Chapter 1- Curiosity and the Cat
“Face it. Curiosity will not cause us to die-only lack of it will. Only the curious have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all.”
I should’ve just shaved my head.
Being rebellious had never been my shtick. Not when I crumpled like a stale cookie under pressure. Yet here I was, crumpling thousands of miles from home with nothing but some luggage and a stained blue dress. When Lexi died, I should have just shaved my head instead of fleeing to a college across the country. Maybe then I wouldn’t be standing in a busy line, getting jostled by overeager freshman, and at risk of projectile vomiting on my sneakers.
“Welcome! Here’s your class schedule, your campus map, and your dorm information. There’s a copy of your dorm key in the envelope; try not to lose it, nobody wants to pay fifty bucks for a replacement. RA information is on the back of the map. Do you have any questions for me?” Where’s the bathroom?
Is the stain on my dress obvious?
How do I turn back time?
“No, thank you.”
Without further ado, the freshman supervisor redirected her attention to the next frazzled undergraduate. I clenched the papers in my sweaty palm, using the other hand to shield my eyes from the sun as I took in Franklin University. The school mascot-a disturbingly vicious wasp- hung on a flag waving proudly over the Marine Science building. From the virtual tour I’d taken online, the school was constructed in a style to make the Founding Fathers twirl their wigs with glee. Steep roofs, rising white columns, and brick as far as the eye could see. It was an interesting play on colonial modernity, and I wished I was more interested in architecture so I could appreciate it.
I milled around pathetically, trying to stifle the panic that had been steadily brewing since I deplaned. Maybe keeping my parents from booking a flight to help hadn’t been my smartest decision. Independence was for people who could read maps and answer their mother’s phone calls. Not girls who were too awkward to ask an upperclassman for directions.
While I tried to decode the campus map, a horde of girls made their way around the main entrance. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I followed them through the Sound, a quad set up with a large stage, tables, and a juice bar, so named to mock the school’s lack of a partying reputation. The girls I was nonchalantly stalking filtered into a quaint five story brownstone. The cloying smell of perfume and noisy pop music eased my nerves a fraction. Finally, I’d found the girls’ residence hall. When I reached my room at the end of the hall on the third floor, I was so relieved I swiped my key card and threw the door open immediately.
A high-pitched shriek nearly keeled me over.
“What the hell? Don’t you know how to knock?” a short, angry girl snapped, crossing her arms over her chest. Her shirt was pulled haphazardly across her shoulders, as if tugged down in a hurry.
“S-sorry! I didn’t know anyone was in here.” Absolutely fabulous. I’d been here a sum total of three seconds and almost caught my roommate in the buff. She finished straightening the shirt and studied me with kohl-lined eyes for a minute. I must have passed inspection, because she blew a strand of hair from her face and extended her hand. “I’m Raven.”
Some of the tension evaporated from my body.
Raven tapped a painted fingernail against her lips.
“You’re from California, right?”
I startled. “Yes…?”
“Not trying to be creepy, they sent your information a few weeks ago. I’m from California, too. More Silicon Valley area, though.”
“Oh, cool!” I exclaimed, trying to subtly keep my carry-on from toppling over. Raven had already picked the bed on the far right, leaving me the bed near the window. It was a good thing the room was pretty large, because I was already calculating the best corner to skulk in when changing clothes.
She followed my gaze. “Yeah, I already picked my bed. Windows give me the heebie-jeebies,” she explained with a dramatic shudder.
“It’s fine. Might even help me remember what the buildings look like,” I joked. The view from the window above my bed was of the Sound, or at least a slice of it. It’d be like attending a concert every day. And the unobstructed view of the sky wasn’t half bad either. I’d just have to remember to keep it closed because of...
“Oh CRAP!” I dropped to the ground and opened my backpack. Groaning, I thumped my forehead with my fist.
This could not be happening! Not after I’d promised up and down to keep him confined. In the excitement and fray, I made the mistake of briefly leaving my backpack on the ground when checking the room number a few floors ago.
“What?” inquired Raven from the dresser, idly stuffing her belongings in drawers.
“Boyfriend? That reminds me, we need to set some-
“No! Poe is my cat, and he’s supposed to be in my backpack, but now he’s not!” I tried to remain calm. He was a loud bastard-someone must have seen or heard him. No way he’d left the building, either, not when I’d only put the backpack down for half a second.
“Oh yeah, I got the email about your cat. Aren’t you supposed to confine him to this room?”
When I just continued to sit there and freak out, she grunted and grabbed my wrists, dragging me into the hallway. Normally I’d have been appalled at her audacity, but I was too panicked. “I’ll look downstairs; you look up here. I doubt he’s outside the dorms.”
“Thank you!” I called as she descended the stairs. She flicked her fingers over her shoulders in acknowledgment.
Could he still be on the second floor? It wasn’t likely he’d climbed past the third.
I started the search, frustration and worry rising. That sadistic cat had a penchant for screwing things up at the worst time. I opened storage closets, peeked through open doorways, and kept my eyes open for any orange fur or screaming females. I was about to head to the fourth floor when a girl burst from her room, hollering at the top of her lungs. “Help! There’s something moving in my room! It-it’s furry!”
I was down the hall from the shrieking, and as I made my way towards her, she snagged a guy-what the heck was a boy doing in the girls’ dorms? - and practically shoved him into the room. “Get it out, Landon!”
Poor guy didn’t even see what hit him. I reached the hysterical girl and tried to calm her down. “It’s my cat, I am so sorry. I don’t know how he got loose.”
She scowled, annoyance replacing her alarm. “It’s a cat? Your cat?”
I winced. “Er...yes. He’s harmless, I swear. He was scared.” Thankfully, just as she was opening her mouth to speak, the guy exited the room with Poe in his arms.
And the girl’s underwear swishing merrily at the end of Poe’s tail.
I was so murdering that damn animal.
The girl snatched her underwear and fisted it in her hands, cheeks flushing an unnaturally bright red. I tried to apologize again, but she cut a scathing glare, effectively shutting me up. “Thanks Landon,” the girl muttered, entering her room and slamming the door. The onlookers returned to their unpacking and goodbyes, glancing curiously at Poe.
I opened my mouth to thank the guy and paused. Wow. Poe’s rescuer was quite the looker. Dark brown hair curled from under a worn beanie, brushing high cheekbones and a sculpted jaw. He was tall and lean, but his frame was almost completely cloaked by a huge band T-shirt. If I’d spotted him outside, I would’ve chalked him up as a stoner or a punk.
But…those eyes. His bright sapphire gaze met mine, making coherency a distant dream.
“Um. Uh. That’s my cat,” I managed.
“This is your cat,” he repeated, mouth quirking up. “Would you like to take him?”
“Yes. Yeah, that’s a good idea.” I reached out and took the bundle of fur, skin tingling where it brushed against the hot dude. Having Poe in my arms helped settle me down enough to remember my people skills.
“Thanks, by the way. The university only let him stay after a lot of begging on my part, and he’s not supposed to leave the room. Or make the girls on my floor kill me in my sleep.” I glared at Poe with the last sentence. “So thanks again! I’m, uh, headed that way. Where my dorm room is. Bye.”
Hurrying as far away as possible from the train wreck I’d made of myself, I found Raven as she was climbing up the stairs. “Hey, I heard there was a commotion up here and figured it was your demon.” She petted Poe’s ear as we entered the dorm and he hissed, causing Raven to snatch her hand back and scowl. I made sure to close the door and the window before I dumped Poe on my bed.
“I recommend closing your underwear drawer,” I warned Raven. “Poe has a funny way of getting into those.”
“Damn, you mean I have to like…get a laundry basket? The floor can’t be my closet?”
I chuckled, taking a seat on the ground. “Sorry, that’s a no. Oh, by the way, there’s a welcoming tour today. You want to go?”
Raven snorted. “I already know where the local bar is, my fake ID is perfect, and my classes are on the campus map. Anyway, I prefer a trial by error method.”
“Do you happen to know where the campus library
She nodded and hooked her thumb towards the window. “It’s next to the coffee shop. I think a few buildings down. Why, hitting the books already?”
“Yikes, no. I actually want to get a job there.”
“I see, I see. Good luck with that.”
We experienced a few moments of awkward silence.
Raven pointed at our cluttered luggage. “You want to unpack this shit now or later?”
I dragged my suitcase over and unceremoniously dumped its contents. After the hellish day I’d had, I was more than ready to settle into my new home with my faintly intimidating roommate and surly cat. Raven smirked as she eyed my secret junk food stash, which I’d accidentally left unzipped.
“Sophia, I think you and I are going to get along real well.”