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Kissing the Beehive (Jonathan Carroll)


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  Pauline Ostrova and Edward Durant Jr. were made for each other and never should have met. He was practical and thorough, she was not. The first time he ever insulted her, he said she was as complicated and bustling as a beehive. It became his nickname for her. She laughed in his face and said she'd rather be that than a key or a pencil, like him, which served exactly one boring purpose and thus was constantly forgotten or lost.

Both kids were brilliant and moody. Durant had lived his life in the shadow of his important and powerful father. Pauline's dad was a mechanic.

That's how they met, one afternoon when Edward's car wouldn't start. He had the hood up and was futzing around with the hoses and whatever else he could turn with his fingers. He knew squat about car engines but all men pop the hood and fiddle helplessly when their cars don't start; it's in the genes.

Pauline had just finished a freshman philosophy class where once again college proved to be a disappointment. Her peers were mostly interested in doing things she considered old hat: screwing and drinking, staying up all night cramming for tests because of all the classes they'd missed screwing and drinking.

There were things Pauline needed to know, but no one was teaching them to her. Classes were hard, but not in a good way. She felt like a Strasbourg goose with a funnel jammed down her throat. Instead of food, Swarthmore force-fed her ontology and Ludwig Boltzmann, the Potsdam Treaty and other ho-hum. Sure they filled her, but to what purpose?

She had argued with the philosophy instructor until both of them were ready to go for each other's throats. She argued with everyone in those days; it was getting bad. Her frustration was bubbling over.

A beige VW bug was parked in front of the building. Its back hood was up and a guy was looking at the exposed engine with suspicion and despair. Pauline stomped over, all fury and competence, and fixed it in fifteen minutes. Edward Durant invited her for lunch in an upscale restaurant that did not cater to students. They sat in a booth and talked a long time.

She didn't like him. He was too stiff, too straight, talked incessantly about his big-shot father, and wanted to be a lawyer, for God's sake!

Durant thought Pauline was dynamite.

Afterward they went back to his room and had sex. He wrongly thought it was because he'd wowed her. She would have laughed if she had known. She only wanted to blow off steam and sex was always good for that.

In the following days he couldn't believe her indifference. She'd fixed his car. They'd spoken for hours. They went to bed! He'd told her great stories and made her laugh, but now she didn't seem to give a shit. She never returned his calls, ignored the love letter he spent one whole Saturday composing...Nothing. What had gone wrong? He tracked her down after a class and asked the question point-blank. She said, "Nothing's wrong. You're nice." And kept walking.

He wore her down. They didn't sleep together again for three months but that didn't matter. He loved the challenge and Pauline wasn't used to being wooed. She liked his eagerness and was flattered by his naive persistence.

She'd always been so quick to give herself to others. Since she was fifteen, sex was no big deal. She discovered that the fastest way to know a man was through a few hours in bed with him. That way you saw his secret face and frequently he let his guard down.

After their one time in bed, Edward behaved like a perfect gentleman on a first date. He was happy to take walks with her, go to the movies, a meal. He proved to be much more interesting than she had originally thought. He saw life and the world in ways she never considered before. He had never talked with a woman about these things. When he saw she was interested, he wanted to tell her everything. It unsettled him to know she had been around big-time. She spoke of intercourse as if there were no mystery to it and only a little magic. He was dying to ask her a hundred questions about her many lovers, but never did. Partly because he knew she would answer every one without any hesitation.

Slowly college life improved for Pauline. Some of that was because of Edward's friendship and support. He knew the tide had turned the day she started calling him Eddie. The only person who ever called him that was his mother, and only when his father wasn't around.

The saddest thing about Durant was his fear of his father. But the truth was, Senior was so tuned to his own channel that Junior was rarely in his thoughts. The first time Pauline met the parents was on a weekend and the four of them went out to dinner. Despite his self-absorption, Mr. Durant recognized this young woman had a will as strong as his own and treated her coolly. Mrs. Durant thought Pauline was terrific, and because she loved her son much more than her husband, she encouraged the relationship. In the past, most of the girls Edward had brought home had been either awed or scared of him. This one stood her ground and was clearly his equal in the most important ways.

It would have broken Eddie's heart if he had known Pauline was sleeping with several other students. She never told him about it, but he heard rumors. It made him so upset that once he literally stuck his fingers in his ears and shouted, "Shut up! Shut up!"

One night she was with one of these others. Just as they were about to get down to business, she sat up in bed. Looking around as if waking from a deep sleep, she said, "No! I don't want to do this." She got dressed again and ran across campus to Edward's dormitory, where he was studying for a test. She called from a phone booth and begged him to come down. For one of the only times in his college career, Edward Durant flunked a test because he had better things to do with his evening. After that they were inseparable.
 
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Excerpted from Kissing the Beehive by Jonathan Carroll. Copyright © 1997 by Jonathan Carroll. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.