January 12th, 2019
Dear Mr. Connor Stern,
Congratulations! We are pleased to formally invite you to the University of Detroit Mercy undergraduate class of 2023! We hope you will join us in September on one of our three beautiful Detroit campuses. We will be sending another email shortly with your scholarship information.
Best wishes, U of D Admissions
February 4th, 2019
Dear Mr. Connor Stern,
Congratulations on your acceptance to the University of Detroit Mercy Criminal Justice program. Your application was impressive on many different levels and it is due to this that I would like to invite you to join a research program of mine. Currently, I am studying some unsolved criminal cases alongside the Detroit Police Department and I believe that your unique insights and abilities will be a valuable asset to the team of your peers who are working alongside me. This is a highly competitive position so I encourage you to make a decision as soon as you can.
Jeffrey Fowler, PhD
University of Detroit Mercy, Criminal Justice
Connor reread those two emails as he sat in his undecorated apartment floor. Two years ago, none of this would have seemed possible but here he was. As he finished reading, his phone lit up again with a new notification.
The Best Roommates Ever
Kara: I’m almost there! The check-in line is soooo long.
Connor smiled and locked his phone. Amanda had dropped him off as soon as check-in began and helped him move in but he didn’t have much to move in in the first place so she hadn’t stayed too long. Alongside the new text from his new roommate was two more unread messages:
Amanda: Call me once you’re settled in, the house is very empty without you.
Chloe: So proud of you. Call me when you can. I want to hear everything.
Connor looked around the living room which was decorated with a scratchy rug, a coffee table, a small television, and a couch. Connor didn’t mind, the apartment wasn’t that expensive with two other roommates and had its own kitchen, individual bedrooms, and bathroom which was better than the first-year housing on campus.
He looked up when the front door opened and Markus walked in with a suitcase in one hand and a box under the other arm.
Connor jumped up to get the door for him “hello,” he said a little stiffly “it’s nice to meet you.”
“Hey, man,” Markus dropped the box on the couch and set his suitcase down “nice to meet you in person.”
They’d met through Kara, who’d posted on the U of D class of '23 Facebook group asking if anyone would be willing to rent an apartment with her. Kara had a six-year-old daughter who would be staying with them as well so she couldn't stay on campus but she had assured them that Alice was generally rather quiet and well behaved. Ideally, Connor would have preferred to live on his own but in downtown Detroit, he wasn't going to find anything in his price range without splitting rent.
“Are you already moved in?” Markus asked, looking around.
“Yes, I took that room,” he pointed to one of the bedroom doors “I hope you don’t mind. I left the largest one for Kara.”
“Fine by me. Any chance you’d mind grabbing the box for me? The elevator was way too crowded with so many people moving in, I just took the stairs.”
Connor picked the box up and took it into Markus’ bedroom “I have some stuff in the fridge if we want to get lunch once Kara gets here.”
“Sounds great. Just let me get unpacked.”
Connor planned to spend the next hour or so setting up his folders for each of his classes on his computer but Kara got in after a few minutes. “Hello?” She asked quietly but Connor could hear through the crack left open in his door. He nudged the door open more with his foot and smiled at her. She had the most stuff out of all of them which wasn’t surprising. She had two suitcases, a backpack, and a cloth bag over her shoulder. Markus beat Connor to taking her bags for her so Connor just waved at her.
“Welcome home?” Markus joked, but it wasn’t really a joke anymore, was it?
She smiled “I guess so.” She followed Markus into the bedroom and Alice trailed behind her, holding a book to her chest. Before she disappeared, she made brief eye contact with Connor. He waved again awkwardly.
“You said you have lunch stuff, Connor?” Markus called.
Connor got up and waited in the doorway “Yeah. Do you need a hand with anything?”
Kara sat down on the bed and looked around “I think I’ll be okay. Do you want something to eat, Alice?”
Alice was sitting on the bed behind Kara, she nodded.
“I’ll unpack if you want to get lunch together? I’ll go to the grocery store tonight and replace anything we take.”
Connor didn’t mind sharing food once and a while but until he got his first paycheck from his research position, he wasn’t going to complain about having a bit of extra cash. The research position was the ever-looming cloud above Connor’s head. It was a dream come true in that he was getting to work with a professor this early on a project that would get him connections with the police department, but there was also a constant feeling that he should have just taken his first year slow. He had his first day of work tomorrow, right after his first day of classes. The other students on the project had been working on it over the summer as well which put Connor at yet another disadvantage on top of being the only first year.
Connor took out one of the pots from the cupboard to make pasta. He put his headphones on while he cooked and turned on a podcast.
It wasn’t as if Connor was worried that he didn’t deserve his position, he knew that he did, he had a genius IQ even though he didn’t exactly talk about it much, could read and understand information at an incredible speed, and despite being in the foster care system until his junior year of high school and being bounced between schools constantly, graduated top of his class. He’d aced AP Calculus AB, BC, and Stats and scored a 1600 on the SAT and a 35 on the ACT (he was very bitter about that last point that kept him from a perfect score.) On top of that, he’d been on the cross country team and had a blue belt in karate. Regardless of Connor’s knowledge that any college program would be lucky to have him, he knocked Professor Fowler’s office with a shaking and sweaty hand. One of the very few places where Connor failed was when it came to talking to people. Human behavior he understood, psychology was a breeze when it meant understanding motivations and development but communicating with people… that was a different situation. Connor understood what he was supposed to do on a basic level but what Connor lacked was a relatability. He’d been called unempathetic and robotic on multiple occasions.
Professor Fowler called him in and smiled when he sat down. Smile, but not too much, shoulders back, head high, but not so much as to seem forced or worse, snobby. God, this was exhausting. He could do this (at least he hoped he could).
“Connor. It’s nice to finally meet you. How has your first day been?”
“It has been good so far, I greatly enjoy my course material, I am excited to have a greater challenge with this project, though.”
Fowler laughed “well, your resume certainly shows that you’re capable of handling it. I’ll take you to the lab and you can meet everyone.”
Connor followed him down the hall to the “lab” which was a classroom filled with files and a handful of tired-looking students.
“Alright everyone,” Fowler said from the doorway “this is Connor, he’s going to be helping you out from now on. Connor, this is Gavin, and - well - other Connor,” he chuckled “and our student leader, Hank. Hank’s my second in command on this so he can help you out getting started.”
None of the other students looked too thrilled about him, more neutral than anything, but Connor noticed the way Hank balled his fist under the desk when Fowler mentioned Hank helping him to get started. This was what Connor was worried about. “Right then…” Fowler gestured to Hank’s table “why don’t you two get acquainted? I’m sure Hank has some work you could help him with.”
Connor sat across from Hank, who had a pile of files beside his laptop. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Connor.”
“I heard.” Hank rubbed his eyes. Connor thought that if it weren’t for the scowl, he might have been pretty attractive. His dyed (at least Connor assumed that it must have been dyed) gray hair was pulled into a messy bun and his matching beard was unkempt but there was a sort of rugged handsomeness there. In another light, Connor could picture him as being the kind of guy Connor could be attracted to, maybe he already was. “You’ve got a computer, right?”
Connor was thankful to have put his old laptop into his backpack that morning “yeah, of course.” He said, taking it out.
Hank handed him a stack of files “could you transcribe these? I’ll share the spreadsheet with you. What’s your last name?”
Connor opened his computer and then the top folder “Stern. Thanks.”
Hank shook his head but at least this time it seemed less annoyed and more… amused. “Yeah, no problem.”
Connor checked his phone on the walk home and found he’d missed a few texts while he was at class and then work.
Amanda: Good luck today!
Kara: Want to get delivery tonight? I’ll pay - I still owe you for lunch yesterday.
Connor decided to text Kara back. He’d call Amanda that night.
Sounds good. I’ll be home in a few minutes.
When Connor got home (it still didn’t feel like he expected home to feel but then again he hadn’t lived anywhere long enough for it to really feel like his space), Kara was sitting on the couch with her laptop open. Alice was watching tv on Kara’s phone with bright yellow headphones on.
“Hello,” she said without looking up from her work “how your first day?”
“Class was as I expected.” Connor replied, setting his bag down by his door before sitting with her “may I join you?”
“Of course,” she looked at him “but I didn’t ask how class was. Work didn’t go so well?”
She reminded him of Amanda when she said that, some sort of mother’s intuition. He hesitated a moment before answering “it was informative. I’m not sure how well I’m fitting in with my coworkers.”
She gave him a half-sad half-reassuring smile “I’m sure they’ll warm up to you.”
Connor decided to let the conversation drop after he asked her about her day and got a short reply of “good but stressful.” It seemed that Kara had a good deal on her plate today. They worked on their respective homework for probably close to an hour, Kara on whatever she was doing on her computer and Connor on the stack of files he’d brought home to finish transcribing. Kara suddenly sighed in frustration “Connor, I hate to spring this on you but the nanny that was going to take Alice for the night canceled and I can’t miss work again this week… is there any chance you could just keep an eye on her?”
Connor looked at Alice, who was still sitting on the rug with Kara’s phone “that should be within my capabilities. And Markus should be home soon, I’m sure we can handle her.”