Mouse cage in one hand, handle of her wheelie bag in the other, Natalie arrived at the door to the building. She took a deep breath, tucked her hair behind her ear, and went in. At the desk, she informed the guard that she was the new tenant of 7B and could she please have the key.
Without removing either eye from the camera, the guard leaned back in her chair and reached behind her for the key log. She fixed one eye on Natalie’s ID and scanned the list with the other several times before she concluded: “1B.”
“1B. Not 7B.”
Natalie put down Mr. Squeaks’ cage and leaned over the desk to try and look at the clipboard. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand—what do you mean?”
“Been a change. You’re in 1B.”
“A change?” She stood back and twisted her fingers. “How could there be a change?”
“Just, there’s been a change.” She rummaged through a drawer and pulled out a key. “Lemme take you.”
Natalie grabbed her bag and the cage and caught up to the guard right as the elevator opened. She stared at the floor and avoided looking at the walls at all cost. Who could get used to pictures like that?
The security guard dropped the key into Natalie’s hand without opening the door. “Not gettin’ involved. Have a good day.” She waddled back to the elevator and disappeared.
Natalie unlocked the door and cast her eyes over the small, dirty living room crammed with clothes, bottles, and gym equipment. The kitchen counters to her right were heaped with dirty dishes, food wrappers, glasses, and cans. It was clear someone was already living there. The guard must have made a huge mistake and thought she was someone else.
From the hallway to the left, a man wearing nothing but a towel around his waist walked out towards the fridge.
Natalie screamed and covered her eyes with her free hand. “I’m so sorry! The guard sent me to the wrong place! I’m going right now—!”
She grabbed the handle of the suitcase, slammed the door behind her, and hurried back downstairs.
She grabbed the edge of the desk with both hands. “There’s someone already there! I’m supposed to be upstairs!”
The guard was leaning far back in her chair, slowly swinging back and forth. She shook her head. “Got the right place.”
“No, I’m telling you, there was a guy there walking around in a towel!”
The guard lunged out of her chair. “Let’s go.”
Taking the key and pushing Natalie of her way, she entered the apartment and focused both eyes on the man holding up a towel around his waist. “Mmm, mmm, mmm.” She licked her lips. “Mr. Chad. Roommate’s here.”
“What? He was supposed to be at work. Don’t tell me—”
“No, your new roommate. Told you you have roommates.”
“What the hell?” He changed which hand was holding up the towel. “I’m not—”
“Told y’all I’m not gettin’ involved. Bye.” On her way out the door, she bumped Natalie’s shoulder with her own, nearly knocking her over.
Natalie regained her balance and without looking at Chad, brought her belongings in and quietly shut the door. She covered her eyes and peeked through two fingers.
The fact there was a current occupant was not the biggest surprise of the day.
“Oh my gosh… I think I know you! We went to high school together!” Natalie cried. “Oh, this is so embarrassing!”
Chad shrugged. “Sorry… not ringing a bell. Anyways, there’s already a guy living in the other bedroom, so you’re gonna have to sleep out here.” Chad shook his head and poured himself a drink with one hand, still holding his towel.
“Wait, what?! Where? On the floor?”
“Listen.” He took a sip and slammed the cup down. “The guy is a freak and needs to stay in there.” His eyes moved to the cage. “Then again, looking at you… Whatever that is, it better stay in that cage. And it better not smell.” He finished the drink and went back to his bedroom.
Natalie fought back tears as she placed Mr. Squeaks’ cage on the floor. He was poking his head out of his house and sniffing furiously. “I know, Mr. Squeaks, I know…” She pulled some treats out of her pocket and dropped them through the bars. “You and I have been there, done that.”
She waited a few minutes and then tiptoed into the hall until she found the bathroom. She turned the light on and dropped her jaw in horror. The sink looked like ten men shaved and spit in it every day.
She sat on the least dirty part of the edge of the tub and covered her face. Her parents would kill her if they knew she was living with two guys. How could she be so dumb as to mess this up so bad the first time she tried to be independent? And her headaches—how was she ever going to get better now?
In one way, she was sort of glad that Gram wasn’t as aware of things as she used to be. She would never need to know about this and be upset.
The situation was not mitigated one bit by the fact that she knew Chad. Despite being alone in the bathroom, her face burned like she was hit with battery acid when she remembered that there was a time when she would have killed someone for the chance to be in this predicament.
Tears dripped from her face onto the once green, but now black, carpet. It felt like someone was drilling through her forehead. “Oh God, just please let me get through this,” she said out loud.
She heard the front door slam, and then a low voice, and then Chad yelled something. It went back and forth and she was afraid to leave. But after a number of “freak” this and “fuck thats,” she could not leave Mr. Squeaks out there with them—he would be frightened and she would never forgive herself. She wiped off her face on the bottom of her shirt and turned the doorknob as quietly as she could. Each step to the living room made her legs feel more like jelly.
She reached the doorway and stood there just a moment before she sniffled. The newly arrived roommate turned his head and her heart dropped through the floor.