Esther is back at the asylum, talking to Joan, who has declared she's going to become a psychiatrist. Esther thinks this is pretty ridiculous, but doesn't say anything out loud; she's thinking about her diaphragm, all wrapped in brown paper in her bottom drawer. Then Joan surprises Esther by saying she's going to live "out" now, meaning she's leaving the hospital. Esther was already planning to return to college herself in January, but Dr. Nolan had vetoed the idea of living with her mother in the interim, so she's jealous. Joan explains she'd be sharing an apartment with a nurse; Esther thinks how despite all her misgivings, she'd always treasure Joan. Would Esther visit her in her new place, Joan asked? Esther says yes, but thinks how unlikely that is.
Away from the hospital, on the steps of the library, Esther meets Irwin, a professor of mathematics. He asks her out for a cup of coffee, and they go back to his place; she doesn't mention her "home" is an asylum. Once Esther has seen his study, she decides to seduce him; he has a dingy but comfortable basement apartment in outer Cambridge. They have coffee there, and then go out to dinner. To cover herself, Esther calls Dr. Nolan from the phone at the restaurant and asks if she can stay overnight with Joan at her place.
Esther was determined that the first man she sleeps be intelligent, thus the professor is a good choice. She thinks about Buddy's hypocrisy and her own virginity, which she felt was weighing around her neck like a millstone. Back at his apartment, she tells Irwin she's a virgin, and he only laughs. A few minutes later, an exclamation of surprise revealed he hadn't believed her; she asks if it's supposed to hurt like it did. He replies, sometimes it hurts. He gets up and goes into the bathroom and Esther hears the shower turn on; she didn't know if they'd done it or not. She reaches between her legs and when she looks at her fingers they're covered in black-colored blood. She asks Irwin to bring her a towel and remembers stories of blood-stained bridal sheets. She gets up to leave, feeling weak, but not wanting to stay; she was still bleeding. She finds Joan's address in her purse and has Irwin drive her there.
Joan is happy to see her but knows immediately something is wrong; Esther asks if the nurse she lives with is there, and Joan says no. Joan calls a taxi and takes her to the hospital. Esther is able to tell a nurse the truth, and is immediately seen by a doctor who tells her "You're one in a million." He promises to fix her up.
A week or so later, Esther is sleeping at her room back at the hospital. It's nearly midnight when a tap on her door wakes her up; Dr. Quinn, who is Joan's doctor, appears, asking if she knew where Joan was. Joan had been readmitted to the hospital a few days after Esther's trip to the hospital, but had retained her privileges. Dr. Quinn explains Joan had a pass to see a movie in town by herself and never returned. Esther suddenly feels the need to dissociate herself from Joan; and besides, she doesn't actually know where she is. At dawn, there's another tap on her door, Dr. Quinn again. She tells Esther Joan has been found in the woods - she had hung herself.
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