She’s my roommate.
I know how she takes her tea, how she organizes her closet.
I know when she goes to bed each night, what she eats for breakfast, the passcode on her phone.
I know she calls her mother on Mondays, takes barre on Thursdays, and meets her friends for drinks on Fridays.
But more important than any of that … I know what she did.
It’s a pretty little house with an ugly little address.
47 Magpie Drive.
What should have been an ordinary Sunday kicked off with an eviction notice on my door and ended with my belongings shoved into wrinkled grocery sacks and the neighbor’s stolen WiFi on my computer. With just minutes to spare, I managed to find the perfect place—one that didn’t require credit checks, a huge deposit, or a long lease.
With clammy palms stuck to the peeling steering wheel of my ’97 Civic, I stare through my cracked windshield at an adorable white-washed brick ranch nestled in the heart of a family-friendly neighborhood south of Meyer State’s picturesque campus.
I find it difficult to believe that a college student lives here, but her ad was posted on the Tiger Paw Portal and a quick reverse search of her email address in the student directory revealed her name to be Lauren Wiedenfeld, senior in English Lit.
Just like me.
In fact, I recognized her photo immediately, having taken a good handful of classes with her over the years. Shiny ash blonde hair. Dimpled smile. Crystalline eyes accented by thick, curled lashes. I couldn’t count how many times I’d seen her stare past me like I was invisible.
Just like everyone else.
Sniffing my shirt, I’m relieved to drag the scent of dollar store fabric softener into my lungs. I was in such a hurry on my way out, I wasn’t sure if the clothes I’d grabbed were from the clean basket or not.
I need this girl to like me. If she doesn’t? I’m not sure where I’ll go. Apartments in this town come at a premium, and if it weren’t for the fact that my car needed new tires and a new transmission this winter, I might still be holed up in my studio right now. Un-homeless.
Killing my engine, I shove the keys in my purse and check my reflection in the rearview.
At least I got to shower today. My hair is clean, my teeth are brushed, and my pits are slicked with two layers of store-brand deodorant. Plus, I don’t reek of stale alcohol—which is more than most students around here can say on the weekends.
My hands threaten to tremble as I climb out of my car, and I try not to slam the door—I don’t want to seem careless. The ground wobbles beneath my feet. If I were a super hero, social awkwardness would be my power. My entire life, I’ve struggled to get out of my head, constantly overanalyzing every little word or movement or shift of a gaze. I’ve learned it’s easier to sit back and shut up. I find I don’t make as much of a fool out of myself that way. Quietude has become the law of my land, with silence being my official language.
But I don’t have a choice today.
If I want Lauren to welcome me with open arms as her shiny new roommate, I have to plaster a smile on my face, see her bubbly personality, and raise her one of my own.
After rapping on the front door a moment later, I wait with my arms straight at my sides. Signature awkwardness. My heart knocks in my chest before whooshing in my ears, and warmth blooms in my cheeks.
I haven’t officially met her and already I’m blushing.
Inhaling a breath of frosty February air, I soften my expression, loosen my shoulders, and wrap my right hand around the worn leather strap of my purse. I’m not sure if this is what casual and confident looks like, but the sound of the door latch tells me I don’t have another second to try and figure it out.
“You must be Meadow?” I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Lauren is all smiles as she gets the door—as if she’s happy to see me. “Come in!”
The scent of soft gardenia emanates off a flickering boutique candle centered on her glass coffee table, and in the corner, the glow of diffused lamplight paints the room in a welcoming ambience. Her phone is docked on a set of speakers next to her TV, playing the kind of chill music I’d expect to hear in some upscale Manhattan bar.
“Have a seat wherever you’d like,” she says, lowering herself into a rattan chair covered in a faux fur throw. Lauren tucks her mile-long legs beneath her and adjusts her sweatshirt so it hangs just so, revealing a hint of her left shoulder. Her hair is piled on top of her head, and I’m convinced she’s one of only ten people on the planet who can make a messy mane look chic.
Glancing around before I settle in the middle of her gray linen sofa, I have to remind myself to talk. “Love your place. So cute.”
I can do this. I can be friendly even if I have to fake it. People like her don’t understand people like me—the quiet type. They think we’re weird. And no one wants to live with a weirdo.
Lauren’s face lights and she shrugs, almost as if the flattery makes her uncomfortable. “Thanks.”
“Is that your major? Interior design?” No way in hell I’m going to tell her I did a little research on her before I came here.
She shakes her head. “English lit. What about you?”
“Same.” I exhale, sinking into the cushions. She’s easier to talk to than I assumed she’d be. “I think we might have some classes together? I swear I’ve seen you in World Lit.”
Lauren laughs, rolling her eyes. “No kidding? I’m so oblivious most of the time.”
That’s why she looked through me all those times …
I’m still not sure if I’m buying this cutesy, friendly shtick of hers because girls like her can be sickeningly fake when they want to be, but I’m willing to give her a shot if she’s willing to take a chance on me.
Besides, it’s not like I have any other options to fall back on.
“People probably think I’m some snob.” She waves her hand, endearing almost. “But I’m just in my own little world most of the time.”
I pride myself on my keen observational skills, something I’ve honed and polished to sheer perfection over the years … but I may have been wrong about this one.
“You thirsty?” Lauren rises from her chair, straightening her shirt and eyeing the doorway to her kitchen. Since she’s already up, I can’t exactly say no. “Fiji water? San Pellegrino? Tea? I’d offer you a glass of wine, but it’s only ten o’clock in the morning.”
I chuckle out of politeness, not because I think she’s funny. “Tap water is fine.”
Her expression falls, as if she’s unable to comprehend that my broke college student taste buds haven’t yet acquired the taste of artisanal water. “Meadow, the lead levels in the water here are off the charts. Haven’t you been following the news? It’s all they’re talking about anymore. And the city’s broke. No plans to do anything about it. I’m telling you, Bonnet Creek is going to be the next Flint, Michigan.”
She disappears around the corner before I get the chance to tell her that between working twenty-four, sometimes thirty hours a week cleaning houses and taking sixteen credits, I don’t exactly have time for late-breaking local news stories.
Lauren returns a moment later, a square bottle of luxury water in one hand and a floral printed paper napkin in the other. She places them before me, like a proper hostess, and I can’t help but wonder if she’ll always be this formal once we live together.
If we live together.
This has to be an act.
People aren’t actually this formal, are they? At least the ones back home, the ones I grew up around, weren’t. I’ve never heard of anyone needing a coaster to go with their bottled water.
Then again, this coffee table looks pricy with its reclaimed wooden legs and crystal-clear glass top.
“Thanks.” I take the water from her, unscrewing the cap and ensuring I don’t so much as spill a drop.
This place is much too nice of a dwelling for a typical Meyer State student. Her family clearly comes from money.
I’ll try not to resent her for that.
“So, tell me about yourself.” Lauren settles into her chair again, resting her elbow on her knee and her chin on her hand, leaning toward me. My Intro to Psychology professor taught us years ago that when someone leans in to you, they’re interested, genuinely interested in what you have to say. “What’s your schedule like? Who’s your ideal roommate? Do you smoke? Throw parties?”
Brows lifted, I let her questions marinate, unsure of where to begin. “Oh. Um. I don’t smoke or drink. I don’t party. So nothing to worry about there. I work. Part-time. And when I’m not working, I’m home. Usually studying. I don’t make a lot of noise. Basically, I’m a clean-freak, studious homebody.”
My cheeks flush and I feel myself growing flustered, but the fact that she isn’t staring at me like I’m some kind of social reject is somewhat reassuring. I suppose I’ve never stopped to examine my uneventful existence, but I’ve always been content to keep to myself.
It’s better if I don’t know what I’m missing out on.
Lauren’s face is lit as I ramble on, like I’m telling her everything she wants to hear.
“Okay, so what do you do for fun?” she asks.
I was hoping I could avoid that question. Pretty sure to someone like Lauren, I’m a shining example of a boring bookworm. Not the kind of person she’d be caught dead with.
“I like to see plays,” I lie. I don’t have money for a theater membership. Not even with the gracious 50% student discount. “And I see movies.”
At the dollar theater. Maybe once every three months.
“Do you ever do Friday After Class at Wellman’s?” she asks. “They have dollar wells from four to six.”
“Sometimes,” I lie. Again.
Lauren sinks back, eyes still glued on me. “That place is always crazy packed. I bet we’ve been there at the same time and never even noticed.”
Taking a sip of water, I nod. “I’m sure.”
My tone echoes hers, something I do when I’m nervous. It’s like second nature, adopting her body language, her intonations, the cadence of her words.
“Where do you work?” she asks.
I push a breath through my nostrils and roll my eyes. “Sparkle Shine Cleaning Co.”
I hate that fucking name.
And the Minion-yellow car I’m forced to drive from client to client, the one that matches the Minion-yellow uniform I’m forced to clothe myself with.
But the pay is decent.
And it sure as hell beats working in food service. Food service means interacting with people all day long, being yelled at by customers when the kitchen screwed up their order or their fork has a water spot on it or I’m not refilling their third glass of Diet Coke fast enough.
“Never heard of it,” Lauren says. “Do you like it?”
What kind of question is that? And what does she expect me to say? That I love scrubbing people’s shit-stained toilets? Don’t even get me started on some of the bathrooms I’ve had the pleasure of bleaching from floor to ceiling. Rich people—or people rich enough to pay someone to clean their house for them—aren’t always as clean as one might expect.
I shrug and offer a tepid smile. “It’s a job. What about you? Do you work?”
Lauren bites her lip and scrunches her face, hesitating for a second. “I don’t.”
Of course not.
“My parents want me to focus on my studies,” she says, as if that makes up for her good fortune. “They said school should be my full-time job, so I get a monthly stipend as long as I keep my grades up. They did the same for my brother. They actually own this house. My brother lived here when he went to Meyer State and my younger sister will live here next year when she’s a freshman. My parents didn’t want to throw money away on rent, I guess. That’s their excuse anyway. If you ask me, I think it’s just a way for them to control their adult children.”
She huffs. I huff.
“Anyway.” Lauren shrugs, studying me, perhaps silently waiting for me to judge her. I keep a poker face.
“So what happened to the roommate before me?” I ask.
“I’ve never had one.”
“Okay. So, why now?”
Exhaling, Lauren says, “So that stipend? It’s based on my GPA. Last semester, I kind of got a little … distracted … and I failed a class. First time in my life. It was a seven AM on the north side of campus on Friday mornings. Anyway. It’s no excuse. I failed it. GPA plunged. Parents were livid. Chopped my stipend in half—essentially barring me from having fun. Their way of punishing their twenty-three-year-old daughter.”
“Oh.” Nice to know I’m scrubbing toilets so she can get wasted with her friends.
This explains everything. The lack of a deposit, the lack of a lease or a background check. She’s desperate for some supplemental income, willing to take in a stranger to maintain her cushy little life.
“Just to let you know … my parents won’t know you’re living here,” she’s quick to add. “And you’ll only be able to stay through May. Maybe July. Depends on how quickly I land a job after graduation. I hope that works?”
So, she likes me.
She’s choosing me.
Just like that.
“That’s perfect actually,” I say. “I’m graduating too. Hoping to get the hell out of here.”
I wear a smile that matches hers and we bask in a moment of mutual understanding for a single, endless second. Our desire to leave Bonnet Creek might be the only thing we have in common, but I’ll take it.
“You want me to show you around?” Lauren rises from her seat and straightens the hem of her top.
Returning my water to its floral napkin resting place, I stand. “Sure.”
Minka Kent has been crafting stories since before she could scribble her name. With a love of the literary dark and twisted, Minka cut her teeth on Goosebumps and Fear Street, graduated to Stephen King as a teenager, and now counts Gillian Flynn, Chevy Stevens, and Caroline Kepnes amongst her favorite authors and biggest influences. Minka has always been curious about good people who do bad things and loves to explore what happens when larger-than-life characters are placed in fascinating situations.
In her non-writing life, Minka is a thirty-something wife and mother who equally enjoys sunny and rainy days, loves freshly cut hydrangeas, hides behind oversized sunglasses, travels to warmer climates every chance she gets, and bakes sweet treats when the mood strikes (spoiler alert: it’s often).
Want to hear about sales and new releases? Sign up for her non-spammy newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/cwOMSD