Arnold went back to the dorm during his first off class that afternoon and Heather was standing just outside the lobby door waiting for him.
“Hi!” Heather waved enthusiastically.
“You skipped class.” Arnold said and she laughed.
“Technically.” Heather said. “When I told Miss Josephine that I might be hired to help decorate a work space for several people, she practically shoved me out the door and told me to follow my dreams.”
Arnold raised his eyebrows slightly and Heather laughed again.
“All right, she's a little impulsive.” Heather took Arnold's hand. “She's also a great teacher and gives her students a lot of leeway to complete the tasks she assigns them.”
Arnold had to nod at that, because she had let Pam and Janet arrange for him to relax in his own way in class. He wasn't going to complain about it or stop taking advantage of it.
“It's this way, right?” Heather asked and started walking in the right direction as Arnold guided her. “Well, the outside is college chic anyway, even if it doesn't have a letter on the front.” She joked. “I think a nice sign might go a long way.”
They went inside and Heather gasped at the state of it.
“They left in a hurry!” Heather said, echoing Pam's words. “All right, I think I can work with this.” She said and let Arnold's hand go, then she checked the other rooms. “Ah, here's the basement stairs.” She waved for him and she took his hand and led him down the stairs. “Ooo, look at all this space!”
Arnold looked around and the place was huge. Upstairs seemed small in comparison and that was because it was all rooms. In the basement, there was nothing but a wide open space.
“We can definitely section off half of the basement, with a quarter of that for cold storage.” Heather pointed. “Dammit, I forgot my sketchbook!”
Arnold took out a notepad and pencil from his backpack.
“Ha! Thanks!” Heather said and accepted them, then she did a rough sketch to keep track of her design. “I'm pretty sure you're going to need a hazardous materials section, too.” She marked out a nice spot that was close to the size of the cold storage on the untouched part of the basement. “We can put up a partition or even a solid wall to hide the duct work and the pipes.”
Heather finished her rough sketch and they went back up the stairs. She marked out the general shapes of the rooms and the available space, then she did the large main room last. She made a sketch for a half wall to divide off a quarter of the main room with a desk on one side and a nice waiting area across from it.
“If you're doing both a normal VR setup and the full dive for ten systems, then you'll need a small desk for each computer system, racks for both helmet sets, comfortable chairs for sitting in, enough space around them for some movement, then a reclining chair or a small couch to lay on for the full dive.” Heather said.
She sketched out what she meant and then she did a preliminary measuring walk around the room to gauge how much space they had for the systems.
“You should get eight of them here in the main room and no more than that.” Heather said. “You also don't want too much crowding. You want happy workers and they need space to work, so maybe only six setups in the main room.” She looked at Arnold. “You should take the small office for yourself, since this is your project, and put a setup in there for yourself.”
“Pam, Janet and I were putting the office in the meeting room.” Arnold said.
“Is everyone going to be in there or just you three?” Heather asked. “Kelly's a worker now, too.”
Arnold had to think about that. “I need to talk to Pam and Janet about it.”
Heather nodded. “We're just doing preliminary discussions, so there's no real rush... unless there is a rush and we need it up and running as soon as possible?” She asked, hopeful.
“Both.” Arnold said. “That's why I need to go to the bank to get things going.”
Heather nodded again. “Well, I'll go back to my dorm and I'll do up a few design variations for you to decide about.” She said. “I'll even make a few calls to try and get pricing for some things.”
“Thank you.” Arnold said and stepped close and kissed her. It was only brief; but, Heather immediately thought of all the times they had kissed. She missed those times a lot, even if he did sleep with her mother.
Heather thought about asking why he had done that, then decided that she didn't want to know. “Um... Arnold.” She looked into his eyes. “Do you think... for old times sake...” She blushed a little. “I want to have sex with you.”
“Are you still dating Eric?” Arnold asked.
Heather opened her mouth to say no, then sighed. “Yes.”
“Then no.” Arnold said.
“Not even... you know.” Heather looked down at his crotch. “A blowjob?”
“Would Eric want you to do that?”
Heather sighed again. “No.”
“Then no.” Arnold said and stepped away. “I have class soon.”
Heather nodded and went to the door. “What if I break up with Eric?”
“I won't drop everyone just to be with you again.” Arnold said. “Why would you do that for me?”
Heather took a deep breath and let it out. Because you are so much better at it. She thought. “See you later.” She said and left the building.
Kelly walked across campus when classes were over, after dropping her things off and changing into a really nice outfit. She did it for Arnold and also to gain points from the guy at the electronics store. She knew he liked her, in that way, and she was going to be a bit shameless in flirting with him. She was also going to tell him right out that was what she was doing. It was blatant flirting and that was all it was.
Kelly saw Arnold had done the same and was wearing a nice business suit. “You look nice.” She said as she came to a stop in front of him. He looked refined with the fresh buzz-cut and crisp suit, even with the new backpack over his shoulder.
“Pam's car is right there.” Arnold said and pointed.
“Pam's?” Kelly asked and the woman in question came out of the dorm wearing a waitress uniform.
“Hi!” Pam said. “Hop in. The bar's a little drive away.”
Kelly climbed into the backseat and Arnold sat on the passenger side. They didn't speak as Pam drove them for about ten minutes through the streets to the bar. The roads started to get congested with traffic, so she took a back street and came around a corner to a stop in a large parking lot.
“The bar's right there.” Pam said and pointed it out to Arnold. “I'll see you here again tonight at one in the morning.”
“Okay.” Arnold said and kissed her for several seconds. Pam handed him the keys and hopped out, then walked away.
Kelly just stared at the woman that had just abandoned them in a parking lot nearly fifteen minutes away from the college and she was too surprised to say anything.
Arnold got out of the car and walked around to climb into the driver's side and started it up. “You can get in the front if you want.”
Kelly was too stunned to speak as she transferred to the front seat. She sat down and watched as Arnold backed out of the spot, turned down the back street, and retraced Pam's route back to the college. When they passed it and kept going, Kelly finally managed to make her mind and her mouth work.
“When did you start driving?!?”
“I only got my license recently.” Arnold said. “I didn't want to depend on the bus if there was an emergency or if my friends needed an extra driver.”
“And Pam let you take her car all the way home?” Kelly asked, surprised that she was so trusting.
“This is the first time.” Arnold said and she caught her breath. “The bus home runs on a set schedule and we would have to wait until tonight to take it, since we missed the afternoon run. Pam offered to let us take her car, since she didn't really need it.”
Kelly sat there and watched Arnold driving, actually driving, and she couldn't quite make herself accept that he was doing something that she hadn't done herself. In fact, it had never crossed her mind to get her license so soon, mainly because she was in college and didn't plan on driving anywhere for a long time.
They pulled over at a gas station and Arnold asked the attendant to fill the car up. He had pulled into the full service lane and the guy set the pump, washed the windows of the car, rubbed the dust off of the headlights, then went back to the pump. It clicked and stopped pumping, so the guy gave it an extra squirt to top the tank, closed it up, and went to Arnold's window.
“Fifty-four seventy.” The guy said.
Arnold handed him three twenty dollar bills. “Keep the change.”
“Hey, thanks buddy!” The guy said. “Enjoy your fancy date.”
Arnold nodded and drove away.
“You didn't correct him.” Kelly said and gave him a pointed look.
“We are both technically going on a date with other people tonight.” Arnold said and Kelly took in a sharp breath. “We both dressed up, called ahead to have them meet us, and we're going to share some time together.”
“It... it's just business.” Kelly said.
“That doesn't mean it's not technically a date.” Arnold said.
Kelly fell silent for several minutes and then turned in her seat to look at him. “You're okay with dating another guy?” She asked. “Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm just asking.”
Arnold shrugged. “I won't be kissing him, if that's what you mean.” He said. “Once he sees the length of the grant and the money the bank will be holding onto for the follow up grant, he might get excited.”
Kelly just stared at him and didn't say anything for a while. Nearly half an hour passed and she sighed. “Did you shower before you changed?”
“You can give me a blowjob if you can get over that Pam gave me one just before we came downstairs to the car.” Arnold said. “She was so excited about me seeing her at work that she forgot her keys and went back up to get them.”
Kelly opened her mouth to accuse him of lying, just to put her off, then she remembered something. Arnold never lied to her. He was too straightforward to keep secrets. At least, that was what she believed.
“Will you tell me who you've slept with?” Kelly asked.
“They don't want anyone to know.” Arnold said.
Kelly had to think about that. “Are you having sex with one of the teachers?”
“No.” Arnold said, honestly. He wasn't having sex with one. Not now.
“Hmm.” Kelly thought some more. “It has to be someone you know and in a kind of authority.” She reasoned, then she gasped. “It better not be your mother, Annie!”
Arnold glanced at her and gave her an angelic smile, because she immediately thought the worst of him, then the smile disappeared. “No. I will never do anything sexual with my mother. I love her and will never hurt her like that.”
Kelly relaxed and let out a sigh. “That's a relief.” She said and then she took in a sharp breath. “Not my mother!”
Arnold raised his eyebrows and glanced at her again, then looked back at the road.
“You're right. Mom would probably faint if you gave her anything more than a thank you kiss.”
Arnold nodded. “Speculation won't get you the answer. No matter what you ask, I will deny it.”
“That's not like you.” Kelly said. “What if we meet that person in public? Would you deny it then?”
“Yes.” Arnold said. “Same reason.”
Kelly sat silently for another little while. “Are you disappointed that I can't get over you having other women?”
“Yes.” Arnold said, to her surprise. “I love you and want you to feel good.”
“...just not at the expense of everyone else.” Kelly said.
“No.” Arnold didn't look at her. “You would take me away from my friends if we got back together.”
“I wouldn't.” Kelly said. “I just...” She stopped talking and sighed. “You're sleeping with Pam, too.”
“That's not a secret.” Arnold said. “The whole dorm knows I visit their room three times a week when we have morning classes together.”
“No one says anything about it?” Kelly asked, a little surprised. “I mean, like jealousy... or wanting...” She took another deep breath. “...wanting a turn with you?”
“Not that I know of.” Arnold said. “The last while I have pretty much missed all the times necessary to walk the gauntlet.”
Kelly chuckled. “That's the word I was looking for. Gauntlet.” She said. “That hallway is a gauntlet.”
Arnold nodded. “I haven't been in the dorm room long enough to change my clothes for them or shower with the door open.”
“No way!” Kelly gasped. “When did that start?”
“It doesn't matter. When classes started for me, my spare time for that seemed to disappear.”
Kelly wanted to ask how long he had been flashing all of the girls in the hallway and then she realized he was right. They weren't together and it didn't matter now when it happened.
“That's because you share the same schedules now instead of you working and being off at different times.” Kelly said. “I doubt they realize that and must think you're avoiding them.”
Arnold nodded. He assumed the same thing, especially after Rebecca's comments about missing him so much. He hadn't intended to cause that and he didn't have an easy solution. He was just too busy to hang around the dorm like he used to.
“Now you've got this grant from the college and your spare time is going to disappear like water down a drain.” Kelly said. “Are you sure you can handle this and still do normal classwork?”
Arnold nodded. “Professor Crenslav excused me from his classes and labs to work on it.”
“I'm glad.” Kelly said. “I should tell you to not push yourself and be careful.” She reached over and touched his arm. “I'll only say that I'll try to be a good friend and help as much as I can.”
Arnold nodded again and the rest of the drive passed in companionable silence.