Ms. Daley realized that her reaction hadn’t been entirely appropriate, so she reached forward and touched Rowan’s shoulder to comfort him.
“I wasn’t laughing at you, just at the situation. It’s so ridiculous,” she said. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. All of us were virgins at some point. We were all born that way, and it has to end at some point. I never assumed so with a boy like you. I mean, look at you. You must have had about a hundred girls chasing after you all through high school. If you didn’t notice, then trust me, I can tell you what impure thoughts they were thinking. Surely, you had a girlfriend. I feel bad for your female classmates if you didn’t at least one of them have at you.”
“I had a girlfriend,” Rowan said, “Once. She wasn’t ready. I left when I went to college. She went to University of Virginia. I went here.”
“Well, she doesn’t know what she missed. If by some miracle of science she could see into an alternate past in which she had decided not to wait and had lost her cherry to you, I’m sure she would cry herself to sleep every night.”
Rowan didn’t appear to be assuaged. He stared off into the distance with tearless, unwavering eyes, but he heard her words.
She sighed. “I’m not good at these emotional things, and you men can be the most difficult of all when you’re down. So, though I’m going to regret this when I’m horny as hell in the morning, you can go back to your bed and bawl yourself to sleep because your cruel mistress made fun of you.”
Rowan made no objection and stepped out of bed, still facing away from her. He went into the bathroom and dressed. When he stepped out, he stopped to look at the elegant, naked woman sprawled across her smooth, white sheets, her hands behind her head as she relaxed, a large smile on her face as she watched Rowan with evident pleasure.
Rowan didn’t quite fully turn toward her. “You’re not as bad as they say, you know,” he said with a small glimmer of emotion.
Ms. Daley burst out into a gigantic laugh. “Clearly I’ve made the wrong first impression!” she said. “Don’t be quick to judge. What they tell you is true. Perhaps I just have a soft spot for you. But don’t think it’ll get you out of your duties this weekend. You’re our new gardener, and gardening you’ll do. Now, unless you’re going to come back and pleasure me, then get out of here so I can play with myself in privacy while I fantasize about you.”
She gestured with her hand and then turned away to reach for a drawer in her nightstand. Even after that whole cycle of emotion, Rowan was somewhat reluctant to leave. He did think of returning to her. In the end, he left, walking out of the room and down the hall.
He was able to find his way to the dormitory, and when he arrived, he opened the front door quietly. The dark room looked different now, and he couldn’t immediately figure out why. Then he realized it was because there was a huge, white curtain cutting through the room. The curtain surrounded all four of the girls’ beds, giving them something of a sheltered and private place.
Rowan tiptoed through the shadows to his bed, undressing and slipping into his covers. He could hear the sound of the other seven occupants breathing, some even slightly snoring.
For a time, as he lay on his back, he thought his emotions had subsided, but then they came flooding forward, he found himself crying. He could only ever cry alone, else he would done it before with Ms. Daley. For the first time since he’d left for college, he wanted to go home. He wanted to be taken care of by his mother and be back with his girlfriend and be back to the way it all was before.
But he hated himself from thinking this, and he slapped himself across the cheek for it, hard enough that it stung. Once wasn’t enough. He did it again, several slaps until he felt the warm burning of his cheeks. At that moment, it was like he’d woken back up to reality, had come back to his immediate sensations, that he was sitting alone in the dark surrounded by the cool air and sounds of night. He lay down then and settled himself into sleep.