I came back from the dining hall the following day to find Marc perched on my bed. Gretchen sat at her desk writing, the dour expression she usually wore firmly fastened to her face. I sat down next to Marc.
“Nice room,” he said, looking around.
“Yeah,” I said without enthusiasm.
“Want to go for a walk?” he asked.
“God, yes,” I said.
I noticed Gretchen smiling in a way that demonstrated her satisfaction with our departure. So did Marc. He shook his head and sighed, leading me to the door and opening it for me.
“So long, Gretchen,” he said.
“So long,” she said. She sounded a little like a cow, her voice doleful and flat, when she said that. He closed the door softly behind us.
“What’s with her?” Marc asked when we were out of earshot.
“Beats me,” I said. “She’s been that way since I arrived. She locked me out of the room the day after we moved in,” I said. “I was in the shower. Had to walk across campus in a towel to get the room key.”
That stopped him in his tracks. He turned to look at me in disbelief.
He whistled. “You have had a seriously bad few weeks,” he said.
“Yeah. I know,” I said, trying not to feel too sorry for myself.
“Seen any more ghosts?” he asked, the weight of the question greater than he let his tone give away.
“No,” I said. “No more ghosts, unless you count my memory. My heart stops every time I remember it.”
“I bet,” he said, sounding as if he still wasn’t sure he believed I had actually seen a ghost.
We walked to Marc’s dormitory room in Stoke Hall. He closed the door behind us and took me in his arms, enveloping me in a warm, strong hug.
“Baby I’m sorry. I heard about the name on your door when you moved in,” he said, still holding me. His face was turned into my hair.
“Your mum called and told me. That was a fuck up.”
“Uh, huh,” I said, angry at the memory. He led me to his bed and sat down next to me.
“My roommate won’t be back until after dinner,” he took my hand. “I think I probably got luckier in that department than you did. Gretchen’s…” he searched for the right word, “unfriendly?” he asked. “No, miserable,” he finished, finding it.
“It wouldn’t take much to be luckier in the roommate department than I am,” I assented, leaning back on his bed, exhausted from the emotional strain of the past two days.
Taking this as an invitation, he laid down next to me, propping himself up on his right arm.
“So, what should we do now?” he asked, a smile on his face.
“Dunno. Have anything in mind when you came to see me?” I looked at his smile. He had beautiful teeth.
He laid back and stretched out. “Definitely not,” he said, still smiling.
“Good,” I said, not moving.
He leaned into me then, kissing me hard. “I’m glad you came.”
Tired and near tears I kissed him back. All of the pain of the past week was welling up, threatening to overcome me. I felt like a train wreck. Slipping my hand into his T-shirt and burying my nails in his side, I pulled him against me. The back of my throat was tight. Straining to hold back my tears, I tried to control my breathing, to avoid crying. I unbuttoned his blue jeans.
He was rock hard. Silent, hot tears started to roll down my cheeks. We sat up. He laid his finger against my cheek, wiping one of my tears away.
“Don’t cry,” he whispered.
I nodded. Looking at me as if he wanted my consent, he took his T-shirt off. I watched. His skin was darker than mine. He kissed me, pulling my black tank top up and over my head.
“Ummm,” he straightened to pull me against him. Chests together, he held my hips with his hands. He was hot, hard, slipping his hands into my pants, moving against me.
He could unfasten my bra with his right hand, a trick he’d been practicing for months. Now we both laughed at his dexterity with the hook.
Crying and laughing at once.
I yanked at his pants, trying to pull them off. He stopped me, taking me in his arms and holding me against him.
“Baby, are you okay? We don’t have to do this now,” he said, sounding concerned. His skin felt so good against mine. So warm.
“I’m fine,” I said, without looking up into his eyes.
“Yes,” I said. “Now please take your pants off.”
He laughed, “Yes, ma’am.”
The first day of classes was uneventful. Astronomy and Probability and Statistics. Both were large lecture halls filled to the gills with other freshman. Bright lights and theater-like classrooms. One after another, we filed in and up a staircase to find seats in long curved rows. Little desks folded down between the seats. I knew no one and felt awkward. Seeing other students standing around talking outside of the classrooms, I resolved to make some new friends.
After class I walked across campus, still unsure of where I was going, looking for Randall Hall. Looking for home. The sun was hot, and there were birds singing, which I found annoyingly cheerful. But I had a reminder that I was not completely alone: I was still sore from making love to Marc the day before.
A silver lining in my cloudy sky.
After dinner I went back to my room to look at my new textbooks. I sat at my desk, skimming the first chapter of my astronomy book. It was already 8:00 pm and the sun had set. Gretchen was lying on her bed reading a romance novel. The room was dark: the only lights were the lamp on my desk and the little lamp next to Gretchen’s bed, which cast unflattering shadows across her face.
I felt a chill air blow across my neck. I looked up, but both windows and the door were closed.
“Do you feel a draft?” I asked.
“No,” she said, looking up from her book. Her expression suggested she thought I was crazy. I wondered what I had done to earn her disdain, or for that matter, what I had done to deserve her as a replacement roommate for Eva.
She got up, laying her book by her bed, and left, closing the door behind her. That was a relief. The room was quiet. I went back to my textbook.
Again, I felt a cool breeze on the back of my neck. I looked around. I had a strong feeling I was in company. But I was alone in the room. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling someone was there with me.
My cell phone rang.
“Rowan?” Mom sounded concerned.
“Hi, Mom.” It was good to hear her voice.
“How’s it going up there?”
“More or less as expected. How are things there?” I replied.
“Has Gretchen been agreeable?”
“Something like that.” I said.
“Mmm. I was afraid of that,” Mom said, sounding worried. “Honey, Travis is here and he has some questions for you,” she said. “Do you feel up to talking to him now?”
“Sure.” I sat down on the floor, preparing for a long discussion. I sat on the floor, leaning against my bed and extending my legs in front of me. I tried to relax. There was a rustling on the line and I heard Travis clearing his throat.
“Hi, Rowan.” Travis’ Texas drawl was always a welcome sound.
“Hi, Travis. How’s it going?”
“Well it’s goin’ all right. I’m here with your Daddy and we’re just going over some things. Gotta second to talk?”
I watched as the branches outside my window blew and swept against the night sky, hitting the dorm room window. “About what time did Eva leave the house the day of the accident?” he asked.
“Around 9:10. Her usual time,” I answered.
“Okay. And did you hear or see anything unusual? Did the car sound okay? Any scraping sounds or anything?”
“No. I had an awful feeling in my stomach and asked her to let me drive her. But I didn’t hear any unusual sounds from the car.” I paused, recalling.
“No. I didn’t hear anything.”
“And what about Eva? Did she seem upset or distracted?”
“No,” I thought about her invitation to the movies. “In fact, she had a date that night and seemed to be in very good spirits.”
“Oh-kay,” he said breaking the word into two distinct syllables. It sounded like he was making notes. “I might have some more questions after I’ve seen the car, but that’ll be all for now. I’ll give you to your Daddy. You take care, now.”
Dad came on the line. “Rowan, some things have come up since Travis arrived. He contacted the police and they said they think the car was tampered with. We’re going to look at it again tomorrow. I’ll call you when we know more. I love you.”
He handed the phone to my mother without waiting for my response.