“Look at that row of stars right there.” He points. “Those three that are bright and close together, that’s Orion’s Belt.”
“OK, I see those.”
“Go up and to the right, that bright orange one is Aldebaran.”
“And if you drop down to the left again, right below Orion’s Belt, that’s Rigel. And if you go over to the left even more, that bright blue one is Sirius. Have you heard of any of these?” he asks.
“Sirius. And Orion’s Belt, of course. But I’ve never looked up and seen them in person before.”
“Aldebaran is sixty-five point two three light years away from Earth. Sirius is eight point six eleven. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky because it’s one of the closest stars to Earth. It would be easy to conclude that Sirius is the closest star to Earth, since it’s the brightest. But you can’t rely on brightness to prove distance, because not all stars are the same size, and of course, size does matter.”
I chuckle with him over the sex joke.
“The purpose of trig is to find distances by using the sides of a triangle, which are based on circles. So in astronomy we use a certain form of it to find distances between stars, or how far away a star is from the Sun or some other celestial object.”
“Are you really talking about math right now?”
“Why not? You seem to be fixated on my role as your teacher. I’m a good teacher, Shannon. You should give me a chance.”
“I totally give up, Mateo. You officially win. Because I just don’t understand you.” I look over at him and he’s smiling so big I have to shake my head and laugh. “What?”
“I wore you down?”
“Just—fuck. You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met before. You are seriously the strangest person ever.”
“Anyway,” he says with a chuckle. “Trig is about circles and triangles. And they are related by drawing lines that originate from the center.”
“Blah, blah, blah,” I say. “I don’t want to hear this.”
“Because that’s all I hear when you say things like circle and triangles. Blah, blah, blah. I know you people think I’m smart for some reason—”
“Which is funny, since you just accused me of making you feel dumb.”
“—but I officially cheated my way through those classes.”
“I get that. But I’m not letting you cheat your way through this one. So shut up and listen. Because you say you want me to teach you how to work the problems out so you get the right answer, but you don’t want to understand the answer or how you got it. Right?”
“Right. It’s just easier.”
“Well, of course it’s fucking easier, but it’s meaningless, Shannon. Don’t you get it yet?”
“No.” I laugh. “I don’t.”
“I know,” he says, turning towards me, leaning on his elbow and propping his head up with his hand. “I’m confusing you, right? You don’t understand my intentions. You don’t know what I’m doing. Why are we having sex?”
“I don’t know.” I laugh again. “I really don’t.”
“That’s because you’re trying to get the answer without trying to understand the process of how to find it.”
I just look at him. “Are you fucking kidding me right now? Are you seriously trying to say you’re confusing me with sex to teach me a lesson in math?”
“Your question,” he says, ignoring that statement, “is something along the lines of, what am I doing? But that’s the wrong question. Your real question is, why am I doing it?”
“You’ve been fucking with me on purpose.”
“And the answer you’re so desperate to find is, because Mateo likes me. You want that to be the answer so bad, you stick around, letting me do all these things, with the hope that I’ll eventually say it.”
“You did say it. A few times, at least.”
“But you didn’t believe me.”
“Why should I? You were lying.”
“How do you know I was lying?”
“You told me you made that story up yesterday.”
“So maybe the question is, why did I make that story up?”
“To come in front of me? Put me off my guard? Get off? I don’t know.”
“Do you really think I just go around making up fantasies with every girl I meet so I can come in front of them?”
He stares at me. Those green eyes looking into me. Searching inside of me. Seeing through me like I’m a gaping hole.
“Why are you doing it, Mateo?”
“Tell me why I’m doing it, Shannon.”
I could fight it out with him. Point out all the ways that he’s being an asshole. How he’s confusing me and making things difficult. But there’s only one real answer to that question, and it’s very simple. “You like me.”
“And?” he prods. “That’s not all. I can show you I like you a million different ways. I could just rescue you from the rain or feed you lasagna if all I wanted to do was show you I like you.”
I give up. He really does win. Maybe he’s an evil genius and he pulled this plan out of his ass after the fact. He is some kind of physicist, right? He’s probably capable. But he was there the morning I lost my shit with Bowman and confessed that I was half-assing my way through school. He started the inappropriate touching the first time we met by stretching his legs out under the table. He fucked me in the classroom the very next day. He had me off my half-assing game from the moment he plunked that folder down on Bowman’s desk to this very second. And he did it all with an end in mind.
“I can’t understand the answer to my problem unless I understand the process of working it out. Are you my problem, Mateo? Or my answer?”
“Which do you want me to be?”
“Fuck,” he yells, lying back on the blanket and holding his hands out towards the sky like he’s giving thanks. “Holy fuck.” And then he laughs. “Finally.”
“You are the biggest asshole ever.”
“Thank you,” he says, still laughing.
“I think I hate you right now.”
“I don’t care,” he says, turning over on his stomach and resting his head in his hands so he can see my face. ”You’ll love me in the end.”
“Do you want to hear the real story of how I first saw you?”
We’ve been lying here in silence for a few minutes. I’ve been looking up at the stars and he’s been looking at me. I guess he figured I needed a little time to wrap my head around his methods. “Yes,” I say, still lost in thought.
“I was sitting on my porch, rebuilding the carburetor for the Camaro. This was last month.”
I turn over on my stomach and rest my cheek on my hands so I can watch him as he talks.
“And I saw this girl come out of the gate from the apartments across Broadway. She was wearing a black leather jacket that screamed chick and don’t fuck with me at the same time. I haven’t seen you wear it again, but I dig the belt.”