• When I stepped off the plane with Rome following me, I couldn’t breathe. It was like the whole weight of the world had fallen on me. I, again, started hyperventilating. Rome was unconcerned. He had already witnessed this several times during the day and night it had taken to get to Georgia and he knew that the episode would blow itself over. I, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure.
    This wasn’t from a minor mistake or some other meaningless suggestion.
    It was from the air. It was so oppressive. It pressed down on all sides, making you feel suffocated and enclosed. It gave me my first sense of claustrophobia.
    I soon got over my minor spat of hyperventilation, much to my relief, and moved away from the opening of the gate so that others could flow from the plane and out into the Georgia airport.
    “Let’s go. Georgia Institute of Performing Arts and Design, here Kyria comes!” I looked sideways at Rome. “What? I’ve already been there for two years. It’s ‘Here Rome comes back’, for me.”
    I shook my head and started to follow the signs that indicated where the luggage carousels were, but Rome grabbed me.
    “Where do you think you are going?” Rome had a very serious face on.
    “To get my luggage,” I responded warily. Maybe he was a serial murderer, I thought. “Is there a problem with that?” I was certain a look of confused timidity was on my face.
    “Yes, that’s a problem! All new students get a limo ride to the Institute and the driver gets your luggage. Come on,” he commanded, tugging on my arm. “You don’t want to make the limo man angry, do you?”
    “Well, no, I guess not.” I refined my paranoid belief that maybe Rome, instead of a serial murderer, was a serial rapist, remembering what he said on the plane, about wanting to keep me for eternity. I was suddenly apprehensive.
    Just then I caught sight of a man with McClintock printed on a white board that he was holding in front of him. He was wearing the most ridiculous hat that I had ever seen. To be truthful, this is what caught my attention. The hat was a very deep burgundy color and it had small, irregular size holes cut out of it. As I got closer, being tugged along by Rome, I made out that the small holes were in fact lighter shades of the red that was tinted with sparkles. The tips of the juggler’s style hat had little bells on it, which jingled when the man moved.
    Rome laughed, startling me out of my cursory examination. I looked at him and couldn’t understand the look that was adorning his face.
    “I was kidding, Donnie. You didn’t have to wear that ridiculous hat when you picked us up.” Rome laughed again. “I do admire your vigilance to stick to the bet, though.”
    Donnie grimaced. “I wouldn’t have had to wear this stupid thing in the first place if you hadn’t of tricked me into gambling.” Donnie looked my way. “I’m so sorry that you had to spend the whole day and night with this man, Kyria, on a plane, where you couldn’t run away,” he said, with an apologetic smile on his face. “He’s just horrid.” When he spoke, you could detect that faint English accent one picks up when you’ve lived in England for a year or two.
    “It was actually fun. He kept me entertained.” I smiled up at the man named Donnie.
    “Really?” he asked, looking surprised. “He’s usually such a…” he trailed off. “I shouldn’t say things like that around you. You are a lady. That’s what Kyria means in Greek, right?”
    I looked at Donnie with surprise on my face. “Yeah, it does. How did you know that?”
    Donnie looked sheepish. “I actually took a couple of years of Greek at my old school in Washington before I was a foreign exchange student in England. I failed. That’s actually one of the few words I know in Greek. “
    “Oh, that’s cool. My parents both took Greek in college and that just stuck with them because they’re weird. I like my name though. It’s foreign sounding.” I smiled.
    Rome looked between Donnie and I. “Well, Donnie, boy. Her luggage awaits.” He grabbed my arm and steered me towards the doors of the airport.
    I looked back at Donnie and shrugged my shoulders. I turned to tell Rome that was rude of him to do when I recognized the expression on his face. “Oh.” I got it. “You’re jealous Donnie and I have something in common. Why, though? You’ve only known me for less than twenty-four hours. You can’t be that possessive of me, yet.” I groped for a reason he was acting like this in my mind but could find none. “I barely know you, and you barely know me.”
    Rome looked at me with an appraising expression on his face. “How can you know that I feel jealous? You just said yourself that you’ve only known me for twenty-four hours.”
    “Less than twenty-four hours. Anyway, I had a boyfriend in Oakland. I’m not a complete idiot when it comes to guys and their moods. You didn’t answer my question though.”
    Rome led me out to the waiting limo. “It’s nothing. I just was a little light headed. That’s all.” He said this in such an unconcerned voice I almost believed him. Almost.
    I didn’t believe him, but I let it go. If he wanted to keep secrets, I was going to let him. I was keeping secrets too.
    I slid into the limo after Rome opened the car door for me. He followed me into the back seat and moved to where he was right next to me, the skin of our arms touching.
    I looked at Rome to speak and couldn’t; he had the most serious expression on his face that I was stunned into silence. I was about to get out of the limo and scream rapist, but Donnie saved me.
    Rome had to get out and help Donnie with my luggage, because I had brought so much stuff. As soon as the focus of Rome’s grey eyes weren’t on mine, I could think. I carefully compiled a list of questions whose answers I wanted to know. Like why Donnie was wearing such a ridiculous hat.
    When Rome again got into the back of the limousine, I asked my first question.
    “Why is Donnie wearing such a queer looking hat?”
    Rome looked at me then through the dividing glass at Donnie driving. “Well, that’s an interesting story. See, I was playing Black Jack with a couple of friends a couple of days ago and Donnie walked by. I tried to convince him to play with us but he said no. After that, I made a bet with him that if I beat him, he would have to pick you and I up from the airport, be the limo and luggage guy, and wear that hilarious hat.
    “If he had won, he would have picked you up from the Oakland airport and escorted you from there to here. It was genius, really,” Rome reflected. “I had a picture of you from your application. Donnie’s a sucker for beautiful girls; especially if they’re dancers.” Rome looked at me with a wicked gleam in his eyes like what he had said implied something horrible of me.
    “Are you implying something? It seems to me that whenever you’re trying to say something you get this heinous look in your eyes. It scares me a little bit.” I shrugged away from him but he wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me back into his side. He then didn’t let go.
    ‘Well, if I was you would know, because I don’t beat around the bush.”
    I puzzled over that comment for a few seconds before moving onto my next question. “So, what’s the Institute really like? Is it full of stuck-up freaks who think they’re better than everyone else?” I turned towards him to see his face while he answered.
    Rome screwed his face up and then let it slide back into a crease free angelic face. “May I plead the fifth?”
    “I take that as a yes. Are you one of them? A guy that thinks he’s better at dance than any other person and talks to girls only because they’re popular or pretty? Or are you a nice guy that is considerate of everyone?”
    “May I plead the fifth to that too?”
    “No, you may not. I want to know now if I can be your friend or if I need to stay away from you because your fan clubs would consider me a threat to their chance of success with you in any kind of relationship, and try to do away with me.”
    Rome choked on the laugh that was coming out of his throat and stuttered, “Do away with you? Good mother of mine! Do away with you as in kill you?”
    “Physically, emotionally, or socially, I mean. I would assume that it would be socially, because the girls who normally throw themselves at guys like you are very small, not very strong, and don’t want to ruin their pretty face.” A thought occurred to me as I finished that thought. “Well, on second thought, they will all have taken dance and would have really strong muscles. Maybe they could kill me physically,” I mused.
    Rome looked out the window to avoid answering my ramblings. He sat up straighter and took his arm from around my waist.
    I looked at him, trying to figure out the trigger for this new situation. I looked out of the darkly tinted window of the limo and saw what had changed.
    “Well, Miss McClintock.” Rome’s voice was cold and indifferent. “Welcome to the Georgia Institute of Performing Arts and Design.”
    I just stared. Compared to the real thing sitting in front of me, the pictures in the brochure were nothing. The grounds surrounding the buildings were amazing; there were huge red oak trees that spotted the green grass and beds of spring flowers lining the walks. The buildings had an air of elegance about them. They were brick buildings with ivy growing on the sides of the constructions. The entrances to the structures were supported by towering pillars that were graceful and demanding all at the same time.
    I was awed by the sight of the school. I was also very, very intimidated. I know it was irrational of me, but you have to understand, I was temporarily out of my mind.
    The sight of the school sent nervous shudders down my spine and I suddenly decided that I didn’t want to go to such a grand school. So, in response to this apocalyptic revelation, I opened my door and attempted to jump out of the limo.
    Remember, I was temporarily insane. I did not want to go to the Georgia Institute of Performing Arts and Design. I didn’t want to go so much so that I tried jumping out of the limousine, tried being the operative word.
    While I was being awed by the sight of the institute, Rome had snaked his arm back around my waist, and when I had opened the door, Rome had instinctively tightened his arm. This had prevented me from going anywhere.
    Well, I thought, that was convenient. At least I’m not splattered everywhere. Then I saw the look on Rome’s face.
    “What the heck’s wrong with you?! I thought you got over nerves on the plane! That was the whole point of you not being able to breathe! God, woman! What am I going to do with you?” He calmed down once he saw how shocked I was that he had let his voice get over a reassuring whisper.
    He pinched the bridge of his nose and turned away from me. “Look. I’m sorry I yelled at you.” He was still pinching his nose.
    “I’m sorry.”
    “What do you have to be sorry for? I was the one who yelled at you.”
    “Well, yes,” I said, puzzled that he didn’t think it necessary I apologized. “I tried to jump out of the car though.”
    “Don’t remind me. Kyria, let’s just try to make it to your room with you in one piece.” We had stopped in front of the main building by now and Rome opened his door. “Come on, Kyria.” He held his hand out in an offering of gallantry.
    “Thank you.” I was quiet when I took his hand and stepped out of the car. I looked up at the imposing structure of the office building and shivered from the coolness of the shade it cast. “Let’s get this over with.” I sighed and trudged up the granite steps.
    “That’s the spirit! I can’t wait to see the look on your face when you see your room. It’s the best in the dorm you’re staying in.” Rome brought his sun shine personality out full force. “The girl who had it last had to drop out and the Institute decided that they would give it to whomever applied next. You applied next and you got it for no extra charge!”
    I looked unbelievingly at Rome. I couldn’t understand why he was so energetic. “You’re giving me a migraine. Why are you so happy?”
    “Well, technically, I’m not very happy. I have to give a good impression for the new recruits though. The cameras watch us all.” Rome looked pointedly at a small security camera on the building we were walking into. He glanced at me and saw my credulous face. “I kid. I just wanted to yank your chain. I am happy to be back, but I would rather more time to get to know you one on one.”
    He was staring away when he said this, so I couldn’t see the expression on his face. “I appreciate the…” I trailed off because I didn’t think I had anything to appreciate.
    “The company?” Rome looked at me sheepishly. “Actually, I did just compliment you. So it would be ‘I appreciate the compliment.’”
    “Well…. I don’t know.” I hedged. I didn’t really know if it was a compliment or not. I changed the subject. “When will we have the extra sessions? In the morning or afternoon?”
    “It depends on when we have extra time and how well you dance already. We’ll have a training session after you get settled to see what you need to work on. Let’s get you registered first though.”
    We walked into the building and into an office where it took hours for me to get registered and then settle my things in my dorm. After that, I fell asleep and dreamt about the training session I would have with Rome the next day.