I take my time packing the van and preparing - I shave carefully in the mirror and check my lists to make sure nothing is forgotten. I put some pizza in a tupperware bin and eat all but the crusts on my way to Cabrillo.
I arrive late for my CS class, but there is nothing to fear. We are watching a video version of the book "Accidental Empires", and have some optional extra credit work. I exit the dim classroom and walk to the car, then drive across town to get gas at a Chevron so I won't have to do it when I leave weight training.
Rain begins to spatter the windshield as I drive back to Cabrillo, and I remain holed up in the back of the van reading Othello through my Ultimate Frisbee class, which is undoubtedly cancelled by the showers I observe blanketing the parking lot.
Othello is good. Odwalla is good. The rain and the free time makes my van cozy. I change into grey sweats and dash up the stairs to the weight room. It's locked, so I retreat to the van and wait impatiently for the instructor.
He eventually opens the door, and I get a pretty good workout. I exchange words with the girl who has taken a liking to me, the one with the light orange splash of color in one eye due to a gene mutation. I observe her interacting with a friend and discern that she isn't as sophisticated as I would like. It hardly matters, though, since I am so immersed in Carolyn that it would be downright dangerous to get involved with someone else. Carolyn takes up all the available social space in my head.
Class ends and I rinse off in the vacant shower room and change back into pants and a clean shirt. The exercise has left me hungry so I chomp down the leftover pizza crusts with sips of water. They taste rubbery and bland. Over the next hour I carefully guide the van over highway 17, through increasing rain and darkness.
Carolyn's place is easy to locate, not far from highway 85. A dense two-story suburban home with electric candle-lights twinkling from the three A-frame windows along the roof, hemmed closely by the houses on either side. Everyone has expanded to fill as much of their lot as possible, it appears. There are four cars crammed into the driveway, and I roll up and park at the curb next to a fifth, an expensive looking green Jeep-truck hybrid. Lately I've been scowling at such vehicles as being needlessley expensive and complicated. Cars that are very comfortable until one of ten thousand tiny plastic flanges gets a crack and your mileage drops by half until four hours of lavish computer-assisted diagnosis can puzzle the fault.
I clean off the passenger seat, making ready for Carolyn's presence, and walk nervously around the low hedge to the front door, adjacent to some bay windows with the curtains drawn. The question buzzing in my mind is not "Will her parents like me", it is, "Will I like her parents?" If Carolyn has so many problems relating to them, will I have just as many?
The time has come to find out. I fumble the screen open and make loud clacking noises with the ancient knocker. In seconds, an aged man opens the door. He is about my height, though thick like my father, with a bristly white beard forming a short halo around his face. His checkered shirt, gold reading glasses, and the tenderness of his features fill out an impression that is quite unexpected - he seems like the combination of Kayla's father and my own.
"Hello! Is Carolyn home?"
"She sure is. Come on in."
I step into the foyer and around the corner to the living room. My first impression is one of intense warm clutter - the dining room and living room are joined, and oriental rugs cover the hardwood floor in both. A dark, comfortable couch is to my right, against the wall, with a battered rectangular coffee table before it. The couch faces a patchwork entertainment center across the room, beyond two easy chairs. Close at hand on the intervening wall is a polished black upright piano, lid closed, bench pushed under. Pictures fill the walls, and a grandfather clock stands next to a record player. There is an opera on the television, matching the voices that flow from two speakers nestled among potted greenery in high corners of the room. I get the impression that there is altogether too much furniture in the house, and it has been carefully arranged over years to become cosy, though hard to navigate.
I introduce myself and Carolyn's father shakes my hand with a strong grip. He gives his name as "Carolyn's Dad", so I reply, "Hello, Dad." He chuckles. Just as this ritual ends, Carolyn herself appears, from upstairs. She is dressed as she always is, in casual layers of spring fabrics. She has a new haircut, however, which I notice and admire immediately. Short blond hair, raked upwards, expertly shaped on the sides but choppy on top.
She leads me further into the house and I look around the dining room into a small kitchen. Carolyn's mother sits at the breakfast table, working on a small sewing project. She has a solid body and straight gray hair, and a smile that could warm the house all by itself. I take a liking to her but am jabbed with a very immediate sense of personal angst layered just under her warm surface, as if most of her formidable strength is currently engaged in a debilitating internal war. She is still quite present, in spite of this. She says hello.
In retrospect I wonder how much of this perceived strain is due to the ordeal with Caroyn's neice. Am I reading in what I think I know?
Greetings finished, Carolyn takes my hand and tows me upstairs towards her room. I duck around a huge potted plant, and she proudly explains that her father built the entire second story of the house, stairs and all. The railings are even detachable to facilitate moving large objects. "Very handy," I say, inspecting the steps. "Sounds exactly like something my Dad would do."
She shows me to her room. It only occurs to me later that she didn't make the pretense of cleaning it up to impress me - she is too pragmatic to be nervous that way. Clothing is lumped on the floor, from an exploded suitcase that has been crammed into a low alcove facing the front of the house, where one electric candle glows. Christmas lights are taped to the ceiling, where Carolyn tells me they've been burning for several years. She points out her error-prone CD player, and I examine the huge bookshelf that seems alien to the rest of the room. She explains that the shelf and most of the books on it belong to her eccentric hermit uncle, now deceased. I sit down on her unmade bed, marvelling at the book titles, and she excuses herself to take a quick bathroom trip. I toss my clipboard of writeups on the bed, take off my jacket, and place my CD of Tori singles at the stack near a crude wooden desk.
When she comes back she sits on the bed next to me, and we fold our hands together over our laps and have a catch-up chat. I admit to her that I am feeling vaguely nervous because I am in an unfamiliar place. She asks what can be done, and I shrug. "It will just take time, I guess. I hope."
We talk about the clutter. One side of the alcove has a tiny door set in it. A crawl-in closet. "Scary monsters lived in there when I was young." she says.
"I can believe it. It's a scary looking door."
"Oh? Why?" she asks.
"Well, the two wooden cats nailed to the sides look like black flames from this angle."
"Huh." She hadn't thought of it that way.
I curl unabashedly around her on the floor, with my head propped on the edge of the bed.
"That looks uncomfortable."
"It's not, actually," I assure her. "It probably will be in a whle, but it's not now."
There is a hint of shyness in what we say, but as the evening progresses, we will slowly fuse into each other as thoroughly as glaciers.
I pop her burn of my Tori singles collection into the stereo, and we discuss the tracklist. When "Hey Jupiter" comes on, we both feel compelled, and take turns singing to it.
We decide to go out to dinner when Carolyn's rumbling stomach becomes audible. Downstairs, her father is on the couch watching the opera, and her mother is baking cookies. We stand around and chat for a bit, then walk out to the van. As we load up, I decide to announce my idea. "I think it would make me less nervous if we both slept in the living room. Could we do that?"
"Okay" she agrees readily.
We drive a few blocks to a cozy, over-decorated Thai restaurant, and take a table for two. The young waitress knows Carolyn's family well, and we talk amicably. It feels strange to be acting as part of a couple going out to dinner - for it is something I haven't done in a long time. The nervousness persists, to a lesser degree, though I still feel out of my element. I am much more used to being a friend, not a suitor.
We hash out a meal plan. Silently I pray that the ten dollars in my pocket will cover my half of the meal. It is a foregone conclusion that we will split the cost, neither Carolyn nor I would expect anything else. Parsing the order in my head, I estimate that I'll have enough to cover the meal but not the tip.
I'd come here expecting nothing, to avoid being hurt by what events may unfold, by what impressions of Carolyn and her parents I would absorb. I want to test; to see those impressions as clearly as possible. I want to learn how we'd act together if I wasn't trying as hard as I always am.
But Carolyn is a pleasure. For a few minutes I am too conscious of my expression and posture, and the contour of her neck, and the flow of her hands. Then I drop into the space behind her eyes and we just talk. We talk about classes, relatives, neighborhoods, childhood experience. I always have four or five questions on hand, but hold them back to preserve the more natural flow - if our interaction falters, or stumbles, I want to give it space to do so and see what happens, instead of shoring it up or glossing it over. But instead I find that there is always more to say.
When the food comes, it is delicious. We take our time, eating between sentences, pausing to laugh or lean in close. We sample each others' plates. Eventually we pack the leftovers in a take-home box, and manage the bill with no anxiety. On the way to the car we trade impressions of the waitress, and the novelty of knowing locals so well despite the density of Saratoga. At home we stuff the box in the fridge and review dinner to Carolyn's mother, then retreat upstairs again.
We listen to Tori Amos and talk. I lie on the bed, looking at my clipboard, and we are both reluctant to start analyzing the printouts there. Instead we reminisce over the Shel Silverstein poetry, and groom each other playfully.
I remember that one of our ambitions was to make cover art for the Tori singles, so we dig out some art supplies and I draw squares on paper for each of us to work in. I ask if I might draw a picture of her, and that turns into a production.
We adjust the lights in the room and she leans against the wall on her bed, while I sit across the room on the big round futon chair. A Kronos Quartet CD moans quietly in the stereo, accenting the scratchy marks of my pencil on the paper. She fidgets only a little, and seems unsure of how to react to the calculating way I study her body and face between marks on the clipboard. It turns out about half as well as I'd wanted it to. I haven't sketched portraits in probably five years.
"How's it look?" asks Carolyn, and I fling it onto the bed indifferently. "That bad, eh?" She picks it up.
I haul myself out of the futon and walk over. She holds it under her desk-lamp, which I had angled to create shades on her face during my work.
"I think it's pretty good, actually." she says.
I shrug. "I'm disappointed - but I suppose I shouldn't be. Last time I did stuff like this I was in middle school."
We set the clipboard aside and talk more, curled together. I dote on her unabashedly, tracing my fingers along her face and stroking her hair. She buries her face in my arm like a lost kitten. The conversation becomes heavier and more analytic as we spin out from the regular world.
I decide to read her the last email I'd sent to my Dad, in order to showcase his crazy response. She is quite amused by his advice that she needs 'a resounding multiple orgasm', and laughs in disbelief for a while. "That's my Dad for ya." I say, grinning. "He doesn't beat around the bush." I continue reading the email, though, and the thoughts at the end quickly sober us up.
"Yeah, this is kind of the same situation I was in with Tom," she sighs. "But not exactly. For one thing ... you're not like Tom."
"How do you mean?" I ask, curious.
"Well, you're a lot more ... supportive."
I quickly notice the way she is wrapped around me, the way I am unconsciously petting her hair, even now. Self-doubting thoughts steal into me, and I give them voice so that we can both hear them. "But ... is that enough to make things different? Can they be different? Are we going to have the same problems?" I ask, bewildered.
She sighs a long sigh. "I don't know."
She excuses herself to go to the bathroom, and I sit on the edge of the bed, listening to the music and pondering. When she comes back she sits down next to me and I put my arm around her automatically. She lifts one leg to drape it over mine, making it more than a typical hug. She leans, and pushes her face into my chest, and I reach my other arm over and stroke her hair affectionately.
Her body jitters. Something is going on in there. I cautiously place my hand under her chin and lift her face up from my chest, to look at it. As she brings her gaze up to mine, a single tear slides from one eye and partway down her cheek. She looks away, embarrassed. Tenderly I wipe the tear with a finger and eat it.
Her voice is shattered. "There's just no hope. I want to change so much but I can't, maybe it's been too long, maybe I'm too old..."
I cover her head with my arms, hiding her, shielding her, and move my mouth close to her ear. In a hard whisper I tell her: "Wrong."
I pull her back over the bed so I can lean against the wall, and she crams her face into my chest, body heaving. I fold my legs up and encase her. Calmly, patiently, I hold her. In an unfelt span of time, she eventually quiets. She looks up and we touch noses, and we talk quietly for a while.
She asks me "Do you think it's possible for us to be just friends?"
I think about the best way to put it. "I would find that ... very difficult."
"I think I would too." she muses. "It's like, we relate on a deep level, and every time we hung out it would feel wrong not to go to that level."
"You know, that's exactly how I'd put it," I say. "But what about that, doesn't that mean something in itself?"
She and I do not know, and are reluctant to start what we suspect would be over-analysis.
The CD has stopped, and she gets up to restart it.
We talk about emotional feedback, chaos, and our ambitions for the future. Things restabilize, to a warmer level. I am no longer nervous - the time spent in her arms has finally burned it away. Eventually the subject of her journal writing comes up, and she decides to show me some of the things she'd written in the last few weeks.
We sit up and open the black book. She scans through the last few pages, waffles nervously about letting me read them. We theorize that the least embarassing way of reading journal entries is to have the other person read them out loud - so that we can know exactly where they are, and so that we can break in and add comments if we feel the urge. She points at a section and I begin reading.
About halfway down the page the entry breaks into a rant based on the pursuit of truth through knowledge, and returns again and again to the issue of discerning what Carolyn "really feels". She and I chuckle a bit at these passages, and when they continue and become wild histrionics on the page, we begin laughing wildly.
Eventually I stop to catch my breath. Carolyn rolls herself up off the bed, a huge goofy smile on her reddened face. "What the hell! Why is this so funny?" we ask each other.
"I don't know," says Carolyn, "this is a totally serious journal entry. I was feeling really bad when I wrote it, but... Pffffftt!!"
"Maybe it's a nervous reaction." I say.
"No, I'm actually not nervous at all!" she says. "You?"
We go a few more sentences and laugh even harder. Half a dozen times I have to stop completely as we both fall backwards onto the bed, convulsing. Carolyn declares that she has never laughed at a journal entry before, though she has certainly found many of her entries to be horribly melodramatic. She has, in fact, never laughed this hard at anything for a long while.
We chortle through several more pages, and finally settle down and talk serious near the end of it. We find no revelations though. Carolyn bashes her journals, saying "I do nothing but bitch and whine in most of them."
"Gotta admit though, they're a kick to read, eh?" I say. She giggles. The entries are funny to both of us for the same reasons - in our current, warm, happy state of mind together, the rants about "true feelings" and "real knowledge" seem absurd.
On the other hand, when they're read out loud, the dialogue escalates so rapidly that my rendition becomes comically over-wrought. It's easy to read rants for humorous effect, and very hard to read them seriously. And if she had been the one reading them out loud, would I have dared to laugh?
"Want to read some of my stuff?" I ask. "We probably won't laugh at it much, but..."
"Well maybe we can read the highlights."
I pull the papers off my clipboard and we lean back against the wall on the bed, her leaning against me between my spread legs, with my head resting on her shoulder. Quickly I thumb through the first entries, which she'd read in emails already. I ask her to begin reading at the top of a page, and she starts recounting my January 8th memoirs.
When she gets to the part mentioning Cindy and our fling, and my lecherous thoughts, I become quite embarrassed. She takes it in stride. "You know, I already knew that you and Cindy slept together."
I am shocked. "What? You knew all this time? How did you find out?"
"I overheard Kate. Cindy was talking to Kate and she asked if you liked her or something, because she was trying to figure out what it meant."
"Oh dear... It didn't mean anything. I thought that was perfectly clear between us."
"Well, apparently not. I mean, she didn't seem to care that much, but she was still wondering."
"Arrgh!" I clonk the back of my head against the wall, eliciting a concerned "Hey-" from Carolyn. "Yep. I reiterate: Casual sex just doesn't fucking work." You'd think I might be saying this for my audience, but I was saying it for myself. I always get too attached.
We sit silent for a few moments. Carolyn reassures me that she understands, and that I shouldn't be embarrassed. Yet I still am. I am so thoroughly not wanting casual sex from Carolyn, and I find it humiliating to reveal that I had slept with Cindy during the very time Carolyn and I were agonizing over each other.
"I don't know. It just seems so ... male." I say, half-bitter.
Carolyn squeezes my hand, and reads on.
When she gets to the part about watching Elizabeth's ass under her pants, I become embarrassed a second time. The descriptions are very graphic, and she has to reassure me again that it's alright. We spend a while clarifying that it was not the Elizabeth I was in a play with, but another Elizabeth that she didn't know. The conversation slips from the one Elizabeth to the other, and we begin to chew out her personality quirks. The Elizabeths become a springboard for us to rant about people in general.
"It's just ... tragic. How all these people just don't see the things that they're doing," says Carolyn, with feeling. "They're so unable to change, or even to want to change. I feel sad for them. They get stuck in these little..."
"Yeah." I sigh. "...Bad habits."
The conversation snaps off, and suddenly the atmosphere of the room is different. In slow motion, and very deliberately, Carolyn puts down the papers, rotates, and slides her face up under my chin. I draw my arms around her waist, and plunge one hand up the back of her head, into her hair. We hug fiercely, vitally, crushing ourselves into one another. We hold this intense grasp for as long as we can, searching for a way to make it permanent, to stretch it over all the time before and after.
My voice is heavy with emotion. "I'm glad ... we can share this together."
She raises her head, looking up into my face. We touch noses. I close my eyes. In tiny lovers' negotiations, our lips find one another, and we kiss. We shift our weight, and the kissing becomes more intense. For the first time, I feel Carolyn's tongue probing into mine. I suck on her bottom lip, and explore her teeth. Distantly I realize that Carolyn has not had as much practice kissing. And that teaching her will be fun.
We stay on the bed, kissing and stroking one another, for a very long while. When we look up it is four in the morning, and we realize that we should set up for bed. Reluctantly we untangle ourselves and gather sleeping paraphenelia.
I step out to the van and bring in my blue pad and a blanket. Carolyn goes to a back room and digs out two tiny matresses. A Macintosh SE/30 gathers dust on a nearby desk, and I fuss excitedly over its antique status. We push the easy chairs aside in the living room, and unroll our pads. Carolyn's are tiny, and she can only fit entirely on them by sleeping bent at the waist. I declare that this will not do.
We decide to go to the kitchen for a late-night snack. Over cereal, Carolyn considers our setup. "This whole thing is just ridiculous." she says. "Do you realize that my parents are going to get up in about three hours, and come downstairs and make noise? We'll both have to move up to my room anyway."
I tell her that yes, it is ridiculous, but it's their house, so their rules.
"But, we should just sleep in my room to begin with, so they don't disturb us!"
"I think that makes sense, but I'm not in a position to refute their rules. I would feel wrong doing it. So it's your call, either way." I say.
While milling about in the living room, we note the presence of the guestroom. There is a small four-poster bed in there, and just enough floor space for my blue pad. We could both sleep in there, away from the living room, and leave the door open a crack so they can see in. Carolyn and I decide that this is a great idea, and it doesn't bend her parents' rules too much.
We stand in the middle of the guestroom, arms around each other, discussing the pictures on the walls. We spy ourselves in the mirror, and are both, I think, checking out how we look as a couple. Not bad, I think. Carolyn is beautiful, and I don't look any shabbier than usual.
She digs some more blankets out of the closet, and I set up my pad. I go to the bathroom, which is just a few feet away. I notice that there is a shower, and decide to hit it first thing in the morning. When I come back into the guestroom, Carolyn is busy removing the batteries from the bedside alarm clock. "Things that make a ticking noise really bug me when I'm trying to sleep."
"Me too." I say. "I have to bury my wristwatch across the room on account it's so loud. But the reason I do it is not just because it's annoying, but because I get the impression it'll ... wear out my ears."
"Strange!" says Carolyn.
Luckily, it's upstairs in my jacket pocket at the moment, way out of earshot. I hit the lightswitch.
She gets under her covers and I tuck the blankets in around her shoulders and chin, sitting on the edge of the bed. This done, I lean in for a final goodnight kiss. Several minutes pass and we are still kissing. I readjust myself so I don't fall off the bed, and shove one hand under her head. We kiss deeper still. I nearly fall off again, and start to adjust myself so I am almost lying on top of her.
"You know... These are in the way." she says, clutching at the edge of the covers.
I take the cue eagerly, and pull up the sides of the blankets and insert myself between them, next to Carolyn. I ask her to move over, and she gives me plenty of room. In a few more moves my shirt is off, and she is running her hands over my chest, grasping my shoulders and arms in a way that is rather lecherous. I hook my arm under her waist and she rolls gently on top of me, and I feel the soft crush of her breasts through a single layer of pajama fabric. They bulge out between the sandwich of our bodies, and I trace my fingers along the outsides in fascination. We kiss hungrily, and writhe slowly together in gentle undulation.
Wow. Didn't think I'd be doing this when I got up this morning.
We kiss and touch and move, careful not to make the bed creak too loudly. Eventually we take a breather. She is lying on her side, looking at my face. I say "A random, point-blank question."
"Okay." she says.
"Did guys pay much attention to your breasts?"
"Oh yeah. You mean in general, or in ... uh, this context?"
"Oh yeah. Lots. Lots of attention!"
"Was that good?"
"Cool. Excellent." I trace the flesh of the uppermost one with exploratory fingers. Shortly she rolls back on top of me and we resume kissing.
Time passes. An eternity of heat and carnality. Eventually we lie together, not exhausted but still tired, her on top of me, head to the side. We could both fall asleep this way if we really wanted to. "That would be quite scandalous." mumbles Carolyn.
I agree, but don't have the motivation to move. After half a dozen false-starts, we manage to get me shoved out of the bed. I wrap myself in my blanket, on the blue pad, on the wooden floor at the bedside. "Goodnight." I say.
"Goodnight..." she says, faintly.
Sleep pounces out and tackles me before I can even fully react to what has happened.