"Well, why don't I kiss you good night and send you off to bed."
"All right, if you want to."
"Oh--just--well, everybody does it."
She sat near him on the low divan, looking him full in the face but making no move, no gesture, no change in her expression. He looked at her and realized that he was not sure of how to take hold of her, how to reach for her, how to proceed.
She said, "Well, go ahead."
"I'm going to."
"As soon as I get good and ready."
"Are we going to sit here all night?"
In its own way, it reminded James of the equally un-brilliant conversation between Janet and Tim on the homecoming after their first date. He chuckled.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing," he said in a slightly strained voice. "I'm thinking that here we sit like a couple of kids that don't know what it's all about."
"Well," said Martha, "aren't we?"
"Yes," he said reluctantly, "I guess we are. But darn it, Martha, how does a guy grow up? How does a guy learn these things?" His voice was plaintive, it galled him to admit that for all of his knowledge and his competence, he was still just a bit more than a child emotionally.
"I don't know," she said in a voice as plaintive as his. "I wouldn't know where to look to find it. I've tried. All I know," she said with a quickening voice, "is that somewhere between now and then I'll learn how to toss talk back and forth the way they do."
"Yes," he said glumly.
"James," said Martha brightly, "we should be somewhat better than a pair of kids who don't know what it's all about, shouldn't we?"
"That's what bothers me," he admitted. "We're neither of us stupid. Lord knows we've plenty of education between us, but--"
"James, how did we get that education?"
"Through my father's machine."
"No, you don't understand. What I mean is that no matter how we got our education, we had to learn, didn't we?"
"Why, yes. In a--"
"Now, let's not get involved in another philosophical argument. Let's run this one right on through to the end. Why are we sitting here fumbling? Because we haven't yet learned how to behave like adults."
"I suppose so. But it strikes me that anything should be--"
"James, for goodness' sake. Here we are, the two people in the whole world who have studied everything we know together, and when we hit something we can't study--you want to go home and kiss your old machine," she finished with a remarkable lack of serial logic. She laughed nervously.
"What's so darned funny?" he demanded sourly.
"Oh," she said, "you're afraid to kiss me because you don't know how, and I'm afraid to let you because I don't know how, and so we're talking away a golden opportunity to find out. James," she said seriously, "if you fumble a bit, I won't know the difference because I'm no smarter than you are."
She leaned forward holding her face up, her lips puckered forward in a tight little rosebud. She closed her eyes and waited. Gingerly and hesitantly he leaned forward and met her lips with a pucker of his own. It was a light contact, warm, and ended quickly with a characteristic smack that seemed to echo through the silent house. It had all of the emotional charge of a mother-in-law's peck, but it served its purpose admirably. They both opened their eyes and looked at one another from four inches of distance. Then they tried it again and their second was a little longer and a little warmer and a little closer, and it ended with less of the noise of opening a fruit jar.
Martha moved over close beside him and put her head on his shoulder; James responded by putting an arm around her, and together they tried to assemble themselves in the comfortably affectionate position seen in movies and on television. It didn't quite work that way. There seemed to be too many arms and legs and sharp corners for comfort, or when they found a contortion that did not create interferences with limb or corner, it was a strain on the spine or a twist in the neck. After a few minutes of this coeducational wrestling they decided almost without effort to return to the original routine of kissing. By more luck than good management they succeeded in an embrace that placed no strain and which met them almost face to face. They puckered again and made contact, then pressure came and spread out the pair of tightly pursed rosebuds. Martha moved once to get her nose free of his cheek for a breath of air.
At the rate they were going, they might have hit paydirt this time, but just at the point where James should have relaxed to enjoy the long kiss he began to worry: There is something planned and final about the quick smacking kiss, but how does one gracefully terminate the long-term, high-pressure jobs? So instead of enjoying himself, James planned and discarded plans until he decided that the way he'd do it would be to exert a short, heavy pressure and then cease with the same action as in the quick-smack variety.
It worked fine, but as he opened his eyes to look at her, she was there with her eyes still closed and her lips still ready. He took a deep breath and plunged in again. Having determined how to start, James was now going to experiment with endings.
They came up for air successfully again, and then spent some time wriggling around into another position. The figure-fitting went easier this time, after threshing around through three or four near-comforts they came to rest in a pleasantly natural position and James Holden became nervously aware of the fact that his right hand was cupped over a soft roundness that filled his palm almost perfectly. He wondered whether to remove it quickly to let her know that this intimacy wasn't intentional; slowly so that (maybe, he hoped) she wouldn't realize that it had been there; or to leave it there because it felt pleasant. While he was wondering, Martha moved around because she could not twist her neck all the way around like an owl, and she wanted to see him. The move solved his problem but presented the equally great problem of how he would try it again.
James allowed a small portion of his brain to think about this, and put the rest of his mind at ease by kissing her again. Halfway through, he felt warm moistness as her lips parted slightly, then the tip of her tongue darted forward between his lips to quest against his tongue in a caress so fleeting that it was withdrawn before he could react--and James reacted by jerking his head back faster than if he had been clubbed in the face. He was still tingling with the shock, a pleasant shock but none the less a shock, when Martha giggled lightly.
He bubbled and blurted, "Wha--whu--?"
She told him nervously, "I've been wanting to try that ever since I read it in a book."
He shivered. "What book?" he demanded in almost a quaver.
"A paperback of Tim's. Mother calls them, Tim's sex and slay stories." Martha giggled again. "You jumped."
"Sure did. I was surprised. Do it again."
"I don't think so."
"Didn't you like it?"
"I don't know. I didn't have time to find out."
He kissed her again and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally he moved back an inch and said, "What's the matter?"
"I don't think we should. Maybe we ought to wait until we're older."
"Not fair," he complained. "You had all the warning."
"Didn't you like it?" he asked.
"Well, it gave me the most tickly tingle."
"And all I got was a sort of mild electric shock. Come on."
"Well, then, I'll do it to you."
"All right. Just once."
Leaping to the end of this midnight research, there are three primary ways of concluding, namely: 1, physical satisfaction; 2, physical exhaustion; and 3, interruption. We need not go into sub-classifications or argue the point. James and Martha were not emotionally ready to conclude with mutual defloration. Ultimately they fell asleep on the divan with their arms around each other. They weren't interrupted; they awoke as the first flush of daylight brightened the sky, and with one more rather chaste kiss, they parted to fall into the deep slumber of complete physical and emotional exhaustion.
James Holden's ride home on the train gave him a chance to think, alone and isolated from all but superficial interruptions. He felt that he was quite the bright young man.
He noticed with surreptitious pride that folks no longer eyed him with sly, amused, knowing smiles whenever he opened a newspaper. Perhaps some of their amusement had been the sight of a youngster struggling with a full-spread page, employing arms that did not quite make the span. But most of all he hated the condescending tolerance; their everlasting attitude that everything he did was "cute" like the little girl who decked herself out in mother's clothing from high heels and brassiere to evening gown, costume jewelry, and a fumbled smear of makeup.
That was over. He'd made it to a couple of months over fourteen, he'd finally reached a stature large enough so that he did not have to prove his right to buy a railroad ticket, nor climb on the suitcase bar so that he could peer over the counter. Newsdealers let him alone to pick his own fare instead of trying to "save his money" by shoving Mickey Mouse at him and putting his own choice back on its pile.
He had not succeeded in gaining his legal freedom, but as Ward of the State under Judge Carter he had other interesting expectations that he might not have stumbled upon. Carter had connections; there was talk of James' entering a comprehensive examination at some university, where the examining board, forearmed with the truth about his education, would test James to ascertain his true level of comprehension. He could of course collect his bachelor's degree once he complied with the required work of term papers written to demonstrate that his information could be interwoven into the formation of an opinion, or reflection, or view of some topic. Master's degrees and doctor's degrees required the presentation of some original area of study, competence in his chosen field, and the development of some facet of the field that had not been touched before. These would require more work, but could be handled in time.
In fact, he felt that he was in pretty good shape. There were a couple of sticky problems, still. He wanted Paul Brennan to get his comeuppance, but he knew that there was no evidence available to support his story about the slaughter of his parents. It galled him to realize that cold-blooded, premeditated murder for personal profit and avarice could go undetected. But until there could be proffered some material evidence, Brennan's word was as good as his in any court. So Brennan was getting away with it.
The other little item was his own independence. He wanted it. That he might continue living with Judge Carter had no bearing. No matter how benevolent the tyranny, James wanted no part of it. In fighting for his freedom, James Holden's foot had slipped. He'd used his father's machine on Martha, and that was a legal error.
Martha? James was not really sorry he'd slipped. Error or not, he'd made of her the only person in the world who understood his problem wholly and sympathetically. Otherwise he would be completely alone.
Oh yes, he felt that he was quite the bright young man. He was coming along fine and getting somewhere. His very pleasant experiences in the house on Martin's Hill had raised him from a boy to a young man; he was now able to grasp the appreciation of the Big Drive, to understand some of the reasons why adults acted in the way that they did. He hadn't managed another late session of sofa with Martha, but there had been little incidental meetings in the hallway or in the kitchen with the exchange of kisses, and they'd boldly kissed goodbye at the railroad station under her mother's smile.
He could not know Janet Fisher's mind, of course. Janet, mother to a girl entering young womanhood, worried about all of the things that such a mother worries about and added a couple of things that no other mother ever had. She could hardly slip her daughter a smooth version of the birds and the bees and people when she knew full well that Martha had gone through a yard or so of books on the subject that covered everything from the advanced medical to the lurid expose and from the salacious to the ribald. Janet could only hope that her daughter valued her chastity according to convention despite the natural human curiosity which in Martha would be multiplied by the girl's advanced education. Janet knew that young people were marrying younger and younger as the years went on; she saw young James Holden no longer as a rather odd youngster with abilities beyond his age. She saw him now as the potential mate for Martha. And when they embraced and kissed at the station, Janet did not realize that she was accepting this salute as the natural act of two sub-adults, rather than a pair of precocious kids.
At any rate, James Holden felt very good. Now he had a girl. He had acquired one more of the many attitudes of the Age of Maturity.
So James settled down to read his newspaper, and on page three he saw a photograph and an article that attracted his attention. The photograph was of a girl no more than seven years old holding a baby at least a year old. Beside them was a boy of about nine. In the background was a miserable hovel made of crude lumber and patched windows. This couple and their baby had been discovered by a geological survey outfit living in the backwoods hills. Relief, aid, and help were being rushed, and the legislature was considering ways and means of their schooling. Neither of them could read or write.
James read the article, and his first thought was to proffer his help. Aid and enlightenment they needed, and they needed it quickly. And then he stopped immediately because he could do nothing to educate them unless they already possessed the ability to read.
His second thought was one of dismay. His exultation came down with a dull thud. Within seconds he realized that the acquisition of a girl was no evidence of his competent maturity. The couple photographed were human beings, but intellectually they were no more than animals with a slight edge in vocabulary. It made James Holden sick at heart to read the article and to realize that such filth and ignorance could still go on. But it took a shock of such violence to make James realize that clams, guppies, worms, fleas, cats, dogs, and the great whales reproduced their kind; intellect, education and mature competence under law had nothing to do with the process whatsoever.
And while his heart was still unhappy, he turned to page four and read an open editorial that discussed the chances of The Educational Party in the coming Election Year.
"Splinter" parties, the editorial said, seldom succeeded in gaining a primary objective. They only succeeded in drawing votes from the other major parties, in splitting the total ballot, and dividing public opinion. On the other hand, they did provide a useful political weathervane for the major parties to watch most carefully. If the splinter party succeeded in capturing a large vote, it was an indication that the People found their program favorable and upon such evidence it behooved the major parties to mend their political fences--or to relocate them.
Education, said the editorial, was a primary issue and had been one for years. There had been experimenting with education ever since the Industrial Revolution uncovered the fact, in about 1900, that backbreaking physical toil was going to be replaced by educated workers operating machinery.
Then the editorial quoted Judge Norman L. Carter: "'For many years,' said Judge Carter, 'we have deplored the situation whereby a doctor or a physicist is not considered fully educated until he has reached his middle or even late twenties. Yet instead of speeding up the curriculum in the early school years, we have introduced such important studies as social graces, baton twirling, interpretive painting and dancing, and a lot of other fiddle-faddle which graduates students who cannot spell, nor read a book, nor count above ten without taking off their shoes. Perhaps such studies are necessary to make sound citizens and graceful companions. I shall not contest the point. However, I contend that a sound and basic schooling should be included--and when I so contend I am told by our great educators that the day is not long enough nor the years great enough to accomplish this very necessary end.
"'Gentlemen, we leaders of The Education Party propose to accomplish precisely that which they said cannot be done!'"
The editorial closed with the terse suggestion: Educator--Educate thyself!
James Holden sat stunned.
What was Judge Carter doing?
James Holden arrived to find the home of Judge Norman L. Carter an upset madhouse. He was stopped at the front door by a secretary at a small desk whose purpose was to screen the visitors and to log them in and out in addition to being decorative. Above her left breast was a large enamelled button, red on top, white in the middle as a broad stripe from left to right, and blue below. Across the white stripe was printed CARTER in bold, black letters. From in back of the pin depended two broad silk ribbons that cascaded forward over the stuffing in her brassiere and hung free until they disappeared behind the edge of the desk. She eyed James with curiosity. "Young man, if you're looking for throwaways for your civics class, you'll have to wait until we're better organized--"
James eyed her with cold distaste. "I am James Quincy Holden," he told her, "and you have neither the authority nor the agility necessary to prevent my entrance."
"You are--I what?"
"I live here," he told her flatly. "Or didn't they provide you with this tidbit of vital statistic?"
Wheels rotated behind the girl's eyes somewhere, and memory cells linked into comprehension. "Oh!--You're James."
"I said that first," he replied. "Where's Judge Carter?"
"He's in conference and cannot be disturbed."
"Your objection is overruled. I shall disturb him as soon as I find out precisely what has been going on."
He went on in through the short hallway and found audible confusion. Men in groups of two to four stood in corners talking in bedlam. There was a layer of blue smoke above their heads that broke into skirls as various individuals left one group to join another. Through this vocal mob scene James went veering from left to right to avoid the groupings. He stood with polite insolence directly in front of two men sitting on the stairs until they made room for his passage--still talking as he went between them. In his room, three were sitting on the bed and the chair holding glasses and, of course, smoking like the rest. James dropped his overnight bag on a low stand and headed for his bathroom. One of the men caught sight of him and said, "Hey kid, scram!"
James looked at the man coldly. "You happen to be using my bedroom. You should be asking my permission to do so, or perhaps apologizing for not having asked me before you moved in. I have no intention of leaving."
"Get the likes of him!"
"Wait a moment, Pete. This is the Holden kid."
"The little genius, huh?"
James said, "I am no genius. I do happen to have an education that provides me with the right to criticize your social behavior. I will neither be insulted nor patronized."
"Listen to him, will you!"
James turned and with the supreme gesture of contempt, he left the door open.
He wound his way through the place to Judge Carter's study and home office, strode towards it with purpose and reached for the doorknob. A voice halted him: "Hey kid, you can't go in there!"