In the Beginning
Right now you’re probably saying, that was interesting, but who the hell are these people? Oh, right – got ahead of myself, sorry. The guys and I didn’t just run into each other at some conference or something and start doing groundbreaking science together, we actually became friends in college before any of us except Pete actually knew what we were going to be doing in the next six months, much less ten years down the road. We didn’t all meet right at first, though…
At nineteen – by about a month and a half – I started my first year of college. The Midwestern college I’d chosen wasn’t one of the really huge ones, or Ivy League or anything like that, but they’d accepted me and they had a decent math program. It was also in a completely different state than the one I’d grown up in, and no one else I’d known from high school had gone there, so I was on my own and a half. I didn’t mind all that much. I was used to blending in, to being the average guy nobody notices, so the shock of being alone wasn’t really all that much of a shock for me. And I was taking a full load and had managed to snag a work-study job, so I didn’t really have a lot of free time anyway.
My roommate in the dorm, however, seemed to have way too much. He was a second-year freshman, and I came back to our room between classes in the middle of the first week to find a sock on the doorknob. I considered that for a minute. It was his sock, and I knew what it meant, but I needed to put up books and grab my apron for work and him getting his rocks off in the middle of the day, I decided, wasn’t really my problem. So I unlocked the door and went in, dropped off my stuff, grabbed the apron, and left again. My face was still flaming, though, and as I closed the door I heard her say, “Was that your roommate? Didn’t you…”
“Yeah,” was his breathless answer. “But he’s a noob, he probably didn’t know what it meant.”
She giggled. “He does now. Did you see that blush? Poor little innocent guy.”
“Hey, mind off the noob and back on the sex god,” he complained, and that was it for their conversation.
It wasn’t his last one, though. I realized pretty quickly that he was majoring in screwing, but after asking one of the dorm monitors about it I also came to the realization that nobody cared and I was supposed to be a ‘good roommate’ and respect his privacy. The fact that he was socking our door at all hours of the day and night to request his privacy didn’t seem to be a concern for anyone, so I just kept going in, doing what I needed to do, and then going back out. He scrawled a sign on a piece of paper and taped it to the door that said ‘THIS MEANS KEEP OUT’ with a wobbly arrow pointing to the sock; I fixed his arrow and wrote down at the bottom, ‘It’s there every day, you might as well just glue it on.’ I’d stopped blushing by that point, and once his current partner had stopped to say hi to me and ask if I knew if our Comp I assignment was due that afternoon. He really didn’t like that, and I snickered all the way to my next class.
And came back to find the door bolted from the inside; the bastard had put on a deadbolt latch. And he wouldn’t answer the door, either, so my assignment didn’t get handed in that day and the Comp professor reamed me for making excuses and not acting like a responsible adult. “This is college,” she informed me. “We don’t hold your hand here. Either grow up or get out.”
I went to the dorm monitor and told her about the deadbolt; she scolded me too. “You can’t carry a few things with you during the day to give him some privacy?” she asked. “Be more considerate. I’ll tell him to take it off, but if he complains again you’re out.”
“He said you were keeping him from studying by going in and out all the time, that’s why he put on the lock.”
“Funny, I didn’t know the university offered a class called Practical Applications in Sexual Education,” I told her, and then left before she could scream at me. And then I went outside to think the situation over. I was pissed, but that wasn’t doing me any good – except for keeping me a little warmer, since my coat was locked in the room. My roommate was being an asshole, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that and if I kept complaining they were going to kick me out of the dorm, which I couldn’t afford to let happen. Bad enough he’d tanked me in Comp I, which was a class I’d been having trouble in already. So apparently I was going to have to work around him for the rest of the semester and then request a new roommate as soon as registration came back around. Because there just wasn’t anything else I could do.
I switched out my backpack for the duffel bag I’d moved in with and just started schlepping everything around with me every day; I’d get up in the morning, pack up everything, and then leave and not come back until that night. I studied in the library, kept my bag in a hall locker while I was at work, and then came back to the dorm in the evening and waited in the lounge until he came out to the bathroom so I could get in for the night. And I worked my ass off and pulled through Comp I with a barely passing grade, but I wasn’t planning on being an English major and it didn’t tank my GPA enough to get me in trouble with Financial Aid so that was fine.
Of course, because my year was just destined to be shitty all the way through, I caught a bad cold at the end of the semester and spent Christmas sick. On the couch in the dorm’s main lobby, because everyone else still around was having parties in the floor lounges and Dickie – not his real name, although it should have been – was celebrating by spending the day having wiener playoff races in our room. The main lobby was pretty quiet, though, and the TV was set on the holiday classics channel, and I had all my cold supplies in a little cardboard box I’d scrounged up so nobody would complain about me making a mess – the dorm monitor was still in the building. I’d even put up a little sign on one end of the coffee table that I’d drawn a biohazard symbol on with the words ‘WARNING: VIRUS BLAST RADIUS, ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK’ underneath. A few people had come through and seen it and laughed, which made me smile; I think they all assumed that I was waiting for someone to show up – it was the duffel bag and the box, I’m sure – which was even better.
And then someone’s parents came in. They were obviously someone’s parents, because duh, and the man took a look at my sign and laughed. “You’re about two feet short, I think.”
I grinned at him. “The coffee table doesn’t reach that far. Here to pick someone up?”
He shrugged. “We thought we’d surprise our son. He’s not answering his phone, though.”
“He might not be able to hear it,” I offered. “There’s at least two parties going on, and they’re kind of loud.”
The mom had spotted my bag. “Waiting for someone to pick you up, sweetheart?”
I shook my head. “My roommate’s using our room today, I got told to find another place to be.” I grinned again, though, because I had cold medicine and a box of tissues and someone had left instant cider on the coffee station and I really liked the movie that was currently on; I may have been sick, but I was having a good day. I waved my hand at the empty lobby, which was pretty with decorations and had a big tree in one corner and a nice view of the snowy grounds outside. “I think I got the better end of the deal, really.”
That made her laugh and pat me on the head, and then the two of them headed for the elevator and I went back to my cheesy Christmas rom-com.
Mom came back to the lobby some ten minutes later and joined me on the couch. She looked upset, and I sat up a little straighter, wincing. “Let me guess, he was partying hard?”
“He was partying very, very hard,” she confirmed. “I’m letting his father take care of it – I just want to scream at him.” She sniffed. “He told us he was staying over for the holiday because he wanted to study.”
Ouch. “I’m sorry,” I told her, handing over a tissue. “Hey, do you want some cider? It’s the instant stuff, but it doesn’t taste…well, to be honest I’m not entirely sure how it tastes because I can’t taste it, but it can’t be that bad, right?”
That made her smile. “It can, yes, but thank you for offering…?”
“Danny.” I stifled a sneeze in my own tissue. “I’d shake your hand, ma’am, but I’d be giving you a Christmas present you really don’t want.”
“Very considerate of you,” she approved. “I’m Amanda, Danny. So has she figured out he’s Santa Clause yet? I like this movie, but that girl is so dumb I don’t know how she manages to live on her own…”
We finished watching the movie together, and Frosty was just starting when her husband came back down. “Ooh, my favorite,” he said, and plopped down next to his wife. “He’s packing,” he told her. “She’s helping him, and so are two other mostly drunk girls, and they’re all three reading him the riot act.” He gave her a hug. “He’ll straighten out, sweetheart. So how much fun have you and Danny been having while I was upstairs, hmm?”
Blame it on the cold medicine: It never even occurred to me to wonder how he already knew my name. “I’d offer you some cider, sir, but I’ve been told that it’s really bad if you can actually taste it.”
He laughed and got comfortable, stretching out his legs. “Instant?” I nodded. “Yes, it would be – artificial apple is nasty. When I was in college and broke, I’d make fake cider by melting Jolly Ranchers in a cup of hot water.”
“When you were in college, you had a permanent diet of cup noodles and candy,” his wife reminded him. “They have better cafeterias now. Is yours open today, Danny?”
I shook my head. “No, sorry. I heard someone say the pancake place out on the highway was, though.”
“Oh yes, we saw that coming in.” Amanda settled in with her husband. “We haven’t watched Frosty in years.”
He laughed again. “I’d offer to sing along with it for you, but that might traumatize Danny here.”
I smiled. They were cute together.
I think I fell asleep right around the time Frosty was committing multiple felony kidnappings, and when I did wake up night was falling outside and I was the only one in the lobby. Someone had turned the volume down on the television, and the lights were down too so the Christmas tree in the corner looked like magic. My sign had been moved to sit in front of me, and someone had written on the back of it: Your roommate is gone now, you can go back upstairs. Merry Christmas!
Aw, that was sweet. I gathered up my stuff and hauled it back upstairs, went into my room and crashed.
I didn’t realize I was now roommateless until late the next morning when I got up and saw that all of his stuff was gone. The room was spotless, the sheets had even been washed and the floor swept. And there were some sugar cookies on a paper plate on my desk, along with a stuffed bunny in a Santa hat with a tag that said ‘Merry Christmas and a Bunny New Year’. The bolt latch had also been removed from the door.
Sick or not, I had a really great long weekend. I knew there would probably be a reckoning coming after New Year’s once the dorm monitor recovered from her hangover and realized Dickie was gone – she was going to blame me, I knew she was – but I had the whole time up until then to sleep in and lounge around the room and go to the bathroom without being afraid I’d come back to a sock on the doorknob. It was heaven.
On January second, I was expecting the businesslike knock on my door. What I did not expect was to find one of the people from Student Housing there with the dorm monitor. I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Are we actually going to talk about it, or should I just pack? Because I already got the email, I know you turned down my request to change rooms. And roommates, too.”
Ooh, that made the dorm monitor flinch. “Your roommate won’t be coming back, Mr. Darling,” the Student Services lady told me; her name tag said she was Mrs. Tarney. “And I’m sorry about your room request, I didn’t realize we were having…problems on this floor.” She raised an eyebrow at the now-cringing dorm monitor. “I believe you have something to say, Miss Abraham?”
“I’m sorry,” the dorm monitor immediately blurted out. “I was abusing my position and letting my friends break the rules, and I’m sorry. I was just trying to keep Trevor from getting kicked out, and I figured…”
That got her a glare and she shut her mouth. “It’s not an apology if you follow it up with an excuse,” Mrs. Tarney snapped in a reminding tone. “And you don’t have an excuse, Miss Abraham; I thought I’d made myself quite clear.” She turned back to me. “Mr. Darling, you don’t need to pack. You will have to spend another semester in this room, because we’re full right now and I don’t have anywhere to move you to, but I did make sure you weren’t getting another problem roommate. And I promise that if you ever have to make another complaint, it will be treated exactly the same as any other student’s complaint. Fair enough?”
There was a hint of worry in those last two words, and I abruptly realized that the dorm monitor had put the school in one hell of a situation – student complaints can break a campus. I liked my chosen school, though, in spite of the bad semester, so I nodded. “Fair enough, Mrs. Tarney. I appreciate you coming to let me know in person.”
She seemed surprised by that and I didn’t blame her for not expecting to hear it, but that was the point. Being polite is usually the best way to make a positive impression and get people off your ass. It’s all part of blending in.
And one thing I have always been good at, is blending in.