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I was sitting on the edge of the flower bed in front of the lawn of the Computer Science building, smoking with Rene. In front of us, people walked past, rushing to classes; occasionally, one of my party friends would walk by and toss me a discreet grin or nod. Rene was talking about the guy she had hooked up with over the weekend, and didn't notice them. Suddenly, I realized that I wasn't really paying attention to her. Not that it mattered, of course; her life was, for the most part, excruciatingly dull, and other than the amusement that it gave me to think about her fooling around with some dorky guy that she had classes with, she sort of annoyed me. Rene was basically a geek herself, anyway--- she came to parties with me every now and then, but she would never talk to the guys I introduced her to and always left way too early. I think I only spent time with her to try to bring her a little social class. I tuned back in to what she was saying.

"So, wait," I said, "do I know this guy?"

"No, God, you don't know him. I just seconds ago told you that he's someone I have a class with." She grinned and took another puff on her cigarette. "You know, Bev, it's sort of funny how you're so self-centered."

"I wasn't being self-centered, bitch!" It was a slightly over-zealous retort, but my playful insult hopefully covered my lack of attention to the first half of her story. "I was simply trying to put a face with the name. So, was it fun, at least?"

"No, it was really lame, actually. He seemed--- inexperienced."

"He was lousy in bed? Oh, shit, I'm sorry Rene!" I giggled a little, in spite of myself. I think it was clear that I was not really sorry at all.

"Real sincere, Bev, you're a true friend. But yeah, it was lousy. He kissed like a---a salamander. Aren't they supposed to teach boys about kissing in like, middle school or something? Ugh, he was icky."

"So, how far did you go?"

"How far did I go? You mean did I have sex with him? Bev, he was like a Chihuahua in heat! I said I was tired and kicked him out after about an hour. I feel really crappy about it, too. He's a nice guy, but I think he's a little sex-starved and I feel like I was taking advantage of him, especially since I don't really care about him. What if he really likes me? I might have really fucked him up!"

"Oh, come on, Rene. You can't start to feel like you're destroying lives every time you sleep with some little virgin boy. I remember this guy in high school that I dated for a while… Ben. Oh, yes, good old Ben; I liked him a lot and thought he was a really brilliant, witty guy. After a while I got him to come over and we fooled around, but he was really, uh, poorly equipped, and was terrible in bed, and after that I could just never respect him. Funny how that sort of thing can wreck a perfectly good fantasy about someone. He totally noticed the different way I treated him, and I think he was ashamed. I gave the kid a complex, for Christ sake. Oh, well, I'm sure he'll marry someone and---Rene? Hello?"

Rene wasn't really looking at me anymore, definitely not paying proper attention. She was staring over my shoulder, vacantly, her eyes moving in that slow way that suggested that she was probably checking someone out. I turned to look--- and as usual, Rene's bad taste in men was apparent. The guy she was staring at was one of those shaven-headed wanna-be-a-skater kids. Between his mismatched clothes, shredded backpack, and horn-rimmed glasses, he was pretty homely.

"Jesus, Rene, don't stare," I mock-whispered. "Or at least don't stare at people who aren't worthy of it. You'll give him some kind of undeserved ego trip."

She kept on watching the guy as he walked past. "It's okay. He won't look over here."

"What? What does that mean? Do you know him?"

"No. Yeah. Yes, I know him--- I mean, I knew him."

"Why, who is he? He's sort of an ugly toad, you know."

She looked at me, finally, apparently snapping back to reality. "Yeah, a lot of people say that about him. What were you saying about high school?"

"It was a stupid story. Who was that guy? Old boyfriend?"

"Not really. His name is Jason; I used to live with him, a few years ago. It ended badly, for me, anyway, and I had to sort of cut him out of my life after I moved out. I think he was trying to keep our friendship going for a while, but I never returned his calls so I guess he gave up. Now we ignore each other around campus; he seems to know not to make eye contact with me, and I do the same. It's like a truce."

"That's fucked up. What made you move out? Was he bad in bed, too?" I smiled in a vain effort to make light of the situation, but Rene was definitely entering into Mope mode. My smile faded when she gave me an annoyed look.

"I said he wasn't a boyfriend. We slept in each other's beds and cuddled and shit like that, but he never kissed me or did any more than that. I…" She paused. "I was really obsessed with him, but he wasn't interested in me physically, even though we were closer than I've ever been with anybody. Incredibly frustrating."

"And you signed a lease with him? That was just dumb. Why didn't he like you?"

"I never really knew; he just didn't. For a while I thought he was just confused, but would eventually come around. That's why I lived with him, I think. I think I believed, subconsciously, that something would happen if we lived in the same house. He did have a girlfriend at the time, but for some reason I still hoped--- really, I was waiting for him to realize that I was better for him than her. But his girlfriend was young, like high-school-young, and really girly. I guess he was into that." She looked down and chuckled through a puff on her cigarette. "I always hated that I could never compete with the little bitch, because I don't wear pink and I don't come across as a helpless idiot." She took another drag and in the silence I looked her over. It was true that Rene wasn't very girl-like; she wore pants and shirts, usually, and had an aggressive demeanor. In fact, most people thought she was one of those biker lesbians from the Eighties. Not someone who would attract a guy looking for broken wings.

"So you lived with him because you expected him to break up with his girlfriend? Isn't that fantastically shallow?"

"It wasn't like that. Or, I didn't think it was like that, at the time. We really… changed each other. Or at least, he changed me. Near the end I doubted whether or not I'd ever contributed to his life at all. But most of the time it seemed like there was something important there. We helped each other grow out of our high-school selves and be something more. I really wanted to spend my life with him."

I snorted. "You? Miss fear-of-commitment? Miss all-relationships-are-doomed? Miss cynical-hatred-of-all-emotion? I can't imagine you 'settling down' with anyone!"

"Like I said, that situation changed me. I was different, before. I was more self-hating, more love-struck, more idealistic. Stupider, mostly. He gave me self-confidence, the way he cared about me. But he also gave me my little commitment complex. A couple of times he said some stuff to me, you know, like maybe there could be something physical between us. In his weaker moments he would say things like, 'if I had met you when I was single…' and then trail off. Bastard. He must have known that I would drop him if he didn't keep giving me hope that one day we would be together. But I think he could just never think of me as, like, a girl. I didn't figure that out until half-way through the year. And the remaining 6 months of living with him was not fun."

I winced. "Yow. That does sort of sound bad. Aren't you mad at him?"

Rene looked out over the lawn and down to the city in the distance. "No, not really. He didn't do anything wrong. He just didn't know any better than to live with me, and I was too naïve to know better, too. It was a bad situation. Listen, could we not talk about this anymore?"

She took another puff on her cigarette as I snuffed the butt of mine into the concrete sidewalk.

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