Summary: Chemistry TA Elijah has the most gorgeous college freshman he's ever seen in his class.
Notes: Inspired by Elijah's appearance in the Apples in Stereo's music video 'Dance Floor' and by the animated gif that appears at the end of the story.
It was hard enough to be a grad student when you looked about 14 years old. It was even harder to be a teaching assistant responsible for teaching the rudiments of chemistry to a bunch of college freshmen when you looked about 14 years old.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Aretha had sung. Elijah Wood only hoped he could eventually earn some from his students, all of whom looked older and dressed cooler than him. So far, it was not going well.
For this first class, he’d thought his short sleeved white button-down, brown vest and yellow tie a nice touch, proving he was mature for his age, which was in reality 20, not 14, although he was still a science prodigy. Unfortunately, based on the disbelieving looks the ensemble was getting, all it proved was that he was a geek and, worse, a dork.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the most gorgeous guy Elijah had ever seen in his life was sitting in the front row of the classroom, dead center. Sean Astin his name was, and he had thick wavy hair the color of ferric oxide and dreamy eyes the color of chlorophyll, and the combination worked on Elijah like some potent chemical mix that, if he was exposed to it for too long, would cause him to spontaneously combust.
If only Sean (Elijah already thought of him as Sean) didn’t look so earnest, didn’t hunch over his desk that way with his eyes fixed on Elijah as if he was utterly fascinated by what his teacher was saying. This was in marked contrast to the rest of the students, who were lounging back in their chairs with bored expressions, or staring blankly out the window, or, to judge by a rasping buzz-saw type sound coming from the back of the room, catching forty winks. His introductory lecture had obviously made a huge impression, like dousing them in poppy extract a la ‘Wizard of Oz’.
“Listen up, class,” Elijah began, determined to earn some of that R-E-S-P-E-C-T, but unfortunately his voice emerged on a high-pitched squeak that would have done justice to a laboratory mouse. He cleared his throat, studiously ignoring a smattering of titters, and continued, “I’m going to conduct a simple neutralization reaction for you. The formula for it is as follows.”
He turned to the chalkboard behind him, picked up a piece of white chalk and pressed it firmly against the green surface. On the very first stroke the chalk snapped in two and fell to the carpet. More titters erupted behind Elijah. Cheeks burning, he bent and picked up the broken pieces, dropped them in the tray and selected another piece. He didn’t dare glance behind him. He was afraid he’d discover that Sean was one of the titterers.
More lightly and fortunately without any further mishaps, Elijah scribbled on the board:
NaHCO3 + CH3COOH = CO2 + H2O + NaCH3COO
Then he set down the chalk and turned around. Sean, sitting directly in front of him, hastily raised his eyes as if he’d had them fixed somewhere lower than the chalkboard. Elijah wondered if it was his imagination that Sean seemed a trifle flustered. Good lord, had he been staring at Elijah’s butt? It was an immensely cheering thought, but Elijah decided it was probably also wishful thinking on his part.
Dragging his mind back to neutralization reactions, he said, "Does anyone know what these reactants are and their common names?” Expecting a resounding silence (he’d been warned by other, more jaded, TAs what to expect), Elijah was shocked, pleasantly so, when Sean immediately raised his hand.
“I do, Mr. Wood,” he said earnestly.
“Excellent, Mr., uh,” he said inanely, his photographic memory abandoning him in the face of Sean’s gorgeous earnestness.
“Astin, Sean Astin.” He smiled, revealing devastating crinkles at the corners of his eyes. For a moment, Elijah was as dizzy as if he’d sniffed too much ether. “NaHCO3 is sodium bicarbonate or baking soda, and CH3COOH is acetic acid or vinegar.”
Sean’s voice was deep and had just the teensiest, tiniest trace of a lisp. Maybe because of his overbite, Elijah speculated, and a very attractive overbite it was, too. Went well with those creases at the corners of his eyes, as a matter of fact.
“That’s correct. Very good, Se- Mr. Astin.” Elijah dragged his eyes away from Sean’s attractive overbite. “So, baking soda and vinegar. Two items commonly found in a household kitchen. They don’t sound very exciting, do they? But let’s combine them and see what happens, shall we?”
There were several glass beakers on the table in front of Elijah, along with a pair of Latex gloves and protective goggles.
He picked up the gloves and pulled them on. “One must always wear adequate protection when engaging in any sort of, erm...” Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Sean swallow hard and then lick his lips. That dizzy sensation returned. Elijah grabbed the edge of the table. The vinegar smell was pretty overpowering, come to think of it.
Now, what had he been saying? Oh right, the importance of wearing adequate protection when engaging in.. Oh good lord. Suddenly Elijah’s tie felt too tight, and he ran a forefinger inside his collar to ease the pressure. Then he cleared his throat.
“Gloves and protective goggles are required when mixing chemicals,” he amended, and quickly pulled the goggles over his head and adjusted them. It was a sad but true fact that no one looked attractive in goggles, but what could he do? As their teacher, he had a responsibility to his students to set a good example. “This,” he said, holding up one of the beakers, “is sodium bicarbonate. I’m going to pour the acetic acid,” he lifted a second beaker half filled with vinegar, “into it, like so...”
With a flourish, he set the rim of the vinegar beaker to the baking soda beaker and tilted it. The result was instantaneous and spectacular, as usual. Well, not quite as usual, because Elijah, distracted by Sean’s swallowing and licking, poured in too much vinegar so that a veritable fountain of white foam gushed up out of the beaker containing the baking soda, and spilled over onto the table and all over his left hand.
“Oops,” Elijah exclaimed, nearly dropping the beaker. He made an awkward recovery, quickly setting down the empty beaker and grabbing the overflowing one before it could fall. This, he thought in despair, was why he belonged in the peace and safety of a research lab, and by golly, as soon as he had his PhD, that’s where he was going.
Plastering a smile on his face, Elijah held up the beaker and gestured to it like Vanna White on the ‘Wheel of Fortune’. “Voila,” he said. “Sodium acetate.”
“You sure? Looks like something else to me,” a guy in the middle said, and someone else quipped, “Biggest orgasm ever,” and loud guffaws broke out.
Elijah wondered fatalistically if a teaching career had ever ended after one class. His only consolation as he listened to the hysterical laughter was that Sean hadn’t joined it. In fact, he was glancing back over his shoulder with a frown, and his hand was clenched around his No. 2 pencil so that his knuckles were white.
And then, like the answer to a prayer, the bell rang. Oh thank god, thought Elijah. Aloud he said, “That’s all for today, class. On Wednesday we’ll be covering chapter 2 of your textbook and you’ll conduct your first experiments.” But he was talking to empty air. His students might have teleported out of the room, they’d vanished so quickly. Maybe they should be taking physics instead of chemistry, he thought bitterly. They’d surely ace it.
Heaving a sigh, Elijah removed his goggles and set them aside. Then he stooped to retrieve some paper towels from a shelf. When he straightened, he got another shock. Sean was standing on the other side of the table from him. Apparently teleportation wasn’t his thing. Elijah was very glad.
Sean said, diffidently, “I was wondering if you needed any help cleaning things up, Mr. Wood.”
“Sure, that’d be great.” He offered Sean a wad of paper towels.
Silently, they mopped up the spilled sodium acetate. Elijah bit his lip and tried desperately to think of something brilliant to say. Surely a guy with a 140 IQ could think of something? Sean kept shooting him tiny glances as if waiting for him to speak, which only made matters worse, because up close he was even more gorgeous, if that were possible.
Apparently deciding that if it was left up to Elijah the silence would never be broken, Sean said, “I thought your lecture was awesome, Mr. Wood. You really know your stuff.”
As kind as he was gorgeous. A lump appeared in Elijah’s throat. “It was my first time teaching a class,” he confessed.
“Really? I’d never have guessed.”
Elijah scrutinized Sean’s face for any sign of sarcasm, but found only sincerity in those dreamy, chlorophyll-colored eyes. Suddenly he felt a whole lot better about what had happened. Maybe he’d survive teaching Chem 101 after all, with an ally in the front row, and even gain some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
“That was a pretty spectacular reaction,” Sean went on, “when you poured the vinegar into the baking soda.”
“It can be like that,” Elijah said, a little breathlessly, “when two chemicals meet.”
“So I’ve discovered.” Sean dropped his paper towels in the trash. Then he fixed Elijah with another earnest look. “I can’t tell you how glad I am I signed up for Chem 101. I’m looking forward to learning lots more.”
Elijah disposed of his paper towels and stripped off his gloves. “I’m looking forward to teaching you.” He gathered his nerve. After all, it seemed pretty clear Sean wasn’t really talking about chemistry, and he couldn’t let this opportunity pass. “In fact, if you have time and want to get a head start, we could go to the cafeteria and have a cup of coffee and talk some more about chemical reactions, Sean.”
“I’d like that, Elijah.”
They smiled at each other and thump! Elijah had never imagined falling in love actually had a sound associated with it. Fancy that. He wondered why the phenomenon wasn’t mentioned in any of the science textbooks.
He’d have to discuss it with Sean in Love 101. He had a feeling they were both enrolled.