Well… until I got caught, that is.
By Mary Claire Ekstrom
I reviewed my work of art. Five pages. Stuffed with quotes. Then, I clicked submit and shut the computer. Free. Thank God, free at last. Giddy, I looked around the college library, that, earlier, I had shared with at least twenty strangers. Now, two and a half remained. The “half” was the guy with his head smashed against the desk, hood up and snoring, with a trickle of drool running out.
I giggled to myself. And they said college life was a “wild and crazy” place.
Even as a freshman I knew better.
University of Minnesota had its wild moments, but right now, it was just cold.
I reached up and rubbed my forehead. My head had turned to mush. Like a vicious little person inside my head had banged my brains into porridge.
I twirled my eyeballs around, trying to de-stiffen, then locked them on my watch.
I’d stayed later.
With one earphone in, I turned on my music, braced against the cold then headed out, all alone, toward the freshman dorms.
And I loved it. So new, and unlike Texas.
I drew my hands out of my pockets, snapped a quick picture, and stuffed my phone and fingers back into pockets before my hands numbed.
“I’m FREEEEE!” I yelled to no one.
As I walked, my mind wandered, and I began, for some unknown reason, to reflect on my experience as a college freshman so far.
Sure, my dorm was like sleeping in a garbage dumpster with more than seven hundred other students… But, the fifteen people or so that shared my section of the third floor had befriended me. Reminded me that I had chosen the right place.
I was happy, even though my nose hairs were freezing.
Another wonder of Minnesota winters. I giggled.
A bass beat started in my headphone. Beyoncé sang in my ear. Since no one was around, I decided to add a little Beyoncé strut to my walk.
Four months in, there was one boy I still did not know particularly well.
He lived three doors down the hall from me. We didn’t talk. Only exchanged head nods… a few times.
But, he’d captured my attention. Became the man of my dreams.
Maura, my next door neighbor, loved him too. It was always, “Ben’s sooo cute,” every time she saw him. Which made me flinch because the dorm walls were so thin.
But, I always responded with a, “I know! I just don’t know what it is… Is it the way he walks?”
Which would get Maura thinking, and dreaming. And, we’d get lost in our ongoing debate about Ben and why he was so cute.
Ben had never actually spoken to us.
We discovered his name by reading his door decal.
Our Ben debate always ended the same way, with me saying, “He has a very nice mouth.”
And, Maura would say, “That’s it! His mouth is just so… pouty and kissable.”
Then, I’d say, “I bet that smile has seduced a lot of women.“
And she’d end it with, “Yeah… why haven’t we been one of them.”
I sighed and rounded the corner of the giant, freshman dorm.
A rapper cut loose through my headphone, making my head bob.
I held my residential security card up.
Stomped the snow off my boots, then flung the door to my dormitory open, feeling dramatic.
I looked up at the wet, grimy steps and began the climb. Panting, I turned left on the third floor and clomped down the empty, narrow hallway.
I needed to visit the gym.
I put my other headphone in and turned up the volume.
Sweat beaded on my forehead, and my toes began to thaw.
Then, something beautiful happened.
The perfect song came on.
It reminded me of my high school days as a musical theater star.
Effervescent, I unzipped my parka and shook my hips a little, loosening up.
Joy filled my soul.
My foot started tapping. My head bobbed. My theater nerd spilled forth.
Unable to contain myself, I stretched my arms out and broke out marching. Taking giant steps like I was on Broadway, leaning forward and back with each step. I flung jazz feet and hands going the entire way down the hall.
I shimmied. I shook. I did every dance move that came to my head.
Lord I was free!
And successful. Made a home away from home, made lots of friends, and was about to get an A on that paper.
Just a few steps from my door, I decided to end big. I hopped, crossed my feet and, with hands outstretched, I twirled.
My hand sunk into stubbly skin.
Horrified, I yanked out my headphones and turned, apologizing.
There he stood.
The man of my dreams… cupping his chiseled, and now, flaming red jaw.
He stared at me, wide-eyed. Shocked.
“Oh… Shit.” I reached up, to touch his jaw. Then stopped, forcing myself to be normal.
“Wow… You’ve got a fierce right hook.” His voice was deep, a little coarse.
My face burned with fire. He talked to me… Oh god. Of all people, why did I have to hit HIM?
“Aw, Jeez.” I babbled, stumbling over words as they fled out my mouth.
The sides of his mouth tightened. “Mary Claire, you can certainly dance.” He chuckled.
The sound was beautiful.
A grin sprang to my lips.
For a second, I forgot that I’d just bashed his face.
Then, he rubbed his jaw.
“Oh goodness, I am sorry about…” I babbled, then remembered. “Wait, what did you just say?”
“I said you can dance.”
The horrifying memory of my jazzy outburst raced across my brain. A little bit of vomit circled my throat. “H-H-How long have you been behind me?”
“Since the stairs.” Ben leaned against the wall. “You put on quite a show.”
My left eye twitched. In my Ben fantasies, I was sophisticated and aloof, almost to the point of being unobtainable, which drove him wild and made him burn for me. Not an idiot doing jazz hands down the hall.
He smiled. A hint at first. Then it grew. Slow and lazy.
I chuckled out of sheer embarrassment, ducked and rummaged through my bag. Desperate for my room keys.
His lips moved again.
“Don’t worry. You were good!” Then, he smiled again.
Blushing profusely, I rolled my eyes and smirked. Then, despite wanting the moment to go on forever, I pushed my key in the door. Turned, as if talked to him all the time, and whispered, “Goodnight, Ben.”
“Goodnight.” His lips tilted, and he smirked back.
My guts turned to liquid.
I slid inside, shut the door, and listened.
His footsteps solid and strong, grew faint. Then, a door snap closed.
I dumped my stuff, cracked the door and peeked.
The hall was empty.
I half-tiptoed, half-ran to Maura’s room and burst in.
“Oh. My. God.” I breathed. “I slapped Ben… And, it was the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
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