The student flat was old and smelled like a dozen ripe socks. Lela Belaudon sighed in exasperation. She had expected the standard dorm situation when applying for college, but this was pushing it. Shoving her small stack of boxes further into the suite, she took a better look around.
Besides the smell, it actually wasn’t too bad. A large hallway opened into a living room with a correspondingly tattered couch and lazy-boy. Connected to the side was a tiny kitchen with just enough space for a decently sized refrigerator, microwave, and oven. Virtually no countertop meant there would be a problem if they ever cooked a large meal. Tucked away into another room on the other side of the flat, an open dual sink setup allowed a large restroom mirror to reflect two simple shower stalls.
Last but not least, two separate doorways opened into the main sitting area, each leading to a bedroom with several bunks.
“Yep, this is college alright.” Lela blew a stray hair out of her face and considered whether it would be easier to just continue shoving her boxes across the suite or go through the trouble of picking them up individually. Thankfully, neither proved necessary, as a head popped out one of the open bedrooms.
“Heya.” The tall athletic girl who waved casually while walking across the living room could only be described as tomboyish, with short spiked hair colored a brilliant firehouse red, occasionally interspersed with what looked like fresh snow. “The name’s Delphia. You one of my future roomies?”
“Yep! I’m Lela. Mind helping with a box or two?”
“Sure, no problem.” Delphia easily grabbed the largest box off the ground and began carrying it back to the bedroom. “You hauled all this up the stairs by yourself?”
“Well, my older brother was just dropping me off, and he didn’t have much time other than to say goodbye. I figured it would be safer just to make the trip in one go. Thankfully caught one of the elevators half full.” Just thinking about the past struggle of fitting all she had in that elevator added to her exhaustion. Thank goodness she didn’t have to walk up 25 flights of stairs.
“Ah,” Delphia nodded. “You must be native to Chicago then.”
“Yep. Told the rest of the family goodbye this morning. Hopefully, they’ll give me some time before coming to visit. I’d rather have found a school out of state, but… you know.” Lela squinted at her new roommate, unsure if she should say anything else.
Delphia smiled back. “Heh, no worries. All incoming HCP students are required to room together, for safety and other reasons. Probably easier when keeping a secret identity.”
Lela nodded, she had figured as much, but it was always better to be safe than sorry. “So, you met our other two roommates?”
“Yep,” Delphia set the box down gently, pushing it the rest of the way into what was apparently Lela’s small closet. “They went out to grab a bite, said they wanted to explore the campus. You’ve seen the Market?”
Lela nodded. She’d gotten the tour earlier in the year, and was fairly impressed with the size and scope of just the regular university. Due to being within a major city (one with its own fair share of history and wealth), many extra commodities had been added over the years thanks to generous donations by various alumni.
Apparently, it was a common issue with many schools to have poor cafeteria food. The Market was just one of the many ways Sizemore bucked that trend and was certainly an interesting part of campus. Conveniently located at the juncture of the new Stangel and Randolph Hall dorms, the Market consisted of a collection of shops and food court style restaurant chains selling a variety of options. While most were your standard mall fare, a few legitimate places plus easy access to innumerable faux chain storefronts offered an attractive alternative from traditional dining halls.
It was a popular place for students to hang out and socialize, especially since all the stalls accepted the college’s meal plans. To this end, large sets of television monitors had been placed throughout the food court area, providing a centralized spot for checking out events, getting reminders of specific dates, or just seeing tv clips and music appealing to the average college student.
Thinking about it a bit more, Lela came to a realization. “I know I should finish unpacking first, but honestly hanging out sounds way more fun. Wanna join me?”
Delphia glanced around the room, but then shrugged and grabbed a light jacket off the back of her desk chair. “Sure, why not. I don’t feel like getting cooped up just yet.”
“I can’t get this to stay on the nail!”
A young man of average height shook aside a lock of black hair out of his vision. Staring frustratedly at the large framed painting beside him, Alphonso Acuna wondered once more why he had agreed to take his mother’s art to college. It wasn’t bad, in fact, the landscape scene could probably have sold for a decent amount back home. He knew she meant it out of love, but right now it was just annoying.
“Here,” Rubin tossed him a fork from the kitchen. “Slide the middle tongs between the nail, and then use that to guide the painting down.”
Alph did so, and grinned as it fit perfectly. “Huh. Well what do ya know, it worked!”
Rubin just nodded sagely. “Not my first rodeo with moving.”
“Uh, not to interrupt or anything, but I finally got the X-station up and running.” The new voice appeared to come from below the front of the couch. Immediately after, a boy that would undoubtedly fit the role of a popular Cuban heartthrob jumped up from his crouched position in front of the tv. “You guys up for some split-screen? We got four controllers, so…”
Malachi motioned towards the mostly empty recliner, where only one spot was currently occupied by a guy who had recently introduced himself as Rueben. He waved back with an already spoken for controller and grinned.
“Ya, come on guys. We need at least 4 to make it a challenge. Bot mode is just sad.”
“Right.” Malachi nodded sagely. “As my new companion so eloquently put it, the best way to make friends and test a man’s mettle is on the battlefield. Even if that field might be virtual in nature.”
Rubin and Alph glanced towards each other, then simultaneously shrugged and moved over to grab the controllers held in their direction.
Only while taking a seat did Rubin’s eyes begin to sparkle with mischief. “Hey, I got an idea guys. Why don’t we make it worth something to win.” The other boys automatically perked up at the idea.
“Let’s see, why not have the losers have first go at the cleaning schedule.” This was quickly met with unanimous approval and with a shout of “You’re on!” the battle began.
Ethan stared at the elevator doors, wondering if it really would have been faster to walk up the stairs. His arms were full with the last two containers he needed to carry to his dorm room, and he had hoped to skip the journey up the steps once again. Sighing, he decided to get on with it and turned quickly to move in the direction of the stairwell.
His sudden movement had happened quite unpredictably, which was likely why the rather tall girl behind him had no chance to move back before the inevitable crash occurred. A small gasp was all that could be heard as several boxes hit the ground and scattered their meager contents.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Startled, Ethan glanced up from the mess on the ground, and felt his heart just… stop.
Staring back with a bit of a perturbed look was the single most gorgeous girl he had ever seen. She was at least six and a half foot, with dark caramel skin and an athletic build. Long white hair was tied loosely in a single braid down her back, and her features clearly carried an exotic tint to them.
What had caught his attention most though was the color of her eyes. They seemed green at first glance, but if one looked closer, they would notice a shifting palette hidden behind thick eyelashes.
“Well. Are you just going to stand there or are you going to help me pick this up?” Her voice carried the faintest of accents but Ethan thought he heard a hint of French layered in. Then his brain caught up to what she had said, and the young man blushed deeply.
“Again, I’m very sorry.” He dropped his own containers to the side and quickly bent to help gather the odds and ends that had spilled. Together, they managed to shove most of the contents back in the box before yet more people arrived to catch the next elevator. At this point, the girl straightened to her full height and looked over her shoulder as she carried the boxes onto the waiting lift.
“You should be more careful to look where you run off to, Mr. Impatient. Sometimes waiting is the better option.” Ethan nodded, chagrined, before starting in the realization that the elevator doors were closing and he was on the wrong side of them. He made a motion to grab his stuff, but the action was pointless, and he could almost swear he heard a giggle from the girl just before the doors closed in his face.
Well, he probably deserved that. Shaking the vision of beauty from his mind, he turned to once again face the workout that was the 756 steps to his floor. Absently, he wondered if this was the best or worst thing about living in such a tall building. At least the option of exercise would always be available.