“Where’d I put my nametag?” I spin around and frantically adjust the stiff collar of the red polo I’m required to wear today. It’s still too tight.
Micah releases a trilling laugh while he casually waves me forward. “Just unbutton the top.”
“That’s so unprofessional, though.” I sigh through my nose as I blink down at him and observe how he’s all settled on my bed.
“So is choking to death on your first day.” He grins with that classically elegant squint, tilting his head ever so slightly to encourage my approach. “I’ll get it for you if you come a little closer.”
“Don’t tease me when I’m already panicking like this!”
“It’s on your fridge.”
“Huh?” My brain grasps at the words he’s strung together and comes up empty.
“Your nametag.” Micah motions behind me to the miniature refrigerator humming in the corner by my desk. “You put it there before breakfast this morning so you wouldn’t lose it.”
“Oh.” I scramble with the magnetic pieces, dropping them twice, before successfully snapping them in place over my left pec. “How is it? Straight? Crooked?”
“Honestly…?” He twirls a slim finger absently through one of those blond curls with his light green gaze scanning me so slowly I twitch.
“C’mere a sec.”
“Why? What’s wrong? Is the collar messed up again?” I barely finish my slew of worries before he’s already undone my top button. “But it’s not-!”
“You look absolutely gorgeous, Rashmi...now could you give me a little attention before we suffer through the longest day of our lives?” He pulls my arms around his neck while his dark brows arch over the most rhetorical question in existence.
“You…” I gulp at his use of my Hindu name and try not to flinch as he guides my hips between his legs. They’re splayed comfortably on the mattress since he’s been waiting for me to be ready for the past twenty minutes, and I’m instantly distracted by the fact that none of his buttons are fastened. “You look way too sexy for move-in day.”
Micah’s chuckling becomes stifled into soft humming that rumbles beneath my jaw while he instantly goes for his signature move to shut me up. It works.
“Hi, I’m Ethan and I’ll be one of your RAs this year.” My hand flicks in an awkward wave for what feels like the hundredth time today. I have to force the calm yet genuine smile to stay on my face until the kid standing in front of me actually looks up from the box he’s carrying. “Want some help with your stuff?”
“Um…” A slightly hoarse voice sounds, and the biggest gray eyes I’ve ever seen blink at me for just a moment before he’s staring at the cardboard once more. “Thank you, but I’m good. I just, um...”
“Do you need to know your room number?” I ask, trying not to chuckle openly about how terrified freshmen can be. I was the same way last year.
He nods and sneaks another quick glance at me before the wind picks up and sweeps auburn waves of hair all over his face. Where’s his family? I pull the sheet of paper from my back pocket to check the list, even though I’m pretty sure he’s the last one here. Usually someone comes along-unless he’s an international student, but I don’t really think he’s-ahah!
“Quinn Cassidy?” I peek at him in time to witness yet another nod while he adjusts the strap of a faded green backpack over his shoulder. There’s a tear in the worn blue sleeve of the t-shirt he’s wearing, and the string of the hem hangs curled across his pale, freckled arm.
“You’re on my floor!” I exclaim with clearly too much excitement. “Uhhhh I mean, I’m your main Resident Assistant, so if you ever need anything or have questions, or...how about I just lead you to your room so you can put that down? It’s 418.”
He follows me without a word, and I’m slightly relieved that I don’t have to manage more of a conversation as we weave through the chaos of the first floor towards the stairs. Freshman move-in day is always crowded, loud, and takes far too long with all the parents, siblings, and I don’t know who else trying to cram into closet-sized rooms for their parting words.
Quinn Cassidy. I wrack my brain for the minimal details RAs are provided as groundwork for building relationships with residents. Undecided Major-not uncommon. Qualified for Work Study, so I can help him look for a campus job for sure. I leap over a bin placed in the center of the hall while I’m stuffing the room list back in my pocket. I can’t remember anything else about him.
Thundering footsteps echo around us while we slip into the stairwell, and I’m nearly knocked down a flight when what seems like a small wildebeest rips past my feet with a gleeful shriek.
“Ah-sorry!” I gasp when my ass collides with the cardboard box behind me.
The redheaded boy merely nods me forward, his gaze drifting over the banister to watch the tiny human leaping over the last few steps on the main floor.
“We’re, uh...we’re on four, so it’s a bit of a climb.” I shoot him a grimace when my legs ache on command at the three more levels we have to go. That’s what I get for wanting a quiet hall.
Quiet couldn't be further from the reality that hits me as soon as we reach the top floor. There’s a constant chorus of panicked voices rushing us while we maneuver around the heaps of boxes scattered across the old carpeting. I make a mental note to take a trip to the dumpster after I’ve shown him to his room, and attempt to ignore the throb in my knees from all the stairs I’ve climbed today. I should’ve skipped my morning run.
There’s a “done with everything about this forever” looking Dad-man-person leaning against the wall ahead of us with his arms stocked full of what appear to be bath towels. I pause while his wife tries to hand him a full trash bag from the room where voices argue over “where to put my precious succulents?!”
“I’ll take that down for you!” I reach for the plastic handles and receive a grunt and a grin from the guy. “Ah, right-” I press myself into the wall and use my leg to scoot the bag from the middle of the floor. “You’re one of the last rooms around the corner-the green rhinoceros on the right.” I point and give my new resident a pained smile. That’s the door tag I ripped and had to do over. “Your key should be on the desk.”
Those gray orbs twitch with an almost-reaction before Quinn shrugs the cardboard box for a better grip. “Thank you,” he mutters, giving me a hint of an expression before he’s walking past and I’m accepting a second bag of trash from the succulent family.
“What a goddamn day.” Micah swings his arm over my shoulders as soon as he catches up to my brisk pace through the common room. “Are yours all in?”
“I…almost…?” My eyes twitch when met with the harsh light of the hall. “All the parents are gone, I’m just trying to locate a rogue resident at the moment.”
“Mmm…” He hums in my ear before steering me sharply into the laundry center on my right.
“Just…” The classic head tilt and squint appear, and suddenly he’s pushing me into the wall and flicking off the overheads. “I’ll be needing a minute of your time, please.”
“Your room is literally right there-”
“But they’re all over, and-!” As if on cue, what sounds like a stampede of hyenas explodes from the kitchen off the common area just a few feet away from where Micah’s holding me captive. Freshmen are so loud.
“Fine, but-” He gently nips my ear before leaning back and snapping on the lights. “You’ll come by later?”
“What about the orientation dinner?”
“We don’t have anything until nine tomorrow morning.” His grin lingers inches from mine while he gently tugs the front of my hair.
I nod, even though I can tell by the way his smirk is forming that he already knows I’ve memorized the entire freshman orientation schedule.
“Need help locating your rogue?” Micah releases my bangs and taps the plated name tag on his pec. “I can pull my HR weight if the kid becomes a problem.”
I laugh at that, even though I know he’s serious somewhere underneath a layer or two of bullshit. He wasn’t hired as the Head Resident for the biggest freshman residence hall on campus for nothing.
“I’ll see you later.” I slip into the hallway and rush for the building’s back door before I can succumb to the full charms of Micah Harris.
I find my missing resident just when I’ve given up and decided to fully panic about the fact that I failed at my job on day one.
Quinn’s auburn head appears while he bounces up the stairs that lead to the far parking lot, and I very nearly shout at the sight of him carrying a dark green suitcase held together by silver duct tape. Why’d he park all the way down there?!
I approach him at a run and with no plan for how I’ll initiate a normal interaction. By the time I’m panting in front of him, he’s dropped the suitcase at his feet in surprise and is clutching the thick black straps of yet another backpack.
“Hi, I’m...sorry!” I basically wheeze words out of me. “I just couldn’t find you and the dinner thing is kinda soon-hey, why didn’t you just leave your car on the driveway up here while you unpacked?” I grasp the handle of the bag and squint up at his frantic blinks through the early evening sunlight.
“Let me help. Do you have more? Oh my god, have you been taking hundreds of trips up these stairs all by yourself? Which car is yours? I can get a load.” I peer around his shoulder to scan the parking lot below, but snap right back to looking at his face when I hear the faintest raspy chuckle rumbling by my ear.
“I’m sorry, I-” He pauses to tuck a little grin out of sight behind his hand. “I just went out for a bit ‘cause it was noisy, and…” He gently pulls the suitcase handle from my grasp. “This is all I’ve got, but thanks anyway. Sorry if I-oh, was I not supposed to leave?” He peers at me with a bit of fear etched in his narrow face, and my stomach clenches in response.
I’m totally spazzing about nothing.
“No no! I didn’t mean to sound like I was scolding you. You can leave as long as you don’t miss stuff.” I press my tongue to the roof of my mouth and take a step back, eyeing the freckles crinkling on his cheeks while he tries not to laugh at me. “Wait...are you a swimmer?” I point to the oddly shaped bag on his back, instantly recognizing it as the same style my friends on the swim team regularly use.
“Um…” Quinn shrugs the straps in place and nods once before tilting his head to the side. “Are you?” He asks so softly, I think he’s either kidding or completely unsure.
“Nah, I’m a nothing, but hey! One of my friends-another RA here, is gonna be your teammate. He’s not on our quad ‘cause he got assigned upperclassmen housing, but I’ll introduce you at dinner.” I’m out of breath, and he’s chuckling at me again.
He’s nice,” I mutter as an afterthought. “He doesn’t talk as much as I do.”
When Quinn’s smile forms fully while he drops his hand to swing at his side, I figure perhaps he’s not as shy as he seems. Nope-not even close. Shy boys don’t bite their bottom lip before flashing perfectly grinning teeth as their pretty big eyes scan your whole existence from toes to hair tips. At least, not any I’ve ever met.