The warm afternoon sun was beaming down on her face as Laila wandered through the campus. The air smelled of fresh cut grass and, as if sensing that the moment hadn't been ideal enough, the birds were chirping in the trees, welcoming her to Yale.
"Can you believe this?" Laila whispered to her boyfriend as they walked through the perfectly manicured lawns of their new home.
"Can I believe how heavy your luggage is or can I believe we're actually here?" Sterling teased her, seeing the twinkle in her eye as she looked around her new surroundings.
Laila laughed but ignored his joke, still completely in awe of her university. They had spent the morning unpacking Sterling's belongings and setting up his apartment, the apartment his parents had owned back in the 80s when they had attended Yale, the apartment he was supposed to be sharing with his twin brother. Mr. Pierce had considered it a good investment and a philanthropic gesture to keep the apartment and rent it to poor college students at less than market price with the idea that one day he would get to see his two boys living there. However, as fate would decide, only one Pierce twin would be occupying the place - the other, Alistair, the more rebellious of the two, would be living hours away in Boston.
"Are you nervous?" Sterling asked quietly as he carried Laila's things. She had only packed a suitcase, an old wooden trunk and a few boxes for her move to Yale but was convinced it was still too much.
"Incredibly," she confessed quickly. "What if I have horrible roommates who hate me?"
Sterling laughed and stole a sideways glance at his girlfriend. She was beautiful. Her long, strawberry blonde hair waving down her back, her violet eyes blinking nervously as she bit her bottom lip. "No one could hate you. If anything, they'll be jealous you have such a hot boyfriend."
Laila laughed and was about to respond when Alistair came bounding down the sidewalk with the rest of her boxes. "Yes, little brother, but luckily for all of Laila's single roommates, there are two of us, and I am decidedly the more handsome."
Sterling rolled his eyes but Alistair grinned, his deep dimples lighting up his entire face. Laila had seen more and more of those dimples as their summer had passed and by the time Alistair was ready to move to Harvard, they were on nearly permanent display. The events that had caused them to temporarily disappear were still in the back of their minds, never to be forgotten, but Laila and Alistair had overcome their mourning and learned from their experience.
"Okay, I think this is it," Laila said, turning a corner and scanning the doors for the right number. A key was pulled out of her pocket and the petite blonde stood up straight, maximizing her short height as she led the party into the dormitory.
"Holy shit!" Alistair exclaimed, pushing past her and dropping her boxes on the floor. "This is your dorm room?"
Laila nodded slowly and looked around. The common area was spacious and already contained the typical dorm room furniture of inflatable plastic loveseats and butterfly chairs. Four bedrooms made up the outer perimeter and Laila headed toward the one door that had been left open.
"I guess this is it," she said, stepping into her room. She frowned, the walls were bare and the bed was naked. But the desk was newly refinished and the window opened onto the lawn. She could hear the twins moving her things in behind her and choked back some tears, the reality of her new life at Yale was as exciting as it was terrifying.
"You can always come live with me," she heard Sterling whisper in her ear as his strong arms wrapped around her from behind.
Laila smiled and leaned into him. He knew her so well. "I think this place has potential," she finally smiled.
"We can break it in tonight, if you like," Sterling said, nibbling on her ear.
Laila laughed and turned around, kissing him quickly on the lips. "That might be nice."
"You know, I'm only here for the weekend so if you two could hold off on the mushy stuff until tomorrow, that would be great."
Laila glanced at Alistair who was dropping the rest of her boxes next to the dresser. He was smiling at the couple with a devilish look in his eye which quickly faded into confusion and then complete awe as something near the door caught his eye.
"Um, hey." Laila heard a voice from behind Sterling. She looked around her boyfriend's massive frame and saw who she assumed to be one of her roommates standing just outside her room.
"Hi," said as she wiggled out of Sterling's arms. "I'm Laila. It looks like I'm the last one to get here."
The pretty brunette nodded and smiled. "I'm Piper. I moved in a couple weeks ago."
Laila smiled at the girl. Her face was warm and genuine and full of confidence.
"This is my boyfriend Sterling and his brother Alistair," Laila waved to the boys standing behind her.
Piper nodded at each and then turned back to Laila. "Do you need help unpacking? I've just been sitting around all day and am desperately bored."
Laila laughed and then glanced at Alistair when she heard him laugh as well. His eyes were still on Piper, a stupid grin on his face, a small box still tightly held in his hands.
"That would be great, although I'm afraid there is not much to unpack."
"Anything to pass the time," Piper said with a smile.
Laila smiled back and gestured for new roommate to come inside. Sterling had set her suitcase on the bed and was sitting next to it, smiling at Alistair as if his brother was a prize fool. Laila gently kissed him on the cheek and was instantly relieved when he stood up.
"So, we'll come back and get you for dinner," Sterling said, intuitively knowing that his girlfriend wanted time to get to know her new roommate.
Laila nodded and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. Sterling loved it when she did that. She looked so adorable trying to reach him from so far below. But he knew he had to help so he scooped her into his arms and kissed her warmly on the lips. Even after all this time, she still tasted so good and felt so perfect pressed so closely against him.
"Love you," he heard her whisper against his lips.
"Love you, too." He smiled and set her down, grinning at her flushed face. He walked to his brother who was still staring at Laila's new roommate with a goofy smile and took the box from his hands, setting it quickly on the dresser and pushing Alistair out the door.
"Nice to meet you, Piper," Sterling said over his shoulder.
"You too," Piper smiled at the twins.
"Um," the two girls could hear Alistair mumbling something from the common room. "…really pretty. I mean, I really hope to see you pretty soon."
Piper gave Laila a slightly confused look and Laila could only smile. She had never seen Alistair act that way in front of a girl before. He was usually had such a smooth demeanor and was the epitome of confidence. Not that he had been around many girls lately, but Laila didn't want to explain all of that to Piper at the moment.
"So, you've been here for a few weeks already?"
Piper nodded as she ripped open a box. "I row with the crew team. Practice started before classes so I've had this whole place to myself for the last two and a half weeks."
"Have you met the other girls yet?"
Piper laughed. "Yeah. They seem pretty chill. Different, but…whatever."
Pretty chill? Laila liked the sound of that. "You aren't from around here, are you?"
"No," Piper laughed. "Seattle. You?"
"San Francisco," Laila smiled at her.
"California? Oh, hell yes! Finally, someone not from the East Coast! I swear, every single person I have met has been from New York or Pennsylvania or Maine. I knew at least one of my roommates had to be from somewhere cool."
Laila laughed. She already liked this girl. "Well, I spent my senior year at a boarding school in Massachusetts so I know all about adjusting to this…environment, for lack of a better word."
Piper laughed again. "Why would you go to a boarding school your senior year?"
"To get into Yale," Laila said proudly.
"Looks like it worked." Piper grinned at her.
"I met my boyfriend there, too."
"Your boyfriend seemed really sweet," Piper said, a genuine affection in her eyes though Laila could tell it was mixed with a certain sadness.
"He's the best. I'm really lucky."
Piper smiled and then turned her attention back to the box in front of her. Laila wondered if she had said something to upset her but quickly discovered it was just a sensitive topic.
"I broke up with my boyfriend just a week before I moved here," Piper said quickly.
"I'm sorry," Laila tried to sound sympathetic but was slightly shocked at Piper's honesty. But she had brought it up so she probably wanted to talk about it. "What happened?"
"He told me that he wanted to take a break," Piper explained, her voice mimicking her disgust at her ex. "He said that he didn't know if he wanted to sustain a relationship from opposites sides of the country since he was about to be exposed to so many new opportunities."
Piper laughed and helped Laila fit the sheets over her bed. "I know. I think he must have rehearsed it about a thousand times because I've never heard him use that many big words in one sentence."
"So you just ended things?"
"Fuck yeah, I did. I mean, yes. Sorry. I'm trying not to swear because my coach says it's distracting."
Laila laughed. "I don't mind."
Piper laughed again. "Well, anyway, I told him that if he didn't know if he wanted to be with me, I wasn't going to wait around for him to figure it out."
Laila nodded in approval. "Sounds like a good choice."
Piper nodded as well, clearly done with that part of the conversation, and then looked around the room. "You weren't kidding when you said there wasn't much to unpack."
Laila smiled and took note of the empty boxes and suitcase. "Thanks for your help."
"Would you," Laila paused to consider the question she was about to ask but then decided it couldn't hurt to ask. "Would you like to go to dinner with me and the twins? Alistair leaves tomorrow for Harvard but it's not going to be anything formal. Just a thanks-for-helping-us-move sort of thing."
"Why not? It'll be nice to spend the evening with someone other than my TV set."
"Great," Laila smiled.
"Before you two go anywhere we need to have a house meeting." Laila heard a drawling southern accent coming from behind her and turned her head to look.
There, in the doorway, stood a short girl, not much taller than Laila, with teased auburn hair and a bright yellow sundress fitted a little too snugly over her pudgy figure. The girl's lips were pulled into a thin line and she was staring down her nose at Laila and Piper.
"Hey, Luanne, this is Laila," Piper made the introductions.
Laila smiled and walked over to extend her hand to her second roommate. "Nice to meet you."
"Yes," Luanne said curtly and squeezed Laila's hand tightly for a second then dropped it just as fast. "I expect you two to be in the common room at a quarter to five." With that she turned sharply on her heals and walked away.
Laila waited until she heard a door close before turning back to Piper. But Piper was smiling, nearly laughing at Laila's reaction.
"Now you can understand why I'm so happy you're here."
Laila smiled, not wanting to jump to conclusions about Luanne, but secretly counting her blessings she had Piper as a roommate as well.
"What's the fourth girl like?"
Piper laughed and shook her head. "Looks like you'll find out at a quarter to five! Come on, Cali. Let's go to the store and stock up my mini-fridge."
Nodding eagerly, Laila grabbed her purse and followed her new friend out the door. She knew this was going to be a year to remember.