"Now really isn't the time," Jill Thurton said as soon as she saw the tall, dark skinned boy standing in the doorway of her office.
"I just-" he started, only to get cut off by the harried-looking secretary.
"I have three parents on the line waiting to complain about tuition, five students waiting outside to complain about housing, and two professors waiting to talk to me somewhere, no doubt so that they too can complain. Your uncle has just deposited a stack of mail about a foot tall on my desk that he says he hasn't the time to bring to the Post Office himself, and I need someone to show the freshman around because as you can see, I definitely don't have the time. I'm sorry, Jamal, but whatever you want it's just going to have to wait."
"Actually, I was just going to ask if you still needed someone to do freshman orientation," Jamal said. "I know you were hoping for either a senior or one of the professors, but everyone else is up to their elbows unpacking and getting ready for the first day of classes."
Jill blinked at him, trying to absorb what he'd said. Had he really just offered to help her? "Oh, that would be wonderful," she sighed. "Jamal, you're a lifesaver. I was afraid I was going to have to do it, if I couldn't find anyone else."
"No problem. You want me to grab you a coffee? I was about to head to the cafeteria, and you look like you could use one." Jamal smiled at her, letting her know he didn't mean anything by it.
"I would love that," Jill told him.
"Cream and sugar?" Jamal asked.
"Black, please." Jill smiled gratefully at Jamal.
He nodded and left to get the coffee, and she turned her mind back to the mountain of paperwork in front of her. She barely noticed when Jamal set her coffee on the edge of her desk, and it was nearly dark when a quiet knock made her look up.
"How can I help you?" she asked, surprised.
"I was hoping you could tell me where the," the boy paused and looked down at the slip of paper in his hand, "Drayman Building is?"
"You're a freshman?" Jill asked, somewhat surprised. He didn't have the tentative, uncertain manner most of the freshman did. He carried himself more like the older students- and what was with his voice? He sounded hoarse, like he had a sore throat or something, and he spoke so softly she could barely hear him.
"Yes." He looked at her evenly, waiting for an answer.
Jill ignored his expectant look. "Weren't you here for freshman orientation? Jamal Rodriguez should have showed you your dorm."
She knew for a fact that Jamal would have shown all of the freshman their dorm rooms. He was responsible, or she wouldn't have trusted him with the job. If the kid hadn't been paying attention, it was his own fault.
"I only just got here," he explained, leaning against the doorway. "My flight was delayed, so I missed the orientation."
"I see. Well, it's all simple enough. The whole campus is laid out around the circle. Smith Hall is the only building that isn't right up close to the others, but that's mostly because it's the music hall. Drayman Building is pretty much right across the circle from the entrance. Just follow the road up and you'll see. There should be a color-coded map in the entrance, but you'll need your student ID to get inside. Do you have one already, or do you need one?" Jill asked.
"I received my ID when I signed up for classes," he said. "Thank you." He nodded and was gone before Jill had a chance to say anything.
"Odd duck," she murmured. "Ah, well. It's time for me to go home anyways."
Sabrina tucked her hands in her pockets as she walked around the circle towards the building her information packet claimed to be her dorm. She'd wanted to arrive in Maryland earlier, but the doctor's appointment had delayed her so long she'd had to switch flights. It was just like her mother to pick the most obnoxious, long-winded old bag she could find to fix her daughter's hands.
He'd done a good job, though, Sabrina admitted to herself. She flexed her hands, wiggling her fingers experimentally. With her hands covered in thin, fingerless gloves, no one would ever guess the damage that had been done to them.
Sabrina hitched her bag higher up on her shoulder, sighing. It was heavy, but she considered her single bag a victory. Michael had taken two suitcases and a backpack his first year, and when he went back after Christmas break he brought even more stuff with him. Her mother had tried to shove a similar load on her, and Sabrina had refused.
Learning how to be a male had been easier than she thought it would be. She wore a special vest to keep her admittedly unimpressive chest flat and baggy clothes to disguise her shape. She had big feet anyway, so all she'd had to do was buy men's shoes and boring socks and she was covered there. Learning to walk took her longer than assembling her outfit, but really all she had to do was slouch a little and no one noticed.
She'd tested her disguise out at home, making sure to avoid the places where people might recognize her face. Still, the shocked of not being immediately found out by the secretary was so strong that she all but bolted. Sabrina wouldn't face her first real test, though, until she met her roommate. If she could live in the same room as a real guy for an entire school year and not be found out, then she could do anything.
Sabrina looked at the color-coded map the secretary had mentioned. According to her information packet and the map, her room was on the first floor. Good- that meant she didn't have to haul her bag up a flight of stairs.
Half the dorm room doors were open when she walked past, and it seemed the other students' attempts at unpacking had been abandoned in favor of socializing. Half of them seemed to know each other already, and those who didn't formed groups of their own.
Something hit the back of Sabrina's head, and she staggered and almost fell. A shout of laughter was followed by a quick apology. "Sorry, dude, didn't see you!"
Sabrina looked at the boy blankly, then looked down at the hacky sack lying innocently between her feet. She bent down and picked it up, straightening slowly. She tossed it up in the air, once, thoughtfully. Cocking her head, she looked him over with narrowed eyes.
He looked back at her warily, as though he expected her to react badly. Sabrina tossed it to him underhand, and he caught it lightly, looking surprised. "Thanks."
The door to 117 was open, the room empty except for a suitcase shoved underneath one of the beds and an alarm clock on the table next to it. He was neat, at least. Sabrina dropped her bag on the empty bed and unzipped it. Her shirts, all ten of them, went into the top drawer of her bureau. The six pairs of jeans she'd brought went in the middle drawer. The rest of her belongings- underwear, a little cloth bag full of feminine hygiene products, two belts, a scrapbook, and the now-empty bag- went in the bottom drawer. Her laptop she set on top of the bureau, along with her iPod.
Sabrina kicked off her shoes and then went and shut the door. Falling backwards onto her bed, she stared up at the ceiling blankly. Classes started in two days, but until then she had nothing to occupy her mind. Even more than she hated being forced to socialize with her mother's friends, Sabrina hated having nothing to think about.
The sound of the door opening distracted her from her thoughts. Sabrina looked over at the boy standing in the doorway, and repressed a groan. His short brown hair was gelled into a careful faux-hawk, and his brown eyes were framed by long dark lashes. His orange polo fit him perfectly, as did his jeans. He was cute, in an I-Like-Men-And-I'm-Not-Afraid-To-Admit-It kind of way.
"I didn't realize you were here," he said cheerfully.
"I just arrived." Sabrina stared at him, hoping that there had been some kind of mistake and that he wasn't really her roommate. If anyone was going to realize that she was actually a girl, it would be a gay guy. Being found out as a girl and sent back to Maine would probably kill her.
He looked back at her nervously, the bright smile wiped off his face as thought it had never existed. "You can probably still change rooms if you want," he said flatly. "I promise not to be offended. Most guys don't want a gay roommate."
Despite his promise, though, he looked disappointed. Like he'd been hoping she wouldn't react badly, but had expected her to anyway. Sabrina immediately felt guilty, although homophobia wasn't her reason for not wanting to share a room with him.
"Nah, I'm good," Sabrina declined, raising her chin. "Unless you want me to switch, that is."
He looked surprised for a second, and then pleased. "'course not. I'm Derek." He took a step closer and held out his hand for her to shake. She took it after only a split second of hesitation, shaking it awkwardly.
"Where are you from?" Derek asked curiously.
"Really." Derek's eyebrows went up. "Why come to Maryland, then? There are a bunch of good schools in Massachusetts, and it would have been closer to home."
"Exactly," Sabrina muttered.
"I hear you. I live in Maryland, about four hours from here. I was going to go out of state, my parents wanted an in-state school, and we settled on Cutter's. It's further away than the one they wanted, but it's still close enough to visit them on the weekends so they don't mind too much." Derek shrugged, smiling easily. "So what are you going to do tomorrow after you set up your schedule?"
"No idea," Sabrina told him honestly.
"I was planning on wandering around downtown, seeing what there is to do, if you wanted to come with," Derek offered.
"Uh… no thanks."
"Okay." Derek shrugged. "But if you change your mind, the offer's still open. I'm going to go back out and chill with my friends in the lounge, so I'll see you later."