Chapter 3 – After

An hour later, after listening to my mother warn me against the dangers of parties and college men—and using some language that’s rather uncomfortable for Noah and me to hear from her—she finally makes her move to leave. In her usual style, a quick hug and kiss, she exits the dorm room, informing Noah that she will wait for him in the car.

“I’ll miss having you around every day,” he says softly and pulls me into his arms. I inhale his cologne, the one I bought him two Christmases in a row, and sigh. Some of the overpowering scent has worn off, and I realize that I’ll miss this smell and the comfort and familiarity that go along with it, no matter how many times I complained about it in the past.

“I’ll miss you, too, but we can talk every day,” I promise and tighten my arms around his torso and nuzzle into his neck. “I wish you were here this year.” Noah is only a few inches taller than me, but I like that he doesn’t tower over me. My mother used to tease me growing up, claiming that a man grows an inch for every lie he tells. My father was a tall man, so I won’t argue with her logic there.

Noah brushes his lips across mine . . . and just then I hear a horn honking in the parking lot.

Noah laughs and breaks away from me. “Your mom. She’s persistent.” He kisses me on the cheek and hurries out the door, yelling, “Call you tonight!” as he goes.

Left alone, I think about his hasty exit for just a moment and then begin to unpack my bags. Shortly, half my clothes are neatly folded and stored in one of the small dressers; the remainder are hung neatly in my closet. I cringe at the sheer amount of leather and animal print filling the other closet. Still, my curiosity does get the best of me and I find myself running my finger along a dress made of some sort of metal, and another that’s so thin it’s barely there at all.

Feeling the beginnings of exhaustion from the day, I lie across the bed. An unfamiliar loneliness is creeping its way into me already, and it doesn’t help that my roommate is gone, no matter how uncomfortable her friends make me. I have a feeling she will be gone a lot, or, worse, she may have company over too often. Why couldn’t I get a roommate who loved to read and study? I suppose it could be a good thing, because I will have the small room to myself, but I don’t have a good feeling about any of this. So far college is neither what I had dreamed of nor expected.

I remind myself that it’s only been a few hours. Tomorrow will be better. It has to be.

I gather my planner and textbooks, taking the time to write down my classes for the semester and my potential meetings for the literary club I plan on joining; I’m still undecided on that, but I read a few student testimonials and want to check it out. I want to try to find a group of like-minded people I can talk to. I don’t expect to make a lot of friends, just enough that I can have someone to maybe eat a meal with every once in a while. I plan for a trip off campus tomorrow to get some more things for my dorm room. I don’t want to crowd my side of the room the way that Steph has, but I would like to add a few things of my own to make me feel more at home in the unfamiliar space. The fact that I don’t have a car yet will make it a little difficult. The sooner I get one, the better. I have enough money from graduation gifts and savings from my summer job at a bookstore, but I’m not sure if I want the stress of owning a car right now. The fact that I live on campus gives me full access to public transport, and I’ve already researched the bus lines. With thoughts of schedules, red-haired girls, and unfriendly men covered in tattoos, I drift to sleep with my planner still in hand.

THE NEXT MORNING Steph is not in her bed. I would like to get to know her, but that might be difficult if she’s never around. Maybe one of the two boys that she was with was her boyfriend? For her sake, I hope it was the blond one.

Grabbing my toiletry bag, I make my way to the shower room. I can already tell that one of my least favorite things about dorm life is going to be the shower situation—I wish each of the rooms had their own bathrooms. It’s awkward, but at least they won’t be coed.

Or . . . I had assumed they wouldn’t be—wouldn’t everyone assume that? But when I reach the door, sure enough, there are two stick figures printed on the sign, one male and one female. Ugh. I can’t believe they let this kind of thing happen. I can’t believe I didn’t uncover it while I was researching WCU.

Spotting an open shower stall, I skirt through the half-naked boys and girls quickly, pull the curtain closed tight, and undress, then hang my clothes on the rack outside by blindly poking one hand out of the curtain. The shower takes too long to get warm and the entire time I’m in there I’m paranoid that someone will pull back the thin curtain separating my naked body from the rest of the guys and girls out there. Everyone seems to be comfortable with half-naked bodies of both genders walking around; college life is strange so far, and it’s only the second day.

The shower stall is tiny, lined with a small rack to hang my clothes on while I shower and barely enough room to stretch my arms in front of me. I find my mind drifting to Noah and my life back home. Distracted, I turn around and my elbow knocks into the rack, knocking my clothes to the wet floor. The shower pours onto them, completely soaking them.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I groan to myself, hastily cutting the water off and wrapping my towel around myself. I grab my pile of heavy, soaked clothes and rush down the hall, desperately hoping no one sees me. I reach my room and shove the key in, instantly relaxing when I push the door closed behind me.

Until I turn around to see the rude, tattooed, brown-haired boy sprawled across Steph’s bed.

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