Move-in Day—Northern Louisiana University
I HITCH MY two-ton duffel bag over my shoulder and look up, up, up at my new dorm. Twelve stories tall. Holy shit, that’s a lot of estrogen in one building. Makes Boozman Hall at Orleans Academy look like child’s play. The thought causes an unwelcome pang straight to the gut.
“Darlin’, if there isn’t an elevator in that high rise, I may have to pay one of those muscled-up fellas over there to get your trunk to the tenth floor,” my dad says, his gaze shifting back and forth from the building to me.
I grunt and grab the other end of the trunk, damn well determined no one is talking to any muscled-up anybodies. Hell. No. I hear Dad’s sigh of relief once we get inside and hear the pinging of an elevator. The sentiment quickly dies at the sight of the monstrous line of other students, parents, and trunks waiting impatiently in front of the two—yes, two—elevators.
I slap his shoulder and sigh, resigned. “Buck up, old man. Looks like it’s gonna be one of those days … shit.”
“Language,” he mutters with not an ounce of conviction. “Damnit.”
White cinder block walls. Two bed frames bolted to the floor with blue, plastic mattresses sitting on top, looking shiny and unwelcoming. Formica-covered desks with chips along the edges and weathered wooden chairs shoved against them. One two-by-two window—glass foggy and too high to peer out of without standing on top of aforementioned desks. One lonely looking sink with exposed pipes and a matchbox-sized mirror on top of it. My new home … at least for this semester.
I rotate in a slow circle, taking it all in, not that there’s much to see. Dad left a few hours ago amidst an onslaught of, “Are you sure?” and “You can always start next semester.” I followed them with my own barrage of, “This is what I want,” and “I’ll be just fine.” But the truth is, now I’m not so sure. As my gaze flits from the empty walls, the cloudy window and mirror, and the carvings on the side of the desk—
I heart penises.
Never forget (with a rudimentary drawing of a brontosaurus alongside it).
And my personal favorite:
Here I sit,
Then I farted.
Robert Frost, eat your heart out. Profound words from the ghosts of students past. What would I leave behind for the next person … not a single thought bubbles to the surface.
Because, just like this room, I’m empty.
I shut my eyes and fight back the sorrow that clings to every part of me. I blow out a breath and try to exhale the hatred crushing my lungs at the mere thought of Remy Fucking Rodrigue. How could I have been so naive and stupid? Looking back, I see the signs—the not-so-subtle hints of what was to come—like graffiti painted on the billboard of my ridiculous life.
And I fight back the tears always ready to fall at the thought of Ever. Ever … no matter how hard I try, my heart won’t let him go. I’ll never forget the way his lips had brushed against mine, or the way he’d made me feel like I was his solace, so I try to remember the blank look on his face, his hazy, unfocused eyes as he snorted powder up his nose. The ultimate finger to me … to Easton … to everything that had mattered in his life.
The truth of it is I’m too broken to help him now. I can’t help him any more than I can help myself. I can’t be his solace anymore.
“Hello?” a chipper voice calls from the other side of the door. The knock causes the door to creak open a crack, and a girl with braided hair and a tentative smile peeks inside. “Are you Mara’s new roommate?”
I nod, plastering on my most welcoming smile. It feels forced, but it’s the best I can manage. “That’s me.”
She motions behind her. “I’m your across-the-hall neighbor. I take it Mara hasn’t gotten here yet. She usually keeps her lips, among other things, locked to her boyfriend until the very last minute. He still lives in her hometown.”
“Ah, so that’s where she is,” I say with a chuckle. I slide my fists into my jean pockets and shrug.
An uncomfortable silence settles between us as she looks around the room. My head is a jumble of cobwebs and dust bunnies, and mustering up the energy for polite conversation is not something I’m capable of right now.
“I like what you’ve done with the place.” She laughs, and her gaze settles on the unopened trunk at the edge of my bed.
“Yeah, I’m going for the sterile, generic motif. Kind of depressing, huh?” I frown and fall back onto the plastic mattress. The springs creak beneath me, sounding more like they’ll break than bounce back.
“I don’t know. I guess it’s all in how you look at it,” she says, and plops down beside me. “Maybe it doesn’t have to be depressing. Maybe it can be more of a blank slate.”
My heart squeezes at her words. Yes … a blank slate. I love the sound of that. I open the chute in my brain and empty out the hate, the loss, the sorrow. I’m not foolish enough to think it’s gone forever, but right now, in this moment, I’m not Low: the girl who lost it all. I’m whoever the hell I want to be.
I extend a hand, and a more genuine smile tugs at my mouth. “I’m Marlo.”
She ignores my hand, throwing an arm around my shoulder and squeezing tightly. “I’m Sara. Glad to meet you.”
HER BLOOD-CURDLING SCREAM filters through the electronic sliding doors, and my adrenaline takes over, legs pumping as I pull on my gloves. I glance behind me to make sure Sara is steady in tow, and she smirks as the delivery kit bounces over her shoulder with every stride.
“Bet you’re wishing you ran with me in the mornings now?” She chuckles, not even sounding the least bit winded.
“Fuck off,” I mumble under my heaving breath, loud enough for just her to hear.
It only makes her laugh louder.
We’re the first to make it to the front entrance of the hospital, but the show looks well on the road, with a woman laying down in the front seat of a car, clutching her overly pregnant belly, her legs splayed out on the concrete of the parking lot. Her husband is occupied with skipping and hopping while pulling out every hair on his head and hollering “HELP!” at the top of his screechy lungs. Seriously, the dude could audition for choir boy back in the Middle Ages.