Roommates (Part 3 - Bonding)
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "War"
Originally featured on 12-02-2009
As part of our series "The Words That Seem to Justify Anything"

Things went a little more smoothly for the next few weeks after that. Dominic and Chester greeted each other almost exactly the same way as before: politely, according to script. But there was a growing congeniality and warmth behind each exchange. Sometimes one or the other would add a ‘What are you up to?’ to their base greetings of ‘Hey’ or ‘How’s it going?’

It was through these additional little chunks of conversation that they seemed to get to know each other. It was also through these little bits of conversation that they checked in, made sure that they were at peace rather than at war.

Chester learned that Dominic’s agreement with the landlord was that Dominic would spend Monday through Thursday at his West Hills home teaching his children ballet and ‘karate’ and generally being responsible for them from ten in the morning until five. The landlord felt like he was making out on the deal, since the combined costs of ballet lessons, karate lessons and daycare were way higher than the cost of Dominic’s monthly rent. Dominic confided in Chester that the landlord’s kids rarely ever wanted to learn anything from Dominic and mostly wanted to be left to their own devices. The children, Steve and Chelsea, were old enough that they didn’t need constant supervision. So Dominic spent most days at the house reading by the pool or making the children elaborate vegetarian meals that they never wanted to eat but that Dominic enjoyed. Dominic had ample time to do almost anything. He had already slept with both of the housekeepers three times. He had gotten halfway through Infinite Jest. He had arranged it with the landlord that he could keep fifty percent of anything he sold from the overpacked garage. For a week, he posted high-priced recreational items on Ebay and Craigslist for half their actual value and entertained potential buyers poolside. He had slept with two of them once each as well.

Dominic learned that Chester was, in fact, a lawyer and that he dealt with custody cases. Chester’s job was still fairly new to him, only three months served, and he was feeling himself already getting frustrated. The job involved a lot of paperwork, a lot of calling to confirm employment, or hiring of private investigators to gather information on parents. Chester sat behind these stacks of files each day deciding what to do with all of that information, trying tell the useful from the irrelevant and building a case for custody. The problem was, at least from Chester’s point of view, that the building of a case for custody wasn’t so much the building of a case for his client to receive custody as it was building the case for why his client’s ex-wife or ex-husband didn’t deserve it. Chester told Dominic that it seemed he spent his entire day going over incomes, psychological records and photos of living conditions, purely for the purpose of presenting these things as negative reflections on his opposition. The children involved in the cases were allowed to express a desire of which parent they wanted to live with, but Chester was horrified to find that often the children based this decision on factors such as which parent let them watch more TV. Most of his clients were wealthy and their kids were spoiled. The parents were often disputing custody simply to hurt one another. Chester summed it up after rambling to Dominic about this for a few minutes by saying, “It’d seem more fair if we just had a boxing match between the parents and the winner got the kids. At least, then they’d have to throw the punches themselves.”

There were a few times where Chester and Dominic both spent time in the living room, Dominic plodding through Infinite Jest and Chester going over paperwork. The TV stayed off more and more, as Chester’s caseloads piled up.

Everything stayed fairly status quo until one Thursday night Dominic got so bored that he invited Chester out for a beer.

“Hey, you want to take a break?”

Chester looked up from the binder resting on his lap. The living room now had two couches and they each had their own. Dominic lay on the leather one, which he’d borrowed from the landlord’s house. The other couch, the one Chester sat in the middle of, was a wool-upholstered holdover from the 80’s that Chester had picked up at Goodwill his first year of college.

“I would,” Chester said, nodding at Dominic. “I really would. But I can’t,” he said, switching to shaking his head.

Dominic nodded back in acceptance. A minute or two passed, Dominic flipped the page, Chester uncapped and recapped his highlighter, and then Dominic turned to him.

“I’d think a guy like you would see the fairness in balancing work and personal recreation,” said Dominic.

Chester stopped scribbling and looked up at him.

Dominic pressed his lips together, shrugged again and then gazed at Chester, who eventually smirked.

I was glad at this. These two were inevitably going to go out eventually, and sooner is always better. Dominic would’ve probably taken it as a challenge, Chester’s refusal, and due to his boredom and his difficulty turning down any challenge, Dominic would’ve methodically and strategically worked at it so that Chester and he went out. It wouldn’t have taken much, either. Chester being Chester, he would’ve probably felt challenged in his own way by Dominic’s invitation, wanting to give Dominic the same opportunity, despite some obvious differences, that he would give anyone he thought could turn out to be a friend. In addition, Chester was contending with, in equal measure to Dominic, his own boredom and loneliness. Their fates were sealed as soon as Dominic posed the question and I for one was glad Chester didn’t drag it out and belabor it.

 

Chester suggested going to Ringler’s. Dominic got him to compromise on Henry’s instead. At least there, Dominic figured, he could get something to eat. They sat on the lower level at one of the small satellite tables not too far from the galactic squared bar.

The stools around the bar were mostly taken, and the three black-clad bartenders shuffled and mixed furiously.

“What do you drink?” said Dominic, getting up from his chair.

“Lagunitas IPA. But I think I saw a cocktailer coming around—”

“Doesn’t matter, this’ll be faster,” said Dominic before heading for the bar.

Chester leaned back in his chair and watched Dominic’s purple tee-shirt weave through a small sea of deep blue button-downs to find a space at the bar. Dominic leaned on one elbow and waited calmly, looking straight ahead at no bartender in particular. Chester’s eye wandered and then fixated on a petite blond girl in a pair of tight blue jeans and a sleeveless black tee.

Take a guess why Chester fixated on this girl, who was at this moment squeezing her way towards the small space where Dominic’s other elbow would be resting if he were leaning on both, in the hopes of initiating conversation with him, or more accurately, finding out if he would initiate conversation with her. Just guess, okay? It won’t take long.

i.) Chester was overworked, lonely and sex-deprived.

ii.) She was the hottest girl at Henry’s by a fair margin.

iii.) Her confidence, even though she was waiting for Dominic and not Chester to hit on her, impressed Chester.

iv.) Her smile, when Dominic did initiate conversation with her, which he did easily, was incredibly white and in the bar lighting of Henry’s seemed to glow.

v.) She reminded Chester a lot of Michelle Cratske, whom he still thought of fairly frequently, though he never understood at the time why.

vi.) All of these.

vii.) None of these.

For all of you who guessed, vii., you are correct. The petite blond girl was Michelle Cratske. Though most of those other answers are true. I was looking for the best possible answer[1].

 

Chester watched as Dominic chatted with Michelle, who smiled or laughed at almost everything Dominic said, and then juggled conversation with the bartender and Michelle. After the bartender left, Dominic and Michelle talked and smiled for a minute before Michelle handed Dominic her card, then took the card back and wrote something else on it and handed it back to Dominic again. The bartender returned and Dominic seemed to pay for all three drinks. After grabbing his and Chester’s, he nodded and smiled once more at Michelle and started back towards Chester and their table.

Dominic shrugged and tilted his head in a ‘what the heck’ kind of way as he walked back carrying a foamy Lagunitas and an OJ-7-up mixture. Chester seemed to be fighting the urge to look at Michele.

They clinked their glasses and drank.

Chester, trying not to bring up Michele or look at her, scanned Henry’s looking at everyone else but her.

“So, you like this place?” asked Dominic.

Chester surveyed the crowd. For the most part it was business casual attire, mostly black pants and button down shirts. Most of the people were in groups of two or three. In almost every group, a girl was drinking a cosmopolitan or an apple-tini. The notable exception was a duo of leather-jacketed guys. One had a completely shaved head and the other had long brown hair that hung down around his face. There was something in their laughter that made Chester feel on edge. Chester turned to Dominic and shrugged.

“I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m just burned out or what. What I mean is, this is the type of place I imagined I’d enjoy hanging out in after work, when I started at Lewis and Clark. I think I imagined myself hanging out with people I worked with here. I probably imagined that I’d be able to afford to run up a big bill and not have to worry about it. I thought places like this would be like my hangouts. You know, with my rich young lawyer buddies. But now that I’m out and working all the time, the last thing I want to do is hang out with the guys I work with. I’m too tired to drink, and I still can’t afford it with all the loans. So I guess this place is cool. Everyone seems happy to be here and all.” Chester nodded after pausing. Then he leaned closer. “There are definitely some hot girls here, though. I saw you talking to one over by the bar.”

Dominic had sat very still during Chester’s little burnout diatribe, and if you were thinking ‘boo-hoo,’ you weren’t alone. Dominic and I were both right there with you. Dominic leaned against the back of his chair, periodically taking sips of his OJ-7up. When Chester asked Dominic about Michele, he nodded and politely grinned.

“Lawyer, like you,” said Dominic.

“Really?” said Chester.

“Yeah. You know what I think? It sounds trite but I think you need a girlfriend,” said Dominic. Dominic turned and surveyed the bar. Dominic’s gaze returned to Chester.

“Actually, it’d be more trite if you said I needed to get laid,” said Chester.

“Yeah, but I don’t think that’s your style, the one-nighter,” said Dominic.

“Oh, no? Why not?” said Chester.

Dominic pressed his lips together and shrugged at Chester.

“Because,” said Dominic.

Chester grinned.

“That’s fair,” said Chester nodding.

“Yeah. How long has it been?” said Dominic.

Chester smiled uncomfortably. Then Chester looked down at the table, calculating it in his own mind. After a minute or so, Dominic interrupted. “Anyway, it’s probably been a while. You want to try to meet someone tonight? I could help you.”

Chester snickered. “Just like that, huh?”

“Yeah,” said Dominic. “How else?”

Chester rolled his eyes.

“What?” asked Dominic.

“It’s not that simple,” said Chester.

“Anybody catch your interest in here?” said Dominic.

Both Chester and Dominic turned to take a look around the bar. This happened to occur right as the leather-jacketed duo were celebrating something the long-haired one had said with an outpour of mutual cackling. When the leather-jacketed duo, Head and Hair, saw the focused gazes of Chester and Dominic, they thought that Chester and Dominic had a problem with their reverie.

“Are we being too loud for you two faggots?” said Head.

“We getting in the way of your quiet night out?” said Hair.

“What the fuck?” said Chester.

Dominic didn’t say anything. He just stared back.

The one with the shaved head got up from his seat at the bar and walked towards their table.

“Why are you starting shit?” said Chester.

The one with the shaved head reached their table. “Cause I don’t like gay little faggots,” he said staring at Chester.

“Dude-,” Chester began, but Dominic held out his hand to halt his speech.

“Don’t,” Dominic said to Chester. “It’s too late.”

And then Dominic hopped from his chair, pivoted his hips and reverse-punched Head hard enough that his blood sprayed onto Chester’s shirt.



[1] which is always, always the copout teachers and anyone who gives objective exams or quizzes fall back on when their question is unfair or just flat out confusing, and it’s always so frustrating to not be able to call them out on it. I mean, questions like that with umpteen answers are almost always just a cheap way for the exam maker to force you to read all of the choices he composes, even the errant ones, and ultimately lead you to confuse and complicate the information you had already stored neatly in your own head from appropriate study. The exam composer tempts you to ransack everything you thought you had straight with this unnecessary time-crunched mish-mash analysis like a clumsy illiterate burglar trashing an office looking for a file as steel security doors lower around him, assuming a timed examination. And these are the same people, I feel, using this same thinking, I feel, that have unceremoniously resurrected the run-on sentence.

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