The James Herriot Maneuver
Leon's Dad drove him back to Green College following the Christmas break. He had his two sacks of clean laundry (courtesy of his mom), a couple of his Christmas presents, his ordered books for the new semester, and a bunch of snacks and soda to last until the next visit home.
The room looked odd with Sabella moved out but Leon wasn't complaining as the two roommates didn't make for the greatest dorm duo on campus.
Leon noticed Annabelle unlocking her door across the hall, having just returned herself - her mom helping lug her laundry and other belongings into her room.
Leon knew the girl by name, occasionally saying hello when they passed in the dorm hall or on campus but they were nothing more than acquaintances, both of them mostly keeping to themselves.
Leon walked his father to his car for the return ride home, shaking hands and saying so long before returning to his dorm room to unpack his stuff.
There was a knock on the open door and Leon glanced up to see Annabelle's mother standing in the doorway.
"Oh, your roommate moved out too?" She observed, noticing the other side of the room empty and the bed stripped. "Annabelle has her room to herself this semester as well."
"Mom, what are you doing?" Leon heard Annabelle's voice from across the hall.
"Do you have any tape by chance?" Annabelle's Mom asked Leon. "I wanted to hang Annabelle's new calendar."
"Sure," Leon said, opening a desk drawer and pulling out a roll.
"Thanks," the attractive middle aged woman said, taking the adhesive from Leon's hand. "I got some tape, Annabelle!" She announced as she crossed the hall to her daughter's room.
Leon returned to his unpacking while listening to the voices of the two women across the hall drifting into his room. Leon was in 309 and Annabelle occupied 310, both rooms at the end of the hall. With the emergency exit fire door capping the end, there wasn't a lot of foot traffic at this part of the hall and Leon enjoyed the quiet solitude.
Leon finished arranging his stuff and he was looking forward to relaxing for the evening and settling back into his college routine after being on holiday break for nearly a month.
"Here's your tape."
Leon glanced up to see Annabelle's mom standing in the door.
"Thanks," Leon said, taking the roll from her.
"Say, I'm a little nervous about Annabelle being on her own with no roommate," Annabelle's mom said.
"Mom!" Annabelle yelled from across the hall. "Don't!"
"Would you mind keeping an eye out for me?" Annabelle's mom asked.
"Mom, I don't need a babysitter!" Annabelle protested, marching across the hall with annoyance.
Leon was struck by how much the two Asian women resembled each other in their appearance, both with long black hair, thin petite frames, and pale white skin.
"How 'bout a bodyguard?" Her mom suggested.
"I'll be fine," Annabelle said. "It's a very safe campus."
"Could you please humor your poor mother?" Annabelle's mom requested. "At least pretend that you'll do what I ask?"
"How 'bout we keep an eye out for each other?" Leon suggested in an effort to offer a compromise.
"Yes, this young man is all alone too," Annabelle's mother said. "Safety in numbers."
"Whatever, Mom," Annabelle said with aggravation as she left the door frame.
"You two can walk to the dining facility when your schedules allow, especially at night," her mother said.
"Will you please stop embarrassing me!?" Annabelle requested loudly from her room.
Her mother laughed, rolling her eyes and giving Leon a wink before following her daughter across the hall.
Leon didn't give the encounter much more thought. He left the door ajar as he sat on his bed and texted his mom that all was well.
A while later, there was a light knock on the door.
"It's open," he called.
The door slowly swung open and Annabelle was standing in the frame wearing pair of green Green College sweats.
"Your mom gone?" Leon asked.
"She's got a three hour drive," Annabelle said, staring at Sabella's empty side of the room with the bare bed and naked desk.
"What happened to your roommate?" Leon asked. "What was her name, Corrine?"
He remembered as a tall skinny blonde with hair longer than Rapunzel's but she barely gave Leon a second glance at any given moment.
"Carolyn," Annabelle said. "She decided to live with a friend this semester." She thought about it for a moment. "I guess I wasn't a friend but I'm not complaining." She was still staring at the empty side of the room. "What happened to your guy?"
"I think he flunked out," Leon said. "He didn't really reveal much. He just said he was out of here the last time I saw him. "I'm not complaining either. I don't think I ever saw him sober."
"It's just that Carolyn wanted to talk all the time," Annabelle explained, as if to justify her aloneness. "I'm not a talker."
"Me either," Leon confessed with some embarrassment.
"I'm happy when I'm alone," Annabelle said, almost as if she was testing him.
"Me too." Leon said flatly.
"Anyway, I generally go to breakfast at eight and supper at six," she said, finally looking at him.
"I thought you weren't interested in doing that with me," Leon said with surprise.
"Well, I can't dishonor my mother now, can I?" Annabelle sighed with frustration.
"I don't want to make you do something you don't want to do," Leon replied nervously.
"Too late," she frowned. "You're the one who brought it up."
"Actually, your mother did," Leon said.
"Are you backing out of the deal?" She frowned.
"No, of course not," he said. "Just knock on my door whenever you're going to the dining facility. If I'm here, I'll be more than happy to walk with you."
"It's really not that far," Annabelle said.
"I can walk there blindfolded," Leon said knowingly.
"It is a pretty walk, even in the winter," Annabelle said.
There was an awkward pause, as if neither was sure what to say next.
"Don't you have any friends here?" Leon finally asked.
"Not really," she admitted – almost proudly. "I haven't really tried. I like being in my own little shell doing my own thing." She waited for him to qualify his friend status but he didn't say anything. "You?" Annabelle finally asked.
"I'm shy," he revealed, sounding reserved. "I'm more comfortable on my own."
"What's your major?"
Annabelle waited for him to ask her what her major was but he remained silent. "I'm majoring in Mathematics," she finally said. "I really love it."
Leon nodded with approval but he didn't say anything in reply.
"Boy, you really are shy, aren't you?" She realized.
He blushed in response.
"It's okay," Annabelle told him after another awkward pause. "I'm actually rather shy too. I just try to fake it." Pause. "Which is why I'm standing here." Pause. "Sounding kind of stupid." Pause. "Talking to a mute." Pause.
"Sorry," he mumbled.
"Maybe we're supposed to be kindred spirits now," Annabelle decided. "Since we're roommate-less." Pause. "You can be my male counterpart." Pause "The shy guy." Pause. "Well, bye then," she sighed, finally giving up on trying to engage him in a conversation.
"What's it like for you?" Leon asked suddenly, stopping her from leaving.
"What's what like?" She asked, stepping back into the room.
Annabelle pondered his question for a moment. "It means faking it," she admitted. "Being brave. Fighting self-consciousness. Taking a leap of faith every time I do something outside my comfort zone."
"Fighting shyness is a constant act of courage," Annabelle told him. And when you're hit with doubt or insecurity, it takes every last bit of energy not to be felled by discomfort and stress while you fight the fear of rejection or failure." She peered at him. "Why?" She asked. What's it like for you?"
"It's being in the dining facility with hundreds of other people and still feeling like you're all alone," Leon answered.
Annabelle smiled. "Well now, thanks to my Mom, you won't have to be all alone in the dining facility anymore," she said before turning and returning to her room across the hall.