“So, what’s his name?” Emily felt curious, but not really interested.
“Thomas.” Jessica looked back at the library table where the young man looked up and waved. She smiled.
“And he is in Freshman English?” Emily picked her book-bag up from the ground for the tenth time and tried once again to make the strap stay on her chair. The thought crossed her mind that one definition of insanity involved doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome.
Emily looked up from her book. Apparently, Jessica went for football players. “I thought you had a boyfriend back home.”
“But I’m not at home,” Jessica said with a straight, albeit blonde face. “Besides, I want to enjoy the full college experience.” She tossed her hair back and snuck another look at Thomas.
Emily nodded and ran a hand through her short black locks. She had a boys’ cut, left over from ROTC summer camp. If she did not have a Mohawk red streak in it, she figured her hair would have no character at all. “But it has only been five days,” she said, and she thought living a whole year with this roommate would not be easy.
Jessica looked at her long nails before she slammed her hand down on her book. “First day of classes and we already have homework. It’s unnatural.”
Emily looked at the girl’s hand on the book and thought, at least that was a step in the right direction. Then she examined her own short, black painted nails and shook her head, sadly. “I’m going back.” She picked up her book-bag from the floor, slipped her English book into the bag, and stood. Jessica mirrored her, but with a glance to be sure Thomas watched her leave. Emily noticed and said quietly, “grumble, grumble.” She did not think she could put her feelings into words, exactly.
The library door closed softly behind them with the sound of a shush. The university campus spread out before them like a gray world punctuated by lamps here and there along the paths. Emily looked up once, but could not see the stars because of the library glare. She might be a foolish freshman to walk across campus in the dark, but she had Jessica for company, such as it was, and the dorm was not far. Trenton, New Jersey might not be the safest city in America, but New Jersey State University had a good safety reputation, as far as she knew.
“Coffee?” Jessica made the suggestion while she tugged on her too short skirt. Emily put her hand in the pocket of her black slacks, found the two dollars she needed for laundry and shook her head.
“I need to rest.” She honestly felt it important to stay on a good schedule, at least at first.
“Well, I can use some,” Jessica insisted.
Emily hesitated before she spoke. “Can’t. I’ll see you back at the room.”
Jessica also looked ready to say something more, but declined. She turned without a word and headed toward the student center. Emily watched for a moment before she turned to her own path. She took two whole steps before she heard a stifled scream come from Jessica’s direction. She did not hesitate. She ran toward the sound.
Two men had Jessica beside a tree. One had her from behind and had a hand over her mouth. The other threatened her with a knife. Emily dropped her book-bag and without a second thought, she leapt. Both feet struck the ribs of the man holding Jessica. He let go and crashed to the brick walkway. Jessica spun around twice at her sudden release. Emily landed upright on the brick walk. The man with the knife lashed out, but Emily caught his hand, turned around so the hand had to follow and that man found his own knife shoved deep into his own gut.
Jessica screamed, more than once.
The one on the ground tried to rise, but Emily landed right there. She kicked him in the ribs again before he could stand. He spun around, red faced and spitting. Emily simply made a fist and hit the man in the jaw as hard as she could. His head spun and he fell back to hit his head hard on the bricks. He would not get up again for a while.
Emily rushed to Jessica. “Are you all right?” Jessica could hardly stop screaming as Thomas and his football friend ran up. Jessica immediately turned to the boy. Thomas stared and looked dumb before he slid his arms around the girl. The other young man examined the two disabled men. He gave Emily a curious look since Jessica seemed occupied. With that look, what Emily did suddenly caught up with her and she felt overwhelmed. Her only grace was that it all felt instinctive in a way, as if she did all that without having to think too hard. She had no idea how that might be.
“ROTC.” It was the only thing she could think to say.
“Lieutenant Terrance J. Williams,” the young man responded. “I’ll look forward to seeing you Thursday afternoon.”
“Sir, yes sir,” Emily responded, but her mind was not on her words. She looked at the man, bleeding terribly from the knife in his middle. He used the tree to hold himself to his knees. She felt sick.
“I called 9-1-1,” one of the newcomers reported.
“I called campus police.”
The campus police arrived first. Just one older African-American man showed up, in a disheveled blue shirt, gray tie, police looking pants, and a jacket that had the University logo and University Police blazoned on it. “Everybody back away,” he yelled, and waved his arm like a traffic cop. “Nothing to see here. Go on about your business.” He took in the two men on the ground. “What the hell happened here?”
“Ask her, Bernie.” Lieutenant Williams pointed at Emily. Emily looked up and felt very confused right then about what exactly happened.
“Hey! Aren’t you supposed to be in bed?” Bernie turned to the lieutenant. “Does Coach know you are still out this late?” The campus cop temporarily forgot about the ones on the ground.
“Library?” Lieutenant Williams pointed, as if that explained it all. “Come on Tom, if you can tear yourself away.” Tom let go of Jessica and moved. He followed the lieutenant toward the student center, and the campus cop had one more thing to say.
“Football!” He shrugged before he turned to Emily. “So what happened here?” The man on the walkway chose that moment to groan and put a hand to his jaw, and then to the back of his head where Emily feared the man might be bleeding. Emily tensed up, tried to make sense of what she did and began to cry. Jessica, already into a good cry, reached for Emily, now that Thomas had gone.
“She saved my life.” Jessica managed that much before the women hugged and cried on each other’s shoulders. Emily let her emotions flow, but she could not help the thoughts that came into her mind. She thought that Jessica was three inches taller to begin with, at maybe five-nine, and the pumps added another two inches. She was being soaked from above. The second thought was that Jessica had on too much makeup and now it was running all over her favorite purple shirt. It was going to be a bitch to get it out.
To his credit, Bernie the campus cop did not press the issue. He went to the man who had somehow pulled out the knife and collapsed to his seat. The man still leaned heavily on the tree. “Hey! This man is bleeding,” Bernie noticed.
The regular police roared up on the nearby street and came running. Everyone backed up for real. The ambulance came right up the walkway from the student center, and Emily pulled herself together enough to pull Jessica out of the way. She had no illusion that she could simply melt into the crowd and go unnoticed, but she thought at least they could give the medical people some room to work.
Emily felt glad when she saw the man rise from the walkway, and with help, take a seat in the back of the ambulance. She felt grim when they carried the other one out on a stretcher, but by then there were too many police officers around and Emily knew she and Jessica would have to go for a ride and give a statement.
“Not the best way to stay on schedule,” she mumbled as Jessica backed up to wipe her eyes. “Maybe they have coffee at the police station—oh but Thomas won’t be there.” Jessica wiped the drip from her nose and let out the littlest laugh and smile. Clearly, that was exactly what Jessica had been thinking.