Samantha stared out the window over the traffic on 16th street. Scanning the block, she noticed a bar directly across from the dorm, a convenience store on one corner, and a pizza pub on the other. What else could she possibly need so close? Clearly, the campus catered to college students. Although, living this high up on the eleventh floor made her a little queasy. The fear of getting trapped in a fire terrified her, but she was determined to face this fear and survive freshman year.
She spotted her parents leaving the dorm. Her mom removed a tissue from her purse and blew her nose. Samantha placed her palm on the window and brushed away a single tear. She had never been away from her parents longer than a week. Being an only child, she knew this must also be difficult for her parents. She thought about opening the window and yelling down to say goodbye again, but then thought better of it. It was time to let go. Plus, accidentally slipping out the window in the 90-degree heat flashed through her mind. Hanging from a window wouldn’t be an ideal way to start her college career.
It turned out to be the hottest day of the year. The building contained no air conditioning and she felt claustrophobic. She took a deep, calming breath like her mom taught her all those years ago before the very first day of kindergarten.
She turned from the window to take in her new living conditions. The pie-shaped room is barely big enough for a bunk bed on one wall, two desks on the other wall, two small dressers on each side of the tiny closet—cramped quarters is an understatement. The walls are freshly painted off white, but the blue carpet filled with black spots has seen better days. She tries to imagine what shenanigans have transpired within these walls over the years. Only if the walls could whisper their secrets. They would tell her about all the times they’ve spun in the minds of drunken students and withstood the pounding of the bed frame against them. Whatever happened here, it’s better if she doesn’t know.
She wondered what kind of roommate she’d be assigned to. Would she be nerdy and turn the lights off at nine o’clock or would she burn the candle at both ends? They were supposed to connect on the phone before meeting in person, but the summer flew by and neither had called. She hated the phone. She would rather talk to people in person, so she could gauge their reactions like an eye roll or a furrowed brow. She pulled the official roommate assignment letter from her pocket and read it again, “Dana McCarthy, Chicago, Illinois.” She unrolled her White Sox poster and taped it to the wall, hoping her roommate wouldn’t mind.
As she unpacked, she threw a mix tape into her boom box. Madonna’s “Holiday” blared through the speakers. She danced around the room with a rolled-up poster, singing into it as she twirled, putting her instantly into a better mood.
“Aw look, Dana, you’re rooming with a Southsider.”
Samantha swung around and met the eyes of a rather tall, slender boy. Her blood rushed to her face. A petite girl with shoulder-length brown, poofy hair stood next to him in the doorway. The boy’s light blue collared shirt, unbuttoned a little too far, revealed his skinny chest and a few strands of hair. His pits already wet with perspiration. She admired the girl’s hot pink leggings and her off the shoulder black shirt. They looked like they walked off the cover of Tiger Beat magazine with their high-top Chucks. Samantha crossed her arms over her baggy, holey t-shirt and hoped they didn’t notice her dirty, fake Keds. She must have looked like a real sight to see.
“Patrick, be civil.” The girl smacked her gum, swung her fist, and punched him in the arm.
“Ouch, I am being civil. What’s wrong with saying Southsider?” He turned to Samantha. “You are a Southsider, right?”
“Obviously,” Samantha said pointing to the poster of Carlton Fisk on the wall.
“Don’t worry. We won’t hold it against you. You get points for playing Madonna and dancing. If that’s what you call it.”
Samantha bit her lip to stop herself from saying, “Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice called asking for his shirt back.” She had to draw a line on her sarcasm if she wanted to make friends.
The boy took a step into the room.
“What’s that smell? Paint? You can get high from that smell.”
“I prefer rubber cement myself,” Samantha retorted.
“Ah, a funny girl. Why don’t you open the window?”
“I prefer the paint over yeast wafting around outside from the brewery. And have you forgotten, it’s 90 degrees out.”
“It feels like 100 degrees in here. And you better get used to the smell. This is Milwaukee, ya know. You do realize your hair is getting curlier by the minute?”
Samantha shot him a look. She thought she could leave her frizzy hair days behind her, but not in this humidity. She hoped he wouldn’t start calling her Chia Pet like the boys in high school.
“I bet I could take a ringlet and walk around the block with it and it would bounce back perfectly.”
“Funny,” Samantha said without cracking a smile. “Did your parents drop you off?” She really wanted to ask him if his parents dropped him on his head.
“No, we have a car up here.”
Samantha quickly shifted her eyes away to hide her surprise. She knew she wouldn’t have a car until she graduated. Must be nice, she thought.
“Patrick, go find your room already.” The girl let go of her luggage handle and shoved him.
“Fine. Catcha ya later. Now I do hope my roommate is a Cubs fan.” He turned and left, rolling his large suitcase behind him.
“Sorry, probably not the best way to meet. Don’t mind my twin brother. I’m Dana.”
“No offense taken. I’m Samantha.” She smiled and extended her hand.
Dana took Samantha’s hand and shook it.
“I’m sorry about this. I can take it down.” Samantha pointed to the White Sox poster.
“Girl, puleaze. Don’t apologize for that. This is your room, too. I’m not much of a baseball fan anyway. I have a poster, too. Whaddya think of Ralph Macchio?”
“I dig him. Wax on Wax off.” Samantha swung her arms.
“I think we’re going to get along just fine,” Dana laughed. “Now where to put my clothes?”
Samantha watched Dana wheel her almost-as-big-as-her luggage around the tiny room.
“Okay, I have an idea. Whaddya think about taking the bottom bunk out from under the top bunk and putting it also high up on the other wall and one desk under each bed? That way we have our own space divided in the middle.”
Samantha contemplated it for a moment. “Totally. Do you know how to do it though?”
“Oh, girl. I’m calling maintenance to do it. I can’t chip the paint off my nails.” Dana waved her hot pink nails in front of her and smacked her gum.
Samantha smiled. This was a girl who would get things done.
“But first things first.” Dana closed the door and unzipped her suitcase. She pulled out a bottle. “Let’s do a shot…you know…to new friendships.”
Samantha had been scared to go to college. All the “what ifs” had been swirling in her mind all summer. “What if I don’t get along with my roommate? What if I can’t meet any cool friends? What if I fail classes? What if I don’t like the cafeteria food?” The list of “what ifs” were endless. And, now here in her new room she’s toasting to new friendships—all that worry for nothing.
She took a swig from the bottle and scrunched her face as the liquor burned her throat. The door to the dorm room flew open. Samantha swung the bottle behind her and held her breath.
“I dropped my stuff off. Who wants to go explore campus?” Dana’s brother walked toward Samantha.
Samantha let out a sigh. He peered around her back.
“Ah, celebrating already? Maybe I will like this Southsider after all.” He grabbed the bottle from her, read the label, and took a swig. He handed the bottle to his sister. “I know this is yours and exactly where you got it from.”
Dana stuck her tongue out at him.
“What do we have here?” A stocky, muscular boy walked into their room. “I’ll take that,” he said and pointed to the bottle.
“Who are you?” Dana eyed him.
“I’m an R.A. You know resident assistant to keep you in line.”
Dana handed him the bottle. “I suppose you’re going to write me up.”
“This is your lucky day. You get a warning because it’s move-in day, but if I catch you again…” The bullish boy wagged his index finger at her and backed out of the room with bottle in hand.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get that back or at least party with him so I can have some,” Dana said as if what just happened was no big deal.
Samantha’s parents had warned her that “under no circumstances” was she to break the dorm rules. They were paying too much money to have her kicked out. She remembered every word of the lecture. Her parents had drilled it into her so many times, especially the part where they explained how they both had their own careers before meeting and expected her to take her studies seriously. In not so many words, that meant don’t get knocked up or thrown in jail. She’d have to keep an eye on Dana. There was no way she was going to let her, or anyone for that matter, bring her down.
“You’re lucky,” Dana’s brother said. “Mom and dad would’ve been pissed at you and probably grounded you from the car.”
“Yeah, well, that’s impossible now. They’re 75 miles away.”
Samantha sighed, relieved she wasn’t caught with the bottle. With her luck, the R.A. would have written her up.
“I’ll go check out campus with you,” Samantha interrupted them before things got heated. She didn’t have a sibling to fight with, but enough of her friends back home did and she knew things could escalate quickly.
“You guys go ahead. I need to unpack and get this room in order.”
“You’re going to have your hands full with my sister. She’s a total neat freak.”
“There could be worse things in the world,” Samantha said, referring to her own bad habits. Samantha wasn’t the most organized person. She knew in time clothes would be piled up on her desk and her closet would resemble a pig sty.
“Did you meet your roommate?” Dana asked him.
“Not yet. He wasn’t around. Ready, Southsider?”
“My name is Samantha.”
“Okay, Sammy it is.”
Dana laughed and shoved them both through the door. “Go already, Patrick. I’ve got stuff to do.”
“You better hold your nose, Sammy. That yeast smell is getting stronger.”
“Where do you wanna go?”
“Let’s go find the house that dude accidentally set on fire with a smoke bomb last semester.”
“What? That’s crazy. How did you hear about that?”
“I’ve got connections,” Patrick said.