Believe it or not, the science fiction is actually starting to emerge slowly, like a fragile blossom unfolding its petals to the sun.
The misogyny train chugs merrily along the tracks right from the beginning of chapter nine, when Rory wakes up in Benji’s dorm room:
“I’m going to go home for a bit. Take a shower and changed before I go to the lab.”
“I’ll walk you.”
“That’s really not necessary.”
“C’mon, I’m not letting you take the walk of shame. This wasn’t a one-night stand for me. I just want to walk you to work.”
He wasn’t being weird at all, which was a huge relief.
So, if Rory walks home by herself, it’s a “walk of shame,” but even though Benji had just as much sex as she had the night before, it’s somehow not a walk of shame if he goes with her? His presence somehow signals that the sex they had wasn’t something to be ashamed of?
And let’s touch for a moment on the “He wasn’t being weird at all” statement. I find the preoccupation both the male leads have with walking Rory around very weird. So, if Rory is thinking, “Well, he’s not acting unlike the way he usually does,” that would be one thing, but he’s definitely acting weird.
Anyway, he does walk her to her dorm, where he waits outside the building for her to shower. I don’t know why she doesn’t just invite him up to her room, but whatever. Then he walks her to the Fitz, where he says:
“I can’t stop thinking about last night. I swear, I won’t sweat the fact that you’re going to be cooped up in a tiny lab with Cyrus for the rest of the day, if we could do that again.”
Let me run that through the Nice Guy translator: “If you promise we’ll have sex today, I won’t try to guilt you for being alone with another person.”
When Rory says that she had a good time, Benji says:
“Okay, I lied. I’ll still wonder what’s going on between you and Cyrus.”
Isn’t it weird how if a female character acted like this, she would be a crazy, clingy stalker, but since this is a guy, it’s supposed to make the main character see how loved she is? Or whatever?
“You don’t have to wonder,” I said. “It’s not like that. I wish I could explain to you what it’s like, but it’s not like that.”
I shook my head. “It’s not like us.”
This is that part of the recap where I remind everybody that I’m using underlines to represent italics because for some reason quotes are always displayed as italics in this theme.
So, okay. Whatever is between Rory and Cyrus, it’s not like what’s between Rory and Benji. But as we still don’t know what’s between Rory and Benji, it actually does seem like, at least on the surface, it’s exactly the same. Let’s look at the facts:
- Both guys are attracted to her for some reason, despite the fact that she treats them terribly.
- Both guys rush to physical altercation to protect her.
- Both guys seem to be following her around because they’re always just randomly popping up when she needs protection.
- Both guys are obsessed with walking her everywhere, even though one of them has a fucking car.
Benji smiled and then slowly wrapped his arms around me, tightening them gradually until I was against him, snug and warm. My arms were around him, too, under his coat. He didn’t have an ounce of body fat on him He was solid, all lean muscle.”
I’m glad you clarified that, Rory, because when I was imagining a guy without an ounce of body fat on him, I was assuming he was gaseous vapor with the consistency of overcooked macaroni.
He made this wonderful involuntary humming breath noise,
That’s called humming.
as if he were the happiest he’d ever been. It made me want to sink into him even further, so I did, and he held me tighter. I didn’t want to move, but I had to. I had federal laws to break, and Benji had a family to go home to for Thanksgiving.
Okay, CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT! FINALLY. Rory notes that he’s happy without immediately adding, “but I’m not happy because my family was MURDERED!” and even goes on to acknowledge his family without bringing up her lack of family! Finally, we’re able to go a full page without being repeatedly slapped with the heroine’s tragic backstory!
As good as the hug felt, I wasn’t completely sure about making a habit of kissing good-bye.
Well, you were kind of riding him on the floor of his dorm room last night, so…
I’m kind of feeling for Benji here, as obnoxious as I find him and his Nice Guy bullshit. He takes this girl home and he’s like, it’s cool, I care about you, I like you in that way, but I’m not expecting anything. She knows he’s into her, that he’s been drinking a lot, and she initiates sex, anyway. After sex, he tells her that he loves her, and the next morning, knowing all of this has happened, she uses a phrase like, “It’s not like us,” and does a whole PDA cuddle thing with him. Then, and only then, does she think that she doesn’t want to make regular relationship things “a habit.”
You guys know me. And you know how much I hate Nice Guys and the school of thought that women owe men something. But this is not a case of a Nice Guy who won’t take a hint. We’re in Rory’s head, and all we’re getting is basically, hey, this guy really likes me, I don’t know if I like him, but I’m going to hang out with him all the time, act jealous if he talks to other women, have sex with him while he’s drunk, but I don’t know if I want want a relationship and how the hell is he getting the idea that I would want to be with him? Basically, fuck this guy’s feelings, I’m going to use him for what I want to use him for. And Benji has no way of guarding himself from this, because all he knows is that Rory has been through a terrible experience and has trouble relating to other people, but that her behavior toward him has changed in a way that seems positive to him. When Rory says, “it’s not like us,” she’s telling Benji that “us” is an actual possibility. When she tells him she’s not into physical contact, then grinds his pelvis to a fine powder, he’s probably thinking, “Well, she got over that pretty quickly, didn’t she?”
Basically, if I were to create a Venn diagram of Nice Guy behavior and Selfish Jerk behavior, then Rory and Benji’s “relationship” is the part in the middle that overlaps.
In the lab, Cyrus notices that Rory is flushed, and Rory was like, oh no, he must know what I did, and I’m thinking, chill bitch. It’s November. Everybody is flushed when they come in from outside.
I looked at Cy for a moment. He was still beautiful, still everything I couldn’t stop thinking about since the beginning of the semester, and I still felt drawn to him, but for the first time, I wondered why.
I’m pretty sure we’ve seen her wonder why before. But as long as we’re all pondering the great mysteries of the cosmos, can I just wonder about the fact that Cyrus is “everything” Rory can’t stop thinking about, but she still left the party with Benji and slept with him? Where was her fixation on Cy then?
I bet you’re wondering what’s going on with the space rock plot line! Wonder no more:
Cy and I worked all day and halfway through the night.
There it is. There is the hard-hitting science fiction you came into this book expecting. They did some science stuff, vaguely, in one line, before we race back to the more important romance plot.
When I return to my dorm, a clean, folded maroon T-shirt with yellow writing had been slipped under my door, the one Benji had given me to wear the night before, and it also happened to be my favorite one that he wore.
Writing Tip: mind your subject/verb agreement. The way this is written, Benji gave Rory a door that they’ve both worn.
Also, how big is the gap under this door that someone could slide a folded t-shirt through it?
The note Benji left is a hand-written one that’s posted as an illustration in the book. I’m on the fence as to whether or not I like this effect. On the one hand, I’m like, “Hey, that’s unique. Right on, good idea.” On the other hand, I’m like, “That’s clearly not handwritten, it’s a font. And the written lines don’t match up with the lines on the paper. And also, this is very jarring, to find an illustration in a grown-up book.” So I’m not sure, but kudos for taking a risk.
After a section break, Rory wakes up in Benji’s shirt. Cy is knocking on the door, and he’s there to tell her they need to start early.
I walked away from the open door and crashed back onto my bed. “I don’t really do early after pulling an all-nighter,” I said, lifting the covers over my head.
Okay, it was previously established that the CIA is after them, but yeah, catch a few more hours. It’s Thanksgiving, after all. Oh, but just kidding about that early start thing! Because Cy actually wants to take her to breakfast, first. Absolutely, when the most terrifying intelligence agency in our country, one that operates literally above the law, is coming after you, you want to start your day off with a healthy, balanced breakfast.
But Cy is like, a little too intense about this breakfast thing. Like, he really, really needs her to go to breakfast:
“I…just allow me this. Please.” Cy’s expression was desperate.
It made me curious and worried and a little sick to my stomach. Is it about the rock? The CIA? Doctor Z? Does he somehow know about Benji and me?
Why does it matter if Dr. Zoidberg knows about you and Benji?
“Uh…okay.” I stood up and peeled off my clothes as I walked toward the bathroom.
“What are you doing?” Cy said, turning around and shielding his eyes. His voice was raised an octave, sounding similar to what we non-Egyptians call panic.
Cy speaks English, Rory. I bet he describes it as panic, too. Or maybe he’s just shocked and uncomfortable because you started taking your clothes off in front of him?
“Taking a shower,” I said, slipping my heather gray cotton panties down over my hips and letting them fall to the floor. I twisted the shower knob with one hand and grabbed a towel with the other, and the water sprayed against the tile floor.
The door closed behind me quickly, but not before Cy uttered the words, “You’ll not be long?”
“Five minutes,” I said. I smiled as the hot water poured over my face. It was about time Cy was the one who felt unsettled.
Or sexually harassed, that’s another way he probably feels. You don’t just take your clothes off in front of someone to embarrass them or make them “unsettled.” If a male character purposely exposed himself to the heroine with the sole intent of making her uncomfortable about his nakedness, it would read as a sex crime. Here, it’s supposed to be cute and funny because Rory is a bad girl who doesn’t give a shit about anything.
That, and, as we have been assured, both the male leads want her. I do not feel the sexual tension between them that I suspect I’m supposed to. I do not see why Benji wants to pursue this girl who is sullen and moody, and in some cases downright nasty to him. I do not see why Rory is so convinced she and Cy have some kind of thing between them, nor can I understand why I’m supposed to believe that Cy has deep feelings for her. Every one of Rory’s interactions with the male characters is forced, cliche, or overdramatic. Frequently all three at once.
This book is just Twilight, but the Jacob character is the white guy and the Edward character is the “ethnic” guy. Except in Twilight, I actually could believe that there was chemistry between Edward and Bella.
Cy and Rory go to Gigi’s, where Cy drinks black coffee and Rory drinks hot water, because remember, apart from the beers she drank, she can only physically handle water. It’s snowing out, and of course Rory doesn’t have a coat:
I was wearing three layers, including a tank top, my favorite silver sweater, and an orange fleece vest.
The reason she still isn’t wearing a coat is because if she had one, Cy couldn’t show concern for her:
Cy insisted that I dress warmly when I came out of the shower. With his back still turned, he’d said, “It’s going to be very cold today and even more so tonight. Please, please take better care of yourself, Rory.”
and if the male characters can’t show concern for Rory’s health and well-being, then the author is plum out of ideas as to how to make it seem like there’s anything romantic going on.
Writing tip: Watch your tenses. Ideally, that first sentence should read, “When I’d come out of the shower, Cy had insisted that I dress warmly.”
Also, try to give your characters anything, literally anything to do that suggests they might actually have an iota of romantic chemistry.
Being watched over wasn’t something that had appealed to me for the last two and a half years. But lately, it didn’t seem all that bad.
So far in this story, all we’ve seen Rory do is get cared for and watched over and walked to class and rescued at parties and generally treated like a fragile-but-surly baby porcupine.
The food comes, with a side of more concern:
“This is serious, Rory. I need to know you’ll be okay.”
I stopped chewing. “Why?” I asked, my voice muffled by the pound of food in my face.
This entire book is just other characters asking Rory if she’s okay. But just the male characters. The only other female character we’ve ever seen is out to get her.
But there’s some important characterization that’s actually woven in pretty skillfully. Remember at the beginning of the book, when Rory doesn’t even bother to eat because she’s so lost in her personal darkness? We’ve gradually been seeing her eat more and more since that first chapter.
Cy asks Rory to tell him something she’s never told anyone before.
“Because I asked you to.”
“So are you.”
“Exactly,” he said in a flat voice. “Tell me about what you’ve buried.”
“This conversation has taken an awkward turn, like, before it even started.”
“There’s a point.”
“Okay, so you go first.”
No, you hang up first! Ha ha ha, no. No, you hang up first. Okay. Okay, on the count of three…one…two…th…I knew you weren’t going to hang up!
Cy tells Rory that he believes in fate, and she’s like:
“Lame.” My response came automatically even though I was a devout disciple of fate. I needed to believe that what had happened to my parents and Sydney happened for a reason. I needed to believe that they were taken, and I was spared to fulfill some purpose, that the universe needed to leave me here, emotionally crippled and alone in my pain. And as crazy as it sounded, I believed Cy played a part somehow.
Then that makes one of us, Rory. Because at the moment, I’m reading the most forced, trust-me-everybody-they-really-have-chemistry love triangle of all time.
Rory doesn’t really want to reveal anything to Cy, so she tells him she’s a lizard, and he tries another angle, asking her why she puts herself in danger so often.
“Walking alone in the dark. Antagonizing men with a history of violence against women. Driving so fast that you wrecked your car, which is why you’ve been a pedestrian for the last twenty months. Walking out too far in an angry sea. Frequenting the dangerous side of town–alone, at night–for absolutely no reason. Getting on the back of a motorcycle with a complete stranger, who was clearly drunk. That’s not even half of it.”
I squirmed in my chair. Some of those thing happened before I knew Cy. Even more happened in high school the six months after my parents died. All of them, no one knew about, not even Dr. Z.
That second paragraph is a broken roller coaster full of sentences screaming because they know they’re going to die strapped into this ride. Okay. “Some of those things happened before I knew Cy.” Got it. “Even more happened in high school the six months after my parents died.” Okay, question: “even more” than what he just listed, or “even more” of the events he mentioned took place in those six months? “All of them, no one knew about, not even Dr. Z.” Okay, Yoda. Why not try, “No one knew about all of them, not even Dr. Z?”
Cy put his elbows on the table. “Spending so much time with Benji Reynolds?”
The last sentence nearly caused me to choke on the bit of burrito in my mouth. I swallowed. “Benji? He’s harmless.”
Or is he…A WEREWOLF?! *suspenseful music*
“I’m thorough. What you should be asking is how I could learn all of that about you but have to ask what you know about Benji. He has no records. There is nothing available on him or his family anywhere, not even a birth certificate. I couldn’t even access his school records at KIT.”
Okay, at this point, I have some red flags going up in terms of plot similarity to something else, but I can’t figure out if it’s just because it’s a common trope or not.
I really dislike the whole “there are no records on him” thing. It’s not just this book, it’s a lot of books. How do people with no documentation blithely go around getting into high schools and colleges and shit if they don’t have any record of their existence? And it gets used so often in fiction that like…okay, it’s not like it would take the FBI to hack into a computer server to find evidence of this shit. If you want to have a bank account, you at least have to have a social security number. And what pisses me off even more is when this trope is employed by like, a crime show or something, where literally the first thing they would find out about the suspect is that they have no records, but it’s the bottom of the second act before they realize it and go, “My god…”
Even if someone has fake documentation, they should still have at least some, right?
Anyway, Cy thinks something about Benji doesn’t make sense:
“You can’t trust him. Think about it. A wealthy, preppy kid follows the campus recluse like a lovesick puppy? Have you ever asked yourself why?”
Cy has clearly been reading the same book as I have.
Rory tells Cy that it’s because she and Benji are both outsiders, and Cy continues to outline the exact same problems I’ve had with Benji as a character from day one:
“He doesn’t belong? He’s athletic, personable, and approachable. The women at this school fawn all over him. He could literally have his pick. He chose you and only you. He refuses to even acknowledge anyone else. You’re far from naive, Rory. Does none of that strike you as odd?”
By the same token, Cy, Benji doesn’t make a very good honeypot to ensnare Rory, because she rejects all of those things. Benji might have had greater success if he’d dressed in all black and started listening to Cradle of Filth.
“You can sense danger, Rory. You couldn’t have missed this. Benji wants to gain access to Dr. Zorba’s lab. That is his final objective.”
I laughed once. “That’s ridiculous. I though I was paranoid.”
Cy reached his hand across the table. “How many times has he asked to accompany you to the lab?”
Well, wait a second…why didn’t Benji just ask to be an intern? Cy kind of rolled up in there and was like, “Can I work on your space rock,” and Dr. Zoidberg was fully on board with that. Doesn’t that seem like it would have been a better plan?
Rory tells Cy to stop trying to protect her, and he says:
“I can live with that. I can’t live with knowing that I’m leaving you here to fall into a tailspin until you wind up like your parents.”
So, obviously this makes Rory go bananas, because she has tried so hard to hide her past, and the wound is still so raw that she has frequent dissociative episodes relating to the trauma.
No, wait, she doesn’t.
“You’re not making any sense, and by the way, fuck you.” I took another bit of burrito for show because I definitely wasn’t hungry anymore.
This was it. This was the big reveal moment, that someone knows about her parents, that it’s being spoken of in the open, that it’s reality and not just her dark secret. This is it. And she just says “fuck you” and eats a burrito? Why cast that tension aside? You can’t just ignore your characterization like that. I mean, you can, but then your book is fucking infuriating.
How does he know these things about me? Why is he so suspicious of Benji? Is he a stalker? Is he Majestic?
Wait, what the fuck is “Majestic?” Is it a cultural reference I’m not getting?
Cy does the “oh my god, lashing out physically in anger only proves he cares about me!” thing by pounding on the table and demanding Rory let him protect her, and they continue for another few lines rehashing the entire scene over again. Let me protect you. I don’t know anything about you. You don’t know anything about me. Let me protect you. I don’t know anything about you, etc. until the reader starts skimming to see if anything will actually happen. Cy tells Rory that unlike Benji, he cares about her, and he’s sorry that he can’t explain his motivations. Then they have to leave for the lab. Rory asks, re: the space rock:
“Why is this so important to you?”
Because it’s a fucking space rock and he’s into space science?
“Are you trying to take the assistant spot from me?”
Oh my god, enough with this. It’s already been established that Dr. Zoidberg needs more than one assistant, especially with the CIA breathing down his neck.
Cy tells her that she deserves the assistant spot, and Rory asks:
“Then why do you work so hard?”
Gosh, I don’t know, Rory. Why would a student assisting a professor work hard? It’s not like that kind of thing would ever look good when you’re trying to get a job in your field and shit.
Despite every wall I’d formed over the last few years, despite everything I had tried so hard to become, and despite the feelings I was beginning to have for Benji, I wanted Cy to say it was because of me. That him joining a class that he clearly didn’t need, the research assistant job, and all this time we were putting into recording the data wasn’t because of some fabled government agency or alien rock, but that it was all for me.
Rory feels like Cy is going to be the key to figuring out her purpose in life, which is a totally healthy thing to hang on a stranger.
Cy won’t tell her anything else, except that it’s his fault that Dr. Zoidberg is in this situation, and like, they should probably hurry up and go work on this space rock. But she doesn’t want to go work on space rock, because it’s not her.
Cyrus took my arm and escorted me from the café quickly. It was then that I saw Benji’s orange Mustang pull around the corner and park in the back of the café.
“What is he doing here? He’s supposed to be with his family.”
“Odd, isn’t it?” He continued to keep his hand on my arm and pull me away from café.
Subject/verb agreement GODDAMNIT WE’VE TALKED ABOUT THIS. As an occasional mistake, cool. But three times in one chapter indicates either bad editing or a bad author habit.
Rory asks Cy how he knew to leave Gigi’s, but he won’t tell her.
When we arrived back on campus, Benji was already on the front steps of the Fitz, waiting for me.
When Rory rolls up with Cy, Benji has a really stupid explanation for why he’s not going home for Thanksgiving:
“They called before I got halfway home. Dad was called in to work. My sister works for the same company, so she had to go in, too. Mom wanted to go to her parents’. I wanted to see you.”
Aren’t your mom’s parents your grandparents, Benji? Why not go see them with your mom?
Benji is really pushy about Rory taking the day off, and when she doesn’t, he recommends she come with him to dinner:
“You have to take a dinner break. Call me by seven, okay?” He was smiling, but he couldn’t hide the worry in his eyes.
“I’ll probably just grab something out of the vending machine. I have to go. I’m sorry.”
His welcoming smile quickly faded, and he called after me, “Call me before seven, Rory, okay?”
Rory and Cy vaguely work on “recording data” in the non-specific way they do, while Rory continues to ask Cy how he knows so much about her, and he evades her questions. Near dinner time, Rory texts Benji, and the conversation goes like this (it’s all in italics, so I’m just going to tell you that and not bother to hit you with a long block of underlined text, because I am a gentleman).
Hey! How’s it going? Close to the finish line?
No. Not even close.
I’m going to pick you up at 7 for dinner.
No, you’re really not.
C’mon. I’m going to make you a mini Thanksgiving dinner. With a table and everything.
I have to work.
I’ll be outside at seven. Won’t take no for an answer.
You’re being a little weird.
I just want to have Thanksgiving dinner with you. NBD.
Does it have to be 7?
Just trust me, okay? It’s a surprise.
I’ll see what I can do.
Now that Cy has sewn the seeds of suspicion, Benji’s constant pushiness is starting to make sense. But it’s still nagging at me that I’ve seen something almost exactly like this in another book, where the mysterious guy points out that the normal guy is a little suspicious, and then suddenly the normal guy seems threatening and demanding when he wasn’t before. Again, I know that’s a common trope, but Benji is exactly the same as the normal guy character in this other book, and there is heavy emphasis on space rocks, shadowy government agencies, and a hot guy who is an alien in that series, as well. If you’ve read it, you probably know what I’m talking about. I’m really hoping the similarities don’t go any further.
Rory asks Cy what he’s having for dinner, and goes digging through his bag to look for what he’s brought. Instead, she finds a big, empty container.
“It’s for the specimen.”
“The rock? You’re taking it to Dr. Z?”
“No, I’m taking it back.”
“To Antarctica?” I said in disbelief.
I waited, but he offered no more. “Then, wh–”
“Don’t ask me, Rory. I can’t tell you.”
HE’S AN ALIEN, RORY. HE’S A FUCKING ALIEN. HOW ARE YOU NOT GETTING THIS?
I felt my entire body pull inward. The answer was right in front of me, but I still didn’t want to believe it.
THE ANSWER IS THAT HE’S AN ALIEN, RORY.
Cy admits that he plans to steal the space rock, and Rory asks if he works for Majestic, and then I remember that Majestic is that weird shadowy subset of the CIA or whatever. Mystery solved! Cy wants to keep the rock safe, so he’s going to take it to a safe place, that I assume is outer space. Rory doesn’t assume this, however, because she cannot grasp that this dude is clearly an alien.
“But…why did you let him keep it all this time just to take it away?”
Cy let out the breath he’d been holding. “Because I needed to know what he was capable of learning from it,” he said quickly, as if he’d been keeping the words in for far too long.
After a long pause, I let out a faltering breath. “Who are you?”
Cy tells her that once Dr. Zoidberg forms a hypothesis about the space rock, the data will be destroyed. She asks if Cy is leaving, and he tells her he is, and that he won’t be coming back.
I thought about so much in that moment–truth and consequences, lies and protection. I’d been trying so hard for so long to keep it together, to keep people away, so I didn’t care. I’d made apathy into an art. And one of the only people on earth I wanted to stick around since I’d said good-bye to existing was leaving me.
Okay, but…what about Benji? We heard about your feelings for him in the last chapter. Now, because Cy is leaving, those feelings are just gone? You don’t care if he sticks around? What the fuck is up with this inconsistent characterization? Plus, we’ve seen more of Rory and Benji than Rory and Cy, so as a reader, I don’t have a sense of this devastation at the idea of Cy leaving, or her deep feelings for him, beyond what I’ve been told instead of shown.
There’s more angst about how Cy is basically the only thing Rory is living for, then she makes fun of him for eating spinach for dinner. Then there’s more recording of data.
After an hour of near silence, knowing these would be my last moments with Cy, the clicking under my fingers ceased. I took a deep breath. “I’m going to miss you.”
Cy kept his eyes sealed over the oculars of the microscope. “Me, too. It keeps me awake some nights…how much I’ll think about you when I leave here.”
I turned to him, incredibly relieved at his answer. I’m not asking you to stay. I’m asking you to come back.”
He looked at me. “I was going to, Rory, but now, I don’t think I…” He stared into my eyes. “I don’t think I should.”
I leaned in. “I thought you were going to miss me?”
Then they almost kiss, and he says that missing her is the reason he shouldn’t come back.
Okay, so, question: where the fuck is Dr. Zoidberg? If this is something that has to be done like NOW, why isn’t he in the lab working with them? Also, if the CIA wanted to take the rock, why haven’t they done it yet? It isn’t like they don’t have the resources to just come to the college and take it. They have access to shit like planes and cars. Also, why would they give them any warning? If the CIA knows about something, you’re going to find out that they know about it when they’re already seizing your space rock and probably disappearing you and your data.
At the very least, I’m super excited that the science fiction is starting to show up. It only took until chapter nine of this science fiction novel.