I stood in the center of the school square, clutching my luggage and watching as the shadows of the oak tree crept across the courtyard. Apparently I was the only one who was stupid enough to have misread my acceptance letter and had showed up the day before orientation.
I had spent the night in a guest room in the main building above the dining hall, and I was beginning to realize that I wasn’t going to get an orientation so much as I was going to be tossed into the ocean of Wellington’s without a life preserver. Now I had nothing left to do but wait for the other boys, the ones who would be, according to the prefect who had shown me the grounds, my new roommates.
The prospect was a little scary. For reasons that I tried to forget, I knew that sharing a room with three other guys would be tough. As much as I tried to downplay it in my mind, I couldn’t help the knot that had formed in my stomach or the fact that my pulse was out of control. The stress of waiting, of not knowing what would happen next, was making me twitchy and a little sick to my stomach. I took some deep breaths, trying to force myself to calm down. No matter what these guys were like, I sure wasn’t bloody going to make anything better by acting like a jittery wanker.
It was cold for a spring morning and I shivered as I gnawed on my fingernails. I had just given up on my thumbnail and started my index finger when a cab pulled up in front of me. A tall, lanky guy tripped out the door and pulled his luggage heatedly out of the trunk like it had insulted him. There was no one to greet him, so I figured that was my job.
“Hey,” I said, trying to appear friendly, “James Banhart?” I asked, remembering one of the names that had been mentioned to me.
He nodded and offered a hand. Bleeding Christ, that guy had long arms. He was a baby-faced guy with a mop of sandy brown hair that, lucky for him, managed to hide what I recognized as uncommonly big ears. He wasn’t bad looking, though, with gray eyes and a lip curl that made it look like he was always smiling. From the look of his face, I could tell he did a lot of smiling anyway. “Jim, call me Jim.” he corrected me, giving my hand an overlong shake. “Which one are you? Gabriel?”
His accent made me cringe. “Yeah, Gabe, actually. Gabe Moretti.”
He didn’t exactly smile, but he wasn’t going to bite me, either. He actually reminded me of an overgrown puppy. Nothing too scary there. “American, huh?” I asked, for lack of anything better to talk about, even though it was obvious he was. He was going to have a rough time of it around here. I had thought my accent was painfully obvious here in Essex, and I was just from Yorkshire.
“Yeah,” he nodded, and we proceeded into a short but awkward silence. We both turned when someone, a built, white-blond guy, came up the path to the courtyard.
“Holy shit,” muttered Jim, nodding towards the huge guy on the road. “Is he the other one we’re waiting for?”
I squinted down the road at the newcomer. “I don’t know.” Unable to contain my curiosity, I took a few steps down the road towards him. The guy was intimidating to say the least. He had to be a few inches taller than me and more than a little stronger. His eyes were a cold, icy blue and he hunched his massive shoulders like he was trying to protect himself from something right behind him. Jim and I took an automatic step back as he got closer.
He stopped in front of us and looked us up and down as we stood there in his shadow, like he was trying to decide which one to kill. Then he said something in German which neither of us understood. The big guy’s face reddened as he must have realized that he hadn’t spoken in English. “You must be the roommates,” he muttered, obviously uncomfortable.
I nodded, not really sure what I could say to him. “Gabe Moretti,” I introduced myself feebly.
His mouth tightened like something I had said had made him even angrier. “Erich Amery,” he said through a locked jaw. He hid his accent well, but he gave himself away again with the harsh pronunciation of his first name.
It was then that I first had that feeling that I would experience many times over the course of our connection, a bewildered mix of fear and awe. It was the first time I ever suspected there was more to Erich Amery than met the eye.