Roommates (Part 1 - Introductions)
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Freckled"
Originally featured on 08-25-2009
As part of our series "The Summer of Our Hopes and Fears"

Dominic, born at midnight in a snowstorm eight days before Christmas, didn’t take prisoners, wouldn’t think of taking prisoners, and might be insulted—both on your behalf and his, if you were to surrender and expect to be taken prisoner. Dominic had learned a lesson early on when his older brother Zach used to surrender and then act as a Trojan horse causing all sorts of trouble behind enemy lines in Capture the Flag. He re-learned the lesson later when accepted the informal concession from lagging opponent Darius Wilhelm in the race for Senior Class President four days before the election. Dominic took Wilhelm at his word and refocused his efforts on World History and Physics, which he was in danger of failing after all the campaigning effort. The next night, Darius Wilhelm showed Dominic what will really was. His parents gone to spend the night at their favorite spa, Darius had the entire senior class over to his house for what was probably a better party than anyone in that house had ever fantasized about. There was a keg, and some of the prettier girls made out on the big leather couch for a long time, and people were kissing in the hot tub and somehow Jeremy Banginman got a hold of a single line of cocaine from his older brother which he shared with four of his friends. The election the following Tuesday found Darius winning by a ninety-three percent margin. It wasn’t only that Dominic lost. It was also that the way it all worked out, Dominic missed the best party ever had in his county. He missed it even though he was eighteen, and good-looking, and popular, fun at parties and had a car. It was just because of the stupid election. And he didn’t even win that, either. Dominic decided then that successful politicians were cheaters and scumbags and that if he could ever rid the world of politicians, he would. He had pale skin and red hair and blue eyes and freckles all over his face that formed wrinkled crests when he scowled, which he did often after that. Basically, Dominic steered clear of anything to do with flags or politics or competition or fraternizing, instead choosing to study the miracle of the human form as expressed through ballet and Jeet Kune Do. He conversed interestedly only in matters relating to his form or his diet or to how to successfully woo women to bed. Also, on random, sparse occasions Dominic would discuss his family. It wasn’t a sore subject, just a hidden one. So far, by default, Dominic is my favorite character in this story. Dominic drank freshly squeezed juice and didn’t drink or smoke cigarettes (except one cigarette with Jeremy Banginman that one time he was dared) or even marijuana. He worked as a house-sitter for all the rich older friends he made while practicing and teaching ballet. He taught from time to time, having very little patience for the students and their egos, his teaching employment status would seesaw as his nerves were used up and he ran out of money. When he needed a place to live between house-sitting gigs, Dominic would simply place an ad on Craig’s List offering in trade ballet or Jeet Kune Do lessons for a spot on the couch. Often times, the house would be in Northeast Portland and would be a six or eight bedroom place in which ten to fifteen hippies or hipsters lived. There would usually be chickens running around in the unmowed backyard. The hippies would give him housing in one of the numerous nooks they’d established as acceptable places to roost. Sometimes he would get a bedroom, but usually he found himself sleeping in a nest of material comfortably situated by talented hippies in the spaces beneath a staircase or within a closet or in the corner of an attic or basement or in a tree house. The hippies would rise in the morning to find Dominic dressed either in his sparring uniform—in which case the male roommates would parade into the backyard to take their turn trying to land a punch, or in his ballet tights—in which case the female roommates and a couple of the male roommates would follow him out to the back, yoga mats under their arms, then spread out and then he would lead them in an intensive stretch for about an hour before teaching them basic moves and pirouettes. It was common after Dominic turned down the hippies invitations for alcohol, cigarettes and drugs that one of the less secure hippies would question his sobriety and then conclude that Dominic was weird and would then voice that concern through a derogatory or condescending comment. To this, Dominic always had the same response: “You think I’m weird, huh? I’ll kick your ass, man. And remember, I don’t take prisoners. You understand? That means I’ll kill your hippie ass.” Then after a time, Dominic would land another house-sitting gig and leave his nook and his new hippie friends behind. He made every effort to have sex with every temporary female housemate, if possible. He never slept with any of them more than three times. Dominic wanted to make sure that he had experienced their best sex without feelings getting involved, and figured out that three times was the window before feelings showed up. He surmised that usually the best sex happened on either time two or three and it was worth the risk of taking the affair beyond a one-night stand. If you asked Dominic, he would tell you that his purpose in this world was to be a vessel for channeling and transferring energy. If you asked any of the women that Dominic has slept with, they would tell you that Dominic is a liar, a user and some would even say lying piece of shit. If you asked Dominic’s mother, she would tell you that Dominic had some trouble after his father died and his brother ran away. If you asked me, I’d tell you that some characters just need a little time within their respective short story or novel to blossom, perhaps through some adversity or life changing event. Sometimes they just decide to on their own. If you’re willing to give Dominic that time, then I’ll give him the adversity or life-changing event and we can be partners, the three of us.

 

***

 

Chester, born at noon on a hundred and twenty degree day the day after the Summer Solstice, knew that everything should be fair, that everything could be fair, and that everything would be fair, if only people would listen to him on certain subjects. There, now Chester is my favorite character, maybe yours too. He’s so egalitarian and idealistic. Dominic has some time to catch up though. (Remember? We all agreed.) Anyhow, Chester’s father played with him as a boy, since Chester’s father was unemployed and forced to become a stay-at-home dad. They played Cribbage out on the back porch during the spring afternoons after school let out, and Hearts all day sometimes during the summer and then they moved the Husker Du into the dining room during the rainy winter and fall. They played tournaments as well as without keeping score and some nights they played until one in the morning and some nights they played one of each game, while others they focused on a single game all night. Chester’s father was a big man, bigger after ending up in the wheelchair. He ate throughout the gameplay, usually from a big glass dish of M&Ms and Peanut M&Ms, and Gummies Worms. He would consider if he wanted to mate Chester’s king using his rook while his teeth mashed gummy and chocolate and peanut together. Then he would swallow as he lay down his last three cards, the Queen of Spades, the Ace and King of Hearts. Then he would fish around with his fingers, stirring the candy dish and chipping some M&M shells, while counting up his crib, peg out, and see if Chester was up for another game. The doctors knew that Chester’s father had diabetes, and had told them that he had it, and when Chester’s father suffered a seizure in front of Chester, his head falling forward into the Connect Four board, arms flailing at his sides—the doctors weren’t as surprised as Chester, who felt as though he had just watched God fall to Earth and break both legs. Chester just backed away from the table as his father sat with his head down, convulsing. Chester’s back bumped the wall, Chester jumped and then ran inside to call for help. Chester didn’t call his mother, because he had never met her and had heard only that she was working out on a ranch somewhere in Wyoming. That wasn’t the truth, though it might as well be. Chester’s mother never knew him because she died during childbirth. Chester checked the In Case of Emergency numbers and dialed the one for Poison Control, since his father had been eating right before he had the seizure. The ambulance arrived, and the EMTs came running inside the house to find Chester standing in the dining room, pointing at the back porch and jumping up and down and yelling, “He’s in there, hurry!” After that night, Chester went to live with his aunt and uncle in Southwest Portland. In middle and high school, Chester ran cross-country, played basketball and tennis, while maintaining a 3.8 average. Chester was voted “Most Likely To Become A Stand-Up Comedian” by his classmates as well as “Most Likely to Become President” due to his mix of wit and intelligence. He lost his virginity on the Senior Trip to Michelle Cratske, a four-year varsity lettered cheerleader, cross country runner and debater who’d been raised by her grandparents. Though they only slept together that one time near Government Camp, I really liked Michelle and Chester together. She’s funny the same way that he is—witty, clever, and light—but she could always tell that there were things Chester didn’t talk about that weren’t funny and weren’t light, and she never pushed him to talk about them, so eventually he did talk about them with her, that May night, and then they slept together. It is amazing that they ever even met, given how special the two of them are and how busy they both kept themselves in high school, and how they really didn’t have any friends in common. Everyone told Chester that they knew somebody that he would like, a girl, who had the same sense of humor as him, always meaning her. And when they finally officially met on that trip, it was like a portion of the universe’s big accounting spreadsheet had just been balanced. Chester didn’t know how people treated each other after they had slept together and still liked one another, so he didn’t do much of anything to hold on to Michelle after that trip. Chester’s benevolent aunt and uncle had slept together as was proved by his grown cousin Gerry’s existence, but by the time Chester reached his teenage years, they had ceased the practice. Chester assumed that if anything was supposed to happen between two people after they had sex, it would happen on its own. So he waited for something to happen, for Michelle to call, for them to run into one another, he even walked around in her neighborhood one summer day, but nothing happened. And in a month and a half they were both attending different colleges. Anyway, all excuses for why it didn’t last more than a night aside, I liked Michelle and Chester together. They never forgot each other, either. Chester focused on pre-law in his undergraduate program at Pacific, and then returned to Portland to study law at Lewis & Clark University. Chester graduated summa cum laude, breaking from his studies only to play intramural basketball, online Scrabble, poker with a few of his classmates, perform standup routines at open-mics and to occasionally stop by to visit his benevolent aunt and uncle for a home ordered pizza. After graduating, Chester found work at a firm specializing in custody cases for children in transition. He made efforts to live down by the park blocks in Southwest Portland, because he’d gotten used to the area after living as a non-student in one of PSU student dorms there. If you asked Chester, he’d say that his purpose in the world is to raise the spirits of those around him while fighting for justice. Chester is still my favorite character in this story because he thinks things like that. I’ll be ready to give Dominic the opportunity to turn things around for himself pretty soon. Regardless, if you asked Chester’s past lovers, they’d say he is a great guy though they never really got to know him. If you asked his benevolent aunt and uncle, they’d say that he is a hard-working man and means well from what they got to know of him. If you asked me, I’d say that Chester is detached from his experiences and his emotions and without something or someone happening to Chester to break him out of his shell of collegial smiles, on-paper success and pat statements, Chester won’t find anyone even close to Michelle Cratske’s level again. Since I like Chester, I’m willing to put him in a situation where that is likely to happen, as long as you’re willing to be there for him when it does. Unfortunately for Chester, what might be needed to break through his shell is someone who is selfish, who is uncompromising and as self-righteous as Chester, justifiably so or not.

 

***

 

There had been the unpacking and the momentary awkwardness of selecting rooms. Chester had selected the smaller room with the window. This seemed fair to Chester. Dominic nodded his satisfaction with the compromise. Dominic arrived early to find Chester politely waiting on the steps, so they could move in at the same time. They both finished setting up their rooms in thirty minutes. Chester was lacing up his sneakers on the couch when Dominic walked into the living room.

“I’m going down to the courts to play some pickup ball,” said Chester. “Do you play?”

“Play?” said Dominic.

“Yeah, do you play? Basketball?” said Chester.

“No. I’ve never been that into organized sports or games,” said Dominic.

“Oh. Well, I grew up with them.”

“Yeah, me too.” said Dominic. “I still don’t play.”

Chester looked at him for a minute, then shrugged and went back to his laces.

When Chester returned, sweaty and tired, the apartment lights were dimmed, candles were lit, and Dominic was performing Sun Salutations.

“Want to join in? I’ve got an extra mat,” Dominic said.

“No. I’ve never been that into organized stretching or mats,” said Chester, continuing into his room, then heading for the shower.

And that was how we all met.

Read More By Doug Dean

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