The next day I sat down to eat breakfast with Jeremy in Hardwick Hall’s cafeteria. My first class was organic chemistry at 9 am—which seemed cruel and unusual punishment given when I went to bed.
“Organic chemistry? Don’t sophomores take that? And it’s supposed to be a hard class.” Jeremy looked up from his cereal. He’d dripped a little milk on his t-shirt.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s only the first week, but it doesn’t seem that bad. I tested out of so much stuff that I’m taking everything out of order.”
“Yeah? I saw your schedule. It’s all two or three hundred level classes. I don’t know how you’re going to survive.”
“The three hundred level classes are all math or engineering, so that’s okay. I’m actually a little more worried about the criminology class I’ve got to take.”
Jeremy started laughing. When he stopped, he said, “I wouldn’t worry about it. You’re going to be fine. I’m going to need the help. I’ve been looking over some of the stuff in my calculus book, and I’ve got no idea how I’m going to get to point where I understand the stuff in the back. Some of the stuff on the syllabus for two weeks from now looks pretty scary.”
I put my fork into my scrambled eggs.
I was doing this all wrong. It was nice of the Stapledon people to get me out of classes that would bore me, but I hadn’t intended to look like this much of a freak.
How long would it be before he connected “The Rocket: inventor and genius” with his roommate who was always gone when the Rocket was around, and just happened to be surprisingly smart?
Not for the first time that week, I told myself that I should have roomed with Vaughn.
We’d talked about it, but between school, the team, and the Stapledon program, it sounded like a little too much togetherness.
At the same time, if I were rooming with Vaughn, I wouldn’t have to hide anything at all. It would have made everything so much simpler.
“What did you see last night?” Jeremy asked.
“When I went out to watch fight? Nothing worth mentioning. They were all running around on rooftops, and I couldn’t get up high enough to see anything until the police came—”
A hand touched my shoulder. I turned to find Courtney standing next to my chair.
“Oh, hey Courtney.”
It still took me half a second to recognize her, and that was despite the fact that she was wearing clothes from high school—a Guardian t-shirt, and jeans. Well, the jeans couldn’t be from high school—too small, but I remembered the shirt.
Now it looked like she was deliberately wearing something oversized.
“I was hoping to catch you. Do you have time to talk?”
“I’ve got class in…” I checked a clock on the wall, “Crap. Five minutes. I can call you afterward.”
She bit her lip. “That’ll work. Class goes till 10, right?”
She said good-bye, and walked after a couple of friends. I got up from the table with my tray. I was going to have to run to make it on time.
Jeremy watched her go. “How do you know someone who looks like that?”
“High school,” I said, and left.
* * *
Courtney said she’d leave her door partly open, and that’s how I recognized the room.
The girls’ side of DePuit Hall smelled better than the guys’ side, or if not precisely better, more strongly of perfume and hairspray. Whoever the R.A. was had put more effort into aesthetics too. In my hall, the R.A. taped white cardboard with our names written in marker to the doors. Here, the names were neatly written on cutouts of the school mascot “Wavie.”
Granted, it was still kind of stupid to have the school’s mascot be a wave, but it looked better than white cardboard.
I knocked on the door, and said, “Hey, it’s Nick.”
Courtney opened the door all the way. “Hi, come in and sit anywhere. Michele’s got class.”
The room was a testimony to random roommate assignments. Above Courtney’s desk hung a poster of Guardian and the Midwest Defenders—including Daniel’s dad.
Meanwhile, a series of pictures of men and women stuck to the wall above the lower bunk. Almost all of the people wore cowboy hats. Many held guitars, and a few were on stage.
I guessed they must be country musicians. I didn’t recognize any of them.
Not being able to think of anything else, I said, “How’s it going?”
“Not good,” she said.
From the tone of her voice, I believed her.
“Did you know Keith’s been going out with someone for a month? I saw it on Facebook.”
“No,” I said, hoping that she hadn’t called me over to talk about that.
She didn’t say anything more for a little while. Then she shut the door, and said, “You can sit down.”
They had a carpet on the floor, and an old, green couch.
I sat on the couch. Courtney sat on the chair by her desk.
“Did you hear the news this morning? They made power juice a controlled substance.”