Comfortable With Conformity

July 31st


By request, I'm adding another chapter to "Roomies" here. In fact, I revised the first three chapters so I'm going to put the whole revised thing here. Please, please, please feel free to edit and revise and add stuff. I need help. I feel like the story's getting stale...

Chapter One ~ Bethany

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.

Tracie wiped her hands on her shorts. It wasn’t that she didn’t want a roommate, she told herself hastily.

“Hi, I’m Tracie,” she said, clutching the girl’s hand awkwardly in a firm shake.

“Hello, Tracie,” the girl said in a peaceful, distant voice. “I’m Bethany.”

“Come in, 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 said, with the same distant tone.

“And this is the kitchen. “ Tracie said, waving dramatically.

“Lovely,” Bethany said.

“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 people 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 people 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 people with pets, people with 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 made her back tingle.) “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 patted her backpack.

“ I’m impressed,” Tracie said. “Tell me about a little bit more about yourself,”

Bethany swept her gorgeous hair back, revealing the delicate violet embroidery on her shirt and a long silver chain. “I’m from Ohio,” she said. “I come from a small family. I’m a vegetarian. 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,”

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.

“Ok,” Tracie said, swallowing hard.

“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 horseshoe 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 seek a soul mate. You do not have a boyfriend—“ her eyes flicked up to meet Tracie’s for assurance, and Tracie nodded in agreement—“but you crave someone. A dark haired individual is in your future. 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 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, shoving her hands in her pockets. “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, I think. 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 wince.

“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.

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 that actually required her to think, and she 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 her roommate situation. 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.

“Hi, Tracie, nice jacket!” cooed Fran, the cheerful 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 said, shrugging. “That’s really nice, but you stand a better chance than anyone. You’re Russ’s right-hand man.”

“More like I’m his bitch,” Marty said 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.

Work went by in a flash, and 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 Gusto’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 Gusto’s all the time. “I’ll be there.” She chose a 3 Musketeers 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 recliner and dug her bare feet into the shaggy blue 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.”

“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 ~ The 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 was a big silver disc with an 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?” Tracie looked. It said, Love, Charlie.

“You must’ve really been in love with him to still wear it,” Tracie said.

“Yeah,” Bethany tugged at it reassuringly. “I really was.” She let it drop 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 not supposed to let anyone use my cards. They absorb my own personal energy, but you have such a warm aura that I trust you with them.”

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. There was a whole world she knew nothing about, she thought.

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. 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.

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 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 chakras.

“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.

“No thanks.”

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.

“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.

“Oh, wow, thanks,” 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.

“I’m Bethany,” she purred.

“Donnie,” he said, his eyes flicking up and down.

“Thanks for bringing this over, that was really nice of you,” Tracie said quickly.

“No problem. Still coming tomorrow night?”

“Of course.”

“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 dig this guy, don’t you?” Bethany said.

Tracie blushed. “I’ll admit he’s good-looking.”

“More than good-looking,” Bethany said. “He’s downright gorgeous.”

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 on a cookie, and then blew out a long sigh. “We’re going for drinks at Gusto’s, this bar nearby where I work. The guys from work 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. Bethany changed into an oversize T-shirt and hung by the doorway frame to the bedroom “I love your bed. So cozy,” she cooed.

“Thanks. It is.” Tracie fluffed out her queen size comforter and let it settle on the bed.

Bethany flopped down on the bed. “Is this down?” she said.

“100% goose down feathers,” Tracie sighed, lying down.

“Mm….” She sighed, sweeping her hand over it. “You know, you have beautiful hair,” she said, touching it. She smoothed it out, like she did the blanket.

“Are you kidding? You’re the one with the beautiful hair,” Tracie said, nevertheless reveling in the compliment. She was instantly relaxed by Bethany’s touch and felt her eyes close softly.

“Blond hair is so…pure. There’s just something about it,” she said, braiding Tracie’s hair into neat little rows.

Tracie sighed sleepily. They fell asleep in her bed.

Chapter 4 ~ Who’s Your Friend?

Tracie hit the alarm and snuggled deeper in her blanket. She didn’t want to get up, the bed felt so good. Then she remembered that tonight was Friday and that meant dressing up and seeing Donnie at Gusto’s, and she got a little shiver of excitement and started to wake up. It was then that she noticed Bethany curled up at the other end of the bed.

Tracie smiled at the sleeping Bethany, thinking how cute and peaceful she looked in her bed. The next thought made her stomach flip-flop—did Bethany fall asleep on her bed on purpose? Tracie frowned as she walked to the sink, piling her hair on top of her head so she could brush her teeth. She uncapped the toothpaste and sawed away at her upper teeth, deep in thought. So what if Bethany fell asleep on her bed on purpose—she had even commented how cozy the bed was, didn’t she? Tracie spit into the sink and sighed, crossing her armsin front of her chest and looking into the mirror.

Chances were, Tracie pondered, she didn’t fall asleep on her bed on purpose so she was really driving her crazy for no reason. She’d mentioned an ex-boyfriend, so she wasn’t a lesbian—but that didn’t mean she wasn’t bisexual, or that she hadn’t changed into a lesbian. Tracie groaned low enough as to not to disturb Bethany and stepped into the shower. It was silly to worry about this at all. Bethany fell asleep in her bed. Period. There was nothing more to think about.

Tracie drove to work, Dave Matthews on the CD changer. --------don't know what to write yet for this part-----------

Bethany was already dressed for going out when Tracie came home. She was drinking tea and looking through the newspaper at the dining room table.

“Hey,” Tracie said, tossing her purse on the sofa. “Looks like you’re all ready to go. Lemme change and grab something to eat and we’ll get going.”

“No rush,” Bethany said, in her usual calm demeanor. She sighed dramatically, her eyes wide and sorrowful. “I’m looking for a job. It’s hopeless.”

“ It took me years to get the job I wanted. Plus the market is so tight right now. What kind of job are you looking for?” Tracie spoke from her bedroom, as she unbuttoned her shirt.

“I have a degree in communications like you do, but I’m seeing that it’s not worth much. I’m hoping just to get some receptionist job or something for now. I’m not choosy.” She sighed again. “Any ideas?”

Tracie pulled a sheer sleeveless shirt over her head before answering. “You know, my job is always hiring for temp receptionists. The pay is decent. You should come by.”

“Let’s check the cards,” Bethany said.

Tracie changed into a skirt and entered the living room. “I love watching you do this,” she said, pulling up a chair to the table.

Once again, Bethany laid out the cards in a horseshoe pattern, closed her eyes, opened them, murmured something to herself, then began reading.

“A new opportunity is before me,” she said. “But I must act fast.” She furrowed her forehead and read the next one. “The wise, well-traveled man will help me out.” She looked up at Tracie, then back to the cards. “Good fortune lies ahead.” She concluded.

“Sounds like good news,” Tracie said brightly.

“Yes, very good, I’m pleased,” Bethany said, stacking the cards up and placing them into their bag.

She stood up, and Tracie took a good look at her outfit. She had on a white see-through blouse, tied above her belly button, a long, sheer light pink skirt and white sandals. The light colors emphasized her tan skin.

“Hey—I’m sorry about sleeping in your bed,” she said suddenly.

Tracie waved it off. “Don’t worry about it.”

“No, seriously, I need to get my own bed. I promise I’ll have one in a day or so.” She stomped off to the bathroom to re-touch her makeup.

Tracie felt slightly sad at the thought of Bethany not sleeping with her soon—then quickly felt guilty at the thought. What the fuck was she thinking? She wasn’t the least bit gay, and she wasn’t a child—she didn’t need another girl in her bed.

Bethany spritzed a cloud of something that smelled like pears. Tracie finished a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a hurry, anxious to get to Gustos before the guys got totally wasted.

“Tracie, I feel like I know you so well already,” Bethany said, as they got into the car.

“Yeah?” Tracie said, amused. She turned down the radio.

“Yeah. You seem so genuine. Tell me about your job.”

“It’s a copywriting agency,” Tracie said, getting on the I-95 ramp. “So basically I write the little blurbs that accompany a photo of a product, trying to sell it.”

“I used to do that,” Bethany said.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, for my dad’s agency back in Ohio,” she said. “He ran his own copywriting firm.” She lowered her eyes and tugged at her chain.

“Really!” Tracie said. “Then you must know a lot about it.”

“Pretty much,” she said, shrugging. “But tell me more about it.”

Happily, Tracie filled her in on the details. Before they knew it, they were parking at Gusto’s.

Tracie couldn’t help but notice all the male attention Bethany was getting as they made their way through the packed bar. She wasn’t surprised. With her long, graceful hair and little body, she was pretty attractive.

Donnie, Marty, Seth, Michael, Stephen and Jeff sat around a high table, nursing beers when Tracie spotted them. She gave them each a peck on the cheek, introduced Bethany, and joined them at the table.

“You’re not from here, are you?” Marty said to Bethany.

“No, I’m from Ohio,” she said.

“I knew you didn’t strike me as a Miamian,” Donnie laughed.

Tracie gritted her teeth and ordered a diet Coke. She suddenly saw Bethany as competition rather than friend, and it felt awful. Marty must have picked up on her mood because he pulled her chair closer to him.

“What’s up, cutie?” he said, slightly buzzed, a lazy smile on his face.

Tracie smiled back, dutifully sipping her soda. She watched, in amazement, as Bethany ordered a strawberry daiquiri. What happened to, “You don’t look like the kind of person who needs to be inebriated to have a good time”? Didn’t that go for her too?

“Any more news on the promotion?” Tracie asked, trying to divert her attention.

“Not yet,” he said, and ordered another beer.

“You guys are roommates, huh?” Marty said. “You gotta invite me over!” he laughed and tossed back the beer. Tracie felt her stomach flip-flop for the second time today. She was suddenly sorry Bethany had been in the living room when Donnie had come over.

Bethany, on the other hand, was having a great time. As she was palm-reading Donnie, Seth ordered her another drink.

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