Iris helped me move into the dorms. I wasn’t bringing much, and she knew it, but I appreciated the sentiment. After all, she was moving out of state, and we wouldn’t be seeing each other for a while. She made me promise to keep in touch online. It was a promise I hoped to keep, but I think we both knew it wouldn’t be quite the same.
“So you have no idea who your roommate is?” she asked for about the fifth time, laying my blankets over the top bunk.
“No idea,” I repeated. “I just know his name is Bradley Jones.”
“That’s so weird.”
“That you don’t know anything about him. Who doesn’t find out as much as they can before they move in with someone?”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine. Sometimes I like to mix things up and have faith in people.”
I wasn’t exactly telling her the truth. It was true that I hadn’t cyber stalked Bradley, but it wasn’t because I trusted a stranger. The way the last few months had gone, I barely even trusted Iris. The only reason I hadn’t tried to find anything out about Bradley was because I was afraid of what I might find. Since there was already so much to be afraid of, I didn’t even want to go there.
“So you seriously have no idea—”
Iris stopped when she heard someone fumbling with the lock. My mind began the search for places to escape, but the door was already open, and in walked Bradley. He set his bags down and turned to me.
“‘Sup?” he said, extending his hand.
I reached out to shake it, and said, “Not much, glad to meet you.”
“Yeah, same. So who’s…”
“Iris,” she answered. “Don’t mind me, I’m just helping my friend move in.”
“Alright, well cool,” he said, backing out of the doorway. “I’m gonna go catch up with a few friends from last year, but I’ll catch you later.”
“Okay, see you then,” I said as the door closed. Iris gave me a look: one that only she could pull off. Without any words, she called me an idiot and a friend at the same time. “What?”
“‘Glad to meet you’? That’s the best you could do?”
“Honestly, if you could see the thoughts that were racing through my mind, you’d just be impressed I was using real words.”
She shook her head and smiled. “So what do you think?”
“About Bradley! Come on, open up a little, it’s not like I even have anyone to tell your secrets to.”
“Well, meeting him was kind of underwhelming,” I said with a shrug. Iris rolled her eyes, and again I had to ask, “What? I mean it as a good thing. With all the stress I’ve been under lately, I’m really just glad that Bradley seems like a regular guy.”
“If that works for you, then good. Now be honest with me again; are you going to be alright on your own? You’ve been a lot better lately, or you’ve at least acted like it, and it’s great to see. But you know that you can always call if you need someone to talk to.”
“I’ll be fine,” I told her, pretty sure it was a lie. “But you know I’ll call either way.”
Iris smiled again. She wasn’t done worrying over me. Not by a long shot. But at least she was smiling, whether she meant it or not. “I think you’ll be fine too. It’s a long drive home, so I should probably hit the road. Can I get one last hug before I go?”
I nodded. She wrapped herself around me, and I pulled her closer, and just like that I didn’t want her to go. She was a good friend. My best friend, at that point. And as soon as she left, I’d be all alone in Rycroft, no matter how many people were around. I could feel her warmth, her breath, her caring. It wasn’t love, but it was enough to remind me of what love felt like, just for a second.
That moment ended too soon, like they always do. She walked away and I was left by myself.
I climbed up to the top bunk and just laid there. It was weird to think about how I’d be spending the next year in a new place. I’d lived in the same room of the same house in the same town for as long as I could remember, basically my entire life. And that all changed in a matter of hours, which only felt like seconds after they happened. I’d gone from the familiarity of Foxboro Nowhere to the foreignness of Rycroft Somewhere, and the strangest part of the whole thing was that in most ways, it didn’t even feel that different. There were hundreds of familiar faces I might not ever see again, and hundreds more that I would have to learn, but it didn’t even feel like it mattered.
I jumped down from the top bunk and ran to the door. I had to get out of that room. I strode through the hall, giving half waves to the others moving in, but not stopping when they said hello. They were all strangers to me, yet I knew them as well as the people I’d gone to school with since kindergarten. I yanked open the door to the stairwell and marched down the steps. I had to get out of that building. Outside there were dozens of vehicles lining the road, and people carried all types of boxes and suitcases into the dorms as the sun beat down on everything. They were sweating, but I didn’t understand how, because it was just so fucking cold. I started running, hoping that maybe it would warm me up. I sprinted around people, down streets, past buildings, trying to shake that fucking chill.
I left campus and sprinted through the surrounding city of Sienna. I’d never seen so many people! They all acted like it was normal to be around thousands of other humans, all packed so close together that it was impossible to breathe, all so cold that I couldn’t stop moving or I would die. I kept running, repeating to myself that I would be fine. I would be fine. I would be fine. I would be fine. I passed the city limits and ran through the suburbs. At least out there I could find the room to breathe, and as long as I could keep breathing I could keep moving, and as long as I could keep moving I wouldn’t freeze to death. I would be fine. I began to sweat, and the sweat cooled me down, and I collapsed, shaking on the cold cement sidewalk. I kept shaking. I was moving. I would be fine. I crawled off of the sidewalk and onto the blacktop street, where a visible heat radiated up from the asphalt. It looked so warm, but it was frozen to the touch, and I could only lay there in the street, shaking. Moving. I would be fine. I would be fine. I would be fucking fine.
My memory gets hazy after that. I know I laid there for a long time, and I know I got up. I don’t know where I went. I know it was somewhere cold, and I know there weren’t many people around. I don’t know what the hell I was doing so far from home. I know I’d lost my mind for a few hours. I don’t know exactly why, or exactly how I got it back. The first distinct thing I remember after collapsing is calling a cab from a pay phone in the middle of nowhere.
On the way back, the cab driver told me about the last time she had to pick someone up from the SOS phone. I nodded along, but I wasn’t quite listening. The air conditioning was blasting cool air into the already freezing car. It made it hard to pay attention to anything else.
When she dropped me off at the dorms, she said one last time that there were plenty of people I could talk to if I needed any sort of help. I nodded, but I barely heard her. I was too preoccupied wondering how the sun could be so cold. Since there was a line of people waiting to use the elevator, I turned to the stairs once again. My shoes felt like blocks of ice, and each step up reminded me of how numb my toes were.
Bradley was hooking up a TV in our room. He said hey as he kept working at it, and I said hey back as I dug around in a bag for my sweatshirt.
“It’s getting late,” he pointed out, glancing at the window. “Looks like it might rain soon too. Mind if I ask where you’ve been all day?”
“Just out walking,” I said as I pulled the sweatshirt over my head. It didn’t make me any warmer, but at least it was comfortable.
“You’ve been walking for ten hours? Must have been one hell of a walk.”
I said it was, and I hopped onto my bed, searching for some warmth under the blankets. “I just wanted to see what was around town.”
“Find anything interesting?”
“Yeah, Sienna kinda sucks. Campus isn’t bad though. You can find pretty much anything you need around here,” he explained. Then he stopped fumbling with the chords behind the TV and turned to me. “So I hate to ask, since I figure you probably don’t like to talk about it, but I have to know; are you the same Regis Maxwell who went to Foxboro High School?”
“I was sort of hoping people wouldn’t put that together, but yeah, that’s me. I guess there aren’t many other Regises.”
Bradley laughed to himself, and said, “At least your name makes you sound like someone important. Mine just makes people think I smoke weed and listen to reggae.”
“And do you?”
“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, what can I say? Same as your name I suppose. Anyways, I’m sorry you had to go through all that. Drake sounded like a pretty terrible person.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Was he? From Bradley’s point of view, as someone who only saw what was on the news, Drake could have easily been the worst person in the Midwest. Even from my perspective, he still might have been. I just didn’t know. The fucker tried to kill me, but I just didn’t know.
Bradley must have picked up on my uncertainty, because he shrugged, and added, “Or maybe he seemed alright. Either way, you did the right thing.”
That one I could agree with; I’d done the rightest thing I was able to. Even if it left me shivering for years, at least most people survived. Pulling the blankets closer, I asked, “So you don’t mind living with a gay roommate?”
“As long as you can put up with a certified stoner,” he responded, grinning. “Relax man, it’s all good. I’m into chicks, but if you ever end up bringing some dude over, just remember to put something on the door. And if anyone gives you shit, let me know about it. I’ve seen like, every kung fu movie ever made, so I’ll give ‘em a crane kick just for you.”
He laughed again, and I managed to laugh along with him. Bradley was an alright guy.
Classes started the next week, and it was clear from day one that I had a reputation around campus. Some people were eager to start a conversation the moment they saw me, while others wouldn’t even acknowledge my existence. They were all strangers to me, yet somehow I was somebody to them. I hated it. In high school I could escape into the crowd, but in college, the crowd had become the thing I was escaping from.
I didn’t make any new friends over that first semester. There were some people I talked to, and hanging out with Bradley was alright, but my real friend—singular—only seemed to exist on the other side of my phone. Not that the lack of new people bothered me. It made too much sense for it to bother me. I hadn’t made any friends since elementary school, and even if that group was smaller than it used to be, it was the only group I’d ever known.
There was somebody who had been around for almost as long though, and even if I didn’t care much for him, at least he was familiar. It was winter by the time he and I finally talked to each other again. I was trudging through a snowy campus in a hurry to get inside, hating how the physical coldness just made the phantom chills even worse, when I heard my name.
Turning around, I sighed and slowed down. “Hey Adam.”
“Hey, it’s been a while. I figured since last time went so well, I might as well strike up another conversation, see what happens.”
“Look, I’m sorry, punching you was out of line—”
“No, I get it, I was going way too… I don’t know the word, pushy I guess. And besides, don’t go thinking you’re some world class boxer, I healed up pretty fast.”
Adam tilted his head up, showing me that there wasn’t any lasting damage where I’d hit his jaw. I was glad to see he was fine, although I wasn’t thrilled to be seeing him in general. Looking forward again, I asked, “So was there something you wanted?”
“Why do you ask?”
“We’ve walked by each other a lot since last summer, and this is the first time you’ve said anything. I just want to know what this is all about.”
“Well, on the Fourth of July I might maybe have been a little drunk.”
“Well, I might maybe be a little drunk right now. Makes it hard to stop myself from saying I like ya.”
I stopped walking and turned to him. “You know who my last boyfriend was, right?”
“And you know he was nothing but great to me for as long as I could remember?”
“You know that relationship ended when he killed three people, tried to kill countless more, and threatened to kill me?”
“So you could see why I might have trust issues,” I concluded, laying back in a snowbank. I would be cold either way. Might as well have a reason for once. “Adam, I don’t hate you, you seem nice enough. But I just can’t.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. He sat down in the snowbank beside me. It might have seemed like a gesture to show his dedication, but at the time, I got the impression that he was too drunk to care that he was sitting in the snow. “But come on, could we at least hang out sometime?”
“Depends, does your version of hanging out have a happy ending?”
“Only if you want it to. So uh, I doubt it.”
“You know what? Sure, why the hell not?”
“Awesome. Here, let me get you my number,” he said. He reached for his phone, but between the cold and the intoxication, he had a hard time getting into his pocket. When he finally did get it out, his fingers were too stiff to work it anyways, and he gave a defeated sigh.
“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “It’s not like we won’t see each other around. I’m going to get inside, but I’ll talk to you later Adam.”
I’m not sure what possessed me to agree to hang out with him, but I think the main thing was the familiarity. Even if we were never close, at least we grew up in the same place, and we knew the same people. I felt like we might understand each other because of that. I meant it when I said he seemed nice enough. But if he ever made a move, I would have no problem proving that I could punch a hell of a lot harder.