white houses

Crashed on the floor when I moved in

This little bungalow with some strange new friends

It was a well-sized dorm. There were five people living in it—all boys, except for the tomboy Arden and the girly-girl Jenny.

Ironically, though, Jenny and Arden did not meet each other first.

The boy's suitcase was too heavy, so he asked for some help. "Hey…anyone here? Can you help me get this upstairs?" Arden had been the first one to arrive to move into the dorm, so she instantly scrambled up from her seat in the lounge to help the boy with his luggage.

It was heavy. There was no arguing that point. Arden felt the weight of the gravity aiding the suitcase to smash her arm in the staircase when they were halfway up, but she let it drop before it had the chance to do so. Casual clothes and toiletries exploded from the suitcase, dropping to the bottom of the stairs, and Arden cringed as she anticipated the boy's reaction. "I'm so sorry…" she rushed helplessly before he could say anything.

But the boy didn't seem angry in the slightest. "You're a girl?!" he asked incredulously, completely ignoring the scattered items.

Arden frowned, unsure as to whether or not she should be offended. "What's wrong with that?"

The boy shook his head. "Sorry," he apologised, but looked at her with what seemed to be a marvel of adoration. "It's just…you're strong, for a girl." Even if she did drop it.

The frown deepened, but this time it was more difficult to maintain. "And what's that supposed to mean?"

On his face, there shadowed a hint of panic. The girl was pretty, if somewhat plain-looking, with long, dark, wavy brown hair, small ears and a small nose and small full lips, and a likewise petite (but of medium height) stature. But there was something else that really made him not want to offend her, though he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was. "Nothing…" he stumbled, "…well, obviously not nothing…but it really doesn't mean anything…er, well…" He trailed off, reasoning that there really was no way to get around his comment. Might as well tell the truth and make it blunt. "It's just that girls tend to be not as strong as guys."

Arden longed so much just to laugh and tell him that it was okay, but she wanted to make him sweat just a bit longer. It kept her amused, after all. The boy still had that sense of fear on his face, but at last Arden could not take it any longer and released the laugh that so lengthed to escape. "You're lucky I'm not violent," said Arden after she stopped laughing at his cautious, bewildered expression. "I'm not that strong, anyway."

"You could have fooled me," said the boy, smiling in what seemed to be a mix between relief and attraction. He was taller than she by about half a head, if one really wanted to cut a head in half to actually take such a measurement, and while he was not scrawny he was not quite muscular. Strangely, thought, that was not the first thing she had notised about him—but she couldn't exactly put her finger on what it was that she had notised first. But this isn't about what she figured. There was a pause.

It lasted, for maybe a moment.

But after that heart-stopping lapse in time, the people finally notised the spilled garments due to the impulsive nervous break in eye contact. "Sorry 'bout that," she apologised, reverting back to the topic of the spilt suitcase.

But he only laughed. "Don't worry about it…I couldn't even carry that thing." He motioned to the bottom of the staircase. "I got it here on wheels, but there don't seem to be many elevators in this dorm…"

"Yeah, I notised," she laughed in turn, picking up a sweatshirt in one hand and a wifebeater in the other.

And then, he stopped. "Sorry, I didn't catch your name?" It had fallen down the stairs with his suitcase.

She stopped, following suit. "Arden," she said, offering a smile and a hand to shake.

He grinned. Interesting name. interesting girl. He shook her hand. "Karter."

***

Stay up too late

And I'm too thin.

At last, the night had come, and Arden and Karter had long finished picking up all the spilled items. They had been talking all day, about everything—from philosophy to favourite foods to mythology to movies—and had become rather good friends by the time the night had presented itself.

It was almost as if they had met before.

Their other dormmates had not arrived yet, so Arden and Karter took a few blankets and set them up in the common room. They had gone to the nearby convenience store and picked up graham crackers, marshmallows, and bars of chocolate, and now, they were having a slumber party—a clean slumber party, mind you. With the exception of lots of crumbs.

And yes. It's possible for two members of the opposite gender to sleep in the same room without engaging in…achem…other things.

"You're so thin!" remarked Karter teasingly as he surveyed her waistline. "Almost too thin…" She wswatted him with one hand as she roasted a marshmallow on a wooden skewer with the other over an old-fashioned gas stove in the common-room kitchen.

"Am not," she protested definitively, leaving no room for direct argument. She was thin, though she was not anorexic. Karter had spoken a true observation, and he knew it, lest he should have made it in the first place.

"It's a good thing we're eating these s'mores," he teased, enjoying a choco-marshma-grahamy bite. "They'll fatten you up a bit."

"Psh," scoffed she. "You wouldn't know fat if it were on you."

He laughed. "You're one to talk." The irony, for a general American audience, is that most could not feel comfortable talking about such a subject only a few hours after meeting. Due to this, they had a rather decent friendship after their first day of meeting each other.

The clock struck 2 AM.

***

There's something about first impressions that makes countless people hold grudges for a lifetime. So when Jenny Aigner, roommate extraordinaire, came trudging in the dorm at 4:36 AM that morning to find her floormates sleeping in separate sleeping bags in the middle of the common room with bits of chocolate marshmallow, and graham cracker stuck in their hair, she woke them up. And Arden was NOT pleased, considering her one hour of sleep and decidedly sticky disposition.

It was still dark out, but now Arden couldn't go back to sleep. "Gee, thanks," she said spitefully, to the roommate she had not yet met.

"Pleased to meet you, too," returned a grumbling Jenny, not exactly pleased herself, due to her own lack of delving into the unconscious.

Arden had two choises. She could either get up and greet her roommate with a cheerful smile, or grudgingly go back to sleep. Due to the fact that she was currently incapable of the latter, she decided to mix the two together. Grudgingly, she rose, wiped the pillow lint off her face, straightened her hair up a bit, and held out a hand. "Sorry," she half-heartedly declared, "I'm just tired, is all."

The other girl looked at her a bit snootily. "Well, I'm Jennny, minus the 'just.'"

Arden mentally rolled her eyes. Lame comeback. Extremely lame comeback. But Arden bit her tongue. This girl, after all, was supposed to be her roommate. Instead, she forced a smile. Kill 'em with kindness, she thought to herself. "I'm Arden," she said, attempting to refrain from grinding her teeth.

Jenny seemed taken aback. Surely she hadn't expected Arden to act kindly to her after her obvious hostility. Luckily for Arden, who didn't reckon she could be pleasant any longer should the new girl lash out again, Jenny was exhausted—which resulted in a lack of any effort available to her which could aid in her creating (or reusing) any more comebacks. After a moment, Jenny resignedly brought her hand to meet the outstretched one which she had previously ignored. "Pleasure," was the word her lips said, though there was no hint of anything pleasing in her eyes.

As Jenny retreated to their room, Arden doubted very much that there was anything pleasing in her head, either.

***

Crystal-blue eyes scanned the decently-sized room, falling over every object. The petite brunette she had just met had already seized the left side of it, behind the door. The bed was shorter on that side—Jenny suspected Arden had chosen that side due to her shorter size, but then, most girls seemed short in comparison to five-foot-ten Jenny.

The eyes grazed over the roommate's already-moved-in possessions. A green-and-orange striped bedset; a plain hamper that read, on the bottom, "100% hemp"; a low-energy minifridge, with organic trail mix on top of it. On the desk, the eyes perceived a rather normal-looking laptop, with a Smokey the bear sticker on the top. A plant on her windowsill, a dream-catcher hanging off the dresser, which contained, when the eyes' owner nosily sniffed inside, simple-looking articles of clothing and a couple of pairs of worn—but clean—sneakers. "Great," thought the owner of the eyes disdainfully. "I'm rooming with a tree-hugger." She rolled the eyes to demonstrate her obvious distaste, but then, they spotted something shiny.

The glimmer was unexpected; everything else in the room was dull and, where possible, woven and/or made of a recyclable material or something earthy, typically muslin, hemp, or burlap. But there was definitely a glitter of light hitting something metal and shiny; the eyes were certain of that. It was distinct and clear…and naturally, it sparked curiosity.

Of course the owner of the eyes went over to investigate; it was only expected. Her feet stepped swiftly over her own unpacked boxes as her mind kept the curiosity a priority. Closer and closer the nimble dancer feet swept; and closer, and closer…alas. Tingling fingers eagerly reached out to touch the shiny object.

***

Arden plopped back into the ground and slid grumpily into her pile of blankets. What a lame encounter, she thought irritatedly. The other girl had not been entirely friendly, but Arden forced herself to supposed that the girl had a reason for her grumpiness—perhaps it was due to a long flight and walking so early to the dorm—after all, the sun was rising already. Such an early sunrise!

Grumbling due to lack of sleep, Arden decided it would be futile to attempt to sleep any longer, as she never could get to doze during the daylight hours. She rose and started up the stairs.

***

It was a heart-shaped jewelry box. The eager fingers' owner had about a dozen jewelry boxes at home; some were squares, some were ovals; some were rectangular, some were heart-shaped, some were hexagonal. But this box was small, and it seemed unique. Handcrafted, perhaps? The keyhole certainly was.

Nosy and curious again, the fingers tried to open the box, to see what on earth was inside her. When they had shaken it, something had rattled around a bit…but what was it?! He brain companion to the fingers was nearly bursting with anticipation, so craving the knowledge.

But it was locked.

Hidden knowledge. The brain craved it even more.

Desperately, the eyes darted around the room for a mate to the keyhole, but after a few minutes of quick but precise seeking, the accompanying brain deduced that there was no key to be found.

And then the keyhole to the room started turning…

***

Jenny quickly darted onto her bed and pretended to sleep. Arden couldn't tell the difference. Oblivious to the fact that her possessions had just been scrutinized by a stranger, Arden went on with her tasks.

Showering and changing. Recycled-plastic hairbrush straightening out the hair. No makeup. Chewing on the toothbrush. Vitamins down the throat. A cup of instant fair-trade coffee. And then the box.

So many memories. Arden sat on her bed, curled up against the corner of her wall, sipping the dark hot liquid from the mug between her hands. Her gaze was fixed steadily on the little silver box, that little heart which Shawn had given her so long ago. He had told her it was his heart, and had locked the little necklace inside it. Arden sipped the coffee, remembering what was on the necklace.

She hoped the box had been ripped straight out of his chest.