“Name?” Mr Stiles glared at Luis over his rimless half-moon glasses.
“Luis Mendoza,” Luis replied obligingly, despite the fact that Mr Stiles was his Dorm Supervisor last year and knew exactly who he was.
The air of suspicion was so strong that Luis had to wonder just how many people gave fake names to Stiles when they checked in. And to what end? How on earth did that do anything except inconvenience everyone involved?
Mr Stiles sighed deeply and gave Luis a final accusatory look before returning his attention to the list in front of him. “You’re in room thirteen.”
“Does it say who I’m rooming with?” Luis asked hopefully, he only had two requests, the first was that it wouldn’t be Brad (his former roommate, who was as dumb block of mouldy cheese, and smelled much the same), the second was that he wouldn’t get stuck with Charlie (who was a complete terror to live with, according to Adam, Guy and Goldberg – nobody had survived more than one year of living with Captain Duck and unless one of those three got very unlucky, nobody would have to).
“Lester Averman,” he replied.
Luis raised his eyebrows and hoisted his bag back onto his shoulder, not wanting to be around the perpetually moody Mr Stiles any longer than necessary. Despite being on a team with the guy for over four years now, he didn’t really know Averman all that well. He knew that last year they had shared six classes a week, and that on Thursdays (for no apparent reason) Averman would be particularly hyper during lunch time but he really didn’t know any more than that.
This would only be his second year of rooming with a fellow Duck. In his freshman year he had roomed with a guy called Jordan, in sophomore he had been with Ken, and last year he had roomed with Brad (he of the overpowering stench).
Luis nodded hi to various people as he made his way down the hall, finally stopping outside room thirteen. He pushed open the door and walked into it, Averman was already there.
“Welcome to…” Averman used the desk, which wobbled alarmingly, for a theatrical drumroll, “the Shoebox.”
Luis gazed around. There was about three inches of carpet space, the rest of the room was taken up by the two beds, a desk, two dressers and a wardrobe. Everything seemed to be uncomfortably squashed together. “Nice,” he said finally.
“You gotta love the walls, man,” Averman said cheerfully. “Have you ever seen a more revolting shade of yellow – aside from the cafeteria food, that is?”
“It’s the blinds that win my vote,” Luis said, noticing that, unlike his last rooms, these blinds were brown, not pale blue or white.
“This is a cosmic sign,” Averman replied, taking a seat on his bed. “This is a karmic retribution. We have obviously pissed off the gods and are now paying for it.”
Luis grinned and slung his bag down. “I’m getting that. Now I just have to work out what I did.”
“Yes!” Averman said enthusiastically. “Like in Flatliners. If we put our past wrongs to right, peace will reign in our hearts and our room will magically grow to the size of a ballroom.”
“I think that might be stretching it,” Luis said, opening his bag and beginning to sort through his clothes.
“The size of a living room then?”
“Here’s hoping,” Luis replied in amusement. So far, it appeared that Averman would by far be his most tolerable roommate to date.
“You know, I think I figured out what I did wrong,” Averman said.
“When I tried to check in, I told Stiles I was called Arnold Schwarzenegger. He totally believed me until he asked me to spell the surname. Then I floundered.”
Right, so Averman was the reason that Stiles treated everyone with deep suspicion when they gave their names. “So, anybody else here yet?”
Averman pulled his legs up onto the bed so Luis would have room to manoeuvre between his bag and the wardrobe. “Let’s see, Charlie is here, and was last seen heading towards Coach Wilson’s office muttering something about a new training programme. The Bash Brothers are already on detention for general hi-jinks, Adam is sulking because he’s stuck with Charlie as a roommate, he’s inconsolable. Julie’s here, she’s already at the library, she’s determined to be the first person in history to get higher than an A+. Goldberg and Russ are both here, but I don’t have any humorous anecdotes about them. Everyone else has not yet checked in… Oh, and your friend Annie has been by a couple of times looking for you.”
Luis smiled, he hadn’t seen Annie all summer and had missed her strange and sometimes amusing tales – an email just wasn’t the same as an in-person tale. “How was she?”
Averman considered the question. “Somewhere between amused and furious. She’s been made head cheerleader.”
“Lucky Annie,” he said dryly. “What about the Ducks, are they all ok?”
“They’re good. The usual.”
And now the obligatory dissing of the room was done, and the general questions about the Ducks were over, the small-talk had dried up. Luis thought for a while for something to say, then came up with the final small-talk question. “So, how was your summer?”
“Kinda dull,” Averman replied. “Aside from Charlie nearly getting me fired, that is.”
Luis gave up on trying to impose any form of order on the closet and settled for just hurling a bunch of clothes on the floor of it. The hanging rail was about two inches wide, there was no way that both his and Averman’s clothes would both fit. He noticed a TV and VCR in there, but decided not to comment. “How did Charlie nearly get you fired?” he asked, slumping on the bed. Those two minutes of trying to be tidy had really wiped him out.
“The first time was when he and Terri caused havoc in the cinema, and they told my boss I’d let them in for free. The second time was when Charlie turned up to apologise and ended up yelling at a customer who was taking too long buying tickets from me. After that I banned him from the cinema.”
It was times like this that made Luis appreciate living in another state.
“What about you?” Averman asked. “Good summer?”
“Not bad. Mindy and I broke up, but that was kinda inevitable. She’s at college this year, it would be too much hassle to stay together.” Luis replied with a nonchalant shrug.
Luis shrugged again. He knew that he and Mindy wouldn’t be together forever – not to say that he wasn’t floored by it. It was upsetting, but not surprising. He’d spent a couple of weeks in his room moping, but then decided that brooding wasn’t helping at all, so he started going out again. He was now at the admirable point where he could talk about it without choking up.
Averman noticed Luis’ introspective moment, and decided to lighten the mood. “I have a dazzler of a dilemma here,” he said cheerfully. “This room is roughly the size of an inkblot, I have a TV and VCR, but the only place to put them is on the desk, which means we have the terrific choice of: (a) homework; or (b) entertainment. We could leave the TV and VCR in the bottom of the closet, and have a place to do our homework, or we could put them in pride of place and flunk most heinously this year.”
Luis grinned. “I say flunk, who needs knowledge anyway? It’s overrated.”
“Excellent choice.” Averman got up, opened the closet and peered inside. “Of course, we’re now going to have to fight through a mound of clothes the size of an elephant to rescue the TV.”
“Perhaps we should rethink.”
Averman collapsed into bed in exhaustion. Moving in day was always the same, horribly tiring. If moving your own stuff in didn’t exhaust you too much, and you made the fatal mistake of looking too chipper while walking aimlessly down the hall, you inevitably got roped into helping one of your friends move their stuff in.
He and Luis had been coerced into helping Russ and Ken move in. Then they all had to go down the hall to break up the first official fight of the school year. Unsurprisingly, it was between Charlie and Adam. Charlie had overheard Adam asking Mr Stiles for another room. Actually, “asking” was too polite a term, Banksie had been begging, and when that failed, he’d offered bribes by way of his father’s credit card. Naturally, Charlie was hurt by this, but managed to respond in a mature and adult way – by slinging Banksie’s belongings into the hallway with the words “Fine, don’t live with me then, preppy!” – and the whole argument had taken hours to diffuse. Especially because everyone who wasn’t Adam or Charlie found the entire thing wholly amusing.
Although it had been rather tiresome, Averman was glad to be back and able to immerse himself in the petty problems of his team-mates. It kept his mind occupied and away from too much analysis of his own life. He was aware that something was missing from it, but he wasn’t sure what that something was, and at times like this, when there was nothing to do except lie down and wait for sleep, his mind began to go through a mental check list of items that a normal boy of his age should have.
He appeared to be lacking in two things. The first was direction, some indication of what he wanted out of life, but he wasn’t too bothered about that, most of his friends were also a little lost on that front. The second was love of some kind. His mind was apt to spitefully point out that most of his friends weren’t in the slightest bit lost on that point.
Though to be honest, he wasn’t really lost, just a little off track. He knew girls, he was friends with them and he had no problems approaching girls – his exuberant personality made it very easy to get introductions to anyone, it was just that he hadn’t found one that he really liked yet. He noticed attractive girls, but so far none had given him the spark that would make him want to date them.
He sighed and told his brain to give it a rest. When that didn’t work, he decided to distract himself with a game of Kevin Bacon, his usual wind-down at night. He’d start with Eminem tonight.