I almost didn’t answer, but then he’d have to call back.
“Hello?” I could at least pretend I didn’t know who was calling.
“Hi.” Sean sounded tired. “This is Sean.” Pause. “From school.”
Like I had any confusion about which Sean he was.
“I’m calling because… I’d like us to get along better.”
That was close to an apology. It moved vaguely in that direction without using the words.
I didn’t say anything.
“I don’t want to cause trouble for you. So… that’s why I called.”
I thought about it. I didn’t want to be friends with him. I didn’t even want him to think things were okay between us, and I felt like that was exactly what I was supposed to do. When someone apologized, weren’t you supposed to accept it, and forgive the guy?
It felt fake. I struggled to think of something to say, and then I found some words—even if they weren’t the best words.
“You want us to get along better? Leave me alone. It’s really simple. It’s all I’ve ever wanted from you. Don’t make my pens roll away. Don’t close doors on me. Don’t make snide comments about me or my friends. Don’t hit me. It’s not hard.”
And then I hung up.
The words had come all at once, but once they were over I found myself sitting on the bed, staring at the phone in my hand, not sure of what to do next. I couldn’t convince myself that what I’d said made things better.
Sure, Sean hadn’t made much of an apology, but it was closer to one than anything else he’d ever said to me.
On the other hand, maybe it was good for Sean to know that after you treat someone badly enough they don’t really care when you apologize.
I could tell myself that.
I put my phone back into my pocket.
Haley had gotten off my bed just before the phone rang. She sat down next to me, and took my hand. With her senses, she’d probably heard both sides of the conversation, my rising heartbeat, and smelled… well, whatever reactions my body betrayed there.
Then she put her right arm around my shoulders. I leaned into her, and put my arm behind her back. We stayed that way until I felt better.
* * *
A little over a week and half later I found myself moving into my college dorm room at Grand Lake University.
I’d been assigned to dePuit Hall, a long, brick, rectanglar building. Built in the 1960’s, Grand Lake University had designated it as one of the default dorms for freshmen. Whenever it had been designed must have been some kind of low point in the architecture of institutional buildings. It wasn’t much more than a five story rectangle with one long hall that stretched from one end to the other.
It was almost impossible to get lost, but it had to be among the most boring buildings I’d ever seen.
I didn’t bring much with me—my books, clothes, and bedding. I’d grown up in Grand Lake, and I assumed that I’d be able to pick up anything else I needed from home. The fact that I didn’t have a car would probably make that more complicated, but I’d figure it out.
Anyway, between my dad, Haley, and I, we brought everything up in one load.
Dad gave me a hug before he left. Once he was gone, Haley and I put my clothes into drawers, made my bed, and set up my laptop.
It didn’t take long. While we worked, we couldn’t help but wonder about my roommate. He wasn’t there when we arrived, but all of his stuff was.
According to the information I’d gotten about my room assignment, his name was Jeremy Barrows, and he was a physics major.
A quick look over his books gave a more interesting picture. He seemed to be interested in aliens. In addition to the textbooks on his desk, I noticed a book called Aliens Among Us. It had a blurry picture of a Xiniti on the cover.
The picture looked like it dated from the 70’s—back when the League would have been meeting the Xiniti for the first time.
“Nick,” Haley said, “look at this.”
She pulled a book off the shelf on top of Jeremy’s desk. It was a copy of Teachings of the Eldest, a book Lee, my martial arts teacher, had co-written as part of a scam.
I laughed, and was about to ask her to pass it over so I could look at it when I heard a voice from the open doorway behind me.
“Hey, that’s mine.”