Ugh. Laundry day. Val’s laundry basket was overflowing. She took the clothes that were hanging from the sides and those that hadn’t even made it near the basket in the first place, and pressed them into it until it was safe to carry without clothes falling all over the floor.
Twenty minutes later, Val was pushing open the laundromat door using her shoulder while balancing the laundry basket in her arms and carrying a heavy backpack on her shoulders.
She stood at the entrance and searched around for a free washing machine. Settling for the closest to her of the few that were free, she strode to the bench right in front of it and with a soft grunt, placed her backpack and basket on it.
This was the first time she had come here. Heck, this was the first time ever she was going to do her own laundry. She had been sending her laundry to the drycleaners but that was proving to be extremely expensive. She cursed her privileged upbringing; it was now coming to bite her on her butt.
Standing in front of the washing machine, she analyzed its controls for a few seconds, trying to figure out how the thing worked. Figuring she could learn quicker from the guy who was setting his washer next to her, she would often glance at his washer trying to catch how he was setting the controls on the panel.
By the looks of it, he caught her staring.
“Oh! Um, I guess?” She said, flicking her eyes to his.
Uh-oh, he was hot, in a scruffy kind of way hot. His handsome slim face looked as if he hadn’t shaved in two days and had just gotten out of bed. His dirty blond hair stuck up in every direction in a short messy Mohawk. His had this aura of calmness that showed in his big brown eyes and carefree smile.
He walked to her machine and started setting up a cycle. “You couldn’t have found a better teacher; I can literally do this with my eyes closed. Have been coming here for years.”
As he gave her instructions, Val would only nod to let him know she understood his explanation, while taking in the rest of his appearance.
What caught her attention the most, besides his handsome face, was a medium sized tattoo on his forearm of a beautiful black and orange tiger. It looked like it had been painted with brushes seeming like a real Japanese ink painting.
It was strange that Valentina found this disheveled guy as attractive as she did. His clothes and shoes had definitely seen better days. He was wearing a white T-shirt with some sort of geometric colorful design and faded jeans. Those green and grey DC sneakers were probably as old as Methuselah, and judging by their muddy color, they hadn’t been in a washing machine since the beginning of times.
But who was her to judge? Yes, her own appearance was very tidy and clean; she would never wear something stained, wrinkled or ripped. But she had to admit that her style, if you could call it that, was as plain as they came. Simple T Shirts, jeans and sneakers would suffice. She would not waste time styling her hair; which was usually pulled into an easy and neat ponytail. Makeup was also a waste of time, although, she had a tube of chapstick in her bag, if that counted for something.
She liked tattoos, but on other people. She would never do something as daring as to permanently mark her skin; she was too indecisive for that. She could predict that the moment she walked out of the shop with a brand new tattoo, she would despise it.
“Ok, all set up. Now you just have to put in the detergent and your clothes, and it’s good to go.” He said, moving back to his bench.
She only responded with an appreciative smile and a mumbled “Thanks,” and finished loading the washer.
Val was painfully shy, to the point of sometimes seeming impolite or unfriendly. She talked to strangers only if it was absolutely necessary. If she met attractive men, she would barely speak to them, or even worst, make all her effort to ignore them. That was why; at eighteen, she hadn’t had a boyfriend yet.
What she really felt like doing, was to strike up a conversation with this guy, but she didn’t have the audacity just to go ahead and do it. Therefore, she decided to do what she had planned from the start, study her favorite subject in the whole world, computer programing. Yuck!
For her computer programming class, Val needed to create from scratch a simple mathematical calculations program. As simple as it supposedly was, she was a lost cause when it came to writing the code that made the damn program work. To aid on her endeavor she had bought the book “Computer Programming for Beginners”. She should have bought “Computer Programming for Dummies” though.
She pulled out the book from her backpack, opened it on the last page she had been reading and sat down on the bench to wait for the washing machine to finish its job.
Few minutes had passed when her neighbor asked, “What’s that you’re reading?”
She whipped her head in his direction to find her previous rescuer sitting on his bench completely turned her way, squinting at her book.
“It’s a computer programing manual,” she answered, looking back at the page she had been reading.
“Are you a Computer Science student?”
“Oh no, I hate programming,” she wrinkled her nose, then flickered her eyes back at him, and before becoming aware of the amused grin he was sporting on his face, she mumbled loud enough for him to hear, “It’s the most annoying thing ever.”
She looked at him sheepishly, feeling the rising temperature on her cheeks and chest. “Are you a computer science student?”
“Yep, I asked you because I thought recognized that book,” he answered chuckling and crossing his arms in front of his chest.
“You know, I didn’t mean… uh, I mean… what I meant was that I’m annoying.” She cut herself short and closed her eyes for a moment to think before she dug the hole deeper.
You just keep making it better, don’t you Valentina?
Opening her eyes and looking straight at his expectant brown ones, she responded more calmly, “What I mean is, I don’t get it and I don’t have the patience for it.”
There! Was that so hard?
“Don’t worry; you hate what you hate, right?” he shrugged, still chuckling. “So… Why are you reading about something you hate?”
“It’s for a class. I have to write a program,” she said with dread washing over her face.
“What are you studying? If it’s not too nosey of me to ask.”
“Petroleum Engineering,” she stated with a proud smile.
“That’s cool. You sound really convinced.”
“My dad’s a Petroleum Engineer and my mom’s a Geophysicist. I guess I want to follow in their steps,” she shrugged. “What about you, why the boring computer science?” she teased, raising one eyebrow.
He chuckled again. “I’ve always been good with computers. I like to work with them, fix them, take them apart and put them back together, but I like programming the most. If you need any help with it, I can give you a hand, I happen to be pretty good at it.”
“And your modesty is overwhelming,” she noted sarcastically. Okay Valentina, stop it, you don’t know this guy!
In spite of her shyness, Val had a great sense of humor. She liked to tease her friends as much as laugh and make fun of herself, yet teasing a perfect stranger like that was only reserved for people like Tom; he had this laid-back attitude that allowed her to feel comfortable enough to throw a joke here and there.
“You know? For a girl who seems to be very serious, you sure like to tease,” he laughed. “Seriously, I can give you my number and you can call me whenever you need help.”
She looked at him for a few seconds pondering whether she should take his offer. “Thanks, but I don’t want to be a bother.”
“You wouldn’t be. Besides, I’m offering, I have time. Really.”
She thought about it again for a moment. He is almost begging. “Okay, thanks. I think I really need help.” She smiled apologetically crinkling her nose in a way that denoted her embarrassment.
She took out her cell phone to set his number, and asked, “So your name is…?”
She finished setting his contact information and then called him so he could have hers. “There’s mine.”
His phone rang and he took it out of his pocket. “Great! If you don’t call me, which seems likely, then I can call you.” Then he added in a lower voice, as it talking to himself, “And stalking you will be so much easier.”
Valentina glared at him for a moment furrowing her brows, “Huh?” She immediately started giggling, comprehension, replacing her initial alarm.
Tom laughed and then asked, still holding his phone, “And you are?” .
He tapped the screen a few times and brought his phone very close to his squinting eyes, as if checking what he had just typed. “Okay, got it.”
She found it odd that he placed his phone so close to his eyes, she wouldn’t be able discern anything if she did that. “Can you actually see what’s on the screen like that?”
“It’s the only way I can see what’s on the screen. Crappy eyes.” He pointed at his eyes forming a V with his index and middle fingers.
“Oh.” She mumbled, not finding anything else to say about his confession.
“So…Valentina…That’s a nice name. Where’s it from?” He asked, changing the topic.
“I don’t know where it’s from. My mom’s Colombian, it’s common over there.”
“You must speak Spanish, then.” He asked seeming very interested.
“Yeah, I understand it and can speak it. Maybe not as fast as my mom, though.” She felt flustered; she didn’t like to draw neither negative nor positive attention to herself.
“Say something in Spanish.”
“People always ask me that,” she said, slightly annoyed.
“That’s because you need to prove it. You seem like a shady person,” he replied, raising one eyebrow in a fake expression of distrust.
“Y tu te crees muy gracioso.”
“ I can understand some Spanish, you know?”
“You understood that?” said Val, eyes wide and eyebrows raised.
“Yeah, you said that I’m very funny.”
“That’s exactly what I said,” she giggled.
They kept talking while their clothes were washed. Tom was very talkative so he did most of the talking while asking her questions about herself, most likely to pull words out of her that she probably would not say if she wasn’t being prompted to.
Val hadn’t expected to feel so comfortable talking to a cute guy like him, but he seemed to be the type of person that just made an easy conversation with anybody, including her.
During their conversation, she learned that Tom wasn’t from Texas, that he moved to College Station to attend college at Texas A&M, just like her, and that he was almost finished with school and looking for an internship. She wasn’t from there either but she had lived in Dallas for the last few years. She confessed that this was her first semester and that it had been a hard adjustment, she missed her home, family and friends from back home.
They also talked about traveling. She told him that she had lived in many places due to her parent’s line of work. He had travelled too; however, his travels were more related to family vacations when he was a kid, and trips with his friends more recently. He also told her that he wanted to go backpacking to Europe after he finished school and before finding a job.
As he finished folding and placing the last item of clothes in his backpack, Tom said, “Okay, guess I’m done. Nice meeting you Valentina. You have my phone number; I will be expecting a call.” He wiggled his eyebrows as he put on a grey baseball cap and pair of black wayfarer sunglasses that looked absolutely awesome on him.
He picked up some sort of bundle of rods that Valentina had seen sitting on his bench but had not payed any attention to. He unfolded it to form a long white cane and tapped the floor two times with the tip.
“N-nice meeting you too. I-I’ll call you.” She stuttered, in a barely audible tone.
Val was dumbfounded. He wasn’t kidding about the crappy eyes!
After pulling his backpack into a comfortable position over his back, Tom walked out of the laundromat swiping his cane from side to side.