Room 302 had a lot riding on it, for a technically inanimate object. (Sawyer had a sneaking suspicion that the walls had ears and the doors had feelings and the windows had souls; that the walls liked to hear gossip and were perfect to talk to because they had ears but no mouths; that the doors thoroughly detested being slammed or angrily closed because they were really rather gentle creatures; that the windows were souls, not just clichéd gateways to them.) It was Sawyer's new home, according to the welcome packet he'd received in the mail two months prior to the eighteenth of September, Saturday, ten o'clock in the morning. The date and time had been in the packet and subsequently engraved in his mind. So had been the name of his new roommate—two words featuring the Times New Roman characters of "Peters, Louis."
In an effort not to disclose precisely how excited he was (in fear of giving his younger sister Julie ammunition to mock him), he had forced himself to appear extraordinarily calm and arrive precisely eighteen minutes past ten o'clock. The trip on Friday had been long and tedious: an hour and a half of a drive from West Lafayette to Indianapolis, an eight-hour flight from Indianapolis to John Wayne airport, and then a thirty-minute drive in an unfamiliar rental car with the boxes of Sawyer's shipped belongings, but it had all been worth it. He was there, with a box of books he'd brought from the car and the key to Room 302.
Sawyer extracted the key carefully from the small envelope he'd been given. It was a symbol of his newfound freedom, each of the jagged edges representing a new cut of the fresh adult life he was about to embark upon—the imperfection that would surely await him in this new university life. He was going to make mistakes, he knew, and he was thrilled for that, mostly because he saw the mistakes as an opportunity for new, better choices. Better ways of making fewer mistakes, so that eventually the key would become smooth and he'd be handed a new key with new jagged edges to a new place to make new mistakes and learn new things and have great things to tell the new walls of his room.
"FORE!" said a male voice behind him, and before Sawyer could gently insert the key in the lock, a black-and-white flash whizzed past his face and hit the door with a loud smack.
Sawyer whirled around to witness the owner of the voice catch the ball with a sly grin. "I said 'fore.'"
"I'm fairly sure that's golf, not soccer, isn't it?" A small girl stood in the hallway opposite Sawyer and the Fore Boy, hands on her hips in an annoyed fashion. Maybe it was just that everything in California was bigger than it was in West Lafayette, but the girl was the smallest thing he'd seen here so far. At first, Sawyer wondered if she might be too young to be attending this university, even as a first-year student, but as she sauntered over to them, Sawyer could then see that she was actually just a very short student, though he figured it would be best not to bring attention to it.
"This is definitely a soccer ball, Midget," Fore Boy said to the girl, which either solved the issue of the girl needing to be informed that she was short or informed Sawyer that this girl was not only small but also had an appropriate (yet unfortunate) name.
Midget placed her hands on her hips and tossed some of her long black hair behind her shoulder by jerking her head backward. "That ball may be, but the word you used was for golf, Bucktooth."
"You're the bucktooth."
"Are you five?"
"I know you are, but what am I?"
Sawyer couldn't understand why she was calling the boy such a name, though. He hadn't observed any particularly large teeth.
At this, Midget seemed to decide that her intellect was much too high to be dealing with lowlifes like Fore Boy (and perhaps Sawyer, as she didn't seem to make much of an effort to be very kind to him, but he convinced himself not to take it too personally) and she swiftly turned on her heel and walked away in a huff, hair fanning out behind her.
"Asshole," Sawyer could hear her mutter under her breath as she stormed off.
Fore Boy grinned and waved to her retreating back. "See you in Physics!" he called, then turned to Sawyer and rolled the soccer ball on the ground to the door in front of which Sawyer had been standing this entire time. "You must be Finn," he said, sticking out his hand. "I'm Peters."
Peters, comma, Louis. The boy standing in front of Sawyer was the two Times New Roman words, in the flesh.
"Er—it's Sawyer, actually," said the flustered boy, reaching out to shake Peters-comma-Louis' hand. "Sawyer Finn."
The other boy arched an eyebrow, eyes noticeably amused at this information. "Seriously?"
"My parents were Twain fans." Sawyer shrugged, his ears tingeing pink. This couldn't have been news to the boy. His own name had been in the welcome packet, too.
"They choose their last name, too?"
Sawyer shifted his weight to his other leg, uncomfortable with the third-degree in questioning his name. If his parents had been hoping for an adventurous, cunning child, they might have been sorely disappointed. For all that Sawyer usually thought people matched their names, his own seemed out-of-place to him. "That was just happenstance."
The boy grinned and Sawyer noticed he had freckles dotting his cheeks under bright green eyes. He tucked the soccer ball under one arm swiftly, as if he'd learned to do so in the womb. Sawyer felt sorry for the boy's mother considering the sheer size of the boy's legs, which Sawyer imagined as thin tree trunks beneath denim protective encasement.
Louis Peters snickered as he extracted his own envelope from the back pocket of the pair of protective encasements with his free hand. Sawyer spotted something he thought he'd seen before on the package—yep, there it was, the two Times New Roman words again, Peters, comma, Louis.
Sawyer felt that he was going to be very good at spelling his roommate's name.
"My parents don't read much," ventured Louis Peters, and that was all he said.
Maybe Louis Peters didn't read much, either, and that was why he hadn't known Sawyer's name.
The roommate slid the key in the lock of the room and pushed open the door. A twinge of disappointment developed in Sawyer—he'd wanted to do that; in his head it was supposed to be a huge, momentous occasion, marking his transition from boyhood to young-man-hood—he had been planning on dramatically turning the lock, remembering the feel of the door handle and the initial whoosh of air in his face from opening it and what surely would have been the first blissful feel of the friction from the tightly-woven standardized carpet beneath his feet, though it hadn't occurred to him that he was wearing shoes and wouldn't be able to feel it. But instead, all it had really been was a slide and a click and a turn of the knob and suddenly, Sawyer was staring the future in the face and he dearly wished he weren't wearing shoes.
"Didn't occur to you to open the door?" said Louis Peters, letting the soccer ball plunk on the ground and kicking it under the bed at the far wall under the window. "Guess that one's mine, then." He walked over to the bed and sat on it, bounced a couple of times, then nodded briefly and jumped back off, apparently having decided that the bed was suitably bouncy, and started unpacking the boxes that he had already brought in.
Sawyer was actually relieved that the choice of bed was made for him. Now he could use his attention to focus on more important things, like unpacking and getting boxes from his—
"Oh, man, my mom," said Sawyer suddenly, forgetting to explain why he hadn't opened the door yet to his new roommate, and he dropped the box of books he'd been holding on the other bed and dashed outside and down the two flights of stairs, across the lawn and to the parking lot, where his mom and Julie were waiting, unloading the last few boxes from the car.
"Sorry," said Sawyer to his mother's back as she reached into the trunk to pull out another box, "My roommate came in, I met him."
"Mom thought maybe you'd abandoned us already," said Julie with a good-natured smirk, sitting down on a pile of boxes (one of which, Sawyer remembered, contained his prized mini-telescope from the sixth grade, and Sawyer flinched as his sister plopped down on it as if it contained an old winter cloak or was filled with marshmallows).
"I didn't, honest," protested Sawyer, picking up a box.
Mrs. Finn dropped the last box on the pile of boxes, giving her son her famous 'I-can't-believe-you-took-so-long,-you-should-be-more-considerate' glance. Sawyer knew that look too well. His hand flinched, an instinct from constantly pulling his hand out of the cookie jar as a child, but he moved it toward the end of the clear packaging tape on the box he was holding as an explanation for the instinctual movement. Mrs. Finn folded her arms over her chest, her shoulders forward and sagging from a lifetime of keeping up with her two children.
"It's been fifteen minutes, Sawyer," said Mrs. Finn, and Julie mouthed the routine words from behind her mother. Sawyer tried not to look at her, for fear of snickering during his mother's lecture. "Time is a precious entity, Ju—er, Sawyer, and isn't to be wasted. You need to be more cognoscente of other people's lives, the world doesn't revolve around you, you know."
Julie's mouthing was flawless. She'd even gotten the children's mixed-up names right.
Mrs. Finn cleared her throat. "Anyway. Just grab a box, please, and hurry it up. Julie and I have a plane to catch."
Julie stopped mouthing with just enough time for her mother not to notice.
Sawyer knew better than to challenge his irritated mother. She just needed time, he knew—time to get over the shock of losing her first child to the terrifying collegiate world, time to fight off the instinct to put all the boxes right back into the car as soon as Julie pulled them out. Mrs. Finn took a box and started to walk toward the dormitory, and Sawyer marveled at her retreating back in awe, wondering how her spine could have withstood eighteen years of raising Julie and himself—carrying them from the car inside the house when they'd fallen asleep as children (or, as they grew older, as they'd pretended to fall asleep), stooping down to wash their waxed crayon off the wall, hunching over the kitchen counter as she prepared the timeless peanut-butter-and-jelly classic—and be able to still carry a box of computer supplies across a hill to his new dorm.
It only took the small family ten minutes to make enough trips between the car and Sawyer's room to get all the boxes up the stairs. On one trip, Sawyer caught a glance of a familiar-looking person moving her own things into a room down the hall from his, and during the next trip, he recognized her as Midget. He'd waved to her as an initial attempt to make friends, but she hadn't seen.
And at last, the boxes were all unloaded from the car and in Sawyer's room, and as if it weren't enough to simply know that the boxes were all done being moved, Mrs. Finn closed the car trunk with a definitive chook.
Julie hugged her brother, kissed his cheek quickly, bid her swift goodbye, told him to e-mail her, and went to sit in the car. Sawyer could hear 16-bit sounds from a Game Boy barely moments later.
Mrs. Finn hugged her son, kissed his cheek quickly, bid her swift goodbye, told him to write her a letter, then started to walk away, but found that she couldn't, and promptly reeled him in to hug him so hard that Sawyer feared she might crack a rib. She was silent for the duration of the hug, after having said nothing polite to Sawyer since they'd arrived at the school. When she released him, she didn't smile.
"If you don't write, I might conveniently forget to pay your tuition," she said.
Sawyer grinned. "Love you, too, Mom. I'll write, don't worry."
The room was comfortable even though it was mostly empty. Louis Peters had left to grab some dinner after he set up his things, for the most part—the only thing that Sawyer noticed that his roommate hadn't put up was a Kate Nash poster that was lying on the dark red comforter of the bed. Sawyer's side was just boxes.
He ignored them, for now.
They weren't necessary. Room 302 was, by itself, perfect. He hadn't been able to open the door as meaningfully as he would have liked, but he was grateful to be able to look at it by himself. The third-floor window provided the perfect view of the color-fading asphalt on the ground below, leading straight to the dining commons. The bed was old and wooden and looked as if it hadn't been polished since 1982, but Sawyer didn't see the need to have a bed that was shiny since all he was doing was sleeping in it. The mattress had probably hosted a variety of naked people (and their bodily fluids) on it at some point in time, the desk beside the bed sagged in the middle from years bearing of heavy computers and overpriced books, and the walls had been stabbed many a-time by generations of college students' pushpins, and now Sawyer was going to add his own pushpins and computers and overpriced books to the mix.
(The bodily fluids bit was undecided as of yet.)
It was serene, peaceful.
He thought about it as he unpacked his bedding and started to set it up. He was going to wake up to Louis Peters in the bed opposite his, and then they would trek together in their pajamas and slippers down to the dining commons and have coffee like old college students running on caffeine. Then, Sawyer would go back and shower and change into jeans and a t-shirt, like the students wore in the brochures, and he would grab his backpack—carefully-organized with a notebook and a clear plastic pencil case, containing a mechanical pencil and two pens, one blue and one black—and head off to class, where he would meet a cute girl who also happened to be highly-intelligent, and he would impress her with his copious note-taking and after a full class of being highly-immersed in what the professor was saying, he would call after her to wait up and see if she wouldn't mind if he walked her to her next class, because he was done for the day. She would graciously accept, smiling the smallest of smiles because she secretly thought he was attractive as well, and they would talk over how interesting the class was and he would ask her if maybe she wanted to study later that day, he had just set up his dorm room and if she wouldn't mind studying there, he was sure his roommate would be quiet and contributive to the academic environment—
"You're not done yet, Finn? Slow on the roll, there, are we?"
Sawyer had somehow found himself lying on his bed, and he lifted his head up to find his grinning roommate wipe his mouth on his sleeve. "I was enjoying the room," Sawyer said quietly.
Louis Peters arched an eyebrow. "Hey, look, buddy, if you wanted to do that, all you needed to do was ask—"
"Nonononono," Sawyer said, cheeks flushed red. "I meant I was enjoying the atmosphere."
"I'll bet you were 'enjoying the atmosphere.'"
Sawyer didn't know what else to say, so he said nothing. Louis Peters just laughed and sat on his own bed. "Calm down, Finn," he said, kicking off his shoes and letting a stench fill the room. The smell was nothing short of disgusting, an odor filled with pleasantries reminiscent of body excretions and old socks, at which Sawyer had to restrain himself from visibly wrinkling his nose. He hadn't accounted for the fact that people had the potential to be smelly in college. Smell wasn't a part of his subconscious. It made him wonder what the highly-intelligent hypothetical girl smelled like. Maybe like cinnamon.
Louis Peters stripped off his socks, and Sawyer noticed that the smell was masked easily with a pair of new socks that he put on. "Hey, what're you doing tonight, anyhow?"
Sawyer motioned to the boxes. "Unpacking, I guess." Honestly, it sounded like fun. His sister made fun of him for it constantly, making all sorts of comments questioning his sexual orientation, but he enjoyed the thrill of new places and liked to set them up. He could place things wherever he liked, stack his books in the corner of the desk and place his Trans-Siberian Orchestra poster neatly in the middle of the wall, his reading lamp clamped on the edge of the bed and all three pairs of his shoes in a neat little row inside the wardrobe. Then he could walk out of the room, then walk back in and find his crisply-made bed, his stacked books, his organized wardrobe, his posted poster, and think it all very aesthetically pleasing indeed, and take even more pleasure in the knowledge that he had done it all himself.
The other boy either hadn't heard him or chose not to respond to Sawyer's plans, and he talked at his roommate through the shirt that was stuck over his head as he tried to take it off. "There's a party going on down on Fifteenth," he said, finally getting the shirt off and grabbing the one on his bed to replace it, "Wanna go? It's supposed to be baller."
'Baller.' Was that supposed to be a word Sawyer was supposed to know? Why hadn't he heard it before? Maybe it was a dialectical thing, native to Southern California.
"Er…sure?" Sawyer offered, assuming that 'baller' had a positive connotation. "Let me take a shower first, though."
Louis Peters mumbled something and nodded, waving his hand in Sawyer's general direction, distracted by searching through his things for something. Sawyer took this as permission to bathe, and so he found his shower caddy (in the box containing toiletries and other hygiene-related things) and made his way next door to the men's bathroom.
The bathroom wasn't as grimy as Sawyer was expecting it to be, and for that, Sawyer was mildly relieved. It smelled like that cleaner his mom used—lemony-fresh, just like the bottle promised—and even though the grout hadn't been bleached in years, Sawyer trusted the bathroom not to kill him with any germs it might have accumulated. None of the showers were in use—maybe he would be the first to use any of them this year.
Or maybe they were all broken.
Sawyer tentatively placed his shower caddy in the shower closest to the door; a swift pull on the shower handle and the subsequent water that the showerhead produced suggested that this particular shower, at least, was not broken. He undressed and stepped inside.
It took a few moments for the water to warm up, but by the time it did, Sawyer was done with his shampoo and well into his conditioner. He heard the door swing open (the door might have needed a bit of WD-40, Sawyer was glad he'd had the foresight to bring some) when he reached to grab his shaving cream, which he dutifully used in accompaniment with his razor despite the significant lack of hair that grew on his face. He at least sprouted a whisker here and there, and he counted at least two spots of hair that had been shaved enough that they created a very awkward-looking stubble whenever he left it alone for three days.
The end of his shower left Sawyer wondering why the guy who'd entered the bathroom hadn't left yet, why the guy was breathing so hard, and where his own towel was.
It was commonplace in college, right? Naked guys, running around everywhere—it was supposed to be like the athletic locker rooms he'd seen in movies, all the guys comfortable with their bodies and walking around in the nude. Sawyer glanced down at his not-so-ripped chest, squishy abs and scrawny-but-long legs. He was much paler than all the self-assured men in the movies, and his penis wasn't nearly as long as—well, he wasn't going to think about that now. He was going to focus on getting a towel as quickly as humanly possible, because he wasn't one of those movie stars, and he was okay with that.
He burst into the room quickly to find that his roommate had apparently found what he was looking for, and offered one to Sawyer.
"Condom?" he asked, holding up a bright pink foil square and waving it in the air.
Sawyer stood there naked, caught off-guard. He felt exposed (probably because he was) and wanted a towel much more than a condom. He almost denied the offer, but then realized that he was much too shy to take advantage of the free condoms he'd heard the health center issued, and even though he had never actually needed a condom (and didn't anticipate needing one anytime soon), he shrugged and walked up to his roommate, trying to hide his nether regions. It was then that he noticed just how tall Louis Peters was, and Sawyer tried not to focus on mythical correlations between height and penis size.
It was his first condom, and it was pink. What a story he would have to tell his future children (provided that he eventually did have sex, and it wasn't with any condom, pink or otherwise)! He wondered if the condom minded being transferred so easily from one person to the next.
Louis Peters, who was apparently unphased by nudity, shoved a blue one, an orange one, and a purple one in his back pocket. "Never can be too prepared," he said gregariously, looking in the mirror and mussing his hair up. "You ready? The party's in number 238 in the apartments over on the corner of Fifteenth and Q."
Sawyer nodded and grabbed his towel as unabashedly as he could.
Number 238 was not what Sawyer had expected it to be. The door was different than the one in his dorm—it definitely wouldn't have taken his key in its lock. It certainly wasn't on-campus, and it was loud and crowded; Sawyer immediately felt out-of-place. In high school, the parties he had attended had been birthday parties or pool parties or things that involved fruit punch and snickerdoodles. Sawyer detected an extreme lack of snickerdoodles at this party, and Louis Peters was called across the room almost as soon as they walked in the door. He told Sawyer he'd be right back, but Sawyer had a feeling that was a promise that his roommate wouldn't be able to keep, as he was promptly dragged to a long, rectangular plastic table where people were tossing ping-pong balls into red cups. It was loud. The walls were going to go deaf from all the noise.
Sawyer panicked slightly, frantically searching for some process of entry within the party chaos. It seemed that the rest of the partygoers were already well-imbibed with mostly-illicit fluids—he was fairly sure that the majority of the party's attendees were not of legal drinking age. But from what he observed, there was a processional around the kitchen counter, where one young man was concocting different potions in some more red cups.
It was then that he noticed that nearly everyone else in the room had some form of a drink in his hand. A blond girl to his left had a bottle of beer in her hand with a slice of lime in it; a dark-haired boy to his right crushed a can on his own head, looking gleeful after it was done. That was the trick to fitting in here, then. Sawyer made his way over to the kitchen counter.
"What can I get'cha?" said the young man on the other side. He was tall and burly, but he had a friendly smile and freckles dotting his nose, so Sawyer figured he must be amiable.
Was he supposed to know what to order? Did anyone else in the room know what they had in their own red cups? If they did, they didn't seem like they cared. Maybe that was the protocol. "Something that doesn't taste like alcohol," Sawyer requested, giving the 'bartender' (he couldn't have been more than nineteen, of that Sawyer was sure) a friendly smile back.
The bartender grinned widely. "I've got just the thing for you." A minute and a half later, he handed Sawyer a cup. "There you go. Tell me what you think."
"Not bad," he said, shrugging. There probably wasn't much alcohol in it, in that case. Otherwise, he would be able to taste it, from what he'd observed his mother drink in the past (the telltale signs were easy to spot—her eyes would get slightly bigger than they usually were from the shock of whatever horrid taste the alcohol contained). "What's it called?"
"Long Island Iced Tea," said the bartender, and then he turned to make a drink for the next kid in line. Tea—that sounded fairly harmless. No wonder it had such a sweet, mild taste. Sawyer sniffed it, thanked the bartender, and decided it smelled fairly harmless, as well. Next step: taste.
Sawyer took a large gulp of the drink and sat down awkwardly on the couch in the corner of the room. He tried not to put too much of his weight on the couch, because he might be crushing its lung. Couches needed breaks, too.
He hadn't been there more than thirty seconds when the other seat on the couch became occupied.
"Hel-looooo," said the newcomer, plainly drunk. It was a girl, and she looked oddly familiar. "How are you?" She giggled, making her Asian features apparent, stereotypically-small eyes closing in her inebriated pleasure, long black hair starting to fall in her face.
"Er…it's Midget, right?" Sawyer started tentatively.
Her face contorted into a frown. "It's Hana," she slurred, looking deeply offended. "You're Peters' roommate, right? Peters is an ass, don't listen to him. I'm sorry you have to share a room with him, that's gotta be awful."
She certainly seemed less-intimidating when she was drunk. She was also very warm. Sawyer was starting to feel warm, too, and his head was starting to feel a little light. Maybe it was because he had skipped dinner. The whole atmosphere was beginning to become less stifling, too, and Sawyer was starting to enjoy it. But the air was a little dry. He sipped some more of the tea.
"It's not bad, so far," said Sawyer, shrugging and giving Hana a small smile. "He's nice. He's the one who brought me here tonight, but he's over at that table now."
"Beer pong," said Hana, nodding wisely. Her words were punctuated with consonants that she seemed to think were funny and vowels that were longer than Sawyer remembered them being. "He's a big fan of it. Some say he's un-beat-a-ble."
"Do you know him from before college, then?"
Hana nodded again, this time a deeper, more exaggerated nod. "We wen' to high school together. Somehow end'd up in the same dorm. He thinks he's much cooler than he i—well, he actually—he is."
Sawyer barely noticed that she was tripping over her words. The tea was delicious, and he was starting to feel like the space around him was very comfortable, and that Hana herself was very comfortable. But he wasn't sure what to say to the girl.
Luckily, she solved that problem for him. "Wha's your name, anyhow?"
"Sawyer," he said happily, offering her the hand that wasn't holding the tea.
She grabbed it, shook it once, and held on to it. A wave of something that definitely wasn't the result of whatever miniscule amounts of alcohol that must have been in the tea passed through him, and for a moment he wondered if he was holding a copper coin and she had stuck her other hand in an electrical current to make him conduct some electricity; it took him a full ten seconds to decide that such a concept was ridiculous. He drank some more of the tea, realizing that he had come to the last of it, which for some reason was insanely kind of funny.
"Look," he said, showing her the nearly-empty cup, "It's almost gone." He laughed a little bit.
Hana laughed, too. "What was it?" Her 't's were so crisp. She separated them from the word as if they were entirely new words on their own.
"Long Island Iced Tea," Sawyer said, finishing off the drink.
For some reason, Hana thought this was even funnier than the fact that it was almost gone, and she broke out into a fit of giggles that made Sawyer wonder if she was going to be able to recover from the explosion they created. He started laughing as a result of her laughter, though he wasn't sure why he was laughing in the first place, which only made him laugh even harder.
"What's so funny?" he asked when he could catch his breath.
"You just don't strike me as the Long Island type," she said.
"Well, I'm not a fan of alcohol—"
"That's got the most alcohol," said Hana.
Sawyer laughed, though had he not been filled with tea, he probably would have just stared.
"Reeeeally?" said Sawyer, enjoying the way the vowels felt on his tongue.
"YES," said Hana enthusiastically, and Sawyer noticed vaguely that she had scooted closer to him on the couch. "They put a whoooole bunch of random shit in it, and it tastes like delicious."
"'Tastes like delicious?'"
"Yesss," she said, and let her head fall down on his shoulder.
It was getting warm in the room. He was self-conscious that—if the walls had any hearing left—they could hear their conversation, but he knew their lack of mouths made them capable of keeping the secret. Sawyer felt like he could sit there forever, with the girl's head on his shoulder and in his comfortable place on the couch. It seemed like there was some sort of order to the party, after all—young adults making a beeline for the kitchen, obtaining drinks, downing them within five minutes, then situating themselves in the room to a place that was socially acceptable yet spatially comfortable. The standards for what was socially acceptable diminished as time went by—soon shoes were off, there was a strip poker game in the corner, girls were sitting on top of girls and exhibited closenesses that definitely hadn't been there when he'd arrived an hour ago—had it really been an hour already? Hana looked like she was falling asleep, and Sawyer didn't blame her, the room was so cozy and he wanted to join her, maybe just let his head fall to the side—
"Wan' go ou'side?"
The voice was sleepy, but hearing it made Sawyer more alert. He would have to walk back to campus eventually. Maybe going outside for a bit would keep him awake until Louis Peters was ready.
He wondered briefly how his roommate was faring in the beer pong game, then realized that he would probably have to walk home by himself. He hoped he remembered the way. The streets were windy around here.
"Sure," he said, and he thought about standing up for a full minute before he actually did.
When Hana stood up, Sawyer saw her sway, and a few moments later he had a fleeting thought that maybe she was a little drunk. He put his hands on her shoulders to steady her, and it was only then, standing up right in front of her and putting his hands on her shoulders, that he realized just how short she was. He felt a sudden urge to inform her of this, but then he remembered that Louis Peters already had, earlier that day, and remembered that he thought about it earlier, and remembered that he'd had the tact not to say anything then, and that he definitely wasn't going to say anything now.
Hana slipped her arm under his, and they walked outside.
It was colder than Sawyer had anticipated—apparently his dreams didn't have weather, either. He had dreamed about his first college party, just as he'd dreamed about Room 302 and Louis-comma-Peters and his first drinking experience and sharing a communal bathroom and carrying a shower caddy; in his dreams the drinks contained almost no alcohol and the bathrooms didn't have people masturbating in them and Louis-comma-Peters' feet didn't smell, and his dreams ignored weather entirely with the exception of fall. Sawyer had expected late September to bear orange leaves and early sunsets and moist dirt, but apparently Orange, California didn't have the same climate as West Lafayette, Indiana, and he was beginning to think that college wasn't going to be at all what he had imagined it to be, and he wasn't sure if he was okay with that.
But walking on the grass outside the dreary-looking apartment complex in the crisp air with Hana's arm under his reminded Sawyer that it couldn't be all bad.
"Let's sit here," said Hana suddenly, appearing much more awake than she had five minutes ago, though Sawyer couldn't be sure how much time had gone by—for all he knew, it could have been another hour. She plopped down in a random patch of grass in an attempt to sit, but fell backward instead, ending up lying on her back. Hana giggled at the absurdity of lying down on grass.
Sawyer laughed at her giggling and lay down next to her, although if he really thought about it, grass wasn't really all that funny.
"Ooh, stars," she said, and Sawyer looked where she pointed.
It was starkly quiet out there, and the crickets sang a melody of nightfall with the light rustle of leaves from the nearby trees as accompaniment. The stars were out and brightly visible from between the trees. It was peaceful, and the crispness of the air and abundance of nearby trees reminded him of West Lafayette, and Sawyer felt again the sense of serenity he'd felt back in his room, although in this place there were no walls to listen in on their conversation. Hana seemed to sense the peace of it all, too, because for a while she was very quiet.
They were alone in the silence and the space.
He was okay with that, and she seemed to be, too.
Sawyer awoke in Room 302 without an alarm. The first thing he noticed was that his head hurt; the second was that the lights felt much too bright.
The third thing he didn't notice until he had rolled out of his bed and somewhat loudly tripped over the boxes he had yet to unpack.
"Hrrrmmffff," came a sleepy sigh from the other bed, and Sawyer froze when he realized that the sigh was decidedly female. He looked over at his roommate, wondering if maybe he'd undergone a serious gender-changing operation overnight, only to find that Louis Peters had somehow duplicated in bodies overnight. (Then again, Sawyer had been fast asleep when his roommate had entered the previous night, and apparently the alcohol had knocked him out so much that he hadn't woken up when they'd come in—and, judging by the bare shoulders of the girl, apparently he'd been asleep during their other festivities, as well.)
Sawyer was less-concerned with his current state of relative undress (his bunny slippers were footwear most of his peers envied, he was sure, and he didn't have enough chest hair or muscles for anyone to want to stare at) and more concerned with the fact that he was going to have to go to the commons alone.
But he'd found his way home alone, so he figured he'd be all right at breakfast, too.
It was Sunday morning, the day before the first day of school. Sawyer wasn't particularly religious, so the traditional weekly morning church service hadn't crossed his mind; but he was hungry. Surely the commons were open already—a glance at his digital clock confirmed that it was, in fact, well past ten o'clock—and maybe they had waffles? Yawning widely (and as a reaction to the strings of spit that connected his lips, Sawyer briefly considered going to brush his teeth before he figured that he was going to brush them after he ate anyway, and it was a waste of water to brush them twice), he pulled on a hooded sweatshirt over his head and stuffed his key to Room 302 in the sweatshirt's pocket, then headed down the three flights of stairs toward the dining commons.
Nothing looked familiar there. It was like California had an entirely different idea of 'breakfast' than he did. Where were the biscuits? Did these people not believe in eggs? What on earth were 'soy sausage patties?' He turned around to scope out the other side of the room.
They did have waffles. The make-your-own waffle station boasted three individual waffle makers, complete with endless toppings in all sorts of various states of unhealthiness. Delighted (this certainly made up for not getting to spend the morning with his new roommate, acting like old college veterans, sipping on coffee while groaning about the papers they had not yet been assigned), Sawyer immediately swerved toward the waffle makers, pouring the batter in one of them and sizing up the condiments as he waited for it to cook.
He wondered if maybe this waffle maker was a brother to the one his mom used at home.
The moment the waffle was done, it was off the press and on Sawyer's plate, doused in butter and whipped cream and maraschino cherries and glazed peaches and sprinkles and semi-sweet chocolate chips, peanuts and just about every other condiment that was available. (He'd only stayed away from the chopped almonds, as he personally thought almonds had an odd taste and wasn't fond of them.) The fork and knife were in one hand while his other hand delicately held his prized waffle concoction; he chose the table nearest the waffle makers to sit, in case he wanted another (for efficiency's sake).
He was about to take a bite when he heard a familiar voice.
"Mind if I sit with you?"
"Hey, Hana," Sawyer said, looking up and greeting the girl with a characteristic friendly smile. "Not at all, have a seat." His ears flushed pink the slightest bit, perhaps a giveaway of his internal pleasure that was a result of the girl wanting to sit with him.
There was a comfortable silence as they both started to eat; Hana giggled at his waffle. "That looks disgusting."
"It's good, actually," he said, taking another (very pleased) bite of his (highly delicious) waffle.
"Do you make lots of waffles?"
"Naturally. They're the only acceptable things to eat in this cafeteria."
"Ah. Naturally." Hana nodded obligingly.
"Plus, it's the only thing I can cook."
"So things are only okay when you know how to make them?"
It hadn't occurred to Sawyer that this might be a truth about him, and he thought over the concept as he chewed the bits of wheat and whipped cream and chocolate and cherry and peach and whatever else was in the cocktail. Until this point, he'd imagined college to be what he'd dreamed it to be. He had never considered that other people could have affected that image, too. The girl in front of him had already changed it, as had his roommate. He had expected to be drinking coffee, not eating waffles. He had wanted to open the room himself for the first time, and he hadn't expected to have his first drink so soon (or that the drink would be so strong). He was supposed to have met the intelligent-slash-cute girl after a class of great intrigue, not watched stars with her outside a house party.
But she was there, and his first class wasn't until tomorrow, and he would get to open the door later.
He was okay with that.