If you remember Stella turned moody on her impromptu date with Mitch when she replayed the memory of her father saying that he'd wished she'd never been born. She hurried from the restuarant with Mitch's escort. We left off with her in her dorm room aware her roommate had pillaged all her supplies. She went to bed declaring she'd deal with it in the morning. I took the liberty of skipping a little. She's in the dorm bathroom looking in the mirror on the following day.
Despite the lack of alcohol, she looked hungover. Not that she had all that much experience partying hard, but she’d seem her share of dorm mates stumbling through the halls with smeared makeup and the acrid scent of vomit clinging to them. Only regret she had was acting the fool with her best friend on campus. She hadn’t always considered Mitch that way, but there weren’t a whole lot of contenders for the honor.
Resting one hand on her abs, she pushed her finger into the soft skin feeling for bloating. PMS might explain the emotional cascade she’d undergone, but not entirely. Her stomach felt surprising flat. Turning on the spigot, she splashed cold water on her face. It helped a little.
She swung the door closed on her bathroom stall the same time two residents entered.
“Did you hear about Stella being wasted?”
On her spot on the toilet, Stella stiffened in horror. They were talking about her. Any association with drugs would cost her scholarship. It was the driving reason she needed a new roommate. Knowing Cece, if administrators found weed in their room, she’d blame Stella, denying any drug use.
“Well, Emily did mention it. Didn’t believe it. It’s right up there with the story about her dating that hunk of man candy, Cam Winters.”
The sound of pelting water accompanied their laughter. Realizing they were in the showers, Stella flushed, pulled up her pants, not even bothering to fasten them. She held onto them rather like would be gangsters who insisted on wearing jeans ten sizes too big. The door beckoned as she darted for it before the gossipers stepped out of the shower. Would they be embarrassed? Hard to say. All she knew is she didn’t want to face anyone who felt a stoned Stella was more likely than boring Stella going out with Cam.
Students in the hallway served as obstacles for her to weave around. Biting her bottom lip, she offered up a short prayer that her roommate was gone as her hand touched the doorknob. Miracle of all miracles, she was. No way was she in any shape to attend class. Grabbing her computer, she shot an email to her professor explaining her absence as a stomach flu. It was something that usually never rated a doctor’s note or a visit to the campus clinic. Unfortunately, it was also the one most hungover students used too.
Now, she’d have to call Mitch. She stared at her phone not wanting to make the calls or explain and texted, Won’t be at work. Cover for me. Thanks. The phone chimed even before she could turn it off. A text from Mitch.
Are you avoiding me?
Well, yeah, she was avoiding him and everyone else on the planet. Mentioning it would invite more questions. What could she say? The idea of going away to a secluded spot in the woods without everyone speculating about her behavior appealed. She’d already informed her prof she had the flu. Mitch would probably take an extra handout in class for her if there were any. A chance conversation might occur with Dr. Fleming mentioning she had the flu. With all the possible outcomes, she needed to stick with the same lie.
No, of course not. I just have the flu.
That should satisfy him. He might tell her feel better, which was the popular catch phrase when a person announced illness. It always sounded more like an order. You feel better. The underlying message was sick people are no fun. Get well or I’ll drop you as a friend. Maybe it only sounded that way to her. Could be she was overthinking it. The phone chimed again.
You didn’t act sick last night, A little moody, but not sick.
Sweet Goddess save her from intelligent men. The impulsive plea horrified her. I didn’t mean it. Don’t save me from intelligent men. Outside of Mitch, there had been a void of smart men in her life. It could be that hormones trumped intellect every time, even though all the males must have received reasonable grades for admittance. Their bizarre fraternity initiations, beer pong, and dares to bed as many females as possible didn’t symbolize higher learning in any form. More than a few had convoluted plans to cheat their way through the year.
Moody, huh. He got that right. Nothing she wanted to deal with right now. She considered not replying, but that would have the considerate male stopping by to make sure she hadn’t rolled out of bed gaining a concussion in the process. Argh, what to do? Her fingers tangled in her hair as she shoved a restless hand through her tresses. What a mess. The phone chimed again.
I’m coming over. I’ll get you some chicken soup from the shop on the corner.
Her lips tilted up. He was a thoughtful man. The prospect of his arrival catapulted her out of bed. He couldn’t come over. It would be hard to fake an illness with him there. Full sunlight filtered through the cheap blinds indicating late morning. A glance out the window revealed students heading to class, which she should be. Guilt rode her hard rather like one of those demons her mother continually insisted were hitching a ride on her. Apparently, demons were not big fans of walking since they were always busy hitching a ride on someone. There had to be some way to discourage Mitch. A little truth sometimes works.
I lied. It’s my period. The cramps are super bad. Don’t come over. Nothing you can do. Probably hate you because you’re a male and don’t have to go through this.
Periods, cramps, tampons all worked on men similar to how a cross did on traditional vampires. The idea grossed out the males, in general, since their bodies never offered up monthly gifts of blood. At the most, males knew they couldn’t offer any helpful advice. Most usually clammed up or changed the subject. Would Mitch be any different?
Obviously, he was the clam up sort. Her stomach lurched. All her talk of flu might be having undesirable consequences. Then again, it could be the lack of food. Maybe she should have let Mitch bring her soup.
Her tummy gave another rumble. The smart thing would be get cleaned up and go to the meal hall. If nothing else, she could probably get some fresh fruit and a granola bar. Breakfast would be over by the time she got there. Especially, since a shower was must with her Medusa locks. Of course, that meant interacting with people.
Stella stumbled back to her bed and sat. Her shoulders drooped as she considered all she had to do. “Goddess, I can’t handle it.” Even eating required too many steps. Turning off her cell phone, she climbed back under the covers. The only good thing about her roommate is Cece would leave her alone and make no annoying efforts to see if she were still alive.
Sleep came fast, taking her under. She tumbled off her wakefulness boogie board and slipped into the ocean of sleep. Normally, she’d fought her descent into sleep, but not today. Her last conscious thought consisted of wondering why anyone would fight sleep. It was such sweet mindless place devoid of reality and the associated responsibilities.
A brownish mist circled around her feet. Dead trees decorated the landscape, throwing out long, black ragged shadows. No moon or sun in the cloudy sky made her question the shadows. The flapping wings of a bird drew her gaze upward. A raven or possibly a crow landed on a nearby tree.
The bird’s dark eyes fixed on her. Most people considered the crow a symbol of death. Then again, in folklore any bird in the house indicated a future death, probably because a bird in flight represented the soul. Stella kept her gaze fixed on the bird trying to remember the most positive symbolism for the large bird.
Crows were highly adaptable and intelligent. Shamanic meanings included being fearless, magic, personal transformation, even destiny. For the most part, all good things, her mood lightened a little. Several other crows lighted in the tree, crowding it with their dark bodies. The birds shifted on the branches making room for new arrivals.
What did an entire flow of crows mean? Murder was the weird term for a group. The crow also served as a trickster in animal legends. Was it an elaborate con? If it were, she was clueless. What if the birds were ravens? All she could think of was Edgar Allan Poe’s poem with the raven answering “Nevermore.” In the end, she couldn’t quite remember the entire poem. Just that something about a depressed writer whining about his dead true love. She wasn’t sure the if the raven’s nevermore was telling him he’d never love again or what.
One of the birds cawed, causing the others to caw, flapping their wings until suddenly the tree lifted off the ground.
“Stella, Stella, I know you’re in there.” The masculine voice penetrated along with the pounding she thought at first was the sound of the tree being carried away by countless crows.