11 Apr A look at A Past Forgiven
Jess Peterson stepped off the bus onto the campus of Texas Tech and took a deep breath. Though not her first choice of colleges – she’d wanted to get farther away – at least it removed her from the clutches of her “handsy” stepfather. In fact, if she never saw Paducah, Texas and it’s one stoplight again, she would be fine with that.
She slung her black backpack over her shoulder and crossed the quad to Knapp Hall. A folded map resided in the back pocket of her cutoff denim shorts. However, Jess possessed a photographic memory and had memorized most of the buildings, on the east side of campus at least. Knapp Hall was a large, though non-descript, brick building of three floors built in 1948.
Jess registered the cracks in the cement steps as she pulled open the front door. They weren’t surprising as old as the building was, but she hoped the interior had been updated more recently.
It was not to be. The dorm had been improved since 1948, but it still looked to be about ten years behind the times in terms of decorating. Variations of browns and greens were the main colors, interspersed with a few streaks of gray.
After stopping at the information desk on the first floor just long enough to get the keys, Jess took the stairs at the end of the hall two at a time to the third floor. 316. The closed door elicited a glimmer of hope that they’d gotten her the single she’d requested. She did not want a roommate.
As the door swung open, Jess swore softly under her breath. A blonde girl stood beside the left bed unpacking the suitcase in front of her. She looked up when Jess entered and smiled. Jess did not return the smile as she asked, “Who are you?”
The girl dropped the item of clothing she had been holding and stepped forward, extending her hand. “I’m Emily. I guess you’re my new roommate.”
Rolling her eyes, Jess pushed past the girl, ignoring the hand. “Crap. I told them I needed a single.”
“Well, they ran out,” Emily stated, appearing unperturbed by the rude behavior. “See, I’m a sophomore, but I offered to room with an incoming freshman if it was necessary. Since you’re here,” she shrugged, “I guess it was necessary.”
Jess tossed her backpack on the right bed and glared at the blonde. “Well, I’ll be telling them to look again. I don’t do roommates.” Her hand plunged into the backpack, rifling through the contents until she found the item she was looking for – the paperwork with the RA’s name on it. Ah, there it was. Clasping it in her hand, she glared at Emily again, and then abruptly left the room, slamming the wooden door behind her. “Nope, nu uh,” she muttered as she stomped down the hallway to the RA’s room.
Room 350 was at the far end of the hall, and Jess rapped loudly on the wooden door when she arrived. A tall, leggy blonde with sparkly pink lips opened the door. “Hi, can I help you?”
Oh, great. My RA was probably the prom queen – every year, Jess thought as she shoved the paper clenched in her fist in front of the preppy blonde’s face. “I’m Jess Peterson, and I’m supposed to have a single, but there’s some goody-two-shoes who has already unpacked her things in my room.”
The RA’s perfectly arched eyebrows shot to the top of her forehead as she leaned back slightly and took the paper, lowering it to a level she could read it from. “Okay, well, first off, let’s try not to call our roommate names.” She unfolded the paper and glanced over it.
With crossed arms, Jess tapped her foot against the carpeted floor as she waited for the RA to explain they had made a mistake.
The RA looked up from the paper and sighed. “This says we’d try to get you a single, but that we couldn’t guarantee it. Apparently, more upperclassmen returned than expected, and they get their choice of a single first. So, I can add you to the waiting list, but I’m afraid you’re stuck for now.”
Heat erupted in Jess’s body and her hands clenched into fists at her side. “That’s it? That’s all you can do?”
The blonde shrugged and held the paper out to her, “Maybe try to get to know your roommate. I bet she’s not as bad as you think.”
“Aargh, you are worthless.” Jess snatched the paper back from the RA’s glittery pink nails and marched down the stairs. This could NOT be happening. She slammed the outside door open as she reached the final step. It banged against the wall before slamming shut, satisfying a small destructive desire burning within.
Leaning against the brick wall, she pulled a cigarette and a lighter out of the pocket of her shorts and flicked the lighter on. As she puffed on the cigarette, the nicotine went to work on her nerves, soothing some of the manic feeling. How was she going to make it through a semester with a roommate?
It wasn’t that she’d never lived with anyone. She’d crashed with a few friends the last few months after moving out of her mom’s house, but that had been a necessary evil and she’d been hoping to finally have a place of her own when she arrived at college.
As she inhaled, plans formulated in her mind. Maybe if living with her was awful enough, she could get the girl to leave. What would it take? Loud music? Being a slob? A parade of men? She would have to try them all until one worked.
The cigarette burned to a nub, and Jess dropped it to the ground, squishing it into the dirt with the toe of her boot before deciding to take a walk to calm her anger and solidify a plan.
When she returned to the room later, the girl was still there and had decorated. Red and black towels, displaying Tech pride, hung from the handle by the sink. Pictures of the Eiffel tower covered the wall above a soft grey bedspread etched with a black Flëur De Leis. The girl sat on the bed with a book open on her lap. Ice flooded Jess’s veins as she realized what the girl was reading. She hadn’t thought this roommate situation could get worse, but she’d been wrong.
“Oh heck no, you’re one of those?”
“I’m sorry, one of what?” The girl’s brow wrinkled as she looked at Jess.
“One of those Bible beaters.” Jess had known enough “religious” people in her lifetime to know she wanted nothing to do with them. They always talked a big talk, but they never lived what they preached. Even her mother attended a church for a time, but dropped it when she met Jim.
The girl smiled. “I am a Christ follower, if that’s what you mean.”
With another eye roll, Jess mumbled under her breath, “Great, they paired me with a religious nut job.” She grabbed her headphones from her bag, plugged them into her phone, and turned up the music. Though the girl said nothing, Jess could tell the music was bugging her, and she smiled a little inside. Maybe this wouldn’t be too hard after all.
A few minutes later, the girl motioned for Jess to remove the headphones. She pushed one back just enough to hear the girl ask something about food. Yeah, as if I’d want to eat with you. Jess flicked a hand at her in dismissal and sighed in relief when the door closed behind the girl.
Turning off the music, she began to unpack her own things. There wasn’t much, only what would fit in her large backpack. When she’d left home a few months back, she had taken only a few clothes and items, just enough to get by. She’d stayed with a few acquaintances through the summer before having to spend the last week in a shelter. It hadn’t been that bad, and it allowed her to keep the small wad of money she managed to save up and keep hidden from her mother.
Thankfully, a scholarship arrived her senior year that covered college room and board. No fan of high school, Jess had done as little to get by as possible. But her Junior year, the guidance counselor, who understood a little of her unfortunate home situation, convinced Jess she was a good student and could get a scholarship if she worked hard. The counselor had been right, and the scholarship had been Jess’s ticket out of the abuse she’d lived with for the last several years.
Jess pulled out her favorite black blanket, unrolled it, and covered the bed. As she looked at the bare walls, she wished she could have brought some posters from home, but there’d been no room. Her small wardrobe filled most of the space in the backpack along with necessary items. The contrast between her blank, monochromatic side of the room and the other girl’s pride-filled side was nauseating and slightly comical.
An audible rumbling in her stomach sounded, and Jess realized she was hungry after all, but she had no idea which dorm the blonde saint had gone to. As she didn’t want to risk running into her, Jess decided it was time to see what the town offered.
University Avenue lay to the east, and she trekked that direction having seen a few restaurants from the bus when she arrived earlier. The sun still shone, though it was nearing dusk, and beads of sweat trickled down one side of her neck. She had shaved the other side hoping to deter her stepfather’s advances, but it hadn’t worked. However, it seemed to fit well with her “don’t mess with me” attitude, so she’d kept it.
She crossed University at a crosswalk and debated. A pizza place, a burger joint, and a pancake house dotted the row of buildings. Not feeling much like breakfast or a greasy pizza, Jess opted for the burger joint, Ollie’s.
The red and black building oozed Tech pride, and a picture of Ollie, a white dog with a black patch over one eye and a red bandana, completed the sign. Jess sighed at the gimmicky exterior, but figured the food couldn’t be too bad. It was rather hard to mess up a burger and fries.
As she opened the door, second thoughts flooded her mind. She might as well have walked into an updated version of Cheers. Huge television screens adorned the walls. Booths covered in red vinyl hugged the large windows, and a few tables and chairs crowded a large bar. A lively group filled the room, including a group of jocks at the nearest table cheering at the big screens. Pretty, blonde girls in designer clothes sat at another table tapping away on their expensive cell phones. If there were two things Jess couldn’t stand, it was jocks and Barbies.
She paused, hand on the door, and debated her options. Though not her scene, she was hungry, and there were a few empty booths. The renewed rumbling of her stomach finalized the decision, and with a clenched jaw, she crossed to a nearby empty booth. Why couldn’t she be old enough to sit at the bar and order a stiff tequila drink?
She’d been drinking since the age of fourteen when she’d found the liquor in her mother’s stash. The first swig had been awful, but she’d found after that the lightheaded sensation helped her forget the leers and touches of her stepfather. Jess wouldn’t say she had acquired a taste for the liquor, but she had developed an appreciation to the mindless bliss it offered.
A college-aged waiter, clad in a white t-shirt, shorts, and bored expression arrived shortly and handed her a menu. New fears of the quality of the food deepened as the sticky menu ripped open with a squelching sound. Swallowing her disgust, Jess ordered a burger, fries, and a diet coke.
As the waiter turned away and headed to the kitchen, a large male slid in the booth across from her. With his short brown hair and broad shoulders, he looked very much like all the other jocks at the nearby table. A quick glance that direction confirmed her suspicion as the whole table had their eyes glued Jess’s direction. The guy wasn’t bad looking, but Jess held no love for jocks. Perhaps if she could give him a cold enough stare he would leave, but alas he opened his mouth, and at the sound of his thick southern drawl, Jess felt IQ points trickle out of her head.
“I haven’t seen you ‘round here before,” the behemoth said. “I’m Randy. I’m a linebacker.”
Though Jess watched football – she was, in fact, a closet Dallas Cowboys fan – she had no intention of letting this dolt know it.
“That’s nice,” she said sweetly, plastering a fake smile on her face, “now get out of my booth.” The last words dripped with venom as her smile dropped and she glared daggers at him.
Randy held up his hands in defense. “Whoa, no need to be rude now. I just thought I’d say hi.”
“Hi, now please leave.”
“Whatever.” He unfolded himself from the booth and lumbered back to his friends who cheered and clapped.
Jess rolled her eyes and sighed. Maybe she should have ordered in. She turned her attention out the window, and as she watched the cars pass, she wished for a different life. Thankfully, the table of jocks decided she wasn’t worth any more trouble and left her alone.
A few moments later, her plate of greasy food arrived. Jess hadn’t thought a restaurant could mess up a burger and fries, but she had been wrong. There was so much sauce on the burger that the bun had begun to disintegrate, and she was forced to eat the patty with a fork. The fries had evidently sat in the fryer a little too long as they were no longer a golden yellow, but an odd rusty brownish color. She could make a scene—demand a refund—but she wanted no more attention tonight. Better to just let it be and mark this as a place to never revisit. She shoveled down what little she could to satisfy the rumbling, paid the tab, and left. It was still better than home, she reminded herself as she stepped out into the humid night.
“Hey, you got a light?”
The voice came from the right where a guy with dark hair and a black leather jacket stood. Stubble covered his chin, making his blue eyes shine like a beacon in a dark storm, and the hint of a tattoo peeked over his collar. Jess’s breath caught as her heart hammered in her chest. He reminded her of Adrian Paul’s Highlander, a show that had originally aired before her time but that she had fallen in love with when re-runs began.
She nodded, forcing her voice to stay cool as she reached for her lighter. A slight tremor gripped her hand as she held it out, but he didn’t seem to notice. He lit his cigarette and then handed the lighter back. Jess shook out her own cigarette and lit up next to him.
“What’s your name?” he asked, nodding at her and taking a deep breath of smoke. It curled out of his thin lips in little wisps. Jess had never wanted to be a cigarette so badly.
“Jess. You?” She breathed in a deep lungful, careful not to overdo it. A coughing fit in front of this Adonis would be mortifying.
“Chad. You go to Tech?”
“Yeah, I just got here.”
He nodded again and continued puffing. Jess watched as his hand rose to his mouth and lowered to his side in a rhythmic motion, and she wondered what the stubble on his face would feel like against her cheek. Would it be rough like sandpaper or was it softer? A heat seared across her face, and she turned away.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you around.” He finished his cigarette, flicked it on the ground, and then mounted a black Harley Davidson parked at the curb. His bad boy quotient rose even higher, and her heart pounded faster as she envisioned herself climbing on the back and wrapping her arms around his waist, the smell of his leather jacket tickling her nose.
As the engine roared to life, the image vanished, and the pounding in her heart slowed. He flicked a mock salute and rode away. Sighing, Jess finished her cigarette and began the trek back to the dorm room.
When the building came into view, her good mood faded away. If only she didn’t have the perky roommate to put up with.
With a sigh, she pushed open the door to the shared room. Emily looked up from her book, but said nothing. Crossing to the little sink, Jess brushed her teeth, changed into her sleeping attire of a long t-shirt, and then flicked off the overhead light.
“Excuse me, but I was reading.” Emily’s voice held a note of annoyance, and Jess smiled to herself in the darkness.
“And now you’re not,” she retorted.
A sigh carried across the room, followed by the sound of rummaging around in a drawer. There was a click, and a little book light came on. Jess should have known Emily would be a prepared little Girl Scout. She rolled her eyes and turned to face the wall. Score one for the annoying blonde, but there was always tomorrow. She would just have to be more creative. Pre-order today