It was getting dark as they left the cafe and headed for Kate's house on the other side of campus. Passing the Pioneer Mother, Kate laughed, an explosive laugh which she used sparingly but to great effect. "I heard a joke about her the other day," Kate said, nodding at the seated figure. "It's said that if a virgin ever walks by, she will stand up."
Hannah laughed with more sincerity than she had all month. "Kate, you're a treasure," she said, leaning her head on her friend's shoulder. She looked up at the statue and was serious again. "You know what, though?"
"Jesse actually told me he wanted to marry a virgin."
"And that was before the Halloween party?"
"That was before the Halloween party."
"Boy, you really know how to pick 'em, don't you, Hannah?" Kate said, shaking her head.
Hannah sighed. "I guess the problem is that I don't pick them. I let them happen to me." They moved away from the Pioneer Mother and towards the EMU, where John Belushi once staged such a memorable food fight.
"But why?" Kate asked. "Why don't you take your time?"
Hannah shrugged. "Maybe I just don't know how to deal with men, never having had one around."
"Don't bother feeling left out. All you missed was the superficial suburban contentment crap. Appreciate what you had."
"But maybe I've missed something, a male influence on my life. Maybe I don't even know men."
"They're people too. You talk as if they were another species."
"They seem like it to me right now."
"Not all men are like that. Most of them aren't. For most of them, Jesse would be just as incomprehensible as he is to us."
"Are you so sure about that?" Hannah asked bitterly.
Kate shook her head. "Well, Hannah, I congratulate you. You've gone from naive to jaded in a matter of months."
"Thanks a lot."
Kate patted her on the back. "Don't mention it."
As they were passing Mac Court it began to pour. Neither of them had umbrellas, but neither of them minded. This was rain that still had a certain refreshing quality to it. Eugeneans will protest nearly anything, but they aren't fond enough of futility yet to protest rain; the Canadians are ahead of them there. Walking through rain that may no longer have been sweet but was not yet noticeably acid, Kate and Hannah looked at each other and laughed, and Kate linked her arm through Hannah's. Maybe Hannah's problem with men wasn't that she didn't know them, but that she didn't take them seriously; they couldn't give her what women did. Jesse had been a major error in judgment, made too quickly, but what had attracted her to him in the first place had been a gentle, almost feminine quality about him. Was she looking for something feminine in men, looking for Kate again, maybe even looking for her mom again? Now that would be an Oedipus complex!
By the time they arrived at Kate's place, the water was rolling off their faces and their coats were soaked through. Hannah felt exhilarated and relieved by the soaking. Despite the universal fear of the quality of rain in the eighties, Hannah couldn't shake off the corny impression that it might somehow cleanse her, as she shook the drops of water out of her hair.
Kate lived in the upstairs apartment of an old house just off campus. The bottom half was devoted to a homey bookstore where you could sit around reading the books and drinking tea, a delightful institution which now has unfortunately also gone the way of Animal House and become history, making room for a restaurant. Kate took off her coat and wiped her face with the back of her arm. "I think we need some tea and a fire after that downpour," she announced.
"Orange Spice or Earl Grey?" Kate asked over her shoulder as she went into the kitchen.
"Orange Spice," Hannah replied.
When Kate returned with the tea, Hannah already had a fire going in the fireplace. "One thing I still don't understand," Kate said as she put the tray with the tea things down on the floor in front of the fire, "How did you get mixed up with this Jesse-guy in the first place?"
"I was thinking about that on the way here," Hannah said and took a sip of the fragrant tea. "He just seemed so gentle at first."
"And what about the baby boas?" Kate sat down on the floor next to Hannah and leaned her back against the couch.
Hannah smiled and shrugged. "I thought that was a good joke."
"The mice? The guinea pigs?"
Hannah laughed. "That was an even better joke."
Kate shuddered. "I don't get it," she said, shaking her head.
"Neither do I." Hannah stared into the fire. "Don't blame me, Kate."
"I'm sorry. I didn't want it to sound like that." Kate took Hannah's hand. "Men," she stated with great authority and dubious intent.
At that less than original utterance, they heard steps on the stairs, and a tallish, lankish, darkish figure came in the door. Kate let loose her explosive laugh and Hannah couldn't help joining her. "Speak of the devil," Kate said.
"What's the joke?" the representative of the male sex asked as he took off his jacket.
"Oh, we were just complaining about men," Kate explained.
"Complaining about men? And no dinner on the table?" he asked, depositing himself on the floor next to them. "Well, at least there's a fire in the fireplace."
"I thought you were going to cook dinner," Kate said. She switched her attention to Hannah. "Hannah, this is my roommate Randy, our token man. He's a philosopher without morals or responsibility, but he makes a mean cheese sauce."
"Thanks for the flattering introduction," Randy said. "I hope you won't listen to her," he said to Hannah, taking her hand. "My sense of morals and responsibility is quite as strong as hers, we just don't agree what's right. So just to prove her wrong, I'll make my cheese sauce for you."
"But that would prove her right," Hannah pointed out.
"You do have a point there," Randy said, looking at her with dark, melancholy eyes that made it difficult to tell when he was joking.
"Come on, Randy," Kate complained. "Stop making up to my friends. It's only fair if I warn her about you, don't you think? Randy is all for global responsibility, Hannah, but he's not too hot on the personal kind. He does his best to live up to the British meaning of his name--he's a bit of a lady's man."
"He is a lady's man?" Hannah asked, looking at Randy with a mischievous light in her eyes.
Randy shook his long dark curls back deliberately and crossed his arms in front of his thin chest. "I don't know which of you two is worse," he said, acting insulted. "Or why I should be so generous to a couple of teenagers with no respect for their elders, but I will. I am above any petty feelings of revenge. I'm going to cook now."
"He's cute," Hannah said after Randy left the room.
"Cute?" Kate echoed. "He's got a sallow complexion and a big nose."
"He's got a discreet kind of alternative charm."
"You'd better be careful Hannah. You obviously don't have the best taste in the world. It's more like you have a tendency to write your own ruin."
"Don't worry, I'm not in the market right now. But don't you like him?"
"Yes, I like him, but I know him."
"Well, just because I like him, it doesn't mean I would get involved with him," Hannah protested.
"The problem with Randy is that he's so sweet," Kate pronounced. "And he packages his lack of morals so well, sells it as an ultimately tolerant attitude, that it only makes him all the more irresistible."
"Oh, come on," Hannah said. "Nobody is irresistible. What about you? Do you find him irresistible?"
"Me? Of course not!"
"See? He's not irresistible."