Sara Schaff's debut collection, Say Something Nice About Me, is available from Augury Books and can be ordered here
Before the summer crew painted the dorms, they had to clean every room. In 303, Lucy stood on a ladder to scrape glow-in-the-dark pinup models from the ceiling.
Meanwhile, her painting partner was busy unfurling a stained, yellow bedsheet she'd pulled from a dresser drawer.
"Mind if I take this?" Steph cooed. "The thread count's incredible."
"Finders keepers," Lucy said, "words I like to live by."
Dirty linens aside, it was amazing the things students left behind. Mini refrigerators, toaster ovens, MP3 players, an almost brand-new laptop with sociology papers and photos of topless cheerleaders stored on the hard drive. That morning, Lucy had claimed a flat-screened television left in the closet of 303. She was simultaneously appalled and exhilarated by what her fellow undergraduates were willing to part with: appalled by the wastefulness, exhilarated by the hunt for new treasures.
Steph was singing now to the tune of "Uptown Girl": "One man's trash is this woman's new wardrobe…"
Lucy rolled her eyes; everyone already knew Steph's plan: to sew an entire line of fall dresses made out of the things she found in Jefferson Hall, the massive Pemberly Campus dormitory their crew had been charged with painting by the end of the summer.
"Cigarette break!" Steph called. With the sheet wrapped around her body, toga-style, she waved from the door.
It wasn't even break time, but Lucy felt relieved. Without Steph's background chatter, she could more easily daydream about seducing Gus, a polite townie on their crew. He had been her partner for a day when Steph was sick last week. They worked together on the second floor, where Lucy found the retro boombox, which she carried around the dorm with her, tuned to the local public radio station. Gus was a quiet guy, and she hadn't dared speak to him for fear of betraying her feelings. During the academic year, he cooked at the same dining hall where she fulfilled her work-study obligation by wiping tables and cleaning out the coffee filters between mealtimes. She liked that Gus wasn't a student; his life seemed important and real to her. He had a tattoo of a giant squid on one arm and orbiting planets on another. She believed that Gus was nothing like Patrick, the brawny and crass lacrosse player she'd had sex with months before on his narrow dormitory bed (elevated from the ground by concrete blocks) so that she wouldn't finish her first year of college a virgin.
By the time Steph returned, Lucy had finished scraping and begun pouring thick latex paint into her aluminum tray.
Steph laughed. "You’re already covered!"
It was true: paint on her arm, her pants, her shoe. It took so little effort for Lucy to make a complete mess.
Humming a top forty tune, Steph arranged her drop cloth and painting paraphernalia with surprising precision. Even though she acted lazy and careless, she was—to Lucy's chagrin—efficient and clean when she finally decided to work. By the time lunch hour rolled around, she had completed her section of the room while Lucy was only halfway finished with one wall. Steph's purple bandana remained spotless while Lucy's dark hair was streaked with white.
She felt a painful jealousy flare up. She tried to fight off the feeling.
On her way to eat, Lucy stepped from Jefferson hall into the bright sunlight, and Steph ran past her, toward her adoring crowd of male painters sprawled in the grass in front of the dorm. They laughed gleefully as she lifted her shirt to show an invisible dot of paint on her back. Lucy walked more slowly. She decided to hold onto her jealousy; it felt righteous, necessary, calming. And it made her feel superior, although she couldn't explain why.
Steph disappeared again as soon as Lucy sat down in the grass—close to Gus's shiny work boot, but not so close that it looked like she'd done so on purpose.
Paola, their supervisor, watched Steph go. "Doctor's appointment," she explained. "She'll be back tomorrow."
Everyone seemed to be eating sandwiches from the sub shop down the street, and Lucy eyed her soggy PB&J with regret.
"Probably went to the psychiatrist," Paola continued. "You college kids always want to talk to strangers about your problems." She narrowed her gaze on Lucy.
"I don't tell strangers my problems," Lucy said defensively.
"Not that you have any, honey," Paola said. "I mean, look at you." She grinned. "You're a mess."
This got a chuckle from the crew. Lucy was the one who tracked ghostly footprints in the halls at the end of the day. Out here with the others, she tried to laugh at herself, so Paola wouldn't think she was uptight. She liked to think of Paola as the mother hen of their crew, a skeptical delegator whose stamp of approval actually meant something. Broad and muscly, Paola worked for Plant Operations, tending the lawns and keeping dorm kitchens in working order during the academic year. Lucy felt that if there were only more people like her, the Stephs and Patricks of the world wouldn't get away with so much, and everything would run more smoothly. Unfortunately, and to Lucy's great surprise, Paola remained unimpressed with Lucy.
"I'm putting you with Carl for the afternoon," Paola said.
Carl smiled. "Best man for the job." The guys around him chuckled again.
Lucy glared. She got it of course: while some people could work alone, she was always paired with a more able painter. Since Tennessee Trent had quit the week before, making off with the laptop Steph found in a second floor triple, High School Josh had been painting the fifth floor on his own. He was fast, and as the only high school student on the team, he laughed at everyone's jokes too hard and never complained. Today Gus was teamed up with Dweeby Doug, the philosophy student who was only slightly more capable than Lucy: he painted slowly and never patched up the nail holes he found in the walls. Paola always preferred to work alone, because it was her only quiet time of the day.
On the first day of painting, just a week after graduation, after campus had emptied out and become weirdly quiet, Paola had explained that when she got home, her twins would be crawling all over her in their un-airconditioned apartment. "So don't act like babies," she'd said. "I'm not your RA. This isn’t rocket science. Just do your work and don't bother me with your troubles, and we'll get through the summer just fine."
Lucy liked Carl only slightly more than she liked Steph. He was a tousle-haired and overconfident junior, another former prep school athlete like Patrick. She wondered what he was doing painting dorms. He rarely said anything about himself, but Lucy assumed he could be working in Daddy's law firm or interning on Wall Street.
Like the other boys, he was only too glad to bring Steph discarded garments for her future fashion show. Gus, on the other hand, barely seemed to notice Steph. During their lunch hours he seemed more interested in using the time for a little shut-eye in the sun, his sinewy arms tucked neatly beneath his head. Lucy believed that Gus would only fall for a more thoughtful girl, the type that was so quiet and watchful she made you wish you were inside her head.
At least Carl didn't talk her ear off. He finished painting a wall quickly, then went next door to start 304, a single. He was finished before Lucy had begun cleaning up her brushes, and he returned to help her.
"Slow and steady wins the race," he said.
He had an easy, genuine smile. She tried not to be won by it, but that's how they got you. And then they told everyone in their dorm about your over-eager blowjobs.
"I didn't know it was a race," Lucy said. Immediately, she regretted how surly she sounded. And then she regretted regretting her surliness. Didn't she have the right?
But Carl didn't seem to notice one way or the other. He stood close, holding his roller by his side.
"We do have a lot of rooms to get to by the end of July," he said. "If you're lucky, you'll be paired with me for the rest of the summer."
"If you're lucky," she countered.
She laughed quietly, not feeling like herself, but understanding that he was beating her at something—she just couldn't figure out at what.
He leaned toward her, and before she could retreat, he had pressed his thumb into her skin, where her neck met her collarbone.
She jerked away, even though his touch felt nicer than she'd expected.
"You have some paint on you, Lucy."
"I guess I get lost in the work."
"A true artist."
In spite of herself, she felt a little charming. She took a bow.
After cleaning their gear in the custodial room in the basement, Lucy remembered the television in the closet and realized she'd never be able to carry it home herself.
Carl agreed to help, and with the unwieldy flatscreen between them, they walked slowly past the student hangouts that Lucy usually avoided—the coffee shops and bookstores and the curry-in-a-hurry joints—but which looked more inviting now that College Hill had emptied out.
Carl chatted easily, as if he were not gripping an awkward piece of furniture. His comfort made her nervous: should she have asked him to help after all? Did he think it was a ruse she'd come up with to get more time with him? Her arms were tired, and they had to put down the television for a moment in front of the Computer Science building.
She began to relax once she could see the dead-end of Main St. On the quiet, tree-lined sidewalk, walking past the pretty colonial houses with perfect paintjobs, Lucy felt like she was in her city, finally. Reluctantly, she would move back into the dorms in September, because those were the rules, on campus until senior year, but for the summer she was subletting a one-bedroom on the second floor of a 1850s home, a stuffy walk-up with a stove in the middle of the living room.
Slowly and steadily, they carried the television up the rickety staircase at the back of the house.
"Here is fine," she said, gesturing with her chin to the hallway. The wide floorboards were painted green over a previous coat of lavender, which showed through in patches.
The television no longer between them, Carl back outside, he looked mildly nervous for the first time since she'd met him. "I have a confession," he said.
"You didn't help me with the television for purely altruistic reasons?"
He shrugged, a bit sheepish. "I first noticed you last semester, wiping down the tables in Woolsey Hall. You looked like you were thinking really important thoughts."
Because he was almost smirking when he said it, and because they were in an awkward arrangement—he with one foot outside and one still in her hallway, while she held the screen open, she didn't believe him entirely. She knew what he wanted, and she felt herself wanting it, too. But she was trying not to. Guys like Carl and Patrick were always looking out for the first-year girls. The ones who looked like they might never learn.
"I never noticed you before this summer," she said, honestly.
She pulled him inside, and when he leaned down to kiss her, she let him.
They ended up on the futon, and from there Lucy's eyes scanned the batik wall-hangings and sandalwood beads dangling from the broken ceiling fan. While Carl kissed her neck, she observed the corner cobwebs that she'd missed in the past. Everything here, even the soft sheets, belonged to someone else, the person who would return at the end of the summer. With all the windows open, Lucy could hear the television in her landlady's bedroom below. The woman was practically bedridden and watched the gambit of daytime soaps and salacious talk shows.
The sensations she was experiencing were pleasant, but her mind wanted to disagree, because this was Carl lifting her tank top over her head. This was Carl running his fingers over the flakey paint on her belly. She didn't want this, did she? She wanted Gus. A real man, someone who knew things beyond college, beyond entitlement. For all of Carl's confidence, he fumbled at her bra strap.
When it was over, he sat up and smoothed down his hair. "This was fun," he said. "We should do this again."
"Okay," Lucy said. She was already thinking about facing him tomorrow in the dorms, the snickers from the crew. She was already preparing to pretend nothing had happened.
To avoid an awkward parting, she climbed into the shower while Carl dressed. She expected him to be gone when she emerged but still gripped her towel around her protectively in case, and she was disappointed when she found her bedroom empty except for a lingering scent of latex paint and sweat.
No note, no request for her phone number. But what could she expect? Her mother always told her not to sleep with a boy after just one date, and this had been even less of a date than her first couple of outings with Patrick to the snack bar on central campus, where they had eaten bagels and pizza, not exactly candlelit dining. He hadn't even offered to pay with his meal card.
Sleeping with Patrick had seemed reasonable at the time. It was obvious he wanted to have sex from the way he came to her room late at night to sit on her bed with her, making her roommate uncomfortable enough to cover the mouthpiece of the phone and ask for some privacy. So they started spending more time in his room, listening to music and kissing on top of his sheets. Lucy did not love or even trust Patrick, but she didn't want to be a virgin anymore. It just seemed like one more thing to worry about. But even after he made it clear he was sleeping with other people, she kept responding to his telephone calls, she still climbed to the fifth floor every other evening and got into bed with him.
She didn't want to feel embarrassed anymore. This was her body. She should be able to direct it as she pleased.
Drinking gin she'd found in the freezer, Lucy wandered into the living room, with its high ceilings and the rotting floorboards in one corner. The television stood now on top of the coffee table, which Carl must have pushed against the wall while she showered. She saw that he had plugged it in for her, but she tried not to make anything of it. Sure it was nice and unexpected, but Patrick had made a few sweet gestures, too. Visited her in the library while she studied for finals, brought her chewing gum. Gum helped focus the mind, he said. But his mind had been on other things, especially in the basement of the library.
She watched a fuzzy episode of Law & Order and was so delighted by her first good television that she didn't notice how much she was drinking or that she hadn't actually eaten anything since lunch. She fell asleep on the couch and woke up starving, regretful, and late for work.
When she arrived at the dormitory, she found Paola in one of the triples on the third floor. Paola hated triples—"All that wall space." A triple meant more corners to clean, more potential for hidden and forgotten objects.
"Late, late, late," Paola said, eyes on her roller.
"Sorry, Paola," Lucy stammered. "I never—"
"Please, you think I haven't heard all the excuses in the book? I know this summer job is a joke to you kids."
"It's not a joke to me," Lucy said, even though on her walk up Main Street she'd been thinking of all the important things she wanted to do with her life—learn a dozen languages, search for long lost relatives in Belarus, join the Peace Corps, make a film—none of which included cleaning and painting college dormitories for a living.
Paola turned to look at Lucy. "Your BFF didn't want to paint alone today, so I put her with Gus."
Steph spending the day with Gus? Lucy's heart sank. "She's not my—"
"You want to help Carl with 307? Or you want a challenge—try 402 all by yourself?" Paola's expression was vaguely scoffing, and Lucy hoped she could make Paola change her mind about her.
Also, she did not want to see Carl just yet. "I'll take 402."
"That's my girl."
Lucy found the words mildly encouraging, but as she waited for Paola's expression to change, the older woman simply turned back to the work in front of her, the roller on the wall, white over layers of white.
402 was spotless, the way Lucy had left her dorm room after picking up the notebooks, empty lipstick tubes, and loose change that her roommate had left everywhere when her boyfriend came to collect her in his military-grade Hummer. Lucy wanted to thank the previous inhabitants of 402, whom she imagined to be small town girls like herself, probably in need of heavy financial aid, probably sexually inexperienced.
She would have felt happy about the privacy and the relatively easy room, but all morning she had to listen to Steph's high and nasally voice from down the hall. She heard laughter, some of it Gus's, and wished she were the one making him laugh. Hoping to avoid both of them and Carl, and still feeling guilty for arriving at work late, Lucy painted through the lunch hour. She had never painted faster, and by 2:00, all but a patch of one wall was complete.
Carl found her during their afternoon break. Blushing at the wall, she pretended she could not hear him over the radio.
"You want to catch a movie tomorrow night?"
The question honestly surprised her. She had figured he had come here to feel her up under her painting shirt. Or that he was here to tell her that he had been mistaken, that Steph was the real object of his affection, and he finally had the courage to really go for her. Patrick had actually said some shit like that, that Lucy was a "catalyst," that she'd "opened him to possibility," his defense for screwing her roommate one evening when Lucy was at the library.
"I'm busy tomorrow."
"I have to…go the grocery store? It takes a long time to walk there and back."
"I'll drive you. I have a car."
With leather interior and shiny hubcaps, no doubt. But really, he was making this hard for her. "Okay."
She thought he would leave then, but he hovered near her stepladder, and when she turned to him, she almost lost her balance. He rushed to steady her. "Thanks," she said. Still, he didn't go.
"I have something for you," he said, a little shyly.
Down the hall, she heard a yelp, a door slamming, the sound of rushing water in the hallway bathtub. Sometimes the crew rinsed their brushes in the dorm bathrooms, even though they weren't supposed to.
When Lucy was off the ladder, Carl took her hand and dropped something into it. She spread her fingers: a silver four-leaf clover, made for a charm bracelet.
"Isn't it a little premature to be buying me jewelry?"
In his blue eyes, she saw a momentary flinch, but then he drew himself up, and the smooth veneer descended. "It's no big deal, Gus and Steph found it in the closet of the room they're painting today. They said it wasn't their style."
"And you know me well enough to know it's mine?"
"I just imagined that if you had jewelry, you'd prefer it simple. Pretty."
Why did she have to be so suspicious of generosity? She berated herself, then touched Carl's arm, and he pulled her to him for a kiss. When his hand slipped down the back of her pants, she stiffened and pushed him away. This was why she was so suspicious. "Thanks, Carl." She put the charm in her pocket and climbed back on the ladder.
Lucy finished 402, and Paola approved the work with a look of surprise—"No paint on the floor, good for you!"—then assigned her to 403, a single. All the debris broke fire safety rules: scented candles, incense, an electric kettle, a hot plate, a pack of clove cigarettes. Too many hippies in college. It was a miracle the place hadn't burned down long ago.
She got started scraping off bits of scotch tape and poster putty by 3:30. And then time disappeared. She didn't realize how late it was until she noticed Gus observing her from the middle of the room with his arms crossed.
"Everyone's gone," he said. "Why are you still here, Lulu? You know we don't get overtime."
She flushed; no one had ever called her Lulu before.
"Why are you still here?" She tried sounding coy, but she just sounded demanding and accusatory. Gus grinned. He had paint near his mouth and on his right ear.
"Steph left all the cleaning for me to do." He shrugged. "I guess I pissed her off, so she's punishing me."
Did Gus look sad? Teasing? Was that distant gleam in his eye directed at the person Lucy thought least deserving of his admiration? Lucy thought of herself as a good reader of people, but she could not read Gus.
"Don't worry," she said. "She does that to everyone. I'm always cleaning up after her."
"It's just hard to imagine you cleaning up after someone, know what I mean?" He nodded sagely at her arms, which were patchy with white, but she felt that it might be an excuse to size her up.
She started gathering the drop cloth from the wall she had finished and began spreading it out along another wall to prepare for the next morning.
Gus bent to help her lay the cloth flat. She wouldn't mind if he pulled her close right now to inspect the paint on her, the splotches on her hipbone; even she didn't understand how those got there. When he offered to help her clean her brushes, she thanked him profusely.
He carried the paint tray into the bathroom, and she didn't bother telling him they should go to the custodial room in the basement. He smelled wonderful—of paint and vinaigrette.
Lucy blurted, "I always like your dinners best."
He glanced up from the tub, where he was rinsing her roller. "Pardon?"
She shook her head, feeling silly. "In the dining hall? When you make lasagna, it doesn't taste like mass-produced lasagna."
"My mother's recipe from the old country."
Gus laughed. "Nah. Just the way I like my lasagna." He grabbed the brush from her hand and ran it under the tap.
"You've cleaned enough, already," she said, even though she wanted him to stay. "You should go home."
He stood up from his crouching position. "And leave you all alone in this big, dark dormitory?"
With him towering over her, she felt her stomach wobble, but thinking of Carl's earlier earnestness gave her a spark of confidence. "Would you maybe want to catch a movie sometime?"
He looked embarrassed. "I don't think so, Lulu."
"Honestly, I'm flattered, it's just—"
"You don't date undergrads?"
"It's not that."
"What then?" She didn't know why she had to know, why he should even tell her, but she couldn't help herself. After everything with Patrick and her roommate and now with Paola hating her and this rash fling with Carl, she was pretty sure there was something wrong with her, something everyone else could see but her.
Gus closed his eyes for a moment and shook his head, confirming her suspicions that she was not as superior as she had wanted to believe. "It's just, my life's a little complicated right now."
"Oh, okay. Right."
"My son just turned two, and his mother—"
Lucy stopped listening. "I'm such an idiot."
"No way. Aren't all the students here geniuses?" He half-smiled.
"Obviously not." With her eyes, Lucy traced the rings of Saturn on Gus's bicep. Was Saturn a gas giant? She was terrible with facts. "I can get the rest. Really. I'll be fine."
She was afraid she might start crying in front of Gus, especially when he kissed the top of her head. "You're a good egg," he said.
She listened for his footsteps on the stairwell. Alone in the giant dormitory, the quiet of the building felt unnatural—gaping and cold. Thinking about it made her nervous, but instead of rushing her work, she took longer than usual washing the brushes, and when she returned them and her tray and the roller back to 403, she was reluctant to leave the room that had housed so many before her. In her brief experience, it was only the power-hungry RAs, the seniors unprepared for off-campus life, and the clinically depressed who got singles. Happy people did not want to live alone.
She lay down on the springy mattress and imagined the people who had cried, studied, and masturbated in that bed before her. The kids whose parents were forcing them to be engineers when all they wanted was to do improv comedy. The lonely Republican in a sea of staunch liberals. The hippy who'd lived there the previous semester and broke the fire codes. A California native. He'd probably needed the candles to banish the Seasonal Affective Disorder that plagued him since moving to gray New England. Now he was living in Brooklyn, starting law school in the fall and wearing pressed khakis instead of threadbare corduroys from the Salvation Army. If she saw him reading in a gothic library, under the comforting light of a banker's lamp, she believed she would observe the assured posture of a man who knew himself better. His prior sadness might not have disappeared entirely, but it would have dissipated once he left behind the things that had previously defined him.
Lucy sat up and looked around her, at the newly white walls, the ghosts of nail holes past. She felt calmer now than she'd felt since beginning college, which was funny, she thought, having just been rejected by the person she'd been fantasizing about for months. Already though, her conversation with Gus felt like it had happened years ago, and when her gaze fell on the trashbag in the corner, full of 403's debris, she thought, almost fondly, of the way Steph saw potential in otherwise undesirable discards. And she felt a new tenderness toward all the Jefferson Hall castoffs—the fancy cameras and used toothbrushes—things that had to be shed, Lucy decided, things that were no longer necessary.
The next day, Friday, Lucy was back at work with Steph, unusually quiet and dressed in a basketball jersey that High School Josh had found in a dormitory toilet, taken home to launder, and donated to her cause. Steph disappeared for a good portion of the morning to talk to Paola, but for the most part the two painted together harmoniously in the narrow single, and Lucy had to wonder if the shift in their dynamics had come from her or Steph. Looking at her newly quiet partner, she could no longer summon stabbing envy or indignation. When their backs touched by accident, Steph apologized politely but said nothing else until lunchtime, when the crew took their usual spots on the grass.
"I hate to leave you guys in the lurch," Steph said, "but I won't be coming back to work next week. Or any week after that."
Her imminent departure was greeted with a collective groan of disappointment from the boys.
Gus's reaction was almost imperceptible, but Lucy caught his sharp intake of breath.
"Family emergency," Steph said.
For a moment, Lucy's disdain returned: oh, the drama queen, the quitter. Poor Paola would have to find new workers or else poach them from another crew on campus. But Paola didn't cluck her tongue or roll her eyes. "You take care of yourself, kiddo," she said. She even stood up and hugged Steph in a motherly embrace, and Lucy had to admit that Steph seemed to be crying genuine tears on Paola's shoulder.
After work, Lucy showered and put on the dress she'd fallen asleep in the night before. She dangled Carl's four-leaf clover charm on a thin chain she found at the back of her dresser.
When Steph had said goodbye that afternoon, she had hugged Lucy tightly, as if they were friends. "Maybe you can be one of the models in my fall fashion show," she said. "After things settle down."
Lucy was surprised to hear herself asking, "Are you okay? Is there anything I can do?" Even more surprised to realize she actually cared to hear the answer.
Steph shook her head. "I'm pregnant," she said. "My parents are going to kill me."
She hadn't said that Gus was the father. But by the end of the afternoon, that was the word in the empty dorms of Jefferson Hall. They'd been seeing each other for months, since before the semester ended.
In the custodial room, High School Josh swore that Gus would do the honorable thing and offer to marry Steph and help to raise the child.
Paola was washing her hands, and she had turned from the sink to get a better look at him. She seemed tired, Lucy thought, too tired to be annoyed. "Honey," she said kindly, "I sincerely doubt there's going to be a child."
When Lucy emerged from the bathroom, she was startled by the shadow at her screen door. She let out a tiny shriek.
"I'm here to take you grocery shopping?" Carl said. "I'm afraid you might die of scurvy."
She'd forgotten about his proposal to drive her to the store, and now his arrival came as some relief. This morning she'd eaten some yogurt that had gone off. It was embarrassing how easily she'd transformed into the helpless waif her mother had suspected she would.
On the sidewalk, she looked at his rusty, white Civic with some surprise.
"Sheila's my baby," he said. "I worked my ass off for her, and she runs like a dream, in spite of her age, so don't make fun of her."
"I wouldn't dare," she said. "But I did picture you driving something…fancier."
It was undeniable: she felt happy! Embracing him with her entire body, she kissed him there, on the quiet street where mostly elderly people lived behind tightly drawn shades. "Instead of picking me up on a white horse or a Mercedes, you come for me in your rustbucket." She touched his shoulder, and then his face. "Don't be sorry."
At the store, they filled her cart with fruits and vegetables that she suspected would go bad before she could eat them all. They bought a whole chicken that neither of them knew how to cook. The next morning at work, they became permanent painting partners, and for the rest of the summer, they cleaned and refreshed doubles and triples with great efficiency—and occasionally made good use of the narrow mattresses at the end of the workday, when the rest of the painting crew had gone home. Lucy's former skepticism of Carl was replaced by a buoyant affection that surprised her, a feeling she hoped she could hold onto, whatever happened, wherever they moved on to from here.
At the end of the summer, Carl helped Lucy move into her new dorm room in Keeley Quad. It felt like a frat to her, it was so big and buzzing with kids in frayed baseball caps. She had wanted to live closer to central campus, but she'd had a low lottery number, and at least she would live in a single now. She realized she'd been wrong: happy people did sometimes live alone. She and Carl stood for a moment inside the new-old room, inspecting the paint job.
"The Keeley Crew had nothing on us," Carl said, pointing at some leftover poster putty.
"Those Jefferson kids don't know how lucky they are," Lucy said.
They made her narrow bed and got into it.
"How many have fucked here before us?" Lucy wondered.
"How many future Pulitzer Prize winners?"
"How many philandering politicians?"
They could hear muffled voices next door and someone pounding nails into the wall.
Gracefully, Carl unhooked her bra. He'd learned a lot over the summer.
Later, they walked around campus, gazing at the new students, stumbling around with their parents and armloads of stuff for their rooms: egg crates for their meager mattresses, plush comforters, bulletin boards to post photos of their friends from home. On Goode Street, they found a stocky girl whose shoulders sagged from the plastic bags she carried up the hill, from the mall downtown. Her mother and father called to her from a block behind, struggling to catch up, but she didn't turn around or stop for them; she just barreled forward, toward Pemberly Campus, and Lucy and Carl stayed close behind, claiming her as their own.
"She's grown up so fast," Lucy whispered. "Too fast."
"I hate to leave her," Carl said. "Our lives will feel so empty."
"At least I still have my book club."
"And I have Simon.
"My private pilates instructor."
"Yes, thank God for Simon."
They laughed in a showy manner that suited their playacting, but when Lucy glanced again at Carl, she felt fluttery and vulnerable, as if she were losing something real.