It was late October when I first noticed the disturbance in Room 9C. The first cool breeze of the season seemed to have turned the leaves of the trees surrounding the Lagoon at the Boston Common from summer’s green to autumn’s crimson overnight. A warm glow hung over the entire park like an aura. It was my junior year at Commonwealth University and my first semester working as a resident assistant. After two years of working an odd, stressful variety of babysitting and dog walking gigs, I considered my job a blessing. It was a relief to get paid for settling disputes between freshman roommates and preventing residents from stumbling around campus visibly intoxicated. The fee for my cozy private room at Hynes Hall was waved as part of my compensation package, and the small stipend I was paid covered my third-year psychology textbooks and out-of-control coffee habit.
My position at Hynes Hall afforded me enough hours to study adequately for the first time during my enrollment at Commonwealth. I was already getting higher grades than I’d earned during my freshman and sophomore years, and hoped to boost my GPA at the end of the semester. Resident assistants were expected to work an administrative shift twice each week in the office of the dorm’s manager, Mr. Flynn. Occasionally, we were called upon to alert the kids who lived on the floors we managed about dormitory policies. It was one such time that I walked the length of the ninth-floor hallway to check in on Hailey Warwick, the only student on my floor who had a private room like my own.
“Hey guys, could you either turn it down or close your door?” I asked in the doorway of 9F, a room shared by two guys who mistakenly believed that horny girls were likely to wander in looking for company if they left their door propped open around the clock. They had made a habit of blasting the Drake album on repeat since move-in day back in September.
Jamie, a kid from Portland with shaggy blond hair that fell into his eyes, got up from where he had been doing homework sprawled on the floor and lowered the volume without an argument.
“You guys saw the flyer about the fire alarm system test tonight?” I asked, lingering there.
“Yeah,” Fernando, Jamie’s roommate, responded. He lay on his stomach across his bed playing his Gameboy. “What’s the point of a fire drill if everyone knows it’s going to happen? Isn’t it supposed to measure whether or not we’re prepared?” Fernando was a local kid, born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts. He pronounced fire as fie-yah with two syllables, just like I did.
“It’s primarily to make sure the alarms all work. This is an old building, alright? When you hear the alarm at ten, just freakin’ walk downstairs and follow everybody else out onto Boylston Street.” I liked to think I had been hired as a resident assistant because I was majoring in psychology, but it was probably more likely that Mr. Flynn had hired me because of my heavy Brooklyn accent. None of my students—not even the two loudmouthed boys who lived in 9H and had just partied hard during fraternity Rush Week—dared to give me lip.
At the opposite end of the hall from my room, the shadows seemed to swallow the doorway to Room 9C. The fluorescent overhead light in the hallway repeatedly flickered as I knocked on Hailey’s door. It buzzed quietly; the bulb was probably on the fritz. For a second, I hoped that the noise hadn’t been annoying Hailey. Then I remembered that a buzzing sound was not likely to disturb her for the same reason it took a minute or two for her to answer the door. Hailey Warwick was deaf. She wore hearing aids in both ears and told people that she had impaired hearing, but I had a strong hunch that the hearing aids only amplified vibrations like those from my knocks on the door. My little brother Douglas back at home in Carroll Gardens was also deaf, and I was very familiar with the head nods and smiles Hailey gave me during our interactions. The anxiety in her eyes because she wasn’t sure she understood me betrayed her insistence that she did.
YOU ARE READING
It’s the middle of fall semester at Commonwealth University, and Cara Oliver is the resident assistant on the ninth floor of the Hynes Hall dormitory. Being an RA means she’s exempt from paying for her private room. Better yet, she earns a stipend i...