Authors: Chloe Butler
The first time I spoke to Zach Hutchison, I was unrolling a condom onto a giant purple dildo named Mr. Eggplant in front of ten impressionable first-year women.
I’m a peer instructor at the SHRC—the Sexual Health Resource Center, affectionately known as the Shark—and that day I was teaching a workshop called Contraception & Consent. “Remember to squeeze the tip so there’s room to catch the semen,” I said. A blonde woman in the front row turned bright red and looked away. “And to answer your first question, Mr. Eggplant here belongs to the school, but if you want your own, he’s available on Amazon. Free shipping.”
Before I could get the laugh I deserved, though, the door to the resource room opened and a man walked in. He was tall, at least six feet, with a carefully trimmed beard. When he leaned into the room, his brown hair shifted a bit, like someone invisible had tousled it. “Can I help you?” I said.
“I’m Zach,” he said. “The volunteer?” I realized now that I’d seen this guy around campus. The prevailing fashion on campus was jeans and flannels—my outfit today, in fact—but he always wore business casual, so I figured he was an adjunct professor or something. I might even have seen him in a sport jacket once. At Cascade Mountain College, you were more likely to spot an orca swimming across the quad than a man in a suit. Even professors, male and female, mostly wore polos or untucked Oxford shirts.
“You’re late,” I said, unsheathing Mr. Eggplant. I chucked the condom into the trash and put the dildo back into the basket of supplies on the desk. “Come on up. I’m Brooke Shepard, the instructor. Zach, you said?”
“Zach Hutchison. Pleased to meet you.” He shook my hand in front of the class, and the women started whispering. Fine, yes, this Zach Hutchison was a conventionally handsome guy. Tall, evidently athletic, piercing brown eyes, all of that.
All of the things that can get a girl in trouble.
I handed him a copy of the script and turned back to the class. “Who here can define affirmative consent?”
The blonde up front raised her hand, and I called on her. “It’s when you have to ask before you do stuff.”
I wrote on the whiteboard: ASK BEFORE YOU DO STUFF. “What’s your name?”
“Jillian’s on the right track. Any others?” I was conscious of Zach Hutchison standing next to me, reading over the script.
A woman in back called out, “Yes means yes, no means no.”
“That’s right,” I said, adding those lines to the board. “It means if you want to do something to someone, you ask, and you don’t do it until they say yes. Clearly and unambiguously.”
“What do you mean, do something?” asked Jillian.
“That’s a perfect segue into our demonstration. Zach, will you help me out?”
All of the eyes that weren’t already on Zach pivoted to him. The guy was eight inches taller than me, and when I looked up at him, his eyes flashed a little smile at me to let me know that he was ready. He looked at the script. “Brooke, I had fun on our date. May I kiss you?”
“Yes,” I said. My legs suddenly felt a little shaky, even though I knew that this was an educational demonstration and there would be no actual kissing.
“Brooke?” said Zach.
“Sorry, my turn.” I held up my paper. “Zach, may I unbutton your shirt?”
I mimed unbuttoning a few buttons, and got a laugh. Zach looked down at the sheet, and I could see that the hand holding the script was callused. I hadn’t realized a person’s hand could look powerful, but his did. He read the next line. “May I touch your breasts through your shirt?”
“Yes,” I replied. My breath was getting a little shallow. “Um.” I fumbled with my paper. “May I unzip your pants?”
“No,” said Zach. “I’m not ready for that.”
“Okay,” I said, feeling actual relief. The woman in the back groaned. “So there you have it,” I said. “Questions for me or Zach?”
Jillian raised her hand again. “So if someone says no, does that mean you have to stop everything?”
“It means you ask what the other person feels comfortable with,” I explained. “Let’s demonstrate. Zach, you said you’re not ready to take off your pants.” The class laughed. “May I touch you through your pants?”
“Touch me where?” said Zach.
Oh, god. “Your penis,” I said.
Jillian’s hand was up again. “Do we have to say penis? I mean, it’s not the most romantic...”
“Use whatever words you and your partner are comfortable with. Zach?”
“That would be okay,” he said.
I swallowed hard. “See? The point is consent, and making sure everyone is comfortable with what’s happening. Zach, thanks very much for your help.”
“My pleasure.” His voice was deep, confident. The class applauded as he walked out, and I tried not to stare at the way his slacks clung to his ass. Some of the class weren’t so subtle about it.
“That guy was fucking
I heard the woman in the back whisper. I didn’t say anything, but I was really glad I’d worn a foam cup bra so no one could see how my nipples were standing on end.
“Remember, there may be a reason someone isn’t capable of consenting,” I said. “Anyone know?”
The woman in the back raised her hand. “Yes, Ms.—”
“Tyra. If they’re drunk.”
“Or intoxicated in any way,” I added. I wrote INTOXICATED = CAN’T CONSENT on the board.
“Isn’t this stuff just for guys?” said Jillian. “I mean, they’re always the one asking and we’re always—”
“Speak for yourself,” said Tyra, and the class laughed again.
“You both have a point,” I said. “Women are much more likely to be the victim of a sexual assault, but not exclusively, and affirmative consent isn’t just about preventing assault, it’s about preventing regrets and making sure everyone has a good time.”
Not that it could have prevented what happened to me last year.
Another woman raised her hand. “Do we have to ask every time? I mean, if it’s our second time with someone, do we have to ask all the same stuff again?”
“It’s not a bad idea,” I said. “It can’t hurt to ask, but it can hurt to not ask. But once you get to know someone, you can have a discussion and say, ‘These things are definitely okay unless I say no.’”
But how well do we really know people? I thought I knew Evan really well, until....
“Any other questions? We have about five minutes left.”
“I’ve got a question,” said Jillian. “Is that guy single?”
“You’ll have to ask him yourself. I just met him. Okay, last question. Tyra?”
“This question isn’t about the policy, is that okay?”
“Sure,” I said. “Go ahead. This is a safe space.”
“My friend told me that come has like a million calories. Is that true?”
The room collapsed into hysterics. The only reason I didn’t laugh is that I’d heard the question before. Knew the answer, even. “Semen is relatively high in calories, but an ejaculation is only a tiny amount, so it’s unlikely to play a significant role in a person’s total calorie intake.”
“It’s not always a tiny amount,” Tyra whispered to the woman sitting next to her, who clapped her hand over her mouth.
“Okay, go out there, have fun, and be safe,” I said, and turned them loose. My hands were sweaty. I looked through the window into the main reception area of the Shark, but there was no sign of Zach Hutchison.
After my class, I went back to the reception desk in the main area to finish out my shift, and sat down next to my friend Sierra Leal.
Sierra is a real catch, and she knows it. High cheekbones, wavy auburn hair, beautiful symmetric features. She’s short, maybe five-three, but can rock a pair of heels, and her confidence and slim build make her seem a lot taller. A lot of guys—and plenty of women—come into the Shark just to talk to Sierra, and she flirts with them just enough to make sure they’re listening to the advice she’s doling out, whether it’s about safer sex, contraception, or how to get an STI test at the clinic attached to the Shark.
Not that Sierra doesn’t get plenty of action. “I think I wore Trevor out last night,” she said as I adjusted my chair. “He actually fell asleep while I was fucking him.”
“Was this the fifth time of the night?”
“Third,” Sierra admitted. “But still.” She looked around the office. “So what do you think of our new volunteer? Bet he doesn’t fall asleep on the job.”
“Zach? Fine, I guess. What’s his story? I haven’t seen him around campus much.”
“Returning student,” said Sierra. She chewed on the end of her pen. “Senior, started this fall. But I don’t know what he was doing before that. I think you should find out, though.”
“Because you’ve got the hots for his tots. I saw your little demonstration.”
“Oh, come on. You ever hear of acting?” Suddenly Zach’s deep voice was in my head, asking if he could touch my breast. His tone had made it sound like such a reasonable question.
“Maybe so,” said Sienna. “But that guy can act his way into my pants anytime.”
“What about Trevor?” I said.
Trevor? I told him we’re not exclusive.” Sienna spun back and forth in her chair. “God, is our shift up yet? I told Trevor I’d come to his room afterwards.”
I checked my watch. “We’ve got fifteen minutes. I’ll walk you over there after on my way to Geology.”
“Sounds good,” said Sienna. “You want to cut class? I’m sure Trevor wouldn’t mind having both of us.”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass.”
“You’re turning bright red,” said Sienna. “You’re so fun to tease. And quit changing the subject. Zach, he’s totally your type, right? You like the brooding, beardy ones. That’s probably why it didn’t work out with Evan.”
When Sierra said his name, it all came flooding back, what happened last year on my birthday. “I told you not to mention his name.”
“Fine, let’s call him Voldemort. I know that was a major fiasco, but you’ve got to move on.” She rotated her chair toward me. “You know what they say. If you want to get over a guy, get under another one.”
Sierra’s problem is that she always assumes everyone is just like her. I guess we all do that, and I do appreciate Sierra’s lust for life, and lust for other things. Hearing about her various conquests is a great way to enjoy sex without any of the consequences. “Look, I’m off to grad school next year,” I reminded her, “and I promise to get crazy and tell you all about it. But we only have a few months of school left, and I need to pass my classes—”
“I can’t believe you haven’t said the word ‘Harvard’ yet,” Sierra interrupted.
“Please, I have like a six percent chance of being admitted,” I said. I’d worked my ass off putting together my application for the sociology program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. It was all I wanted in the world, and I couldn’t really explain why. I applied to UW and Western Washington as backup, because I knew Harvard was the longest of long shots. “I just need to concentrate on academics this semester. It would be stupid to get involved with anyone right now.”
“So don’t get involved,” said Sierra. “Just fuck him.”
“That’s just not me,” I said. I took off my glasses and wiped them with the tail of my flannel. “I mean, I have nothing against casual sex, it’s just not my thing. And by the way, Zach Hutchison is not my type. Did you notice he was actually carrying a
I’m not going to date some conservative business school asshole who’s devoting his life to making the world a better place for CEOs and corporate boards and other parasites.”
“Now that’s the Brooke I know. Ever consider channeling some of that passion into actual, you know,
“Hey, look, our shift is over. Isn’t someone waiting for you?”
Sierra smiled. “He’d fucking well better be. Hang on, I need to text Trevor. What do you think I should say?” She tapped her thumbs on her phone for a few seconds and held the screen out so I could read it. HEADING OVER NOW. I’M WET JUST THINKING ABOUT YOU.
“Sierra, I love you,” I said. I didn’t tell her that I was still thinking about Zach’s scripted personal questions. “Let’s get out of here.”
Despite what I told Sierra about focusing on academics, I hadn’t exactly chosen a rigorous class schedule this semester. In fact, I was hoping to coast from the plateau of the Cascade foothills straight into Harvard. I was taking English composition (my best subject), independent research (a joke), and fulfilling my final science requirement with Geology 101, popularly known as Rocks for Jocks.
Unfortunately, no one was expecting Professor Radford. When we filed into class on the first day, she wrote GEOLOGY 101 on the board, turned around, and said, “Good morning, everyone. If you’re not here for Geology, you’re in the wrong place. My name is Tara Radford, and I know exactly why most of you are here. Easy A, right?”