Charlie always felt that he was play-acting or performing in some role when he was around other people. He had to make a conscious decision to act normal. Normal did not come naturally to him. Grade school was torture and Jr. High still caused Charlie physical pain when he thought about it, but he’d eventually learned who and what to avoid to survive. He somehow made it through high school by keeping his head low. Fortunately, he found that most of the students in the MechE program at MIT were off-center enough that he could let down his guard and be a little more of himself.
Most of the awkward men that inhabited the halls of MIT would approach a beautiful woman in the typical way: a tired pick-up line or an earnest and clumsy personal introduction. They would likely be rebuffed and continue on with life. Charlie wasn’t going to be rebuffed. He was going to get to know the ethereal beauty who had glided past him in his own way.
Within a week, he knew her name was Carol Jean Wilson. He knew her schedule: Civic Engineering classes on the honor track in the morning, three hours with Dr. Brewer in the afternoon as a teaching assistant and then an hour spent in the gym. Once, she had met friends for dinner (all women). He knew Carol Jean didn’t have a roommate and that she kept the key to her apartment buried in the dirt of the ficus plant of her across-the-hall neighbor. He knew to avoid the poky spring in the center cushion of her couch as he lounged and watched television while she was in class. He knew the lingering scent of her shampoo on her pillow and how her long strands of blonde hair changed colors in the light as he collected them from her hairbrush. And while he had never spoken to her in person, he knew the low sultry tones of her voice from the answering machine.
He also knew how it felt to watch other men watch her. When Charlie felt that one fellow student had crossed the line with Carol Jean, he put his hacking skills to good use and destroyed the man’s life as best he could virtually. A wolf-whistle at Carol Jean? How low-brow. Where were people’s manners nowadays?
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