Room 214 was shut. No slice of light ran along the floor beneath the door. Beside it, a piece of paper was tacked to the bulletin board.
SUMMER INTERNSHIP POSITIONS/DEPARTMENT
Tully felt a surge of disappointment, then anger. She yanked open the door and slipped into the dark auditorium where no one could see her, muttering, "Chad Wiley, you sorry-assed loser. You wouldn't know talent if it grabbed your tiny pecker and squeezed—"
"I imagine you're talking about me."
She jumped at the sound of his voice.
He was not twenty feet away from her, standing in the shadows. His dark hair was even messier than usual; it hung in curly disarray to his shoulders.
He moved closer, his fingers trailing on the back of the chair to his right. "Ask me why you aren't an evening news intern and I'll tell you."
"I couldn't care less why."
"Really?" He looked at her for another long minute, unsmiling, then walked away from her, down the aisle and up onto the stage.
She could either keep her pride or risk her future. By the time she made her decision and hurried after him, he was backstage.
"Okay . . ." The word seemed to catch on something in her throat. "Why?"
He stepped toward her. For the first time she noticed the lines on his face, the creases in his cheeks. The dim overhead lighting accentuated every flaw, every hollow and mark on his skin. "Whenever you come to class, I can tell you've chosen your clothes carefully and spent a lot of time on your hair and makeup."
He was looking at her now, seeing her. And she could see him, too. Past the shaggy unkemptness to the sharp bone structure that had once made him so handsome. But it was his eyes that grabbed her; liquid brown and sad, they spoke to the empty places inside of her. "Yeah. So?"
"You know you're beautiful," he said.
No stammering, no desperation. He was cool and steady. Unlike the boys she met at frat parties or on campus or in the taverns playing pool, he wasn't half drunk and desperate for a feel.
"I'm talented, too."
The way he said it pissed her off. She was gathering her wits for a scathing comeback when he closed the distance between them. All she had time for was a bewildered, "What are—" before he kissed her.
At the touch of his lips, gentle yet firm, she felt something exquisite and tender blossom inside her; for no reason at all, she started to cry. He must have tasted her tears, because he drew back, frowned at her. "Are you a woman, Tully Hart, or a girl?"
She knew what he was asking. As hard as she'd tried to conceal her innocence, he'd sensed it, tasted it. "Woman," she lied, with only the barest wobble on the w. She knew now, after just one kiss, that whatever there was to know about sex, her pathetic rape in the woods had taught her none of it. Although she wasn't a virgin, she was something worse somehow, a reservoir of bad and painful memories, and yet, now, with him, for the first time she wanted more.
That was how she'd felt with Pat that night, too.
No. This was different. She was a long way from that desperate, lonely girl who would have gone into any dark woods to be loved.
He kissed her again, murmuring, "Good." This time the kiss went on and on, deepening into something that pulled at her insides and made her ache with need. By the time he began pressing his hips against hers, igniting a fire between her legs, she'd forgotten all about being scared.
"You want more?" he whispered.
He swept her into his arms and carried her to a broken-down sofa tucked against the shadowy back wall. There, he laid her down onto the bumpy, scratchy cushions and slowly, gently began to undress her. As if from far away, she felt her bra unsnap, her underpants peel off. And still his kiss went on and on, stoking this fire inside her.
When they were both naked, he lowered himself to the sofa and took her in his arms. The springs sagged beneath their weight, pinged in protest. "No one has taken time with you, have they, Tully?"
She saw her own desire reflected in his eyes, and for the first time she wasn't afraid in a man's arms. "Is that what you're going to do—take your time?"
He brushed the damp hair away from her face. "I'm going to teach you things, Tully. Isn't that what you wanted from me?"
It took Tully almost two hours to find Kate. She began her search at the study tables in the basement of the sorority. Next, she spun through the TV room and their bedroom; she even checked on the sleeping porch, although at four o'clock on a sunny May day, it was understandably empty. She tried the undergraduate library and Kate's favorite carrel, then the graduate reading room, where several hippie-looking older students shushed her just for walking through the stacks. She was about ready to give up when she remembered the Annex.
She ran through the sprawling campus to the small, two-story, peaked-roof house that they called the Annex. Sixteen lucky upper-class girls got to move out of the main house and into this place every quarter. It was party central. No house mothers, no one to monitor the doors; it was as close to the real world as any of them were likely to get until they left the sorority altogether.
She opened the front door and called out Kate's name. Someone in another room answered.
"I think she's on the roof."
Tully grabbed a pair of TaBs from the fridge and went upstairs. In a back bedroom, the window was open. She leaned through the opening and looked out on the roof of the carport.
There was Kate, all by herself, in a skimpy white crocheted bikini, lying on a beach towel, reading a paperback novel.
Tully climbed out onto the ledge and crossed the carport roof, which they all called Black Beach. "Hey," she said, offering Kate a TaB. "Let me guess: you're reading a romance novel."
Kate cocked her head and squinted into the sun, smiling. "The Promise by Danielle Steel. It's really sad."
"You want to hear about real romance?"
"Like you would know anything about it. You haven't gone on a date since we got here."
"You don't have to go on a date to have sex."
"Most people do."
"I'm not most people. You know that."
"Yeah, right," Kate said. "Like I'm supposed to believe you got laid."
Tully grabbed one of the towels that had been left there and stretched out on it. Trying not to smile, she stared up at the blue sky and said, "Three times, to be exact."
"But you were just going to check on the summer internship . . ." Kate gasped and sat up. "You didn't."
"You're going to say we're not supposed to have sex with our professors. I think it's really more of a recommendation. A guideline. Still, you can't tell anyone."
"You had sex with Chad Wiley."
Tully sighed dreamily at the way that sounded. "It was totally cool, Katie. I mean it."
"Wow. What did you do? What did he do? Did it hurt? Were you scared?"
"I was scared," Tully said quietly. "At first all I could think about was . . . you know . . . the night with Pat. I thought I was going to get sick, or maybe run, but then he kissed me."
"And . . . I just sort of melted. He had my clothes off before I was even paying attention."
"Did it hurt?"
"Yeah, but not like before." It surprised Tully how easy it was suddenly to mention the night she was raped. For the first time it was a more distant memory, something bad that had happened to her as a kid. Chad's gentleness had shown her that sex didn't have to hurt, that it could be beautiful. "After a while it felt amazingly good. Now I know what all those Cosmo articles are about."
"Did he say he loved you?"
Tully laughed, but deep inside, it wasn't as funny as she wished it were. "No."
"Well, that's good."
"Why? I'm not good enough to fall in love with? That's for nice Catholic girls like you?"
"He's your prof, Tully."
"Oh, that. I don't care about stuff like that." She looked at her friend. "I thought you'd go all romance-novel on me and say it was some kind of fairly tale."
"I need to meet him," Kate said firmly.
"It's not like we can double-date."
"Then I guess I'll be the third wheel. Hey, he can probably get the senior rate if we go out to dinner."
Tully laughed. "Bitch."
"Maybe, but I'm a bitch who wants more details. I want to know everything. Can I take notes?"
Kate got off the bus and stood on the sidewalk, looking down at the directions in her hand.
This was the address.
All around her, people milled about the sidewalk. Several jostled her as they passed. She squared her shoulders and headed for the door. There was no point in worrying about this meeting—she'd been worrying for more than a month, and for most of that time she'd also been nagging. It had not been easy to get Tully to agree to tonight.
But in the end, Kate had said the magic words—thrown the Yahtzee: Don't you trust me? After that, it had only been a matter of scheduling.
So now, on this warm evening, she was moving toward a building that looked like a tavern, on a mission to save her best friend from making the biggest mistake of her life.
Sleeping with a professor.
Really, what good could come of that?
Inside the Last Exit on Brooklyn, Kate found herself in a world unlike anything she'd ever seen before. First off, the place was huge. There had to be seventy-five tables—marble ones along the walls and big, rough wooden ones in the center of the room. An upright piano and stage area seemed to be the centerpiece. On the wall beside the piano, a graying, curling poster of the "Desiderata" poem grabbed her attention. Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
Not that there was peace or silence in here. Or breathable air.
A thick blue-gray haze hung suspended, collecting in the high ceilings. Almost everyone was smoking. Cigarettes zipped up and down throughout the room, caught between fingers that gestured with each word. At first she didn't see any empty tables; every one was full of people playing chess, or reading tarot cards, or arguing politics. Several people sat in chairs around a mic, strumming their guitars.
She made her way through the tables toward the back corner. Through an open door, she could see another area out back filled with picnic tables, where more people sat around talking and smoking.
Tully sat at a table way in the back, tucked in the shadowy corner. When she saw Kate, she stood up and waved.
Kate eased past a woman smoking a clove cigarette and sidled around a post.
That was when she saw him.
He wasn't at all what she'd expected. He sat lazily in the chair, with one leg stretched out. Even in the smoke and shadows, she could see how handsome he was. He didn't look old. Tired, maybe, but in a world-weary kind of way. Like an aging gunslinger or a rock star. The smile he gave her started slowly, crinkling up his eyes, and in those eyes, she saw a knowledge that surprised her, made her miss a step.
He knew why she was here: a best friend coming to save a girl making a mistake by dating the wrong man.
"You must be Chad," she said.
"And you must be Katie."