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“Hockey players,” the tall blond began as she grabbed the bottom of her blue cotton t-shirt and flipped it over her head, “aren’t scared of shit!”
Then she kicked off the rest of her clothes and jumped. Elena and half of the other incoming freshman screamed, running over to the precipice to look over the ledge. The blond girl flailed her arms and legs out for half the fall before straightening to cut through the water’s surface like a dagger.
Elena let out a gasp when the girl finally surfaced, unscathed by the rock formations that jutted out around her splash site. She flipped the bird to four male swimmers who had been taunting her from the ledge. She backstroked towards the near shore of the lake, apathetic to the fact that her tits and bush were showing to the fifty or so people who gathered to watch. Elena didn’t understand why the girl had gotten into such an argument with the guys from the swim team, but she had clearly won. None of the swimmers followed her lead–in fact, they all retreated inside to the cafeteria after the jump.
One-by-one, Elena and her group stepped away from the precipice and walked back to the tables where they had been eating lunch. It was still summer, a good five weeks before the end of vacation. They were on campus for a weekend to get a preview of the dorms (the official program was called “The Great Escape”) where they would be living this fall. The various athletic teams they’d seen perusing the cafeterias and using the shared dorm facilities were training during the off-season.
The cliff diving stunt became the most talked-about event of the weekend. It was re-told every time someone from the program ran into someone who hadn’t been there to witness it. It was mentioned in almost every conversation they had whilst out on the town–and they did go out a lot: Elena found that this was the first opportunity for most of her companions to escape their parents’ spheres of influence.
Elena made jokes about it, poked fun at the swimmers and the blond alike with the scathing sarcasm she’d learned to protect herself with from an early age. Despite the laughs, the image of the blond backstroking through the water stuck with her. On Sunday, she made some excuses to her new friends about wanting to see biology labs and history lecture halls and facilities for a couple other majors she wasn’t studying. Elena wandered the entire campus. She didn’t run into the blond girl.
In all, it was a fun and informative weekend. When it ended, she boarded the bus back to St. Paul to catch a midnight flight home. All the tours and all the people she met confirmed for her that she had made the right choice. Allenbach Lakeside University seemed like a truly odd selection for a reasonably accomplished Angeleno like Elena. Her grades gave her the pick of the Cal States and her demographics gave her a good shot at the mid to upper-tier University of California campuses.
Instead, she had chosen a near-unknown private school halfway across the country. No one would know her. No one would follow her. She couldn’t explain why she put such a premium on that (she was a shy girl, short with her words) but it just seemed right that she start things completely new after high school. Make new friends, meet new people.
* * * * *
Elena took the Greyhound to St. Paul to claim her dorm room about two weeks before school started. The trip took two days. A flight would have been much faster and more convenient but it was significantly more expensive. It would have been cheaper if mom had given her money to book the ticket ahead of time–but such was life.
She lived with mom. Mom had fed her and clothed her, brought her to school, made her go to church–but mom was always broke. Dad was rarely at his house. He was constantly busy with his work life, living abroad for months at a time, helping new branches open overseas.
His checks filled in the gaps left behind by financial aid–at least, most of them, anyway. His most recent check came in late (some snafu with PayPal, he said; Elena didn’t believe him, she’d never had a problem with PayPal before) and cost her her slot for the reserved rooms in the freshman building. Now, instead of rooming with Carla, a nice Minneapolis girl she’d met during the Great Escape weekend, she would be randomly assigned a domicile.
She followed the poorly printed out map of the dorms, and, with some help from the Mexican groundskeeper, found the entrance to building sixteen wedged between the gym and the pool. Three girls exited around the same time she entered–their headbands, track gear and duffel bags gave her a good idea of exactly which dorm she had placed in. She suddenly felt self-conscious of her extra weight as she held the door open for the girls, who hardly seemed to notice her. It was the first time she’d thought of it since leaving Los Angeles.
The building didn’t have an elevator, which was awfully inconvenient. Her arms were numb by the time she’d dragged her suitcase all the way up to the top otele gelen escort floor. She shook the strain out of her limbs and retrieved the key–a plastic card with a magnetized strip, just like they use in the hotels–that the university had mailed her. Room 602, the letter accompanying the key had said, your roommate: Jane Smith. Elena bit her lip. She regretted not trying to find Jane on Facebook. Knowing a few things about her would have made these introductions less awkward.
Elena opened the door and found the room to be exactly like the other she’d stayed in at the great escape. Two beds on either side of a window, with two desks, facing the walls opposite each other.
Jane was sitting at her desk, going over something in her laptop. Even seated, she looked tall. She had blond hair and blue eyes and thin, gaunt features. She wore a sports bra and basketball shorts and nothing else. Elena stopped. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end when she recognized Jane as the girl that had jumped in the lake and taunted the swimmers.
“Hello?” Jane said dubiously.
“Hi,” Elena managed. “Um–uh–you’re Jane, right?”
“Yeah,” she said. She frowned. “Elena…Elena Watkins?”
Elena pushed forth a smile and set her backpack down on her desk. “Yeah,” she said. She had meant for it to sound more enthusiastic. “That’s me.”
“You’re black,” Jane said.
She locked her knees and nodded, feeling awkwardly compelled to confirm what was already evident. “Have been my whole life.”
Jane raised both brows and nodded along as though it were the most astonishing thing in the world. Then she turned back to her computer and resumed surfing the Internet.
* * * * *
Elena was taking six classes–a fairly rigorous schedule, even for a full-time student– and spent most of her study time in the library rather than at the dorm. With Jane’s cycle of daytime exercises, afternoon/night classes and weekend practices, the two girls hardly saw each other.
Elena spent her Wednesday (the only day she didn’t have class) and weekend free time hanging out with Carla and her friends, instead. That started getting old fast. Carla and her friends enjoyed going to frat parties, which Elena discovered to be quite similar to the handful high school parties she’d been to in Los Angeles. There was smoking, drinking games and sex.
Elena didn’t enjoy partying then and she really didn’t enjoy it now. Still, she went along with it for a couple weeks. She played King’s Cup at the Zeta Beta Tau house, tag-teamed with Carla for a couple games of beer pong, smoked a little weed with some Tri-Delta girls and had a some superficial conversations with other students that filtered in and out (“oh, what’s your major? Where are you from? Los Angeles? Reaally?”).
After a couple weekends out, she started to feel more like a bodyguard than a party girl. Carla was a lithe, well proportioned girl with red hair and Celtic features that drove the frat boys crazy. And she spent most of her time following Carla, stuck to her like a flower painted on a wall. Less people were interested in the fat black girl, though all of them respected the fact that she was a friend and deserved some attention too.
So Elena stopped going out on weekends. She started staying in or going to the library to get ahead on reading, then fell into patterns of behavior that were familiar and comfortable. She missed Carla, though. All her best times at Lakeside were, thus far, spent with Carla. When they hung out on Wednesdays, away from all the extraneous people that showed up on Friday and Saturday nights, they could really connect.
There was that, and the fact that Carla reminded her so much of an old friend she hadn’t seen since junior high. Elena looked up from her fantasy novel and frowned. She hadn’t thought of this in a long time, so long that she couldn’t even remember…It hurt to even try, but she did and a quarry of jagged images and sounds came to her when she closed her eyes. There were flashes of red hair, roses in a garden that was nicer than anything her mother had ever planted, and scattered laughter that quickly turned to silent awe.
And then Sister Agnes was practically banging down the door of the shabby little studio apartment she and her mother shared. Agnes’ face was red and splotchy as she shouted: I don’t want her coming near my daughter again! Mom’s reproachful expression as she shook her with both hands and hissed through her teeth: you don’t want to go to hell, do you? The youth pastor that clapped her on the back of the hand consolingly: it’s OK. I know you’re confused, but God has a plan–
Of course he had a plan, and of course she would follow it. It wasn’t like the church to be wrong about these things; the church was the only source of stability her mother’s whirlwind of a life.
Elena was woken by her vibrating cell phone. She was still on the third floor of the library, by the window overlooking balgat escort the quad. She wiped her eyes and folded her book shut while looking down on the yard below. The trees were beginning to wilt. Autumn was imminent. As a Southern California native, Elena had never seen true autumn before. Carla said that the woods were transformed and the colors were positively enchanting. She’d mentioned something about planning a camping trip for the Veteran’s day weekend. Elena was excited.
She picked up her phone. “Hello?” Elena said.
“Elle!” It was Carla. Elena smiled. She thought the shorthand that Carla used for her name was adorable. She didn’t remember that she had once almost punched a guy several years ago for using the same. “What are you up to?”
“Nothing,” she said, folding the book closed and setting it down, “just getting caught up on some homework.”
“Would you be interested in a date?”
“Uh…” Elena bit her lip. She didn’t realize it at the time, but her heart had almost jumped through her throat. “A date?”
“Yeah, my friend Saul from high school. He goes to Twin Cities University and he’s really cool. I thought I would set you guys up since it seems like you would get along well.”
“Are you up for it?”
Elena nodded, more to herself than anyone else, as a sullen look settled on her face. “Yeah,” she finally said, only then realizing that Carla couldn’t see her nodding. “I’m up for it.”
Elena met Saul at a coffee shop that was a fifteen minute bus ride north of campus. He was tall and broad-shouldered with a trimmed goatee and his hair combed into slick waves. He was handsome. She was impressed, though she got the feeling that he was not so impressed with her. She pushed the worry aside and tried to straighten herself as he smiled at her and sat down. Perhaps–no, hopefully–she was wrong; she’d never been too good at reading people, anyhow.
Over the next thirty minutes of sporadic, staccato conversation, Elena found that she and Saul had exactly one thing common: they were both black.
. . .
The cute summer dress she’d bought in LA proved to be a bit too thin for a late summer night in Minnesota. By the time she got back to building sixteen, she was positively freezing–her arms were shaking, her teeth, chattering, and her whole body had turned to goose-flesh. The halls of the building weren’t much warmer and she practically ran up the stairs to try and get her heart rate up.
Going into her room felt like opening an oven door. The heater had been turned up to the mid eighties and Jane was curled up on her bed, naked except for bra, panties and a hockey glove, the range and durability of which she seemed to be testing by pumping her fist and flexing her fingers.
“Oh,” Elena mumbled as she caught sight of her roommate. She should have been used to seeing Jane in various stages of undress by now–the hockey player slept in nothing but her unmentionables and had no modesty whatsoever about changing. Still, Elena’s face ran hot as she walked in and turned her back to Jane’s side of the room. “Didn’t know you’d be here. I thought you had practice.”
“Jenna Hoenig lost control on her skates and cut her forehead open on a goalpost,” Jane said.
“That sucks,” Elena said as she sat down on her bed.
“Coach decided to cut practice short.” Jane’s tone exuded disappointment. She flicked the glove off and tossed it onto her desk. “What a stinking oaf.”
Elena looked over at her. “Is she alright?”
She shrugged. “Those injuries are never as bad as they make them out to be.”
Elena stole another glance at Jane’s body. If anyone knew about injury, it was Jane. Her skin practically crawled with scars–old lacerations, scrapes and burns–altogether, it fit perfectly with the profile of someone that lived most of their life outdoors playing full-contact sports. She looked away before Jane turned back.
“What did you just get in from?” Jane asked.
Elena grumbled. “A terrible date.” She almost went on a tirade about Carla and Saul and race but stopped herself as she realized that Jane was hardly a sympathetic ear.
“Well?” Jane asked, looking up at her expectantly. “Was he dead ugly or something?”
She laid back and looked up at the ceiling. “I was just…” She frowned and thought of Carla. “Expecting something different, that’s all.”
“It’s still kinda early for a Saturday night,” Jane said. She stood up and walked over to the closet on the other end of the room. “Let’s go out.”
Elena watched her as she rifled through her tiny assortment of casual clothes. Jane had very few items in her closet that weren’t sports gear or equipment for outdoor recreation.
“I don’t know, I think I might stay in.”
“Come on,” Jane said as she kicked on a pair of faded jeans. “We’ve been roomies for like a month and we’ve hardly seen each other, much less gone out. I’ll buy you a drink.”
Elena scowled. elvankent escort “We’re minors.”
“We’ll go to Rollo’s. They serve anyone.”
Jane’s eye’s practically bulged out of their sockets as she turned around from hunting through her pile of T-shirts. “You’ve never been to Rollo’s?” She started waltzing over and Elena almost scrambled up before Jane had snatched her wrist. “You’re going with me. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”
She found that going out with Jane was completely different from going out with Carla. They walked past frat row and towards the boulevard of businesses that seemed to border campus and the rest of the town. Rollo’s was a sports bar on the boulevard.
True to Jane’s word, Rollo’s served all. Elena saw several guys from her freshman composition class taking shots in a booth and Jane introduced her to four guys from the basketball team–Dave, John, Chris and Alex–who were drinking beers at the bar. They stopped and chatted with them for some time. Elena thought that Alex was particularly handsome, but found her tongue knotted in several different places whenever she got a chance to speak to him directly.
“So, what were you two doing this evening?” Alex asked as Jane and Elena finished their sixth shot of vodka. Elena had only intended on taking one, but Jane and Dave’s incessant goading had pushed her into a second and a third. Each shot that followed required less and less effort on their part.
“Come on, I thought you’d know me after a semester of bio,” Jane said as she slapped the shot glass down and yelled after the barmaid for another. “I don’t have plans. I just skate from one goal to the next.”
Elena hiccuped as she put her shot glass down. She had never been truly drunk in her life and that sixth shot felt like it had pushed her into unknown waters.
“That goal being?” Alex asked.
Jane wrapped her arm around Elena’s shoulders and pulled her in until they were close enough to kiss. “To get take my new roommate out for a nice drink.” She let go and Elena covered her face with her hands. The world was starting to spin. “After that, I hadn’t figured it out yet. Maybe we can go to Golem?”
Elena looked up. “What’s Golem?”
“Swanky club next door,” Alex answered.
Jane nudged him in the ribs. “What do you say? Care to escort a couple of ladies to the dance floor, gentlemen?”
John crossed his arms over his chest. “Jane, you are hardly a lady.”
She straightened in her seat. “Fuck you, John.”
“One day soon, perhaps?” He countered with a crooked smile.
Alex laughed. “As much as I would love to, Jane, we can’t. A couple of the other guys said they would be meeting us here.”
“You wusses.” Jane downed another shot and stood up off her bar stool, staggering for a minute before regaining her balance. She tugged on Elena’s arm. “Come on, roomie, let’s leave these losers.”
“What?” Elena felt dazed as she followed Jane out of the bar. “Where are we going?”
“Golem. To dance.”
Elena straightened at this. “Ugh, let’s just go home.”
“Oh, come on.” Jane had an excellent method for whining without really sounding like whining. Her voice could be so commanding. “We’ll only go for like thirty minutes. It’ll be fun, I promise.”
Elena scowled. “Me. Dancing. No. I can’t.”
“Anyone can dance.”
She shook her head. “No. I can’t. It’s–“
Jane frowned. “What?”
Elena tried to form a word with her lips. She had meant to say stupid, but it escaped her now that Jane was staring her down with an incredulous look.
“Are you scared?”
Elena shook her head, more out of instinct than anything else. The world was still spinning hard.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’ll be fun, trust me.”
With that, Jane dragged her into Golem and Elena made no effort to resist. Not that there would have been a point in doing so–Jane was much stronger than she would ever be. Her fears and insecurities came to a halt just as they crossed the threshold into the club. Within, the club was crowded with ALU students and rumbling with the bass line of some forgettable hip-hop song.
Once they were on the dance floor, Jane’s energy seemed to burst through the roof. She shouted along the hook to most of the thumping club songs and strutted her stuff with the pride and daring of a peacock in mating season. She was bold enough to pull random strangers–both male and female–from the sidelines and just start dancing with them.
Elena found Jane’s antics to be downright hilarious and after a while, forgot herself long enough to join in.
* * * * *
The volume of school work Elena had to deal with really ramped up over the next few weeks. She had to put down a few of the novels she had been reading through and re-work her study schedule, which now involved a lot less time in the library and more time in the dorm.
She still studied and hung out with Carla on Wednesdays, but that night out with Jane had opened their relationship significantly. Elena now considered her to be a best friend. They had breakfast and dinner together almost everyday and often met for lunch on campus. Jane brought her to some of her Hockey practices, introduced her to the rest of the hockey team and even convinced her to take on the vacant post of team record-keeper.
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