The Outsider
by EC

Part 4

(warnings: language, adult themes, social commentary, public nudity, spanking, sex between adults)

Chapter 11 - An answer to Ruthie’s question

The following day was Friday. As usual Mike did his morning trek to the Student Center to buy his normal cup of regular coffee. As usual, Ruthie was wearing her apron and little else: just a pair of old running shorts, a thin t-shirt, and her battered running shoes. Mike wondered how she withstood the walk from the dorm; because it was drizzling and the temperature outside was 48 degrees. It was obvious that she was not comfortable at all, because her skin was covered with goose-bumps and she looked pale. She admitted that she had gone outside without bothering to check the forecast, and upon getting out on the sidewalk she wanted to turn back and get a jacket, but did not want to deal with going back in the room where Shannon was still sleeping.

Mike resisted the urge to roll his eyes, but he had to ask. Ruthie was so afraid of Shannon that she wouldn’t even go back into her room to get a jacket? She responded that she was not exactly afraid of Shannon, but that dealing with her was so stressful that she tried to have as little contact with “super-bitch” as possible. Mike handed over his jacket and insisted that she put it on. She looked very funny in the oversized garment, with the sleeves covering her hands and the waist extending past the bottom of her shorts, but at least she quit shivering.

“You’re gonna have to keep a jacket or two at my room. If you get yourself sick that’s not gonna do anyone any good.”

Ruthie and Mike sat in the literature class together and had lunch together. Since the day was still very dreary and chilly, Ruthie had no desire to be outside and was planning to go to the library. Mike suggested his room instead. Ruthie hesitated for a moment, but her resistance quickly broke down. The thought of having a room to herself for an entire afternoon, with no interruptions, no roommate and no CD player, no one walking by… where she could sit at a desk or lie on a bed… where she could spread her books out and just study in peace… the temptation was too much for her. Finally she accepted Mike’s offer and accompanied him to the room.

As soon as Mike was gone Ruthie locked the door and took off her clothes, which consisted of nothing more than pulling down her shorts and taking off her t-shirt. She pulled down the covers of the spare bed and spread out her books with the idea that she would spend her afternoon reading while lying down. However, Mike’s window, which was high enough that no one outside could see into, proved too much of a temptation for her attention. She sat in the vacant chair and spent a few minutes just looking out at the campus and all the students below as they made their way to and from their classes. The silence of the room was delicious to a person who had been subjected to so much noise from her roommate and her friends. At that moment Ruthie hated Shannon all that much more, because she had a chance to experience the tranquility she was missing out on because of the presence of “super-bitch” in her life.

Ruthie had not realized it, but she was badly sleep-deprived. Typically she went to sleep around 11:00 pm or midnight and had to wake up at 4:30 to be at work by 5:00. The day’s cold and dampness had affected her as well. Within a few minutes of sitting down at Mike’s window she began nodding off. No problem… there’s a bed right here, I’ll just rest for a little bit and then get up and study. She rested alright… but living more than two months without adequate sleep finally caught up with her. She lay down without bothering to pull the sheet over herself, passed out, and remained sleeping with nothing to disturb her for the next five hours.

* * *

That afternoon was another “pay dirt” day for Parking Officer # 036. Because it was chilly and drizzling, over a hundred students blissfully assumed that surely the “Parking Nazi” of lot Econ-A would not spend an afternoon standing out in the cold just to write tickets.

Wrong… Mike knew that precisely because it was a cold rainy day, he had the chance to drive home the message he had been trying to push on the parking meter violators over the past two weeks: that at no time, and under no circumstances, was lot Econ-A a free parking zone. In spite of the trouble he had keeping his ticketing machine and envelopes dry, he still managed to write nearly 300 tickets. Infuriated students returned to their cars and jerked off two or three tickets from their windshields. Several yelled things such as:

“It’s fucking raining! Why are you out here? What’s fucking wrong with you, goddamn Nazi?” … to which Mike casually responded that the meters worked just as well in the rain as they did when it was sunny, and that as far as he knew, coins were water-proof.

As usual there was the roaring of engines and screeching of tires from infuriated students, but the lesson had been taught. Rain or no rain, there simply was no free parking in lot Econ-A. Assuming the weather was clear next week, the situation there would be under control, with the exception of a few die-hards whose cars eventually would have to be towed.

Mike’s clothing was very wet when he returned his ticketing machine to the dispatcher. He was known as the fanatic of the Parking Department and his stats for Friday did not disappoint. He had written 265 tickets for the shift, slowed down only slightly by the rain and having to keep the machine and the ticketing supplies reasonably dry. No one else came even close to Mike’s numbers: the best any of his co-workers had done that day was under 50 tickets. Only Mike Sinclair was stupid enough, or dedicated enough, to stand in the rain for five hours writing meter tickets.

Mike changed his shirt when he got off work, but that did him no good whatsoever because his jacket, pants, and shoes were soaked. He would be very happy to get back to his dorm room, take a hot shower, and put on dry clothes. He remembered that his… girlfriend?… was studying in his room. That presented him with a dilemma. He wondered if he should call ahead or knock to let her know that he was coming, but then decided against it. Ruthie knew full-well that his shift ended at 5:00 and that he’d be back no later than 5:30, the time they always went to dinner. The thought crossed his mind that she might be sleeping, and if so, it’d be better not to disturb her.

Besides… maybe… she’d be naked? Why not? Just the previous night hadn’t she, with no prompting whatsoever, run nude in a complete circle around the Econ Building? If she did that, she had proven that she definitely was not shy… so maybe upon returning to the room he would get a chance to see her.

Mike noticed that the light was not turned in his window as he approached the dorm building. When he came up to the door there was no sound coming from the room. He was deeply disappointed, because he figured that Ruthie must have left sometime during the afternoon. He put his key into the door and quietly opened it. He was expecting to see Todd’s side of the room empty, except for perhaps a few items she had decided not to take with her. Instead, he was shocked to see her uncovered body soundly asleep on his former roommate’s bed. She was lying on her stomach with her face turned towards the window. Mike could tell from her breathing that he had not woken her up and that she was not aware that he was in the room.

Mike knew that he needed to do one of two things. He either needed to back out of the room and knock, or cover her with a sheet so she could continue sleeping and he could change. He opted for the second choice, but for the moment he couldn’t resist the urge to take a close look at his companion’s lovely figure. She had left the curtains open and it was still mostly light outside, so there was plenty of light in the room. Yes, he had seen her the previous night, but only for a few seconds and in a place that was very poorly lit.

Mike’s hungry eyes roamed up and down his friend’s uncovered body, taking in every detail. Except for her back going up and down slightly from her respiration, she was lying perfectly still. Her body was small, but well proportioned. She had slender legs and shapely hips. Her bottom was somewhat flat. She had no tan-lines from a swimsuit, but her arms and legs were slightly darker than her torso from running around in shorts and a t-shirt all the time. Her arms were folded up close to her chest and hid her breasts, but her legs and bottom cheeks were slightly spread, allowing him to see a small portion of the black hair that covered her vulva. She did not have very much hair on the rest of her body. Mike noticed that she had not shaved her legs or under her arms for several days. From what he could see that moment, and from what he had seen of her the previous night, apparently she never shaved her vulva. That was new for him, because Lisa completely shaved herself every couple of days. Mike already knew that Ruthie shaved on an irregular basis, whenever she “got around to it.”

A strange thought crossed Mike’s mind as he studied Ruthie’s figure. Ruthie was the new girl in his life, so this body that he was looking at was “his”.

Finally he forced himself to stop admiring her. He knew that if she woke up and saw him standing next to the bed staring at her, chances were that would be the end of their relationship. He figured that it would not be so much the embarrassment him seeing her naked that would make her upset, but rather him doing something that she would perceive as a violation of her trust. She already had expressed that part of herself during the conversation about Lisa.

Mike eased a couple of her books off the bed and gently pulled the cover over her. She still did not wake up, although she moved slightly when he let the blanket rest on her body. Now that she no longer was exposed, Mike figured that he could go about his normal activities in the room. He opened up a closet door to partially conceal himself from her view, undressed, wrapped a towel around his waist, and went to the men’s bathroom to shower and get cleaned up.

* * *

Ruthie woke up while Mike was out of the room. She sat up confused, because outside it was dusk, the final light of a dreary wet gray afternoon. She was lying in the bed near the window, which was the bed that Shannon had taken. What was she doing in Shannon’s bed? She sat up in a panic, knowing there would be hell to pay if her roommate caught her sleeping in her bed and even more so because she was naked. Ruthie then looked at Shannon’s desk, only to realize that none of her roommate’s things were on it. Her own stuff was there instead… her backpack and some of her geology books. She looked around the darkening room, and then realized that she was not in her own dorm at all, but instead in Mike’s. She lay back down in the bed, tired and still disoriented, not yet comprehending that she had been asleep the entire afternoon. Finally she glanced at Mike’s clock… 6:23 pm. She looked again… 6:23? Was that right? Then she saw Mike’s wet jacket hanging on his desk chair and his wet shoes lying on the floor. With that she realized that it really was already well past 6:00, that she had slept the entire afternoon, and that Mike already had returned to the room, changed, and for whatever reason had left. Then she remembered that she had not bothered to pull the blanket over herself when she lay down. It was possible that she had covered herself while she was sleeping, but she knew that it was much more likely that Mike had come into the room, saw her lying on the bed, and decided to cover her up. She shuddered and blushed, because that would mean he had seen her sleeping in the nude.

She was contemplating whether or not to get dressed and leave when she heard Mike’s key in the door. She quickly lay back down, with the blanket pulled above her breasts. She knew what she was doing was silly, given her behavior less than 24 hours before. She had shared her love of being naked with Mike and wanted his room to be the one place on campus where she could be honest with both him and herself about that part of her personality. However, the issue of sex loomed over her. She wanted to be free to be naked around Mike, but she did not want him to interpret that as an invitation for having sex. She knew that Mike was a young guy, and that as such he needed and wanted sexual intercourse. She understood that if she wanted to have him as a boyfriend for any length of time, at some point she would have to share her body with him… but… just… not right now.

Mike felt nervous seeing her awake in bed, naked but with the blanket covering her. He said hello and bent down to kiss her. He asked her about her afternoon, to which she responded:

“I didn’t have much of an afternoon. I kinda slept.”

He decided that one thing he was going to do was not bother about being modest around her anymore. He took off his towel and deliberately walked around the room in the nude, doing things like combing his hair and tending to his wet clothes. He was nervous about what he was doing, but he wanted to push being openly naked as part of the relationship he was developing with her. She shyly kept the blanket tight around her chest, but she watched him intently, taking in the details of his body.

Once Mike had dressed and the danger of sex with him had passed, Ruthie reluctantly got out of bed. She tried to act casual, as Mike had done, but her heart was pounding. She allowed him to have another good look at her backside as she put on her shorts and t-shirt. When she stepped towards the door, Mike brusquely told her that she needed a jacket and at the very least she should put on some socks to protect her feet from the cold. Blushing, she did as she was told.

Because they already had missed dinner at Watson Hall, Mike decided to invite Ruthie out to Santa Cruz. He knew they needed to get off-campus and put the uncomfortable encounter in the doom room behind them. They repeated the activities from their first night in town, wandering around used bookstores, going out to eat, and walking along the city’s boardwalk. Mike pointed out a couple of books that covered the impact of evangelical Christianity on US politics. One of Mike’s recent favorites was a book by a political analyst called Kevin Phillips that argued that a combination of over-reliance on financial services and evangelical Christianity were factors in the national decline of several powerful nations over the past 500 years. Phillips pointed out that conditions in the US were following the same pattern and that the process of national decline in North America already was well underway. Ruthie was extremely interested. Mike commented: “No need to buy this one; I already have it. You’d be interested in borrowing it?”

Ruthie nodded with enthusiasm.

Without saying anything, that evening the couple worked out how much physical contact they would have in public. They both felt uncomfortable holding hands while walking, but if they stopped anywhere for more than a few seconds, Mike put his arms around her. She enjoyed that; having the feeling of being protected by someone she cared about and who she knew cared for her.

When they went back to Davenport, Ruthie began to feel uncomfortable, because she realized that she and Mike had reached a turning point in their relationship. The next time they were alone together in his room, the question of sex would have to be addressed. It was clear that Mike wanted and expected a sexual relationship from her, but she simply did not feel ready. She did not want to turn him down when he approached her, especially if she was going to be sleeping in his room and using it to study. However, that night was not the time she wanted to commit herself to that aspect of a serious relationship.

She could tell that Mike was hugely disappointed when she told him that she wanted to go back to her room for the night. She dreaded the thought that maybe Shannon would be in the room partying, because if that were so, she’d have no option other than to return with Mike to his room. Fortunately for her, Shannon was gone and the lights were turned out. Ruthie hugged him and kissed him goodnight, but the message was clear. That night they would sleep apart.

* * *

The following day Ruthie woke up to see that her nemesis had returned and was passed out in her bed, probably from a night of heavy drinking. She grabbed some more of her books, a towel, and a few articles of clothing and stuffed everything in a shopping bag. As an afterthought she took her cell phone charger and her camera, realizing it made more sense to keep them at Mike’s room instead of her own. That moment was significant, because she had decided that she was going to be spending most of her time with Mike and only use her own room as a place to sleep. Anyhow, she no longer trusted Shannon around her things. She glanced at her computer, thinking that at some point in the near future she’d want to move it as well.

She slipped out of the room and stepped outside into a thick fog. However, she could tell that the storm front had passed and throughout the morning the temperature would warm up after the sun came out. If it warmed up enough, she could put on the dress that Mike had bought her the previous week and wear it around Davenport. That would be neat!

Mike already was up working on a term paper when he heard a faint knock on his door. He knew who it was, because surely no one else would be knocking at 7:30 in the morning. Mike normally slept naked and had not yet bothered to get dressed. He thought about answering the door in the nude, but figured that it probably would be better to be wearing something when she entered. He put on a pair of clean shorts and one of his t-shirts and opened up for her.

The full shopping bag in his friend’s hand told him that it was obvious she expected to spend the entire day with him. At that moment he had conflicting thoughts about what was happening. She had not bothered to call ahead to see if he wanted her to come over so early, if he had other plans, or if he was even in the room. She just showed up, taking it for granted they were close enough that he would not consider her coming over an imposition. He was conflicted between being irritated at her self-centeredness and being flattered that she trusted him enough to assume he’d always be glad to see her, no matter what. He put aside his reservations about her impromptu visit and kissed her good morning. If nothing else he’d get a good make-out and hug out of it.

Ruthie’s sudden appearance forced Mike to re-think his plans for the day. He had expected to get together with her in the evening for dinner and then take her to the Student Center to celebrate Halloween. Before doing that he was planning to study in the morning, go for a hike in the afternoon, and take a nap before dinner so he would not be tired later that night. None of those activities were things he had to do alone. He’d let Ruthie stay with him in the morning and study, then take her with him hiking, and then… maybe… before taking a nap… finally…

Ruthie quickly settled down on Todd’s bed to study. She was more rested than she had been at any time since the semester began, but also she was stressed about having not studied the day before. Mike said nothing more and returned to his term paper.

By 1:00 it was much warmer and sunny outside, so Mike suggested going out for a late lunch. Ruthie agreed and decided that it was just warm enough that she could wear her dress. Mike’s heart pounded at the thought that she actually was going to go out, in broad daylight, in her little red dress. Sure enough, she turned her back to him, pulled out the dress from the wardrobe where she had her clothes, and took off her t-shirt. She put on the dress and pulled down her shorts. She slipped on her sandals and that was it, she was ready to go out.

Mike decided to stay in Davenport, on the assumption they were less likely to have problems where there was a higher concentration of young adults, some of whom were dressed only slightly less provocatively than Ruthie. They would walk off-campus, have lunch, and just stretch their legs around the small business district. Later they could return to campus, with the idea they could go up to the observatory and perhaps walk around the hill that was above it.

Ruthie thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of the cool sunny afternoon breeze on her bare skin. She especially loved the feeling of the air on her bare hips and blowing up the skirt on her vulva and bottom. It was obvious to any observer paying attention to her that she was not wearing anything under her dress, but according to the law as it was written, she was just within compliance. A couple of campus cops did notice her, but said nothing.

They had lunch at an outdoor burrito place before walking to Davenport’s only bookstore and the town’s main park. At the park there was an evangelical street-preacher ranting about sinful college students, the Rapture, and the Second Coming. Ruthie was in a good enough mood that she could have ignored him… until the moment he noticed her scanty clothing. He yelled at her concerning her lack of decency and called her a whore “in the name of Jesus”.

Mike was infuriated and wanted to settle the matter with his fist, but Ruthie pushed past him, turned her back to the street preacher, bent over, and flipped up the back of her skirt. She was completely naked from the waist down, which horrified the preacher. That was precisely Ruthie’s intent. She slapped her bare bottom hard and screamed:

“Check this out, faggot! I’ll bet you’ve never seen one of these before! Take a good look at what you’ll never have, you stupid piece of shit!”

With that Ruthie turned around and got into a very ugly confrontation with the street preacher. He continued to call her a whore and she continued to call him a faggot. That was just the beginning. Ruthie accused Jesus and the disciples of being a group of homosexuals… just like the street preacher… and the reason why they started their religion in the first place was they were such social rejects that no women wanted to touch them. Ruthie cited some biblical passages that, oddly enough, made such an accusation plausible. She continued, claiming that because biblical prophets were such losers with women, they went into caves and had gay orgies and wrote up fantasies about their imaginary friend for lack of anything better to do. Within a few minutes, Ruthie’s insults were so vicious that her opponent could not come up with coherent answers to what she was saying. A couple of by-passers applauded and the street preacher was reduced to screaming “You are a true daughter of Satan!”

“Not of Satan, faggot! I’m a true daughter of Lilith!” With that Ruthie flipped up the back of her dress a final time and walked away as a couple of the guys watching whistled.

Although he had been ready to punch the religious fanatic for calling his girlfriend a “whore”, Mike was dumbfounded by the viciousness with which she laid into both him and the heroes of his faith. He also was alarmed by the public spectacle that she had created. She normally was quiet and shy, but she had shown she was volatile and could explode into blind rage if triggered.

Being insulted in the name of a religion was just such a trigger. Her loathing of religious people was an integral part of her character, a mass of molten lava boiling just beneath a quiet surface that could erupt in a massive explosion at any moment. The moment a religious person passed judgment on her or attempted to control her behavior, she erupted and had no control over her actions.

Mike had to admit she certainly knew her stuff when it came to Christianity, because she easily matched the preacher point for point and passage for passage. She had not wanted a logical argument, however; what she wanted to do was ruin the man’s day as much as possible. As they walked away, it seemed that she had achieved that desire. Her attack apparently had set off some of the other spectators, because after they left Mike could hear a couple of people taunting and jeering at the preacher. One of the guys watching had followed Ruthie’s example and was mooning him.

Ruthie’s volcanic eruption passed as quickly as it started. She became shy and quiet again and hugged Mike for reassurance. Suddenly she was ashamed and embarrassed by how she had behaved, but obviously what was done could not be undone.

As he held her in his arms, Mike could feel that she was trembling from emotion and needed to be given time and patience to calm down. It was just as well that for the moment he didn’t need to say anything, because he needed a chance to calm down as well. Not only was he trying to think of something to say to her, but he also was trying to figure out what had just happened, why she seemed to have lost her sanity for a couple of minutes. He knew that there were two major issues in her life: feeling repressed by religion during her years as a teenager, and the constant stress she was under living with Shannon. She had no outlet for all that emotion, so it exploded all at once towards a total stranger.

Mike had an observation: “Ruthie, I think that if you’re gonna get so pissed off, why waste it on some loser you don’t know? How come you don’t take it out on Shannon? She’s the one who needs it. I’d bet if you’d do to her what you just did to that guy in the park, it’d shut her up.”

“I don’t know… I wish I could… but it’s like… I can’t control my temper…. I blow… and it’s always at the wrong time… when it doesn’t do any good…and then I’m all quiet when I ought to speak up.”

Ruthie took a deep breath. “I ‘spose you’re totally weirded-out by what just happened.”

“Mmmm… kind of… but he did have it coming… and…i n the end… maybe it worked out for the best. I was gonna punch that guy…you know, for calling you a whore…and then he would’ve gotten me on assault. I guess…in a way…you kinda saved my ass.”

She hugged him and with that they returned to campus.

* * *

When they returned to Mike’s room, the couple was faced with a more trivial dilemma: what to wear for Halloween. Because they already knew they were planning to participate in the midnight streaking tradition, they knew that they needed simple costumes that would be easy to take off.

As they went to dinner in Watson Hall, Mike saw that the dorm had thrown out an old artificial plant and its pieces were sitting in a trash can near the cafeteria. The plant had large plastic leaves, which gave Mike an idea for a very daring outfit. He pulled off the leaves from the stem and tossed what was left back in the trash can. He held up the leaves to Ruthie and commented:

“This is gonna be our outfit for Halloween.”

“Plastic leaves?”

“Yes. I have an idea. I think you’re gonna like it.”

When they returned to his room, Mike dug through his desk to retrieve a hole-punch and a roll of string. He punched holes in three of the leaves and then cut a piece of string long enough to be tied around his waist. He put the three plastic leaves on the string. Then, in full view of Ruthie, he stripped and put the string around himself. He tied it and moved the leaves to the front to cover his penis.

He blushed, not sure what she’d think, but commented:

“I’m gonna be Adam tonight. What do you think?”

“I like it.”

“So… you ready to be Eve?”

Ruthie blushed, but nodded.

“OK… I’ll do your bottom part first.”

Mike punched holes in three more plastic leaves and strung them. Her heart pounding, Ruthie took off her dress and allowed him to tie the string around her waist. Once she was covered in the front, Mike had to figure out how to arrange additional leaves to cover her breasts. Finally, after several tries, he tied a string around her chest, just under her breasts, with a leaf covering each breast. He then looped another string around the back of her neck and tied it to the stems of the leaves to hold them in place. It was not perfect, because if she moved around too much the leaves fell out of place, but it was easy for her to simply push them back.

“You don’t think we’ll get arrested?”

“No, not on Halloween. The cops kinda expect this… it’s sort of like Mardi Gras. They won’t hassle us unless somebody complains, and then all they’d do would be warn us and tell us to get dressed. Anyhow, we’ll go over in shirts and take ‘em off when we get there.”

Ruthie looked at herself in the mirror. She loved Mike’s idea and how she looked in her leaf outfit. She hugged him. He caressed her naked back, and then, for the first time, lowered his hands to her hips. He ran his fingertips up and down the outer part of her bare bottom. She did not object. As much as he wanted to seriously fondle the inner part of her butt…to slip his hand between her bottom cheeks and feel the sweaty skin at the base of her backside, he figured it was best to hold off. She was allowing him to touch her bottom as it was, which was more than he ever had done with her.

Mike picked two very worn-out shirts for himself and Ruthie. He knew that the Student Center was a chaotic place on Halloween and there was a very good chance that once they took off the shirts, they’d never find them again, and that was something he did not want to worry about.

The students put the shirts over their string outfits and set off for the Student Center. They looked very comical, walking with their bare legs sticking out from under their shirts, leaving passers-by to wonder what, if anything, they were wearing underneath. When they arrived in the central part of campus, they were surrounded by other students in every type of Halloween outfit imaginable. For the most part the student costumes went for horror and gore, but there were others who were wearing costumes from movies and TV shows, ranging from Star Trek to the ever-popular Rocky Horror Picture show. A few revelers were dressed in sexy outfits such as Carnival costumes. A couple of women were topless, but no one was fully naked. Mike and Ruthie kissed each other and pulled off their shirts. They immediately got whistles and applause from some of the other party-goers. They were somewhat covered in the front, but in the back they were completely nude, without even a thong to cover their bottoms. Mike swallowed, because at that moment he realized that his outfit idea was more daring than he had imagined it would be, and that he and Ruthie were the most unclothed people at the Halloween celebration.

Ruthie was thoroughly enjoying herself. Except for going to the beach a few times, she had never been naked in front of strangers, and certainly not the only naked person in a large crowd that was mostly clothed. The plastic leaves rubbing her breasts and pelvis made her all that much more aware that in the back she was not covered at all. Her bottom received plenty of stares…as did Mike’s bare behind. She noticed several people, both men and women, staring as hard at Mike as guys were staring at her. She took his arm to let everyone know that both she and he were taken… the others could look, but not touch.

There was so much going on that the novelty of Adam and Eve quickly wore off. The most interesting moment was when a middle-aged woman dressed in a witch’s dress snuck up behind Mike and startled him with a very hard slap to the bottom. Mike blushed, because the woman was one of his co-workers… the dispatcher, no less. She asked Ruthie to take a picture of her with Mike, and then another passer-by to take a picture of the three of them together. Mike found out that his co-worker had a mean streak in her, because as the three took their positions in front of the camera, he felt her hand fondling his bottom. He forced a smile, but knew better than to say anything. Better to let her have her thrill… but of course from that point forward he’d have to deal with her sarcastic smile every time he checked out his ticketing machine. Hopefully it was just one secret out of many that she planned to keep…

Mike and Ruthie ran into other classmates, all of whom were surprised and impressed that they would show up to the Halloween party in such daring costumes. At 10:00 the university’s homecoming queen stood at the microphone and ordered everyone to be quiet. A couple of student officers took their places at the microphone and announced that they were planning to pass out awards for the best costume in five categories: most original, most scary, most sexy, funniest, and most obnoxious. Most original went to a horror theme outfit (no surprise) as did most scary. But then Mike and Ruthie heard:

“For the sexiest outfit… this year we’ve got a couple.” The student officer looked directly at Mike and Ruthie: “Adam and Eve… please come up here!”

Blushing furiously, the two nearly naked students made their way to the podium to take their prize as the crowd cheered, whooped, and whistled. They were awarded with something that was actually useful: a $ 200 gift certificate for the campus bookstore. Holding hands, they looked nervously around the room as cameras flashed wildly at their exposed bodies. Mike noticed that his co-worker was right up front with a camera. He took a deep breath, knowing that most definitely the story was going to make its rounds through the parking department the following week. Anyhow, because they were prize winners, most likely their picture would appear in the campus newspaper the following week. Once the prizes were awarded, there was a live DJ who announced that everyone was going to party until midnight. What that meant was dancing and general socializing.

The evening turned out to be much wilder than the couple had anticipated, which put them in strange mood. Mike knew that everyone would see him very differently the following week, that there was a part of him that no one had known about. He could still feel the faint tingle on his bottom where his co-worker had smacked him. He no longer felt embarrassed about it; he found it very erotic. Ruthie simply was ready to “get naked”. When the plastic leaves chaffed her breasts, she decided to take off her top. What the hell? It was coming off at midnight anyway… why not have it off now and be more comfortable? She kissed Mike and her bare breasts touched his naked chest for the first time.

Neither Mike nor Ruthie was any good at dancing, but their lack of dance talent did not matter in the least. They were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Mike awkwardly spun Ruthie, only to have her fall laughing into his arms. The surrounding crowd cheered them on, clapping and chanting “Adam and Eve!… Adam and Eve!… Adam and Eve!”

Finally the DJ announced it was almost midnight.

“OK… all you freaks! Let’s show Davenport what you’ve got! Let’s get NAKED!!!!”

A cheer went up from the crowd. Mike and Ruthie were among the first to be totally nude, because all they had to do was untie the strings around their waists. A simple pull of a bow-knot, and the plastic leaves flopped to the ground. About half of the other students stripped, some completely and some just to their underwear. Mike and Ruthie kissed one final time before running outside with the others.

Cheering and whooping, about 200 naked and partially dressed students ran in a circle around the dean’s house (conveniently, he was out of town that weekend), then back to Central Campus and around the main fountain. Part of the tradition was for anyone who was completely nude to jump in. That year, as a practical joke, a fraternity had dropped several large blocks of ice in the water to give anyone who jumped in a chilling surprise. Mike and Ruthie noticed several students shrieking and scrambling out as soon as they jumped or were tossed in. Mike put his hand in the water, only to notice it was ice cold. He warned Ruthie, but she responded:

“It’s a tradition to jump in though, right?”

“Well, yeah… but…”

Ruthie kicked off her shoes and stepped in. She closed her eyes and worked up the nerve to lower herself into the frigid water. She dipped down, immersing herself up to her chest and immediately stood up. Before she got out, she posed for several pictures.

By the time Ruthie got out of the fountain, the streakers already were starting to go back inside and get dressed. Mike and Ruthie went back into the Student Center as well, but they need not have bothered. Their leaf-outfits were missing, as were the shirts they had worn over. Mike was not surprised. The leaf outfits had caused a sensation and had won them a prize, so it was not surprising that someone swiped them. The shirts were gone as well, which meant that Mike and Ruthie would have to streak back to his dorm.

“Let’s get out of here before everyone is dressed.”

Mike knew that there would be less trouble for them if they ran out of central campus while there were at least a couple of other naked students still milling about. Ruthie followed him past the campus library towards the academic buildings. As they got further from the Student Center, they also got further away from the part of campus where the yearly streak was unofficially tolerated. If they were caught in the nude among the academic buildings, it was possible they’d get arrested. Mike kept in the shadows, peeked around corners, and signaled to Ruthie when it was safe to dash to the next building.

The challenge and danger made the final part of the evening very exciting for Ruthie. This was a real adventure for her, something that she had not experienced since she had streaked her apartment complex. What made the adventure even more special was sharing with the person she most cared about. As she watched Mike run ahead of her, crouching in the darkness and signaling that it was safe for her to catch up with him, she felt that he was the one person she could truly love. He understood her… and even now was giving her one of the most fun experiences she had ever had in her life.

Yes… fun! She was actually having fun! She was enjoying herself!

All too soon Mike led her to the open field that separated the dorms from the academic area. He told her to crouch in the darkness and then jog with him to the other side. Then they would need to cross the street as fast as they could towards some parked cars on the other side. Unfortunately from that point forward everything was well-lit, so they’d have to run non-stop after they crossed the street. They jogged across the dark grass, and crouched down one final time while Mike tried to see if anyone was around. He patted her on the butt and whispered: “Go!”

By the time they got to Mike’s dorm they were totally winded, but the danger of getting arrested was almost over with. Leaving her crouching in the darkness, he calmly walked up to the front door and buzzed the night attendant. He told the guy the truth: that he had gone to the Halloween streak and his clothes were stolen. Fortunately the night attendant knew Mike and had nothing against him, so he directed the resident to a side door and buzzed him in. The only part of the streak remaining was a nude run down the hallway. The night clerk kept watch for the couple, and directed them to cross when the corridor was empty. No point in having Mike’s neighbors whooping while he and his girlfriend ran nude down his hallway.

And that was it for Halloween. Ruthie was elated: that was the best time she had enjoyed… since… maybe since she was born. That was fun! She kissed him and pressed her body against his. When she felt his penis stiffening, she gently stroked it.

“You’re OK… you know with…?

She nodded.

Mike put on a condom. He kissed her and touched her vulva. He noted that she was not wet at all; in spite of how she was acting she did not seem in the least aroused… and yet it clear was she was trying.

Ruthie’s mood went from elation to despair. No… she was not aroused. After such a great evening of erotic adventure she had expected to be excited, but her body simply was not cooperating with what her mind wanted it to do.

Come on… for Mike… please… he deserves it… but… nothing…

Finally she gave up on herself. She felt that she owed him sex; that he deserved to have that part of the relationship fulfilled. She did as well… but maybe it would come later… for her it would not be that night. She hugged him.

“Mike… I… just go ahead… it’ll be OK.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah… Sometimes it takes me a couple of minutes to get going… you know… It’s OK…”

With that, she lay on the spare bed and spread her legs. Mike pushed his reservations aside and joined her. The condom he was wearing was lubricated, so he was able to enter her, although with some difficulty and much discomfort for her. She kissed him, because she did not want him to see that the only thing she was feeling at the moment was discomfort. He thrust vigorously, and finally she could tell he was pumping semen into the condom. She felt nothing but relief that it was over as he slowed down and his penis went limp.

She continued holding him close, because she did not want him to see her face.

“Was that good for you?”

“Yeah… it was fine, Mike…” she lied. Actually her vagina felt raw and was aching.

A few minutes later they cleaned up from the exertions of a night of dancing, streaking, and sex. When they returned to his room they cuddled together in Mike’s bed. She lay next to him with her head resting in his armpit. She caressed his stomach until she was convinced he was asleep.

As soon as his breathing changed, tears rolled down her face. For a year and a half she had wondered whether or not she was capable of enjoying sex. She could climax just fine while masturbating, but as for sex itself, she had nothing but bad memories. It had been awful the first time… that first relationship during her junior year in high school. She made love, but felt absolutely nothing except disgust and discomfort. Well, the first guy had been a total POS (piece of shit) so she figured that it must have been because she hated him.

Now she had made love to another man… the second man in her life. This time everything had been different… no “cherry to pop”, no desperate fear of being discovered, no fear of getting pregnant, and most of all… the man who made had just made love to her was one she cared about. None of that mattered. Sex with Mike was just as awful as it had been during those squalid nights she spent with that POS.

After a year and a half she got her answer… but it was not the answer she wanted…

Chapter 12 - November

The next day Mike was awake as soon as it was light outside. He was careful not to wake up Ruthie as he got out of his bed, cleaned up, and settled at his computer to work on his term paper. He felt better than he had felt in a year, convinced that he now was in a solid relationship with the girl in his bed. Whatever her faults, she loved him and was a person worthy of his love. As far as he was concerned their relationship was sealed the night before, when she had given herself to him. Surely that was just the beginning… and there was hope after all… for both her and for him.

Mike looked back at his sleeping lover. He thought to himself: Ruthie… maybe your life has sucked up to now… but I’ll make sure that’s over with. I’ll give you a life that’s worth living…

* * *

Ruthie woke up about an hour after Mike was up. Already the room was bright with morning sunlight. She was still aching… and still depressed about the let-down the night before. Poor Mike, she thought to herself… what am I gonna tell him? She spent several minutes lying in bed and watching her companion as he worked on his paper. She mulled over what to say to him. At first she wanted to tell him what had happened a few hours before; that she had found out that there was a very important part of their relationship that she would be incapable of giving him.

However, second thoughts entered her mind about that idea. Was it really necessary to tell him… about that… or about anything at all? Why? What for? What good was it going to do either of them? What was she going to get out of being honest, apart from ending up alone again? She felt that if she were honest about something as important as sex to any guy, he’d say “screw that” and would want her out of his life. Probably she’d have to pack up her things and go back… by herself… and with her hands full of bags… to her room. Then she would have to deal with Shannon. Undoubtedly Shannon would figure out what had happened, and she and her friends would celebrate Ruthie’s misfortune. She’d never hear the end of it. No… there was no point in humiliating herself like that.

Ruthie’s thoughts returned to Mike. He really was a decent guy… he did deserve the truth… or… did he? Maybe it would be better just to play along… let him think everything was fine… enjoy his companionship… try to have fun with him. Maybe sex was less important… maybe what really mattered was the friendship she was developing with him. Perhaps she could explain later… or maybe… after a couple of times…t he problem would fix itself on its own. Ruthie then thought about Dr. Hartman… maybe the counselor could come up with an idea or a suggestion…

Ruthie’s mind filled with a few possibilities and options. She still felt the situation with the sexual part of their relationship was not tolerable as it stood at the moment, but she no longer was convinced that she had to deal with it immediately and risk losing her friendship with Mike over that one issue. She’d wait… and then she’d figure something out.

Ruthie could not have realized it at the time, but her two weeks with Mike already had changed her. For the first time her reaction to a disappointment was not to sink into depression and despair, but rather to try to think of what options she might have to address or fix the problem. She came up with a tentative plan for the following week: not say anything to Mike, wait and see how things with him developed, and then talk to Dr. Hartman. Beyond that she did not have any further ideas, but if she could make it to the next meeting with her counselor, she could see where she needed to go from there.

The two students spent the morning with their coursework. Mike continued to work on his research project while Ruthie lay in bed catching up on her reading. She studied for two mid-terms, but she knew what she really needed to do was finish the term paper she had been working on the previous week.

She glanced longingly at Mike’s computer, thinking about how nice it would be if she had her own computer in the room as well. That way she would not have to try to work on the project with Shannon’s constant disruptions. Given that she would have Mike’s room to herself over the next week, she figured that bringing over her computer might not be a bad idea. The thought of sitting quietly throughout the entire afternoon with her clothes off, right next to the window, peacefully typing... really appealed to her.

Ruthie’s mind raced with the idea that Mike’s room beckoned with a six-hour block of total silence every afternoon. She really did not see how she could avoid moving the computer, because over the next month she had to work on her term papers and her roommate was making that task almost impossible. Shannon delighted in having her music going or having her friends over while Ruthie was on her computer. A favorite trick was to chat incessantly on her cell phone while looking over Ruthie’s shoulder to see what she was doing and make her nervous.

Ruthie was not worried about how Mike might react to having to keep her computer in his room. She knew that he was in love with her, so she took it for granted that if she needed something, he would give it too her if at all possible. The only doubt she had was for her own situation, the possible loss of independence that having her things in Mike’s living area would entail. Already the relationship had gone much further than she had anticipated or wanted. Very quickly she had become dependent on him for just about everything imaginable, from companionship to transportation to entertainment to protection from humiliation. Now she was going to have to deepen that dependency by moving yet more of her stuff into his living space.

Another idea that never occurred to Ruthie was to put her work on a flash drive and ask to borrow his computer in the afternoons. In some ways she was very territorial: she would not want anyone using her computer, so she took it for granted that Mike’s computer was off-limits to anyone other than himself. Although most people would have considered her borrowing his computer less of an imposition than bringing over her own, that was not how Ruthie saw the situation.

* * *

Seeing Ruthie studying naked on the spare bed for several hours aroused Mike as the morning went by. She was lying on her back, with her legs spread and her vulva on display. Finally, the temptation was too much for him. He lay down next to her and began kissing her.

At that moment the last thing in the world Ruthie wanted was to have to deal with him going inside her a second time in less than 12 hours, but she was not about to say anything or reject his advances. She felt that she had absolutely nothing to offer him, so the very least she could do was allow him to do what he wanted with her body. As his hands caressed her bottom and breasts, she worked up the nerve to let him enter her. The second time was no better than the first, but at least she was psychologically ready and there was no let-down to spoil her mood.

When they went to lunch, Ruthie winced from the soreness as they walked to Watson Hall. Mike could tell that she was stressed, but still was oblivious about the reason. Several times he asked her what was wrong… but she was afraid to answer.

Mike thoughts filled with fear that perhaps she already was getting bored with him. Ruthie’s moody silence reminded him of Lisa’s behavior the year before during the weeks that preceded their break-up.

When they sat down, he asked her again. Ruthie blushed… and was just about to tell him… when she noticed Shannon coming into the cafeteria with some of her friends. Then she remembered her computer… and realized if she and Mike left the cafeteria before Shannon and her group finished their lunch; that would be a perfect opportunity for them to get the computer out of the room without having any contact with super-bitch at all. Ruthie began eating quickly.

“Mike… I… kinda… uh… got a problem… you know… I… maybe… like… you can help me?”

“Well, yeah. I’ll help you. What is it?”

“I was like… uh… wondering if I could… you know… like… take my computer over to your place… ’cause…. I kinda… need to work on some term papers… and uh… you know… Shannon’s been giving me shit… and I gotta concentrate… and you know… Shannon... I can’t concentrate with her…”

“You want to keep your computer in my room?”

Ruthie blushed and nodded. Mike thought about what her request meant. Another imposition, but it also was another sign that she was serious about being with him. He was hugely relieved that his suspicion about her being bored with him was mistaken. Great! The moody silence had nothing to do with him at all, it was about her computer. If that was all it was… sure… he’d help her move her computer…

Ruthie finished her meal immediately, forcing Mike to eat a lot faster than he wanted. A few minutes later the two students were in Ruthie’s room unplugging her computer and putting the pieces in a large box. Ruthie collected her disks and some CD’s. She carried the keyboard, mouse, and a bag of software and cords, while Mike struggled with the bulky CPU and oversized TV-style monitor. A twinge of resentment and doubt ran through his mind as he lugged her heavy antiquated equipment. She walked beside him carrying bags of much lighter items. Anyhow, a few minutes later it was done, Ruthie’s computer was safely sitting on the desk vacated by Todd. She looked on while Mike reconnected the components.

The afternoon was warm enough that Mike figured they could go to the beach. They both were in the mood to walk as well, which meant that Bonnie Doon was not a good option. Mike decided to fulfill his promise to take Ruthie to San Gregorio beach, which was about a 40-minute drive to the north of Davenport.

For a naturist who wants to walk along the shore, it is unlikely that there is a better beach in the US than San Gregorio. The nude section starts just below the stairs leading from the north parking lot and extends more than a mile along undeveloped cliffs. At the far end of the clothing optional section there is rock formation with a cave through which an adventurous person can go through during low tide. Since neither Mike nor Ruthie were the sort who liked to just lay on a towel, San Gregorio suited their desire to walk unencumbered by clothes.

Over the years beachgoers constructed driftwood shelters at the foot of the cliffs. Mike pointed out an empty shelter and suggested it as a place to leave their belongings. They undressed and walked towards the north. Ruthie, in her usual state of wanting to share what she knew about her surroundings with her companion, stopped to dig up several crustaceans buried in the sand to show to Mike, and then pointed out several species of birds.

When they got to the end of the beach, the tide was low enough that they could go through a cave that led through a rock formation to yet another beach. They wandered halfway down the second beach before a woman yelled at them. Suddenly they realized that several houses overlooked the area they had ventured into and it was not clothing optional. They scrambled back to the cave, only to have a very close call being stranded, because the tide was starting to come back in. Had they waited even a couple more minutes, the waves splashing through the opening would have made getting back to the nude section of the beach impossible.

After laughing over the close call, Ruthie experienced true joy because the beach was so open and she could walk uninterrupted. She was almost like a child, wandering up and down, exploring the cliffs and then running towards the water and rinsing herself off in the surf. On that day she was very restless and walked the full length of the nude portion six times, wearing out the soles of her feet on the wet sand. Mike tagged along with her, taking dozens of photos. She posed, danced, and splashed in the cold water for the benefit of his camera.

* * *

The weather changed the following day and during the rest of the week the entire coast of central California was fogged in and cloudy. For Ruthie the timing couldn’t have been better. She was able to relax in Mike’s room after lunch before spending the quiet gray afternoons working on her term papers or catching up on her sleep. She still preferred to sleep at night in her own room if possible, but once her computer was moved, she did everything else is Mike’s room.

By the beginning of November, she and Shannon quit talking completely. Because Ruthie had moved anything she felt was sensitive, she no longer was concerned about super-bitch messing with her personal stuff. She still had some old clothes in the room, but what could Shannon do to old clothes? The items that really mattered, her computer, pictures and study materials, were out of Shannon’s reach. Ruthie no longer made any pretense of being civil to her nemesis, because she no longer had anything to worry about in the room.

* * *

Ruthie had her third appointment with Dr. Hartman on Wednesday. They had a lot to discuss. Hartman was very worried about Ruthie’s sudden dependence on Mike for just about every need that she had, no matter how mundane. Especially worrisome to the counselor was the fact that her client had transferred everything that was important to her to her boyfriend’s room. For one thing, Hartman pointed out that the arrangement was a violation of campus policy.

Ruthie snapped back: “Everything that Shannon’s doing to me is a violation of policy, Dr. Hartman. If you don’t like what I’m doing, how come you don’t talk to her? She’s the one who’s making me do it! She’s the one who’s turning my life into shit! How come no one ever says anything to her?”

Of course, Hartman’s solution for any conflict that one of her clients had with another person was to “talk about it”, which was what she wanted Ruthie to do with Shannon. Well, that was totally impossible, responded Ruthie, because Shannon was a vicious bully and talking to a person like that did no good. Eventually, regardless whose fault it was, Hartman was persuaded that Ruthie’s problems with Shannon were not resolvable. She suggested that Ruthie change roommates at the end of the semester.

“Put in the request, and I will send a note to the housing director to back you up. I’m thinking the best way to resolve this conflict is for you to change rooms.”

Dr. Hartman returned to the subject of Mike. “I don’t like what you’re doing with him, keeping all your stuff there. You’ve known him for three weeks. Three weeks, Ruthie. You can’t impose yourself on a partner in such a short time. I’m telling you, it’s going to cause both of you problems.”

Ruthie brushed off Dr. Hartman’s reservations about Mike’s personal space. She changed the subject and focused on the issue that concerned her: the difficulty she was having with the sexual portion of their relationship. She described what happened Halloween night and what happened the following day; that she was not able to get aroused and that sexual intercourse was unpleasant to the point of actually being painful. She insisted that she had to go through with love-making however, because sex was the only way that she could reward Mike for everything that he had done for her.

Upon hearing that, the counselor’s mind filled with red flags. Hartman struggled with what to tell her client, because her counseling experience and training told her that what Ruthie needed to do was back off, get her stuff out of Mike’s room, and seriously tell him about her doubts. However, she knew there was no way that Ruthie could follow or would follow such advice, because her situation with Shannon was so awful. The only thing Hartman could do was to try to ease Ruthie’s immediate dilemma with sexual intercourse. She asked her client what she knew about sexual aids such as lubrication. Ruthie responded that she knew nothing, because Mike was only the second man with whom she had ever made love.

Hartman wrote a prescription and handed it to Ruthie. “This is for some vaginal lubricant. Make sure you follow the instructions. It’ll help you when you’re with your boyfriend. But please remember this is not a solution for your problem. All it’s going to do is cover it up for a little bit and buy you some time. I’m telling you, I really have my doubts about what you’re doing. You’re going to have talk to Mike, because right now you’re being unfair to both him and to yourself.”

Ruthie left Hartman’s office and turned in the prescription to the pharmacist. She was glad that Hartman had given her something practical to deal with her immediate problem, but she also was resentful over the counselor’s criticism of her overall relationship. It seemed that Hartman did not understand what a living hell dealing with Shannon had become and that Mike was her only outlet.

Ruthie's resentment against Hartman was misplaced. The counselor saw Shannon as a complicated but short-term issue. She knew that within two months Ruthie would be with another roommate, or possibly in a room by herself. Once the pressure of Shannon was removed, then her client would have to deal with having created a problematic relationship with her boyfriend that risked serious psychological dependency.

* * *

That night Ruthie was very glad to have the lubricant, because Mike approached her about sex. They had not made love since Sunday. Mike had waited through Monday and Tuesday, hoping that she would be the one to initiate something. He was disappointed that she never hinted at wanting sex. Finally on Wednesday he returned from work and saw her studying naked on his bed. He took off his clothes and joined her; his own desires pushing him to kiss and caress her bare body. She knew what was coming, but for their third time in bed she was ready. She explained that she had a problem with sensitivity in her vagina and that she needed the lubrication to “really give both of us what we need”. Mike, not knowing any better, believed her. He allowed her to put the gel in herself and then to dab some on the end of his penis.

When he entered her, she felt hugely relieved. The discomfort from his thrusts was not much of a problem with the lubricant. Because he was able to go in deeper and move about more, Mike found the third time with her more enjoyable than the first two rounds of sex over the weekend. It was much easier for her to pretend that she was enjoying it as well.

When he pulled out of her, Ruthie kissed him, very happy that she had been able to give him what he needed without too much sacrifice on her part. Sex with him was never going to be something she would look forward to, but at least her “duty” to him was not something she had to dread.

* * *

In spite of her problem with the lack of sexual desire, Ruthie’s life became much more balanced over the first weeks in November. She had her work in the morning, her meals with Mike, and her classes and study time in the afternoons. On the weekends they visited places outside Davenport.

Ruthie loved San Gregorio beach, but only once during November was the weather nice enough to go back a second time. As much as they wanted to go back to more than that, it was getting too late in the year and the cold fog along the shore forced them to find diversion inland. They traveled to see a small patch of redwood forest near Santa Cruz, and the following weekend they visited Pinnacles National Monument, the extinct 23-million year-old volcano that Ruthie had talked about. She spent a lot of their time talking about the natural conditions that had created the places they were visiting, which gave her the chance to discuss everything that she had studied in high school or was learning in her college classes.

During November, Ruthie’s trust of Mike led her to “be herself” around him in a very unique way. Whenever possible, she took off her clothes in his presence. If they were on an isolated hiking trail, she loved to strip to her shoes and walk naked. If they heard someone coming, Mike handed her an over-sized t-shirt to put on. Once the other person had passed, she took off her shirt and handed it back to him. It was not just on the hiking trails that Ruthie liked to strip. Depending on where they were driving, she often rode naked in his car, especially if they were driving along the coastal highway or a county road towards a hiking trail. If they entered a town, she’d put on a shirt, but remained bottomless. She enjoyed the daring feeling of being naked from the waist down and having hundreds of people milling about the car, totally unaware of her lack of attire.

Ruthie enjoyed having her picture taken, so by the end of the month Mike had hundreds of pictures of his girlfriend stored on his hard drive. Because she was usually naked when they were together, the vast majority of the images were figure shots. Ruthie loved posing nude in front of well-known monuments, so Mike’s collection included numerous pictures of her bare body in front of local landmarks, to include the Santa Cruz surfer statue and the giant artichoke.

* * *

Mike had to deal with some gossip and questions when he returned to work the first Monday after Halloween, but the jokes were not as bad as he anticipated. It seemed that his co-workers were as interested in knowing about his girlfriend as they were in commenting about his Adam costume. A couple of the guys were openly envious that Mike had landed a partner who was very attractive and very adventurous. The dispatcher smiled sarcastically and nicknamed him “sweet buns”, but never hinted to anyone else why she called him that. True to her nature, she kept what she did to him a secret, although Mike suspected that she’d love nothing more than to give his bare bottom another grope.

There was a beginning-of-the-month meeting at the start of Mike’s Monday shift. The entire department was dumbfounded by the sheer number of tickets he had written during October. The supervisor forced him to stand up and tell his co-workers how he had written so many tickets. Once he was finished explaining the situation in lot Econ-A, the supervisor took over and admonished the other students:

“You see, people… it’s not about the ‘fun’ tickets. Not everything you write has to be for a fire-lane or handicap violation. There’s meters out there… lots of them… and you all need to start paying attention to them. Mike here has shown how much damage one dedicated guy with a machine can do. So let’s do it, people… let’s get out there and do some damage!”

The other student employees reluctantly applauded, but Mike could tell they were not pleased that he made everyone else look bad. Not that it mattered, because his October performance put Officer # 036 at the top of the list for a promotion the following semester.

As he patrolled lot Econ-A with his ticketing machine, Mike spent many hours in solitary thought. His desire to listen to music faded during the weeks after he started going out with Ruthie. His no longer needed to block out his own memories now that he had someone on whom he could focus his attention and affection. Instead he wandered in silence, sometimes allowing his thoughts to drift aimlessly and sometimes trying to figure out the odd girl who had entered his life… and everything that went with her… her almost psychotic loathing of religion, her fascination with being naked as much as possible, a personality that was simultaneously shy and exhibitionistic, her strong opinions, and her strange mood swings. Yes, she was weird, but to him she was a small bright spot in a bleak world occupied and run by people like the ones who had put his father out of work, or like the jerks that he was confronting every day in the parking lots.

Still, he knew that something was not quite right about her. She had her quirks, to say the least. Above everything else was her desire to constantly talk, which was a result of her need to put into words everything that was going on in her life. He suspected that she might have a learning disability, because never did she pick up a new concept without being given a detailed explanation. She took everything literally and step-by-step, so her understanding of a new topic was only as good as the instructions that described it. Because she could only comprehend what was carefully explained to her, she assumed that other people needed detailed explanations as well. Not that it really mattered with Mike, because he was content to let her talk as much as she wanted. Yes, she was overly chatty, but she spoke from the heart and always was ready to give him a quick hug or an impromptu kiss.

Mike knew that his willingness to let his girlfriend talk freely was a huge help to her. Around him she chatted incessantly about everything imaginable, from class topics to “crazy ideas”. He provided her with a crucial outlet for the swirl of thoughts and feelings floating around her head. His willingness to listen also gave her a very important opportunity to test what she had to say. If she said anything too outlandish he could warn her before she said it to anyone else. If he didn’t understand her meaning or thought the way she said something was potentially offensive, he flatly told her, giving her the chance to rephrase a statement. Over time he became more blunt and honest about his observations, but always with the goal of making sure she expressed herself in a way that conveyed what she actually wanted to say.

There were other issues that Mike couldn’t help her with. As for body language, for example… forget it! He remembered reading some articles that claimed that most human communication was through body language and non-verbal clues, and that at best conversation and words accounted for 30 percent of real communication. Well, with Ruthie Burns none of that applied. With her there was no body language at all. She fidgeted more if she was nervous or upset, but that was as close to communicating with her body as she could get. She did not pick up other people’s expressions or changes in posture. She did not pick up on sarcasm unless it was really obvious, and then she’d become hostile if she thought she was being made fun of.

Eye contact was another on-going issue for Ruthie. When she was looking at people or knew they were looking at her, it was much harder for her to focus on a conversation than if she was standing or sitting next to someone and looking forward. For that reason, she talked much more comfortably while sitting in a car, or strolling through Santa Cruz, or standing at a look-out, or on a hiking trail than she did at a dinner table. Eventually Mike learned that if he wanted to converse with her during a meal, it was much better to sit next to her than to sit across from her.

* * *

At the end of the second week of November there was a positive event that boosted Ruthie’s overall mood and helped her push aside the doubts about Mike that she had taken out of Dr. Hartman’s office. On Friday morning she got a call from the campus police telling her that they had arrested the bicyclist that ran into her back in October. The investigating officer needed her to come in to verify her picture. The cop showed her six mug-shots of young blond women and asked her to pick out the one who had hit her. Ruthie easily recognized the assailant. The cops told her what was going to happen next would be that, unless she took a plea bargain, the bicyclist would face trial and Ruthie might have to testify.

However, as the cop put it: “We’ve negotiated with her attorney and probably what’s gonna happen is she’ll plea out. I already had a little talk with her and gave her a pretty good scare. If she pleads, she’ll pay your medical bills and replace your books, and have to do some community service over Christmas break. She’ll have a criminal conviction on her record, but right now she’s worried more about jail time than anything else.”

Ruthie nodded, not knowing how to respond. The cop smiled and concluded with, “We also impounded her bicycle. If she wants it back, she’ll have to bid on it at auction.”

It was the detail about the bicycle that put Ruthie in a much better mood. Yes, she would have liked to have seen her assailant go to jail, but she was satisfied that losing her precious ride was an adequate punishment for what she had done.

That night Mike took her out to dinner to celebrate. Ruthie’s feelings of gratitude towards him intensified, because it turned out he had been totally right about filing the police report. Because of him, for the very first time in her life Ruthie Burns got even with someone who had hurt her.

Chapter 13 - Doña Lisette

The middle of November came and went. Mike and Ruthie turned in term papers and started new ones, took and passed all their midterms, and prepared for the final round of tests and projects for the end of the semester. When they had work to do on their computers, they quietly worked in Mike’s room.

However, they often had to go to the library for different projects, especially if they needed to look up information in the periodicals section, where a lot of older material that had not yet been posted on the Internet was still bound in dusty volumes. Both Mike and Ruthie had to laboriously pick through the volumes, because he had to look at some very old political science articles and she had to search for literature reviews. It was a strange experience for both of them, to look at material that was 40 or 50 years old, in publications that had gone out of business long ago. The volumes were relics of an era that only recently had passed into memory, an era killed by the Internet and electronic storage of information.

On November 15th Ruthie resumed her naked escapades in the library basement. On that night she and Mike carried their volumes to the study area and stacked them on one of the spare tables. It was only about 10:00, but no one else was in the room. He commented that the tables had cleared out a bit early. He remembered Ruthie’s confession about studying nude and was hoping that night she might want to strip for the last couple of hours they were in the library.

“Just to let you know… my offer to play look-out for you still stands.”

Ruthie took the hint and kissed him. She pulled down her shorts and took off her shirt. She covered the chair with her shirt and sat down. Although she was able to study just fine, Mike found it very hard to concentrate with the thought of his naked girlfriend sitting only a few feet from him. He badly wanted to strip as well, but was afraid that it would be harder for him to quickly put on his clothes if anyone exited the elevator. For Ruthie it would be easy because all she had to do was slip on her shorts and shirt; she did not have to worry about buttons or zippers.

When she went to look for books or put volumes away, he went with her, carrying her clothes and standing between her and the elevator. There was much less risk than there had been when she was alone. The challenge of her naked study time was gone, but so was the fear. She could simply enjoy the feeling of being naked in the basement, under the protection of the guy who loved her.

From that day forward Ruthie continued her habit of being naked in the library. With Mike to keep an eye out for her, she expanded the time she could spend in the nude, and also experimented with some new areas within the library. The third floor offered another place where it was possible to search for books in the nude, but it was somewhat more trafficked and she would not have been able to safely streak that floor had she not had Mike to help her and keep her clothes handy. Even with him helping her, there were a couple of close calls. By the end of the month she decided that it would be better to stick with the basement.

* * *

As the semester progressed, the two students put in their time at their respective jobs and earned salaries that were totally inadequate for their needs and expenses. Even so, from a financial perspective they were luckier than many of their classmates. Most of Mike’s expenses were covered by his father’s final round of mortgage loans and Ruthie’s expenses were covered by several grants. They both knew that their financial support, although adequate for the moment, was fragile, precarious, and could vanish at any moment. The uncertainty was especially true for Ruthie, because she was going to school on state grants that were very likely to be cut from the California education budget the following fiscal year.

On the third Monday of November Ruthie showed up to work at 5:00 am as usual, but when she arrived it was clear that there was nothing usual about what was going to happen that day. The campus manager, the district manager, and two auditors were waiting for her. For the next two hours they looked at her cash drawer and conducted an audit of her transactions. By 7:00 it was determined that her audit trail balanced and that the money in her cash drawer was what needed to be there; nothing more and nothing less. She was dismissed, told that she would still get her hours for the day, but she needed to leave the student center and not talk to any of her co-workers. As she was going out the door, the co-worker who liked to take long smoke breaks passed her. He gave her an annoyed look, clearly wondering why she was leaving work. She kept going and did not say anything. It would be the last time she ever saw him. She never learned all the details, but two of her fellow baristas were fired that day, one of which was the smoker. The firing of the two co-workers meant that Ruthie was the only employee from the morning shift remaining and the manager had to scramble to hire replacements.

The same week there was a positive development for Mike; the likelihood soon he would be promoted. Throughout November he continued to deliver a couple hundred tickets per day for the parking department. His supervisor noticed his hard work and had him train two new student ticket-writers. He told Mike that once basketball season started, he would be placed in charge of other students collecting parking money for two lots during games. He also decided to make Officer # 036 an alternate for collecting money from the meters. He would train for the meter collection job in December and start with that new assignment in January.

* * *

The month anniversary of their getting together came and went. Neither Mike nor Ruthie was the sort to romanticize dates on a calendar, but as it became obvious that they were going to stay together, both were faced with having to decide what to tell their families. Mike figured that he would break the news to his family during December and bring Ruthie over to his house sometime over Christmas break. He suspected Ruthie would be very nervous about meeting his relatives and unless properly prepped might not make a good impression. The more relaxed the meeting with his parents, the better.

Ruthie had not made any plans about introducing Mike at all, because she was used to keeping secrets from her mother. She had a vague intention to introduce him at some point in the distant future, but wanted to put it off because she saw no reason why Mike had to be dragged into her troubled relationships in Salinas.

She ended up having to introduce her boyfriend much earlier than she had wanted or expected. At the end of the third week of November, she was talking to her mother on the cell phone from Mike’s room, taking advantage of having the place to herself on a Friday afternoon. The conversation consisted of the usual stressed dialogue about Ruthie not finding a church when it took a turn she had not anticipated:

“Honey, I asked Cristina Rosales to call you. She told me that she did, a bunch of times. Haven’t you been getting her messages?”

“Uh… no Mom… I didn’t get any messages… that function’s… uh… kinda messed up on my phone… the messages, I mean… I’m not getting them…”

“You need to take that phone in and fix it. Why do you have a cell phone if you can’t get messages?”

“I haven’t had time Mom, honest.”

“Yes love. But I’ve asked her to go by your room… and she told me she did… several times…. and she says you’re never there.”

Fucking bitch, thought Ruthie to herself. Why can’t Cristina mind her own fucking business?

“Of course I’m not there! I’m in the library!”

“Ruthie, she’s gone by your room at 11:00! You’re telling me you’re at the library until 11:00?”

“Mom… I’m in the library until it closes.”

“Please don’t do that to me. Don’t you know it’s not safe for you to be out like that? What would I do if something happens to you?”

“Mom, nothing’s gonna happen to me.”

“You’re walking around at night… alone… and you say nothing’s gonna happen to you.”

“I’m not walking around alone, Mom. Mike brings me back every night. I’m perfectly safe.”

“Mike? Who’s Mike?”

Oh, shit… thought Ruthie. She was silent, desperately trying think how to cover that slip. Her mother’s suspicious voice repeated itself.

“Who is Mike, Ruthie? You need to tell me who Mike is.”

Ruthie took a deep breath. She wanted to come up with a lie, but she was a terrible liar and knew that lying would come back to haunt her later. Might as well come clean now and be done with it…

“Mike’s… uh… kinda my boyfriend, Mom…”

Ruthie heard her mother’s voice crack on the phone.

“I knew it! So that’s why you’ve been running away from Cristina! You’re up there leading a secretive sinful life and you didn’t want me to know! Don’t you know that the Scripture says that everything you wish to keep under a lamp will be shouted from the rooftops? Don’t you know that, my daughter? You’re not just running from me; you’re running from the Lord, aren’t you?!”

“Mom! MOM! It’s not like that! Honest! Mike’s not what you think! He’s a nice guy!”

“Yes, he’s a ‘nice guy’! I’m sure he is! They’re all ‘nice guys’ because they all want is to use you to satisfy their lustful sinful desires! I knew it! I knew you would do this to me!”

“Mom! It’s not that way! Honest! It’s not like that! I’ll have you meet him! I’ll have you talk to him! You’ll see he’s not what you think!”

“I don’t believe you! I know that you are a liar!”

“Mom! The Scripture says ‘Judge not, that you not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you shall be judged and the measure you give is the measure you shall receive!’ You are the one committing a sin, by passing judgment on someone you haven’t even met! At least meet him before you start casting stones!”

There was silence on the other end.


“It’s OK, love…”

“What’s OK?”

“I apologize. Bring your boyfriend here. I’ll meet him. I shouldn’t have passed judgment so quickly. But if you’re with a man, I am your mother, and I have a right to know.”

“Yes, Mom. I shouldn’t have kept it from you… but I wasn’t sure how things were gonna go with him…”

Ruthie managed to get her mother to calm down enough that she was able to give a superficial description of Mike and a censored version of the relationship they had developed over the past month. She played up the fact that Mike’s family did go to church, although she knew very little about that detail of his life other than the Sinclairs were mainline Protestants and not evangelicals.

Ruthie’s mother suggested that Mike go to Salinas to meet her on Sunday, but Ruthie knew better than to go along with that, because a Sunday trip would entail spending several hours at church. Ruthie, grasping for some way she could keep a minimal amount of control over what was going on, suggested meeting Mike the very next day… Saturday… having to make the commitment without any input from him.

She was still on the phone when he came in from work, talking in the normal mixture of Spanish and English that she used with her Salinas relatives. It was a very strange experience for him to listen to her speaking in “Spanglish”. Because he had never heard her talk to any of her relatives, he had taken it for granted that she spoke in one or the other of the two languages, not that weird mix. He also could tell that she was very stressed out from the conversation, and became even more stressed out upon seeing him.

She cut short the call. “Bye, Mom. Nos vemos mañana.” She pushed the disconnect button.

“What’s going on tomorrow?”

Ruthie took a deep breath. What’s going on tomorrow… well, that was going to be a bit complicated…

“Mike… uh… I kinda told my mom about us… and she’s gonna want to meet you.”

“Tomorrow? But it’s gonna be nice weather…and I thought you wanted to go to the beach…”

“We gotta do it tomorrow. You mind driving me down to Salinas?”

“Uh… well… no… I don’t mind, but this… kinda came up fast…”

“I know. I’m sorry… but I got to talking to my mom on the phone and she started asking me how come I’m never in my room… and I told her that I’m in the library… and then she started bitching at me that it’s not safe to be out by myself… and that’s when… I kinda told her about us.”

“OK, so tomorrow I’m gonna meet your mom. Is that a big deal?”

“Yeah, Mike. It kinda is… there’s some stuff… a lot of stuff… I mean… I’m dealing with a lot of stuff with her… I mean… you’ll meet her and you’ll see what I’m talking about.”

“Then I’m gonna have to know what ‘a lot of stuff about her’ is. Up to now you really haven’t told me all that much about her. I don’t even know her name. All you’ve said is that she’s from a town in Mexico called Culiacan, she jumped the border 20 years ago, she’s really into religion, and she wants to go home someday. That’s not a whole lot for me to go on. I mean, is she gonna have a problem that I’m a gringo? Is that it?”

“No. That’s not it. My dad’s a gringo too… so even if it does bother her, she wouldn’t be able to say anything. With her it’s gonna be her fucking religion. She’s probably gonna want to ask you a bunch of shit about that… are you ‘saved’… do you have Jesus in your heart… shit like that.”

“No problem. If she wants to talk about religion, I’ll talk about religion. It’s not like I’ve never set foot in a church.”

Ruthie fidgeted with anxiety.

“There’s a lot more to it. I mean… she’s gonna want to know what we do together… and… there’s something that’s been going on that I haven’t told you about… she’s kinda pissed at me…”

Over the next half hour Ruthie tried to explain what had been going on between her and her mother since she had entered the university. For the first time in six years she had the opportunity to enjoy a break from going to church. She did not have to spend her Wednesday nights and Sundays listening to apocalyptic sermons and psychotic rants. She did not have to “fake it”; she did not have to act like she believed in something that she had quit believing in three years before. She did not have to hold back the urge to stand up in the pew and scream “You’re lying! What you’re saying is total bullshit!”

The problem that Ruthie had in Davenport was her mother suspected the truth. Every time they talked on the phone, she was constantly nagging about finding a church. If all Ruthie had to do was lie from a distance the situation would be bearable, but over the past month she had deal that bitch Cristina Rosales looking for her. Ruthie described her with the Spanish word “metiche”, which roughly translates as “meddlesome”. She was totally stressed about that situation, because the moment Cristina managed to catch her, she’d either have go to Cristina’s church to shut her up, or she’d have to confront her with the truth, which would immediately be relayed back to her mother.

Ruthie said all of that while sitting on the bed tensed up. She was staring straight ahead and her hands were shaking. She concluded, “One of the things my mom’s gonna want to know is that you’re serious about me.”

Mike took her hands and got her to stand up. He hugged her.

“That part’s easy. I don’t need to convince her I’m serious about you. I am serious about you.”

Ruthie took a deep breath and put her arms around him. Yes Mike was serious about her… she knew that…and she deeply cared about him as well… but… but…

* * *

The following morning Ruthie showed up at Mike’s room in a conservative green dress and matching top. It was strange for him to see her in that outfit, because it was the most clothing he had seen her wearing since they met. He could tell that she was uncomfortable in that get-up. The dress looked good on her, but knowing what he knew about her, it did not go with her personality. To her the dress was not really clothing. It was a costume that she had to wear so she could perform a role in Salinas that was totally fake.

Mike also was better-dressed than normal. Instead of his usual shorts and anti-Mega-Town t-shirt, he wore khaki pants and a long-sleeve white shirt. When he took Ruthie to his car she noticed that he had washed it and cleaned out the inside. Then she noticed that his shoes were shined and that both the shirt and pants were ironed. It was clear that he was serious about making a good impression on Ruthie’s mother.

On their way to Salinas, Mike asked Ruthie to talk more about her time in high school. He was not curious about her church, because he figured that she already had told him what he needed to know. Instead he wanted to know about her life in the school itself. She started by claiming that there was not that much to talk about, so he got her to talk about her classes. He pushed her to talk about her time in middle school, about her first year in Salinas and her last year in Lincoln. What he wanted to know was why she suddenly moved from Nebraska to California when she was 12, but she had made it clear that she did not want to talk about that. Driven by curiosity, he cautiously probed that period of her life to get a hint of what happened, without being too obvious. He got a few clues. She inadvertently told him the move to Salinas happened very suddenly and was traumatic for her. She mentioned in passing that she felt that her father had betrayed and abandoned her. A little while later she said that she hated her father and “that fucking bitch he’s with”. When they approached Salinas, she mentioned that in Lincoln she was raised by her grandmother. When Mike asked, she clarified that it was her father’s mother who raised her.

Like pieces of a puzzle, Mike put together the hints that she inadvertently gave him. While living in Nebraska she had been raised by her grandmother, not her father. She was happy up until her grandmother died, and that was when she was eleven. A year later she suddenly moved to Salinas against her wishes. He guessed that the “fucking bitch” was a second marriage and possibly the reason she was forced to leave Lincoln.

Now that he was about to meet her mother, Mike knew that a lot more of his questions about her would be answered. Ruthie knew that as well. She was not happy about the prospect, because she had been hoping to keep at least some of her life secret from her boyfriend. She sighed, because it seemed things like that never worked out for her.

* * *

When they pulled into Ruthie’s apartment complex, she directed him to go to the management office to get a visitor’s pass. Once Mike’s car was parked in a visitor’s space, she led him past several two-story buildings that seemed in fairly decent condition. He could hear Mariachi music playing from several apartments. A couple of groups of small children were playing outside on the grass. The children were conversing in Spanish. They passed a laundry mat with coin-operated washers and dryers. He noticed his girlfriend half-heartedly waving to several people they passed. He received some curious looks from neighbors, because no one in the complex had ever seen her with a guy other than her cousin.

Mike reflected that if Ruthie had to come into this place directly from a house in Nebraska; that would have been a rough transition, especially for a kid who was 12. In spite of the fact the property’s physical condition was acceptable, the complex had a sinister feel to it. Ruthie had mentioned that gang members lived in some of the units and had talked about the night she witnessed a shooting. He definitely could understand why Ruthie’s mother would not have wanted her wandering around the area after dark.

Mike reminded his girlfriend that she still had not told him her mother’s name, nor how he should call her. She responded that her name was Lisette Montoya Burns. She realized that she wasn’t sure how she should be addressed: whether it should be Mrs. Burns or Doña Lisette. Finally she settled on Doña Lisette.

Ruthie’s apartment was in a building at the far end of the complex. It was a second-story unit that looked out over the parking lot of an office park. The position gave it relative privacy in comparison with most of the other apartments, which had windows facing into the windows of other residences. They went up the stairs and Ruthie opened the door with her own key.

“Mom! Ya estamos!”

Ruthie’s mother came out of the kitchen. She looked somewhat like an older version of her daughter, but her skin was much darker and her facial features reflected her mostly Indian ancestry. She gave Mike a very suspicious look, but Ruthie took her arm and introduced her to her boyfriend.

Ruthie did not know what to expect from the introduction, other than assuming everyone would spend a very tense couple of hours that would have an unpleasant ending. Mike, however, had some time to think over how he was going to handle himself the day. He knew that, above anything else, he had to find neutral topics about which he could talk to a difficult person who could very well become a future in-law. He started out with a few simple questions to figure out how well Doña Lisette spoke English, such as how she liked living in Salinas and how long she had been in the apartment. He told her that Ruthie had mentioned that she originally was from Culiacan and asked her what it was like.

Doña Lisette talked haltingly at first, but then Mike found the topic he was looking for: San Diego. Ruthie’s mother always had a special place in her heart for San Diego because it was the one place where she had some fun. In spite of being afraid of being caught by La Migra, she had been in San Diego when she was young and single. There were discos and attractions such as Sea World. Mike knew nothing about the city’s nightlife, but he was very familiar with the attractions from having gone there with his family. Mike and Doña Lisette compared their experiences in San Diego. The fact that Mike went there with his parents seemed to set her at ease.

When Ruthie’s mother changed the topic to what was going on at the university, he was ready. He talked about the hours of studying and backed up Ruthie’s statement that they stayed in the library until it closed. He explained why they had to stay there so late, because they had to conduct research from volumes that could not be checked out. She asked about the danger of a young woman being alone at such a late hour. With no hesitation he responded:

“Of course it’s dangerous for a girl like Ruthie to be out by herself that late. That’s why I always take her back to her dorm and make sure she gets in OK. For a guy it’s not so bad, so I drop her off first and then go to my own building.”

When the topic changed to religion, again Mike was ready. He noticed Ruthie tensing up and fidgeting, but he ignored her. He talked at length about going to church with his parents while growing up and about various experiences that he had with his church group. He made himself sound much more religious than he really was, but he did not tell his host a single thing that was not true or that had not really happened to him.

Mike could tell that Doña Lisette was still suspicious of his family’s church, but the godless party-boy that she had been expecting was not the person sitting in front of her. Mike was polite, serious, intelligent, and seemed to care for her daughter.

The issue of church bothered Doña Lisette and she pressed Mike on why they were not attending services. Mike apologized about that, saying that he was bothered by that lack in their lives as well, but what he wanted to do was return to attending services at his parents’ church. He commented that it was a real shame that there was no decent church in Davenport. When Ruthie’s mother chided him about not trying to find a church in Santa Cruz, he simply apologized and agreed that he needed to pay more attention to his relationship with the Lord.

Mike eased past the explosive topic of religion and started talking more about Ruthie and her life in college. He talked about how they met because they were in the same class and how they got to know each other through talking about literature. He talked about her studying and that was one thing about her that he admired, how studious and hardworking she was. He compared her to the lazy rich girls he ticketed and talked up her kindness and dedication.

Ruthie was quiet as she watched Mike establish rapport with her mother. He talked to her naturally and was neither intimidated nor condescending. He was honest about everything he said. Sometimes he distorted facts and events by taking them out of their context, but not once did he say anything false. His handling of the conversation was very different from Ruthie’s habit of blatant lying and evasive answers.

Mike was at an advantage because he felt more at ease talking to older people than he did talking to people of his own age group. The difference in years and life experiences put enough distance between Mike and older individuals that he did not need to struggle talking about things such as popular culture that did not interest him. His intellectual curiosity made him want to talk to people whose information and experiences differed from his own, from whom he could learn something or get a different perspective. With a person such as his girlfriend’s mother it was easy for him to have such a conversation.

The result of the morning’s meeting was what Ruthie had least expected, that her mother actually liked her boyfriend. She opened up with him, telling him about some of the girl’s difficulties in school and the worries that she had over sending her off to college. Ruthie was not pleased with the turn of the conversation, because Mike learned several details about her life that she really had not wanted him to know.

At noon Ruthie’s aunt and her cousin Rosa came over to her apartment to make their weekly trek to the nearby Salinas Mega-Mart. Mike met two more of Ruthie’s relatives and had a chance to further ingratiate himself. He shocked his girlfriend by agreeing to go shopping with the group when they asked if he and Ruthie wanted to join them. For the next two hours he helped the women load their carts with heavier items and then helped them load the purchases into the back of their car. He spent a lot of his time in the store talking to Ruthie’s cousin: describing his academic experiences in Chicago and California, making comparisons between the two universities, and giving her some basic advice on taking tests and writing term papers.

Ruthie was totally “weirded out”, as she always liked to say, by his behavior. Mike… setting foot in a Mega-Mart? As they walked up and down the aisles, she could tell that he was repulsed by being there. Later she would need to ask him why he agreed to accompany her relatives into the hated store.

They left Ruthie’s apartment in the late afternoon. Ruthie hugged her mother good-bye and Mike kissed her on the cheek. They made their way out of the complex and drove around Salinas, making a quick visit to the old downtown. Ruthie pointed out several places that she had known in high school and shared several more events of her life. Before going back to Davenport they stopped at a local burrito place, where Ruthie often went with her relatives when she was still in high school.

Ruthie’s feelings about the day were very mixed. The first thing she wondered about was the Mega-Mart trip. If Mike hated Mega-Mart so much, how could he agree to go there? He responded that he could justify the trip because he was not spending any of his own money in the store. There was no point in arguing because Ruthie’s relatives would go shopping at Mega-Mart whether he wanted them to or not. In such a case, his own feelings were irrelevant. Anyhow, his purpose that day was not to enlighten her relatives on the evils of Mega-Town Associates. His purpose was to meet her family and to make her life as easy as possible by doing what was necessary to make a good impression on them.

As he put it: “Different things matter at different times. In Davenport I can worry about Mega-Town all I want. Right now what mattered was me getting along with your mom.”

“I ‘spose…”

Ruthie was grateful that Mike had given up his day to spend with her relatives, but she was uneasy with how quickly things with him had developed. She was simultaneously impressed and worried by how easily he managed to ingratiate himself with three of her family members. Like it or not, now he was indeed “her boyfriend”. That was how the world saw him, and how he saw himself.

Mike showed a side of himself that Ruthie had not known about. To get along with her mother, he managed to conceal a large portion of his beliefs and personality, showing only the part of himself that she would not find offensive. He had the ability to deceive through telling the truth, a talent that Ruthie did not have. She could tell the truth or tell a lie (usually badly) but Mike’s subtle manipulation of facts to create false impressions was something she was incapable of doing.

Mike had some concerns of his own that he really could not share with his girlfriend. He knew the meeting Doña Lisette had gone as well as he could have hoped, but Ruthie was right about her, she was not a likable person. Mike liked Rosa, but as for those other two… He cringed at the thought of his parents meeting them as potential in-laws. He knew that it was terrible to think of them in such terms, but they were so… Mexican… and so different from Ruthie. He had known that, of course, but it was one thing to know about her relatives from a distance; it was another to actually see them up close.

* * *

As Mike and Ruthie drove back to Davenport, Lisette Montoya Burns accompanied her sister-in-law and her niece back to her brother’s place. They organized the purchases for Thanksgiving, which was coming up the following week.

When she got back to her apartment, Lisette took out her Bible and read some passages, making sure she would be ready for church the following day. She spent some time in prayer before getting ready for bed. Finally, she pulled out a photo album to take a look at Ruthie’s pictures.

There were pictures in that album from the time she was born until she was three. Then there was a gap of nine years. The pictures did not start up again until the girl was 12. Little Ruthie… she reflected… not so little anymore.

It was because of Ruthie that Lisette’s last name was Burns. She was married for thirteen years, but married in name only most of that time. She had lived in Salinas, and her husband lived in Lincoln. For the last nine years of their marriage they had no contact whatsoever, nor did Lisette have any contact with Ruthie. Then, totally out the blue, she got a phone call from her husband.

“I’m sending our daughter to live with you. She’ll be flying into San Jose on Meg-Air Flight # 223 from Salt Lake City at 5:00. Can you get someone out to the airport to pick her up?”

“I… I’ll send my brother to get her...”

“Good. There’s divorce papers that’ll be coming with her. If you want me to send you any child support, you’ll have to sign ‘em and send ‘em back.”

…and…that was the end of Lisette’s dysfunctional marriage with Ruthie’s father. Not that it really mattered, because they had not seen each other for nearly a decade.

Lisette looked at Ruthie’s baby pictures and reflected on her ill-fated experience with love in San Diego. She had been going out with a group of young Mexican women to some discos that also were frequented by Marines and sailors from the nearby Navy base. Many of the military guys, the Marines especially, were Hispanic and spoke fluent Spanish. One night she was with her group of friends when they hooked up with a group of sailors from an aircraft carrier. There were a couple of white guys in the group, including a petty officer by the name of Jake Burns. By that time Ruthie’s mother spoke just enough English that she could get by, and Petty Officer Burn’s shipmates could help out with translating when it was needed. He was interesting and different from anyone she had ever met. His blond hair fascinated her.

Jake liked to have fun and enjoyed taking Lisette to various places around San Diego. For three months he splurged on her while he waited for his ship to sail. He never really planned on staying with her past his sailing date, and she had no real plans at all. They were together for the moment. He’d leave and she’d go back to trying to find a job and avoid being deported. At that point her brother already had a job in Salinas and was waiting for her to join him.

The month before Petty Officer Burns was ready to ship out; Lisette realized she had a big problem. She had missed her period. She waited two weeks, hoping that her menstruation would miraculously come about, but nothing. She bought a test kit and found out that, sure enough, she was pregnant.

When she approached Jake about the problem, his answer was simple: get an abortion. She was so horrified by the suggestion that she actually slapped him. Get an abortion? Are you crazy? Do you want to murder our child? Do you want me to go to Hell?

They argued for a week as Jake’s sailing date rapidly approached. Finally he decided that the easiest thing to do would be to give Lisette a marriage certificate so she could get military benefits for the baby. He really didn’t care, because he was going to be out to sea anyway. So, he took her to a local Justice of the Peace with a couple of his shipmates to serve as witnesses, then took her to the Navy base to get an ID as a spouse so she could see the military doctors. From there he took her to DMV to get a state ID. Lisette was not pleased with the brusque way Jake was treating her but at least, if nothing else, her legal situation was resolved and she no longer had to worry about La Migra.

Jake was gone more than a year. While he was gone, Lisette had her daughter, who she wanted to call Luz Maria. Jake overruled her and told her that he wanted the girl’s name to be Ruthie. Worried about what was going to happen when Jake finally got back from his tour, she agreed.

When he got back, Jake decided that he wanted to stay with Lisette after all. He moved her and the baby into an apartment for the final six months of his contract with the Navy. He became attached to Ruthie and attentive to his wife. Lisette, however, was getting bored and anxiously waited for Jake to get out of the Navy so he could help her get a job.

When Ruthie was two, Jake finally left the service and moved his wife and daughter to Lincoln, where the marriage quickly deteriorated. He had work lined up as a mechanic, but no job materialized for Lisette. His friends and relatives totally cold-shouldered her. He hooked up with some of his old friends from high school and started to go out drinking. He insisted on leaving Ruthie with his mother during the days, because he did not want the child to grow up speaking Spanish. Lisette was totally cut off from everything that was familiar to her. Even going to church didn’t work out, because at the time there were not many Hispanics in Lincoln and she definitely did not fit in with any of the white congregations.

Within six months Lisette had enough of Jake and Lincoln and wanted to join her brother in Salinas. She wanted to take Ruthie, but there was no way either Jake or his mother would be willing to part with her. She was under the impression that divorce was not an option, because if she got divorced, she’d be subject to deportation. A recent INS round-up of illegal immigrants working at a nearby meat-packing plant drove home that point. Finally she got on a bus and simply left. Two days later she was in Salinas. She moved in with her brother and his wife. Within a month he helped her get a job. A few months later she was in her own apartment.

Lisette’s mind was full of trauma and guilt as she started her life in Salinas. The pastor of her church told her that she had lived in sin when partying around San Diego. God had punished her with her unpleasant marriage and the loss of her daughter. The only hope for her was to lead as upright a life as possible and to spend the rest of her mortal days serving the Lord. She would pray to be reunited with her daughter, and maybe, if the Lord chose to bless her, at some point Ruthie would re-appear in her life.

Nine years later, Lisette’s prayers were answered. Eight hours after receiving that phone call from her husband, the Meg-Air flight carrying the terrified 12-year old landed in the San Jose. Lisette’s brother picked her up from the airport and brought her to Salinas.

Yes, there were a lot of challenges and the girl had picked up bad influences in Jake’s house, but what mattered the Lord had spoken and forced him to release her. Among other details in the divorce agreement was a line that gave Lisette full custody of Ruthie. There was no mention about visitation. She gladly signed the document and sent it back.

Lisette celebrated by taking her daughter to church. The girl would grow up serving the Lord. She would see to that. It was the least she could do to praise Him for returning Ruthie to her. At that point the pictures in her photo album resumed.

End of part 4

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