Days as a Freshman: 106
“It’s cold outside, huh?”
Rebecca and I walked slowly down a carpeted corridor, our boots scratching softly on the grey rug. My cheeks stung from a wind that had moved completely into winter, stretching the skin too tight against my face.
“It’s freezing. Winter’s really here, I guess.” Rebecca kept talking, all the energy she had kept bottled up during our shopping trip pushing out and covering my silence.
I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure I could say anything. By the time Rebecca stopped and knocked on a door covered in paper flowers, I was sure I had gone dumb with anxiety.
“Okay. Ready?” Rebecca cleared her throat, her mittened hands opening and closing.
Before I could answer, the door opened, almost as though the person on the other side had known we were coming, had been waiting. Sammy stood in front of us, small, thin, covered in a fuzzy blue blanket, the lamp on her desk throwing a lightness around her blond head. Even though it looked like she hadn’t slept in a while, there was no denying the cute, popular superstar she had once been.
Before it all.
“Hey.” Smiling uneasily, Sammy stepped aside, letting us into a single bedroom that smelled faintly of flowery scented candles and laundry.
I wondered if Sammy had always had a single, or if it had been given to her after she came back to campus.
“It’s cold out there!” Rebecca closed the door and repeated her new favorite phrase, holding herself like the December air was still around.
She was never this awkward. Quiet, yes. Careful with her words, sure. But tripping over herself and letting her face go cartoon-animated? This wasn’t the Rebecca I had known for four months.
“Getting close to Hanukkah.” Sammy sat down on her bed, a large green comforter covering everything. Pulling her blanket tighter around her shoulders, Sammy smiled at me, and I suddenly thought that she was probably the type of girl who was always cold.
“Hi, Grace. Rebecca’s told me a lot about you. So has MaryAnne.” Mentioning her cousin caused Sammy’s smile to waiver, but she seemed determined to keep it on her face. “It’s a little awkward meeting you under these circumstances…but I mean, I guess everything’s awkward these days.”
“Nice to meet you too…” I leaned against her dresser, wondering if she knew just how knowledgeable I was of the circumstances she spoke of. “I like your room.”
“Yeah…” Sammy looked around, some of her straight blond hair falling into her eyes. “They gave it to me after I came back a week ago. A medical single. I guess they think having the entire campus whisper behind your back is a medical condition.” She laughed a laugh that wasn’t really a laugh and let her eyes fall onto her blanket.
“You want some tea?” Reaching into her pocket, Rebecca brought out a couple of small packaged tea bags. “I brought a few kinds!”
Sammy looked up, a real smile spreading across her lips. She looked at Rebecca in a way that was different than how she had looked at me. Some of the forced cheeriness had slipped away and been replaced by something much more vulnerable.
“I’ve got a hot pot.” Sammy stood up and walked over to her closet. “I’d actually love some tea.”
“I’ll go fill that with water.” Taking the small pot from Sammy’s delicate hands, Rebecca headed towards the door, acting more direct than I had ever seen her. “You two pick out the flavors you want.”
The door closed behind her, leaving Sammy and I alone, staring at a small pile of colored tea bags on the floor.
“I know you might feel nervous around me.” Still looking at the tea, Sammy seemed to be pushing these words out faster than her previous ones. “Especially because…well…you and Sasha—”
“Sasha and I are nothing.” My words matched hers in speed and intensity. “We really aren’t. I hardly know him.”
“Really? But Justin said…”
“Justin?” If she had been looking at my eyes, she would have seen them practically bulging out of my head. Justin and her…? How…?
“Justin.” Sammy lifted her gaze. “He’s on the guy’s soccer team. He’s a friend of mine. A few weeks ago he said he thought you and Sasha…”
“Justin got it wrong.” I felt the tiniest zip of energy in my chest saying his name. “I talked to him a few days ago. And I really…I really don’t know anything about what happened.”
“Do you want to?”
Her eyes danced around mine, half pleading I’d say yes, half hoping I’d say no.
“I…” I could hear Rebecca’s footsteps coming back from the bathroom. “I’m not…”
“I don’t mind, Grace. I’ve said it to enough people…and it usually helps everyone feel better.”
Did I really want to know? Did I really want the whole truth?
Was I ready to take sides?