It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that when someone enters college in the United States, it is a legitimate reason to party it up. But to be honest, I’ve never been much of a partier. I don’t like the whole drinking thing, don’t like having sex with hot, possibly STD-prone strangers, and absolutely detest any type of drug. However, I do like to dance, and during my first quarter at the University of California, Irvine, I managed to do a lot of dancing, thanks to the 18 and older clubs in the surrounding areas. Because I don’t have a car, I have to rely on my boss – who I’ve been friends with since I was a kid - or my older sister, a fourth year who agrees to more than she should and my roommate. Luckily, the apartment we share with Taylor is close to campus so I don’t have to walk too far because normally, I’m forced to walk everywhere. Or if I do get overtly lazy, I can just hand over a dollar fifty to take the bus. But interestingly enough, the more I do walk, the more I find I enjoy it.
And luckily for me, Irvine is the safest place in the nation. And no, I’m not exaggerating. When the cops in your suburb are known only for busting high school kids for pot and blazing the siren when they spot some Escalade pulling a bonafide California stop, you know your suburb is pulling out all the stops when it comes to safety. It also shows that respectable officers that are sworn to protect their city fall just above Paul Blart: Mall Cop. But at least Paul Blart is funny. Irvine cops take themselves too seriously.
But I digress. I have never had an encounter with the Irvine cops save for that one time I borrowed a Ralph’s shopping cart because I didn’t want to carry a backpack filled with textbooks on a fifteen minute walk home way back when I was in seventh grade. But I never really counted that since they didn’t even get out of the car; they stayed in their seats, used a speaker radio to tell me to put it back, and then actually made a U-turn in order to ensure that I did it. Maybe in Irvine that really does constitute as an act of rebellion.
James Dean has nothing on me.
Since then, I have stayed on the straight and narrow, ending my wild life of crime after that fifteen minutes. Though I do find myself daydreaming that the next time I’m in the nearest Chase Bank, I’m part of a John Dillinger-esque bank robbery. God, I am in love with that man. And yet Irvine deprives me of such thrilling excitement. Also that no one else would be able to pull off the charismatic bravado that Dillinger had a natural flare for which leaves me to my daydreams.
The one I am currently immersed in is one of which I went to a bit in the past couple of months. I’m on stage with Eminem and we are dueting to his song “Crazy in Love”, a demented love song that, coming from Eminem, is pretty romantic. We’re throwing verses back and forth, and he is amazed at my rapping skills despite the fact that I am as white as white can get. Hell, I even have freckles. But anyways, we’re nearing the end of the song and there’s so much tension between us that even the audience notices it, so who are we to deny them when they start shouting “Kiss!” to the beat of the song? And when he looks at me with those blue eyes of his, and he cocks his head to the side and leans in and –
I blink before giving my best friend and boss the deepest, most potentially life-threatening glare that I can muster. Apparently, my efforts are wasted on her because Kelly starts bursting out into a fit of giggles.
“Ronnie, whenever you give your quote unquote death glare, you look constipated,” Kelly tells me, placing a hand on my shoulder and shaking her head. “How many times have I told you that? And yet you still try.” Here, she starts patting – yes, patting – my shoulder. “I admire your stubbornness.”
“I like to think of it as perseverance,” I tell her, the corners of my lips twitching up.
“I’m sure you do,” she says, indulging my preference of diction like a mother would her child. Kelly is a fourth year, just like Taylor
I don’t care though; it is still a victory in my eyes.
I work at a small mom-and-pop bookstore located in the middle of University Center, a shopping center across the street from the UCI’s campus. Yes, I am a proud Anteater. Okay, so maybe anteaters weren’t exactly the most intimidating college mascot, but the junior college mascot Taylor went to before transferring over here is the Lasers. I shit you not. The Lasers. I’m still not sure what lasers do besides amusing junior high kids at movie theatres and annoying the hell out of me. I’m not exactly sure if annoying is the stigma that should be attached to junior college mascots. But then again, she doesn’t go there anymore and I’ve never been so I don’t really care.
“So,” Kelly says, eyeing the usual emptiness of the bookstore before shifting her eyes on me, “how’s that roommate situation thing coming along?”
“Ugh.” I pinch the bridge of my nose with my finger and thumb, emitting a dramatic sigh. Kelly tries to hide her chuckles behind her polite hand, and her eyes urge me to continue. “Too many males applied for Taylor’s taste. I, at least, suggested we interview the cute ones, but she’s not having the whole co-ed true college experience I keep trying to sell her on. Luckily, we both finished up with the quarter and have more time to focus on it during winter break, but we seriously need to find a roommate or we’re fucked. With tuition fees, rent, bills, and the fact that our parents, who happen to have three other daughters at home, can only pay for so much, we’re literally drowning, and another person helping out by living with us would really give us some breathing room.”
“Nice metaphor, Brit Lit major,” Kelly says with a smirk. “No wonder you talk weird every now and then.” She shakes her head suddenly, and looks at me. “But wait. Doesn’t your apartment only have two rooms? Are you going to move into Taylor’s room or something?”
“Hell no!” I exclaim, offended at such a ridiculous notion. “Do you know how long I have spent crafting my room into one of the happiest places on earth, second only to Disneyland? Taylor is lucky to be moving into such an amazing place. Plus, she already agreed to it, so there you go.”
“That’s right,” Kelly says, rolling her brown eyes. “Your shrine to Joel McHale. You do know that if a physician stumbled upon your place of worship, they’d have you in a strait-jacket before the hour was up?”
“You’re just jealous that I have an outlet for my creative energy,” I retort.
Kelly snorts. “You do have girls applying for the room, right?” she asks.
“Yeah, we have an interview tonight with a potential,” I tell her. “She’s a freshman like me . Taylor tells me that she’s from England or something. I mean, if you’re from England, why not go to Cambridge or Oxford or something? Why UCI?”
“Don’t hate on UCI,” Kelly says automatically. But even I can’t blame her for her pride in our school. I’ve known Kelly since kindergarten (she was in second grade and was my mandated buddy, showing me around the school and telling me what swings were good and which ones weren’t), and she had always been one of those school pride girls that are annoyingly endearing. Luckily for her, she can pull it off. She’s the reason I even got the job here. “Doesn’t this girl have family in the States? It seems she’s a long way for being what – Seventeen? Eighteen?”
I furrow my brow slightly as I ran my fingers through my thick, messy hair. Rarely do I manage to get them successfully through without any kind of struggle. “I think,” I murmur, “that her brother’s at UCLA Law School. I don’t know. Taylor’s in charge of all that.” I wave a dismissive hand.
“Tell me how it goes,” Kelly says, sharing a knowing grin.
Somehow, said grin is reflected on my lips. “Don’t I always?” I ask, and we both start to laugh.
I am late.
I am never late. In fact, I always get to things early because I am afraid I will be late. But then some customer comes in at 5:59 PM, completely disregarding the fact that Penguin Bookstore closes at 6:00 PM sharp. Apparently, she can’t be bothered to drive fifteen minutes north to Barnes & Noble – a bookstore that doesn’t even close until 10:00 PM! – to look for whatever reading material she has to have that evening. And then she gets offended by my rudeness when I tell her that we are, in fact, closed.
“I know times are tough Marion, but I really wish you wouldn’t yell at the customers,” Kelly says.
I wince. I can always tell when Kelly is upset or disappointed with me because she uses my full name. Her three years on me in age always shows in moments like this one; it’s like she’s my best friend, my mother, and my boss all rolled into one. Right now, she is a mixture between my boss and my mother, a decidedly deadly combination, and my least favorite among the choices.
“I’ll try,” I promise as I flip the sign hanging from the door so it reads Closed.
“I’ve heard that one before,” Kelly says softly, and though I overhear it, I don’t think I’m supposed to. And then a funny feeling like guilt settles in my stomach.
“Kelly, I’m –“
Kelly’s hand is thrust up and practically in my face, which prevents me from finishing my apology. “It’s okay,” she assures me as only she can, and even goes to the extent of nudging my shoulder with her own. “I understand. Now, I know you like to walk everywhere, but can I give you a ride home so you can make your interview?”
But even with Kelly’s gracious ride, I am still late.
I fumble with my keys before bursting through the door. “I am so sorry I’m late –“ I begin but feel my own mouth cut my thoughts off when I catch sight of Taylor and a girl who looks nothing older than eighteen staring at me. She looks younger than me, and that’s saying something. The interview already seems to be in progress, and the smile on my lips looks nothing short of sheepish. I straighten, wishing at that moment that I had a chance to shower and change so I look presentable instead of feeling icky.
I catch sight of Taylor’s dark eyes, and though they look firm, they also look forgiving, as they usually do. God blessed me with a patient, temperate older sister.
I drop my bag to the floor and head into the small dining room attached to our small kitchen. “Hi,” I say, extending my hand to her. “I’m Marion Bixby, Taylor’s younger sister. You must be…” I let my voice trail off, realizing I should probably know this girl’s name.
“Hannah,” she says before Taylor can whisper the name to me. “Hannah Shawe.”
“Hi Hannah,” I say, and once we shake hands, I take a seat next to my sister. “I’m so sorry I’m late. Work was ridiculous, as usual.” Taylor’s eyes tell me that now would be a good time to get on with the interview, and I obey them as I usually do. Another sheepish smile taints my face and I clap my hands together. “So,” I say, looking between both women. “Let’s continue the interview then?”
Surprisingly enough, the interview goes a lot smoother than I have originally anticipated. Hannah Shawe is the quintessential roommate; she is soft-spoken and seems almost demure – shy – which is really what we have been expecting since she’s my age and is moving across the Atlantic and three thousand miles of land. She seems so… mature for her age that it forces me to put my personality on trial. Maybe I need to calm down a little. Maybe I need to grow up. Maybe I need… I sigh. I know I get too much sometimes. But this is college and college means being an adult, and to be honest, the thought of growing up and being responsible scares the shit out of me. So I indulge in my quirky side because I want to avoid that process as much as I can. I know that once it happens, there’s no going back. But I guess and I can attempt to tone it down a bit. I can at least try. But there is something in those blue eyes of hers that show, at least to me, once we get to know her and she gets to know us, she won’t be as quiet as she is now. There is a mischief maker just waiting to reveal her true colors so maybe she’s not as sophisticated as she seems.
At least that’s what I think. When I tell Taylor my hypothesis once Hannah has left after she finished signing a couple of contracts and handing over the first and last month’s rent, my beloved sister laughs in my face.
“Right, Taylor,” I murmur, hoping my face looks sinister and dry instead of constipated. “I make an observation and you laugh right in my face.”
“I’m sorry,” Taylor says, and for my sake, only speaks after she has gotten a hold of herself. “I’m sorry, but you do have to admit that you want everyone to have some sort of mischievousness in them so you can inspire them to indulge in it.”
I allow myself a flattered smile. “That’s why I never wanted to be a goddess, Tay,” I say, using the nickname my dear sister absolutely hates but would never actually tell me she hates it because she’s that nice. “I always have been and always will be a Muse.”
“I got you,” Taylor says, feigning seriousness. She glances down at the envelope in her lap, her dark eyes still housing surprise. “I cannot believe we have this. Her family must be incredibly wealthy.”
“One can only imagine,” I reply before leaning back in my chair and taking a sip of my Irish green tea. “I mean, if she has a brother in UCLA’s law school, plus the out-of-country fees, the housing…” I let my voice trail off. “I can’t imagine being so rich.” I make a face. “At least she’s, like, a nice rich person, though, and not one of those airhead characters straight out of Gossip Girl. She seems to have her head on straight.”
“Of course she does,” Taylor says, her own eyes resting on the surface of her hot chocolate. Her lips touch the side of her Tigger mug, the ends tugging up into one of Taylor’s brilliant smiles. “She’s English.”