I didn’t want to participate in any of the stupid freshman activities, but I also didn’t want to be pegged as the weirdo-outsider on the very first day. So when Donna, the Resident Advisor for my floor, knocked on the door frame I intentionally left the door open to convey a sense of transparency and family and invited me to join the scavenger hunt, I smiled just like I’d practiced with a pencil jammed between my teeth and gushed.
“Oh! Ehm! Gee! Of course! How fun!”
I clapped and bounced and flipped my annoyingly cheerful blonde hair over my shoulder. I made small talk with fellow residents and grabbed my assigned partner in a laughing embrace. She smelled like tangerines and rosemary.
Donna handed us a list of items and went over the rules. I listened closely, waiting for the verbal and facial cues that indicated she expected laughter. I made sure not to be the first one or the last one laughing, though, as I’ve noted that seems to make people subconsciously leery. I pointed at random items on the lists and echoed the self-conscious laughs of the other girls.
My partner, Candi (seriously … with an actual I at the end!) and I took off running toward the partk to get a picture of a leaf or some other asinine object. I giggled and held her hand and prattled on about how, like, totally scary and, like, totally exciting it was to be away from home for the first time. She giggled and made statements that sounded like questions and brushed her bangs back from her face repeatedly.
She looked and sounded just like all the other bimbos … but something was different. Instead of staying focused on the role I’d built for myself, I kept thinking about tangerines. And rosemary. And how soft her neck would feel in my grasp. It was much earlier than I had planned, but I started to think I had found my first.
I was well and truly distracted by the time we reached the park, wondering how long it would take them to find her body, so when Candi suddenly changed direction, I nearly landed on my face. Snapping back to the present, I caught an entirely different look in her formerly vacant eyes.
This look was intense. Piercing.
She pulled me into the trees on the edge of the path. We pushed our way through the underbrush for several yards, her hand still holding mine tightly. Finally we reached a small clearing with trampled grass and a mount of freshly turned dirt. I could hear birds in the trees and the cheerful screaming of our scavenger hunt competitors.
Candi stopped pulling. She turned to me and grabbed my upper arms. Her hands were cool and smooth. She stared at me. “Your name is Barbi?” Skepticism covered her face. “Like the doll?” She’s lost all trace of the Valley Girl persona she’d had on prominent display all morning as she carried ruffled pink bedding to her new room.
I decided to drop the act as well. I was curious to see where this would lead. “Barbara.”
Candi nodded. “That suits you better.” She put her hands on my shoulders and slid them up to my neck. She pressed her thumbs ever so slightly against my windpipe. My breath shuddered, but not out of fear. “Nice to meet you, Barbara. I’m Candice. I think we’re going to be very good friends.”
As she dropped her hands to her side and laughed, I realized I hadn’t found my first victim. I’d found my first partner.