© Copyright 2003
Lena smiled. I looked over her apartment, and though I don't recall fantasizing about it before that, it looked just like I might have expected. It was in an older part of town but nice, not too far from the university, with cute little shops and restaurants nearby. The floor was hardwood and though the furniture was far from new, it fit perfectly. On one wall was a floor-to-ceiling shelf of books that I could easily imagine perusing for the rest of the evening. It looked like she might well live alone. "We can work over here," she said, pointing out a dining table at one end of the room.
A painting over the couch drew my attention, a pleasantly motherly looking, stylized nude figure. Lena had put her books on the table and I returned my focus to the business at hand. "Tea? Coffee?" she said.
"No thanks," I said, then immediately felt I should have accepted.
"Are you sure? I'm heating some water."
"Tea I guess," I said. I wished so hard I didn't come across as being so wishy washy. I sat at the table while I heard her around the corner in the kitchen.
"This is so much nicer," she said and I couldn't agree more. And couldn't believe this was happening to me, in Lena's apartment!
She'd suggested it herself. I'd been working with her on the project, an exhibit for a coming Woman's Studies conference, and simply that had seemed like heaven, helping her research, working out ideas. But while my fantasies had gone crazy with delight, I hadn't actually expected much other than spending time with her. You don't have too many expectations about your professors and I was sure lots of her students must be attracted to her. She went back to the kitchen when the tea kettle began to whistle, then was offering me various flavors of tea.
"Earl Grey," I said, probably too distracted to give it much thought. I looked at the picture again. I thought about Lena again, her style and demeanor. I'd never seen her with a man or a woman but then I'd only seen her at school. As I watched her coming back in with tea for both of us I felt my heart leap.
I tried to settle myself down. We worked. It was so great the way she worked with you, listening to what you had to say, as if your contribution were as important as her own. She was only a couple of feet from me as we worked and I was very aware of the closeness of her body. When I risked a glance at her, I felt I needed to etch every detail in my memory to be able to recall this moment.
And I felt so stupid, living in such a dream world. I needed to do something, not pine over Lena and live in memories of what to her was merely time spent on a project. I tried to think of something to say, something light and casual, then felt horror at the idea that I was contemplating making a move on my own teacher!
"I like your apartment," I said.
She looked at me and smiled. "Thank you," she said, turning back to her work. I considered whether she had seen right through me, then berated myself for being oversensitive. The gist of it was she didn't seem the least put out I'd said something. But I couldn't come up with anything more I could make myself say and we worked on.
It grew later. We'd talked over a few issues but said nothing more socially. I thought about her classes, what she was teaching. In my fantasies she was lesbian and I was still thinking about the apartment, wondering whether it proved anything on that point. Either way, it was hard to imagine that she didn't have someone in her life. Who wouldn't love her? We worked.
We finished, pretty much, after two more cups of tea each. Visiting her bathroom I'd glanced at a bit more of her apartment and still saw no clue. "You don't have to rush off," she said when I was done. "We've worked hard. I don't know what I'd have done without you."
She would have done quite well, that's what I knew, even if I had managed to happen upon a couple of good references for her in the library. "Sit," she said.
I sat. And felt like a fool for not offering something in conversation. "Are you thinking about thesis topics yet?" she asked.
I cursed myself. Why wasn't I on the ball? I had no idea what I was going to write about. "Well, it's a bit early yet," she said, "this is your first year, right?"
"Yes," I said.
"Gives you plenty of choices," she said. I thought about her area. At that moment it seemed the right thing to do. "But enough about school," she said, "what do you do for fun?"
Fantasize about you. I swear, the phrase came into my head and it was hard to shake. I glanced at her bookshelf. "Oh, reading..."
I felt stupid for not having more to say. How would someone like her ever be interested in someone like me? She smiled and her smile was warm. "I bet you have more fun than that," she said. "Got a--friend?"
"No," I said, feeling embarrassed.
"Well, you just got here a few months ago."
It hit me. Before I'd been thinking about making casual conversation with her and now we were doing just that! Not much help from me with my one-word answers. But it was almost like my fantasy. I felt my heart start to beat and realized I was considering taking a leap, a dangerous leap. I wondered if I could do it and live with myself.
But something inside me said I had to. Such chances don't arise every day and this could be my only one. I did my best to calm myself without being obvious about it. "Can I ask you something?" I said, trying my best to be casual.
"Sure," she said readily, though she had to know I was preparing her for something.
"Do you ever..." I started, but found myself searching for words. "Has-- has your politics ever given you trouble with the idea of involving yourself romantically with a man?"
I'd said it! And immediately hated myself for it. And yet I knew it was a victory for me, to have actually followed through.
She looked away. And I wondered why: was she hiding a blush? Or had she read my mind and now was thinking how to let me down gently? When she looked back at me she still smiled warmly. "Listen," she said, "I'm not at all sure we should be discussing this, but I can see there is something you need to realize." That didn't sound promising and I tried not to show my inward cringe. "I know you're young and you're in to this, God I was young once too." She waved her hand toward where we'd been working. "But you absolutely have to keep your politics out of your sex life. Do you understand?"
She looked at me, obviously concerned. I felt I hadn't anticipated this and was ready to kick myself. What was she saying? "I guess so," I said.
She said nothing, but looked at me intently. I couldn't hold her gaze but I sensed she was thinking. "I'm pretty sure you don't," she said as if in thought, but then seeming to come out of her reverie, she said, "This is totally wrong, but I'm convinced you need some education." With that she stood and went to her front door, opening it.
I stared at the open door. She disappeared through it and I heard knocking, on her neighbor's door. "This is Zoe," she told a man as he appeared. He looked hardly ready for company, barefoot, in a tee-shirt and warm-up pants. As scruffy as he was, he seemed younger than Lena, between us in age. "I want Zoe to know everything about my sex life."
I must have been in a daze, unable to understand any of this. The man looked at me for a moment, then without looking at it, pushed Lena's door shut. Something about him frightened me.
Then, suddenly turning his head to Lena, they stared at each other. I still couldn't move a muscle.