On their way back to Hancock Drive, Emily showed Cindy the Aquatic and Fitness Center and pointed out the dining halls and bus stops. The crowd of families and newcomers had thinned considerably by the time they walked up to the second floor. The Resident Assistants were taking a break in the little lounge at the end of the hall. Emily and Cindy introduced themselves.
“Sorry I didn’t get to your room when you arrived,” said Brianna, their RA, getting up and shaking their hands, “the mother in 218 was having a nervous breakdown, I think. It took all of us to calm her down and get her back to her car.”
“That’s OK,” said Cindy. “Emily here is local. She showed me everything.” Brianna raised her eyebrow and looked at Emily.
“Well, not everything, but I got us to Cabell Hall and back.”
Brianna relaxed. “Where do you live?”
The RA nodded. “Have you two made a contract yet?”
“No, but we’ve started,” said Emily. Cindy looked puzzled. “We’ve got the micro-fridge, and we’ve picked sides – that’s a start.”
Brianna chuckled. “OK.” She reached down to the end table and gave them a clipboard. “Here. It’s just a guideline, but maybe it will help you remember something that will prevent an argument later.”
“Thanks.” Emily took the clipboard, looked at it and passed it to Cindy. They shook hands with the other RA’s then walked back to their room. They could hear country music coming in the window from the room below them.
“I hope that the whole year won’t be like this,” said Cindy in the room. “I can feel that boom-box through the floor.”
“Let’s see what the first night is like. Maybe the RA’s will settle them down.”
“I hope so. I also hope it isn’t always country.”
“What do you like?”
“A little of everything: classical, early music, rock-and-roll, hip-hop, opera, R&B, reggae. Even country. Just don’t keep it on one button for too long.”
Emily smiled. “We’ll get along fine, then. I like variety.” She picked up a pencil from the desk drawer. “That’s one of the items on the list.” She checked it off. “Background music while you study or silence?”
“Me, too.” They proceeded to work their way down the list until they came to the subject of overnight guests.
“I didn’t know that we could do that,” said Cindy. “Mom said never to have a boy in my room.”
“She can’t be serious! Half our neighbours in the hall are boys.”
“I’m not sure that she realizes that the dorms are so completely co-ed.”
“Yeah, Residence Halls. Picky about the terminology, aren’t they?”
“I’ve been listening to it since January, and you’re right. We’ll be just as bad in a few weeks.” They laughed.
“Well, I imagine you know lots of boys to invite here.”
Emily looked out the window and thought. “No, not really. All the guys I met at CHS went to college somewhere else, and I was away all summer until just this month. I have a few friends still in high school, but they all happen to be girls.”
“It’s OK with me if you have overnight guests – I think.”
“Do you have a boy friend?”
“I did back in Virginia Beach, but we weren’t that serious yet. And he went to Yale, so I won’t see him again.”
“Not even at Christmas?”
“His mother just got transferred to California. They’ll be living in San Diego by Thanksgiving.”
“Well, you can start in on the country music fans, then.”
“I don’t think so,” said Cindy. “I want to see who shows up for the University Singers auditions first. If they don’t like music, I’m not interested.”
“Do you play an instrument?”
“Piano, but only well enough to accompany myself and rehearse.”
“I heard the U-Singers in concert a couple of times last year. They’re really good.”
“Don’t make me more nervous than I already am. You really don’t have a boy friend?”
“I like this guy in Canada, but if it grows, it will be an internet romance for a while.”
Checking off “yes” for overnight guests, they continued down the list, surprising themselves with the things that came out of it. Cindy smoked (“occasionally”); Emily hated smoke and the smell, so Cindy admitted that she only smoked at parties when others were smoking. She did not keep any cigarettes or even a lighter. Both said that they rose with the sun. They would have to see how much midnight oil they would burn, but each had an eye-shade if one wanted to sleep and the other was still up studying. Both preferred seafood to meat. Emily liked to cook, but Cindy only knew how to use a microwave. They agreed that if one cooked; the other would clean up. And so it went for an hour and a half.
“What about supper?” asked Cindy. “That sandwich was hours ago.”
“Omigod! I promised to call my Mom after the President’s Address!”
“She doesn’t call you?”
“No. We got out of that habit last year. I have to call.”
“Could your mother give mine some lessons?” Cindy said in mock hopefulness. Emily smiled back.
“Well, she is a teacher, but not that subject.” Emily got her phone off the desk. “Want to come to my house for supper?”
“Sure! She won’t mind on short notice?”
“It was her idea. I just told her that I wanted to meet you first.” Emily punched speed dial. “Mom, I’m sorry. Cindy is so cool that I forgot the time… Sure, she said yes… OK… I didn’t think about that. We can rent a U-bike for tonight…OK. Bye.” She smacked a kiss into the phone and rang off. “All set for seven o’clock.”
“What was that about U-bike?”
“I forgot to mention it. We live in Greenbrier about 4 kilometers – 2 ½ miles – north of here. There’s no bus service out there, so we have to get ourselves there. I have a bike, and we can get you one for tonight just downstairs.”
Cindy’s eye went wide. “Bicycle? Two and a half miles?”
“Sure. Don’t you ride?”
“Well, I learned to ride my brother’s bike, but I’ve never gone anywhere.”
Emily thought about that for a short while.
“I could call my folks to pick us up, but I have an idea. Let’s rent a bike and go pick up stuff to stock the micro-fridge. Then if you feel OK, we can ride to my house. If it’s too much, I’ll call for them to come rescue us.”
“That’s sounds OK. Where’s the supermarket?”
“There’s a Harris Teeter at Barracks Road next to the North Grounds. It’s about a mile, and a straight shot from here.”
Cindy downloaded the U-bike app on her phone, reserved a bike and got a PIN for it. Her face was a mixture of terror and excitement as Emily gathered her empty panniers. They walked the Bianchi to the U-bike station. Cindy unlocked a bike.
“I don’t have a helmet.”
“Then let’s go to Endeavor Cycles and buy one. They’re just past Scott Stadium and the SAC.”
Cindy got on and rode around on the wide sidewalk area near the station for a few laps. When she felt confident, Emily pointed her to the bike lane. They rode slowly to Alderman Road, then south past the Aquatics & Fitness Center and the Stadium. Cindy squeaked a few times as she made her way around drainage grates but settled into a comfortable cadence by the time they reached the stop sign at Stadium Road. She wobbled a bit getting going, but then the store was right there on the next block. They pushed their bikes across Fontaine Avenue at the light.
With a helmet on her head, Cindy felt more confident, so that by the time they reached Harris Teeter, her only challenge had been the climbs on Alderman Road and the bridge over the railroad line. Emily took her on the less-travelled side streets, the bike path that led behind the Taco Bell, and then through the parking lots of the shopping center.
“That was fun!” Cindy said, as they locked their bikes to the rack at Harris Teeter. “I’ll need to catch my breath a lot if we have too many hills like that, though.”
“Charlottesville is all hills. You’ll get stronger fast.”
They picked up some microwaveable meals, fruit, snacking carrots and tomatoes, beverages, and chips to offer guests who might come by. They put the lightweight chips in Cindy’s basket. Emily’s panniers were full, and she lashed a twelve-pack of Coke Zero Uncaffeinated to her rack. Then they made their way back to the room, taking Emmet Street and its bike lanes this time. Cindy had to walk up the ramp to McCormick Road, but otherwise did OK even in traffic.
“You just rode five miles. How do you feel?” Emily asked as she stowed half the Cokes in the fridge.
“No way! It didn’t feel that far.”
Emily smiled. “We’ll take the easy way to my house. It’s about as far as we just rode, and it has bike lanes almost the whole way. Only one steep climb: our street at the very end. You can walk that if you want.”
“I’m all sweaty now. I’ll be a mess when we get there.”
“Cindy, it’s a family of cyclists. We’re all sweaty. You’ll fit right in!”
Cindy’s phone rang. “Hi, Mom… No, we’re fine. We have the micro-fridge all stocked, but we’re going to Emily’s for supper tonight… She lives in town, Mom. Isn’t that cool?… Her Mom’s a teacher… I don’t know… Don’t worry, Mom, we’ll be fine… I love you, too. Bye.” She rang off with another eye-roll. “This is why they made us turn in our phones at Scout Camp.”
“You were a Scout, too?”
Cindy nodded. “I dropped out after sophomore year, but it was fun until then.”
“I know what your mother needs, but that’s your father’s job.”
Cindy looked at her with a questioning look, then put her hand to her mouth and laughed until the tears ran. When they both stopped, she said, “I swear, if Mom calls me one more time today, I’ll call Dad!”
“Just propose a dinner-date. Maybe he’ll take the hint.” They laughed again as they put the dry goods in Emily’s closet, because she had room.
They gave themselves an hour to get to Brandywine Drive. The sun was falling onto the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the heat of the day had lost its edge. Cindy did not need to walk until they reached the driveway.
They were a half-hour early. Katherine was checking on a baking dish of potatoes and onions in the oven, and there were salmon filets on the counter ready to go in later.
Emily introduced her new roommate. They shook hands.
“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Hampstead.”
“It’s Mrs. Dempsey, Cindy, but you can call me Katherine when we’re off-Grounds. Cindy looked at Emily and back to Katherine. “My husband Mark is Emily’s step-father.”
“Where’s Dad?” Emily asked as she kissed her mother.
“Out riding. He should be back soon.”
The screen door slamming in the basement announced the return of the man of the house. He came up dripping with sweat and clearly still high on endorphins. He took a couple of deep breaths, pulled off his bike gloves and stuck out his hand.
“You must be Cindy. I’m Mark Dempsey.”
Cindy shook hands. Mark crossed over and gave Emily a big hug.
“Now we’re all sweaty,” she said, looking at Cindy, “just like I told you.”
Mark went up to change while Emily showed Cindy around the main floor.
“It’s so cool and shady out back,” said Cindy as they came into the kitchen.
“That’s why we’ll eat out on the deck,” said Katherine. She pulled out the baking dish and set the fish on top of the vegetables to cook. “Ten minutes!” she shouted, which got her a mumbled noise from upstairs.
Emily and Cindy set the table, then sat down with orange juice. Katherine poured herself a glass of Riesling and joined them in the dining room off the deck.
Cindy seemed bursting with curiosity, but also intimidated.
“Emily has only given me your name, Cindy,” said Katherine. “Where are you from?”
“Born and raised,” added Emily with a smile.
Mark walked in, pulled the wine from the refrigerator and poured himself a glass. When he sat down, Cindy looked at him expectantly.
“Do you ride a lot, Mr. Dempsey?”
“Mark. Not as much as these two.” Katherine and Emily grinned. “I can’t keep up with either one of them.”
“Do you teach, too?”
“No. I run a small company down on the Peninsula – closer to your home than Charlottesville.”
“Where do you teach?” Cindy asked Katherine.
“I thought Emily would have told you. I’m at the University.”
“Omigod, you could be one of my professors!”
“Not yet, Cindy.” Katherine laughed gently. “I teach graduate courses in feminist literature. I’ll see you later, perhaps.” She smiled. “What are your interests?”
“I don’t know, really. I liked all my courses in high school, so I can’t even imagine what I would like to major in.”
“Good place to be right now. Just enjoy the basic curriculum. Something will strike your fancy, I’m sure.”
An alarm went “ding” in the kitchen. Katherine rose. “Put out some water, dear, would you? I think dinner is ready.”
Supper was a pleasant affair. Cindy sometimes lapsed into silence, awed by Katherine, and obviously fascinated by her.
For most of the meal, Mark observed silently, but then asked “Did you say your father is Alden Matthews? How did he come to be a builder?” Katherine glanced at him and gave him a curious look.
“He got out of the Navy before I was born. He said he liked to work with his hands, so he became a handyman and started his own company.”
“I admire that. I had a CO once who probably should have been a general, but he retired and became a plumber. Last time I saw him, he was making more money than his friends who worked for the big companies.”
“That’s my dad. He seems very happy building and fixing things.”
“He does good work, too.”
“Do you know him?”
“Not well. Matthews Building Company renovated our offices at Langley.”
Cindy sat quietly, not knowing what to say.
“Small world, isn’t it?” said Katherine.
“I’ll say! I’ve never met anyone who knew my Dad, except for the people in his company.”
“Does your mother work outside, too?”
Cindy face darkened a little. “I wish she would sometimes. They told me that she worked while he was in the Navy, teaching music. He’s out all day, so I hope she picks that up or something else.”
“It’s ten o’clock,” said Mark. “Are you two supposed to be in at a certain time?”
“No, Dad. We have 24-hour access with our ID cards.”
“They dim the lights in the halls after ten, and we’re not supposed to make a lot of noise,” said Cindy. “I wonder how that will work with the boys downstairs.”
Emily rolled her eyes. “We’ll see. I wouldn’t want to have to call Brianna the first night.”
“I take Brianna is your RA?” asked Katherine.
“Yes. She’s really nice, but I think she’ll be firm, too.”
Mark said, “let me drive you back in the van. I’m not ready for Cindy’s first day solo on a bike to include Saturday night traffic with the students newly back on the Corner.”
“I hadn’t thought of that, Dad. Thanks. If we take the van, we can take my Team USA poster without folding it.”
“Good idea. Go up and see if you need anything else.” He began stacking the dessert dishes. “I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
Emily and Cindy went upstairs to Emily’s room.
“Wow! You really bicycle. I had no idea.” Cindy stared in awe at the medals and the autographed posters of Emily’s cycling heroes. Emily stood on her bed and carefully took down the poster of Megan Guarnier and the women on the USA Cycling Development Team. Emily had met them at her first Talent ID Camp. She was taken into the program the following year.
“To tell the truth, Cindy, I’m glad you sing instead.”
“I’m not sure I would have enjoyed rooming with a jock or another cyclist. I like not being recognized.”
“But you’ll have to tell me about it!”
“Maybe.” Emily double-checked her dresser and closet but didn’t take anything out. “Tell you what. You Google me, and then ask me questions – but don’t do it right away. Wait until tomorrow night, OK?” She rolled the poster into a large tube.
Cindy agreed, and they went downstairs.
“Want some fruit or anything for the room?” Katherine asked in the hallway.
Emily looked at Cindy, who shook her head. “No, thanks. We went to Harris Teeter before coming here.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the new you, dear.” Katherine hugged her daughter.
“It was our routine every afternoon this summer, Mom. I’m used to it.”
Mark came out of the kitchen. “The Lefevre Limo leaves in five minutes. Let’s go.”
They loaded the bikes on the rack and hopped in the van. Mark stopped at the bike station on McCormick Road, so Cindy could return her U-bike and sign out.
“You want to come up and see?” Emily asked when the Bianchi was locked outside Lefevre House.
“No, dear,” said her mother. “I have an idea what the first night after Move-in is like, and your neighbours don’t want grown-ups around, I’m sure.”
“We’ll come by after classes start,” said Mark. He shook hands with Cindy. “You come by anytime. Our home is your home away from home, OK?”
Cindy nodded. Emily hugged her mother and stepfather, and the two roommates walked into the residence hall. They climbed the stairs and opened the doors to their hallway. Out of habit, Emily paused to scan the space. A least a dozen boys and a similar number of girls up and down the hall. Most were shouting loudly at each other in a euphoria of excitement. Emily smelled beer, but there were no drinks visible, so she figured it was coming from bodies, not bottles.
Cindy kept walking – right into an enormous boy falling out of the first room on the right. Cindy screamed, but her cry was drowned out. Emily leaped up and pulled him off her roommate. He stood unsteadily, his eyes glassy, then staggered back into his room, leaving the door to swing behind him. Emily reached down and pulled Cindy up.
“I think so. He scared the hell out of me!”
“I’m not sure he ever knew you were there. He’s completely wasted.”
They walked toward their room. Two boys that Emily recognized from the first floor stepped up to block their way. Emily eased in front of Cindy. She smelled beer on both of them.
“Step aside, please.”
“Wanna have a good time?” said the one on the right. Medium height, curly brown hair, thin frame. The other did not seem very smart, but maybe he was just drunker.
“I was already having a good time. Now move.” The boy raised his hand. She looked down at his hand and back in his face. “Rule number one: look, but don’t touch.”
“Tough one, eh?” He reached out toward her arm. Emily grabbed his wrist, pulled him off-balance toward her and sank her fist into his solar plexus as she stepped on his left foot. She completed pulling him through and stepped aside so he could fall down next to Cindy. Cindy squeaked and jumped to the side. The boy curled up on the floor. Emily looked at his roommate.
“You. Pick up your friend and put him to bed. We can introduce ourselves tomorrow when you’re both sober.” She took Emily’s hand, unlocked the door to their room and led her inside.
“Omigod, Emily!” Cindy was pale and on the verge of hyperventilating. Emily took her by the shoulders and had her sit on the bed. She got a glass of water from the sink and made Cindy drink it. After she calmed down, Cindy said, “Did you just do what I saw you do?”
“No. He tripped, didn’t he? Those two will wake up so hung over, they may not even remember tonight.”
The noise in the hall suddenly diminished. A knock on the door was followed by Brianna’s head coming through.
“Are you two OK?”
“Sure,” said Emily. “We just got back.”
“So I hear.” She came in and stood by the closed door. “What happened?”
Cindy was still in shock. Emily looked at Brianna and said, “We had a little trouble getting to our room. First, some giant fell out of the room by the stairs, on top of Cindy here. Then two guys from the first floor were staggering towards us, and the skinny one tripped over me.”
Brianna looked at her long and hard. “I heard they were harassing you first.”
“The skinny one tried. The other one was probably too drunk to know what was happening.”
Emily nodded and crossed her arms. Brianna looked at Cindy.
“Is that your story, too?”
“I was too scared after the big guy fell on me that I don’t know what happened. I saw the skinny one go down, but that’s all.”
“Did he hit his head?”
Emily shook her head. “I grabbed his arm as he went down. He kind of curled up on the floor when I let him go. ”
Brianna opened the door and paused. “The party was getting out of hand anyway, Good night, y’all.” The hall was dimly lit and quiet. Brianna smiled and let the door swing shut behind her.
Until next time,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,