I knew well enough to let Paddy have his way in these discussions, even though I didn't exactly understand what the power of virtual reality was, not that it hadn't been explained to me again and again. "It's the power to turn your imagination into reality," Paddy said, exasperated that such an explanation was even necessary.
I'm not saying the power of virtual reality isn't a good thing. Honestly I'm not. But I've been in lots of situations in which superspeed would have been extremely useful.
Boyd got up from his table and started heading toward us. "Shit," said Brandy. "Here we go again."
She took me by the hand. "Come on, follow me." We walked out into the foyer, then into the ladies room. Brandy leaned against the wall, next to the paper towel dispenser and grinned at me. "So what do you think?"
Brandy rolled her eyes. "Duh, Jenny," she said.
I appeared to have agreed to something that had not been put into words.
"Look at you," she said. "You're trembling like a leaf!"
"I am not."
"The fuck you're not. Come on. It's really okay."
She pulled me into the handicap stall. Then she drew toward me and put her arms around my back and hugged me. Her body was soft and warm, and her head fell against my shoulder. I was a lot taller than Brandy.
"It's really okay," she whispered, and then she raised her head and kissed me on the lips. Then she kissed me again. I felt her breasts pressing against mine. "Nngg, Jenny," she said. "Nnnngg."
I pulled back. Incredibly, my first concern in this skanky situation was making sure I didn't hurt Brandy's feelings.
"Listen," I said. "You're sweet, but you know, like"
"Please," said Brandy achingly. "It's my birthday."
And I thought, It's her birthday?
"You don't understand," I said. "I'm married."
Brandy didn't understand what this had to do with anything. "So?" she said. "I'm married, too!"
I heard the voice of Jimmy Stewart in the back of my head: This is a very unusual situation!
"I should go," I said.
"Wait," she said. On the wall behind her were phone numbers, profanities, names of men and women enclosed with hearts. Her eyes filled with tears. I didn't want to wait for her, was in fact more than eager to get out of this particular situation. But I couldn't leave.
Tears rolled down her cheeks. "Nobody knows me," she said.
"Brandy," I said. "I'm sure that's not true."
"It's like having a dog. Like a Saint Bernard."
"The secrets," she whispered. "Everywhere I go, they have to go, too."
"What secrets?" I said.
She laughed to herself. "What secrets," she said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, what her secrets were.
"Have you thought about talking to someone?" I said.
"Jenny?" She looked at me as if I were on drugs. "I'm talking to you."
"I mean, you know. A professional."
"You mean like a shrink?" she said, stunned by the suggestion. "Oh, I've talked to plenty of shrinks, believe me."
"Listen, Brandy. I don't know you. I'm just an English teacher."
"But that's what I need," she said. "An English teacher."
I tried to think of what could possibly be so wrong with her that the only thing that could help her was an English teacher. Nothing came to mind.
Excerpted from I'm Looking Through You by Jennifer Finney Boylan Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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