Carter Grant knew many things about his mom. Among them: she liked efficiency, loathed incompetence, and did not smile at strangers for no reason. In fact, she’d made quite the point of teaching him early on that he was never, under any circumstances, to suggest that a woman should smile or make herself more palatable to men and their patriarchal bullshit. (That had been far from the first time he’d heard her utter a curse word, but it was, perhaps, the first time she’d intentionally used one in front of him.)
So when he saw his mother returning from the door after the Whole Foods delivery person had to come back with the kale they’d forgotten on the first trip—and, ugh, honestly, they should have let it stay at the store—with a little smile tugging up the corners of her mouth, Carter knew something was up. He just didn’t know what yet.
But, like any good budding student of the scientific method, he knew exactly how to set about answering it.
Step 1: Ask a Question
That one was easy. Why was his mom happy when someone had done their job wrong?
He wondered if scientists were allowed to ask multiple questions at once. If so, he’d like to add: Why did his mom decide to shift from ordering their groceries once every 10 days to once every week, and always on Wednesdays? Were these questions related?
Step 2: Do Background Research
After listening to his mom fire two separate employees over their “gross incompetence” in “failing to produce a paper worthy of the CatCo brand,” Carter determined that there was nothing fundamentally different about his mom. Perhaps grocery night had been a one-off incident. He decided to wait until the following Wednesday’s delivery to see. If his mom was no more smiley than usual, he’d cancel his investigation and determine the first result an unexplainable anomaly. It probably wasn’t the best science, but then again, his mom wasn’t as predictable as the chemical reactions they studied in class.
When the buzzer rang on Wednesday evening, Carter tucked himself into the coat closet in the entryway, leaving the door ajar just enough to be able to watch any interactions without being seen. Once the person made it upstairs and knocked on the door, he peered out, watching as his mom put her heels back on. Huh. That was odd. Taking them off always seemed like one of her favorite parts of the end of the day, and she definitely didn’t put them back on to sign for deliveries or get the groceries on a normal day.
“Hey, Ms. Grant!”
His mom was blocking some of his view, but he could see a woman with long, braided blonde hair tucked under one of those black baseball hats with the green logo that he’d seen for sale once in the little clothing shop up front. Definitely cooler than the weird alpaca wool socks that made his ankles itch.
The delivery lady held up what looked like 15 grocery bags, all strung around her forearms, and announced, “I come bearing groceries!”
And his mom laughed. Cat Grant laughed at some dorky joke that wasn’t even a joke—not really. And not the laugh reserved for the board and phone calls she didn’t want to take that sounded too high-pitched and very phony. No, a real laugh!
“Come in, Kara,” his mom murmured, stepping back enough for the lady—Kara, apparently—to step inside and gently set the bags down, one after another, indicating which one had the eggs in it before stepping back.
“You know,” she drawled, “I did mention that you didn’t have to play the hero and carry them all up in one go, right?” That, at least, sounded a little bit more like his mom. Snarky in a way that disguised her attempts at being considerate.
“Don’t worry. I’m stronger than I look,” Kara said, and then there were a few moments of silence where he couldn’t really tell what was happening before Kara pivoted, heading back to the door. “I should go get the rest of these orders delivered, but I hope you have a great evening, Ms. Grant!”
Carter slipped out of the closet while his mom was busy carrying the first few bags into the kitchen and followed her there, pausing at the sight of another smile on her face.
Even though his mom had been happy to see him after school, she definitely hadn’t been in the greatest of moods, and suddenly she seemed…lighter. And her good mood lasted through most of the evening, even when they flipped through the channels and saw something about Lois Lane receiving an award.
Well, that was certainly something that required further observation.
And so he kept watching. He watched as yet another Wednesday came and went, and with it, another slightly longer (but still equally dorky) conversation with Kara. And suddenly his mom, fresh off a long call with Dirk Armstrong that had left her gritting her teeth and reaching for the chocolate she hid on the high shelf that she thought he couldn’t reach, was all smiles. She even let him have ice cream after dinner, which he didn’t remember her adding to their grocery order, but it had arrived with everything else. Another thing his mom hadn’t commented on or complained about—not even a little bit.
Step 3: Construct a hypothesis
Carter suspected that he probably should have waited a little longer for stage 3, but he was excited about moving onto the phases where he got to interfere and get real answers. So he made a best guess: If Kara delivers our groceries, then Mom will be in a good mood all night.
Step 4: Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
Carter began with a list of two possible scenarios he could test.
- Try asking for an order on a day other than Wednesday. Maybe Mom just really loves getting fresh food, and that’s what puts her in a good mood, not Kara.
- If she doesn’t smile with the other delivery people, try getting Kara to come back more often. Will the good mood last longer? Be even more noticeable? Or will they reach a point of “diminishing returns,” a phrase they’d learned in social studies last week?
The first one was a total bust. He saved his A+ math test in his folder all week until Friday arrived, then asked if they could order the ingredients for his favorite meal and dessert to celebrate. After a bit of cajoling and a reminder about the good grades he’d gotten on his vocab quizzes for the past several weeks, his mom caved. And sure enough, the delivery person was different. His mom was snippy with him and didn’t indulge in any of his attempts at small talk like she did with Kara.
So…more Kara, then. Which was surprisingly hard to achieve.
At first Carter tried asking for things during the week on random days, hoping to get another order that intersected with her schedule. Only, his mom would tell him he could wait a day or two for their Wednesday order. Or, when he tried on a Thursday and a Saturday, she pointed out that having to wait would teach him responsibility. As a solution, she suggested that he start participating in preparing their online grocery cart before they placed their Wednesday orders. And, Carter soon realized, such a responsibility gave him a new opportunity for experimental design; he began deleting items from the cart that he knew his mom needed.
The first week it was eggs. And he watched as his mom became…slightly annoyed, but not at the very apologetic Kara. Instead, she seemed annoyed at herself. And then at the app.
The second week, all of the anger was directed at the app for the missing cauliflower. (And again, he thought, good riddance.)
But both weeks, Kara came back, and his mom seemed delighted. The second time it happened, Kara arrived, spouting apologies for being so late—something about a full shift of deliveries, but she came as soon as she was done work so that Cat wouldn’t be stuck. And then he realized she wasn’t in her work uniform, but was down to just the black jeans she normally wore and some ratty old tank top with paint splattered on it. Really, Carter didn’t understand in what world cauliflower constituted an after-hours emergency. But his mom seemed touched. And when Kara leaned forward to put the bag down, she stammered. And she never did that. Not even when Grandma was at her worst. (Though it was after those visits that Carter learned his most colorful assortment of curse words, all muttered behind closed doors but audible enough with the help of a glass.)
When Kara left that time, Carter tried to get more answers, prodding at his mom about Kara. It wasn’t until he mentioned that Kara was cute—and, okay, girls were fine or whatever, he guessed, even if he didn’t really get the appeal, but he could tell that Kara was pretty—that he stumbled over his words. Because his mom had blushed.
“What, do you not think so?” he asked, trying for an air of innocence. Because he might just have some worthwhile conclusions now.
“I think—it’s—Kara is a reasonably attractive human being. I didn’t realize you were already getting to that age. My boy—growing up,” she teased, though she also looked like maybe she was going to go get that book about your changing body and you, and Carter really didn’t need another evening spent with that ever again.
So, okay, rude of her to turn it around on him like that, though he probably should have seen it coming; he had watched her interviews, after all. But it meant he’d hit a nerve. Which probably meant he was on the right track.
Step 5: Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
Kara makes Mom happy.
Kara makes Mom blush.
Kara makes Mom stutter.
Talking about how pretty Kara is makes Mom a little defensive.
Groceries alone do not make Mom as happy as Kara.
Other delivery people do not make Mom happy at all.
Almost certain conclusion: Mom likes Kara.
Probable conclusion: Mom like-likes Kara.
Since the like-liking part of his conclusion wasn’t in the original hypothesis, Carter decided a bit of further testing and observation was necessary before he had to communicate his results. His mom would probably be more easily persuaded with a wealth of data anyway.
So he started lingering and asking Kara questions when she arrived, watching out of the corner of his eye how his mom seemed to brighten when Kara was chill and knew how to talk to him in a way that most adults didn’t get. She was casual and didn’t try to call him “dude” or “little man” or anything weird, and she didn’t swoop right in for the high five and jokes right away. Instead, she asked him about his shirt from the planetarium and casually dropped some very excellent facts about star systems. Also, the next week she brought him a small bag of “oops” cookies that weren’t pretty or symmetrical enough to be sold in the bakery and made him promise to share with his mom, who she winked at. (Carter began to wonder if maybe he needed to do a separate experiment to confirm that Kara like-liked his mom back, but he figured if she was winking and spending her after-work hours bringing over cauliflower, that had to be a good sign.)
The only problem was that Kara could never linger for longer than a minute or two, always running out to the next delivery, or, that one time, the stove that she apparently thought she left on at home. Weird. But whatever, he wasn’t going to judge his mom’s taste in women. Especially not when they brought free cookies.
The next week, he dawdled long enough with the order that only the last time slot of the day was available, and their grocery delivery arrived during dessert. With a perfectly innocent smile, he invited Kara in to share some of the cookies. She stuttered and glanced up at his mom with wide eyes—and jeez, if they were both just going to stare at each other, maybe he was the most mature one in the room—and eventually agreed to join them “just for a few minutes, I wouldn’t want to impose.”
The next week went similarly. Both times, his mom and Kara were both obviously happy about getting to spend extra time together, and his mom laughed way more than she usually did, and he was pretty sure he caught Kara checking his mom out more than once, which…ew. But fine, if she made his mom smile, he guessed it was okay.
But when Carter faked a big yawn and headed to bed early the following week, claiming exhaustion but suggesting that Kara stick around to finish the round of Scrabble he and his mom had started after dinner, his mom hurried Kara to the door and bid her a good night.
And no matter what Carter did to try to get them alone together long enough for his mom to ask her out—because at this point, there were no doubts left in his mind about that fact—she just…didn’t.
Finally, he decided it was time for the last step in the scientific method. Perhaps it was his own fault for not following proper procedures and assuming they were all on the same page.
Step 6: Communicate Your Results
“Mom,” Carter began, trying to remember all of the talking points he wanted to hit as he considered different reasons for why his mom might not be pursuing this relationship.
She hummed, putting down her iPad, pulling off her glasses, and shifting her full attention to him. “What is it?”
“Well…do you remember when you took that guy to your big CatCo gala last year?”
Her brow furrowed, but she nodded.
“I know that I wasn’t the most supportive then.” That was an understatement. The guy had been a sleaze, and he’d called Carter “pal” and slapped his shoulder, and his mom had ditched the guy within the hour. “But it was only about him, you know?”
“Okay, sweetheart. But you know I’m not seeing anyone right now.”
Duh. “I know. But in general, you know? And I remember what you told me about how sometimes girls date other girls, and that you dated Aunt Olivia back in college, and that was just fine”
Carter watched as all the confusion cleared from his mom’s expression, and she smiled at him, patting the spot on the couch next to her. Good. About time. Now they could finally talk about how she should ask Kara out, even though he was pretty sure his mom just needed to say the word, and Kara would jump at the chance.
“I didn’t mean to tease you about Kara.” Weird digression, but okay. “It is perfectly fine and healthy for you not to feel that way about girls, just like it’s fine if you do, okay?”
“No! Mo-om.” He groaned loudly and buried his face in his hands. “I’m talking about you.”
“What about me?”
“You have a crush on Kara! Just like she has a crush on you. And it’s really, really obvious. And she makes you all weirdly smile-y. And you laugh at her bad jokes. So you should ask her out.”
There was a moment of silence as his mom blinked at him. Once, then twice. “Carter.”
“Don’t use that tone of voice.” He could feel himself sulking already, but he couldn’t help it. “I know what I’ve seen.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Because she’s a girl?”
She paused, as if considering her words. “That is certainly part of it. But when she comes here, she’s at work. And just like it would be very inappropriate if someone from, say, the board came into my office and asked me out, it would be very inappropriate for me, who is paying Kara for a service, to ask her out. She might not feel like she could say no.”
“But she likes you.”
“Kara is a very friendly person.”
“She literally came back after her shift ended to give you cauliflower that you hadn’t even ordered, just because you meant to.”
“She’s very considerate.”
“Her eyes are not always looking at appropriate places.”
His mom’s cheeks flushed a deep shade of pink. “Be that as it may…”
And the rest of the night pretty much went like that.
So the following Wednesday, Carter waited while his mom and Kara had their little moment that apparently wasn’t a moment, even though his mom had definitely not denied her own crush. Then, he waited some more until his mom had begun carrying bags to the kitchen. And finally, he took off down the hall, calling after Kara and throwing his hand in the elevator door before it could close.
“What’s up? Did I forget something?”
He shook his head, just a little out of breath from the sprint. And okay, maybe he should stop claiming a headache to spend gym class in the nurse’s office. “Here’s the thing. I think you like my mom. Like, like-like her.”
Kara froze, her eyes wide and her cheeks just a little pink.
“But it’s okay! Or, well, if that’s not true, maybe say something?” Kara didn’t say anything, which he took as a good sign. “Cool, ’cause my mom likes you, too. And she says that she can’t ask you out because you’re working, and she’s paying for your delivery services, and you’re just doing your job. And I totally get it,” he added, holding his hands up in the air as if his mom could see and hear him. “But anyway, you both seem really happy around each other, so I think you should ask her out if you feel the same way because she’ll never do it herself.”
Kara’s mouth opened, then closed.
“You don’t have to say anything now, but think about it?” She nodded. “Cool, I gotta go before she realizes I’m gone. Bye!”
(His mom had definitely noticed he was gone. He insisted that he was just requesting particular flavors of cookies for next week if Kara could get them. His mom didn’t seem totally convinced, but she let it go.)
The wait for the following Wednesday felt interminable—another vocab word that he’d definitely gotten right on his quiz—and Carter was practically bouncing in his seat on the drive home from school that day.
Only, Kara didn’t show up with a boombox on her shoulder or a bouquet of flowers or any bold declarations written on poster board. Instead, she looked kind of pale and panicky, and Carter froze, wondering if he’d misjudged everything and ruined what might have at least been a nice friendship for his mom. She really didn’t have enough of those.
His mom seemed thrown as Kara made stammered excuses and quickly ran out of the apartment, and a wave of guilt crashed over him.
He carried almost all of the grocery bags to the kitchen himself and began putting things away without having to be asked.
When he got to the bag with the receipt in it, though, he froze. Because there was a note on the bottom of it.
“I really hope Carter isn’t wrong about this, but if you’re free this Saturday, I’d love to take you out on a date. Maybe for coffee at that new little café that opened up down the block? My number’s on the back—just let me know. -Kara”
“Mom!” Carter yelled.
“Indoor voice,” she reminded him.
“Kara left you a note.”
And he didn’t need to be a scientist to track the emotions flickering across her face. First the confusion. Then anger—and yikes, didn’t need her to dwell on that part—and then the surprise, followed by the biggest smile he’d seen anything or anyone other than himself get from his mom.
Follow Up Observations:
Dating Kara makes Mom even happier than getting groceries from her did.
Mom has admitted that our pantry is way too full and has gone back to much smaller orders—something about Kara’s arms being a motivator that I didn’t want to know about.
Kara is still pretty cool, but her big sister is even cooler, and I think she got away with snarking back to Mom.
Now that Mom gets to kiss Kara, she smiles even more around her. (I refuse to acknowledge anything more than that, even if Alex made some jokes when I got sent to her place for a sleepover one weekend. Mom and Kara both yelled at her for the jokes. It didn’t stop her from making more when they picked me up.)
In conclusion: I think I deserve a raise in my allowance for my role as matchmaker extraordinaire.