"Are you sure you don't need a hand?"
The residential adviser was giving her a skeptical look again. Coraline figured this was justified, seeing as how she was still on crutches and he'd just lugged five cardboard boxes of her stuff up two flights of stairs for her, but she really did want to unpack for herself. For one thing, she liked to know where things were. And for another, doing stuff for herself was surprisingly fun these days.
"I think I've got it covered from here," she said cheerfully, holding up the gripper claw Wybie had thoughtfully put together for her and clacking its metal fingers together. "But thanks for helping!"
"Sure," he said, blowing a strand of dark hair out of his eyes. He looked kind of relieved. Coraline couldn't blame him for that, either. "But, uh, Caroline?"
"Coraline," she corrected him, automatically.
"Right," he said, and turned to go. "Call me if you want anything, okay? That's my job."
"I'll try not to wear it out," Coraline said, and shut the door behind him with the gripper, just because she could. A two-foot-long metal pole with a claw on the end is a very marvelous toy, even if you aren't in a wheelchair anymore.
Down to business. Books went on the bookshelf, clothes in the cheap plywood dresser, pillows and blankets and her battered old octopus plush on the bed. The heavy new volume of Shakespeare's works would have to stay on the desk until she could use both hands to lift it, but if anyone would understand that problem, the Misses would. She set her parents' photo on top of it, and bent to plant a sheepish kiss on the wooden frame and smile down at them.
She fetched one last, precious object out of the final box, and set it on the desk next to the book and the photograph. Then she shuffled and kicked the empty boxes across the floor and into the closet, and shut the door.
"Well," she said, leaning on her crutches to survey her half of the room and feeling rather pleased with herself. "It hasn't got a windowseat, but I guess it'll have to do."
"Um," said a voice from the doorway. Coraline turned around. There was a girl about her age standing in the hallway, looking in at her.
"Hi," she said, and waved. "You can come in. I don't bite, I swear."
The girl smiled. She had nice eyes, blue and friendly. "You must be Coraline," she said, coming into the room. "I was wondering when you'd get here. I'm Holly."
"Nice to meet you," Coraline said, and put the gripper down to shake hands. The girl raised a curious eyebrow at it, then at the brace on her leg. It had a neon green nylon cover, which Coraline thought was pretty snazzy. Apparently her new roommate agreed.
"What happened to your leg?" she asked.
Coraline grinned. "You're not gonna believe it, but I fell down a well. They had to put a pin in it and everything."
"No way!" The girl's mouth dropped open. "You're joking."
"No, I'm serious," Coraline said. "It took them like three days to find me. It was in the papers and everything."
"Well, then," Holly said, raising one eyebrow. "If it was in the papers…"
Coraline decided that she liked her roommate.
"C'mon, I'm starving. If you help me navigate the doors," she offered, holding up one crutch, "I'll tell you more about it someplace where there are sandwiches. I'm pretty sure I remember where the student union is."
Holly smiled. "Sounds like a deal."
"Awesome," Coraline said, leading the way out the open door. "So, this one night last spring…"
The girls' voices faded off down the hallway, leaving the dorm room to its own comfortable silence. On the desk, next to the photograph, a blue fiberglass cast sat quietly. It had been sliced open and pulled off weeks before, but every inch of it was covered in loopy keepsake scribbles of ink.
Two sprawling show-business signatures. A dozen well-wishes from friends at school. Neat Cyrillic characters, and next to them, an infant's handprint.
A cheerful scrawl: See you on Turkey Day, Jonesy.
Her parents' familiar handwriting.
And a cat's pawprint in black ink, slightly smeared.
The room was still mostly empty, despite all the things she'd brought with her, awkward and dear and full of love. But they filled it enough for now.
The rest would come, in time.
For being a sounding board, a firm disciplinarian, a fellow author and a tireless cheerleader...this fic is for Peter, who midwifed me through the creative process from the story's very hour of conception until the last words were posted.
It's been a crazy ride, but it's time to button things up. First and foremost, I apologize for leaving my readers hanging off such an awful cliff for four months. This fic was primarily meant to be uploaded to deviantART, and you can find quite a lot of accompanying art for it (and a download link for the "soundtrack") on my profile there (as TobuIshi). I was so relieved to have posted the final chapter there that I quite literally forgot to get around to doing it here. Still, that's no excuse. The end of chapter 4 was a terrible place to take a break. I just hope the finale was worth the wait for those who were kind enough to stick around!
Special thanks to my hardworking betas here on ff(dot)net: audi katia, StylishEvil, and the inestimable Caturday, who was as tough and as insightful as anyone could ever want. Thanks to my endlessly patient boyfriend, for never raising a word of complaint while I tapped away in Laptop Land, and to all the friends who read the various drafts and gave their advice, particularly Peter, Megan and Cynthia. To anyone I may have forgotten-thank you, and thanks again for putting up with my flakiness.
And of course, thank you to my readers. You've brightened up my days with your responses and reactions to the story. (I'm still waiting to see how many of you catch the little Easter eggs and in-jokes I sprinkled around.) If this story was half as fun to read as it was to write, then I've done my job here.
Cheers, everyone...and when you lock the door on your way out, don't forget to throw away the key.