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Westwords, Chapter 2

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About 94,000 words First Serial Rights 1990 Lewis W. Heniford

May, 1943

 

Brilliant sunshine through the window created a slanted tic-tac-toe pattern across the bed and wakened West. He hastened to look out on Chapel Hill's greenery and buildings, squeegeed clean by the night's rain and highlighted by the early, warm sun. The sky gave no hint of the storm last night. The place looked glorious. He hummed "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" and meant it.

A gigantic appetite jogged his awareness that he had not eaten for twenty-four hours. The fast fortunately had saved him the cost of two meals. Every penny saved would come in handy; he did not know how or when the money from home would arrive. Taking a shower, putting on fresh clothes, and straightening the room took but a few minutes. He packed his other pants and shirt, now dry but wrinkled, into the box that served as a suitcase and retied the string around it into a handle. Every other possession went into his pockets, including four damp dollar bills. He shoved the box into the bottom drawer of one of the two dressers, figuring it would be safe until he would come back for it.

He had an hour to spare on the way to Dean Phillip's office, and beginning to feel really hungry, he returned to the Inn Cafeteria, where he had eaten the morning before.

The bellhop from the night before, the one who had shared drinks in the suite at the Carolina Inn, worked the serving line, ladling scrambled eggs. "Hi, you feel like a lot or a little this morning?"

"I'm really hungry."

The bellhop piled the plate high then put an extra piece of toast on top. "See what you can do to this. You have a nice day."

West smiled gratefully. "Thanks, I will. You, too." He noticed the jewels on the fraternity pin showing under the open hotel jacket. He wondered how a fellow who had to work at the Inn could afford such jewelry.

Moving to the cash register, he peeled two limp one-dollar bills from the other two and extended them to the cashier, a huge red-haired matron. She accepted them with a quizzical look, left them by the register to dry, and with an indulgent smile returned eighty-three cents. He responded with a big grin, thinking he should explain but not knowing how. Instead, he took the change as nonchalantly as he could, then found a table by a window and hungrily devoured every morsel of the breakfast.

West arrived at the office precisely on time, ten o'clock, as did Dean Phillips. In a brief, friendly session they attended to preliminary registration.

"Where is your luggage?" asked the Dean.

A concern showed on West's face. "I have a suitcase." He did not add that it was Carla's and had to be back for her to use again for college in the fall. It was the same one the family used every few years to visit his grandmother in Richmond.

The dean reassured him with a smile. "That should make the move into Steele Dormitory quite easy. There is a resident upperclassman in charge of the building. I have arranged for you to be in his room. He can show you the ropes."

"When do I know what classes to take?"

"Most freshmen have a full schedule of required courses. That makes registration simple. The upperclassman I spoke of will explain when and where to register. He knows his way around. And is a real Carolina gentleman." Dean Phillips extended a warm handshake. "Don't worry. It all may seem strange now, but one survives. In fact, being in Chapel Hill will be a great adventure. You can be sure of that. In a way, I envy you folks arriving here for the first time. You see our world here with such fresh eyes."

By ten-forty-five, West had signed all the Housing paperwork. He stood before Steele. This must be home, he thought.

He entered the center section and mounted the stairs to the second of the three floors. He hesitated, to compare the number on the slip of paper in his hand with the metal digits nailed onto an open door. The two matched. He spied a nude man methodically tidying the room. West, politely trying not to look directly at him, focused on the furniture, the floor, the ceiling. He fumbled an explanation about being a new arrival assigned here.

The man held out a hand without turning from his task. He introduced himself as the center section resident upperclassman. "The name's Chuck Rutledge. If you're one of the new roomies, the other two can't be far behind. Maybe they're leaving it to this afternoon, coming at the last moment."

This person's reassuring charm helped to bridge the awkward early moments. They discussed settling in, registering, and starting classes. West studiously averted looking at Chuck for the first half-hour, until--

"Do these socks match?" Chuck asked. "They feel as if they should."

West had to stifle a gasp upon discovering the upperclassman to be blind. The movements around the room had been so sure! West struggled to keep his voice even. "The one in your right hand is plaid. That other one is solid."

"The fuck!" Chuck responded softly, as he sorted them in routine accuracy.

Just then, a familiar face peered in the doorway. "Good morning-after. I got the note."

West stumbled through the introduction of Francis to Chuck.

Francis barely responded, then turned to West and said, "Obviously, the telephone call home produced the desired result. You are here. Q. E. D."

"I didn't use your phone." West wished at once that he had not said that.

"No matter. You should have."

"Well, you had left."

"I made a horny jaunt over to the sinful city of Raleigh. You were asleep; otherwise, you could have come along. Enough for everybody. Even after the military."

To West the statement did not make sense.

Chuck, though, responded with conviction. "That bought stuff can kill--or worse."

Francis, ignoring the comment, pointed across the landing onto which four rooms and a communal bath and toilet opened. "I am there. Your very-next-door or, at least, 'cross-the-hall neighbor."

West asked, "Already moved in?"

"The old man had me moved in last week, while we were staying at the Inn en route to Myrtle Beach."

Chuck whistled. "The Inn? That's expensive."

"That's the old man's style." Francis reached into Chuck's sorting and rearranged one of the socks.

The upperclassman reacted instantly. "Keep your friggin' hands out of my gear, and they won't get broken!"

"Yes, . . . well, if I might assist--"

"When I want help, I ask for help. When I don't, I rely on myself." Chuck crossed through the doorway, across the hall, and into the toilet. From his seat, he called, "Beaufort. . . . I'll remember that name," then he farted.

Francis' bottom lip went between his teeth. West had seen his own mother bite her lip like that when she was deeply puzzled. Francis gnawed thoughtfully and scanned the room. He spied the neatly-arranged shaving articles on the dresser nearer the door. "His?" he asked. When West nodded, Francis gingerly, quietly rearranged each one. Then he turned. "I won't be here for the first week. Let me see your schedule."

Still awed by the rearrangement on Chuck's dresser, West offered a copy of his class schedule.

"Right on target. We have three classes together. You take notes and buy two sets of books. I'll pay you when I get back."

West suffered a sharp, deep pang of poverty. "I may not have enough change. I don't know what they'll cost." He remembered the two nearly-dry dollars and eighty-three cents in his pocket.

"Oh? Well, here, then." Francis withdrew a hundred-dollar bill from his wallet. "This will cover them. Keep the receipts; the old man does something with them at tax time."

"Okay." West nervously accepted the money.

"I'll be back for the second week. The first days were somewhat routine at prep school, boring. I'm going to our place in the mountains near Gatlinburg."

"Is your father there?"

"Mother is. The mountains are hers; the beach, his. They don't see each other much, which keeps them both happy." He leaned to whisper, "I can get Housing to shift you over to my room and send one of my roommates over here. That character hardly appears to be profitable company."

"No, thanks all the same, but my records show this room number. I'd better stay put. They squeezed me in at the last minute, anyway, and I don't want to cause them any trouble."

"The least concern to me is trouble. That is always somebody else's worry." He headed for the doorway. "You take care of everything for me this first week, and I'll take care of you after. Good-bye. I have to go purchase some black market gas coupons. I'm almost out of them."

West barely had had enough time to realign the articles when Chuck returned and went directly to the dresser.

A swift hand investigated, discovered, and confirmed the upperclassman's suspicion. "So, he did mess around with my stuff. I just may have to twist his prick into a pretzel to teach him proper manners."

"I thought I'd put everything back in place."

"Thanks for the thought, but you, too, should lay off other people's business. And, for God's sake, don't go covering for a half-assed snot like Beaufort. I heard his father over there last week ordering the guys around; they must have moved in enough to supply a hotel. Both he and his old man are the kind who equates money with power and abuses both."

"You don't like Francis because of his father?"

"I don't like people who parade their money. His father chewed ass all the time the guys were moving in the stuff. Then he over-tipped--as if that made it all okay. Some students can't pay their bills without odd jobs like that. They shouldn't have to take crap, but they did, only because the old man came on so strong and scattered five-dollar bills around like confetti."

West remembered Francis' over-tipping the bellhop. Still, he said, "Maybe Francis isn't like that."

"Look, if I can't size people up in a minute or two, I may have to pay a pretty huge price. It's a simple fuckin' fact that some folks exploit other folks. And a footnote to that is that they exploit anybody like me quicker because they think they can get away with it. I am, of necessity, a fast, competent judge of character. I like you. I don't like him."

"Well, he won't be around the first week of the term. He's gone to Gatlinburg to visit his mom."

"The whole week?"

"I'm going to get his books for him and take notes. We have three classes together."

Chuck pulled in air between his teeth. He touched his glass eye. "West, my boy, you are lucky to be here where I can keep an eye over you. You have a lot to learn."

Brilliant sunshine through the window created a slanted tic-tac-toe pattern across the bed and wakened West. He hastened to look out on Chapel Hill's greenery and buildings, squeegeed clean by the night's rain and highlighted by the early, warm sun. The sky gave no hint of the storm last night. The place looked glorious. He hummed "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" and meant it.

A gigantic appetite jogged his awareness that he had not eaten for twenty-four hours. The fast fortunately had saved him the cost of two meals. Every penny saved would come in handy; he did not know how or when the money from home would arrive. Taking a shower, putting on fresh clothes, and straightening the room took but a few minutes. He packed his other pants and shirt, now dry but wrinkled, into the box that served as a suitcase and retied the string around it into a handle. Every other possession went into his pockets, including four damp dollar bills. He shoved the box into the bottom drawer of one of the two dressers, figuring it would be safe until he would come back for it.

He had an hour to spare on the way to Dean Phillip's office, and beginning to feel really hungry, he returned to the Inn Cafeteria, where he had eaten the morning before.

The bellhop from the night before, the one who had shared drinks in the suite at the Carolina Inn, worked the serving line, ladling scrambled eggs. "Hi, you feel like a lot or a little this morning?"

"I'm really hungry."

The bellhop piled the plate high then put an extra piece of toast on top. "See what you can do to this. You have a nice day."

West smiled gratefully. "Thanks, I will. You, too." He noticed the jewels on the fraternity pin showing under the open hotel jacket. He wondered how a fellow who had to work at the Inn could afford such jewelry.

Moving to the cash register, he peeled two limp one-dollar bills from the other two and extended them to the cashier, a huge red-haired matron. She accepted them with a quizzical look, left them by the register to dry, and with an indulgent smile returned eighty-three cents. He responded with a big grin, thinking he should explain but not knowing how. Instead, he took the change as nonchalantly as he could, then found a table by a window and hungrily devoured every morsel of the breakfast.

West arrived at the office precisely on time, ten o'clock, as did Dean Phillips. In a brief, friendly session they attended to preliminary registration.

"Where is your luggage?" asked the Dean.

A concern showed on West's face. "I have a suitcase." He did not add that it was Carla's and had to be back for her to use again for college in the fall. It was the same one the family used every few years to visit his grandmother in Richmond.

The dean reassured him with a smile. "That should make the move into Steele Dormitory quite easy. There is a resident upperclassman in charge of the building. I have arranged for you to be in his room. He can show you the ropes."

"When do I know what classes to take?"

"Most freshmen have a full schedule of required courses. That makes registration simple. The upperclassman I spoke of will explain when and where to register. He knows his way around. And is a real Carolina gentleman." Dean Phillips extended a warm handshake. "Don't worry. It all may seem strange now, but one survives. In fact, being in Chapel Hill will be a great adventure. You can be sure of that. In a way, I envy you folks arriving here for the first time. You see our world here with such fresh eyes."

By ten-forty-five, West had signed all the Housing paperwork. He stood before Steele. This must be home, he thought.

He entered the center section and mounted the stairs to the second of the three floors. He hesitated, to compare the number on the slip of paper in his hand with the metal digits nailed onto an open door. The two matched. He spied a nude man methodically tidying the room. West, politely trying not to look directly at him, focused on the furniture, the floor, the ceiling. He fumbled an explanation about being a new arrival assigned here.

The man held out a hand without turning from his task. He introduced himself as the center section resident upperclassman. "The name's Chuck Rutledge. If you're one of the new roomies, the other two can't be far behind. Maybe they're leaving it to this afternoon, coming at the last moment."

This person's reassuring charm helped to bridge the awkward early moments. They discussed settling in, registering, and starting classes. West studiously averted looking at Chuck for the first half-hour, until--

"Do these socks match?" Chuck asked. "They feel as if they should."

West had to stifle a gasp upon discovering the upperclassman to be blind. The movements around the room had been so sure! West struggled to keep his voice even. "The one in your right hand is plaid. That other one is solid."

"The fuck!" Chuck responded softly, as he sorted them in routine accuracy.

Just then, a familiar face peered in the doorway. "Good morning-after. I got the note."

West stumbled through the introduction of Francis to Chuck.

Francis barely responded, then turned to West and said, "Obviously, the telephone call home produced the desired result. You are here. Q. E. D."

"I didn't use your phone." West wished at once that he had not said that.

"No matter. You should have."

"Well, you had left."

"I made a horny jaunt over to the sinful city of Raleigh. You were asleep; otherwise, you could have come along. Enough for everybody. Even after the military."

To West the statement did not make sense.

Chuck, though, responded with conviction. "That bought stuff can kill--or worse."

Francis, ignoring the comment, pointed across the landing onto which four rooms and a communal bath and toilet opened. "I am there. Your very-next-door or, at least, 'cross-the-hall neighbor."

West asked, "Already moved in?"

"The old man had me moved in last week, while we were staying at the Inn en route to Myrtle Beach."

Chuck whistled. "The Inn? That's expensive."

"That's the old man's style." Francis reached into Chuck's sorting and rearranged one of the socks.

The upperclassman reacted instantly. "Keep your friggin' hands out of my gear, and they won't get broken!"

"Yes, . . . well, if I might assist--"

"When I want help, I ask for help. When I don't, I rely on myself." Chuck crossed through the doorway, across the hall, and into the toilet. From his seat, he called, "Beaufort. . . . I'll remember that name," then he farted.

Francis' bottom lip went between his teeth. West had seen his own mother bite her lip like that when she was deeply puzzled. Francis gnawed thoughtfully and scanned the room. He spied the neatly-arranged shaving articles on the dresser nearer the door. "His?" he asked. When West nodded, Francis gingerly, quietly rearranged each one. Then he turned. "I won't be here for the first week. Let me see your schedule."

Still awed by the rearrangement on Chuck's dresser, West offered a copy of his class schedule.

"Right on target. We have three classes together. You take notes and buy two sets of books. I'll pay you when I get back."

West suffered a sharp, deep pang of poverty. "I may not have enough change. I don't know what they'll cost." He remembered the two nearly-dry dollars and eighty-three cents in his pocket.

"Oh? Well, here, then." Francis withdrew a hundred-dollar bill from his wallet. "This will cover them. Keep the receipts; the old man does something with them at tax time."

"Okay." West nervously accepted the money.

"I'll be back for the second week. The first days were somewhat routine at prep school, boring. I'm going to our place in the mountains near Gatlinburg."

"Is your father there?"

"Mother is. The mountains are hers; the beach, his. They don't see each other much, which keeps them both happy." He leaned to whisper, "I can get Housing to shift you over to my room and send one of my roommates over here. That character hardly appears to be profitable company."

"No, thanks all the same, but my records show this room number. I'd better stay put. They squeezed me in at the last minute, anyway, and I don't want to cause them any trouble."

"The least concern to me is trouble. That is always somebody else's worry." He headed for the doorway. "You take care of everything for me this first week, and I'll take care of you after. Good-bye. I have to go purchase some black market gas coupons. I'm almost out of them."

West barely had had enough time to realign the articles when Chuck returned and went directly to the dresser.

A swift hand investigated, discovered, and confirmed the upperclassman's suspicion. "So, he did mess around with my stuff. I just may have to twist his prick into a pretzel to teach him proper manners."

"I thought I'd put everything back in place."

"Thanks for the thought, but you, too, should lay off other people's business. And, for God's sake, don't go covering for a half-assed snot like Beaufort. I heard his father over there last week ordering the guys around; they must have moved in enough to supply a hotel. Both he and his old man are the kind who equates money with power and abuses both."

"You don't like Francis because of his father?"

"I don't like people who parade their money. His father chewed ass all the time the guys were moving in the stuff. Then he over-tipped--as if that made it all okay. Some students can't pay their bills without odd jobs like that. They shouldn't have to take crap, but they did, only because the old man came on so strong and scattered five-dollar bills around like confetti."

West remembered Francis' over-tipping the bellhop. Still, he said, "Maybe Francis isn't like that."

"Look, if I can't size people up in a minute or two, I may have to pay a pretty huge price. It's a simple fuckin' fact that some folks exploit other folks. And a footnote to that is that they exploit anybody like me quicker because they think they can get away with it. I am, of necessity, a fast, competent judge of character. I like you. I don't like him."

"Well, he won't be around the first week of the term. He's gone to Gatlinburg to visit his mom."

"The whole week?"

"I'm going to get his books for him and take notes. We have three classes together."

Chuck pulled in air between his teeth. He touched his glass eye. "West, my boy, you are lucky to be here where I can keep an eye over you. You have a lot to learn."

Brilliant sunshine through the window created a slanted tic-tac-toe pattern across the bed and wakened West. He hastened to look out on Chapel Hill's greenery and buildings, squeegeed clean by the night's rain and highlighted by the early, warm sun. The sky gave no hint of the storm last night. The place looked glorious. He hummed "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" and meant it.

A gigantic appetite jogged his awareness that he had not eaten for twenty-four hours. The fast fortunately had saved him the cost of two meals. Every penny saved would come in handy; he did not know how or when the money from home would arrive. Taking a shower, putting on fresh clothes, and straightening the room took but a few minutes. He packed his other pants and shirt, now dry but wrinkled, into the box that served as a suitcase and retied the string around it into a handle. Every other possession went into his pockets, including four damp dollar bills. He shoved the box into the bottom drawer of one of the two dressers, figuring it would be safe until he would come back for it.

He had an hour to spare on the way to Dean Phillip's office, and beginning to feel really hungry, he returned to the Inn Cafeteria, where he had eaten the morning before.

The bellhop from the night before, the one who had shared drinks in the suite at the Carolina Inn, worked the serving line, ladling scrambled eggs. "Hi, you feel like a lot or a little this morning?"

"I'm really hungry."

The bellhop piled the plate high then put an extra piece of toast on top. "See what you can do to this. You have a nice day."

West smiled gratefully. "Thanks, I will. You, too." He noticed the jewels on the fraternity pin showing under the open hotel jacket. He wondered how a fellow who had to work at the Inn could afford such jewelry.

Moving to the cash register, he peeled two limp one-dollar bills from the other two and extended them to the cashier, a huge red-haired matron. She accepted them with a quizzical look, left them by the register to dry, and with an indulgent smile returned eighty-three cents. He responded with a big grin, thinking he should explain but not knowing how. Instead, he took the change as nonchalantly as he could, then found a table by a window and hungrily devoured every morsel of the breakfast.

West arrived at the office precisely on time, ten o'clock, as did Dean Phillips. In a brief, friendly session they attended to preliminary registration.

"Where is your luggage?" asked the Dean.

A concern showed on West's face. "I have a suitcase." He did not add that it was Carla's and had to be back for her to use again for college in the fall. It was the same one the family used every few years to visit his grandmother in Richmond.

The dean reassured him with a smile. "That should make the move into Steele Dormitory quite easy. There is a resident upperclassman in charge of the building. I have arranged for you to be in his room. He can show you the ropes."

"When do I know what classes to take?"

"Most freshmen have a full schedule of required courses. That makes registration simple. The upperclassman I spoke of will explain when and where to register. He knows his way around. And is a real Carolina gentleman." Dean Phillips extended a warm handshake. "Don't worry. It all may seem strange now, but one survives. In fact, being in Chapel Hill will be a great adventure. You can be sure of that. In a way, I envy you folks arriving here for the first time. You see our world here with such fresh eyes."

By ten-forty-five, West had signed all the Housing paperwork. He stood before Steele. This must be home, he thought.

He entered the center section and mounted the stairs to the second of the three floors. He hesitated, to compare the number on the slip of paper in his hand with the metal digits nailed onto an open door. The two matched. He spied a nude man methodically tidying the room. West, politely trying not to look directly at him, focused on the furniture, the floor, the ceiling. He fumbled an explanation about being a new arrival assigned here.

The man held out a hand without turning from his task. He introduced himself as the center section resident upperclassman. "The name's Chuck Rutledge. If you're one of the new roomies, the other two can't be far behind. Maybe they're leaving it to this afternoon, coming at the last moment."

This person's reassuring charm helped to bridge the awkward early moments. They discussed settling in, registering, and starting classes. West studiously averted looking at Chuck for the first half-hour, until--

"Do these socks match?" Chuck asked. "They feel as if they should."

West had to stifle a gasp upon discovering the upperclassman to be blind. The movements around the room had been so sure! West struggled to keep his voice even. "The one in your right hand is plaid. That other one is solid."

"The fuck!" Chuck responded softly, as he sorted them in routine accuracy.

Just then, a familiar face peered in the doorway. "Good morning-after. I got the note."

West stumbled through the introduction of Francis to Chuck.

Francis barely responded, then turned to West and said, "Obviously, the telephone call home produced the desired result. You are here. Q. E. D."

"I didn't use your phone." West wished at once that he had not said that.

"No matter. You should have."

"Well, you had left."

"I made a horny jaunt over to the sinful city of Raleigh. You were asleep; otherwise, you could have come along. Enough for everybody. Even after the military."

To West the statement did not make sense.

Chuck, though, responded with conviction. "That bought stuff can kill--or worse."

Francis, ignoring the comment, pointed across the landing onto which four rooms and a communal bath and toilet opened. "I am there. Your very-next-door or, at least, 'cross-the-hall neighbor."

West asked, "Already moved in?"

"The old man had me moved in last week, while we were staying at the Inn en route to Myrtle Beach."

Chuck whistled. "The Inn? That's expensive."

"That's the old man's style." Francis reached into Chuck's sorting and rearranged one of the socks.

The upperclassman reacted instantly. "Keep your friggin' hands out of my gear, and they won't get broken!"

"Yes, . . . well, if I might assist--"

"When I want help, I ask for help. When I don't, I rely on myself." Chuck crossed through the doorway, across the hall, and into the toilet. From his seat, he called, "Beaufort. . . . I'll remember that name," then he farted.

Francis' bottom lip went between his teeth. West had seen his own mother bite her lip like that when she was deeply puzzled. Francis gnawed thoughtfully and scanned the room. He spied the neatly-arranged shaving articles on the dresser nearer the door. "His?" he asked. When West nodded, Francis gingerly, quietly rearranged each one. Then he turned. "I won't be here for the first week. Let me see your schedule."

Still awed by the rearrangement on Chuck's dresser, West offered a copy of his class schedule.

"Right on target. We have three classes together. You take notes and buy two sets of books. I'll pay you when I get back."

West suffered a sharp, deep pang of poverty. "I may not have enough change. I don't know what they'll cost." He remembered the two nearly-dry dollars and eighty-three cents in his pocket.

"Oh? Well, here, then." Francis withdrew a hundred-dollar bill from his wallet. "This will cover them. Keep the receipts; the old man does something with them at tax time."

"Okay." West nervously accepted the money.

"I'll be back for the second week. The first days were somewhat routine at prep school, boring. I'm going to our place in the mountains near Gatlinburg."

"Is your father there?"

"Mother is. The mountains are hers; the beach, his. They don't see each other much, which keeps them both happy." He leaned to whisper, "I can get Housing to shift you over to my room and send one of my roommates over here. That character hardly appears to be profitable company."

"No, thanks all the same, but my records show this room number. I'd better stay put. They squeezed me in at the last minute, anyway, and I don't want to cause them any trouble."

"The least concern to me is trouble. That is always somebody else's worry." He headed for the doorway. "You take care of everything for me this first week, and I'll take care of you after. Good-bye. I have to go purchase some black market gas coupons. I'm almost out of them."

West barely had had enough time to realign the articles when Chuck returned and went directly to the dresser.

A swift hand investigated, discovered, and confirmed the upperclassman's suspicion. "So, he did mess around with my stuff. I just may have to twist his prick into a pretzel to teach him proper manners."

"I thought I'd put everything back in place."

"Thanks for the thought, but you, too, should lay off other people's business. And, for God's sake, don't go covering for a half-assed snot like Beaufort. I heard his father over there last week ordering the guys around; they must have moved in enough to supply a hotel. Both he and his old man are the kind who equates money with power and abuses both."

"You don't like Francis because of his father?"

"I don't like people who parade their money. His father chewed ass all the time the guys were moving in the stuff. Then he over-tipped--as if that made it all okay. Some students can't pay their bills without odd jobs like that. They shouldn't have to take crap, but they did, only because the old man came on so strong and scattered five-dollar bills around like confetti."

West remembered Francis' over-tipping the bellhop. Still, he said, "Maybe Francis isn't like that."

"Look, if I can't size people up in a minute or two, I may have to pay a pretty huge price. It's a simple fuckin' fact that some folks exploit other folks. And a footnote to that is that they exploit anybody like me quicker because they think they can get away with it. I am, of necessity, a fast, competent judge of character. I like you. I don't like him."

"Well, he won't be around the first week of the term. He's gone to Gatlinburg to visit his mom."

"The whole week?"

"I'm going to get his books for him and take notes. We have three classes together."

Chuck pulled in air between his teeth. He touched his glass eye. "West, my boy, you are lucky to be here where I can keep an eye over you. You have a lot to learn."

Brilliant sunshine through the window created a slanted tic-tac-toe pattern across the bed and wakened West. He hastened to look out on Chapel Hill's greenery and buildings, squeegeed clean by the night's rain and highlighted by the early, warm sun. The sky gave no hint of the storm last night. The place looked glorious. He hummed "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" and meant it.

A gigantic appetite jogged his awareness that he had not eaten for twenty-four hours. The fast fortunately had saved him the cost of two meals. Every penny saved would come in handy; he did not know how or when the money from home would arrive. Taking a shower, putting on fresh clothes, and straightening the room took but a few minutes. He packed his other pants and shirt, now dry but wrinkled, into the box that served as a suitcase and retied the string around it into a handle. Every other possession went into his pockets, including four damp dollar bills. He shoved the box into the bottom drawer of one of the two dressers, figuring it would be safe until he would come back for it.

He had an hour to spare on the way to Dean Phillip's office, and beginning to feel really hungry, he returned to the Inn Cafeteria, where he had eaten the morning before.

The bellhop from the night before, the one who had shared drinks in the suite at the Carolina Inn, worked the serving line, ladling scrambled eggs. "Hi, you feel like a lot or a little this morning?"

"I'm really hungry."

The bellhop piled the plate high then put an extra piece of toast on top. "See what you can do to this. You have a nice day."

West smiled gratefully. "Thanks, I will. You, too." He noticed the jewels on the fraternity pin showing under the open hotel jacket. He wondered how a fellow who had to work at the Inn could afford such jewelry.

Moving to the cash register, he peeled two limp one-dollar bills from the other two and extended them to the cashier, a huge red-haired matron. She accepted them with a quizzical look, left them by the register to dry, and with an indulgent smile returned eighty-three cents. He responded with a big grin, thinking he should explain but not knowing how. Instead, he took the change as nonchalantly as he could, then found a table by a window and hungrily devoured every morsel of the breakfast.

West arrived at the office precisely on time, ten o'clock, as did Dean Phillips. In a brief, friendly session they attended to preliminary registration.

"Where is your luggage?" asked the Dean.

A concern showed on West's face. "I have a suitcase." He did not add that it was Carla's and had to be back for her to use again for college in the fall. It was the same one the family used every few years to visit his grandmother in Richmond.

The dean reassured him with a smile. "That should make the move into Steele Dormitory quite easy. There is a resident upperclassman in charge of the building. I have arranged for you to be in his room. He can show you the ropes."

"When do I know what classes to take?"

"Most freshmen have a full schedule of required courses. That makes registration simple. The upperclassman I spoke of will explain when and where to register. He knows his way around. And is a real Carolina gentleman." Dean Phillips extended a warm handshake. "Don't worry. It all may seem strange now, but one survives. In fact, being in Chapel Hill will be a great adventure. You can be sure of that. In a way, I envy you folks arriving here for the first time. You see our world here with such fresh eyes."

By ten-forty-five, West had signed all the Housing paperwork. He stood before Steele. This must be home, he thought.

He entered the center section and mounted the stairs to the second of the three floors. He hesitated, to compare the number on the slip of paper in his hand with the metal digits nailed onto an open door. The two matched. He spied a nude man methodically tidying the room. West, politely trying not to look directly at him, focused on the furniture, the floor, the ceiling. He fumbled an explanation about being a new arrival assigned here.

The man held out a hand without turning from his task. He introduced himself as the center section resident upperclassman. "The name's Chuck Rutledge. If you're one of the new roomies, the other two can't be far behind. Maybe they're leaving it to this afternoon, coming at the last moment."

This person's reassuring charm helped to bridge the awkward early moments. They discussed settling in, registering, and starting classes. West studiously averted looking at Chuck for the first half-hour, until--

"Do these socks match?" Chuck asked. "They feel as if they should."

West had to stifle a gasp upon discovering the upperclassman to be blind. The movements around the room had been so sure! West struggled to keep his voice even. "The one in your right hand is plaid. That other one is solid."

"The fuck!" Chuck responded softly, as he sorted them in routine accuracy.

Just then, a familiar face peered in the doorway. "Good morning-after. I got the note."

West stumbled through the introduction of Francis to Chuck.

Francis barely responded, then turned to West and said, "Obviously, the telephone call home produced the desired result. You are here. Q. E. D."

"I didn't use your phone." West wished at once that he had not said that.

"No matter. You should have."

"Well, you had left."

"I made a horny jaunt over to the sinful city of Raleigh. You were asleep; otherwise, you could have come along. Enough for everybody. Even after the military."

To West the statement did not make sense.

Chuck, though, responded with conviction. "That bought stuff can kill--or worse."

Francis, ignoring the comment, pointed across the landing onto which four rooms and a communal bath and toilet opened. "I am there. Your very-next-door or, at least, 'cross-the-hall neighbor."

West asked, "Already moved in?"

"The old man had me moved in last week, while we were staying at the Inn en route to Myrtle Beach."

Chuck whistled. "The Inn? That's expensive."

"That's the old man's style." Francis reached into Chuck's sorting and rearranged one of the socks.

The upperclassman reacted instantly. "Keep your friggin' hands out of my gear, and they won't get broken!"

"Yes, . . . well, if I might assist--"

"When I want help, I ask for help. When I don't, I rely on myself." Chuck crossed through the doorway, across the hall, and into the toilet. From his seat, he called, "Beaufort. . . . I'll remember that name," then he farted.

Francis' bottom lip went between his teeth. West had seen his own mother bite her lip like that when she was deeply puzzled. Francis gnawed thoughtfully and scanned the room. He spied the neatly-arranged shaving articles on the dresser nearer the door. "His?" he asked. When West nodded, Francis gingerly, quietly rearranged each one. Then he turned. "I won't be here for the first week. Let me see your schedule."

Still awed by the rearrangement on Chuck's dresser, West offered a copy of his class schedule.

"Right on target. We have three classes together. You take notes and buy two sets of books. I'll pay you when I get back."

West suffered a sharp, deep pang of poverty. "I may not have enough change. I don't know what they'll cost." He remembered the two nearly-dry dollars and eighty-three cents in his pocket.

"Oh? Well, here, then." Francis withdrew a hundred-dollar bill from his wallet. "This will cover them. Keep the receipts; the old man does something with them at tax time."

"Okay." West nervously accepted the money.

"I'll be back for the second week. The first days were somewhat routine at prep school, boring. I'm going to our place in the mountains near Gatlinburg."

"Is your father there?"

"Mother is. The mountains are hers; the beach, his. They don't see each other much, which keeps them both happy." He leaned to whisper, "I can get Housing to shift you over to my room and send one of my roommates over here. That character hardly appears to be profitable company."

"No, thanks all the same, but my records show this room number. I'd better stay put. They squeezed me in at the last minute, anyway, and I don't want to cause them any trouble."

"The least concern to me is trouble. That is always somebody else's worry." He headed for the doorway. "You take care of everything for me this first week, and I'll take care of you after. Good-bye. I have to go purchase some black market gas coupons. I'm almost out of them."

West barely had had enough time to realign the articles when Chuck returned and went directly to the dresser.

A swift hand investigated, discovered, and confirmed the upperclassman's suspicion. "So, he did mess around with my stuff. I just may have to twist his prick into a pretzel to teach him proper manners."

"I thought I'd put everything back in place."

"Thanks for the thought, but you, too, should lay off other people's business. And, for God's sake, don't go covering for a half-assed snot like Beaufort. I heard his father over there last week ordering the guys around; they must have moved in enough to supply a hotel. Both he and his old man are the kind who equates money with power and abuses both."

"You don't like Francis because of his father?"

"I don't like people who parade their money. His father chewed ass all the time the guys were moving in the stuff. Then he over-tipped--as if that made it all okay. Some students can't pay their bills without odd jobs like that. They shouldn't have to take crap, but they did, only because the old man came on so strong and scattered five-dollar bills around like confetti."

West remembered Francis' over-tipping the bellhop. Still, he said, "Maybe Francis isn't like that."

"Look, if I can't size people up in a minute or two, I may have to pay a pretty huge price. It's a simple fuckin' fact that some folks exploit other folks. And a footnote to that is that they exploit anybody like me quicker because they think they can get away with it. I am, of necessity, a fast, competent judge of character. I like you. I don't like him."

"Well, he won't be around the first week of the term. He's gone to Gatlinburg to visit his mom."

"The whole week?"

"I'm going to get his books for him and take notes. We have three classes together."

Chuck pulled in air between his teeth. He touched his glass eye. "West, my boy, you are lucky to be here where I can keep an eye over you. You have a lot to learn."

You can go to Chapter 3.

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