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Authors: Molly Ringle

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BOOK: Relatively Honest

“Oh, let me tell you all about

Chapter 5: Opportunities from Roommates

After my
description of Patrick’s most asinine quotations, told over our trays of dorm food in the dining hall, Sinter had developed a perverse fascination and wanted to see the horrors for himself. I was only too happy to have an excuse to visit Julie’s room, so we ambled up to the women’s corridor. Most of the doors were open, revealing freshman ladies unpacking boxes, lounging on beds, and lingering in doorways. The air was loud with their chirping voices and the female-singer-songwriter music from their stereos, and smelled of fruity perfume and cigarettes (in all three varieties: regular, clove, and marijuana).

We found Julie’s room halfway down the corridor. They too had the door open, and music playing. She and Patrick and another girl – presumably Julie’s roommate – were eating pizza from an open box. Julie beckoned me in. Patrick looked less than thrilled, but didn’t object outright. I sat next to Julie, on her bed, and Sinter tucked himself into a corner behind her roommate.

The roommate was striking, though I couldn’t decide if I found her attractive or not. She was slender, and to judge from her length as she stretched out on the floor alongside her bed, she was very tall, probably over six feet. She was dressed in a black tank top, army-green trousers, and combat boots. She had blondish-brown hair nearly to her waist, loose and tangled. She wore no makeup. In fact, as Sinter was the only one there wearing any, it rather looked as if there would be more cosmetics in our room than in the girls’.

This imposing roommate held a cigarette (regular variety) in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other. She squinted at me through a cloud of smoke. “Join us for artery-clogging meat products on soggy bread?”

“No, thank you. We’ve eaten.”

“Love the accent. Smoke?”

“Not tonight, thanks.” I was capable of smoking, but found it hindered your chances of getting involved with non-smokers. Julie, for example, wasn’t smoking.

“Clare, this is Daniel,” said Julie. “Daniel, Clare.”

Clare lifted her cigarette in my direction. “Nice to meet you.”

“Pleasure’s mine.”

She swung around and held out the carton to Sinter. “How about you? Smoke?”

He fumbled his box of cloves from his shirt pocket, dropping it twice in his lap before shaking one out. “Got my own.” He managed to hold still while she reached back and lit it for him with the tip of hers.

“This is Sinter,” I said. “My roommate.”

“Hello,” said Julie.

“Wow,” said Patrick, staring at him. “I thought this town was stuck in the ’60s, not the ’80s.”

Sinter’s eyes met mine, and I lifted an eyebrow

“I love ’80s music,” Julie assured, winning an uneasy smile from Sinter.

“Sin-tah?” Clare said, mimicking my accent. She looked back at him. “How do you spell that?”

He spelled it for her. “It’s a family name.” Poor bloke probably got this question daily. “Also a type of rock,” he mumbled.

“Well, Type Of Rock, get the fuck into the circle.” Clare scooted over to make room for him. “You trying to give me a neck sprain, making me talk to you over my shoulder?”

Wide-eyed, Sinter slid forward.

Clare turned her attention to me again. “You came all the way over from England to study what?”

“I’ll be majoring in Leisure Studies. My parents are in tourism.”

. That’s hot.” She, like most North Americans, would have rhymed it with “seizure,” whereas my pronunciation rhymed it with “pleasure.” “Okay,” she went on, “and we know Julie’s going to be a curator or a historian or something, and Patrick’s going to be a presidential aide and probably get thrown in jail for bribery before he’s twenty-five.” While Patrick squawked in protest around a mouthful of pizza, Clare turned to Sinter. “What about you, rock star?”

He had been contemplating the end of his cigarette, and twitched when she addressed him. “Oh – theater major. Maybe English minor. I’m not sure.”

“And you?” I asked Clare.

“Pre-law. I guess because I like to argue.” She stubbed out her cigarette and grinned.

While Sinter
and I walked back to our room an hour later, I asked him, “Did you not have a good time? You didn’t say much.”

He sighed. “I freeze up around people I really like.”

“Ah. Clare?”

He nodded. “Isn’t she intense?”

“Yes. Definitely.” We walked up the stairs and entered our corridor. “Julie’s a bit of all right, eh?”

“She’s attractive. Not my type really, but she is attractive.” He unlocked our door. “Why are you after her, anyway? She has a boyfriend.”

“I’m not after her.” I went into the room and glanced back at him. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

He smirked and turned to close the door.

“Well, you may not believe me,” I continued, “but even though Patrick is an arse, I wouldn’t do anything until that was all over.”

“Mm-hm,” Sinter said, aloof. “An ‘arse’ who’s going to be two thousand miles away.”

I opened my window to let in the cool night air. “Real shame, isn’t it?”

Sinter chuckled. “Fuck. If I buy him a plane ticket, will he leave sooner?”

Fortunately I
did not see much of Patrick for the next week; but, unfortunately, I didn’t see much of Julie either. She was going through something called Sorority Rush, which, along with the various required activities of Freshman Orientation Week, took up all her time. At night, reported Clare (who had begun hanging out in our room), Julie and Patrick tended to go out on walks, or went to the hotel where Patrick was staying. I writhed in envy at the mention of that, but at least Julie did come back to the dorm to sleep.

“Good thing he ain’t sleeping here with her,” Clare said. “I’d blow my brains out.”

“If he were, we’d let you come up and sleep in our room,” I said. “Wouldn’t we, Sinter?”

Sinter blushed and fumbled with a textbook.

Since technically this was a non-smoking dorm, he and Clare sometimes avoided Mary Jo’s enforcement walk-throughs by going outside to smoke. They tended to hold spirited debates about which was unhealthier, regular cigarettes or clove cigarettes – or, more precisely, Clare would pick a debate, and nag Sinter until he was roused to defend himself. Judging from how he came back glowing after each outing with her, I knew he loved every minute of it.

While biding my time until Patrick left, I did the things I was supposed to do: met with an adviser, drew up a timetable, registered for courses, and bought textbooks. It was all a bloody nuisance, and stressful besides; so at the end of a particularly trying day, three days before the start of classes, I was chuffed indeed when Clare wandered into our room, swinging her stainless steel water bottle, and said, “Finally. Patrick is gone. Hallelujah.”

She thumped herself down on Sinter’s bed, beside him.

I jumped up. “Gone? Just now?”

“Hour or so ago. Julie’s all emotional about it.”

“So you came up here?” Sinter said.

She shoved the bottle into his hand. “I’m ‘giving her space.’ I’m not insensitive. Jesus.”

“I didn’t say you were,” he defended. He sipped from the bottle, and frowned. “What’s in this?”

“Whiskey and Coke. Got it from a pre-law party at a senior’s house.”

“It’s kind of flat.” Nonetheless, he took another sip.

“Oh, complain, complain.” She yanked it back, swigged some, and held it out in my direction. “Drink, Revelstoke?”

“No, thanks.” I was already grabbing my keys and smoothing my shirt in the mirror. “Think I’ll go out for a bit.”

“Yeah, two guesses where
going,” Clare called after me.

I paid no attention. I jogged straight down to the women’s floor, and knocked on Julie’s door. Emotionally vulnerable girlfriends: these were fabulous to work with. Not the time to seduce, but the time to lay some really valuable groundwork.

After a few silent seconds, in which I imagined she was peeking through the peephole to see who it was, Julie opened the door. It was dark outside now, and only her desk lamp was on. She smiled, but her eyes and nostrils were red around the edges. “Hi, Dan.”

“Hello.” I pretended not to notice she’d been crying. “Sinter and Clare were getting – well, you know, the way they get – so I thought I’d escape and visit you instead.”

“Guess I could use the company. Come on in.”

As she closed the door, I sat on her bed, then faked a moment of surprise. “Oh, that’s right. Patrick was leaving today, wasn’t he?”

She nodded, and seated herself in her desk chair. “He left.”

“God, I’m sorry. That must be hard.”

She nodded again, fiddling with a pencil on her desk.

“I shouldn’t have – look, I can leave if you like.” I braced my hands on my knees, ready to stand.

“It’s all right. I wouldn’t have let you in if I didn’t want to talk to you.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.” The lamplight touched her long light eyelashes, which were still spiky with the wetness of tears.

“All right.” I settled back with an elbow on her pillow. “I’ll tell you what an idiot I was today. This will make you feel better.” I went on to give her the true story of how I had gone to buy my texts at the bookshop, and queued for almost an hour, only to realize at the counter that I had forgotten to bring my credit card. It made a good companion piece to the (also true) story of how I had got the time wrong for the meeting with my adviser, turned up an hour late, had to reschedule, and then brought the wrong forms with me when I turned up the next time.

She laughed and reciprocated with bizarre stories of “rushing” the sororities. I had to ask a lot of questions to understand it – groups of girls living together in big houses? Why
I ask more questions? – but the outcome was that she had finally been accepted by one of these houses, and was now a “pledge” there.

“I hope I did the right thing.” She sighed. “The schedule is insane. Monday nights there’s dinner at the house, Wednesday nights there’s a pledge meeting, most Fridays and Saturdays there’s some event you’re supposed to go to…” She held up her date-book in bewilderment. “I have to study! Don’t they realize?”

“Somehow I think you’ll manage it all.” I held her gaze in my best admiring fashion. It made her bow her head, smiling, and I congratulated myself. This one was going to be a walkover.

We talked for two hours, covering all kinds of topics - films, music, cars, sport, food - and agreeing on practically everything. Finally she looked at the clock and said she had promised to call her parents, and had better do it soon.

“All right.” I got up, and paused. “Come to my room for five minutes first, though.”

She smiled, but a crease formed between her eyebrows, as if my words had set off “date rape” alarms in her head. “Why?”

“Because this useless twenty-pence piece,” I said, taking the nearest coin out of my pocket, “says Sinter and Clare are making out by now. I’ll need you to witness, if it’s to be a fair bet.”

She relaxed with a laugh, and took me up on the wager. “But I don’t have a twenty-pence piece to give you if you’re right,” she said while we climbed the stairs.

“That’s all right. I’ll take the next Canadian quarter you find.”

We tiptoed up to my room, and found the door ajar a little, the way I had left it. Loud despairing music throbbed from within. I pushed the door open, Julie peeking over my shoulder, until Sinter’s dark bed-cave was visible. Lo and behold, there lay our roommates, still dressed, tangled and kissing. Clare, evidently, had pounced on Sinter, who was now on his back, twining his hands into her hair while she pinned him to his blankets.

Julie and I ducked out of sight and retreated several steps, stifling our laughter. “All right,” she said. “I owe you.”

“I won’t charge interest.” I nodded to the stairwell. “Go and make your phone call.”

She paused, and narrowed her eyes playfully. “Hey. Were they kissing
you came down to see me?”

“They were not.” I kissed my fingertip and crossed my heart with it. “Ask Clare when she gets back tonight.
she gets back tonight.”

She opened the stairwell door, still watching me with a pseudo-suspicious smile, then darted away. I wandered down the corridor, feeling high as a transcontinental jet. God, I loved the beginnings of flirtations. At such times I almost believed I could be in love – not that it ever turned out that way. Not so far, at least.

I cleared my throat, jingled my keys, and re-entered my room, shielding my vision with one hand. “Sorry, just passing through, just picking up a book, don’t mind me.” Sinter and Clare barely had time to squeak before I was out again, going down to the dorm lounge to read.

Chapter 6: Don Juan in the Internet Age

Classes began
the following Monday. My life for the next week was chaos as I worked out how best to get to each building, which books to bring, which to sell back, and how on Earth to get all my homework done and still have free time. I could only imagine how Julie felt, getting whisked away by her new sorority “sisters” every other evening to do some fluffy thing or another.

I phoned my parents one night to let them know I was still alive. They were happy to hear it. I asked them if everything was all right on their end. “Of course it is,” Mum said. “Why shouldn’t it be?”

Fine, then, Mum. We’ll act as if that’s true.

I didn’t get to speak with Julie again until the weekend. Sunday afternoon found the four of us – Sinter, Clare, Julie, and I – sitting in the girls’ dorm room, looking and feeling like a hurricane had blown through the building.

“It’s been one week and I’m already a hundred pages behind on reading Henry James,” Sinter said.

“I can’t believe I was mad enough to register for an eight a.m. trigonometry class,” I said.

“My chem teacher is a total fascist,” Clare said. “There has got to be some other science course I could take.”

“It took me three hours to get the library’s reserve reading page to work,” Julie said, “and then it turned out my computer didn’t have the software to view the books.”

We lapsed into silence. Julie went to her closet and returned with a six-pack of beer, which she set on the floor in the midst of us. “A senior at the sorority gave me this,” she said, peeling loose a can and resuming her seat in her desk chair. “Apparently this is how college students deal with life.”

“Worth a shot.” Sinter leaned forward and fetched cans for Clare, himself, and me. We popped them open. The beer tasted cheap and watery, and wasn’t likely to have much effect on any of us, but I welcomed even a small amount of temporary numbness today.

“So what’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?” Clare asked us.

“Fun topic,” Julie said.

“Aside from this week?” Sinter said.

“Yes. Come on. It’ll make us feel better to compare this to the really crappy days we’ve had.” Clare swigged her beer. “I’ll start. I was sixteen. My best friend killed herself. I found her.”

All motion stopped momentarily.

“Fuck,” Sinter said.

“That’s awful,” Julie said.

“Why’d she do it?” I asked.

“Over a freaking boy, one her parents didn’t want her to see. Is that pathetic or what? Anyway, I’m over it.” She elbowed Sinter. “Your turn.”

“Me? Okay. Um…” He scrunched up his eyes till they were closed. “I got into this huge fight with my parents when I was fifteen, over this friend of mine. They thought he was a bad influence. I rebelled and started dressing like this, and…well, it’s stupid compared to yours. But things have never been good between us since.” He folded his hands around his beer can and fidgeted one thumbnail against the other.

“That’s not stupid,” Julie said. “The way you get along with your parents affects everything.”

“What’s yours?” I asked her softly, not wishing to think too long about my own parents and what they might be up to lately.

She lowered her eyes. A lock of golden-red hair slipped down and touched her lip. “When I was seven, my dad married my step-mom. It turned out to be fine – I mean, I think of her as my mom now – but back then, I was terrified it would be the end of my family as I knew it. I had heard about step-mothers, from fairy tales.”

The rest of us chuckled, and she smiled.

“So your mum, who made us the peanut butter sandwiches, isn’t your real mum?” I asked.

“No. My ‘real mum’ died when I was a baby. Car crash.” She shrugged. “I’m sure that would be my worst memory, if I could remember it.”

“Down to you, Revelstoke,” Clare said.

I shook my head. “I can’t beat any of you. My life has been dull.”

“Well, you have to say
,” Sinter said.

“Yeah,” said Clare. “We bare our souls for you, and you’re going to plead off like a wuss?”

“All right, all right. Let me think.” I edged my lip between my teeth. In my mind flickered a vision of my fourteen-year-old self, barefoot and in swimming trunks, walking down the corridor of a Harrogate hotel, looking at a folded note in my hand…but no, I could not tell
. Something else. “This is silly, but…it would have to be when I was twelve, and my dog was killed by a car.”

“Aww,” chimed Clare and Sinter – Clare somewhat sarcastically.

“I said it was silly,” I defended.

“I don’t blame you.” Julie raised her voice to drown out the other two. “There’s nothing sadder than when a dog dies.”

“Thank you,” I said, with exaggerated dignity.

“Nah, I know,” Clare relented. “It
sad. But, dude, if that’s the worst thing that’s happened to you, then you lead a charmed life.” She kicked my shoe.

“Could be.” I took another swallow of cheap beer. “Because, you know…I hate to admit this, but even that turned out to my advantage. Next day in school, this girl noticed how down I was, and felt sorry for me when I told her why. She invited me to her house after school. It, er, led to my first extended snogging session. I don’t normally kiss and tell, but as it’s been six years and she’s all the way over in England…”

“Jesus Christ,” Clare said. “You are such a slut.”

“Twelve?” said Sinter. “You were twelve? Kill me now.”

“You realize we’re only talking about snogging,” I said. “It’s very different from shagging, in case there’s any confusion. A snog is a good wet kiss, that’s all.”

Julie smiled at me, eyes twinkling. I smiled back.

“I know what snogging is,” Sinter said. “Anglophile, remember?”

“How old were
?” Clare asked him.

He laughed nervously. “Right. Okay, next subject.”

“Was I your first?” Clare crowed. “Hah! I was totally your first, wasn’t I?”

“Can we not talk about this right now?”

I looked at Julie again. Our gazes held, and her grin widened. If only there had been a good excuse to demonstrate a snog. I would have done fifty extra trigonometry problems for that.

What of
my most recent girlfriend, Miriam, one might wonder? Oh, not to fear: she still lurked about, ready to sabotage my life.

During the second week of classes, my dad emailed me one of those foolish lists of funny things everyone forwards around to each other. I, in turn, forwarded it to a number of people: Sinter, Julie, Clare, and some friends back home. I included Miriam, as a courtesy.

When I got back from class the next morning and checked my email, she had answered with another of her long, rambling messages.

Hello Daniel,

It was good to hear from you, even just a forward like this, as I’d begun to think you were never going to write again. I don’t mean to sound sulky, but you got quiet so quickly. But then I suppose everything about our relationship went quickly. Except at least we didn’t get too physically serious – which I know you wouldn’t have minded and which I felt guilty sometimes for not doing with you, because I knew you had been used to that sort of thing with other girls. But it just seemed it wouldn’t have been right, us knowing each other only a few weeks.

God, I’ve got right to the personal stuff, haven’t I? Well, please don’t be scared off; I just have to write these things and get them off my mind. I know I expected too much of you, but you have to know I really liked you: “love” might have been too strong, but it was almost true. And I shouldn’t have got like that, since from a distance I had seen you go through so many other girls. I knew you were the type only to “play the field”, and when we had so little time it was silly of me to expect more, but once we got together I really wanted it to be different. I wanted to be the girlfriend who mattered to you, who changed you.

Anyway it was stupid, and I shouldn’t have put pressure on you. But I do hope you know how much girls can get attached to you, and I hope you won’t get impatient when we tell you so. It’s what you want, isn’t it? To make us adore you?

Well, I’m going on too long. Write back if you have time, but please don’t be scared off. You’re free to do whatever you want now, and I hope I’ll always be your friend at least.

Love, Miriam

It wasn’t the first such letter I had got from a girl, and it struck an uneasy chord in my mind each time.
All right, then, I’ll treat Julie better
, I told myself. Having thus appeased my conscience, I shut off my computer and sat on my bed to study.

A while later, Sinter got back from class, threw his motorcycle jacket over the back of his chair, and logged on at his computer. In a few minutes, gazing at the screen, he said, “Golly. Sure was nice of your ex-girlfriend to copy all of us on this.”

I snapped my head up. “What?”

“Her email about your dastardly Don Juan ways. She apparently hit ‘Reply to all’ – by accident, I hope.”

“Oh, fucking
.” I threw the book onto the bed and scrambled across the room to look over his shoulder. It was true: there was the long “cc” list, with everyone on it. I had neglected to notice before.

Everyone. Including Julie.

I sat down on the carpet and hid my face against the smoke-scented leather of Sinter’s jacket. “Fucking hell,” I moaned again.

“It isn’t that bad,” said Sinter, laughter in his voice. “It’s flattering: women adoring you left and right…”

“It makes me sound like a sexual predator!”

“No one’s going to think that.”

So he said. But when Clare walked into our room later, she glanced at me and drawled, “Gosh dang. If it ain’t the world’s biggest threat to virginity.”

Miriam, of course, sent a horrified and groveling email to me (and me alone) when she realized what she had done. I answered curtly that it was no great drama. And perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps Miriam’s portrait of me would pique Julie’s curiosity. Then again, perhaps it would put her off.

When I was studying in the dorm lounge on Wednesday night, and Julie came in, I gave her a cautious and appropriately humble smile. She smiled back, like a cat that has just spotted a crippled mouse, and ambled over. Outside, a light warm rain was falling, and she wore a black overcoat and carried a dripping red umbrella.

“Hello, Casanova.”

I bowed my head, accepting the jibe. “Hi. Er, I’m sorry you had to see that. Miriam sends her apologies as well.”

“No apology needed. I found it very informative.” While I frowned at her choice of words, she went on, “What are you doing down here?”

“Our fair roommates are, um…well, they were sharing a lap blanket, and slipping a lot of tongue into their homework, so I buggered off. I imagine there are black clothes strewn all over our room by now.”

Julie nodded, as if she expected as much. “Feel like going out for ice cream?”

I clapped my textbook shut, and leaped up. “Sounds great.”

On the way to the ice cream parlor we shared her umbrella, walking huddled together. Her hair smelled delicious, like apples and the star-shaped white flowers that grew all round a French hotel I had once been to. At the counter, when I insisted on paying, she thanked me graciously and headed to stake out a table. I even thought it a good sign when she said, stirring the chocolate syrup into her sundae, “So. You have a lot of experience being a boyfriend.”

I licked mocha-flavored ice cream off my spoon. “Could say so, but I don’t go round bragging about it. I love being near women, that’s all.”

“Always falling in and out of love?” She said it lightly, and ate a bite of sundae.

“Ah, well…not sure I’d say that. After all, if I met the right girl, I would stay with her longer. Perhaps my whole life.” I hoped that was the right tack to take. But maybe it wasn’t.

Indeed, her smile vanished, and she now looked reflective. “Instead you just sampled a bunch. Casual kind of thing.”

I swallowed melted ice cream. “‘Casual’, well, that’s…”

“Even if they were in love with

I held up my spoon as a “time-out” signal. “Miriam should not be taken as an example of all my girlfriends.”

“Fair enough.” We ate a few bites in silence. “I’ve only ever been in love with Patrick,” she said then.

Didn’t mean she still was. I saw a possible chink in the armor. “How long have you been seeing each other?”

“Almost two years.”

“Long time.”

But before I could slide into a question about her current feelings for him, she asked, “What’s the longest
been with anyone?”

I focused on my dish, making whipped-cream patterns with the spoon. “Oh, um…month or so.”

“Hm.” She sounded dryly amused. “And just how many girlfriends have there been?”

Great. Risk offending her with the truth, or risk offending her by refusing to tell? Or lie outright? “Depends how you define ‘girlfriend’,” I said.

“All right.” She scooped up the last bite of sundae and pushed her dish aside. She folded her hands on the table as if ready to begin a legal hearing. “We know each other’s worst moments now. Our roommates are hooking up. We live near each other, both here and at home. I’d like to think we’re friends.”

“Of course.”

“Then how about the 64-million-dollar question? The one teenagers always want to know. I’ll tell you if you tell me.”

“And the 64-million-dollar question is…”

“I’m a virgin,” she said, stopping all my muscles in the middle of a swallow. “Technically. I’ve done some things, but only with Patrick. Kissed a handful of others. That’s all.” She raised her eyebrows at me, clearly asking,
And you?

The whipped cream felt sickly-sweet against the roof of my mouth. I looked down and stirred the brown liquid mess in the dish. “Um…kissed? You know, I counted once, but…I don’t remember the final tally. Thirty or so.” Fifty was probably closer, but what did it matter?

“Impressive,” she said.

“Those games, Spin the Bottle and whatnot.”

“Sure. And the real question?”

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