A Brilliant Mind

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“I’m so sorry. To say that was brutal doesn’t do it justice. Did he ever tell you why?”

“Not in so many words,” she replied.

“Was it just cold feet?”

“Maybe.”

“Was there another woman?” he wanted to know.

“No, not as far as I know. I specifically asked him that and regardless of how badly he hurt me, I can honestly say he never once lied to me. So no, I’m sure it wasn’t another woman, but I really don’t think that was the case.”

“Again, I’m very sorry. Being left standing at the altar is unimaginably painful and yet you seem to have dealt with it quite well. Gracefully even. That’s rather admirable.”

“Thank you. I have tried, that’s for sure. For the first couple of months, I was a wreck. I was so hurt and so…embarrassed. Humiliated is the better word. But I’m much stronger now and I have you to thank for a lot of that.”

She smiled at him and he remembered why he’d agreed to do this with her. Liz Rafferty was not only a beautiful woman, she was charming and it was that charm that did him in. No, the charm had held him, while her physical beauty and scientific mind that had drawn him to her.

Tanner Bingham was a young, handsome, well-known and highly-respected physicist leading the charge to find the ‘Holy Grail of Physics’, the so-called ‘Theory of Everything’ or TOE for short. He’d already published several peer-reviewed papers that had rocked the scientific community and his final paper, which was still under peer review, was the long-awaited-for proof.

In a nutshell, he’d demonstrated the heretofore impossible by showing how quantum mechanics and gravity can and do fit together in a theory he called ‘quantum loop-string gravitation’ in which string theory is integrated with quantum loop gravity. As with general relativity, only a handful of the brightest scientific minds fully understood the equations which were the hallmarks of his combined theory, but those who did, understood its far-reaching implications. At the tender age of 25, Dr. Bingham was the hands-down favorite to be the winner of a future Nobel Prize in physics and which meant an open-ended ticket to work anywhere in the world he desired.

He’d recently returned to his hometown of Pacific Grove, California, just a stone’s throw from the better-known city of Carmel which once boasted actor Clint Eastwood as its mayor. Bingham’s father, Tanner, Sr., had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. At his request, his mother, Tammy, had held off telling him until his latest research was published knowing there was nothing he could do but worry and, from his father’s perspective, abandon his work, something for which he couldn’t bear to be held responsible. Tanner had been devastated when she finally told him as his father had always been his idol and best friend.

He now spent his days working in one of the laboratories of the Naval Post-Graduate School or NPGS located in Monterrey, another better-known city which bordered Pacific Grove, a small town known for golf and less notably, for the heavy fog which often rolled in in an almost literal fashion. Bingham had been at high football games in which the incoming fog bank had slowly ‘walked’ along the field, engulfing it a yard at a time reducing visibility to almost zero as it went. The Navy had jumped at the chance to even temporarily have a scientist of Professor Bingham’s stature gracing its premier research and teaching facility and had given him carte blanche to anything he wanted at any time he so desired.

As much as he loved his work, he needed to be near his mother and his dying father so NPGS was a perfect fit him and the government. Tanner also dearly loved being near the water, and Pacific Grove afforded him that opportunity. In the past, he would often ride his bicycle a few miles out to Pebble Beach, home of the U.S. Open golf tournament that was played there each year, just to sit and think. It was there, sitting near the famous Lone Cypress Tree, that it first occurred to him that the two competing theories could be merged.

That Eureka moment happened three years ago when he’d come home for Christmas while still in graduate school working on his doctorate. Most physicists who’d made significant contributions tended to be in their twenties or early thirties with the most well-know examples being Einstein and Hawking, and Bingham was no exception.

Bingham was not only brilliant when it came to science (math and physics, most notably) he was an exceptionally good-looking young man and not at all handicapped by his superior intellect. Many other such people tended to be socially awkward, but that was not the case with Tanner Bingham.

He’d been dating Lucy Marin since they were sophomores in high school and they’d managed to maintain a reasonably-satisfying, long-distance relationship while he was away at MIT in Massachusetts. Well, until this most recent trip back home anyway.

It had been hard enough to deal with his father’s illness, bahis firmaları but when Lucy told him she’d found someone else, a fact she’d never mentioned in any text, email, or phone conversation, it was a truly devastating blow. In the back of his mind, in spite of whatever gnawing concerns he’d about her, he’d always felt he knew they would one day marry and he’d given serious thought to asking her to do just that on the flight back to the west coast. He was therefore totally and completely shocked when she told him that evening it was over. And yet, at some level he couldn’t explain, he was also deeply relieved.

Their final moments together had been brief and emotionally draining. She was sorry, it wasn’t his fault, and several other similar cliches were thrown at him as she made her final exit from his life. She’d found someone else, but her father convinced her she needed to tell him this in person. And just like that, it was over.

Tanner seemingly had everything a young man his age could want and it was almost certain he’d one day also have a ton of money. But the one thing he didn’t have…anymore, at least…was love. Then again, he wondered whether or not love was what he’d had with Lucy or if it was a kind of settling. A resignation that they were ‘meant to be’ or some other meaningless platitude.

Now, when he looked back on his relationship with Lucy honestly, he wasn’t sure it even qualified as love. He thought he’d loved her and, for the most part, had even believed he was in love with her. But even with her, there had been something missing. There was no real…connection. There was nothing that did what the poets said love was supposed to do. His logical mind told him that was probably normal and his proposed ‘missing link’ nothing more than the stuff of poets; a kind of lofty, unattainable love that existed only within the lines of poetry and prose.

Why then had he felt so deeply alone for so long in spite of his ‘being in love’ with Lucy? For now, he didn’t have an answer to that question, he only knew that his work, the work that drove him to labor day and night, had filled the void. Now that his work was done—or at least that chapter of his life’s work—the loneliness was back with a vengeance. A loneliness he’d hoped and expected Lucy to fill.

Still stinging from the breakup, it was such a relief to have met someone as beautiful and charming as Liz Rafferty, a young Navy officer attending the Naval Post Graduate School with an emphasis in nuclear physics. Bingham had agreed to teach one class as a sort of payment for what was otherwise free-reign of an entire lab’s worth of very expensive, very sophisticated, cutting-edge equipment. He’d been home for almost three months and hadn’t yet been on a single date by the time the Post-Graduate school year began just after Labor Day.

He’d noticed her immediately, sitting in the front row with her long, blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun. Her face was exquisitely symmetrical and he found it difficult, if not impossible, not to stare. Even in uniform, he could see this Navy lieutenant’s body was nothing short of miraculous.

Additionally, they shared a bond. A bond of heartache with her having been abandoned on her wedding day and Bingham having had his own heart broken by the only girl he’d loved or…thought he’d loved. Their bond was strengthened upon learning both events had happened on the same day—a fact completely unknown to the other. Lastly, while she was nowhere near being his peer in the world of physics, she was exceptionally bright and talented. Bingham knew this introductory, graduate-level class in nuclear physics would be no challenge to her after grading the baseline exam he gave to all new students.

A invitation for a cup of coffee in the NPGS cafeteria after the first day of class had turned into dinner that weekend. Dinner soon became a weekend spent together in San Diego for a conference on particle physics, and the two were inseparable thereafter. And yet there was something about this relationship, too, that set off warning bells in Bingham’s head. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but just as it had with Lucy, something felt…wrong.

Adding to the heavy burden he was already carrying, his father passed away two days before Christmas, casting a pall on what had always been his favorite holiday of the year. Liz had gone home to Wisconsin to be with her family leaving yet another hole in Bingham’s heart as he struggled with his grief. Lucy hadn’t even bothered to show up for his father’s memorial service, and as much as he knew his mother needed him, Bingham feared he was on the verge of falling into a deep depression.

His greatest accomplishment was behind him, his only love nothing but a memory, and the man he’d looked up to all of his life was now gone with Liz nowhere to be found. That wasn’t true in the absolute sense but rather in the physical. Liz had called him several times expressing her condolences kaçak iddaa and assuring him she was still very much interested in continuing their relationship, but that had done little to assuage his grief or fill the hole in his soul.

Perhaps what troubled him most about her was her obsession with the Nobel Prize. It was awarded annually and the announcement was made on the 10th of December. Bingham knew he had zero chance of winning that year and gave it no thought, but Liz spoke it so often it began to eat away at him. The chances were excellent for the following year as that would give the scientific community additional time to analyze his work which had already been confirmed by some of the most brilliant minds in the field of physics. Perhaps it nothing more than a genuine concern on her part; an acknowledgment she appreciated the gravity of his research. But a million dollars was a very strong motive for ‘love’ and Bingham couldn’t shake the feeling something just wasn’t right when it came to Liz.

Somehow he made it through the end of the year, then took heart when the first day of classes rolled around. It was now early January, Liz was back, and he had something to look forward to other than work to fill his days.

On the romantic front, Valentine’s Day was fast approaching. Bingham remembered Liz telling him one of her other passions was dancing. She loved physics and was actually very good at it—at least good enough to be a nuclear engineer for the United States Navy, but she truly loved to dance. So much so, she’d invited him to a Valentine’s Day soirée at NPGS where a live band would be playing and where hundreds of couples would be dancing the night away on the most romantic day of the year.

Not being socially awkward, Bingham had no real issue with dancing, he’d just never spent any time learning how. Then again, he’d had no reason to bother until meeting Liz. Holding a girl, like Lucy, during a slow dance and just turning in circles had always been good enough for both him and the girl with whom he was dancing, so there’d been no impetus to try something as drastic as taking lessons.

Liz asked for very few things, but once the Valentine’s Day dance was in her sights, she was relentless in encouraging him to take some lessons; so much so he’d finally agreed he would. He’d initially asked her why she couldn’t just teach him herself and it was her answer that started him wondering what was really going on. “Other than physics, what do we have in common?” she’d asked him in reply.

Bingham had racked his brain and came up empty. “Exactly!” she’d replied almost triumphantly. “This will give us a shared interest and it’ll be so much fun! If I teach you, it’ll take all of the fun out of it. What I want, what I dream of, is to be swept off my feet by a handsome man who can dance. I dream of him…of you…wowing me…and if I have to take you from stepping on my feet to sweeping me off them, well, that would shatter my dream. You understand, right?”

He didn’t really understand her logic, but he accepted it as a need, and since it at least seemed reasonable, he’d agreed. In fact, it might even be fun although Bingham’s idea of fun was finding an equation which accurately and beautifully represented some physical law. At a lesser level, he enjoyed going for a long bike ride or a run. He also loved classical music and would often combine it with aerobic activity as a way to get his creative juices flowing. He additionally loved nature and all its beauty, so he could get a kind of ‘Trifecta’ for free anytime he wanted by riding somewhere like Pebble Beach as Mozart played a kind of private symphony for him via his iPod. Liz however, preferred to remain indoors whenever possible. And obviously, that included dancing, so…

As it turned out, there just happened to be a place in Pacific Grove; a place he’d passed by dozens or even scores of times and to which he’d never once paid any attention. It was appropriately called ‘Pacific Grove Dance’ and offered lessons in ballroom dancing as well as many other more modern styles.

He stopped in on his way home that very day and found himself looking around for someone who could help him. The only other person there had her back to him, so when he got to the front desk he stood there politely waiting for her to acknowledge him.

Bingham never knew what kind of reception he might get when he met someone for the first time. He’d seen pretty much everything from groups of people pointing and smiling to being asked for his autograph to realizing the person he was talking to had no idea who he was. Regardless of how groundbreaking his work had been, it was still physics and that subject put most people to sleep. Still, he’d been in every local (and many national) newspaper, on the cover of several big-name magazines, and the focus of a Discovery Channel special. He’d been labeled the ‘new Stephen Hawking’, a title he found embarrassing and for which he felt very kaçak bahis unworthy. So, as always, he waited patiently not knowing what her reaction might be.

When she finally turned around, she was startled having no idea anyone was there. “Oh, my goodness. How long have you been standing there?” she said her hand on her chest just above her breasts.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I just didn’t want to interrupt what you were doing,” Bingham told her smiling politely.

“No, that’s fine. I just didn’t hear you. So…how may I help you?” she asked.

Although she looked nothing like Liz, this woman’s face resembled hers in that it was also one of the most symmetrical Bingham had ever seen. He found himself doing Golden Ratio calculations in his head as he mentally estimated the distance from one prominent feature to another. She also had an incredible smile and for a brief moment, Bingham found himself so captivated by her beauty, he was unable to think. He gave up on his calculations and tried to guess her age. She was clearly much older than Liz, but no less beautiful. She appeared to be in her mid-thirties but he couldn’t be sure. Bingham also noted this woman had the most beautiful, light-red hair and the clearest blue eyes he’d ever seen. Her skin was fair but also tight and free of the kinds of wrinkles so often seen in women who grew up around there and who’d spent a lot of time on the beach in the sun.

“Sir? May I help you with something?” she asked again still smiling. Her teeth were perfectly white, straight and framed by the kind of soft, full lips he—and most other men—found so attractive. Were he just a few years older…and not dating Liz…he would have been very interested although he had no reason to assume she’d feel that way about him.

“Oh, sorry,” he finally said. “Yes, I was interested in taking some lessons. My girlfriend has been hounding me…sorry, strongly encouraging me to take lessons before the Valentine’s Day dance at the Post-Graduate school.”

“Oh, right! That’s one of the biggest social events of the year around here. I went several times when my husband was still alive. It’s truly spectacular and I’m sure you’ll have a lovely time. Anything specific in terms of the steps you want to learn?”

As he started to answer she cut him off and said, “Why do you look so familiar to me?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I guess I have one of those faces.”

She smiled and said, “Oh, no. You definitely don’t have…one of those faces.” She didn’t seem to be embarrassed, but she did appear to be somewhat uncomfortable as she looked down for a moment.

She looked back up at him then said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this—because I never say this kind of thing—but you might just be the nicest looking young man to come in here in a very long time. So…there’s no possible way I’d forget your face.”

She smiled at him again then said, “I just have this feeling I’ve seen you before.” She stared at him for a few more seconds then said, “We have a lot of movie stars and other famous people around here and over the years, quite a few have stopped in at the studio.” She pointed to a wall where he saw black and white photographs of her with stars like John Travolta, Kevin Spacey, and not surprisingly, Clint Eastwood. The other man in the photos was almost certainly her late husband and he appeared to be as handsome as she was beautiful.

“Are you on a soap opera by any chance?” she asked trying to place his face.

Bingham laughed and assured he was not. Then she laughed and told him, “Well, you could be, you know. Have you ever considered auditioning?”

He laughed again and said, “I really don’t have time. Between my day job and my new girlfriend, my um…dance card is pretty full.” That made her laugh hard enough that she covered her mouth and her beautiful smile.

“You remind me of my late husband. He was such a handsome man and…funny, too. Looks are wonderful, but a sense of humor is forever.”

“You’re not telling me I’m funny looking, are you?” he said with mock seriousness.

She laughed yet again and said, “You see! I was right. Your girlfriend is a lucky young woman. So…just the waltz?”

She told him she had a package she called ‘the down and dirty’ in which customers could get a whirlwind tour of all the major steps or a more in-depth version of any three at the same price.

“I’ll take the three-pack, but I’ll have to ask my girlfriend which ones she specifically wants, if that’s okay.”

“That’s perfect!” she said. “There’s no need to let me know until we start. I’ve taught all of them for many years so I don’t need any advanced warning.”

“Great! So…how much do I owe you?” he asked.

He paid the advance and would settle up the balance when they finished the first lesson.

Liz was thrilled at the news and gave him the three steps she most enjoyed. He in turn called the studio and asked for… That’s when he realized he didn’t even know her name.

“Pacific Grove Dance Studio,” he heard a female voice say.

“Um, hi. This is Tanner Bingham. Are you the beautiful woman with the red hair I spoke to yesterday, by any chance?”

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