Fred analyzed the buffet table like one of Professor Seidel's proofs. One small paper plate, and so many options. She needed
to find the optimal combination to get her through this living hell.
"It's like a periodic table of cheap catering," said the girl Fred hadn't realized was standing next to her. "But look, chocolate-covered
strawberries. Somebody tried to hide them behind the punch bowl."
"Now that's just mean," Fred replied, snagging the edge of the strawberry tray with the tongs from the cheese plate. "I think
we should each get two or three, since we found them, right?"
The girl laughed softly, and Fred looked up over the edge of her glasses. A slightly distorted mirror-image of herself: plain
brown hair, ruthlessly straightened and pinned back from a face pale from hours in the lab. Slightly shabby little black
dress bought off the rack at a department store. Nice shoes, though, because a girl had to indulge herself sometime,
No glasses, though, and the name tag pinned crookedly on the strap of the dress said "Sara Sidle, Biology" instead of "Winifred
"At least three," Sara said, loading up her own plate. "The rest of this stuff is terrible."
"Which makes it perfect for this whole fiasco," Fred said dully. "Isn't being an honors student supposed to be a good
thing, not a punishment?"
Sara rolled her eyes and nodded vigorously, and Fred smiled in relief at finding a kindred spirit in her suffering. "I don't
know who thought making all the awkward science nerds have a banquet was a good idea," Sara said, frowning at the punch
bowl. "We'd all rather be in the lab."
"The advisors want us to be sociable." Fred made a face and mimicked the whiny, nasal tone of her personal useless liaison
to the physics department. "'Get out there and network, Miss Burkle!' Network with who? How is making friends with
somebody from chemical engineering going to help my career?"
Sara was still facing off with the punch bowl. "Do you have any idea how much bacteria is swimming around in this thing?
I've seen at least three people drink right from the ladle to taste it before they fill their cups. It's, like, a big pink
"Infectious soup." Fred selected a strawberry and took a bite, closing her eyes tightly and savoring the two different kinds
of sweetness. "Ooh. The night is officially not a complete waste."
"Has your advisor seen you here?" Sara asked suddenly. Fred recognized the look on her face- the wheels were turning fast
in her brain. She got that way herself sometimes.
"Yeah. She gave me a hug at the door. I think she was a little drunk."
Sara grinned. Fred liked the gap between the girl's front teeth- it made her smile unique, something to remember. "I think
maybe she's got the right idea. Want to get out of here, and really salvage the night? It doesn't have to be a waste
There was a flicker of fear in Sara's eyes while she said that, which Fred knew like an old friend. Putting yourself out
there like that to someone you'd just met? Perfect setup for rejection. Oh, yes, she knew where Sara was coming from.
"Can the strawberries come too?" she asked. Sara grinned again with obvious relief, and Fred grinned back. They tossed their
name tags in the trash can on their way out the door.
Sara's apartment was tiny and her landlord obviously didn't care about keeping student renters happy any more than Fred's
did, but there was vodka in the freezer and tequila over the stove, and that was what really mattered. Sara had every kind
of mixer under the sun, which was a little strange for a self-confessed antisocial science geek who lived alone, but Fred
didn't believe in prying questions.
They put their drinks together and sprawled out on the beat-up futon that served as Sara's couch. The TV was tiny and the
picture too fuzzy to tell if it was Letterman or Leno cracking jokes about the President, but that was all right because they
weren't really paying attention anyway. They were swapping faculty stories, and lab partner stories, and abstract future
plans that involved fabulous grants from eccentric billionaires and private labs on private islands.
"I love your shoes," Sara said, setting her glass of vodka down on the coffee table a little unsteadily. "Love. Them."
Fred grinned and swung her leg up onto the couch, resting her foot lightly in Sara's lap. "Nordstrom's. On sale- half-off."
Sara studied the collection of slender black straps and stiletto heel with reverence, her fingertips dancing over Fred's dark
stockings as she turned her ankle back and forth. "So pretty," she said, and suddenly the touch of her fingers went from
dancing to sliding, grazing up and down the nylon-sheathed length of Fred's calf.
Fred's breath caught in her throat a little, but she didn't speak. She let her head tip to the side, studying Sara's face.
Sara looked back at her, frankly and unashamed, and Fred shivered a little as the sliding finger-strokes moved into the hollow
at the back of her knee. "Pretty," Sara repeated, with just a flash of that special smile. Fred nodded, stupidly- she instantly
cursed herself for being stupid. Yes, of course, pretty, I know. And please don't stop touching my leg like that. God,
how awkward am I?
Slowly and casually enough to make Fred squirm against the cushions, Sara slid her hand up past Fred's knee and under the
hem of her dress. She curled her fingers around the fake-lace elastic band at the top of the stockings. "Fancy," she giggled,
but it wasn't mocking. "Got them at the grocery store, right?"
"Yeah," Fred said, drawing her other foot up beneath her and fumbling with the buckle of her shoe. "Four ninety-nine. I
splurged, got the ones with the seam up the back and everything...supposed to be...you know, sexy."
"Sexy," Sara repeated thoughtfully, and Fred felt her fingers wrap around that funny little catch on the suspender belt and
twist it free. "Huh. Yeah, I can see that." Now her fingers were sliding back down Fred's leg, peeling the stocking
back, and Fred would've been desperately disappointed if not for the fact that Sara's nails were grazing oh so gently against
"How long are you going to drag this out for?" Fred asked a few minutes, her voice a little sharper than she'd intended as
Sara seemed content to let her attention linger around Fred's ankle. Pleasant enough, but a little ticklish, and she'd kind
of been hoping...
Sara shrugged. "Theoretically, hours. The human body's an amazing thing."
"Is it." Fred made her voice as flat and expressionless as she could, and when Sara glanced up at her with concern, she pounced.
She basically had to fold herself in half to do it, but by the grace of God she was a flexible girl, and in a moment she had
Sara pinned back against the arm of the couch and was kissing the hell out of her.
Sara turned her head to the side after a moment and started laughing, her breath warm against Fred's shoulder. "So the lasting-for-hours
idea isn't your thing? The boys must love you."
"Boys," Fred said solemnly, tracing the line of Sara's jaw with one finger, "are entirely different."
"There's evidence to back that theory," Sara agreed, and Fred let out a startled little squeak as a hand slid under her skirt
again and went to work at releasing the other stocking. "There is something in this for me, isn't there?"
"Bossy," Fred muttered, carefully feeling around between Sara's body and the couch to find the zipper on her dress. "You
"I'm busy." She backed that up with evidence, too, and Fred shut her eyes tightly. Sara's hand moved cautiously at
first, just a little too slow, and Fred twisted against it, whimpering a little with what she hoped to God was encouragement
and not desperation.
Apparently Sara got the hint, because within a few moments Fred found herself on her back with absolutely no memory of swapping
positions, and Sara was kneeling between her legs, grinning. "This is definitely more fun than another night in the lab."
"I don't know," Fred said, fumbling the bobby pins out of her hair and letting it become the tangled mass it wanted to be.
"You can do some amazing things with a particle accelerator."
Sara arched an eyebrow. "Kinky."
"You know, that amazing feeling when an experiment comes out just right..." She completely lost that train of thought
as Sara dipped her head and darted her tongue against Fred's clit. No more talking about lab stuff. Absolutely not.
"So the biology behind this is pretty clear," Fred said a few minutes later, when she'd caught her breath again and was running
her fingers over Sara's body, starting at the shoulders and working her way down just for the variety from the way Sara had
done it. "Aren't you interested in the physics?" She peeled the simple black dress off of the other girl and traced her
lips over the pale skin.
"There's physics?" Sara asked, reaching up to drag her hair out of her face with both hands, shivering a little as Fred's
kisses dipped down and started moving across her torso.
"Of course," Fred said, giving Sara's inner thigh a pinch of teasing reproof. "Everything's phsyics. Friction, and thermodynamics,
and...um..." She slipped her fingers between Sara's legs and tipped her head to the side as the other girl gasped and shivered
again, her hips pushing up reflexively. "Newton's third."
"Equal and opposite reaction?" Sara asked, her voice a little higher and thinner, the effort of focusing on the science visible
in her face. Fred nodded and moved her hand again, watching another shiver run through Sara's body.
"Action-reaction," Fred recited softly, moving her fingers faster. "Friction, heat transfer..." She twisted them a little,
left and right, and Sara clenched her eyes shut and shuddered all over. "It's really kind of beautiful."
Sara took a deep breath, then another, before she opened her eyes. "Kind of?" she asked, smiling wistfully, and Fred bent
down to kiss her. A sweet kiss, and sleepy, tasting the mixture of bitterness and saltiness and ghost-faint strawberry sweetness
in both of their mouths.
"Really beautiful," Fred said, looking into Sara's eyes. "Yeah."
Sara smiled, and Fred decided she liked it even more and would really enjoy kissing that mouth again. But Sara squirmed out
from under her and got up from the couch, scooping the empty glasses off the coffe table and walking carefully to the kitchen.
"Do you want to borrow a sweatshirt or something?" she asked, glancing back over her shoulder. "You probably shouldn't walk
around the city this late, I don't know how far you have to go to get home..."
"You're asking me to stay?" Fred asked, smiling a little at Sara's blink of confusion. She'd skipped over the step of actually
asking Fred and gone right to the practicalities. They should've met years before, in the dorms, where they could've
failed all the social rules together instead of separately.
"Yeah," Sara said, putting the glasses in the sink and coming back to stand by the couch. She shrugged. "If you want."
"I want," Fred said quickly. "And a sweatshirt would be good." She glanced over at the TV, where the unknown late-night
talk-show host had been replaced by something unidentifiable but apparently miraculous. "And look, we have infomercials."
Sara stared at the blurry image for a long moment. "I have movies, too. And you can actually see them." She waved
her hand at the stack of videos next to the TV. "Knock yourself out."
A few minutes later she came back with a sweatshirt and a blanket, which Fred took in exchange for her tape of choice. Sara
looked at the title and grinned. "Back to the Future. Nice choice."
"It would never work, you know," Fred said, tugging the sweatshirt over her head and retreating to the futon with the blanket.
Sara slipped the tape into the VCR and glanced over her shoulder, puzzled. "What?"
"The DeLorean. It's kind of ridiculous."
"Not everything has to be good science," Sara pointed out, smacking the side of the TV until the picture snapped into clarity.
"I guess," Fred said, lifting the edge of the blanket so Sara could scoot under it beside her. "But the best things are."