It’s eight o’clock in the morning when Estelle Miller pulls her van into The Orchard parking lot. The first building to the left has only one other car in front, and it’s in a reserved spot. Estelle parks across from it, in the unload dock. Her youngest daughter, Jeanette, graduated high school in time to nab Mountain Oak’s Honor Society program. Ellie graduated last year but took a year off to do volunteer work at their local community center, now five hours away. Her oldest daughter, Brittany, graduated two years ago but merely grabbed a job at a nearby hair solon to work on new styles.
“Are you girls ready for this next chapter in your lives?”
“I don’t understand why I had to, like, go to college,” Brittany complains from where she’s filing her nails in the backseat. “I had, like, a legit job already. Not to mention my TikTok followers. This will totally put a cramp on my social status.”
“Only you’ll get new roommates, right?” Ellie asks.
“… you’re right, Ellie,” Brittany’s eyes widen. “After growing up with a baby and a bookworm for housemates, I’ll finally have some new faces for my audience!”
She unbuckles her seatbelt and jumps out the door to grab her belongings. Ellie watches her go in confusion.
“Um… you’re welcome?”
Jeanette sighs but rolls her eyes. She doesn’t want to get in the middle of another family squabble. She just wants to unpack the car, grab her assigned room number, and only see her sisters occasionally on campus. There isn’t too much to unpack from the van and subsequent trailer. They weren’t allowed to bring much furniture, and there’s even a limit on appliances per student. As Jeanette and Ellie eventually begin bringing the majority of their luggage to three piles on the sidewalk, they vaguely register Brittany arguing with Estelle.
“Why should I wait six whole days for my car to get here? How the hell am I going to get to classes in time?”
“Well, you can rent golf carts and bicycles.”
“Ew, renting? This is how low I’ve stooped?”
“You can always try those appendages sticking out of your midsection,” Jeanette comments offhandedly, grabbing another box. “It’s not like they’re worn from use.”
Brittany blinks at her uncomprehending. Judging by Estelle’s repressed grin, she understands. Jeanette thrusts the box to her oldest sister’s chest.
Brittany childishly drops the box in response, uttering a false apology. Jeanette merely shrugs, grabbing another.
“That was your box.”
Half an hour later, all the boxes and luggage is in their respective piles. Estelle nods, hands on her hips.
“That’s everything, girls. I’ll see you on the first visitation day.”
“You aren’t going to see our rooms?” Ellie asks.
“Sorry, Dear. It was a nightmare to reschedule my spa appointment to noon. If I leave now, I just might make it. I am not about to lose my place to Joanne Germanotta. Good luck, girls!”
She drives away. Ellie resourcefully piles some of her heavier boxes onto her skateboard and begins to push it toward the entrance. Brittany hands off the handle of her rolling suitcase to Jeanette. The younger sister stares at her before walking to the small room administrator’s apartment that looks about the size of a motel room.
“Hello, fellow Acorn,” he greets upon answering the door. “My name’s Emile Picani. Do you need anything?”
“Jeanette Miller. I’m here for my ID, my key, and to ask if you have any dolleys for my boxes.”
He smiles and grabs his Galaxy tablet. “You said Miller?” She nods, and he clicks his tongue. “You’re in A1, the first apartment on the left.” He moves to rummage in his desk. “There are dolleys in the back of this apartment, and you’ll need to get any identification supplies from the Student Union. There are signs posted.” He hands her a card key for the room.
“Thank you, Mr. Picani.”
“Emile,” he stresses. “I’m only twenty-six. By Friday, you should get credits on your account, and you can buy a food plan, a furniture plan, and a decoration plan. It’s all on the website. Different perks depending on different factors and how you came to our campus. Have a good day!”
Jeanette nods, wheeling a dolley back to her pile. Brittany instantly needles her on where she got it, but her sister simply points toward Emile’s apartment. Eventually, Brittany huffs and grabs Ellie’s arm, dragging her along. Emile greets them just as cheerily, but Brittany cuts him off rudely. He falters a moment but grabs his tablet and asks their names.
“Oh, another Miller. Let’s see… A2, there you are. And you? Are you also a Miller?”
She nods. “Ellie. Eleanor.”
He hums. “There are five Millers on this campus. There you are, Ellie.” He moves to the desk. “Are you related to the Miller who was in here earlier?”
Brittany roles her eyes impatiently and whips out her phone, but Ellie nods.
“She’s my sister.”
“Ah,” He holds out two keys, “You’re in A1 with her, across from Brittany.”
The girls return to the sidewalk to start bringing in their things. They fail to notice the other cars now around until two girls – one in Army grays and one in a nice flower-print outfit – stroll over with help in tow. It’s only eight thirty, so they thought they’d have the place to themselves a while longer.
“Hi, my dads have already helped me move into A6. Patti Spivot. And this is Susie.”
“Well, I’m Ellie, and this is Brittany. And that girl with the dolley over there is Jeanette.”
“Are you all roommates?”
“No, just me and Jeanette are in A1. Brittany’s in A2. Are you two roommates?”
Patti shakes her head. “No, Susie’s in A3. Her brothers and sister are still here, and so are my dads. So, we can help you guys.”
Brittany takes out her phone to update her Snapchat, but Ellie quickly takes Patti up on her offer. She and Jeanette meet Edwin, Buster, Alyssa, and Ty as Susie’s siblings help them move their belongings. They also meet Patti’s dads, David and Rob, who offer to help set up the kitchen. Ellie takes the first room on the right, and Jeanette nabs the one across from her.
It’s nearing ten o’clock when the front door opens to reveal two young men carrying boxes and a duffel bag. They ignore the conversing people, and the man with the buzzcut leads the other into a vacant room evidenced by a wide-open door and no light inside. The man’s belongings are dropped by the wardrobe, and he flops onto his bed without removing his jacket. His friend lights a cigarette.
“You good, Len?”
He nods, “Which’un’s yours say?”
Mick shuffles through his pockets and pulls out his card key. “Vertex Mount.”
Len groans, sitting up in the bed. “Alright, let’s move your shit before I need to meet my roomies.”
“Bartholomew, Eleanor, and Jeanette,” he chuckles.