The Winter came down from the higher hills, that much was certain. At times it seemed to scream into the valley, at others it rolled, or fell, or even casually strolled. Christopher sat by the window, staring numbly at the grey sky and imagined the season as a sauntering, pompous Jack Frost. The previous night they'd discussed the cold and Andrea had said the Winter was a howling, reckless child, running and destroying the calm. He turned to watch her sleep on that bottom bunk and remembered how much she'd loved the early autumn chill. You can't have it both ways, he thought, turning up his nose at all who like the fall, but hate the winter. He banged his head softly but repeatedly against the cold, foggy glass of the window. What am I doing here, he asked himself. In the South Georgia swamps where he'd grown up it was never as cold, so far as he could remember, as it was here in these West Virginia mountains.
He'd been shaken, as he slept, by a terrible revelation: He hated college. As a high schooler, he yearned for this time, this freedom. He fantasized about stirring lecture-hall discussions, professors patting him on the back for his young brilliance, like-minded friends, avant-garde everything, and of course, the girls. Now that he was six hundred miles from home, his spirits were being slowly pressed by the weight of red solo cups, sororities, TA's, and an over-taxed dorm room radiator.
He pulled the blanket tighter around him in his chair and turned again to watch his girlfriend in her softly snoring sleep. She was far from the petite, curly haired, sweater-wearing archetype he imagined that was a 'college girl'. with her amazon-like frame no one was surprised by her volley ball scholarship, despite the disparity of her low skill level. It was generally suspected she was on the team simply due to her size, as a scare tactic against rival teams. All the same, Andrea's penchant for dirty jokes and collection of comic books had proved enough to spark his desire, and signaled the end of the relationship he'd attempted to maintain with his high-school sweetheart who was now half a nation away the University of Texas.
He looked again at the cell phone in his lap, and the text message displayed on its screen:
"See you 'round, kids"
Tyler had sent the text to many of his friends the day before, in the early evening after having been forcibly removed from campus. No charges were pressed, but an altercation with another student, a constant pest on the hall named Shane, had escalated to the point of improvised weapons being brandished (for Shane the nuisance a paring knife, and for Tyler his roommate's golf club). The campus police had been called by the same girl that sparked the conflict. Shane had been making his usual loudmouthed rounds, and was making everyone uncomfortable in his harassment of Laura. Tyler felt her honor needed defending, and things grew more and more heated until just before dinner when the dorm lobby was suddenly populated by four officers, and the two boys, knife and golf club brandished, were escorted from the premises and promptly expelled.
The loss of Tyler, a pillar among Christopher's small coven of misfit friends, was bad enough. The night was given a heightened sense of urgency, however, as they'd all banded together to calm the fears of the drug-addled Thomas, who was convinced Tyler had not been removed, but had died. The girls soothed him, David insisted it was a desperate plea for attention, and Christopher drank in the corner, scowling.
It was past four AM when Thomas had finally passed out and they had all sufficiently exhausted not only the whiskey but also the topic of their odd fellowship's having been broken. Christopher retired to his dorm with Andrea, the cranky and superior-feeling David to the room and bed of Thomas' girlfriend Shelby, and the groups resident teddy-bear Grant continued his now hours-old dirge for his absent friend as he sat on Tyler's bed, singing, drunk, and weeping softly.
* * *
Christopher sighed and sat the phone on the desk next to him, and crawled back into bed with Andrea, hoping for a few more hours of sleep.
That afternoon, they all met in the dining hall, only David missing of the friends that remained. Grant sat silent, his hands on the table, knuckles crusted in the dried blood of wounds he'd inflicted upon himself by repeatedly punching the cinderblock walls. Shelby sniffled, fighting tears. While everyone knew she'd spent the night with David while her boyfriend was passed out in the lobby, they all pretended concern that she was coming down with a cold. For his part, her boyfriend, either still under some influence or another, or perhaps some new drug for the day, wrote furiously in his tiny journal, not so much ignoring all of them, but unconcerned by their presence. Laura was sharing with them a story of her visit to Japan over the summer before college, and seemed unnaturally cheery, all things considered. Christopher was unimpressed with her negligent coping mechanism, and idly stirred his spaghetti around as she talked and Andrea engaged her with questions about the trip.
As those among them who had been eating finished their meals, and those who hadn't grew restless, the small group went outside and migrated, with out a word of planning, toward the Fowler dorm, with it's nine stories the tallest on campus. Once inside, their murmured conversation died down to silence as they made their way to the end of the East hallway, and the staircase there which would lead them to the buildings roof. At the foot of the stairs, a silent but significant look passed between Christopher, Grant, and Thomas. The boys nodded, as if by psychic agreement, and broke into a run up the stairs, Thomas leading, and Grant barreling in the rear, his size winding him quickly.
A few moments later, Christopher and Thomas were joined by Grant and the girls, and the silence among them continued as they peered out over the campus in the valley, and hills beyond. Thomas sat on the wall and dangled his legs over the edge, drawing a gasp from Shelby, but no movement to stop him. Either she was beyond caring, or she knew he was beyond stopping. He leaned forward, though, and then Christopher grabbed his jacket collar and yanked him back. Thomas stood, and there they huddled, hands shoved into coat pockets, scarves wound tight, hats pulled low. The wind up there was fierce, and Christopher knew that when they scattered for winter break in four days, many of them would not return in the spring.