Megan, In the Morning

Megan,
In the
Morning
By
Kim Bellard

Copyright © Kim Bellard 2001
All Rights Reserved

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Megan, In the Morning

Chapter 1
Sometimes people go looking for mysteries, like explorers going hunting for new
continents. Other times mysteries just drop into your life unbidden, unexpected, and
inexplicable. Megan Lindgren came into my life like that. Of course, women are always
great mysteries to men, and especially to me, but Megan was a whole other kind of
mystery.
The first time I saw her, I thought she was an angel. I don't mean literally. I mean, it
wasn't like I saw wings or a halo, or even a white flowing robe. I'm not some "Touched
by an Angel"- watching pilgrim on the lookout for religious miracles, and I don't even
really believe in angels -- or miracles. Still, right from that start, I knew there was
something special about her.
I met Megan early one June morning. I'd been up all night thinking about a hard bit of
programming that I needed to get done. Once it had started to get light outside I'd gone
for a long bike ride as a way to clear my head and maybe break the impasse. It worked;
around ten miles into the ride I finally saw a solution, and rode home feeling increasingly
triumphant. I pulled up to the curb and hoisted the bike on my shoulder.
“Good morning,” a voice called out. “Have a good ride?”
I was still wrapped up in my own little world, even more than usual due to the
combination of the early hour, my hard concentration, and the exertion of the ride. I had
not been expecting to see anyone, and it took me a few seconds to recognize that I had
been spoken to. I looked up to the source of the voice, which came from the stoop of my
building.
The woman – the apparent source of the voice -- was sitting at the top of the steps,
leaning forward with her arms resting on her knees. The sun was still rising in the east,
and lit her from the side with a slightly reddish glow. She was sitting there contemplating

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Megan, In the Morning

the dawn and the day with the full attention that one might expect of someone who has
never seen either, or perhaps of someone who had not expected to see another. A person
who had just survived a near-death experience might look at the world that way, I
thought, or perhaps someone recently released from the darkest, most hopeless prison. It
was hard to imagine that this surprising young woman on my steps fit in either category,
so I was somewhat baffled at what held her wonder.
My immediate impression was that she was radiant. Not beautiful, although I suppose I
noticed that she was that as well. You see beautiful women every day. Radiant is in a
class by itself. It was like all the energy of the dawning day came through her and was
amplified. The force of her personality was that strong, but even before she smiled I
knew it wasn’t an overwhelming force, but rather a good natured, comforting one. And
once she smiled, all bets were off. It was a Julia Robert-type smile, lighting her face and
the world around her up. I softened and understood how plants instinctively turn towards
the sun, moving to follow it as it traversed the daily sky. I would follow that smile
wherever she wanted me to.
Of course, I didn't know her, her warm welcome notwithstanding. I knew that right away.
If I'd ever laid eyes on her before I'd have remembered, yet here she was on the stoop of
my building as if she belonged. Still, I didn't really care what she was doing there, and I
think I'd have been happy to stand there and stare at her for the rest of the day.
It was a hot summer day, even at that hour of the morning, but to me she looked like a
spring day, sitting there cool and collected as could be. No cares, no worries. Not just a
spring day; she was a spring day with achingly beautiful blue skies and the occasional
white fluffy cloud floating by as a diversion. A spring day sitting next to a babbling
brook or something, so you could sit there and watch the water flow by. Even that
doesn’t fully convey the image. She was that spring day with you sitting there with your
lover, having a picnic and wishing time would just stop right then so you could just stay
in that moment forever.

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Megan, In the Morning

I looked at her for just a second and all that came into my head, making me almost dizzy.
She lacked for nothing and all of a sudden I felt like you feel when you are a little kid and
suddenly you realize that what you know of the world is just a tiny fraction of what the
world is, or can be.
Her eyes were warm and inviting, and her features were sharply drawn. I had not
realized how bland most people looked until I saw her. By comparison, the rest of the
world looked like they were on a monitor with poor resolution. She was the only one in
focus. Her skin was fair, with a hint of freckles that I was already willing to bet only took
a few encounters with the sun to more fully erupt. It wasn't milky white, but rather was
tinted with a slight rosy glow that instantly gave the sense of vitality. I wanted to touch
it, to see if it was a soft and warm as I thought it looked. I liked her hair, too. It was jet
black, and surprisingly short. On another woman it might have looked tomboyish, but
there was no risk of that here. That last bit may be an example of impressions added to
the memories later on, but I can't swear that those thoughts didn't enter my head right
then.
She was sitting at the top of the steps looking down on me. I felt kind of stupid, standing
there with my bike on my shoulder. I was wearing my biking outfit, including the damn
helmet. It being June and me being fresh from a long ride, I was sweaty, and acutely
aware that it had been too long since I'd washed these particular clothes. She looked
fresh and clean in a neat pair of shorts and a white shirt. Somehow I suspected she'd look
immaculate even after her walk. Presumably she'd just woken up, but she looked as fresh
and collected as someone who had spent hours getting ready. People paid make-up artists
lots of money to artificially make them look as fresh and natural as she effortlessly
looked. I mean, you don't want to see me first thing in the morning.
As warm as her voice was, as lovely as she looked, I have to say that neither of those was
what struck me so powerfully. It was that sense of being utterly at peace, sitting there so
relaxed and at ease with herself and the world. I can never just sit still; I always have to
be doing something. This was a woman who had figured out all the questions in life that

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Megan, In the Morning

the rest of us scrabble over all our lives, and that gave her a tranquility I’d never seen
before. It had the warming influence of a spring day’s sunshine – not the brutal force of a
summer sun, nor the cold brilliance of the winter sun. It was the kind of sun that made
you want to take the afternoon off and go sit in a park, or to say hello to a pretty stranger
just on a lark.
I must have gone more than a socially acceptable time without responding, because she
stood up and spoke again. “Hi,” she said, “I'm Megan Lindgren.”
“Craig Tarski,” I replied automatically. I tried to rein in my gawking and searched my
memory desperately for what she had originally asked me. “Umm, yeah, great morning
for a ride.”
She nodded, stood up gracefully, and walked down the stairs towards me. I watched her
body as she went down the few steps, almost hypnotized by the grace of her movement.
Her body was of medium height, slim and strong without being either too slender or
voluptuous, and everything moved so smoothly in sync. She extended a hand and I
almost panicked, realizing that I'd not prepared for this basic polite gesture. Then I saw
that she was reaching for the bike, and touched it approvingly. In retrospective, of
course, I have to wonder if she saw my confusion and changed her intent to prevent me
further embarrassment.
“Nice bike.”
She seemed sincere, actually interested in the bike. I took it as a compliment. “Umm,
thanks.”
I couldn't begin to guess her age. I'm twenty-six, but immediately I sensed a clear sense
of purpose and an air of self-possession that few people of either sex have at my age. On
the other hand, as she had come down the step towards me I thought of her as young.
She had that freshness, that indefinable loose limbness, that energy and innocence which

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time inevitably steals. Money can't stop it; the best plastic surgeons can't fix it. Still, I
could see some lines around her eyes and her mouth. Laugh lines, my mother would
have called them, but marks on that otherwise smooth skin. They could have come from
age or squinting at the sun, but right away I knew they were the result of happiness given
or received. Plus, I saw that her black hair had a spot of grey in it by her temple. Some
artists deliberately put a small flaw in their works just to not tempt the gods to punish
them for their hubris in creating perfect masterpieces. Her creator would still have a lot
to answer for.
“Going for a walk?” I managed to blurt out. I have to confess that I don't quite have a
way with words. I never know what to say to strangers, and basically any woman
disrupts the connections between my brain and my vocal cords. I end up either looking
dumb or sounding dumb, so either way it goes I'm out of luck. In this particular case,
though, I wanted to stay near her as long as I could, even if it meant lamely making
conversation.
“Yes, I was just sitting for a few minutes first. It was so lovely out that I wanted to just
enjoy it.”
We smiled at that. I don't know why. I'm not much for sitting around to soak in beauty of
nature, but at that moment if she suggested it I'd have sat there all day with her.
“I'm new here,” she told me with a smile. “I moved in a couple of days ago.”
How could I have missed such an event? I'm often oblivious to things going on around
me, but I'd have thought something would have called my attention to an event as
momentous as a moving truck unloading her life into my building. She had dropped into
my life without my knowing or even suspecting it.
I was dazzled by her smile, or maybe by that bewitching twinkle in her eyes. OK, I'm not
so good with girls and am easily dazzled, but this really did feel different. It always does.

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“Yeah, well, I've lived here for a long time,” I said, looking up at the building as if to
verify that I did, indeed, live here and that she hadn't transported me to some magical
location. No such luck; we were still in front of my apartment building, on the sidewalk
and just off the street that was beginning to wake up with more cars and sounds of life.
“It's a nice place.”
“I'm looking forward to it.” She smiled at me again and my knees got weak.
We stood there for what seemed like ages but was probably just a second or two. I was
desperately trying to think of something clever to say, something to make her think I
wasn't some dolt with a bike on his shoulder. “Well, umm…” I started, the best I could
come up with. If only I weren't wearing that damned helmet…
“Oh, I'm sorry,” she interrupted, “I'm being terribly rude.”
“You are?” I managed to say. It was hard to imagine.
She gestured towards the bike. “You just finished your ride, and have that big bike on
your shoulder. You probably want to get going.”
“Well…”
“I better get going too. Nice to meet you, Craig.”
“Hey,” I said, trying to find any reason to prolong the conversation. “Umm, it's Megan,
right?”
She nodded, trying to contain her smile but not doing a very effective job of it -- as
perhaps she intended.

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Megan, In the Morning

“Are you from around here?” It sounded about as much like a line as if I'd asked her if
she came here often, which I might have done had she not just told me she'd recently
moved here. Hey, I admit I was desperate.
Megan looked around us, as if checking before she answering. There was something else
in that glance that I didn't understand, perhaps some comparison to a past that I didn’t
know. She ran her hand through her hair in an unconscious gesture that made me think
she was surprised by it. I wasn't sure if she was surprised to find it so short, or surprised
to be able to touch any hair at all. It deepened the mystery, and made her seem more, I
don't know, more vulnerable somehow.
“No,” she said, looking back at me with a small smile. “Not from around here.”
That gave me a quick inspiration. “Hey, if you need me to show you around or anything,
let me know. You know, where the grocery store is, the post office, whatever.”
That was uncharacteristically bold of me; I'd practically asked her out. I don't know if I
was more scared that she’d say no or that she'd take me up on it.
“Thank you,” she replied graciously. “I may take you up on that.”
I'd shot my wad with my faint offer, and I had no follow-up. We stood there in silence for
a few more seconds, and then she widened her smile. “I'd better get going on my walk.
Don’t want to be late for my new job!”
I mumbled something inarticulate. I liked my freelance profession, but for once wished I
worked in a real job, someplace where I could meet women like her. Not that I imagined
there were a lot of women like her, but a two dimensional Lara Croft gets old after
awhile, you know? She touched my arm briefly, a gesture of friendship if ever I saw one.
I felt the electricity flow all through me at the touch, and my heart raced faster than it had
during my ride. “I'll be seeing you around,” she said.

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Megan, In the Morning

With that she walked off.

Chapter 2
I didn't see Megan again for some time after that. I was on the lookout for her, of course,
but it's amazing how long you can live near someone and not actually see them. There
are six other apartments in my building, with something like ten other residents, but in
any given week I'm only likely to see a couple of them. I don't keep very regular hours,
for one thing, not having a nine-to-five kind of job. I'm likely to wake long after most of
the other residents have started their days, and head out when they were either still at
work or had long since enclosed themselves for the evening in their nice abodes.
It's not like I was in love with her or anything. I didn't spend my time waiting for her to
appear, and wasn't tempted to stalk her. Falling in love with her would be like falling in
love with a movie star. Possible to do but stupid, just pointless. She wasn’t the kind of
woman who would fall for someone like me, and I knew it. I was practical that way.
Still, the prospect of such an attractive woman under the same roof was intriguing, to say
the least.
She wasn't beautiful the way that a movie star or a Victoria's Secret model might be. You
see those women and it's like some very good computer animation of what a perfect
woman should look like. Real people don't look like that, and if they did it would just
make the rest of us ordinary people feel uglier. I didn't need that. I could probably have
even just walked down the street and seen other women who were as good looking as she
was. There are lots of very pretty women in the world, thank goodness, and spotting
them is one of life's little treasures.
Megan's appeal to me was based on two things. One was sheer proximity. Face it; men
are lazy. A pretty woman nearby is more attractive than an equally pretty woman further

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away. This is the basis for the well-known axiom that women in bars get prettier as the
evening goes on, especially near to closing. She lived in my building, for heaven's sake; I
wasn't going to get much luckier than that.
I once worked out an elegant little formula about what made a woman attractive.
Physical beauty times friendliness, divided by proximity. It's more complicated than that,
of course. It's based on the maximization of the curves of each function; none can either
be too much or too little. For example, too friendly can be as bad as too cold, and too
stunning can be too intimidating.
My formula was actually even more complicated than that, as the beauty is a function of
a lot of other variables, such as face and breasts and legs. Each of the major variables is a
function of several independent variables. OK, it sounds a little nutso, but developing it
had been good for a couple hours of idle thought. All right, maybe a couple days.
The second and main allure, though, was that indefinable aura she had, that sense of
peace and tranquility she seemed to carry effortlessly about her. She was like a breath of
fresh air, pure oxygen, a burst of energy. I wanted to know why she was like that, what
truths she knew or what wisdom she had to give.
She hadn't actually flirted with me. I replayed the sequence of our first meeting over and
over again, searching for clues or hints of that nature that she might have been giving me,
but I failed to discern any. That was all right with me. As awkward and tongue-tied as I
felt, it was easier with her than with ninety-nine out of one hundred women I meet.
Maybe all one hundred. I didn't expect much from her. Having her notice me and be
friendly with me was all I could hope for and more than I dared ask for.
It was about two weeks later that I saw Megan next. Two weeks and three days, to be
exact, if anyone was counting. I was browsing in New Treasures, the resale shop
associated with St. Joseph's, the big old hospital up the hill from where I lived. The
patrons of the hospital donate the junk they no longer want or need (mostly the former,

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since it was hard to imagine that they had ever needed some of the stuff they left here in
the first place), and get a tax write-off for it. I rarely buy anything there. Most of the
goods are women's clothes, especially useless stuff like evening dresses. They do have
other items as well, though, that makes an occasional browse warranted. Sometimes I'll
find a CD or a game I want, and I once got this great leather coat for twenty bucks. It's
fun to see what rich people give away. Some of the stuff isn't even used, or only used
maybe once. They bought it because they thought it was in style, and gave it away when
it went out of style. That it might have intrinsic value seemed to elude them, as best I
could tell.
I like to think that I'm not exactly the clientele that the shop was meant for, although
better here than at Goodwill. I'm not exactly sure who the intended clientele was, but I
do often see prosperous-looking young women shopping for the dresses. I'd often
imagined striking up a conversation with one of them, but never had.
I was flipping through the CDs when I heard her voice again. New Treasures is a good
place to get CDs because they have all these hard-to-find imports that its patrons picked
up on their trips abroad. Of course, most of what they buy is crap, like ABBA or opera or
shit like that, but every so often they'll give away something I liked. You just have to be
patient.
“Craig? Craig Tarski?”
Even before I looked up, I knew it was her. That voice was unmistakable, and the
pleasure that her voice conveyed warmed me in those little places that I usually keep
hidden.
New Treasures was in an old house, sprawling and yet compact and at times confining. It
was darker than I liked. The dark wood walls and thick curtains on the windows offset
the proprietors’ best efforts to keep lots of lights going. Each of the rooms has been
arranged by category or time period; I wasn't quite sure how they'd picked what sat with

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what. The CDs were in what might have been the original parlor, which I thought was
fitting. The original owners might have thought that CDs were miniature phonograph
records, and it would have been amusing to watch them try to fit them on their turntables.
Goodness knows what they’d have thought if they could hear some of the music.
The voice came from the old kitchen. I looked up and saw her through the hall, in the
middle of a conversation with an older woman. They were sitting at a small table
reviewing something on a clipboard, and I made the older woman for one of the
volunteers that worked here. She had that look of someone virtuously slumming,
pretending to dress casually but ending up looking about as casual as one of the women
from Dynasty.
“Megan?” I responded in surprise, looking up. I mentally cursed myself for sounding
like such a wimp.
She smiled at me, a small smile that spoke of friendship and pleasure to see me, and the
warmth of that smile traveled across those thirty feet or so without losing anything. She
said something to the other woman, handed her the clipboard and touched her
reassuringly on the arm. Then she stood and walked towards me. I saw the woman she'd
been talking to give me an envious look, as Megan's charisma followed her over towards
me. I was gawking, still stunned to run into her, and no doubt looking like a besotted
adolescent boy.
“Good to see you,” she said, stopping a couple feet from me. She had on a respectable
pants suit, conservative but not hiding her slim lines. Her short hair was slightly
incongruous with that seemingly perfectly tailored suit, but somehow she made it work.
She'd probably picked up the suit off the rack, or made it herself, and it was her personal
style that made it all look so elegant. There was no jewelry that I could spot, not
counting an inexpensive-looking wristwatch. Hell, I outnumbered her in earrings. I had
a spare tattoo if we wanted to compare that category as well, as I doubted that fair flesh

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of hers had been marred by any such decoration. It'd have been superfluous on her
anyway. She looked down at the CD rack. “Are you buying something?”
“Maybe,” I said tentatively. “Just looking.”
“What have you got there?” she asked. She took a CD from my unprotesting hand.
“Yaz?”
“Yeah, Yaz.” My reply sounded sort of stupid, I realized too late. Alliteration cuts both
ways.
“I don't believe I'm familiar with them,” she noted diplomatically, handing me the CD.
“It was Allison Moyet's original group,” I explained.
“Ah,” she said, as though that explained everything. It wasn't clear to me that she'd ever
heard of Allison Moyet, more's the pity, but she seemed willing to accept on faith that Yaz
was worthwhile, just because I said so. I felt obscurely proud somehow. “Perhaps you'll
let me listen to it someday.”
“Anytime,” I immediately promised, eager to share. I didn't know how to follow that, so
I fingered the CDs idly and waited for her to rescue me. Which she did, with a smile.
“How've you been?”
“Oh, you know, about the same. Haven't seen you around much.”
She gave me an amused smile. “Oh, I've been busy settling in.”
“Oh, yeah. How's that going? Getting to know your way around?”
She shrugged. “I can get to and from work. That's about it.”

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It suddenly occurred to me. “Hey, do you work here?”
I don't know why I hadn't realized that as soon as I'd seen her at the table with the other
woman. I don't know what I'd imagined she did for a living. Maybe an architect or even
a physician, or a professor. Somehow her working in a resale shop had not occurred to
me. I glanced around, quickly checking the place out as if I'd never seen it before. I'd
never seen it before with Megan in it, which somehow made all the difference. It seemed
more respectable, more worthwhile. Hell, they took unwanted goods and redistributed
them to more needy folks. It just went to show I'd been right to think she was a good
person.
She seemed to think about her answer, and it seemed to amuse her slightly. Maybe I just
amused her generally. If so, I hoped that was good, in a cute kind of way and not in a
court jester kind of way. “In a manner of speaking.”
“I thought the people who worked here were all volunteers -- you know, rich married
women killing time.” I was babbling, desperately trying to keep her attention. My mouth
was working faster than my brain, and I realized I'd just put my foot squarely in it. She
wasn't married, as best I'd discerned from her lack of rings, and since she was living in
my building I kind of figured that she was unlikely to be rich either. “Umm, are you the
boss?”
I don’t know why I said that. I guess I couldn’t imagine her working for someone,
figuring that anyone with any sense would just automatically defer to her. I would.
Megan studied me for a second. If she could have read my mind she'd have known that I
wasn't going anywhere, that my brain was racing way behind my mouth. I was just
talking to keep her here, with no conversational goal anywhere in sight, much less in
mind. “We all work together,” she answered diplomatically.

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I shifted my weight uneasily, and stopped playing with the CDs. “So, you're here every
day?”
“Not every day. I do a few other things too.”
“Uh-huh,” I replied, trying to be cool. I knew all about working a few jobs at the same
time.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. “Just checking out the CDs?”
It was a logical question. It was in the middle of the day on what was for most people a
work day. I was in this fancy resale shop, in shorts, an old t-shirt, and sandals. There are
not too many jobs that have such a casual dress code. That made it two-for-two that she'd
been better dressed than I was, but it wasn't that tough a contest to win. I didn't want her
to think I was the kind of person who had to shop in secondhand stores. It's not like I'm
homeless or penniless or anything. I think what she really meant was, why aren’t you at
work, but she was too polite for that. “Uhh, yeah, I really like your selection.”
“Well, I hope you find something.” She didn't seem to mind my sloth.
I sensed that she was getting ready to go. She didn't give off vibes that she was bored
with me, but I worried I was keeping her from more important things. Still, I didn't want
her to go.
“I've always thought it was funny that they had a resale shop in an old house,” I said,
apropos of nothing. It just bubbled out of my mouth, I swear.
Megan raised an eyebrow just slightly and seemed intrigued. “How so?”
“Well, you know, this old house,” I began, fumbling for words. “Lots of people lived
their lives here.”

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“It's got a past,” she agreed.
“Right. Lived and loved, gained and lost, the whole bit.”
“It is something to think about.” She gave the surroundings a thoughtful look, as though
she really was going to think about it. I could picture her imagining earlier inhabitants
walking down the staircase, or cooking in the kitchen, even sitting in this parlor playing
games or holding forth. I could have been wrong. Maybe she was really seeing where
the paint on the walls needed touching up, or noticing that some of the merchandise
needed reorganizing. Polite gesture on her part or not, it made feel sort of proud, then I
remembered I was trying to make a point about the resale aspect.
“Then there's all this junk,” I blundered. “I mean, all these things you sell. They all have
their own histories too, from all those other lives.”
“Makes it feel a little crowded,” Megan teased.
The store was always pretty packed with goods, and now I'd unintentionally filled the
place with ghosts of people I didn't know. I shivered slightly, which I think Megan
noticed. “But they're friendly spirits,” she said with a touching smile. “They're here to
go home with someone who needs them.”
A moment of silence followed that, as if we were silently thanking those unseen past
owners. I was feeling a little like one of those discarded items looking for a home
myself. I decided I'd better get going before I said something even she couldn't rescue
me from. “Hey, yeah, well -- listen, I better get going. Maybe I'll see you around. You
know, on the stairs or in the neighborhood or something.”
She turned up the smile to a higher wattage. If there had been ice around us it would
have melted. “Don't forget your CD, Craig,” she reminded me.

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I actually already had that particular one, but if she wanted me to have that CD, I'd gladly
pay whatever New Treasures wanted for it. “Oh, no, absolutely,” I said seriously.
“Maybe I'll stop by your apartment sometime and you can play it for me.” She smiled
kindly at me.
My eyes must have widened, perhaps pushed by the extra blood pressure that was
generated by my heart suddenly racing. “Oh, yeah, anytime, anytime at all,” I blurted
out. I must have both blushed and smiled at the same time, unable to control my
excitement at her offer, if it was an offer. She could just have been being polite.
Megan seemed touched. “You should smile more, Craig,” she said. She reached out and
touched my cheek softly. “You have a lovely smile.”
I must have smiled all the way home.

Chapter 3
Over the next couple of months I probably could count the number of times I saw Megan
on my fingers, and not even need the thumbs. Yet, still, her presence affected me.
Signs of her were all around me. Every so often there'd be a letter for her left on the table
by the mailboxes, something either put in the wrong box and returned by the recipient, or
too big to fit in the first place. Sometimes they bore stamps from distant locations,
making me wonder at her connections to those places and people. I mean, I wasn't
snooping in her mailbox or anything, but I kept my eyes open for these little clues to her
life. Did it mean anything that she got a package from Togo, wherever the hell Togo
was? I didn't notice any one particular person's handwriting or location, nor were there

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flowers or gifts waiting for her -- signs that perhaps there wasn't that special person
courting her.
I ran into her once at the grocery, so that, too, became a place filled with her. I was
standing in the cereal aisle debating between Captain Crunch and CocoPuffs, and she
turned up the aisle.
“Fancy meeting you here,” she said after my eyes had widened in recognition. She
plucked a package of what seemed to be Special K from the shelf and tossed it into her
cart. It figured.
“Oh, just getting some provisions.” After much thought, I put the Captain Crunch in my
basket.
She took a look in my basket, which so far just had the cereal, some Enteman's chocolate
covered devil's food donuts, chips, ice cream, and a twelve pack of Mountain Dew. I was
waiting for some crack about the nutritional excesses, but she just smiled. I noticed she
had only fresh fruits and vegetables, the cereal, and some pasta in her cart. No cans,
nothing frozen. “Let me guess,” she said. “Express lane?”
“Twelve items or less,” I agreed. “It's the only way to shop.”
“I have a nephew that you could feed very well,” she said with a smile. OK, a new fact:
she had a nephew. Actually, two facts, as the presence of a nephew requires the existence
of a sibling, I quickly deduced, feeling quite proud of my intelligence coup. We made
small talk for a minute or so, with me soaking up that calmness of hers like an elixir. I
was sorry when she finally excused herself to continue her shopping.
After that, I started to go to the grocery more often, because I couldn't turn down an aisle
without my heart beating a little faster at the prospect she might be in it.

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Megan, In the Morning

I saw her on the street once, standing at a light waiting for it to change. I was driving
past and did not recognize her in time to stop or even wave, and cursed myself as I drove
away watching her in the rear view mirror. Other people were jaywalking or standing
there impatiently, but she stood there soaking in everything going on around her, much as
she’d done sitting on the steps that first time I’d seen her. It was part of her mystery, how
these mundane things held such fascination to her, and how she seemed to be able to
simply enjoy what others would be oblivious to. I wanted to stop and just watch her
stand there, just wait to see her walk.
From then on the streets also made me think of her, becoming something else in my
world that she had colored.
Only once did I actually see her in our building. I was on my way out and she was in the
lobby talking to Mrs. Warner. Actually, listening to Mrs. Warner was perhaps a better
description, as I had learned from experience. Mrs. Warner was a dear, and held the
record for having lived longest in the building, but she was a lonely old woman who saw
her fellow residents as her only remaining source of social contact. I’d never seen friends
or family visit her, so we were it for her, sad as that certainly was. She had to be at least
eighty, short and stout with white hair and so many wrinkles that it was impossible to
imagine her young and unlined. Her eyes were still clear, though, and her mind seemed
sound. She liked to latch on passers-by and talk their ears off. Once she’d dragged me to
her apartment, ostensibly to help her carry a package, and it was forty-five minutes later
before I could escape. I could not believe that the woman in those wedding pictures was
the same woman, and I vowed never to get old.
I overheard her telling Megan about her dearly departed Mr. Warner, dead these last thirty
years now. Megan looked more serious than I had yet seen her, with an expression of
utter sympathy and interest that I could not get out of my head for days.
I think that was when I truly began to think of her as older than I was. It wasn't just that
she was clearly more mature than I was -- I was used to women being more mature than

18

Megan, In the Morning

me, since about, well, always -- but that look on her face as she listened to Mrs. Warner
spoke to me of life experiences that I could not even begin to imagine. I mean, I'd heard
Mrs. Warner's life story as well, more than once, and I was both sympathetic and more
than a little sad that her life had lasted longer than her reasons for living it. But I'd never
experienced anything in my life that could really help me understand it, to feel it as she
must feel it. Watching Megan, though, I had the sense that she had seen things that made
Mrs. Warner's life look like a fairy tale. She had perhaps felt losses more tragic than Mr.
Warner dying of cancer after a long fight. I didn't know what those things might be, and I
sensed that I didn't really want to know, but I somehow knew that they were there.
Whatever she'd gone through herself, it didn't lessen her ability to empathize with Mrs.
Warner. She seemed utterly interested and understanding, and I could tell from her
expression that Mrs. Warner was going to be walking on air the rest of the day. It was
like Megan was a reverse vampire of sorts, giving life to those around her.
“Hi, Mrs. Warner,” I said as I came by them. “Hello, Megan.”
They broke off their conversation. Megan flashed me a quick smile that indicated she'd
heard me approaching, while Mrs. Warner seemed slightly confused to find that her world
still contained people other than Megan. “Craig,” she exclaimed. “How good to see you!
So you already know our new neighbor Megan?”
“We've met,” I replied modestly. I was trying to imply to Megan that I'd like to know her
better. I don't know if she got that or not, but she did wink at me, melting my knees
slightly with that implicit sense of conspiracy. We had shared secrets from others!
“On your way out?” Megan asked.
“Going to a movie.”
“Oh, how delightful,” Mrs. Warner said. “It's been so long since I've been to the shows.”

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Megan, In the Morning

She said it so longingly, making me think of when shows were special events held in
grand theaters, not crummy teen-flicks in indistinguishable multiplexes. “Maybe Craig
and I will take you sometime,” Megan offered impishly.
Mrs. Warner put her hand to her mouth in surprise. “Oh, that would be so lovely. You
two are so sweet!”
I knew there was about a zero chance that Mrs. Warner would take us up on the offer, at
least not unless they re-released “Sound of Music.” Still, my heart beat faster at the
prospect of sitting in the dark next to Megan for a couple hours.
I half hoped that Megan would use my interruption as a reason to go about her business -God knows I would have if the situation had been reversed -- but they resumed their
conversation when I walked away. I found myself longing to have her listen to me like
that.
Megan had become a hobby, if you will. Some people watch birds: I had started Meganwatching. It wasn't an obsession, mind you, but it occupied some of my time without
doing anyone any harm. Places I'd known she'd been, places I thought she might go -- I
watched for signs of her. It was curious how even this little thing, this small change in
what I had to think about, changed how I viewed the world. Megan was something new
in my world, someone I wished to know more of. So I looked for signs. I tried to
understand her habits from observation at a distance, and I tried to think of places she
might turn up.
This hobby didn't take up too much of my time, but I missed her tranquility, her unique
stillness and warmth. I could see how people got addicted to things. When something
feels too good, it hurts to not have it. Megan was in danger of doing that to me.

Chapter 4

20

Megan, In the Morning

“So how's your girlfriend?” Chuck Williams asked.
Chuck was one of my best friends. We were sitting with my other best friend, Kevin
Russell, at our favorite booth in our favorite hangout, a so-called cyber café called The
Bridge. Now, The Bridge was an interesting place. It catered to the fledging high-tech
industry workers in the area, as well as general geeks like me. It was located in the halfbasement of an old apartment building -- leading some to wonder why it was called The
Bridge instead of The Underground or The Pit or something more apt. Decorated in kind
of a high tech diner sort of motif, with chrome and Formica and plush booths, yet with
floors that even rats would be hesitant to eat off of, it couldn't decide if it was seedy or
chic. There were Internet connections at most of tables, and plenty of video games and
other diversions scattered through the rest of the place to keep us and others like us
amused for hours if we were so inclined. It never was packed, but -- day or night -- it
was always open and there was always someone there. I'd come in at three in the
morning and found it hopping with programmers from the local start-ups taking a break
from a marathon stint of work. The food was mostly forgettable, the alcohol was limited
to beer, but the coffee and the desserts were pretty good and you couldn't beat the
atmosphere. It was a safe haven from normalcy.
I'd known Kevin and Chuck for years. Think of Penn and Teller, the magicians, only
younger and not at all famous. Oh, and they weren’t really interested in any sort of magic
that was not silicon based, and any time they are funny it is strictly unintentional. Chuck
is the Penn of this duo -- big, full of confidence, and outgoing. He tended to be kind of
sloppy; even if he wore a suit he'd have a shirttail hanging out and his tie unevenly
knotted. He was a lot less good looking than he gave himself credit for, with the shallow
skin and small potbelly of someone who spent far too much time indoors eating junk food
and staring at monitors, although he didn't do much of either.
Still, he was like a tank in that once he had sighted on a goal he just rolled over all
obstacles in his wake. He had successfully bluffed his way onto the staff of a venture

21

Megan, In the Morning

capital firm, which paid him to hang out with people working in computer or Internet
world in search of the next hot thing. Which was kind of ironic, because that is exactly
what he would have been doing in his free time anyway had he had a normal job.
Kevin was the shy, meticulous one. He dressed straight out of a Polo ad, with
coordinated outfits that seemed almost supernaturally neat and pressed. He caught no
end of grief for this from his friends and coworkers, for whom wearing jeans without
holes in them was considered dressing up. Thin, wiry, and on the short side, he was not
particularly athletic. That plus the fact that he was both very smart and African-American
must have made growing up full of taunts and suspicion, but he didn't give seem to care
what most people thought of him. He rarely smiled or spoke up in public, but in private
he had a wicked wit and a fierce intellect. Kevin was a dynamite programmer, capable of
cranking out top-flight code for longer periods of time than just about anyone I knew, and
I knew a lot of very good programmers.
I'd met Kevin in grad school. He takes credit for introducing me to programming, which
is not quite true but I let him get away with it. He and Chuck had known each other
much longer, back to high school or junior high. I often wondered how they'd first
become friends. I pretty much was sure neither had fit in well in junior high school, but
then again most people don't, and I couldn't see Chuck joining the chess club.
But enough about the past. Chuck was kidding me about Megan, something he and
Kevin had taken to doing in the weeks since I'd met her. I'd made the mistake of trying to
casually mention I'd met a new neighbor, but they'd immediately seen through my
pretense and known that she had some pull on me. They didn't really think she was my
girlfriend, or was likely to be. They just liked busting me about my inability to connect
with the fair sex.
“Fine,” I replied. “I don't see much of her.”
That was the truth of it.

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Megan, In the Morning

Chuck and Kevin snickered at each other, and I could tell I was blushing slightly, as I
always did when they pulled this shit.
“Yeah, like you guys are having such great luck,” I pointed out disparagingly. The
female to male ratio at The Bridge was never very good, and an evening here pretty much
ensured waking up alone the next morning. Enjoying being here at all was strongly
correlated to a diminished romantic life.
“Maybe I should ask her out,” Chuck speculated. Despite the fact that he'd never seen
her, much less met her, I could tell from his distracted gaze that he was going into a
heavy-duty fantasy about hooking up with her.
“There's always Cat,” Kevin said hopefully.
Cat was our favorite waitress here. She was an enigma, at least to us. Despite the fact
that her job was to take orders from patrons like us, she acted as though she barely
tolerated our existence. In between her taking or dropping off orders, she sat behind the
counter and read or wrote, oblivious to the clientele. You'd think she would chat with the
people sitting at the counter, make nice with her customers in hopes of bigger tips, or
even socialize with her coworkers, but she usually just sat there in her own little world.
We didn’t even know what to make of her name, which we only knew because she wore a
nametag. Chuck’s theory was that it was short for Catherine or possibly Caitlin. I
preferred to think that it was her real name, conjuring up some hippie parents – possibly
raising her on a commune or someplace -- who wanted her to grow into a free spirit and
thus had appropriately named her after the noble animal. Kevin kept his thoughts about
her name to himself.
The essence of Cat was that she disdained social conventions. Take, for example, her
hair. You never knew when she'd come in with some unusual color, or combination of
colors, or an unusual style -- like shaved on one side. Today she was only moderately

23

Megan, In the Morning

outrageous. Her hair only had two colors -- black and some sort of purple -- and half of it
was braided in some complicated knot. Everything she did and wore expressed the desire
to shock and, possibly, repel the rest of the world.
She was wearing some low-riding hip-huggers, with a thin spaghetti strap halter-top that
bared her firm stomach. She sported a belly ring. We automatically turned whenever she
leaned over, in hopes of seeing more of her and answering some of our greatly discussed
theories about locations and types of body decorations. Right now all we could make out
were the navel piercing and her leopard tattoo on her left shoulder. Her shoes were
conservative, for her, with only a two or three inch platform heel. It made her about my
height, taller than Kevin but not quite up to Chuck's eyes. Her left ear was ringed with
earrings, and her left arm was ringed with a dozen or so plastic bracelets.
We had discussed her attire, as usual, and decided it was a good day. We lacked any real
criteria, but the fact that both eyes were the same color encouraged us. Some days we
knew to keep our heads down and try to avoid her. When her attire fairly shouted out,
“look at me,” we did so even more unobtrusively than usual. I think the day she scared
us most, though, was one day when she showed up in a shirt, blouse and blazer, with
sensible shoes and hair. We feared she was going to a job interview, although perhaps it
was a funeral. It was way too normal, and that was scary.
The only constants were her taut body, the blocky black glasses she wore, and the laserlike focus she had on her world. We weren't in that world, of course, but it fascinated us
to speculate on what was going on in hers, behind those fierce eyes. I knew, somehow,
that she was very intelligent, but couldn't see any way that her intelligence and ours
intersected in any meaningful way. We talked about her given the slightest provocation,
and doing so had consumed many hours of intense conversation. If she noticed our
furtive glances over at her during these discussions, she gave no sign.
She looked a little like the singer Lisa Loeb with her glasses, except the glasses made
Lisa kind of quirky-but-cute, but I don’t think anyone sane would use either adjective in

24

Megan, In the Morning

regard to Cat. Both were way too benign. She was too intimidating, like maybe she got
the glasses from eating Lisa Loeb.
Lots of us were fascinated -- and a few were offended -- that she didn't even surf the Net.
She actually sat there and read books. Of course, we were very curious about what she
was reading, but she kept the titles as hidden as the rest of her life. Where she lived, why
she worked here, who her friends were -- we were completely in the dark. We thought it
curious that she could be so outlandish in how she appeared, while being such an
introvert otherwise. Of course, it may just have been the company here that kept her
from engaging more fully in social intercourse; she could have taken stock of the patrons
and decided it wasn't worth the effort.
“I think you've got about much chance with Cat as Chuck does with Megan,” I told
Kevin. “No, I think you've got more chance with Cat.”
“Really?” Kevin seemed heartened by this prospect.
“Earth to Chuck,” I said. “Kevin thinks he's going to steal your girlfriend.”
“What?” Chuck asked. “Which one?”
“Quiet,” Kevin whispered. “She's coming. Order me a beer, OK?”
“Order your own damn beer,” I said sternly. See, Kevin rarely drinks beer, but
somewhere along the way he decided that the best way to impress Cat was to order beer.
Not just any beer, but Dos Equus, which none of us liked. “Couldn't you at least order
something one of us can drink?” Chuck often complained. But no, it had to be Dos
Equus. I don't know if it was something he saw on their ads, or maybe he saw her
smiling at someone else who'd ordered it. But that was his plan.

25

Megan, In the Morning

“You guys going to order?” Cat asked in a bored tone. She stood there with her notepad,
obviously implying that we better order more or vacate the table. Given the propensity of
The Bridge's regulars to root here without ordering anything, Cat had to act as tollcollector to ensure some revenue.
“Jolt,” Chuck chimed in. “And, oh, a large order of wings, extra spicy.”
“The usual,” Kevin blurted out with false bravado. Cat stood there without responding,
patiently holding her pencil to the pad. It'd have been one thing if she had at least said,
“what's your regular?” or “I don't remember what that might be.” Those would have
acknowledged that he was there, and had been here before. She just waited him out,
while Kevin wilted. “Dos Equus,” he specified. Cat calmly wrote it down and looked at
me.
“I like your hair today, Cat,” Chuck told her confidently. “It really brings out your eyes.”
Chuck's strategy with Cat, as with every other woman, was to be bold. He'd try to warm
up the coldest rebuff, never realizing or admitting to discouragement. Sure, he got shot
down ninety-nine times out of one hundred, but that still gave him that one shot. Today
was not his lucky day. Cat gave him a scornful look and looked at me.
“A Dew,” I said meekly. My strategy was, well, I didn't have a strategy. Maybe if I didn't
offend her she'd think I was a nice guy.
She wrote everything down and we watched her walk away to harass one of the few other
customers. There were only five or six other people present. A couple of them were
furiously dueling over the fate of the world on a Sega, while a couple others isolated
themselves on the Net, perhaps chatting with each other without realizing it.
“Great ass,” Chuck noted with envy.

26

Megan, In the Morning

“You're a pig,” I told him, although he was indisputably right.
“Tell us more about this Megan,” Kevin prodded. He leaned in towards me.
“Do you ever see her in a towel?” Chuck asked. “You know, getting her mail or
something?”
I looked at him incredulously. “Do you know a lot of women who get their mail in a
towel, Chuck? I mean, seriously.”
“She might.” Even Chuck didn't sound too convinced.
“Yeah, right.”
A loud roar from one of the game stations got our attention. “Ah, the super-nerds again,”
Chuck said dismissively. From their excited gestures, we guessed that they’d broken
through to a new level in one of the games, no doubt having played the game several
hundred times to learn all the tricks they needed.
The “super-nerds” were a loose collection of five or six other regulars. I didn’t think I’d
ever been in The Bridge when there weren’t at least two of them present, and frequently
they’d all be there. Unlike our little group, though, they lived for the games, never
engaging in any conversation outside the context of them. I take that back; I’d heard
them get into some very heated debates about the arcania of Star Wars or Star Trek or
Tolkein. Chuck always referred to them as upper-nerds, which just goes t prove that no
matter how looked down upon one social class is, there’s always some other group that
they’ll make fun of. Being picked on doesn’t make people more sympathetic to others; it
just makes them more relieved to find someone they can pick on. For us, it was them.
We made fun of their lack of social graces – again, consider the source here; it wasn’t like
we knew Miss Manners or anything; the way they dressed, their lack of normal friends,

27

Megan, In the Morning

their interest in comic books. You name it; we condescended to them as a futile attempt
to pretend we weren’t kind of pitiful ourselves.
Still, we had to admire their skill with the various games. There were a few that we could
sometimes top them in, but when we did they’d practice so obsessively that eventually
they’d beat us. So we tried to avoid engaging in direct combat, limiting ourselves to
longer distance reconnaissance like this. We also tried not to let them catch us noticing
them, as then they got very excitable.
“Man, I think they got to the fifth level,” Kevin noted. “I’ve never gone past three.”
“Me neither,” I agreed. Chuck just looked chagrined; I was pretty sure he’d never gotten
past the second level. “Who was it, Obi?”
The super-nerds were, in no particular order: Obi, Luke, Data, Chewie, Khan, and Vader
(or, as he preferred, Lord Vader). You get the idea. We didn’t know their real names, or
even their ages; they could be anywhere from thirteen to late twenties. We suspected that
at least a couple of them had programming jobs, although none of us had ever worked
directly. One of them worked in the used comic book store that they also frequented.
Once the super-nerds had settled done, we turned and watched one of the TVs mounted
on the walls. They usually played the Sci-Fi Channel, except sometimes when some of
the start-up nerds were here in force and they switched them to MSNBC or CNN to
watch the stock quotes. Today an old episode of Star Trek was on, causing us to halfheartedly continue our ongoing debate about the various crews and the merits of their
respective captains.
“Kirk, of course,” I said firmly.
“No way,” Chuck disagreed. “Picard was way smarter.”

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Megan, In the Morning

“Kirk didn't need to be smart. He was cunning, which is better. Besides, he had Spock
for smart.”
“Picard had Data, and Number One,” Chuck protested, proforma.
“Don't even get me started on Riker,” I warned. I turned to Kevin, who was more of a
Space 1999 snob anyway. “What about you, Kev? Want to get in on this debate? You
could be the tie-breaker.”
“Maybe he likes Sisko or Janeway,” Chuck teased. We all knew those weren't real
options.
“You going to ask her out?” Kevin asked.
“Who?” I asked, confused. “Janeway?”
“Nah, man, hold out for Seven of Nine,” Chuck advised.
“Megan,” Kevin interrupted. “Your neighbor.”
I sat back. I'd forgotten they were still ragging me about her. “I doubt it.”
“Man, if I was living there I would,” Chuck said confidently.
“You asked out all the women in your building, Chuck?” I asked.
It didn’t really faze him. “No, but…”
“You asked out any women in your building?” Kevin jumped in.
“Ahh, none of them are worth my time…” Chuck said.

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Megan, In the Morning

Chuck often bragged that he'd bedded a hundred women, but he artfully dodged exactly
what he meant by that. I suspected, with good reason, that there was some technical
wrinkle in how he was defining it that allowed him to make such a claim. Maybe they'd
been asleep under the same roof as him, or perhaps just on the same kind of bed.
“Let me guess…” Kevin said, knowing what was coming.
“…and they're all lesbians,” Chuck said defiantly. This was Chuck's excuse for any
woman who rejected him. He'd long relegated Cat to an alternative lifestyle, which
actually might explain her total disinterest in the patrons of The Bridge. I mean, we
could see why she’d disdain the super-nerds, but why more normal people like us? It was
one of our many theories about her life -- not one of our favorite theories, but one that
had to been considered and discussed thoroughly nonetheless. “You think maybe this
Megan is a lesbian?”
I considered it, just because at this point I was open to any theory that provided me with
additional insight to her. “I don't know. I'm not sure I could tell. How do you know?”
“Duh,” Chuck said. “Does she dig chicks or dudes?”
“I know what a lesbian is, moron. I just don't know who she's interested in. She seems to
like everyone.”
“"Ohhhh,” they both said together, as if that was highly significant. Chuck started to drift
into one of his fantasies, probably a threesome.
“Not like that, you degenerates,” I brought them back to earth. “She's just…nice.”
“Nice,” Kevin repeated, lingering on the word for meaning.

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Megan, In the Morning

Cat brought out our order, and we busied ourselves with that for a few seconds. The
wings were loaded with super atomic sauce, the hottest we could get. We all dug in,
furtively admiring Cat as she walked away without a word.
“So, are you going to ask her out?” Chuck asked, after inhaling his first two wings. He
seemed sincere for a change.
“I sort of did, but she didn't really take me up on it. Not like a date, just to do
something.” I shrugged, and took a drink of my Mountain Dew. “She's busy, I'm busy.”
“Face it, Craig, you just don't have the balls,” Chuck told me sympathetically.
“She's not my type.”
“You mean, you think you're not her type,” Chuck corrected me.
“You're a good looking guy, man,” Kevin pointed out. He was eating his wings with a
knife and fork, as usual. It looked stupid but I had to admit that his clothes suffered
fewer stains on them than ours usually did. “She'd probably dig you. Karen did.”
Chuck and I looked at Kevin, who was obliviously subdividing his latest wing into
smaller bites. I always hated it when these conversations dragged up that past.
“Karen was a bitch,” Chuck said fiercely.
“Now, now,” I soothed. It was my past, after all, although they’d been hit by some of the
emotional shrapnel.
Kevin looked up. “Sorry, man. I forgot how sensitive you are. It's been, what, three
years?”

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Megan, In the Morning

“Three and a half,” Chuck said. “But who's counting? Man, you need to start scoring
again.”
I thought back to Karen, and was not sure what the final score on that one had been. I
was pretty sure I'd lost, of course; the question was if I'd been shutout or not. “When it's
right, I'll know.”
“Forget right,” Chuck advised. “Get laid.”
“It has been a long time between women,” Kevin agreed. “Just ask someone out. What's
the worst that can happen?”
At that we all were silent for a little while, ostensibly downing more wings but
undoubtedly each of us was reviewing the various shutdowns, putdowns, and
embarrassments we had suffered over the years at the hands of women. It would make a
hilarious cinematic montage had it been of other people's lives. We might not know what
the worst that could happen could be, but we certainly knew enough about the bad.
“I guess the worst is that she wouldn't talk to me any more.”
“Cat has never talked to you, and you still hang out here,” Kevin noted.
“Cat never talked to me in the first place, so there's nothing to miss.”
“Big deal,” Chuck said cynically.
“No, it is a big deal,” I protested quietly. I sat there for a second thinking about it. “It's a
big deal because, I don’t know, there’s just something about her. Like the world means
something when she’s around.”

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Megan, In the Morning

Chuck and Kevin exchanged glances, not sure how to take my serious tone. “She's that
different?” Kevin asked tentatively. I thought back to how she seemed to view the world
with both such wonder and such confidence. Finally, I just nodded solemnly, almost sad
at the realization.
They stared at me with concern, not sure how to deal with this turn of events. Chuck
recovered first. “So, does she have a sister?”

Chapter 5
All of this is to say that I wasn't really getting to know Megan all that well, and wasn't
likely to. Sure, we might have settled into a comfortable how-are-you-doing neighbor
kind of thing. I'd probably have continued to be fascinated by her, at least for a while,
but that kind of thing doesn't last forever. At least, not anymore. Gone are the days when
people used to devote themselves to following someone selflessly for their whole lives.
The MTV Generation has too short an attention span.
Fortunately, fate intervened once more.
I had ridden my bike to see an early afternoon movie, a mindless action flick. It being a
Wednesday in September, I had been alone in the theater, and I wondered who the patrons
were in the other theaters. I kind of like that I have the flexibility to do things like this,
able go to the movies or to Dave & Busters in the afternoon while everyone else is doing
more socially conventional activities. But I do wonder who the other people sharing
them with me are. If no one else went during these off times, the owners wouldn't keep
them open, and I'd be out of luck, so I'm kind of glad to see others when I go on my
excursions. Still, I kind of resent them at the same time. I give them dirty looks when
they aren't looking, and wonder what they think of me in return. Bunch of losers.

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Megan, In the Morning

It was that twilight zone time of the afternoon, around three. Too early to have much
adult activity, but late enough so that some high school kids were already out and
unsupervised. Soon the car pools would resume in full force, and people would start
getting off work, so adults would retake the world. But right now it was no man's land.
Even worse: it was teenagers’ land.
I saw two kids in their late teens sauntering down the sidewalk near my building.
Probably high school seniors already bored with the school year. I had no reason to
expect that they were looking for trouble. They may not have known it yet themselves,
not until I pulled up to the curb and got off the bike a few feet in front of them.
“Hey, man,” the taller one said. “Nice bike.”
I thought back for a moment to when Megan had said the same thing, but this certainly
felt different. He was dressed in baggy jeans and a couple of oversized shirts, wearing
unlaced sneakers. His companion was virtually a clone, not quite as tall but clearly using
the same fashion consultant. They had closely cropped hair, and I was aware of my
ponytail. Their tattoos covered much of their arms and neck, and we're not talking hearts
or pictures of their mom here. “Thanks,” I replied carefully, slinging the bike over my
shoulder and stepping up on the sidewalk.
“How about a ride?” the second one suggested. I think he was actually sincere, as though
I was really going to loan my nice mountain bike to a couple of slackers I had just ran
into on the street. Maybe that speaks to how close-minded I am, but I never even
considered it.
“No thanks.” I stepped past them, careful to keep a couple feet between us.
The first one frowned, and suddenly reached out to grab the bike's wheel. “Yeah, man,
what about it? Let us take a quick ride, man.”

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Megan, In the Morning

It was phrased somewhere between a question and a suggestion, but I kind of thought he
meant it as a command. I didn't know why, but the mood had suddenly turned ugly. He
didn't really want to go for a ride, but even more he didn't want me to refuse giving him
or his friend one. People always want what they can't have. For example, at that moment
I just wanted to be inside and safe from things like strangers trying to take my bike. “No,
I have to get going. Next time, man.”
“Fucking hippie,” the tall one muttered derisively, eyeing my ponytail, as if his hair
styling sense had anything to teach me. I'd seen better cuts on dogs.
“He's a faggot,” the other one said. Being nasty to me had become a little game with the
two of them, each wanting to top the other.
I tried to move on, jerking the bike firmly along with me. The taller one seemed to take
further offence, and tugged back on the bike more firmly. He smiled at me in a way that
did not look like a smile, and I started to get angry. He thought he was going to take my
bike, regardless of what I thought about that. I don't get angry very often, at least not
when the object of my anger was still actually present. But the alternative was giving up
my bike to a couple of high school kids, and I wasn't prepared to sink quite that low.
“You want the damn bike?” I said with as much defiance as I could muster. “Here, you
can have it.”
I suddenly threw the bike against them. They were caught off guard, and went tumbling
down on the sidewalk. “You want my bike,” I swore at them, unstrapping my helmet at
the same time. I started swinging the helmet at them. “Take the fucking helmet too!”
I got in a couple of good licks before the shock wore off and they started to react. They
rolled out from under the bike. I decided to focus on the taller one, as he seemed to be in
charge, so I followed him as he rolled to his knees and tried to shelter his head from my

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helmet. I noticed the other one was getting up, but I figured he'd bug out, and then I'd let
this one up in a couple of minutes.
Only the second one didn't bug out after all. Maybe it was brave buddy shit, or maybe he
was just pissed, but next thing I knew I felt a flash of fire across my back. I didn't know
what to make of it, but at the moment I was caught up in the heat of the thing and didn't
spend any time thinking about it. I kicked out blindly -- all those years of going to
martial arts movies finally paying off -- and connected with a shin or a knee. He yelped,
and I turned towards him to inflict some more pain. He looked more scared than I was,
and I could see that he was debating just giving up and running. I wished he'd done that
thirty seconds earlier. I realized I'd dropped the helmet when he'd surprised me, but
thought I could deal with him without it. I was really getting into this brawling thing.
The next thing I knew the helmet came slamming down on my head. I suppose I was
lucky he hadn't used the bike itself, but in the millisecond I was counting that blessing the
helmet came crashing down on my head again, stunning me and dropping me to my
knees. It was like throwing red meat into the lions' den. They starting swinging and
kicking furiously at me, and I quickly dropped to the ground in the fetal position. I was
glad they were wearing sneakers instead of steel-toed boots, but that gratitude didn't
protect me against their blows. I could only hope they'd tire of beating me before they
did serious damage. The force and pace of their blows didn't seem to indicate any
fatigue.
“Stop that this second!”
I heard the voice as in a dream. I couldn't quite place it. It sounded to me like God, or at
least the no-nonsense principal you might have had in elementary school. It brooked no
disagreement, hinted at no alternative course of action. It was, curiously enough, the
voice of a woman.

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The two boys stopped, much to my surprise. I took the risk and peeked up at them,
standing there uncertainly staring at my benefactor. Then, with a quick exchange of
glances at each other, but not at me or my bike, they lit off like antelopes across the street
and down the opposite sidewalk. I got to my feet slowly, checking for bruises or broken
bones. Amazingly, I didn't feel any.
I turned to see who had rescued me. I was more surprised at who I saw than I had been to
have been attacked. “Are you all right?” Megan asked.
My mouth dropped. “Megan?” She had a worried expression on her face that concerned
me, but otherwise looked impeccable in a well-fitting grey suit. Her posture still
conveyed some of her authoritative command, and the fire in her eyes was only just now
starting to dim down. Despite the fact that she had been a solo woman against two larger
young men, I could see why the boys had decided discretion was the better part of valor.
Now I knew how lion cubs must feel when stupid hyenas make the mistake of accosting
them while their mother was around. I suddenly felt much better, sure now that
everything was going to be all right, now that she was here.
“I had to come home to change, and what do I come across?” She essayed a small smile,
probably more for my benefit than hers.
“Yeah, it's like this every day about this time. I'm thirty and six.”
“Better make that thirty and seven after today,” she teased, relieved that I was able to joke
about it. “You OK?”
Now that she had asked, the bubble broke. I realized that I now felt drained, and figured
the adrenaline was wearing off. “Yeah, I'm just a little tired after all the excitement.” I
sat down on the steps of our building, and Megan sat next to me, the suit notwithstanding.
She put her arm around me. I started feeling better again.

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Megan, In the Morning

“It's OK,” she murmured, and rubbed my back tenderly. All the other times she'd touched
me were nothing compared to this solicitous gesture. I began to feel a little light-headed.
I heard more than saw a couple of by-passers stop by to gawk.
“Craig? Craig?”
Her voice seemed soft yet distant somehow, and I had to rouse myself from my warm
little cocoon of feeling. “What?”
She had stopped rubbing my back, and I found I missed it terribly. I wanted her to go
back to doing it, but perhaps if I answered her question she would. I opened my eyes, not
sure when I had closed them. “What?”
Megan was holding her hand out in front of her, looking at me with concern that seemed
out of proportion to the incident. It was just a little row with a couple of kids, I wanted to
tell her, but that seemed like a lot of words and more effort than it was worth. She turned
her gaze carefully to her hand, evidently wanting me to follow suit. I'd have rather closed
my eyes again, or at least continued looking at her, but I thought if I did what she wanted
to perhaps she might start caressing my back again. I looked at her hand.
It was red. The red was blood. My blood.
“How…” I started to say.
Megan looked up, scanning the sidewalk and becoming aware of the onlookers. “They
cut you. Anyone have a phone? Call 911!”

Chapter 6
Megan took care of me. Of course.

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Megan, In the Morning

Before I fully realized what was going on, she had gotten one of the onlookers to call the
emergency squad, had made me recline on my side, and had taken her jacket off. She
balled it up and pressed it against my back. I protested feebly. “You'll ruin your jacket.”
“Shut-up.”
“But…”
“Shut-up,” she told me kindly. “Or, rather, talk to me about something else. Who were
those guys?”
I was silent for a second, trying to remember who she was talking about. I was more
aware of laying there with her near to me, her hands pressing against my back with a
comfortable pressure. I noticed that the circle of onlookers had grown larger, lured by
this uncommon turn of events. A few of them were people I'd seen around, but most were
strangers to me. I wondered what they were doing here this time of day. It occurred to
me, in a burst of insight, that perhaps they just appear anytime some incident like this
happens, like some troupe of professional onlookers.
“Craig!” Megan prodded.
I was startled to realize I'd lost track of the fact that Megan had been talking to me, and
tried to recover my bearings. “Umm, I dunno. Just some kids.” I thought for a second,
and added, “They wanted to steal my bike.” I figured that should clear it up.
“Stay with me, Craig.” Her voice was sweet and warm, and my connection to her
seemed to grow closer. “It doesn't hurt yet, but it will.”
I frowned. That seemed uncalled for. This didn't really seem like a big deal. I'd gotten a
little scratch -- happens all the time. I'd had lots worse falls from my bike, with lots more

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Megan, In the Morning

bleeding, than this. It seemed time to stop being coddled, pleasant as this was. “I better
get up.”
I started to push myself up, but found that Megan was pushing me equally hard back
down. OK, if she wanted to have a little wrestling, I was game. Only I found that it
wasn't much of a contest -- I was unable to get past her. “Hey,” I protested feebly.
Megan reassured me that everything was all right, but I was starting to get worried. Right
about then the ambulance pulled up and the pros got to work, checking my back and
manhandling me onto a stretcher, all the while asking Megan details that I was having a
hard time following. “Hey,” I protested again.
Megan took my hand, as they rolled me towards the ambulance. “What, Craig?”
“My bike. Can you make sure they put away my bike?” Megan nodded and left me as
they loaded me in the ambulance. That took all my concentration, then a few seconds
later she rejoined me. “All taken care of,” Megan advised me, taking my hand again.
The ambulance took off then, its siren wailing loudly. I always thought it'd be cool to
ride in an emergency vehicle, squealing away and brushing aside all other traffic in its
wake. I just hadn't figured to do so flat on my back, strapped down like a piece of meat.
About the time we hit our first bump my back rejoined the party. “Ouch!”
Megan squeezed my hand tighter. “I know, I know. The shock is starting to wear off.”
“We'll be there in a few seconds,” the EMT told us. “Hang on.”
We hit another bump. “OUCH,” I shouted. “God damn, that HURTS.”
It was like a really bad paper cut. No, it was like a burn. No, it was like a bunch of little
hands trying to tear my skin apart, kicking me with their little pointy feet at the same

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Megan, In the Morning

time. It was the color red, fire truck red. Don't ask me how it felt like a color, but it did.
I didn't know what else it felt like, but I damned well knew I felt it.
Megan held my hand tightly, and gave me a touching look. For the first time, well, not
counting when I was down on the ground getting the shit kicked out of me, I was getting
worried. “Am I going to die?” I asked incredulously, the thought just occurring to me.
I don't know how to describe the expression on her face. Concern, warmth,
thoughtfulness, even a flash of humor, all tied in together and all showing on her face in
that instant. “Everyone dies, Craig.”
I couldn't believe it. She didn’t seem all that upset about it, I noticed with some chagrin.
“I'm going to die?”
Now the humor won out over the other expressions, and she gave my hand a quick
squeeze. “Just not today.”
They took me to St. Joe's, of course, as it was closest and had a trauma unit. Once there,
things went very quickly. I was poked, prodded, stripped, injected, wheeled around.
Megan was around sometimes, not around others. I heard her talking at times, aware of
her unique tone of voice more than any of the actual words. I tried to make sense of what
was going on, and vaguely remember giving them permission to cut me. It seemed
ironic, and I wanted to point it out to them, that the cure to my being cut was to cut me
again. You’d think they’d want to sew me up, not cut me more. In the end it was too
much trouble to tell them. I was out of it in short order.
The next thing I knew I was in a separate room with a few other unfortunate souls.
Everything was white, or maybe it was light blue; I wasn't too clear. I was groggy and a
bit disoriented, but pleasantly surprised to find Megan sitting nearby, reading a
paperback. “Hey,” I managed.

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Megan, In the Morning

She looked up, and closed the book. “Hey, yourself.” She got up and came over to me.
“How are you feeling?” She put a hand on my forehead briefly, then took my wrist to
feel the pulse.
“What are you, a nurse?”
“Hush.” I think she was counting.
I looked around the room. “Where am I?”
Megan explained that I was in a recovery room. I'd had surgery and they were going to
keep me here until they were sure I was doing all right. “It seems a bit much for some
stitches,” I complained. I started to envision some nefarious plot to remove
transplantable organs to help finance some doctor's other illicit activities.
“Well, it seems they nicked one of your kidneys, so the surgeons had to do a little repair
work,” Megan said matter-of-factly, like this was something that happened every day.
Oh, I thought, ashamed that I had even let a sliver of a doubt enter my head. Megan had
been here; I shouldn't have worried. Megan stood there by my side as I grew more
sentient, not talking all that much but glad of her presence. I noticed that she was
wearing a scrub top instead of the nice white blouse she'd had on previously under the
suit jacket. I had a flashback to the ambulance ride, a mental image of that white
splashed dark red by her efforts to save me. I was pretty sure that the jacket she had used
to slow my bleeding was going to need some serious dry-cleaning as well. I touched the
scrub top lightly. “I'm sorry about your clothes.”
Megan just smiled, and did a slight flourish, like a model showing off a designer top.
“It's very chic, don't you think?”
“On you, maybe. But I'm still sorry about your other clothes.”

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Megan, In the Morning

She reassured me again, and we made some idle chitchat. I wasn’t particularly articulate,
due to both being still kind of out of it and my normal tongue-tied nature around women.
I felt vaguely embarrassed, as I was only wearing some sort of flimsy gown. Periodically
a nurse or orderly would come in and wheel one of my impaired compatriots away,
through the double doors where there seemed to be more light and people. Several of the
staff smiled at Megan and said hello, which I thought was kind of odd. Perhaps she'd
made a few friends while waiting for me to emerge from my surgery. Then again, she
was still the only civilian in the recovery room, at least the only one on her own feet, so
maybe they were just surprised.
The surgeon made his appearance after awhile. He was fortyish, thin and full of bristling
energy. He seemed a bit tired. I guess cutting into people's guts all day is hard work. I
kind of wished I'd gotten hurt earlier in the day, while he was fresher. “Hello, Ms.
Lindgren,” he started, as though I weren't there. He knew her name, I noticed, filing this
away to think about later. “How is our young man?”
Megan seemed amused by this professional deference to the uninjured party. Maybe he
just assumed she was the adult of the two of us, and if so I'd be hard pressed to say he
was wrong. She wasn't having any of it. “Why don't you ask him yourself?”
The doctor had taken my wrist to take my pulse, and started to turn me to view the
incision. “All right. How does it feel, Craig?”
I had to think about it. I really wasn't feeling too much, and told him so. He didn't seem
too surprised. “You're still pretty doped up. We'll keep you here overnight just to make
sure you're OK, but you should be able to go home tomorrow.”
I had to ask. “How serious was it?”

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Megan, In the Morning

The two of them looked at each other briefly. “Well, an inch of two in another direction,
or a few minutes more of unchecked bleeding -- let's just say you were lucky.”
This time we both looked at Megan, who looked guileless. She acted as though we were
talking about someone else. “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” she said smoothly.
Soon after that they came along to wheel me to an observation room. Megan came along
to get me settled. A policeman also stopped by to get my story. I had to admit to him that
I had started hitting the two guys with my bike helmet, but that they had started the whole
affair. I didn't know who they are. “It was probably a box-cutter, not a knife,” he said,
closing his notebook. “They were probably as scared as you were.” I didn't get the sense
that he had any burning desire to find them.
Megan finally left around six, just before they brought me dinner. She promised to stop
by in the morning. “Anyone you want me to call?” she asked as she prepared to leave.
“Parents, girlfriend, someone like that?”
I thought about my options. My parents were several hundreds of miles away, my exgirlfriend probably would not appreciate the call, and somehow I didn't think Kevin or
Chuck was well suited to sick duty. I wasn't really feeling too up to visitors anyway.
“No, I'll be all right.”
Megan seemed, oh, disappointed or even saddened by this. It did sound sort of pitiful, I
realized. She offered to stay longer, but I reassured her I was fine, given the
circumstances. In truth, I wouldn't have minded her sticking around longer, but that
would make me seem even more pathetic than I already must seem to her.
I feel asleep shortly after dinner, and slept fitfully throughout the night.

Chapter 7

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Megan, In the Morning

I woke stiff, sore and hurting. They fed me an almost indigestible breakfast of what I
could only hope was deliberately bland food. I mean, it couldn't be this bland by
accident, could it? I think it was some sort of cereal, or maybe it was eggs. I ate the
bread, and wondered what pigeon was going hungry because they'd given it to me
instead. The juice was thin and the milk was warm.
I whiled away the time flipping channels on the lame cable TV the room had until the
surgeon made his rounds in the late morning. He checked my chart and gave his
handiwork on my back a good look.
“Good job,” he noted proudly. “I think you'll be fine.”
“So when do I get out of here?”
He put the chart back in its slot and checked his watch. I guessed he was eager to get on
to his next patient. It must be an odd job. I wondered which part he liked better -- the
slicing and repairing, or these little visits to see the results of his handiwork. I kind of
hoped his surgical skills were better than his people skills. “You can go as soon as they
get the paperwork done. I'll let the desk know.”
Megan appeared shortly thereafter. This time she was dressed casually, in slacks and a
light sweater. She was carrying a small bundle. “How is the patient this morning?” she
said, striding in the room and walking over to my bed. She put her hand on my forehand.
It must be a hospital thing, I decided, but I luxuriated at her cool touch anyway.
My back was actually hurting a little, but I wasn't going to admit it, especially not to her.
“Fine. I guess I can get out of here pretty soon.”
She nodded. “So I hear. I brought you these,” she said, handing me her bundle. “I
washed them.”

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Megan, In the Morning

The bundle was my clothes from yesterday, neatly washed and folded. Maybe even
ironed. I was touched, and somewhat embarrassed -- how clean had the underwear been?
I hadn't given a moment thought to what I'd wear to get out of here, or even where my
clothes were. “Thanks.”
I unfolded the shirt, and looked at the long gash in the back. It seemed longer than I'd
realized, and I thought uneasily about the as-yet-unseen corresponding tear in my skin. It
seemed to itch at the thought. “Well, I guess I can wear these,” I said dubiously, although
I'd probably worn worse. Not-in-front-of-Megan seemed to be the crucial distinction.
Megan smiled. “I'd have sewn it up, but I thought you might want to have it as a
souvenir of sorts.”
“You mean, in addition to the one on my back?”
“Hmm,” she responded noncommittally. She handed me another folded item. “I brought
you this just in case.” It was a scrub top, and I wondered with a slight sense of
excitement if it was the one she had put on yesterday. I tried to discretely smell it as I
took it from her, to try to catch a whiff of her scent. “Thanks.”
She waited in my room as I showered and changed in my bathroom, trying to make my
hair look semi-presentable. It was hopeless. I did admire the big bandage on my back,
but wondered at what lay underneath and what kind of scar it was going to leave.
“Much better,” she said approvingly as I came out shyly from the bathroom. There was
an orderly waiting with a wheelchair, and they were chatting animatedly. Megan had
made another friend, it would seem. I eyed the wheelchair warily. “What's that for?”
“Hospital procedure,” the orderly explained. “Have to wheel you to the door.”

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Megan, In the Morning

I protested that I was quite capable of walking, but the orderly was not to be swayed.
Rules are rules, especially in a hospital. “I'll wheel you out,” Megan offered.
At the door Megan hailed a waiting cab. “Megan, I want to thank you,” I fumbled, as
Megan opened the cab's door. “You've been a…”
“Save it,” she cut me off. “I'm coming with you.”
“What?” This seemed truly above and beyond. I already felt way too indebted to her.
She shooed me into the cab, and went around to the other side and got in. She smiled at
me in the backseat. “I'm taking you home.”
“But…”
“No buts. I want to make sure you are all right. It's the least I could do, as your
neighbor.”
I was more cynical than she was about neighbors. “Yeah, I see the whole building is here
to see me home.”
She smiled. “But I brought you in, so I guess it's my duty to see you home.”
The ride to our building was only a few minutes long, and we didn't talk much. I was
trying to figure out how much cash I had and if I could cover the fare. I kept an eye on
the meter. It grew rapidly, and I was distracted trying to estimate its final value based on
its current rate of change. I ended up being pretty close to the final amount.
“Don't even think about it,” Megan warned me as I started to paw through my pockets for
some money. She ignored my protests and paid the cab driver, including a nice tip and a
smile that made even an apparent long time cabbie like him right smile back.

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Megan, In the Morning

Inside the door we rescued my bike. “Now, exactly where do you live?” Megan asked.
I smiled, suddenly feeling better. “Come on,” I said. “I'll show you.” In deference to my
condition, we took the elevator up instead of the stairs.
“Voila,” I said as the elevator door opened and I unlocked the mesh door.
Megan seemed immediately impressed. “Wow!”
Our building was built for a different time. I guess the closest modern equivalents are
some of the super-expensive high-rise condos downtown by the water. Nowadays people
would be more likely build large homes out in the suburbs, with big yards and a pool in
the back. Our building had been built more compactly. It was meant as a nice little
community, with a decent but not ostentatious amount of space for each resident. There
was a small lobby, where people came in or picked up our mail -- that sort of thing. It,
like the rest of the building, had once been discretely elegant but now was aging, sort of
like Mrs, Wagner and some of the other older residents. Above it there were three floors
of apartments, with one on each side of the hall on each floor. Six apartments, making
six homes. A basement with the furnace, laundry room, and all the utilities, as well as
some storage spaces. There was an elevator for those who chose to ride, with a servants'
stairway in the back. And, on the very top floor, there was a ballroom.
The footprint of the ballroom was much bigger than any of the apartments below, as it
took up the entire floor. There were three small rooms on one wall. One had been the
cloakroom, and the second a small kitchen, where servants must have once prepared
appetizers or small meals. Today the cloakroom was a large closet, while the original
kitchen was still a kitchen. The third room was, of course, a bathroom, complete with a
shower stall. There were three bay windows, each with a built-in window seat. I could
image young suitors lulling their dates over to the windows and sweet-talking them. The
floor was bare, with lovely hardwood floors. Suitable for dancing, for twirling those

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Megan, In the Morning

sweet-talked young ladies around and around, everyone in their finest and looking smart
and prosperous. Not much dancing these days, sad to say.
Megan walked around the room slowly. I'd purposely kept the space as open as possible.
I loved that sense of openness, even though it meant that, yes, my bedroom was in the
same room as my living room, and both shared the space with my study and my
entertainment room, not to mention the guest bedroom. At least the bathroom and
kitchen were separate. The bed was on the western wall, under the window. I could go to
sleep looking up at the stars. Sometimes the full moon would light up the whole side of
the room with its bright not not-quite-earthly light. My computer set-up was by the
window-seat on the north wall, with my back to the window but with a wide semi-circle
of desk space. You could easily seat three people there, each working on their own
computer; we'd done it plenty of times. And there was room for more on the other side of
the desk if we wanted to. That came in handy sometimes.
In the middle of the floor was another semi-circle, with a beat-up couch and a couple
beanbag chairs facing a big entertainment center. I had a big screen TV, DVD player,
Xbox, PlayStation, sound system -- you name it, I had it. Boy toys.
I watched Megan do her tour. I don't get a lot of visitors, but those I do get never have a
neutral reaction. Some of them -- particularly dates -- seem to hate it, bothered by the
lack of walls and general sparseness. On the other hand, Kevin and Chuck are deeply
envious. Each has threatened to move in on more than one occasion. But no one is
neutral about it. Megan moved around the apartment with fascination. She didn't seem
to be judging either me or the décor, or drawing any conclusions. She just looked at
everything with wide eyes.
“They had a ballroom?” she finally said, breaking her silent tour.
I nodded. “I guess this place was party central. Ask Mrs. Wagner sometime about it -she remembers them having parties and dances here when she was a kid.”

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Megan, In the Morning

The building started on its way down after World War Two, as people started opting to
move out to the suburbs. They had their dances in country clubs instead of in private
rooms like these. Debutante balls grew fewer and more organized. This floor fell into
disuse, and had eventually been closed off or used for storage for years.
“I had an aunt who lived here,” I explained. “Not here, in the building. 3A, in fact. I
found this place exploring as a kid, and I always wanted to live in someplace like it.
When I ended up going to grad school here, I convinced the landlord to let me rent it.”
It had taken weeks of hard work to clean up the place, get rid of the accumulated debris
and make it ready for habitation. I'd had to install that shower, upgrade the kitchen, and
strip and repolish those lovely floors. Upgrading the electrical circuits had been the
worst. It had taken all my savings and then some, but it was worth it.
Megan nodded slowly, listening but still making her way around. She stopped by one of
the walls. “And these?”
She was pointing to one of my boards. All of the walls were covered by them. No
photos, no pictures, no conventional wall decorations -- just the boards. The boards were
covered with my hieroglyphics. “I think better when I doodle.” I explained.
She was studying the contents of the board. “What is it that you think about, then? What
is this?”
“Math,” I said succinctly. Usually that kills any follow-up, but not in her case.
“I figured that,” she said dryly. She traced over some of the equations with a hovering
finger. “Are you a mathematician?”
I sat down on one of the beanbag chairs. “Not really. Sort of.”

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Megan, In the Morning

“What kind?”
“Topology.”
“Hmm,” Megan responded. It didn't sound like the befuddled “hmm” I was used to; I
fancied that she sounded slightly impressed. She came over and sat on the edge of the
couch, not quite settled in but not ready to flee either. The couch had seen better days,
but she didn't seem worried about it, as some of my infrequent female visitors had been.
“It's the study of when a doughnut is still a doughnut,” I added.
“I bet you've used that one before,” Megan said wryly. “I know what topology is. You're
being too modest. That's pretty hard stuff.”
“Let's just say I do well on spatial relationship tests.”
She looked at me with renewed curiosity. “Is that what you do for a living? Do you
teach at the University?”
I met her eyes, and that was a mistake. I could resist her nothing. “No, it’s just a hobby.
I never finished my Ph.D.” Immediately, I thought that was a mistake. It’s lame enough
to do math for a living, but to do it as a hobby? Could I admit to being any more of a
geek? I mentally sighed.
Megan didn’t seem to notice my distress. She traced lightly over the scribbles on the
board. “So what do you do for a living?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “This and that.”

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Megan, In the Morning

Megan looked around the room, her eyes coming to rest on the entertainment center with
its catalog full of expensive items. “It must pay well.”
I hesitated slightly; I don't know why. “I do some free-lance programming that pays the
bills.” I left it at that.
We chatted for a few more minutes, and Megan pretended to be as at ease as if she was in
the finest mansion in town. Maybe she was. She sat on the edge of that couch like a
proper young lady in finishing school, back straight as a board and ankles crossed
demurely. Yet on her it looked comfortable, more comfortable than I was sprawled in the
beanbag. I wondered what her apartment was like. None of this all-in-one stuff for her.
I'd bet her walls didn't have equations and sketches on them. And I bet her bed was
safely ensconced in a proper bedroom, where most people thought it belonged.
“You have a pet?” she asked. “I noticed the litter box and the food. Cat?”
I nodded, looking around for the reclusive Max. “Yeah, the great hunter Max. He's out a
lot.”
Megan smiled. “Yes, I know the type,” she said somewhat mysteriously. “Well, I better
be going. How about I check in on you later?”
I didn't quite know how to respond to that. She'd already gone way out of her way to
help me. I'd ruined one of her outfits, with blood no less. I suspected that she'd taken off
work just to make sure I got home OK, unless she actually was a lady of leisure and this
was just one of her charitable outings. Then, again -- I sure liked being around her.
“Ahh, I'll be here all day,” I said with as much grace as I could muster. “If you want to
stop by later, that'd be fine.”

52

Megan, In the Morning

She stood up, and I belatedly followed, wincing at the sudden spur of pain. She saw my
expression and moved towards me. “It's OK,” I reassured. “I just got up too quickly.”
“Be careful,” she warned. “Don't overdo it.”
I promised not to, and we walked to the door. I rang for the elevator, and we waited
while it lumbered up. After I'd opened the door, she put a hand on my forearm. “I'll stop
by this evening.”
Time could not go quickly enough.

Chapter 8
Megan was true to her word. For the next several days she would stop by after work.
After the first couple days it was clear that I was healing well and her visits became
somewhat less frequent, not every day -- but more importantly, they didn't stop. She
would usually arrive around seven, and waiting for her knock on my door became the
highlight of my day. Initially I wasn't going anywhere anyway, and waiting for her knock
was my main source of contact with the outside world. But even once I'd started to
venture out again my anticipation didn't diminish.
Max made a dramatic appearance early on, leaping in the window from the outside ledge.
To her credit, Megan didn't even flinch. “This must be Max,” she said.
Max stopped on the window seat when she saw Megan. She gave Megan that
calculating, somewhat alien gaze that cats have. I felt the need to apologize for him. “He
doesn't really like people.”
“He likes you.”

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Megan, In the Morning

I got up and walked over to Max. He arched his back invitingly at my approach, and I
reciprocated by petting him fiercely. He wasn't one for tender caresses; when he got
petted, he wanted to be seriously stroked. I felt, then heard, him begin to purr. Megan
watched from across the room, then stood and came over.
Max isn't much to look at. He lost half an ear and a few inches of his tail in some long
ago fight. He's an ordinary grey and black striped cat, long and thin but no pure blood
left in him anywhere. “He tolerates me,” I said, responding to Megan's point. “I don't
know if he likes me or not. I give him a warm, dry place to sleep -- which he likes to do
almost as much as he enjoys killing things -- and some milk and stuff. In return he hangs
out and lets me pet him if he's in the mood.”
“Where did you get him?”
I thought back. “He just showed up outside that window one day. He climbs the tree
then jumps over to the ledge. I let him in, and that was that. He owned the place.”
Megan reached out to touch Max, and Max suddenly looked up appraisingly. Megan
hesitated. “Be careful -- I told you he doesn't like people,” I warned. Megan smiled
confidently, and let Max smell her hand. This was the decision point. I was worried that
Max would suddenly take a swipe at Megan; he sometimes did that to me, for no
apparent reason. Max seemed to savor the scent, then rubbed his head against Megan's
hand. Megan took that as an invitation to pet Max, much more tenderly than I would
have. Max seemed to enjoy it.
“That's unusual,” I said.
“I like cats.”
“So I see. More interesting is that he likes you.”

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Megan, In the Morning

“He's been in a few wars, hasn't he?” Megan stopped petting Max long enough to
examine his damaged ear tenderly. Max seemed to shift gears instantaneously. He
looked around the room, then in one continuous movement stood up, leaped down and
was halfway across the floor towards his food bowl. “And here I thought he was
enjoying that,” Megan said wryly.
“That's the thing about cats,” I said. “A dog would have sat there forever if you kept
petting it. A cat, well, a cat is on its own wavelength. You never know what they are
thinking. Dogs think about food, sex, and affection. I don't know what the hell cats think
about, and that's what fascinates me.”
Megan was still looking across the room towards the kitchen, to where Max had
disappeared. “I can understand liking things whose thinking you can't understand,” she
told me absently. I didn't think she meant cats.
I enjoyed Megan being around -- hell, even Max seemed to like her being around. He'd
sometimes rub against Megan's legs when she came in, and occasionally jumped up on
her lap, something he never did with me. However, I soon realized some of the
shortcomings I was subjecting Megan to. “No fruit, I suppose?” she observed early on,
peering into my mostly empty refrigerator.
“Umm, fresh out,” I confessed. A well balanced diet was not one of my strong points,
nor was keeping much food of any sort in the apartment. Soda, beer and chips, yes, but
real food was notable for its absence. So Megan came bearing gifts the next day.
“OK, we have juice, oranges, apples, lettuce…”
“What is this, a salad bar?”
She smiled at me, and paused in her distribution. “Hush. Just try to eat at least one of
these a day. Maybe a nice salad for lunch?”

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Megan, In the Morning

“Does a Big Mac count?” I asked innocently. “It's got lettuce and stuff.” Her mock
glare told me all I needed to know.
Megan persuaded me to order dinner while she was there a couple times in that first
week, and picked up food from one of my favorite restaurants once as well. I think she
did so less out of any desire to eat with me than as her caring way to ensure I was getting
proper sustenance. I wasn't likely to starve without her assistance, but I had to admit that
the Hot Pockets and Pop-Tarts weren't as nutritious as the food she made me eat.
She ate as gracefully as she did everything else, which is not easy to do. I tended to bolt
my food down, either impatient with the interruption or out of zest for what was in front
of me. Megan didn't peck at her food prudishly, but cut and chewed carefully. You could
almost see her experience the taste and texture of the food with every bite, enjoying it
without reveling in it. She ate like someone might who'd recently regained her taste buds
after having lost them -- not taking that sensation for granted the way most of us do. In
short, she ate pretty much as I'd seen her do everything else.
I soon noticed that I had nothing to offer her to drink. She politely accepted a glass of tap
water, but only sipped at it. Given that the water was more colorful than my walls, I
understood her reluctance, and inquired delicately as to her preferences. The tea
preference had me slightly baffled, and so I went to The Bridge the next day for the only
person I could think of to ask -- outside of my mother, who would only get concerned if I
asked her an out-of-context question like that.
“How do you make tea?” Cat repeated. She sounded wary that I’d asked her some sort of
trick question.
I'm not sure which surprised her more -- that I dared ask her a question at all, or that I'd
chosen that particular question to reveal my ignorance. I'd been sitting at the counter for
forty-five minutes trying to screw up enough courage to ask her. Ordinarily, I'd have just

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Megan, In the Morning

bagged it and left. Her hair was braided into a fierce looking mess, and instead of her
normal stud she wore a ring through the side of her nostril. Her left arm was covered
with bracelets almost to her elbow. All these, plus her violet contacts, were good signs
that she was in a mood. Just as I was about ready to slip off the stool and slink away, I'd
thought of Megan sitting on the edge of my couch holding the unwanted glass of water,
and so had asked Cat my question.
I hadn't been entirely sure she'd bother to reply, but I took her repeating my words to be a
good sign of sorts.
“Yeah, you know. Do I buy it all made up, or do I have to cook it?” I was the only one at
the counter. Chewie and Khan were playing games, and there were a couple other guys
knew huddled in booths surfing the Net, but I chose the counter so I could have this
conversation without being overheard. From the look on Cat's face, though, I was
beginning to regret asking after all.
“You want to know how to 'cook' tea,” Cat clarified. The look on her face was
somewhere between scorn and bewilderment. The scorn won. “What are you, a moron?”
I sat there mortified, unable to think of anything clever and wishing I could just melt into
the floor. Much to my surprise, Cat took pity on me. “Why do you want to know?” she
asked.
Now it was my turn to have a mixed expression on my face -- equal parts embarrassment
and, well, embarrassment. “I, umm, ahh…”
Cat smiled, amused at my awkwardness. Evidently deciding this was not some sort of
prank, she proceeded to enlighten me, such as about the previously unrealized
distinctions between regular tea and iced tea, not to mention herbal tea. She dispensed
this information efficiently and without any further sign of mockery. It was probably the
longest conversation I'd had with her. When I had gathered as much information as I

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Megan, In the Morning

thought I needed about the tea, I sat there for a second debating whether to push my luck
further. After all, she was being reasonably helpful and even civil. She was waiting for
me to say something instead of rushing off to avoid me and end the conversation. So I
struggled to think of something intelligent to say, anything that might impress her.
My eyes fell upon her nametag, which I realized she might take as me staring at her
breasts. I had to let her know I wasn’t some jerk. I heard the words coming out of my
mouth before my horrified brain could stop them. “I have a cat.”
“Excuse me?” Her tone of voice made it clear that she couldn’t believe what I’d just
said, and neither could I.
I pointed to her nametag. “Like your name,” I offered apologetically. “I have a pet cat.”
Cat nodded knowingly, at least understanding where my lame conversation was coming
from. “I’d have thought you were more of a dog person,” she said at last. With that, she
moved on to take an order at one of the booths, and I headed straight to the grocery store
where I bought tea bags, some tea mix, and even a teakettle. I threw in some bottled
water just in case. It didn’t occur to me until in the grocery store that Cat’s last comment
at least implied she had thought enough about me to have categorized me as a dog
person, even though that perception was incorrect. That realization cheered me up.
“Would you like some tea?” I offered when Megan came over that night. She gave me an
odd look. “And where would we go to get that?” she asked.
I showed her the pitcher of iced tea I'd made during the day -- it had taken me a couple of
tries to get it right, and I still wasn’t quite sure I’d gotten it right yet. I'd even made ice
cubes. She accepted a glass from me. “To what do I owe this startling sign of
domesticity?”

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Megan, In the Morning

“Must be the fruit,” I suggested. “It's not changing my X chromosomes, is it? You know,
making them all mushy or anything.”
Megan never stayed very long, and I can't pretend that we got into any deep discussions
or revealing personal glimpses. But I just felt good when she was around, and I
desperately hoped I wasn't too boring for her. Maybe I was her charity project. If so, she
never let on. Even though she was usually coming from work, and sometimes had work
functions to go to later in the evening, she never seemed down or even particularly tired.
It was one thing for her to be my guardian angel, coming by to check in on me. I could
understand that. But her constant good nature, never phony or saccharine, awed me more
than anything. How anyone could be in such a good mood, day after day, even right after
a long day at work -- that was fascinating to me. Even more curiously, she seemed
fascinated by me and my life, immodest as that sounds and ludicrous though it might
seem to anyone else. She made me feel that way. I never got tired of feeling that.
My back healed fairly well, and the stitches came out soon enough. Still Megan kept
stopping by. Kevin and Chuck became even more intrigued.
“When do we meet this mystery woman?” Chuck asked after it became clear that she was
becoming a more regular fixture in my life. I'd invited them over a few days after the
incident to show off my new scar.
“Gross,” Kevin said, admiring it.
“Cool,” Chuck said. “You'll really impress the chicks with that. You could tell them you
got it in a knife fight.”
“Chuck, I did get it in a knife fight,” I reminded him.

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Megan, In the Morning

“It doesn’t sound like much of fight, and I seem to recall that you needed a girl to rescue
you,” Kevin retorted. This led to me recounting her visits, which led to the story about
the tea, which led to admitting she'd stocked my kitchen with grown-up food.
“This is bad, man,” Chuck said, surveying the contents of the refrigerator. “I think she
wants to move in.” Kevin just snorted at this remark. I would have ordinarily too, but I
felt compelled to defend Megan.
“She's just watching out for me,” I said, feeling stupid. “Like a good neighbor.”
It was becoming harder to keep the boundaries between my Megan world and my
everyday world. If I went out during the day, I made sure to be home an hour or more
before I thought she might stop by, and I avoided either going out or having visitors until
after she'd departed. Still, Kevin and Chuck ran into her once in the lobby, not realizing
who she was. They came up to my apartment raving about the woman they'd seen in the
lobby. I debated letting it slide, not giving them the clues, but in the end couldn't resist
showing off.
“Very short, dark hair?” They nodded. “Great cheekbones, medium height…”
“God damn,” Chuck concluded. “That was her!”
“That was Megan?” Kevin asked. “That goddess comes to see you?” He shook his head
in wonder.
“What the hell is she doing hanging around with you?” Chuck moaned, seeming more
disgusted by my good luck than anything else.
“Must be pity,” Kevin observed.

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Megan, In the Morning

We went to see a movie, then hung out at The Bridge a while. The place was busy; I
guess it was geek night out. The super-nerds were out in full force, and unfortunately
appeared to coming from or going to some sci-fi convention, judging from their outfits.
It’s kids like them that gave guys like us a bad image.
For once, Cat wasn't our sole source of speculation about the fair sex. Megan had entered
Kevin and Chuck’s world too.
“She's a babe,” Chuck said.
“And she's smart too?” Kevin asked. I nodded, and told them she was nice too, not stuck
up. They didn't know what to think of this feminine bonanza.
“Why's her hair so short?” Chuck asked.
“I dunno,” I said. “It's like she just chopped it off one day. Sometimes I catch her
rubbing it like she can't get used to it.”
“Maybe she's having chemo,” Kevin speculated.
“No, it's not like that. She has nice hair -- it's not thing or falling out or anything,” I said.
“It's just like she decided she didn't need so much of it.”
They thought about it for a while. “Not a lot of sexy chicks with short hair,” Chuck
observed.
“Not many Playboy bunnies, you mean,” Kevin said dryly, earning an offended glance
from Chuck. We ordered some loaded fries from our waitress, who, for once was not
Cat. Even she got days off sometimes. This waitress was of less interest to us. She was
actually pleasant to us, further diminishing the chance that she’d create the kind of
mystery that Cat held for us. I wondered if Cat's absence helped explain why we were

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talking about Megan instead. Chuck continued, “I mean, name some hot chicks with that
kind of hair.”
“Demi Moore in GI Jane,” I suggested. She was the first one to come to mind.
Chuck recoiled, careful to take a couple of fries back with him. “Great bod, but kind of
macho, don't you think?”
“Mary Stuart Masterson,” I said.
“Tomboy,” they replied in union.
“Sigourney Weaver in Alien IV.”
They considered this. “OK, beautiful, I'll give you that,” Kevin said.
“But still too butch,” Chuck ruled. “And that movie sucked.”
I had an inspiration. “Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.”
That rocked them back. We'd watched the video many times, frame-by-frame upon
occasion. Her hair was longer than Megan's but proved the point that a woman can be
beautiful and sexy while still having short hair.
Chuck rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “So you're saying that she could be like Sharon
Stone…”
I glared at Chuck. I couldn't compare Megan with the character Ms. Stone had played in
that movie. Kevin seemed to be in a different line of thought. I finally had to jab him,
physically poking at him to snap him out of it. “What?”

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Megan, In the Morning

“Not Sharon Stone,” he said. “Joan of Arc.”
In truth, I didn't know what to think of Megan. Her interest in me seemed more than pure
Good Samaritan, but I couldn't kid myself that she had any romantic interest in me. And
I was too realistic to have any serious romantic interest in her either. It was more like a
crush you might have on a baby sitter or a teacher, or one of your older sister's friends.
Those crushes usually happened at those awkward ages in your life when you realize you
like girls, but the women you see are much more interesting to you than the mere girls
you know. In my case, there weren't many other suitable prospects at the moment, and I
guess I'd never really transitioned out of that awkward emotional age. I still felt like I
was thirteen, and never more so than Megan was around.
Was I a chore? A burden? One of her charitable works? Maybe. Most likely, in fact.
But she showed no signs of feeling like that, and maybe, just maybe, she actually enjoyed
my company.

Chapter 9
It was math, oddly enough, that really connected us.
My boards on the wall fascinated Megan. Actually, I'm not sure which interested her
more -- what I put on them or that I was the kind of person who would decorate his
apartment with dry erase boards.
“What have we been up to today?” she started to ask, wandering around the edges of the
room looking for anything new that I'd put on the boards. She would study them silently,
not bothering to ask for explanations. Yet she was taking something in, because she
could always spot any new work.

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Megan, In the Morning

Since I was between jobs, and I wasn't getting out much, I was spending a lot of time
those weeks thinking about some problems that had been in the back of my head for some
time. I was shy about trying to explain them, though, because it seemed so positively
dorky. So I'd just avoid any long discussion about it.
After two or three weeks of this, she came up to my apartment once when I was right in
the middle of a line of thought -- a problem in knot theory, if you must know. I had
started to leave the stairway door unlocked when I thought she was coming over, and on
this occasion I just didn't hear her knocking. She must have worried I'd passed out or
something, and she let herself in, only to find me deep in thought in front of the board.
“Hey there,” she said, standing a few feet from me.
I started, surprised to find her there. “Oh, Megan. I didn't hear you.”
Megan smiled, a warm light glowing brightly. “Obviously. I’ve been watching you for a
few minutes. What has you so engrossed?”
I told her I was working on a few ideas, downplaying it as best I could. Megan listened
with interest. “You were in another world, back then. That look on your face – I’ve
never seen you so focused. I can’t think of too many people who seem as intent on
something as you were.”
“Kind of like Max on a hunt?” I tried to joke.
“Perhaps.” She sat down in the desk chair I had put over by the wall, so I could sit and
stare at what was up there. “So how does it work? Do you just stand at the board and
write all day, or what?”
I wasn't sure I could explain it, or dare bore her with my passions. But she looked
genuinely interested and, honestly, I could refuse her nothing. I admitted that it tended to

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come in bunches. I could sit there and think about something for hours, or days, then
scribble in a furious burst to capture the insight my brain had had. IF I was lucky enough
to get an insight, and IF it proved fruitful. I couldn't really explain it, just that it wasn't a
very linear process. That's probably the biggest misconception about science in general
and math in particular. In retrospect, it all looks very neat and ordered, with the proofs
following logically and inevitably, but that all comes after the fact. The hard part, the fun
part, is looking for those connections, figuring out what should be true and then seeing
how to show what must be true. You go down a lot of dead ends before you make any
progress, but if you pay attention you can learn something even from those detours. If
you’re lucky, it turns out to be true, and if you are very lucky, and very clever, it turns out
to also be elegant, which is the highest praise of all.
I mumbled something lame like that to Megan, who seemed fascinated nonetheless.
“Sounds like art to me,” she said, standing up and picking up one of the markers.
“Art?” I'd never thought of it in those terms. I was never very good in art. Diagrams,
geometric figures, yeah, I'm fine, but people or flowers tended to book like emaciated
sticks.
“It's very creative, isn't it?” She made a mark on the board. I was surprised to realize it
was the sign for infinity. She knew something about math, I guess. We both looked at
her effort. “It doesn't seem the same as chalk on a blackboard.”
“It's not,” I agreed. “Chalk just gets all over everything. It's terrible for my allergies.”
“Teach me something,” she asked suddenly. She sounded serious, and serious for Megan
was very serious indeed.

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Megan, In the Morning

I was startled. I don't think I'd ever had someone ask to learn something about math.
Usually they're trying to avoid having to learn anything. “What do you mean?” I asked
cautiously.
Megan looked at me, smiling enough to disarm me but not so much as to make me think
she was joking. “I mean,” she said quite seriously, “teach me about what you do.”
“You'd be bored,” I warned her. I figured I was boring enough as it was for her, and
wanted to avoid adding insult to injury and really driving her away. Teach her math,
indeed!
“You're not,” she noted.
I shrugged and looked away. Yeah, but you're a normal person, I was tempted to say. I
was worried she was making fun of me somehow, and yet I knew better. I guess I mainly
didn't want to disappoint her. “I've been doing it a long time,” I finally said. “I could
show you some cool stuff on the computer -- some games or some neat programs I wrote.
That’s probably more practical for you, or at least more fun.”
Megan smiled and stood up, walking over to the board. She pointed to a complicated set
of equations. “Nope, I want to learn this.”
I looked at her skeptically. “It's not quite that easy. I mean, it takes some background.”
Megan lifted her palms in surrender. “OK. So start at the beginning. I just want to
understand what makes it so special.”
I tried to think of something simple but elegant, and the obvious occurred to me. I got a
pencil, a couple pieces of paper, and some tape from my desk. “OK, how many sides to
this piece of paper?” I asked.

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Megan, In the Morning

Megan looked like she thought I was trying to trick her. “Two sides.”
“How do you know?”
Megan seemed puzzled, still not sure what the trick was. “Well, you can see them.” She
picked it up and turned it over turning it back and forth. “See?”
“OK, let's do a test. Take a pencil and trace a line across each side.”
Megan was game, and dutifully complied. “Two sides, two lines. I give up – what’s the
trick?”
I took another piece of paper, tore it in half the long way, and twisted it a half turn. Then
I taped the ends together and handed it to her. “Still two sides?”
Megan nodded, her eyes narrowing somewhat, trying to anticipate where I was going
with this. “Yes, I suppose so.”
“OK, then – do the same thing with the pencil.” Megan looked dubiously at me, so I
added. “Humor me.”
She took the pencil and traced on the paper, surprised once she realized towards the end
that her line was going to end up meeting its own beginning after having transversed both
sides.
“I don't get it,” she said.
“It's a Mobius strip,” I told her. “First invented in 1858 by a German mathematician
named August Mobius.”
Megan turned it over in her hands. “Pretty cool. It's a low-tech magic trick?”

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Megan, In the Morning

“It's not a magic trick,” I corrected her. “It's connected to some fairly deep math about
dimensions and transformations.” I gestured to the board. “You can do things like this in
other dimensions, which is how I started programming in the first place.”
Megan sat down, still holding the Mobius strip. “Can I keep it?” she asked.
“Of course. Wait -- cut it in half, lengthwise.”
Megan protested that she didn't want to ruin it, but I insisted. “Hey, it still works. Cool!”
she exclaimed. “How did it do that?” She looked at the boards thoughtfully. I wondered
what was going on in that lovely head, worried that I'd convinced her that I was too much
of a nerd to keep hanging out with. I'd shown off with the wrong kind of thing, I realized,
cursing myself. Why didn't I show her some great graphics program instead? I wasn't
prepared for what she said.
“Teach me more.” Just that, just a simple request made with deference.
That's what we did over the next few weeks. I started with simple stuff, stories about
great mathematicians. Archimedes, Pythagoras, Newton, Gauss, Galois, Cantor -- each
with their own neat little tricks, their equivalents of the Mobius strip. I liked the history
of mathematics almost as much as I loved the math itself, so I'd accumulated lots of little
nuggets that I'd been waiting to tell someone.
Each time she came over I gave her a little lesson. Like most people, she'd been through
years of math classes, which had instilled some basics but at the cost of making it look
deadly boring. I told her to forget all that stuff and started from scratch. Math is fun, just
badly taught. People are trained to remember things, and what to do with them, the
formulas and applications, but somehow the thrill of it is missed. The sense of discovery
and figuring things out is the point of it. So that's what I tried to show her. Some basic
set theory, some logic, some geometry and algebra, and we went from there. She got the

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hang of proofs quickly, and was thrilled when she was able to work through some nontrivial problems on the board. I mean, we weren't doing grad school stuff here, but she
was getting a good overview, if I do say so myself.
I don't know if she really liked it or not. She wasn't a prodigy, just had average skills, but
I think I was able to make math a little more fun and a lot more intuitive for her than it
had been. It was weird, because she was usually coming right after work. Most people
just want to put their feet up or do anything but study, but she seemed to enjoy learning
something new. I supposed if I'd have been a pianist she might have asked for piano
lessons, and if I was a poet she might have had me do readings. I could have taught her
programming, but mathematics was what she wanted from me.
“You know what the strangest thing about mathematics is?” I asked her after a few
weeks, feeling expansive. We were sitting on the couch after we'd gone through some
calculus. Max was sitting on Megan's lap, sleeping with that still-half-awake way cats
have. I'd explained to Megan about infinitesimals, a concept that she got quickly but
which had taken mathematicians a couple hundred years to formalize.
“What?”
“Well,” I said, rolling my head, “there are two schools of thought. One is that
mathematics is created -- you know, people make it up, the way they'd write a novel or
paint a picture.”
Megan looked intrigued. “Of course. And the other?”
“The other is that it is discovered -- sitting out there already fully formed and waiting for
us to find it.”
“Like Plato's absolutes,” Megan said quietly. Max roused and looked up at Megan
curiously, then got up and went over to the window. He started grooming.

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Megan, In the Morning

“Exactly.”
“Either way, it’s amazing that the human mind can achieve it.”
I nodded in agreement. “The nice thing about math is, well, you just do it. You don’t
need a laboratory or specimens or any of that stuff. And you never run out of work.”
“What do you mean?” Megan asked.
“I mean, it’s conceivable that chemists or biologists or even physicists will eventually run
out of new things to work on. I’m not saying they’re anywhere close to that, but
physicists are actually talking seriously about a Theory of Everything.”
“Sounds deep.”
“Yeah, but once they get something like that, the game’s over. It’s all just clean-up after
that, and where’s the fun in that?”
“But not in math?” Megan asked. I sensed she might be teasing me just slightly.
“No, not in math,” I answered. Even if she might be teasing, I was quite serious.
“People can just keep making up new things for as long as they can imagine it. There
will always be mathematics to do as long as people can create. It doesn’t matter if there’s
anything in the real world like it.”
We were silent for a few seconds, looking at the work on the board. Finally she had to
ask. “What do you think?”
“About what?”

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Megan, In the Morning

“Which school of thought do you believe?”
“Oh, that's the strange thing that I started to tell you about. You see, mathematicians keep
making up these totally unreal things, just because they get an idea. Irrational numbers,
non-Euclidean geometry, imaginary numbers, multiple dimensions, Abelian groups -- I
could go on and on. They just make them up, for fun or intellectual curiosity or
whatever. They never expect them to have anything to do with the real world.”
“They're like you,” Megan said, poking me playfully. “They'd rather have it be just
abstract.”
“Right. Only the funny thing is -- these totally made-up, abstract things keep turning out
to describe how the universe really works. As scientists keep learning more and more
how things work, they need weirder and weirder math to explain it. And all that strange
math works -- it predicts things very well. Like quantum physics.”
“That is weird.” Megan seemed impressed, and gave our work on the board a thoughtful
look.
“I mean, why should the universe work according to anything we dream up? How come
stuff people made up years ago, hundreds of years ago in some cases, explains shit we're
just discovering now?”
Megan looked at me oddly. I couldn't quite read it. It was an expression I'd never seen
before, not on her face, not on anyone's face. She seemed, well, I guess taken aback,
profoundly impressed or something. I frantically tried to think of what it might mean,
and the only straw I could grasp was that she was offended by my casual profanity.
“Oh, I'm sorry -- excuse my language,” I started to apologize.
Megan shook her head. “No, that didn't bother me. It's just…”

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“What?”
“It's like looking into the mind of God.”

Chapter 10
I probably would have been content to let our little world stay my apartment. Not that I
didn't want to go outside with her, but I knew that, once out, it would be harder to keep
her mine. At least in my home I could think of her as mine, as it was just her and me in
my everyday world. But Megan typically took things into her own hands.
“How are you feeling?” she asked. It was a Thursday night, a few weeks after the fight.
She was studying one of the boards, where I'd been playing around with some stuff. The
board showed the result of a brief but inspired run of connections that had occurred to
me, and I was planning to get back at it once Megan left.
“Not bad,” I answered cautiously.
“You been getting out much?”
I admitted that I hadn't been. She turned to watch me answer, and I wondered what she
was thinking. I suspected that she thought I was afraid to go out, concerned I'd run into
those two kids again. I wished she'd just ask me that, but if she did and I told her that
wasn't it, then I'd be forced to admit that I just didn't go out much under normal
circumstances. She smiled.
“Do you know how to roller blade?”

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I wasn't expecting that one. Maybe a museum, out for some coffee -- something quiet
and refined like that. I didn't think of roller-blading as part of her universe. “Ah, sure,” I
replied cautiously.
“I don’t. Want to take me?”
She was serious. It turned out that she'd never been but had been wanting to, and didn't
want to go on her own. After some haggling, we made arrangements to go Saturday. It
wasn't that I didn't want to go with her. I was a pretty fair blader, if I do say so myself,
but I was rusty. What if I fell and embarrassed myself in front of her? Even worse, what
if I caused her to fall and she hurt herself? I'd hate to be responsible for marring that
flawless skin. But I could not resist her request.
Saturday was a gorgeous October day -- clear blue skies, crisp fall weather that was warm
enough for shorts but so warm that we'd get all sweaty. We met in the lobby. I was
wearing some baggy shorts and an old t-shirt, which I'd at least washed. She was
wearing a nice pair of walking shorts and a cotton blouse. I could see the outlines of her
bra beneath it, a sight that fascinated me. Her breasts curved proudly but not
dramatically from her shirt, and I was thanking the gods above for her idea to go outside
today. Her legs looked pretty good too, smooth and strong. That walking she did was
working.
I'd located my skates and pads, and had them slung over one shoulder. Her eyes widened
when she saw them. “You didn't tell me you had your own stuff. You must be good.”
“Nah,” I demurred, although I hoped to impress her later with my prowess. “I had a
girlfriend who was into it.” The less said about that particular relationship, the better.
We went to the parking lot and got in my old Honda Civic. It had over a hundred
thousand miles on it, but ran smoothly and reliably. I bought it in grad school from a guy
I knew and never regretted it. Give it gas, change its oil faithfully, and it pretty much

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would run forever. Even in the coldest winters it started immediately and would trudge
through the snow. I thought of it like a pet dog, always game to go out.
I drove Megan to a bike trail I knew.
“It runs thirty miles or so,” I told her. “It's an old railroad line that they converted. Best
of all, it's flat, so you don't have to worry about the hills.” She seemed relieved.
We rented some equipment for her from one of the booths near the path, at one of the
popular crossings. There was a momentary snafu when she couldn't produce a driver's
license as security, but the kid manning the booth let us go with my license. We sat on a
bench and I helped her get all the stuff on. She agreed to the wrist, elbow, and kneepads,
but had followed my lead in not wearing a helmet, despite my admonition to wear one.
She stood up shakily. I showed her a couple of moves, and how to stop, then guarded her
closely as she tentatively started off.
Megan got the hang of it pretty soon. I mean, she wasn't twirling in circles or skating
backward or anything too fancy, but she got into a rhythm, and we floated along easily.
My first couple times had resulted in me being on my ass more than on the skates, but
Megan's ass seemed to be doing just fine. We passed more people than we were passed
by, and I got a few opportunities to show off a bit. She cheered happily. We chatted
periodically as we rolled along, nothing of any consequence but relaxed.
The sun was warm and relaxing, and it was just about a perfect day. I'd forgotten how
fun it was to roller blade. It was the swooping, I decided. You can do it on a bike or hang
gliding, but that sensation of flying along, even if just for brief moments, is like a primal
sensation. Push, then glide; push, then glide. The joy of it! My companion had
something to do with it, of course. I watched her, seeing her as energized as a kid. Her
enjoyment was child-like, full of energy and free from guile, guilt, or complication. She
was having so much fun with it that I was having fun too. Any thoughts of my history
here, bickering with Karen about something stupid as we labored along, were banished.

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It had felt more like work with her, as most things had. Everything was easy with
Megan.
After forty minutes or so we took a break. There was a small lake or maybe it was more
of a pond, with some benches off to the side. I took two water bottles out of my fanny
pack, and she accepted one gratefully. “You think of everything,” she exclaimed.
“Not everything, but this anyway,” I told her modestly, pleased at my foresight.
We drank greedily and looked out over the lake. There were a couple of ducks floating
around, looking for whatever ducks look for in the water. Sitting there listening to the
birds singing and the faint breeze stirring the leaves and bushes, it was easy to forget that
we were only a few hundred yards from civilization. I watched her sitting on the bench,
her strong legs stretched out in front of her and her attention drawn to all the sights
around us -- the leaves rustling in the breeze, the colors of the water, the birds singing in
the trees. She brushed her hair in that gesture I was coming to love so much. It wasn't
long enough to get in her eyes or face, so she had no good reason to do it. I just liked it
when she did. She seemed so unconsciously herself, like a young girl. She fairly glowed
with vitality. I can’t say that I’d ever gotten used to that special calmness of hers, but
seeing it inside in my apartment was different than sitting outside on a beautiful day and
watching how she absorbed, reflected, and amplified the beauty of the days. It was a
good thing I had sunglasses on.
It was a perfect moment. I was tempted to lean over and kiss her. I admit, I thought
about it. I was tempted to disrupt the quiet of the moment and the ease of our friendship,
just for the chance to touch those soft lips or even that tender cheek, if only for a moment.
But I didn't. I let the moment pass, and I would have just been happy to sit there forever
next to her. I felt curiously happy and at peace.
“You're good,” she told me sincerely. “That girlfriend must have had you practicing.
When was the last time you were out here?”

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I avoided her gaze and looked out over the water. Karen was several years and many
scars ago, and the reminder of her kind of jarred this moment. “It's been awhile.” I
changed the direction of the conversation. “You're pretty good yourself. Are you sure
you've never done this before?”
Megan flashed me a pleased smile, and took another drink of water. “It's like ice skating,
isn't it? You just push off and get into a rhythm.”
I confessed I'd never really been ice-skating and asked where she had learned. She told
me she'd grown up in a small town outside Minneapolis, where ice skating and crosscountry skiing were as expected as riding bikes are for most kids.
“Is that where you moved here from? Minnesota?”
She looked out over the water and seemed to take a deep breath. She exhaled before
answering. “No, I've moved around a lot since Minnesota.”
“Like where?”
“Oh, let's see,” she said reflectively. “I've lived in Africa, South America, the
Philippines, and Thailand. Since I got back to the U.S., I lived in Buffalo and Nashville
before coming here.”
I considered this for a second. “Army brat?” I hazarded.
“Nope, all that was since college.”
There were two obvious questions, so of course I asked the indelicate one. I couldn't help
it. “How old are you?”

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Megan laughed, fortunately, as I'd regretted the words as immediately as they had come
out of my mouth. “How old do you think I am?” Megan asked coyly, more amused than
anything else.
I calculated furiously, balancing her wealth of life experiences versus her youthful
appearance, and considering that definite sense of maturity about her. Plus, she needed to
have had some time to have lived all those places. “Thirty?”
Megan laughed again, and reached over to put a comforting hand on my forearm. “That's
so sweet, but you've way off.”
“Thirty-three?” It was my upper absolute limit. I mean, I was sitting there a couple feet
from her beautiful skin and youthful figure, and she just couldn't be any older.
“Try forty-one.”
There was no way she was forty-one. My mouth dropped. “Get out!”
Megan was amused at my shock. “It's true.”
“Show me your drivers license,” I suggested, only then remembering she didn't have it
with her.
“I don't have one.”
I think this surprised me more than her age. I mean, she could have good genes, good
makeup, or a good surgeon to help her with her appearance, but who doesn't have a
driver's license? “Why not?”
She shrugged and stood up carefully. She rolled over closer to the water. The ducks took
note of the motion and starting heading towards us in hopes of a free meal. Or an easy

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one, at any rate; I guess all their meals are free. “I wish we had some bread,” Megan
said.
I got up and rolled over next to her. “I have a power bar,” I said. “Do you think they'd
like that?”
“Just what we need. Super-powered ducks.” She looked at me. “Ready to skate some
more, or head back?”
There was a nice cafe that catered to the outdoor enthusiasts on the trail about a half-hour
ahead, so I suggested we ride there and grab something to eat. She readily agreed, and
we slid along the trail smoothly, each of us taking turns leading the other. I liked it best
when she was in front and I could be mesmerized by the grace of her movement. You
certainly couldn't tell this was her first time. I wondered if she watched me when I was in
front, or if the surroundings held more interest for her.
We got an outdoor table at the cafe, perused the menu, and ordered. The place was
pleasantly crowded by bicyclists, walkers, and other assorted outdoor enthusiasts, all
enjoying the sunshine, fresh air, and good food. I took a quick look around. There were
lots of women there both younger and more scantily clad, but no one as appealing as my
lunch companion. I frowned off a few obvious glances from some taller and more
bronzed guys at some adjoining tables, hoping Megan didn't notice them. I wouldn't
stand a chance.
Our waitress was a young girl in her early twenties. She was blond and friendly, with
sparkling blue eyes. She smiled at me but seemed, I swear, slightly awed by Megan. It
was nothing overt, and it took me a little while to catch the deference with which she
treated Megan, but once I noticed it I was sure it was there. I suspected I’d have to get
used to that reaction if I hung out with her more. Megan ordered a Cajun chicken salad,
and I had a burger and chips. “I see my efforts to get you to eat more healthy have really
paid off,” she observed wryly.

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“It comes with lettuce and tomato,” I argued. “Plus a pickle.”
“I think she likes you,” Megan said, watching the waitress place our order.
“What makes you think that?”
Megan smiled lazily. “Woman’s intuition.” I puffed up slightly and checked the waitress
out again. Maybe just being with one attractive woman made me more attractive to other
attractive women. I mean how else do you explain David Ducovney getting Tea Leoni?
In any event, I wasn’t going to complain.
We chatted about our morning and I complimented her on how well she was doing. “You
must be a good teacher,” she said.
“I don't think so. You should have seen my first time!”
That was good for a laugh. Our food arrived and we dug in gratefully. My burger was
thick and juicy. I tried to ignore any healthy aspects it might have. I waited until I'd
downed a couple of bites before I asked her one of my many questions.
“So why don't you have a driver's license?”
She shrugged and finished chewing her mouthful of food. "I don't drive."
"You don't know how or you just don't?"
"I just don't."
I didn't think I was going to get much more out of this line of questioning, so we ate a
few more bites. Megan smiled at me sweetly, and I was struck anew by the crispness of

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her features. It was just about a perfect day -- beautiful weather, beautiful setting,
beautiful companion. I could sit here until winter.
“You're wondering why I moved around so much.” Megan said, observing me.
“Hey, I think it's cool.”
“But you're still wondering.”
I paused a second before answering. The fresh air must have gone to my head, for I
answered without editing. “I wonder about everything about you.”
She just laughed, as if I had made a very funny joke. I was embarrassed, and relieved
that she didn’t take me seriously, for how would I seriously explain such a stupid
comment, even though it was absolutely true? In any event, whether she was laughing
out of amusement or out of helping me save face, her laugh was musical. She looked so
joyful that I couldn’t resist.
“Are you always so happy?”
I don’t know where that came from. We hadn’t been talking about happiness, and it
wasn’t exactly the kind of thing that you just threw at someone like that. I’d had enough
revelations for the day to keep my little monkey mind occupied for days, but here I was
pressing ahead on even more dangerous ground.
Megan seemed surprised, like the concept had never occurred to her. She thought about
it for a minute. “I don’t know,” she said calmly. “I don’t really think about it very
much.”
“You don’t think about being happy?”

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She shrugged, a matter of no importance. “Not really.”
I considered this. “Why not?”
“People worry too much about it, like it was the whole point of life. People treat it like it
is their right.”
“It is a right,” I retorted. “Check out the Constitution.”
I should have known better than to argue with her. “I think you’re referring to the
Declaration of Independence,” she replied. She picked up a small slice of carrot from her
salad and chewed it cheerfully. “And it doesn’t give a right to happiness, just the right to
the pursuit of happiness. You’re responsible for the happiness part.”
“So what is your secret?” I pressed.
“It’s not that important, I guess.”
“Being happy isn’t important? I can’t believe you could say something like that.
Happiness is what people live for.”
Megan studied me carefully. I wasn’t sure if her expression was sympathy or curiosity,
and part of me was concerned that it was pity. The sunlight suddenly felt uncomfortably
warm on my face. I was afraid I was turning red, and could only hope it was sunburn. I
felt like a small child compared to this woman. “People are always confused about this,”
Megan said in her gentlest voice. “Happiness isn’t the point. Happiness is the byproduct. You do the kind of thing that makes humans great and wonderful and magical,
things that truly illustrate the human character, and if you are lucky you notice that it
makes you happy. If you are lucky.”
I thought about that on the way back and the rest of the day.

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Chapter 11
“Forty one?” Chuck asked incredulously. “There's no way that woman we saw in your
lobby was forty-one. Hell, my mom is only forty-six.”
“Leave your mom out of this," I suggested. We were sitting in our booth at The Bridge.
Megan and I had finished our lunch and had a nice skate back, without venturing into any
more revelations. It was just as well, since my brain already had too much to cope with.
I'd driven her back and she'd thanked me sincerely, then cheerfully told me she'd see me
soon. Which she had. She continued to drop by regularly over the next couple weeks.
Each time I wondered at my good fortune, and each time she seemed oblivious to our
unlikely pairing.
Kevin and Chuck eventually felt compelled to advise me at every step of the way, and we
were rehashing the few facts we possessed. Today was another analysis session.
“She didn't look forty-one,” Kevin agreed. He was focussed on a hand-held game, but
diverted enough of his attention to take part in the conversation. Part of his brain was
more than all of most people's brains. “Face job?”
“You haven't seen her face. It's real.” I saw Chuck's face fall, no doubt thinking of the
breast augmentation she similarly probably had not had.
“And what's with the no driving?” Kevin asked. “That's just weird.”
Chuck was tapping some sugar packets on the table. I knew if he got too worked up he
was liable to eat them, but hoped it wouldn't come to that. He was wired enough. I
munched on some nachos.

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The Bridge wasn't too crowded. It was another pretty afternoon, this time a Sunday.
Neither the good weather nor the NFL games on TV had little effect on the patronage, of
course, as most of the people who came here were pretty oblivious to both. It's not like
they were otherwise likely to be playing football or street hockey. There were four or
five other bunches of guys in other booths, plus a few loners who were absorbed into
either destroying or protecting the universe on their screens. Luke, Vader, and Data were
there representing the super-nerds. They were loudly playing a new game, giving excited
warnings and advice to each other as they navigated yet some new danger on the screen.
“I got it,” Chuck announced. Kevin and I looked at him skeptically, Kevin taking his
eyes off his screen for a second.
“I can't wait,” I said dubiously. Kevin didn't say anything, and turned his focus back on
the matters at hand, or at least in his hands.
“Put it together,” Chuck suggested. “She's ageless, she travels all around the world, she
shows up mysteriously here -- a high tech center. Put it all together and what do you
get?”
Kevin gave me a quick look, both of us wondering where Chuck was going with this. I
gave in first. “I give up. Alien? What?” Kevin shrugged in agreement, conceding he
had no plausible theory either. His fingers never stopped moving rapidly at his game.
Chuck looked around cautiously, to ensure that we wouldn't be overheard. “She's a spy,”
he whispered.
“What?” I asked incredulously.
He sat back. “She's an international spy. She's probably on some top-secret mission,
probably interested in something that one of the guys here is working on. So she decided
to infiltrate through you. You're the patsy.”

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“Thank you very much,” I said.
“What about the driving?” Kevin asked, ending his game with a flourish. He'd probably
broken the record, which was his to begin with. “Not too many spies who can't drive, are
there?”
Chuck took this into consideration, as it certainly weakened his theory. “Maybe she's
only used to driving spy cars.”
Kevin gave him a withering look. “Yeah. Sure.” He turned to me. “What does she do?”
I thought back to bits and pieces from various conversations. She was much more
interested in my life than I dared to openly admit about hers, so I'd only been able to
glean little nuggets that she dropped casually. I think she does some sort of charity work,”
I started. “Something to do with the hospital.”
“What does that mean?” Chuck asked.
I reminded them of first running into her at the second-hand store. “As best I can tell,” I
said bashfully, “she mostly goes to meetings, plus lots of meals -- breakfasts, lunches,
dinners, the whole bit. Asking people for money.”
“Great job!” Chuck said enthusiastically. “Where do I get a job like that?”
Kevin scornfully looked at the remains of nachos and cheese on the table in front of
Chuck. “And how would that be different from what you do now?”
“Anyway,” I continued, trying to ignore their squabbling. Kevin thought that Chuck's
venture capital role wasn't a real job, as he didn't produce any actual code of his own. He
tolerated me because I intermittently did, even though it wasn't my chosen avocation.

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“She must go to formal affairs sometimes, because I've seen her go out at night all
dressed up.” Chuck whistled at the thought.
“The real question,” Kevin continued, “is what she's doing hanging around with you.”
He and Chuck thought this over for a second. “Maybe she is a spy,” he told Chuck.
Chuck nodded solemnly, no doubt still thinking of her in some ridiculously low cut
evening gown like she was some attention-needy movie star at the Oscars.
“Loser,” Chuck jibed. I didn't say anything, but I wondered the same myself.
Cat came by around then, having noticed we've buzzed through the nachos in record time.
We caucused briefly, and ordered some potato skins. Kevin bravely ordered another Dos
Equus, having finally managed to dump his previous one in the men's room. I may have
been imagining it, but it seemed to me that Cat gave me a second look, a curious look.
That was something she'd never done before the tea debacle. Maybe she wasn't doing it
now either, but maybe she had started to see me as something more than an appetizer
devouring, soda chugging geek. I sat slightly straighter in the booth and tried to look
smarter.
“I got it,” Chuck said gleefully. Without him saying another word, I already didn't want
to hear his idea. Kevin gave him a pained look as well, but prodded him anyway.
“What?”
“She thinks you're gay!”
Kevin and Chuck had a good laugh at that, attracting curious looks from some of the
other booths. “You do have a cat,” Kevin said apologetically. They chortled like the
couple of adolescents they were.
“Fuck off,” I retorted. “That cat is more of a man than either of you.” OK, not exactly
Chris Rock-caliber, but it was the best I could do on short notice.

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“You're her gay friend,” Chuck teased.
“Her buddy,” Kevin amplified. They broke out laughing. I was beginning to be annoyed,
but maybe part of me was worried they were right. It would explain her friendliness yet
curious lack of sexual tension between us. I was worried she was out of my league; she
was convinced I was effectively neutered. Then I realized why that couldn't be it, either.
“Can't be it,” I said, stopping them momentarily.
“Why not?” Chuck challenged.
“She's seen my apartment,” I said triumphantly.

Chapter 12
It was a Tuesday night when Megan asked me out.
It wasn't a date. It most certainly was not a date. It was a last minute, asked as a favor
instead of any romantic interest, but nonetheless it was out, with people, and she asked
me to go with her. I think it at least qualified as being asked out.
She had stopped over after work, as usual, and was sitting on my couch. I'd given her
some iced tea, and was sitting in the beanbag chair. Her shoes were off and her legs were
tucked up under her on the couch. Max was on the window seat, eyeing some birds with
an acquisitive eye. In the background, I had some techno blaring a loud beat, although I'd
lowered the volume when she had arrived.

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“I was wondering if you might do me a favor?” she started, peering at the rim of her
glass. I'd recently added a set of glasses so she wouldn't have to drink her tea out of a
mug. Megan seemed uncharacteristically uncertain.
“Sure. Anything.”
She looked around the room briefly, as though taking it in for the first time. I became
aware of the sparseness of it. I didn't usually mind, and I didn't think Megan did either,
but for some reason tonight we both were aware of it. “Do you have a suit?” she asked,
illogically enough. Or so it seemed.
I did, actually. I'd had to get it for a friend's wedding a few years ago, and could count on
one hand the number of times I'd worn it since. “Yes,” I answered cautiously.
“Or a sports coat,” she said, looking hopefully at me. “It doesn't have to be a suit. Do
you have a nice sports coat?”
“What's this all about?”
She put her glass on the floor, and leaned towards me. “There's this charity event I have
to go to tomorrow night. My escort bagged out on me today.”
Believe it or not, I still didn't quite see where this was going. “Yeah. So?”
Megan smiled that killer smile at me. “How would you like to go with me?”
If my mouth didn't actually open in surprise at this, it metaphorically did. No wonder I
hadn’t seen it going; who’d have expected that? Certainly not me. I suddenly had this
image of Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming at the ball, only they were us. Me in a
fancy suit and her resplendent in a magical gown. Or was it Cinderella; which had Prince
Charming? Either way; a fairy tale, to be sure. I was lost in that little picture for perhaps

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a bit too long, because Megan hurried to continue. “You wouldn't have to wear a suit.
And it's not a dance. It's not even some deadly dinner. Just cocktails.”
Was I going to say no? I hate parties, especially when I don't know anyone. I hate
getting dressed up. I hate surprises. I didn't like anything about this. Except one thing: it
would be with Megan. She could have asked me to go to a hanging, to my hanging, and
I'd have agreed. “Hey, for you -- anything.”
So we worked out the details, and as soon as she left I was on the phone to Chuck and
Kevin. They came by to help me strategize.
“She asked you out?” said Chuck, clearly intrigued. “She really asked you out?”
“It's a favor,” I clarified, not wanting to let them blow things out of proportion. “Her
escort cancelled out on her.”
“Her 'escort',” Kevin said with sarcasm. “What, did she hire him?”
“You mean, her date blew her off,” Chuck chimed in.
I glared at the both of them, sitting on the couch giggling like little kids, which they were.
I explained that this was a work function for her, that she was supposed to go with a
coworker and he got called out of town or something. “Shut up. Like a date is going to
blow her off.” I could tell I’d scored my point.
A few beers later, we eventually agreed that the suit was uncalled for and that I should
attempt to go for the young entrepreneur look. I actually had a sports coat. Karen had
forced me to buy it for a dinner with her parents one time, and I wore it about as
frequently as the suit. We agreed on the sports coat, some Dockers, a button down shirt
and my Doc Martens. Chuck offered to come by beforehand to check on my attire, but I
suspected he was more interested in checking out Megan and so I declined.

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I was so nervous the next day that I was ready two hours early. I paced around nervously,
then noticed some equations on the board that I'd left not quite finished. I got intrigued
by the sequence and started doodling away, and the next thing I knew my buzzer was
ringing. I was sitting in my chair facing the board thinking about N-dimension
manifolds, so the transition to reality was a little jarring. “Anyone home?” I heard
Megan's voice call out.
I came back to three dimensions in a blur. I looked at the clock in dismay and went to
open the door for her. She looked beautiful, and I might have gasped slightly. She was
wearing the classic little black dress. Millions of women have them in their closets
throughout America and the world, yet I could not imagine anyone looking better. She
wore it simply, with her short hair brushed back and no jewelry to speak of, aside from
her Timex watch. Her shoes were common flats, also black. The lack of extra decoration
just served to highlight her beauty and elegance.
I, on the other hand, must have looked terrible. In the course of my daydreaming the
jacket had come off, I'd rolled up my sleeves, and my hair was wildly disheveled. She
looked at me in amusement. “Glad to see you didn't feel like you had to get all dressed
up or anything,” she said drolly, but her smile offset any bite.
“I swear to God that two hours ago I was straight off the cover of GQ.”
“Uh-huh.” She was trying to keep from openly breaking out in laughter, but in short
order we ended up doing so anyway. I wiped the tears from the corners of my eyes.
Megan went over to the board that I had been sitting in front of. “Been working?”
“Just goofing around. I had a few ideas that I was trying to see if I could take anywhere.”
Megan picked up the marker and held it with some reverence, as if it were possibly some
sort of magic wand that she'd never encountered before. She studied the boards intently,

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as though searching for how to decide the puzzle. “And did you?” she asked, looking at
me curiously.
I laughed and took the marker from her. “I don't know. Maybe.”
She gave me a curious look, something I might have called almost envious, if not
downright reverent, if that wasn't so absurd. She sighed almost imperceptibly. “You'll
have to tell me more about it someday,” she said.
“What?” I asked stupidly. I was embarrassed to be not ready, and was caught off guard
by her reaction.
“Oh, you know,” she said, gesturing to the boards. “What you and God were talking
about this time.” I tried to look at board as she might, as a layman would, and just saw an
impenetrable mass of symbols and odd shapes.

It was the kind of stuff I lived with, but

the rest of society had no patient for or interest in, outside a small circle of equally
impaired nerds.
“Any time,” I said casually. With that witty rejoinder I excused myself to get cleaned up
again, mentally kicking myself for how lame I'd been.
The event was at the Contemporary Arts Center. It was a freakishly modern building,
recently erected to replace a Beaux-Arts building that had housed it for the last forty
years. The old building was being turned into a shopping mall, with restaurants and
nightclubs, so everyone was happy. I'd never actually been to the museum, not being the
modern art kind of guy, or old fashioned art for that matter. Megan seemed perfectly at
ease and walked me in, casually looping her arm in mine as we strode in.
They'd decorated the place with some sort of theme. I think it was supposed to be
futuristic, judging by the spaceships and robots and other gear scattered around. The
waiters and waitresses had one some kind of Star Trek outfits, including the short skirts

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on the women and the communicators on their hips. Maybe they were just cell phones.
The caterers must have come in and done the place up, decorations, bars, tables and
chairs, the whole bit. A small band was playing in the background and the lights were
half-dimmed, with a multi-colored light show going on against the ceiling.
The crowd was dressed in a mixture of suits and what I guessed was rich business casual
-- no sneakers or jeans in the place, as best I could tell, but not all suits and ties, either. I
suspected I'd paid less for my clothes than anyone in the room had paid for just their
shoes, and I was pretty sure I had the only ponytail. Maybe a couple of the women had
ponytails, but there were more likely to have the well coifed hairdos that would look
better in an office.
Megan mingled, pulling me along and introducing me around. I'm terrible with names
under the best of circumstances. In one ear and out the other for me. “Craig, this is
Frank Brooks. Frank, Craig Tarski.”
“Nice to meet you, Craig,” the man said. He was in his forties and prosperous, trying to
look younger by skipping the tie and wearing a small gold earring in his left earlobe.
“Dan, was it?” I fumbled. He and Megan exchanged glances.
“Frank. Frank Brooks.”
So it went with everyone. I tried, I really did, but I just have no knack for socializing.
Megan was patient and didn't let on that I was this big embarrassing lug, as awkward as a
country boy trying to fit in at a country club, no pun intended. I collected a raft of
business cards, and eventually stopped trying to explain both what I did for a living and
why I had no cards. Everyone seemed to know Megan somehow, and being with her
gave me a kind of conferred credibility. Maybe they thought I was her lover, or some
millionaire geek. She didn't seem to care what anyone thought, just as she greeted
everyone she met with equal enthusiasm. She was good at this, and I tagged along in

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admiration of her ability to work the room. Knowing I was in her way, I tried to
gracefully let Megan do her shtick on her own, excusing myself to go to the men's room
or offering to get us drinks.
The bartender was about my age, but he looked warily at me, as though not sure I wasn't
crashing the party. Tall and dark, even he was better dressed than I was, wearing a tux
that might have been rented but looked better on him than my own clothes looked on me.
He stopped cleaning up the bar to give me a disapproving look.
I could see his point. I wasn't the worst dressed person there but I probably took the prize
for the person who fit in least. Still, for all he knew I was a zillionaire, so I tried to bluff
him out. “White wine and, umm, you have any Mountain Dew?” I asked with as much
confidence as I could. He did not respond immediately, making me doubt for second that
I'd actually spoken. I quickly reviewed my request, and realized the Dew was a tactical
error. “I'm a guest -- honest.”
He studied me for a second longer, while I put on my most sincere face. “No, no
Mountain Dew, sir,” he told me. “We have Sprite.” I don't think I've ever heard “sir”
with less respect.
We compromised on a Coke and I stood there for a few seconds, watching the crowd in
general and Megan in particular. Everyone seemed to know each other, or to at least
know enough people. They all seemed engrossed in their conversations. Maybe that's
not quite right, because there were some obvious mini-dramas where one person was
clearly beseeching the other for something. It could be money, attention, power; you
name it. In the new world, the old rules didn't apply. Old men pleaded with young
women for business. The common thread was they belonged there -- and I didn't.
Megan was at ease here as she was in my apartment, chatting effortlessly with an
assortment of people. Old people, young people, men, women, the hip and the tragically
dull -- it seemed all the same to her. She brightened up the room no matter whom she

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was with, no matter where she was. Somehow I imagined that this quality was not a
cocktail party parlor trick. She would always be the same with everyone.
“Hey, Alec,” a pretty waitress said to the bartender. She was young and perky, and
looked fresh and somehow sexy in her pseudo-tux. She had her blonde hair pined back,
and noticed me standing there. The bartender greeted her in return with considerably
more enthusiasm than he had greeted me. From their exchange I gathered that her name
was Lisa. She noticed me standing there with drinks in both hands and gave me an
inquiring look. “Can I help you?”
I may have blushed. I don't know which I was more embarrassed about -- feeling out of
place or simply the attention of a pretty girl like that. “Ah, no, I'm just, umm…” I
stuttered. I didn't really have a good excuse. Telling her the truth would just make me
look like a dork. Which I was.
Lisa smiled. “Oh, taking a break?” She gestured to the drinks I was holding. “I see Alec
has taken care of you. Can I get you anything else?”
I could think of a thousand things, but nothing I wanted to confess in front of her buddy
Alec. He was glowering politely at the bar. He made the drinks Lisa requested and she
left, giving me a friendly smile as she left. At least there was one person here who wasn't
so bad.
Make that two, of course. Megan saw me standing there and, instead of taking the
opportunity to unencumber herself of me, she motioned for me to come back over. I took
a drink of my tasteless soda, hitched my shoulders, and then went back to the fray.
Much to my surprise, it turned out that I actually knew some people there. Oh, for the
most part the people in the crowd were complete strangers to me. I was sure that they
belonged, for the most part, to that invisible ruling class that peasants like me don't
usually get to see. I thought I should listen in for their secrets, maybe some stock tips or

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something. Some of them, though, I recognized from TV or the papers -- the mayor, a
local billionaire philanthropist, even an anchor from the nightly news. And at least one
person I actually knew.
“What the hell are you doing here?” a voice said, a hand reaching around my shoulders
and shaking me. “They'll let anyone in.”
“Hello, Mike,” I replied once I figured out who it had to be. “I should have figured you'd
be here.”
“Mr. Barnes,” Megan said smoothly, her face possibly wrinkling just the slightest in
surprise that I knew him. “I gather you two know each other.”
“Oh, yeah,” we said simultaneously.
“Let’s just say we’ve shared cold pizza at four in the morning,” Mike said, giving me an
odd look.
Mike and I knew each other from graduate school. He was one of Kevin's computer
buddies, only he had more of a business orientation. He'd founded two start-ups before
he got out of school, and one of them had hit big. He'd been worth over a billion at one
time, but the market had reevaluated his stock so now he was only worth a couple
hundred million. Petty cash. I'd done some work off and on for his company over the
years, and he'd tried repeatedly to hire me permanently. I'd seen him sitting at a computer
programming in baggy shorts and a torn t-shirt, so his current look didn't seem entirely
natural. Still, he looked used to it.
“Nice haircut,” I said. I remembered when his hair was longer than mine. Now it looked
like he kept a hair stylist on retainer.

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“Nice shoes,” he countered with a gleam in his eye, getting into the old game. “Going to
a soccer match after the party?”
“Keep it polite, fellas,” Megan chided us with a twinkle in her eyes. “This is for charity.”
We told her a little of our history, including my small but crucial role in his big success.
“If only I'd taken those options,” I lamented.
“It's not too late,” he said. He turned to Megan. “I keep trying to get this guy a real job.
He's too hard headed. But how do you two know each other?”
Megan explained that we were neighbors, and I threw in the part about being a last
minute substitute. I don't know why; I guess I didn't want Megan to be embarrassed that
the likes of him would think she was involved in any way with the likes of me. Megan
had not shown any concern about this possible misimpression throughout the evening,
and if there was anyone in the room I might think was on my level it might be Mike.
Still, money changes things; not so much money as success, and I was manifestly short
on that.
“What's this about hiring Craig?” Megan persisted, giving me a penetrating look.
“I'd hire him in a second,” Mike said, giving me a disapproving look and turning back to
Megan as though perhaps she could convince me. “He'd rather stay home and play
around with his math shit all day.”
I shrugged. He had a point, after all. He just made it sound so…trivial.
“So you're trying to rescue him from that?” Megan asked.
Mike snorted. “Hell, no, I'm not trying to rescue anyone. I'm not in the business of
giving away money.”

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I couldn't resist. “Mike, it's a charity event. They're looking for you to give away
money.”
Megan laughed, a delighted sparkle that warmed my heart. “Only a little -- nothing you
can't afford.”
Now Mike scowled. “Hey, get Craig to come work for me and I'll donate ten thousand
dollars.” He took a checkbook out of his coat. “I'm serious. I'll write you a check right
now. Call it a signing bonus.”
Mike always was one to grandstand. Megan pursed her lips and studied him. “That's
between you and Craig. We're here tonight for the hospital foundation. Certainly the
good of the community we serve is equally as important to you as another employee,
even one as…special as Craig.”
The three of us chatted a while longer, commenting on the decorations and picking out
people in the crowd. Mike pointed out a few other people I knew, at least slightly, other
people I knew from school who had gone on and done well.
All in all, the evening was only moderately painful. I'd been to many parties where I'd
had a much worse time, standing or sitting in a corner trying to pretend I was enjoying
myself and secretly wishing I had the nerve to go up and talk to more people. Tonight I
had the best of guides and the best of company. It would have been easy for her to dump
me off or leave me stranded in her conversations, but she so easily incorporated me into
the flow of things that I almost believed I was doing it myself. Even though a cocktail
party was normally a very awkward situation, I felt at ease when Megan was around. It
was her calmness; it was practically contagious. What would be next -- a black tie dinner
party?

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We took a cab home. In the cab we sat and rehashed aspects of the evening. Megan told
me it had been a success from the hospital's standpoint, getting commitments for lots of
money. I admitted I'd had a good time too.
“I was talking to Mike Barnes,” Megan said casually, watching for my reaction.
“Yeah?”
“He was serious about wanting to hire you.”
I looked out the window of the cab. Here it came, a lecture on growing up, getting a job,
and being more responsible.
“He's very impressed by you.”
Despite myself, I felt a flash of pride. I shrugged modestly. “Is that so?”
She nodded. “He says that they contract with you when they have a problem no one else
can solve. You have a unique way of seeing to the heart of problems, he said.”
I looked at her. “He said that?”
“He said that,” she confirmed solemnly, looking at me with those deep eyes of hers.
They had a dash of humor in them, but she wasn’t kidding me.
I looked out the window again, feeling tired for some unknown reason. “It's not like I'm
some genius or anything.”
This time Megan shrugged. “Maybe. But it sounds like you've got some real talents.
Not that I needed someone to tell me that.”

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I gestured like I was at the board. “You know how I like to draw on the board?” Megan
nodded. “I solve programming problems like that too. I try to visualize them as a
topological problem and then see how to connect things. I don’t think of them like
programmers do, and sometimes that helps.”
“Sounds pretty hard to me.” Her eyebrows were raised in the most curious way.
“It's just a skill, like anything else.”
Megan patted me on the knee. “You should be proud of it. Successful as someone like
Mike Barnes is, he's impressed that you can think in ways that he can't. So am I.”
I flushed and looked out the window to try to hide it. Megan was impressed by me! And
I'd thought she thought I was just an interesting eccentric.
Our cab arrived and Megan paid the guy. We walked in and I walked her to her door. All
the time she'd been coming to my apartment I'd never come to hers. She opened the door.
“Want to come inside for a bit?” she asked. “That's right, you've never been here. Let
me give you the grand tour.”
She might have been reading my mind. It had been a long time since an attractive
woman, or any eligible woman, for that matter, had invited me in to their home. OK, I
knew full well that her invitation had no subtext to it that I could hope for, but I was
curious to see what her apartment might reveal about her. “Sure,” I replied as casually as
I could. If I hadn't tripped slightly on the door jam I might have pulled off at least a
modicum of cool.
Megan had one of the two bedroom apartments. I'd actually been in this apartment when
it belonged to a previous tenant, so I had a fairly good idea about the layout. Still, I could
see immediately that she'd made it her own.

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My apartment was sparse, no doubt about it. I loved the big open space of it, and kept
my belongings down to the minimum I needed. If that wasn't conventional decorating,
hey -- sue me. Megan's idea of decorating was equally unconventional, and but much
more acceptable.
The first thing that came to mind when I looked around her living room was a Japanese
rock garden. Not that there were any rocks, but just that somehow the room had just the
perfect amount of things in it. One less thing and it would be desolate; one more thing
and it would be spoiled. There was a couch and a chair and a couple of tables and
bookcases in sight, with a couple of lamps casting a soft light over the room. No TV, few
books, and only a couple pictures that I could see. Everything was in the right place. I
was afraid to touch one thing, not because I feared she'd be upset, but because I didn't
want to disturb this work of art.
“Like it?” Megan asked me softly. I nodded dumbly. “Sit down.” She motioned to the
couch, and went into the kitchen. I heard her open the refrigerator and open a can.
The thing was, I instinctively knew that Megan hadn't spent hours getting this place right.
I knew I could go into any of the other rooms, and they'd be perfect too. Her office, if
she had an office, would be this way too. She wasn't some neat fanatic, not some
compulsive decorator obsessing over how this looked with that or which fabric would go
best with the wallpaper. No, Megan would have just absorbed the room, then just gone
about putting the right things in the only places they could truly go. And she wouldn't
think twice about her ability to do so, nor take inordinate pride in what she had done.
“Here you go,” she said, handing me a Mountain Dew and sitting on the couch next to
me.
My eyebrows raised in surprise. “You keep this in your house?” I asked. “I'm amazed.”
“I do now,” Megan said sweetly.

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I didn't stay long, not wanting to outstay my welcome. We chatted a bit more about the
evening, and I told her some of the less well-known stories about Mike. I had some good
ones, from the early days. But soon enough it was time to go.
I paused at the door and turned. “Thanks,” I mumbled. “I was pretty worried about how
it would go, but I had a good time. Thanks for inviting me.”
“Thanks for coming,” Megan smiled, looking me firmly in the eyes. I was having a hard
time meeting her stare. “Maybe you'll invite me to meet some of your friends sometime.”

Chapter 13
Well, I didn't really have a lot of options. The Bridge wasn't exactly the hottest spot in
town, and Kevin and Chuck wouldn't necessarily raise my standing in her eyes, but where
else would I take her and who else would I introduce her to?
I finally worked up the nerve to ask her a couple nights later. “You want to go hang out
with some buddies of mine? Nothing special, just a place we go sometimes.”
Megan was sitting on the couch, drinking some tea. It was after work, at least for her.
I’d mostly just been goofing off all day – watching TV, surfing the Net, answering emails, and occasionally thinking about some problems. Max was lying next to her, asleep
and breathing softly. He looked so peaceful in repose. It was after work for him, too;
he'd been outside most of the day, doing whatever he did when he went outside. Maybe
he'd been hunting, or maybe he'd been sleeping in someone else's apartment. I wouldn't
put it past him. I was sitting on the beanbag chair, admiring Megan's always perfect
posture, not to mention her legs. Tonight she was wearing a dark blue business suit. She
looked way grown up for the likes of me and my doubts about the whole idea grew
wildly. Fortunately, when she sat down I got to look almost eye level with those taut

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calves and I was reminded of one of the reasons it would be worth it. She only needed a
second to consider my suggestion.
“OK,” she said cheerfully. “When and where?”
I explained that I was heading over to The Bridge later, meeting Kevin and Chuck. She'd
heard about them, and knew they were good friends of mine. “What's The Bridge?” she
asked.
“Umm,” I considered, not sure how to describe it. “It's kind of a nerd bar, or a
coffeehouse. Lots of terminals and games and stuff.”
“Oh, a cyber-café,” Megan said, grasping it at once. “Sounds charming.”
She went to get changed and we met in the lobby a half-hour later. She'd changed into a
pair of black jeans, sweater, and a light coat. She looked lovely, and could have passed
for a college girl. “You'll get carded,” I teased.
“I hope so!” Her eyes sparkled in that way of hers, and I felt as light-hearted as she
looked.
I drove. “Now,” Megan asked as we were getting out of the car, “I forget. Is Kevin the
programmer or the venture capitalist? The tall one or the short one?”
I gave her my Penn and Teller analogy, which seemed to go over her head. Realizing that
perhaps this was not a shared cultural reference, I elaborated. “Kevin is the short, quiet
one. He's the brainy one. Chuck is more boisterous, so don't be offended by anything he
says.”
“He's the businessman,” Megan affirmed, taking my arm as we walked in from the
parking lot.

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“Supposedly.” We laughed at that. I was enjoying the warmth of her arm.
The Bridge was only moderately busy. I watched with some amusement as she took in
the sights. There were various activities going on. A few popular video games had
several players gathered around spurring on a couple of their compatriots dueling,
probably to a metaphorical death. Several tables of earnest young men engaged in
intense conversations, whipping out their laptops as needed to prove their points. The
conversations probably looked more serious than the topics actually were, but everything
was debated intensely around here. No wonder the games simulated life and death.
Other tables were more solitary, as introverted young men surfed the net, having dialogue
with people in chat rooms that they might never have face-to-face. One could write a
dissertation on why people like them found a keyboard preferable to a face. Someone
probably already had.
“It's like the bar in Star Wars,” I said helpfully, watching her take it all in. She was one
of the few females here, and definitely the most attractive person of either gender here,
but even more noticeably she was the only person here who wasn't part of our little
subculture. She could fit in at a charity event, in a boardroom, or pretty much anywhere.
The likes of us were only at home in places like this.
“Excuse me?” she asked quizzically, another cultural reference whizzing over her head. I
could see Penn and Teller – they are an acquired taste, after all – but who hadn’t heard of
Star Wars?
“The bar, in the first Star Wars,” I said. “With all the aliens. Not the Episode I, Star
Wars, that's really the fourth one, the Episode IV that came first.” Speaking of Star Wars,
I noticed that several of the super-nerds had collected in front of an Xbox. For some
reason, they were wearing goggles; I wasn’t sure if they had something to do with the

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game, or were night vision goggles or something. I steered Megan away from them,
trying to keep them out of her line of sight.
“Ahh,” she said, with only a flicker of recognition but a small smile anyway.
“There's my friends,” I said, spotting them in a booth. I felt both relieved and almost
scared at the same time. I wanted to show her off, to have her like my friends, and – let’s
be honest -- to like me more for having them, but I was worried about how they'd act.
They’re not exactly polite society. We headed in their direction.
I wished I had a videocam, or at least a camera, to record the looks on their faces when
they caught sight of us. Although they'd seen her at least once, and I'd warned them she
might be coming with me, they still gaped at her. I wasn't sure if it was because they saw
that she was as beautiful as I'd said, or simply because she'd actually agreed to grace us
with her presence. They probably hadn’t really believed she’d agreed to come with me.
Their jaws literally dropped, and once they recovered enough they managed to actually
stumble to their feet to greet her, something they'd never done in all the years I'd known
them.
“Megan, this is Chuck,” I introduced. “And this is Kevin.” Funny how Chuck always
got first billing.
“Pleased to meet you,” Megan said, shaking their hands in turn but starting with Kevin.
A small touch, which I don't think Chuck even noticed but which I could see lit Kevin up
with a big thrill.
“Honored,” Chuck responded, bowing dramatically. “Would you care to join us?”
We all sat down, which involved some reorganizing. Kevin moved to Chuck's side of the
booth so I could sit next to Megan, which I think annoyed Chuck -- he was no doubt

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hoping Megan would sit next to him. There was a moment of silence while each of us
evaluated the situation and didn't know what to say.
“So…” Chuck and I both said simultaneously. We both also stopped at the same time,
and laughed at the inanity of it. Kevin just smiled uncertainly.
“Anyway,” I started again first. “This is Megan's first time here.”
“And probably her last,” Kevin said quietly.
“Why do you say that?” Megan asked. She gave Kevin a disquietly intense gaze.
Kevin looked like a deer caught in the headlights. His eyes grew wide and his mouth
stayed slightly open, as though hoping his words might retreat into his mouth. I stifled a
laugh, not wanting to embarrass him further. Chuck seized the gap and jumped in.
“Take a look around,” he suggested. “This kind of place doesn't get many people like
you.”
Megan sized him up with an equally intense, appraising look. Chuck squirmed slightly,
something I'd never seen him do in the many years I'd known him. “And what kind of
person am I?” Megan asked mildly.
“Normal,” Chuck said, recovering his confidence.
“Way above normal,” Kevin threw in, surprising us and, I suspect, even himself by
rejoining the conversation.
“I don't know,” Megan said, surveying the premises. “Normal is a funny thing. Who’s to
say? Besides, I’d think you'd get lots of ‘normal’ people here, especially nowadays.”

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“You mean now that there's money,” I said. “The people who get money tend to go
elsewhere.”
It was true that money had infiltrated our little society. Take Mike, for example. He used
to come here, along with a cadre of others who'd eventually struck it rich. He didn't come
around very much, except when he was either slumming or looking for talent. The
Bridge had refused to rise with the tide, had not gone all yuppie. It had not tried to cater
to the more affluent tastes of some of its previous patrons. No champagne on the wine
list -- hell, no wine list at all; no artichoke heart salads on the menu. Those of us who
still came here did so because we liked it the way it was.
“Who are those guys?” Megan asked. Despite my efforts, she’d spotted the super-nerds.
Chuck made a face, while I just sighed.
“You don’t want to know,” Kevin suggested to her.
“No, I kind of do,” she countered with a small smile. I explained them as best I could,
and her amusement seemed to grow. They were unusually noisy tonight. Normally they
were just part of the background noise and we barely noticed, but tonight either they were
noisier than usual or we were more sensitive.
“Super-nerds,” she repeated. She eyed us. “Indeed.”
The three of us exchanged insecure glances, not sure if she had lumped us in with them or
not. That was our not-so-secret fear, that to the rest of the world we were as odd as they
were.
“I like it anyway. It has character,” Megan pronounced definitively. I saw Kevin and
Chuck perk up, having passed judgement, at least initially.

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“Keep it down, nerds,” Chuck yelled at them. “There’s a lady present.” A lady indeed.
The nerds looked us, as startled as deer caught in the headlights of an onrushing car, then
they scattered just as quickly as those metaphorical deer. I wasn’t sure if this was due to
Chuck’s admonition, or to their realizing that there was a woman present.
Megan’s eyebrows wrinkled as she watched them disperse, then turned her attention back
to us. I just shrugged at her unspoken question.
“So, Kevin -- you're some kind of programmer?” she asked, changing the subject.
I saw Cat approach before anyone else, and even then not until she was upon us. Usually
we'd have been watching her intently if covertly, and known exactly where she was.
True, we might have professed to be surprised by her appearance at our table, but that
was just for show. I don't think we had ever fooled her, but today she seemed, well,
almost miffed that we weren't paying attention.
“Can I get you something?”
Kevin, Chuck, and I just looked at each other. Ordinarily Cat treated taking our orders as
kind of an imposition. Yet here she was, talking to us almost deferentially. On the other
hand, I noticed that she was focused on Megan, eyeing her with frank curiosity. Megan
drew that kind of attention normally, but in our case no doubt Cat was especially
wondering what Megan was doing with us. We'd been there with other people, of course,
even with women on occasion, but she knew immediately that Megan was another kettle
of fish altogether.
Megan studied her openly, and Cat returned her gaze. Cat had on hip-huggers and a tshirt that featured an improbable but still obscene suggestion. Her hair was braided in
dreadlocks of indeterminate colors, and she had both her nose and her tongue piercings
on display, not to mention an entire earful. It was like Ani DiFranco on a very extreme
day, trying to incite the girl police. The contrast between her and Megan couldn't have

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been drawn any more sharply. If it had been any other woman Megan's age, Cat's attire
would have accentuated her advantage in youth. Megan wasn't just any other woman.
She sat there completely unruffled – cool, calm, and collected. Compared to her, Cat
simply looked like a rebellious thirteen year-old.
“Hello, Cat,” Megan asked. “That's your name, Cat?”
Cat looked uncomfortable. She glanced down at the nametag. “Yes, that's what it says.
How about some tea?” she asked, seemingly trying to either move things along or to
change the topic. “You look like someone who drinks tea.”
I sunk a little lower in my seat, thinking that comment was aimed at me. Cat had figured
out the connection, not that it was too difficult, I supposed. Megan raised an eyebrow.
“Not tonight, dear. How about a beer? Do you have beer?”
Cat went through the list of beers, concluding with Dos Equus and indicated Kevin's
partially gone bottle. Kevin had either poured it out or persuaded Chuck to have some.
Megan looked at Kevin's beer and furrowed her brows. “No, I don't like Dos Equus.
How about a Heineken?”
“Make it two,” I chimed in. I was faintly surprised that Megan drank beer; it had never
occurred to me to offer her one all those times she had been in my apartment, nor had she
asked for one. She had just patiently continued to accept my stupid offering of tea. I felt
like an idiot.
“I'm in,” Chuck added.
“Make it four,” Kevin said. Chuck and I eyed him and snickered. He shot us murderous
looks, but he knew he'd hear more about this later, and that he deserved to. He'd dropped
his long-standing plan to appeal to Cat at the first sign of a better target. If Cat noticed
his change of preferences, she didn't let on.

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I sensed something going between Megan and Cat that was beyond the rest of our
sensory abilities to pick up, the way dogs or cats can hear sounds that mere humans can't.
Perhaps Cat knew that now she was going to have some competition for our attention.
Perhaps Cat had seen something in Megan that fascinated her; she had that kind of effect
on people.
Cat started to walk away, but Megan reached out and touched her arm. “You've got such
a lovely face, my dear. It's a shame you hide it,” she said in a soft voice. “I'll bet you
have a lovely smile too. It's a shame you hide that too.”
If anyone else had dared say such things, I'll bet Cat would have slapped them, or
derisively put them down. Megan said them in such a kind way, with that soothing and
friendly voice of hers, that Cat didn't quite know what to say. Her face colored. Megan
reached out and touched her hair lightly, a surprisingly intimate gesture that shocked me.
I risked a quick glance over at Kevin and Chuck, who were equally stunned. Megan
fingered Cat's hair tenderly between her fingers.
“Lovely hair,” she remarked. She released it and sat back in the booth, still holding Cat's
gaze with her own more piercing one. “What color was it originally?”
I thought Cat would blow her off or say something rude, but I continued to misjudge Cat
and underestimate Megan's almost hypnotic influence. “Red,” Cat offered meekly. It
never would have occurred to me that she was a redhead; any shade of red I'd ever seen
on her had clearly been artificial.
Megan nodded, not surprised. “Yes, I can see that. You've got the skin for it. You're
quite beautiful.”
Cat had had enough of this. She gave us a wild look, then just mumbled something and
stumbled off. Megan watched her almost sadly, while the rest of us stared at Megan in

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awe. As much as we'd idolized Cat, we'd been a bit afraid of her too, and now she was
more human. Megan, on the other hand -- well, she was something else indeed.
For the rest of the evening, Chuck and Kevin chattered like two kids. Kevin lost his
typical shyness and competed with Chuck for Megan's attention. They both told her
about what they did, for work and for fun, and brought up amusing incidents from their
pasts. Even I'd never heard some of them. Megan listened with amusement, asked the
right questions, said the right encouragements. Cat kept us well served, but with a brisk
efficiency that precluded other exchanges with Megan. I figured she'd given up the
battle, but I wasn't sure there wasn't still a war ahead.
Chuck and Kevin weren't total jerks about the conversation, of course; they were too
interested in her for that. “So, Megan,” Chuck started with some bravado, making like
the man of the world. “What do you do for a living?”
Megan leaned back in the booth and looked at him with a level gaze. “I work at St.
Joe's.” Chuck looked interested.
“Doctor?” Kevin asked. Leave it to Kevin not to stereotype her as a nurse. She smiled
and shook her head.
“You're a nurse, right?” Chuck said, no doubt thinking back to my recounting her
solicitous care of me when I needed it. Or maybe he just pictured her in those nurse
outfits. “Physical therapist? Something to do with caring for people?”
Megan shook her head, somewhat regretfully, or so I thought. “Nope, I'm just a paperpusher. A bureaucrat.”
Kevin and Chuck looked puzzled. A doctor they could understand, or a pretty nurse on
TV, but otherwise the health care system left them baffled. I'd had some recent
experience, of course, so I was the pro by comparison.

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“I thought you worked at the resale shop,” I said. “Or something to do with charity
anyway. You're always going to those fund-raisers.”
“Just part of the job,” she said, carefully watching the condensation on her beer glass.
“I think it's pretty cool,” Chuck enthused. “You get to go to all these neat parties and you
get paid for it! Nice racket.”
Kevin looked at him scornfully. They'd been bickering all night, trying to put each other
down in front of Megan. Chuck was more aggressive but Kevin's jabs were sharper.
“Yeah, you get paid to wine and dine people with ideas -- productive people -- and then
use other people's money to pay them! And you're talking about a racket?”
Megan enjoyed the exchange, but jumped in with another anecdote from her time abroad,
as she did all night when it looked like their jousting was getting too vicious. None of us
had ever been overseas before, so these stories fascinated us. Of course, I'd be fascinated
to hear her read the telephone book. This particular story involved how luxurious it felt
to take a hot bath after living in the bush for a week with no running water. Kevin and
Chuck were virtually salivating imagining her in that bath.
“I like your friends,” Megan told me on the way home. “Do you think they like me?”
“I don't think 'like' quite covers it,” I replied. “I think they've never met anyone like
you.”
“That's a good thing?” she asked. I suspected she was teasing me.
“That's a very good thing,” I affirmed, glancing over at her. It was pretty dark, so she
was only illuminated by the streetlights we passed under, but I thought I detected a small
look of satisfaction on her face.

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“What about you?” she asked after a block or two of comfortable silence. “Have you
ever met anyone like me?”
“Nope.”
I parked the car and I escorted her to her apartment. At the door she noticed something
was on my mind. “What is it, Craig?” she asked with concern.
“You never told me you drank beer,” I confessed. “Here I was giving you tea all the time,
even when I was having a beer, and you never said a word. Why didn't you just ask for
one then? Why did you just have the stupid tea?”
Megan smiled and touched my face tenderly. “Because you made it for me.”

Chapter 14
It's funny how different people can respond so differently to the same thing. Take, for
example, the response that Kevin, Chuck, and I had to Cat just a couple days later.
It was in the middle of the afternoon, so things were pretty slow. Chuck had just finished
taking a prospect out to lunch, and was taking a break. Kevin had been up all night
programming madly to meet an insane deadline -- which he'd met -- and had stopped by
The Bridge for a late breakfast to celebrate. I was, well, I was having a pretty normal
day. I'd puttered around in the morning, played some video games and ended up
wandering over to The Bridge when Chuck called to tell me he was taking a time-out.
We were sitting in our usual booth. Kevin still had his plate in front of him, and was
carefully finishing up his last piece of toast. There were only a couple of other
customers, one surfing the net somewhat desperately and the other attacking various

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demons and villains in the Nintendo universe. Both of them were completely oblivious
to us. Khan and Vader were battling, which was kind of funny if you thought about it in
the larger picture.
Cat was standing at the counter reading the paper, with the paper spread out flat on the
counter. She'd study each page carefully, and when done would methodically turn the
page and start anew. I guess it was a way to kill time. We'd watched her do this from the
corners of our eyes, keeping tabs on her in our usual way. No, perhaps not quite in or
usual way, as we were engrossed in our own conversation about Megan. But we knew
where she was and what she was doing; she retained that hold on us.
“I think she's in a cult,” Chuck said. I wasn't quite certain he wasn't serious.
“Why?” I asked. The thought that Megan was in a cult was ludicrous to me. We'd been
there for a half hour and we'd basically been dissecting our evening with Megan. We'd
already agreed on her beauty, intelligence, and friendliness, and now were delving deeper.
“There’s something off about her,” Chuck noted. He crossed his arms defiantly and
looked thoughtful. “She's too happy or something.”
“What, happy people have to be in a cult?” Kevin challenged. He put a small remaining
piece of crust down on the corner of his plate. Kevin had this odd habit of cleaning his
plate meticulously except for one tiny scrap of something. I guess it made him feel more
in control somehow. Chuck and I had given up kidding him about it.
“That happy, maybe,” Chuck said knowingly. “She’s just so sure of herself. A cult or
drugs, you pick 'em. Maybe both.”
“You’re an idiot,” I said firmly. “Megan’s not in a cult, and I'm pretty sure she wouldn't
use drugs. She doesn’t seem smug or act like she’s superior to us.”

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“I didn’t say that,” Chuck replied weakly. Kevin shook his head in agreement. Megan
might well be superior to us – I’d be willing to concede it if pressed – but she never gave
any impression that she thought it was true. If she had, I wouldn’t have liked her so
much. Still, Chuck calling her happy didn’t quite hit the mark; she was happy, but that
wasn’t what made her unique.
“It’s not that she’s so unusually happy…” I started.
“Peaceful?” Chuck hazarded, but that wasn’t quite right either.
“…at peace,” Kevin finished for me. I nodded vigorously in agreement. Even Chuck
couldn't disagree with that. Of course, this led to the dilemma: none of us disputed
Chuck's central point, that she was different in a way that we all envied her for, whether it
was happiness or something else entirely. So if drugs or cult programming weren't
responsible, what was?
Cat had served us earlier, and she had seemed less disdainful than usual, or so I thought.
She'd taken our orders politely, and had brought Kevin his food and Chuck and I our
sodas with no snide comments or other put-downs. She still was not quite conventional
in her appearance – today’s outfit included six inch platform boots that came to her knees,
under a peasant shirt and ragged sweatshirt, with the normal assortment of earrings. Still,
there were no nose or tongue piercings, which was the first in some time. Her hair -while still a combination of unusual hues -- was neatly braided.
“Hey,” she called out, surprising us. “There's an article in here about your girlfriend.”
We weren't sure at first who she was talking to. None of us currently had girlfriends, and
she never spoke to us for no reason, so we were entirely justified in thinking she might be
addressing someone else. Perhaps the cook, or even one of the other loners -- although
the latter candidates were even less likely to have girlfriends than we were, unless they

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were cyber-inventions in the lonely places they inhabited. We looked over cautiously at
Cat and she was actually looking back at us.
“Who?” Chuck asked, clearly puzzled.
“His girlfriend,” Cat said, nodding towards me. “The woman you guys were with
Tuesday night.”
“She's not my girlfriend,” I protested, just to keep the facts correct. Still, I was flattered
by Cat’s assumption.
“What article?” Kevin asked. That was the natural question, but both Chuck and I
looked over at Kevin for his having asked it of her, impressed that he'd worked up the
nerve to do so.
“In last Friday's Business Journal,” Cat said. She appeared to be reading the article even
more carefully than she had read the rest of the paper.
“Are there pictures?” Chuck asked hopefully. I suspected he'd surmised that it was an
account on a charity event she'd been at, as I had. Chuck was probably thinking maybe
there'd be a picture of her in a slinky evening gown. I'd have enjoying seeing such a
picture as well, but doubt that a business paper would report on a charity ball -- or run
photos from one -- was beginning to creep into my head.
“What does it say?” Kevin asked, getting to the point of it. I suddenly wasn't sure I
wanted to know. Somehow I guessed even then that whatever it said was going to
change my relationship with Megan. She'd just gone from being my friendly neighbor to
being someone that the papers wrote about.

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“Here it is,” Cat said, reading from the article. “'St. Joseph's Health System announces
the appointment of Megan Lindgren as Chief Operating Officer. Ms. Lindgren, a former
nun herself, takes over the position at the Catholic hospital system from…'”
“Chief Operating Officer?” Chuck repeated, impressed. He liked people with titles;
CEO, CFO, COO, EVP -- these were like ear candy to him.
“Hmm,” Kevin said thoughtfully. He leaned back in the booth and drummed his fingers
on the table nervously.
“What do you mean, 'nun'?” I asked. That was the word that caught my attention.
Cat looked up from the paper at us. She seemed to be deciding something, and soon it
became clear what. She picked up the paper and walked over to us. Chuck and I were
sitting on one side so she slid in next to Kevin.
“Let me see,” Chuck said, reaching for the paper.
Cat glared at him. “Hang on, dummy. Let everyone take a look.” She put the paper
down on the table, pushing aside a few of the table implements. We all bent over to read
it.
There was not much more than what Cat had read; it was just a short announcement with
a posed head shot, buried among the comings and goings of the local business world. I
never read the business paper -- or even the business section of the regular paper, for that
matter -- but if I did, I'd have missed this small blurb, even with the grainy photo of
Megan. Evidently the paper was behind on its reporting, as it appeared the news was
months old.
Megan apparently had a long history running hospitals. She'd come here from a similar
job at another Catholic hospital in Nashville. This was a bigger hospital, a bigger

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hospital system or whatever; it didn't really explain why this was a better job. Nor did it
really say anything further about the nun aspect, although I did notice that the St. Joe's
CEO was a nun. Maybe she only hired in the sisterhood, so to speak.
We all read it in silence, taking much longer than was required. It was like a bunch of
anthropologists trying to look for clues in the tiniest bone fragment, thinking they could
determine the mysteries of human evolution from it. Chuck broke the silence first.
“Cool.”
Cat looked up at him, faintly scornful. I was afraid she'd give up on us and get up, walk
away from us.
“I never would have guessed,” Kevin said. “She never acted like a big shot.”
“Or a nun,” Chuck said.
“That's probably why she is a big shot,” Cat said. She pointedly ignored Chuck's
comment, although I must say I was thinking the same thing myself.
“I can see it,” Kevin noted, stroking his chin. He nodded his head unconsciously. “Yeah,
I can see it.”
“The COO thing or the nun thing?” Cat asked, looking over at him sitting next to her. I
was glad someone else thought that this aspect was significant. They seemed to hold eye
contact a couple of beats longer than I'd have thought necessary.
“Well, the COO thing is a natural,” Chuck said with assurance. “I knew she was
important, you know. I mean, I deal with these kinds of people every day.”
“Chuck,” Kevin told him, “You've never dealt with anyone like Megan.”

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Kevin and Cat both laughed at that, giving each other another curious little shared look in
doing so. Chuck looked defiant for a second, then got a sheepish look. “OK, you got me
there.”
Cat looked at me seriously. “How do you know her?” Her tone sounded properly
incredulous that someone like Megan would know someone like me. She'd probably
wondered that from the start, and this latest information would have confirmed her
doubts.
I wished I had some good story, even something I'd had the creativity to make up, but,
lacking either, I fell back upon the truth. “She's my neighbor.”
Cat took this in and nodded. She could understand that, Megan being neighborly to a
nerd like me. If I had tried to pretend that I'd picked her up or something, Cat would
have shot me down on the spot. I’d have crashed and burned ignominiously.
“She likes him, though,” Kevin offered. He had his sincere look on. “I mean, none of
my neighbors has come here with me.” Cat seemed to be listening.
“You don’t talk to your neighbors,” Chuck countered, not liking the interaction between
the two of them. Kevin conceded the point, and Cat seemed to take this under
consideration.
“She went roller-blading with him too,” Chuck added. “And she comes by his apartment
after work.”
“But she's not your girlfriend?” Cat clarified, looking at me with a careful stare.
“She's a nun,” Kevin noted.
“Former nun,” I corrected automatically.

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The four of us sat there in silence for a couple of seconds. I suppose we were each
reflecting about our view of Megan, but the oddness of Cat sitting there with us in our
booth started to counter that line of thought. She started to fidget and looked over at the
counter, no doubt thinking of escape.
“She likes to look at my blackboards,” I offered, apropos of nothing. “I'm teaching her
some math.” I was just trying to make conversation, to keep Cat here for a few more
seconds. All those months of the three of us longing for such a moment with her, and we
were about to blow it. As soon as I'd said it, though, I regretted it. For one thing, it told
her something about my apartment, something she had no reason to know. For another -and much more important -- reason, the math tutoring seemed like a personal connection
between Megan and I.
Kevin and Chuck understood that, but Cat just wrinkled her brow. “Why do you have
blackboards in your house?”
“They're not really blackboards,” Kevin said soothingly. “They're dry-erase boards.” He
seemed to think that distinction would help, but I knew we were dying even worse.
“Blackboards bothered his allergies,” Chuck added. “All that dust.”
Cat looked around skeptically. “You're all quite mad.” But she didn't get up to leave.
“He's a math genius,” Chuck explained. He gave me a proud look.
“Yeah, a math genius who can’t balance his checkbook,” Kevin said, not without
affection.
“Long story,” I told Cat apologetically, giving Kevin a dirty look. “I’m no genius.”

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“Whatever,” Cat responded, rolling her eyes. She gestured around the almost vacant
surroundings. “Being math geniuses must be pretty good work. You guys have a lot of
time on your hands.”
“Oh, no,” Kevin said. “I'm a programmer, and Chuck is a venture capitalist.” Kevin
sounded slightly ashamed of Chuck’s profession, although to Cat it probably sounded the
most normal of the three of us.
“I didn't even know your names before and now I'm getting your life histories,” Cat
complained. She shook her head in amusement. “I've been working here too long.”
With that she excused herself and went back in the kitchen. She left the paper with us.
We looked at each other, and Chuck broke the silence first. “That was cool.”
“Way cool,” Kevin agreed. He touched the seat where she had been with something
approaching reverence.
“I think she likes you,” Chuck teased Kevin. Kevin blushed, and squirmed in his seat.
But he did not seem entirely unhappy with the notion.
“What does it mean to be a former nun?” I asked, unable to stop thinking about Megan.
“I wonder why she left.”
“Why she left?” Chuck repeated incredulously. “I can think of lots of reasons she would
have wanted to stop being a nun. I wonder why she stayed as long as she did.”
“How long was she a nun?” Kevin asked, looking at me. I didn’t know the answer, that
particular fact being missing from the article, so I just shrugged. Chuck rolled his eyes;
to him, one day would be a day too many. “Maybe she got kicked out,” Kevin
speculated.

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Chuck got a faraway look on his face. “I bet she quit,” he said.
“Who would kick her out of anything?” I asked Kevin, ignoring Chuck.
We talked for a while about what might have happened, but it was even more pointless
than most of our speculations. We barely understood what it meant to be a COO, Chuck's
confidence in his business acumen notwithstanding, and we had no way to gauge what a
nun's life was like, or why one might leave it. Sure, we'd seen movies and television
shows, but that's about it. Of course, in this regard it was about the same as most other
experiences.
“She never said anything about this to you?” Kevin asked.
I shook my head. “Nope. I mean, she told me she'd lived all over the world and all, but
not why. It never occurred to me that she’d been a nun, for God’s sake.”
“No pun intended,” Kevin interjected slyly.
I gave him a disapproving look, wrinkling my brow. “As I was saying. I thought she just
did charity work at the hospital. I never guessed she was so important.” That did
explain, though, why everyone seemed to know her when we were at the hospital.
Kevin pursed his lips, and Chuck rubbed his head. “And you couldn't tell she'd been a
nun?”
“Could you?” Kevin challenged. Chuck cocked his head as if thinking about it. He'd
have liked to have said yes, but he knew we wouldn't let him get away with us. He'd
been as fooled as we had been.
“I don't know,” I said wearily. “That wasn't an option I ever thought about.”

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The three of us laughed at that. Cat came back from the kitchen and sat down at the
counter again, pulling out some paper and starting to write. We were out of her world
again. Once we were sure she wasn't paying attention to us we started talking again.
Finally, Kevin asked me what I was going to do about it.
“I guess I'll have to talk to her,” I said.

Chapter 15
I was loaded for bear when Megan stopped by that night. I'd been afraid this wasn't
going to be one of the days she came up for a visit and a lesson, but she came by around
seven.
“You never told me you were a nun!” I exclaimed, brandishing the article in front of her.
I’d downloaded it for this effect, although now I felt kind of foolish about it.
If Megan was surprised by my statement, she didn't show it. She calmly took the article
from me and scanned it quickly. I noticed a small smile on her face towards the end. She
handed it back to me. “Not the most flattering picture, don't you think?”
I frowned. “The picture is fine. Hadn't you seen it before?”
Megan walked over to one of the boards, again picking up on what I'd been working on
most recently. She studied the equations and drawings intently, although it still must
have looked like gibberish to her. My lessons hadn't gone that far. I wasn't sure she was
going to answer my question, so I prompted her again. She sighed and walked over to
one of the windows. “Yes, I'd seen it. My secretary pointed it out to me. She posted it
by her desk.” Megan seemed amused by the whole thing.

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“Why didn't you tell me you were a nun?” I repeated. She seemed to be missing the
point of my questions.
“I'm not a nun,” Megan said logically. She had turned her attention to the window, as if
not really interested in the current line of conversation. It was a nice view, and I often sat
there myself to take it in. You could see the street in front of the apartment building, and
there was usually something going on there. But it was rare that Megan stood and looked
out while we were talking. I didn't think it was a good sign.
“OK, I know,” I conceded. “You're a former nun. Still, why didn't you tell me?”
Now Megan sighed again, ever so quietly, and turned around. She went over and sat on
the couch. “It never came up.”
Well, she had me there. We'd never talked about nuns, or even religion, not really. I'd
never really asked her much about her life, not wanting to jeopardize the relationship we
were establishing. Still, it seemed like a big gap. “How would I even know to bring it
up? I mean, it's not one of my standard things to check out.”
“Look, Craig, it's no big deal. I was a nun and now I'm not. There's probably lots of
things that you did once that you've never told me.”
I was only slightly mollified. “That's true, but this seems different. I mean, a nun?”
Megan shrugged it off. “Being a mathematician is different too.”
I came over and sat on the beanbag chair. I kind of figured the math lesson was out for
tonight, which was OK since I hadn't prepared anything. I wanted so much to ask her
why she left, but something told me to refrain. “Why did you tell the reporter if it is such
a big secret?”

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“I didn't tell him. Sister Frances did. She was making a point to our board that I wasn't
exactly a heathen -- it was a big deal for them to hire a layperson. It's no big secret. I'd
have told you if it had come up.”
I looked at her incredulously. “What would have brought it up? How many times have
we talked about stuff? We've never even come close to this.”
Typically, Megan didn't lose her cool. She seemed sympathetic to my frustration, but
wasn't admitting she'd done anything wrong. “When it was the right time and place, I'd
have brought it up.”
I wanted to get in my last shot. “So instead I read about it in the paper, and then have to
have it pointed out to me by Cat? Now she must really think I'm a dork -- I bring this
great woman in, and Cat's all impressed by her, but I don't even know she's a nun.”
“Former nun,” Megan politely murmured, mocking me just a bit.
I gave her a dirty look, which didn’t seem to faze her in the least. I think she enjoyed it. .
“Whatever. You take my point.”
“So you're really just upset that Cat was the one to tell you?”
“Hey, it could have been Kevin, or Chuck, or Mike Barnes. It doesn't matter -- you
should have been the one who told me.”
Megan studied me. “Perhaps you are right,” she said. “It's done. So, what do you want
to know?”
I'd compiled a long list during the afternoon, but frankly wasn't really expecting to get a
chance to ask it. I don't know how I had envisioned my supposed confrontation going,

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but I wasn't quite prepared for free questions. “Umm, how long were you a nun?” I
finally managed.
“Twenty years,” Megan said promptly. “Counting college, twenty-four.”
That threw me. I suppose I thought maybe this was something in her youth, like an
extreme version of how some kids join the Peace Corps right after college. But I could
do the math; she must have only recently left her order. “Twenty-four years? That's your
whole life!”
Megan laughed. “Well, not quite my whole life but most of it.” I couldn't tell what she
thought about that. We sat in silence for a little.
“So you left the church?”
Megan seemed shocked, but recovered quickly. She gave me a concerned look. “Oh, no,
Craig, of course not. I just left the order.”
“Aren't they mad?”
She shook her head. “No, I don't think so, depending on who ‘they’ are. But I'm not mad
at the church and I don't think the church is mad at me. And I'm pretty sure God
understands. It was just time to leave.”
We sat there for a bit longer. I looked over at the boards, mostly to distract me from the
many questions I had. I felt Megan watching me. “I know this must seem strange to
you,” she said.
I looked at her, sitting there so contentedly. She looked like your typical successful
businesswoman, well dressed and confident. Nothing you could spot that would tip off
that she'd spent her adult life cloistered away in devotion to God, unless – there was that

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special presence of hers. I began to understand why some of the religious artwork from
the Middle Ages had those halos coming off the Madonna and saints. “I've never known
a nun,” I said. I saw her starting to interject something, so I hurriedly added, “Or an exnun.”
“You don't know how to act?” Megan asked. I think it amused her, but I nodded with a
slightly embarrassed expression. “Just act the way you've been acting, the way you
always would.”
“But what if I do something wrong, offend you somehow?”
Megan leaned forward and patted me on the knee. “I'll let you know. Until then, don't
worry about it. Now, are we going to have a lesson today?”
I wasn't really ready to change subjects, but I wasn't quite sure what to ask next, so I
ambled over to the board. “I didn't really prepare anything.”
Megan stood up and came over near me, a small smile on her face. “Mind on other
things?” I nodded dumbly. Her smile deepened. “Well, then, just wing it.”
I racked my brain, and settled on some of the late nineteenth century logical paradoxes,
like Russell's barber, who only shaved the men who didn't shave themselves. Or the set
of all sets that didn't have themselves as a member. Megan got a kick out of it. “So logic
can be its own worse enemy,” she said.
“Oh, it's worse than that,” I said, getting into it. What can I say? I'm easily distracted
when it comes to some things. “In the 1930's Kurt Godel proved that mathematics is
necessarily incomplete -- you can't prove all the things that are true. That's his famous
incompleteness theorem.”

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Well, of course, after that I had to completely digress and explain how he'd proven it, and
what exactly it meant for mathematics. It was, after all, one of my favorite theorems,
both for the brilliance of the proof and the shock of the result. People just assume that
mathematics is so cut and dried, but this showed that mathematicians know its limits
better than anyone. I added to my account the Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle from
quantum physics just to further make the case. I do know some things aside from math.
Megan was delighted. “The heart knows things the mind cannot,” she said, perhaps a
quote whose reference I missed.
“Sort of.”
“Kind of like faith,” Megan said, observing me closely. “Until I met you, I'd never have
guessed that mathematics could prove something like that. It's wonderful.”
I may have blushed, and I'm sure she noticed. She reached out and put her hand on my
forearm. “Craig, why didn't you stay with mathematics?”
I looked at her in surprise. “I still do it,” I protested, gesturing to the boards. I was
careful to use the arm she wasn't touching.
“But not as your life, just as kind of a pastime. A hobby, as you once told me. Why is
that?” Her voice was silky smooth, inviting me to share.
I marshaled my thoughts, trying to get my story in order. “Not much money in math
these days.”
“Yes, I see money is top of your priorities,” Megan said dryly, indicating the room around
us. “Try again.”

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I took a shot at a counter-offensive. “I thought we were talking about your being a nun,”
I observed. “Not my not sticking to mathematics as a career.”
“We are.”
I must have look surprised, which is not too surprising because I was surprised. It didn't
feel like we were talking about her. She watched me and had that amused little
expression on her face -- not mocking or disdainful, more playful than anything else. Yet
there was a clear kind of honesty about it as well, something that cut straight to the heart
of it. She saw I wasn’t making the connection she intended.
“Well, it's about faith, isn't it?” she asked.

Chapter 16
We agreed that we’d continue our conversation again, and made plans to go out to dinner
the next night. Megan hadn't stayed much longer after she'd made the comment about
faith, and it was just as well because I wouldn't have known what to say. I still had not
absorbed the concept of her having been a nun, and her admission that she had basically
spent most of her life doing it left me without any frame of reference. I spent the rest of
the evening and most of the next day thinking about what she had said, and what she
hadn't said. What I wanted to know and what I was afraid to know. Trying to take my
mind off it all, I went to a movie by myself in the afternoon, and avoided The Bridge. I
wasn't ready to talk to Kevin or Chuck, and certainly not Cat.
The movie was fluff, some mindless romantic teen flick. They're complete opposites,
they meet cute, pretend to hate each other, and still end up together. If I wanted to, I
could develop the formula -- literally -- for the plots of these movies. The key ingredient
was the cast, who could sometimes redeem even mediocre scripts with the force of the
right personalities. This was not one of those successes, but it killed a good couple hours,

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and I got to see some promising previews. You know the movie has failed when you
come out remembering the previews more than the feature.
Finally it was time for dinner. We picked an Indian restaurant after she got home from
work. The restaurant was only a couple blocks from our building. We'd gotten take-out
from there before but had never gone there to eat together, although I’d been there several
times myself. I liked the place. The family who ran it seemed to have an endless supply
of children or cousins or other family to help out, always some familiar faces and some
new faces. I liked that there were always Indian patrons as well, plus atonal Indian music
playing softly in the background. It was as close to India as I was likely to get.
You could see the stir when we walked in. Well, when Megan walked in. I still wasn’t
used to the buzz that she set off in public. The restaurant was not a huge place, seating
maybe twenty tables in two loosely connected rooms, and only about half full tonight.
But heads started turning as soon as we came in. You could see it in the extra
solicitousness of the host, and by the wake at the tables we passed as we went to our
table. Our water and menu arrived instantaneously, as did our waitress. Meanwhile, I
was vaguely aware of the rest of the patrons looking our way, our passage having created
the small scale version of The Wave.
I’d seen this effect before, on the other occasions we’d gone out together. Of course,
beautiful women always get noticed, but that wasn’t all there was to it. There’s lots of
beautiful women, and they get as many resentful or leering looks as admiring. The looks
people gave her weren’t like that. It was more like, well, you know how people love
babies? Especially women? They look over at a baby and their faces just soften
somehow, and even men are affected by it. As long as the kid doesn’t cry or create a
nuisance, everyone in the room just adopts it somehow. Megan tended to have a not
dissimilar effect. She just seemed so serene that people were fascinated by her. I had
never figured out exactly how she did it, whether it was pure personality, her smiles and
eyes, or what. Undoubtedly it was a combination of everything, but it was absolutely
unique and totally captivating. I loved watching strangers getting pulled in by her.

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I ordered some vindaloo and Megan asked for some curried chicken. We made small talk
over the bread. The looks around the room gradually diminished. I have to admit I
enjoyed the side effects. People saw me with her and I could practically see them
wondering who I was to be with her.
I almost wanted to let things go back to normal, but I couldn't let it drop. “You were
saying?”
Megan knew what my nonsequitur meant. She took a sip of water before answering.
“Yes, you're still curious about my life as a nun, aren't you?” I nodded.
“Well, where to begin?”
Megan had grown up in a normal family -- two younger brothers, dad a lawyer and
mother a teacher. Her family had gone to church, but they weren't fanatics or anything.
She didn't really give religion much thought until high school.
“There I was, cheering on the football team and wondering what the point of it was.
During my junior year I had a great teacher in international relations, and she made me
think about other countries and cultures, other belief systems. That made me rethink my
own religion, and for the first time I started to think about what all those ceremonies and
teachings really were about.”
By her senior year her mind was made up. She went to a small women-only Catholic
college, intent on entering the convent. She got her degree in nursing just so she could
maximize her usefulness to God and to man, she told me with a smile that poked fun at
her own pretensions. Then she was off, posted to a small clinic in rural Africa.
“I was in Africa for a bit over ten years,” Megan said, telling her saga with a fond
recollection. “I loved the land and the people, although some of what was, and still is,

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happening to both were just heart-breaking. But if that wasn't where I was needed most, I
don't know where else would have been.”
As it turned out, she observed wryly, she was a good nurse and a good nun, but she was a
superb administrator. Starting with the clinic and greatly working her way up to fullfledged hospitals, the church moved her to positions of power that had to do more with
institutions than with people. “I was doing good, you know. I made sure that patients got
good care, developed new outreach programs, and kept the places afloat in the face of
financial and other challenges. Now, mind you, some of these were hospitals in name
only, nothing an American would recognize as one. Still, they were where people came
when they needed help the most. There and the church, of course.”
“Why did you leave Africa, if you loved it so much?” I asked, puzzled. Place had never
been all that important to me, but she seemed really connected to Africa. “You told me
once that you'd lived a bunch of other places.”
Megan laughed. Our food had arrived and we dug in, gasping at the spiciness and
grateful for the bread to help in cooling our mouths down. “Yes, eventually it was time to
leave Africa and the church loaned me out around the world, consulting at hospitals on
other continents, usually Third World locations. The church has missions all over the
world, you know. They finally brought me back to the U.S. to help with some of their
hospitals here.”
“So, really, you've spent most of your life working in hospitals?”
“I told you I was just a bureaucrat,” she teased.
“But a nun.” I set it out there carefully, just to clarify.
Megan nodded.

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“Did you wear a, what do you call it?”
“A habit?” Megan mouth flickered in stifled amusement.
I agreed, although I wasn't sure. She could have called it pretty much anything she
wanted. I had the picture in my head but lacked even the beginning of words for it.
Megan took pity on me and continued. “Most of the time. Over the last few years things
grew more relaxed, and once I got back to the U.S. I pretty much stopped. I found it made
people nervous.”
“I can't imagine why.” Jeez, if she'd been wearing nun's garb when I'd first seen her, I'd
have been too intimidated to say anything. Megan laughed again, with that sparkle in her
eye. “I guess you were in the habit of wearing a habit.”
Megan rolled her eyes exaggeratedly. “Like I've never heard that before.” We both
laughed.
“So, you just left recently.” I tried to be as casual as I could, but I may not have pulled it
off. I could see Megan restraining a smile.
“Yes, about six months ago.”
That made it just a couple months before I met her. “But you're still religious? I mean,
you said you hadn't left the church. You still believe in all that stuff?”
Megan carefully put down her fork. I couldn't quite read her expression. Thoughtful,
certainly; unsure, maybe. Unsure about how to respond. “I still believe,” she said
quietly. Somehow I knew that there was more left unsaid than said.
“I don't,” I said firmly.

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Megan picked up her fork again. She seemed relieved. “Most people don't,” she said
nonchalantly. I had expected more of a reaction – disappointment or maybe an argument,
but it didn’t seem to bother her at all. She took a bite, wincing with pleasure at the spicy
taste of the curry, then took a drink of water.
“But we're friends.” I just had to poke a little more.
She regarded me with some evident amusement. “I have lots of friends who aren't
Catholic.”
I threw my hands up. “I'm not even sure I believe in God.”
Megan reached across the table and patted my hand. “That's OK. He believes in you.”
“You don't mind? I thought it was pretty black and white. You know -- if you're not
Catholic you go to hell, that sort of thing. Or Christian or whatever.”
She paused again and looked at me with what I could only call a saintly smile. It was
knowing and wise, yet at the same time tender and caring. “Listen, Craig, I've known
lots of people, of many different faiths. Some with no faith in any Supreme Being of any
sort. I decided long ago that if Heaven didn't have a place for them, then I didn't want to
be there either. Some of those most pious people I've known are cold, heartless bastards,
and they don't deserve Heaven.” She reached out and touched my hand again, and I felt
curiously warmed by it. “You're OK, Craig. Heaven would be a worse place if you
weren't in it too.”
“You don't know that,” I objected, quite stupidly. I wanted her to think I was a good guy,
and even more I found myself wanting to be that good guy she thought I was. So why
was I trying to dissuade her?

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Megan laughed, a light and somehow musical tone that I found quite touching. “Yes,
Craig -- I do, in fact. Are we OK now?”
Now that the deep stuff was done, at least for the moment, there were two obvious
questions staring me in the face. I chose to pursue the safer of them. “So, all those
years…”
“Yes,” Megan encouraged me. I think she knew where I was going.
“…you were, umm.”
“What?” Megan was so cool that butter wouldn't have melted in her mouth.
“I mean, do nuns take vows? Like poverty?”
“Oh, yes. The church took care of me. I just got a small personal allowance, and lived
with other nuns. I'd never lived alone until I moved into your building.”
I couldn't fathom that. I'd lived alone so long, and couldn't imagine her doing it for the
first time after all those years. “Do you like it? I mean, do you ever get lonely or
anything?”
Megan seemed thoughtful. The waiter took the slight pause as an opportunity to check in
on us, refill our water and clear away a couple of plates we were no longer using. We
told him we were still working on our entrees. “No, I don't get lonely,” she said at last.
She answered so deliberately that I immediately wondered what she was leaving out. I
knew she wouldn't lie to me, but that didn't preclude her from answering very precisely
and not giving a complete response.
I took a big bite and chewed hungrily. Just as I swallowed Megan leaned forward. “In
case you were wondering,” she said in a low tone, “we also took vows of chastity.”

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Naturally, I about choked on my food. I sputtered and almost needed someone to come
and give me the Heimlich maneuver, but managed to regain control of my breathing
apparatus. I glared at her. “You did that on purpose!”
“Me?” Megan said innocently. She was enjoying my discomfort.
“So,” I started, feeling my way carefully through the topic, “in the last twenty years
you've never…” I left the end of the sentence go unsaid.
Megan dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. “No, that's not entirely correct.”
I sat back, not sure what she was saying. Was she suggesting that, even as a nun she'd
had sex? That she'd broken her vows? It made her seem more human somehow, but
disappointed me at the same time. It didn't fit my image of her. I could see her walking
away from her order, for whatever reasons she had, but I couldn't see her breaking her
word. Still, that must be why she'd left. Sex brings down another innocent. “What do
you mean?” I asked after a slight delay.
“Not just the last twenty years,” she said, eyes twinkling gloriously. “I've never….”

Chapter 17
I walked Megan home, but didn't want to go back to my apartment. I thought my head
was going to explode from the too many revelations I'd had, and being trapped alone in
my apartment wouldn't help. This is where having a dog might be nice, I thought. If I
came home all confused, a dog would run up and greet me. He'd wag his tail and lick
me, and just be happy to be near me. Max, on the other hand, might take one look at me
and hightail it -- if he was around at all.

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So I drove over to The Bridge. It was moderately busy, but no one I really knew was
there, aside from several of the super-nerds. I sat in a back booth and glumly started
playing a video game. My concentration was screwed up and I kept getting killed in the
first level, which was pitiful.
Cat plopped herself in the booth next to me. My mouth literally dropped open, and I got
killed in my game immediately. Glancing at it in annoyance, I shut it off. “What?” I
asked guardedly. I was a little surprised she was still at work, and even more surprised
that she deigned to sit with me.
“Where's your friend?” Cat asked hopefully, looking around the room.
I must have really been dopey, because I thought she meant Chuck or Kevin. “Who?” I
asked stupidly.
Cat gave me an amazed look. “You know, the lady. The nun. The woman in the
newspaper. Megan Lindgren.”
I quite liked her description of Megan as a “lady,” because if that fit anyone, it was surely
Megan. I never thought I'd hear those words coming out of Cat's mouth, not unless it was
said scornfully. It was not a concept that my generation really got. It went out with
white gloves and finishing school. But, you know, Megan was indeed a lady, and Cat
sounded almost envious. “Umm, she's at her apartment. I just had dinner with her.”
“You live in the same building?” Cat asked. I confirmed, and she demanded to know
exactly where. I thought it was kind of odd, but dutifully complied. Cat seemed to know
the neighborhood, but not the building, which was not too surprising. I was tempted to
jokingly ask if she was going to visit me, but I knew Cat would just shoot me down. Her
sitting here with me was precarious enough as it was, and I didn't want to needlessly set
her off.

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Cat picked up a saltshaker and started fiddling with it. Now that I was recovering from
my initial surprise, I noticed that she was the one who seemed a little nervous. “What is
she like?”
I could not reconcile this person with the Cat that I thought I knew -- the tough,
nonconformist, cynical waitress that my friends and I had been obsessed with for these
many months. This Cat was wistful and innocent, almost bashful in her curiosity. I didn't
quite know how to deal with this Cat, so I stalled. “How so?”
I don't think Cat expected that I'd know how to answer the question, for she showed no
surprise or frustration at my confusion. She put the saltshaker down and looked at the
table. She seemed to be collecting her thoughts, or maybe her nerve. Then she looked up
at me and stared me straight in the eyes with those fierce eyes, which today were blue.
Her glasses did not diminish the intensity of that stare, but actually seemed to make her
eyes look even bigger. “I want to know what she's like. I mean, is she all religious and
stuff?”
I shook my head.
“Does she, like, quote the Bible or try to convert you or anything? Does she talk about
God to you all the time?”
I put my hands out in a cautionary mode. “Slow down, slow down. OK, OK. No, she
never talked about God until I brought up this stuff about being a nun.” I thought for a
moment. “Except once when we were talking about math.”
“Math?” Cat looked puzzled, as well she might have.
“She said it was looking at the mind of God.”
Now Cat looked very intrigued. “What about math?”

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I shrugged. “I don't know. I'm teaching her some. It's no big deal.” Cat was hanging on
my every word. I couldn't quite place this reality with the many imaginary conversations
I'd had with her, in numerous settings. The possibility that I'd be sitting here in The
Bridge with her talking about God and math was not, I confess, one that I had ever
dreamed up. “Why are you so interested?”
Cat looked distinctly uncomfortable. “No reason.”
I leaned in and did my best reassuring voice. “Come on, you can tell me.”
Cat leaned back and seemed to weigh whether to tell me or not. Our past wouldn’t give
her any reason to share her feelings with me, but something about Megan was obviously
on her mind and I was the one who knew Megan the best, at least as far as she knew. “I
don't know,” she said tentatively. “The first time I saw her I thought there was something
special about her.”
“I know what you mean,” I said, almost to myself as I remembered meeting Megan
sitting on those steps.
“She was like those women in the movies,” Cat said. She stopped staring and dropped
her gaze to her hands, resting on the table. “So classy, so calm, so beautiful.” This
lyrical young woman sitting across from me, reciting dreamily bore no resemblance to
the Cat of months past. This was a softer, gentler Cat, and I found her less threatening
and yet somehow much more interesting than the old Cat. She continued. “I'm a film
student, you know, so I think about people in the movies.”
“I didn't know that,” I confessed. I didn't even know she was a student. I guess we all
thought of her as a waitress, or maybe leading some exotic secret life. Her being a
student had not really come up in our fantasies.

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“Then I found out that she'd been a nun.”
The juxtaposition was a bit abrupt. I was still assimilating her sitting here with me at all,
much less the film student bit. Now this. My head hurt. “Why does that make a
difference?” I asked. Dumb question; it had made a difference to me, so why wouldn't it
to her?
Cat looked at me. I felt her deciding something, determining if she could trust me or not.
I wasn't sure I wanted her to trust me, because I was no longer sure I wanted to hear
something that personal from her. I'd had enough revelations for one night -- or one week
or year, for that matter. I should have gone home and worked on something, drowning
out all the outside interferences with the cold, clear beauty of my little worlds of
mathematics. Too late now.
“I'm a preacher's daughter,” she started. “Methodist, if you really want to know. I was
brought up very strictly. I had it drummed into my head about sin and hell, fire and
damnation. I tried, I really tried, but of course I rebelled. I mean, look at me now.”
I did look, and was surprised at what I saw. She was dressed in jeans and a modest top.
She wore only one earful of earrings, and her nose and tongue had no studs. Her hair was
pulled simply behind her. It was even monochromatic -- not quite red, but at least not
shocking. Her make-up was virtually non-existent. This Cat wasn't going to shock
anyone. I could see this Cat being a preacher's daughter. Still, I knew what she meant,
remembering the more outrageous things I'd seen her in.
“My father thinks I'm going to hell. We haven't talked in four years. He thinks I'm a slut,
or worse. Sometimes I think he's right about me going to Hell, and if he's an example of
who is in Heaven, maybe that's not so bad.”
“It's funny,” I mused. “Megan said something like that.”

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Cat was, of course, extremely interested in this, perking up and demanding to know what
I meant. I told her about Megan's comments about Heaven and who belonged. I didn't
tell her Megan's assessment of my belonging there. It felt too personal, and anyway I
wasn't sure I agreed. Cat nodded vigorously in agreement. “Exactly. I knew she was all
right.”
We both paused for a breath. I wasn't sure where we were going with this conversation.
“Don't you have to get back to work?” I asked, glancing around the room. There weren't
a lot of people but some of them were giving us nasty looks. I wasn't sure if it was
because they wanted their waitress or were envious that she was sitting with me. I
couldn't really blame them. A couple days ago I'd have done the same thing to anyone
she'd sat with like this with too.
Cat looked glum at the prospect. “I suppose so.” She cast her head down at the table.
“What else do you want to know about Megan?”
Cat didn't look up, but shrugged silently. Finally, she said, “I don't know. She’s got this
kind of a, umm…”
“Glow?” I offered.
There was a longing about Cat that I'd never seen in her before, but which I recognized in
myself. Megan had that kind of effect on people. It was like seeing color for the first
time. The world is too drab the way it was before. She looked grateful for my
suggestion. “Yeah, kind of a glow, I guess. The world just seems, I don’t know, cooler or
something when she’s around.”
“I know what you mean,” I admitted. I thought about it for a few seconds longer,
remembering her smile and her warmth, thinking of how she looked at the world with

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that sense of wonder that most of us lose around kindergarten. “Yeah, she definitely is
like no one I've ever known.”
“Is she happy?” Cat asked. “I wish I were that happy.”
“I'm not sure,” I said slowly, “that it is something she can give.” I was figuring this out
as I spoke, so I can't claim any deep insights. “I’m not even sure it’s happiness. It’s not
like she’s relentlessly cheerful or anything. She’s not some Pollyanna. She just seems to
know what she’s doing here. No one else I know is like that.”
Cat searched my face intently, seeking clues to something. Perhaps if I was holding back
something, or if I was not telling the truth. She decided something, I don't know what,
and slid out of the booth. “I know. But I want to feel like that too.”

Chapter 18
The next day I wasted what little of the morning I was awake. I ate some days-old
donuts, watched some re-runs on cable, checked my email, and so on. What I did not do
was work, either on some programming whose deadlines were starting to get
uncomfortably close, or on any problems I’d been thinking about. To say I was distracted
was putting it mildly. I ended up playing with Max, tossing a rubber ball across the room
and watching him go after it. He’d bat it around the room until it got into someplace he
couldn’t reach it – which is not so easy to do in my rather open apartment, then wait
patiently for me to come get it. He’d ignore me otherwise.
“Go get it, Max,” I said, tossing the ball so it bounced against the far wall. He was on it
within two bounces. One thing I love about cats, particularly Max, was their utter focus.
When they were hunting, which is what Max thought he was doing, there was nothing
else in the world. Once they had their prey, of course, they became aware of the world
again, ready to battle any scavengers that might challenge them for it. Like I’d want to

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eat that rubber ball, which even Max found not all that tasty. He just gnawed on it to
keep in practice. I’d seen Max successfully capture birds and mice, and the grace of his
hunting was offset by the cruelty of the kill itself. He’d pounce on the poor creature,
maim it, then let it go so he could catch it again and inflict more pain. Occasionally one
would escape, no doubt to die some slow, painful death on its own.
Lions, tigers, house cats – they all look so friendly and peaceable, right until they start
hunting. Then it is all business and you’re either in their sights or in their way. I think it
was an old Cathy cartoon where Harry the bartender said he didn’t like cats because he
knew they were just wishing they were big enough, so they could eat him. Sometimes
Max looks at me and I swear he’s calculating if he could take me down.
Max finally got bored and went to the window seat to clean himself. He’s so dainty that
way. “So what do you think, Max?” I asked rhetorically. “A nun. A virgin to boot.
What the hell – pardon the expression – is she doing with the likes of me?”
Max didn’t answer. Typical.
I watched him, wondering what he was thinking. I always imagine the way cats think is
so different than the way humans think as to be unimaginable. With most animals I just
assume they don’t really think; they just have hyped up senses without a central processor
powerful enough to review them for anything other than basic survival. Cats seem
smarter somehow, it’s just that their thought processes and motivation aren’t anything I
can relate to. If aliens ever come, I figure cats have as good a chance of communicating
with them as we do. I just hope that the cats don’t eat them first, or team up with them
against us.
A knock on the door broke me from this line of thought, thank goodness. At least it had
diverted me from thinking pointlessly about Megan. I wondered who it was. My first
thought was, of course, Megan, but it was much too early, only around one. It was
Kevin.

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“Hey, dude,” he said as he sauntered into my apartment. “Hey, Maxie.” Max gave him a
suspicious look, then scooted out of the window in two bounds. Kevin actually likes
Max, but Max won’t give him the time of day. Chuck, on the other hand, hates cats and
is allergic to them, so Max messes with him by rubbing up against him at every
opportunity. Like I said, who can figure their thought processes?
“What do you have there?” I asked, indicated the bags he was carrying. They smelled
good, whatever they were.
“I brought some subs,” Kevin said, sitting on the couch. “Philly cheese steak and pizza
steak, plus cheese fries. You hungry?”
“I am, actually,” I said. “How’d you know I hadn’t already eaten?”
Kevin snorted. “Like you have any food here.”
We divided up the food, him getting the cheese steak and me with the pizza steak. It was
pretty good, and the fries were crisp and greasy, the way I like them. “So,” he said with
practiced casualness, “does Cat seem different somehow?”
I had a feeling I knew what he meant, but I played dumb. I paused before eating some
fries. “Like how?”
Kevin shrugged. “I dunno. Different. The last couple days she’s not been herself.”
“Ever since I brought Megan there?”
Kevin thought about it. “Maybe. Yeah, that’s about right.”

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I told Kevin about my visit to The Bridge the night before, and his eyes widened at the
thought of Cat sitting and talking to me. “She seems almost, well, less fierce than usual,”
I said.
“Maybe,” Kevin said noncommittally. He paused before getting another handful of fries.
“No offense,” I reassured him, looking up to him from the beanbag chair. “I just mean
that she’s actually talking to me.”
“I think she smiled at me today,” Kevin said absently. He held his sandwich in front of
him but made no move to take a bite. “I kind of like it.”
“I think she’s fascinated by Megan.”
Kevin had to stop and think for a nanosecond to place Megan, which for him was a long
time. He was on Cat’s trail the way Max had been with that rubber ball. “You know, she
did ask me what I knew about her, which is not much. What is the deal?”
So I brought Kevin up to speed on my more recent conversations with Megan, as well as
the related ones with Cat. “Did you know Cat was a film student?” I said towards the
end, playing my trump card.
Kevin nodded, unimpressed. “Yeah, Master’s program.”
“She told you?” I was surprised and a little disappointed; Cat sharing that fact with me
wasn’t that big a deal. Kevin didn’t respond, but allowed the slightest of smile. I figured
it out. “You hacked the University’s computers?”
He just smiled that tiny smile.

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I turned the conversation back to my dinner with Megan and the bits of information I’d
acquired. Kevin chewed his food mechanically, and I could tell he was taking everything
in and processing at a furious rate. I’ve known Kevin a long time and I know when he is
thinking hard. He withdraws into his little shell and he focuses hard, his eyebrows
wrinkling just slightly. When I finished recounting my story he sat there for a couple of
seconds longer.
“Wow,” he said. “A forty year old virgin. That’s kind of…”
“Kind of what?”
Kevin hesitated for a moment. “Kind of weird, actually.”
“What, you never knew any virgins that old?”
“Not really. Maybe a couple of really strange programmers, but not any girls. I can’t see
that. Well, maybe if they were they were ugly.”
“Megan’s definitely not ugly.”
“Definitely not,” he agreed. We looked at each other.
“We better not tell Chuck,” we said simultaneously. That broke us up into a laughing
jag. Chuck would no doubt really get carried away with Megan’s lack of sexual history.
He’s fascinated by that kind of thing.
“So, are you going to get all religious on us, man?” Kevin asked with a studied tone of
indifference. He ate another fry to illustrate his casualness. I couldn’t tell if he was
concerned, curious, or just making conversation. Maybe some of each.

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I had another fry too, to show him I could play that game too. “Nah, don’t be crazy.
She’s not like that. It’s like, I don’t know – she doesn’t really care what religion I am.
She just thinks I’m a good person, and that’s all she cares about.”
“Uh-huh,” Kevin said noncommittally. He looked over at me. “So she doesn’t believe in
God anymore?”
“No, she still does, but I guess she doesn’t preach about it. Maybe that’s why she quit
being a nun – she didn’t want to have to try to convert anyone.”
“Uh-huh,” Kevin said again. He still didn’t sound too convinced, and I had a feeling he
was thinking things he wasn’t telling me. Knowing Kevin, he was processing what I’d
said, and he’d talk about it when he was done thinking about it. “Want to play some
Nintendo?” he said at last, evidently figuring it was time to move on. We assumed our
normal positions in front of the television, holding our joysticks in front of us, and
proceeded to fight several wars. We made Rambo look like a sissy.
“I heard Chuck was trying to get his boss to have lunch with Megan,” Kevin noted during
a lull in the action. I looked over at him in surprise. “Why?”
Kevin didn’t take his eyes from the screen. “He likes her. He said he figured with her
personality and her resume, she could run lots of companies. He’d get big brownie points
with his company.”
I had a darker thought. “Maybe he’s trying to set her up on a date.”
Kevin laughed. “You ever meet his boss?” I shook my head, and Kevin continued. “All
he lives for are deals.”
“Like Chuck.”

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Kevin paused the game and we adjourned to the kitchen for some sodas. We leaned
against the counter. “You know Chuck is just waiting for us to make him rich,” Kevin
said, not without affection. He looked in the cabinets for some chips, finally finding
them in my new hiding place under the sink. Thin as he is, he can eat like a fat pig. I
wasn’t sure how old those chips were but I figured Kevin could find out for himself.
“What?”
“Hey, look, Chuck’s my best friend – along with you, of course – but he’s a vulture. I
mean, him and his friends, they don’t really have talent, they just have money.”
“That isn’t fair,” I protested. “They just have different talents. They’re good with
money, for one thing.”
“I’m good with money,” Kevin said calmly, but with a gleam in his eye. “Check out my
portfolio.”
“You have a portfolio?” I asked in amazement. He nodded seriously.
“His chance to make big money – really big money – is to find some start-up and take it
public, just like all those VCs.” Venture capitalists, for those not in the biz. “He keeps
hoping it will be one of us.”
“You’re saying he’s just friends with us so he can get rich off of us?” I asked in
amazement. I couldn’t believe my ears. It sounded so callused. I’d been friends with
Chuck for a long time, which unfortunately made it seem both objectionable and yet
plausible at the same time.
“No, no,” he said. “He just figures it would be cool to make us all rich – just especially
him.”

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We went back to the TV and flipped around looking for something decent. The pickings
were slim, but we found Jerry Springer on one of the channels. The great thing about
Jerry is that the people on his show make you feel so very much better about your own
life.
“The sad thing is,” Kevin said, as if there had not been a break in the conversation, “that
neither one of us is going to.”
“No?” I’d never really thought about it before, but my first reaction was faint
disappointment, particularly if Chuck really was counting on us.
“No, I’m afraid not. We’re both smart, but not the right kind of smart.”
“What do you mean? What’s the right kind?”
Kevin took a deep sigh and smiled a very self-deprecating little smile. “The kind that
starts companies. Me, I don’t like to take risks. Give me a project and I’ll crank through
it like nobody’s business. I’m like the best second or third person a start-up should hire;
I’ll work like a dog to write all the programs they need to get things going. But I’m not
one for coming up with the idea in the first place, or for taking a risk and going off on my
own.”
“You’re very creative,” I said. “I know your work.”
“Yeah, but there’s creative and there’s creative, and I know my limits. Now you, on the
other hand…”
“What about me?”
Kevin picked up the joysticks and resumed the game. I had to grab mine quickly to
narrowly avoid getting killed in the game. “You just don’t care,” he said, not diverting

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his attention. “You’re good at dreaming things up, figuring them out. You think of things
no one else could. That’s why people call you up when they run into a brick wall. People
like me would keep battering the wall, looking for a door, until it wore down -- or we
did.”
I glanced over at him briefly. “And me?”
Kevin laughed, then pounced on me in the game. I hyperspaced myself away just in
time, using a hidden doorway I’d discovered. He swore in frustration. “Just like that.
You don’t attack brick walls like the rest of us poor slobs. You just find magic ways
around them.”
We skirmished for a while. “If you’re right – and I’m not saying you are – then that
should mean I’d come up with some idea that Chuck would get rich off.”
“You probably will come up with some great idea,” he said philosophically. “But once
you’ve figured it out you’d forget about it or just give it away.”
I played the rest of the game with only half-hearted attention.

Chapter 19
Megan came by the night after, as if nothing had happened. Perhaps in her mind, nothing
had. It would be like her to view the disclosure of her prior life as no big deal. She
wanted another lesson.
I hadn’t prepared anything, as I hadn’t really thought about life resuming the patterns
we’d established over the last few weeks. I was still stunned by the flash of the nun
shock bomb. I hadn’t even gone to the boards all day, having been doing some
programming for a friend of mine.

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“Well,” I said, retreating to give me time to recover. “Are you sure you’re in the mood?”
She nodded enthusiastically. I gave in. “OK, let’s talk about counting.”
“Counting? Like one, two, three?” she asked. She walked over to one of the boards, and
I followed.
“Exactly. Now, how do you know if there are five, oh, say, five oranges?” I drew five
objects that were meant to be oranges, but which could equally well be apples or circles
or spaceships.
“What?” Megan asked. “I count them, of course.”
“But one thing is numbers and the other is oranges. Completely different things.”
“Like the proverbial apples and oranges,” Megan said with a smile.
“So how do you count them?” I pressed.
“I see,” Megan said slowly, that quick mind of hers picking up on my direction. “I match
up a number with an orange, and end up at five.”
“Exactly,” I repeated. I wrote down the numbers one to five, then drew lines with arrows
on both ends connecting the numbers and the oranges. “That’s how you tell when two
sets are the same size. You match them up, and see if you can match the things in both
sets once and only once with each of the things in the other set. If all the things in both
sets are matched like this, then the sets are the same size. That’s called a one-to-one
correspondence.” She nodded.

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“OK, let’s take all the numbers you count with.” I wrote down the first few numbers on
the board.
“The natural numbers,” she said, remembering a previous lesson. It was my turn to nod.
I asked her what would happen if we took out half of the numbers, like all the odd ones,
crossing them out on the board. I wrote down another row showing all the numbers, then
started drawing arrows connecting the rows – one to two, two to four, three to six, and so
on. This quickly showed her there were as many even numbers as there were odd and
even numbers together. She was impressed, which increased even more when I did a
similar trick with the rational numbers -- all those pesky fractions.
“It sure seems like there should be more,” she noted, staring at the board intently.
“Yeah, that’s the thing about infinity,” I said. “It’s never what you think.”
Then I showed her the coolest trick, Cantor’s diagonal proof that showed the real
numbers – rational plus irrational numbers – were bigger. It is a little harder to do on the
board, but not that hard. Once someone shows it to you, it’s a fairly simple proof, even
for laymen, but Cantor’s genius was in figuring it out for the first time.
Megan nodded, impressed. “It seems ironic that it takes the so-called ‘irrational’ numbers
to get a bigger size of infinity, don’t you think?”
I agreed, and we were silent for a minute. She walked away from the board and went
over to the window. It was dark out, but the skies were clear and there was a bright
moon. Not a full moon, but between the streetlights and the moon the night was bright
and almost inviting. I joined her, and we stood there together for a few minutes. With
anyone else I’d have felt compelled to make some comment, crack a joke or something,
but I was happy to stand there and enjoy the view as long as she wanted. What I was
really enjoying was her company.

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“Why did you stop doing mathematics?” she asked, turning towards me.
“What do you mean?” I hedged. “I still do it.” I gestured at my boards, scrawled with
tons of equations and diagrams. Megan looked over at them sympathetically, but was not
impressed. “You know what I mean. Why did you give it up as a career?”
“Oh,” I said. “That.”
“Yes, that.” She smiled encouragingly.
“Didn’t we talk about this already once?” I asked, trying to dodge the topic.
“Yes, but we didn’t get very far,” she answered smoothly. “So what’s the story?”
Time to give in. I would tell her my secret passwords or most embarrassing moments if
she asked. How could you not trust her? “Science is different than other fields,” I said,
sounding pretentious even to myself. “It’s a young man’s game.”
Megan might have laughed, but merely smiled. “Craig, you are a young man.”
“Not for a mathematician I’m not. Listen – Einstein and Godel had done their big
theories by the time they were twenty-six. Galois was dead by the time he was twentyone. OK, Einstein wasn’t a mathematician, but you get the idea. I could go on and on.”
“So?” Megan looked at me skeptically.
“I’m twenty-six.” I let that one lie out there by itself, and continued looking out the
window. Still, out of the corner of my eye I watched her watch me, wondering what she
was thinking.

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Megan put a hand out on my arm. “Over the hill, eh?” she said, trying to make light of it.
She could see it wasn’t working and she grew serious again. “Craig, those scientists –
didn’t they do great work after that as well?”
“Well, not Galois,” I said. My serious face broke, and we both laughed.
“Seriously,” she said. “Don’t some scientists continue to work their whole lives?”
“Sometimes,” I admitted. “But they do their great work when they are young, usually
before twenty-five.”
“I could probably find a bunch of scientists who did their great work older than you are,
lots older.”
I didn’t say anything, but finally just shrugged. “I see,” Megan said.
I turned towards her, and gave her a wan smile. “I’m twenty-six and I don’t have any
great work. Whatever work I do from here on is going to get less and less brilliant.”
“So you gave it up.” She didn’t sound judgmental, just confirming what she thought I
was telling her. I nodded. “I mean, I still dabble with stuff that interests me, but as for
making a career out of it, doing it for a living – well, I figured, why should I waste my
time.”
The moonlight through the window cast odd shadows on Megan’s face, making her look
moody and troubled in that second, then shifting as she moved away from the window.
“Want something to drink?” she asked, already walking towards the kitchen. I told her
I’d take a soda. She got a glass of water and brought me a bottle of soda. We each drank,
her sipping and me gulping. I sat down on the window seat but she remained standing.
“Did you miss it?” I said, apropos of nothing.

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“Miss what?” she said, giving me a steady gaze.
“Being a nun.” There it was, still uppermost in my mind. We could talk about whatever
we wanted, but it was still there with us.
“Ah, I see.” Megan thought for a moment. “No.”
Her answer was too brief, too definite. I wasn’t sure if I could believe it; there was more
there than her answer indicated. I struggled for the right question to open whatever door
she was holding closed. “Did you like being a nun?”
She took a careful sip of water, and looked out the window. Her thoughts seemed to be
miles away. “It’s a well-formed sentence, as a mathematician might say, but it doesn’t
have any meaning.”
I was confused, and it showed on my face. Of the various responses I might have
imagined, that definitely wasn’t one of them. “I don’t understand.”
A brief sympathetic smile flashed across her face and left. I might have imagined it, but
her eyes looked hollow and missing her usual spark. “Liking implies some sort of choice
in the matter. You don’t think about liking or not liking the things in life you can’t
change. Do you like breathing oxygen, or living on Earth? You only start to think of
things in that context when you feel you have some options.”
I studied her closely. ‘And, as a nun, you didn’t have any options?”
Now her smile came back, albeit weakly. “I’d given myself to God and the Church.
When they sent me somewhere, I didn’t know why, or for how long. I might be there a
day, a year, or the rest of my life. It wasn’t up to me, and it wasn’t my place to like it or
not like it. I just did what I could.”

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She walked over to my desk and touched the computer. I joined her, wondering what she
was thinking. We’d never really spent any time at the PC, although I’d offered on more
than one occasion. I had some cool programs I could show her, great graphics or games
I’d created.
“Have you done great work on the computer?” Megan asked.
I frowned, furrowing my brows. Megan saw this and reassured me. “I’m thinking of
what Mike Barnes said.”
Despite myself, I laughed. “By his standards, yeah, I suppose so. People think I do
pretty good work, if I do say so myself.” Then I thought of the conversation I’d had with
Frank. “But I guess if I’d done great work I’d be rich like Mike, so I guess not.”
Megan patted the computer absently. “Money isn’t the measure of greatness, Craig. I
know you know that. You’re the only one you have to impress. And what you do on
this” – gesturing to the PC, then gesturing towards the boards – “doesn’t impress you as
much as what you’d like to do there. Face it, Craig – you’ve got a gift.”
“Looking into the mind of God and all that, right?” I said lightly, meaning it as a joke.
She didn’t take it as one; she just nodded solemnly at me.
I looked at her for a long moment. What I really wanted was to impress her, somehow,
someway. Here I was moaning about my inadequacies, and spending my time showing
her stuff from my Intro to Math bag of tricks. I must look like a jerk to her.
“I should be going,” Megan said, breaking into my reverie of self-pity. I jumped slightly.
Megan noticed and smiled warmly. “Say good night to Max for me. I’ll be back
tomorrow night. No, make that night after next. I have an engagement tomorrow night.”

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I walked her to the door. She paused before leaving, and put a hand on my arm. “Craig, I
know all about doing the thing you’re good at but not at the thing you love.” She
searched my face thoroughly. “Hey, want to take a walk with me?”
“Where to?”
“The hospital.”
I suggested I drive her instead, although I’m sure she was quite prepared to walk up there
on her own had I declined her offer. I asked her if she had to do some work, but she just
smiled and said, no, it was something for herself. When we arrived she thanked me and
told me I could go home, but there was something in her expression that made me think
maybe she wanted me to stay. I almost told her I’d wait in the car for her, but at the last
second I said I’d tag along with her if it was OK with her. Her smile confirmed for me
that I’d chosen wisely.
She breezed through the doors like she owned the place, which I suppose wasn’t far
wrong. She greeted some of the staff we passed, either by name or by a cheery hello, and
headed to one of the patient floors. She paused by one of the rooms and asked me to wait
outside.
There was an elderly woman inside. I couldn’t really hear them, and sick old people
creep me out, so I drifted down towards the nurse’s station. One of the nurses, an older
woman, looked up at me. “Can I help you?”
I told her I was there with Megan, and she smiled and looked down the corridor towards
the room that Megan was visiting. “Ah, The Angel is at it again,” she said with a
satisfied tone.
“The Angel?”

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“Oh, I’m sorry – I shouldn’t be so flip,” she said, catching my eye. “I don’t mean any
disrespect.”
I thought of how I’d thought of Megan as an angel the first time I’d met her, and smiled
to myself. Then I thought of a darker context, and looked at the nurse. “Do you mean
like The Angel of Death? Does she come and visit the patients who are dying or
something?”
The nurse – Sarah, by her nametag – pushed her paperwork aside and leaned back in her
chair to appraise me better. “No, not the Angel of Death at all. Quite the opposite. We
don’t know exactly how she picks which patients she’ll visit, or how she knows about
their condition. She just knows.”
“It’s just random? They don’t have anything in common?”
Sarah took a breath, like she was deciding how much to admit to a stranger, especially a
stranger who had come with the topic of conversation. “No, we don’t think it’s random.
She seems to pick the ones…” She paused.
“The ones what?” I prompted.
She looked almost sheepish. This coming from a nurse who looked to have years of
experience with people, with sickness and death. Not much could faze her, I suspected.
“The ones who need hope.”
We were both silent at that, and just then Megan emerged from the room, looked around
for me, and came over to us. “Hello, Sarah,” she said cheerfully. I wasn’t sure if she’d
met Sarah before or if she just had read the nametag also. The three of us chatted for a
minute or two, then Megan dragged me off.

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I wasn’t sure why Megan had sort of dragged me with her. Maybe it was some sort of
not-too-subtle reminder that my life was pretty good, by comparison. But that wasn’t
really her style. Maybe she was showing off her own gift, but that was even less her
style. I don’t know, perhaps she just wanted some company. It was possible that these
visits were harder on her than they appeared. I knew being in the hospital around all
these sick people freaked me out. I didn’t know how she was so upbeat.
She stopped in three other rooms. As Sarah had indicated, they were all quite different.
A young woman in the cancer ward, a middle aged man in the critical care unit, and a guy
about my age in infectious diseases. I still couldn’t hear the words in the conversation,
but I started to be able to make out more of the tone. They did seem to sound better by
the time Megan had to leave, more full of life or something. Perhaps I was imagining it,
but where at the beginning of the conversation their voices lacked strength or depth, their
goodbyes had a lilt to them that spoke of life, of hope – of faith.
I kind of knew how they felt.

Chapter 20
I found out what her “engagement” was by accident.
Around six the following evening I was carrying some grocery bags in from my car. I
hate those damn plastic bags that they like to give out, because you end up with hundreds
of tiny bags. I like to use paper bags and make them let me bag my own stuff, so I can fit
it all into a couple bags, but I was thwarted in my preferences by an overzealous bagger
and ended up with too many useless bags. When I came around to the sidewalk from our
parking lot I saw a man getting out of his car in front of our building. He’d parked in the
loading zone, which always says something about someone. It’s not as bad as parking in
a handicap space, but it is still clearly a sign of someone who believed they could make
their own rules.

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I don’t know an awful lot about cars but even I can recognize a Jaguar when I see one. If
they’re not the coolest cars in the world, I wouldn’t want to hold my breath until someone
comes up with a better idea. This one was a light grey sedan, long and lean with more
power under its hood than a car had any right to have. They were well named, giving that
same cat-like impression of controlled bursts of speed. The car’s evident owner paused
for a second by the car, checking out the building as if to make sure he was in the right
place and that his car would be safe there. Evidently he decided things were OK, because
he straightened and closed his car door, locking it with the security ring on his key chain.
He walked up to our building door as I was approaching. By the time I got to the
vestibule, he was opening the door as someone buzzed him in. I caught the door with my
foot before it closed; he either hadn’t seen me coming or didn’t care to hold the door open
for me. I caught up to him at the elevator.
We eyed each other warily, in that curious manner people have at elevators. What I saw
was a distinguished looking man in a suit. It was a very nice suit, and it fit him better
than anything I owned or ever might hope to own. I had the suspicion it was tailor-made
specifically for him. His hair was salt-n-pepper grey, and I guessed him to be in his midfifties. Forties, fifties, sixties – they were all just old to me. Still, he was tall and
strongly built; the tailoring helped, but didn’t explain all of his almost imperial bearing.
Even from a distance I could see he had a presence, or at least an attitude.
He, on the other hand, saw a longhaired, pony-tailed scruffy guy with torn jeans and a
sweatshirt, carrying a bunch of grocery bags balanced precariously. Evidently he didn’t
care much for what he saw, because he turned his attention to the progress of the sluggish
elevator. It didn’t seem like he was much interested in conversation, at least not with me.
I considered taking the stairs just to get out of his presence, but at that moment the
elevator arrived, so I figured I’d take the load off my legs and take a ride. He punched
three and I hit the button for my floor. Being enclosed in the small elevator didn’t
encourage us to start a conversation. I had to give him credit; he stayed cool as a

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cucumber, even though I deliberately tried to unnerve him by standing turned towards
him instead of facing the front like a civilized adult.
The doors opened on three and we were both surprised. Standing in front of us was
Megan, of all people.
“Well,” she said with aplomb. “My two men, together.”
I don’t know which of us was more surprised. My mouth sort of fell open, and I honestly
couldn’t think of an appropriate response. He eyed me a bit more carefully, and then
stepped off the elevator. “Hello, Megan. You didn’t have to meet me at the elevator.”
“It’s the least I could do,” Megan responded, glancing my way and sticking her hand n
the door when it tried to close. I was mortified and would have just as soon let it close.
That way I could go up to my room and brood about why he was coming to visit her.
That wasn’t like her. “Craig, why don’t you join us for a few minutes? I’d like to
introduce you.”
Feeling like a school kid being called to the front of the class by the teacher, I stepped off
the elevator and watched it close behind me. From the expression on his face, the
stranger was no happier about this turn of events than I was. I noticed now that Megan
was dressed up as well. She was wearing a dress. It was fairly demure, down to her
knees and up to her shoulders, but she looked great. The dress would go well with his
suit. It didn’t take a math genius to put two and two together and figure out they were
going out together.
“Craig Tarski, this is Lindsey Ford,” she said, ‘Oh, excuse me. J. Lindsey Ford.
Lindsey, this is Craig.”
We shook automatically, and I could tell he was testing my grip and squeezing my own a
little harder than necessary. He snapped his fingers and pointed at me. “That’s it.”

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I looked over quickly at Megan, who remained impassive but curious. I gave in first.
“What’s it?”
“We’ve met before,” he said, suddenly expansive. “At the St. Joseph’s fundraiser a few
weeks ago. How silly of me to not have remembered.” He seemed like the very picture
of bonhomie.
“I’d forgotten you were there, Lindsey,” Megan said. “Craig was there with me.”
“Of course, of course. I didn’t recognize you dressed like that.” Despite his pretense of
friendliness, I didn’t miss his quick disapproving look at my appearance, and I confirmed
to myself that I didn’t like him very much. If Megan weren’t here he wouldn’t give me
the time of day. Neither of us had anything to say to each other, so we stood there in
silence until Megan broke it up. “We’re going to a dinner tonight. Have you got a few
minutes? You could come in a join us for a drink.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” I said quickly.
“I have Mountain Dew…” she said teasingly as an additional inducement.
I shifted the bags slightly to indicate their presence. “I better put these away.”
“Yes, you don’t want anything to melt,” Ford agreed. He seemed relieved I wouldn’t be
staying any longer, and that was almost enough to make me take Megan up on her offer.
Almost, but my Haagen-Dazs was probably melting as we spoke. I said my good-byes
and headed towards the stairs, not wanting to wait with them for that damn elevator.
Upstairs I put my groceries away while mumbling to myself. Megan was dating! OK,
she was entitled. Hell, if she really was a forty-one year old virgin – and I had every

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reason to believe that she was – then she was not only entitled to date but also practically
biologically required to do so.
It was just that it was this guy, with his fancy car and nice suit. No, I could forgive him
those. I just didn’t like him, his snooty manner and disapproving looks. I didn’t like how
he’d walked into the building like he owned the joint – or, rather, like he knew he could
buy and sell it without missing a beat – and his smug sense that in short order he’d
possess her as well.
I was reading a lot into an elevator ride and an awkward couple minutes there with the
three of us. I knew it. But, you know, I don’t get these great ideas of mine without a
good intuition. Granted, my intuition is usually confined to topological spaces, but you
never know.
My thin straw, upon which I clung the rest of the night, was her comment about their
plans. She’d said they were going to “a dinner.” Not “out to dinner,” not “out to eat,” not
even just “going out.” Those would have implied an actual date, a social event for the
two of them. “A dinner,” on the other hand, suggested something less personal, perhaps
even professional or business-related. I analyzed the entire conversation over and over,
but can’t say I felt any better about the whole thing. Whatever her intentions were, I
knew his look when I saw it.
Megan stopped by the next night.
“So, how was your dinner?” I asked as casually as I could muster.
She gave me a probing look, suspecting quite rightly that the currents were deep under
my words. “Fine.”

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“Where’d you go?” I walked back over to my computer as if her answer was of no real
concern to me. I tapped on the keyboard aimlessly, trying to convince her I was working
on something productive.
“Oh, it was a benefit. Lindsey is on our board, so we went together.”
“Hmm,” I said, faintly disapproving.
“What’s all this?” Megan asked. She came over and sat down next me. “What’s
bothering you?”
“He’s kind of old for you, isn’t he?” It was a stupid thing to say, I knew as soon as the
words left my mouth, but there it was.
Megan didn’t respond for a second or two, but I think her mouth twitched slightly as she
fought to keep from smiling. “Funny,” she said at last, “that’s almost what he said about
you.”
I gave her a shocked look. “He thinks I’m too old for you?”
“He said you seemed too young for me, but it’s the same thing, isn’t it? I can have
friends of any age.”
I stood up and paced around the desk. “I don’t think he wants to be friends.”
“Craig, it was a benefit dinner, not a date. He’s on my board. He gives lots of money to
the hospital and other good causes.”
“I don’t like him.”

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She nodded. “Well, it takes all kinds. He doesn’t seem to like you much either but there
you go.”
I took a deep breath. “I think he’s interested in giving you more than just money.”
Her head rocked back ever so slightly and I worried that I’d crossed that nun line, had
been flip about something I shouldn’t have been. “You think he…”
“Wants to ‘date’ you,” I finished for her, putting as delicate a spin on his putative desires
as I could.
“I see,” she said, sounding as though she didn’t really see at all. “Well, that’s a bridge
we’ll cross when we get there.”
Hope rose anew in my chest. “You mean you’re not dating him?”
Megan looked up at me, and for once she seemed just the tiniest bit uncertain. “No. I
don’t think so. I mean, I never even though about it.”
I sat back down next to her. “Megan, you’re not a nun any more. You’re a very attractive
woman. Men will want to date you. You better start looking for the signs, or you’re
going to get in trouble.”
I never thought I’d ever be giving her advice about keeping out of trouble, but here I was.
And it was about dating, which was hardly a topic in which I had any expertise. I guess
by comparison to her, I was Dr. Ruth. The younger, male version, anyway, and taller as
well. Megan looked troubled. “It’s been so long since I’ve thought of myself as a
woman,” she said, almost to herself.
“It will be all right, Megan” I consoled her. “Only – this guy is not the guy.”

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She looked up at me. “I guess I better learn about dating.”
And who, I wondered, would be her teacher?

Chapter 21
That particular question didn’t get answered over the next few days, at least not in my
presence. I ended up going out of town for Thanksgiving, giving in to my sister’s
pressure to spend yet another wholesome family holiday in the bosom of my loving
family. I keep telling them that I’m too old to keep coming home, but so far have not
been able to make a decision to go solo.
Megan told me she’d be working at a soup kitchen Thanksgiving Day, which didn’t
surprise me in the least. She seemed excited about the prospect, and I mentally compared
the huge dinner and ritualistic football watching compared to her more altruistic plans.
Still, somehow I thought that if you could give the original Pilgrims a choice, they’d opt
for the Packers-Lions game too.
After I returned, though, Megan invited me to a “small party” she was having. “Nothing
fancy,” she said innocently enough. “Just some friends, from work, the University, and
such.”
“Anyone I know?” I asked. I hate parties, especially ones where I don’t know anyone.
Megan thought for a moment, then brightened. “Lindsey.”
It didn’t ring any bells, so she had to prompt my memory. “Lindsey Ford,” she reminded
me. “You met him in the elevator.”
“Oh,” I said glumly. “Sure, I’ll come.”

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Of course, my coming had as much with the fact that I didn’t want to have him
monopolize her party as it did my wanting to be there with her. Male jealousy is a
curious thing, particularly when one has no grounds for feeling it. I didn’t feel I had any
claims on Megan; still, I just didn’t really want Lindsey Ford to make any claims either.
I showed up at the appointed time, and was surprised to find maybe fifteen people in
Megan’s apartment. I could tell right away I was out of place. Everyone was older and
better dressed than I was, and also seemed to all know each other. I’d simply worn jeans,
with a shirt over a t-shirt, while the rest of the partygoers had come dressed for a grownup party. I immediately thought of ducking out before Megan saw me, but as luck would
have it she spotted me lurking at the door and quickly made her way over.
“Craig!” she greeted me warmly. She pulled me on, and hooked her arm into mine as she
led me towards the kitchen. “I’m so glad you could make it.”
“You know all these people?” I asked, surveying the crowd. I hadn’t advanced far inside
the door, still not sure I wanted to stay. Her apartment had seemed so perfect when it was
just the two of us, yet somehow wasn’t overcrowded with her guests. A few more would
have been intimidating, yet a few more would have made it even tougher for newcomers
like me to slide in unobtrusively.
“Most of them,” she said, eying them critically. “Well, some of them. I think some of
them came for the free booze.” We laughed at that.
I was feeling inadequate. The other people all seemed to know each other and be entirely
comfortable being there. I felt more out of place than I had at the cocktail party. At least
there it had been big enough that I could get lost in the crowd, plus Megan had pretty
much stuck with me for most of the evening. In a gathering this small, with her as the
hostess, I was likely to be on my own most of the time. Worse than that, they just
seemed, I don’t know, like a different class of people. Richer, better dressed, more

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successful, more focused, probably smarter than me. OK, maybe not smarter. “Why do I
have the feeling that if I read the paper I’d see their pictures all the time?” I asked Megan.
She nudged me. “Hey, be thankful the paper isn’t covering tonight. Otherwise you might
be in the paper tomorrow.”
I tried another tact. “You know, I didn’t really come properly dressed.”
Megan inspected my attire dutifully. “It will do. The guest of honor is wearing jeans
too.”
I found that hard to believe. “Who’s the guest of honor?”
Megan looked around the room. She pointed to a distinguished looking man, around
whom several other guests had gathered. Even from across the room it appeared he was
quite the storyteller; people looked like they were hanging on every word he said. He
seemed to be enjoying the attention. As Megan promised, he was dressed rather more
casually than everyone else. It didn’t seem to bother him, or his onlookers. He seemed
more comfortable about it than I was.
I paused for a moment. “And who is he?”
Megan smiled with a bright but somewhat conspiratorial smile. “You don’t recognize
him? Oh, well -- I’ll introduce you later. But first let’s get you something to drink.”
She tucked her arm into mine, a curiously intimate gesture that made my face redden
slightly. We headed over to the kitchen. I saw Lindsey Ford in the kitchen, and hesitated
almost imperceptibly. It wasn’t subtle enough to escape Megan’s notice; she tugged me a
tad harder. “Come on, he won’t bite.”

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Ford was doing something with a tray of food, and didn’t look too happy about it. He
hadn’t seen us yet, and I’d just as soon he didn’t see us at all. Megan noticed my
watching him dubiously. “He’s just mad at me,” she said. “He thinks I should have had a
caterer and servants.”
“So you put him to work?”
“It will be good for him.” We arrived at her kitchen. “Lindsey, you remember Craig,
don’t you?”
Ford have me a brief look, then went back to his preparations. “Hello,” he said
dismissively. Megan must have taken that exchange as a good sign, as she excused
herself and went off to talk to some other guests. I felt awkward. Despite his culinary
tasks, he looked like a fashion ad in his sports coat and thin black sweater. Even his
shoes looked expensive. No Doc Martins for him; I bet these were Italian, and cost more
than my bike. He was studiously ignoring me, which just confirmed to me that I didn’t
like him. Here he was, in Megan’s kitchen, trying to act like he was Gandhi feeding the
poor, when I could tell he hated it and was only doing because Megan had asked in that
irresistibly persuasive way of hers. It pissed me off. I decided to mess with his mind a
little.
“Hey, Jay.”
That got his attention. He stopped his work and gave me a withering look. “It’s Lindsey,
Lindsey Ford.”
“I thought it was Jay Lindsey Ford.” I gave it my best innocent look, pretending to be
puzzled.
Ford cocked his head, trying to figure out if I was stupid or just joking. “Look, kid, the
‘J’ is my first initial. I don’t use it.” He went back to work, finishing up placing some

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appetizers on a tray. I thought about asking him if there were any little hot dogs in buns,
but decided to save it for later.
I waited a beat. “It’s on your card.”
He looked at me incredulously. “I mean, if you don’t like to use it, why put it on your
card, right?” I asked, pushing the naïve rube bit as far as I could. “That’s sort of stupid,
don’t you think?”
If we’d ever had any hopes of getting along, I’d blown it. He hesitated, evidently
deciding I truly was that stupid. He was about to say something when I decided to break
character. I opened the refrigerator and took out a beer. “Hey, man, I’m just fucking with
you.”
I walked out of the kitchen and didn’t look back.
Taking up a sage position by one of the windows, I observed the crowd and started to
wonder how I could make my escape. I kept my eye on Megan as she effortlessly
worked the crowd. Only it didn’t look like work for her. The people she would stop and
talk to perked right up when she was with them, then kept watching her once she’d
moved on to the next circle.
My original impression of the crowd was confirmed the longer I stayed there. Definitely
a different type of people. I was not only the shabbiest one there; I was the youngest as
well, or so it appeared. Once again, my ponytail stood out, except for a blond one on one
young woman. Now, she looked more my type, or rather, a type I’d like if I ever got the
chance. She was tall, lithe, and quite vivacious. She didn’t seem intimated by the crowd.
I kept watching her, hoping she’d look over and make eye contact with me. Of course, if
she did, I wouldn’t quite know what I’d do, so I was mentally cataloging various bold
moves on my part, none of which I was likely to ever take. I sighed.

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“Jill Gateaux,” Megan said, suddenly appearing at my side.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Her name is Jill Gateaux, she works in public relations at the University, she is twentyseven and single.”
I gave her a dirty look. “Are you making this up?”
She crossed her heart like a little kid making a promise. “Anyway, if you can tear
yourself away from your longing, I’ll introduce you to my guest.”
On the way across the room Megan briefly explained. “He” was John Ngeno. When she
mentioned his name she looked at me expectantly, as if I should immediately recognize it.
I hated to look ignorant, but she could tell I still had no idea who the guy was. It turns
out he was a big deal poet, the poet laureate of Africa, Nobel Prize for Literature and all
that. I felt less bad about not knowing who he was; I mean, if he’d been a movie star or
an athlete or some other everyday celebrity I’d have really felt out of touch. Poet
laureates aren’t my strong point.
Megan broke through the circle easily, and the well wishers took a break, giving Megan
some preferred space. I wasn’t if that reflected her status as hostess or acknowledgement
of some special relationship between the two. “John Ngeno,” she said. “This is Craig
Tarski. Craig, this is John.”
John was a big man, tall and broad shouldered. He had exceptionally white teeth and a
broad smile, with a booming laugh to go with it. His hands were large and strong, and
enveloped my hand easily. “Pleased to meet you,” he said in a deep voice. He gave me
an undisguised up and down look, evaluating me in a thorough glance. He didn’t look
much like a poet. I didn’t know what to say to him. Megan had once again somehow
disappeared, leaving us alone for the moment.

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“You’re the mathematician, heh?” he asked without a change of expression, but with a
lilting tone in his voice that indicated amusement. I was surprised that he would know
something like that; Megan must have told him at least a few facts about me. I couldn’t
fathom why she would do so – she hadn’t told me anything about him in advance – and
John laughed at the look of confusion on my face.
“Yeah, I suppose so,” I answered. What was Megan telling him, and why? “You must be
the poet.”
“I suppose so,” he said with a conspiratorial smile. He swirled his drink around in his
glass idly; I supposed he was waiting for me to say something.
I wasn’t quite sure what to talk about. After all, I don’t run in to too many poets,
especially not Nobel prizewinning ones. “So, what are your poems like? I have to admit
I’ve never read them.”
John smiled again, not surprised. “Oh, the kind of things poems are always about.
Beauty. Love. Loss. Especially loss, I guess.”
“So they’re sad?”
“Sometimes.”
“You don’t strike me as a very sad guy,” I observed. Indeed, he did not. He had an easy
smile that made me trust him at once. Of course, good con men do as well, but I didn’t
figure Megan would invite con men to her parties. Then again, my buddy Jay Lindsey
Ford was there, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so rash.

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“Thanks. I like to think I’m not,” he said. He thumped his chest with his hand,
producing a healthy sound that drew the attention of nearby circles of onlookers. “Life is
good, after all. But tell me, Craig, about your work.”
“What work?”
“Your mathematics. Tell me about what you are working on, on those big boards Megan
has told me so much about.”
I took a half step back, at least mentally. Again, what was Megan telling him, and why?
“It’s complicated,” I finally warned. It’s almost always a mistake to try to explain my
work to non-mathematicians. People think it’s like being an accountant or a statistician;
they may think that the work they do is boring, but at least they think they can relate to it.
That’s not likely to happen with the kind of stuff I do.
“Try me.” He didn’t look too worried.
So I told him about something I’d been working on for a couple months now. I’d had
some small successes, made some interesting progress, but still didn’t know what I
wanted to. As I’d warned him, it was complicated to explain, and I had a hard time
describing it in non-technical terms. There aren’t really good analogies, not in the threedimensional world we live in. I saw I’d lost him within a few seconds of starting. I knew
that look, when the brain stops processing the words that are coming to it and just hears
the sounds. Lord knows I’d seen it before. I had to give him credit though. He hung on
a little longer than most, and never stopped listening intently. For all I knew, he was
really mentally composing another sad poem, or having sexual fantasies about some of
the women at the party, but he sure looked like he was focusing his complete attention on
what I was saying.
“I see,” he said when I finally stopped. “And this problem – why did you choose to work
on it?”

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I shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I was curious.”
He nodded slowly, as though I’d confirmed something he’d already thought. He took a
short sip of whatever he was drinking, so I took a drink of my beer. “Yes, I believe you
are a very good mathematician,” he said.
I laughed. “You think you can tell that from what I told you? Be honest – how much of
what I told you did you follow?”
He gestured with his hands, palms upraised. “I didn’t need to understand what you were
saying. I was watching how you said it.”
We studied each other for a few seconds, each of us staring at the other with a frank
inspection. “I suspect you’re a pretty damn good poet,” I concluded at last. “And I think
I see what you and Megan have in common.”
He laughed heartily. “And you. I don’t suppose you smoke?” he asked. He took a pack
of cigarettes, Marlboros at that, out of his jacket and offered me one. I shook my head.
“Pity,” he continued. “It is a wonderful vice, so utterly without redeeming value. Will
you at least join me while I have one? That way we can fend off my supposed admirers.”

Chapter 22
Megan’s apartment had a small balcony, just under where one of the window seats would
be in my apartment. It wasn’t big but there was room enough for the two of us to squeeze
outside. We made our way outside, drawing interested looks from the room. I think
people seemed envious. He lit up appreciatively once safely outside.

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The cool air and relative quiet seemed refreshing by comparisons. I’d only been at the
party for a few minutes and already I was glad for a break. We looked out over the dark
night. The skies were clear, with stars glimmering safely far away. I thought of summer
nights as a kid spent sitting in my back yard, awed by how far the universe must be. I
wondered what John thought of.
“So how do you know Megan?” I finally asked.
John seemed to have been waiting for my question. He took a deep drag on his cigarette.
“Sister Mary Esther to me. I met her when she was in Africa, of course. We stayed in
touch over the years since then.”
We let a few moments of silence pass before I asked, “what brings you here?” I didn’t
look over at him. I wondered if the answer would be Megan.
“I have a guest lecture series at the University,” he said, watching me closely. That made
me feel somewhat better, but I still wondered if it was a coincidence that his lectures were
in a city Megan was. Somehow I doubted it, and he knew it. He laughed disarmingly.
“Of course, it’s nice to have friends where I go, especially in these cold climates.”
I turned towards him. “So how did you meet Megan? Was it at the University there?
Was she, like, a student, or was she already a nun?”
John’s smile twitched in barely disguised amusement. “Oh, no,” he said. “I met her in
prison.”
My mouth literally dropped open. John laughed broadly, and patted me affectionately on
the side of my arm. “Surprised, heh?” he asked, eyes twinkling.
“Umm,” I stumbled. “No, not at all. Umm, were you two visiting the inmates, like a
goodwill tour or something?”

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The laughter in John’s face went away, like the tide leaving the coast; slowly but
inexorably. I watched it go, not understanding. He looked out towards the street, his
mind somewhere else. “No,” he said at last. “We were both inmates.”
I looked at him with an utter lack of comprehension. I mean, OK, I could sort of accept
that he might have been imprisoned – perhaps a political prisoner or something – but not
Megan. Megan in prison was, I don’t know, like the Pope in a whorehouse.
“How…” I started, before faltering.
He told me the story while looking off the balcony with that steady gaze of his. I didn’t
know if he was actually looking at anything, or seeing someplace entirely different. “My
region of the country was controlled by the local warlord, a very bad man. Very evil. His
prison was beyond anything you can imagine. Picture the worst prison you have ever
heard of, take out any trace of good or safety, then multiply the wretchedness by the
biggest number you can think of.”
He looked over at me very briefly. “Oh, that’s right, you’re the mathematician, you think
of big numbers all the time.”
“I think I get the idea.”
“So Megan – Sister Mary Esther as she was then – ran the local clinic. She did much
good work, but spoke out too much about the bad things our warlord did. She had been
criticizing him for the poor conditions in the prison, and agitating him to let her treat the
sick prisoners.”
He took a final puff of his cigarette, then flicked it off the balcony. We watched it fly
downwards like a falling star, until it extinguished itself somewhere between the balcony
and the ground.

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“She was making him look bad, and he didn’t like that. You never knew when the Red
Cross, the press, or our country’s President might hear what she was saying and make
trouble for him. So one day he invited her to his office, pretended to treat her nice, and
then took her over to the prison. You want to take care of the prisoners, he told her -OK, I’ll let you. She thought she had persuaded him, you see, but she underestimated his
evil.”
I should have known where the story was going, but I guess I was too naïve or
something. Maybe I was just still stunned. I let John continue. A wry smile came over
his face.
“When they got to the prison, though, he took her inside and told her – here they are. Let
your God take care of you if He will. And he left her.”
“My God,” I exclaimed involuntarily. I had this mental image of her abandoned in the
squalid surroundings John had alluded to, and thought of the fear she must have felt.
He looked over at me for a second. “That’s right. We poor, miserable, sex-deprived,
motley collection of inmates – the scum of the earth, abandoned by civilization and its
rules in this hellhole -- saw this nun walking towards us. She was still a very young
woman, you know, and beautiful then as now. Picture nine hundred men without any
females for months or years, then seeing that woman coming towards you. We were
ravenous.”
“Did they…” I couldn’t finish my sentence. I didn’t want to know; it was too horrible to
even ask. I shuddered. John caught it out of the corner of his eye and the corners of his
mouth turned up in sympathy. He shook his head slowly.
“No,” he said assertively. “She walked towards us without the slightest hesitation or sign
of fear. They were saying the most terrible things to her, about her, and she didn’t let it

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faze her. She stopped in the middle of us and for some reason everyone got quiet -- the
calm before the storm.”
She looked around the prisoners with no fear, just that understanding look of hers. A few
of the men she recognized. How is your baby, she’d ask. How is your knee, or your wife
-- little facts reminding them that she knew them as men, not as animals, and that she had
taken care of them or their loved ones.”
John took out another cigarette, allowing that picture of this brave friend of ours linger in
my mind a few moments longer. Once he’d lit it I prompted him to continue. “What
happened then?”
“Nothing,” he said. “She told us that the warlord had put all of there, and expected them
to act like animals, but God knew, and she knew, that we were still good men.”
“That worked?” I asked in amazement.
John actually smiled. “Yes, that worked. She has that certain something, you know?”
I smiled for the first time in a few minutes. “I do know that.”
“I was something of a leader, and I wanted to understand this strength in front of me. So
I told the rest of the prisoners that she was off limits, under my protection as long as she
was there. They didn’t like it but they did what I said.”
“You were a political prisoner?” I asked to confirm my suspicion.
John laughed. “Oh, no. I was a gang leader, a bad man. I had the toughest bunch of
thieving, robbing, killing criminals in the area, outside of the warlord’s army anyway. I
was in that prison because I deserved to be. But even I could see she was something
special. She was touched by God, or Allah, or the spirits, or whatever. ”

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I nodded, thinking of that special radiance, that grace, which I had seen the very first time
I’d met her, and as illuminated through all the interactions I’d had with her since. I was
somehow comforted to know that her serenity held up even in conditions like the ones
John told me about. If it survived that, it was difficult to think of anything that would
cause it to crack. I smiled more broadly. John saw me, and smiled in return.
John explained that Megan was there a week before the Red Cross successfully extricated
her. The warlord expected to release her, dead or worse, and was amazed to find her hale
and hearty. Megan used her time there well, organizing classes and letter-writing
campaigns. She recognized John’s talents for words and for telling stories, and
convinced him to write them down. “And that,” he said proudly, “led to all this.”
According to John, Megan was deported unceremoniously by the warlord, who was
himself deposed in a bloody coup shortly after. She and John had stayed in touch ever
since. We stood there in a comfortable silence for a few minutes, each left with our own
thoughts.
“Are you telling stories about me out here?” Megan said, standing in the door. We both
turned to her, surprised yet pleased by her timely appearance. John smiled. “Of course,
my friend. It is your party after all.”
She smiled back at him. “You need some new material. Your stories are ancient history
now.”
John turned to me, but he was still talking to her. “No, my dear. Some just happened
longer ago than others.”
We went inside, and went our various ways at the party. I had to admit that my having
spent so much time with John, especially with him taking me outside for a private chat,
gave me a definite cachet among the rest of the guests. Several of them stopped by to

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chat with me, expecting to find another promising poet, or at least a writer or an artist of
some sort. They seem disappointed – politely, of course – to find out that I was just the
neighbor, a poor struggling programmer at that.
Megan did introduce me to the amazing Miss Gateaux. She greeted me warmly,
evidently eager to find out if I was a celebrity of some sort. I was mesmerized by her
smile, with her impossibly white teeth and well-rounded, almost pouty lips. Those were
lips that practically begged to be kissed, and I kind of missed her first words.
“Excuse me?” I had to ask.
She laughed in a flirty sort of way. “I said, what do you do?”
“Umm, I’m in computers,” I said, hoping she’d think I was actually successful, maybe an
entrepreneur like Mike Barnes. Her hair was impossibly blond, and appeared to be
extremely silky. Stroking it would be a sensatory delight, I thought. I pictured her at
night, brushing it carefully while sitting in front of a mirror. She’d be wearing some
dainty nightgown, I imagined. Of course, maybe a boyfriend helped her, I thought
sourly; lucky guy. He’d be a big guy, handsome and with six-pack abs. Rich, too, I
thought sourly. Of course, thinking of her hair and her lips was all that kept me from
moving my gaze down to the rest of her body.
“He’s a mathematician,” Megan interjected. I hadn’t realized she’d stuck around after
introducing us.
“Oh,” Jill said, disappointed but trying not to show it. Computers were at least
promising; math was a dead-end to her. “How interesting.” She didn’t sound all that
interested.
Megan had disappeared, and I noticed that Jill shot a quick glance elsewhere, looking for
more promising prey. I didn’t mind. Women like her don’t end up with men like me;

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whatever time she was giving me was like a little gift, a glimpse into a life I wasn’t going
to let into. Women like her end up with tall, handsome lawyers or doctors or
stockbrokers. People like Lindsey Ford. Sure, occasionally you see women like her with
men that don’t fit the profile, but you have to chalk it off to the great romance lottery. If
women were always predictable it’d be no fun.
“You looked like you were having a good conversation with Professor Ngeno,” she noted,
pretending to be casual but not quite disguising her curiosity.
“Professor Ngeno? Oh, yeah, John,” I said artlessly.
“John?” She raised an eyebrow in surprise, a small gesture that I found engrossing.
“Yeah, well, whatever.”
“Were you talking about his poetry? You must be a big fan – you seemed very
animated.”
“No, I don’t really know his poems,” I admitted, noting that arching eyebrow again.
“Umm, I was telling him about some of my stuff.”
“Math?” She made it sound inconceivable. I don’t suppose she was too far wrong.
“It’s like the new guy in the prison,” I said, opting to tell a joke for what of anything else
to talk about. It’s a nervous habit.
“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
“It’s a joke.”

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“Oh.” She put on her listening-to-a-stupid-joke-if-I-have-to face, which looked a lot like
the face she’d had on for the last few minutes.
“So this new guy goes to lunch, and one of the other prisoners yells out, ‘forty.’ The
room erupts in laughter. Somebody else yells out ‘seventy-two;’ same thing. So the guy
asks the prisoner next to him what the deal with the numbers is. He explains that they’ve
all been in so long that they’ve numbered all the jokes, and this is their way of telling
jokes.”
“Uh-huh,” Jill said, now losing interest but not wanting to be too obvious about it. I
guessed prison jokes were not what she was used to.
“So anyway,” I said, trying to hurry, “the guy decides he wants to give it a try, and he
stands up and yells out ‘thirteen.’ Dead silence. So he tries again. ‘Eighty-seven.” Still
so response at all, so he sits down in total embarrassment. He asks the guy what he did
wrong. ‘Well,’ the guy tells him. ‘Some people can tell a joke and some can’t.’”
Despite herself, Jill laughed, a sparking tone that was like little bells going off. “Your
point being?” she asked tolerantly.
“Maybe I tell math stories pretty well.”
“Maybe you do,” she said, looking at me with a little more interest than she had since she
found out I wasn’t anyone important. We made conversation for a few minutes, until she
was swept away by more suitable conversational partner.
I stayed for another hour or so. I made my goodbyes to John, who gave me a firm twohanded handshake and said he hoped we’d meet again. Megan gave me a hug that caused
me to blush. I didn’t quite know how to respond, but tentatively put my arms around her.
In the background I noticed that Lindsey Ford was still there, no longer busing snacks but
firmly ensconced with his peers. He was waiting it out, hoping all the guests would leave

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and he’d be the last one standing, just him and Megan. I didn’t like it, but that’s the way
it was. Guys like him got the best women. They had the money, the charm, and the
confidence to woo and win them. Maybe they deserved them.
It wasn’t so much the sex, you know. Sex is great and all, and I don’t know any man who
would get tired of seeing beautiful naked women. You see a woman like Jill Gateaux and
of course you dream about her taking her clothes off for you and giving herself to you.
Ford was shooting for even bigger fish if he was aiming to bed Megan. I couldn’t
imagine her having sex with him, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t going to happen.
I didn’t begrudge her the right to have sex. Hey, I liked Megan – I wanted her to have
sex and love and all the things she’d missed out on while she was a nun. I mean, go for
it, Megan! The thing of it was, though, he didn’t deserve her. Not so much the sex, not
even the intimacy that would come with the sex. What I really resented was that he
might wake up in the morning with her. I could hope that any carnal relations they might
have would be followed by his quick exit, dashing away after what surely was just a
conquest for him. He’d be bedding her like he’d buy a new Jaguar or a yacht, for the
sake of possessing something of beauty. He didn’t need another car or boat -- or woman,
for that matter – but he liked to have things. Just to have them.
I couldn’t bear that he would get to see her face on the pillow that next morning. I
imagined that she would sleep like a child, completely and satisfied, and that she’d wake
with a smile. She’d awaken eager to start another day and looking radiant. The world
would seem full of possibilities and beauty if you woke up with someone like that next to
you. Someone like J. Lindsey Ford didn’t deserve that blessing, and shouldn’t get that
kind of joy. He wouldn’t appreciate it. He’d wake up grumpy and get out of bed
grudgingly, not even noticing the work of art in bed beside him.
I fell asleep that night dreaming of Megan’s head on a pillow, just starting to wake.

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Chapter 23
Megan came by a couple nights later. “Feel like going out?” she asked. Max walked
over to her and rubbed against her leg. She scooped him up and petted him, causing Max
to start purring so loudly that I could hear him from across the room at my desk.
“Funny you should say that. I was thinking about seeing a movie.”
“I’m game,” she said, perching herself on the edge of my desk. She let Max go, and he
jumped over to the window. He’d already lost interest in us. I told her about a movie I
was interested in seeing, a Hong Kong-influenced martial arts flick that actually had
gotten decent reviews. She agreed, somewhat to my surprise, and off we went. Megan
made me buy a wildly overpriced but huge bucket of popcorn before the movie.
The movie actually was pretty good, but I wasn’t so into it that I didn’t periodically
surreptitiously glance over at her. She watched it like a child, wide-eyed and seeming to
be totally in the world of the movie. There were only a few other patrons, and we all sort
of gasped or ahh-ed in unison after awhile. This is why I liked going to movies, I
thought; you don’t get that sort of collective experience watching them at home. After
the movie Megan suggested getting something to eat, so we went to a Chinese place
nearby.
Megan ordered Hunan chicken, while I asked for Sichuan Beef. We indulged ourselves
by ordering some dumplings beforehand, our appetites not having been sated by the
popcorn.
“I didn’t really think you’d like the movie,” I said while we were waiting for our food to
arrive. Megan tilted her head slightly, and ran her hand through her short hair.
“Why not?”

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“You know, all the violence and stuff.”
A shadow passed over Megan’s face, so quietly and quickly that I might have imagined it.
“It’s just a movie,” she said steadily.
“Just a movie,” I agreed.
The dumplings arrived and we dug in. Megan handled her chopsticks expertly, with a
delicate grace that in no way impeded the flow of food to her mouth. Years of eating
Chinese food from cartons in my apartment had not trained me to be quite as pretty about
it, but I held my own in being efficient.
“That was a pretty amazing story that your friend John told me,” I said.
Megan paused with a dumpling on its way to her mouth. “Which story was that?”
“I guess you guys were in prison together.” I pretended as though it was no big deal.
Megan chewed her dumpling before she answered. “Oh, that story.” She looked down at
her plate. I almost didn’t pursue my question, but did.
“Weren’t you afraid?”
She looked up and allowed herself a small smile. “I didn’t really think about it, I guess.”
There were other people in the restaurant, but the room seemed to grow small and
intimate – just the two of us, plus our dumplings. The background noises murmured
incomprehensively, like a babbling brook. My world at that moment was this woman
across the table from me, and that terrible scene from her past that I could not keep from
imagining. “You were that sure God would take care of you?” I hazarded.

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Megan shook her head slowly. “It doesn’t work that way.” She seemed, well, not quite
sad, not quite disappointed, but discouraged somehow nonetheless.
I was confused. “I don’t get it. I mean, what’s the whole point of religion if it doesn’t
give you hope in times like that?” I put my chopsticks down, but Megan very
deliberately picked up another dumpling and chewed it slowly. “Well?”
“Bad things happen to good people, Craig,” Megan said calmly. She shrugged slightly.
“It doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not.”
Our main courses arrived just then, diverting our attention for a couple of minutes. I
suspected that Megan would have just as soon turn the conversation to some other topic,
but for once I wanted to talk about religion. “God doesn’t take care of people, watching
over them like his flock? I thought that’s what the bible said.”
Megan poked through her food absently, picked out a tasty morsel, and picked it up with
her chopsticks. She chewed it reflectively, watching me with interest. I was too
embarrassed to try to pick up any food of my own, so I held her gaze.
“I think of God as more of a Big Picture kind of guy,” Megan said dryly. “For example, I
don’t think he really cares if we went to this restaurant or someplace else. Things just
sort of happen on their own.”
“You’re comparing getting thrown in a hellhole of a prison to which restaurant you go
to?” I asked incredulously. “Not quite the same thing, is it?”
Megan’s mouth turned down just slightly, reflecting her in amusement. “Who knows?
To Him, maybe so.”
“Big Picture guy?”

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“Right,” she agreed.
“But why would God put you in that prison? How could God do that to someone who
loved Him, who He supposedly loved in return? How could that be part of the Master
Plan?”
Megan was completely unfazed. “God didn’t put me in the prison. A man did – a very
bad man, a very flawed man. But a man.”
“What about the Master Plan? The Big Picture?”
Megan chewed another piece of chicken. “I don’t know. That’s why He’s God and we’re
not – we don’t understand that.”
I was unconvinced. “Hmm.” She smiled at my skepticism.
“So why weren’t you scared, then? In the prison. I’d have been terrified, and I’m a guy.”
I had this mental image of being pushed into a big yard, with big ruffians eyeing me with
what could be lust. I shuddered slightly.
Megan took a deep breath. “It wouldn’t have made a difference, would it? Being scared
or not, I mean.”
“That doesn’t usually stop people from being scared, you know.” I looked at her
suspiciously. “You really didn’t think God would protect you somehow?”
“He’s not like Superman, you know, swooping in to rescue the poor defenseless woman
at the last minute.” I had the faint impression Megan was teasing me. Not mocking me,
mind you, but having a little fun with me anyway.

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I ate some beef and chewed reflectively. “So if you don’t believe in God to help you get
through scary things like that, what’s the point?”
Megan had pretty much finished her food, while I’d only gone through about half of
mine. Usually I race through my meal much faster than she does, so I guess I really was
distracted by our conversation. She nodded her head towards the remains on my plate
and urged me to eat. I took a couple of quick bites to keep her happy, hoping she’d
continue. She did. “God isn’t going to stop loving you, no matter what you do, no matter
what happens to you.”
“Even if you rob a bank, kill someone, have sex in a church…”
She arched an eyebrow in mock surprise at the latter. “Eat,” she instructed me. “But,
yes, no matter what.”
“So why be good?”
Megan took a deep breath. “This is where people have gotten really confused about God,
where religion has overtaken faith. It’s not about rewards, about trying to get into heaven
and all.”
“It’s not about saving your soul?” I asked in surprise. “Life everlasting and all that?
That’s not the point?”
She shook her head. I didn’t know what to make of the suddenly serious look on her
face, but knew I was getting to something important to her. “No, God is going to love
you no matter what,” she said steadily. “Just like parents. It doesn’t matter if their kids
are straight A students or homeless people. They love them just the same.”
“Even when they inevitably screw up? Which they do.”

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“Which they always do,” Megan agreed with a reassuring smile.
I considered her across the table. I wasn’t sure if she was putting me on or being serious.
“I’m a little rusty on theology but this doesn’t sound like your everyday Catholic dogma.”
She looked at me with those piercing eyes, and I swear she winked. “Well, I am an exnun, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
There was a story there, I was sure, but I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to pursue it.
Besides, I had another story I wanted to understand. I ate a couple of quick mouthfuls
while she watched me, content to let me run out of curiosity. “So, back to the prison.”
“Yes?”
“What did you think was going to happen?”
Megan didn’t answer right away. She looked kind of pensive, actually, and looked down
for a moment before answering. “I really didn’t know. I didn’t know what to expect,
only that the worst could happen. What I did know was that God was going to love me
no matter what happened, no matter how I acted, but I wanted to make Him proud.”
I watched her, sitting there looking almost meek and mild. This woman had put her head
into the metaphorical lion’s mouth, and escaped. After awhile we looked at each other
and started to smile, then to laugh. We ended up cracking up and drawing the attention of
all the employees of the restaurant, even the cooks. They probably thought we were
couple of strange Occidentals, which we were.
Once it had subsided, she looked at me sheepishly. “Sounds pretty silly, doesn’t it?”
“No, really – it sounds pretty cool. I never really thought about trying to act brave just to
impress someone, especially not God.”

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“Not to impress…” Megan started to correct me.
“No, I get it. To make them proud of me.”
Megan nodded. “You do it all the time, without really thinking about it. Your father,
your professors – there’s probably been more people than you realize that you do it for.”
I thought for a moment, wondering if I’d ever really given a second thought to something
like that. Showing off, yeah. Trying to earn brownie points, well, sometimes. But just
trying to make them proud of me? I wasn’t so sure I could claim anything that noble. I
thought of my hard-working parents, and felt a little guilty. They would have enjoyed
seeing me awarded my Ph.D., but I’d killed that hope. I thought of Megan and began to
truly understand the feeling she was trying to explain to me. Making her proud of me
was something I could understand. I put a last remaining bite of rice and beef in my
mouth to avoid having to say anything stupid. Megan just watched me with sympathy
and amusement on her lovely face.
“Tough test,” I said.
“Easy test,” she disagreed mildly. “It’s not a test at all.”
I nodded, starting to get a different idea about religion than I’d had before. Why didn’t
they teach it this way in Sunday school?
“Why didn’t you tell people you were a mathematician at the party?” Megan asked.
I shrugged. “Easy – I’m not. I’m a freelance programmer; I just goof around at math.”
Megan smiled tolerantly. “No, not at all. John saw it right away.”

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“Saw what?” I asked suspiciously.
“He saw the passion that you talked about it with.”
“Hmm.”
“You know,” she said, reaching across the table to touch my hand. “I can’t imagine you
not caring about your mathematics.”
“You can’t?” I was still trying to be cool about the touch of her hand; like all the times
she touched me, it was unexpected, thrilling, and vaguely terrifying all at the same time.
“No, I can’t.” She fixed me with one of her firm looks. “I can imagine you not
programming, even without any computer at all. I can imagine you living somewhere
else. I can even imagine you without your hair.” She reached up and touched my hair
gently, then drew her hand back. “But I can’t imagine you not doing math, not caring
about math, not thinking about math. It’s part of what really makes you -- you.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I didn’t respond. She saw my embarrassment
and reached across to pat my hand again. “It’s OK,” she reassured.
We shifted the conversation, and finished up dinner. I’d paid for the movie, so I let her
get dinner. Once outside, she told me she wanted to stop by the hospital, and before she
could say anything else I asked if I could come with her. I may not have had purely
altruistic reasons for tagging along, but she agreed with a curious look.
At the hospital, she stopped by to see four or five patients. One of them was this little kid
in the cancer ward, maybe eight or nine. For some reason, she had me come in and sit
with him. He was small for his size, and looked especially small in the hospital bed. I
wondered why he wasn’t at the Children’s Hospital, but figured this was not the best time
to ask. His face was gaunt and the IV lines running in him weirded me out. I could

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imagine that he had things pretty rough. As if it wasn’t bad enough that he had the Big
“C” and looked like shit, I was sure that he probably didn’t have many friends. He
couldn’t play or do other normal kid things, and I could tell right away that he was pretty
smart, which would have isolated him even without the illness. I knew how he felt; he
was just about at the age when he was finding out that smart is a barrier, not an aid, to
being like the other kids, which is all you really want to do at that age. I had a few
memories of my own on that account.
Megan started chatting with him like they were old friends. “Hey, Andy, this is my friend
Craig.” He nodded to me politely, like we were being formally introduced. “Guess what
Craig has in his apartment?”
“What?” Andy asked dully, not very interested and lacking the energy to force any
pretend enthusiasm.
“Tell him,” Megan said, turning to me.
I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, and gave her a questioning eyebrow. She prodded
me. “What do you have in your house that a young boy might like?”
“TV?”
“Everyone has a TV,” the kid said somewhat disdainfully.
“Computer?”
He just rolled his eyes again, and looked like he wished I’d leave.
“Well,” I said, throwing my last idea at him, as I didn’t want to disappoint Megan. “I
have lots of games…”

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Andy turned his head towards me. “Games?” he repeated in a soft voice.
Encouraged, I started rattling off the various games and systems I had, which – I have to
admit – was a pretty impressive list. His eyes grew wider and wider. He started
interrupting me to ask my opinion about certain games, and I kind of enjoyed bantering
about the technical and aesthetical features of some of the games. Of course, he tended to
play games that were meant for a little younger audience, but I was surprised that his
parents had let him play as many more adult games as they had. Then again, looking at
him hooked up to the various tubes and monitors, if I were his parents I supposed I
wouldn’t deny him simple things like that much either.
Megan seemed to get a kick out of our bonding over this childish pastime. “That’s not
all,” she said when we finally took a short break.”
“What?” we both asked, turning to her.
“Tell Andy about The Bridge.”
“The Bridge?” I asked.
“I think Andy would like to know about a place like that.”
So I tried to describe The Bridge to him, the various types of entertainment options and
the unconventional clientele. I told him about Kevin and Chuck and our hours of wasting
time hanging out and goofing around there, and as I did poor Andy looked so envious that
I felt guilty. He got a kick out of the super-nerds; hell, even he thought they were weird.
I kept looking over to Megan to see if I should stop talking, but she just kept nodding her
head to encourage me. To a kid whose life was probably doctors and hospital rooms
filled with pain and fear, and surrounded by no one of his age or interests, it probably
sounded like heaven. The poor little guy probably had some practice thinking about that
topic.

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“Wow,” Andy said after getting the lowdown. “That sounds so cool.”
“Maybe Craig will take you there when you’re better.”
Andy looked at me with undisguised eagerness. “Will you?”
“Sure, kid,” I said, trying to mask my dubiousness. It did not look like this kid was going
to be ready for an excursion like that anytime soon. “Anytime.”
We exchanged email addresses and I promised to get him send him some new games that
he could play in the meantime on his handheld. I was already thinking about getting my
hands on a wireless laptop he could use in his room there.
“What was that all about?” I asked Megan in the hall. “Is he going to get better soon?”
“You never know,” she asked, not breaking her stride as we went to another room to see
another sick patient. “It’s important that he have something to look forward. It meant a
lot to him.”
That night in bed I lay awake for a long while thinking about Megan. To have that much
faith that she could walk into that prison and not let it make her crack, just trying to live
up to some ideal she held. Not because she wanted to be a saint or something, or live
forever, but simply because she wanted to be a good person. The kind of person she
believed God would want her to be. That took an incredible kind of courage.
I thought about her essence, since she’d brought up mine. She had a lot of special
characteristics. Take, for example, her grace. She never seemed awkward or
uncomfortable, not even when roller-blading for the first time or going to a place like The
Bridge. Or her unrelenting cheerfulness, or her sense of humor, her kindness – the list
went on and on.

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But those things were results, not root causes. It was like saying that her having been a
nun was responsible for her faith, when in fact it was quite the reverse. She had shown
that the faith could exist without her staying a nun.
Her essence, I finally decided before getting too sleepy to concentrate, was that she was
at peace with herself and the world, like no one else I’d ever known. She knew who she
was. It gave her a strength and a unique calmness. I wasn’t at all sure what she knew, of
course, any more than I knew those things for myself. But she had the answers and it
gave her that indefinable quality that so distinguished her. That peace is what let her
walk into that African prison, or to any unknown situation, and not worry about the
consequences.
She was always so calm and serene, like she’d made her decisions in life and nothing
bothered her anymore. She was like a buoy, sometimes rocked by the waves but never
tipping over or going under, always riding them out and holding fast to her mission.
Kind of an odd metaphor, but apt somehow. At the same time, though, she still looked at
the world with that wonderful openness that was so rare. I liked to think that maybe
sometimes I felt some of that, when I was on a particularly fruitful path of investigation
in my mathematics. It was thrilling and fulfilling, and I wondered what it would be like
to see the whole world like that, as Megan did.
I went to bed thinking of her in that squalid prison, and maybe a little of Andy sleeping
by himself in that impersonal hospital bed, but I fell asleep picturing her waking in the
morning, the room brightening less by the sun’s rays than by her smile.

Chapter 24
Chuck was trying to convince Kevin and I that we should go to work at his latest flavor
of the month, some new local start-up that his company was funding. He’d do this

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periodically, get super-enthused about some new company with some new idea. The sad
truth was that most of them flamed out, undone by that difficult transition from great idea
to good execution of the idea. His company prospered by hitting enough home runs to
more than pay for the strikeouts.
Anyway, we were at The Bridge listening patiently to Chuck’s pitch. We had worked
through a bunch of nachos and were seriously considering some loaded fries. It was midafternoon and the place was pretty quiet. Cat was at the counter, reading her paper and
keeping to herself. She had continued her fashion reformation – while she still had
several earrings and a couple – but only a couple -- of bracelets, her hair was looking
reasonably normal. She was even dressed pretty moderately, with a pair of worn jeans
and a big floppy sweater. I kind of missed the mini-skirts or skimpy blouses, but, then
again, it was winter. She wasn’t a lot friendlier, but she seemed less overtly dismissive.
She’d even acknowledged me when I came in.
“I don’t know, Chuck,” I said in response to Chuck’s prodding. The new company had
something to do with health care, about which I knew little and cared even less. My little
hospital episode was quite enough, thank you. Time enough for that when I got old, like
thirty-five or forty.
“There’s a lot of money in health care,” Kevin said speculatively. He had that thoughtful
look in his eyes that he got just before he bagged one job for another.
“A lot of wasted money,” Chuck noted sagely. “Just waiting for someone to come in,
make it more efficient, and take some of the savings.” He was like a fisherman who felt
that tug on the line and knew he just had to reel in the fish.
“Hey,” Cat interrupted, “your girlfriend is in the paper again.”

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“She’s not my girlfriend,” I immediately objected, although I wondered why I protested
when people attached that term to her. It wasn’t true in the remotest sense, of course, but
what did I care if people gave me credit I didn’t deserve?
“What’s it for this time?” Kevin asked, ignoring my objection. Chuck asked hopefully if
there were pictures.
“There’s a picture all right, but not of her. She’s in the paper because she had a party for
John Ngeno.”
“Who the hell is John Ngeno?” Chuck asked in an irritated voice. Kevin looked at him in
alarm, not wanting to offend Cat.
“Nobel prize winner for poetry,” I said as though it were obvious. “Poet laureate of
Africa and all that.”
Everyone looked at me in amazement, as though I’d spontaneously recited a poem of my
own. Cat’s expression changed to surprised, then skeptical, and finally to something
perhaps akin to impressed. It was neat to watch. “You know who the guy is?” Kevin
asked carefully. I nodded like it was the most natural thing in the world that I would
know about such a person.
Cat brought over the newspaper and laid it on the table so we all could read the article. It
was a small blurb in the society news, talking about John’s lecture series and some public
events he’d gone to. There was a picture of him at some awards thing the University had
had. He was standing next to Jill Gateaux and the University president.
“I not only know who he is, I actually know him,” I said casually. I pointed to the photo
of Jill. “I know her too.”
“You met John Ngeno?” Cat asked with barely concealed excitement.

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“You know her?” Chuck asked. He was more impressed that I’d met someone who
looked like Jill than that I might know a Nobel prize-winning poet. Perhaps if it had been
a physicist…no, he’d still be more impressed by Jill.
“I went to the party Megan had for him,” I explained. “She introduced them both to me.
John and I had a long talk.”
Cat sat down next to me. “What did you talk about?” she asked, leaning forward to catch
every word.
“Well,” I said, now kind of sorry I’d bragged about the whole thing. “I told him about
some of the stuff I was working on.”
“You crack me up,” Chuck said with a laugh. “You get this famous poet dude and you
talk to him about programming.”
Kevin was slightly more perceptive. “Not programming. You were telling him about
math, right?” He and Chuck really broke up over that one. I didn’t see what was so
funny about that.
Cat looked at me with acute interest. Knowing Megan was one thing; after all, she was
my neighbor. She could understand Megan being a kindly neighbor and spending some
time with me. This was another ball game. “How does she know Professor Ngeno?”
“John,” I corrected, to her astonishment. I shrugged nonchalantly. “She was in Africa
early in her nun days, and met him then. They stayed friends ever since.”
“Forget the poet,” Chuck interrupted. “How’d you meet the babe?” He pointed to Jill’s
picture. I explained that she’d been at the party as well and we’d talked. Chuck wanted

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to know if I’d gotten her number, and seemed disappointed to hear I’d forgotten to even
try. Even Kevin smirked.
Cat was undeterred, not particularly interested in Jill. “What was he like?”
I thought about it, kind of uncomfortable about Cat’s interest. Kevin and Chuck also
seemed kind of curious, but I suspected they only cared because Cat did. “I dunno. He
was a nice guy. He didn’t put on any airs or anything. Just seemed like a normal guy.”
“Huh,” she said thoughtfully. She gave me an appraising look, then got up and went back
to the counter. I could see that Chuck wanted to ask if we could keep the picture of Jill
but lacked the nerve.
Kevin left soon after that, citing fatigue from having worked for twenty-four hours
straight. He’d just come by to sit with us a while and get something to eat. He was going
to go home and sleep for a few hours, then head back to it.
Chuck and I played some video games for a while, pretty much splitting them. I’m better
at games than he is, but he practices more, so usually the one offsets the other and we
play to a draw. He liked to keep track of the times he beat me, but wasn’t so good about
remembering the times I won. We eventually sprawled back in our booth, ceding the
game to Data and Obi. Cat was still at the counter, now sitting on a stool reading a book.
She pointedly ignored us.
“You intrigue her, you know,” Chuck told me. “She’s pretending to not pay any attention
to us, but she’s watching you all the same.”
“How do you know?”
Chuck looked over at her. “She’s asked Kevin and I some questions about you. Plus, you
can just tell – she seems different when you are around.”

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“What kind of questions?”
Chuck straightened up, and leaned in towards me. “About Megan. She wants to know
what you say about her, if you guys are involved. You know, the kind of stuff a woman
asks when she is interested in someone.”
I looked at Chuck speculatively. We both knew Kevin had a crush on Cat, so her asking
questions about me put him in a weird position. “How does Kevin…”
Chuck waved his hand dismissively. “He doesn’t even notice. He’s happy as a pig in shit
that she’s talking to him at all that he doesn’t pay any attention to what she’s asking.
He’d tell her what kind of underwear you wear if she asked.”
“She hasn’t, has she?” I asked in alarm.
“Not that I know of,” Chuck said. “But you never know.”
We looked at her without being too obvious. Chuck seemed to think her interest was
pretty straightforward, but I wasn’t so sure. Nothing else about Cat was straightforward,
so I thought Chuck’s conclusions might reflect his own biases more than her motivation.
Still, I didn’t mind having her wondering about me instead of the opposite.

Chapter 25
That Saturday things became a little clearer. I was walking home from running some
errands. I’d grabbed some lunch on the way, so it was mid-afternoon. The air was cold
but the skies were clear, with no snow or even warnings of snow. I couldn’t see living in
a climate that didn’t have seasons. I liked the variety, the sense that the world was
following its natural rhythms.

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I was almost to my building when a young woman emerged. She looked pretty good
from a distance, but I couldn’t really make her out. It wasn’t any of the residents, I was
sure, but I couldn’t figure out which of them was likely to have company like this. There
was something familiar about her. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The shape of her
body, the way she walked; I wasn’t quite sure. She stopped for a second at the bottom of
the steps, and then headed down the sidewalk away from me. As she turned away I
finally figured out what was familiar – those black glasses.
Cat? That didn’t make any sense. There was no reason for it to be Cat. She was heading
away from me, and I picked up my pace to follow her and close the distance. I kept
going past my building, and tried to catch up.
“Hey” I yelled at the figure. I wasn’t sure, but I thought her stride faltered just slightly
when I shouted. She probably thought I was some creep trying to pick her up. “Cat!” I
tried again, this time louder. I thought her shoulders drooped slightly as she heard her
name. The woman slowed to a stop, then slowly returned to face me.
It was indeed Cat.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, pulling to a stop in front of her.
Cat looked around nervously. “Nothing.”
I furrowed my brow. “What were you doing in my building?”
Cat stiffened, like I was challenging her. “Maybe I was visiting a friend. Maybe my aunt
lives there.” She looked defensive and irritated that I was detaining her.
I mentally ran through the tenants for likely compatibility with Cat. I wondered, if just
ever so briefly, if that aunt comment had been aimed at me. She couldn’t know about my

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aunt, I thought. Chuck would have immediately assumed she’d been there to visit me,
maybe chickening out at the last minute. I knew better. “You were there to see Megan.”
It was interesting to watch the range of emotions play over Cat’s face in that instant.
Embarrassment, defiance, pride, and I don’t know what else. Defiance won out. “So
what if I was?”
I put out a reassuring hand. “It’s OK,” I said. “I don’t mind. I, I just didn’t know you
knew her.” I looked back at the building as if it held some answers, or maybe here was
one of the answers and the questions were there.
“I guess it sounds pretty stupid,” Cat said, deflating some. She laughed. “I mean, she’s
not a frigging saint or anything. But…” She hesitated, not knowing what to say.
“There is something special about her,” I completed for her. Megan nodded gratefully. “I
know the feeling.”
“She’s so…together, you know? Like she’s figured everything out. It makes me really,
well, envious, I guess.”
This from a woman that my friends and I thought was pretty cool herself. She’d always
seemed so cool and unapproachable herself that it was weird to hear how she seemed to
hold Megan almost in awe. It made me like Cat a little more, and I realized how little I
knew her.
We didn’t really have much else to say, at least not in that situation. She excused herself
and headed off to wherever Cat went when she wasn’t at The Bridge. I headed straight to
Megan’s apartment.
“Craig, what a pleasant surprise,” she said, not sounding surprised at all. “Won’t you
come in?”

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Megan’s apartment looked as ordered as ever, although I noticed two glasses in the
kitchen sink when we went out there to get something for me to drink. We settled in the
living room, her on the couch and me on one of the chairs.
“You didn’t tell me Cat came to see you,” I opened up with immediately. Smooth, kid,
real smooth. Just blurt it out.
“You just got here!” Megan replied. “She called me at the office one day and asked if we
could have lunch. One thing lead to another and she’s stopped by a few times now.”
“What do you talk about?”
Megan looked at me with a smile. “Oh, this and that. She’s quite an interesting young
lady, you know.”
“So I’m becoming aware. I mean, I always thought she was fascinating, but now I’m
seeing that she’s interesting as well.”
“Clever distinction,” she said, laughing. “But accurate.”
Sitting there it seemed too odd that Cat had been here. This was my world – my building
and my friend. Cat belonged at The Bridge. I had been sure that she had a life
somewhere else, too, but thought that life and my life didn’t intersect. Evidently I was
wrong. Cat had been in this apartment, perhaps sitting in the very same chair I was
sitting in now, talking to my friend. But, of course, I guess I shouldn’t have been
surprised. Megan had that kind of magnetic attraction. “It’s you, isn’t it?” I said. “She’s
interested in you. Oh, not in a sexual way – she’s not, is she?”
The latter thought had just occurred to me. I mean, I didn’t know if Cat was gay, straight
or bi, and personally I didn’t really care. What she did with her sex life was none of my

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business. But her and Megan? It blew my mind. OK, Megan was fresh from never
having had sex, no dating since she was a teenager, so I could see that maybe she was
ready to experiment a little. I didn’t really care if there was something romantic going
on, but it still was unnerving to think about it.
“No, nothing like that,” Megan said, now truly amused and showing it. “But I’m
flattered that you might think so.”
Evidently Cat had wanted to know about Megan’s life. What it was like being a nun.
Where she’d lived, what she’d done. What she thought about things. Megan didn’t say
it, but I had the feeling that Cat’s fascination with Megan was not much different than
mine. Cat was asking around what it was that made Megan so unique.
“So, what do you think of her?” I asked, more making conversation than wanting to
know. I was kind of regretting barging in on Megan like this.
Megan smiled. “I like her. She’s a sweet girl?”
“Sweet?” I repeated. It was not a word I’d ever associated with Cat. “Are we talking
about the same girl?”
Megan curled her legs under her on the couch, like a teenager might. “I know – she tries
to hide it under that tough exterior. She’s actually very shy.”
“Shy?” I felt like a parrot, repeating random words, or maybe just words starting with an
“s.” I hoped I didn’t seem as stupid as I felt.
“Yes, shy” Megan agreed seriously. “She’s intimidated by you and your friends.”

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I felt like I was in some bizarre alternate universe. I put my hand out to steady myself.
“Wait a minute. We intimidate her? We sit there in fear of some withering look or
comment from her, and she’s intimidated by us?”
Megan nodded. “You’re all very smart, and obviously very close. She thinks you make
fun of her.”
“Make fun of her? She’s like, I don’t know, the fiercest woman we know. We’d never be
crazy enough to make fun of her.”
“It’s true. That’s why she started dressing so outlandishly. She figured if you were going
to make fun of her then she was going to flaunt being unconventional.”
I sat back in my chair. Megan was telling me things I could have never imagined. I
couldn’t picture someone like Cat worrying about people like us making fun of her, nor
her being intimidated by us. We’d all grown up pretty much as geeks and had always
been on the other end of such emotions. Megan just watched me with that little smile of
hers. If it was anyone else I might suspect that she was putting me on somehow, making
up stuff about Cat just to make me feel better. With Megan, though, I was pretty sure that
she was telling me what she thought straight up, and that her intuition was likely to be
dead-on. “Huh,” I said. Brilliant. And Cat thought we were smart?
“Huh,” Megan agreed with a big smile.
“She’s shy about us?”
Megan nodded.
“So, like, what should we do about it?”

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“Just be yourselves,” Megan replied immediately. “Talk to her. Be nice to her. Maybe
invite her to go to a movie with you guys sometimes.”
“That’s right,” I said. “Isn’t she a film student? She probably only likes those arty
foreign movies, with subtitles and unattractive people in depressing situations.”
“She probably does like foreign movies, but so do I, and I like other movies too. I’ll bet
she does as well. Just ask her sometime, or maybe play one of those video games of
yours with her sometime. It doesn’t really matter what you do. Just talk to her.”
I thought about it, and couldn’t get my head around the concept of asking her to do
something. It’d be like asking her on a date or something. Cat would never go on a date
with someone like me. Even if I didn’t mean it as a date – like if we all did something as
a group – she might think I meant it as a date and shoot me down. I started to get lost in
the various scenarios. Megan noticed my agony and interrupted me.
“You’re making more out of this than you need to. She likes you guys, and she doesn’t
have a lot of friends. She’d enjoy your company. Just give it a chance.”
“Girls like that just don’t hang out with nerds like us,” I objected, aware that I was
perilously close to whining.
“You’d be surprised,” Megan said firmly. “Have you ever seen some older man with a
beautiful young woman? Ever wonder how they manage that?” I nodded, thinking of the
times I’d seen such couples and couldn’t make sense of them. Of course, I then thought
of Lindsey Ford, which totally discouraged me. She continued. “They ask them.”
It sounded like good advice, although whether I’d be brave enough to actually put it into
use remained to be seen. I leaned forward, resting my forearms on my legs and facing
her. “Does Cat know you’re telling me all this? Does she want you to?”

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Megan leaned in towards me. “She didn’t ask me to keep any secrets or to pass along any
messages. I do the same with Cat as I do for you and anyone else – I say what I think is
true and tell people what I think is appropriate for them to hear.”
“Aren’t you bound by some kind of rules about what you can say?”
Megan uncoiled her legs and stood up. She looked down at me, with an amused
expression on her face. “I was a nun, not a priest. You can trust me to keep private the
things that you want to be private, but that doesn’t mean I can’t form my own opinions
about things and tell other people what they are.”
It struck me that I was getting dating advice from a woman who’d spent the majority of
her life in a lifestyle where dating wasn’t even an option. Of course, that didn’t mean she
couldn’t have been an astute observer. For that matter, it was entirely possible that
Megan had had more dates in the short time since she’d stopped being a nun than I’d had
in my life. I didn’t really know.
We chatted a few more minutes. She wasn’t sure if Cat was going to keep coming, but
she hoped that she would. “Maybe I’ll bring her along to one of your tutoring sessions
sometime,” she said with a smile. “I think she’d be interested.”

Chapter 26
Much to my surprise, though, my next visitor was, however, neither Cat nor Megan.
That following Monday I was surprised to hear someone at the elevator door in the early
afternoon. Megan usually came up the stairs, and anyway I was pretty sure that she’d be
at work. Sometimes people get confused about the elevator buttons and press my button
when they really mean to hit the button for the third floor. If it wasn’t some misdirected

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stranger, I thought it was most likely to be Chuck or Kevin, although I wasn’t expecting
either one of them. I was wrong.
“So this is where you live,” J. Lindsey Ford said, stepping past me when I opened up the
door. He strolled through my apartment casually, leaving me dumbfounded at the
elevator. I watched him warily. He did an unhurried survey of my belongings, admiring
my big screen TV but otherwise looking unimpressed. Max was sitting on one of the
window seats, having a little nap/wash, but he stirred enough to watch the new visitor
make his tour. When Ford headed towards Max, though, Max quickly jumped up through
the small opening in the window I always left him. From there he walked around on the
ledge and leapt to a nearby tree, as usual. How and where he went from there I never
asked, and he never told.
Ford didn’t seem too bothered by Max’s sudden departure; he sat down at the window
seat in Max’s place and gave the room one final sweeping look. “What a dump!”
I finally moved, walking over to my desk and sitting down behind it. It made me feel like
I had a little more protection somehow. “What do you mean?” I asked defensively.
“I mean it’s a dump. It’s like a kid’s idea of what an apartment should look like, with
those toys” – he gestured at my various electronics – “instead of Lego’s or whatever.
And those blackboards!”
“Well,” I said. “I have everything I need.”
“Christ, kid, my bathroom has more furniture than you have.”
That certainly created an interesting mental image, which I really didn’t want to pursue.
Truth be told, I felt a little guilty about my home. I mean, it’s fine for me, it’s fine for
having Chuck and Kevin over, but it’s not exactly going to be featured in Home &
Garden. It’s not really an adult’s abode, you know? Megan didn’t seem to mind at all,

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but compared to her perfect apartment it really was pretty juvenile. I couldn’t imagine
someone like Jill Gateaux being comfortable here, for example. Still, I wasn’t going to
admit this to him. “So you just wanted to drop by to give me some decorating advice,
huh, Jay?”
He bristled a little at my nickname for him, as I’d expected he would. There’s this
perverse part of my nature, I guess, that makes me goad people like him instead of just
letting things go. He bothered me. I didn’t like him, didn’t want him in my house, and
he wasn’t helping matters by criticizing my tastes in home furnishing. Besides, he’d
called me “kid.”
“Nah, that’s just a bonus,” he replied, sitting there like he was lord of the manor. “I did
come here to give you some advice.”
I leaned back in my chair and put my feet up on the chair and folded my hands across my
stomach. I had a feeling that I was going to be insulted, so I figured I might as well get
comfortable. “Do tell.”
“Leave Megan alone.” He said it flatly, with no room for discussion, compromise, or
other points of view.
That got me sitting up. I put my feet on the floor and leaned forward on the desk.
“Excuse me?” I asked with an astonished tone of voice.
Ford didn’t seem concerned. “You heard me. Go play with the bimbos your own age.
She’s way out of your league. You’re just a distraction to her, a joke.” His hand brushed
the air, dismissing me as casually as his words just had.
I knew it wasn’t true; I knew Megan liked me. But I had just enough insecurity to let it
affect me. When you came right down to it, there wasn’t a good reason why she should

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like me or spend time with me. Still, I might not know why she did, but I did know that
she did. ‘Jealous?” I lashed out, watching for a reaction.
I got one. He stiffened and leaned back just slightly, reflecting a verbal blow successfully
landed. He tried to look unruffled. “No, I’m just interested in what’s good for Megan.
You can’t do anything for her.”
Now I understood the game. I put my feet back on the desk and leaned back, pretending
to just be relaxing. I laced my fingers behind my head. “Face it, Jay -- you’re too old for
her.”
That had to hurt. He glared at me. “And you’re too young.”
“You like young things, don’t you?” I fired back. “Kind of like a father figure. Aren’t
you supposed to pick up twenty-five year olds who are still impressed by your bullshit,
who you can wine and dine and buy them expensive gifts so they’ll sleep with you? That
kind of shit won’t work with Megan.”
“You’d be surprised,” Ford said coldly. He stood up and went over to the boards. He
looked at the scribbles and gave them a look of disgust. I was sure that he had no idea
what they meant. To him, any math that didn’t add to his bottom line would be trivial. I
tried not to dwell on what he was implying by his statement. What the hell did Megan
see in this guy?
I stood up too, and came closer to him. “So -- what? Are you threatening me to stay
away from Megan? Going to send some goons to beat me up if I don’t?”
Ford was still staring at the boards. He gestured towards them. “So is this what you do
with Megan? She comes over and you teach her this useless stuff?”

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I laughed. “I think she likes it because it’s useless. It’s just beautiful, something you’d
never understand.”
Another shot scored, as evidenced by his slight rocking back motion. “I am quite a
connoisseur of art, I’ll have you know,” he said in a haughty tone of voice. He gave the
boards a disgusted look.
I pointed to the board. “This is art, buddy. It’s just not in a damn museum, so you
wouldn’t know. That’s the difference between you and Megan. She doesn’t need anyone
to tell her about beauty and art. She knows it when she sees it.”
We glared at each other, simmering for a while until we both cooled off a bit and moved
apart slightly. “So you just want to fuck her, eh, kid?” he said scornfully. “Be the first on
your block to do a nun?”
I was stunned. I mean, literally stunned. My mouth gaped open. “What?” I finally
managed to blurt out.
“I know you punk kids,” he said darkly. “I was your age once, you know.”
“Yeah, a lon-n-ng time ago,” I reminded him. I guess I wasn’t too stunned. He didn’t
really seem to take notice.
“Just trying to sleep with any female who you can talk into bed with you,” he muttered. I
had the sense he was talking to himself more than me at this point, and it was like
watching a statue start to self-destruct. He had lost some of his constant stiffness, as if
the rod in his butt that kept him so monolithic had been displaced. His face registered
some uncharacteristic confusion. He wandered over to the window and looked out it.
“No regard for a decent woman.”

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I stood a decent distance from him. He seemed kind of vulnerable, and at a loss. I
actually felt kind of sorry for him. I didn’t know why, but I couldn’t really make heads or
tales of his overreaction either. “Look, Jay – I mean, Lindsey – I’m not sleeping with
Megan. I’m not even trying to sleep with Megan. We’re not dating or anything. We’re
just friends.”
He looked at me suspiciously. He wanted it to be true -- he desperately wanted it to be
true -- but he was afraid I might be making fun of him. “You’re not?”
I shook my head.
“Why not?” He seemed totally puzzled, as if he couldn’t fathom anyone not trying to date
Megan. I could see his point.
I shrugged. “Why would she want to sleep with me?” I said helplessly.
Something seemed to come over him. It was like watching the moon hit the Wolf man; a
transformation came over him, and my old buddy Jay replaced that momentary glimpse
of a kindlier, friendlier Lindsey. “You’re right about that, kid,” he said in a self-satisfied
tone of voice. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“It’s not like she wouldn’t sleep with me if I wanted her to,” I protested weakly, making a
too-late pitch for my macho image. Neither one of us was buying it. He sniffed
dismissively.
“She’d never sleep with you,” he said. That seemed to please him immensely, and took a
load off his shoulders.
“Is that all you want from her?” I accused. “Tired of the college girls? I know some
women my age who you’d probably be able to snow easier than Megan.” Of course, I

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didn’t know all that many women my age, and those I did know I wouldn’t wish him
upon. Still, it might be interesting to see Cat eat him alive.
He made a face like he’d smelled something extremely offensive, which would have been
funny had we not been on the topic we were on. “Do you know how few suitable women
there are for men like me?” He was on a rant now, barely noticing I was there. He paced
around muttering wildly. “You couldn’t appreciate it. You don’t have to worry about
marrying them, about how they’ll look at a cocktail party or to your Board.”
“Or prenuptial agreements,” I added.
“Exactly,” he said, not noticing that I was just kidding. “Megan passes every test with
flying colors. She’d be a real asset.”
I hated that he thought of Megan as an asset, and I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be too
pleased about it either. There was only one good thing about it. “So it’s not about her
being a virgin?” I asked, just to be sure.
He looked a little pale. His expression went from incredulous to suspicious, and settled
into concerned. “I didn’t realize she was a virgin,” he said in a queasy voice.

Chapter 27
Megan came over after work that night. She’d changed from her work clothes into slacks
and a white blouse, with a modest pair of flats on her feet. She looked like the girl next
door, which I suppose she actually was, in a way. A little older than the stereotype,
perhaps, and more on the next floor than next door, but same sort of impression. Max
still hadn’t returned from his expedition, undoubtedly making sure Ford was gone. He’d
come home when he got hungry.

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I could tell right away that something was on Megan’s mind. She still seemed her
cheerful self, but she had sort of a distracted, or perhaps puzzled, air about her. I greeted
her, and she went into the kitchen for a glass of water, then came over and sat by me at
my desk. I’d been working all day on a project for a company, a 3-D graphics that
involved some tricky programming. It wasn’t all that fun but it helped pay the bills.
“So I understand you and Lindsey had a little conversation today?” she said with a
curious expression on her face. I admitted that I had, and made sure to point out that he’d
come over to see me. She registered this fact with a small nod, which indicated to me
that that Ford hadn’t mentioned that in whatever account he’d given her. “What exactly
did you say to him?” She seemed to be choosing her words judiciously.
All of a sudden I got concerned. What in the world did he tell her I’d told him? I could
see him making up some outrageous lies to make me look bad, but I couldn’t come out
and outright accuse him of that. Not just yet, anyway. “Umm, nothing much. We talked
about you, actually.” I wondered what my face was telling Megan, as I was going
through an array of feelings as I thought of the many ways Lindsey could have tried to
make me look bad with her.
Megan didn’t let anything show. “Yes, so I gathered,” she said thoughtfully. “Lindsey
and I were supposed to go out to dinner tonight, but he left me a message on my machine
canceling. He didn’t call me at work, where he knew I was. He left me a message at
home that he knew I wouldn’t get until I got home. I find that kind of odd.”
I felt better about things. She was pissed at him, not me. Then I remembered her initial
statement. “So how’d you know he talked to me?” I asked.
“Oh, that was part of the message. He said he’d had a very interesting conversation with
you today and was sure I’d understand that he had to cancel. What’d you do, tell him I
had the plague?” Megan gave me a very inquiring look. I debated trying to bluff my way
through, but with that look realized it wouldn’t work with her.

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First I tried to pass it off as a joke. “No, just leprosy.” She didn’t laugh, just looked at
me with a stern expression. Well, not really stern, but not humorous either. For her it
was stern. “Umm, I might have told him you were a virgin,” I admitted.
Megan threw her hands up and went over to the couch to sit down. She was shaking her
head in disbelief. I got up and went over to sit on the couch, careful to keep a safe
distance between us. “I thought he already knew,” I explained. How could I have been
so stupid? Still, I tried to recover. “What did he think? I mean, you just stopped being a
nun a few months ago.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I suppose he assumed that somewhere along the way
I’d slept with someone. Or maybe he just didn’t think about it. It’s not something I’m
ashamed of, but it’s not something I exactly advertise either.” She ran her hand through
her hair in that endearing way she had. It wasn’t like her hair needed any straightening
up, short as it was. It was the closest thing to a nervous habit that she had. “It’s kind of
scary for most men, and the ones it’s appealing to are kind of …worrisome.”
I could see that. “What do you see in him anyway? He’s a jerk.”
Megan pursed her lips. “Oh, Lindsey is a complicated man. There’s this sweet man
somewhere inside that ruthless tycoon that he pretends to be, but it takes some work to
get him to come out.”
I recalled that brief image of Ford looking vulnerable, and thought maybe I could see her
point. Still, why bother? It seemed like a lot of work. “Why date him? There’s lots of
guys who’d be better for you.”
Megan looked at me in surprise. “Date? I’m not dating him.” She seemed genuinely
surprised, not trying to be coy or anything.

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I gave her a look of disbelief. “Megan – the guy is making wedding plans. All he could
talk about was how suitable you were and how hard it is for guys like him to find good
wives. He’d go on the Internet and order one if he could. He thinks you’re made to
order, except now maybe for this virgin thing.”
Megan studied me long and hard, thinking about what I’d said. She didn’t look as though
she didn’t believe me, more that she was processing what I’d said and seeing if there was
any additional information that she could glean from me. Once she’d pulled whatever
she could from my expression, she sat back on the couch. She looked kind of tired for
the first time I’d know her. I think she was slouching some too. “I guess I should have
known,” she said in a small voice. “It’s too hard being a virgin at my age.”
“Well, you have a pretty good excuse,” I said, leaning forward a little to comfort her.
“You being a nun and all.”
“I suppose so.” She smiled at me tenderly, warming my heart and making me forget, if
just for a second, that I’d spoiled her evening with Ford. “But it doesn’t really matter the
why of it, just the what. The fact is that I am a forty-year old virgin.”
I nodded, although I wasn’t sure why. “That’s not so terrible.”
“No, not really. But it’s kind of late to start doing anything about it. It used to be that
virginity was a virtue, until you got married, or at least found the guy you were going to
marry.”
“That was a long time ago,” I reminded out. “Like the nineteen fifties.”
“Times change,” she agreed. “Nowadays if a girl is still a virgin in college it’s considered
unusual but kind of exotic, I suppose. In her twenties it is just strange. At my age,
though, it just means I’m some sort of frigid spinster.”

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“Hardly!” I protested. I couldn’t think of those words in the same context as her, no
matter how hard someone might try to append them to her. She was too damn attractive.
“It’s true. Men start to think of all the things they think I won’t know about, the things I
haven’t done and won’t know how to do, and figure that sex with me would be, well,
uninspiring.”
It was kind of odd, now that she mentioned it. “Now that you mention it, umm, do
you…” I let my words trail off. She looked over at me in mock reproach. “I’m a nurse,
you know. I know how things work. And I do see movies and such,” she said drolly. “I
have a pretty good idea what goes on.”
“Do you have any, you know, more practical experience?” I hated asking her, but I kind
of wanted to know.
Megan laughed. “Well, I had a little practice in high school. A little kissing, a little
petting – I think they’d call it a double.” I considering correcting her euphemism, that
her boyfriend or whomever had gotten to second base, but thought she’d made her point.
Instead, I got up and walked restlessly over to the window. “You must have known this
issue would come up when you decided to stop being a nun.”
Megan got up and joined me on the window. She didn’t look tired anymore; she’d
resumed her more normal energy level. There wasn’t much of a moon out, but the
streetlights cast shadows over her face. It could have made her look old, the way
darkness sometimes can, but it just made her seem more mysterious and alluring
somehow. Maybe it was all this talk about sex. “Intellectually, perhaps,” she said quietly
but firmly. “I had a lot of things on my mind when I left the order, and this was
something on the list but not at the top of the list. I guess I wasn’t quite ready for it
emotionally.”

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She paused for a moment, either gathering her thoughts or perhaps remembering times
past. It was fascinating to watch her, and I could have stayed there all night watching this
lovely and constantly mysterious woman think about things. She finally continued. “I
never stopped thinking of myself as female, or forgot that I had a woman’s body. I like
being a woman, and I like my body.”
I kind of liked it too, but thought it wasn’t exactly the right time to mention that.
Megan continued, still looking out the window deep in thought. “But over time I suppose
I did sort of stop thinking of myself as a sexual being. You just stop thinking about it,
and as a nun people stop treating you like one. Then you just get used to it. I didn’t
really know how I was going to transition back to being one, or how people would react
to that.”
I certainly didn’t know how to react. It hit me like a thunderbolt that I’d been thinking
about this whole thing completely wrong. I’d been looking at her virginity strictly as a
physical matter, like that one-time breaking of that precious hymen was all that mattered.
But would it really have mattered if some fumbling high school boyfriend had reached
that promised land on prom night? Or, God forbid, if fate had gone the other way in that
African prison and she’d been brutally ravaged? No. The experience she was missing
was the tenderness, the intimacy from the act of lovemaking that comes from being as
close to another person as is physically possible. She hadn’t experienced that irresistible
welling of desire, nor the curious mix of guilt and pleasure of giving in to that desire.
And she hadn’t felt that uncontrollable release at the climax of the act. All those feelings
had not only been turned off in her for so long, but had never properly been turned on at
all, according to what she’d said. I’d had sex, but I guess I couldn’t claim to know a lot
more about the act of love itself. You’d hate to spoil her introduction to it. I could see
why she thought it would be intimidating for a prospective boyfriend.
I kind of envied her upcoming voyage of discovery, having bungled my own trip. Most
people have sex for entirely the wrong reasons. They do it because it is expected,

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because they’re afraid not to. They do it with the wrong people, at the wrong time, and
turn it into something mechanical. It becomes something taken rather than given. With
Megan, it would be something that she freely gave of herself, and she would see making
love for that closest of all possible intimacies. Yeah, I envied her all right.
“So,” Megan said with a new tone of voice, changing the subject. “You thought Lindsay
and I were dating.”
“I call him Jay.”
“Jay? J is just his first initial.”
“I know. I just do it because he doesn’t like it.”
“Ah-ha. Hmm, Jay,” she said. Her mouth twitched mischievously, and she seemed to roll
the sound of it around in her mouth, testing it out. “Jay. I like it. But about the dating.”
“Well, you guys were going out to dinner and such, right? And he picked you up and all,
right? That was dating.”
“I see,” she said, still looking at the window. Her mouth stifled a smile, and she turned
her head slightly towards me. “But, Craig, we do that. We go to movies sometimes, have
dinner together. You even drive me. Are we dating?”
I turned towards her, astounded. She was looking at me quite seriously, although I wasn’t
entirely sure she was serious. Nor was I sure that she wasn’t. She wasn’t giving my any
clues either way. “No, we’re not dating,” I managed to say. I was sure I was blushing,
and that she was enjoying it.
“Why not? Why is it different than what Lindsey -- I mean -- Jay and I are doing?”

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“It just is,” I protested weakly.
She sat down on the window seat and looked up steadily at me. “How do you know
when something is a date?”
I sat down next to her. How, indeed? It wasn’t like I was a dating expert, or an expert on
male-female relationships. I felt like the one-eyed man in the land of the blind, although
I wasn’t too sure she didn’t see better than I could, years of being a nun notwithstanding.
“Well,” I attempted. “I guess it’s a date when there is some hope of possible romantic –
or at least physical – contact later.”
She considered this. I could see her giving it serious thought, testing it out in her mind.
“What if only one of the parties has that in mind?” she asked at last.
“Like Jay?”
“Like Jay,” she confirmed.
“Well, that’s sort of a gray area,” I admitted.

Chapter 28
It was the next evening, I guess, when I was at The Bridge with Kevin and Chuck.
Megan had left after our little discussion, leaving me to ponder the events of the day in a
sort of state of confusion. Megan and Jay weren’t dating. Megan wanted to stop being a
virgin, but didn’t seem too sure on how that was going to happen. Jay had a soft side to
him, but he didn’t let that show too easily. Megan appeared to be the thing that brought it
out, so maybe he did have some feelings for her. Jay was jealous of my relationship with
her, although he’d misunderstood the nature of that relationship. I didn’t tell any of this

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to Kevin and Chuck, but I did tell them about Cat visiting Megan and that Megan
believed Cat was shy and would welcome our companionship. They weren’t buying it.
“I’ve tried to get her to go out,” Chuck protested, making sure she was out of hearing.
He checked the room another time just to be certain. “She doesn’t want anything to do
with me.”
“I said Megan thought Cat might like companionship, not that she was ready for you to
jump her. It’s not exactly the same thing.”
“It is to Chuck,” Kevin noted with a gleam in his eye. He loved to needle Chuck.
We decided we were going to go see a movie. There was a new Coen brothers movie and
a new Farrelly brothers movie, both around ten. Chuck was advocating the Farrelly
brothers, while Kevin wanted to see the Coen brothers one. I was, as usual, the
tiebreaker. I could go either way, but I figured Cat might not. “C’mon, let’s ask Cat.
What do we have to lose?”
“You ask her,” Kevin prodded.
“Yeah, just go up to her and ask her,” Chuck adding, his tone of voice indicating he
figured it’d be a cold day in hell before Cat would ever agree to do something with us,
especially with me as the emissary. I took a big gulp of my beer and stood up. “OK,
wish me luck.”
I waited at the counter for Cat to return from taking orders. She gave them to the
bartender, and looked dubiously at me. “What? You need another beer?”
“What time do you get off?” I asked. I don’t know which of us were more surprised by
my nerve.

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“What’s it to you?” she asked coldly. Her tone of voice didn’t sound too receptive, and I
was quickly losing my nerve. Still, I’d come this far…
“Well, my friends—“ I pointed to Kevin and Chuck, who immediately looked away as I
gestured towards them, trying lamely to pretend that they had nothing to do with my
fool’s errand – “and I are going to a movie tonight and wondered if you’d like to come.”
There it was. I waited for her to chop my head off, tensing my neck in anticipation.
Cat eyed me. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of the sudden proposal. Still, she
hadn’t laughed at me or slapped me in the face, both of which I’d expected. “What
movie?”
I hadn’t been prepared for that. We hadn’t actually made a decision, so I made one on the
spot. “The new Coen brothers one. Do you like their stuff?”
“Yeah, I do,” she said, seeming to consider the offer.
“Can you get off?” I asked, pressing the issue before she fully realized what she was
agreeing to. I mean, going to a movie with three nerdy outcasts like us! I saw one of the
super-nerds giving me a surreptitious glance; hell, if she agreed, she might have to worry
about them asking her to join then sometime, which would definitely be a fate worse than
death. Well, worse than the kind of death they were used to, in their games.
She told me that she could, and we made the logistical arrangements. She had her own
car and would meet us there. Before Cat could change her mind, I quickly fled to our
table and relayed the good news to Chuck and Kevin. “You’re shitting me,” Chuck said
incredulously.
“I shit you not,” I said solemnly. They both looked deeply impressed.

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We headed over to the theater without Cat giving us a parting glance. All the way over
Kevin kept saying she wouldn’t come. Chuck wasn’t so sure, but I kind of thought Kevin
might be right. I could see how she might think that sending us off believing that she’d
acceded to joining us, then standing us up, would be a good lesson for us. Still, I thought
she had seemed genuinely interested in the offer, so when we got to the theater and Kevin
and Chuck went to the arcade to play games until the movie started, I volunteered to stay
in the lobby to wait for her. Chuck looked at me like he pitied my naivety, but Kevin
seemed a little sorry he hadn’t thought to do it instead.
Cat arrived with about five minutes to spare. She had on her boots, jeans and a sweater,
under a big jacket, and looked nervous, like she felt out of place. She didn’t look like our
old anti-everything waitress. She just looked like a girl going to a movie. “You came!” I
exclaimed. “I wasn’t sure you were going to.”
“Me neither,” she said, sounding slightly regretful but resigned to it. She looked around
the mostly deserted lobby. “Where are your friends?”
“Upstairs,” I said, indicating the arcade on the mezzanine. “I can’t wait to see their faces
when they see you.”
I was unaccountably nervous, and started talking about the movie to make conversation.
As I’d suspected, she was a Coen brothers fan, so we spend a couple minutes exchanging
our favorites. We had some tastes in common, such as the much under-rated “Raising
Arizona.” She liked “Fargo,” while I was less appreciative. There was a slight pause
once we’d hit the highlights.
“I wouldn’t have minded seeing the Farrelly brothers movie either,” Cat said, noticing a
poster. “I love their movies.”
“You do?” It seemed so incongruous.

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“Well, not ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ but ‘Something About Mary’ certainly.” I must have
inadvertently had a surprised expression on my face, because she smiled and looked
slightly embarrassed. “My friends tell me I’m a movie slut,” she explained. “I’ll see
almost anything and I like many kinds of movies. I just love movies.”
“That’s right, you’re in film school,” I remembered. We talked briefly about what she did
there, how she got into it, and so on. It was like a real conversation. Cat didn’t seem too
intimidating. She just seemed like a nice, if slightly unconventional, girl.
Kevin and Chuck came down and their eyes about popped out of their heads. “You
came!” Kevin exclaimed. I’d said the same thing but now it sounded kind of moronic.
He seemed so excited that I felt kind of sorry for him. Chuck hung his head shyly, like a
little kid around a celebrity. We trooped into the theater.
The movie was good, twisted and colorful yet not entirely clear, like most of the Coen
brothers’ movies. During the movie we all got kind of lost in the world of the movie, yet
I felt I existed on a sort of dual existence – part of me in that two-dimensional but fully
imagined world, and part of me in this strange new world where the previously
unapproachable Cat sat next to me in rapt attention to the screen.
After the movie we walked to the parking lot. Kevin and Chuck walked a couple of
strides ahead of us discussing the movie in great depth, Cat falling back slightly to join
me.
“This was her idea, wasn’t it?” she inquired softly.
“Whose?” I asked, pretending to be dumb. Well, about this anyway.
“Megan’s,” she chided me.

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I walked a couple of strides before I nodded. She seemed satisfied that she’d figured it
out correctly. “Do you mind?” I asked cautiously, keeping my voice low so Kevin and
Chuck wouldn’t overhear us. They were fully engaged in their typical meta-analysis of
the movie, but I still thought it prudent to be careful.
Cat smiled a big smile. “No, I’m glad.”
“Even to go out with dorks like us?”
Cat took my arm in hers. “You’re not dorks. You’re kind of sweet. I like how you guys
fight with each other all the time but still get along.”
“We’ve known each other a long time.”
“It shows.” It may have been my imagination, but she sounded envious.
We walked for a couple of steps further. I was enjoying the feeling of her arm in mine,
and the crisp cold air out. It was proving to be a pretty good night. I almost missed what
Cat said next.
“It’s Andrea,” she said.
“What?” I thought perhaps she’d spotted an old friend of hers, and actually looked
quickly around to see if I could tell who she was referring to. Then I saw that she was
looking down. She looked up at me. “My name is Andrea.”
I didn’t know what to say. “Oh,” I said, as though that explained everything.
Cat knew better. She gave me a warm smile. “I started to work at The Bridge when I
came to University, and they gave me an old smock with a nametag already on it. I
thought, oh, this is perfect. A new life, not the boring old shy Andrea. I could be anyone

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I wanted to be. So I chose to keep the nametag and to become the name. And that’s
where Cat came from.”
“I like it,” I offered. “Andrea is nice too. It doesn’t really matter. You’re a good person,
no matter what your name is.”
“That’s what Megan tells me,” she said, stopping by her car. Kevin and Chuck had
already reached it. The three of us milled around while she got her keys out and got in
her car. “Hey, want to go get a drink?” Chuck asked, blushing as he said it. I guess he
wouldn’t be Chuck if he didn’t ask.
Cat started the car, her door still open. She looked at us with an amused smile on her
face. “Don’t press your luck.”
During the car ride back Chuck asked what our conversation was all about, so I told them
about Cat’s name. “You’re kidding. Andrea?” Chuck said. He spoke the words like he
was sounding it out, and apparently didn’t find a good fit. “I can’t believe it. How about
you, Kev?”
Kevin sat in the backseat, his hands in his coat pockets and looking out the window
almost as if he wasn’t really following the conversation. But he looked up at me and
flashed the smallest of smiles. “I knew that.”

Chapter 29
Megan’s unseen hand continued to shape my world – something I had not even suspected
before, but now a sense of things that I’d become increasingly sure of.
Mike Barnes called me to see if I’d be interested in working on a few projects with them.
“I told you I wasn’t looking for a job,” I told him.

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“Slow down, big guy,” he replied calmly. “It’s not a job offer, just a few things that I
want your help with. My guys here aren’t making any progress and we need some fresh
thinking. You are still consulting, right?”
Mike described the projects, and they actually did sound kind of interesting. We quickly
negotiated payment rates, time commitment, and time frames, and I hung up feeling a bit
amused. Maybe he still would have called if I hadn’t run into him at the cocktail party, or
maybe not. At any rate, his work would pay the rent for a few months.
More surprising was that John Ngeno and Jill Gateaux both called to invite me to meals –
John to lunch, and Jill to breakfast. I actually was not shocked by John’s call, but I was
speechless when Jill called. It took me a couple minutes to figure out that her call wasn’t
a cruel prank by Chuck and Kevin. They’d been known to use voice synthesizers on
friends to pull stunts like that – and I to help, on occasion. Although I was not in the
habit of being up for seven am breakfasts, or for driving out to her part of town – a
yuppified neighborhood that was both beyond my price range and out of my interest
zone, except for a great bookstore and a couple of good restaurants – I quickly agreed to
Jill’s proposed schedule. John suggested doing something in my neighborhood, and
agreed to try a local pizza place I liked.
The lunch with John was first. He stopped by my apartment, and was drawn to the
boards. He studied them from a distance, with his hands behind his back. He reminded
me of nothing so much as someone at an art gallery admiring an abstract painting. You
know, the kind where you can’t even tell what it is a picture of, just some mad collection
of shapes and colors from the artist’s unconscious. I didn’t much care for abstract art, but
I thought it was amusing to see him looking at my work so reverentially.
“Beautiful,” he concluded, not taking his eyes away from the boards.
“You don’t have a clue what any of it is about, do you?” I asked.

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John turned to me, and there was a twinkle in his eyes. “Not a clue.”
We walked to the restaurant and ordered a large pizza. Our topping tastes didn’t overlap
– he wanted anchovies and mushrooms, whereas I’m more of a traditional pepperoni and
sausage kind of guy. It’s a cats and dogs kind of dichotomy, but fortunately the waiter
was used to it and agreed to do half and half.
“What do you think about when you’re thinking about a math problem?” John asked
while we were waiting for the pizza. “Do you think in all those equations and numbers?
Like on those boards?”
I don’t know that I’d ever really thought about it before, and I didn’t think it was strictly a
making-conversation kind of question, so I took a couple of minutes to think about it. “I
don’t know,” I confessed. “Not really equations or numbers, not at all.”
“What, then?” he pressed. The restaurant was busy with a lunchtime crowd, but no one
seemed to recognize that they had a famous poet in their midst. I wasn’t quite sure what
it would have take to impress the patrons, although I was sure had I been with Megan
we’d have been getting stares.
“I guess I more think in shapes, or forms, or something,” I confessed. I turned my palms
up to show how silly even I thought my answer was.
John didn’t seem to think it was silly at all. He nodded, as though not really surprised.
Encouraged by his reaction, I continued. “A lot of times I sort of veg out, or take a long
walk or maybe a bike ride, anything so I don’t think directly about whatever I’m working
on. If I’m lucky something will come to me, but it takes a lot of focus. It’s kind of
funny, thinking hard but not directly about something, kind of like watching for
something outside the corner of your eye, something you can’t quite see if you stare
directly but which you can maybe catch a glimpse of by not looking straight on. You

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start to get a sense of it and eventually you see it, clear as day. Once you see it like that,
it’s yours, and you can make sense of it.”
“Writing poetry is like that,” John said. Our pizza arrived about then, so we divvied up
some slices and started to chow down. “Excellent,” he pronounced. “Very good crust.”
“Yeah, they have good pizza here,” I said, my mouth crammed with a big bite. “What
was that you were saying about writing poetry?”
He chewed a bit before replying, obviously better mannered than I was. “I need a good
image to work off of before I can formulate the words. I play with the words until I can
get them to come close to my image, and that’s how I write my poems. Image by image,
phrase by phrase, word by word.”
It would probably sound laborious to most people, but I fancied that I understood. “Same
thing,” I agreed. “I first have to think in the shapes about what’s true, or what might be
true. After I see that, then I do all the formal stuff, those equations and proofs and such
that go on the boards. That’s just cranking it out, like writing code. But I can’t do them
until I see where I’m going.”
“Just so.” He took another bite happily.
“Like I got a call yesterday from this guy. He wanted me to help him with a couple of
programming problems. He told me what they were, and I immediately saw that they
could be done.”
John laughed. “You must be very bright, to see how to solve his problems right away like
that.”

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I shook my head. “No, that’s not what I said. I still don’t know how to solve them. I just
saw that they could be solved. That’s the hard part. Once you’re sure there’s a way then
you just have to find it. It saves a lot of time if you don’t work on impossible problems.”
“How do you know if something is impossible, or just impossible for you?”
“Doesn’t really make much difference, does it?” I said. “I can’t do things I can’t do. But
it’s not always as clear as that when something is possible or not. I usually spend a lot
more time deciding that than I do in actually solving it.”
“Yes, I know what you mean,” John said. Once again, here I was with this famous poet
and I was rambling on like an idiot. Me, a failed mathematician and unknown
programmer, telling him all about the creative process. John noticed me thinking about it
and smiled. “I am fascinated with how people think about the world,” he said. “I’ve
never really known a mathematician before.”
“You still don’t,” I objected. “I just putter around. There must be lots of mathematicians
at the University that you run into.”
“They don’t often come around to the English Department, I’ve noticed.” John seemed
amused about it. We’d pretty much demolished the pizza, and the table was an explosion
of empty plates and pizza sauce-stained napkins. I felt like a couple of hunters finishing
off some poor game that we’d stalked, killed, and eaten, kind of a primordial male
bonding thing.
“I can’t blame them,” I agreed. I asked John about life as a famous poet, and he started to
tell me about these guest lectures and book tours, being treated like a minor celebrity. “It
is fun for a while, but after a while all I want to do is go off somewhere and write,” he
said seriously. “I can write anyplace, but I need time to – as you said – to understand
what it is I want to write about and then find out how to do it right.”

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Apparently being a poet was kind of a babe magnet, and John admitted to enjoying the
fruits of his status for many years before he settled down and got married. I suspected he
had an advantage over most other poets in that not only was he sensitive, as evidenced by
his poetry, but he also was big and good looking. He was pretty virile for a poet. If they
had touch football games in the Poetry Department I figured he’d get chosen for teams
first.
The talk of that kind of female attention gave me an opening. “So tell me, you know
Megan pretty well?”
John leaned back in his booth, and fingered his water glass idly. He looked distant for a
couple of seconds, lost in thought. “Yes, I suppose pretty well.”
“Were you and Megan ever, you know…” I let the sentence go unfinished, figuring he’d
know what I was suggested.
That brought another sly smile. His eyes twinkled. “Involved? Lovers? No, nothing
like that.”
“Why not?”
He shrugged. “First of all she was a nun, then of course she was usually thousands of
miles away. It is new to me to really even think of her being involved with someone
romantically.”
“Was she a good nun?” I asked.
John just gave me a disbelieving look. He was right; I already knew the answer to that
question. “Ask me what you really want to know,” he suggested softly.

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I leaned forward towards the table, unconsciously lowering my voice. I didn’t know why,
but I wanted to make sure no one else overheard us. “Why did she stop being a nun?”
There it was. I wasn’t sure why he’d wanted to invite me to lunch; undoubtedly not to
hear me spout off about math. I hadn’t realized it, but this question was why I’d wanted
to come.
His reaction wasn’t what I’d expected. Indignation, amusement, even surprise; I could
have seen any of those. Instead, he looked sad. “I do not know,” he said at long last. “I
do not know.”
“She never talked about leaving before she did it?”
John shook his head. “We talked periodically, wrote sometimes, and in recent years
emailed frequently. About anything and everything. Yet I did not see this coming and
she never brought it up.”
I leaned back in my chair, and was silent. John just stared at me calmly. He wasn’t mad,
or worried, or even curious. He knew I wasn’t done. “Why do you think she left?”
“I don’t know,” he repeated. “Women are a mystery, a delightful one but a mystery
nonetheless. Even Sister Mary Esther, as I’ve known her all these years, and who seems
so open but in this has confounded all of those who thought they knew her.”
“Do you think she made a mistake?”
The waiter brought our check. We each offered to pick it up, then I suggested splitting it,
but in the end he insisted on paying. “I invited you, after all,” he noted. I gave in but left
the tip.

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Outside the restaurant we stood for a moment before going our separate ways. It was a
bright but cold day, with some old snow still covering the grass and trees. “I’m not used
to your winters.”
“Me neither,” I said. “You never answered my question.”
John took a deep breath of the crisp air, and smiled with relief. He seemed to be
invigorated by the rush of oxygen. “I don’t think Megan makes too many mistakes, my
friend,” he advising me sincerely. “The church may have been too small a box for her.
She’s out in the world now, and the world should be thankful.”
We shook hands. He held on to mine a moment longer than normal, holding my eyes in
that steady gaze of his. “You’re not a mistake for her either, Mr. Craig Tarski.”
I was confused, and it must have showed. “What do you mean?”
“Just be her friend.” With that he released both my eyes and my hand, and walked away.
He was whistling.
My breakfast with Jill did not start out well. Seven was pretty early for me. I’d resolved
to go to bed early the night before, only to get caught up in a couple of late night movies
and next thing I knew it was three. I caught a couple hours sleep, but ended up waking
up later than planned. I took a quick shower, rushed out, and got slightly lost. I was
fifteen minutes late by the time I got to the breakfast place she’d chosen.
It was one of these clean upscale breakfast places, part of a small chain. I’m more of a
greasy spoon kind of breakfast eater myself, so I was immediately uncomfortable. They
only served breakfast and lunch, and always seemed busy. I quickly scoped out the place
and didn’t see her waiting. There were lots of very similar other people here. Youngish
men and women, twenties and thirties and dressed for success. Even the ones dressed
casually had me beat on my best day. They wore the air of success – present or expected

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future – about them like another expensive blazer. They may have been enjoying the
food but what they were there for was work. That made me doubly out of place.
I nearly panicked when I didn’t see Jill, certain she’d left because I was late. The hostess,
a trim young lady with a cheery smile for the other customers, gave me a dubious look.
Perhaps she was afraid I just wanted to use the bathroom, or maybe she thought I’d meant
to go in the service entrance. I might have looked like a potential busboy, after all,
although I’d tried to clean up some. I wanted to justify my presence there somehow to
her but wasn’t quite sure I could.
“Craig!” I heard someone say. I looked around. “Craig,” the voice called again. It was
Jill, sitting at a small table. She was on her cell phone but cheerfully motioned me over
with her free hand. The hostess looked mildly relieved to have me placed somewhere,
but still seemed slightly disapproving. Jill finished her conversation as I arrived.
“Later,” she told the person on the other end of the line. She put the phone in her purse
and looked at me with a broad smile. “How are you, Craig?”
Jill’s hair was loose today, instead of the ponytail she’d worn to the party. It made her
look older, I suppose, more like a woman than a girl. She had on a very nice suit with a
short skirt, and a sheer white blouse under the jacket. I wished she’d take the jacket off,
but I figured she was unlikely to. She probably never got hot unless she wanted to.
“Fine. I’m sorry I’m late.”
“Did you get lost?” The thought seemed to amuse her, but I didn’t mind the little smile in
her eyes.
“Yes,” I admitted, glad she gave me a good excuse. Then I felt guilty. “I overslept a little
too.”

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A tall waiter came by and asked if I wanted anything. I figured it was too early for a
soda, so I ordered some orange juice instead. He refilled Jill’s coffee cup and they
chatted familiarly. “I guess you come here a lot.”
She smiled at me. “Oh, yes. I often do breakfasts here. It’s convenient, quick, and you
never know who you’ll run into.” As if to illustrate her point she waved to a couple of
well-dressed men who were sitting across the room. They gave one eagerly back, and
one of them motioned for her to call him later. I noticed her nails, which were red and
looked immaculate. I suspected a manicure, and I’d have been willing to bet that her toes
matched. I was more used to tattoos than to professionally done nails, but on her I had to
admit that it worked.
I studied the menu. She either had done so while waiting, or perhaps she’d committed
the menu to memory from her many visits here. As soon as I put it down our waiter
appeared. She ordered some sort of fruit and granola thing that sounded very healthy but
terrible, while I ordered an omelet and a side of bacon and toast. I wanted a cinnamon
roll too but thought that might seem too much. She looked amused.
“I don’t get up this early very often,” I confessed. I looked around the room nervously.
Everyone else seemed so practiced at this. So did Jill. “I do this about just about every
day,” she told me confidently. “Sometimes I have more than one breakfast.”
“It doesn’t show,” I told her.
Despite herself, she flashed a smile at my compliment. “Well, I watch what I eat very
carefully.”
We made conversation over the course of the meal, with Jill directing. I was terrified of
boring her, and curious to learn why she’d invited me, so I just went with the flow. I
learned she was finishing her MBA, working in the press office of the University. She
apparently wrote lots of press releases, did logistics for various parties and functions, and

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basically hobnobbed for a living. She’d met Megan at a couple fundraisers, but only got
invited to her party for John because she was sheparding him around. “I’m very
impressed by her,” she told me, spooning out the last of her granola. I wondered if she’d
eat more at a second breakfast later, or if I was perhaps the second breakfast. “She really
seems together.” Jill was very serious.
I expected her to quiz me more about John, especially after I let her know I’d just had
lunch with him. I admit it; I was trying to impress her. She nodded thoughtfully, and
asked what we talked about and all, but didn’t really seem to pursue it much further. I
was sort of relieved, because I couldn’t really claim I had any special relationship with
the guy, not after one lunch and a few minutes at one party. She seemed more interested
in Megan than John.
“Did you know she used to be a nun?” she asked, sipping a cup of coffee in both hands.
She held it in front of her like she was trying to read the future with it. I conceded that I
did know that aspect of her past, and finished off my toast. “I think it is fascinating,” she
said.
“That she was a nun, or that she isn’t anymore?”
“Both. She’s lived such a different life, and now is really successful in the business
world. I think she’s one of these people who are just really good at whatever they do.”
I nodded.
“I want a life like that,” Jill said with a faintly dreamy tone of voice.
That startled me. “What, a nun?”
Jill physically recoiled. “God, no! I mean, it’s fine for her or people that want to do that,
but that’s not for me. I like my freedom a little too much.”

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“Hmm.” I gave her a questioning look.
“You know what I mean. I mean, would you want to be a priest?”
I thought of my recent involuntary celibacy, and wasn’t exactly sure I’d be able to tell the
difference. But I didn’t exactly want to admit that. “I see your point.”
“Right. We’re young and healthy. This is the time to enjoy life. I want to have lots of
fun, make a bundle, go everywhere and see everything. I want to be able to tell stories
that amaze my grandkids – you know, I can’t believe my grandmother did that.” She
laughed with pleasure at the prospect of that future scene. I had a hard time picturing her
as a grandmother, and found myself regretting that Megan wasn’t going to be able to tell
her stories to her grandchildren. Maybe her nieces and nephews sufficed.
We talked for a while longer. I got the definite impression that Jill dated a lot, and at the
same time she was almost ruthlessly ambitious. She wasn’t going to stay at the
University much longer. She got the job through family connections, and did it because
she didn’t have to pay for her Masters. Her plan was to go work in the private sector and
get rich. I told her about Chuck’s job, which she was very intrigued by. After all, it
featured lots of meals as well.
Soon enough she declared that she had to get going. The other tables had turned over a
couple times while we’d been there, and we’d spend more time after eating than we had
eating. I noticed that they weren’t filling her coffee cup as frequently. She fiddled with
her nearly empty cup.
“I was thinking of calling Megan up and asking her to lunch or maybe breakfast,” she
said, as if she’d just thought of the idea and wanted to try it out on me.

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It hit me in that instant just how young Jill was. Young as I thought Megan looked, there
was definitely a difference. The softness of her skin, the freshness of her complexion, the
lack of any wrinkles even around her eyes – maybe Jill just did make-up better, but those
fourteen or so years made a difference. Jill -- and Cat, for that matter -- had Megan beat
in the youth department and there was no point denying the fact. Megan still looked
great and all, mind you, but she wasn’t a twenty-five year old. Jill had seemed to me to
be as confident as Megan was, but as soon as she brought up calling Megan I saw her for
the young girl she still was. Her confidence was bravado, her brashness covering for the
doubt. She could not duplicate Megan’s constant sense of peace that allowed her to
appear so calm and sure of herself. Maybe Megan had always had it, or maybe her years
had taught her that wisdom. Jill and Cat were at the age when they were just barely
starting to realize that having fun was not the same thing as being happy, and Megan
looked to them like a five star meal after a diet of fast food.
“I think she’d like that,” I said, meaning it. She blushed very slightly and ducked her
head almost imperceptibly. She gestured that we should go, and threw down a twenty to
cover the bill, overcoming my offer to split it with her. I kind of liked this being treated;
twice in two days.
I walked her outside. She gave me a big smile and stuck out her hand to shake. She had
a very firm handshake, and I liked the feel of it.
“I enjoyed this, Craig,” she told me. “We’ll have to do it again. Next time you choose
the place.” She even gave me a card and wrote her home number on the back.
I agreed, but wondered when that would be. She walked off confidently, and I watched
her stride those long legs with fascination. I fingered her card like it was a magic token
that had suddenly appeared in my hands, and that I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it.

Chapter 30

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I figured that I was up anyway so I might as well do some work, so I sat down at my
computer and started to think about one of the projects Mike asked me to think about. It
sounds like not working to sit down and just think about something, but it’s actually
pretty hard. You have to focus and think really hard if the problem is any kind of a
challenge. I spent the morning just thinking and occasionally doodling. I had music
playing but couldn’t really have said what it was. Along the way parts of Mike’s problem
made me think about a not entirely dissimilar aspect of a topology problem I’d been
chipping away at for several weeks, and ended up pretty much spending the afternoon on
thinking about that instead. About four I felt I had a good enough handle on it to go to
the boards, and that’s where Megan found me about seven.
I must have looked a sight. I was disheveled, with my hair sticking up in the air from
running my hands through it so many times, and my clothes were rumpled. I’d probably
been muttering to myself when she let herself in.
“Don’t mind me,” she told me. “You’ve been working, I see.”
I looked over at the numerous boards of work. “A little.”
She walked along the boards, studying them. “A lot, I’d say.”
I told her about my day’s work, starting with the original problem from Mike and ending
up where she’d come in. “Are you done?” she asked.
“Not quite.”
“Why don’t you just finish up? Can I stay and watch you work for a while? I’ll be quiet
as a mouse.”

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I tried to demur, telling her she’d be bored and offering to give her a lesson or just get
something to eat, but she insisted that she was quite happy to let me finish my train of
thought. I really did want to close off my current proof, and relented. She took a seat,
rolling a desk chair over to where she could watch me work. “And feel free to talk to
yourself,” she told me. “I like that part.”
I spent another forty-five minutes or so. The first couple I was self-conscious, but once I
got into it I actually did forget she was there. “Q.E.D.,” I said and wrote once I finished.
I stood back from the board to look at my work in satisfaction.
“Quod Erat Demonstratum,” she repeated. She stood up and walked over to the board
admiringly. “That which has been proved.” I’d taught her well, although she probably
actually knew Latin instead of just the few mathematical phrases I knew.
She offered to take me out to dinner, and I accepted. I hadn’t eaten anything since the
breakfast with Jill, and I kind of wanted to celebrate anyway. We went to a Vietnamese
restaurant where the portions were large and the prices amazingly cheap. I told her about
the theorem I’d worked on all day. I’d started out the day not sure what might be true,
and ended it being the first – I thought – to prove that what I had suspected might be was
indeed true. There wasn’t any good way to do a real world example or even analogy for
it, so my explanation was necessarily incomplete. Of course, probably only about five
people in the world might care about it – six, if I gave Megan the benefit of the doubt, not
because she cared about the math but because she was happy for me – but it was
rewarding all the same.
“Very nice,” she said, her eyes sparkling. “What about Mike Barnes’ problem?”
I’d sort of not thought about it for hours, and had to take a second to remind myself what
it was. “Oh, that,” I said. I thought for a second, and in my enhanced adrenaline state I
saw the solution. “It’s trivial. It’s a very minor corollary to the first lemma I proved this

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morning. It will take about ten minutes of programming to show Mike’s people what to
do.”
She looked impressed. I ate some of my food happily while she watched me. “So what
will you do next?”
“With what?”
“With your work. Will you publish it?”
I was slightly taken aback. “Publish? Oh, no, I’m not really into that.”
Megan pursued her lips in a thoughtful way. “Oh?”
I felt obliged to explain. “I mean, there are a few people I know that I might email it to
or something, but it’d be such a hassle to get it published. It’s probably not good enough
anyway.”
She didn’t say anything, just gave me that quiet look that suggested she wasn’t
convinced. I gave in first. “I mean, it’s good all right, and I guess there’s less good
findings that get published.”
“So?” she encouraged me, a sly smile appearing. “If I did something I was proud of like
that, I’d want other people to know about it. After all, you discovered something today,
right?”
“I guess.” I thought about what it would take to truly polish it up. I wasn’t sure I wanted
to go through that, and then see what publications might deign to publish an amateur like
me. I’d have to call in a few chips. It was doable, but it would take more effort than I
was used to.

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“I admire your talent, Craig,” Megan said sincerely. “It was so much fun watching you
create something. It’s a gift you have, and it’s so obvious watching you that you love it.”
I’d eaten enough, my appetite lost either by the food I’d downed or by this serious turn of
conversation. Megan had picked at her food sparingly but with appreciation, and had
already finished. We paid and left. Megan suggested a walk, hooking her arm in mine in
her familiar way. Although it was March and technically still winter, the temperature was
unseasonably balmy, in the forties. We enjoyed the nice air. Megan seemed content to
walk in amiable silence, but after a few minutes I felt compelled to interrupt her thoughts.
“What about you?” I asked. “Do you love what you do?”
Megan didn’t look over, but I could see her frowning slightly. She signed. “You mean
running a hospital?” I nodded, and she nodded in returned. “No, not really.”
“You don’t?”
“Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy it, and I love being able to help so many people, even if
only indirectly. But, no, I don’t quite love it.”
We walked for a few more steps. The skies were mostly cloudy and the light from the
city seemed to bounce off them and light up the night air like some dim indoor arena. It’s
not like being out in the country, where dark is really dark. In the city, even night isn’t
truly night, except maybe in a few alleys.
I had to ask. “Did you love being a nun?”
Megan seemed to smile despite herself. “I figured you’d ask that. I loved some things
about being a nun. What I really loved was being a nurse. I liked being able to comfort
people and make them feel a little better in times like that. Being a nun was like that
sometimes too, of course, but after awhile I didn’t get as much chance to help individuals

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as much. Gratifying as they each can be, both nursing and the sisterhood end up being
victims to the institutions that they are part of.”
It had never occurred to me that Megan might not be doing something she loved. I
thought that was a problem other people had. She always seemed so happy and upbeat.
We walked a little further in silence, our footsteps tapping lightly on the sidewalk. “Do
you ever think about being a nurse again?”
“Oh, I think about it. I still volunteer a few times a week.”
“You do?” I couldn’t understand when she’d have time.
“Oh, yes. A couple nights a week at an abortion clinic, and at a free clinic on Saturdays.
There’s always someplace that could use an extra nurse.”
I wanted to go back to the first part of what she’d said. ‘You volunteer at an abortion
clinic? You support abortion?” That was pretty shocking to me. No wonder she’d
stopped being a nun. I mean, an abortion clinic. I didn’t have any strong feelings about
abortion, but figured she must.
Megan patted my arm. “I don’t have to support it to know that those women are hurting.
Whether I agree with their decision or not, I can help them.”
This was too weird a conversation, so I didn’t pursue it. When she asked me about my
breakfast with Jill, I was happy to oblige, recounting the story as best I could. I told her
about Jill wanting to have lunch with her. “So you see, you impress people. First Cat,
now Jill.”
It turned out that those weren’t the only two. Kevin had stopped by a couple times –
which he’d never told me – and Chuck had arranged the lunch with his boss. The three of

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them had an expensive lunch, the end of which was Chuck’s boss telling her whenever
she was ready to do something different, he could place in her in a heartbeat.
“Must be nice, all these people after you. I expect it happens a lot to you. Do you ever
get used to it?”
Megan flashed a shy smile. “I guess I’m accustomed to it, but I don’t think I’ve ever
gotten used to it.”
“Cat told me she thinks you’ve got everything figured out. That’s why you seem so” -- I
searched for the word Cat had used – “together.”
Megan looked over at me inquiringly. She smiled again, but it lacked her usual
animation. It seemed a little sad, if anything. “Maybe I don’t have anything figured out,”
she said softly.
I didn’t know how to take that, so I didn’t reply. Megan recovered quickly. “So are you
interested in our Miss Gateaux? Should I say nice things about you if she calls me?”
My face must have reflected comical surprise, as Megan laughed and put a hand to her
mouth to try to cover it. “I don’t think she has any interest in me,” I said. “It’s you she
wants to know more about.”
She looked at me tenderly. “I don’t know that I agree with that. I don’t think you realize
what an attractive young man you are.” I must have blushed. Megan laughed again in
amusement at my embarrassment. “Come on, you’ve probably broken lots of hearts
along the way.”
“I think you’re confused, my friend.” I tried to sound jovial about it, like I was correcting
her grammar or her spelling.

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After some prodding, I recounted my sad romantic life. High school was Ann, who was
more of a friend. We hung out in the same crowd and sort of ended up having sex more
because we thought everyone else was. We only did it a few times, then retreated into
awkward friendship most of our senior year. We lost touch that summer. College was
Brooke. I thought I was in love with her, and she seemed to be in love with me. We went
together for about two years, met each other’s families and all. After our junior year she
broke up with me, and then there was a dry spell until Karen, during grad school. Again,
I fell hard, despite clear warning signs to the contrary.
“Like what?” Megan inquired.
“Like never having sex. I mean, we fooled around, did, umm, oral sex and all, but never
intercourse.”
“Hmm,” Megan replied. “Was she a virgin?”
I wondered if she was perhaps thinking of her own situation. “No, she was just terrified
of AIDS or getting pregnant, and wanted to wait until we were sure we were ready. Well,
I was ready but I guess she wasn’t.”
Megan nodded thoughtfully. “Then what?”
I dropped the bomb that had devastated my world at the time, the crater from which my
heart was still trying to crawl out it, according to Chuck and Kevin. “Then I caught her
one day sleeping with a guy I knew.”
“Oh.” Megan was silent.
We had arrived back at my car, and by unspoken agreement had decided to end the walk.
I unlocked her door and opened it for her. I walked around and got in my side, then
started the car. “Look on the bright side,” I said before pulling out.

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She turned to me. “What’s that?”
“I got really good at foreplay.” I pealed some rubber in pulling out.
Once Megan’s head had stopped bouncing around from my abrupt launch onto the road –
fortunately traffic was light – she adroitly topped my comment. “I’ll keep that in mind,”
she said drolly.
The drive home was quiet, each of us silent with our own thoughts. I walked her up to
her apartment, and she paused at the door. “Could you come in for a bit?” she asked. I
wasn’t sure why she was inviting me in, but of course I complied. Megan took our coats
and directed me over to the couch. She sat down next to me.
“You know it’s been a long time since I’ve, well, dated,” she said. Her gaze was calm
and unnerving somehow.
“Yes,” I agreed cautiously, not sure where this was going.
“I’m pretty out of practice.”
“Join the club,” I told her sardonically. If she was going to ask me for advice, she had
picked the wrong guy. “My dating history is pretty checkered.”
“I was thinking of something else.”
Oh, yeah, I thought to myself. I may have intended to say it, but my mouth was no
longer connected to my brain. I tried raising an eyebrow instead, not quite pulling it off.
Now Megan looked down. “I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind helping me practice
kissing.”

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I rocked back slightly and looked at her with my mouth partially open. She looked up to
check on my reaction. I’m not sure what she saw, but instead of waiting for a reaction
she just leaned toward and kissed me.
My lips, of course, automatically responded before I could react in any rational way. My
lips reached out to touch hers, gently at first and with a more solid pressure before she
leaned back. This was all over in a second or two, mind you, but my head was buzzing
with sensations. Her lips felt full and soft, like kissing a flower or taking a bite out of a
fresh peach – soft and moist and tasty. I don’t know how to describe it other than to say it
was over before I could fully realize it was even happening.
“There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Megan asked.
“No, not too bad,” I said bravely.
“Want to try it again?”
I nodded dumbly and she moved closer. Long story short, we kissed for ten or fifteen
minutes. The shock of the first time I felt her tongue in my mouth was like a jolt of
electricity. I scrupulously kept my hands in safe places, mostly wrapped around her, but
the mere closeness of her body to mine was almost too much. I had an erection like
crazy, and she’d have to have been deaf, dumb and blind to not be aware of it.
The truth is, if she were out of practice kissing, she must have been a pretty damn good
bicyclist before she became a nun because she sure got into the hang of it pretty quickly,
if you take my meaning. I thought I was learning more from her than she might be from
me. Her kisses were tender and sensitive and passionate and hot-blooded in turn and
sometimes all at once. I was very aware not just of the touch and taste of her lips, but the
proximity of her body. Much as I was trying to not get too forward, her breasts and legs
and face were in contact with me and I reveled in their sensations. It was heaven.

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I think the thing that really struck me the most, though, were the sounds she made. Now,
my experience was kind of limited, but the women I'd been with had been pretty quiet
about this sort of thing, except maybe some well-placed but too theatrical expressions of
pleasure. Megan made a few soft, probably unconscious sounds that were somewhere
between a moan and a whimper. It was as if she was vulnerable young girl who had been
aching for these kisses at some primeval level, her body crying out for the physical
contact and the passion it represented. I didn't believe, of course, that these sighs of
passion had anything to do with me specifically; I was just the lucky recipient.
She stopped for no more reason I could detect than I had detected a reason for her starting
in the first place. She smiled at me warmly, but with no sign of lust or desire. I felt a
little deflated, as I had gotten worked up into feeling more than a little of both. “Thank
you,” she said formally.
“You’re welcome,” I replied automatically. I felt stupid.
“You know, maybe you should ask out one of these women who are interested in you.”
I was baffled by her comment; I didn’t see anyone around who was remotely interested in
me. “Like who?”
“Oh, Jill, or Cat, or that waitress at the cocktail party.”
Lisa, I recalled, pulling her name out of some deep recess of my mind. What puzzled me
more was that Megan would include her with Jill and Cat, who I at least knew more than
slightly. “I don’t think so. You’re the one everyone is fascinated by.”
Megan shook her head in amusement. “Craig, Craig. What am I going to do with you?
You don’t even know how attractive you are.”

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“I think I’ve got a pretty exact read on how attractive I am to women. Can I use negative
numbers?”
Her hand patted me again, and her smile indicated warm tolerance. “All your life you’re
going to be attracted to cute young things in their twenties, whether they’re women like
Jill or Cat that you know or just women up on a television or movie screen. Men just like
women that age.”
“So?”
“So this is the only time of your life when you’ll be equally attractive to women of that
age – or other ages for that matter.”
I thought for a moment, acutely aware of the warmth of her hand on my arm and of the
little kissing clinic we’d just put on. “Man,” I said finally. “If these are my peak years, if
it’s all downhill from here, then I may as well just give up now, because I’m sure not
attracting anyone now.”
Megan shook her head slightly, as if to indicate her disbelief. “Ah, Craig, you don’t
know what a special time this is in your life. In your twenties the whole world is open to
you. You can decide to do anything you want to do, go anywhere you want to go. No
hooks, no ties. And these young girls are attracted to you, despite what you think.”
“Sure.”
Megan ignored my attempt at sarcasm. “By the time you’re in your thirties you’ll have
probably made some choices – your career, a place to live, maybe even a spouse if you’re
that lucky. Then in your forties you might start to think maybe you’ve made some wrong
choices. Maybe you married the wrong woman, maybe you hate your job. But it’s not so
easy to change those anymore.”

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“This is getting grim.”
“It can get worse,” she said with a quiet smile. “In your fifties you could just be trying to
hang on to what you have, trying to be able to retire and do the things you really want to
do, and then when you do retire you try to squeeze in what you can while you are still
healthy enough to.”
This grim future did not sound like Megan. I couldn’t believe the Megan I knew had
such a relentless hopeless outlook on life. “What are you trying to tell me?” I asked at
last, searching her face for clues.
She studied me in return, and gave me a small smile that drilled me to the heart. “Take
advantage of your choices when you have them, my friend. Don’t start being afraid.”
Megan looked subtly towards the door, and I took the hint and got up. She walked me
over to the door, and pecked me on the cheek as she ushered me out the door.
I must confess that when I went up to my apartment I was planning to masturbate to my
memory of our time together on the couch, but instead I laid there thinking about her in a
different sense. Her kisses did not feel like twenty odd years of pent-up desire. They felt
like a young girl gamely and enthusiastically trying something relatively new, but I could
not get those vulnerable sounds out of my head. They thrilled me but at the same time
they scared me somehow. They sounded like years of something missing, and I
wondered again why she had stopped being a nun. I didn’t think it was to start kissing
again, much as the world would have missed her skills in that regard had she remained
kissless. I thought, too, about her visits to the hospital, like to my new buddy Andy.
Maybe that was the nurse in her, but I kind of thought it had more to do with the nun part
of her than the nurse part.
I feel asleep thinking about what she said about taking chances, what chances she thought
I should take, and the choices she had made.

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Chapter 31
The next couple days were pretty busy. I spent an afternoon with some of Mike Barnes’
programmers. At first they were skeptical of the radical approach I outlined, but once we
walked through it for a while they began to see where it was going and got enthused.
While I was there and they were doing that, I was working on another of Mike’s
assignments, making some good headway and killing two birds with one stone, so to
speak. Mike seemed pretty pleased.
I spent more time polishing up my blackboard work, typing it up, making it tighter and
elaborating on some of the shortcuts I’d taken. I hadn’t decided to publish it, mind you,
but I figured I might as well clean it up. I even emailed it off to a couple of friends of
mine, asking them what they thought.
Chuck admitted that his boss was highly enamored – in a professional sense – with
Megan, and was drooling at the chance of getting her into one of the companies they
backed. She’d go over well with investors. “I don’t know,” I told him. “I’m not sure she
wants to be some big CEO.”
“Everyone’s got their price,” Chuck replied confidently. I let it go, but I thought he was
wrong about that.
Kevin was missing in action for a few days. Neither Chuck nor I knew where he was, but
we just assumed that he was pulling some long hours on some rush job. He’d done it
before and we figured he’d turn up eventually. That he did, coming in one night at The
Bridge while Chuck and I were battling each other on a Sega game. I was winning, and
Kevin politely took a seat in the usual booth until we finished and joined him.
“Long time no see,” Chuck said, sliding into the bench next to him.

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“How’s it going?” I said.
He acknowledged us, then looked around. “Cat’s not on tonight,” Chuck teased him. We
told him we hadn’t seen her for a couple days. He didn’t seem too surprised.
I asked him where he’d been, expecting him to confirm our assumptions. If not that, I
thought maybe he’d gone to see his family.
“California,” he said casually.
“What?” Chuck and I responded in unison.
He’d gone out talking to some friends of his about an idea he had, a possible business
venture. His friends were a couple guys he’d worked with over the years. Chuck, of
course, was outraged that Kevin had an idea that he didn’t come to him with, but Kevin
reassured him that he was still just looking at the feasibility, that when it came time for
money he’d give Chuck the first shot.
I had my own thoughts, wondering why all of a sudden Kevin had ideas about a company
of his own. I well remembered him telling me not that long ago that he wasn’t the big
picture guy and would never have the nerve to go off on his own. And I remembered that
Megan had told me Kevin had come to talk to her. I suspected the dots were connected
somehow.
Once he got started, Kevin warmed up to the topic. I’d seen this before, too many times.
This was how these would-be entrepreneurs got when they thought they’d come with
something that the world had not only never seen before, but also sorely needed. Once
someone got that kind of fever, the only thing you could do was let it run its course. That
might consume their every waking moment and their life savings, not to mention lots of

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other people’s time and money, but there was no other way out. I had not pictured Kevin
succumbing to the fever, but I’d seen even less likely candidates come down with it.
I won’t go into the details of Kevin’s idea, but soon he and Chuck were engaged in a
point-counterpoint on the merits and obstacles, financing rounds and business models. I
sat there thinking, who are these guys? It wasn’t just Kevin who surprised me. Chuck
sounded professional and authoritative, in command of arcane business matters that I’d
always done my best to ignore. I thought his job was kind of a scam, a way to keep
hanging out with his buddies without doing any real work but getting paid for it. Here it
looked like he had been taking it seriously and had absorbed a lot of what he’d been
doing.
“You’re business model will probably go through several iterations before you nail it
down,” Chuck was saying. Kevin was listening intently. “But that’s OK. The important
thing is to convince the VCs that your concept has got merit.”
“I thought the New Economy was over,” I offered, just to get a reaction. “There’s no
more easy money out there.”
They both stopped talking and eating long enough to look across the table with offended
looks on their faces, and perhaps slightly surprised to find me still there.
“It’s not just any idea,” Kevin said carefully. I think his feelings were hurt. “This is a
good idea.”
“That too,” Chuck added. “But the basic rule is that there’s always people with money
looking to make more. You just have to know how to get it out of their pockets. And
that’s where guys like me come in.”

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We all laughed at that, and chatted for a while longer. Kevin assured me that I could be
part of any company he formed, if I wanted to, and Chuck nodded vigorously. He was
already counting the money. Something Kevin had said earlier struck me.
“Why California?”
Kevin’s reaction confirmed my hunch. Instead of being surprised by my question, he
looked sheepish and grimaced just slightly. “I wanted to talk to some guys out there.”
“Would the company be out there?”
Chuck was watching Kevin intently, playing this course of the conversation out and
figuring out if it changed anything for him. As I’d said, somewhere along the way he’d
gotten good at what he did, took it seriously like he’d never quite taken anything serious
before, with the possible exception of our friendship.
“Not necessarily,” Kevin answered, looking around the room to avoid eye contact.
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“You’d really move? Chuck asked. Kevin looked down at the table and thought for a few
seconds, then looked up. He nodded.
Well, of course we talked about that. He was insistent that it wouldn’t change our
friendship; we’d all known people who’d moved, some of whom had remained friends
and some of whom had drifted away. He was confident we’d stay in touch. “And maybe
you’d move too,” he dangled.
Chuck seemed intrigued by this idea.
“What about Cat?” I asked.

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Kevin checked out the room again, making sure she hadn’t shown up and might surprise
him as he answered. “I mean, I like her and all, she’s a nice girl, but let’s face it -- she’s
not really interested in me, you know. Besides…”
Chuck caught it first. “Spill, dude!”
Now Kevin looked really uncomfortable. It turned out that one of the people he’d visited
in California, one of the people who might be involved in whatever enterprise came of his
idea, was a girl. Friend of a friend, as it turned out, no one that Chuck and I had ever met
or heard of. He’d met her a few months ago and kept in touch with through email and the
occasional phone call, and there seemed to be some chemistry there. Chuck seemed
prouder of him for this than for his entrepreneurial idea.
It occurred to me right then that the world had changed. We were having a grownup
conversation about ambition, business, even relationships. They were all topics that we’d
talked about innumerable times, but something was different. We were different. It
wasn’t that they were any more important than before, but all of a sudden we took them
seriously, I guess. I could look back at the last time we’d been at The Bridge and wonder
at those kids we’d been. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the difference, but it was there.
It had precipitated out of us unbidden and unexpected, and I was pretty sure I knew the
catalyst.
Megan.

Chapter 32
I left before either one of them. They wanted to talk some more about what Kevin
needed to do next, and I really didn’t have much to add. I promised Kevin I’d catch up
with him in the next couple days and give some thought as to how I could help, but I was
pretty sure I wasn’t going to go to work for him, and I definitely wasn’t moving to

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California. I was lost in my own thoughts as I walked to my car, and I had the keys out
and had hit the unlock button before I heard her voice.
“Craig?”
It was Cat’s voice, more tentative than usual but still unmistakably hers. She got out of
her car and walked over towards me. I noticed how pretty her hair looked. It was back to
its natural red, and she had an attractive cut. She’d cut it some, but it still covered her
neck. And I only noticed a couple of earrings, although, granted, it was kind of dark out.
“Cat?” What are you doing here?”
“I was looking for you.”
I looked over at The Bridge. “Why didn’t you come inside?”
She shrugged. “I didn’t want to talk to your friends. I want to show you something.”
I was kind of intrigued by that, let me tell you. My groin stirred slightly. I guess it
figured it should be ready just in case. “How did you know I’d be here?”
“I stopped by your apartment and you weren’t here, so I swung by here and saw your
car.”
“Have you been waiting long?” I asked. I was trying to imagine what was so important
that she’d sit out in the parking lot waiting for me. It wasn’t too cold out, but I could
think of a lot better things to do than wait in a dingy parking lot and a lot better places to
wait if one had to wait.
“Not long. Are you heading home? Do you have an hour or so? There’s something I
want to show you.”

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“Is everything all right?” I had a sudden fear that something bad had happened to
Megan, but of course that was silly. Cat wouldn’t be so calm, and she wouldn’t have
waited for me out here. Besides, I was suddenly sure that if something did happen to
Megan, I’d know it somehow, no matter how far apart we were. I didn’t know where that
came from.
“Everything is great,” Cat said with astonishing assurance. She was very pleased about
whatever it is. “Look, if you’re interested, follow me.”
“Where?”
“Just follow me.”
I shrugged and got in my car, and she got in hers. I followed her, not sure at first where
we were going but eventually realizing that we were heading to the University. We
parked in one of the lots for the film school’s building, and got out of our cars. Cat
seemed eager to get going.
“What are we doing here?” I asked, standing next to my car.
“I’ll explain everything,” she said, taking my arm and urging me on. “Let’s go inside.”
We went into the building. It was mostly dark and deserted, but every so often we’d run
into another student who would greet Cat. It was midnight on a weekday night, but I
knew lots of people who didn’t think anything about staying up late to work on stuff. I
hadn’t realized arts kind of people were like that, and felt a little better about myself and
my geek friends. She took me to a room that looked like a miniature movie theater and
directed me to sit.
“We’re going to watch movies?”

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“Sort of. Listen, I have to go set things up. Wait here a couple minutes.”
I fidgeted there by myself while she went to do whatever she had to do. It was strange
being there. I’d known that she was in film school, but it had been kind of an abstract
concept for me. Her life was The Bridge as far as I knew. The thought of Cat sitting in a
classroom and talking about whatever it was they talked about in film school was too
odd. I had a better mental picture of Megan being a nun than I did Cat as your everyday
student, raising her hand and taking tests and so on. It amused me, as did thinking about
classes they might offer. “The Sexual Politics of Lethal Weapon 3.” “Woody Allen –
Take the Money and Run.” I was starting in on Disney cartoon riffs when she
reappeared. She had taken off her coat, so I did the same.
“I just finished it today. Editing it, I mean.”
Now I was more confused. “Finished what?”
She looked at me in surprise. “Oh, my goodness, I forgot that you don’t know what I’m
talking about. My student project. I finished it today.”
“Congratulations,” I told her, meaning it. “What is it, like a paper or something?”
Now, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to understanding women,
but even I should have figured it out sooner than I did. Before she had time to recover
from her obvious surprise I jumped in and corrected myself. “I get it. You did a movie.”
“A film,” she said, not taking offence but wanting the distinction made anyway. “A
short, to be exact. It’s only about thirty minutes long.”
“How long have you been working on it?”

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Cat settled in to the seat next to me. She looked up at the blank screen, as did I. There is
something magnetic about a blank screen; people eyes are just drawn to it. TVs have a
similar effect, but to a much lesser extent. “ A while,” she admitted. “A couple months
to write, a couple weeks to cast, another six weeks or so to film, and then a month or so
to edit. I just got it to where I’m happy with it tonight, which is good because I want to
enter it into the student show, and the deadline is tomorrow.
“What is it about?”
She nudged me. “You’ll see.”
The screen flickered to life. I wasn’t sure if she hit a button of some sort or if someone in
the projection room started it, either on their own or at some pre-arranged signal from Cat
that I also missed. The room darkened and I got ready for a movie experience, throwing
myself into the celluloid world with abandon. This time was a little different, in that
usually I know something about the world I’m about to enter and tonight I was
completely in the dark, both literally and metaphorically.
As it turned out, I knew this world pretty well too. The scene opened with the shot of a
half-empty – or half-full, depending on your outlook on life – cup of something that
might have been beer on a table. The picture was kind of black and white, but not quite;
there was a strange kind of semi-color that suggested late nights in lonely places. The
camera pulled back from the cup to show a hand reaching for it, then pulled further away
to establish that there were three young men sitting in a booth. They appeared to be the
only patrons in the place. Only after a minute or two did I realize that the dull
background noise was the three of them talking, and their conversation gradually became
more audible.
It took me a minute or two longer to place the setting: it was The Bridge. I recognized
the set-up and the bar, not to mention the various games and PCs. I suppose I’d have

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recognized it sooner if I’d been looking for it, but it was so totally out of what I had been
expecting that I missed all the glues.
I also noticed that the booth that the men were sitting in was our booth.
The three men were not, strictly speaking, Chuck, Kevin, and myself. Any resemblances
were trivial, possibly some body type similarities. One of them was African-American,
but he was the largest and most outgoing of the three, unlike our own Kevin. As best I
could tell, the conversations were not conversations we’d ever actually had. It didn’t
appear that Cat had sulked around recording what we said as fodder for her movie.
Maybe she’d intended to but had found that we were too boring. Still, there was
something familiar about the dialogue. Everything they said sounded like it could be
something we might have said, or might yet still might say.
What Cat had done was somehow capture our easy banter, developed through countless
bullshit sessions in this and other milieus. No one was trying to be eloquent or say
anything too important. We weren’t solving world hunger or anything, and neither were
these guys on the screen. They were just hanging out.
Cat had pretty evenly split the screen time and the personalities. There was no clear star
and no special buffoon. Each of them seemed like normal guys, with flaws and good
points equally distributed. Megan had told me that she was envious of our friendship,
and I hadn’t believed her. Watching the fictional us on the screen, I could understand it;
the bonds of those guys’ friendship was clearly visible.
It was hard for me to focus on the film itself; I was trying to decode the guys on the
screen from what I knew to be the real life antecedents. The lighting seemed purposely
dimmed, with The Bridge – or, rather, it’s cinematic equivalent – semi-dark yet with the
three characters interestingly backlit. It made them seem more mysterious somehow. I
almost wasn’t aware of the background music; it was subtle and teasing, giving the
conversation more substance than it would have had on its own. The camera didn’t jump

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around too much – no MTV-style cuts for Cat, it would appear – but let the guys talk and
hold the audience’s interest by their closeness, both physical and psychic. When the
camera did cut, it was thus surprising and emphatic.
Cat did slyly have a waitress appear twice, bringing them rounds of drink and giving
them something else to kibitz about. To my disappointment, she didn’t play herself. You
could also see several very odd guys pop in and out of the edge of the screen, intent on
their own little world or whatever. They had to be the super-nerds, judging by their
outfits, clannish behavior, and incessant devotion to their role-playing. In the film you
could not quite make out any of their words; you could just make out some intensely
whispered mutterings to each other, but that was pretty true of them in real life as well.
Someone that had never been to The Bridge would think they were fictional caricatures,
but I knew Cat had been kind, if anything.
When it was over Cat looked at me anxiously. “What did you think?”
“It was great!” I enthused. “What’s it called?”
Cat smiled, clearly pleased by her title. “ ‘The Bridge Between.’ I didn’t get a chance to
put the titles in yet.”
“Cute,” I said. “Not many people will get the double meaning.”
“No, not many. I’m worried that it’s too slow.”
Cat’s tone didn’t really sound all that worried, but I knew what she was really looking for
was my approval. “No, not at all. I mean, I go to lots of movies, but this was pretty
good. Even if I weren’t one of those guys” – I gestured to the now blank screen – “I’d be
interested. They seemed so…”
“Close,” she finished for me.

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“Right.”
I wasn’t sure what to say next. I looked around the screening room. Cat just watched
me. I was going over the movie in my head and what the guys had been talking about
when it hit me. I went from being proud she’d essentially made a movie about us to
feeling sad about why she might have done so. “Cat, was that why you worked at The
Bridge?” I asked quietly. “To get your movie?” I felt used. I was in Cat’s movie, in a
manner of speaking, but I wondered how much credit Megan was due for Cat’s getting it
up there on the screen.
Cat looked at me in surprise, then her face softened into a laugh. “Craig, you have to be
kidding. I’ve been working there all these years, and you think I’d do that just to get a
thirty minute short? Come on.” She poked me playfully.
It did seem unlikely.
“They told us the best thing was to film what you know, and I figured, what else would I
do? I’m not going to make an action movie or a horror flick, although I know other
students who did. You guys and The Bridge have pretty much been my life for the last
few years, outside of school, and I wasn’t going to make a movie about school.”
I felt bad that we’d been her life. Until recently, we’d never even done anything outside
The Bridge. Had it not been for Megan, we might never have held a conversation, a real
conversation, with her.
Cat continued. “I liked this kind of movie. If that means I’m fated to do little
independent movies that are strong on character and short on action, well, I’m OK with
that.”

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We got up and started to walk out. “So this is what you’re going to do with your life?
Make movies and all?”
“I guess so, I mean, I sure hope so. I know it’s a tough business but ya gotta believe, you
know? I was having some doubts a few months ago but Megan reminded me why I was
doing this and that I had to follow my heart.”
We got to our cars and paused awkwardly. She was beaming with pride, and I
complimented her on her movie once again. I wasn’t just brown-nosing; I really did like
it. She invited me to a student film festival they were having next week to show all the
films the students had made; she said it was juried and all. She also said she’d invited
Megan and told me I could invite Kevin and Chuck, of course.
I asked her why she’d let me see it first, without Chuck and Kevin.
Cat paused and took a deep breath. “Megan suggested it. I was over at her apartment
tonight and I wanted her to see it, but she suggested I let you see it first. You know, to
see how you’d react. That’s why I stopped by your apartment.”
Megan again. Kevin, Frank, maybe Chuck and who knows else whom. She was
changing people’s lives left and right of me everywhere, only I was still stuck in my old
life. It seemed funny to me; they all seemed to think I had some kind of special
relationship with her, but she seemed to be impacting my life least of all.
I sensed that Cat was waiting for something else. Maybe she was still buzzing about
finishing her project, and pleased that I’d liked it. She might be too wired to go home
and go to sleep. Or maybe she was enjoying my company and waiting for me to suggest
something else. Maybe I should kiss her. She stood there looking invigorated and so
young, full of life and potential. I looked at her and saw her, actually saw her -apparently for the first time in a while.

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I was stunned to realize her transformation. I thought back to the “old” Cat, so anxious to
rebel and to look the part in every way. She’d been such a source of fascination for
Chuck, Kevin ad myself, wondering what new look she’d come up with next. Over these
last few months she’d subtly transformed again. She’d done it a little at a time, but
standing in front of me was a lovely young woman. I mean, I’m not saying she looked
like a corporate MBA-type or anything drab like that. She still had her own unique style,
but it was her own and not something she affected just to be different. I sensed Megan’s
magic touch again, helping Cat get comfortable in her own skin and not try so hard to
stand out by the way she dressed or the colors of her hair.
I was sorely tempted to kiss her. After all, I’d had that practice with Megan, so I should
be warmed up. But even then she’d had to start things. I didn’t get any sense that Cat
was going to similarly help out in that regard, even though she was a much more likely
prospect for me to be kissing. All I had to do was lean in just a little and see if she
backed away, even a little. If she did I’d know she wasn’t waiting for me to and I could
pretend I was just moving.
While I was debating my course of action, a car drove by and honked. It was someone
she knew and she turned to wave. When she turned back the moment was broken.
I drove home alone.

Chapter 33
Cat’s film was in the film school’s film festival a week later. It was a busy week.
I didn’t see much of Kevin and Chuck. They were spending a lot of time together,
working on a business plan for Kevin’s company. I was amazed that they were taking it
so seriously. I’d never seen Kevin so aggressive about something of his own like this,
and he’d managed to convince not only Chuck but also Chuck’s firm to put some real
resources on it.
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Kevin did come over a couple times to discuss some technical aspects of his idea, and we
bounced some ideas around for how to make it work. I promised to spend some time
thinking about some particularly knotty problems, and Kevin said he’d make sure I got
cut in on any stock. I told him I was doing this out of friendship, but in the end I agreed
I’d accept whatever he thought was fair. I wasn’t looking to get rich off of anything he
managed to get going, and I didn’t really expect to.
I stopped by to see Andy once or twice. I’d kept my promise and had kept in touch since
that first time Megan had introduced us. He’d made it to my apartment once, where we
took turns killing dinosaurs and terrorists and space invaders. He was pretty good – not
as good as me, but pretty good. His mother finally allowed him to go to the Bridge one
time, and he was such a happy trooper. Kevin and Chuck and I spent a couple hours with
him, playing games to his heart’s content. His mother had warned me not to let him get
overtired, which he did, but I’d never seen him so happy. It almost made it worth it. I
guess that was a period of remission or something, because he just had those one times at
each place, and was back either homebound or in the hospital most of the rest of the time.
Andy emailed me at least a couple times a day, and I did my best to keep up with them.
Megan made a point of telling me periodically that Andy practically worshipped me,
couldn’t stop talking about me to his mom. Megan told me this matter-of-factly, but I
think she was pleased and I felt pretty proud about that.
Unfortunately, this particular week Andy was back in the hospital and wasn’t doing so
hot. I thought about asking Megan about his prognosis but I didn’t. I didn’t want to
know the answer. So I just visited him a couple times in his drab hospital room. He
looked pitiful in that too-big hospital bed and connected to those tubes and wires. Still,
he perked up to see me and we played a few games before he would get too tired.
Cat, of course, was out-of-pocket that week, what with putting the finishing touches on
her film and getting ready for the festival. The film school did the festival pretty proud,

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getting some out-of-town movie critics to join the local critics as judges, as well as write
reviews for the program. They got a nice spread in the local papers as well. It was cool
seeing Cat’s name in print, as well as read the reviews. Kevin and Chuck couldn’t wait to
see her movie, especially once I pointed out some startling similarities to our lives that
had not occurred to them.
I only saw Megan a couple times that week. We did our normal math stuff, and there
were no signs of a repeat performance of the kissing session. I was half relieved, half
disappointed. She acted like she always acted, serene and untroubled, and I concluded
that she’d gotten whatever practice she needed and we were back on normal footing. I
couldn’t help but wondering if she was practicing with anyone else, but tried not to think
about that.
I’d gone and posted my paper on some topology websites, heavy-duty academic sites
where only serious mathematicians went or could possibly understand. Much to my
surprise, I got a bunch of very nice feedback – some criticisms on some minor points but
generally quite positive. There were even some solicitations to do some joint papers by
some guys whose reputations where right up there.
Megan was delighted. “What next?” she asked.
I didn’t know what to tell her. “I’m not sure. Just because a few people have read it and
say some nice things doesn’t mean it’s good enough to get published.”
“Maybe.” Her eyes twinkled at my discomfort.
Saturday night came too quickly. Chuck surprised us all by arranging for a limo to pick
us all up. I had to hand it to Chuck; he knows how to do these things rights. No hot tub
in the limo, but a fully stocked bar and several entertainment options. The limo picked
each of us up at our homes, Megan and I getting in together. We toasted Cat on her
movie and just generally soaked in the atmosphere. All of us except Megan were all kind

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of awed by being in a limo and all. Megan was as cool and collected as ever; I think she
was enjoying watching us more than we were enjoying being there.
Chuck wore a tux, which looked amazingly good on him, while Kevin and I went for the
sport coat approach. I had to admit that Kevin pulled it off better than I did, looking
immaculate and stylish. Cat and Megan both topped all of us. Megan wore a
conservative blue suit, something that she could have worn to work but still she made it
look fantastic. It showed off her slim figure and great legs to good advantage. Cat, on
the other hand, looked like a movie star herself. She’d gotten her hair done up by a
professional stylist, I suspected, and wore a tight red dress with a scooped front and
plunging back. She had on a short jacket, which just made the transition to that skin all
the more dramatic when she took the jacket off, as she did once inside the limo. Her
accessories were fairly muted – a pearl necklace and set of earrings. They looked like
something June Cleaver might have worn -- but Cat made them look cool. Perhaps most
surprisingly, though, was that she wasn’t wearing glasses. Their absence made her look
more…fragile somehow.
“Wow,” Chuck said appreciatively, giving her a thorough up and down appraisal. “Great
dress.”
Much to my surprise, Cat didn’t seem to mind Chuck’s evaluation, which bordered on
being a leer. She took the compliment appreciatively but without surprise. She’d
anticipated being noticed, and not in the way she had back in her waitress days, when she
dressed to shock. “Thanks,” she said. She glanced over at Megan, who was giving her a
reassuring look. “I had some help picking it out.”
“Amazing the things that New Treasures has,” Megan commented smoothly.
“You look quite beautiful,” I agreed. Kevin was still speechless, and couldn’t quite look
at her directly, but also couldn’t keep his eyes away from her. Megan caught me noticing
and smiled with amusement at me.

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“Where are your glasses?” Megan asked.
“Contacts,” Cat said.
“I like them,” Kevin said, recovering from his temporary muteness.
“Me, too,” Chuck chimed in.
“I don’t know,” I said, considering her carefully. “I kind of miss the glasses.”
“You may have taken the funky meter down just one notch too far,” Megan agreed,
tongue firmly in cheek. Cat looked at each of us suspiciously, then decided it was all in
good fun. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she said.
The festival had commandeered the local arts Cineplex for the evening, and the crowds
were pretty good. The festival jurors had chosen six finalists to show, Cat’s being one of
them. The lobby before the screening started was full of friends and family of the various
finalists. Cat introduced us to the three guys who had played "us" in the movie. They
were there with their dates and all of us looked at each other, not quite sure what the
various relationships were. I could see them trying to figure out who was with Cat, and
what the connection to Megan was. I don’t think they even considered that she might be
one of our dates, and I can’t say as I blamed them. I wouldn’t have if I’d seen someone
like her with us. Cat and I were the only ones who'd seen both the movie and real life at
The Bridge, so we kind of enjoyed watching them try to figure out who we three dudes
were. It was like that episode of Seinfeld where they meet bizzaro Jerry and his friends.
As in that episode, each of our trios could tell there was something familiar yet off about
the other trio, but couldn’t quite figure out what it was.
We were spared from too much introspection by the call for everyone to start going into
the theater.

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The other five films were uneven -- probably pretty typical student film fare. I thought
Cat's was easily the best, but they all got a pretty good reception from the audience. One
was a cartoon that was pretty funny, while one was a romantic interchange between this
guy, his girlfriend, and her teddy bear, odd as that sounds. Another was two lesbians
coming out to their friends, while a fourth was a parody of kung fu movies, complete
with slow motion stylized action that was actually pretty convincing. The last one was
very experimental; there were a bunch of actors and actresses in a house talking nonsense
to each other in very dramatic tones. I was never quite sure what it was about.
After they'd screened all the films, they had a mini-awards ceremony, hosted by this
Chicago film critic they'd conned into judging. He talked about how he loved seeing
movies and looking out for new talent -- blah, blah, blah. Cat seemed to take what he had
to say quite seriously.
Long story short, Cat didn't win for best picture. The lesbian movie did, while the
experimental film won for best director. I didn't understand the director's acceptance
speech any better than I had his movie. He was a hulking big guy with a beard and even
longer hair than mine and he spoke with a glazed intensity that probably scored him a lot
with the artsy chicks -- although hopefully not Cat. The two of them did exchange hugs.
Cat did win for best script and best cinematography, but the big surprise was when the
jurors gave best supporting actor award to the guys who played the super-nerds who had
hovered in the background. I hadn’t paid much attention to them the first time through,
other than to notice that Cat had some guys playing games and such. This time, though, I
noticed them more, and they were pretty funny. They focused on their games as if they
were literally life and death, muttering and cursing at each other with a vengeance. They
were always just barely in the frame, but I had to admit in their own way they were more
compelling than our counterparts were. They served to really set the sense of place, and
that place was more than a little off. I guessed that the voters had decided that they really
acted as kind of a joint organism instead of as four separate actors, and I wasn’t sure that

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was too far from the truth, at least for their real-life equivalents. The actors who played
them accepted their awards looking quite normal, which made me wonder how well the
real super-nerds might clean up given the chance.
I heard some of the crowd talking after the movie, bemoaning that there wasn’t really a
place like that, at least not here. If only they knew, I thought. The actors underplayed
how intensely some of The Bridge’s regulars took things.
We applauded like mad each time Cat won, and shared her disappointment each time
some other name was read. After the ceremony was over we headed out, agreeing to go
out to a late dinner.
“Congratulations,” Megan told Cat with a hug. Cat looked pleased yet still disappointed.
“I wanted to win best film and director,” she said in a quiet tone. Competitive, I thought;
that was a side of her I hadn’t really seen before.
“You were robbed,” Chuck agreed empathically.
Kevin patted her back awkwardly, wanting to comfort her but not quite knowing what
was appropriate. She seemed to take some comfort in it anyway. “Oh, well,” she said.
“They like the more radical films at these things. I guess mine was a little slow for
them.”
We piled into the limo and had a glass of champagne to celebrate. We settled around a
big table at an Italian restaurant that Cat had picked out. We took off our jackets, which
Cat made more exciting than we did. We ordered a bunch of drinks and appetizers.
“Your movie reminded me of another movie I liked,” Megan said to Cat. “It was about a
group of friends who sat around and talked a lot, like your characters did. I think it was
set in Baltimore and they mostly hung out in a restaurant of some sort.”

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“Diner,” Cat and I both said immediately.
Megan looked surprised. “Yes, in a diner. I don’t remember the name but I remember
that the thing I liked best about it was the camaraderie of the young men.”
“Diner was the name of the movie,” Cat said with an assured smile. “A lot of the scenes
took place in a diner. Barry Levinson directed, and it was set in Baltimore. It’s a great
flick – your comparison is high praise indeed.”
I remembered seeing Diner when I was a kid and wishing I was that tight with a circle of
friends. It hadn’t occurred to me that my life had become something that someone would
want to film, or that other people would relate that film life to that fictional bunch of
characters I’d once envied. Life certainly is ironic.
We talked movies for a while. “Ever notice how people in movies are better looking now
than they used to be?” I said.
“You mean, Mike Meyers is better looking than Cary Grant?” Cat challenged.
“OK, not in every case, but on average. It used to be that you could be just average
looking and be a leading or at least supporting character. Now you pretty much have to
be really good looking just to get on the screen.”
“It’s just evolution,” Chuck said. “People generally are getting better looking.” Kevin
observed dryly that somehow he doubted that Chuck was some sort of pinnacle of
evolution, and they got into one of their friendly bickering spats.
I steered the conversation back to the safer ground of movies. We had a good time
considering who would play “us” in a full length independent version, television series,
or big budget movie. I kept putting in Brad Pitt for me, but they weren’t having it. Kevin

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thought I was more of a Seth Green character, although I’d have settled for Ethan Hawke
or Ben Stiller.
The restaurant served these big family style entrees, so we had a couple huge bowls of
pasta, a bunch of meatballs and sausage, platters of garlic bread, more salad than you
knew what to do with, and a big stack of veal. There was wine all the way around. We
dug in and chowed away happily.
“Why didn’t you invite the super-nerds to the premiere tonight?” I asked Cat. After all,
we’d been there as a counter-weight to our cinematic counterparts, and they hadn’t even
won anything.
She swallowed a bite of pasta. “I did, but they didn’t want to, I guess.”
“That would have been funny,” Chuck said, imagining the scene.
“That’s what someone would have said about us a few weeks ago,” Kevin observed dryly.
I laughed, noticing Megan’s satisfied smile and Cat’s look of surprise.
“What next, Cat?” Megan asked during the next lull in the feeding frenzy. She had only
taken modest portions of the salad and spaghetti, I noticed.
Cat seemed slightly taken by surprise by the question. She looked away momentarily,
evidently deciding how to respond. She seemed to reach a decision and leaned in slightly
towards Megan. We all paused to hear her response as well. “I’ve got a job offer with a
production company in Hollywood.”
“That’s great,” Megan enthused. The rest of us were too surprised to say anything.
“It’s not writing or directing – not yet – but it’s a foot in the door. ‘The Bridge’ will be
my resume, if you will.”

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“Hollywood, eh,” I said almost to myself. The wheels were turning in my head at this
piece of news. “That’s in California, if I recall.” I watched Kevin look guiltily at the
table, unable to meet anyone’s eyes. Suddenly things were becoming a lot clearer to me.
I wondered how long Cat had had the offer and when Kevin had first heard about it.
Chuck didn’t seem to pay much attention to any possible connection, and started lauding
the advantages of California – sun, surf, and especially the pretty women. I became
aware of Megan watching me, and I wondered how long she had known about the
western magnet that looked like it was going to pull two of my friends away.
We were eating dessert when my cell phone rang. Chuck went for his phone first, and I
didn’t even bother checking mine until he indicated it wasn’t him. I get ninety percent of
calls on my cell phone from either Chuck or Kevin, so odds that someone else would be
calling me at midnight seemed unlikely. It was, however, mine, and I finally answered it.
I listened for a few seconds. “It’s for you,” I said, handing the phone to Megan.

Chapter 34
She listened closely for a few seconds. “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she told the caller,
and hung up. She handed the phone to me, and surveyed the table. Everyone was
watching her closely. “I have to go,” she said calmly.
“Go? Go where?” I asked. I was mystified about who would call her so late – on my
phone, no less – and what they would tell her that would cause her to have to leave so
suddenly.
“I need to go to St. Joe’s,” she replied, already starting to slide out of her chair. She took
some money out of her purse and put it down.

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“No, put your money away,” Chuck said. “It’s on us.” He gave Kevin and I a confirming
look, to which we nodded affirmatively. I started calculating exactly how much money I
had on me.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “How will you get there? We didn’t drive and you’ll never get a
cab.”
“I’ll walk.” We were four or five miles away, it was after midnight, she was dressed up,
and she had no qualms about walking.
“What about the limo?” Kevin inquired.
“Yeah, hold on a second and we’ll all go,” Chuck suggested. The three of us quickly
conferred about the bill, and Chuck put it on his credit card. We all piled into the limo
and told the driver where we were going.
“What’s so important than you have to go in so late on a Saturday night?” Cat asked.
“Some big crisis in the ER?”
“Power failure?” Kevin offered. Leave it to him to think of some technical problem.
Megan looked out the window, her face as serious as I could recall seeing it. I don’t
know what I was expecting her to say, but I wasn’t prepared for what she did say. “It’s
Andy.”
There was an uncomfortable silence. She didn’t say what about Andy the hospital would
be calling her about, but it didn’t take a moron to figure out it wasn’t likely to be good
news. Chuck, Kevin, and I exchanged cautious glances.
“Who’s Andy?” Cat inquired.

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“A friend,” Chuck told her after it was clear that neither Megan nor I was going to
answer. No one else said anything for the rest of the ride.
When we got there Megan popped out of the door, then hesitated for just a second. Until
that point I don’t know what I thought was going to happen, or what my role would be.
That slight pause of hers, though, was both a question and a challenge somehow. “Wait a
second,” I said. “I’ll come with you.” I got out of the limo as well.
We started to walk quickly into the hospital. I didn’t know what conversations were
taking place behind us, but next thing I knew I heard Chuck’s voice calling out for us to
wait up. He, Kevin, and Cat hurried to catch up, and I saw the limo pulling away. “What
are you guys doing?”
“Figured you might need some moral support,” Kevin said matter-of-factly.
Megan smiled for the first time since the phone call – just a small, brief smile, but a smile
nonetheless. She turned and took my arm to hurry me along. “So what’s happening with
Andy?” I asked.
Megan took a deep breath. She leaned her head in towards me almost conspiratorially.
“He went into a coma this afternoon. I asked them to call me when it looked like his
vital signs were getting too low.”
“Why they’d call you on my cell phone? I didn’t even know you knew my cell number.”
“I knew I’d be with you.”
It was such a simple statement, yet delivered with such confidence. I wondered what
they’d have done had they called after we’d separated for the evening. It was after
midnight, after all, and calling her at home would have made more sense. Maybe she had

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been pessimistic about how long Andy would last. Maybe she just knew, in that
optimistic way of hers, that things would work out somehow.
No one talked on the elevator.
Andy’s father and some people whom I took to be his grandparents were standing around
his room. “Megan,” the father said with relief, while he looked at me with surprise.
“Craig. Thank you for coming. Andy is with his mother right now.”
That sounded like good news to me, and I relaxed slightly. His father asked if we’d like
to see him, and without thinking I said yes. I thought maybe this was all a false alarm,
so when I went into his room I was stopped cold by the sight of him.
Andy was never coming out of this coma. He was never going to wake up again. I didn’t
need a medical degree to know these things. I could tell by the color of his skin, by the
thinness of his face. He’d never been the healthiest of kids, at least not since I’d known
him, but since the last time I’d seen him he’d gone into a nose-dive, one so steep that he
could not possibly pull out of it.
“Craig, how nice of you to come,” Andy’s mother said, apparently regarding Megan’s
presence as expected, if still comforting. She was sitting next to Andy’s bed holding one
of his bluish looking hands. She carefully put Andy’s hand on the bed and with great
fatigue stood up. She gave me a quick hug, then practically collapsed into Megan’s arms.
Megan stroked her back and spoke soothingly into her ear. I couldn’t tell what she was
saying but it seemed to gradually have some effect. Andy’s mom finally pulled away and
dabbed at the tears in her eyes. Megan just looked at me.
I went over to the bed, not knowing what to say. With as much fear, and as much
courage, as I’ve ever had in my life, I reached out and took the hand his mom had so
carefully repositioned. “Hey, champ,” I said in a rough whisper. My throat didn’t seem
to want to work. There was something blocking it. “How’s it going?”

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My words were totally inane, but my brain had shut down. I didn’t have anything better
to say instead. I sat there just holding that cold, cold hand in my own warmer ones,
which seemed strangely numb themselves, as though Andy’s lack of feeling was
spreading over to me. I sat there for a couple more minutes just holding his hand, and
finally Megan came over and put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s OK, Craig. Let’s go out in
the hall.”
I gratefully relinquished his hand to his mother, who had immediately moved in to fill the
potential void. Megan led me out into the hall. Andy’s family gave me grateful, almost
embarrassed looks. “He liked you very much,” his father said, choking up slightly on the
word “liked.” I noticed the tense. “He talked about you a lot,” one of the grandmothers
added.
My own friends seemed uncomfortable, and couldn’t meet my eyes. Cat gave me a long
hug, then burst into tears and put her face into her hands. Kevin put an arm around her
and Megan pulled me away a few feet.
“I didn’t know…” I said dumbly.
Megan looked at me. “What did you think was going to happen, Craig?” There was no
reproach in her mild tone.
“I don’t know. I guess I didn’t think about it. I guess I thought he’d get better
somehow.”
“Like in a TV movie.”
If it had been anyone else, I’d have thought she was mocking me. As it was, I wasn’t
quite sure what her point was. “I suppose.”

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“He’s going to die, you know.”
I paused to let that sink in. “I know.”
“There’s nothing you – or anyone – can do about it.”
I looked at her with a puzzled expression. “Why did you introduce me to him if you
knew he was going to die?”
She shrugged. “Everyone dies.”
“Not when they’re eight!” I spoke a trifle too loudly, I guess, and saw the others look
over at me with concern. Megan took my hand. “It’s not fair, I know. There’s nothing
fair about life. You just take what you get and do the best you can.”
“That’s a hell of a religion.”
Andy’s father called for Megan at that moment. She looked over at him and nodded
solemnly, then looked back at me. “That’s not religion. That’s life. Religion is what you
do with that.”
With that she went back over to the family, then disappeared into the room. I rejoined the
others, and we all somewhat guiltily tried to catch glimpses of what was happening, all of
us simultaneously wanting yet not wanting to know what was happening in that room.
Andy had flatlined. I heard the sound before I realized what it was, but I could have
figured it out by the collapse on his mother’s face. She looked like somewhere inside of
her a big hole had appeared – perhaps where her heart had been – and sucked most of the
life out of her. She seemed smaller and hollow somehow, and I felt a little of that myself.
I suspected that I wasn’t the only one who was feeling it. Even Cat, who had never even
known Andy, was feeling it.

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Only Megan seemed herself, calm and in control. She touched Andy’s mom on her
cheek, then sat down on the bed next to Andy’s body. She took him into her arms and
held him. I watched her intently, mesmerized by her unalterable focus.
In that moment, I saw everything. I saw the love for him – for everyone, really – and the
sense of loss at his death. I saw pain and sorrow and a gamut of emotions too complex
for me to catalog. I could spend the rest of my life trying to inventory and understand the
feelings that her face expressed in that single moment.
But most of all, I saw faith. She was not happy that Andy had died. She did not forgive
the cancer that killed Andy, but neither did she blame God or some other power for
allowing it to happen to him in the first place. She just accepted that he had died, and she
was at peace about what would become of the thing that had made that body -- that
lifeless thing she now held in her arms – the Andy that the rest of us had known.
She stayed like that for what seemed like an eternity, although it was probably only a few
seconds. Then she carefully laid him back down on the bed and held his mother for a few
moments more. She led her to the door and into the arms of her husband, murmuring
softly to them. She looked at the rest of the group – Andy’s family and my friends as
well – and went over to them. She spent just a moment with each of them – a look, a
touch on the arm, a hug – and somehow they seemed grateful and relieved. Her effect
was almost magical, like she was giving them the release they needed, telling them that
she shared their pain and it was OK, that Andy’s pain was over. I’d never seen anything
like it, but I understood it as soon as I saw it. Faith again, more powerful and more
comforting than I had ever known or imagined could exist.
Then she came over to me and took my hand.
“Come on,” she said with great dignity. “There’s nothing more we can do here. We can
go.”

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Chapter 35
I paused outside the hospital. The limo was long gone and I didn’t see any cabs. I didn’t
feel like waiting for a bus, if any were running at this hour. “Wait here,” I told her. “I’ll
call a cab.”
I started to pull out my cell phone, but Megan’s hand paused mine with a soft touch.
“No, let’s walk.”
I looked at her incredulously. It was late and I suddenly felt very drained. I certainly
didn’t feel up to walking back to our building. Megan read my objections and soothed
them with the touch of her hand across my cheek. “It will be good for you,” she said.
So we walked. She wrapped her hands around my arm and started walking. She walked
slowly, often staring up at the clear sky. The darkness was littered with a myriad of very
bright stars, and she seemed fascinated by them. There was a half moon that seemed
unusually bright. Her hands around my arm sometimes guided me, sometimes supported
me, and always were a welcome sensation.
“What a beautiful sky,” Megan said excitedly, like a little kid. I was having a hard time
getting too excited about some nuclear fires several million miles away. “Yeah,
whatever.”
She stopped short and gave me a hard look – what I figured was her nun look. “Craig,
one tragedy in the world doesn’t take all the wonder out of the universe. It should remind
you to enjoy the wonder while you can.”
So I joined her stargazing, soon lost in both her enjoyment of the sights and in my own
thoughts about Andy. I reflected on the times I’d had with him and, even more, about the

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new fact that I’d never have their like with him again. He seemed so small, lost in the
world of life and of death and so all alone. The vast universe above us seemed an apt
comparison to the soul or whatever of that poor little boy that was now loosened from
these earthly bounds. He could be wandering around up there somewhere, lonely and lost
in the infinite darkness forever. I shivered at the thought. Megan noticed and looked
over at me with a solicitous inquiry. I was thinking of what I’d say if she asked me what
was wrong, but she just smiled sympathetically and pulled my arm closer in towards her
without saying a word.
Before I knew it, we had reached our building and were in the lobby. We paused at the
elevator of our building. “How are you doing?” she asked, releasing my arm.
“OK, I guess,” I said. I must not have sounded all that convincing. “Not so great,” I
amended.
Megan nodded, not surprised. “Tell you what,” she said. “I’ll see you up.”
I should have protested – I was the guy here, and I should have been the one taking care
of her, after all. But, you know, she had lots more experience with this than I did, so
instead of saying anything I sort of slumped against her in gratitude. She didn’t flinch or
move away, but took the added burden as her duty. We rode the elevator up to my
apartment, too tired to take the stairs. At least, I was.
Once there, I turned on a light in the kitchen, then plopped down heavily on the beanbag
chair. I didn’t feel like having all the lights on; their brightness would be an obscenity on
a night like this. Megan asked if I wanted anything to drink. I felt like a real drink, and
asked for the only alcohol I had in the apartment, a beer. She brought me one, bringing
one for herself too. Rather than taking her normal dignified perch on the couch or chair,
she sat down on the floor, leaning back against the couch. I took a long drink of my beer
and exhaled heavily.

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“I know,” she said softly. “It’s always hard.”
I gave her a long look, thinking of what I knew of her past. “You must have seen lots of
people die, in your line of work. Do you ever get used to it?”
Megan’s face eased into an expression that was akin to a smile, but without the humor. It
would have been a grimace on anyone else, but she managed to make it look attractive or
at least graceful. “No,” she said. “You never used to it. At least, I hope not.”
I nodded at that. I thought back to the hospital. “You were really good with Andy’s
family,” I said. “Somehow you made it OK for them.”
“Thank you,” she replied graciously. “Not OK, of course, just bearable. They knew what
Andy had gone through and they were ready for it to be over – for him, not for them.”
“Well, anyway, you were great. You’ve done this before.”
Megan nodded slowly. “Too many times.”
I thought about that. “I imagine that gets hard on you.”
She didn’t reply, just smiled sadly in confirmation. We both drank our beers and were
quiet for a few minutes. My poor little monkey mind wanted to just shut down and stop
thinking, but of course it couldn’t. It kept nagging at me. I stared down at the floor but
was aware that Megan continued to gaze steadily at me, waiting – for what, I wasn’t sure.
To burst into tears? To break down and erupt in rage? I supposed it didn’t matter; she
would just deal with whatever I did, not disturbing her calm.
“Why did you introduce me to Andy?” I asked at long last. My beer bottle was almost
empty but I didn’t want any more. “You must have known this might happen.”

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Megan sighed. “You’re never sure, of course; people do recover, they do hang on.
Miracles sometimes happen.”
“But you knew he was probably going to die.” She nodded simply, admitting no
recrimination or guilt and waiting for whatever I might say next. It took me a couple
more minutes to formulate my next statement, partly because I made the mistake of
looking at her and got a bit lost in the sight of her.
“Why did you want me to become friends with a kid who was going to die?”
There it was. I’d said it, and she seemed to have been waiting for this. She rocked back
and forth a few millimeters, the only sign of any kind of agitation or animation. But she
didn’t say anything. She studied me carefully and her brow furrowed just slightly.
“Well?” I challenged.
“I thought it would be good for Andy to have a friend like you, even if only for a few
weeks.”
“Why? What was the point? Why start a new friendship if you can’t live long enough to
appreciate it?”
Megan shook her head sadly. “You don’t think he appreciated your friendship, Craig?
You don’t think he looked forward to your visits and your emails and knowing you were
his friend?”
I hung my head in shame; I knew he had. Much as his family loved him, I knew that
poor little kid had needed some friends. He didn’t have many friends his own age and the
ones he did have were curtailed by their parents from spending too much time with him
these last few months. I must have been a welcome substitute, along with Chuck and
Kevin.

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“You were a friend to him when he needed a friend. And you were a hope to him.”
That raised my head. “A hope?”
“Yes. He saw your life and saw that maybe he wasn’t so strange. He saw you and your
friends and how close you were, and for a while he could imagine a life that wasn’t
doctors and hospitals and needles. So, yes, I think you were a hope to him.”
I chewed on this, gnawing at my lip unconsciously. “Huh,” I said at last. “Imagine
that.” I looked away from her bright gaze, over at the boards that were filled with some
work that now seemed both long ago and unimaginably esoteric – and, not to mention,
hopelessly trivial at a time like this, talking to God notwithstanding. Still, the one
thought would not go away, and eventually I had to say it. “But what about me?”
This didn’t faze Megan. “What about you what?” she asked, not seeming the slightest bit
confused.
I almost let it go, embarrassed to be asking about myself at a time like this, but I couldn’t.
“Why did you want to put me through a loss like that?”
Megan scooted over next to me, and put her arm around my shoulder. She pulled me
closer to her. “Craig, Craig,” she said tenderly. “I didn’t force you to be friends with
Andy. I just introduced you. You did all the rest. You decided how close to be. And I’m
proud of you.”
That made me feel good, but it still wasn’t quite enough. “Why did he have to die?” I
asked, my voice breaking slightly. “It isn’t fair.”
Her hand massaged my shoulders. “No, it’s not fair. No one said life is fair.”

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“What kind of deal is that? What kind of God would let a little kid like Andy go through
what he did? How can you believe in a God that lets bad things like that happen?”
“Craig, there are much worse things that happen than this. At least Andy died surrounded
by friends and family who loved him. At least he lived a life that had some hope and
happiness in it. Many people, old and young, die in much worse ways without even what
he had.”
“And this is supposed to convince me of something?”
Megan shook her head. “It doesn’t matter if you are convinced or not. All I know is that
I believe in a loving God, and if there are things that happen that I don’t understand – and
can’t change – then I have to just let them go.”
She was looking at me with an utterly sincere look, and I knew that she believed it to the
bottom of her soul. But then, I didn’t need her words to tell me this. That moment in the
hospital when she’d held Andy’s dead body had told me far more than words could ever
say about the depth and reach of her faith. “I wish I had your conviction.”
Megan waited a second before replying, her hand ceasing her gentle stroke on my neck.
“I do too.” She sounded truly regretful.
We sat there like that for a few minutes, and for no discernable reason I started to cry.
Not big bawling tears, nothing girlish or anything. Just some little soft tears that
overflowed my eyes and ran down my cheeks. Megan ran her hand across my face
several times to wipe them clean, all the while murmuring comforting words in my ear. I
found myself leaning into her more and her arms enveloped me in a close if awkward
hug, me being on the beanbag chair and her on the floor.

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I finally stopped crying and sat up, wiping my cheeks. Megan sat back, observing me
and waiting for me to do something. “Boy, do I feel stupid,” I said, with brilliant wit.
Oscar Wilde, I’m not.
“Don’t.” She gave me a gentle smile.
I looked around the room. We had only turned on the one light, so it was pretty dark,
and very quiet. “I wonder where Max is,” Megan said.
“Probably out hunting. He’ll come home soon.” I caught sight of the clock. “Geez, it is
that late? I’m sorry, I’m keeping you up.”
“It’s no problem.” She sat with her knees folded up in the air and her arms holding them.
Most adults would have been uncomfortable sitting like that for long but Megan seemed
perfectly happy.
As if on cue, Max came in through the window. He checked out the scene, determining
who this woman that was in my apartment so late at night – not something he had had
much occasion to do, especially lately. Karen had hated him and would banish him
during the rare occasions she had graced my apartment with her presence. Max
confirmed Megan’s identify through whatever combination of senses cats use, then
hopped down to the floor and trotted over to her. He rubbed against her warmly while
she petted him. I knew how he felt.
“Hey, Maxie,” she cooed. “Where have you been?”
“Hey, Max,” I interrupted. “Remember me? The guy who feeds you?”
Max purred at Megan’s touch. Still, the mention of food got his attention. He turned his
head inquiringly at me. If he’d have been a person his eyebrows would have been raised
and he’d have been saying “well?” As it was, he didn’t need words.

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“I thought he’d been out hunting. He still wants to eat?”
“Maybe he didn’t catch anything,” I replied, reaching over to pet him. “Maybe he wants
dessert. Maybe he wasn’t hunting at all.”
“What was he doing, then?
I arched my eyebrow lasciviously. “Oh,” Megan said. I got up and headed towards the
kitchen, Max following close in tow. After I finished feeding him I found Megan had
moved to the couch, her shoes on the floor and legs tucked neatly underneath her. I sat
down on the couch a few feet away from her – not right next to her, but not at the
opposite end of the couch either.
“It’s getting late,” I observed lamely.
“Oh, it’s been late for a while now, at least for old ladies like me.” There was a twinkle
in her eyes but she didn’t seem anxious to go.
I wanted to shift the conversation away from Andy. “So, whatever happened to Jay? You
know, your would-be boyfriend Lindsey Ford?”
Her mouth twitched slightly as she suppressed something. “Oh, he’s still around. I see
him at Board meetings and other functions.”
“But not socially?”
“No, not socially. I guess he went after greener pastures.”
“He’s a fool,” I offered gallantly, even though I was glad to hear it.

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“What about your Ms. Gateaux?” Megan asked, turning the tables. I just shrugged,
blushing slightly. “Did you call her?”
I shook my head no, making a face.
“Why not?” Megan seemed to be enjoying my discomfort.
I shrugged again and looked over to the kitchen, where Max was happily washing his
paws after his little snack. He stopped for a second when he became aware of my
watching him, then continued on with no sign of self-consciousness. “I don’t see the
point.”
“I think the point is, if you don’t call her, you may not get to go out with her again,”
Megan said with a deliberate tone. “That is, unless you’re just playing hard to get and
waiting for her to call first. Is that your strategy?” She gave me a mock pointed look.
“No, of course not. I just don’t think she’d be interested.”
“Did she seem to enjoy your company?”
I admitted that she had, recalling our breakfast. I also remembered some of the things Jill
and I had talked about. “Did she ever call you?”
“Yes, we had lunch a couple of times,” Megan said blithely.
My mouth gaped open. “You never mentioned that!”
“You never asked.”
“What did you guys talk about?”

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“This and that.”
I considered the “that.” I rubbed my chin thoughtfully. “Did you talk about me at all?”
Megan smiled. “Maybe.”
“And?”
She was really enjoying my desire to know more. “I think you should call her
sometime.”
I wanted to push her further but recognized the futility of any attempts to do so. We
looked at each other. I don’t know who started it but gradually we started smiling, then
broke into laughing, and somehow fell together into each other’s arms in a playful
embrace. Very innocent, very friendly. Max had curled up on the bed and raised his head
at the commotion, then went back to sleep. “We’re a pair, aren’t we?” I said once we’d
stopped. I didn’t move away from her, although I was very conscious of her nearness.
Despite the innocent cause of our being like this, I started to get an erection and felt very
self-conscious.
“Indeed we are.”
She made no move to pull away either. We lay slumped like that for a few minutes. The
world seemed very quiet and very distant. Against my better judgment, I thought about
Andy again, my erection dying away quickly. I wondered where his body was at this
moment. Probably sitting naked on some cold metal table, maybe in one of those
drawers they put corpses into in the morgue. He’d barely take up half of one, too small
even in death. I shivered again.

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“You’re thinking of Andy again, aren’t you?” Megan asked quietly. I nodded numbly.
Megan stirred herself and sat up, pulling away from me gently. She sat facing me, but
reached out and took one of my hands.
“Craig?” Her voice was soft and caring.
“What?” I figured she was going to tell me that it was time for her to leave, or maybe
drop some bombshell. You know – she had a boyfriend, she was gay, she was moving.
Something unexpected like that. I was not prepared at all for what she did say
She sat there, calm and lovely as ever, and looked at me with those deep eyes that spoke
of understanding and sympathy. “I think it might be good if we spent tonight together.”

Chapter 36
“What?” I asked. I couldn’t have been more amazed if Max had spoken up.
Megan smiled. “I’m inviting myself to stay the night. What do you think?”
I considered this. It seemed too easy. Evidently I thought about it too long, and maybe
my brow furrowed too deeply in thought. Megan reached out and touched my arm
reassuringly. “Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s nothing sexual. I just thought it would be…
comforting to be together.”
“Comforting,” I repeated dumbly. Comforting for whom, I wanted to ask.
Megan took my hand and wrapped hers around it. “I’ve seen many terrible things in my
life,” she said. She pulled my hand to her face, and I didn’t resist. The back of my hand
touched her cheek lightly. “All those nights I had with only God with me. As comforting

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as that might be, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a warm body of
someone I was close to next to me, to hold me and reassure me.”
“That’s what you want?”
“That’s what I want.”
I looked at her. To be honest, she didn’t look like she needed much comforting. She was
as unflappable as ever. Even her clothes were unwrinkled, looking as fresh as they had
when I’d met her for the start of the evening. I was a mess, my pants and shirt and jacket
looking like I’d already slept in them. “Nothing sexual,” I confirming, trying not to let
any judgment or disappointment show.
“Is that all right with you?”
If I were an honest man, I’d have told her, no, that wasn’t all right. I wasn’t at all sure I
could sleep in the same room with her, much less the same bed, without becoming
aroused and wanting more than she wanted to give me. But honesty might have sent her
away, and honesty might have meant I’d never have this chance again. “OK by me,” I
said casually.
“Good. Are you ready to try to get some sleep?”
We negotiated the logistics. I went into the bathroom first, brushing my teeth and such. I
even flossed, something that would make my mother and my dentist happy. Megan
borrowed an old t-shirt of mine, something long and well worn, to sleep in. When she
went into the bathroom to change and do whatever she needed to do I stripped to my
boxers and a t-shirt, turned out the lights, and hopped in under the covers. I noticed that
my legs were trembling slightly, and I couldn’t make them stop. Calm down, boys, it’s
just an innocent sleepover; don’t get any ideas. My primitive nervous system refused to
listen.

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Megan came out of the bathroom and paused to turn out the light. In that moment before
the light went out the background light framed her silhouette in the doorway. She looked
simply lovely. The t-shirt came just to the top part of her thighs, like a micro-miniskirt,
and her legs looked smooth and firm. She had folded up her clothes in a neat pile, and
walked over to put them carefully on the TV console. The lights in the apartment were
out but as usual some light drifted in from the streetlights, with the light from the moon
adding some illumination. “Ready?”
“I’m always ready,” I said bravely, trying to keep my voice from quivering. I noticed that
my legs were shaking, despite my best efforts to remain calm.
Megan got in next to me and lay on her side, propping up on an elbow. “So how does
this work?”
We maneuvered so I was on my back and she lay across my chest, her arm wrapped
around my chest. I held her in my arms. It felt so good. “Mmm,” she said in a soft
moan. “That feels nice.”
Encouraging, I started to stroke her back softly, just a tentative caress. Megan gave
another small sigh of pleasure, and I started to get an erection. I’d been too nervous
before, but now my penis had shrugged off the jitteriness that the rest of my body felt. I
was glad Megan wasn’t laying fully against my front, and glad it was hidden by the
covers.
“You’re trembling,” Megan said, lifting her head up to look at me.
“No I’m not,” I objected, while trying frantically to control my involuntary tremors.
“It’s OK,” she said, smiling. She laid her head back down on my chest, but started to
caress my face lightly. “It’s OK.”

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I supposed that she thought I was upset by the events of the evening, and I felt really
craven for feeling lust for her at a moment like this. We were supposed to just be friends,
and she was spending the night with a man for the first time in her life, wanting some
solace from the terrible waste that Andy’s death was. I was supposed to be a gentleman
about the situation. Gradually I willed my limbs to calm down. I cautiously took one
hand and touched her hair. It was so short, but soft, like a baby’s hair somehow. I could
see that she smiled when I touched it, so I took that as permission and started to caress it
slowly. She made another of those appreciative sounds of hers. I wasn’t even sure that
she knew she was doing it. I hadn’t slept with too many women in my life, and none of
the ones I had slept with had made any noises anything remotely like that. Hell, I wasn’t
sure that any of them had sounded as sensual even in sex as she did with just these simple
sounds.
In the moonlight her fair skin looked almost translucent, like a porcelain doll – or an
unearthly angel, pure as snow. Soon her breathing grew regular and she drifted off to
sleep. I continued to stroke her hair or back softly, and she settled into a comfortable
sleeping position against me. She ended up in a position so that we were spooning, with
the length of her in contact with my body and my arms holding her. I felt immensely
protective of her, and wanted nothing more than to hold her forever.
I couldn’t sleep, of course. It was tremendously exciting to feel the weight of her against
me, knowing the body that was under her t-shirt. She might be sleeping there innocently,
like the virgin she was, but she was a lovely woman, an extraordinary woman. I thought
back to the first time I’d seen her on the apartment steps, or to times like our rollerblading excursion. She carried her body proudly -- not strutting like some vixen, just
confident in how well it worked and aware of its contours and capabilities. I began to
focus in on the various places that her body was touching mine. At some point in her
sleep she had rolled over and was facing me, her thigh draped over the top of my legs. I
ran my hand down the length of it ever so tenderly, feeling its smoothness and strength. I
felt the mass of her breasts pressed against my chest, and the desire to touch them was

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overwhelming. I wanted to cup them, to touch the softness of the underside, and to feel
her nipple go hard and expand. Thinking about doing it caused my erection to return in
full force.
If you’re not a man, you can’t know what an irresistible craving it is when you get so
hard. I know those lines that high school boys use on high school girls aren’t true – you
know, that once you get to a certain point it’s unhealthy to try to constrain it – but they
are almost true. I shifted position ever so slightly so that my penis was touching her
under the boxers. If she woke it could still seem innocent, just pressed against her in a
different position, but the feeling of her against me gave impetus to my fantasies. My
breathing grew harder and I surreptitiously moved my hand to masturbate.
I promised myself I’d stop before coming, but in the end that old drive proved too much;
I exploded in my shorts with a shudder. Megan woke immediately, catching me with my
hand still in my briefs. “What is it?” she asked, perhaps still not quite awake.
I was too mortified to answer. She looked up at me, and must have seen something on
my face that clued her in. She glanced down to where my arm was still under the covers.
From that position she couldn’t actually see where my arm ended up, but she knew
anyway. I guess nuns do know what boys are like. “Oh,” she said in a tone that I
couldn’t quite read.
“I’m so sorry.”
Megan laughed. “Oh, it’s all right, Craig. I understand.” She sat up and looked around
the room. I reluctantly let her slip out of my remaining arm, and she flipped the covers
off of her.
“I’m really sorry. Do you have to go?” I asked mournfully. I was cursing myself for
being such a jerk. She couldn’t even trust me enough to spend one night with me. I’d
seen to that.

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She looked back at me with a surprised expression. “Leave? Of course not. Wait here a
minute.” With that she got up and went into the bathroom. I heard water running and she
reappeared. She returned to the bed carrying a wet washcloth.
“Oh, thank you,” I babbled, so relieved yet still embarrassed. I should have excused
myself and gone to the bathroom to clean up, rather than letting her get the washcloth. I
reached for it and she paused.
“I’ll do it,” she said.
This startled me. “You will not,” I told her indignantly. I was as firm as I could be.
Megan smiled knowingly. “Craig, I was a nurse, remember? You don’t have anything I
haven’t seen before.”
“You make me feel like I’m ten.” In fact, she made me feel like I was about thirteen and
just getting wet dreams.
“It’s OK.” Despite my protests, she stripped the boxers and t-shirt off and carefully
washed my hand and groin area. I knew it would happen, and it did – her ministrations
had the opposite effect that she’d intended: I started to get another erection, only this time
it was both in full view and in her hands, so to speak.
“I’m sorry,” I whimpered again, mortified at this point.
“Hmm,” she said, pausing in her cleaning. “This isn’t going to work, is it?”
“I don’t think so,” I said in a small voice.
“I see.”

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Megan sat back on the bed and seemed to consider the situation. I really couldn’t tell
what she was thinking, but to tell the truth I was so self-conscious that I didn’t have any
remaining ability to try to figure out what she might be thinking about. Even if I had
been in full command of my faculties, though, I don’t think I would have been able to
anticipate what she did next.
Megan stood up next to the bed. She took the t-shirt off in that two-handed, inside-out
style that only women seem to be able to do. Then she shimmered out of her panties.
She stood there just a moment while I gazed in open mouth wonder at the sight of her
naked body almost glowing in the moonlight. I had never seen anything remotely as
beautiful as her.
She slipped back into bed and cuddled next to me. “What are you doing?” I asked
stupidly. Things were moving way too fast for me.
“What do you think I’m doing?”
“I’m not sure.” She edged in closer to me, and her hand started caressing my chest. My
arms automatically wrapped around her. Unlike before, we had no layers of clothing
between us. Just her soft skin against mine.
“I thought you didn’t want anything sexual.” I wasn’t sure why I was being so dense
about things, but I figured that just because I’d already been a rude jerk it didn’t mean I
had to be a total jerk about it. “Are you sure this is what you want?”
“I’m sure.” She looked at me with a steadfast look that brooked no doubt, and then
kissed me.

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I responded, then pushed her away. “Wait,” I said. My libido was yelling at me to shut
up and get busy, but my superego just wouldn’t allow it. Megan looked at me
expectantly. “You deserve better than me.”
“Better?”
“You deserve a better lover, especially for your first time.” God, it was hard to say that to
her. She looked so beautiful…and so naked.
She considered this thoughtfully. “Why do you say that?”
I hoped the moonlight was dim enough so that she couldn’t see me blushing. Evidently
not all the blood was going elsewhere after all. “Because I’m just not a very good lover,”
I admitted shamefacedly.
“Who told you that?” Megan asked, fighting a small smile.
“No one,” I mumbled. “I could just tell.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Megan said, drawing me closer to her again. “Let’s not worry about
that right now. Let’s just enjoy it, OK?”
I wanted it to be good for her. No, I wanted it to be great for her. I wanted us to be great
together. But, most of all, I didn’t want to disappoint her. That scared the hell out of me.
I thought back to my first time. Both of us had been virgins, and it had been a furtive,
embarrassed coupling. We mostly had just wanted it to be over, so we could escape from
the world of the inexperienced and into adulthood, but it just ended up being one more
thing for me to feel stupid about. I didn’t enjoy it much and was sure she hadn’t either.
Future experiences had not been quite that bad, but sex had always remained more of a
promise than a hope.

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I didn’t want to blow it this time.
I touched her gently, marveling at how soft she was and how good it felt. Her being
naked – in my bed! – amazed me. I had her entire body to do with what I wished, within
limits that as yet were undefined. At first I didn’t do anything noticeably sexual; I just
concentrated on caressing her all over, enjoying the texture and the contours that her skin
defined. As I did so, she made those soft little sounds of pleasure, and otherwise left me
to my explorations. The analytical part of my brain refused to totally shut off, although it
wasn’t getting much of the blood flow. I tried to imagine what she was feeling. Imagine
never having been touched, not like this, or having touched in return. Hard as that was,
trying to put myself in her place of having waited twenty-odd years for this experience
really threw me for a loop. It made me feel, well, like – well, it put a lot of pressure on
me. I wanted it to be worth the wait.
Once I’d gone around the world exploring her body once or twice, with some special
attention to the mountains although not yet the recesses, she started exploring my body
with the same enthusiasm she’d brought to our tutoring sessions – odd as that sounds. It
reassured me somehow; despite the unusual situation, this was the Megan I knew. That
small fact kept me from getting scared off, from pulling out, so to speak, before I could
disappoint her. She smiled encouragingly at me, then closed her eyes as though the
sensations were overpowering her.
From there on we were off to the races. I cannot, in retrospect, recreate the exact
sequences of events. You know, in what order what happened in, who did what to whom.
What remains is a curious jumble of images and sensations. Her tongue darting into my
mouth, evidently liking what it found. My hand holding her breasts, as firm yet soft as
anyone could want. I remember the almost overpowering thrill of touching her between
her legs and feeling her moist excitement; I almost came just from that feeling and her
gasp when I did it. I remember a lot of her vocalizations. She was not a screamer, but it
seemed like everything I did caused her almost painful pleasure. I might have thought
that violent passion would disrupt the serenity she always presented, but instead it just

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seemed to transform it into something even deeper. Something that one might almost call
rapture.
Virgin or not, lack of sexual experience notwithstanding, she was a natural – totally
comfortable about her body and the pleasure it was capable of. She did those soft
sounds, those half-moans that were almost pleading, almost whimpers of giving in and
being overwhelmed. And I remember entering her that first time, pushing inside her body
for the first time in her life. Her brow wrinkled and her eyes widened, then closed in
something like, well, I didn’t know what. Perhaps ecstasy, perhaps relief. I lay on her,
in her, for several minutes, breathing hard. Then I rolled off of her and we huddled
together as closely as we could get. Then a few minutes later we started all over again.
We made love three times in total, plus I introduced her to oral sex a couple of times,
going down on her and really enjoying being able to listen to her reach orgasm without
being distracted by my own desires, as happened when we had intercourse.
Finally we laid on the bed, each of us on our backs and gasping for breath.
“So that’s sex,” she said, smiling.
“Close enough, anyway.” I pulled her so I could hold her in my arms and she snuggled
in. Now that the testosterone wasn’t totally controlling me, I started feeling guilty. “Are
you sure you’re OK about this?”
“A little late to be asking, don’t you think?” she asked wryly. I felt bad and it must have
showed. She reached up to stroke my face very gently. “Yes, I’m fine. How are you?”
Now that we were taking a breather, I began to feel worried again. Sure, it had seemed
good while it was going on, but who knows what women really think. Maybe we did it
repeatedly because she kept hoping it would get better. Maybe she had faked what I had
proudly assumed were orgasms. And, worse of all, maybe I had taken advantage of her

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somehow. I had made her feel sorry for me, had lured her into bed with me, and – worst
of all – spoiled her long-delayed initiation into sex with a sub-par performance. Now that
Megan asked the question, I had no response. I just sighed and looked away guiltily.
“Hey, hey,” Megan said, pulling me chin to face her. “None of that sulking. You’re a
fabulous lover – tender, considerate, passionate. I’m so glad you were my first. Those
other women don’t know what they’re missing.”
I smiled broadly in sheer relief. I was still amazed that she had chosen me, and that it
apparently had been OK. Maybe even better than OK. Before I could feel good about
that for very long, though, I suddenly was racked with guilt about having the most
wondrous time of my life on the same night as I’d experienced the death of someone
close to me. She saw my face change, or maybe she just felt me stiffen, and I don’t mean
in a good way. “What is it?”
I paused a second. “I was thinking about Andy. He’s not even dead a day and already
I’m having sex and forgetting about him.”
Megan caressed my cheek slightly, tapping it in a mock slap. “You didn’t forget about
him. I think this is a fairly natural response to something like that. People turn to each
other in times like this for comfort.”
“Is that what this was? Comfort?”
“Partly,” she said. Despite the dark, I could see the expression on her face. It was
serious, more than I would have expected. “But not entirely.” She left it at that, leaving
me to wonder if this was something for which she’d been waiting for some time. Maybe
she’d always intended that I be the first.
I mused on that notion a minute, thinking about fate and how funny it was. Megan
noticed my thoughtfulness and playfully poked me. “Hey – what is it?”

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“It’s just – funny. Not funny ha-ha, just funny odd.”
“What is?”
“That it took something so bad for something good to happen. If Andy hadn’t died, I
might not be here with you tonight.”
Megan smiled tolerantly. “No it took something good to be here. If you hadn’t chosen to
befriend Andy, you wouldn’t have been there tonight and we might not be here.”
“Hmm,” I reflected. “Or look at it this way: if I hadn’t been attacked by those kids last
year and you hadn’t come along, we might never have gotten to know each other. Once
again, it took something bad to bring us together.”
She shook her head tolerantly, and gestured towards the dark walls, where the
blackboards waited patiently for light and inspiration to serve their purpose again. “If
you hadn’t had such a fascinating interest, and been willing to try to teach it to me, we
might not have become friends. You’re wrong; it is only through the good that we’re
together tonight.”
I didn’t know if she was bull-shitting me or not, but it was like a boulder had been lifted
from my shoulders. I fell asleep soon after that and slept soundly till morning.
In the morning, I woke early, feeling the comforting presence next to me and wanting to
be able to appreciate every waking moment of it. Sometime in the night Max had joined
us, curled up in a ball by our feet. I watched Megan’s sleeping face, utterly at peace like
an innocent child. I don’t think I’d ever been so happy in my life, so fully content. I
thought I could understand that sense of peace Megan always seemed to feel, because at
that moment I felt totally at peace with the world. My life was never going to be same
again. Everything was perfect. I was content in a way I never imagined that I could be.

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It didn’t have anything to do with sex, not specifically. It had everything to with waking
up next to this marvelous woman, being able to watch her sleep and, soon, wake up to
start a new day.
Soon the sunlight came through the window and touched her face.

Her eyelids started to

twitch, and before I knew it she was awake. Her smile was brighter than the sunshine,
and it filled me with joy and hope and emotions they don’t even have names for yet.
“Good morning,” I said, leaning over to kiss her lightly.
“Good morning,” she repeated. She noticed Max. “Good morning, Max.” He raised his
head and gave her a questioning stare.
“That means – are you getting up and going to feed me?” I informed her.
She stretched like a cat herself and sat up. “Oh. I had better be getting up, now that you
mention it.”
I was slightly disappointed, I admit. I had thought maybe we’d break in the day making
love again. I would have been happy to spend all day and more in bed with her, until we
ran out of food and water and they discovered our skeletons still wrapped around each
other in bliss. But I tried not to let it show. “Do you have to go?”
“I do.” She got up and padded over to her pile of clothes. She picked them up. “I’ll just
get dressed.”
I admired her walking across the room, watching her graceful body in the full daylight. I
had slept with that body, and I had known the woman who possessed it in the most
intimate way possible. It puffed me up with a tender pride. While she went into the
bathroom to change I hopped into jeans and a t-shirt myself.

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She came out in twenty minutes or so, showered and fully dressed. She looked totally put
together, not like someone who had spent the night in someone else’s apartment with no
change of clothes or toiletries. That was a trick that lots of other people with lots of
practice never had mastered. “You look great,” I enthused.
She smiled and kissed me lightly. “Thank you.”
“Can I get you some breakfast or something? Do you have time to go out to breakfast?”
A cloud seemed to pass over her face, moving so fast that I almost wasn’t sure I’d seen it.
I couldn’t imagine what would bother her, unless she was feeling bad about last night.
“No, I have to be going,” she said almost sadly.
I reached out to touch her arm. “Are you all right about last night? Are you having
regrets?"
Megan shook her head, but with a smile so tender and warm that any doubts I had melted
away like snow in warm sunlight. “No, not at all. I wanted it to be special, and I wanted
you to be my first. It was everything I could have hoped it would be.”
“You know,” I said with a leer, “anytime.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she replied, her smile dimming just a fraction, that errant cloud
passing over again.
I walked her to the door. “So when will I see you again?”
Megan took a deep breath, as if she had been waiting for me to ask that. The cloud I
thought I had been imagining placed itself directly over her emotions. “I have something
to tell you.”

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I had been right earlier that nothing was going to be the same in my life, but after what
she told me next, it was going to be in a much different way than I had expected.

Chapter 37
Andy’ funeral was three days later. I didn’t really want to go, but I did. Much to my
surprise, Kevin, Chuck, and Cat all insisted on going as well, but whether that was for my
benefit or Andy’s, I wasn’t sure. At the church service, Kevin asked me if Megan was
coming, and I simply told them that she couldn’t make it. Which was, in fact, true, but
not quite the truth. They were kind of surprised, but they let it go.
We were kind of outsiders at the funeral, standing apart from everyone else. We weren’t
family and obviously were too old to be Andy’s friends. Not many kids were there, either
because he didn’t have too many friends or because his friends’ parents thought it would
be too traumatic for them. It was pretty traumatic for me too. His parents seemed glad to
have us there, and his mother even asked me to say a few words at the service. I hadn’t
expected that, and felt embarrassed about her asking me, but I did my best. I said some
lame things about what a brave little trooper he was and all, what a special kid he was,
and so on and so forth. A few people cried, including Andy’s mom and Cat, but it was a
good kind of crying, touched instead of hurt or upset.
After the cemetery none of us felt like being alone, so we headed over to The Bridge for
what I supposed was a wake of sorts. We piled into our regular booth, with Cat taking a
place next to Kevin. She’d stood next to him at the burial too, and sat next to him at the
church. It looked like that die was pretty well cast.
There was a new waitress, evidently replacing Cat’s old position. She was dressed in sort
of a Goth kind of look, with dark ragged clothes, black nail polish and eye make-up, and
nose and tongue piercings. We were kind of amused by her. She had a long way to go to
get to Cat’s old status. We’d see how she’d deal with the super-nerds, I thought with

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some small pleasure. Data and Obi were dispiritedly playing Nintendo in the counter,
perhaps waiting for the rest of their troop. Maybe she’d end up sitting at a booth like this
with all of them one of these days. You never know. I just hoped that, if it was going to
happen, that it didn’t take a death like Andy’s to bring it about. They’d have to find their
own Megan, though.
Meanwhile, I took a moment to inventory our own display of sartorial splendor. We guys
were all dressed in suits. Kevin and Chuck’s looked expensive and even tailored. Kevin
always looked well groomed, so his appearance was no surprise, but for once Chuck
looked sharp as well; no shirttail hanging out, and tie neatly tied – until we got to The
Bridge, where he loosened but did not remove it. His hair was combed and recently cut.
I felt like kind of a slob next to them. I was wearing my one wedding suit, and it was
kind of wrinkled. At least I’d pulled my hair into a neat ponytail.
And Cat – well, Cat was this gorgeous young woman. I wouldn’t exactly say that she
was dressed conservatively, but she was definitely professional looking – with her own
style added. She wore a tasteful black dress that drew attention not for anything shocking
but just because she looked good in it. Her earrings -- all five of them -- were a little
more avant-garde, but nothing too radical. And her glasses were back. Basically, she
looked great. You could take her anywhere like that, from a funeral to a Hollywood
opening. I had a psychic glimmer of the future and suspected she’d be doing some of that
in the future.
“I really liked what you said about Andy at the church,” Cat was saying.
“Yeah, that was pretty cool,” Chuck agreed, and Kevin nodded solemnly.
What I’d said was that, while I didn’t know Andy long or even all that well, I had spent a
lot of time playing games with Andy and thought I had a good insight into his personality.
In games he was crafty and bold, valiant and daring, and generally just a tough
competitor and a damn good partner. I told the crowd that I thought he’d have turned out

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to be the same in his real life as well, had he had the chance. “He never complained
about being sick or in pain,” I’d marveled to the assembled mourners. “It’s one thing to
be brave in a video game, where death happens frequently, you get lots of lives and even
when you run out of lives, you can always play again. In the real world, Andy just had
this one life, but he played it bravely and well.”
That’s the part when people started wiping tears from their eyes, and I confessed I’d
gotten kind of weepy myself. But I forced myself on, feeling it was important to end on a
positive note. I’d told them that my friend Megan had taught me that we don’t get to
understand why some things happen, especially bad things. You just have to accept them
and take the good you can from their having happened. I’d always carry Andy’s memory
with me, and hoped that I could live – and die – as bravely as he had. “And if you are
lucky,” I’d concluded, “you get to believe that Andy has gone to a better place now. My
friend Megan believes it -- knows it, in fact. And right now, I think I do too.”
I got kind of choked up remembering that, and I wasn’t the only one of us. Cat wiped an
errant tear from her eye and Kevin blinked furiously. Chuck just looked thoughtful.
“So where is Megan?” Cat inquired after a while.
“I was surprised she didn’t come,” Chuck said, glad for the diversion.
“She moved,” I told them, dropping the bombshell very carefully.
“Moved?” they echoed in unison with some surprise. I just nodded.
“Oh, well,” Kevin said, recovering first. “I’m not all that surprised.”
“It does seem to be the M.O. lately,” Chuck agreed. Cat was moving in a couple days,
out to LA to make her fame and fortune in her new job. And Kevin was soon to follow.
Chuck’s company had staked him to some start-up money, and Chuck was getting the

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chance to manage the investment. It was the move to the big time for each of them, in
their own ways, and suddenly they both seemed grown-up enough for it.
“What are you going to do now?”
“I’m going to finish my Ph.D.,” I told them, dropping another bomb. They’d heard for a
few years my ranting at the academic system and meaningless pieces of paper and such.
My new paper looked like it was going to be published in a real journal after all, and I
had lots more ideas for other papers. There were years of my blackboard scribbling that I
now had a release for. So I thought maybe burnishing up my credentials wouldn’t hurt.
It had always stuck in the craw of my advisor that I’d stopped short of finishing the
program, so when I’d called him to inquire about what would be involved in getting the
degree he’d practically fallen all over himself to assure me he’d grease the skids. He’d
always been a big supporter of mine. Sitting in The Bridge with these friends, I was
aware of the various friends and allies I had in the world, and felt better for it.
We were four young people with most of our lives ahead of it. A few months ago, none
of us really knew where we wanted to go. We had been just sort of drifting. Today were
we each heading off in our own directions. Those directions would necessarily take us
off away from each other. We might stay friends -- we damn well would do our best to
stay friends -- but time and distance can be implacable enemies. Sitting here in what had
been our virtual womb, I had an incredible sense of nostalgia for the times we’d had at
The Bridge. They were times that would never be duplicated, and, in truth, they were
times we probably would not want to go back to again, having outgrown them. But they
had been good times.
Maybe we each would have grown up without Megan. People do grow up, after all,
people who have never heard and never will hear of Megan Lindgren. But I knew in my
heart of hearts that she had touched our lives, and helped nudge us out of neutral into
gear. I kind of suspected she had that effect on most people she met.

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Megan, In the Morning

She couldn’t have planned it all. She just couldn’t have foreseen how everything would
work out. But she could have seen our talents and desires more clearly than we had, and
maybe nudged each of us along, giving us encouragement when we needed it and perhaps
opening our eyes to worlds outside our comfortable existence. It wasn’t God’s master
plan or anything – at least, I didn’t think so – but she definitely left a wake.
“So did Megan get a job someplace?” Chuck asked, already starting to eye the menu. He
knew that menu by heart, of course, but always studied it like he was translating the
Rosetta Stone for the first time, like he might discover some new fantastic gourmet
experience on those pages. I expected he’d end up with loaded fries, as usual. “My boss
will be pissed we didn’t place her somewhere.”
“I don’t think she has a job,” I said. “At least, not the kind of job you’d have placed her
in.”
“She just up and quit her job like that?” Cat asked, impressed and surprised.
“No, apparently she resigned a few weeks ago. She just didn’t tell us. Her last day at the
hospital was week before last.”
“So did she wait until now to move?” Chuck asked.
“Why didn’t she tell us?” Cat added.
I looked around the room so I’d have more time to form my answer. I turned my head
back to them and tried to smile disarmingly. “She didn’t want to do anything to distract
from Cat’s big night,” I told them.
In fact, that might have had something to do with it. Megan was a modest person and
really had wanted Cat to enjoy her special evening. But part of me wondered if she’d
also been hanging around waiting for Andy’s inevitable death. She’d seen a lot of death,

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Megan, In the Morning

of course, so I wondered if her staying had more to do with seeing how I would handle it.
And, maybe, just maybe, she’d stayed around until we had the right opportunity to sleep
together. Then, again, I wondered if that had less to do with her benefit than with mine.
It could have been a coincidence that Cat’s premiere, Andy’s death, Megan’s deflowering,
and her departure had all happened within twenty-four hours. It could have happened
like that. It might have just been good luck that Megan just happened to be coming home
early when I had been getting stabbed and beaten by those two kids that afternoon.
Maybe. I was becoming more and more convinced that coincidences just seemed to
happen around Megan. There might be a Master Plan after all.
My friends accepted my explanation of Megan’s behavior and started discussing lunch
options. I continued to think about Megan, as I had been doing most of the past three
days. She’d told me once about the sadness of doing what you were good at instead of
what you loved, and she had sounded so wistful about it. I didn’t know where she had
gone or what she was doing to do – although, believe me, I’d pleaded with her for those
facts. But I was pretty certain that running a hospital was not going to be it. I was pretty
certain that she was going to be helping people wherever she ended up. That’s what she
really loved, and she was damn good at it too.
It was kind of funny, I thought. My recollection of Megan revolved mostly around her
effect on me, on both me and my friends. There were probably many others I didn’t even
know about. She left a wake around her. I wondered if she knew this, that people were
likely to think of her in relation to her unusual effects on themselves. Maybe that is true
of everyone, but somehow it was all the more pronounced with her. We defined her in
terms of how she changed us.
Megan had reminded me that I had a gift. I could look at an empty blackboard or piece
of paper, and, on occasion, see things no one had ever seen, think of things no one had
ever thought of. Like looking into the mind of God, Megan had said early on. That was
pretty cool, when I stopped to think about it. I’d let myself get discouraged about not

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being a genius or something, but Megan had helped me understand that it is the fact of
the gift that matters, not the size. If I found a diamond, I wouldn’t throw it away just
because Liz Taylor has a bigger diamond. If people did stuff like that, no one would have
written plays after William Shakespeare, or done physics after Albert Einstein. And the
world would have been a poorer place.
So, yeah, mathematics was not just a hobby. It was what I really loved doing. That’s
why I was going to get my Ph.D. No, I wasn’t going to go back to the academic world. I
had other ways to support myself. If people like Mike Barnes wanted to pay me large
sums of money to help them with clever programming challenges, as it appeared they did,
well, then that was OK with me. It would subsidize my sitting around in my apartment
playing at the blackboards quite nicely. How many people are lucky like that?
Megan had caused me to count my blessings. My health, my friends, the ability to
interest a worthy woman like herself – and, at the heart of it all, my little gift.
Maybe Megan’s gift was helping other people find theirs.
The day before, I’d gotten the super to show me into Megan’s old apartment. I guess I
wanted one more taste of her, and maybe I thought she’d left me a note or other reminder
of her presence there. But the apartment was barren, neatly cleaned and totally empty. I
didn’t know when she’d cleared it out so thoroughly.
“If you’re thinking of renting it,” the super told me, “forget it.”
“What?” I asked, still sort of lost in my little reverie.
He eyed me tolerantly. We’d known each other a long time now and he had sort of a
grandfatherly interest in me. “In case you were thinking of getting a real apartment
instead of that loft of yours. You know, something with real rooms in it.”

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Megan, In the Morning

I laughed. “I love my place.”
“That’s good, because, this one is already rented.”
“So soon?”
“Yeah, to a friend of Ms. Lindgren’s.”
That got my attention. “Do you remember their name?”
He scrunched up his face and looked around the room. “Something to do with cake, I
think, but a foreign name.”
I thought for a second, then smiled. “It wouldn’t be Gateaux, would it?”
“Yeah, that’s it!” he said. “You know her?”
“We’ve met,” I told him honestly. So Megan hadn’t left anything to chance. She’d told
me I should call Jill, and maybe I would have after all, once I got over Megan. If I was
ever going to get over her, which I wasn’t too sure I was. So she’d put some bait in the
trap for me, so to speak.
That morning after, standing there by the door as she told me she was leaving, I’d done
all I could think of to make her stay. She offered no reassurances that we’d see each
other again. She gave me no forwarding addresses, no email address, and not even any
clues about her destination. She didn’t even offer vague assurances that we’d get
together again sometime. “If it happens, it happens,” she told me, her eyes tender and
caring. “Sometimes it works out that way, sometimes it doesn’t. But I’ll always
remember you and hold you in my heart.”

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Megan, In the Morning

I’d always be her first, I’d thought then and still held proudly in my heart, for whatever
that was worth. She didn’t have to sleep with me, and certainly didn’t have to make love
with me. I was no charity fuck. And she didn’t need to have spent as much time with me
as she had -- all those math lessons and time just hanging out together. There was
something about me that she’d judged worthwhile. That was something to hang on to.
There was never a point in all these months that I thought we’d be together -- not even
after she’d slept with me. Not really. A man can dream, but some things are just not to
be and that was one of them. I wasn’t quite sure why, of all the people she could have
graced with all that she had given me, that I’d been so fortunate, but I was. I’d never
think of myself in quite the same way. I’d seen the sunlight come over her sleeping face
after a night in my arms, and I’d had my day start with her smile brightening my world
more than any light ever could.
A woman like Megan had thought me special. For the first time in my life, I now thought
perhaps others might as well.
The truth was, though, that she remained as much of a mystery now as that first time I
met her. Maybe more. There was more about her that I didn’t know than I would ever
know. I didn’t know why me. I still didn’t know why she’d stopped being a nun. I
didn’t even know if she might go back to being a nun, or what she might do next instead.
Maybe she’d moved because she couldn’t define herself in her own terms, instead of just
in terms of us. Maybe she needed to have someone change her like she changed us.
Maybe she was tired of being someone else’s something – someone’s daughter,
someone’s role model, or someone’s sister – pun intended. I didn’t know and wasn’t
likely to know. But having that mystery unsolved no longer bothered me. As
mathematicians know better than just about anyone – poets aside, perhaps – the fact that
something is unknowable doesn’t mean that it is unthinkable. Megan had given enough
to think about for the rest of my life.

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Megan, In the Morning

In those few agonizing minutes in my apartment, when she was breaking my heart and
dashing my sudden hopes, it had eventually become clear that nothing I could say was
going to change her mind. She was leaving, and that night with her would be it: just a
memory for the rest of my life. Still, I couldn’t help myself. I’d thrown in my last,
desperate attempt to tug at her heartstrings. “You’ll always be the love of my life,” I told
her beseechingly.
She stood there for a second gazing at me, and I felt her strength and inner resolve, her
calmness and faith. She looked at me with such fondness and -- yes, dare I say – love
that my heart leapt in faint hope. She reached out and touched me lightly on the lips.
The expression on her face seemed infinitely tender and caring. This was all she said: “I
know.”
And she had turned and gone, out of my life but never to be out of my heart.

THE END

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