“So Richard, are you making any friends? Or are you being your usual self?”
“Forget it. I don’t actually want to talk to you,” I say.
Tea laughs at me over the phone. “Is your roommate still irritating the crap out of you?”
“Who, Matt the stoner? No. He’s not here much anymore. Haven’t seen him in more than a week, when he stopped by to get his soccer cleats. He has his own stoner girlfriend now with off-campus housing. I pretty much have a super single.”
I sit down and put my feet up on my desk. There is no way to be comfortable in this room. The bed is too narrow. The desk is too low. The chair doesn’t even lean back. I hate the shade of the curtains. They are in between royal blue and steel gray. I think they only became this color after years of constant exposure to sunlight. They look tired. I never thought I cared about these things. Apparently I do.
“Super, I guess. Having the room to yourself. So it looks like Matt is not going to be your new bestie at college.”
“Bestie? Really?” I pick up a pen from the desk and twirl it between my fingers.
“Yeah. You know, close pal, buddy, partner in crime?”
“I know what the word means. But I don’t think it applies to me. And No. He’s not a bad guy, but Matt will not be my ‘bestie.’ I don’t need one anyway. I came to college to get a degree, not make friends. The course load for biochem is killer—twice as many lab classes as most of the other majors. I can’t afford distractions.”
I know Tea is shaking her head. “If by ‘distractions’ you mean human contact, you are wrong. You are so very, very wrong. Okay, maybe bestie isn’t the right word. But Richard, you have to meet people—people that you like. You can’t stay in your room every day and only come out for meals and classes.”
“Have you been spying on me?”
Tea laughs. “Ha. I’ve known you for a while now. And I’m telling you that you need to take off your lab coat once in a while and socialize with other humans. You, my friend, need to find your people.”
“Yes. Well, as you say, you’ve known me for a while. And I don’t like people.” This is the chief benefit of having a super single.
Tea sighs. “Fine. I’ll cut you some slack. We can start slow first semester. Forget ‘people.’ But at least find a person. I’m not saying you need to become some sort of social butterfly, or attend epic campus parties. But I’m afraid you will need to talk to more than one individual before you find an appropriate candidate.”
“Candidate for what?” I set the pen down.
“For your bestie. Weren’t you listening?”
“I thought we decided against the use of that term. And against the waste of time trying to find this mythical person.” The light is shining in my eyes through a gap in the curtains. I turn in my chair to face the other direction.
“So, not bestie. I get it. What term would you prefer? Best buddy? BFF?”
“No. I’d prefer if you left it alone. I’m fine. Look, it’s not like I’m hidden away from the world in some cave. It’s a big campus. I spend enough time outside my room. And I talk to plenty of people.”
“Really?” Tea pauses. “Prove it. What’s your lab partner’s name?”
“Uh…” I actually can’t remember her name. “Chem?”
“Sure, chem. Or biology. Either one. Who is your lab partner?”
“No. That’s her name—my lab partner for chemistry. I call her Chem. She calls me Bio. Gives me crap about majoring in biochem since she’s straight up applied.”
Tea pauses to let this information sink in before saying, “So… you’re telling me that you don’t even know the name of this person you spend hours and hours with every week?”
“Possibly. Unless her name is actually Chem. It could be. You never know.”
Tea scoffs. “Okay, we’ll start even smaller. Your assignment is to find out her actual name. I’ll give you the whole week to muster up the courage to ask her.”
“It’s not courage. It’s that I don’t care what her name is. I don't like her. And she smells like dryer lint.”
“You don’t need to like her. This is practice for speaking to someone more likely to suit our purposes. Think of it as training to be an actual functioning human. Ask her name. Tell her yours. Make small talk.”
“Can we appreciate the irony of you trying to teach me to make small talk.”
“Hush. I’m a pro now.”
I laugh harder than I expect at that, partially falling off the chair before clearing my throat so I can speak again. “Yeah. I’m sure that’s true.”
I am completely unprepared for Tea to shout into my ear with a sudden flash of inspiration. “Oh! I’ve got it! Forget finding out Chem’s name. That is no longer your mission for the week. You, my friend, are going to attend a freshman orientation activity,” Tea says triumphantly.
“Pretty sure I’ve already been orientated.” I’ve been at school for a month.
“Nope. If you had been successfully orientated you would be out with actual people instead of forcing me to speak on the phone.”
“No one is forcing you. I can always hang up.”
Tea ignores me. “Okay. I found it. I love when they put such detailed schedules out in the universe for all to see. There is a freshman mingle in your dorm this afternoon. Go. Think of it as an early birthday present.”
“This is the crappiest birthday present I’ve ever received. And my sister once gave me a pair of used of socks.”
“I meant an early present for me. Seriously Richard, I worry about you.”
“Why? I’m not getting in any trouble with administration, I haven’t stormed out of any classes, my grades are better than expected, and the cafeteria serves brownies with fudge icing on Fridays. Life couldn’t be better.”
“Person,” Tea says firmly. “Mingle. Go.”
“This will make you happy?” I ask.
“Really? That easy?” She sounds shocked.
“Don’t get all excited. It wasn’t because of your amazing powers of persuasion. I’m going as a favor to you. So you know that you don’t need to worry.” When Tea gets worried, she sometimes worries herself right into the hospital. Only once, and it was for reasons, but I don’t want to bring her any more stress than she brings on herself.
“Okay bye!” Tea sounds overly excited.
“Wait, just like that? Done talking? What about filling me in on how things are going with you? Aren’t these regular phone calls supposed to be two-way conversations? I know I suck at small talk, but I am familiar with the concept of dialogue.”
“Yeah. Whatever. We can catch up later. I don’t want you to miss out. What if your person is waiting?”
I don’t tell her this, but I’m pretty sure that she’s my person.