For Ted, it was a predictable morning at the local fair trade coffee shop. Co-eds filled the place, desperate for their caffeine fix, using high voices to order Starbucks sizes that weren’t even applicable there. Ted shook his head as yet another pierced the air with her dismay, “So, nothing is pumpkin?”
It was this way at the start of every school year. He weathered the storm of irritations with his characteristic fortitude, eyes trained on his dog-eared Noam Chomsky reader.
But then he felt his pocket buzz and he reached for his phone. It was a text from his housemate, thanking him again for telling her about how bad tampons were for the planet. It came up sometimes, living in a house with three other women, which he did because he was a guy whom ladies felt comfortable around, even comfortable enough to sometimes go braless, talking about periods. Ted didn’t often discuss menstruation but when he did, he made sure women knew how they were doing it wrong.
A smooth hip bumped his hand and suddenly his phone was on the floor. He heard a breathy gasp and then, “I’m so sorry!” A brunette in some type of sundress knelt to pick up what she’d knocked down, giving him an excellent view of her generous cleavage, which he didn’t notice. “Typical Elizabeth! Always so clumsy.”
“It’s not a big deal,” he said kindly, accepting the phone from her and inspecting it closely several times over to make sure there was no damage. “Not compared to, say, the war crimes of George W. Bush. Elizabeth, was it? I’m Ted. I think you can let this one slide.”
“Are you sure?” Her beautiful face, sort of a cross between Olivia Munn and the Fox News anchor he’d hate-masturbated to last week, was creased with anxiety. “Could I buy you a coffee, as an apology?”
“Sure, why not?” Ted shrugged coolly, cool not in a rude way but in the laid-back, relaxed way of a man who’s very at ease with women. “I’m a pretty liberated guy, probably not like the ones you’ve known before. I’m okay with a woman buying me things.”
Elizabeth beamed. Her body was a 9 out of 10, or it would have been if he were crude enough to use that sort of scale. “I’m so glad! You keep sitting here, I’ll be right back.” She turned to go but he grabbed her elbow.
“Oh, and Elizabeth?” he said, gazing powerfully but not threateningly into her eyes, which were above the boobs he wasn’t looking at. “I take it black.”
Ted settled into his chair, watching Elizabeth’s backside but too distracted by his thoughts to observe that she almost definitely wasn’t wearing underwear. Was he imagining things, or did a small shudder of arousal move through her body when he told her how he wanted his coffee? No, it definitely wasn’t his imagination. He didn’t have one.
Elizabeth brought back his cup, and sat down across from him, visibly eager to please and impress. “Your phone case is really, really cool, by the way,” she ventured, then looked away, embarrassed that she said anything at all.
Ted chuckled like, how silly to be invested in such things, but I forgive you. (His phone case was custom-made. It read: RELIGION IS THE OPIATE OF THE MASSES.) “A fellow fan of Karl?”
“Well,” she blushed. “A guy I dated in high school liked that quote. I thought about signing up for Marxism 101 this year but….” She laughed at herself, still looking down. “I don’t think social theory is really my thing. I’m leaning towards concentrating in literature. Contemporary American, maybe.” She was still too shy to meet his more knowledgeable eyes. And why shouldn’t she be? Contemporary American literature was shit. “Are you a student, too?”
He smiled benevolently. “I teach. And work on finishing my PhD in atheism.”
“Oh, wow! Wow!” She blushed even more. It was funny how he had this way of making women both so comfortable yet so intimidated. He wished he could put his hand on the back of her head and shush her, chase away all her anxieties about her brain. If only there was some way he could let her know how used to this he was, to being smarter. If only he could tell her it wasn’t her fault.
Almost as if she could hear his reassuring thoughts, she slowly raised her eyes to his. “I’m sure that keeps you so busy, but I’m still getting my bearings on campus. Maybe you could show me around sometime?”
“Sure, I’d be happy to,” Ted said graciously. “Why don’t we go right now? I think there’s something you have’t seen before that you might like.”
Ted led Elizabeth out of the coffee house and across the street to the largest bulletin board on the quad. He positioned her in front of it by placing his hands manfully but respectfully on her upper arms, and then stepped back with a satisfied look on his face as he waited for her to find it.
“There’s a lot here,” she said, glancing at him, a nervous smile on her young lips, her nipples hard from the chill in the air, which he only thought of in order to offer her his coat, except he wasn’t wearing one.
Indulgently, he leaned in and tapped on one of the many sheets of paper.
“’This Thursday, join us for the semester’s first official session of Feminism for Men,’” she read aloud. “’Meet founder Ted Breedlove and find out what feminism can do for you.’ Oh my god, Ted! That’s so cool!”
He smiled, ever modest. “Yeah, I guess it’s something pretty special. They didn’t have anything like that on campus before I came along.”
“I would love to learn more,” she took hold of his hand in excitement. “We could go together!”
“Elizabeth,” he squeezed her hand and fondly shook his head. “It’s a male feminist club. Men only.”
“Oh, gosh, duh, I’m such an idiot.” There she went again, blushing, her nipples even harder, probably tingly between her legs like women get around men who really see them and are willing to talk to them as equals, and not make them feel bad about being simple.
“You’re not an idiot, Elizabeth,” he said. He sensed the time was right to draw her even closer, so he did, so close that he could almost warm her nipples against his plaid, organic cotton-covered chest. “You’re a curious young woman with so much potential. So much wonder about the world. It’s beautiful to witness. In fact, Elizabeth, you’re beautiful. And you know why? It’s not about your shiny hair or your hot tits or your perfect teeth. All that’s garbage to me. In fact, if I were a lesser man, I might actually judge you for how much time you spend at the gym. Because it’s obviously a lot. Maybe even several hours a day. Every day! And I’m normally into older women, women who have some heft to them, who’ve really aged into their bodies. Not dating them, I mean. It’s not about that. I’m talking about appreciating their vitality and sensuality, making out with them sometimes if I’m drunk. I’m talking about that deeper level of connection, of just recognizing another human soul, and thanking that soul for bringing life into the world, for being a goddess. You’ll be a goddess one day too, Elizabeth. I see it. I can see it dormant in you. But what I find beautiful about you, the part of you I’m hard for right now…” He reached up and tapped her temple, leaning in to whisper something he knew she’d never heard before, “it’s right here. In your head. It’s your mind.”
Elizabeth was overcome. She fought back tears as her chest heaved with the emotional arousal of being truly known by a man fifteen years older than her. Ted had been working on his PhD for a while, because he believed in rigor and quality and that you couldn’t rush knowledge. And then there was that year backpacking in Alaska, which led to the year working at the organic farm…. Elizabeth would learn all that and more about him, gradually, in due time. But for now—
“Elizabeth,” Ted held her chin to lift her face and wiped away her tears. “May I kiss you?”
“Yes, Ted!” she cried, submitting fully to his embrace and opening her mouth to his feminist tongue. Women loved being asked. It made them feel so comfortable.
Charlotte Shane is the pseudonymous identity of a writer and prostitute living in the United States. She has contributed to The New Inquiry, Salon, and Bookforum, and is one of the editors of Tits and Sass. Yes, of course, she is on Twitter.