Authors: Heidi Cullinan
To Dr. Gregory Scholtz,
Because you were my anchor, and I’ll never forget.
Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Hope University, Danby, Illinois
Freshman orientation at Hope University was an all-you-can-eat buffet, and Walter Lucas planned to gorge himself. The adorable youngling at the student union entrance, for example, would make a nice appetizer, despite the fact that the kid looked like he’d stepped out of Mayberry. Sex, however, would have to wait, because Walter had much bigger fish to fry—namely, figuring out where exactly he was going to be fucking all the nubile young beauties on the proverbial platter. The note in his mailbox had told him to go see the dean of students, so that was where Walter headed.
Unfortunately, he was already pretty sure this wasn’t going to be a great meeting. He took the long way around, swinging by Lake Sharon to give a quick hello to Lancelot and Gawain.
The man-made lake encompassed three acres, went about fifteen-feet deep in the center, and boasted a small campanile on the far northwest side where romantically inclined coeds had gone for one hundred years to stare adoringly into one another’s eyes and declare lifelong devotion. Walter liked the bell tower because it blocked the sun and wind, hid him from prying eyes and made a nice frame while watching the swans.
Today as ever they floated serenely on the surface of the water, two regal white heads bowed and moving in unison as they patrolled the perimeter of their domain. They eyed Walter with brief interest, but when they saw he had no offerings of bread or corn chips, they continued on their way. Unlike Walter, their residence for the year was already secured, their lake stocked with everything they’d ever need.
Good life if you could get it.
Walter watched them swim until he was in danger of missing the dean’s office hours, and then, ready to face reality, he headed back to Old Main and his nine-month sentence.
Dean Stevens was one of those back-end-of-middle-age women who, while once lovely, had missed the memo that declared wrinkled cleavage gross, boldly wearing plunging necklines without any viable flesh to keep them from being black holes of
. Though he tried not to look at her chest while she greeted him and ushered him back into her office, it drew his focus like a lighthouse. A scary lighthouse.
“Did you get the lease for the new apartment?” He took up his usual position in the chair across from her desk. “I emailed it to your secretary.”
Her smile fixed a little more firmly, and that was when Walter knew for sure—he wasn’t living off campus.
Dean Stevens threaded her fingers together over the top of her desk. “As a junior, Walter, I know you understand our residential policies, and I know you’re committed to Hope University’s community motto. I know you understand we don’t lightly let our students live away from the dorms, because it detracts from that community.”
“I know that I lived off campus last year,” Walter countered, “and I know you approved my application to do so again this time.”
The smile was etched in the leather of her face. “We approved—with great reluctance—your request to live in the same residence as last year, a residence which I understand is no longer an option to you.”
“It’s not my fault the landlord didn’t cover his mortgage. God knows we were paying him enough.”
“Nevertheless, our agreement was with that lease, not a new one. I’m afraid we can’t approve a student living farther away.”
Walter had a fixed smile of his own. “The new place is two blocks away from the one you already approved.”
“We must set our limits somewhere, Mr. Lucas. May I point out also that your situation has changed. When you applied, you were living with another student, one whose graduation date was supposed to be this coming December.”
Of course she
hone in on his one little white lie, their attempt to use Hope’s own system against them. Cara as a fifth-year senior was practically a shoe-in for off-campus digs, especially since she was engaged—with her on the application as a mid-semester graduate, their request had sailed easily through. Except Cara never intended to stay that long, and as soon as the ink was dry on Hope’s approval of their living arrangements, she immediately signed up for summer classes and August graduation. It was sleight of hand no one would have paid attention to until it was too late…except the idiot landlord had stopped paying his bills and busted their plan wide open.
Walter tried to dust this detail under the rug as delicately as possible. “She managed to finish early so she could take an internship back in Chicago. That’s not my fault either.”
“Be that as it may, the fact remains you’re asking to move farther away than your last year’s accommodations, alone, and at the last minute. Surely you see the difficulty you place us in? If we allow you to do this, we’ll be flooded with requests to let others do the same.”
flooded with requests to live off campus, because Hope was the only place Walter had ever heard of that didn’t let students choose their own places of residence. It was drop-dead insane, but voicing this opinion wouldn’t help his case just now.
“It’s important we foster the Hope community,” the dean went on. “Our students and their parents expect us to provide a safe learning environment for those attending Hope. How can we do that if they’re scattered across town? Young people don’t always make the best decisions for themselves. We’re taking away an opportunity to fail on that score.”
“I’m perfectly capable of making decisions about where I live,” Walter replied, “and as far as my parents go, I’m better suited to make decisions for them too.”
He hated the way her expression turned to pity. “Yes, I’m well aware. Don’t you see, though, that this is even more an argument to let us take care of you for a change? How can you argue that having to pay rent, utilities and shop for your own meals is an advantage? Why do you need anything else to worry about?”
“I’ve earned the right to make those decisions for myself. I’m not some wide-eyed freshman. I’m not even a typical junior. Dean Stevens, you
For the first time in the exchange, her smile cracked, and some of the mask fell away. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a reprieve behind it, just another wall. “I do know, and I’m sorry, Walter. I can’t let you live off campus. Even if I wanted to—which I don’t—it isn’t my decision. The board of regents said no. We can discuss it as long as you like, but I’m telling you as one who has been with you through this entire rocky ride, it isn’t going to change. We gave you a pass because you were struggling and because you were living with your friend. Living alone is not a good idea for you.”
Walter slumped into his chair. “So where are you sticking me? Because I know for a fact you can’t get me in the manors with the other upperclassmen.”
Stevens lifted a piece of paper and propped half-moon glasses on the end of her nose. “Actually, I could. Ethan Miller’s roommate ended up as a transfer—”
?” Images of waking to a horny, desperate geek and a room full of science experiments filled Walter’s mind. He glared at her. “Try again.”
Pursing her lips, she scanned the paper further. “I have a handful of other spaces available. Unfortunately, they’re all in underclassmen housing and all in one dorm, Porter.”
. Anger, shock and a little fear swamped Walter as he sat up as if a cattle prod had been applied to the base of his spine. “You can’t be serious. You have four underclassmen Communist block buildings. You can’t tell me the only openings are in Porterhouse.”
“Porter never fills, as you well know, though this year we’ve come far too close for comfort. Next year won’t be an issue with the new dorm’s construction. For now, however, it’s Porter or rooming with Ethan Miller.”
What lovely options. Walter tried to marshal himself, but it wasn’t easy. She was offering him the choice between two circles of hell. “Talk to me about the spots open in Porter.”
“There are seven vacancies there, all with freshmen or sophomores. This could be a good thing, you know. You’re one of the greatest advocates against that house, and you’re right, we have work to do there. You could help other young men find a voice.”
“So now I’m doing community service? I hope you’re comping my room.” He held out his hand, and she passed over the paper. A sea of names floated before him, all of them meaningless, nothing on the page giving him a clue as to who might be a remotely passable roommate. He wanted to throw it back at her and refuse. What could they do, really? Kick him out? Did he care? He should have listened to Cara and transferred back to Chicago after all. He shouldn’t have stayed, not even for Williams. He shouldn’t—
He stopped, finger landing on a purple square next to one of the meaningless names. “There. This one. What’s this?” Before she could answer, he remembered. “That’s your code for
open to a gay roommate
, am I right?”
Stevens squinted at the list. “Yes, but that’s a single.”
“Oh.” The singles were shoeboxes for one, and two was out of the question. Also the singles were more likely to house some reclusive upperclassman with an Xbox. Except there was an F, right next to the square. “How did a freshman get a single?”
“He has allergies, rather severe ones as I understand. He needs the air conditioner, and of course the only regular rooms that can support air conditioners are in the upperclassmen dorms.” Stevens paused, looking thoughtful. “Though come to think of it, his parents were upset at his living alone. If you wanted to room there, I could approve it.”
“Room where? Two people don’t fit in those rooms.”
“We’ve doubled up singles before. It’s not comfy, but it’s workable.” She smiled absently, clearly warming to this solution. “Actually, this could solve a lot of problems. The mother was in here this morning as they dropped him off, almost frantic as the reality hit her of leaving her baby at college alone. They’re from far out of state, and I guess the young man is just coming out. She’s very worried it won’t go well. He’s shy, I suppose.”
Fantastic. Now instead of having a solo fuckfest pad, Walter would play nanny to a shy, allergy-ridden newb who probably had backne. Walter frowned and pulled the paper into his lap, scanning it intently. None of the other open spots had purple squares, though, and if they didn’t sign up for a gay roommate, they didn’t fucking want one. Two of the open spots were sophomores Walter despised, and the others might well be gay bashers for all he knew. Not that they could bash at Hope. But as he’d learned to his peril—also in Porterhouse—there were many intricate ways to bully. So really, his choices were Ethan Fucking Miller and squeezing in with a freshman.
His gaze drifted back to Backne Boy.
“Worst-case scenario,” Stevens pointed out, “you room there until you find a better situation on your own. You’ve done it every other time you’ve had trouble. I don’t see why you can’t do it now.”
“I wouldn’t have trouble,” Walter replied, “if you’d let me live off campus.”
Stevens sighed and picked up her pen. “Shall I put you down for doubling in the single?”
Walter stared at the paper a moment, then nodded, wondering what he’d gotten himself into.
After the meeting with Stevens, Walter cut across the faculty parking lot and headed to the cracked streetlights that marked the way to the communications building.
While many buildings on campus were in need of facelifts, the communications building probably would best be torn down and built afresh somewhere else. Sitting on the farthest point of campus, Ritche Hall had been built in 1950 and never so much as been given a new curtain, though it had received an electrical and cable upgrade in 1997 when the place had nearly caught on fire. The hallways were narrow. The walls were Soviet Russian concrete block. The lights often flickered because the power upgrade in the nineties wasn’t able to keep up with the needs of the current technology. Communications was the least supported department on campus, and the building that housed it made that disdain perfectly clear.
Naturally, this was the building that was Walter’s spiritual home.