Rule one: Mindset determines success. If I can dream it, I can do it. I need to stay optimistic, smile, and always act as if success is just around the corner.
Rule two: Don’t talk about Dad. Don’t talk about death. And don’t talk about the thing I saw in the library.
I wet my lips and shifted my overstuffed backpack on my shoulders while tossing my duffel from one hand to the other. Then I smiled as I entered the air-conditioned lobby of the student support center and approached the black-haired girl behind the desk. She handed a room key to another girl and then turned her attention to me.
I had missed freshman orientation. As of today, I was a student here at Twin Oaks College, studying mythology and accepted into the low strings section of the orchestra. But I’d skipped all the social parts. All I had over the past weekend were a walk-through tour and a photoshoot for my student ID card. I was what everyone called a “special exception.”
The girl behind the desk blinked slowly.
“Hi, I’m settling in late,” I said, shaking some newly cut hair out of my face. The woman at the salon had trimmed it too short again, and now it kept getting in the way. “I need my room key.”
“Bunny,” I said. “Rainville.”
Her brows pressed down, and she straightened. I was starting to notice a pattern between my name and how people here reacted when they heard it. When I was a kid, everyone I met thought it was cute. Most assumed I went by a nickname simpler than my full name. Now everyone became more ashen and serious, making zero effort to be friendly.
I brightened my smile, just in case.
Finally, the girl reached under the desk and pulled out a ring of keys. She flicked through them until she found one marked B. Rain, which she removed and tossed to me. “You’re in room 128,” she said. “Your roommate is Paige Aldrin. She’s already checked in. Is that all you have?”
“I pack light,” I said. “It makes for easy travel.”
“I guess you would,” she said with a half sneer.
The girl stiffened. “Sorry. Long day. If the key doesn’t seem to be working, just jiggle it and check the door number.”
No one here knew me, but everyone had heard of me before. The reason I skipped orientation was that I came with a reputation—and with a string of sensational news stories to back it up. I’d had certain issues since I was twelve. That was the winter my dad’s car slipped off the bridge in Minnesota, when my brain fell apart into a sad mush, and when I started losing control. These people probably didn’t know about my dad or how long this thing had been happening. That itself wouldn’t be enough to make everyone give me the stink-eye. No, it got worse. A couple years ago, I set the public library in the middle of town up in a blaze and was accused of arson. I’d been a volunteer there for years. I found the library a reliable refuge from the rest of the mess that defined my high school life. One time when I was shelving books in the archive section, I heard something. I got a little spooked, and then I saw something that looked like an ill-willed shadowy monster between the aisles. Long story short, I tipped over some decorative candles and set the building on fire—and started seeing a psychologist who was still working to diagnose my delusions years later. The story got me in the news nationwide, far and vividly enough to reach this campus in Maine, halfway across the country from my home in Lake City, Minnesota.
Rolling my shoulders, I hurried down the hall where I was pointed. The freshmen dorms at Twin Oaks were special because they only roomed two students each instead of three or four, like the other dorms. The college took a long time housing me, so I didn’t learn Paige’s name until a few days ago and had yet to speak with her. The admissions department tried to talk me into doing distance classes my first year so that I wouldn’t relapse due to stress. I don’t know who was more offended at the idea, me or my mom.
Things were straightened out now. I was going to be normal here. I was going to let the stress roll off my back. Who needed orientation, after all? I had my schedule, and I knew where everything was. The first week wouldn’t have a lot of work anyway.
I reached the room. 128 was an easy number, but there was still only one name written over the door on a lace-cut sheet of black paper. Paige. They were probably late adding my name. Secretly I hoped I’d have the room to myself for a couple hours so I could settle down. I didn’t want to load my clothes into a dresser with someone staring at my every move.
I stuck my key in the door and twisted. The door opened easily, and the quick gasp from the other side betrayed the presence of my roommate.
“Hello!” I piped, entering the room.
Paige was about half my size with long brown hair and a baggy tie-dye shirt draped over her frame to her knees. The array of colors on her shirt was reflected everywhere else in the room—bright inspirational posters plastered all over the wall and a psychedelic comforter over the bottom bunk. She looked at me with unblinking brown eyes. “I’m sorry. I completely forgot they gave me a roommate,” she said, unimpressed.
“Yeah, I was added late.” I dropped the duffel and removed my backpack, massaging my shoulders where the straps had been cutting in. I stuck out a hand to my new roommate. “I’m Bunny,” I said.
She took my hand, only the fingers, and shook them slowly. Her touch felt like ice, even though it was barely September outside. “Paige,” she said. I couldn’t tell if the quiver was because she recognized my name or if it was because she was merely unsocial.
“I’m glad you left me the top bunk. I think that’s much more fun,” I said.
“Oh, I was thinking about having the beds separated,” said Paige, turning to the bunk-bed uneasily. “But we can keep it this way if you want. Are you all signed up for classes?”
“Yep, that’s what I did when everyone else was in orientation. How was it?” I noticed that Paige had the uncomfortable habit of gawking, and the way she was looking at me right now made me wonder if I’d lost my shirt somewhere in the hall. I brushed my hands together to ease the tension.
“Orientation? Good. I almost got a full night’s sleep near the end.” Now Paige finally stopped gawking at me and looked down. A red tinge colored her cheeks. “I was wondering what your triggers were. Just so that I wouldn’t make you uncomfortable. You know…”
I waved my hand. “I’m fine with anything you’ve got. It takes a lot to get through my skin.”
“Right, but I was wondering, from a psychological standpoint… is there anything I need to know?”
And here I was, hoping she was just socially awkward. Silly me. I should have known much better than to think I could weasel my way out of my own roommate knowing my crime. I giggled, and then realized that might be the worst thing possible to do if someone is actively doubting your sanity. “About me? Nah, I’m fit as a fiddle. Fiddle-dee-dee.”
Paige’s eyebrows rose, and her mouth parted in a smile that resembled a feral dog warning intruders to stay away. “I heard about what happened with you and the public library a couple years ago. Sorry about that.”
Another giggle. I really needed to learn how to break that response. “I saw something that scared me, and there were a lot of lit candles nearby. The news exaggerated.”
She nodded slowly. Unconvinced.
Hopefully things would get better after my classes started.
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