I did not like to admit it, because it felt like I had no chance, but the truth was that I had a crush on an older woman. Megan McCauley was a junior, a year and three days older than me. Last year she was a resident advisor in a dorm near the one where I lived. Amy, one of the RAs in my building, introduced me to Megan one night at dinner when we were all sitting at the same table. After that, I just started saying hi and being friendly when I saw her around. Megan was really nice, and friendly, and cute, not in the glamorous supermodel way, but in her own way I could not explain. Then again, I was a little girl crazy; I found most girls physically attractive.
Megan had stayed in touch for part of the summer; she was in Jeromeville taking summer classes. We wrote emails for a while, but her work load got in the way eventually. Now summer school was over, fall classes started in a few days, and earlier this week, Megan emailed me for the first time in a month. She invited me to meet her for lunch today, so we could catch up. I had been sitting around the apartment all morning, reading, doing dishes, and trying not to be too nervous.
I left my apartment at 11:36 and rode my bike to campus along the same route that I used the day before, when I bought books and looked for part-time on-campus work. I headed down Andrews Road for about a mile to the North Residential Area, then east to the Memorial Union. I turned on East Quad Avenue to the Student Employment Center in the basement of Old North Hall, where I dropped off two job applications, one to work as a tutor and one to work in the bookstore.
I then returned the way I came and parked at the bike rack outside of Raymond Hall. The North Residential Area had two sections, four high-rise buildings to the west, and seven smaller buildings to the east. These smaller buildings only had bedrooms and bathrooms, no common room or study room. Raymond Hall contained a study room, a lounge with a television, a computer lab, and mailboxes, intended for use by residents of all seven buildings. Behind Raymond, five of the buildings faced a lawn with concrete paths leading to each building’s main entrance. Another path led past the building on the east side of the lawn to two more dorms behind it.
The twelve three-story buildings of the South Area, where I lived last year, were all identical, except that some were mirror images of the others. But these seven dorms where I was today were not identical. Three of them had two stories, and the other four had three stories with fewer rooms on each story. Despite having different floor plans, all of the buildings were painted in identical colors, a golden mustard color with brown trim.
Megan was the RA for Carter Hall. I had been inside Carter once, a long time ago, and I did not remember which building it was specifically. I could see the name on the three-story building straight across the lawn from me: Ryan Hall. Last year, a student who lived in Ryan named Raphael Stevens painted a mural next to his room, two hands of different skin colors gently holding Earth, a message of peace and unity. I have never seen this mural up close, only in pictures, and it had nothing to do with my lunch plans with Megan today. But I would meet Raphael later that school year, and he knows about my writing now, so I mention him now just to say hi to an old friend. As of 2017, the mural was still there; Raphael’s freshman year roommate, whom I would meet later this school year and stay in touch with, visited Jeromeville with his family in 2017 and shared a picture of the mural on Facebook. At that time, I had not communicated with Raphael in many years, and the comments on that picture were how I got back in touch with him.
I looked for a name on the building to the left of Ryan; this was Carter Hall. I had no access to the building, and I could not knock on Megan’s window because I did not know which one was hers. I could not call or text Megan and tell her I was here, because this was 1995 and texting did not exist, and only drug dealers and ostentatiously wealthy people had cell phones. So I figured I would wait by the front door until I saw someone inside, and then knock. I was a little early, but Megan knew I was coming, so she would probably come find me.
I saw Megan walk into the lobby about a minute later. When she saw me, she smiled and waved and walked over to open the door for me. “Hey, Greg!” she said, approaching me to give me a hug. She wore a black t-shirt that said “HEAVY METAL” in writing that resembled a rock band logo; below HEAVY METAL were pictures of gold, lead, platinum, mercury, tungsten, and uranium, and each heavy metal’s atomic mass and atomic number. Chemical engineering humor. Very nice. Her short jean shorts and Birkenstocks gave me a great view of her legs, but I made a point not to stare. Her dark blonde hair had grown back quite a bit since she cut it spiky and dyed it green last winter. It was shorter than it was when we first met, but there was no longer any trace of green.
“Hi,” I replied as I put my arms around Megan. I could feel my pulse quicken a little as our bodies pressed together for a few seconds. “That’s a funny shirt,” I said after we let go of each other.
“Thanks! You can put your backpack in my room,” Megan said, motioning toward the hallway. She walked to her room, the first room to the right of the lobby, and I followed her. A sign on the door said “Megan,” written in large letters in marker on construction paper. A sign on Megan’s door had helpful phone numbers for various student services. This was probably something that all resident advisors had on their doors.
“Where should I put my backpack?” I asked.
“Anywhere,” Megan said. I put it on the floor against the wall at the foot of the bed. Her bed was adjusted to the highest level possible without the extra piece needed for a loft or bunk bed; her chest of drawers was under the bed, along with a miniature refrigerator. I was not sure if the refrigerator was her own personal property or an RA privilege; I just knew that it was not standard issue for all dorm residents.
“I’ve been in this building before,” I explained. “A long time ago. Senior year of high school, I was invited to a presentation about the Interdisciplinary Honors Program, and that year’s IHP students lived in Carter. They showed us what the dorm looked like.”
“That’s right. This was the IHP building for a while, but the IHP your year had so many students that they needed a bigger building. Amy was supposed to be the RA for Carter last year, but when the IHP moved to Building C, they moved her with it because she had been in IHP the year before.”
“That makes sense.”
“You ready to eat?”
Megan and I left Carter Hall together, walking past Raymond Hall and the bike rack where I parked, around to the high-rises. “What are you up to the rest of the day?” I asked.
“I have a meeting with other RAs at 2,” she said. “And I’m hosting a meeting with my residents at 7 tonight.”
“I’m not doing anything,” I said. We passed two of the high-rises and walked toward a small building easily accessible from all four high-rises; this was the North Dining Commons. It was a one-story building, unlike the South Dining Commons where I ate last year. The South Dining Commons also included the mail room, game room, study room, and computer lab, but in the North Area, these services were in different buildings.
Megan scanned her card, using one of her monthly allotment of guest meals for me. We sat down a minute later; I had a chicken sandwich, and Megan had a salad. “So what classes are you taking this quarter?” Megan asked.
“Math 22A, Math 90, Chem 2C, Physics 9B, and bowling.”
“Bowling! That’ll be fun! Do you bowl?”
“Not very well. I signed up for the class in order to have enough units to be full time, in case I didn’t get into everything. But after I did get into everything, I decided to keep it. It looks fun, and I always liked bowling.”
“Yeah! Is it at the bowling alley in the MU?”
“You said Chem 2C also? Do you need chemistry for a math major?”
“I don’t. But I didn’t decide for sure on math for my major until I was halfway through 2B, and I like chemistry, so I just figured I’d finish the 2 series.”
“That makes sense.”
“Oh. And I also applied at the Learning Skills Center to be a tutor. And I applied to work at the bookstore. I haven’t heard back from either of those yet; I just dropped off the applications this morning. If I get both jobs, I’m probably only going to keep one.”
“That would be cool. I could see you being a tutor.”
“Yeah. In high school, my friends always came to me when they needed help with homework.”
“Are you going to be a teacher? Is that your career goal?”
“I don’t know what my goal is,” I said. “But I don’t think I would like being a teacher. Too much politics in education.”
“Yeah. It’s too bad it has to be like that.”
“I just kind of assumed I’d stay in school forever and be a mathematician someday. School is what I’m good at. But I don’t know.”
“You don’t have to have it all figured out right now.”
“I know. But it would be nice to figure it out, so I can make some long term plans with classes.”
“The worst that can happen is you’ll have to stay here a fifth year. And that means another year with your friends, doing what you’re good at.”
“I guess. That’s one way to look at it.”
“I’ve accepted the fact by now that I won’t be able to finish a chemical engineering degree in four years.”
“Yeah. I’ve heard it’s a lot of work.”
“One of the most intense majors at UJ,” Megan replied.
“What are you taking this quarter?” I asked.
“P-chem, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and writing for engineers. It’s going to be a lot of work. And I have all my RA responsibilities too. That’s another reason I won’t finish in four. I can’t take a ton of units each quarter because I need time to do RA stuff.”
“You seem to have it figured out, though,” I said.
“Yeah, we’ll see,” Megan replied, chuckling. “So did you do anything else the rest of the summer? Did you go to any more of those roller hockey games?”
“I did. The Mountain Lions won the roller hockey championship this year. I went to some of the home playoff games with my family.”
“That sounds like fun! I didn’t even know there was professional roller hockey.”
“It is fun. And the rules are a little different, so that they score more goals than in regular hockey. I mean ice hockey.”
“I didn’t do much else. The bookstore job. And, oh yeah, my friend from high school, she was an exchange student in Austria for a year, she got some of her friends from Austria to come here for a couple weeks and do a performance.”
“Nice. How was that?”
“They were really good. I don’t know a whole lot about classical music, but I enjoyed it.”
“What about you?” I asked. “How was the rest of your summer?”
“Busy. Mostly just school. My classes were really, really hard!”
“But it’s over now.”
“Yes, it is. The only really fun thing I did in the last few weeks was when it was my friend’s birthday. She and I and two other friends took a road trip up to the Great Blue Lake. We drove a lap around the lake, ate at a McDonald’s there, then turned around and went home.”
“All that way for McDonald’s,” I said. The idea of driving over a hundred miles just for McDonald’s seemed a little unusual to me. But in addition to that, I was also surprised for another reason. McDonald’s was not exactly fine dining, and many of the people I had met here in Jeromeville seemed to be the type to think that eating McDonald’s was beneath them. But it was also a bit of a relief that Megan liked McDonald’s, or at least was willing to eat there, because I grew up eating a lot of fast food, and I loved McDonald’s. I suspected, though, that McDonald’s was not the main point of Megan’s story. “But I’m sure a trip like that was more about your friends than the food,” I said.
“Exactly. I’ve done stuff like that with these friends before. We’ll just take a random road trip somewhere, and then turn around and come back.”
“Nice,” I replied. A random road trip did sound fun. As a road geek, I enjoyed exploring new places. And I had never been to the Great Blue Lake. It was one of the top vacation spots in this part of the country, but most of its tourism appeal involved skiing, camping, and other outdoor activities that my family did not participate in.
After a while, when both of us had been done eating for several minutes, Megan asked, “You ready to go back?”
“Sure,” I replied. We took our plates and silverware to the conveyor belt that sent dirty dishes back to the kitchen, then left the dining hall and walked back toward Megan’s dorm. I looked at my watch; it was 1:04.
“If you’re not busy, we can hang out in my room until my meeting,” Megan said.
“Sure,” I replied, smiling. I wanted so badly to hold her hand we walked up to Carter Hall, but I did not. That would be weird, especially since I did not know if she liked me back, and I did not know how to ask her. Megan let us into the building, then proceeded to her room. She sat on the end of her bed where the pillow was, her legs dangling off the edge. She smiled and motioned for me to sit on the other side of the bed. I got up on the bed, sitting cross-legged and facing her. “So how are your residents so far?”
Megan turned to face me, also crossing her legs. “Good, so far,” she said. “I still don’t know everyone yet, of course. But it’s definitely different being the only RA. Carter, Serrano, and Irwin are the smallest dorms on campus, so they each only have one RA.”
“But from what I’ve seen so far, it looks like a good balance of science and humanities people. It’s interesting how some dorms will be heavy on humanities majors, and some will be more sciencey, stuff like that.”
“My freshman year, I had mostly engineers around me. I was like, yay, you guys are my people! Then last year, when I was in Building K, there were a lot of artsy people. You know Tiffany Rollins, right?”
“Part of the reason we got along so great was because she was another woman engineer. There weren’t many of us in K last year.”
“We had a lot of engineers and science people in C last year,” I said. “Dr. McGillicuddy, she’s the director of the IHP, she said that some years are more science people and some years are more art people.”
“Hey, Megan?” a voice said from the hallway. A girl leaned into Megan’s open door from the hallway. She stopped and looked slightly embarrassed when she saw me on the bed. “Oh,” she said. “Sorry to interrupt.”
“It’s ok,” Megan said. “What do you need?”
Obviously it was the sight of me in Megan’s room that surprised the girl. Maybe she assumed I was Megan’s boyfriend, and that she had interrupted a romantic moment between us. I wish. It felt kind of nice to think that this girl might have thought that a cute, smart, older girl like Megan would have a boyfriend like me.
“Sorry about that,” Megan said a minute later after she answered her resident’s question.
“No problem. You’re doing your job.”
“So are you glad school is starting?”
“I am. It’s been a pretty lonely summer.”
“Have you gotten to see all your friends back here?”
“I’ve seen some of them. It’s going to be different, though, living by myself, not having a built-in community like I did last year.”
“Yeah,” Megan replied. “I’m an RA, so I have a built-in community every year.”
“I know. I applied and interviewed to be an RA, because of that, but I didn’t get it. Remember?”
“Oh, that’s right.”
“I probably wouldn’t be a good RA, though.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I just don’t feel like a leader,” I explained. “I grew up kind of sheltered. I don’t know what a lot of students’ lives are like. And I’m still having trouble living on my own; I’m not ready to help others do it.”
“You never know,” Megan said. “It wouldn’t hurt to apply again. If you really want to be an RA, you could learn those leadership skills. And you’ve grown since I first knew you.”
“You think so?”
“I do. You’ve figured out a lot about living on your own. Give yourself more credit.”
After we had been talking for a while, Megan turned her head in the direction of her clock. It was 1:50. “I should probably head over to that meeting,” she said. “Did you park your bike next to Raymond?”
“I’ll follow you that far.”
“Sounds good.” I grabbed my backpack and followed Megan out of the building and across the lawn. “Thanks for treating me to lunch,” I said.
“Thanks for coming!” Megan replied. “It was good seeing you!”
“Have a great first week.”
“You too!” Megan gave me a hug, holding me a little tightly. “I’ll see you around, Greg,” she said as she patted me on the back.
“Yes,” I replied. “Take care.”
“You too.” Megan let go of me and watched me get on my bike before walking into Raymond Hall for her meeting.
As I passed the high-rises and rode north on Andrews Road, I thought about what Megan said. I really had grown over the last year. I was confused about many things and lacked street smarts and knowledge of how things worked in the world when I first came to Jeromeville. I had to figure out some basic life skills on my own. I was not good at making friends or having a social life. And now, here I was, living in my own apartment and meeting friends for lunch… specifically, cute older female friends. Things were definitely moving in the right direction. I felt optimistic that maybe this would finally be my year, the year that life finally started going my way and I became one of the cool kids who gets invited to parties and gets attention from cute girls. And, looking back, my sophomore year at UJ definitely was an unforgettable and life-changing year.
Just not entirely in the ways I expected.