by Debbie Sarah
Eighteen year old Chelsey Jones can’t escape her past
By Debbie Sarah
GETTING SETTLED IN
It was on a chilly cloudy September day when I first arrived on the campus of Clearwood College. The small campus was filled with the chaos that always ensued during freshman orientation. Two check in tents stood on the lawn. And by the time my mother and I reached one of them. We were stuck at the end of a line that stretched for three yards. I dreaded the long wait, especially since my luggage was becoming difficult to roll in the wet grass. I didn’t have much luggage compared to the students that I spotted moving into the dormitory. In fact, people were probably thinking that I under packed. I only had one large suitcase, and a laptop bag. My mother assured me that she would mail me extra blankets for the cold weather. I could have taken the worn comforter that I used during my winters in upstate New York, but my mother didn’t want my college friends knowing that I was poor. Well, my mother didn’t use those words exactly. She insisted that since I was a college girl, I deserved new things. Because I didn’t want my mother paying the gas money, plus the cost of a new comforter, I vowed to myself that I would get a job and pay for my own comforters. I of course hadn’t told my mother about my plans. I knew that it would have worried her. What I needed to focus on was keeping my full scholarship. If I lost my scholarship, then, I would have lost my chance at an education.
When it was my turn, I walked up to the table and smiled at the plump man that sat in front of me. He was pale and had a stomach as large as a beach ball. He wore thick dark sun glasses that concealed his eyes. So I couldn’t determine his eye color. His hair was silver and he wore a button down dress shirt, slacks, and black dress pants.
“Hello. Welcome To Clearwood College. What’s your name?”
“Sc… Oh um, Chelsey Jones.” I almost caught myself. Everyone back home called me Scout. The man smiled at me as he handed me a thick manila folder that had my name scrolled across the front in block letters.
“Chelsey, you have to go to the Charlton center to get your student ID taken,” the man told me. My mother and I smiled at the man and walked onto one of the winding cement paths.
It took us about five minutes to locate the Charlton Center, which was a small brick building with square windows. I didn’t feel like dragging my stuff in so my mother waited for me near a tree under a weeping willow. Not wanting to keep my mother waiting, I rushed through the glass doors, nearly colliding with someone that was coming out. I ignored the girl’s haughty glare and hurried past her and made my way down the white hallway. I paused at the end in front of a door that was marked “security.” Hoping that there was no line I grasped the handle and tugged the door open. To my relief, the small cramp room was nearly empty. It wasn’t long before the security officer took a picture of me and printed out my identification card. When he announced that I was cleared to move my things into my dorm, I shot him a smile, muttered a thank you, and went outside to meet my mother.
My mother and I walked across the campus to “Lester dormitory” my new home. It was three stories and from the outside, it looked like an office building. The only feature that made the building look domestic was the wild flowers that surrounded it. I pulled my student ID out of my pocket and scanned my mother and I into the building.
The inside surprised me. The main door led into an open foyer that had a door on each end. One of the doors was held open by a tall waist basket, so I got a clear view of what was inside. The room seemed to be some kind of entertainment parlor with its large stage, tables and chairs, a secluded area with couches and a flat screen TV, and a shelf filled with bored games.
“What floor are you on Scout?” my mother asked. Although I knew the answer, I consulted my folder anyways just to make sure.
“I’m on the third floor.” I mentally realized that there was no elevator in sight. My mother must have too because her face grew determined. She slid off the rubber band that she had around her wrist and handed it to me.
“Your hair might get into your eyes,” she said. I pulled my dark brown hair up into a pony-tail and smiled gratefully at my mother.
“Thanks,” I said.
“I’m going to tell your father that he’s dropping you off after Christmas vacation,” my mother teased. My father would have been here, but he couldn’t afford to take a day off from the gas station. Driving from New York to Boston exhausted my parents’ limited funds. And I felt guilty for that. If only I had worked. I could have probably been able to pay for a train ticket.
“Come on Scout. I have to go in an hour if I want to beat the traffic,” my mother urged. I hadn’t realized that I was just standing there looking at my luggage. I tended to do that sometimes. My own thoughts often proved a major distraction for me.
I wrapped my hand around the handle of my suitcase, dreading the awkward climb. I handed my ID to my mother and she scanned us through the other door which led to a stair well. We made our way up the six flights of stairs with care. I made a mental note to hit the gym. I was so out of shape. By the time we reached the top, my chest was burning from the exertion. I was thankful that the door to my floor was already open. Since I had the large suitcase, I went in ahead of my mother and concentrated on the numbers. I was looking for 382. I found it at the end of the long carpeted hallway. With shaky hands, I pulled my room key out of my pocket and placed it in the lock. The door opened with a grown and I pulled my suitcase in.
One of the sheets in my folder had said that I had a roommate. But at the moment, she wasn’t there. In fact, the state of the room indicated that my roommate hadn’t arrived yet. My mother and I scanned both sides of the room. Both sides looked identical. Each side had a bed, a dresser by the foot of the bed, and a desk by the large window.
“Either side will do,” I told my mother. My mother grinned and chose the left side of the room. I laid my suitcase down in the middle of the floor and unzipped it. When I pushed back the flap, I saw all of the “decent” clothes that I owned. All my ratty clothes were left behind at my mother’s insistence. That eliminated my worn night gown and virtually every pair of sweat pants that I owned. My mother pulled out the hangers that we had bought at a local Wal-Mart and began hanging up my clothes. I pulled out my jeans folded them and then put them in the bottom drawer of my dresser. The middle drawer went to my t-shirts and I placed my bras, socks, and underwear in the top drawer. We were finished in less than a half an hour. After I placed my towels and blankets on the top shelf of my closet. I turned to my mother and grinned.
“That was easy,” I puffed. My mother zipped up my suit case and then kicked it under the bed. Too my surprise, she actually made my bed for me. The sheets were a simple blue. It had been the only bed set that my mother could afford.
“Well, scout, this is good. I can be on the road much sooner than I thought,” my mother smiled. I walked over to my mother and gave her a big hug. I pressed my nose into her hair, which smelled like the orange scented shampoo that we both used. She held me tight before pulling her rubber band out of my hair allowing my dark brown hair to fall down to my waist. After she pushed away, she inspected me with her big brown eyes.
“You look good Scout,” she said as she fussed with my t-shirt.
“Thanks mom. So do you.” I wasn’t lying. My mother did look good in her pink shirt, and blue jeans that fit her figure. It was odd how my mother looked way more like my sister than she did my mother. I guess that was mainly because she had my brother Peter and I so young.
“Your grandpa will be so happy when I tell him that you’re going to College,” my mother smiled. My mother and my grandpa Joe had the most dysfunctional father daughter relationships. They hadn’t spoken since I had appendicitis in the tenth grade. They only spoke when someone was having surgery or on special occasions.
“Tell him I said high when you speak to him,” I said having the feeling that they would cross paths soon. My mother frowned and I saw the worry on her face. I knew that she was worried because I was living so far from home, and had no way of reaching her. For one thing, I didn’t have a cell phone, and my parents could never afford internet service.
“Mom, I’ll borrow someone’s phone to speak to you. I promise,” I said. My mother was semi-relaxed by that promise.
“Okay. And e-mail Peter when you can. He’ll tell me what’s going on,” my mother said before grabbing her keys from my desk.
“Take care scout,” my mother said in a pleading voice. She then pulled two hundred dollars out of her pocket and pressed it into my palm.
“This is your graduation present from your Aunt Cassidy,” Mom said. She smiled at me again and after we said good bye, she left me alone.
I wanted to cry. The home sickness hit me more fiercely than I had expected. For eighteen years I had been living with my parents. They had guided me, protected me, and loved me. And now, I wasn’t going to see them every day. I wouldn’t hear their voices unless I got myself a cell phone. That was the first thing that I needed to do. Well, the first thing that I needed to do was buy toiletries. My mother hadn’t had time to buy any for me on the way up. Feeling glad that something was going to distract me, I pulled a map out of the folder. The booklet had a list of “appropriate” places where students of Clearwood College should spend their time. That meant that all bars, clubs, and casinos were left out of the booklet. Though, I was pretty positive that Massachusetts did not have any casinos. I thumbed through the booklet until I found several places where I could find hygiene products. I decided to go to the “CVS” that was two blocks away. Not wanting to be the kid who needed to walk around with a map that I was pretty sure students never used, I memorized the route. I had just finished packing my purse when I heard the door open. I turned around to see a girl smiling back at me. She had golden brown skin, long hair that fell in ringlets down her back, and a gentle smile.
“I’m Carmen,” she said grinning wide.
“I’m scout,” I said deciding that I should use my nick name. She smiled and looked around the room.
“Oh! You don’t have a fridge or microwave?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
“I do.” Carmen studied the room a little more and then frowned.
“Seriously it’s the size of a closet in here.” I hadn’t particularly thought that the size of the room was a problem. It was a little bit bigger than the room that I had shared with my little sister Lilly back at home.
“Just to warn you, my parents are going to move me in soon. I hope you don’t mind them being here.”
“Oh, I don’t mind. I was just heading out to pick up a few things from the store,” I said. Carmen looked at me as if I were nuts.
“Your parents aren’t going to take you?”
“They left already,” I said not wanting to broadcast that my father hadn’t driven up with my mother and I.
“Well, um, be safe,” Carmen said as I headed towards the door.
“Thanks,” I responded unsure of what to do.
By the time I made it out side, it began to drizzle. I felt fortunate that I had grabbed a hoody on my way out. I shrugged into it and crossed the street heading towards the store. As soon as I rounded the corner, I saw two college aged guys walking towards me. I gave them a polite smile as I walked by. They smiled back and that made me at least feel calm. Back in Grandstone, no one smiled at me. Well, no one in my high school smiled at me. I was the kid who everyone hated and circulated terrible rumors about. I shook the memory of Grandstone high out of my head. That was in Grandstone, I was in Clearwood where no-one new me. If I wanted, I could have been the most popular girl on campus. I could be anyone I wanted to be.
I pushed through the doors and entered a semi- busy store. Instead of browsing, I grabbed a shopping basket and made my way to the shampoo isle. My flighty Aunt gave me two hundred bucks. That was more money than I ever had to carry. And I knew that this money would have to last me a while. Well, it had to last me until I found a job. I read the prices and found a shampoo that doubled as conditioner and selected it. It was on sale for six bucks. That didn’t seem so bad. I walked over to the soap isle and picked up a pack of store brand three dollar soap. When I reached the toothbrush isle, I decided to by a family pack of tooth brushes. After all, that saved me money in the long run. After I placed it into my cart. After selecting tooth paste and a bag of pads, I walked up to the counter. I was in line, with two people in front of me when I noticed him. My mouth dropped open of its own accord and a bit of drool slid down my cheek. The cashier was absolutely, unbelievably, impossibly, gorgeous. He was tall with a swimmer’s build. He had exotic tan skin and dark curly hair that seemed to get into his face. He had an angled face a chiseled jaw and the most captivating blue green eyes. The guy was model perfect. I hadn’t remembered seeing someone so beautiful before. He finished ringing up the two girls and smiled at me as I clumsily stepped forward.
“Are you a freshman at Clearwood?” he asked in a polite voice.
“Yes,” I responded as I handed him the items in the shopping basket.
“I saw you on campus earlier,” he said. I felt my cheeks reddened and immediately hated myself for blushing.
“I’m Nathan. I’m a junior,” he explained as he bagged my stuff.
“I’m Scout,” I shyly said.
“Well, Scout, that will be 22 dollars and fifteen cents,” he said before shooting me a smile so perfect that I thought I would weep. I paid for my items and he handed me the bags.
“Have a nice day,” he said.
“You too,” I said over my shoulder and then I ran into the street.
I didn’t go back to my dorm room right away. I walked down the street, desperately trying to clear my mind of all thoughts Nathan. He was out of my league. But yet a smile slipped on my lips every time I thought of him. Come on Scout, think of something else. Think of home. Think of what Noël Philips did to you. Noël Philips, the ex boy friend from hell. Just thinking of him made me angry. To punish myself for thinking of Nathan, I allowed my mind to drift to my memories of Noël Phillips. I conjured up an image of him in my mind. He was tall, lanky, had a peaches and cream complexion, and paper thin lips. I remembered kissing him and feeling how hard and dry his lips were. I became sick at the thought. But I kept that memory in my head on the short walk back to Clearwood.
As soon as I reached my dormitory, I took a deep breath and scanned inside of the building. I passed a few people on my way up the stairs. All of them said hello to me. When I reached my dorm room, I found myself timidly turning the door knob. I opened the room to find Carmen sitting alone. I arched an eye brow at her when I closed the door.
“My parents are at a conference,” she said. I frowned, and wondered if the conference would have been beneficial to my mother. I eyed the full suitcase at Carmen’s feet and saw an opportunity to distract myself.
“Do you need any help? I have nothing to do,” I said. Carmen smiled.
“Oh, that would be great. Unpacking with my mother is a pain.” I found the experience of unpacking with Carmen pleasant. She wasn’t pushy or demanding. Her organization system was similar to mine. The only difference between us was that she could barely fit everything in the space that she had. So we decided that the clothes that she thought that she would never wear was to stay in her biggest suitcase that we planned to shove under her bed.
“I love clothes as you can tell,” Carmen said as we were hanging up clothes in her closet.
“I personally am indifferent towards them,” I confessed.
“Indifferent?” Carmen asked.
“I don’t hate nor like them. I just where clothes because it’s taboo to walk around naked.” Carmen laughed.
“I guess that’s one way to look at it,” she chuckled.
“I guess so. So, are you from around here?” I asked.
“I’m from Boston. I live twenty minutes away from here. I could have commuted but my parents and I decided that me being at home would be too much of a distraction,” Carmen said.
“Oh. I’m from Grandstone. It’s a small town in upstate new York,” I said.
“Why do you call yourself scout?” Carmen asked.
“It was a nick name that I was given as a child. My mother likes the book too Kill a mockingbird.”
“I see. Do you mind being called Chelsey?” Carmen asked.
“No. But it feels weird. If people don’t call me scout, they call me Chelly. But no one ever calls me Chelsey,” I explained.
“Do you like your name?”
“I think that it’s okay. But I’m so use to being called Scout that it would be odd to be called anything else,” I said. Carmen and I spent the next hour talking about miner things such as movies and T.V. shows. When I did watch T.V. I watched the news, crime shows, and history documentaries. But Carmen loved the discovery channel, medical dramas, and reality shows. We also realized that we both weren’t anal about organization, but liked some kind of order. Carmen was the go to bed late and wake up late person, and I went to bed at reasonable hour but was a heavy sleeper. Carmen was thrilled to know that she could watch movies on her laptop even if I was asleep.
Right as we finished unpacking, I heard a brisk knock on the door. Carmen yelled “come in” and then a leggy blond with icy blue eyes entered. She smiled wide at the both of us and winked at Carmen.
“Oh, Scout, this is Fran. She lives’ across the hall in one of the singles,” Carmen explained.
“Hi,” I said giving her a friendly smile.
“I was wondering if you two wanted to go to lunch.” Her invitation surprised me. But I didn’t let it show. Back at Grandstone, I was never invited to anything. But then I reminded myself again, that I was no longer in Grandstone.
“Oh sure. I’ll go. My parents don’t get out of the conference till three,” Carmen replied enthusiastically.
“Three?” I asked in disbelief. Fanny chuckled.
“Yup. It’s a therapy group for parents who can’t let go. I heard that they get catered lunch,” Fran said.
“I’d love to go to. I’m starving,” I timidly responded.
“Dressed like that you’re not.” I frowned not wanting to change. I hadn’t wanted to waist a new shirt since I hadn’t bought detergent yet.
“You got something on your shirt,” Fran sweetly said. I looked down on my shirt and sure enough, it had a barely visible brown stain from the chocolate bar that I had eaten earlier. I sighed and walked over to my drawer but Carmen held up a hand. She walked over to my closet and picked out a red tunic top that my sister in law a had bought me for my birthday.
“You’ve got to wear this,” Carmen said. I sighed, and gestured to Fran to close the door. She complied and I quickly changed my shirt. Carman walked over to me and tugged at my shirt to make sure that it looked okay.
“Your hair is frizzy. You should probably brush it,” Fran suggested. I walked over to my desk and pulled out my hair brush and looked in the mirror. My hair looked like a disaster. I comb and brushed it and decided to put my hair up in a bun. It looked semi-descent that way. I faced Carmen for approval.
“You look cute! Now it’s my turn,” Carmen said as she gave herself a critical eye in the mirror. She looked fine to me. But Carmen evidently felt the need to change into skinny jeans and a long top and sparkly flats. She combed and brushed her hair then turned to face me for my approval.
“Yu look really pretty,” I said.
“Thanks,” Carmen responded as she smile. Fran good naturedly nudged Carmen and gestured to the door.
“Let’s go before we miss lunch.”