by C. M. Lacey
Natalie Chung jerked awake as the slate colored Hyundai Equus rocked abruptly when a tire drove hard across a pot hole in the North Carolinian country side street. She wasn't the only one. The driver buckled forward, then readjusted himself in his seat. Natalie blinked hard, trying not to get cranky from having been awaken so suddenly. Driving the Equus was Dr. Frances Chung, a middle-aged Korean-American who always dressed in neatly pressed three piece suits, but always wore dirty sneakers on his feet. He was a good looking man, but was a bit eccentric which was probably due to him being a scientistic genus at a research corporation in Ithaca, New York.
The passenger sitting next to him was his eighteen year old daughter, Natalie. Like her father, she was short, but it had nothing to do with her ethnicity. She always was smaller than most girls her age. She had long black hair, which she tended to weave into a side-braid that sat on her right shoulder. She was dressed in her usual hipster fashion, which tended to borrow trendy looks from the 90's. On her head was a backwards cap, which wasn't uncommon for her. She had a large hat collection. At the moment, the small girl sat as sunken into the seat cushion as she could while her hands gripped tightly on the shoulder strap of her seat belt.
"Good, you're awake. We're almost at Brevard. You'll need all your wits to combat the evils of Freshmen girls."
This was her father trying to relieve the tension that had filled the compartment ever since they started the ride to Brevard University. She had recently graduated High School in Ithaca, and had applied to several art colleges along the east coast. She had her pick of locations, but Natalie had chose Brevard. It wasn't the biggest college, and that's what appealed to her. It was located near the small town of Brevard, southeast in North Carolina. It was surrounded by two national forests and the location was famous for it's beautiful 250 waterfalls. It was such a beautiful location that Hollywood had even filmed the first Hunger Games nearby.
Despite the inspirational beauty, Natalie wanted to go to this college for another reason. It was small and intimate. From the research she had done online, the place looked so cosy that it appealed to her as it was similar to her hometown. While her mother wanted her to go to a more prestigious university, Natalie picked this one. She could always start her education in Brevard and transfer, afterall. Even still, this school choice had caused quite a stir with her and Mrs. Chung. It was the reason why she was not driving down with them, even though the excuse was that she needed to stay home and watch over Natalie's siblings.
"Evils of Freshmen girls, Daddy? Are you afraid those girls are going to make me smoke the pot?" Natalie joked.
"I know you artistic types. You'll be burning your bra at the end of the night, mark my words."
Natalie snickered. They always had this banter. If anyone were to describe Natalie, it was that she was smart, artistic, and was far too sarcastic for her own good. She was the product of her mother and father, alright. Her mother was a world renown cellist and painter. But she was also very serious and straight-laced. Her father, on the other hand, was very intelligent, but probably the goofiest person she knew. Her younger bother and sister were similar to their Mom. So she and her father shared a particular kind of bond.
Natalie's left hand let go of the shoulder strap and pushed her glasses to her face. She normally only wore them when she was reading, so they were still on her face when she had fallen asleep. The book she had been reading was sitting around her ankles, hugging her miss-matched colored converse sneakers. Even though she was joking around, she felt nervous. She had never been away from home before, and never so far. She clutched her seatbelt strap again, trying to remain calm.
The action was not lost on Dr. Chung who took his eyes off the road momentarily to watch her do so. On returning his gaze to the road, Natalie could tell he was trying to think of a new way he could cheer up his daughter.
"Relax. Once you get some friends, you'll be fine." He spoke smoother, almost as if he was reassuring himself rather than doing so to his daughter.
"I know." Natalie tried to sound brave, even if her heart was racing.
"It'll be scary at first, but soon you'll appreciate the freedom. There's a reason why so many kids 'find themselves' at school." He went on. "Trust me."
The Equus rounded over a hill and from the window Natalie could see a series of brick buildings in the distance. It was Brevard University. She recognized some of the landmarks from the photos of the school she had seen online. She must have slept through traveling the town in which the school was named after. Just to the north side of the campus buildings, were the resident halls. They were told she was to be placed in 314 East Beam Hall.
"Beam Hall… Beam Hall. It should be over here somewhere…. look for Campus Street." Dr. Chung broke the silence as they pulled into the small community of cottages.
"Campus Street." Natalie muttered bitterly. "How cliche is that?"
"Now, now." Her father chuckled. "Ah! I think that's it over there. It's a bit fancier than I expected. Pretty close to the dining hall, they weren't lying. I wonder how many other students live in this dorm?"
"Yep, this is it." Natalie pointed at her window, as if that would help him navigate towards that direction.
Dr. Chung pulled the vehicle to a stop in the parking area. As expected, there were other parents around, unloading their vehicles and helping their children move in. As she exited the car, Natalie stretched her arms and legs and looked at her new dorm. It was a three stored building, meant to house first years. From what she read online, two 12" x 16.8" rooms connected to each other by a bathroom. This meant there were two girls per room, but four had to share one bathroom.
"I better call your Mother while we stretch our legs, let her know we've arrived safely."
Natalie nodded, and looked down at her own mobile phone. Three text messages, all from Preston Wang. Looking at it made her stomach turn.
Preston was a childhood friend of the family that somehow always got paired up with Natalie. They grew up together, and it was always assumed that some day they'd get married. Natalie wouldn't say that they were in a relationship, but Preston did treat her like a girlfriend. They went on dates and he did all the things boyfriends were supposed to do. Natalie never actually encouraged him nor did she discouraged this behavior either. The truth of the matter was, she sort of just went along with it. It wasn't that she didn't care for him, or that she didn't find him attractive, it was just that he was… well she didn't know.
Getting out of the car, Natalie stretched her body before she went through the required protocol of reassuring Preston of her safe arrival. She braced herself for it before she dialed his number, trying not to sound too annoyed with his texts.
"Hi, we just arrived." Natalie said the moment he answered his phone.
"Hello Nat. I was worried when you didn't text back."
"I fell asleep in the car." Natalie tried to sound sorry. "I only now saw your messages."
"That's okay. It's a long drive after all." Preston said.
"How are things on your end?" Natalie asked, pretending she was interested.
"Just arrived at Duke University myself. My parents are helping unload the car and getting me settled in my dorm room. It's smaller than what I thought it'd be, but I'll make due. My room mate is nice-"
Natalie started tuning him out. She had gotten this down to a science by now. She knew when the breaks in flow happened and by the inflection of his voice on how to respond. He always thought she was such a great listener, and she'd gleam just enough of the conversation not to be totally lost if he asked her a question. But mostly she just stared off into space and waited for it to be over.
"-anyway, what's your school like?" Preston finally asked.
"I don't know. We just pulled up. I just wanted you to know I was okay." Natalie spoke in her sweetest voice ever.
"So adorable." Preston chuckled. "I know you're playing the cute-card on me, but I don't care. It works every time."
Natalie gave a giggle, forcing it to sound flattered. "You know me… I'm going to miss you."
"Same. But we're both in North Carolina so I can drive over and visit. Only three and half hours…"
"Four! I don't want you to speed!" Natalie gave a girlish pout even if he couldn't see it.
"Okay, okay." Preston laughed. "Once we get settled, we'll figure something out."
Thankfully, Natalie's father grunted to get her attention. He pointed to the car and indicated that he was ready to start moving her into the dorm. Relief flooded over her.
"Listen, Preston, I have to go. Daddy's giving me the evil eye."
"Yeah, my folks too. Talk to you later babe."
"Okay. Talk to you soon." Natalie said brightly, this time with real emotion. "Buh-Bye."
"Bye!" Preston said, then ended the call.
Taking a deep inhale in, Natalie pulled the phone from her ear and turned ended the call. As she was placing it into her back pocket, she saw her father looking into her face with a knowing look. He'd never say anything, but he knew that Natalie wasn't as interested in Preston as everyone wanted her to be. Still he didn't lecture her on it, probably because Mrs. Chung was all for the relationship and he didn't want to get on her bad side. Instead, he journeyed to the trunk of the car.
"Well, let's get too it." Dr. Chung yawned a bit.
Like her father, she too was exhausted from traveling. Natalie figured that he would find a hotel in Brevard to spend the night in before heading back to New York. Getting back on the road after all that time was just crazy.
The two worked in unison together as they unloaded her belongings. They would have to travel to the top floor, so both of them weren't looking forward to the work ahead. They started with her clothes, as they wanted something light to carry while they looked for Room 314. When they found the dorm the door was already open as it appeared Natalie's room mate was already moving in. As for the girl herself, she wasn't around. No doubt she was down stairs hauling up another load.
Inside the dorm it looked rustic, as was to be expected from a North Carolinian influence. By the entrance there were two desks on the right side. On her left were two wardrobes with the entrance to the bathroom. Beyond the desks and the wardrobes were two twin sized bunk beds on the desk ends of the wall. On the left side was a space for a TV and personal fridge.
"Not so bad. You should have seen my dorm back in the day." Dr. Chung chuckled.
"Wall hangings of burnt bras, Daddy?" Natalie smirked her side-ways smile.
"You know it. Don't ask how we got them."
Natalie's eyes went towards her father and saw a poster behind him on the bedroom wall. It was of some teeny pop icon that a previous student left and the cleaning crew must have forgotten to take down. She was pretty sure that her new room mate hadn't put it up as it looked old. She wrinkled her nose at it and looked task ahead of them.
It was the voice of an older woman. The two of them nearly jumped at it. Coming in, holding a plastic box of various items were a mother and daughter. The room mate was about 5'6", a beautiful big chested blonde girl. Immediately Natalie felt intimidated as this girl looked 'Hollywood-pretty'. Maybe it was how she was dressed. She was wearing a dress and heels; pretty silly for a girl who was moving in. Such a statement told Natalie a lot about this girl. She was probably had a high opinion of herself and was loaded.
"Excuse us." Dr. Chung chuckled, taking the plastic box from the woman's arms. "That's quite a climb, huh?"
"You can say that again!" The woman laughed, relieved not to be carrying her burden anymore.
Natalie quickly went to her new room mate and offered some help. The girl gave a small smile but placed her own items on the desk she claimed. After taking in a deep breath, she collected herself and introduced herself properly.
"Hello. I'm Victoria Goodnight." She spoke sweetly with a hint of a Southern Accent. "And before you ask, yes: Goodnight is a real name."
Natalie gave a polite laugh at that. "Do you get that question a lot?"
"You wouldn't believe it." Victoria rolled her eyes. They were a vivid blue. It was so striking, her eyes almost didn't look real. "Anyway, hello."
"Hi." Natalie waved, prying her gaze from that lovely face. "I'm Natalie Chung. That's a real name too."
Victoria gave a genuine laugh.
The two of them talked a bit about the school and traveling, then they had to get back to work. Both of them had brought TVs and Mini-Refrigerators, so the girls decided among them which to keep. Victoria had the better fridge, while Natalie had the better TV so they went about it that way. Victoria also had a massive amount of high end clothes, which Natalie was unsure how she'd fit into her Wardrobe. Natalie couldn't judge the girl though. All her hats needed a place to stay too. After a few hours of trying to organize all this, Mrs. Goodnight realized what the time was.
"We better head to the Porter Center, y'all. Orientation is in another hour."
"Ugh." Victoria moaned. "I really wanted to get the room in order."
Natalie had to agree with her new friend. "They're just going to tell us the school rules."
"Which you both need to know." Mrs. Goodnight spoke to the two of them as if they were both her daughters. Dr. Chung chuckled, finding it amusing.
"Okay… whatever." Victoria frowned.
After wandering around campus for about thirty minutes, the two families trekked their way towards the Scott auditorium in the Porter Center. As they entered the theatre, Natalie saw Victoria scoping out the other freshmen, as if trying to decide what she thought about them before meeting them. Natalie caught a few smirks that occasionally flashed over her face when Victoria noticed another rich girl, as if making an mental note to introduce herself. She probably was looking for her own kind. Natalie couldn't fault her for that, as she too was looking for girl with like-minded fashion.
Once they were in the auditorium, they sat near each other, as they didn't know anyone else. Natalie didn't have a problem with that, but part of her wanted to sit next to her father as this would be the last time she would see him in months. However, he was in heavy conversation with Mrs. Goodnight and ended up siting away from her. Natalie sat down in her chair looking at the others around her as well. This was all very intimidating. Victoria, on the other hand, didn't seem the slightest bit stressed. She was sitting on end of the pew and was introducing herself to various people as they walked by.
The next hour and a half was probably the dullest Natalie had ever experienced in her life. She and Victoria had been right about how utterly useless this meeting was. It was just an excuse for pompous professors to get on stage and talk about how great Brevard University was. Natalie could tell that she was not alone in this analyzes. Nearly every freshmen there looked bored out of their mind. She caught the eye of a ginger haired boy a few rows to the left, who mimed shooting himself in the head.
Before the administration got to the task of assigning schedules and handing needed information on were to pick up books and class locations, the students had to sit and listen to three more long winded speeches from important looking people associated with the university, but not being part of the staff. Soon Victoria was ignoring the them and started texting to someone on her phone. When all pomp was over with, everyone collectively exhaled a sigh of relief, pleased that the speeches were over. They were ordered out into the lobby, where administrators were going to hand out their schedules and book lists.
When Victoria got her schedule, she immediately took Natalie's and examined it with her own. "Great, we have some of the same classes."
"Do we?" Natalie grabbed her schedule back as politely as possible. The two girls leaned over their schedules and compared them. "Biology 101 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday-"
"-and College Algebra on Tuesdays and Thursdays."
Victoria continued to looked at Natalie's list over her shoulder, which wasn't too difficult a task as Victoria was a head taller than she was. "Well at least I'll know someone for one class each week. It's a shame our History classes aren't the same."
"Yeah." Natalie nodded, smelling Victoria perfume as she was so close. She caught herself doing that, and hoped Victoria hadn't noticed. The blonde was so lovely, Natalie kept finding herself doing embarrassing things.
Once they had drifted away from the line of students, their parents rejoined them. It was agreed that they should get their books now rather than later, grab a bite to eat, then head back to Beam Hall. Once again, the parents were back in their own conversation. Natalie got the impression they were flirting ever so slightly. Maybe Mrs. Goodnight's beauty wasn't lost on her father afterall.
After standing for what seemed like forever in line in front of the college book store, The two of them got their books and school supplies. The only challenging part was finding the Western Civilization book. It was hidden away in a corner, sitting high on a shelf. Victoria had to get it for her, but even she had to stand on her toes. After buying a book bag and other school essentials, the two pushed their way back out of the store and headed for the exit.
"Can we please drop this mess off and get some supper?" Victoria moaned.
Natalie couldn't blame her, as her own feet were killing her. Looking down at Victoria's perfect legs, those heels must be doing a number to her as well. This plan was executed with quick precision. After dropping off their things, Dr. Chung invited them to the Equus and drove them all back to town, deciding to eat out at a nicer restaurant. Everyone was famished, and once the food had arrived no one talked. After they had rested up and satisfied the hunger in their stomachs, they started opening up again. Like before the adults were talking amongst themselves, while the girls were left with each other.
"I think they're more interested in each other than us." Victoria commented.
"Yeah, sorry about that. Daddy's a flirt."
"I didn't want to be the one to say that." Victoria grinned. "Anyway, tell me about yourself."
It was pretty direct, but Natalie appreciated it. She was to tired to play the polite game until they got to the important stuff. "I'm just your typical nerdy girl who's into art. I'm here for that, mostly."
"It's drama for me." Victoria said, putting down the drink she had been sipping. "Mama says that I should do something more productive, but I always liked acting and musical theater."
"You're so pretty, I can see you as an actress." Natalie said without thinking.
"Oh!" Victoria seemed a bit surprised at the compliment. "Thanks."
Feeling awkward, Natalie wonder if she made Victoria feel weird. "Was that too forward?"
"No." Victoria shook her head. "I'm just used to girls kind of hating me."
"I'm a diva." Victoria said without any shame. "They just get all jealous because I'm rich and so hot."
Natalie could tell Victoria didn't have any problems with self-esteem. In fact, it was a little off putting. Yet, she could see that this was this girl's quirk. She was into herself. Now that Natalie knew that, she felt she'd be able to navigate the waters better with her.
"Don't worry about me. You're in a league of your own, I can't possibly compete." Natalie spoke with a hint of humor in her voice. "I'm not the jealous type."
"I'm glad." Victoria nodded. "I have problems making friends with girls. The ones I do make are either just like me, or suck ups. When I saw that you were my room mate today I thought 'Maybe this is my chance'. You know, to make a different kind of friend."
"You're kind of a philosopher, huh?" Natalie commented, for lack of a better thing to say.
"It's true." Victoria was serious. "I'm tired of always being around rich white girls. I've never met anyone like you before."
And there it was. Natalie spotted it right away. Victoria was more interested in Natalie's race over their different social backgrounds. She had ran into this several times. It wasn't exactly racism. It was a curiousness or an appreciation of another culture. Inherently there wasn't anything wrong with that. Even still, it made Natalie feel either great pressure to not disappoint their expectations, or else as an object that was to be admired. There was no good way of dealing with this. Natalie knew that people like Victoria were only trying to educate themselves, yet it still bothered her.
"Well, like I said, I'm just some nerdy girl. I'm not all that different."
Victoria blinked a bit, then took another sip from her soda. She didn't get it. She never would.