chapter three

Jori had agreed to give up her independence for the night, and go in Isaac's car to the pizza place.

They drove in semi-darkness, Jimi Hendrix blasting from the speakers. Despite the resounding riffs, metaphorical silence permeated the air, and what had half an hour later earlier come easily now seemed impossible. Her brain and mouth were incapable of simple inane conversation, not to mention the relaxed banter in the bookstore. And the phenomenon seemed to be mutual. This, she realized, was why first dates were spent at movies. For an hour and a half, you didn't have to talk, and then you had the movie to talk about to break the ice. Even though there had been no ice to break to begin with, it was practically palpable now.

Maybe there were fascinating topics to be found in pepperoni and breadsticks.


"A large pepperoni and a pitcher of Dr Pepper."

Jori halted the waitress with a raised hand. "Can you make a quarter of it without pepperoni?" The waitress nodded, and looked questioningly at Isaac, who looked at Jori.

"That's it. Thanks."

The glasses and DP came.

"So... you a vegetarian, or you just don't like pepperoni?"

"Vegetarian. Well, I wasn't all that big on pepperoni before either." At least we're not talking about the weather, she thought.

"How long have you been a vegetarian?"

"Since I was fourteen. It wasn't really a moral decision to start out with, I just lost all interest in meat. Taste-wise, I mean. I also don't really agree with a lot of animal-rearing practices. Never did."

He nodded, and lifted a slice of pizza, eyeing the pepperoni and her alternately.

"Don't worry. I'm not militant. I won't start telling you about your colon, or however long that stuff's supposed to stay in your body." She smiled and bit into her own slice.

"I've actually thought about not eating meat... but I keep forgetting."

"Oh, really?"

Brilliant. Utterly brilliant.

I wish this was a movie, she thought. That way it could just cut to where we're just babbling comfortably, instead of this crap.

And somehow, it did. Before she knew it, he'd started joking about mythical pigs in Valhalla, and they were back in Comfortable Chatter Zone. For some reason, being comfortable made her even more nervous. With every smile, her stomach jumped.


"A full scholarship? Wow. How'd you manage that?"

"I worked hard. Actually, I graduated two years early."

"I'm impressed."

A small embarrassed grin stole across her face. "Thanks... And I guess the state felt it owed me something," she said, trying to make light of the achievements that did in fact lend her a sense of pride.

"How's that?"

It had just slipped out. She debated not telling him, but figured it didn't matter. If they went on seeing each other, he was going to find out anyway.

"I was dumped on the church steps when I was still basket-size. Cliché, but true. Anyway, I wound up in this state-funded foster facility that was completely insane. It was supposed to be a family type deal, but there were way too many kids, and the lady who ran it was this insane Bible-thumping fundamentalist. I mean, literally. She would thump us with this huge hardcover Bible."

He sat silent, faint shock registering on his face. She hastened to ease his concern.

"Oh, don't worry. I've moved on and everything. We were home-schooled, in a way, so I just applied myself to the work, and read a lot, so I got through it okay. And I got some help later." She sipped her drink, and looked at him for a moment.

"Anyway, I managed to get myself legally emancipated when I was fifteen, at the same time they finally discovered what was going on - we were completely secluded, and we didn't know much else, so even if we could have, we probably wouldn't have alerted anyone - and pretty soon after that I graduated, and came here. I'm not too bad off."

"That's... that's some story."

"Yeah, I guess. I'm actually fairly normal, considering."

They sat in silence.

"I'm sorry. I know that's kind of a conversation killer."

"No, hey, I'm glad you told me."

He slid his hand across the table and took hers, smiling.


"Yeah, they're both two really good friends, but Jon is definitely one of my best friends. I don't know, we talk a lot. Both Sadie and Jon are the kind of people I can say anything to, 'cause they're weird too."

She started laughing, and talked through the laughter.

"Like, for instance, a coupled of days ago, we had guests, and after they left I went into the bathroom to wash my face." She gulped with laughter, and continued, laboring to speak. "So I come out, and start wondering out loud if it smelled bad in there because their poo smelled bad, or because you get accustomed to the way it usually smelled." She exploded, and he exploded with her.


"Yeah, I know. See my brain works in very, very weird ways, and I know better than to share it around most people."

"So I'm not most people?"

"I did tell you, didn't I?" She started laughing again, aching sides and all.


They were still talking when the busboys were turning the chairs upside down on the tables.

After a ride back to the dorm much less quiet than the one earlier, Jori debated for a few seconds at the door to the suite, and then asked Isaac if he wanted to come in. He hesitated, and she smiled, her own nervousness easing.

"I mean like for actual coffee."

He grinned.

"Ok. I mean, ok as in I get it, but I think I'd better be heading home."

He leaned down and gave her a very gentle kiss on the cheek. She smiled up through her lashes and waved at him as he sauntered down the hall. She let herself in, had a glass of water in the kitchenette, and quickly stripped and slipped into her bed.

In the dark, under her covers, she started crying quietly. She hadn't been completely honest with Isaac - on most counts, she was stable and healthy, but on the completely personal level, she had almost no self-esteem. Somehow, being abandoned and being raised in a loveless institution hadn't made her feel special. Now, when someone showed interest, she almost automatically filled with painful doubt.

After a while, her tears slowed and she fell asleep, exhausted and no less confused.