They did see each other, Owen and Amy. Walking to classes; in the coffee shop; the library; resting at the fountain at the middle of campus. In the sudden moments when Owen would pick Amy out of the crowd, his heart would leap in excitement and he wondered each time if Amy was as excited to see him or if he was just some annoying presence that she could not get free of. But Amy Wheatman always smiled and always came to him and so he began to believe that she was pleased to see him.
Debbie, too, was always a presence just off to the side or just behind Amy, watching. Owen accepted Debbie – the way one accepts a blemish on the face of a loved one — though he never spoke to her because she never spoke to him. But even with the dour cloud of Debbie always on their horizon, Owen and Amy spun closer and closer to one another and two weeks after they’d met at the party Owen was in Amy’s dorm room.
They sat at opposite ends of Amy’s short couch, facing each other, each with one leg bent in front of them on the cushions, their knees brushing together. The quiet of the dorm hung over them with a weight and Owen felt that they were the only two people within miles of that spot. Owen looked across the length of the couch into Amy’s eyes. They were, Owen thought, the cause of the great quiet that surrounded them: two black holes into which the universe collapsed. Amy Wheatman pulled at him with those eyes, looking out at him from underneath her eyebrows; she nipped her lower lip between her teeth. He felt the gravity of her and he knew that if he let go of the couch he would float into her and that was everything he wanted and yet he did not know how to let go even as he was pulled by the force of her.
Owen had been in a situation like this only once before. Then he was in high school in a dark bedroom with a drunk girl who had kissed him and taken off her pants and spread her legs to let him touch her. But when he had, the hot and lake-wet crater of her that met his fingers terrified him. He had left the drunk girl in the bedroom and gotten away. Now, here with Amy Wheatman, he felt he might be close to another chance at a turning point, but as powerful as was the allure of her, as rigidly as his body strained to reach to her and into her, he found the fear that if he moved to her he would not know how to move in the landscape of that new world, or worse that if he moved to her he would find that there had been no invitation after all and he had simply and horribly misread the signs, was stronger and so he sat paralyzed and they whirled in that magnetic storm for maybe minutes or maybe centuries until Amy Wheatman smiled and said slowly, “I want you to read to me.”
“Read to you?”
“I want you to read to me. I like your voice. You sound like someone on the radio. I’ve wondered what it would be like to hear you reading to me.”
“What would I read?” Owen asked.
Amy pulled a textbook from a stack on the bookshelf beside the couch and handed it to Owen. Owen looked at the cover and saw the title Male Sexuality: An Explanation Through Exploration.
“You want me to read this?” Owen said.
“I do,” said Amy. “Will you?”
“Why not that? It’s what I want. To hear.”
Owen opened the book to the introduction. And because he wanted to be where Amy was and wanted her to want him there, he began to read.
“’At first glance the sexual male seems easy to understand, but beneath the surface lie complexities that disrupt lives and relationships. Why can men be so distant in bed? Why do thoughts of sex play such a powerful role in a man’s identity? Why do men equate sex and conquest and what are the consequences in the lives of women? Can a man dominate and still love a woman? Respected psychologist Steven Traner’ – OK, that’s enough of that.” Owen closed the book and tossed it onto the rug where it skidded to the center of the room.
“I have now read to you,” Owen said. He looked again into Amy Wheatman’s face to see if she was satisfied. She nodded and then she rose from her end of the couch and slid to the middle and sat against Owen’s thigh. Owen could smell her – the warm, soft flowers of her skin.
“Do you know what my last boyfriend said to me?”
“What?” Owen asked.
“He said that sex was the only thing he liked about me.”
“Oh,” said Owen. He did not like thinking of her with another because it confused him about what his opportunity might be. “And where is he now?”
“He’s gone. But he’s around.”
Owen nodded. His mind was racing. He strained inside his body to reach for her, or to bend his face to hers. But despite her closeness, he was not certain she wanted him to do that. If he put his arms around her now, what would the outcome be? Is this the moment when he should act? He could not move.
“Do you want to know what I liked about him?”
“If you want to tell me.”
“I liked a lot of things. For a while.” Amy placed her hand on Owen’s open thigh as she spoke. “And I liked sex. Did you want to know that?”
“I don’t know what I wanted to know.”
“You can tell me what you’ve liked too, you know. With girls.”
“OK,” Owen said. But he knew there wasn’t much to tell.
Amy Wheatman looked at him through a long silence. Finally she spoke again. “He comes around because he wants me back,” she said. “Scott. My boyfriend. Ex.”
Another long silence settled over them. This time it was Owen who broke it. “Did he read to you?” he asked.
“No. He never did that,” Amy said with a smile.
“Give me a book, then,” said Owen. “Another one. No textbooks.”
Amy turned and pulled a small book from her stack on the shelf. She handed it to Owen and settled in against him again.
“Read it,” Amy said.
Owen opened the book to the first chapter and had just finished the first sentence when Amy’s door opened and a voice croaked Amy’s name. It was Debbie.
Debbie’s circumference filled the doorway and despite Debbie’s dark intrusiveness, Owen felt suddenly relieved.
“Library,” Debbie said.