The teacher was instructing the class to assemble into small groups—our weekly ritual of discussing the current reading assignment and forming an opinion of the work. Desks started to turn as classmates formed rough circles with those in closest proximity. I sat, not moving. I had no interest in discussing anything. I wanted to be left alone.
The group I normally joined waited with confused hesitation.
Driven more by instinct than purpose, I suddenly stood up and began moving through the chaotic rearranging of furniture. In seconds, I’d slipped unnoticed into the hall.
I considered going home, but I’d left my books behind. I thought about waiting it out in the quad until my next class. I decided to find refuge in the bathroom before making a decision.
Standing at the mirrored lavatory, I pumped the soap dispenser and washed my hands. Tossing the crumpled paper towel in the trash, I turned to examine my reflection. I checked my hair and teeth, stepping back for the overall impression.
Is this what Amy sees?
I leaned against one of the metal stalls, not exactly sure what to do. Despite wanting to cut the rest of my classes, I was plagued with a single, consuming need: I had to see Amy again before Pete got to her, before he put his hands on her. After their date, everything would be different. She would be different.
It came to me in an instant. It was more a diversion than a plan, because I really didn’t care about the outcome. I left the bathroom and headed for the rear door of the classroom, near to where Amy would be sitting. Pausing at the doorway, I surveyed the jumble of skewed desks. If I could just find an empty one, I could make it appear spontaneous, a simple matter of convenience. It would have to be done quickly, without drawing attention. Otherwise, it might seem calculated and planned.
I spotted two empty desks in the same vicinity of Amy’s group. With some quick maneuvering, I might be able to make one of them work.
Stepping into the room, I hesitated and looked to the opposite wall for effect, as if searching through the sprawl of furniture. I let my eyes settle on the one I wanted, “discovering” it for the first time.
“Can I squeeze in with you guys?”
Amy was on the opposite side of the circle, writing in her notebook.
The girl sitting closest to me glanced up. “Sure, I’ll move over.” She started to scoot and then stopped, eyeing me with sudden suspicion. “Don’t you normally sit up front?”
“I came in late. Someone grabbed my seat.”
She shrugged and shifted a bit more, enough to give me an opening.
As I wedged into the loosely-formed group, the commotion drew wary stares and questioning expressions—with one exception. Amy was offering a little smile. It wasn’t as big or as friendly as the one I had foolishly rejected earlier, but it was meant for me. This time, I didn’t look away. I took a deep breath and managed a cautious nod. I knew the gesture appeared strained and unnatural, but when I saw Amy’s smile grow larger, I felt blissfully connected.
“So what did I miss?”
The girl on my right began flipping through her paperback study guide as if it were a deck of playing cards. “Well, most of us think The Merchant of Venice is a porno script. On a more personal note, I’ve decided on pizza for dinner.” She hesitated for a moment, and then added, “Oh, and Amy’s not sure about anything.”
Her unexpected jab at Amy caught me off-guard, and without thinking, I nervously repeated it. “Not sure?” I froze as I heard the challenge in my voice. I had to say something else, something that would soften my unintended but apparent arrogance. With as much concern and sincerity as I could muster, I turned to Amy. “Why is that?”
The group fell quiet. I waited, wondering if Amy understood that the question was really for her. In the wake of what should have been tremendous pressure, I was surprised how calm and unaffected I felt.
Amy looked up, as if suddenly aware that the group’s attentive silence was focused on her. She brought a hand to her face, allowing her fingers to hover over soft, flawless lips. As they lightly settled against her cheek, her pastel blue eyes seemed to gaze directly into mine, and then deeper, as if making sure I was really there, ready and listening.
To look at her—just to look—gave me such a sense of quiet fulfillment. Even if I never touched her, or sat this close to her again, I would always remember her face, poised to speak, to answer my question.
“I didn’t say I wasn’t sure, and I’m not disagreeing,” she began. “I just thought it was interesting how Bassanio offered his wife to Antonio—not as payment, but as a gesture of gratitude, of friendship. Know what I mean?”
Her voice was soft, compelling, and she had returned my question with another. Our dialogue had begun. So simple, so easy. I felt a sudden rush of excitement.
Then it struck me. What the hell was she talking about? I hadn’t read the assignment. I had no idea who the characters were or what the story was about, but it didn’t matter. I would go with it.
“Do you think that was common practice?” I tried to sound interested, hiding my confusion. “I mean, do you think a friend might have been obligated to make that kind of offer?”
Amy’s expression turned thoughtful. “Oh, I see. Because a real friend would also have been obligated to decline. I didn’t think of that. What else?”