I’ll Meet You in Centerville
They did not know the complications they would get themselves involved when they first met. Both Beth and Bob were going to a conference of chemistry professors. The fates put them side by side on the plane leaving for the conference site. He was already sitting in his seat, when Beth arrived, somewhat breathless as her connecting flight had been late. When she looked down, she saw him writing chemical symbols on a pad of paper.
“You’re going to the chem-conference then. Doing your homework?”. She was the more socially aggressive of the two. They talked all the way there, and attended each other’s presentations. His paper was brilliant, but presented in a rather dull, ordinary way, standard for this conference. Hers was quite different, presented with both insight and humour. It was entitled “Disastrous Chemical Reactions from Ordinary Condiments.” The applause were genuine for both papers, although for essentially different reasons.
Bob and Beth had their meals together, drank together, took morning walks together, did everything but sleep together. But they did fall in love. They held hands and looked into each other’s eyes almost the whole flight back after the conference. Only occasionally had they compared notes on presentations they had attended. They did not want to let go.
Then the path of their romance hit its first major bump, one they had come to expect but neither had been able to mention, not even Beth. They did not want to spoil the fun that they were having. They lived in two different cities. Bob lived in the city where the airport was. Beth lived in a city that was a short airplane hop away. She had to catch another plane before she could arrive home.
They both sat by the gate where she was to leave, neither wanting to say goodbye. Then she came up with a plan. “Why don’t we arrange to meet each other in a town that is equal distance away from the two cites where we live, one that both of us can drive to without it being too long for us?”
Bob, unsurprisingly, liked the idea. They looked at the map on her laptop screen and saw that the town called Brockton fit the bill. To make it seem more secretive, like it was part of something ‘dangerous’, Beth came up with a code name for the town, so no one would know where they were going to, not that anyone cared. It was just more fun that way. The code name, not really very clever, was Centerville.
And so their long road trips began, taking about four hours for each of them to get to Centerville (aka Brockton). Over the months that they took these trips they learned to memorized significant sights. Their very active minds worked like that, plus it helped occupy those minds when they were driving away from each other.. These sights included – places to stop for coffee, towns with a couple of distinctive old buildings, rivers that went underneath a bridge, lakes that did edged near the road, major hills and especially tall trees that looked like they had come alive from paintings.
They would meet at a friendly pub that was pretty much in the middle of town. Beth, with her sense of humour being what it was, came up with a greeting ritual that, to her way of thinking, added to the drama and the fun of the event. She was to arrive at the pub first, and sit at the bar. She would wear clothing that was particularly sexy. Some man who was not one of the regulars (who were aware of what was to happen) would sit himself down beside her, and would hit on her, trying to pick her up. She would talk to him, but not in a way that was especially accepting or inviting. Being a man who tried to pick up strange women in bars, he would probably not be very good at picking up on this last bit.
Then Bob would arrive, go straight to her, and declare, “You are the sexiest woman that I have seen all year. Come sit with me at a table.” And she would, of course. The regulars would try not to laugh, although not always successfully. This had been fun for eight trips now.
On the ninth trip the unexpected was going to happen. There was a job opening in Beth’s department of the university. She knew that with Bob’s publication record and general experience, he was very likely to get the job. Then there would be no road trips, in particular no drives back home.
Bob was on his latest road trip. They had e-mailed each other with the usual “I’ll meet you in Centreville.” His car hummed and so did he, as he was on a mission of love. He stopped for coffee at the usual place and did not have to tell the person serving him how he wanted his coffee. This was his seventeenth time there, so his preferences were expected.
The river that was his favourite, which ran dark and deep, was as beautiful as ever. He put some thought into what the chemical composition might be that contributed to that noteworthy darkness. He would do research on the soil of the area when he got back home. Then he headed for the hills, his windows now open, so he could smell the pines that grew there, especially the one that he had managed to take a picture of while still driving. That was something he would not try again, but it did impress Beth with the daring but foolish nature of his photographic adventure.
He now was at the edge of ‘Centerville’. It would not be long now before he would see her. There was the pub. He parked his car right beside Beth’s, got out, and breathed in deeply before he opened the door. This had become a ritual for him. Then he walked inside.
When some of the regulars saw him, they smiled, and then tried not to look like they were smiling. They nudged each other covertly in the ribs. The show was going to be on, again.
Bob looked over to the bar to see where Beth was sitting. He was not happy with what he saw. There was a big man sitting beside her, leaning uncomfortably close to her, causing great discomfort for Bob and no doubt for Beth as well.. The man had one of his large hands on her arm. It looked like he was trying to hold onto her, so she could not ‘get away.’.
Bob walked over to the bar, moving more tentatively than usual for this well-practiced performance. A little louder than what was standard practice, he began his stock phrase. “You are the sexiest woman that I have seen all year,… The big man did not let him finish.
“Go away little man. I saw her first. She’s mine. ”
Bob strayed from the script, saying “She’s my girl friend. We’ve arranged to meet.”
The big man stood up. He was a little unsteady on his feet. He obviously had had a fair bit to drink. He moved aggressively towards Bob, leaning towards him with decidely unfriendly intent. Bob stood ready, somewhat scared to be sure, but still ready to stand his ground.
What he didn’t see as the big man approached him was what Beth was doing. She had grabbed a bowl of bar snacks, dumped them out onto the bar, and was mixing together several of the condiments that were on a table just behind the bar. He did however hear the results. There was a chemically-induced sizzling. Just after he heard that, he saw Beth get up and cast the volatile mixture onto the back of the head of the big man. As it hit him, he yelped in pain in an unmanly fashion, and reached back to the affected part of his head, to find out what was causing the burning. That only caused further pain. He then yelped again, and ran to the bathroom, shaking his hands in trying to get the pain-causing substance off of them, to no avail.
As soon as he entered the washroom, the regulars stood up and applauded the show they had just seen. Beth bowed in acceptance of the applause. She then walked over to Bob, took him by the hand, and suggested that they go to the hotel that was their usual stopping place for the night. She had something to tell him.