Jean had never been at her best in the mornings. It seemed to take a shower and a cup of coffee to really wake her. Until then, she just wanted to sleep.
Jean shut her eyes tightly, willing the conversation she heard through the thin dorm wall to go away. She thought, "It’s Sunday morning! Why can’t they let me sleep?" The conversation became louder and louder, and she resigned herself to an early and unwanted start to her day.
Still, she kept her eyes closed, hoping for a few more minutes of half-slumber. Why were her thoughts so unfocused? She had never felt so clumsy before. As she awakened, other uncomfortable thoughts entered her mind. Why was her arm numb, and her neck stiff? Who were those fools in the next dorm room? Why was she nude?
Nude? At that, she opened her eyes wide. A soft voice from behind her whispered, "What a glorious sight to awaken to." Still confused, she rolled onto her side and looked at the source of those words.
"Jeremy?" Jer nodded, and they stared at each other. Now, she remembered. Two days before....
"So, where will you be watching the Game?"
"Oh, I’ll be at the Justin College TV room. What about you?"
"Jordan’s coming down to the dorm at 6:30. I hope we’ll get good seats. You’ll be sitting with Jer? He really has a crush on you. I just don’t..."
Jean rushed out the front door of the U-Store onto University Place, trying to evade Terrie’s questioning.
"HEY! ROOMIE! I said I just Don’t understand why you’re keeping Jer at arm’s length. He really likes you, and you like him, but you’d rather argue with him than kiss him. WAIT UP! Jean Harrison, I need to talk to you!"
Again, Jean turned east and rushed down University Place, toward the Dinky station. With her hardened Chicagoer straphanger’s gait and glare, Jean dodged the other students and grad students heading home for dinner. As she passed the architectural nightmare of Grant Hall, she heard Terrie’s loud shrill calls of "Jean! JEANEE! JEANNN!" Embarrassed and defeated, Jean stopped and turned back.
"Would you please quit your Dinah Lord imitation? What’s wrong with you?"
"Gee, you Don’t like ‘The Philadelphia Story’. I would never had guessed."
"Well, I don’t look at all like Hepburn. Would you stop annoying me about my love life? I have no intention of discussing it with half of Princeton listening."
"What love life? You Don’t have a love life. What are you waiting for?"
"You just don’t understand me at all."
The two freshman roommates continued walking down the hill, past the shuttle to Princeton Junction, and turned into the Wawa store.
The convenience store was mobbed. It seemed that half the people of Forbes College, their dorm, had come to buy snacks and beer. The sports pages of every local paper were taped to the walls, all with banner headlines about that night’s game and the team’s legendary Coach Franklin. The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament had just started, and the Tigers won the Ivy League title and NCAA berth for the first time in four years, after a dramatic tie-breaker game against Penn the previous weekend. It was the perfect excuse for a party.
Terrie grabbed two large bags of nachos, tossed one to Jean, and said, "I don’t understand how a Chicagoer could be such a prude." Jean caught the bag, walked toward the freezers, grabbed some Haagen-Daz containers, and flipped one back to Terrie. "Did you ever think that I act the way I do because I grew up in East Chicago? And how did a genteel Main Liner like you become such a—" She stopped short.
"Always so polite, Jean. You wanted to say ‘slut’, didn’t you. Well, compared to you, I am. Objectively, I’m not. Now, Barbra Joe from down the hall...." A jock in the produce section turned to them, obviously hoping to hear Barbra Joe’s full name and number. The counterman looked up from fixing a hoagie and said, "Ladies, please discuss your romances after you leave." Chastened, the two became quiet, made their final selections, moved to the no-beer line, paid for their purchases, and walked out.
They were waiting at the Hamilton Road traffic light when Terrie said, "Look, I do want you to be happy. I don’t see you being happy as long as you weight your life so heavily toward your studies. I wish you could find some pleasure in a non-intellectual pursuit."
"Sex, you mean."
"Well, yes. It is, after all, the best way to relax your mind after a long day of studying. We’re too young to drink beer legally, ...."
"As if that ever stopped anyone."
They walked across the street, walked into the dorm, went to their room, and stored their purchases. "Terrie, I’m going to dinner." "I need a shower, Trace. See you later." "Look, if you—" "I know, leave my door closed and your desk lamp on if Jordan’s still here. Still friends?" "Yeah." Jean grabbed her number theory book and walked out.
Jean returned to the suite at 6 o’clock. She put on an Ella Fitzgerald CD, a gift from her old choirmaster, and stood in front of the pictures on her wall. One was of her parents’ wedding at the old Brownsville African Methodist Church. She thought bitterly that few marriages were celebrated there now; drugs and dishonor had swept the neighborhood. One was a family portrait, her parents, two grandparents, and her. One was a snapshot of her father at work, in his CTA mechanic’s uniform. A tear rolled down her cheek as she bent and kissed it. Next to this were her Ellington HS diploma, a framed copy of her Westinghouse Talent Search paper, and a very nasty report card from a child-hating junior high school teacher. She gave the last a Bronx cheer, and started to change her clothes.
Five minutes later, Terrie barged in: "’Someone to Watch Over Me’? Perhaps there’s hope for you yet. Look, Stanly will be here soon, and you have a long walk. You’d better get going." "Yes, mother." Jean gathered up her things and headed for the door. "Jean, do not take any books with you." "I feel naked without a book." "Ever go skinny-dipping?" "Terrie, please stop." "OK, Jean. Give don a kiss for me, at least. Go Tigers!"
Jean left their suite, and started back toward the main campus and Jeremy’s dorm, Justin College. Orange and black pennants and flags flew over the buildings, and orange and black crepe paper adorned the street lights. A couple dressed in Tiger jackets walked out of Wawa, one with an orange and black cake, the other with a 24-pack of beer. She walked around the bend, past the Dinky, and turned onto the campus.
The basketball players back in Brooklyn would have sneered at her for being a Tiger fan; Princeton had the most old-fashioned style in all of college basketball. They’d make jokes about white men not being able to jump, and they’d insult the players for not being good enough to earn athletic scholarships. Jean saw in their style a fascinating series of patterns and weaves, a combination of abstract beauty and practical force. Wednesday night, most of her dorm showed up in the TV room to watch a videotape of the most famous game in school history, the 50-49 loss to Georgetown in 1989. The defending champion UCLA team Princeton was matched against was nowhere near as good.
She continued through the tennis courts and stepped onto the long promenade toward Armstrong and Jadwin Halls, the math and physics buildings. "No, I am not going to the library tonight." Half-way, she turned left into Justin College. She followed the arrows to the cafeteria where they had moved the big TV, went through the doors, and blinked.
The place was as packed as the rush hour 4 train. She scanned the room for a minute until she spotted Jeremy on a bench near the middle of the room. Jeremy was struggling valiantly to maintain some space next to him, and she ran down the aisle. She called out to Jeremy, lofted her food to him, and climbed over three people to get the seat Jeremy had saved. It was tight quarters, but Jeremy showed no signs of minding.
Jean had met Jeremy at a party the last semester. The African- American Cultural Committee had organized a dance, and Jean had been embarrassed that she had never gone to any of its previous events. She had arrived at the party twenty minutes late, and nearly walked out twenty minutes later. A stereo was blasting rap music, all pounding rhythm and no heart. She would have left early, but one of her classmates saw her and invited her to sit at her table.
"Jean, over here!"
"Hi, Marissa. I was just leaving."
"Shy, Jean? You aren’t in class, so relax and stay. don’t be lame. Come, sit and talk. Here’s Bill Worthy, and this is Jeremy Segal."
Their conversation took the usual course. Marissa and Bill were dating, while Jeremy was unattached. Jean was the political and social conservative of the group, Jeremy the liberal, Bill the radical, and Marissa the undecided. More inconsequential chit-chat followed until Jean changed the topic:
"You know, I hate the ‘music’ they’re playing here. The volume and the misogyny are giving me a headache."
"I wouldn’t expect you to understand," replied Bill. "You’re doing your best to run away from your home, and your people. You’re not going to be part of African-American society as a mathematician. Why, you’re just trying to be white."
"Am I supposed to abandon the subject I love because it is not black enough for you?"
"What would you have her do?" asked Jeremy.
"You won’t understand until you accept your culture."
"That music is my culture? I can’t accept that. I have no kinship with with the people responsible for that song. If I acted that way, I’d be on welfare and have two kids by now." Her face hot with anger, she rose and walked toward the DJ. "Excuse me, but I’d like to ask you a favor." The DJ smiled and asked for her request. Jean replied, "No, no. Just that if you’re taking a break any time soon, do you mind if I take over for a bit?" The man looked confused, but agreed, handed her his microphone, told the bartender he was taking a bathroom break, and walked out.
When the song ended, she stopped the CD players, and said into the microphone, "Bill, you want black culture? Here’s black culture. If it’s good enough for Ella, it is for me." She then walked in front of the audio set and started singing:
"They’re writing songs of love, But not for me.
"A lucky star’s above, But not for me."
Conversations stopped. The dancers moved off the dance floor as if she had had the plague. She heard exclamations of surprise: "What is this crap?" and "Who the hell is she?" Still, she finished the song; she felt embarrassed, but she preferred to be brave about it than to be cowardly.
She started to put the microphone down and leave when she heard a mechanical noise from her left; a man was rolling an upright piano toward her. She waited while he set it up, and then the man started playing the introduction to a song she knew well:
"There’s a saying old says that love is blind, Still we’re often told, ‘Seek and ye shall find.’"
She continued the song, and the man joined her to sing the final stanza:
"Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed, Follow my lead, oh, how I need, Someone to watch over me."
The man changed tempo and started to play an old Ray Charles song, but Jean suddenly jumped, ran through the appalled crowd and left the building. Outside, she walked slowly back toward her dorm. Behind her, she heard shouts: "Wait up! WAIT UP!" She turned, and saw Jeremy running toward her with her coat in hand.
"God, I don’t know how I could have made a worse impression than that. Even if I had fallen down drunk on the dance floor I wouldn’t be feeling so horrible."
"No, no. You’re a Armstrong singer. ‘Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb?’"
"You didn’t recognize me at the piano?"
"No, it was too dark. You play very well. Where did you learn it?"
"Back in Chicago. Dad’s a preacher and mom’s a teacher, and they thought I needed a well-rounded education."
"Oh. Look, after that I feel ill. I’m going back to my dorm now."
"Please wait. What’s your name again? Should I walk you back to your dorm?"
"I’m Jean Franks, over at Forbes. No, I’ll be okay, but thanks anyway."
"Please wait a second." He walked toward her, hugged her, and kissed her cheek.
Now truly confused, she fled.
He had called her the next day, and they had met a few times for dinner and for movies since. She had kept things between them determinedly casual, however.
Part Two: Tigers, Bears, and a Cowardly Franks
There was still an hour left before the game, so Jean and Jeremy chatted about the week’s classes, the political campaigns, their fellow students, and their roommates. Jean changed the subject away from their roommates’ love lives, and started talking about dorm food:
"I had thought that high school cafeterias were bad, but the turkey tetrachloride they served Tuesday was the worst parody of food I’ve ever seen."
An odd expression flickered over don’s face for a moment, and then he replied,
"Well, I took a sample of Monday’s beef stroganoff to my chem lab, and did a
qualitative analysis of it. I’d hate to say exactly what qualities it had,
A neighbor stopped them and said, "Please don’t talk about dorm food. I don’t want to vomit until after the game." Since he had two 6-packs of Iron City Beer with him, Jean and Jeremy figured that nausea was definitely in that man’s future, and they didn’t want to accelerate it.
Someone turned up the TV—"Oh no, not Dick Kozak! Get the ear-plugs!", and the game started.
In fact, it started slow. The UCLA Bruins seemed like they were playing in quicksand, while the Tigers always played slow. The students started counting the passes made each possession, chanting "One, two, three, ..., twenty-five, twenty-six, GOOD!" Both teams were surprisingly clumsy, and at the end of the first half UCLA led 19-18.
"Well, we might actually win this," said Jean.
"I don’t know. We had a big lead against Georgetown at the half, and lost it."
"I don’t think the UCLA team is taking this game seriously. Just look at them.
By the way, why do you think we like the Tigers? They aren’t ‘like Mike.’"
"I guess I see myself in them. I’m not a great athlete; the only way I could hope to win a basketball game is with teamwork."
"They are good athletes, though."
"Not the tallest, or the fastest, or the strongest, though."
"The players I grew up cared only about basketball, not school, not church, not their futures. Give me a whole human being any day."
Similar conversations were going on all around them. They heard one woman say, "They play so well together they could almost be a women’s team." Jean and Jeremy took turns leaving the room for ‘personal errands’; when Jeremy returned, he took Jean’s hand, and asked with a somewhat quavery voice, "Suppose we win. What would you like to do to celebrate?"
"Sorry to disappoint you, Terrie," thought Jean. "I’m sure that people will be partying right here, Jeremy. Let’s play it by ear."
Jeremy chuckled and said, "Nice play."
"What do you mean?"
"Blocking that pass out of bounds."
Someone turned up the volume on the TV, and the second half started. The Tigers kept the Bruins to their pace for the first few minutes of the half, but then the Bruins started to pull away. With just over six minutes left in the game, the Bruins led by 7, and a hopeless mood spread across the room. A business major called out the old Princeton cheer, "That’s all right, that’s okay. You’re going to work for us someday!" Her date poured a cup of beer onto her lap.
Jean felt as though the mood of the crowd hung like storm clouds over the room. Even though a Princeton loss would not measurably affect her life in any way, she still felt as if her puppy were dying. The rest of the crowd felt much the same way. Some even started to head for the exit.
Still, most of the crowd waited. The Bruins failed to score on their next possession, and then Terrington found Johnson for a 3-pointer, cutting the lead to 4. Hope had reentered the room; the clouds started to part.
A minute later, Smith got the ball to Elgin for a layup; the lead was only 2. UCLA missed on its next possession, and the Tigers weaved and danced for nearly the whole shot-clock until Henderson could get the ball to Johnson for another layup. The score was 41 all.
Strangely, the crowd stayed quiet. Three minutes remained in the game, and everyone seemed too scared to say a word. The bubble might burst, the players might throw the ball and the game away, as they had nearly done in the playoff game against Penn. The teams traded misses for the next two minutes; Jean could hardly breathe.
Then, a stupid turnover forced the Tigers to give up an intentional foul--2 foul shots and possession. The clouds became black and ominous. But, Mason Dollar missed both shots; could the Bruins be choking? Then, UCLA missed its next shot and turned the ball back to the Tigers. The game was still tied, and the Tigers had the ball with a half-minute left.
The clouds parted, and the room seemed to shine. Jean’s heart began to pound. She wanted to get up and scream, but there was no room. Franklin called a timeout with 21 seconds left, the TV went to a commercial, and Jean hugged Jeremy and kissed him lightly.
She was breathless; her mind went blank. As one, the crowd rose and started to clap rhythmically—"Ti-gers, Ti-gers." Jeremy held onto her hand with a death-grip, and she did the same with her other neighbor. The game returned, and they all quieted down to watch. She heard short prayers from all over the room. The team walked the ball up the court, and set up their signature play. Steve Elgin held the ball at the top of the key, and forward Ted Terrington ran away from the basket, seemingly to try for the open outside shot. Charles Cork expertly blocked the passing lane. Then, with 6 seconds left, Terrington tried again, and the feint succeeded—Cork overcommitted. Terrington spun back toward the basket, took Elgin’s bounce pass, and made the uncontestable layup. A rainbow shined. The team, the stadium, and the room went wild.
Cheers echoed through the room, and could also be heard all over the campus. Still, UCLA had one last desperate chance. They got the ball with less than 3 seconds left in the game, tried for a good shot, and flubbed it. The Tigers had won, the players were crying, the coach was crying, the fans in the Hoosier Dome were cheering unrestrainedly, and Jean started to cry tears of joy. She embraced Jeremy again, and gave him a full, open-mouthed kiss, the first they had ever shared. Someone in the room started singing the campus songs and everyone joined in with "Three Cheers for Old Nassau." The room began to empty, as students walked outside yelling and cheering with happiness. Jeremy handed Jean a cup of beer, and she downed it and gagged.
"What was that?" "I got it from him," pointing at the Iron City drinker. "Now I
know why this beer is so cheap." Jean shook her head and walked
out to the promenade. Hot flashes and shivers warred within her; she felt
exhausted, and she sat down on a bench. Two couples skipped by, singing "These
are the days you might fill with laughter...." Jeremy sat down next to her, and
held her quietly. She sat for another minute, and started to sing, "We beat the
champions, we beat the champions, no time for losers ‘cause we beat the
champions." Jeremy lifted her up, and the two of them swayed to the music coming
from the dorm windows overhead. The Nassau Hall bell started to ring, and he
walked her back into the building. She saw the student lounge, shrugged off
don’s hand, and walked into the lounge toward the piano there. Jeremy sighed,
followed her, sat down, and started to play "Happy Days are Here Again."
Other students saw this, and followed.
Jean and Jeremy sang and played for about a half-hour, and then Jeremy pleaded exhaustion and got up. Jean followed, as Jeremy walked outside. The promenade was nearly empty now. They still heard loud music from the rooms above and across the way, and they embraced again. They kissed again and again, as the wind blew and chilled them.
"Come inside with me."
"Come inside. Let’s celebrate. don’t you feel tonight’s magic? Let’s make love."
"Please, Jean. It’s the right time for us."
Jean kissed Jeremy again, loosed one of his hands, and turned toward the building, when her somewhat rational mind took over.
"I, I can’t. It just isn’t me. I just can’t."
She turned away from him, and started to stumble down the walk. Jeremy started to follow her, stopped, and called to her, "Why?"
"I’m scared." With a sob, Jean ran back toward the tennis courts and her dorm.
Jeremy did not follow.
Jean reached the tennis courts, turned up the road to walk around them, and stopped on the walkway above the courts. "Why did I do that? Why am I so scared?" She turned toward University Place, sniffling and sobbing, passed the Wa and calls of "Are you okay?", across Benson Road, and into her college. She walked slowly to her room, fumbled for her keys, and then she heard the sound of metallic and human squeaks, practical demonstrations of Hooke’s law, bedsprings in rapid compression and relaxation, Terrie and her beau of the moment doing what she herself had almost done with Jeremy. She put her keys back, and walked toward the college lounge. Halfway there, she started to feel nausea, and she ran to the women’s bathroom and was ill. She cleaned up after herself, walked to the bar, purchased a cup of apple juice and some pretzels, and sat down in the TV area.
By now, it was 1:30AM Friday, and a few diehards were still in the room watching ESPN. She sat quietly, trying not to think about the entire night, while the other people were laughing and boasting about the game. She sat there for an hour, an eternity, and then she started to cry again in earnest. In her fog, she heard murmured whispers, and then the door opening and closing. There were some louder than normal words from outside the room, and then she felt someone tap her on the shoulder.
"Jean, Jean, it’s me, Barbra Joe. What happened to you?"
"Nothing, nothing at all. Please go away."
"Look, I just came to get some munchies and see the highlights on SportsCenter (Jon’s asleep), and someone tells me that you’re here. Please tell me what happened."
"Nothing happened. Please leave me alone."
"For a moment, T. For a moment." Barbra Joe walked off.
Ten minutes later, Barbra Joe was back. Terrie was standing in her bathrobe next to her. Jean really started to cry then. The two picked her up and marched her back to the dorm room.
"Where are your special friends, Terrie, BJ?"
"I had him leave. He has my rain-check." "Ditto." "One free fantasy, no flowers required. What happened?"
"Nothing happened. That’s what I’m telling you."
"And that’s what we’re asking you. What exactly do you mean?" said Barbra Joe.
"I mean, NOTHING happened. We kissed a few times, and I left."
"Something’s not right here," whispered Terrie to Barbra Joe. "D’uh!"
"Exactly how long were you kissing him?" asked Terrie.
"Off and on, until about midnight."
"Ahh. Now we’re getting somewhere. So why did you leave? Was that all you did?" asked Barbra Joe.
"Yes, I told you. Leave me alone."
"BJ, I’ve got it. Trace, did he ask you up to bed?" Jean nodded. "And you said no. Did you want to go with him?" Jean just stared.
Barbra Joe continued, "You did. Now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s see. Religious scruples? No? You two drank too much? No, not you." Barbra stopped for a moment and took a deep breath. "Terrie, do you think that maybe she was—Jean, were you abused or attacked when you were younger?"
"No. Absolutely not."
"Jean, would it have been your first time?" asked Terrie.
"Yes." Jean put her face in her hands.
"You said something to me earlier about acting the way you do because you grew up in East Chicago. Would you care to explain?"
Jean took a deep breath, and said, "You know how messed up my ‘hood is, don’t you. Drugs, abandoned buildings, dirt, poverty, hopelessness. Kids who cared about absolutely nothing. Pregnant girls in junior high—I guess they wanted living Barbie dolls. Teachers who wouldn’t teach, students who wouldn’t learn, parents who wouldn’t parent.
"I was lucky. You see the pictures on the wall? Those are my parents. Mom’s a librarian, while Dad was a subway mechanic. Good, honorable jobs. I spent much of my childhood at the library. Then Dad, dad, dad." Her voice drifted off.
"You don’t talk much about him, I know. I assumed a divorce."
"No. He died in ‘88. Pancreatic cancer, inoperable. He was in great pain that last year. No matter how hard he tried to hide it, I knew. Mom and I loved him so much. He did everything he could to be there for me. I still remember the three of us going up to the roof at night to watch the stars. He’d tell me romantic stories about them, and then Mom would tell me what they actually were. God, I miss him so."
All three of them were sniffling at this for a while, and then Jean continued:
"The junior high teachers were just time-servers, waiting for retirement. The students were noisy nuisances. Most of my education came from the library. That’s where I found and developed my talent for mathematics. The rest came when Mom and I would go to museums, concerts, and when we would just talk. My dream was to take the exam for the Sty, Stuyvesant High School, and earn a place there, to get a good education, a good job, and to get Mom out of there."
She stopped, and then through clenched teeth said, "But I couldn’t do that while screwing around."
"I’d walk to the train each morning and play ‘Dodge the Druggie’. I’d ignore the insults and propositions from the boys at the basketball courts. I’d sit on the train at 6AM trying to ignore the blitzed buildings outside the windows. The conductors watched out for me, however; they knew my father.
"I loved it at Stuyvesant. The teachers cared, the students cared, we had access to computers and labs, and we had respect."
"Did you have friends there?"
"Yes. We had student clubs, sports, we’d go to cafes in SoHo or TriBeCa, we’d do lots of things. Movies, plays, concerts at the Trade Center. Sometimes, I’d stay overnight with one of my classmates. Always chaste, BJ. I was just disgusted with the sexual behavior in my neighborhood, and I didn’t want to get involved, even after I left it. Besides, whenever I thought about having sex, I would remember the taunts I used to receive. I deliberately avoided it. I was not the only one who did.
"You do have the drive, yes? It isn’t good for you to thwart yourself for a political point," said Terrie. "Look, it’s 3AM and we’re all exhausted. We need to get to sleep. We’ll figure things out in the morning."
"I don’t think I could sleep, Liz."
"Hush. I’ll get you some cocoa." Terrie got up, puttered around for a couple of minutes, and returned with a cup. "Here, drink this."
"Ahh, thanks," said Jean. "It tastes strange somehow. What is it?"
"The new Swiss Miss flavor. Hot Cocoa with Rum. Sleepy yet?"
"You nut." As Jean started to doze off, Terrie and Barbra Joe carried her to her bed, removed her shoes, loosened her clothes and turned off the lights. The last thing Jean heard before she lost contact with the world was Barbra Joe asking Terrie for a cup of cocoa.
Jean’s alarm rang a few hours later. She reached from her bed to turn it off, and felt a sheet of paper taped to it over the alarm switch. She grabbed the clock with both hands, pulled the paper off, and turned off the buzzer. It was 10:30; obviously, Terrie had fiddled with the alarm. Jean started to read the note:
I took a few liberties on your behalf. I also turned off the ringer on the phones so you’d be sure to get your rest. don’t worry about your morning classes; I e-mailed your TAs and told them you weren’t feeling well. They wrote back that they expected exhaustion and hangovers to cut attendance to nil.
You have a hang-up or two. We all do. Yours, at least, are not destructive. don seems to be a very patient man, and that is a very good sign. Relax.
Trace, please meet us for dinner here at 5:30. BJ and I will tell you our stupid stories, and we’ll have a laugh. Dessert at T. Sweet’s?
Jean turned her phone back on, stripped down, and padded off to the shower. Twenty minutes under alternating sprays of hot and cold water left her feeling nearly human, though still a bit wobbly. She returned to her rooms, dressed, and read her newspapers until lunch. There would be a celebration Sunday on Cannon Green, whether the team won or lost its second game. Only two other students showed up for her afternoon precept; when the TA abandoned it early, she went to the gym and spent the rest of the afternoon in mindless effort.
"I was hoping we could find someplace quiet to eat. I don’t want everyone on campus knowing my secrets," said Terrie.
Barbra Joe replied, "What makes you think theirs are any different?"
"What exactly are you two talking about?"
"Stories about teenagers and sex are usually the stupidest ones."
"We’ll just eat fast and go for a walk."
They were walking toward Nassau Street when BJ started off: "I was 16 years old, I had been going with Frank for 2 months, and I was pissed off at my parents. They wanted me to see less of Frank, they wanted to put a curfew on me, they wouldn’t let me go to a courtney Love concert in the city, I forget what else. I wanted to do the one thing that would anger them most. So, just after the high school junior dance, I resolved to do the deed with Frank. I plotted and planned; it wasn’t enough that we do it, but that Mom and Dad find out. Twisted, huh.
"So, one Sunday, Mom and Dad went to visit my uncle in the next county. I told them I needed to stay home and study for my French class, and they told me they would be back after dinner. I called Frank and asked him to come over and study with me. He stopped by, and we spent the next hour practicing our French vocabularies and accents.
"After that, I started my plan. I started flashing more than my flash cards. I talked about finding other French things to practice. Then, I suggested we stretch and play a set of tennis; I wore an old, extremely skimpy outfit. His eyes weren’t the only parts of his body that were bulging. I wanted to get him hot, but I didn’t want anything to really happen until late.
"After the set, I told him to go in and shower; I’d bet that he was praying for me to join him, but I didn’t; I took one after he finished, got dressed, and ordered pizza for dinner. Only after that did I seduce him in earnest.
"At first, I was doing this only to anger my parents, not really out of lust, and definitely not out of friendship. I mean, I was thinking of Frank as a tool, not as a person. Somewhat like the boys you knew, Trace. Well, as we were doing the dishes after dinner, I splashed him with water from the sink. He returned the favor; he really drenched me. And then, as my tee-shirt took the appearance of Saran Wrap, he turned toward me, held me at arm’s length, stared at my breasts, backed me into the kitchen counter, stepped forward, and kissed me. I thought about revenge no more.
"Frank and I stumbled and swayed through the kitchen. Kiss, step, kiss, step, twirl. Finally, we reached the living room, and he fell heavily onto the couch, pulling me on top of him. We looked at each other, Frank with his glasses askew and an amazed look on his face, me with my translucent outfit, and we started laughing together. That moment was perfect. We stayed like that for a few minutes, and then I pulled off my shirt.
"You’re usually much more plain-spoken than this, BJ," interrupted Terrie. "You usually aren’t as bashful about the words ‘fuck’ and ‘tits’ and their friends."
"I’m trying not to scare this poor girl, Liz. I don’t want to offend her delicate ears. Well, Frank squeaked twice, once upon seeing me, and then upon seeing the open blinds. He ran to them and closed them, while I ran to the stairs. By the time he got them all closed, I was on the second floor landing, crooning at him. He ran up the stairs, and reached me at my bedroom door. Again, we clumsily went through the door, and we landed on the bed. I grabbed the bottom of his tee-shirt, pulled it over his head, and started tickling his bare chest. He grabbed at his shirt and tried desperately to pull it off his head; meanwhile, I unzipped him. Finally, he got his shirt wholly off, and he pulled me back to him. We stayed like that for a while, kissing and stroking; we had lost all track of time. This was unfortunate, because at the moment we started going further, we heard my parents’ car pulling into the driveway.
"He struggled into his shirt, I ran into the bathroom and shut the door behind me, and Mom and Dad unlocked the door. ‘Barbra Joe, where are you?’ I flushed the toilet in reply. Mom came upstairs: ‘Richard, what are you doing here?’ Five seconds later: ‘Richard!’ I heard him running down the stairs, a high-pitched ‘Goodbye, sir!’ and then I walked out of the bathroom looking very sheepish. Mom and Dad grounded me for the next month, and kept close watch on me for a long time after that.
"A couple of months later, I finally had a chance to see Richard alone. I told him that I owed him an apology and explained why. He asked me what I would do in apology. I started by unbuttoning my blouse. It was the most enjoyable apology I’ve ever given."
Jean asked, "Why are you telling me this?" "Well, roomie, I don’t want you to be miserable all the time. I have to live with you, you know. Seriously, we want you to realize that sex isn’t synonymous with abuse and dishonor. Most men are not predators, while some women can be. If you know what you’re doing and why, if you just trust yourself, you might achieve happiness. don’t base your decisions on what the kids you grew up with do, or on what we do—base your decisions on who you are."
"We’re at T. Sweet’s," said Barbra Joe. They got on line, purchased their ice cream blend-ins, and walked outside. As they left, Terrie and BJ stepped to either side of Jean, and held her elbows. Jean gave a cry of surprise, and then Jeremy appeared before her, holding a bouquet of roses. They stood like that for a moment, Jean wanting to run away, Terrie and BJ holding her there, and Jeremy simply waiting.
After a moment, Jean relaxed, and Terrie and BJ loosed their hold. Terrie and BJ started to walk off, and Jean turned and asked them where they were going. BJ replied, "We have unfinished business from last night. Strangely enough, Jon and Stanly had exactly the same fantasy. Or perhaps they plotted it." "Too much exposure to pornography as teenagers, I guess," added Terrie. The two had mournful looks on their faces; then they started to giggle.
Jeremy and Jean sat down at a bench across the street, and Jean slowly finished her ice cream as Jeremy wrapped his arm around her.
"So, you didn’t expect me to be here?"
"No. I guess I’m naive. I thought only that they were trying to cheer me up."
Jean started to sag.
"So, do you want to talk about last night?"
"Not yet. What exactly did Terrie do after she put me to sleep?"
"Well, I had a rough night. When I got back to my room, I saw Johnny, well, doing the same thing Terrie was. I left in a hurry; I couldn’t face that either. I knocked on a friend’s door; Mike A. invited me in for a beer or three, and we spent the next hour getting moderately drunk.
"I eventually fell asleep on Mike a.’s couch. When I woke up this morning, my dorm room was empty, and there was an e-mail from Terrie. She wanted to meet me for lunch, to try to patch things up between you and me."
"Meddler." Jean’s voice rose in pitch as she demanded, "What exactly did she tell you about me?"
"Not much. Just that you wanted to talk with me, and that you wouldn’t run away this time."
"Well, I never told her that, but I do promise not to run away. Walk away, perhaps, but not run."
"She told me she’d try to get you here at 7:30, and here I am. So, you want to talk?"
Jean stopped, mentally flipped a coin, flipped it again, and said, "Yes. Shall we go for coffee?"
"So, I had found a solution to my problems on Lanceway Avenue. I earned a spot in the best school in the world, and I spent as much time as I could there. Mom, some people from church, and some transit police watched out for me as I went to and from the city."
Jean had been talking for the last half-hour, pausing only for gulps of strong coffee and stolen forkfuls of Jeremy’s cake. Jeremy had said nary a word in response, though he did signal the waiter for refills. Jean continued:
"I know, I know. I did weight my life heavily toward my studies; I did neglect my social side. I’m not sorry about it. But I started to change at the Sty.
"I made friends there, I was in study groups, I worked with others on class projects, and occasionally I went to parties. At the parties, I’d talk with the other kids; on rare occasions, I’d sing, and once or twice, I even kissed a boy I knew. Occasionally, I’d even have a date. It was difficult to date, since the train I had to take home afterwards was never at its best at midnight, but Mom always cooperated.
"I only considered going farther once. Joel Levin and I were working late at the nyu computer lab when the system went down; we left and went to a local coffee shop to relax, and then we started talking about our futures, what we wanted to do when we grew up, personal stories. We left around 10, and he walked me to my train. Just before we reached the chess-players in Washington Square Park, he stopped, led me to a nearby bench, and we kissed for a few minutes. I felt myself get excited, but then my old inhibitions returned. I associated sex with the cruelty and idiocy I saw every day at home, and I felt that if I participated, I’d become an idiot. He knew I had stopped, and he stopped. I believe that he thought that race and religion made me reluctant to go on, but it was just me."
"And that’s what happened last night?"
"That’s what happened last night."
"And you haven’t been involved with anyone here?"
"I haven’t been involved with anyone here."
"I was a little selfish last night when I invited you to stay; I knew I would
enjoy it, and I believed you would enjoy it too. I would never abuse you or your
affections. I’m not very experienced with sex or love myself; I—"
"How many girls?"
"Two girls, 4 occasions. Prom night, July 4, end-of-summer, and once here in early October."
"Before we met. I must say I’m relieved."
"Look, whatever you choose to do, you are never going to return to your neighborhood and its mores. You are yourself, with your own unique mind. You really have nothing to fear. You won’t start taking drugs, you won’t get pregnant, and you won’t become stupid. Did you like kissing me? I loved kissing you."
"I loved it. I really did. I can’t turn my mind off, though."
"What bad things do you think could really happen to you?"
"I don’t really know; it seems silly now."
Jeremy paid for the desserts, and led Jean out. They crossed the street heading for the campus, and then Jeremy turned toward her, hugged her gently, and started to kiss her. She responded to the caresses and kisses; her passion started to grow.
"Jean, do you want to continue in a nicer location?"
Jean stepped back a moment and looked at Jeremy. "Yes. Yes. I won’t guarantee that I’ll stay; conscience might make a coward out of me, again. But, let’s give it a try."
They walked slowly and silently back to the campus; Jeremy seemed lost in thought, while Jean was trying not to think. As they passed through the main gate, Jeremy spoke again.
"Trace, your place or mine? Lord, I’ve always wanted the chance to say that."
"Yours. It’s closer, and—"
"And, I cannot be certain what Terrie and BJ are doing right now, but I know I don’t want to see it. It might scar me for life."
"I don’t understand—Oh!"
"I see you wouldn’t mind seeing it, but not tonight, I hope."
"Yeah. By the way, ‘Let’s give it a try?’ How unromantic."
"Look, I’m nervous enough as it is. Please don’t make me feel any worse."
"Sorry." They walked a bit more, and then Jeremy asked Jean, "Could you explain to me the mathematics behind buckyballs?"
"Well, I’ll try to tell you what I know about algebraic top ology, but I will make some mistakes. A buckyball is shaped like a sphere, right?"
"Right. Sixty carbon atoms in a ball."
"There’s a difference?"
They discussed math and chemistry for the remainder of their walk to Jeremy’s dorm room. "Jeremy, thank you. I feel a lot better now."
"You’re welcome. I’m glad it worked. I’m going to wash up."