(warnings: language, adult themes, social commentary, public nudity, spanking, sex between adults)
Chapter 8 - A suicide
Ruthie looked at herself in the mirror for a few minutes admiring how she looked in her new dress. She felt a tingle of excitement at the thought of having just worn such a revealing outfit in downtown Santa Cruz, but she felt even more excited at the thought that she now actually owned this dress and could wear it whenever she pleased. She spun around and the back lifted up, exposing her bottom. She giggled, realizing that she would have to keep that in mind when outside, to not turn around too quickly, or at least not when she could get in trouble. A naughty thought came to mind; the she could tease Mike by spinning around and flashing her bare bottom every so often.
The morality prudes would be offended at the sight of her in that dress. Satisfaction welled up inside her at the thought of bothering people that she hated. Undoubtedly someone would try to have her arrested for wearing so little, but she could argue that the dress was something she had bought in a clothing store and thus it had to be legal. Besides, the clothing restrictions at Davenport State University were among the most relaxed at any university in the US. Women were allowed to go to the main pool in thong-style swimsuits and topless sunbathing was permitted in some areas around campus, although not many students took advantage of that privilege. Given the relaxed atmosphere of Davenport, Ruthie would not be putting herself at risk nearly as much as she would if she tried wearing the dress in a place like Salinas.
Ruthie took off her new dress and hung it in her closet. She put a towel around herself, grabbed her shower stuff and stepped into the hallway. She would have not bothered to wrap the towel around her body, but at the beginning of the semester the RA had reprimanded her for being naked in the hallway and there had been a couple of disapproving comments from other women on the floor. That had been one disappointment out of several, because she had heard that a couple of decades before it was common for students to walk around the hallways of the dorms of Davenport State University in the nude and the attitude about that was very casual. It was strange, and unfortunate for her, that even in the most liberal part of the US, attitudes about nudity were more conservative than they had been in the past.
As soon as she entered the bathroom she did take off her towel. If other students had a problem with that, that was just too bad. Obviously in the bathroom she was within her rights to be naked. She brushed her teeth, then showered, and then returned to the mirror to run a comb through her hair before going back to her room.
Since Shannon was not in the room, Ruthie took advantage of her roommate’s absence to leave her clothes off. She would study in the nude until she heard Shannon’s key in the door. Normally Ruthie slept naked, but she kept an over-sized t-shirt handy that she wore whenever she was up and Shannon was present. She knew that Shannon would have a biting comment if Ruthie tried to be undressed in her presence, but also if she were naked around her nemesis, she would be more vulnerable, which was something she did not want. As soon as Shannon came back, she would slip the shirt over her head.
Ruthie spent the next six hours typing her term paper, taking advantage of Shannon’s absence and having a rare night of privacy. The noise from neighboring rooms could be heard in her room, but even with the background sounds it was comparatively quiet, given that Shannon was one of the loudest students on the floor. Ruthie made excellent progress with the paper because there was nothing to disturb her concentration. The hours passed and Shannon never showed up. She must be at one of those all-night parties, thought Ruthie to herself.
Finally, at about 3:00 am Ruthie reached a convenient stopping point. She was exhausted anyway and would not be able to continue. There still was no sign of Shannon.
Good, I hope that filthy bitch got alcohol poisoning. On that note she went to bed and for once enjoyed a decent night’s sleep.
* * *
Mike returned to his room and saw the one thing he had hoped not to see, Todd at the computer playing his on-line game with a new character. It appeared that things were back to normal, and yet Mike could tell that they weren’t. There was something strange about Todd’s behavior, a bizarre desperation in what he was doing. Mike’s thoughts drifted to what he had read about gambling addicts, to what happens to them after a series of losses; that they think the “big win” is right around the corner. Obviously Todd must be thinking along similar lines: that if he could just build up his replacement character, he could score big and restore his status in the game. If only…
Mike gave up on the idea of trying to talk to his roommate. It was too late to do anything to salvage Todd’s life. Whatever hope there might have been for him to return to the real world vanished when he created that new character. Mike knew that Todd’s situation was going to end very badly. He just wished the end would come quickly so he could get some sleep…
* * *
Ruthie woke up refreshed and in a rare good mood. She glanced over at Shannon’s bed and saw that super-bitch had never come back that night. A glimmer of hope welled up in her that maybe something indeed had happened to Shannon. She got cleaned up and returned to working on her term paper.
The computer that she was using was an old Compaq that used Windows 98 as its operating system. Now…who used Windows 98? Ruthie Burns. The computer had been given to her as her 16th birthday present by her mother, who had bought it in a surplus sale from the office where her aunt worked. Ruthie’s mother had no clue what she was buying, but the price was right: $250 for the tower, monitor, keyboard, and a printer. Shannon, who of course owned a new computer that was given to her the same week that she entered college, had commented: “Where’d you get that? From an antique shop, or did you dig it out of a dumpster?”
The bad thing about hoping that something happened to a person you hate is that the longer you wait and the more hope builds up, the greater is the emotional let-down when your nemesis finally does show up. Ruthie was in high spirits by noon, because she was becoming increasingly convinced that something had happened to Shannon. It would be sweet if super-bitch had been killed, or better yet, critically injured in a car accident. However, something like a DWI or alcohol poisoning or Shannon getting beat-up would have been sufficient to keep Ruthie happy. But, of course, people like Shannon enjoy some sort of cosmic protection and nothing bad ever happens to them.
Sure enough, right at noon Ruthie’s heart sank when she heard her roommate’s key opening the lock of the door. She rushed to pull her t-shirt over her head. She had the shirt down to her legs just in time, because the door swung open and Shannon entered with her boyfriend. The quiet of the room was shattered as super-bitch immediately turned on her CD player and talked loudly to her companion. Ruthie, as usual, did not object to the intrusion; she simply logged off her computer and grabbed a pair of shorts and a t-shirt out of her closet. With Shannon and her boyfriend firmly planted in her room, she had to go to the women’s bathroom to change, which entailed nothing more than pulling off her t-shirt and replacing it with the shorts and shirt. She returned to drop off her sleeping shirt, get her backpack and put on a pair of sandals, and with that she was ready to step outside for the day.
Ruthie’s mood was somewhat soured by the re-appearance of Shannon, but at least she did have the room to herself for 18 hours and had made very good progress on her term paper. Oh… it would be so nice to have a room to herself, where she didn’t have to clear out every time super-bitch showed up, where she didn’t have to worry about pulling a shirt over her head every time she heard a key in the lock… her own space… even if it was nothing more than a room with a desk and a bed.
The stress of dealing with Shannon was starting to get to Ruthie. She knew that what she really needed to do was confront her roommate and tell her that she had to share the room and be more considerate, but she also knew that would get her nowhere. Shannon had an intimidating personality and was quick with demeaning comments and come-backs. Ruthie, on the other hand, was very bad at winning arguments because she couldn’t think of quick responses. Instead her thoughts stewed for hours afterwards and she would think of what she should have said, but had not at the moment she needed to hit back. Shannon bullied Ruthie, not physically but with her ability to quickly come up with cutting remarks and sarcastic sneering tirades. Ruthie was no match for her.
The injustice of the situation burned in Ruthie’s soul. She was full of resentment, not only against Shannon but also against the university, for having placed her in a dorm room with someone who was so absolutely incompatible.
Ruthie went into the cafeteria to have a salad and rice, and to pick up some fruit to eat during the afternoon. In theory she was not supposed to take food out of the cafeteria, but she always kept a stash of fruit with her so she could snack in the afternoons without having to deal with eating alone in a crowd of other students.
It was Sunday afternoon, a time when usually there were very few people on campus. Ruthie decided to go behind the Econ building and see if the area around her “private spot” was deserted enough for her to take off her clothes and study naked. Sure enough, there were fewer than 20 cars parked in the lot and the grounds behind the building were totally empty of people. Ruthie pulled out a towel and laid it under the trees. She then stripped and settled down to study for the test she had the next day.
She was tempted to step out into the sunshine and walk around to enjoy the sun on her body, but knew that would be too risky. What she’d really like would be to go to Bonnie Doon beach, which was a clothing optional beach only about a two-mile walk away. She had gone a couple of times, but part of the route forced her to walk along the main road, which was something she felt very uncomfortable doing. She hated the walk as much as she loved going to the nude beach, so on that afternoon, laziness won out over her desire to be naked in the sun. She’d have to settle for her little spot under the trees.
As she looked out at the grass and the parking lot that lay beyond, Ruthie’s thoughts drifted. Her burning hatred of Shannon subsided now that she was away from the dorm room and not in her presence, so she could try to focus on more pleasant things and finally get to studying. She remembered that because it was Sunday, she’d have to call her mother and once again face the barrage of questions about not finding a church. More lies and more deception…
Well, better not to think about that now. Better to try to study and be ready for the mid-term by 5:30, and then she could see what her evening with Mike Sinclair would bring.
* * *
Mike woke up to see that his roommate was gone. That surprised him, because usually Todd played his video game until about 5:00 am, when exhaustion overtook him and he absolutely had to log out. Typically he slept until about 9:00 or so, then went to class, and then started up with the gaming around sunset. It was the first time during the entire semester that Mike had woken up and not seen Todd crashed on his bed.
Mike noticed that Todd’s computer had been left on and the screensaver was running. Out of curiosity he moved the mouse to see what his roommate had been doing. He saw the game’s death message. At first Mike thought that Todd had, for some reason, managed to bring up the death message for his original character. Then he realized that the message was not for the original character at all, but for its replacement. Mike realized that Todd had been defeated and killed online a second time. It wasn’t hard to figure out what had happened: Todd was playing a beginner’s character, and instead of slowly building it like he had done with his first character, he must have played it at a level way above its capabilities. Not hard to figure out, but it would be very interesting to see what Todd was going to do next. The fact that he had left the room immediately upon losing the second character indicated that something serious might be going on.
Mike wondered what he should do. He didn’t know anyone who was close to his roommate and had never talked to anyone in his family. He thought about telling the RA, but tell him what? That his roommate had taken off because he lost a video game? That didn’t even sound right. What about the police? Like he was going to try to tell that to the police? Mike was convinced that if he did try to call the cops, Todd probably would show up after-all and he would end up looking like an idiot, or worse yet, be accused of making a prank call.
Finally Mike contented himself with trying to find a phone number for Todd’s family. He was afraid to dig too deeply into his roommate’s desk, but he did make a half-hearted effort to find someone to contact. In the end he couldn’t find anything. Todd must have taken his cell phone because Mike couldn’t find it. Finally he decided to start studying, with a vague idea of being in the room in case someone called or showed up.
At 2:00 Mike’s floor RA knocked on his door. He was accompanied by two uniformed Davenport city police officers. Without being told, Mike knew what had happened; that Todd must have committed suicide. Sure enough, the officers related that several hours earlier Todd had shot himself in his car while sitting in the parking lot of a video game store.
Because Mike was Todd’s roommate, he was the first point of contact for the investigation. It turned out he also was more useful than the police had anticipated, because he was able to give them a plausible motive for Todd’s death. Mike explained that Todd had been addicted to gaming and how, just two nights before, his character got killed on-line. He described Todd’s behavior when he was killed, and then talked about the new character and what he thought had happened.
“If you check his computer, you’ll see what I’m talking about.”
One of the cops then did something that totally surprised Mike. He didn’t move the mouse to verify what he was saying. Instead he simply unplugged the tower and disconnected it from the rest of Todd’s hardware. The cops put the CPU in a large bag and carried it out of the room. They searched his desk and closet and bagged up some receipts, CD’s, and a couple of flash drives.
The cops asked Mike a series of questions about his relationship with his roommate, whether or not he had any friends, whether or not he had any romantic interests, and what Mike knew about Todd’s academic situation. Mike’s answers were always the same… no, we never did anything together… to be honest, we never really talked… no, Todd did not have any off-line friends that he was aware of… no, there were no romantic interests that he was aware of… yes, he was failing the semester, but it was because he spent all his time gaming…
Finally, the police put some crime scene tape around Todd’s half of the room and left to talk with the RA. Mike sat on his bed, staring at the tape. He had expected something like this to happen, but to expect it and to actually know that it already had taken place were two totally different things. He tried to comprehend that he no longer had a roommate. In a few days either the police or one of his relatives would come into the room to pick up his things; and that would be the end of Todd.
Strange, Mike thought to himself. I lived with this guy for two months, and I don’t even have a picture of him…
* * *
Several weeks later Mike would find out the sordid detail that had pushed his roommate over the edge. The police were able to retrieve the log from his game and reconstruct what had happened during his final moments online. It turned out that with his new character he had attempted to contact his old battle group and join up with them. At first they rebuffed him because his character was not developed, but when he insisted, one of his former partners led Todd’s new character into a trap, insulted him, and left him to be killed by a monster. That betrayal must have been the final psychological blow that pushed him to pull a gun on himself a couple of hours later.
When Mike met Ruthie for dinner, Todd’s suicide dominated their conversation. Mike realized that he was extremely lucky to have someone as serious as Ruthie to listen to him and give her own perspective. Suicide might have been too morbid a topic for most students to think about, but it was perfectly suited for his friend’s dark personality. She was interested in hearing the details and what Mike had told the cops.
Most important of all, Ruthie was willing to listen to Mike as he worked through his conflicting emotions. He felt guilty that he had not done more to prevent Todd’s suicide, and yet at the same time he was glad to be rid of a roommate that annoyed him and who he really did not like. He was glad that he would have the room to himself, but at the same time felt bad about that. His thoughts about Todd ranged from sympathy to contempt to disbelief that he could kill himself over something as stupid as an online game. To an average person Mike’s conflicting thoughts would have made him sound totally incoherent, but to Ruthie, his state of mind made perfect sense.
Mike would have expected Ruthie to tell him not to feel guilty about his roommate’s suicide. She did tell him that he had no reason to feel guilty, but the reasoning that came with that reassurance surprised him.
“I think what he did was the smartest thing he could have done. From everything that you’ve been telling me about his life, it totally sucked. He had no friends, no girlfriend, nobody gave a shit about him, you certainly didn’t like him, he was gonna fail the semester… so really… what did he have to live for?”
“He would have had plenty to live for if he hadn’t blown 18 months of his life sitting at his computer blasting monsters.”
“You know that for a fact? You really think his life was oh-so-wonderful before he started gaming? I mean… take a look at him. He wasn’t good-looking at all… probably no one gave a shit about him in school… he didn’t have much going on anyway… so what’d he do? Went somewhere he could do something he was good at and where people wouldn’t give him shit. His life sucked, so he found a place where it didn’t suck. That’s why he got into it so much, because he had nothing else to live for in his real life. So he escaped, and went to a place where people would respect him.”
“The point is; it didn’t do him any good and he did not escape from his real life. All he did was make his real life, the life that really matters, a lot worse. He spent 18 months screwing around with that game and what’s he got to show for it? Nothing. He spent 18 months of his life doing nothing. Now all he’s got is a bullet in the head. I really thought he should’ve been happy getting killed online, ‘cause it was his chance to do something else. He needed to forget about that monster shit and move on with his life. I… I still can’t believe that he was so stupid as to kill himself over losing a video game.”
“If his life sucked and had nothing else to live for, then he wasn’t gonna want to do anything else and wasn’t gonna move on with his life. To him it wasn’t a game; that was his life. And as for him being ‘so stupid as to kill himself’, if you’re unhappy, killing yourself isn’t stupid. It’s a lot stupider to spend your life being unhappy than it is to kill yourself. Putting up with a life that sucks is what’s stupid.”
Mike was quiet, because he wasn’t sure how to react to Ruthie’s last statement. Another overly strong opinion, to say the least. He paused, but finally he replied, “I’m not so sure that I agree with you on that. If your life sucks, then you need to try to fix it. Either fix what’s wrong in your life or fix what’s wrong with the system.”
Ruthie rolled her eyes. “Fix what’s wrong in the system? And just how are you gonna fix what’s wrong in the system?”
“You at least have to try…”
“Why? Why do you at least have to try? No one’s gonna give a shit whether you try or not. Mike, you’ve gotta understand that a lot of people’s lives suck and they suck for things they can’t help. If you’re ugly, you can’t fix that. If you’re a psycho, you can’t fix that. If you’re a meth-head, chances are you can’t fix that. If you’re job’s been outsourced and you know that you’re gonna be unemployed the rest of your life, you can’t fix that. I mean… look at all the people that Mega-Mart’s put out of work. How many of them do you think will ever get decent jobs again? How many? Their lives are gonna suck. So what’s the point of them staying alive?”
Mike cut her short. “Ruthie, my dad was put out of work by Mega-Mart! I really don’t appreciate you saying he’d be better off dead!”
Ruthie turned pale. She tried to correct herself. “I… I mean he’s got something else to live for… you guys… family… but… there’s a lot of people… that don’t have that. Todd… I mean… I don’t think he had anything else going on in his life… that’s all I was trying to say.”
For a moment they sat silent. She began fidgeting and looked down at the table. “I’m sorry about your dad… I really didn’t mean to…”
Mike took a deep breath. “Look… I understand that’s not what you meant. But… just to let you know… you need to watch how you say things to other people…”
Ruthie blushed and tears welled up in her eyes. Mike came to her rescue by suggesting they go outside. As they put up their trays and made their way towards the door, he wondered about her unusual position on suicide: that if a person was unhappy, killing himself was the logical thing to do. It was a rather hopeless view of life, but as was normal for her, she was being recklessly honest with expressing how she felt about an important issue that has vexed people throughout recorded history. At first he had thought about changing the subject, but he was curious to find out more about her unusual take on committing suicide. He also calculated that if he let her talk some more, it would set her at ease about the slip she had made at the dining table.
He pointed towards a hill at the edge of campus, where there was a walkway and an observatory. The observatory was closed to anyone who was not an astronomy major, but the path underneath offered a view of the university on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. The observatory itself blocked the light coming from campus, so the only man-made lights visible were the string of distant headlights from cars driving along Highway 1. As they looked out over the coast and the distant Pacific Ocean, the two students were able to set aside their uncomfortable moment at the dinner table. Still, Mike was curious about Ruthie’s opinions about suicide and how she formed them.
She responded, “I don’t know… from a lot of places I guess. I’ve thought about it… ’cause I’ve had a sucky life… ever since I left Nebraska… and even before I left… and I’ve often wondered what’s the point of living. Of course my mom keeps telling me that the point of living is to glorify God… but I think you know how I feel about glorifying God. So… I’ve done a lot of reading… history and on the Internet. You know… a lot of societies didn’t have the same ideas about suicide that we do. The Japanese… if they screw up, it’s what’s expected of them, or at least it used to be. Killing yourself was honorable. In ancient Rome people killed themselves all the time, if they thought they were going to be humiliated or if they were gonna be arrested. In a lot of cases in Rome, if a person was about to be arrested, the guards even gave them the chance to kill themselves to save their honor and avoid getting tortured. I found that fascinating… and a lot better than the ‘culture of life’ that we have here in this country. If you screwed up or your life sucked, then there was a way out and there was nothing wrong with taking it.”
Mike smiled slightly. “I don’t think that’s ever gonna happen here.”
“Of course it’s not. They’ve got us brainwashed with this ‘culture of life’ crap. No matter how much your life sucks, you owe it to God or your relatives or whoever to stay alive. I guess the point is that I strongly believe that if a person wants to kill themselves, that’s their right. The government has no right to try to force someone to stay alive if that isn’t what they want. The truth is that a lot of people's lives suck and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.”
Mike considered what his friend was saying. Her opinion certainly was different from anything he had ever heard, but he was surprised that he did not find it repulsive in the least. She was forcing him to look at a life and death matter from an entirely new perspective. As brutal as it may have sounded at first glance, what she said actually made a lot of sense.
For a while they stood in silence, looking out over the ocean and the steady stream of headlights going up and down the highway. Mike continued to ponder what Ruthie had said to him, wondering what painful event in her past might have pushed her to be so accepting of suicide. He also wondered if she had seriously considered committing suicide herself. He knew that she must have; otherwise she would not have given the issue so much thought. Then, his own training in political analysis kicked in, and he thought about her comment “they’ve got us brainwashed with this ‘culture of life’ crap.” That most certainly was true, but why? Why would the government force a person to live out an existence that he doesn’t want? Mike’s cynical view of politics and economic interests prompted him to throw out an idea:
“I suppose the whole thing with the government and the authorities comes down to a vested interest in keeping people active in the economy. If a lot of people started thinking..."my life sucks, and I'm checking out" then who would be available to work in all the Mega-Burgers? Who would be around to pick artichokes? Who would be around to serve coffee? Who would be spending their money on Chinese imports at Mega-Mart? So the rich guys have this huge incentive to suppress any thought of suicide as a personal choice… I think that’s the answer to your question. Just like everything else in this country, it really comes down to money. If you’re dead, they can’t make any money off you.”
“There’s that whole money thing, but I think there’s more… the big argument that I’ve seen on the Internet is that suicide is selfish, that it hurts those around you so you have no right to do it. It’s this idea that you have stay alive to serve everyone else and you can’t do what you want. I mean… I know my mom would be really messed up if I ever tried anything, and that’s the type of argument they’re using… that and the whole thing about pissing off God. And… it’s a challenge to the Christian world-view; if you’re not alive you can’t serve God. They argue that life is so precious, and folks need to be encouraged not to leave prematurely. But I argue back, what's the point of living if the life I want is denied to me and all I get is the crumbs left over by the rich? It’s up to society to make life worth living. The government needs to stop doing shit for all the rich people and start worrying about making life worthwhile for the rest of us. You look at all the stuff the rich are doing to us, taking away our health insurance, taking away our scholarships, suing us when we try to download music, passing all these morality laws so I can't do something as simple as take off my dress if I'm hot... and then they wonder why some of us can't stand the world they have created...”
“And that’s my point, Ruthie. It all comes down to money. You just said it yourself.”
Suddenly Mike’s heart skipped a beat as he remembered her phrase “…passing all these morality laws so I can't do something as simple as take off my dress if I'm hot…” Interesting that she would say that, especially considering how she normally dressed…
They realized that several hours had passed and that it was getting late. Ruthie was trembling because she had nothing to protect her body from the chilly wind except for shorts and a very flimsy shirt. Even in the dark, Mike could see that her bare arms were covered with goose-bumps. She had not given him any indication that she wanted to go back to the dorm area, but it was clear that she was very uncomfortable perched on that hillside with the wind hitting her exposed skin. Mike realized that if he wanted, he had an opportunity to get closer to her. He did have some doubts, because there was no question that Ruthie’s lack of social skills might cause him some embarrassment from time to time. She was morose and obviously prone to depression. However, the evening’s conversation had proven that he really could talk to her about any deep or thoughtful topic. He felt that he needed that in his life, and her openness about “deeper issues” far outweighed whatever faults she might have. On top of everything else she was very attractive, with her large dark eyes, petite figure, and perfect olive skin. She was timid and yet at the same time was not in the least prudish about her body. That detail Mike found very desirable about her. He wanted her.
“Ruthie, I’m kinda worried about you. You look cold standing there in the wind like that.”
“Why don’t you let me put my arms around you, so you can warm up a bit?”
She nodded again and allowed him to wrap his arms around her stomach. She pressed her back against his chest and immediately stopped shivering. For a long time they stood quietly, watching the fog build over the Pacific Ocean and the line of headlights along the highway thin out.
Mike didn’t know what to do next. Ruthie was only the second woman he had ever held in his arms, so he was not sure how to proceed with her. Up until that moment, his entire experience with the opposite sex consisted of the time he had spent with Lisa, and he knew that experience was irrelevant because Lisa and Ruthie were so different from each other. He wanted to kiss her, but had no idea whether or not she would go for that. In the end he decided not to take the risk, opting to err on the side of caution. It was fortunate that he decided to wait, because had he tried to kiss her at that moment she would have become very nervous and the mood of the evening would have been spoiled.
Finally they realized that it was time to return to their dorms and get ready for the next day, which included the infamous English literature course. They headed back. Mike decided that there was at least one thing he wanted to change.
“Tomorrow… in lit class… I’d kinda like to sit with you… if that’s OK…”
Ruthie glanced up at him, smiled slightly, and nodded.
Chapter 9 - Two conversations
The following morning, to the surprise of everyone in the English literature course, “Mr. Know-it-all” sat next to the girl who had pinned him with that nick-name. Of course, the rest of the class and the professor had no way of knowing what had happened between Mike and Ruthie over the weekend and had incorrectly assumed that the two students bitterly disliked each other. Strange… it turned out that was not the case at all. From their initial argument the couple realized that had a lot in common and each could find friendship in the other. Not only did they sit together in class, but they also ignored the other students and left together when the session ended.
During their second week together, Mike and Ruthie ate together in the cafeteria whenever possible. The only times she did not eat with Mike were the days she had class right after work and there was no time to sit down for lunch. On those days she continued to stash fruit in her backpack for the afternoon, but she did that considerably less now that she knew she had someone to sit with at dinner. Her days of trying to avoid the cafeteria had ended. Quite to the contrary, she wanted people to see her, just to show everyone: “see? Now I have someone to eat with too… so screw all of you!”
For Ruthie having a companion at the dining table was a real treat, a break from the humiliation she had endured over the past month of being cold-shouldered by the other students and forced to eat alone. For Mike the situation was more complicated. He did have people with whom he normally ate: his political friends and a couple of co-workers from the Parking Department. On the days Ruthie had to grab her fruit and run he could still hang out with his friends, but for the other meals there was no question that she took priority over everyone else. There were a few times he invited her to eat with his group, but it was clear that she was uncomfortable trying to make small talk with people she did not really know.
Over the next several days Mike had to figure out how to strike a balance between not offending his friends and giving priority to his… girlfriend… if that’s what she was. He wasn’t sure about that part yet. It was obvious that in her own way she deeply cared for him: that she was glad to see him whenever they met up, happy whenever she was with him, and never eager to say goodbye. As for his friends, he never actually told them that Ruthie was his girlfriend, but instead left them to make their own assumptions about the relationship.
Certainly from his end, the feelings of love and sexual desire were very strong, apart from his desire for having a close friend. Having her scantly-clad body in his arms or close by was a huge temptation for him. He badly wanted her. He suspected that sex would have to wait, but at least he wanted to establish that she was indeed his girlfriend by kissing her or holding her hand when they walked. She clearly did enjoy hugging him and having his arms around her, and yet… she never gave him any hint whatsoever she wanted him to go any further than that. Mike was not one to push with physical contact, because he was afraid of “blowing it” with Ruthie if he was overly insistent. He also was well-aware that he had no first-hand knowledge about how to seduce a woman, given that with Lisa things had just come naturally and at a very early age. He understood that his first relationship was unique and the experience would give him very little guidance for handling Ruthie.
Ruthie’s attraction to Mike was growing as well. Now that she had someone in her life with whom she could confide, she wanted to be with him whenever possible. During the afternoons she did not have class, she’d accompany him to lot Econ-A when he went there to ticket. She continued to study by herself in her “private spot” while he ran his machine, but the point was for her to be close to him. At the end of the afternoon she followed him back to the Parking Department Office, went with him to dinner, and then accompanied him to the library to study. In the library she was quiet and absorbed in her reading, but on the way there and back she was happy to chatter away about rock formations, evolution, and paleontology, often citing recent discoveries about things such as Chinese dinosaurs or Cambrian-era soft-bodied marine organisms. She would talk about Latin American authors when she was not talking about ancient life. Little by little Mike coaxed her to talk more about herself, especially about her family members in Culiacan and the Mexican portion of her background.
From the beginning Mike knew that his relationship with Ruthie was not “typical”. Her feelings towards him were different from what a person normally would feel for either a boyfriend or a close friend. The best way to describe Ruthie’s emotions towards her companion would be very intense affection. In her own way she did love him and felt uneasy when she was not with him. She would have been extremely jealous and hurt had she seen him with another woman. However, that affection was not the same as romantic love, which was why she wanted him to hold her but would have been nervous about him trying to kiss her. By the end of their second week together she felt that she and Mike belonged to each other, and yet she still would have felt uncomfortable defining her role in his life as his “girlfriend”.
* * *
On Tuesday Todd’s mother, along with the dorm director and the RA from Mike’s floor, showed up to pick up his possessions. The RA pulled down the police tape and helped the woman box up her son’s things. Mike would have helped had he been asked, but Todd’s mother gave him several very hostile looks, as though she blamed him for having a hand in her son’s suicide.
Of course, Mike had nothing to do with Todd’s problems, which actually had begun the year before he entered college. However, at the same time it was evident that he had stayed out of his roommate’s life and had not done anything to intervene in his suicide. If anyone had expected Mike to “talk to” Todd, or in some other way provide him with emotional support, in that he most definitely had failed.
Finally Mike decided the best thing for him to do would be to get out of the room and wait until Todd’s mother was off-campus before returning. He excused himself and went to work. As usual, he went to his favorite “pay dirt” spot in lot Econ-A, carrying his machine and 400 ticket envelopes in his backpack. By the middle of his second week ticketing the lot, conditions there were changing. Only half of the meters now were occupied by student vehicles, and of those, about half were paying. The remaining spaces remained open for visitors, which was the original intention for having all those meters in Econ-A. So now Mike was writing tickets for only 100 unpaid meters, not 400. However, he still continued to average between 300 and 350 tickets per shift, because he could write a ticket on any car parked at an unpaid meter every 61 minutes. Now that there were fewer violators, Mike could write multiple tickets on the ones who remained. Those tickets very quickly would add up. The real fun would happen in another month, because any student who owed more than $250 in unpaid tickets for more than 30 days could have his car towed and impounded. Already he was starting to figure out who his most likely victims would be. He also paid special attention to the car of anyone who had insulted him.
* * *
Ruthie showed up at 4:30 and sat down on her usual spot in the grass to wait for her friend to finish his shift. On their way back to the cafeteria Mike mentioned that his roommate’s things had been taken out and that at least for the rest of the semester, he would have the room to himself. By that time he felt that he knew Ruthie well enough to confide something cynical that he planned to do. The university had offered him several sessions of grief counseling. Mike was not grieving over Todd whatsoever, but he planned to take advantage of the offer to let the counselor know that during the spring semester he would not be “emotionally ready” to have another roommate. That was total bull, because Todd’s death barely affected him but, as he put it, “that’s not something the university needs to know”. Ruthie smiled, responding that if anything were to happen to Shannon, she would openly celebrate and put up party decorations to let everyone know that she was elated that super-bitch was dead.
As usual, they had dinner together in the cafeteria, but then they decided to return to the Student Center, because the university was having a festival of “cult” movies from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Among the movies were titles such as “Eraserhead”, “Dr. Strangelove”, “Slaughterhouse Five”, “A Boy and his Dog”, and “Zardoz”. Mike had been curious to see “Slaughterhouse Five”, but Ruthie opted for “Zardoz”, based solely on the fact she liked the poster for that movie better than any of the others.
Mike and Ruthie left the auditorium with totally different reactions to “Zardoz”. Mike commented that it was one of the most depressing movies he had ever seen. Ruthie totally loved it.
“What’s there to be depressed about? That movie’s simply telling it like it is.”
“Telling it like it is? Floating heads and everyone’s starving to death and guys on horses running around shooting everyone else? I didn’t see the point of any of that… just a bunch of gratuitous killing for no reason. To be honest, I was disappointed that Sean Connery could have gotten himself mixed up in that crap.”
Ruthie stopped in her tracks and forced Mike to turn around and look at her.
“That movie shows exactly what the future’s gonna be. We’re gonna end up just like that! There’s gonna be most people starving to death in the ruins of our civilization, a few gang members running around killing everyone else, and the rich people holed up somewhere, thinking that they’re safe, but really just waiting to die like everyone else. That’ll be the future! I thought it was great, ‘cause it told the truth!”
Mike was surprised by Ruthie’s vehement defense of a movie that he hated. He really should not have been so astonished, because the message of “Zardoz” fit perfectly with her world view. She explained that she was convinced that humans, as a species, were doomed to extinction in the near future because the conditions needed to sustain such a large population no longer existed on the planet. The laws of nature that controlled all other species that had experienced population explosions in the past also applied to humans. Those natural processes that had doomed every other organism, from trilobites to dinosaurs to passenger pigeons, would doom humans as well. The only real difference was that humans were probably unique in being aware of their own existence, and thus would be aware of the extinction as it was taking place. But, as she put it:
“Just ‘cause we’re aware of a natural phenomenon doesn’t mean we can stop it from happening. When the end comes, some people will pray to God, some will be smoking whatever meth is left over, some will be going out like those Zardoz guys and killing everyone else… but none of it’ll matter. In the end we’ll all be dead because the planet can’t sustain us.”
Mike tried to think of a response to Ruthie’s bleak view of the future. He was aware of the problems that some humans were causing others, but his education and experiences had convinced him that the big social and economic problems ultimately could be resolved with the right form of human organization, i.e. a government willing and capable of controlling the worst excesses of human behavior. The key was setting up a society that could effectively thwart humans’ disposition towards greed, avarice, and violence. Whether it was gang members or Mega-Town executives, it wouldn’t take all that much for a new social awareness to force a reorganization of the US government that would bring the worst members of its society under control.
Ruthie countered that it was far too late for any such “reawakening” to have any effect. For one thing, already there were too many people on the planet and the world had run out of resources that would be needed to provide everyone with a decent life. Even something as fundamental as living space simply did not exist. No social or political reorganization could change that reality, unless a large portion of the population could somehow be eliminated. Second, the most destructive groups of humans, whether they were Mega-Town executives or drug traffickers from Sinaloa, already had amassed too much power and wealth and were invincible. The only political change would be coming from corporate CEO’s and mafia leaders, not from the idealists in which Mike placed his hopes.
Mike was aghast at his friend’s hopeless outlook, but he was unable to come up with arguments to counter much of what she was saying. The conversation depressed him even more than the movie, partly because he knew she was right. At that moment he could perfectly understand why very few people could tolerate being around her, because even if a person got past her shyness and was able to converse with her, at times to talk to Ruthie Burns forced one to see how truly hopeless life really was. There were no illusions for her, nothing to give her any hope for the future. Most people couldn’t handle facing that reality.
* * *
Wednesday afternoon Ruthie had her second session with her Dr. Hartman. She was in a much better mood than she had been the previous week, but she wanted to talk about “Zardoz” and how the movie supported her conviction that humans would be extinct within another generation or so. Of course, Hartman was much more interested in knowing what was going on with Mike, because ultimately that relationship would be a much more important influence on her client’s state of mind than a movie that was 35 years old. However, the counselor figured that it would be safe just to let her talk, since apparently there was no imminent threat of suicide.
When Ruthie left, Hartman made some notes about the conversation and put away her case file. She sat down for a moment to clear her head for the next client. She rubbed her temples with her fingertips and whispered to herself:
“Jeesh, that girl’s depressing.”
* * *
In spite the fact indeed she was so depressing to talk to at times, there was no way that Mike would consider giving up on his relationship with Ruthie. She was the one woman who had paid attention to him all year, so it was not as though he had all that much to choose from. He reasoned that many of her pessimistic attitudes were likely to be tempered once she had some positive experiences to counter the negative ones she had endured up to the point they became friends. Furthermore, although Ruthie had such a dark outlook on life, she was intelligent, truthful, and had a way of perceiving things that often forced Mike to look at his own experiences in a different light.
The night after their discussion of the merits of “Zardoz”, Mike and Ruthie had their first in depth conversation about their lives in high school. Ruthie went on and on about various books she read, and to a lesser extent talked about her cousins. Her uncle (on her mother’s side) had immigrated to Salinas 20 years before and had worked in construction until the recession of 2000-2001. He managed to get a job at a large hardware store and since then had worked his way up to being the supervisor of the lumber department. He and his wife had four children: a boy called Gerardo, two girls called Rosa and Susy, and another boy called Alex. Rosa, the oldest daughter, was the one who Ruthie knew the best because they were the same age.
Ruthie’s uncle, aunt, and cousins were Catholic, which caused problems between them and Ruthie’s mother, who had been taught that the Pope was a servant of the Anti-Christ. It also caused Ruthie’s mother to be somewhat distrustful of the influence the cousins might have on her daughter, but the family’s circumstances forced the girl to have more contact with her cousins than she would have wanted. Before she changed her work schedule, Ruthie’s mother had her stay at her cousins’ house after school, where she was able to play video games and watch TV. Once Ruthie’s mother was able to arrange being home in the afternoons, Ruthie’s after-school time with her cousins came to an abrupt end.
During her first year in Salinas, Ruthie was ruthlessly targeted by bullies, both boys and girls, while she was in the eighth grade of middle school. Once she entered high school the solution was for her oldest cousin Gerardo to walk her to and from her classes. Just a month after Ruthie entered the ninth grade, he broke the nose of a guy whose girlfriend had punched her, which sent a clear message that anyone who messed with Ruthie would have problems with Gerardo. She knew that she was very lucky for having him to protect her, because otherwise she probably would have had to drop out and be home-schooled.
When the conversation shifted to Mike’s time in high school, there was no way that he could avoid talking about his relationship with Lisa, because his social life pretty much consisted of Lisa and nothing but Lisa. He tried to keep the details about his ex-girlfriend to a minimum, but Ruthie pressed him for information. Finally he lost his patience and curtly answered:
“Look. Lisa’s living in Chicago. We broke up last year. She pledged a sorority and is dating a guy from a fraternity. The last time I ever saw her was in December.”
“…and so that’s the reason you didn’t go back to Chicago? ‘Cause you broke up with Lisa?”
“That’s the reason… I mean… if you really want to know the truth, we didn’t exactly break up. She treated me like total crap, she dumped me last Christmas, and the guy she’s going out with now used to be one of my friends from Chicago.”
“How’d she treat you like total crap?”
Mike could feel that he was digging himself ever deeper, but at that point in the conversation he realized that he needed to tell Ruthie the entire story of what had happened to him in Chicago: going there because of the lower tuition cost, how Lisa had changed over the fall semester, how he tried to force her to return to California to salvage the relationship, and the grim break-up that followed a very tense Christmas.
When he finished, Ruthie looked at him with an incredulous expression:
“Mike, I want to make sure I understand something. You filled out a college application for Lisa without telling her what you were doing?”
“Yeah, ‘cause I knew when we got back here we wouldn’t have that much time.”
“And if you weren’t telling her, how’d you get her information? How’d you know what her grades were… and stuff like her Social Security number?”
Mike hesitated, but finally he admitted that he had collected Lisa’s personal information by going through her computer and notebooks when he was in her room but she had fallen asleep. Ruthie’s face was even more incredulous.
“…and you’re telling me you had no clue why she was so pissed at you? What gave you the right to go through her papers?”
Mike blushed and stammered: “I… I suppose I shouldn’t have done it, but I… sort of just wanted to have everything set up and…”
“…then her dumping you is exactly what you deserved! I think she was fucking nice about it! If you loved her, how could you do something like that? She wasn’t yours! She didn’t belong to you! How could you do that to her?”
“I was just trying to get us back home… that’s all I was doing.”
“No! You were trying to get yourself back home and get your old life back, and force her life to fit with what you wanted for yourself! You thought you could cancel out everything that happened to her in Chicago so she could be with you. You can’t do that. There’s no going back. Once things change, you can’t change them back!”
A very sick feeling swept over Mike. After 10 months, he finally had his answer why Lisa had been so infuriated at him… the real reason. With that desperate effort to get her out of Chicago, he was the one who had closed the final door on their relationship. It was true; he had gone through her personal files to collect the information he needed to fill out the application. However well-meaning his intentions might have been, he had violated her trust. No wonder…
It was very late, but they were not yet ready to return to their dorm rooms. Neither Mike nor Ruthie wanted to say goodnight and leave his misstep with Lisa as the final topic of the evening’s conversation. He suggested walking across the playing field that separated the classroom buildings from the dorms, the same field where Ruthie had stood the week before staring up at the stars and contemplating the futility of her life. They walked to the edge of campus to the fence and she noticed the gate was open. She suggested going through the entrance and checking the path that led away from the university to the Pacific Ocean. Mike acquiesced, but they didn’t go too far because the area off-campus was pitch black.
Ruthie’s mood shifted. She remembered her half-hearted attempt to come this way the previous week, with the goal of descending the hillside and jumping into the Pacific Ocean. She realized that she never would have made it, even had the gate been open, because it would have been too dark for her to follow the trail. She would have torn herself up a bit on the bushes before eventually giving up and returning to campus. What she had tried to do was really pathetic.
To avoid the unpleasant memory of her failed suicide plan, she thought about what else she wanted to say about Lisa, and finally came up with another question:
“I’m wondering something. Are you totally sure that it was Chicago that messed up things with Lisa? What would you have said had you come here to Davenport last year and the same thing happened? Then who would you have blamed?”
“I have no idea. I really never thought about it, ‘cause I always figured it was because we left California that things between us changed.”
“You wanna hear what I think?”
“Yeah. I’d be curious.”
“I think that you and Lisa had a really great thing going in high school. You had a relationship that worked in a certain place and time. Then you graduated and left. It’s kinda like an organism that evolves for a specific set of climatic conditions and maybe over-specializes. Then it migrates or the climate changes. The organism has to be able to evolve again, or it goes extinct. Your relationship with Lisa was kinda like that, ‘cause it went extinct when the environment changed. You can’t blame her and you can’t really blame yourself, except for the part about the application.”
Mike wasn’t sure what else he could add to her insight. He had not planned for her to know all the details about his ex-girlfriend and how they had broken up. And yet, in a way he was grateful that he had been forced to reveal that part of his life, because she was able to give him some honest assessment of his own actions. He had always thought of himself as the victim in the relationship and that Lisa had treated him horribly. For the first time, he could see things from her perspective and was able to understand how his own actions and decisions hastened, but probably did not cause, the break-up.
Mike realized something else. If what Ruthie was saying was true, then Lisa was not destined to be the love of his life. The break-up was bound to happen, no matter what, because the circumstances in high school that drove them together vanished as soon as they crossed the stage and picked up their diplomas. If that were true, then what good would it have done had he not insisted on returning to California, had he never filled out that application, and had Lisa not fought with him over Christmas? The break-up would have been put off for a few months, but it still would have happened. Afterwards Mike would have spent the spring semester sulking around the dorm in Chicago, and every day he would have been confronted with the sight of his ex-girlfriend running up and down the halls. What actually happened was better: he stormed out of her life and she went back to Chicago and that was the end of her. It was a clean break, with no false hope of ever getting back together. In Chicago, he continuously would have seen her and wondered…
There was another issue in Mike’s life that now was resolved. He had been struggling with what to tell Ruthie about Lisa. He ended up telling her everything that she wanted to know. That had not been his intention, but it had happened that way because he was trying to justify his actions by giving her details. His relationship with Lisa was more of a skeleton in his closet than he could have suspected, but now that Ruthie knew the entire story she could make her own judgment about his merits as a possible partner. As he put it: “Well, for whatever it’s worth, you know all about Lisa.”
They were quiet for a few more minutes. Mike was about to suggest they return to campus when Ruthie commented:
“If you ever do that to me, what you did to Lisa… you know… dig through my papers to find shit out about me… without asking… I’d never forgive you. Never.”
“I know. It’s not something I’d do to you.”
“You gotta promise me.”
“Ruthie, I’m not gonna ‘promise’. Promises don’t mean anything. People make them all the time. I’m simply telling you that I’m not gonna do it. You’ll just have to take my word.”
Ruthie was about to object, but then she remembered a quote from the New Testament about making promises.
“I guess… I guess you’re right. ‘I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”; and anything other than this comes from evil.’”
Mike was surprised by the biblical quote, but he recognized it.
“Sermon on the Mount – from the Book of Matthew, if I remember right.”
“Yeah. Matthew 5:33-37. Most of what’s in there is shit, but he did say a few things that made sense. So I’ll take your word. I’m sure your word’s more reliable than any promise would be.”
With that, she realized that Mike had given her the most honest answer possible.
* * *
They returned to her dorm. Upon arriving at the building they noticed that the light in Ruthie’s room was on and there were what looked like several people in there. Ruthie was upset, but as usual she was afraid to confront Shannon and force her to chase out her guests. She knew what would happen; that she would be subjected to ridicule and insults from everyone present. She had the option of telling the RA, but if she did that, Shannon would harass her for days afterwards.
Mike offered to confront the guests on Ruthie’s behalf, but she declined because that wouldn’t work either. No doubt once everyone was out of the room Shannon would insult her for having a Parking Nazi handle her dirty work, because she was too big of a wimp to do it herself. Ruthie was in a no-win situation.
“Well, then the only other solution is for you to come over to my room and crash there.”
Ruthie blushed and fidgeted. She was scared of accepting his offer, because she couldn’t be sure of his intentions. However, she was dead tired, so much so that her dilemma with Shannon almost had her in tears.
“I wouldn’t… I… I mean… you wouldn’t mind?”
“Of course I wouldn’t mind. Why would I?”
“I… I don’t know… I… I’m just thinking… maybe I’d better not…”
“It’ll be just to sleep…I’m not gonna push you on ‘that’.”
She nodded, and they were off to his dorm building. It was a very awkward feeling when she entered his room for the first time. Todd’s bed and furniture were completely empty, but the trash can near his desk was full of yellow police tape. Ruthie set her backpack on Todd’s desk, while Mike pulled out an extra set of sheets from his dresser. They made the bed.
“Do you have a toothbrush in your backpack?”
She shook her head.
“Do you want one?”
He gave her a new toothbrush and an open tube of toothpaste, and then pointed down the hallway to where the women’s bathroom was on his floor. He found the largest t-shirt he had in his closet and put it on Todd’s bed. Strange to think, if things went Mike’s way, eventually they both would think of it as Ruthie’s bed.
A few minutes later he heard a light knock on his door and let her back in. To avoid the uncomfortable situation of what to do about changing, he left the room to clean up, which would give her time to change. He vaguely hoped that she would get undressed and not bother to put on the shirt, so when he returned to the room he was disappointed to see her wearing it. She was sitting on the bed with a nervous expression on her face, but Mike knew that expression was not in anticipation of having sex. She simply was nervous because the situation was unusual and she did not yet completely trust him. They would do what they had said they were going to do: sleep. At 4:30 the next morning she would wake up and go to work and from there the two students would resume their ordinary routines. However, Mike knew that if he could win Ruthie’s trust be being patient with her, there would be plenty more nights of her being with him. Her life with Shannon was unbearable, so he would offer her a refuge, both in his heart and in his room.
The two friends hugged each other goodnight. Ruthie got in Todd’s old bed and promptly fell asleep. Mike stayed awake for a few minutes, listening to her breathing before falling asleep himself.
The next morning he woke up at 6:30. Ruthie was long gone, but when he glanced over at Todd’s empty desk, he noticed that she had folded her sleeping shirt and put her toothbrush on top. Next to the shirt were two large geology textbooks and a couple of notebooks. She must have taken them out of her backpack before going to work. He understood what that meant, that she fully expected to return and already was starting to keep her things there.
Chapter 10 - Ruthie’s obsession
When her shift ended at 11:00, Ruthie returned to her room for the first time in 24 hours. She could tell that Shannon was somewhat curious to know where she had been, but since the two students were not on speaking terms; Ruthie did not feel obligated to offer any explanation. She loaded her backpack and immediately left to meet up with Mike for lunch.
Among the items Ruthie decided to stuff in her backpack was the dress that he had bought for her the previous weekend. As much as she wanted to wear it around campus, for some reason she felt very uneasy wearing it in and out of her own dorm. It would be much easier for her to put it on in Mike’s dorm and avoid the judgmental comments of a bunch of women she hated. She figured that she’d wear it over the weekend if the weather was warm enough, partly to let Mike know that she did appreciate the gift.
Ruthie had expected that Shannon would be glad to see considerably less of her. Shannon’s feelings were more mixed than Ruthie could have anticipated, because while she was satisfied to have the room to herself, it bothered her that Ruthie suddenly had become much less of a target for her and her friends. On the surface she would have said that the less she saw of her nerdy roommate, the better. However, subconsciously she enjoyed having Ruthie to pick on. She was a natural bully that had delighted in finding ways to hurt her roommate and making her feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
It was apparent, now that Ruthie had a boyfriend and was getting emotional support from that Parking Nazi; she no longer was so isolated. The other women on Ruthie’s floor felt the same way. No longer was she seen wandering around the hallways by herself with a depressed expression, so suddenly she was not so easy to ridicule.
* * *
Mike had one of his political meetings that night, but he told his friend that afterwards he wanted to meet up with her at the library and make sure that she made it back safely to her room. He asked her where she was going to be in the library and she responded that usually she studied at night in the basement. That surprised him, because he knew that the basement was always deserted for at least an hour before closing time.
“I know. That’s why I go there. I like it ‘cause it’s quiet and when nobody’s around I can do what I want.”
The comment left Mike wondering: when nobody’s around, she can do what she wants? What on earth would that be? He gave the matter some thought, and suspected that she must be doing something that would not be considered acceptable if any one else was around. He wished he knew what that was…
Mike sat through his meeting, which for once did hold out a promise that the Danubian Solidarity Committee might accomplish something worthwhile at the national level. The organization was among several political groups that had filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that the Mega-Town “hate speech” law violated the First Amendment and thus was unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had agreed to hear the case, to the outrage of Mega-Town Associates. A major public relations battle lay ahead and Mega-Town planned to launch a three billion dollar ad campaign to turn public opinion against the court challenge. Three billion dollars… that was going to pay for a lot of ads. Mega-Town never did anything on a small scale.
It was 10:45 before Mike went to the library. Ruthie, as usual for her at that hour, already had taken off her dress and was studying naked. When she heard the elevator, she quickly stood up and slipped the garment over her body. She was still standing and smoothing the dress over her thighs when he saw her. She was barefoot and her shoes were lying under the study table. She was blushing and had a nervous expression. Mike’s heart beat rapidly, because he suspected what had happened, that she hurriedly got dressed when she heard the elevator; and that just a couple of seconds before she had been naked. It had to be that… why else would she be down in the basement alone? Why else would she be smoothing her dress over her thighs… and why else would she be looking so nervous?
Precisely because she was so uneasy at the moment, she hugged him very tightly when they greeted. He could feel her soft body pressing against him as he ran his fingers over her bare back. He resisted the temptation to lower his hands and feel her bottom to see if she was wearing any panties. He already knew that she was not… that underneath that flimsy dress she was totally bare. To touch her… to see her… and maybe to lift up her skirt… and she was so close to him…
* * *
On their way back to the dorms Mike coaxed out of his friend what she had been doing in the library. He talked to her about his meeting and then asked her to tell him about her study routine. He slowly worked his way towards the answer, by asking her what was so special about being in the basement, what it was like to be there so late at night, did she always study with her shoes off…
He could tell that she was blushing in the darkness and getting increasingly uneasy. When he suspected he had figured out what it was that she was doing, his heart pounded. Trying to maintain control of his voice, he commented:
“I’d guess I see your point. It would be nice down there… if no one was around, and you can do whatever you want… I suppose you could even streak or study naked if you wanted to… I mean… no one would be around to say anything.”
Ruthie was quiet, but Mike could sense that she was very nervous. He knew that the best thing he could have done would have been to back off at that moment, but the thought of her sitting naked in that basement had captured his imagination. He just had to know.
“So… what’s this daring thing that you like to do in the library, anyway?”
Ruthie remained quiet, trying to decide whether or not to tell him the truth. For some reason she did want to let him know, to confide her secret with him. But to tell Mike about her nude late-night adventures would force her to explain to him her fascination with being naked. She would have to entrust a very important part of her inner being with another person, a part of herself that had remained secret from the rest of the world up until that moment.
For a minute they walked in silence, while he waited for an answer and she debated with herself whether or not to trust him. Finally, in a very nervous tone of voice she responded, “Mike… if I… uh… tell you something… can you… uh… like promise me that… uh… you’ll like… keep it a secret?”
“Of course I’d keep it a secret. Who would I tell anyway?”
“And… like… uh… promise that you won’t be weirded-out? I…’cause I know it’s gonna seem kinda strange…”
He gently squeezed her arm. His heart was pounding, however, as he tried to control his voice. “It would take a lot to weird me out, Ruthie.”
She swallowed. “I have to trust you, Mike. You have to promise me you won’t tell.”
“I won’t tell.”
“OK… then… like… when I’m alone… I mean like… you know… when everybody else is gone… I… I like to take off my clothes… you know… hang out down there in the nude… It’s kinda a thing with me… I like being nude… when I can… like… uh… whenever I have a chance… and I found out that’s a place I can do it…”
Mike’s heart continued to pound. So he was right. That was indeed what she had been doing in the library when he met up with her.
“I’m not weirded-out by that at all, Ruthie. I think it’s awesome that you have the guts to do that.”
“You’re not weirded-out? You’re actually OK with it?”
“As I said, I think it’s great that you have that kind of nerve.”
He glanced at her in the darkness. He could see her large nervous eyes looking up at him, her pupils reflecting a nearby sidewalk light. He added:
“I like people who go against the “norms” of our society. More people need to do that. And that’s one of the things I’ve always liked about you. You don’t play by the rules… and I think it’s really great that you’re rebelling like that.”
“I don’t know how much of a rebellion it is, ‘cause nobody knows about it. I’d really get busted if they caught me, so I try to be careful about it.”
“That risk you’re taking is why what you’re doing is sticking it to the system. You’re not taking the psychological shit they’ve been pushing on us for granted.”
“No, I ‘spose that’s true… I’ve had a lot of shit pushed on me, all the religious crap my mom was always hitting me with… and the whole thing about my body was a big part of it. So… it’s kinda important for me… being naked as much as I can… I mean… if it wasn’t illegal, I’d never wear any clothes at all.”
From that point she talked about her own experiences in the nude and how everything had started with a simple suggestion from her mother that she sleep in her underwear.
“It all started with that, and I couldn’t get enough of being naked when I was a teenager. If my mom wasn’t home, I never wore my clothes. Ever.”
She talked about her naked hours in the early mornings after her mother left for work, and how for her it was a way to get revenge for having her life so restricted in the afternoons. She liked nothing more than to be naked in the living room reading about evolution, both acts of defiance against the teachings of her mother’s church. She talked about how, when she got older, she streaked around her apartment complex.
“That was really scary, ‘cause of a whole bunch of reasons. People there knew my mom… and the place was kinda dangerous. There was this one time I was out… nd I heard gunshots… that scared the shit out of me… I pissed myself I was so scared… I mean… here I was out running around naked and someone’s shooting off a gun, and I was wondering if they’d seen me and were shooting at me… That night I nearly got caught, ‘cause people were coming out of their apartments and I could hear sirens… I ran back to my place… and had to hide for a few seconds because someone came running down the sidewalk… a couple of guys…they ran right past me. I think it was a gang hit, and those guys were the murderers, and I saw them. I feel kinda guilty, ‘cause I was the only person who saw them, and I couldn’t say anything ‘cause everyone would’ve wanted to know what I was doing outside at that hour… and… like… I was gonna tell them the truth? So I got back inside and cleaned up, and a few minutes later the cops are knocking on my door. They asked me if I saw anything, and I told ‘em no… I just heard the gunshots. They left, and the murder never got solved. I didn’t go out for a long time after that, but I did go out a few more times just before I graduated."
Mike was totally fascinated with what his friend was telling him. He was curious if she had any nude adventures on campus apart from her evenings in the library. She fidgeted, blushed, and looked at the ground. She was afraid to tell him, but having already confided in him to that point; she figured he might as well know the rest of the truth.
“Yeah… there was another spot I used to go to. You remember last week, when you were out ticketing… and I was kinda upset about you being there?”
“Yes, I remember you being… like… worried or something…”
“It wasn’t because I was bothered about the cars. You know that cluster of trees off to the side, between the Econ building and the parking lot?”
“I was going there… you know… hanging out under the shade… I’d take a towel and lie there and study… I wasn’t worried about getting caught, ‘cause with the lot all full of students’ cars, no one ever went by there in the middle of the day ‘cause all the parking was taken. It was sort of a private little spot for me… a place no one knew about where I could… you know… just relax…”
“…and me going after them messed that up for you.”
Ruthie nodded, but tried to reassure him: “I mean… I don’t want you to feel guilty about it… I know you gotta do your job… but I was kinda upset about it at the time.”
Mike did feel guilty, but he also was somewhat resentful that his duty to his job conflicted with making Ruthie happy. He tried to come up with a suggestion:
“Why don’t you just keep going to your spot? If the police come around, I could warn you ‘cause I can hear them on my radio.”
Ruthie shook her head.
“No… it wouldn’t work… I’ve thought about it, but now there’s too many people going up and down that sidewalk… older people… alumni… vendors… and they’d be looking over at the trees and see me… and that’s not what I want. I don’t want to upset anyone… anyhow… it’s probably just as well… ’cause it’s gonna start getting too cold anyway… you know… for me to be there in the shade with my clothes off…”
Mike sighed. “Fuck… now you’re making me feel really bad… I… I’m sorry I messed it up for you. I’ll try to make it up to you.”
“Don’t worry about it. I know it’s your job and you can’t help it. And you’ve made it up to me plenty of times. I mean… I’m not mad at you… really I’m not. I don’t want you to feel bad.”
She could tell that he remained doubtful and that he still was trying to think of something to tell her. She wanted to reassure him. For the first time she touched his hand.
“Look. I’m not worried about Econ-A. Me being with you is a lot more important. You’re the only person who’s treated me decently since I’ve gotten here.”
He hugged her. She put her arms around him and squeezed hard. He was elated at Ruthie’s attitude towards being naked, because it was not too different from his own. He sought to reassure her:
"Anyhow…if you want to be with a guy who’s OK with you being nude, you’ve found him, ‘cause I’ve done it plenty myself. You know Bonnie Doon Beach? Just down the road?”
“You ever been there?”
She nodded again.
“I used to go there all the time when I was in high school.”
“Really? To the nude part?”
“Yeah… especially during my senior year… to the nude part. And there’s another beach… further north of here… San Gregorio. I’ve been there too.”
“San Gregorio? I’ve always wanted to go there!”
Mike’s heart pounded even more…
“Well, if you want… I’ll take you up there sometime.”
Ruthie nodded. Mike thought about offering to take her that upcoming Saturday, which would give him a chance to see her naked for several hours and possibly present him a chance to coax her into having sex. However, he remembered that it was supposed to rain over the weekend and he did not want to raise either her hopes or his own only to have the weather ruin their plans. Instead he asked her if anyone had ever seen her naked in a public spot.
“Just at the beach… that’s about it. You’re the first person I really know who I’ve said anything to about it. No one else has ever seen me, except for the people from the beach, and they don’t know who I am in real life.”
Mike had his own confession to make; one that he was sure would surprise and impress her:
“Then I’ve got you beat. Last year I ran a 10-K marathon in the nude at my university in Chicago, in broad daylight in front of about 50,000 spectators.”
“Really? In the nude? Tell me about it!”
Mike’s university in Chicago had a unique event the last Saturday each September: the Tri-Alpha fraternity’s annual nude 10-K marathon run. The average number of people racing each year was about 150, which included all Tri-Alpha pledges plus anyone else from the students or faculty who wanted to participate. The run was not an experience for anyone with any modesty, because not only did the participants have to complete a 10 kilometer route around the university wearing nothing but shoes and socks, but they also had to remain naked in the stadium to attend the event’s opening and closing ceremonies. Even though public access to campus was restricted during the race, the stadium was full to capacity and thousands more spectators lined the entire route. There were at least 50,000 spectators all together, and it seemed that each one had a high quality camera with a fancy lens.
Mike’s participation in the run was an outcome of the rivalry that his ex-girlfriend had with their floor RA, a sophomore by the name of Cecilia Sanchez. Cecilia and Lisa had agreed to settle their rivalry with a game of Strip Poker and originally had planned to just play against each other. However, Cecilia came up with the idea that the loser should have to run the nude 10-K race. She also came up with the idea of forcing the women’s two boyfriends to play as well, along with a third guy from their group. Out of five players, there would be four losers, each of whom had to take a registration form for the race.
Cecilia’s plan worked out perfectly for her. The three guys and Lisa lost the Poker game and were committed to running 10 kilometers in the nude. On the day of the race itself, Cecilia assembled her four residents in her room and forced them to strip. Then she took them to the front steps of the dorm, where they were greeted by hundreds of cheering residents. Completely naked except for running shoes, Mike and the others were forced to walk to the stadium with the entire dorm’s population marching and cheering behind them. In the stadium there was a ceremony and photo session prior to the race, so by the time the competition actually started Mike, Lisa, and the other guys already had been naked outdoors for two hours and subjected to hundreds of photos. The race involved another hour of grueling physical challenge in the nude, running along the sidewalks around the campus. For Mike the race actually was the easiest part, because the physical difficulty of running 10 kilometers blocked out the fear and embarrassment he had felt earlier in the day. He did OK in the race, finishing in the middle of all the runners. He didn’t win, but he didn’t stand out as a wimp either.
Cecilia’s boyfriend won the men’s portion of the race, and Lisa, with her long legs and toned body, won the women’s competition. The fact that Mike’s friends were race winners prolonged his nude day, because Cecilia had his clothes locked up in her room and he could not get dressed until she took everyone back to the dorm. By the end of the day Mike had been naked for so long that he quit noticing it. He and his companions were among the last of the race participants to get dressed, because Cecilia insisted that they had to cross the university in the nude to return to their dorm and retrieve their clothes from her room.
When Mike finished describing his adventure, Ruthie was awestruck. The idea of spending six hours in the nude in front of 50,000 people totally fascinated her. The fact that Mike had done it, in spite of his serious appearance and behavior, fascinated her even more. And she had thought she was daring…just because she went streaking alone or sat naked in the library!
The two friends discussed their experiences with being nude a little more. Mike mentioned that his father’s house had a pool and that he and his sister had grown up used to not having to wear swimsuits when they used it. That was another offer Mike could hold out for his friend, going over to his house one weekend and using his pool. Ruthie readily agreed.
The conversation turned to the topic of their respective roommates and their attitudes on nudity. Mike asked about Shannon, to which Ruthie responded:
“If super-bitch is in the room, I’ll wear a long t-shirt ‘cause I don’t want her giving me shit … about being naked around her, I mean. But if she’s not there, I always take it off. I mean, that’s one of the reasons I really wish I could have my own room. I’m sick of having to deal with someone else’s morality.”
Mike commented about his own experience with Todd before he died.
“It was sort of weird how things were between me and Todd. I’d sleep naked, and I seriously don’t think he ever noticed. He never said anything, so I ‘spose he didn’t care one way or the other… he was too wrapped up with his monsters. I didn’t flaunt it, though. I’d get my clothes off or take off my towel and pull the sheet over me and that was it.”
“And now you’ve got the room to yourself. You are so fucking lucky.”
Mike thought about the fact he now was the sole occupant of the room and that Ruthie was so unhappy in her situation with Shannon. He decided to make her an offer. “Ruthie, if you’d like a private place to study in the afternoons, you know, to replace the trees over at Econ-A, I could let you borrow my room while I’m out ticketing. Obviously if you’re in there you can wear or not wear whatever you want. It’d be more of a chance for you to get away from Shannon.”
Ruthie nodded and hugged him. She trusted him considerably more after having spent an uneventful night with him in his room, so she accepted. Now she had a safe private place to study in the afternoons. She badly wanted to reward him for his kindness. She still was not ready to have sex, but she was ready to take the relationship with him a bit further than just friendship. She was well-aware that was what he badly wanted. She suggested going over to the Econ building, which she knew would be totally deserted.
When they got to the sidewalk leading to the lot, she stopped. She was extremely nervous, but put out her hand. He took it and they embraced. She continued:
“I… uh… you know… like… I mean… do you wanna kiss me?”
“You’re OK with it?”
She nodded. She tilted her head up and Mike kissed her. He was elated, but he could tell that the passion with which Lisa had kissed him was lacking with Ruthie. He figured that she must not have much experience kissing, perhaps none at all.
Ruthie did have some experience, but she was extremely uneasy about what she was doing. Mike would be only the third guy she had ever kissed. There had been a friend of Gerardo that she kissed just before her mother changed her work schedule… and that was when she was 13. The second time was at her Junior Prom… which was one of the most disastrous nights of her life. She had not kissed anyone since then. The Prom was a year and a half ago.
The more important reason Ruthie was extremely nervous was her motive for allowing Mike to kiss her. She did not really want it for herself, but felt that she owed it to him as a reward him for treating her so kindly. She knew at that moment she was committing herself to being Mike’s girlfriend. She could only hope that the passion would come later, because she was not feeling it at the moment. She was kissing him out of her feelings for love for him, but that love was gratitude, not sexual desire.
Precisely because she was so nervous, Ruthie was not thinking straight and a very strange idea entered her head, the urge to streak. She looked around to make sure that no one was in sight:
“You’ve gone running naked on campus and I haven’t. Want me to even that up for you?”
She said nothing more, but pulled her dress over her head and handed it to him. He stood with wide eyes and a gaping expression as she danced in circles on the sidewalk, wearing nothing but her shoes.
“Stay here. Warn me if anyone comes around.”
She rushed off, as he watched her naked backside jiggle while she moved away. His heart was pounding. He was totally shocked, and wasn’t sure that he wasn’t having a weird erotic dream. The girl’s attractive figure disappeared in the darkness. He dumbly looked at the dress he was holding to assure himself that he wasn’t imagining things.
Ruthie jogged around the side of the Econ Building. Running around the front would be much more dangerous because the area overlooked a main street and was well lit. There was no one in sight, so she decided to risk it. With her heart pounding she ran down the sidewalk, totally terrified at what she was doing. It seemed that the more she ran, the more the far corner of the building receded into the distance. By the time she passed the main entrance she was totally panicked. She heard a whistle… and realized that someone was watching her. The terror mounted until… finally she made it to the end of the building and turned the corner. She ran across the grass towards the sidewalk, towards the back side of the building, towards Mike, and towards safety.
Mike heard her footsteps and panicked breathing as she came tearing down the sidewalk towards him. She became visible under the lights. She was sweaty and had a terrified expression on her face. A couple of seconds later she was back in his arms… gasping heavily and trembling.
Mike passionately kissed her. Ruthie was so emotionally worked up from her brief run that she was passionate about kissing him as well, much more so than that first nervous kiss just a few minutes before.
Ruthie put her dress on. Suddenly she was mortified at what she had just done. She had no clue why that urge had hit her with such force. She blushed furiously in the darkness as she hugged Mike again.
“OK… now I know that you’re not bullshitting me when you tell me you like to run around in the nude.”
She nodded. Mike sensed that she was terrified by what she had just done and wondering what his reaction would be. He thought of suggesting something to set her at ease. It was also something that he had wanted to do, but he would have felt strange if he had to go by himself. Now he had someone to go with.
“The day after tomorrow’s Halloween. Most years… it’s kinda a tradition… there’s always a group of students that streak the fountain at the Student Center at midnight. Wanna go?”
A few minutes later they were outside her dorm. To Mike’s huge disappointment the lights in Ruthie’s room were off. Shannon was either gone or asleep, which meant that Ruthie could sleep in peace in her own room. She kissed him goodnight and vanished through the front door.
Mike wandered off to his own dorm, trying to absorb the night’s strange events. Tomorrow he would see her in the coffee shop and later they would have lunch and sit together in class. Then hopefully… she’d be safely in his room… studying… in the nude…
End of part 3
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