In Which A Chair Is Overturned
As soon as I stood up to go in, I felt like I’d made a serious mistake. My legs were a little bit weak from my little sanctity allergy, and my stomach was roiling. Had I overdone it with the doughnut? I’d barely touched it… so I think I probably would have been okay, but spending too long around a strong religious symbol always makes my stomach churn.
I had to let Puddy steady me on my way back inside. She lead us over to a pair of chairs in the TV area. All the R.A.s for Harlowe Hall were standing in the front of the big TV set, along with an older woman who had to be the dean of non-human students. I noted kind of blandly that she looked perfectly human. Of course, I knew very well that didn’t mean anything, but I was guessing she was exactly what she appeared to be. The woman who’d so reluctantly processed me at check-in, Gwen Rodrigues, introduced herself as the senior R.A. for the hall, and then introduced Dean Anita Halverson, who gave the gracious little bow of overweight arthritic old ladies and told us that she hoped to be seeing a lot of us in the coming months.
“And, I hope everyone enjoyed our little breakfast get-together,” Dean Halverson said. “Just as I hope you’ll come back here for lunch, when I think you’ll be having… yes, cold cuts and croissants… and then tonight there’ll be pizza and movies. Then, of course, tomorrow we’ll mix it up a little… Gwendolyn has the details on that, I’ll let her give them in a moment.”
“There’s gonna be free food all weekend, then?” one of the guys asked.
“All weekend? Why, you might say that… Harlowe Hall residents can actually take advantage of in-house catering for the entire term,” the dean said.
There were murmurs of surprise and question at this. Gwen interpreted the most common and relevant query from the general babble.
“No, no points will be used up from your meal plan if you choose to avail yourself of this little Harlowe Hall perk,” she said.
“In fact,” Dean Halverson added quickly, “as long as we’re still within the first two weeks of term, you can still make changes to your meal plan options, if you wanted to reduce your plan level… or say, eliminate it for a full refund. That is, if you don’t think it’s likely you’ll be using it.”
The Leighton twins both started asking a question at the same time. I think it was the same question, but phrased differently, so that it came out completely unintelligibly. Or maybe I was just having a hard time focusing. My stomach was still acting up… in fact, was getting worse, with all the talk about meals.
“One at a time, please,” Gwen said.
“We just… well, we were told that meal plans were mandatory for students living on campus,” Sara (I think it was Sara) said.
“In most cases, yes,” the dean said with what seemed like unnecessary carefulness. “But special exemptions have been made for Harlowe Hall… that’s just one of the perks our NHS program has to offer. As part of our commitment to multiculturalism, we’ve made every effort to make sure you all feel comfortable within your own hall,” she said. “Why, just upstairs, we have summoning rooms, spell labs, and a ball room that are the equal of any on campus.”
A lot of the students chattered with interest at that. It sounded handy. Of course, some people don’t know any way to look at a gift horse but the one.
“Equal?” Celia asked. I wasn’t looking at her, but I swear I could actually hear her stare at the dean with those intense eyes.
“Yes, absolutely the equal,” the dean replied. “We worked very hard to ensure that, believe me.”
Courage of conviction and strength of sincerity filled her voice, but she was defending from the wrong direction entirely.
“Then… what’s the point of them?” Celia asked. “Why wouldn’t we just go use the main labs?”
“Well, these are more convenient,” Gwen said. “So you don’t have to walk all the way across campus, you know… you can just come down stairs instead.”
While this had been going on, I’d been fighting a valiant struggle with my breakfast, and this back-and-forth crap between Celia’s insistent sibilant snarling and the wheedling tone of the college officials wasn’t helping. I already knew I’d ultimately lose the war. I didn’t want to miss anything important, but if Celia was going to derail this meeting with a paranoid snit, I saw no reason to draw things out.
I stood up. I was trying to be unobtrusive, because all I really wanted was to get out and get to a bathroom before I cemented my reputation as a spastic freak for all time, but I underestimated both my haste and general wobbliness, because I knocked my chair over. It wasn’t a crappy folding chair, either. It was a crappy stuffed arm chair. I think one of the back legs must have been broken, but to all outward appearances, it seemed the sort of chair you really had to want to knock over.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention up to this point, you could probably guess that there’s one thing that can make my stomach turn over under the best circumstances: public attention.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” I croaked as I turned to go. I did not want to leave the dean of non-human students and the entire staff of my dorm thinking I was disrupting their assembly on purpose… but of course, I said it much too quietly.
“Excuse me?” Halverson said in a dangerously sweet voice that froze me to the spot. “I don’t believe we heard you up here. You’re going to have to speak up, dear.”
“I said, I’m going to be sick,” I repeated. I tried to compensate a bit for my reluctant voice… and almost shouted.
“Yeah, me, too!” Celia said. “Can you believe this shit? ‘Equal facilities,’ she says. Well, we’ve heard that before… ‘separate but equal,’ right?”
“Now, there’s no reason for that tone, ladies… nobody’s saying you can’t use any facility on campus that you choose,” the dean said in the same unpleasantly pleasant voice. “They are just here for your convenience, and, to be honest, some of our non-human students who have been here longer than you have said they’re not fully comfortable working surrounded by humans, outside of direct classroom supervision.”
I had just enough attention to spare from my biological damage control effort to note what she was saying in an abstract tone and wonder who else besides Celia she meant when she said “ladies.” She couldn’t be talking to me, could she? She couldn’t think I was in with Celia?
“So instead of finding out what humans are doing to make them uncomfortable and fixing it, you just stuck them back here, huh?” Celia said.
“I wouldn’t characterize it that way at all,” the dean said. “I’m sure that isn’t how you see it, is it? Is it?”
After the second, more insistent “is it?”, I realized that yes, she was addressing me. Shit.
“No,” I said. I tried to explain. “I mean… I just… I really think it was a mistake for me to have eaten that doughnut, you know?” I tried for a light-hearted grin. I have no idea what I succeeded in, but Celia found it more reassuring than Dean Halverson did.
“Hey, yeah, yeah… pinky’s actually got a point,” Celia said. “Why did we sit here eating our doughnuts in the basement like good little monsters, when the rest of the campus was eating a hot breakfast over in the cafeteria? And now they want us to cash in our meal plans so we’ve got no choice… no chance of freaking out the normals who are trying to enjoy a meal. Might make everybody lose their lunch.”
Oh, for the love of… did she have to mention that?
“Now you’re just being ridiculous! You two are seriously out of order,” the senior R.A. said. “Sit down, right now, and let our dean explain what she meant without any interruptions. I promise any and all concerns you may have will be met, but only if we can keep this gathering orderly.”
Celia froze in indecision. Looking back, I think her mind was trying to spot the trap, or maybe figure out if any part of it wasn’t a trap. That’s just how her mind worked.
Me, I was already in the trap, and it was a stupid one of my own making. I knew I needed to explain myself. I couldn’t just leave. I wanted to say “I’m sorry, I’m not feeling well.” or “I have to get out of here.” or even “I have to get to the bathroom before I puke and embarrass myself,” which would have been embarrassing to say, but not as much as actually doing it.
Somehow, in struggling to force my stomach back down my throat and get out while also speaking clearly in front of a whole room of people, my first two choices merged into one and what came out of my mouth was “I’m… out of here.” I knew that wasn’t the best thing to say in the circumstances, but at that moment I counted it head and shoulders above what really wanted to come out, and my legs were already carrying me out of the lounge.
Of course, if I’d known about the bathroom that was right around the corner from the administrative desk, I could have avoided a lot of problems later, because the dean and house head would have seen where I was going and could have drawn a more accurate conclusion.
Isn’t hindsight wonderful? Isn’t it just like the most greatest thing, ever?
But I was running on instinct and all I knew was that, on my floor of the hall, there was a bathroom right off of the girls’ stairwell, so it was to the stairs that I headed, counting on one being in the same place on the first floor. I was right; exactly one thing went my way.
Throwing up what amounts to less than one mouthful of food doesn’t take long, but my abdominal muscles felt the need to make all that build-up count for something and kept me on the cold tile, heaving uselessly again and again.
While I was still learning fun new facts about the limits of a mostly-human digestive system that didn’t tolerate much human food, Kiersta had been dispatched to follow me, presuming I’d gone up to my room. When she didn’t see me on the stairwell or find me anywhere on our floor, she naturally concluded I’d stormed off out into the campus somewhere. Celia, meanwhile, had stomped out the front door, cursing up a storm. I’m sure that’s what she’d really wanted to do all along, but she’d made sure she wasn’t the only (or first) person to do so.
I found out about Kiersta’s ill-fated pursuit and Celia’s exit scene from Puddy, of course, who also told me that while Celia had been far more dramatic, I was getting all the credit for instigating it.
By the time Puddy found me later, still sitting in a first floor stall and trying to figure out whether to try to apologize to Halverson or just pack my shit up and leave, she told me she reckoned I could already count on a minimum of eight out of the twenty four votes for student senate. I figured she was exaggerating, but I begged her not to nominate me, anyway.
She smiled when she promised not to. Something else for the stack of things I found out later: six people had already nominated me.