Parents didn’t always read the orientation material.
There were a few, every year. They insisted on helping the new students move into the dorms. They sent boxes from home, full of cookies or brownies or favorite munchies. They called frequently (it wasn’t safe. Letters were safer, e-mail was safer, even texts were safer, but calls not so much.) They begged for pictures, for visits, and sometimes they accidentally-on-purpose “just happened to be in the area”.
The staff tried to deal with parents. Oh how they tried. Usually it worked. The Gentry almost never kept parents.
But some… some parents never left.
She had taken piano lessons when she was younger. Her parents approved: that was a womanly decorative thing to do. She had never played sports, because that wasn’t a womanly decorative thing. She wore dresses. She took ballet, she sang, she painted. Her parents told her every day in every way who they thought she should be, and she tried, she really did.
She was tired of not being good enough.
She applied to Elsewhere, and got a full music scholarship, and carefully out of sight in the shower she sobbed with relief and fear. Her parents loved her, they really did, they told her so. The disappointment at her, the silent treatment, the confinement and not being allowed out with her friends… well, they were just trying to protect her, right? They didn’t know the bubble wrap they tried to put around her was smothering her.
She read the orientation paperwork, every single scrap. She wanted to do everything right, because the thought of doing it wrong terrified her. Even the strange stuff, maybe especially the strange stuff, because everything in life was a test, another opportunity to disappoint.
“As an environmentally-conscious measure, Elsewhere University’s campus is not set up to allow automobile traffic. For those students who need transportation help, there are staff with golf carts available, as well as a series of campus shuttles that make regular stops. Bicycles are available for rent by the hour, the week, or the semester. Skateboards and skates are permitted but proper safety gear must be worn.”
Father was angry when campus security wouldn’t let him drive straight to her dorm. She trembled. Always, when Father was angry, somehow either she or Mother paid. He fumed while waiting for a golf cart, he clenched his jaw when the staff member driving the golf cart refused to simply step aside and hand over the keys, he was elaborately careful when helping load her things after being refused a campus map.
Her dorm was a solid brick building, a pleasant generic institutional place. Father insisted on carrying her things up to her room, on the second floor. "So I know where my little girl will be,“ he said. His anger cooled a little with the exertion, down to its usual simmer.
It only took a few trips to get all of her things upstairs. Father insisted on a hug, just on the edge of being painful as his hugs always were. She endured it, because trying to get away always earned a lecture. "I love you so much, you’ll always be my little girl, you are a disappointment because you don’t love me as much as I love you, but I will forgive you because I am better than you.”
“Elsewhere University wishes to be the beginning of a new life for every student. We ask that students choose a nickname, in order to facilitate this feeling of a new beginning. Common nickname categories are an interest, a favorite song or work of art, an aspiration, or a personal quality. It is our firm belief, demonstrated by decades of successful graduates, that this practice allows students the freedom to really expand their horizons and demonstrate both their personalities and their capabilities both actual and potential. In support of this practice, we ask that legal names not be used on campus except with the Student Services or Records and Enrollment offices.”
The driver helped as Father made one last check to be sure nothing had been left. He reminded her to call twice a week. He hugged her again, ignoring the gasp she made as he let go. "Remember to call your Mother, Susan. You’ll always be her little girl, and you know how she worries.“
“I will, Father.”
The driver watched, waiting patiently while Father said his good-byes, then cleared his throat. "Sir, if you want to attend the parent orientation, we need to be going.“
"Yes, I’d planned on attending. I need to know everything, to help keep my Susan safe.” Father climbed aboard, and the driver waved as they left. For an instant his hand seemed to have too many fingers.
She felt eyes on her as they drove away.
She climbed the stairs back to her room, looking forward to taking her shoes off and unpacking. The door, locked when she left it, was still locked, but now there was a pile of stuff underneath the open window.
“Hey! Sorry I wasn’t here when you were bringing stuff up, he looked a bit intense, oh hey are you ok?” The girl on the tree branch outside the window climbed in and sat on the windowsill.
She nodded. She locked the door behind her, then sat on one of the beds.
“I’m Magpie, second year, one of the stage monkeys for the theater. You wanna see? No obligation.”
“Yeah, I… I paint, a little.”
“You do? Cool! Hey, but if you want to go see, that outfit’s cute and all but it’ll get ruined pretty quick.”
“I’ve got some grubbies, let me unpack.”
Magpie grinned and pushed her hair behind one ear. "Your dad isn’t one of those types who thinks he’ll be visiting every weekend, is he? 'Cause I can’t hide all the time.“
"I think he was heading to the parent orientation.”
Magpie blinked. "Oh… kay.“
“There’s someone I want you to meet. They go by Melanotis. They’ll tell you about the parent orientation. Are you sure you’re ok?” Magpie pushed her hair back again.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Why do you keep asking?”
“There is no parent orientation. Here, take this. No obligation.” Magpie took a ring off of her index finger and handed it to her. It was a puzzle ring made of iron and pyrite, and it fit her index finger as if it had been made for her.
“Thanks, but why?”
“My dad was like that, too. What do you want to be called?”
The choice, the possibility of choice, was dizzying. Something to hang onto… a favorite song. "Call me Sussudio,“ she said, and smiled.