There are few times in your life that seem to pass more slowly than when you’re waiting on a new college roommate to arrive.
I’d already gotten the room set up, my posters hung, clothing unpacked, and computer plugged in. I waited patiently for my roomie to show up, a smile on my lips.
I’m kidding. I was on Facebook.
Can you believe this, Nathan? I typed to my boyfriend.
We’ve been over this before. No, I can’t believe your roommate is a pony.
I heard the clicking sound of steps in the hallway. I typed, Hang on, this might be her.
I leaned back in my chair and looked towards the open door. The noise turned out to be a girl wearing high heels.
Not her. I typed.
Lol. Good luck, babe. I’ll be back later.
I pushed back from the computer. While my roommate wasn’t late, the waiting was still killing me. I grabbed some earbuds and plugged them in, aiming my mouse at the iTunes icon. I didn’t own an iPod, the program just came with my Mac.
Opening a drawer in my desk, I took out some yarn and a crochet hook. I was attempting to get the framework of a hat started when I thought I heard a voice. I jerked out one earpiece and turned my head.
The pony I had been expecting was standing in the doorway. Her coat was a pale blue with like-colored wings folded close to her sides. Five brilliant colors decorated her mane and tail. I guessed that she probably weighed roughly the same as me, but was lower to the ground, about eye-level with the doorknob.
“You’re so cute!” I gushed.
Her magenta eyes narrowed. “Do you say that to all your roommates?”
I felt my face flush. So much for making a good first impression. “I’m sorry. This is all new to me.”
“Tell me about it.” She slipped off the saddlebags she was wearing. I saw that on each hip, she had a mark that looked like a colorful lightning bolt.
I got up from my computer chair, extending a hand. “I’m Denise.”
“Call me Rainbow.” She frowned at my hand. “Ponies don’t shake. Make a fist.”
Once my fingers were folded up, she tapped my knuckles with her hoof. It was surprisingly like a brofist.
Rainbow abruptly turned away to begin unpacking her bags. I noticed that there wasn’t much inside them.
“Is that all you have?” I asked.
She glanced around the room at my decorations, computer, minifridge, microwave, and stuffed closet. “Yeah, it’s all I have. Why did you bring so much?”
“I just…have it,” I answered. “If everything managed to fit it in my car, it’s not that much, is it?”
“You humans are all the same,” she snorted. “Clinging to your material goods when you should be focusing on more important things, like friendship.”
“You don’t sound very friendly,” I pointed out.
“Fine, you want to be friends? Help me pick up my computer and ID card.” She put her saddlebags back on and we walked out of the dorm building together.
When doorways to another universe had been discovered a couple of years ago, the last thing on my mind had been getting a pony for a roommate. Now, here she was. I’d gotten an e-mail from the university about random roommate assignments a month ago, but the situation was still a little surreal. Ponies were still an uncommon sight on Earth.
“So what made you decide to pick Purdue?” I asked as we walked. I dug in my purse looking for a smoke.
“Aeronautical Engineering,” Rainbow replied. “The campus is also close to doorway number one.”
For some strange reason, the first portal to another dimension had been opened at a military research facility in southern Indiana. While there were other colleges closer to the doorway, none of them had significant Engineering courses.
“I’m studying Animal Science. I want to be a veterinarian,” I told her. I managed to find the pack and pulled a cigarette out. I began looking for a light.
“That’s nice,” Rainbow said, eyeing a small plane passing overhead.
“The airport southwest of campus gets almost constant traffic from student pilots,” I said helpfully. “Airplanes are flying over all the time.”
“I know,” said the pegasus, sounding somewhat annoyed. “I’m not allowed to fly around here. They say I might disturb the traffic patterns at the airport or something.”
“I don’t really like to fly,” I said.
Rainbow looked at me in surprise. “How can you not like flying? Didn’t you humans invent airplanes for a reason?”
“I get airsick and they don’t let me smoke.” Speaking of, I found my lighter.
“Well, I’m getting a pilot’s license,” she said.
“Why do you need a pilot’s license?” I asked. “Can’t you fly already?”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s a long story.”
We went on in silence for a few minutes. It was against campus rules to smoke outside a designated area, but I’d never seen the harm in it. The wind was blowing the cloud away from Rainbow, and she appeared to ignore the cigarette in my fingers.
The pony asked, “Where are we going again?”
“Stewart Center,” I said. “That’s where the computer shop is. It’s a big brick building.”
Rainbow glanced around. “All the buildings are made of brick.”
“It’s a Purdue joke,” I told her. “You’re a freshman, I couldn’t resist.”
“Then what are you?” she asked.
“I’m a junior.” I tried not to sound conceited about it.
Rainbow thought about that for a moment. “Did you have a roommate before?”
“Yeah, but she was deported unexpectedly.” I sighed. “Chen was great to live with, but not very good with visa paperwork.”
We passed by Loeb Fountain, which was located in a small circle between buildings. A lot of students used it as a place to hang out and relax amid the sound of flowing water.
“What’s that smell?” asked Rainbow.
I figured she knew what tobacco smoke smelled like. It took me a moment to figure out what she was talking about.
“It’s probably the chlorine they put in the water to sanitize it,” I told her. I realized then how overwhelmed a pony on Earth must be. Even the tiniest things, like chlorine in the fountain water, were something new. I saw Rainbow’s head continually moving, looking at everything.
I realized something else. It was my responsibility to make sure Rainbow didn’t get into trouble because she didn’t know something. The last thing I needed was for my roommate to get arrested or worse. After Chen had left, my dorm payments had gone up to cover the difference. I couldn’t afford for that to happen again.
“There’s Stewart,” I said, pointing. I tossed away the filter of my used smoke with the other hand. We reached the building and I held the door for Rainbow.
The inside of the building was done in cheesy ‘50s style. The computer center in the basement, however, was decorated with sleek glass and stainless steel.
The computer salesmen seemed surprised when we walked in. Judging by the looks the multicolored pegasus had received on our way over, that’s about how I expected they would react. The real fun started when they found out she wanted a computer.
“I came to pick it up,” said Rainbow. “It was ordered a couple of days ago.”
“Uh, your name?” asked one of the salesmen as he picked through a file of paperwork.
“Rainbow Dash,” she answered.
The man found the correct forms and laid them on the counter. “I need your signature.”
Rainbow grabbed a pen with her mouth. I’m not sure how else I expected her to hold it, but it looked kind of weird. And unsanitary.
Once the paperwork was signed, the man got her brand new PC laptop from the back room.
“How are you going to use that with hooves?” I asked.
“You’ll probably want an external mouse,” said the salesman to Rainbow. “I don’t think a touchpad will work for you. As for typing, you’ll either have to use the onscreen keyboard or some kind of voice-to-text program.”
“Mouse? Touchpad?” asked Rainbow in confusion. I got the feeling that we might be there a while.
Luckily, the computer people were used to dealing with clueless customers and got all her questions answered. It probably wouldn’t have taken half as long if she’d bought a Mac.
“But you can’t do anything with Apple,” said the salesman when I pointed that out. I decided against a retort and waited around with my hands in my pockets until Rainbow was finished.
The laptop she purchased was small, and fit neatly in one side of her saddlebags. Until the pony figured out some other way to use it, it looked like she would have to press the buttons and keys with the rubber end of a pencil held in her mouth.
As we walked away from the computer center I asked, “Why are you buying a computer if you don’t know how to use it?”
Rainbow looked at me in annoyance. “How else am I going to learn how to use one? Besides, my eggheaded friend Twilight said I was getting a grant to buy a computer, so I might as well.”
“Did you get a lot of grants?” I asked.
Rainbow paused for a moment. “I think so. I heard that tuition for foreign students is a lot higher than it is for locals. Twilight somehow figured out how to get everything paid for. There isn’t enough money to pay for a single-occupancy dorm room, though.”
Well, I knew that feeling.
We climbed the stairs out of the basement and walked next door to the Memorial Union. The architecture was significantly older and more angular than Stewart. It looked like a castle made of red brick.
“We’ll need to go to Card Services,” I said. “It’s just inside the door.” Rainbow and I found the office and got in line with other students who needed ID cards.
The brightly colored pony stuck out like a sore thumb, and everyone that passed through the hallway gave her a look. I felt like I was under scrutiny just standing next to Rainbow.
In only a few minutes, the line ahead had dissipated, and we were left facing an old lady. She asked for Rainbow’s passport casually, like there were foreign students from Equestria enrolling every day. Once the proper information was filled in, she asked Rainbow to step into the photo area.
Due to Rainbow’s shorter stature, the camera had to be adjusted. I noticed the background they photographed students against was a blue color almost the same as Rainbow’s coat. The woman assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem.
After the picture was taken, we were shooed off to the side and waited a few minutes. The woman came back and presented Rainbow with a plastic card with her name, photo, and student number.
“Welcome to the university,” she told the pony.
Rainbow accepted the card and tucked it into her saddlebag. I opened the door and walked out into the hallway.
“I’m kind of hungry,” said Rainbow.
I glanced up at the decorative clock hanging from the ceiling. “It’s almost dinnertime. Why don’t we go back to dorm? There’s a dining court in the basement.”
“What do they have?” she asked.
I thought quickly. “There’s a vegetarian section.”
She eyed me apprehensively. “A vegetarian section? Are you saying the rest of the dining court is filled with meat?”
“Well, not filled…” I stammered
“What’s your obsession with eating animals anyway?” she asked. “Do you just kill anything that can’t scream ‘No!’?”
Luckily the last few years of college had been preparing me to give an emotionless, scientific answer to her question. Too bad I couldn’t resist escalating the argument. “You’re just jealous because you have to stick to plants.”
“What is wrong with you?” she shouted. “Do you treat all your roommates this way?”
“No, just you,” I shot back. “Do you want to keep trading insults? I can do this all day.”
We glared at each other for several seconds. I heard a polite cough.
A janitor stood there. “Pardon me ladies, but if you’re done here, I’m trying to sweep the floor.”
My face went red as I realized what a scene I must have just caused. Seriously, arguing with a pony? I really needed to have better control of myself.
Rainbow and I left the building, irritation still brewing between us. We didn’t talk all the way back to the dorm.
In the room, she slipped off her saddlebags and pulled out the computer, laying it on her desk.
“I’m going to dinner,” I said. I gave her a look, but stopped just short of telling her what tasty animals I would be eating.
“Fine,” she replied, rising to my unspoken challenge. “I’ll go, too.”
Stepping into the hallway, I locked the door. We headed downstairs to the dining court.