.
"It's the government. Who knows what they'll do with my research? I start out making... doing whatever but somewhere along the line that research will be misappropriated and I'll have to live with the results."
Beverly nods until Leonard seems to be done and asks, "How much did they offer you?"
He tells her, it is a significant number.
"Well, that's very impressive but I know you aren't concerned with making money," she believes her voice is neutral but Leonard is already tensing up. Her son's decision to be a pure academic had been a bone of contention between him and his father for years.
"I know I'm not making as much as you or father but I will pay you back for my education..."
"Leonard, your father and I don't need your money, we're only concerned about your ability to live...," Beverly searches for the least offensive word, "comfortably."
Leonard stabs at his pasta, "I think I'll take the job after all."
Since they are already (more or less) on the subject, Beverly takes the opportunity to ask about his current living situation and his roommate.
Leonard is vague as he discusses his roommate, Sheldon, a fellow physicist at the university. Fortunately, reading between the lines is how Beverly makes her living. Having moved across the country to be free from the influence of his family, Leonard has attached himself to a new figure against whom he can 'rebel'.
He avoids her eyes and pushes his Spaghetti Bolognese around his plate as he 'casually' asks about high functioning autism and Asperbergers.
"Do you have reason to believe your roommate has Asperbergers?"
"What? No, I'm just asking you as a professional... Maybe. It's like he can't tell if I'm happy or angry or when it's his turn to talk. I don't think he's ever looked me in the eye."
The last statement is a striking one, coming from Leonard. Clearly he feels very close to Sheldon if he has managed to notice a lack of eye contact from his roommate. Since the turmoil of puberty, Leonard has visibly struggled to hold anyone's gaze for more than a few seconds. The usual shame and horror of transforming into an adult had left her son full of self-doubt and an anger he refuses to acknowledge to this day. After pressing for more details, Beverly points out she would have to meet Sheldon to be sure but he certainly seems to fit the profile of Asperbergers. Leonard's jaw tenses at her suggestion that she meet his roommate and he promptly drops the subject. He clearly intends to keep her removed from his new life in California. She won't push, she refuses to feed into his attention-seeking behavior. If he wants her to remain distant, she will oblige and wait for him to outgrow his belated rebelliousness.
Beverly is able to carefully revisit the topic of Sheldon later in the conversation. Leonard's roommate sounds like a cornucopia of eccentricities. Despite his many complaints about his roommate, Leonard's affection is clear. For the first time since entering the restaurant, while speaking about his bizarre 'roommate agreement', her son looks relaxed.
He also looks happy, happier than she's seen him since the day Beverly brought 'subject D' home from the lab to be renamed 'Mitzy'. Leonard has always been inclined to like people regardless of their numerous and easily identifiable faults. While Beverly is concerned by his lack of judgment, her husband, Edwin, dismisses their son's indiscriminate nature by saying, "We can't all be misanthropes."