Comfortable With Conformity
I'm working on a story called "Roomies." I have used two names some of you will recognize. Here is what I wrote so far. Feedback is MUCH appreciated.
Chapter One ~ Bethany
Tracie brushed her blond hair into a high ponytail and scrutinized herself in the bathroom mirror. Swirls of hair fell on either side, like they always did, giving her that sultry Pamela Anderson look. “All I need is a collagen injection and some tits,” she mused, looking down her shirt at her less-than-endowed chest. There was a knock at the door.
Tracie wiped her hands on her shorts. It wasn’t that she didn’t want a roommate, she told herself hastily, rushing to the door.
The girl on the other end of the door was no more than five feet tall with waist length wavy black hair, big eyes and a pink book bag slung over her shoulder. She was wearing a cropped black shirt and loose, drawstring yoga pants. At least they looked like yoga pants. She was fantastically thin with a tan little stomach. Tracie was immediately jealous
“Hi, I’m Tracie,” Tracie said, clutching the girl’s hand awkwardly in a firm shake.
“Hello, Tracie,” the girl said in a peaceful, distant voice. “I’m Bethany.”
“Lemme give you the tour,” Tracie said, ushering her inside. “This is the living room, and in here,” she walked down a small hallway. “Is the bedroom. It’s big enough for another twin bed,”
“I see that,” Bethany, with the same distant tone.
“And this is the kitchen. “ Tracie said, waving dramatically.
“Lovely,” Bethany said.
Tracie made a mental note that “lovely” was one of Bethany’s favorite words.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Tracie said frankly, hopping onto a counter stool and motioning to Bethany to do the same. “I’ve been interviewing girls all week and everyone has been all wrong. I implicitly requested a non-smoker—you don’t smoke, do you?”—Bethany shook her head—“Um, I’ve had girls who like to party all night, and I need my sleep. I work a 40-hour week and I’m not exactly a night owl. Ah…what else…I’ve had girls who have pets, girls who have way too much stuff that just won’t fit in this place—“
“Well, Tracie,” Bethany said. (There was something about the way she said “Tracie” that gave her shivers.) “I’m an early riser so I’m an early sleeper. I left my party days behind when I turned twenty-one. I don’t have any pets and the only luggage I have is right here,” she gestured to her pink backpack.
“ I’m impressed,” Tracie said. “Tell me about a little bit more about yourself,”
Bethany swept her gorgeous hair back, revealing the delicate embroidery on her shirt and her long silver chain. “I’m from Ohio,” she said. “I come from a small family. I’m a vegetarian. I love the ocean. I had a boyfriend once upon a time but you know how that goes. Tori Amos is my favorite musician, and I love the color pink.”
Tracie was struck by her abrupt sentences. “Ok, then I guess I’ll tell you about me,”
“No need.” Bethany dug in her backpack and withdrew a small blue silk bag. She pulled out a stack of cards. “I can tell all I need to in here,” she said, tapping the cards wisely. Bethany grasped Tracie’s hand. Tracie swallowed hard, fixing her eyes on the deep blue stone in one of Bethany’s many rings.
“Ok,” Tracie said, trying not to sound too amused.
“You’re a very sensitive person, aren’t you, Tracie?” Bethany said, locking eyes with Tracie’s.
“I think so,” Tracie said lamely.
She dropped Tracie’s hand and arranged the cards in a cross pattern. She closed her eyes and inhaled. She opened her eyes and traced her fingers over a card. “You were a creative child,” she began. “Always into projects. Always involved in something. You weren’t shy about expressing yourself.” Tracie found herself nodding, wondering if there was really something to this.
“You find yourself at a crossroads now, wavering from one decision to another. There is a choice to be made. Follow your instincts, Tracie. They will lead you down the right road.” She trailed her fingers to another card. “And this card shows me that you have a loving heart. You have a genuine soul and seek a soul mate. You do not have a boyfriend—“ her eyes flicked up to meet Tracie’s for assurance, and Tracie shook her head—but you crave someone. And it will be soon.” Satisfied with herself, she again locked eyes with Tracie’s.
“Wow,” Tracie said, resisting the urge to smile. “Are those tarot cards?”
“Mm-hm,” Bethany said, collecting the cards and putting them back in her bag. “I find they help me make decisions better than anything else does. And you radiate such positive energy, I knew the cards wouldn’t let me down with you,”
Tracie felt warm tingles at Bethany’s comment. She tugged at her shirt and sat up straighter.
“This apartment is absolutely charming,” Bethany said, rising from the stool. She walked over to the living area, sweeping her hands out, as if to take it all in. “Did you decorate it yourself?” Tracie nodded. “You have a real eye for decorating, Tracie. Do you know that?”
“Thanks,” Tracie said, feeling shy. “Actually, I love interior decorating. I toyed with the idea of becoming an interior decorator in college, but I went the communications route instead.”
“Really.” Bethany crossed her arms in front of her chest, her face glowing her interest. “Tell me more.”
“Why don’t you ask the cards?” Tracie joked, hoping Bethany understood her humor.
She did. Bethany smiled lovingly and put her hand on Tracie’s arm. “You really have delightful karma, Tracie. It was my karma that drew me here. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even looking for an apartment, but somehow I was drawn to your ad in the paper. I was drawn to it,” she said seriously.
Tracie nodded, wordless. Generally words like karma and positive energy made her laugh cynically, but there was something so warm and gentle about this girl, Tracie couldn’t help but be pulled into her web.
“Bethany, it was really a pleasure meeting you,” Tracie said. “Leave me your number and I’ll get back to you this week to let you know about the apartment.”
Bethany scrawled it down on a pink Post-It and said goodbye. Before the door clicked shut, Tracie had already made her decision. She was going by instinct.
Chapter Two ~ Karma
Tracie woke up, showered, and got ready for work. She worked in the creative department of Russ & Goldstein, a small copywriting firm in the heart of downtown Miami. She loved it. She’d worked long and hard to get the position, working at tedious receptionist and secretarial jobs for years. Finally, she had a position of somewhat-authority, and couldn’t be more grateful.
Breakfast was coffee, a Snickers, and two Excedrin’s to insure caffeine dependence. “I promise I will eat healthy tomorrow,” she vowed, as she did every morning. She took one last gulp of coffee, threw on a chic red leather jacket and left.
Her thoughts turned to Bethany. What an interesting, mysterious person—but would she make a good roommate was the question. Her instincts drew her to Bethany, much like Bethany was drawn to her newspaper ad. Maybe there was something to this karma thing. The most supernatural thing Tracie had ever done was a Quija board at a slumber party in the ninth grade, and she swore she’d never believe in any of that crap again. Six girls sat around the board, holding hands, waiting for the pointer to move. They waited for fifteen minutes. Tracie remembered sitting there, feeling hot and uncomfortable from the candles that lit the room. The pointer never moved, and they ended up chucking the idea and watching All The Right Moves on HBO.
Overall, Bethany seemed like a nice person, Tracie concluded. She seemed like someone she could really get to know and like. It had been far too long since Tracie had had a really good girl friend. Most of her friends were guys from work, and guys were great, but there was something special about a girl friend, something a guy couldn’t offer. Girls were warmer, more sympathetic, more sensitive people. Girls listened without judgment—boys always dived in and offered advice.
Tracie lost herself in the new Radiohead CD, as she weaved her blue Celica through the traffic on I-95. Traffic was ridiculous. At least she had left early enough not to be late. Tracie imagined what it would be like to come home from work and see a roommate in her apartment. The thought didn’t make her wince like it had days before when she was interviewing the other girls.
“Hi, Tracie, nice jacket!” cooed Fran, the receptionist.
“Thank you,” Tracie said, leaning over the desk to sign in. She went straight to her desk, draped her jacket over her chair, and went to work. She had a million things to do today.
Marty, one of her co-workers, slid his chair over to her desk. “Someone’s getting promoted,” he said in lieu of hello.
“Holy shit,” Tracie said, her fingers poised above her keyboard. “How do you know?”
“ I heard Russ chatting with Maria that they’re looking for someone to head the creative department since Seth is leaving, and Russ hinted that they’re looking for someone in-house,” Marty said.
“Who do you think…?” Tracie said, her heart pounding.
“Donnie and Michael have seniority,” Marty said frankly. “But you, you, Tracie, you’re fantastic. I know Russ likes you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you got it.”
“Aw,” Tracie blushed, despite herself. “That’s really nice, but you stand a better chance than anyone. You’re Russ’s right-hand man.”
“He likes me all right,” Marty said, shrugging casually. “But I don’t know. I think he wants to promote a woman since they’re so few in management here. He wants to, you know, make sure he’s not slapped with an anti-feminist lawsuit or anything,”
“I see, “Tracie said, which meant she didn’t really believe him.
“What are you doing for lunch? Mickey D’s or something better?” Marty asked.
“I brought a sandwich,” Tracie said apologetically. “Maybe tomorrow.”
Marty, ever the office flirt, put his hand on his heart with mock sincerity. “You always put me off,” he said sadly.
“Tomorrow, I promise,” she said, stifling a girlish giggle. Marty rolled back to his cubicle.
Excited with the news of the promotion, Tracie faced her computer screen, determined to do an excellent job on the gourmet cookie account they were working on. Tracie had only been working at Russ & Goldstein for six months, but she was sure she could do the job as Creative Manager.
Work went by fast. Before she knew it, Tracie was signing out and heading straight to her favorite place—the vending machines.
“Hey, “ Donovan called, jiggling change in his hand. “Getting your late afternoon chocolate fix?”
“Of course,” Tracie said. Donovan, or Donnie, as he liked to be called, was undoubtedly the most attractive guy in the office. He always dressed like he worked on Wall Street, in a dark blazer, suspenders and pressed pants, while most of the male co-workers dressed in khakis and polo shirts. He wore his black hair slicked back, mafia-style. Every female coworker, including the gay mailroom guy, Gerard, had a crush on him. Tracie had to admit her heart jumped a little every time he spoke with her.
“Some of us are going to Monty’s Friday night,” Donnie said, choosing a Dr. Pepper from the machine. “For drinks and whatnot. You’re always welcome.”
“Sure,” Tracie said, trying to sound like she went to Monty’s all the time. “I’ll be there.” She chose the M & Ms and walked to her car.
She decided when she got home she would call Bethany and give her the good news. She was going to wait a week, but why put it off when she knew she wanted Bethany for sure? She only hoped Bethany hadn’t changed her mind.
Tracie waved at the security guard in front of her building and took the elevator up to the fifth floor. She peed, washed up, poured herself some Diet Coke and flopped into her favorite leather recliner and dug her bare feet into the shaggy purple rug. She dialed Bethany’s number.
“Tracie?” Bethany said.
“How did you know it was me? Did you sense my karma?” Tracie said with all seriousness.
“No, Caller ID,” Bethany said, giggling.
“Of course,” Tracie said, feeling foolish. “Bethany, I’m calling because I decided you’re the best candidate for the apartment. Do you still want it?”
“Oh, yes,” Bethany breathed. Tracie felt herself being pulled back into Bethany’s warm and gentle voice. “When can I move in? I haven’t much to bring. It’s all in my backpack, like I told you.”
“Why don’t you come by tomorrow, after five?” Tracie said. “I’ll be home from work by then. Ok? Sound good?
“Sure does. I can’t wait, Tracie. You know, I have a good feeling about this. I think we are going to be great friends. I really do.”
Chapter 3 ~ Mermaid
“You hardly have any clothes,” Tracie said, watching Bethany unpack. It was the following day, and they were both sitting on the floor of the bedroom. Bethany had meticulously pulled out each item, smoothed it out, and re-folded it.
“I don’t need many clothes,” Bethany said matter-of-factly. Tracie examined the charm around Bethany’s neck—it looked like a big silver disc with some kind of inscription on it. “You like it?” she said, noticing Tracie’s interest.
“Oh,” Tracie said, embarrassed. “Yes, it’s very pretty.”
“Thanks,” Bethany said, drawing out the word slowly. She looked down and touched the charm. “It’s from my ex-boyfriend, Charlie. See? It says, Love, Charlie.”
“You must’ve really been in love with him to still wear it,” Tracie said.
“Yeah,” Bethany said, tugging at it reassuringly. “I really was.” She let it drop down between her breasts and retrieved some more folded shirts out of the bag.
“Can I see your Tarot cards?” Tracie asked.
Wordless, Bethany handed her the blue silk bag. She put her hand on Tracie’s shoulder and said gravely, “Be kind with them,” she said. “I’m really not supposed to let anyone use my cards. They absorb my energy and belong solely to me, although you have such a gentle, warm energy that I trust you with them.”
“Thank you,” Tracie said, feeling strangely honored. She went through the pack, careful not to crease them. The Joker, the Empress, the Fool. She studied the intricate drawings. How fascinating it must be to read Tarot cards. Perhaps she would ask Bethany to show her how.
Tracie rose from her cross-legged seated position. “I’m going to make spaghetti,” she said. “Do you want some?”
“No thanks, I’ll get some tea later,” Bethany answered, not looking up from her unpacking.
“Just tea?” Tracie said incredulously. “Don’t you eat?”
Bethany looked up at Tracie and smiled. “Not so much. I eat one meal a day.”
Tracie shook her head in amazement. No wonder she was waif-thin. Tracie ate about six mini-meals a day, not including her chocolate indulgences.
Tracie put up the spaghetti and sat down on her recliner to watch TV. She lowered the volume, remembering that she didn’t live alone anymore. It was a strange feeling. She wasn’t yet used to it.
Later in the evening, Bethany took a bath. The only reason Tracie knew was because she left the door partway open so she could listen to her CD. It didn’t bother Tracie—she felt soothed by whatever it was Bethany was listening to. Some Celtic CD. Tracie never took baths. She could never sit and do nothing for so long. Bethany swore by them. She said she “needed” a bath every night to help align her charkas. Tracie, who didn’t know what charkas were, made a mental note to take a bath one night while listening at a CD of her own.
“What are you watching?” Bethany said, emerging from the bathroom. She was wearing a white towel and smelled of herbs.
“Just some Lifetime movie,” Tracie said. “You smell great. What is that?”
“Scented oil I put in the bath,” Bethany said. “You can use it whenever you like.” She went into the kitchen and made some tea.
“You want tea?” she said.
Still in her towel, Bethany sat on the sofa, sipping her tea. The doorbell rang.
“Who could that be,” Tracie wondered out loud. She looked out the peephole and saw Donnie from work. She straightened herself out and opened the door. What was he doing here?
“You left this at work and I’m the closest to your place,” Donnie said, standing at the doorway. He held out her red leather jacket.
“Thank you!” Tracie said, feeling foolish for leaving it there.
“Hello,” came a voice from behind Tracie.
Tracie whirled around and saw Bethany, standing in her almost-nakedness, her long black hair swirling down her shoulders like a mermaid.
“Is this your sister?” Donnie said.
“Roommate,” Tracie corrected quickly.
“I’m Bethany,” she purred.
“Donnie,” he said, giving her a quick once-over.
“Thanks for bringing this over, that was really nice of you,” Tracie said hastily.
“No problem. Still coming Friday night?”
“Why don’t you come too?” Donnie said. “Any roommate of Tracie’s…”
“If you don’t mind,” Bethany said quietly, looking over at Tracie.
“Of course not,” Tracie said.
Donnie left and Tracie shut the door, wordless.
“You fancy this guy, don’t you?” Bethany said.
“Fancy?” Tracie laughed at the odd word. “I’ll admit he’s good-looking.”
“More than good-looking,” Bethany said. “He’s downright yummy.”
Tracie went to the kitchen cabinet and retrieved some chocolate chip cookies.
“What’s the plan for Friday night?” Bethany wanted to know.
Tracie chewed a cookie, and then blew out a long sigh. “We’re going for drinks at Monty’s, this bar nearby where I work. The guys always hang out there. I don’t go there often cause I’m not much of a drinker.”
“I can tell you’re not,” Bethany said, nibbling on a cookie. “You don’t look like the kind of person who needs to be inebriated to have a good time.”
Tracie chuckled. “You know what? You’re very intuitive, but I bet you knew that.”
Bethany laughed. She tossed her hair back, allowing it to rearrange in artful waves down her shoulders. “You’re so funny, Tracie! You crack me up!”
Tracie couldn’t tell if she was being sincere or not. She ate one more cookie then decided to go to bed. On a whim, she laid out a sheet, extra blanket and pillow on the couch.
“I’ll have to get a bed soon,” Bethany said. “Thanks for loaning me your stuff.”
“No problem,” Tracie said charitably. “You’ll pay me back by giving me a Tarot reading.”
“Absolutely,” Bethany said, her eyes warm and serious. “Tomorrow night.”
Tracie went to sleep, feeling a wonderful sense of comfort with Bethany in other room. Was it security? She wasn’t sure. Maybe it was Bethany’s…energy? She felt silly even thinking such thoughts. Tracie laid on her side, fingering the soft fabric of Bethany’s tarot bag that she left on her nightstand. Her peaceful thoughts were clouded by remembering Donnie’s visit, and Bethany in her towel. Was Bethany even his type? No, she was silly for being so catty. Donnie was fair game; she didn’t own him just because she had a crush on him. And, to be truthful, Bethany didn’t even flirt with him, although she had the perfect opportunity to. Tracie had no reason to be upset. Bethany couldn’t help that she was beautiful, and she certainly didn’t plan to be in a towel when Donnie had come over. Tracie pushed all negativity out of her mind and fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.
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