Please read parts 1 to 3, and even the updates, on the link to the Lord of the Geeks series above. Thanks! – E.
Eddie waited for Stella to reply, while repeatedly banging his head against the wall of his hotel room. Why did he have to sound like a bumbling fool and say all that in one breath? Naturally he scared her off!
Finally, after what seemed like eternity, but in reality just a few seconds, Stella spoke. “I believe I am that Stella, the caffeine addict. I’m not sure about the rest of that bit you just said.” Her voice sounded musical, the kind that brought sunshine to every room. This made Eddie smile. Widely.
“Well, um… Hi,” he brilliantly muttered. “I’m glad I caught you in a cheerful mood.”
“Haha, I was kind of mean earlier, wasn’t I? I’m just not a morning person. And I didn’t get much sleep the night before.” Stella was determined to show she had a pleasing personality. Because she had a compulsion to please people, even not-so-strangers of whom she should be wary, actually.
“Much as I’d like to ask you why you didn’t get precious shuteye, I won’t.” Boyfriend trouble? Late flight? Insomnia? Eddie wanted to get to know everything about her. It was not his normal behaviour towards women, but he was going with it. He decided to push his luck. “Stella, I was just wondering, why did you call?” Eddie was a simple man. He asked what he wanted to know.
“Eddie, I believe you’re the one who rang me this time.” There was a hint of a smile. He could tell.
“Yes, but I was just returning your call.” Pushing his luck even further…
“Ok let me just remind you that you gave me your name AND phone number?!” Stella retorted, to Eddie’s amusement. He could almost see her sparkling eyes flashing and he couldn’t help laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Stella asked, not really sure if Eddie found her cute. But she was curious.
“You! It’s like I’m seeing two versions of the same woman. You’re just a powerhouse of emotions, and I should really be careful around you. If your life were a movie, this should be what your poster would say: ‘Life is like a box of Stella. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”
“Either you just compared me to chocolates, or you diagnosed me with bipolar disorder,” she said, beginning to care, despite herself, what this geeky guy she just met thought of her. What was wrong with her?
“I meant it in a good way! You’re full of surprises… And I’m going to change the subject. What did I miss after I left Hobbiton? I really think they didn’t give us enough time to explore.”
“You mean you didn’t get to go shopping for key rings and mugs and other stuff? We had $10 off any purchase.”
“I hate shopping so I waited in the bus while the driver rushed the others through the store,” he stated. This, Stella knew to be the universal truth among men, except Richard. She closed her eyes and willed herself to think of Eddie, not Richard. The present, not the past.
“They sold bottles of the special brew they developed for the dwarves in ‘The Hobbit,” she said. “It had about 2% alcohol, so the actors could appear tipsy without actually being drunk. It had a cool name, I just can’t recall it right now.” She suddenly remembered that Eddie was in another tourist spot, and asked, “Hey, how are those hot springs you were raving about? Are they as good as you expected?”
“It’s very hot in here,” came Eddie’s reply. “This is a geothermal city, with so many things to explore.” He felt like saying that it was better if he was exploring it with someone. So he did. “I wish you were here with me. I could take great shots of you, while you make love to the camera.”
Wait… whut? Did he really just say that out loud?
For an awkward moment he thought he really did it this time, and said the wrong thing without thinking. But she didn’t hang up!
“Stop wishing and just take me with you. Or better yet, come back to Auckland. You staying here in New Zealand for a while or heading off to…?”
Relieved that she let it pass, Eddie volunteered more information. “I could always go back here. I get assigned for work to Auckland every six months. But this is my personal holiday, a great use of my annual leave. How about you?”
“I have an early flight tomorrow back to Sydney.”
Silence. Eddie immediately calculated that he could not book a flight and be with her the next morning, and he did not own a plane. His mind raced, not knowing what to say.
“But I’m thinking of extending my trip here in Auckland,” she added.
Relief! Oh, there must be a God. Although he had not prayed yet, that was exactly what he would have asked for.
“Wait for me. I’ll cut this trip short. Will you? Please?”
“I’ll have to check with the hotel and rebook my flight…”
“I have a huge room at the Hilton. You’re more than welcome to stay,” he blurted out. “I have two giant beds and a beautiful view,” he explained.
“You’re staying at the Hilton? Wow!” Stella reacted to what she could react to, and wondered if she should take the offer. She was on a student’s budget, really. But she did not know this guy. She had yet to Google him. His hotel, however, she was familiar with. She had wanted to stay there but it was too expensive, as it offered great ocean views and was minutes away from the newly-developed Viaduct Harbour.
“I used my frequent flyer points. I travel so much for work, there must be some purpose to those miles.”
“Speaking of work,” Stella started the background check, “we haven’t reached that subject at all. If you don’t mind me asking, what do you do, Eddie?”
“I’m a software engineer for a Sydney startup tech company, working in the Silicon Valley of Down Under,” he proudly stated. It figured. Stella needed his last name so she could look him up on LinkedIn. She still had not revisited the subject of his age, which she suspected was far below her minimum. Yes, she only dated men who were either her age, or within three years older or younger than her.
“How about you, Stella? Any preoccupation aside from coffee and Tolkien?”
“You just about summarized it. I love books. I always have, so I took up Creative Writing at uni. Then I taught English for many years. Coffee helped me stay up to check all those papers.”
Stella had opened her MacBook, and was ready to do her research. She did not have much search words though: Eddie, software engineer, start-up tech company, Silicon Valley of Down Under. There were 335,000 search results. She needed to narrow it down, if she was to verify the identity of this man she planned to have a holiday romance with. Yes, it was just going to be a fling. She had no patience for younger men in her real life.
“Which university? Maybe I could sit in, if and when you discuss the ‘Lord of the Rings’?” Eddie had his HP Envy on Google as well. Love in the time of search engines was either getting more invasive, or preventive of heartaches. Either way, he wanted to see her digital footprint, if only to get to know her on a faster pace.
“Oh, I taught back in the Philippines. In Australia, I’m just a student at the University of Sydney,” she said.
“I went to the University of Melbourne. And then got my Ph. D. at MIT,” Eddie said casually.
Stella nearly dropped her mobile phone. Ph. D. at MIT? she mouthed to herself in awe. She also mentally gauged that Eddie could be older than he appeared, and this excited her.
“Are you on Facebook?” he asked.
“Maybe,” she said.
“Twitter? Instagram? LinkedIn? Google Plus?”
“Yes; yes; yes; no, I’m not a Google employee.”
They both laughed at that, and they instantly connected. Literally, for they exchanged user names and added each other as Friend/Follower/Connection.
After being social media stalkers of each other, Stella suddenly said she had to go.
“But we were only starting to get to know each other,” Eddie complained.
“No, silly. I have to put down the phone so I could concentrate on rebooking my flight.”
But Eddie would not let her go. He called up her hotel landline so she did not have to cradle her iPhone while typing on her MacBook. He helped her to rebook her flight online.
“You wish,” she said. “You’d grow tired of me. One week.” When Eddie didn’t reply, Stella checked if he was still there. “Hello?”
“Uh, sorry, I was also e-mailing my travel agency, that I’m heading back to Auckland earlier than planned. I want to be there tomorrow when you check out of Mercure.”
“How did you know which hotel I’m staying at?”
“First, you gave me the hotel number, and the receptionist said the name of the hotel before connecting me to the room. Second, and this is the real reason – I remembered clearly when I first saw you stepping out of your hotel lobby and into the van this morning. You were a vision in silver-grey.”
“I was not aiming for the Gandalf the Grey look with my winter coat. More of Galadriel.”
“The effect was indeed stunning. You were a black-haired, hobbit-sized, grey-cloaked Lady Galadriel.”
“Sobering thought,” Stella said sleepily. Eddie asked, “Did I just bore you?”
“That’s the name of the special brew being sold at the souvenir shop at The Shire. SobeRing Thought.”
“And did you bring back a bottle?” he teased her.
“Are you kidding? What is the point of 2% alcohol? I prefer mine a little stronger, thanks.”
“You are my kind of girl, you know that?”
“That remains to be seen.” Stella yawned. She did not realize it, but it was almost four a.m. “I really must get some sleep now,” she almost whispered.
“All right, sleep tight, Lady Stella. I will see you later, as soon as I can find a car that would take me back to you.”
“Good night, Eddie of Hobbiton.”
— To be continued —