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don't wanna hang around the in crowd

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“Amy, come on! Let’s go!”

I look up from my book—L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz , of all things—to lock eyes with the angry, heavily made-up ones of my roommate. “I’m not going,” I tell her simply.

Madison grunts in frustration and snatches the book from my hands at such a speed that I don’t even have the time to be surprised. “Listen, Amy,” she snarls. “This is like the introductory party of the year. We need to go out there and make ourselves known to this community. Otherwise, our college years are really gonna suck.”

“Look, I said I’m not going,” I snap.

“Okay, what is your deal? Are you, like, afraid of parties or something?”

Truthfully, yes, I want to tell her. I’m not really afraid, per se, I just hate the incessant noise and drunkenness that’s always sure to be around me. Already I can hear the muffled bass of music being blasted from a few rooms down. Despite this, I just tell her exasperatedly, “I’m not in the mood tonight.”

Madison seems to be trying a different tactic, because she crosses her arms and sets her pretty mouth into a pout. “Please?” she whines. “As… insufferable as you’ve been for the past few days, I don’t want to go out there alone.”

Knowing she won’t stop until I say yes, I sigh and heave myself off the bed. “Can I have my book back, at least?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever.” Madison tosses the book in my direction—I barely manage to catch it in time—before throwing open the door and sauntering out of the room.

The music doubles in volume as the only barrier between us disappears. I lock our door and survey the crowded hall. We live on a co-ed floor, and already girls are being slammed against walls by guys kissing them feverishly. I try to block out the noise but the bass is insistent, shaking its way through my bones. I think someone managed to smuggle alcohol up here because those familiar plastic red cups are everywhere. I’m not sure how they got away with it, but I know I don’t want to be here when they’re busted. Silently I wonder where our RA went, and why he isn’t doing anything.

Trying to shrink into myself, I follow Madison’s bouncy curls down the hall. Someone’s strung a banner over their door that reads WELCOME CLASS OF 2020. It’s been a week since the official orientation started, so I guess this is the rest of the residence’s way of initiating us. I should be excited, but annoyance boils in my stomach as I realise that I’m stuck with these people for the next four years.

I’ve got to get out of here.

“Madison, I’m going to the washroom. You’ll be okay on your own?”

She waves me away with a flick of her wrist, her lips already locked on some guy’s. I slowly back away from her and weave my way through the crowds. I can’t go back to our room, because I’m pretty sure the only reason why Madison was so eager for me to leave was so she could use it to kiss a guy senseless. (Or more, really. I wouldn’t put it past her to hook up with someone after being here for a week.) Judging by what I’d seen, it would only be a matter of time. Unconsciously, my feet start moving faster.

As I turn a corner, I see a door I somehow hadn’t noticed in the past week. It’s labelled Roof Access , and just below it, a piece of laminated paper that reads open 24 hours every day – anyone welcome! Breathing a sigh of relief, I push open the door and mount the stairs.

The cool, fall breeze is a welcome change from the suffocating body heat just one floor below. It’s hard to ignore the vibrations of the roof beneath my feet or the muffled pounding of the bass, but it’s far less overwhelming than being downstairs. From here, I have a bird’s-eye view of the city, the lights twinkling across the sea of darkness. The silence envelops me as I survey the roof; it’s being used as a garden, with rows of planters stretching from end to end. On the far end, I notice the outline of a gazebo and make my way over. The moon is covered behind clouds, but its light is still strong enough to show me the silhouette of a boy sitting on one of the benches as I approach.

“Escaping the floor party too, huh?” he says, not looking at me.

“Yeah. Mind if take a seat?”

He shrugs. “If you’re avoiding that shitstorm too, you’re cool in my book. I’m Nox, by the way.”

“Amy.” Gingerly I settle myself beside him and take in his features. Although the moonlight isn’t much, it’s enough to reveal smooth olive skin and dark hair. It’s dishevelled to a point that it looks like he hasn’t been bothered to comb it since he climbed out of bed. “So, when did you leave that…shitstorm?” I ask conversationally.

“Right about when it started. I couldn’t care less about the idiots downstairs, so why bother sticking around?”

I hum in agreement and look out over the city lights. There’s something almost arrogant in the way he carries himself, like he’s better than all the other partygoers  downstairs and perhaps even me. He takes one look at my high ponytail and quips, “Interesting hair.”

“Thanks.” Nervously I finger loose strands of the pink locks that have fallen in front of my face. On impulse I’d used cheap dye to transform my dirty blonde hair the perfect shade of cotton candy-pink. A new stage in life requires a new hairstyle, right? I thought it looked good back in my boring hometown of Flat Hill, Kansas, but there’s nothing like college kids to make you doubt that; Madison in particular announced her distaste of it the day we moved in to residence. “How do you think they’re getting away with it? The party, I mean. The music’s so loud and there’s so much alcohol, I’m surprised nobody’s called the cops yet. Why hasn’t our RA done anything?”

“Do you always ask so many questions?”

“I’m glad we’re not down there, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering.”

“Okay,” he snorts. “My guess is that Pete hasn’t moved back into residence yet, and probably won’t until later tonight.” I give him an odd look to which he replies with, “What? Pete and I go way back; we grew up together in this town. Last I heard, he went home to take care of his kid sister for the weekend.”

“So what’ll happen when he gets back?”

“Hell, I suppose. He’s patient, but he’ll shut it down because it’s his job.”

“It’s a good thing we’re up here, then.”

“Not like we wanted to be downstairs, anyways.”

“Right.” A beat of silence passes between us before I ask, “How did you meet Pete?”

“You really cannot stop asking questions, can you?” I can’t tell if he’s genuinely mad, but he continues with sigh, “My parents died in a flood when I was little. Pete’s grandmother took me in and we grew up together ever since.”

“God, I’m so sorry.”

“It doesn’t really matter. I don’t remember much about them anyways.”

“So you don’t know where you came from?”

“Not really.”

I can’t imagine my life without my mother, no matter how she treated me in the past few years. Would I still be Amy Gumm if I didn’t know where I came from? “I’m from Flat Hill,” I find myself telling him. “I have a mom but she treats me like I don’t even exist, not after her accident a few years ago and all the pills she’s been taking since.”

He finally faces me fully, his gray eyes blown wide in surprise. Why did I even tell him that? Normally I try not to let anybody know about my situation at home, but there’s something about Nox that makes me feel almost comfortable, more so than I felt around the people from my high school. “I’m sorry,” I mutter quickly. “Forget I said that.”

“Little dark for a first meeting, isn’t it?” he says. I don’t say anything, slightly embarrassed. “Look, I feel sorry for you, but I think that kind of struggle makes you more real than everyone downstairs.”

“What?” I look up at him in surprise. He couldn’t possibly be saying that my mom treating me like shit all through high school was a good thing?

“Many of those kids down there? Grew up under the protective and loving wings of mommy and daddy. They don’t really know what it means to fight because they never had to.”

“But you have Pete’s grandmother.”

“Not until I was maybe 10. I lived on the streets until someone found me and threw me into the foster system. Mombi got me out of a particularly bad house.”

“That’s horrible.”

He shrugs. “It sucked, sure, but I’m almost glad it happened. I think these kinds of upbringings make you tougher. It makes us care a lot less about superficial bullshit like what’s going on downstairs.”

Briefly, I find myself wondering what is going on downstairs. The bass continues to push its way into my skull, but it’s much more bearable up here. It is superficial bullshit when it comes down to it, especially to people like Nox and me. You don’t really have the time to party when you have to look out for yourself.

The night air is suddenly cut by a shout of, “What on earth is happening here?” The music abruptly stops and the faint sound of doors being slammed fill my ears. Nox and I take one look at each other and burst out laughing.

“They’re so busted!” Nox cries as the shouting continues. I recognise the voice as belonging to Pete, who’s probably charging down the hallway trying to restore order to our floor. Finally , I think to myself; I was starting to wonder whether Nox and I would have to spend the night on the roof to escape the floor party.

“What’ll happen to us?” I wonder aloud as our laughter subsides.

“We’ll be fine as long as we don’t involve ourselves with them. Besides, Pete cuts me some slack.” He gives me a sideways glance and adds, “I’m sure I can get him to do the same for you.”

“You think he’s raining hell down there?”

“I think Pete being angry is a rare occurrence, so when he is you know you’re fucked.” The shouting from downstairs seems to have stopped and stillness returns to the night. Nox hoists himself off the bench and says, “I’m gonna find Pete, make sure he knows we weren’t involved in that shit party downstairs.”

“Hang on, I’ll come back down with you.”

We retreat back into the building without a word. By the time we return to our floor, everything is dark and the hall is quiet. “Maybe I’ll see you around?” Nox whispers.

“Yeah, see ya.” We part ways and I head in the direction of my room. When I finally reach it, I find that the door already unlocked. I’m greeted by the sight of Madison’s fiery gaze and she yells, “Where the fuck were you Amy? Do you have any idea what happened?”

“Honestly? I’d rather not know.”

“We got busted!” she continues as if I hadn’t spoken. “That goddamn RA came by, took names, and now I’m stuck with reshelving old books in the library as punishment. Me! I don’t wanna get anywhere near those dusty pieces of shit!”

“And what about me?”

“You? He couldn’t prove you were here so you get nothing.” She collapses on her bed with a huff. “Where were you anyways, goody-two-shoes? He searched everywhere, even the bathrooms, to find stragglers.”

“Nowhere you can prove.” I settle into my own bed, lying on my back and staring at the ceiling. By now, Nox had probably already seen Pete. I could only hope his connection would let us off the hook; I had served enough punishments from high school detention.

Madison flips on her side to glare at me from across the room. “Oh yeah?”

I can only shrug. “I told you, I wasn’t in the mood tonight. So I got out.”

“Fine, be a bitch then!” I bite back the urge to respond with you’re one to talk . Instead, I smirk into the darkness of our room and, eventually, fall asleep.