“Can you drop me at the train station?” HIs sudden change of pace took her by surprise. They were just getting ready to make the turn toward campus, away from downtown. “I need to go home for a few days.”
“You need to catch a train to go home? Where do you live?” She hadn’t really thought to ask, she assumed he lived in one of the cheap rentals in town that catered to grad students, probably with two or three roommates. He was a little old to be living in the dorms.
“Nowhere, really. There’s a girl I’ve been crashing with, and sometimes I just sleep at the library or with friends. I kind of couch surf. When the weather’s nice, I mostly sleep outside.” He gave her that little boy grin.
“And I don’t suppose you worry too much about missing any classes or exams or anything.” Emily was a very serious student. This was her first experience in a regular school, and she wanted to do it right.
“Technically, I’m not enrolled here.” Another grin.
“Technically?” As she said it, he decided that maybe he had that look categorized; it seemed to go with a certain skeptical tone of voice.
"Okay, not at all. I have been a few times, but I ran into a few issues here and there and so just decided to do it this way instead. I go to classes I want to go to and scavenge books and study with students, learn what I want to learn and not what I don’t.” He shrugged his shoulders, did a palms up motion, a “what can I say” kind of motion.
“Ah, I see. And you need to go straight home to……”
“First, Northampton. I need to pick up some clothes at my mother’s house.” He was putting a few things in his backpack, including Emily’s biology book.
“Because your clothes are?” She’d figured out how to get to the train station after getting past his distractions.
“At the girl’s house, or at least they were. She might have dropped them off at the thrift store by now.” He gave her one of those puppies who’d been playing in the trash looks.
“And from Northampton?” She really did just want to learn a little more about him. He was interesting. Nah, who was she kidding? She totally liked him, like, totally.
“Why, the upper west side, of course. My father owns a building there, he’s got a little apartment in it. I can crash on his couch, unless he’s entertaining a lady friend. Then he can usually find somebody to put me up while I’m in town. I’ve got some other friends there, too.” It was another one of those things he was almost embarrassed about.
“You’re totally a rich kid, aren’t you?” She’d never really known one before.
“Technically, I’m twenty seven years old and unemployed and homeless. I’ve got about two hundred bucks to my name, mostly because I do things like tend bar part time, or write term papers.” He was giving her a very serious look.
“Technically, that doesn’t mean anything when you can crash down the street from Yoko Ono and Woody Allen.” Emily was kind of wary of rich people. At the same time, she was really in to art and culture and really wanted to go to the theater some time; she’d never been to the big city, and suddenly found him even more interesting. Damn it.
“Woody and my dad are pretty good friends.” He thought he’d name drop, wondered if that was a testosterone thing.
“La de dah.” He categorized another look. “On the turn on scale, that’s about a minus two.”
He smiled at her. “Thanks. I kind of wondered, as soon as I said it.”
She pulled on the hand brake as she stopped in front of the station.
“You’ve got my book.” She said to him, starting to think about class the next day, sad that he wouldn’t be around to talk about it with.
“You’ll get the lecture. And you said she always has the pictures from the book on the screen.” Tentatively, he reached over and took her hand. “And I want to do the reading. You said that the professor was totally into proteins, and that’s what comes next. I totally want to be prepared to do proteins with you when I get back.”
“You’re such a fucking dweeb Zachary.” She leaned over and kissed him. He kissed her back. “I want to do proteins with you, too.”
“It’s all about the shape of things.” He was giving her a new look of his own.
“What?” He had her confused.
“The molecules. It’s the shape, the configuration The direction of the monosaccharides determines whether or not the hydrogen bonding will occur to make cellulose instead of starches. That matrix isn’t two dimensional, it’s three dimensional, it’s all three dimensional at every level of scale, always. Some regions are going to be really reactive, some not so much.” He’d suddenly kind of zoned off somewhere, wasn’t even really talking to her.
“What are you talking about?” She’d not really thought about it that way all that much, but of course it was true. She was more into the relationships between the component parts, what brought them together. Zach apparently was into the fit, the shape of things.
“I got to thinking about it while we were kissing. I like the way you kiss, a lot.” He glanced down at his lap again. So did she.
She laughed out loud. “Well, I can see how that got you thinking about the shape of things. But you’re the one who’s the good kisser. Wow. Where’d you learn how to kiss like that?” It did kind of knock her socks off, both times now. She smiled, kissed her socks off, that man did.
“You taught me.” He grinned at her.
“Huh?” Kissing guys thus far had not been all that great an experience for Em. Nathan had been a real tongue lunger, damned near choked her to death. She’d sure never let him get his tallywhacker anywhere near her mouth after that. Josh had been kind of a dead fish. The few others she’d really made out with at all were so hot to get in her pants she just kind of gave up on kissing altogether. Mostly they weren’t very exciting. Zach was different.
“Well, maybe my dad taught me.” Zach hadn’t seen his dad in months; he have to give him a call as soon as he got on the train. It suddenly occurred to him what he’d just said when he saw the horrified look on Em’s face. Her first practice kiss had been with Melissa Klein, when they were both ten.
“The first time I really wanted to kiss a girl, and I mean really kiss a girl, was when I was fourteen. Her name was Heather, and she was just like her name, this perfect vision of flowery femininity, all soft roundness and sweet scents and everything that represented women and sex to me.” Zach was a great story teller. “So I asked my dad how to kiss a girl. I’d seen his lady friends, I saw how they acted with him. I figured he knew what he was doing.”
“And?” she was intrigued.
“He told me to let the girl lead. Just kind of see where she wanted to go and go there with her. Maybe lead her a little bit every once in a while, but only really, really gently. I didn’t try that, Heather was older. Anyway, he said that making love to a woman was all about discovering where she wanted to go, where she wanted to take you. He said it started with the first touch, and then the first kiss; you always wait for an invitation, and then you just keep waiting for them and pretty soon you’ll get let into some really nice places.” He smiled at her. “That’s why I need to go home for a few days. It sounds so much like what you said before it’s crazy. I’d kind of forgotten about it somehow. Too many women around here who don’t really know what they want I guess, they’ve been letting me tell them.”
A train pulled into the station, and Zach looked at his phone.
“I’ve got to go, or I’m going to miss the last train west.” He grinned at her. “See you in a few days?”
“What happened with Heather?” She was going to miss him.
“She fucked my socks off.” He blew her a kiss as he turned and swung the passenger door shut behind him and trotted off into the station.
It was far past time for Zach to start reviewing what was known about the topic of his research interest. Dad wouldn’t know about Em, but he thought maybe he’d know something about women in general. That was good old fashioned deductive reasoning. Start with some broad generalizations, and then see if they applied to the specific question at hand.
The weight of the biology book in his backpack felt like a connection to her. It made him happy to know that in a few days, once again, he’d be studying with Emily.
Linda Brooke Stabler, Ph.D.