tagExhibitionist & VoyeurThe Roommate from Hell

The Roommate from Hell


An elite Midwestern college, sometime in the 1990s

The afternoon sun was bright on the dirty, melting snow as Rob and his two best friends stepped out of the dining hall. "Look at how elegant our shadows are!" Rebbie drawled in her Southern accent, which Rob had always suspected was exaggerated, as she clung to his arm on her left and Mark's on her right. Two tall gentlemen, and a woman with a waist!"

Rob laughed, knowing better than to make any comment about Rebbie's weight, even a complimentary one. He thought she wore those few extra pounds beautifully, but he'd learned his lesson about flirting with her.

Especially not in the presence of Mark, her boyfriend of six months or so, who'd also had the sense to say nothing about her weight. "Oh, that sun, it's choice!" he proclaimed, but he also let go of Rebbie's arm to zip his coat up. "I don't know how you put up with this cold in just that sweatshirt, Rob."

"He's from Maine, that's how." Rebbie pulled them both close to her as a shield against the wind. She was from New Orleans, Mark was from Southern California, and Rob's tolerance for cold was a never-ending source of witty commentary from them both.

"Vermont, Rebbie," Rob said for what felt like the hundredth time since Mark had introduced them a few months before.

"Somewhere up there anyway," Rebbie said, and Rob didn't need to look at her to know she was tilting her head to the side and grinning, just the way she always did when telling him ever-so-politely to fuck off. "So when's your next class, Rob?"

"I'm done for the day," Rob said. "I'm just going to check my mailbox, then for once I've got my room to myself. Might actually get some studying done at home for once."

"Dude, why don't you just tell Jerrod to go screw himself?" Mark asked. "He can't be that bad!"

"He is that bad," Rebbie piped up before Rob could comment. "No offense, Rob, but I've heard all about him from...well, I can't say who, but they all say he's insane."

"He is," Rob said. "That's why I just try to enjoy whatever time I can get alone up there."

"Why don't you just move?" Mark asked.

"We got the room on my lottery number," Rob explained. "I'm not about to reward his bullying by giving him the room I got. In fact, I'm not even sure if I'm allowed to move out. He is, but he won't."

"Right, he said he asked student affairs and they didn't have any non-smoking rooms, wasn't it?" Rebbie asked, rubbing his arm through her mitten to comfort him on the difficult topic.

"He said that all right," Rob said. "But I'm pretty sure he was lying."

"I'm so sorry it hasn't worked out," Rebbie said.

A shriek of frustration just ahead of them saved Rob from replying to the unwelcome pity. It came from a well-dressed young woman, vaguely familiar to Rob, who had dropped a textbook in the snowbank where it had slid into a pool of icy water fed by the icicles on the dorm roof. "Oh my God," she was grousing as she pulled the book, wet but intact, from the water. "This is freezing!"

The trio stopped as the poor young woman set the book on the relatively dry sidewalk and wriggled hastily out of her gloves. "I hope this doesn't give me frostbite!" she groused. "And I'm running late for a meeting with a prof!"

"Hey..." It took Rob a moment to place her name, but triumphantly he did it. "Carrie, right?"

Having managed to pull her saturated gloves off, she smiled at him. "Yes, I'm Carrie. Carrie with the frigid hands!" She stuffed them in her coat pockets to warm them up.

"Well, I can help with that," Rob said. Disentangling himself from Rebbie's grip, he slid his backpack off his shoulders and unzipped it. "I always keep an extra pair of gloves in here," he explained, and he handed them to her. They were a silly shade of green, almost chartreuse, but Rob had long since grown too old to be ashamed of his favorite color.

"Wow!" Carrie said. "Thank you...I'm sorry, I know I met you once last fall, you were having dinner with Frances?"

"Yes, that was me," Rob said, smiling ruefully at the unfortunate memory of the night Frances had told him unequivocally she wanted to be just friends. He'd reluctantly agreed, but they weren't even really that anymore; he had barely spoken to her all semester. "Frances was -- is an old friend, all the way back from freshman year. My name's Rob, by the way."

She slid his gloves on and shook his hand. "Well, thank you, Rob!" she said. "I really owe you one. But why do you carry spare gloves around?"

"Especially when you're from Maine?" Rebbie needled, causing Mark to burst into peals of almost girlish laughter. "And why that attractive color?"

"You never know when you'll need extras in this weather, I guess," Mark said. No one needed to know the real reason -- that Jerrod had once tossed those very gloves in the shower just as he was about to leave for class on a frigid day back in January. Once they'd finally dried out, he'd kept them where the jerk wouldn't be able to find them. "And you know green is my favorite color!"

"Actually, I had no idea," Rebbie said. Mark opted not to explain that he remembered telling her that at least twice -- once because of the gloves.

"Well, thanks again!" Carrie picked up the soaked textbook. "To return these...I'll ask Frances where to find you?"

"Uh, sure!" Rob said. No need to spoil the mood by admitting Frances was barely speaking to him these days.

"What a meet-cute!" Rebbie said a little too encouragingly as soon as they were on their own again.

"Nah, she's not his type," Mark said.

"What makes you think that?" Rebbie asked. "He prefers brunettes. Don't you, Rob?"

"I prefer women I know a bit," Rob said. But he made no effort to hide his gaze as it followed Carrie's retreating figure towards the science building. By then they were nearly to Rebbie's dorm, and Rob had learned his lesson about clinging too hard. "See you both later?" he asked as he stepped off the path in the opposite direction, toward the post office.

"Sure!" Mark said.

"If we see you there," Rebbie added, clutching Mark's hand.

"God, I hope he asks her out," Rebbie said as soon as Rob was out of earshot. "He really needs to get over me."

"He doesn't like you like that," Mark replied. "He wants you for, you know, a fag-hag."

"Excuse me?!" Rebbie let go of Mark's hand. "Wasn't it you who gave him a stack of Penthouses for his birthday?!"

"Wasn't it you who gave him a rose?"

"A yellow rose, Mark. For friendship."

"You knew he wouldn't see it as just that."

"He would if you're right about him, but what makes you think --"

"Well, one of us must be right anyway," Mark cut in. "But who cares?"

Carrie was still feeling the glow of her new friend's goodwill as she stepped into the science building, clutching her soggy textbook. What a gentleman this Rob was! But since she didn't really know Rob, she didn't know the redoubtable Jerrod was his roommate. So she couldn't have guessed the surprise her fellow biology major had when he took note of her gloves from his perch on the bench outside Ms. Dundee's office.

Jerrod made sure to keep it that way. "Hi, Carrie!" he said with a smile that gave nothing away. "Everything okay with your book there?"

"It will be," she said ruefully, holding it up, which gave Jerrod the desired effect of a good look at her gloves -- no doubt about it, they were Rob's. Just what was going on, and how had Rob kept it from him?! "Next time it's this slippery, I'll be sure to carry them all in my backpack!" she added. Seeing no sign of their fellow overachiever, she asked, "Where's Amy?"

"Oh, you know she'll burst in at the last second and be just as organized as you are." Jerrod stood up and checked his reflection in the window of their professor's locked office -- every hair in place, and his sweater looked pristine -- and passed over in silence his absolute certainty that neither woman was half as well organized as he was.

"I wonder how she does it?" Carrie said. "You know, I found a notebook of hers in the lost and found at the library last week, and I called and asked her if she'd like me to hang on to it. She said no thanks, just leave it there. Then last night about eleven, she called and asked me if I remembered when I'd seen it!"

"And if I know her, she found it," Jerrod said, smiling through his growing outrage at his undependable roommate -- just what did Rob have going on with Carrie?! He would find out.

"Any idea what this meeting is for?" Carrie asked. "I've been trying to figure out what you and Amy and I have in common."

"Well, Connie's our advisor," Jerrod said.

"Connie? Oh, Professor Dundee!" Carrie had never heard any student call Constance Dundee, PhD by her first name before. "But it was just the three of us on that email, and she must have twenty advisees.

"I don't know." Jerrod kept his poker face. He knew full well, and he suspected Carrie did too.

Professor Dundee appeared around the corner just then, a lab coat thrown over her blouse and slacks as usual. "Hello Carrie, Jerrod," she said. "Thanks for coming. Have you heard from Amy?"

"We certainly have," Jerrod said, for their friend was bolting down the hall towards them at that moment, behind Ms. Dundee, who turned around to see her.

"Right on time as always, I see," Ms. Dundee said with a grin as Amy Wu skidded up behind her, her sneakers squeaking a bit.

"Sorry I'm late," Amy said.

"You're not," Ms. Dundee said. "Come on in."

She ushered the three students inside and bade them take seats around her desk. "I'm pleased to announce," she declared as soon as she had shut the door behind them, "that the three of you are our finalists for Biology Student of the Year."

"Hey, that's great, professor!" Jerrod said.

"It sure is," Amy agreed. "Thanks!"

Only Carrie was genuinely surprised. "Wow!" she exclaimed. When Jerrod and Amy both chuckled at her outsized response, she added, "I never would've guessed I'd be in this company!"

Neither would I, Jerrod thought to himself. He'd anticipated the competition from Amy, but he'd never imagined this. First Rob's up to something with her, now this?!

As Professor Dundee explained the process from here on in, how she wanted an essay from each of them in the event of a too-close-to-call GPA in bio ("It's already close, I'll tell you that, and it could get closer this semester"), Jerrod's mind was already racing. What did he know -- really know -- about Carrie? And how could he use it to his advantage? As far as he knew, she was a pretty straight arrow and an unflappable girl-next-door type, but there had to be something. He had one ace in the hole: evidently Rob cared about her. That ought to help.

He was still brainstorming when Connie dismissed them, and he managed to keep his poker face as Carrie stood up and said, "Thank you so much, Professor Dundee!" almost like a cheerleader -- had she been a cheerleader in high school? Letting a secret like that out wouldn't fly on their uber-feminist campus...but that didn't sound like enough.

"Don't forget the next exam in my class," Ms. Dundee said. "Next Friday. It could put any of you over the top or take you out of the running!"

They all laughed, all of them knowing full well Ms. Dundee would expect nothing less than superb grades from them all. Which did remind Jerrod that he'd taken care to learn where she kept the key to her filing cabinet -- behind the frame of the photograph of her family that she kept on the bookcase behind her desk. The answers to the exam were undoubtedly just a turn of that key away...but that was one line Jerrod had never crossed. For all the dirty tricks that had gotten him to the top of the heap -- valedictorian, National Merit Scholar, Outstanding Freshman award and too many more to list anywhere -- he'd at least been able to say he'd never cheated on a test. On nearly everything else, but never that.

But could Carrie say the same?

Probably -- unless he saw to it that she couldn't. All at once the plan started falling into place, just like it always did sooner or later.

Jerrod had no trouble acting friendly and cordial through his outrage as he thanked Connie and wished the girls a good afternoon. He knew Connie well enough to know she'd had at least three cups of tea with lunch and would surely step out to the ladies' room as soon as they were gone, so it was just a matter of evading the girls. Amy would no doubt want to whine about her genetics professor like she'd been doing all semester, so Jerrod headed for the restrooms as well in case he had to duck into the men's.

Sure enough, he did. "Do you know what Mr. Lawrence said about my last homework?!" Amy burst out as soon as she figured they were clear of Ms. Dundee's hearing.

"He told me all about it," Jerrod lied, looking at the glass panes along the hallway for a reflection of Connie stepping out of her office.

"What?!" Amy exclaimed. "That's totally unprofessional of him!"

"It's for your own good," Jerrod said. "It was an executive decision, he wanted to get my opinion on how to get through to you. But I don't think he understands women the way I do."

"Yeah, right," Amy scoffed. Then, seeing where he was headed, she added, "Jerrod, wait."

"I can't, I have a meeting." That much, at least, was true. Everyone always wants a piece of me, he reflected as he stepped into the bathroom. He checked his hair in the mirror and made sure his shirt was tucked in evenly while he counted to twenty, and then headed back out to the hall.

Amy was gone, and Connie's office door was open. Cursing his rotten luck that he couldn't be sure how long she'd been in the ladies' room, he remembered to barge in looking like he owned the place; he tended to believe half the science majors in the school believed he did anyway, which by rights he should have.

Keeping an ear out for the telltale sound of the bathroom door opening, he lost no time in retrieving the key from the picture frame, and helping himself to the filing cabinet. He did, though, let his eyes wander to the open notebook on Connie's desk, on which he saw his name and Carrie's and Amy's in Connie's handwriting. He also recognized his biology GPA written beside his name and, to his disgust, he saw that Carrie's was a full two tenths of a point higher. Goddamned B-plus in genetics, and Amy thought she had something to complain about?!

But there was no time to fuss about that just now. He'd long since taken notice of which drawer she kept the exam papers in, and roughly even which part of the drawer -- toward the back -- although he'd never used that information before. In no time he had a copy clutched in his left hand and slid the drawer shut as quietly as he could with his right.

Just as Jerrod was about to lock the cabinet, he heard the whoosh and squeak of the ladies' room door. There was nothing to do but keep the key and try to put it back later. He rushed out of the office and leapt in two giant steps across the hall into the science library, where he ducked into a carrel just in time to peer underneath and see Connie's legs reentering her office. He checked his watch -- his Campus Ethics Committee meeting was in seven more minutes, and he couldn't stand up as long as Connie had her door open. He could only hope she needed to make a private phone call or something.

To his great relief, she evidently did, for he heard her shut the door just a moment later. Jerrod gathered up his backpack and stood up, and tore around the corner and out of sight. He was halfway down the hall when he realized he still had the exam paper in his hand, but his panic quickly subsided as he reasoned that he was simply hiding his contraband in plain sight. Nevertheless, he stopped just inside the door and took out his chemistry book, folded the paper and slipped it between the pages.

How could that bitch Carrie be ahead of him?! But he'd see to all that soon enough.

Rob knew the drill. The moment that asshole got home, he'd go straight to the stereo and turn it off. Lately Rob had retaliated by returning the favor, which almost always got Jerrod's hackles up, but that was a satisfactory consolation prize in a battle he had no real chance to win. In any event, Rob had managed to get in a good few hours studying and enjoying his mother's old folk albums on the stereo. The pleasant memory of Carrie's gratitude had him in a mellow mood that fit the music perfectly. Rebbie would never be his, that he'd known deep down all these months he'd been crunching on her, and it felt great to at least have another crush. He knew he mustn't let it go any deeper than that, since Carrie was way out of his league. But she had looked so cute with his gloves on, he couldn't help enjoying the still-vivid image as he studied.

So didn't it just figure that he was right in the middle of a favorite ballad when Jerrod's key turned in the lock! "Good afternoon," he said with his usual smarmy grin as he shut the door and walked straight to the stereo.

"Come on, this is a beautiful song!" Rob protested, though he knew it wouldn't do any good.

Sure enough, it didn't. "I realize to you it might be." He hit the reject button on the turntable, and shut the amplifier off. "You know the rules, Rob."

"It's my room, too."

"The difference is, I literally can't stand your music," Jerrod said, and just to mark his territory further, he hocked up the phlegm brought on by the early spring chill and spat in their trash can.

"Jer, that's disgusting! And it's my trash can, too!"

"It's a trash can, Rob." Jerrod pulled a can of Coke out of their shared refrigerator and tapped on the lid, knowing that would annoy Rob, who had told him several times that the trick didn't work. He then opened the can and tossed the tab on the floor, and took a loud slurp of the drink.

"I don't care what it is, it's mine and I said don't spit in it!"

"You East Coasters are so uptight," Jerrod said between slurps. "Cheers, Rob, and lighten up."

"Do not push me," Rob grumbled. They'd come to blows more than once, and Rob was forever disabused of his youthful conviction that violence was necessarily wrong.

"God, why are you such an angry person?" Jerrod needled. "Every time I come home..." He pulled out one of his classical CDs from the bookcase.

"Don't even think of playing that while I'm here!" Rob jumped up. "Not if you're going to turn my music off as soon as you walk in!"

Jerrod's smugness had vanished, and he waved the CD at Rob like it was a weapon. "This piece is of emotional importance to me, Rob! I need it after a long day!"

"Then you can play it when I'm done with the music that's of emotional importance to me!"

"It's not the same, Rob! My music is sacred to me! You might not like it, but at least you can stand it!"

"What if I can't?"

Jerrod set the CD down. "I doubt it, but whatever. If it'll keep you calmed down. I don't need another one of your tantrums."

"Then don't push me." Rob sat back down. He didn't really want to hit his former best friend.

Jerrod took a long look at the CD he'd wanted to put on, but then he thought of another line of attack. "So how long have you had a crush on Carrie?"

"Carrie who?"

"Loranger." Jerrod followed her last name with his loudest slurp yet.

"Who says I have a crush on her?"

"She does," Jerrod said. "Saw her at Connie's office this afternoon, and she asked me, hey, aren't you Rob's roommate? Those were your gloves she was wearing, weren't they?"

"Yes, I loaned them to her," Rob said, reminding himself that anything to follow was probably horseshit, but there was no stopping Jerrod from shoveling it out.

"Loaned them, Rob? Not what I heard. She thinks they were a gift."

"Oh really." Rob didn't look up from his book.

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