The four of them had met, back in the 1970’s, at the Dickens’s Circle. The Circle consisted of an informal group of students who met Tuesday afternoons at Professor Shaw’s house. The agenda at the Dickens’s Circle never varied. Shaw would begin reading from a hardbound copy of Dickens—Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Bleak House—and read until he tired.
Then Shaw would pass the book around the Circle. Each attendee would read, some as little as a paragraph, and the book would revolve around to Shaw for another performance. Few rules were observed, but those rules were absolute:
No commentary or criticism; Just Reading Dickens.
The book traveled clockwise; booze and dope counterclockwise.
And, after every session a coed would be asked, by the suave, single and mysterious Shaw to stay behind, by herself, for “further discussion.” If asked, she would agree.
And that is why Barb and Suze attended the Dickens’s Circle. They wanted to see if all they’d heard about the sad, brilliant, and sexually insatiable Professor Shaw were true. They participated in Dickens Circles for most of their Sophomore and Junior years and were never once solicited by Shaw for After-Circle-Dickensing.
Which is precisely why Ray and Kurt began attending.
Each Tuesday only one coed was chosen, which meant that five or six primed, anxious, hopeful and ready girls were spurned.
These beautiful leftovers, who wouldn’t ordinarily look at Ray and Kurt invited these awkward Dickens’s Circle Boys to dorm rooms and parties or a then-and-there quickie in a car.
Prior to the final Dickens’s Circle they attended, and in anticipation of Shaw’s rejection, Barb had paired up with Ray, and Suze had connected with Kurt. Each couple held hands during the reading and left immediately afterward. Suze and Kurt for snacks, then sex. Barb and Ray for sex, then snacks.
The following day Sonoma State’s campus was a-buzzin’ with news and speculation. Everyone—hippies, jocks, teachers, janitors—had a theory as to why Professor Shaw had, immediately following yesterday’s Dickens’s Circle, hanged himself.
Too much sex.
Not enough sex.
He’d fallen in love and been jilted.
He had been refused tenure.
But for Barb and Ray; Kurt and Suze, his death added a solemnity to their first dates. A death had occurred directly following their coming together as couples. These relationships from the outset had, therefore, been deemed by the universe as serious.
Both couples continued to date throughout college. A few indiscretions (preceded by whiskey and followed by tears) had occurred but the duos were solid and had an unspoken commitment, somehow consecrated by Shaw’s suicide, to succeed.
Engagement followed graduation; marriage followed employment; children followed marriage. Waistlines had expanded and passion had ebbed. Then one night, following dinner and cocktails Barb said, “Why don’t we trade partners for the night?”
Fearing the silence that might ensue, she continued, “We’ve been friends forever. Our friendships can handle this step. All of us have, in the past, spoken to each other about the loss of zing and lack of variety. Let’s do this tonight. If it’s terrible, we’ll never mention it again. If it’s good, we’ll talk about it and go from there. Okay?”
Not a word was spoken, but that night the two couples swapped, and in two different houses, made love to new partners.
Late that night, Barb, after her first multi-orgasmic experience in over a decade, propped herself up on an elbow and said to her new partner, “I wonder how the boys are doing?”