“Do you have everything you need?” Ray asks uncertainty as he slams the trunk down.
“I hope so, Dad. It’s a four day trip back to Montesano if I forgot anything,” I say as I sling an overstuffed duffle bag over my shoulder.
“I’ve got two more weeks until I’m deployed. If you need anything before then, let me know and I’ll mail it to you.”
I feel a dry pain in the back of my throat at the reminder of Ray’s impending departure. He was so proud, so excited about my acceptance into an Ivy League school, he re-enlisted to help me pay for it. The military aid had been a helpful addition to the grants and scholarships I’d already received, but I wasn’t sure the payoff was worth the risk my father was taking.
“Are you sure you won’t stay the night?” I ask him, trying to prolong the time I have with him. “We could have dinner and you could look around the campus with me.”
“I’d love to, Ana, but it’s a long drive back. I’ve got to get on the road,” I nod and he pulls me into a tight hug. “I’m so proud of you, baby girl.” He says, and the dry pain in my throat intensifies as tears begin pouring out of my eyes. I know there are students milling all around us, but I can’t stop the torrent of emotion I feel.
“Oh, Ana. Don’t cry. Everything is going to be just fine, you’ll see,” Ray says reassuringly.
I bury my face into his coat as I cry, holding him close to me and inhaling his scent. I want to memorize it, to keep it with me, because I don’t know when I’m going to see him again.
“When does Kate get here?” He asks as he strokes his hand through my hair.
“Tomorrow,” I sniff. I take two deep calming breaths and try to reign in my tears. When I pull away, my dad looks down and cradles my cheek in his palm, wiping away the moisture in my eyes with his thumb.
“You’re going to be great, Ana. You are my life’s greatest accomplishment.”
“I love you, Dad,” I tell him.
“I love you too, Ana. Forever and for always,” He pulls me into a hug once more, kisses the top of my head, and then climbs back into the car. “Call me if you need anything, sweetheart. Anything at all.”
I wave and he drives away. There is a sense of crushing loneliness as I watch his car disappear around the corner. This is it. I’m not a child anymore. I’m an adult facing the world alone for the first time. I steel myself, trying to regain my I was accepted into an ivy league school kind of confidence. When I’m sure my tears are done, I turn to follow the mass of students for registration, but the very first step I take snags my toe on a crack in the uneven sidewalk and I’m sent sprawling to the ground. People look at me, confused, worried, and one girl snorts in laughter as she passes.
I. Am. Humiliated.
“Are you okay?” I hear someone ask over me. I look up and see a handsome boy with straight white teeth looking down at me. He reaches out his hand and helps me up.
“Sorry, gravity has never been my strong point,” I tell him. He laughs as he reaches down to pick up my duffle bag.
“Thank you,” I say as I take the bag from him. “I’m Ana.”
“Jose,” He says. “Jose Rodriguez.”
“Ana Steele,” I reply, and I smile back at him. His boyish grin is infectious.
“Do you want to go in together?” He asks.
“After you,” I respond. He looks down at me, shoves his arm through mine, and leads me forward.
We stand in line waiting to receive our welcome packets and I learn that Jose is from Sequim, Washington, only a couple hours away from me. His dad is also ex-army and he’s here studying mathematics on a scholarship.
“But photography is my real passion,” He says. He reaches into his bag, pulls out a brown leather portfolio, and hands it to me. I open it and see that it’s full of beautiful landscapes, the sun streaming through the wet canopy of the Olympic rain forest, the sun setting over the ocean…
“Wow, Jose. These are amazing!” I say, and he takes it from me, showing me some of his favorites. “You’re very talented.”
“So what do you do?” He asks.
“I read,” I reply with a shrug. “That’s what I’m studying. Literature.”
“Jose Rodriguez?” A woman calls, and he turns his head to look at her.
“Here!” he shouts back, waving his arm, and he turns back to look at me and frowns. I hand him back his portfolio, which he takes and shoves hastily into his bag, then he pulls out a sharpie and grabs my hand, scrawling a phone number on my forearm.
“Call me,” He says, and he heads to the registration table. I smile after him when I hear my name called from a table to my left.
“Anastasia Steele?” They say, and I also wave in acknowledgement.
The dark haired guy in hipster glasses and a gray beanie gives me the “Welcome to Harvard” speech. He hands me a campus map, a list of my classes, and my dorm assignments, and after thanking him, I follow the map to Grays Hall. The building is old, red brick, and centered in the middle of the main yard. I walk in and am immediately floored by the grandeur of my surroundings. I suppose requesting Katherine Kavanagh as a roommate does have its advantages.
I climb the stairs, hauling my bag with me. The hallways are long and narrow and I’m surprised by the number of rooms crammed on each floor. When I get to my door, #309, I pause and then feel a smile creep across my lips at the handmade signs that read Katherine Kavanagh and Anastasia Steele.
This feels like a truly important moment, standing in front of my dorm room at Harvard University for the very first time, and I take a moment to appreciate it as I reach down for the handle and push the door open. Our room is white, with hardwood floors, cream linen curtains, and two single beds, each pushed up against opposite walls. The advantages of arriving before your roommate? I get to pick which side of the room I want. I study each bed meticulously, considering how the sunlight would hit them in the morning, which side of the room feels draftier, and which seems to receive less noise from the window. The left side, I think. Definitely the left side.
I start unpacking, putting clothes in the dresser, making my bed, and setting up the used laptop my dad bought for me as a graduation gift on the desk closest to my bed. I don’t have much to make the room look homey but I’m sure Kate will fix that.
When I’m finished emptying my luggage, I grab the map and head out the door to explore the campus. The hallway is full of new freshmen arriving, filing into their own rooms with their own handmade signs. I notice, briefly, that there is no sign on the door across the hall, only the golden number 310, and I wonder if it’s going to be empty. That would be convenient. Less noise to distract from studying, although, with Kate as a roommate, I’m know that I’m going to have to get used to noise.
My first priority is to find each of my classes, which doesn’t take long as they’re all in the same building. Next, I head for the library and introduce myself to the main librarian as I will be working here this semester. Finally, I find the bookstore and the computer labs before I decide to head off for the food hall to sample the campus cuisine.
After dinner, I head back for Grays Hall and make my way to my room. It’s been a full day and I’m exhausted. The stairs seem like an impossible hike as I haul my tired body up them but, eventually, I make it and walk down the hall. I’m about to enter my room when I notice a light streaming through the crack under the door from the room across from me. So, there are people in there. Why don’t they have signs on their door? But as I stand there pondering the reasons, I realize this is a silly thing to be preoccupied over and shake my head as I push my way into my dorm.
The next morning, I wake to the sound of music coming through the wall next to my bed. It’s so loud, I can feel my bed vibrating. I’m definitely going to need to invest in some noise cancelling headphones. I grab my shower tote and head into the private bathroom I will share with Kate. In 30 minutes, I’m showered, dressed, and heading out for breakfast, then the bookstore.
My book list is fairly long and I frown as I look at the prices of the books I put in my hand basket. Thank god I secured my work-study in the library, I wouldn’t have made it through the semester without some kind of gainful income.
“Ana?” I hear someone say behind me, and I turn to see Jose.
“Hi, Jose!” I say, smiling at him.
“I waited desperately for your call last night.” He says, with an over exaggerated pout. “I was beginning to think I wasn’t as charming as I thought I was.”
“Sorry, I was unpacking. What dorm assignment did you get?” I ask.
“I’m in Grays,” I respond, and he whistles.
“Fancy digs, Steele,” He says, and I roll my eyes.
“My roommate demands only the best,” I tell him, and then we walk together for the register to pay for our books.
“Call me if you want a dinner date, Ana,” He says as he departs, and I tell him I will. I look down at my arm and am relieved to find that his number didn’t wash completely off in the shower this morning. I pull out my phone and add him into my contacts before I forget. I have a feeling Jose and I are going to be good friends.
There are more people moving into the dorms today so I have to slide my way against the wall to make it down the corridor to my room. As I approach, the door to the room across from me opens and a tall, bronzed hair guy comes out. My breath catches as I really get a look at him. He’s gorgeous. Like, movie star gorgeous. I know I should be embarrassed by the way I’m gaping at him, but I can’t look away.
“Hello?” He says when he notices me staring at him. His brow furrows as I blush deep scarlet.
“Hi,” I reply, my voice too high. “I’m, Ana. I uh… live across the hall.”
His eyes shift to the door and he stares at it puzzled for a second before his gaze comes back to me.
“Anastasia?” He asks.
“Uh… yeah. But, I… uh, prefer Ana,” I’m stammering like an idiot, what is wrong with me? He’s looking at me disapprovingly and as I silently chastise myself for being a total spaz, I realize that he hasn’t introduced himself.
“You don’t have a name tag,” I hint hesitantly.
“No, I don’t,” He says shortly, and he turns back to his door to lock it. He reaches down to pick up the messenger bag he’s set on the ground next to his feet and then turns to leave.
“Anastasia,” He says, nodding at me as he walks by, and I turn to look after him as he disappears through the crowd of people. Well he’s not very friendly, but damn is he beautiful. I sigh as I realize how far his looks put him out of my league. I tell myself he’s probably an asshole anyway, anyone that beautiful has no reason to be nice, and then, pushing my longing aside, I cross the hall to my own room. When the door is open, I’m attacked by an unexpected flurry of blonde hair and arms.
“Ana!” Kate cries as she wraps her arms around me.
“Hi, Kate!” I say, excitedly.
“I was hoping I would get here early enough this morning to surprise you. Have you been walking around the campus? Isn’t it beautiful?” she asks, releasing me.
I set my books on my desk and look at the progress Kate has made on our room. She’s replaced the ivory curtains with soft yellow sheers. The walls are covered in pastel colored art, which are mostly comprised of motivational sayings and abstract shapes. Her bedding is gray, white, and bright blue, and she’s laid out a long staple, extremely soft, white area rug across the floor.
“Looks good, Kate,” I say approvingly, and she beams at me.
“My mom and I kind of went crazy at Bed, Bath, and Beyond,” She says, laughing. I help her unpack the rest of her things and then we go down to dinner together. On the way down, I text Jose and ask him if he wants to join us, and he responds telling me he’ll meet us there.
Kate and I take helpings of grilled chicken and salad, then find a table in the crowded dining room. Jose joins us and in a matter of minutes he has Kate under his spell, too. We talk happily about our excitement for classes and the plans Kate has for our first couple nights out.
“Have you seen the guy across the hall?” She asks me.
“Just for a minute,” I reply, my blush returning.
“He’s so hot,” She continues. “I saw him coming in from the gym, he was all sweaty and delicious.” There is a dreamy look in her eyes and I’m sure she’s now lost in inappropriate fantasies.
“The guy across the hall might now be a good idea, Kate.” I tell her. “He’s going to be there for at least the whole semester. How are you going to avoid him when you eventually get tired of him?”
“Good point,” She frowns. “I guess I’ll just admire him from afar.”
I laugh, but know that, secretly, I plan to do the same. We finish dinner, say goodbye to Jose, and return to our room. It feels as though a nightly routine begins as Kate complains about how small the bathroom is while I settle into bed with a book. Classes start tomorrow and I’m starting to get nervous. I remind myself that everyone has to have a first day and that I’m not any further behind than anyone else here. It’s comforting, but only just…
Kate plops down in bed and pulls an eye mask down over her eyes. “Goodnight, Ana,” She says.
“Goodnight, Kate,” I reply, and I put my book on the bedside table, switch off the light, and snuggle into my pillow.