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Read My Lips(4)

By:Daryl Banner

“You thought I meant the fishbowl? No, honey. You’re coming with me,” she states. “You’re new here, and you don’t want to get lost on this big ol’ campus after dark, end up somewhere on fraternity row, and get robbed … or worse. Can’t trust a frat boy for anything. It would not be a lovely way to spend your first evening here.”

“It’s really that bad here?”

“This campus is the pillow on the bed between two bitchy ex-lovers: the rich neighborhood full of snobs to the north, and the have-nots and gunshots to the south. Campus security is a joke, but it does exist. Remember, safety in numbers! So, we’ll leave in thirty. Hey, where’s your roomie?” she asks suddenly, craning her neck to get a look.

“Not here yet, I guess.” What the hell kind of crime-ridden so-called normal college did my father send me to down here in Texas? “School starts the day after tomorrow, so she might come in tonight, or—”

“Or not at all,” she points out. “Sometimes, there’s a last minute transfer or change of plans. My friend Lena had a room all to herself last semester.”

“Don’t get my hopes up.”

My phone buzzes. I look down to see my mother’s headshot staring up at me, all glamorous and ready to blink at the flashing cameras. I slap the screen to my chest, unwilling to chance whether or not Victoria knows who she is. I’m not ready for a firestorm to be caused by anyone figuring out whose daughter I am.

“Mommy and Daddy?”

“Something like that,” I admit, still chokeholding my phone into submission.

“You were spared the company of my parents by about five minutes. No one wants to see a black woman and a tiny Chinese man arguing.”

“Oh, you’re half-Chinese?”

The phone keeps vibrating against my chest. I continue to politely suffocate it.

“He’s my stepdad, but I call him Dad since they married when I was two. My bio dad took off.” The phone stops buzzing. She notices and offers me a wistful smile. “Looks like you’re safe for now. See you in thirty, Des.”

She disappears into her room. A green voicemail notification pops up on the screen of my phone. I swipe it out of existence and, inspired suddenly, I text Randy, my one and only friend that I kept in touch with from that creatively stifling elitist academy. He’s a deliriously gay playwright my age, who I desperately wish I could’ve brought to Texas with me. He might be the only regret I have about leaving that cruel, snobby school. I text him, asking how he’s doing and why I haven’t heard from him. Then, I stare at the screen and excitedly wait for him to answer.

I’m still waiting half an hour later when Victoria knocks on my door to go.

The walk is far less scary than she made it out to be. From the dorms, the School of Theatre is just a stroll past a large courtyard and fountain, through a tunnel over which the Art building squats, beside the University Center itself, and around the tall, glass-windowed School of Music where I imagine the corpse of my mystery roommate to be buried.

The School of Theatre is a giant red block of a building with a three-story tower jutting out from its rear like the tail of a threatened scorpion. The front is a row of glass teeth, punctuated at either end by double doors that read: Theatre, Dancing, Excellence.

As we approach the doors, for some reason I can hear the bottles of my parents’ champagne popping off at some ritzy cast party in my mind, mocking me. I hear mother’s cold words to me all over again, the ones she said when I first came home after quitting Rigby & Claudio’s: “You’re simply not ready for the stage, doll. You’ll find your spotlight someday.” I hear my father’s: “A good actor listens before she speaks. A better actor only listens.” Whatever the hell that means.

When Victoria doesn’t lead us through the front glass doors, I make an observation. “The lights are all out. Do we have to wait for a member of faculty?”

“Oh. No, honey. This isn’t a faculty-organized thing. The seniors do it at the start of every year. There will be booze. I’m fairly sure that some faculty know about it, but they pretend not to. Only certain underclassmen are allowed to attend.”

“Which underclassmen?”

She gives me a knowing smirk. “The ones that matter.”

The side door is propped open, a pool of light touching it from the parking lot. There’s a guy leaning against the wall amidst a cloud of smoke generated from that cancer stick in his fingers. Shaggy haired, skeletal, and looking like he lives under a sheet of cardboard on Bleecker street, he regards me with heavy-lidded eyes and a nod. I’m about to greet him when Victoria steers me into the side door and whispers, “That’s Arnie. He’s a prop rat, hates life, and I’m pretty sure he’s stoned out of his mind twenty-five hours a day.”