“Say,” Claire told me, as we made our way to the dorms, “have you been assigned a dorm room already?”
I shook my head negatively.
“Well, that might be a problem,” she told me. “I’m fairly sure all the school staff must be asleep by this hour. Don’t you have a place to stay?”
I shrugged. No, I didn’t. I hadn’t thought I’d be arriving at school hours past midnight. I should have known, though, given my history.
“Stupid curse,” I whined.
“Said something?” Claire asked me, as she pushed a key into the keyhole for room 241.
“Nothing,” I said. “Just my bad luck again.”
“Well… If you don’t mind, you can sleep in my room tonight. It’s kinda late to go back to town looking for hotels, you know.”
“Would it be alright? I don’t want to impose.”
“No problem at all,” she said, pushing the door open, and motioning me inside the room.
“Thanks,” I whispered, as I passed by her with my luggage.
Claire’s room was narrow, with barely enough space for her own bed and a small cupboard. There was electric lighting, and a window on the far end, blocked by heavy curtains. The floor was wooden, much like the rest of the dorms, and there was almost no decoration inside. I saw a pile of books stacked up on the floor near the cupboard, as well as notebooks, pencils and the like. There was no second mattress anywhere I could see. Would we be sleeping in the same bed together? I mean, I really liked the fact that I had just made a friend, and I intended to keep that relationship just like that. Sleeping in the same bed with said friend was going to make this task a little harder on my poor heart.
“So…” I started to talk. In my head, I knew what had to be done. I should thank her for the kindness, and walk back to town alone to look for a hotel, like she mentioned before. That would make things less awkward for the two of us. And I had really meant to tell Claire that… but before I could say anything, she dropped a towel on my hands.
“Here,” she told me, and added a bar of soap on top of it. “I don’t suppose you brought this stuff from back home, right? I mean, the school’s supposed to provide us with those things, and all. I have spares, so I don’t mind lending you some. Are you ready to bathe now? 'Cause I really need to get all this mud off my hair.”
She got herself another towel, bar soap and a jar of shampoo, along with a change of clothes, then walked outside the room, waiting for me to join her.
“Er… okay then.”
I followed her outside of her bedroom and into the corridor of the third floor. The bathrooms were apparently at the far end of it. She led me through a pair of large doors into a wide room with mirrors, sinks, toilets, and shower stalls. Claire hanged her towel and clothes on a pair of hooks that were attached to the wall outside one of the stalls, then proceeded to undress.
In. Front. Of. Me.
“Oh, god,” I said, turning sideways and covering my eyes with my left hand.
I heard the sound of the stall door closing, and her shower started to run.
“Sorry,” she called me from her stall. “Do women not change in front of each other back at your hometown?”
I shook my head, but then realized it was stupid since she couldn’t see me. I walked up to the stall next to hers.
“Nope,” I told her. “We only ever do it in front of our mothers, and only when we’re children.” Or in front of a lover, I wanted to add, but decided against it.
“Did I make you uncomfortable, then?” she asked. “I didn’t know about it, honestly. Cultural shock, they call it, right? Anyway, I won’t do it again.”
“Thanks,” I told her, undressing myself inside my own stall. It was truth that there were differences between our cultures, but that wasn’t the only reason she’d made me uncomfortable. The real reason was something I did not want to acknowledge out loud.
I got the shower running. Hot water started pouring on my head.
“It’s so hot!” I told Claire.
“These pipes run straight from the boiler room,” she explained. “Try turning the handle on the right, that one has cold water.”
I did as I was told. The temperature of the water starter to cool.
“Thanks,” I told Claire.
After the bath, I wiped myself dry and wrapped the towel around my body, before walking back outside the stall. Claire was standing in front of a mirror, brushing her hair. She was wearing cute-looking pajamas, and it was only after seeing her like that that I realized I had made yet another mistake.
“Crap,” I cursed. “I forgot my clothes.”
“Want me to go get them for you?” Claire offered, and I promptly accepted. No way I would walk out of that bathroom wearing nothing but a towel.
“Just get me my backpack,” I told her. There were some clothes in there I could use to sleep, and it was easier than bringing my bag with all of my stuff.
Claire nodded, and walked out of the bathroom. I stood still in front of the mirrors, waiting.
While I waited, another girl walked into the bathroom. I saw her hang her clothes and towel on the hooks by a stall, and then proceed to undress in front of me, just as Claire had done. Honestly, what’s with the people in this place? I tried looking away sideways, pretending not to be bothered by it, but it was really hard not to notice her when you’re in a room full of mirrors.
I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to this, I thought to myself.
At last, Claire came back with my bag. I dug into it for underwear and a generic change of clothes, then dashed inside one of the stalls to put them on.
I heard someone talking, outside, but it was hard to make out who it was or what they were talking about amid the sound of the shower running in the stall next to mine. Given how late it was, I was surprised to see the bathroom being still such a lively place.
Once I was dressed, I walked out of the stall again, holding the towel in my hands, ready to thank Claire for all the help she’d been giving me. It really felt like she had been a sort of antidote to my curse, that day. Lots of things could have gone spectacularly wrong, but she was there to help me out with each and every one of them.
But… as I turned and looked at her, I saw she was hugging another girl. This other girl had light skin, much like hers, and short black hair, and she was caressing Claire’s hair in a very intimate manner. A sister, perhaps?
Claire noticed me staring, and called me out.
“Here,” she said, “let me introduce you.” She handed me my backpack with one hand, as she held the girl’s hand with the other.
“Myu, this is Anamaria. She’s a new student at our school. I met her in the train on our way here.”
She bowed to me, whispering a polite “Nice to meet you”.
“Anamaria, this is Myu, my girlfriend.”
My face dropped.
I shouldn’t feel surprised. I mean, I’ve dated girls in the past, it wasn’t even uncommon these days. And ever since we met each other on the marshes, I hadn’t bothered to ask Claire if she had a significant other. I don’t know. Maybe I just assumed she didn’t have one, because she was traveling alone? But that was ridiculous, couples don’t have to follow each other around all the time. So why was I so off-put by finding out that Claire had a girlfriend? Didn’t I explicitly tell myself before that I only wanted her as a friend? Why should it matter to me personally if she was sleeping with someone else?
Literally sleeping, it seems. I understood now that Claire had never intended me to sleep in the same bed as her. She was out there, sleeping with her lover, and I had her bed all to myself. It’s no wonder that room didn’t look like it was seeing a lot of use lately, Claire probably spent all her time with Myu in Myu’s room. And that was fine. I was fine with it. Why wouldn’t I be?
I had a troublesome night of sleep. Mostly because I wasn’t used to the cold. It was chilling, and I had never used blankets as thick as Claire’s. I didn’t bring any with me either. Unless I could somehow have the school provide me some, by the afternoon on the next day I’d have to make a quick visit to the city in order to buy me some. There was no way I’d be able to sleep in such a cold place with just the stuff I’d brought with me.
I woke up after only a few hours, and I could see the sunlight starting to make its way into the room from behind the closed curtains. I felt like crap, probably due to my poor sleep. Not to mention, train trips like the one from the day before really wear you out. If there was anything else weighting on my mind, it was probably my curse, or my curse’s fault. I wasn’t going to admit I had gotten my hopes up about Claire, nope.
I let out a heavy sigh. She had a girlfriend. Not just that, but her girl was really beautiful. I felt flawed in comparison. There’s no way she, or anyone, would pick a cursed girl as a romantic partner.
I got up from her bed and got dressed for my first day of school. I still had to drop by the administrative offices to get the paperwork done. Y’know, to receive my uniforms and textbooks, the ones my parents had already paid for in advance, and also to get myself assigned to a dorm room.
At first I thought I’d wait for Claire to be back. I really had to thank her again for all the help she was giving me, and I also needed to give her back the key to her room. So I waited, sitting up on her bed. Several hours later, she still hadn’t showed up. Did she forget I was in her room? Was she still sleeping, perhaps? Whatever, it was already ten past eleven, and I couldn’t bring myself to sit still any longer. So I just decided to get out, and run straight to the school offices in order not to miss any more classes.
Barely had I taken one step out of the door, I was already tripping over my own feet and falling face-first on the hardwood floor. Yeah, that’s more like the curse I knew.
This was going to be a reeeally long day.