"So what kind of name is 'Katarina'?" I asked my roommate.
"What do you mean, 'what kind of name is Katarina?'" replied Katarina tartly.
"I dunno, just seems kind of exotic..." I said.
"Could I ask you a favor?" said Katarina. "Would you mind just not talking to me for the rest of the night? I have a lot of homework to do."
I stared at her from my bunk, narrowing my eyes and shaking my head. How did I get stuck living with a such a bitch--a woman no less! Would my entire first year be like this? Would I constantly be getting the short end of the stick?
I turned back to my physics textbook and tried to concentrate on my own homework. To hell with trying to make friends with her.
"It's Russian," she said finally without looking up from her book.
University policy forbade men and women share rooms on campus, and it was nearly impossible to get around this rule. However, Bentley House was not known for conforming to convention.
A large brick house nestled in the trees on the edge of campus, Bentley had once been the President's mansion. Long-since abandoned by the administration for being too costly to maintain as Presidents' quarters, the old mansion was converted to a co-op dormitory.
Favored by Environmental Studies students, jam band enthusiasts and vegetarians, Bentley was known as the hippie dorm. The aroma of incense and pot smoke often mingled with pleasant cooking smells drifting from the large kitchen where the undergraduate residents took turns preparing meals for the whole house, shunning the bland food served at the college cafeteria.
I was thrilled to get a room in Bentley my freshman year. I was an engineering student and something of a square when it came to partying, so I did not exactly fit the stereotype of Bentley residents by appearances. But I had always gravitated to the hippie crowd in high school for some reason. At any rate, I did not want to live in a fraternity and the shoebox-style dormitory buildings that housed most undergrads were too institutional and impersonal.
Eager to begin college life, I had arrived on campus the week before classes and settled in my room, an expansive double bedroom on the top floor with a large window that overlooked a meadow on the edge of a pinewood. I couldn't believe my luck when I learned that the guy originally assigned to be my roommate had transferred to another school. It looked like I would have the room all to myself.
My hopes were quickly dashed when I returned to Bentley after my first day of classes and heard a loud argument taking place in the living room.
"I'm a fucking senior, dammit! I want a single room!"
"Duuude, just sit down and let's talk about this. Everything will work out, man!"
Nathe, the resident advisor, was trying to reason with a very distressed looking woman standing near her luggage in the living room. Nate embodied the Bentley stereotype: Birkenstocks, tie-died tee shirt, and long, gnarled dreadlocks. His friendliness and even temper made him a perfect RA.
"Don't 'dude' me, jerk! You're not putting me in a room with some freshman!"
"Whoa, whoa, no need to get all bent out of shape there...what did you say your name was?"
"Katarina," replied the woman.
"Okay, listen Katarina. I spoke with one of the RA's down in the Golden Rectangle the other day and she said a single had opened up in Harrison. Let me give her a call and see if it's still open," said Nathan.
"Golden Rectangle" was how the students referred to the shoebox-shaped dorms on Crawford campus, infamous for their abundant drugs and non-stop partying scene. Nathan was about to pick up the phone when Katarina spoke up.
"Wait!" she yelled. "Maybe we can work something out here. I really don't want to live on Crawford..."
Katarina fumbled with her bags, still looking quite exasperated. Her cheeks were flushed and her short red hair was tussled and unkempt from what had clearly been a stressful day.
Nathan shot me a quick glance and made a subtle "don't say a word" gesture with his hands.
"So, where's the room, anyway? Might as well bring my stuff up there now," said Katarina.
"Cool! I think you're really gonna like it, man. It's on the top floor and has a sweet view of--"
"Top fucking floor? I can't believe this shit! Isn't there anyth--oh, forget it," she said dejectedly, following Nathan up the stairs. Nathan shot me another glance, nodding toward her luggage. I grabbed her suitcases and followed them up the three flights that led to the top floor.
"Not bad," said Katarina, nodding with approval at the large room. "Is my roommate in the house, or is she still in class?"
Nathan was looking out the window and pretended not to hear her.
"Well, is she around? I'd like to meet her as soon as possible."
She turned around and saw me standing in the door with an anxious smile.
"You?!" she screamed. "You have got to be out of your fucking mind!"
Nathan stepped in.
"Whoa, Katherine, chill out for a sec, I'm sure we can work something out so everyone is happy--"
"It's Katarina, you imbecile! And there is no way I'm--"
"Listen," interjected Nathan, "I'm afraid that's all we have, unless you want to look into that room over on Crawford."
"Ughh!" screamed Katarina, then burst into tears.
Our first week together was a nightmare. Katarina was constantly on the phone with her father, pleading with him to do something about her situation. But hearing her side of the conversation as she offered lame excuses for neglecting to secure a room in time, it was clear her father had little sympathy.
Eventually she resigned herself to the situation. But she remained cold and distant, making no attempt to get to know me or anyone else in the house.
One night at dinner, Nathan asked after her.
"Where's Katarina?" he said.
"Upstairs studying. She usually eats in our room," I said.
"Aw man, you should really get her to join us down here," he replied.
"Yeah, I'll try," I lied. Katarina could drop off the face of the planet for all I cared.
"So she's like, totally miserable, huh? Maybe she just needs to get high," he offered.
"Somehow I don't think she'd be interested," I said.
For some reason I continued making awkward gestures of kindness toward her. That night I brought her a plate of spaghetti, but she didn't touch it.
"You can't survive on Slim Jims and jelly beans alone," I said.
"Go to hell," she replied.
"Whatever," I said sitting down at my desk.
"You know, it's not my fault we're stuck together. Why do you always have to be such a bitch?" I said, fuming at her ingratitude.
"Would you please just shut the fuck up? I'm trying to read," she said peering over her book. That did it.
"Fuck you, you horrible wretched bitch!"
"Fuck you!" she yelled back, sitting up in her bed and letting her heavy textbook drop to the floor.
"Fuck you!" I shot back.
"No, fuck YOU!" came the retort.
"FUCK YOU!" I screamed, standing up and pointing at her.
I stared down at her flushed face awaiting a response when suddenly her expression changed and she burst out laughing.
"Wow, our argument skills are really impressive," she said through her laughter.
I felt a smile cracking on my lips but I wasn't ready to give yet. I sat back down at my desk, pretending to read but watching Katarina out of the corner of my eye.
Pretty soon, I felt like a sulking child. I realized it would be foolish to squander this opportunity to connect with her.
"Fuck you," I mumbled, just loud enough for her to hear me. We both erupted in laughter.
Alas, it was a fleeting respite from the growing tension between us.
Privacy was a big issue, for obvious reasons, and I made every effort to respect Katarina's. I knocked before entering, left the room whenever she returned from the shower so she could change, and basically had the status of a visitor in my own room. I thought I was about to lose my mind when a particular incident brought things to a head.
I returned from class one afternoon to find a curtain hanging in the middle of the room.
"What the fuck is this?" I said.
"It's to protect me from your spying eyes!" she shot back from behind the curtain.
I flushed with anger.
"Katarina, that's not fair!" I yelled, pushing the curtain aside and storming to her side of the room. "Now I can't even see out the window!"
"Tough shit," she said without even raising her voice or looking up. Her face was buried behind a Cosmopolitan.
"Just tell me when you need me to leave the room if you want to change," I said, trying to remain calm. "This curtain is a joke!
"I don't want to have to ask your permission every time I take off my fucking clothes. Get used to it."
I grabbed the magazine from her hands and flung it across the room, accidentally sending it sailing out the window. She sat up and looked at me in shock.
"Why do you have to be such a bitch? It's not my fault you didn't have your shit together enough to get a good room this year. Don't make me pay for your mistakes!"
"What the fuck do you know about it you miserable jerk!" she screamed. She stood up and pushed me back, causing me to trip and fall back on her desk, hitting my shoulder on the sharp edge.
"Fuck!" I yelled, standing up and grabbing my throbbing shoulder. "What did you do that for?"
She was frozen, holding her hand over her mouth in shock at what she had done.
"Shut up!" I shot back, storming over to the curtain. With a sharp jerk, I pulled it down, snapping the rod in two and knocking over her desk lamp.
Her anger returned at once. She tried grabbing the curtain from my hand but I pushed her away and she fell back hard on her bed.
"I've had enough of your shit!" I screamed. "Stop fucking with me!" And with that, I threw the curtain at her, covering her completely as she lay on her bed. I stood over her, but she remained motionless, weeping softly. I left the room.
I retreated to the living and found it empty. It was Friday night and everyone was out. I turned on the TV and caught the second half of a dumb romantic comedy. As soon as I cooled off, I started feeling guilty. Katarina had been a complete bitch, but I had over-reacted by tearing the curtain down. Worse yet, I had pushed her.
The more I thought about it, the worse I felt. Katarina could report me, I thought, and I wouldn't blame her. I buried my face in my hands and played out the inevitable scenario of being kicked out of the dorm--probably out of school. I wasn't even angry with Katarina anymore.
I was about to slink back upstairs and brave the storm when I heard someone speak.
"How's your shoulder?" said Katarina, sitting next to me on the couch.
"Katarina! Oh my God, are you okay? I'm so sorry I pushed you!"
She smiled, laughing softly.
"It's okay--I was asking for it. I've been a royal bitch to you, Dan. Can you ever forgive me?"
We sat in silence for a long while staring at the TV. I kept stealing glances at Katarina--her slight figure curled up on the sofa next to me, her tear-stained cheeks reflecting in the glow of the TV. She suddenly seemed more human to me now, asking for my forgiveness and offering hers.
Things were much better from that night on. We actually started enjoying each other's company and I was finally successful in getting her to join everyone at the dinner table. Needless to say, the curtain remained down.
As it happened, we both tended to stay in our room a lot. Neither of us liked to party, and we didn't have a busy social life or relationship that dragged us out of our nest.
One Friday night, a week after our blow-up, Katarina and I were once again the only ones left in the house.
"Hey Dan! Do you have plans tonight?" she said when I returned to our room after a run. She actually seemed happy to see me.
"Umm...not really," I said, sitting on my bed and removing my running shoes.
"Want to rent a movie?" she asked.
"Yeah, sure. I'm kind of hungry now, though."
"Me too. Let's order a pizza!" She jumped up from her chair excitedly and picked up the phone.
I had never seen her in such a good mood. I sat motionless, staring up at her beaming face as she placed the order, rolling her eyes and smiling at me through the awkward transaction as she was asked to repeat everything three times.
"Does that sound good to you?" she asked before hanging up.
"Perfect," I said, grabbing a towel and heading for the shower.
I joined Katarina in the living room after my shower. The pizza had arrived and she was purusing the videos in the house collection.
"Check it out, there's a bunch of DVD's already here," she announced as I entered the living room.
"Yeah, there's some pretty good ones. Have you seen 'Rear Window'?" I asked, helping myself to a piece of pizza.
"Ooh, let's watch that!" she said, jumping up and retrieving the disk.
Watching her prance across the room in a tight-fitting pair of jeans and light blue tank top, I was aghast to realize something which until that moment had been obscured from my vision: Katarina was beautiful.
She had short red hair, which was always mussed up in a stylish sort of way, and bright green eyes. She moved with the athletic grace of a dancer and had a dancer's body as well--tall and thin, toned shoulders and arms, narrow hips and a gorgeous, shapely ass.
I had been blind to all this before; now I couldn't take my eyes off her.
She inserted the DVD and sat down next to me on the couch.
"Brr! It's cold in here!" she said. "I'm gonna grab a blanket."
She ran upstairs to our room and returned just as the credits were finishing.
"Here, we can share," she said, sitting next to me and covering us both with the fleece blanket.
"Oh, that's okay, I'm not--"
"Don't be silly, it's freezing down here," she said. She was sitting right next to me with her feet wrapped behind her. She quickly became absorbed in the movie, but I don't remember a single thing about it, so keenly aware was I of her warm body next to me.
Katarina and I had suddenly become friends. It became our unspoken custom to hang out on Friday nights, and I soon found myself eagerly looking forward to it. It was a relief to be rid of the tension that had so bitterly divided us.
A new sort of tension, however, had quickly sprung up in its place.
Katarina had become an extremely considerate roommate and made every effort to accommodate me, sometimes at the expense of her privacy. One night, we were in our room doing homework and it was getting late. Katarina started getting ready for bed.
"Don't look--I'm changing into my PJ's," she said.
"Mm-hmm," I said, too absorbed in my homework for her words to register.
A minute or two passed and I sat up to stretch, vaguely aware of Katarina moving around in the corner of my vision. Without thinking, I turned to ask if I could borrow her calculator and gasped to see her pulling a tee shirt over her naked breasts.
"Oh!" I blurted out.
"Dan! I told you not to look!" she said. But her tone was not angry or accusatory.
"I'm sorry, I just--"
"It's okay, it didn't seem like you were listening," she laughed.
She now stood wearing a blue tee shirt that barely reached the waistline of her white panties. I was not accustomed to seeing her exposed like this but was unable to stop looking. However, she did not seem concerned and went about getting ready for bed. She stood in front of the mirror to brush her hair, casually chatting with me as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Situated on the top floor, our room was always warm. When it was really cold outside, the radiator in our room stayed on all night, making the room quite stifling. One night the two of us were studying together and I was seated in Katarina's beanbag chair near her dresser. She was lying in her bed.
"What's up with the heat in this building?" I said, "it's like an oven in here!"
"I know, I'm burning up," she said.
We were both dressed for bed, me in boxer briefs and a tee shirt and Katarina wearing her flannel pajamas. I ruffled the collar of my shirt to cool myself off.
"Why don't you just take off your shirt?" she said innocently.
"You don't mind?" I replied.
"Of course not, dork! I've seen you without your shirt on you know," she said dismissively.
I removed my shirt and tossed it on my bed.
"Much better," I said.
We continued reading in silence for a few minutes, and then Katarina spoke again.
"I don't feel like doing homework anymore," she said, closing her book.
"Ready to go to bed?" I asked, starting to rise from the beanbag chair.
"No--don't get up! I just don't feel like reading anymore, that's all."
"Oh, okay," I said, returning to my book. But Katarina continued to fidget on her bed and I realized she must want to chat.
"So, got any exciting plans for the weekend?" I asked.
"Not really," she said. "I might have dinner with some friends Saturday night. How 'bout you?"
We chatted for a few minutes about nothing in particular, but it struck me that Katarina seemed preoccupied. Whenever I was talking, her gaze drifted down from my face to exposed body. I suddenly felt turned on.
My penis began snake its way down the leg of my boxer briefs, filling with blood. I noticed a distinct tremor in my voice as I prattled on about my favorite trail runs.
"You must be in really good shape from all that running," she said, still gazing at my body. "God, you have, like, no fat at all," she added. "How did your abs and upper body get so muscular? Do you lift weights too?"
"Umm, a little, yeah," I croaked, sitting up in the beanbag chair in an effort to conceal my erection. I reached for my book and set it down in my lap.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, "I know you have homework..."
"No, that's okay, I just...I mean," I stammered.
"Hey, want to arm wrestle?" she said. "I bet I'm stronger than you!" She swung around and planted her elbow at the edge of the bed, holding up her hand.
"Sure," I said, sitting up and kneeling by her bed, keeping my legs bent to conceal my bulge. I put my elbow on the bed and took her hand.
"Ready?" she said.
I was impressed with her strength but nonetheless had little difficulty resisting her as she strained with all her might against me. I pretended to struggle, letting her push my hand nearly all the way down, then easily pushed her arm back to the starting position.
"Show off!" she squealed, grabbing my fist with her other hand and leaning her weight into the struggle.
She started to lean out over the bed and seemed on the verge of toppling over. I reached out my other arm around her and shifted her back onto the bed.
"No cheating!" she screamed through her laughter. She wrestled me up on the bed beside her and I panicked that she would see my erection.
"Alright!" I yelled. "I give up! I give up!" But at this point, she was laughing so hard that her strength had vanished. She let go of my hand. I squirmed back to the beanbag chair before she could gather herself.
"Wow, you are strong!" she said finally.
The following night we found ourselves studying side by side again. The room was once again overheated, but I was afraid to say anything.
"Aren't you hot?" Katarina inquired, looking up from her book abruptly.
"Umm, actually I was getting kind of warm," I said. "Want me to crack the window?"
"No, then it'll be too cold," she said. "But you can take your shirt off if you want. Your cheeks are all red."