2. Amanda [4]

She led her little pack into Oakwood’s front hall, and up the stairs to the fourth floor, where the new students were roomed. She asked whose new roommates had slept in, and then made everyone start pounding on doors up and down the hall. A few tousled heads poked out of doors, only to be dragged laughing or scowling into the hall in their pajamas.

“Hey, this is your orientation-leader talking – and no, I don’t mean I’m going to help you figure out if you’re gay or straight, you’re on your own there – and I’m telling you all to put some clothes on so we can get going! Believe me, there are some awesome secret places on this campus, and if you choose to go back to sleep now, you might never be able to tell your future kids how you crawled through Acorn’s airway ducts to try to get to the Dean’s office.”

A silence followed this little speech, and then some titters. But as Amanda left Oakwood, her pack had almost doubled, although most of them were still half-asleep. That’s okay, though, Amanda mused, I can’t wait until I show them the secret passageway in Treemont Dorms. They’re going to love those.

It was a true and rather odd fact that Valley U’s buildings had been designed by a slightly eccentric architect with an endless fascination for old palaces. Although most of the buildings looked merely classic and collegiate, some even with ivy clinging to them, they were all filled with some secret passageway or hidden nook or secret cellar room. Amanda knew that the professors knew about them all, as well as the staff – well, she assumed they all did anyway – and merely chose to turn a blind eye because of the fun and unique character it gave the university.

2. Amanda [3]

Amanda sat in the back of the auditorium, ready to spring up the moment the last speaker was finished. She was wearing a dark red t-shirt two sizes too big for her, bearing the legend “Valley Camp Leader” in bright pink letters. Once again, she felt that although she loved her college, their sense of humor was often a bit stilted. Not many of the first years liked the joke of being at camp – they, like Amanda had felt just a year before, wanted to be reassured that they were free from their families and from their old towns and homes and were embarking on some sort of independent life.

As the lights came on, Amanda got up with the other three orientation-leaders, and they all blew their whistles half-heatedly – more for the benefit of the overenthusiastic Office of Admissions employees then for the new students. Leaving off the piercing sounds, they just yelled instead for their respective groups.

She was leading the new Oakwood students to the day’s activities that were supposed to acquaint them with the campus and the school. Her group was rather feeble, stretching and yawning and rubbing their eyes. She gave them what she hoped was a sly smile, and told them that before they were going to go on their in-depth tour of the campus, they’d go back to Oakwood and bang on the doors and wake all the lazy butts who hadn’t shown up for the morning talk.

This won her a few smiles, and she led them down to Oakwood. A gangly boy, with a mop of blond curls adorning his head, came up to her.

“Your name’s Amanda, right?”

“Mhmm, it’s right on my sticker,” she pointed at the big tag on her t-shirt with her name on it.

“I know this is like, totally weird and all, but are you by any chance Jake’s twin?” the boy’s face was open and honest, and Amanda stared at him for a moment, wondering how on earth he knew her brother. Then the pieces clicked into place.

“Bo, right?”

He grinned at her and ran his fingers through his hair, making them unrulier than ever.

“Yeah, I work with Jake at Lila’s. I was working full time over the summer, but I’m thinking that at twenty-three, I’d better finally use that fund my grandparents left me for college. Plus, this way, I get to stay in a dorm instead of with my Aunt Tanya.”

Amanda couldn’t help but smile. She could see what Jake saw in this boy’s – young man’s, she corrected herself – guiless face and long limbs flying every which way as he walked.

“Well, I’m glad you came here. It’s kind of weird for me to be your-” she made air-quotes with her fingers, “Camp Leader and all. I’m only nineteen, you know.”

“Yeah, I know I’m starting college late, but heck, I figure I’ll be really popular what with having a real ID stating I’m over twenty-one and all,” he grinned at her as she waved a finger at him and walked back to join the group trailing after her like tired little ducklings.

Amanda’s mood took a definite upward swing. Jake had mentioned in his rambling and confused way that Bo was coming to Valley U, but Amanda hadn’t realized he’d be living on campus. She hoped this would mean she’d get to see Jake more often, as well as in a better mood. Good start to the year, she thought.

1. Mr. and Mrs. Adams [4]

Mr. Adams jerked awake as the clock-radio on his bedside table began to talk loudly and cheerfully, advertising some sort of cereal. He grumbled, pulled one hairy arm out of the blankets and hit the button that turned the alarm off. He sat up in bed, rubbed his eyes, yawned and stretched before finally throwing the covers off himself and getting up. He winced as he rose, his back giving an ominous cracking sound while he straightened up.

“Love?” he called out.

“Downstairs!” Mrs. Adams yelled back. She was in the kitchen already, having gotten up an hour before to take a brisk walk in the cool early-morning air. She was still in her walking gear; New Balance walking shoes, gray sweatpants and a big black t-shirt still slightly moist with sweat. She was nursing a cold bottle of juice as she scanned the front page of the morning paper.

Mr. Adams traipsed into the kitchen, pecked her on her sweaty head and switched the coffee-maker on before heading to the shower. There wasn’t much hot water, so he soaped himself and washed himself off as quickly as he could, mumbling to himself under his breath “cold, cold, cold, cold…”

“How’s the hot water?” Mrs. Adams asked when he came out, threadbare blue towel wrapped around his waist.

“Brrr,” he said by way of an answer. “Need coffee.” Mrs. Adams laughed and went to turn the boiler on. Their house was one of those old ones that seemed to have been built with the thought that people wanted to go to their garage twenty times a day – the switch for the hot-water heater was there, as well as a liquor cabinet built into one wall and the fuse box on another. Mr. and Mrs. Adams’ cars were there too, although they only ever used Mrs. Adams’ white Ford, because she refused to carpool with what she called the “mid-life crisis car,” which was Mr. Adams red Miatta.

It was in the Ford, then, that Professors Adams set out in an hour later. It was early September, and their work was starting up again in a few days. The new student orientation was already underway, and Mr. and Mrs. Adams both had various meetings to attend as well as work that needed to be finished in preparation for the classes they’d be starting in a week’s time, when the autumn term officially kicked off.

The faculty parking lot at Valley U. was conveniently situated in a big square deep inside the campus, although somewhat an eyesore. Mr. Adams’ office was in Acorn, the literature and languages departments’ building, while Mrs. Adams worked in Mulberry, the social-sciences building. Both were situated on either side of the parking lot, and it was common knowledge among the students of Valley U. that they could witness a sweet display of public affection every morning at eight-thirty sharp, when the Adams Professors got out of their car and kissed each other before heading off in different directions for the day.

3. Heather [3]

“How are you, girl?” Jake said as he walked over to Heather’s usual booth. It was a small booth that only sat two. Sometimes Heather’s mother, Bella, would meet her at Lila’s and then the two would share the booth and a meal or sometimes just a dessert. Tonight, though, Heather was alone as she slid gratefully into her regular spot.

“I’m great, Jake, just exhausted,” Heather smiled at him. “Yourself?”

“Fine, fine, all fine,” Jake’s eyes twinkled. “Love is in the air, and all that. You know.”

Heather knew. Vicariously, at least. She’d watched the romance, or dalliance or whatever it was, flourish between Jake and Bo over the last three weeks of beautiful summer evenings. She’d been friendly with Jake even before, but he had seemed so droopy, so sad and sort of lost. But then Bo joined Lila’s staff, and Heather couldn’t be happier for the change that had come over Jake.

“My sister’s going to come over some evening this week,” Jake went on. “Well, I haven’t exactly asked her to yet, but I’m going to. I think she’ll like this place – and you’ll like her, too. I’ll ask her to come in the evening so you can maybe meet her.”

“Sounds great, Jake! I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“Yeah, a twin. Her name’s Amanda. She goes to Valley U. So, the usual?”

Heather nodded, and Jake bustled towards the diner’s kitchen to get her hot-chocolate for her. She stretched back and looked around the small space. At this hour, it was usually still empty, but Heather knew that if she stayed for another half hour, the place would fill up. Downtown Hartscreek was a hopping scene, and there wasn’t a night of the week when an eclectic crowd wouldn’t appear, as if by magic, at Lila’s: there were young professionals, coming for a dessert after a dinner somewhere else, or maybe just meeting up for a meal after putting their children to bed; there were club-goers, dressed in bright colors and skin-tight materials, catching some protein before a long night of dancing and drinking; there were the punkers, stocking up on fries and milkshakes before heading to the latest underground show. Heather loved to take them all in as she sat there, savoring the taste of her hot drink as she sipped it down almost agonizingly slowly.

Tonight would be no different, she hoped, as she lay her chin in her hands and stared across the room to where she knew Jake would be coming out in a moment with that delicious hot chocolate in his hands.