"Marvin is cute," Kim breathed to Jackie, her roommate, as they left the student union.
"You know I can't comment," Jackie said.
"Jason," Kim answered, on cue, drawing out the syllables. Jackie mentioned Jason in one out of every two sentences. "I'm not saying that he's cute for you. I'm saying he's cute, in a general way."
It was late September, and the South Dakota summer air was turning toward fall. The campus's many trees were starting to turn, and though it was still 4 p.m., and sunny, both Jackie and Kim wore light jackets. They had been roommates for about five weeks. They hadn't grown up together or known each other well, but they had chosen to room together during their junior year of high school when they met at All-State Chorus in Sioux Falls.
"Is he smart?" Kim asked.
"You're such a grade snob," Jackie laughed. "Every time you describe someone the first thing you include is if you think they're smart or not."
"Yes, and do not tell me how you describe me. I'm not a genius, like you."
"I'm not a genius. I'm compulsive about school. There's a difference--a big difference." Kim's algebra homework wasn't going to do itself, but she was pretty sure she couldn't do it either.
"Funny name though," Jackie said, turning to look back at the building. Kim knew she was talking again about Marvin, sounding vaguely negative. "Maybe it's a reservation thing?"
"Is he from a reservation?" Kim asked. Marvin was Jackie's friend--well, a friend of her friend's. He was a senior anthropology major, tall, outgoing, athletic. While they had been standing in the Student Center talking to him, he'd said "hi" to at least ten different people passing through on their way to the bookstore or the parking lot.
"He's Indian, so, I guess…" Jackie was examining her cuticles. "I want to get some new nail polish and paint my fingernails before Jason gets here Friday night."
"What color does he like?" Kim asked, though as soon as she said it she regretted it. She didn't like Jason, a senior in high school in Jackie's hometown on the Minnesota border, but she didn't want her criticism to irritate Jackie.
"He likes pinks the best, I think." Jackie stopped in the path. "I'm going to the bookstore to see what they have there. Are you coming?"
Kim let her go off on her own. She wanted to put her books down and change clothes before they walked to the dining hall for supper. She was thinking of one of the sweaters she bought before school started with her summer babysitting money. It was from Benetton, and cost her 80 hours of childcare. It would finally be cold enough to wear, even just to the dining hall. Marvin might even be there. She'd noticed him in there before, even though he was old enough to live off campus. She was trying to think if she'd seen him with anyone, any girl, who seemed more serious than all the people, men and women, he was friendly with on campus.
She hadn't asked Jackie if he had a girlfriend.
Back in her room, Kim went over to Jackie's bookshelf and looked for the university yearbook Jackie had brought with her from her older sister's senior year at USD two years ago--Candace had been homecoming queen, and Jackie liked to tell her new college friends about that and show them the photo of Candace in the convertible at the parade. She paged to the H's for that year's sophomores, looking for "Honanie." Nothing. Flipping to the index, she found his name and several page numbers. There he was among the 1983 juniors. That made him, what? At least 23? Maybe older?
So he was a fifth-year senior. Well, that happened a lot with all the credit hours required for graduation in different programs. If he had changed majors, he was even less likely to graduate in four years. She looked at his "ping-pong" portrait for a few more seconds. He was cute. This photo showed a more awkward Marvin than she had seen in the student union, a less authentic smile, his polo shirt not quite fitting. But still, she could see his personality, a kind of electricity. Even in the black and white still shot, he seemed in motion. Kim felt like she could see him thinking. She returned the annual to the shelf.
Kim changed into the sweater, with its Alpine design, and was happy it was warm enough outside that she wouldn't have to wear a jacket to cover it up. It was early in the year to wear a sweater with snow motifs. She sat down on her bunk bed to re-roll her jeans, and slipped into her topsiders. Looking at her watch, she saw she still had at least half an hour to wait before going to dinner, and Jackie wouldn't be back for at least that. She went back to the shelf and removed the annual again, lying down on her stomach to page through it more carefully. She looked up the other pages for Marvin and found him in the anthropology honors society and on the football team. That surprised her. He looked more natural in these photos. In the first black and white picture, he was seated on a couch in the student union, and though some of the students looked posed, he seemed to be caught in a candid moment of hanging out with his closest friends, his smile was wide and open--was he laughing? He was wearing jeans and a Coyotes sweatshirt. In the second photo, he was in his football jersey and jeans in a team photo. There were probably 45 men in the picture, but to Kim, it looked like he was the whole point of the shot. He stood in the center and was taller than almost everyone on the team, broad, big, not fat though. Even though none of the players was smiling, Marvin looked a kind of happy serious, with his confident gaze at the camera, an energized stance and the hint of a ready smile at the corners of his mouth.
Kim turned back to the front of the yearbook, and started at the beginning, scanning each page for Marvin, stopping when she noticed someone she had met at school, carefully taking in every photo. She was deep into the senior portraits when she heard the hallway doors swish open on the carpet three doors down. She shut the book, jumped up and replaced it.
"You changed! I love that sweater!" Jackie's eyes appraised her.
"You can borrow it, but not until I wear it to classes a couple of times."
"You're the perfect roommate. Your clothes are so awesome, you're my size and you share!" Jackie laughed, putting down her backpack and pulling out a new bottle of pink polish. She held it up to Kim.
"You can use it, but not until I try it," she mimicked. She walked to her closet, opened it and stood before her hanging clothes, t-shirts, sweatshirts and shoes organized in stacked milk crates. "I'm not dressing for dinner like you are. Will you be embarrassed to be seen with me?"
"No, but I don't want to wait much longer," Kim was watching the clock. Service started about 10 minutes ago. She was trying to remember when she'd seen Marvin in the dining hall during other suppers. Was it later? Or earlier?
"You got a date or something?" Jackie hadn't moved from staring into the closet. She didn't look at Kim as she spoke.
"Just hungry," Kim answered, sitting down at the built-in desk she occupied next to Jackie's closet, and put away the textbooks, folders and notebooks she had dropped there when she'd walked in. She tried to think about the homework she had to do tonight, World Civ II and composition reading, and she had to come up with some ideas for a how-to speech by 2 p.m. the next day.
She saw Jackie pull off her pink sweater and reach for a t-shirt. She thought of her own rather flat chest, and how she was barely into an A-cup. Jackie really looked like a woman, "filled out," as Kim's mother would say. Jackie had been the homecoming queen in her hometown, and she knew how to tease her bangs expertly, and always seemed to look like she meant to look that way, even in sweats. Kim watched Jackie, trying to learn her little secrets. She wanted to feel about herself and her own appearance the way she believed Jackie felt about herself.
When they had gotten to the dining hall and through the line, Jackie found friends from her U.S. history class, Natalie and Angela, in the dining room and led Kim over to sit by them. They were from Lemmon, which they explained to Kim was "Westriver," pronounced as one word. The talk turned to their hometowns, and after Kim and Jackie said where they were from, Natalie started talking about her plans for the coming weekend.
"Are you going home?" Jackie asked.
"She goes home almost every weekend," said Angela. "Boyfriend."
"Yeah, you date a younger man, too!" Jackie leaned toward Natalie. "How long is your drive? Jason's coming here this weekend. So glad I don't have to make the trip to Sisseton again. I have kind of a lot of homework."
"Like you're going to do any," Kim said.
"Are you going home too, then?" Natalie asked Kim.
"No, I don' t have a car," Kim answered. "She'll have to work around my existence." They all laughed, and Kim smiled at Jackie.
"She's great. Jason and I have been dating for three years," said Jackie, poking with her fork through her mashed potatoes. "We're not all hot and heavy."
"Just in love," said Angela.
"Of course!" Jackie's smug smile unsettled Kim, who looked back at Natalie.
"How far is the drive?" She asked Jackie's question again.
"More than seven hours, and not too much of it is on the Interstate," said Angela. "If you get behind some Farmer Bob, you're screwed. Last time I was behind this grandpa in his old beater for 45 miles, and I could not pass! I could have walked home faster than that."
"Driving around the Rez is not fun, and my mom gets mad if I'm there after dark," Natalie slid her plate away toward the edge of the table, and relaxed back into her orange plastic chair. "You have to be careful about drunks there. Of course, that's any time of day. Do you have Indian tribes around your towns?"
Kim said no, but Jackie said part of her drive was a few miles through the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe's lands in the northeast.
"But it's not bad, nothing like what you're talking about, guys," She, too, pushed her plate away and leaned back. They were settling in to stay and chat awhile. Kim hadn't seen Marvin yet, so she leaned back in her chair, too.
"Do you have Indians where you're from? Like, in your high school?" Angela asked.
"In Sisseton? Not in school. I mean, there are Indians in town, but I don't know any of them," Jackie was frowning with her brows knit together. "How about in Arlington, Kim?"
"No, I mean, I don't think there are any Indian families in town. I never met any until I came to college." She thought of Marvin, felt the pink heat in her face and bent down to rub a scuff mark off her shoe.
"Oh, my God!" Jackie reached across the table and grabbed Kim's arm. "Tell them that joke you told me!"
Kim shook her head, frowning. "What joke?"
"The one about the dead Indian."
"Oh, geez, we've heard a ton of those," said Angela.
"We've probably heard it, but try us," agreed Natalie.
Kim remembered the joke she'd told Jackie a couple of weeks ago, after hearing it at a football game at her high school. She looked at Jackie, trying to meet her eyes. Jackie saw her and nodded, answering her aloud, "No, really it's funny. They'll love it."
Kim turned her chair more toward the others and tried not to speak up too much.
"What's the difference between a dead deer that's been hit by a car and a dead Indian that's been hit by a car?"
"Hey! I don't know this one!" Natalie smiled, and sat forward from her relaxed position.
"There are skid marks on the highway in front of the dead deer!" Jackie yelled. Kim looked around, but no one was looking at them in the dining hall that was filling up with students for the 6 p.m. rush.
Natalie and Angela laughed aloud, and Natalie sat back again, smiling. "That's pretty funny. I'm going to have to tell my dad that one. I almost never have an Indian joke he hasn't heard before!"
"Glad I could help, Natalie." Kim started to get up and put her napkins on her tray to deliver to the conveyor belt by the exit doors. "I think I'm going to go. Are you coming?" She asked Jackie.
Jackie answered with a quick shake of her head and picked up her glass to drink the remaining pop through her straw.
Outside, it was dark, and Kim could feel winter's edge on the air. She looked forward to putting on her flannel pajamas in their quiet room.
"Hey! I know it's South Dakota, but it's not winter yet, ski bunny!" Kim saw Marvin emerging from the darkness that crept in between the campus outdoor lights in the shadow of the dining hall. He looked as if he were stepping out of one of those yearbook photos in the gray evening haze, except he was noticeably older, more masculine, more of a man.
Kim blushed, and was grateful for the cover of the dim light.
"Well, it is South Dakota. It could snow any minute, you know. I need to be prepared."
"No, it looks great. I'm just giving you a hard time," He smiled, and reached over and patted her shoulder. She was very conscious of where his hand had made contact with her body through the sweater. She wanted to put her own hand on it, and touch him by proxy when he let his fall.
"Did you eat already?" He asked, smiling. He smiled so much.
"Yes, I've got to go figure out something for my how-to speech. I don't know how to do too much."
"You know how to dress for South Dakota!" He started to move past her toward the entrance to the garden-level dining hall. "Tell Jackie hi for me."
She waved to his back as he opened the door. She turned around and started again for her dorm. "Tell her yourself," she said to the dark campus.
When Jackie got back, about an hour later, Kim was wearing her flannel pajamas, lying on her bottom bunk with her World Civ text open against her bent knees. Jackie set about taking off jewelry, laying out her clothes for the morning and getting ready for bed. She took out her pink polish and sat down at the desk next to the electric typewriter they shared with a manicure set. They both worked in quiet for about five minutes, when Kim, noticing her roommate's frequent glances toward her asked her what was going on with her.
"I know someone who wants to ask you out!"
"Who?" Kim spun around, lay on her stomach and propped herself up on elbows with her face angled up toward Jackie. The nail polish smell was even stronger here. She knew Marvin had probably just seen Jackie when he went in to eat. Had Jackie spent the past hour talking to him about her?
"I forgot to tell you about him before. His name is Matt, and he's in my U.S. history class. He's from Lemmon, too, so Angela and Natalie know him. He's a sophomore, or a junior."
"How does he know me?" Kim lowered her gaze down to her hands for a breath or two. And rearranged her features into more excitement than she felt as she looked back up at Jackie.
"That welcome-freshmen book we're all in! He saw your picture in there, and then he saw you with us tonight at dinner. He already liked you from your picture!" She stopped talking while she scraped a mark of errant polish off her pinky, then looked back at her, her eyes bright, and her smile wide and expectant.
"Is he smart?" Jackie laughed back into Kim's smile.
"Well, I think you're a smart-ass. Yes, I think he really is. And he's pretty cute. We're supposed to make you wait tomorrow at dinner until he comes in so you can meet him." Jackie took a quick breath, but said nothing.
"What? What were you going to say?"
"I already gave him our phone number, though! Don't be mad." Jackie moved her face close to Kim's. "I'm sorry…?"
"I don't care, but I hope he doesn't call before I meet him. That's creepy."
"Yeah, stalkerish," said Jackie.
"You say that with absolutely no conviction," Kim said as she got up. "Now move. I have to type up my how-to speech ideas before I go to bed."
After Kim typed her outline for how to put a toddler to bed, Jackie left to brush her teeth.
The phone rang. Kim closed her eyes. Maybe I'll just let it go to the answering machine. She didn't want to talk to this Matt person before she knew who he was or to Jason, who called at this time of night during the week. The beep after the outgoing message sounded and she heard Marvin's voice through the speakers, more plastic than it was in person, but she could still hear the smile.
"Jackie and Kim, it's your friend, Marvin!"
She snatched up the receiver, "Hey, Marvin, it's Kim. Jackie just stepped out for a second to brush her teeth."
"I'm not calling for Jackie."
Kim sat down on the chair in front of the typewriter and felt the cliché she had become, racing heartbeat, burning cheeks, involuntary smile. "Oh, yeah?"
"Jackie said you're in Ross's anthro lecture this semester. That guy is a terrible teacher. I thought I'd see if you need any help. His tests are tough, and he does not do anything to help you pass them."
"Oh, and you can help me?" Kim goaded him. She picked up a paperclip and started working it into a straight line with her free hand.
"I'm pretty sure I can. I'm applying to cultural anthropology programs for my master's next year. Of course, it's too early to know if I got in, but I'm told by people who know about these things that I'm well, a, what? What was the term? Oh, yes: shoe-in." He laughed and his boast rang more with joy than with bragging.
They talked for about 20 minutes, first about her anthropology course, but then the conversation moved into what Kim had begun to recognize as the typical college-get-to-know-you question battery: Where are you from? What is your major? What year are you? How do you know so-and-so? She knew some of these details about Marvin, and he knew some about her, but she did ask him where he was from.
"I came to Vermillion from Bismarck, but I'm really from Utah."
"Oh… You're not from the Dakotas?"
"No. Did you think I was Lakota?"
Kim was silent, not sure how to respond to the frank tribal question.
"I guess I assumed." She closed her eyes, feeling wrong, uncomfortable. She straightened her back against the chair.
"Honanie isn't really a Lakota name, you know, like Iron Cloud, or Pretty Sounding Flute."
"Are you being serious?"
"About what? Not being Lakota or about those names."
"No, the names, of course. Pretty Sounding Flute?"
"Sure. They have some doozies. I happen to like that one. But I'm Hopi, so I don't have a string of adjectives to navigate. Doesn't go with Marvin, anyway, I don't think."
He told her he'd moved to North Dakota his sophomore year of high school after his stepfather had moved back to be near his own parents in Bismarck and brought Marvin and his mom with him. She asked him where he liked living more.
"Oh, Utah's great, but I love USD. I've had a great time here."
The door opened and Jackie walked in. When she said hi to her, Marvin said, "Hi, who?" She told him Jackie was back, and he asked to talk to her for a "quick minute." She covered the mouthpiece with her hand, and held the phone out to Jackie, whispering, "Marvin."
Jackie stopped in the doorway, and turned the corners of her mouth down, shaking her head, and extending the hand that wasn't holding her bathroom kit toward Kim and shaking it. "He's calling me now?"
Continuing to whisper, Kim said, "He called me." In response to Jackie's surprised and sympathetic look, she said, "About anthropology…?"
"Whatever," Jackie said and walked back out the door, leaving it open to the hallway.
"Sorry… I…" she mumbled into the phone.
"She busy performing nuclear fission?" Marvin asked, but the smile was gone from his tone.
"Someone called out to her and she went back down the hall," Kim answered. When she started the sentence she didn't know how it would end and felt grateful it was coherent, though it didn't seem very believable.
"Well, I gotta go. But I did wonder-"
"Yeah?" Kim was trying to stretch the phone cord far enough to look into the hall to see if she could get Jackie to come back in the room.
"Did you want to go out to eat tomorrow night? You know, to Perkins maybe, instead of this dining hall food?"
Kim stopped before she got to the hallway as she pulled the phone off the desk behind her and it struck the ground with a wounded half ring.
"Yeah, I'm here. What's going on over there? Is it really nuclear fission? I feel a little bad now, because, I admit I was being sarcastic before…" He sounded less confident than she had ever heard him. She thought of his black hair and olive complexion. His athletic body and his wide smile. His Hopi name. Was that better, somehow, than "Iron Cloud" or that other one?
"Oh, that would be good, but-"
"I have a date tomorrow night," she answered. "It's really nice of you to ask me though." She started to say, "Maybe another time," but she hesitated, and he interrupted.
"Oh, yeah, that's cool. I didn't know you had a boyfriend," he answered, sounding far away from the handset, but she thought it might be her damaged phone.
"Oh, I-" She thought again of his smile, all that energy.
"Well, I better let you go," he said, not waiting for her to say goodbye. She heard the dial tone just as Jackie returned.
"Did you get rid of him?" She asked, replacing all of her bathroom things and straightening her homework on her desk, stopping to admire her pink nails.
"I guess." She started to tell her about the invitation, but no words came out.
"What are you going to wear to dinner tomorrow to meet Matt?" Jackie asked, swinging open Kim's closet doors and then her own. "You can borrow something if you want."
"I don't know," said Kim, replacing the phone on the desk. "Why don't you help me choose?"
Stacey Margaret Jones's poems have been published in Slant, Ariel, North Coast Review, Shelterbelt, Every Day Poetry, Five Poetry Magazine and Agave, and her short story, “Ugly,” was accepted for the International Conference on the Short Story in English in Vienna, Austria, July 2014, where it was published in its anthology. Her fiction has also been published online in Bizarre Stories. She was an award-winning Knight-Ridder newspaper columnist in the 1990s and is now finishing her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas. She is a columnist for Sporting Life Arkansas and her columns and articles have appeared in Elephant Journal and Savvy Kids. She is a native of South Dakota, where she grew up in Laura Ingalls Wilder's own Little Town on the Prairie, De Smet.