Caleb Brennan wanted to meet a girl. Any girl.

He'd gone to the bars but been laughed at.

He'd gone to church but been turned down.

He'd gone to a single's club but been ignored.

He'd gone back to school but been too old.

He'd bargained. He'd prayed. He'd argued. He'd taken classes. He'd repented. He'd recanted his repentance.

He'd been Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic.

He'd gone to a synagogue and a mosque. He'd been an atheist and an agnostic. He'd been a convert and a converter. He'd been a leader and a follower.

He'd answered ads in the paper, ads online, and ads in magazines. He'd rented pornos and called 900 numbers. He'd gone to a psychic. He'd confessed to a priest. He'd talked to his brother (who was no help at all), and to his father (who kept setting him up with fat 40-year-old mothers with children nearly Caleb's age) and to his bartender (who poured him so many beers Caleb gained at least fifteen pounds more than he weighed when he'd gone to the bar--overweight--in the first place).

He met a redhead named Stephanie who wanted to be "just friends," and a nondescript named Chelsea who was alarmed when he tried to hold her hand. He met a prostitute named Delta who offered him sex for money, and a virgin named Anna who feared sex so much she broke into hives when he tried to kiss her. He met a girl from Germany who made fun of his potbelly, and a girl from France who didn't shave her legs and smelled bad when she walked into the room. He met a girl from Italy with dark skin and a heavy accent who talked about blowjobs and handjobs and whacking off, but when he tried to kiss her she slapped him and told him to fuck himself. He met a girl from church who tried to convert him--and he did convert, again, just to please her,--and then, she told him she didn't like him and ran off with a guy named Blake.

Caleb rented pornos and bought Playboys and Penthouses. He surfed the Internet and found all-girl reviews and XXX sites. He went to chat rooms and used names like BIGDICK and FUCKMAN. He IM'd girls and told them how hot he was, and how tall he was, and how good in bed he was--all lies, since he was short and balding, and, when he actually went to bed with a girl, she'd complained that he didn't know what he was doing and he didn't last long enough to let her even get hot, much less to get off. He'd called her a "bitch," and that was the last time they'd gone to bed together--and Caleb was left to find someone else.

When Caleb found STARGIRL online in a chatroom, he wasn't sure what to say. He thought about asking her out right away, about saying he'd like to meet her somewhere, like to talk to her about sex, about what she did in her free time, about what she liked. But what he said was, "Are you naked?" And she said, "Yes." And Caleb said, "So am I." Which was a lie, he wasn't naked, though he could be naked quickly, but she didn't want him to be naked, she wanted him to meet her, and she wrote, "Would you like to meet someplace?" Caleb could have written, "I haven't had a date in three years. I'm desperate. Of course I want to meet you!" But he didn't. He wrote, "Yes, I'd like to meet you," and STARGIRL wrote, "Where would you like to meet?" and Caleb said, "What about the park?" and STARGIRL wrote, "Meet me at the park on Main in thirty minutes." And then she signed off.

Caleb couldn't believe his good luck.

He thought about the fantasy scenes in the pornos, about the couples doing it in the park and on blankets and in windows and in hot tubs and pools. Then he thought about sex in the park, with a girl he'd never met before, and maybe she'd be hot and maybe she wouldn't, but he'd meet her in the park and they'd have sex for sure, since she'd said they'd meet and since she'd said she was "hot" and "waiting for a big guy like you to come and take me away." And so he'd said he'd meet her there, gone so far as to describe himself and what he'd wear to the park, even admitted to his bald head--he was actually quite bald, not just balding, he'd lost most of it and occasionally shaved the head so he'd look like Bruce Willis or like that guy on Crossfire--but he'd admitted to the balding, or at least the shaved head, and told her he'd wear a gray T-shirt and shorts, and he'd bring money to take her to a nice place if she wanted, and he'd bring a condom. And he'd asked her what she looked like and she said she was HOT, that she was tall and blonde and had a perfect brown tan and big boobs and sexy hips and a tiny waist and blue eyes and big, pouty lips and a big, wide mouth with a broad tongue.

"I want you to taste that tongue," she'd written. "I want to lick all over your body with my tongue."

He went to the park nearly ten minutes early.

It was past dusk, and the park was empty, just the right time of night, and Caleb stood next to a tree, where no one would see them when they kissed, and found a spot on the ground where nobody would see them, where he and the girl could be animals under the moonlight, dark and mysterious. And for a moment he thought about how lucky he was and how stupid he'd been, looking, like he did, for women, for a woman, for one single woman, who would take him and take care of him, who would love him and be devoted to him. He thought about that. He knew STARGIRL wouldn't be that, but he didn't care now, all he cared about was that the long drought was over, that he'd been without a girl, without sex, without a kiss for so long, and now he wouldn't be without anymore, now he'd have a girl to give him anything and everything he wanted, even for a few minutes, a girl who might ask for money--and so he'd brought money--but a girl who might not ask for money, too, a girl who was, like him, turned on by the mysteriousness, the anonymity of the moment. He'd meet her and he'd have her and then he'd leave her, anonymous, and then he'd go and look for the woman to be "with" him that he'd always sought.

It was 7:00, and then 7:15, and then 7:30. Caleb began to think STARGIRL had stood him up. Perhaps she'd done it all for fun, she'd been laughing at him as he'd typed his messages, typed the flirtations, the approach, the arousal. She'd not been aroused. She'd found it funny. She'd made fun of him, maybe in front of another friend, maybe in front of her boyfriend, even, watching Caleb type his sexual advances and laughing. He thought of it and it made him mad, at first, and then furious, and then a little depressed. Slowly, he grew forlorn.

When he saw the three boys approach he thought they were exercising. They walked close together, the three of them, and laughed loudly. He turned his back on them and felt sorry for himself. He thought about how STARGIRL had let him down

"Hey, dude," one of the approaching men said. "You looking at something?"

Caleb pretended to look down. He turned to walk away but they were on him before he could get very far.

"You going somewhere, home boy?" said the Mexican.

"Home," said Caleb.

"What was that?"

"I'm going home."

"You going home?" He put his hand on Caleb's shoulder. "You don't want to go home, do you?"

Caleb closed his eyes and said a silent prayer. Let them leave me alone, he said.

"You hear me? FUCKMAN?"

At first he thought he'd been imagining. He hadn't heard. But then the Mexican said it again.

"Look at FUCKMAN," he said. "Out to take advantage of a poor, defenseless STARGIRL."

Oh, god, Caleb thought. He turned and looked at them. They were all boys--none older than their early twenties. The speaker was tall and slender with a tribal tattoo around his arm. The second was big and hefty, and at least a half foot taller than Caleb. He sported stringy blond hair and a thick beard. The third was a short Mexican with a pencil-thin mustache and a gold chain around his neck. His head was shaved, like Caleb's.

"Yeah," said Beard Man. "Looks to me like this guy's a real asshole. Trying to take advantage like that."

"Who are you?" Caleb asked.

"Who are we?" asked the Mexican. "We're STARGIRL'S brothers." He moved close to Caleb and gave him a push. Caleb could smell garlic on the boy's breath.

"Go away," Caleb said.

"Go away?" asked the Mexican. "You telling me what to do?"

"I just wanted to meet a girl," said Caleb. "I'm not bothering you--"

They hit him first in the spleen. Caleb was unsure which one struck first. He doubled over and caught a knee to the jaw. The Mexican kicked him in the knee and knocked him to the ground. Caleb flailed. Arm tattoo man kicked him in the chest and laughed. Then, the Mexican kicked him even harder--a straight shot to the nose. Caleb heard the crack of bone and felt the warm blood stream down his face and across his chin.

"Get his wallet," said Beard Man.

"Take the cash," said the Mexican.

He felt them grope his pants. The Mexican felt his hard-on and kicked him in the groin.

"Faggot," the Mexican said. "You like me, faggot? That why they call you FUCKMAN? You want me to pull down your pants and give it to you, faggot?" Is that what you want?"

But Caleb wasn't a fag. He had the erection because he'd been waiting for STARGIRL. Waiting for the touch of a woman. The sex that had been promised, something he couldn't get otherwise, the touch of a wife who wasn't a wife, a girl to forgive him his faults and sins. He wanted to shout at them, to scream. Leave me alone, he'd say. I'm just like you. I just want to meet a girl.

"Are you a fag?" the Mexican repeated.

"No," Caleb sputtered.

"What's that?"


"He's not talking very loud," the Mexican said. "I think he wants it in the ass."

"Come on, man," said Beard Man. "Let's get out of here."

"No," said the Mexican. "He came out here for a piece of poontang, man. Isn't that right? You want some pussy, man?"

Caleb opened his mouth to speak but the Mexican slapped him in the face.

"This is what you get for screwing around with women, man," he said. "You're lucky, brother. You could've got AIDS and died or something. You resepect women, man?"

Caleb tried to speak again but caught himself. He nodded his head.

"You do?"

Caleb nodded.

"Then you better think about that next time you want to get some cheap ass," the Mexican said.

They slapped him and hit him and kicked him and punched him and elbowed him and bruised him and broke him and left him. Caleb lay in the grass in a pool of blood, his wallet gone, his cash, his license, his credit cards, all gone.

Caleb was left in a pool of fluids, his own, life fluids.

Afraid and ashamed.

And still wanting that girl.

Any girl.

He closed his eyes and thought of STARGIRL.