“Oh! ‘Listen,’ you say. What a novel concept.” Diana the Desk Demon snorts. “You keep telling me to listen, but it’s you who doesn’t hear a damn thing I say. The rooms were assigned months ago. You even got your room assignment in the mail.”
“I didn’t. I haven’t gotten any…” But even as I say the words, I picture my controlling mother pulling the mail from the box and not giving a care in the world about anything addressed to me. I bet it’s even my mom’s email that’s in the school database, not mine, because she controls everything about my life. “I understand your desire to run away to a faraway ‘normal’ college,” mother told me this morning over cups of peppermint tea, just before I left for the airport. “You’re scared of New York, doll. You’re a guppy in a world full of sharks. Your sister—now she’s a shark.”
If there’s anything worse than being called a guppy, it’s being compared to my insufferably perfect sister Celia—or Cece, as she insists on being called. She gets cast in leading roles. She’s as beautiful as a princess and annoyingly well-read. She always has handsome, adorable, sexy boyfriends at her side. It’s not that I’m jealous; I love my sister. But sometimes I wish I was the one who scored a leading role now and then. I wish I was the one with a hot guy hooked to my arm at some gala my parents drag me to.
I’m not the one guys stare at. It’s always her.
Surprisingly, my sister has nothing to do with my current predicament. Maybe my roommate will turn out to be cool, or have parents who bring us home-cooked delicacies, sparing us the frights from the campus kitchens. What do normal college kids eat? Maybe we’ll have lots of Easy Mac and Ramen. On second thought, that sounds like a carb nightmare.
“Thank you,” I murmur to my new best friend, Diana the Desk Demon, and take the key.
“It’s been a pleasure,” she mutters back, sounding like it’s been anything but. “There’s a freshman mixer in the courtyard at seven. Good day.”
I’m not a freshman! But I keep the words to myself and lift my bag once again, heading for the door. The second I’m outside, three shirtless boys nearly topple me over in their effort to claim a rogue Frisbee, which I end up catching midair to prevent it from giving me an unintended nose job. I hand the disc to the nearest one, trying not to stare at his lean, sweaty torso. Pulling my luggage along, I cut through the noise to the West Hall, a slate-grey building in the shape of an L that forms one of the four corners of the Quad and seems to be the liveliest of them all. Its heavy door bursts open the moment I approach, releasing four loud freshmen and a worried set of parents. I wonder if they’re taking bets on which of their children will contract dorm room herpes first.
I step inside only to mourn an onslaught of stairs before me. Enlisting the strength and dexterity from my basic combat training in New York (or rather, stage combat training), I choreograph and execute a one-woman routine of dragging my suitcase up five steps, sliding it across the narrow landing, then up eleven more. Arriving at the second floor, I squeeze past a crowd of guys guffawing at a spilled box of soda cans two paces from my room, 202. They’re daring each other to open a can when I make it to my door, ready to reveal my college dorm room to my eager eyes.
The door swings open, revealing two beds, two dressers, and two desks. The smell is hundred-year-old musk and even older mildew. The bare walls, pocked with scratches and holes, are the color of a rash my sister got once that she made me swear never to tell anyone about. How adorable. The bathroom appears to be a small chamber of doom that connects to the neighboring dorm, suite-style.
I smile. No one in the world would recognize it as one, but it’s there. My college experience is going to have to include sharing a bathroom with three other girls I’ve never met. In a bleak room that’s just short of padded walls.
I fight a rare urge to call my mother and demand that she give me a bigger allowance and allow me the mercy of getting an apartment like any other twenty-two year old adult. Then, I gently remind myself that this is what I wanted. No privilege. No personal chefs. No driver who takes me around town. No ritz and glitz. No fancy cocktails. Just a fixed allowance and meal plan like every other student.
For once, a normal life among normal people doing normal, college-y things.
I have a sudden craving for this gourmet lobster bisque that only my mother’s chef Julian makes.
Focus, Dessie! Piece by piece, I unpack my suitcase and hang each article of clothing in the tiny closet, which is a quarter the size of mine at home, leaving one half of it empty for my mystery roommate. Then, I sit on the bed I’ve made up with my new sheets and feather pillow I brought from home. It creaks happily under my weight. I listen to the noise in the hallway of families moving their kids into their dorms, the sound of laughter and banter and shuffling furniture and boxes reaching my ears and vibrating the walls.