Chapter Three – Observations
SAMANTHA DIDN’T KNOW HOW MUCH TIME she had been sitting on her bed, staring at the bare walls, her mind wandering. She never had been able to successfully let her mind wander without thinking about her mother before, so this was something new. Her mind had drifted, floating from cloud to cloud, considering nothing in particular. It was nice to daydream for once without seeing flashes of her former life. She enjoyed it.
The explosion of sound coming from outside her door shocked her out of the peaceful world her mind had created. She heard the scraping of a key fitting into its hole, the clicking as the door was locked and the jiggle of the doorknob as the voices behind the door tried to force the locked door open. The key entered the hole again, and the door unlocked. The next jiggle of the doorknob was accompanied by the door opening and a honey blonde entering the room.
Her clothes reeked of money, and the man standing behind her in a suit confirmed the fact that this girl was rich. Samantha inwardly groaned. What kind of person had she been paired with?
Samantha sat up as the blonde walked into the room, taking in all that Samantha had done to improve her side. Samantha couldn’t read her face. The blonde looked curiously amazed by the posters and the books, awed by how much Samantha had already done with the room.
Samantha didn’t say anything. She just crossed her legs and sat with her back to the wall. She didn’t know how to approach this new force in her world. And what a force she was.
The blonde smiled at Samantha, her blue-green eyes sparkling in the sunlight from streaming in from the window. Samantha managed a small smile in return, but still didn’t speak. The blonde seemed to not know what to do. The scene automatically turned slightly awkward.
The blonde was the first to break the silence. “Hi!” she said with an even bigger grin, holding her hand out to Samantha, “I’m Laurel.”
Samantha felt completely taken aback by the hand thrust in her face. She shied back from it, but managed to at least grab it and shake it slightly. She still didn’t speak.
“I love what you’ve done with the room so far. It’s so fun, so like college!” Laurel continued. She moved to Samantha’s bookshelf. “Ooh! The classics. You like the Brontë sisters?” She didn’t wait for an answer before moving on. She couldn’t seem to keep quiet, or, perhaps, Samantha’s silence bothered her. She still hadn’t introduced herself. “The door said you’re Samantha Quinn right? This year’s going to be so much fun.”
Peter had quietly poked his head out of his door, and was now looking at Samantha questioningly. Samantha couldn’t suppress a smile when she saw him. Laurel took that as encouragement and kept talking quickly and animatedly. She asked Samantha a series of questions that Samantha barely heard. Peter went back into his room, smiling mockingly as he left Samantha to Laurel’s questions. “So are you completely moved it?” Laurel paused, giving Samantha a chance to finally speak.
Samantha managed a nod before she spoke her first words to the girl who had disturbed her silent reverie, “Who’s that?” she asked, pointing to the suited man in the doorway, still holding the box he had been holding when Laurel burst into the room.
“Oh, Michael. That’s Michael. You can put the box down now. I’ll meet you downstairs to help with moving all my stuff in in a couple minutes. I wanna get to know my new roomie first though.”
Michael seemed relieved to leave. Laurel seemed just as relieved, oddly, Samantha thought.
Laurel didn’t speak until she was sure Michael was completely out of earshot. “Is he gone?” she whispered, looking to Samantha.
Samantha shrugged. Like she knew. But Laurel took that as an affirmative. Her demeanor completely changed. She went from being a socialite prom queen to a down-to-earth, intellectual type. She was still chatty and friendly, but in a slightly more natural way. The change was slightly unnerving.
“Ugh!” she said, rolling her eyes. “Sorry about that. He’s such a lackey. He’s so devoted to my parents. Tells them everything. They seem to think that if I’m not super bubbly, then I’m depressed or I’m being rude or something. I try to tell them that people don’t appreciate the bubby chatter, but they don’t seem to believe me. I don’t know.”
Laurel shrugged. Samantha was still looking at her with a nervous confused look. Laurel sighed.
“Can we start over?” she asked, her face scrunching up, worried that she was making Samantha uncomfortable. “I’m Laurel Davies.”
“Hi,” Laurel said with a shy smile, warmer and more open than the bright smile she had given Samantha when she first introduced herself.
“Hi,” Samantha replied, also smiling. “So that was…” she asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“Michael,” Laurel said, rolling her eyes, “My parent’s valet. Well, one of them. The most devoted of them.”
“Your parents have a valet? Multiple valets?”
“Yeah. My dad’s a big movie exec, which puts me in the most uncomfortable position of being his daughter.”
The pieces snapped into place in Samantha’s mind. That’s where she knew the name from. Laurel Davies, daughter of Kevin Davies, producer of multiple big box office hits. She’d seen Laurel’s name in the papers before. Nothing scandalous, but there none the less. Samantha wondered how she’d missed it.
Laurel noticed the change in Samantha’s attitude. “Don’t worry. I’m nothing like them.”
“I think I’ve read that.”
“School and soccer. That’s me.”
Samantha just nodded.
“Are you ok? Is this going to be a problem?”
“No. No, it won’t be. I just need a little time to let it soak in.”
“Ok,” Laurel paused for a few moments. “Enough time yet?”
Samantha laughed, the ice between them breaking.
“Where are they, your big famous parents?” Samantha asked, remembering that Laurel’s mother happened to be a model.
“Oh, here or there. They’ll be here later. They want to make it seem like they’re helping me move in, but not actually help me move in.”
“Well that doesn’t seem natural.”
“My parents aren’t natural.”
That made both of them laugh. Samantha realized that, perhaps, they were more similar than she could have ever guessed. And they’d only just met a few minutes ago.
“Well, I guess I’ll go down and help Michael with my stuff. I tried to convince my parents that he wasn’t necessary, that I could do this myself. But they don’t want any pictures in the papers with me carting boxes up the stairs. Apparently, if they aren’t normal, I can’t be normal.”
Samantha nodded and Laurel skipped out of the room. Samantha stared as she left. Skipping? Samantha asked herself incredulously. Who skips?
Laurel and the valet, whose name Samantha had by now forgotten, returned shortly with another strong looking guy carrying a refrigerator. Laurel considered where to put it and told him to just put it down somewhere, and she’d move it later. She winked at Samantha as they all left again.
Each trip in and out of the room added more and more things to the center of the room, and Samantha wondered if she’d be able to get out later. There was a rolled up rug in the corner, the refrigerator, a TV, multiple suitcases, books, clothes, boxes that held who knows what, and each time, Laurel came in, dropped stuff off and left. Thirty minutes went by and Samantha wondered how much stuff Laurel had brought.
The last time she came back, Laurel was accompanied by two people who looked very familiar to Samantha. She’d seen their faces in several magazines over the years.
“Samantha, these are my parents. Mom, Dad, this is Samantha.”
Samantha felt awkward as she smiled and mumbled, “Hi,” to the two very famous faces, waving, but not moving.
They seemed offended by Samantha’s somewhat impolite greeting. Laurel expected this, though she had only met Samantha half an hour ago, and turned back to her parents.
“Doesn’t this look great!” she mused enthusiastically. Perhaps too enthusiastically?
Her parents didn’t look like they were excited about the prospect of their daughter living with a nobody who might possibly kidnap their daughter and hold her for ransom. They weren’t comfortable with their daughter having any roommate at all but had been unable to convince her to move to a single room.
“It’s a bit… small, don’t you think,” commented her mother.
“It’s cozy,” Laurel said, defending the room.
“It could definitely use some improvement,” retorted Laurel’s father.
“It’s perfect,” Laurel stated, definitively.
She hated her parents’ attitude to the room, to the dorm, to everything she loved in her life. They were always negative, always trying to rip things down that she so positively built up in her mind. She didn’t even have to make herself believe she was happy, she just was. Why couldn’t they see that?
“Whatever you want dear,” said her mother sweetly, though the look she gave her husband was incredulous, even mocking. She could believe her daughter would want this, that much was obvious to Samantha.
Samantha tried to come up with a way in her mind to excuse herself, but nothing came to mind. She was stuck. Maybe she would just fade into the walls.
Where were Peter and Nick? She desperately needed an escape. Could anyone just be convenient for once?
Samantha remained silent as Laurel’s parents continued to ignore her, positively smothering Laurel with attention. But help her, they did not. The most they did was try to convince Laurel to let the “help,” as they referred to Michael, to do this for her—a suggestion Laurel adamantly refused. Laurel made her bed, and was trying to figure out where to put things. Her clothes obviously went in the closet and in the dresser, but she had brought so much, she didn’t know if she’d ever clear a space on the floor for the rug. It may just stand there in the corner for the whole year.
Samantha’s mind had already put the puzzle together, and knew where everything could go to provide the most space in the room. She just needed Laurel to get rid of her parents for a slight moment. She couldn’t breathe with them sucking in all the oxygen in the room. They were suffocating her.
Laurel’s parents seemed to feel the same way. How could they possibly breathe in this substandard air that some inferior person was breathing in? It was absolutely barbaric. Laurel’s mother suggested they go outside for fresh air, and they left, leaving the girls alone for a while.
Laurel sighed, letting out a breath of relief for the second time that day.
“I’m so sorry about them. They’re absolutely awful sometimes.”
“No, really, I have no idea how they can manage to be around other people at all without insulting everyone. I don’t know how they even live in another world with other people sometimes. They’re impossible.”
“It’s really no problem.”
Samantha paused for a second, not sure how to approach the issue at hand. She stumbled a bit, but managed to get her sentence out.
“I think I know how to get all of your stuff put away without it all being in the center of the room for the whole year.”
“Really? Oh thank God.”
“Come here,” Samantha said, indicating that Laurel should sit next to her. “It’s really pretty simple,” she said, pointing and indicating where everything should go, how they should move Laurel’s bed and what could be stored in various places.
Laurel was amazed when Samantha finished. “You’re a genius.”
Samantha shrugged. “I like puzzles,” she replied modestly. She wasn’t used to all the praise.
“No, really, a genius.”
Samantha smiled at her. Laurel was nice. Her parents were another story. She didn’t know how she was going to live with Laurel if her parents were always going to act how they had.
Thinking of them seemed to bring them back, as if they’d heard someone calling their names, beckoning them to return. Laurel jumped up as the entered the room, surprised. She didn’t think they’d be back.
“Mom, Dad. Hi. Oh, we figured out where to put everything. Isn’t that excellent?”
Her parents only nodded. Laurel started moving around the room frantically, pushing and pulling at everything. Her father moved to call in the valet, but Laurel stopped him. She wanted to do this herself. Her parents had nothing else to do but watch, like Samantha.
Samantha had pulled up into a ball when they came in. She still wasn’t sure what she thought of them. No, she knew what she thought of them, she just didn’t know how to react around them. She was unable to hide her feelings behind anything but silence and timidity. It was pathetic, she realized, but she didn’t want them to hate her any more than they already did.
What was this? Did she really care if Laurel’s parents liked her? No, but she didn’t want them to hate her. That was typically human wasn’t it? No one liked to be hated, though many loved to hate people. Some people made there existence by pretending like they hated the world.
But Samantha didn’t want to hate these people. There had to be some part of them that was good, there just had to be. Samantha struggled to find that goodness within them as they continued to glare at her. Were they so determined to hate her that they would try to make her feel more uncomfortable than she already did? What kind of people were they?
Determined ones. Workaholics. Hardened by the society they lived in. That’s what they were. Samantha couldn’t believe herself, but she was actually beginning to see the reality in their situation. She realized that they didn’t really act this way of their own free will. It was so ingrained in them to believe everyone was out to get them, their money, their fame that they shunned anyone who they believed was inferior to them.
Dear God, she though, it must be dreadful to be famous. Who would wish this life for themselves?
Samantha also began to understand Laurel better. She was turning her back to their lifestyle because she could see what it did to them, how it made them act, how it twisted their perception of reality. What was fame if you couldn’t enjoy it? If you couldn’t be happy? What kind of life was that?
Samantha was lost in her thoughts again. She tended to do that when she was in uncomfortable situations. She would analyze the people she was around rather than acknowledge how awkward she felt. It was easier that way. Laurel’s parents seemed to take advantage of her unfocused mind and start asking her questions.
“So,” started Laurel’s father, zapping Samantha back to reality, “where are your parents. We’d love to meet them. Maybe chat a bit.”
“Oh. Um… they aren’t here. They…” she stumbled, what could she say? “They already left. We, uh, got here pretty early this morning.”
Samantha looked up at the sound of a distinct, though ever so quiet cough and suppressed chuckle behind Laurel’s parents. Peter was standing outside her door, about to knock. He gave her another of his questioning glances, his eyes sparkling mischievously. He had caught her in her lie. She couldn’t say anything more. Her throat had mysteriously forgotten how to swallow, her voice box unable to create any sound.
“Ah, well, that’s a shame. We were really hoping to meet them.”
Samantha tried to respond, but was saved by Peter clearing his throat and politely knocking on the open door.
“You still up for ice cream Samantha?” he asked politely.
She nodded, thankful for her imminent rescue. She smiled at Laurel’s parents as she jumped up off her bed.
“Boyfriend?” Laurel’s mother asked Samantha, curious. Samantha understood, Peter was an attractive guy.
“Oh, um, no. We just met. He helped me move in.” Samantha paused, remembering she had told them her parents had been here. “Well, me and my parents. He sped up the process considerably.”
She shot a thankful smile in Peter’s direction, and noticed Nick’s absence.
“Well, I guess we better go,” she said to Peter. “It was nice to meet you! See you later Laurel!”
She paused at the door, knowing she should invite Laurel. She kicked herself mentally for stopping. She had to ask now.
“Hey, Laurel. You wanna come with us? We’re going to the ice cream shop just off campus.”
“Oh, no, I can’t. I still have to unpack and everything.”
“Oh, ok. Well, if you change your mind…” Samantha let the sentence trail off. She didn’t really know where the shop was, she was just tagging along herself after all.
Laurel looked at her parents’ faces, seeing their disapproval of the idea. Ice cream? Really? She couldn’t eat ice cream. And what kind of people were these? Did she even know? Could they really be trusted? No. Socializing with them was completely off limits.
She smiled at Samantha, giving a noncommittal answer, “Maybe. But I’ll see you later.”
She gave her parents a demanding look, urging them to say something. Her mother gave in first.
“Oh, Samantha. Laurel’s father and I were planning on taking her out for dinner later, before we left. You should join us, our treat. I mean, since your parents aren’t here to take you out themselves.” She smiled sweetly, the same saccharine smile she had given Samantha earlier in the afternoon.
Samantha didn’t know what to say. She didn’t really want to go to dinner with them, but she’d bet it would be fancy, and it would probably taste good. And yet, she so desperately wanted to be as far away from them as possible. And she knew they didn’t really want her to go. This was for Laurel. And Samantha felt no real ties to her roommate yet. Maybe someday, but even then, she wouldn’t be going to dinner with the wicked parents.
“Um… I don’t think I can. I think I have other plans. Thanks though. Maybe some other time.” Samantha gave them a warm, and yet so very fake smile. “It was nice to meet you.”
She eased her way out the door, kindly smiling at them the whole time. Their faces were incredulous. Did she know who she was talking to? It was obvious that no one ever turned these people down with such a weak excuse as Samantha had given. But did they really expect Samantha to agree to dinner with them? Samantha thought not. Behind their incredulous expressions, Samantha mused, was probably a sigh of relief. They wouldn’t have to be seen with a nobody as some posh restaurant. And Samantha wouldn’t have to dread that night.
She and Peter had gotten to the stairwell before she realized she had left her wallet in her room. And now she had to go back. She groaned again.
“Hold on, I forgot something,” she told Peter, touching his arm familiarly.
She didn’t even notice they had touched. She was too preoccupied by her thoughts. But she would remember it later and wonder at what had possessed her to touch the one person who always looked at her like she was a little scatterbrained, if not crazy.
She ran back down the hall on quiet, catlike feet. She was always able to surprise people, they never heard her coming. She reached her door, but stopped, hearing their voices.
“We can still get you a single room, Laurel. You don’t have to stay with that girl,” he sneered at the word, like she was dirty or contaminated or something.
The female voice of Laurel’s mother continued his point. “Darling, you deserve more than this tiny box of a room. I can’t even believe they consider this big enough for one person to live in, let alone two. It’s barely a closet. You can’t even fit the bare minimum in here. You deserve a single room. Just let us get it for you. That girl isn’t good enough to be your roommate. She’s so common. A chav.”
Samantha smirked to herself. Was Laurel’s mother one of those people who desperately desired to be British? She was failing amazingly.
The conversation continued in hush voices, though very much a one way conversation. Samantha could imagine Laurel sitting on her now made bed, barely hearing a word her parents said. Or was she giving Laurel too much credit?
“Just let us check it out. There has to be one left somewhere in this dump of a school. I can’t believe you came here. You know, we were barely able to get you that parking pass? They actually tried to deny our request. The nerve of some people.”
Samantha imagined that Laurel’s mother was rolling her eyes in the short pause that followed.
“You could be anywhere else. Why didn’t you trust us when we told you anywhere else would be better?”
“Mom, this is Stanford. Stanford,” Laurel repeated the word, enunciating each syllable. “I like it here.”
Her mother cut her off, “How do you know you like it here? You just got here!”
“We’re going to go check out that single room situation,” Samantha heard Laurel’s father say.
She heard their footsteps nearing the door and ran to the closest open door.
“Sorry,” she said quickly to the startled girl who was putting her sheets on her mattress. “I just need a moment to hide.”
“Ok…” said the girl, confused.
Samantha watched as Laurel’s parents retreated to the opposite end of the hall and disappear down the stairwell.
“They don’t even have an elevator,” she thought she heard one of them mutter.
Samantha sighed, relieved.
“Thanks,” she said simply to the still stunned girl, walking back out into the hall.
The girl followed her, sarcastically saying “your welcome” under her breath. Samantha ignored her and went back to her room.
“Hi,” she said, startling Laurel. “Just forgot my purse!”
“Oh, yeah. No problem.”
“Where’d your parents go?”
“More fresh air,” Laurel lied. Samantha understood. If it were her, she wouldn’t want to tell her roommate that her parents were looking for a single room for her because they didn’t think that her roommate was good enough.
“Ok, well, if you change your mind about ice cream, just call. I’ll give you my number.” Samantha suddenly felt sorry for this girl whose parents were absolute nightmares. She wondered how Laurel could cope, but it explained Laurel’s whole personality. Everyone tended to pretend to be happier than they were, just to hide the pain that surrounded their lives. Samantha suspected it was like that for Nick too.
Her mind went back to Nick for a moment. Where was he? She’d have to ask Peter when she caught back up to him.
“Hey, if someone else comes out that door,” Samantha said, pointing across the hall, “it’ll be Nick. He’s supposed to be coming for ice cream too. Tell him to hurry up ok?”
Laurel nodded, and Samantha didn’t know what else to say. She’d spent her talking quota for the day, it seemed.
“Well… bye then!”
Samantha quickly ran out the room, she couldn’t stay there any longer, and she now desperately wanted the ice cream that she was promised. It wasn’t exactly hunger that propelled her to the stairs as much as it was the burning desire to gossip about her new roommate. She couldn’t wait to get either Peter or Nick’s opinion on the situation. She desperately needed a second opinion. And possibly a third.
But maybe Laurel would come. Maybe she was nothing like her parents. Maybe she really wanted to be friends with Samantha despite her parents’ warnings. It was always a possibility. Sighing, Samantha hurried to the stairs, wondering where Peter had gone.