Ada threw her birth-control pills away. She resigned herself to being alone because she never wanted to hurt that much again. She radiated don't touch me to every male in sight.
Though she hadn't intended to rely on Wyatt for money, she had assumed that he would take care of the finances because the only method she knew for handling money was to scrimp. With Wyatt, she hadn't needed to think about her future, because it had been their future, and the money would have been his to manage. He was gone, so the job would be hers. She had no desire to return to Monteverde, nor to get a "real" job, a misnomer that meant you'd settled for useless unrewarding drudgery in exchange for a steady paycheck. A university career appealed to her, and that required a Ph.D., and money to live on while she got it. The pittance from the scholarship would end with her baccalaureate. If she had the right credentials she could get grants and jobs and subsidies, maybe enough to afford a place to live and groceries to eat. If she needed more, student loans would fill out the remainder. Her grades were solid A's, but A's weren't enough. She needed her name on some research papers. Two years was barely enough time.
She talked to Dr. DiMeola and he was encouraging. He could give her work in the lab. He had some unspent funds. The deal was simple: she'd get her name on a few publications in return for helping with the research and the writing. It seemed fair enough to her, although she knew that "helping" was a euphemism, and she'd be doing all the real work.
Her junior year passed with her head down. She worked like a plowhorse and never looked up. When she wasn't asleep or eating or doing whatever little else was necessary to survive, she was peering into a microscope or writing up results or studying or attending class. She took infinite pains with everything she did. Dr. DiMeola was pleased and said that if she kept up her standards he would have no trouble getting her the financial help she needed when she entered graduate school. The fall, then the winter, then the spring, passed in a trance of work, with only one jarring note. Shortly before the Christmas break she was walking past the newsstand in the Union, and a word on the cover of Rolling Stone caught her eye. She had to look hard until she spotted it. At the bottom, in small type, was the word "Euphoria", the name of Wyatt's band. She bought the magazine and sat in the nearest armchair and found the article, a dozen column inches buried deep in the inner pages. In a picture of the band Wyatt stood with his head tilted to the side. A gorgeous blond girl was holding his arm and whispering in his ear. The photographer had caught Wyatt as he broke into laughter.
The picture blurred before Ada's eyes. When she could read again, the article touted the band's live show and its songwriting. Euphoria was in the recording studio working on their first album, planned for the following year. They were scheduled to be the opening act on tour for a band so well-known that even Ada recognized its name. Wyatt was on the verge of success.
She bought the magazine, clipped the article and hid it away in the bottom drawer of her desk. She couldn't part with it, although she intended never to read it again. Now she couldn't call him, as she had wanted to, and had been working herself up to. He had left her behind. He had a new girlfriend. He would certainly never move back to Lawrence.
April brought, as before, tulips and cumulous clouds and leaves on the trees, and weather that was occasionally even pleasant. Wyatt had been gone a year, though it seemed much longer. Ada still lived in the same familiar room with the same familiar roommate. Jackie had become her confidante, a best friend to replace Wyatt, to the extent that such a thing was possible. But at the end of their junior year she went home, and she wouldn't be coming back. She would be spending her senior year in an exchange program. Occasionally during the summer Jackie drove down to have dinner with her, and they talked several times a week, but it wasn't the same.
The people she worked with were unavailable. The only thing they talked about was work and school, and unlike her they had lives outside the lab, and relationships outside their work, and they weren't seeking personal conversation and friendship. Perhaps once a month they would get together at a bar, but she met no one new at these events, and these people were all busy; their personal lives took place offstage.
She knew a boy named Ted, a townie she'd had a couple of classes with. He had casually proposed things to her -- that they go to a movie revival, or a lecture, or an exhibit. Odds and ends. He was studious, like her. He seemed safe. He was around campus a lot that summer and she was forever bumping into him; their schedules were similar enough that their paths often crossed. One day he asked whether she'd like to see Casablanca. She said yes.
"What should I wear?" she asked.
He looked startled. "Jeans. Like you're dressed now."
"Oh good. I'm glad it's so simple."
They arranged to meet at the theater that evening. She waited inside the deli across the street, so she wouldn't be alone outside, and watched until she saw him standing near the ticket booth. She crossed the street.
"Hi," he said. "Just let me get the tickets."
Ada reached in her pocket for money, but Ted was already talking to the ticket seller.
Inside, he asked whether she wanted anything from the concession stand, and she said popcorn and ice water.
"This is nice," she said when they sat down. "I've never done this."
"You've never been to a movie?"
"No, I meant that I've never been to a movie this way, with someone I don't know very well."
He laughed. "You've never been to a movie with a date?"
"You've led a very sheltered life."
"Yes, I have."
"I didn't mean that. I -- "
"Don't apologize. I have led a sheltered life."
The movie began and within a minute she forgot that she was sitting in a seat in a dark room, surrounded by strangers and red "exit" signs. She was in Rick's cafe. In a while, she surfaced from the movie and began to analyze it. She had never seen Humphrey Bogart. He acted like a man who had been broken, and learned to hold himself together with his will. Wyatt would have enjoyed this performance -- the character had a cynical decency he would have savored, and he would have had funny things to say about the way Humphrey Bogart played the role.
What was she doing, sitting with this other man she barely knew? She felt such longing for her lover that she nearly rushed from the theater -- was rising out of her seat, and saw Ted turn his head and look at her with a raised eyebrow. She sat again, trying to look as if she were only shifting herself in the seat. She didn't know where Wyatt lived now, anyway -- he would surely have a different phone number and address, unlisted, he was so private. Even if she'd known how to reach him, calling would be futile. He would be living with some other woman, probably that blond in the photograph in Rolling Stone. Women found him attractive. Ada had always been disturbed by the way they responded to him. Some girl had always been hanging around, trying to get his attention. He seemed to push some sort of button, and since he was single there would be no lack of volunteers.
She forced her attention back to the movie. Nostalgia was futile. She was here with someone else, so she might as well enjoy the occasion with her new friend.
The lights came on and she blinked. "The writing was wonderful," she said.
"Yes. 'Round up the usual suspects.' That kind of thing. 'I'm shocked, shocked.' Or 'This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.' Or 'Soon, and for the rest of your life.' Wonderful."
He hesitated, then said, "I guess. What would you like to do next?"
"I don't know. Anything."
He drove her the mile or so to his place. He lived in a basement apartment in his parents' house. It had an outside entrance, at the bottom of a flight of stone stairs that were mossy and institutional, like the entrance to the basement of a church or school. There was a puddle of water below the last step, in front of the door. He showed her in. The room was large, with a refrigerator in one corner and a waterbed in another. She sat in a wicker chair.
He put Revolver on the stereo. "Would you like something to drink?"
"Water, please. The popcorn made me thirsty."
"I have beer and wine."
"No thank you. I drank wine once. It made me feel ill." Not to mention reckless. Still, recklessness hadn't been entirely wrongheaded at the time. Tonight it certainly wasn't a good idea.
He pulled a pitcher from the refrigerator and filled a glass. "I have some hash brownies."
"No thank you. I'm not hungry."
"I meant hashish," he said, handing her the water. "Brownies. Not hash browns."
She accepted the glass. "Thank you. I mean for the water. I don't use drugs."
He pulled his chair close to hers. "No alcohol, no drugs. Do you have any vices?"
She thought about it. "Yes. I work too hard and sometimes I'm rude -- why are you laughing?"
"That's not what I had in mind. Hard work a vice?"
"If it's the only thing you do."
"That's all you do? Work?"
"Work and study."
He pondered. "Why?"
"I enjoy it, and I'm planning on grad school. Besides, it keeps my mind off other things."
"We're both getting over someone. I just broke up with my girlfriend." Pause. "What was your boyfriend's name?"
"The musician! That was a great band he was in. Why did you break up?"
"I'm not sure." Her voice sounded strangled to herself. "I'm very uncomfortable. I'd rather not talk about this."
"Okay. What would you like to talk about?"
"Tell me about growing up in Lawrence."
He launched into such a long description of his friends and relatives and his problems in high school that Ada fell asleep. When she woke, he was still in the chair next to hers, but he was reading.
"Please excuse me. I didn't mean to be rude. I've been very tired today." She yawned. "Oh, no. There I go again. It's not you, I'm just very tired."
"It's all right. You can have the bed."
"I shouldn't. It might -- I don't want to give you the wrong idea."
"No. Don't worry. I won't bother you." He smiled. "It's okay. Really."
"You don't mind? I'm so sleepy. I've been going to bed early."
"Go ahead." He nodded toward the corner of the room.
She sat gingerly on the bed. It yielded under her. "I've never been on one of these." She lay down slowly. She heard sloshing noises and felt herself rocking up and down. "Oh, this is funny!" she exclaimed. She looked up just as he turned off the light. There were glow-in-the-dark stars above her, pasted on the ceiling.
"Good night," he said.
She slept through the night, and finding him lying next to her, gasped and sat up.
Ted opened his eyes. "Good morning," he said.
She swung her legs off the bed. The water rocked and gurgled under her rear end, and sank under her weight, making it difficult to get from the bed to a standing position. When she had stood, she realized that Ted still had his clothes on, and she was relieved.
"It's okay," he said. "It's okay. Calm down. There's nothing to be afraid of."
"I can't do this," she declared. "It's just so strange and difficult."
"I've finally met someone more clueless than me."
"No. I like you. Honest. You've restored my faith in women. I've finally met one who isn't a manipulative bitch."
"That isn't much of a compliment," she said.
"It is, though. Don't change. I mean it. I have to know there's at least one of you."
She noticed the clock on the wall. "Oh no. I'll be late for class."
He drove her to her dorm, and she ran in and grabbed her textbook and notebook and hurried to her class, arriving late and out of breath. Except when she'd had pneumonia, she'd never been late before.
She expected him to call her that night, or the next, but he didn't. She bumped into him a week later on her way home from the lab.
"I never thanked you," she said. "It was an interesting evening."
He laughed, a single sharp note. "Yes. I think it was probably more interesting for me. I've never met anyone like you."
"I see. Is that why you didn't call?"
"Well, why, then? Am I that inept?"
"No. You're not my type."
"What is your type?"
"Heartbreakers," he said. "I'm sorry. You're too innocent."
"Innocent?" she asked. "Innocent?"
"Yes. It's scary. I know how to deal with bitches. I can deal with getting my heart broken. I can't deal with breaking someone else's. I don't have any idea how to act around you."
That was all. She continued to bump into him occasionally, and they would talk impersonally and awkwardly and briefly, because it would have been rude to ignore each other. After the fall semester was underway he told her that he'd found a new girlfriend.
"She's just my type. Callous."
"I'm glad for you," Ada said. "I suppose." Should she be?
They smiled at each other.
"You can do better, you know," she said. "You're nice. All you need is a little faith in yourself."
"It's your sanity," she said. "Don't spend it all on women who don't appreciate you."
"I'll try to remember that."
The dry spell resumed. She thought she was ready, but she must still have been putting out the stay-away message. No one noticed her. No one asked her out. She knew she should do something to draw their attention, but she wasn't sure what. The ideas she could come up with were always too forward, so she discarded them. Owen was the only one who asked her out. He had graduated and was living an hour away, and he continued to call several times a month, until she said yes in the certainty that any date would be a disaster and he'd give up on her and go away. Then she wouldn't have to feel guilty any more for turning him down.
He took her to the Castle Tea Room, where he had asked her to go the first time they'd talked. She found the place charming. Owen noticed that she wasn't entirely comfortable, and he did everything he could to help her have fun. She was ashamed that she'd hoped the date would fail, when he seemed so nice, and only wanted her to enjoy herself. He took her to dinner at his mother's house on the second date, and she discovered that Nina was as easy a conversationalist as Wyatt had been. The two of them talked so late that Owen went upstairs and fell asleep in his old room, and Nina put Ada up overnight in another spare room and they all went out to brunch the next day. On the third date Owen took her to a party at the Carriage Club. It was intriguing, though Ada had no idea how to act or what to talk about. The place, panelled in dark wood; the picture windows; the dance floor; the people, all polished surface; the hot and cold buffets -- all were exotic. But everyone was kind and attentive and polite, and tried to put her at ease. Dr. DiMeola's wife had loaned her a dress so she wouldn't be too out of place. It was particularly beautiful, much lovelier than anything she'd ever worn, black, with a red-and-green vine that spiraled from hem to neck. Ada spent the party alternately worrying about spilling something on it, and enjoying it. The feel of silk against her skin was glorious, and she loved the way it looked on her whenever she walked by the mirror in the hall. She felt beautiful, as she never had before.
Every time they went out, Owen had planned something interesting or charming, and she found herself going with him simply to see what it would be. The one thing she didn't like was his fondness for dining out. She was more uncomfortable in public than she'd been on their first date. The Tea Room had felt like a house, but the other restaurants were impersonal. Half the time she didn't know what to order, and let Owen choose for her. Men always seemed to be looking at her in restaurants, and it made her nervous. She wondered what she was doing wrong, and didn't believe Owen when he said she wasn't making any mistakes, that they were only looking at her because she was pretty. He was always saying nice things like that to her.
Then Owen found out that she didn't know how to drive, and insisted on teaching her. She disliked the machinery; the process was more unnatural than anything she could imagine. She only let Owen teach her because he enjoyed it, and she didn't want to hurt his feelings, and it was only for half an hour at a time.
Talking to him was awkward; she didn't know what to say. She talked about her studies, sure that it must bore him, and tried to draw him out about his business. He was starting a company planning housing developments -- doing research, writing proposals, getting the necessary permissions and paperwork for the developers. He was having trouble finding clients, he was scraping along, but starting a business was like that, he said. He knew he would succeed; he had to hang on and work hard and smart. Soon he'd have the money lined up to do what he really wanted: to build subdivisions with a few dozen well-designed, well-made houses on large lots, priced in the mid to upper six-figure range. With the run-up in housing values, there were people who would want to cash out and move up to better homes. There was plenty of empty land in Johnson County; with the interstates, the city was sprawling. When Johnson County filled up, the next gold rush would be in Platte County, and with the money he'd made on the Kansas side of the state line, he would be ready to really cash in. He was looking at land between downtown and the airport. There was a fortune to be made, after he built his first houses in Leawood.
He talked about his love of architecture.
"I wanted to major in that," Ada said, "but I can't draw, and I don't visualize well."
"Neither do I. That's why I want to build. I can do the business side of it, and get my satisfaction looking at the houses, and say, 'I made that happen'."
"I always envied my brother's ability to draw. If I could do that, I could design houses."
"Maybe you could work for me," he said.
"No. I'm sorry. I'm going to be a professor."
They spent a long evening at the Prospect talking about architecture. He knew far more than she did. He was even eloquent, and what he had to say was original, especially about the origins of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Style. "You have to see the Corrigan house," he said. "It's fantastic. Just a few miles from here. I know the people who own it."
"How can I ask strangers to open their house for me?"
He spent half an hour chipping away before dropping the subject. She knew he would bring it up again.
The next time they saw each other he showed her some of his architecture books, and drove around pointing out his favorite buildings. He had something apt to say about every building; he had a knack for spotting the details she would never have noticed, not just ornamentation but the qualities, the personality of their construction, their siting, the way the changes that had been made to them matched or clashed with the original materials and design. His voice was full of indignation when he showed her buildings that had been spoiled: an old stone house concealed by flimsy lean-to add-ons, an awning that ruined the front of a house.
Soon they were spending Sundays visiting large old houses up for sale. They admired stained-glass windows and Art Nouveau light fixtures, antique bathtubs and modern kitchens. But for her, this wasn't a relationship, much as she had once been fascinated with architecture. She felt she was only humoring him, leading him on. The longer this lasted, the more he would assume they were friends, then more than friends. Ada was uneasy. This new -- admirer? what was she to call him? a "beau", that antiquated concept? -- was getting nothing in return for all his effort and time. She didn't love him, didn't expect to love him, and had no intention of sleeping with him, and certainly none of marrying him.
"There's no future for either of us in this," she told him on the phone, on an evening after she'd been spent severals days nerving herself to reject him. He didn't argue, which surprised her. Instead he drove down to Lawrence, showing up at her door an hour later. That did surprise her, for a moment, until the gears clicked into place: of course; that's how he functions. He insisted on going out for coffee, and she allowed it, because she didn't have the heart to refuse, because she felt guilty. When the cafe closed, and he parked in front of her building, and turned to her, to talk some more, she didn't hesitate: she said "Sorry," and immediately went inside. She watched from behind her curtains. He sat in his car for a full ten minutes before he drove away. She felt sorry for him; he would be tired in the morning. So, for that matter, would she.
He called, and showed up, until she gave up. He wasn't going away. If three months of not seeing him hadn't discouraged him, then perhaps a few more months of cool reserve would. In the meantime, she would have to figure out what to do next if the chilly treatment failed, as she worried it might. His was an irresistable force once he'd set his mind on a goal.
He made the first marriage proposal in a Chinese restaurant. She opened her fortune cookie and saw that the slip of paper read "Marry me".
"Someone at the fortune cookie factory is playing pranks," she said. She was about to hand him the little slip of paper, but the look on his face stopped her. "Do you feel ill?" she asked.
He shook his head.
He knew what was on the fortune.
The entire relationship unfurled in her mind. All was clear:
he was in love with her, and had been almost from the beginning,
and he wanted her for his wife. How could she not have seen it?
It seemed so odd and sad, her eyes teared up.