Robbie wasn’t sure how he ended up back in his own bed.
Not that this was an unwelcome discovery. He’d gone to his first bona fide collegiate keg party the night before—a staggeringly bad idea given it fell just before his first full day of classes—and drank . . . well, a lot. He wasn’t sure how much; potentially enough to warrant measurements in gallons, but not enough to convince him he liked beer.
The party was in an off-campus apartment roughly six blocks from the dorm, so his being able to drunkenly stagger back to the room and then pass out on his own bed made plenty of sense. He just didn’t remember doing it.
He rolled onto his back and noted that he was still fully clothed. His shoes were still on. He still had his wallet. All good things.
Then he took a look at the alarm clock. It had no display.
“Hey, what time is it?” he said—to nobody, apparently, as he was alone in the dorm room.
He had two roommates. He barely knew them, because everyone was a freshman, and it had only been four days since they had come together for orientation.
There was Nguyen, about whom Robbie knew only two facts: He was Vietnamese, and he groomed his own eyebrows with tweezers every morning, for no good reason. The other roommate was Taylor, who folded his underwear.
That was the extent of what he knew about them, up until he discovered there’d been some kind of power failure during the night. Now he could add “won’t wake up their roommate even though he has an early class the next day” to the list.
He dug his cell phone out.
It was dead.
“Aw, come on.”
He got out of bed, ignored the rush of blood that made him a little dizzy, and pulled open the dorm room door.
The hallway had no lights. It was daytime, clearly, but the only windows in the hall were at the ends, which didn’t do much to help illuminate the middle.
“Hey, does anyone know what time it is?” he shouted.
No answer. He stepped back into the room.
“Well, this is crazy,” he said.
It was a weird moral quandary. The sun was up, so it was evidently morning. Probably early morning, but maybe not. Could be, he’d missed his first Intro to Macroeconomics class already and was now well on his way to missing Freshman English. He should be grabbing his bookbag—which he’d packed the night before, after memorizing the locations and optimal paths for all his classes—and running out.
Brushing his teeth and getting a proper shower would have to wait, and he probably smelled a little funky in the same clothes as the night before, so when he got to class, he’d have to hide in the back or avoid talking to women until that situation was rectified, but it was all manageable; he just had to leave right away. The quandary was, he should probably be knocking on doors and letting everyone know the dorm had lost power.
Unless they had all gotten up and left already, in which case they didn’t do for him what he was thinking he should do for them, and anyway, why was it his problem?
He walked around the side of the bed to grab his bag.
It was gone.
Maybe the problem is that I’m in the wrong room, he thought.
The beds all had the same bedsheets, which not incidentally smelled like mildew. He didn’t notice that the first few nights, but thanks to all the alcohol, his nose was going out of its way to call to his attention every smell that would trigger bad behavior from his digestive system. Likewise, the dressers were all basically the same, and the layout was a standard arrangement. This could be any room in the building; it didn’t have to be his.
He opened a drawer, and no, those weren’t his clothes.
“All right, Robbie, buddy, when you tell this story tonight it’s going to be hilarious. Get it together.”
He pulled open the door and checked the number: 315. Unless he was remembering it wrong—and he liked to think he had a very good memory—his room number had been 315 all week.
“Right room number, wrong building?”
He was in a section of Harvard called the Radcliffe Quadrangle. Robbie had only been inside one of the buildings—his own—but he could imagine a scenario where (1) all of the room designs in the quad had the same square footage and initial state, (2) he walked into the wrong building the night before but went to the right room, and (3) somehow gained admittance to that room and passed out on someone else’s bed.
He decided what would make this really funny was if the owner of the bed he’d crashed on had also gone to the same party and later made the exact same mistake Robbie did and was now waking up in Robbie’s bed, wondering where all his stuff was.
Yes, that would be funny, but this was not the time for funny.
There were few things in his life Robbie dreaded more than being late. This was likely due to some deep-seated anxiety going back to childhood, although he couldn’t point to any trauma in particular. One of his first memories was being upset that he’d missed a television show in which he was deeply invested, because he and his mother were traveling and they didn’t make it home until halfway through the show. He couldn’t remember the name of the show, and he couldn’t remember why they were traveling, so he always took that memory as evidence that he’d spent his entire existence fretting over being late and missing something.
Sleeping through his first class, then, pushed all the wrong buttons.
“Maybe it’s a closed building,” he said. He was talking to himself out of an instinctive need to fill up what was becoming an eerie silence. “That’s it, they haven’t put anyone in this dorm yet, because freshmen check in early. You’ve solved it, hero. Now let’s get to class.”
Except someone else’s clothes were in the drawer. It couldn’t be a closed building where someone also lived.
As preoccupied as he was with the death of the closed building theory, it didn’t register right away that the place was no longer silent.
Someone was shouting. No, not shouting: screaming.