Haight Street emo, black leather, black lips, torn black fishnets, leans against a dirty brick facade projecting street cool and rich-girl arrogance. "Spare change for smack?", in her raspy, sleepy voice. Panhandles heroin money, while her super-secret Marin County trust fund would buy a small country. It's a hobby. Tall boy stops, smirks, looks her up and down, says, still smirking, "Well. You're a naughty little girl."

Drug-abusing lawyer with dangerous quantities of disposable cash, soft red curls, fast red car, looks up laughing at the tall boy driving as he jitters and tears into blind mountain curves, hugging the cliff wall, ignoring the warning signs, eyeballs like black pinpricks, fingers twitching on the wheel. "Sugar," she says, pressing her soft red lips against the skin of his thigh. "You're fun."

Irish, freckled, frail and pale and sickly, voice thick and mumbly from the strokes that have left her partially paralyzed. Lies back with hands on headboard, chest heaving, as a tall boy slides up her shirt, kisses tenderly the soft pink scars that criss-cross her rail-thin body, permanent lines like roadmaps of the emergency splenectomy, the tracheotomy, the appendectomy, so many scars, as though all these organs were such a drain on her system that the blood vessels in her brain couldn't cope. Wants to say "baby," but at this moment the speech centers are so overloaded it comes out like infants' burbles. "Ssssshhhh," says the tall boy, finger to her lips. "Save your mouth for kisses."

Bombshell, all cigarettes and curves and husky voice behind the reception desk, sleeping her way toward she-don't-know-what. Corners the new boy in the records room one day, with its lockable door and complete lack of windows. "I need a new boyfriend," she says into his smile, so that without a word he turns her gently around and bends her over the table.

Tall, blonde, lithe and vibrant, intelligent, gentle-hearted, nice. She's lovely, she's kind and vulnerable, and after months of one-week or two-week relationships with women who are hardened enough to handle the grief I carry through the world I find myself stopped dead in my tracks, looking into her lonely, expectant eyes with the blinding realization that I can't allow myself to hurt her, I can't put her through what she'll go through if only I say the simple thing she wants to hear.