My roommate was at my side. Patrick. I didn't like him. Not one bit. He had both ear lobes pierced with rounded sapphire-like gems. His clothes were too tight. His hair was in a faux-hawk. He smelled of cologne. His jeans were some pretentious, European-esque designer brand that was tinted in a gradient of blue. His shoe laces were purple. He claimed to be Canadian, but sounded like he was American. And he had the pouty lips of my grandmother's puppy.
As I scanned the clusters of students in the cafeteria, I wished he would stand somewhere else. I didn't want to be seen with him. I didn't want to be associated with him. I wanted to call my aunt, and see if she could pull some strings to get me a new roommate.
I needed to make a good first impression.
At all costs.
They were crazy, that's why they caught my eye. It was with the posterboard setup at the head of their crowded table. It was neon green, with glittery silver letters, reading out all in capital letters:
FIRST-YEAR AND DON'T
KNOW ANYBODY YET?
COME SIT DOWN HERE.
SEE IF YOU CAN LAST!
I scanned the table, overwhelmed by new faces. It was in the centre of the north wing of the cafeteria. There were all types of people at that table, I couldn't see any predominant stereotypes. And it was so full. Was this the 'in' crowd? Were these the popular second-years trying to acquaint themselves with the coolest first-years? I spotted one chair, one solid blue chair.
I dared myself, in that instance.
Weaving my way through the crowd, I tried to navigate. It was like sailing a small boat through rough waters. There were people going in all directions, spills of food and unsteady trays. I wanted to park my bag on that chair, ask someone to watch it, and head for the food line-up.
At least at dinner, I was told I could expect a waiter.
There he was, on my tail. Patrick. Was that loser following me?
I dove to the side, and took a detour around a thick crowd of chatty people who seemed to have finished their meals. When I got around them, somewhat out of my way, I realized that Patrick was ahead of me, making his way straight toward that blue chair I so coveted.
I muttered a homophobic slur under my breath.
A sense of defeat welled up in me. I stood there for several minutes, leaning against a pillar and mulling over what had just occurred. The one thing I wanted had been taken from me by the most repelling guy I had met so far.
And then something magical happened.
An older student at the table, who had a bit of facial hair under his lower lip, stood up just a bit and pointed far away, signalling with an angry expression on his face. I could hear his loud voice, "You're not welcome here!"
A red-faced and abashed first year gaped with unease, turning his attention to the girl across from him, sitting beside the angry older student. She smiled politely, almost condescendingly, and then nodded. I could hardly make out her lovely voice, "Get, go. Mick's right. You're not fit to hang with us. Try the table at the end."
The younger student rose reluctantly, and left.
I smirked. As he passed me by, I elbowed him and whispered, "Tough luck."
"Get bent," the guy answered.
"Already am," I said contentedly, then looked away.
And who should be looking at me but Mick and the girl beside him. He had a cold and analytical look. And her, well... she was checking me out! I was a little caught off-guard. I smiled at them, and put on an air of confidence.
"You new? Come on over," said Mick.
"I'm Daniella," said the fine young thing beside him. She was wearing a tight, pale pink top, with many straps. Some were supportive, going over her shoulders, and others were loose and decorative, falling over her lithe upper arms in wavy crescents.
"And I'm Mick," said Mick. He was wearing a blue and white Saint Cambridge Athletics tee-shirt. There were notes in front of him. He was profiling us!
"Davis, or Davy," I told them. "Davy Beaufort."
"Where you from, Davis?" asked Daniella.
"Sault St. Marie, Michigan," I answered.
"And that's your roommate?" she asked, tilting her head to the right, in Patrick's general direction. From what I could hear, he had just told a joke and was causing a bit of an uproar of laughter.
I nodded, a sour look on my face.
"Excellent," she said. That made me smile.
Mick wrote something down under my name. That made me uneasy.
"This here, beside us, is Daniel and Sarah. They're here to stay, from the looks of things. Just don't expect them to, y'know, say much to anything but each other."
"Hmm?" said Daniel, looking over at us for a fraction of a second.
"Nothing," Daniella told him, as kindly as she could.
"Lovebirds," said Mick.
"Kinda like us, not so long ago," Daniella reminded him.
"Oh," came out of my mouth.
"No, no," said Mick, shaking his head. "We're not together."
"Not anymore," said Daniella.
"Good," I stated boldly.
She blushed. I made her blush. Oh, I made her blush!
"So," said Mick. "What are you interested in?"
"Mmm..." I said, as I thought about it. "Acting. Soccer. Friends. Music. Uhmm... movies. Any kind."
"What kind of music?" asked Daniella.
"Rock, alternative, indie... well, I like a lot of music as long as it's... y'know, good? But I'm not much of a fan of rap, hip-hop, country, or screamo. But everything has its charms."
"I hear ya," said Mick. "Sounds like you'll fit in here. You voice your opinions well. What do you like to do for fun?"
"Oh, uhmm... I like to stay on top of my studies. I'm no over-achiever or anything, but it is a priority. And I work on weekends. But I'll have to look for work again now that I've moved to Cheshire. I don't need the money, my family's well-off, but I like to be in touch with... the real world."
"That's refreshing to hear. What else?"
"I used to skateboard. I brought my bike with me. I'll swim, no matter how cold the water is. Swimmer's build and all."
"We could use you on the swim team," said Daniella.
I went on, "And, as much of a small-town guy as I may be, I'm no stranger to the opposite sex."
"I play the bass guitar and the cello. I'll probably join the school band. And err... see if I can join something a little more... contemporary, as well."
"Right on," said Mick, running a hand through the front of his spikey reddish brown hair. "Now, go get some food. I can hear your stomach grumbling."
"Oh?" I became self-conscious. "Sorry about that."
"Don't worry, we'll save your spot for you. But not tomorrow. We'll still be screening tomorrow. But you'll be welcome here after that, if you continue to impress us and like it here."
"However," said Daniella, interrupting Mick, "I encourage you to meet plenty of people. We don't want to limit your social circle. We may operate like a clique, but we aren't one."
"Right on," I said, not knowing what a clique is. I was sure I'd heard the word before though, on TV. Something social or another.
"Some of us are going out on the lakeside for ice cream after dinner tonight," said Daniella. "You wanna tag along?"
"Sure," I said. "What time?"
"Meet in the front hall at 7:30 PM," she told me.
"I won't be there," said Mick. "But you'll see me at swim team tryouts, right?"
I grinned. "When are those?"
"Patrick!" called Mick. "When did Henry say the boys' junior swim team tryouts are?"
"Tomorrow morning. Before breakfast. 7:15 AM at the South Pool," my roommate told Mick.
"Right on!" said Mick, and I reckoned that was his favourite thing to say.
"I'll be in the stands, Davy," said Daniella, looking me firmly in the eyes.
I liked hearing that. I didn't know how to respond, though. She was a second year, I assumed, downright flirting with me. "I'd... I'd like that."
"Now go get yourself some food, man!" said Mick. "The line-up is shorter now."
"Okay, watch my bag," I told them, as I got up from the hotseat and dropped my light pack onto it.
It was easier to move around now, the spaces between the tables were less cramped with people moving this way and that. But it was noisy. Really noisy. There were card games, and people eating, and someone had some music going.
When I made my way into line, I was left with my thoughts for but a moment. I felt content with what I had accomplished in that solid blue chair.
"Do I make you uncomfortable or something, Davis?" said a voice from behind me. It was a soft, effeminate tenor.
I spun around. It was Patrick.
"Look, roomy. Let me be frank. I'm not used to... ummm..."
"That's fine," he said, his voice suddenly becoming normal. Like, it dropped an octave. It was a rich baritone, friendly and kind. "I can understand that."
"I've never met someone who was openly gay. Not where I come from. They're kinda reviled there."
He smiled, "We're reviled everywhere, to some extent."
"I'm sorry I stormed out of the room on you. And ignored you earlier in the cafeteria. I just... didn't want to be judged."
Patrick snorted. "Look, dude. We're roommates, not boyfriends. You're obviously straight, and not my type. Just cool your jets, and let's try to be friends. People here are open-minded. They won't think you're a mollycoddle just for being nice."
"Right," I agreed hesitantly. "I'll try to be cool with it."
"I promise not to cover the walls with Adam Lambert posters," said Patrick.
"What? Adam Lambert is gay?"
Patrick chuckled, as we moved up in the line yet again.
"I didn't know," I confessed. "Damn, that dude is awesome. Plaster him on the wall all you want. Better than Richard Simmons."
"See? We aren't all nutjobs," said Patrick. "Not all the time, anyways."
I rolled my eyes.
"Besides," said Patrick. "Your Katy Perry pin-up is pretty hot."
"Thanks," I said. "Just don't expect me to go easy on you tomorrow morning."
"I wouldn't expect any less," said Patrick. "I hope we both make the team, but it's on, my friend."
I laughed. He had such a competitive spirit.
"And for you?" asked the lunch-lady.
I eyed the labeled dishes she was serving. Rice pilaf. Breaded chicken cordon bleu, stuffed with spinach. Asparagus. Caesar salad. Vegetarian lasagna. Spring rolls. Peanut sauce. And curried-something I didn't recognize, marked spicy.
"Chicken and salad, with a little asparagus on the side," I requested.
She nodded, and began to serve it onto a plate.
Patrick smiled warmly at the lunch-lady. "Beef vindaloo, spring rolls with peanut sauce, and a bit of sautéed asparagus, please."
She served him the curried-something, and the rest of it. It smelled so foreign to me, and I began to realize just how new and unknown to me Saint Cambridge was.