We rode back to the house the long way, seeing some of the more remote areas of campus. At one point, we stopped for coffee at a café I liked, a comfortable place filled with a cross-section of people. Once again, I really hoped that Bryce wanted to go to school here … but I knew that that decision would be his parents to make as much as it would be his. I knew enough about myself to understand exactly why I wanted Bryce to come here … but I knew also that there was no guarantee of anything more happening between us than a kind of friendship.
But I would be content with that, if I had to be. I liked being around him; he was so different from his brother, so sweet and personable. It was hard to believe that they were related to each other.
We made our way slowly into more recognizable territory until we arrived back where we started.
To a man standing on the front porch, knocking - no, banging - on the front door. Bryce and I looked at each other; I shrugged, made a who the fuck knows? kind of face. We unmounted, chained our bikes to the porch railing, climbed up the front stairs. The man turned around when he heard our footsteps. I didn't recognize him; he was some guy in his late forties, paunchy and overweight, in a blue polo shirt with something stitched on the left breast, over denims and chunky black boots. Under his left arm was tucked a black plastic binder.
"Can I help you?" I asked.
"Yeah, I'm, uh … I'm your landlord. Duane Caudill. Heard you guys were moving out, just wanted to come over and check on the place, that's okay."
"Yeah, I guess. Two of the guys are already gone, left a couple days ago. The rest of us are still here."
"Which one are you, you don't mind me asking?"
"Omer," I replied. "Omer Karadeniz ."
When I said my name, he frowned. " Karadeniz ?" he murmured. " Karadeniz ? How do you spell that?" I told him; he made a face. "I don't think …" He opened the binder, pulled out a few sheets of paper stapled together; it looked like a lease. He flipped to the back page, scanned the names. "Don't see a Karadeniz here."
"No, I, uh … well, I moved in after the others, I guess. I told the guy who ran the Craigslist ad. He said he would take care of the rest of it."
"You, uh … you said the rest of you. How many people live here?"
"Four. Me, Lyndon Parrish , two other guys. They're the ones who've already left." I jinked a finger at Bryce. "This is Lyndon's little brother. He's staying for the weekend, as a guest."
Even as I spoke, he was shaking his head. "I only rented to three guys. What room are you in?"
"Uh, the attic …?"
Again, a shake of his head. "No way. That room was never supposed to be rented. We haven't fixed it up all the way, yet."
No shit, Sherlock, I thought. The place had always seemed not quite habitable … but I couldn't afford to be too picky. I shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you. Lyndon said it was okay. I just assumed …"
"How much you pay Lyndon?"
"Uh, three hundred a month. I just write him a check." Something about this seemed off. "How much were you charging the three of them?"
"Nine hundred a month, split -"
"- three ways," I finished for him. "Three hundred a bedroom."
Beside me, Bryce started chuckling. "Unbelievable. Fucking unbelievable."
I sighed. "Look, I don't want to cause trouble. I really thought it was okay for me to live here. I'll … look, I'll pay you extra, for what you would have asked for four guys." I did the math; nine months rent plus deposit put it around three grand. I would have to do a lot of moving to make that kind of money.
Duane sighed. "Look, I … I'll have to think about it. I mean, Lyndon never said anything to me about a fourth roommate."
I shrugged. "I don't know what to do about that. But I will make it up to you, if you want. I promise."
"I'll have to figure out where to go from here." He turned to Bryce. "But I want to talk to that brother of yours as soon as possible. Tell him that if he doesn't call me, he might be giving his side of the story to a judge." Duane slipped Bryce a business card.
Bryce nodded. "Yes sir. I understand. I'll tell him."
"I'm probably going to be out by the end of the week," I added. I told myself to get on the ball about finding a place for the summer.
Duane nodded. "Okay. I'll let everyone know." He closed the binder, stuck it back under his arm, went down to the curb, got behind the wheel of what I thought was a pretty new Audi, drove off.
I unlocked the door and we stepped inside. I went to the kitchen, got a couple of bottles of cold water out of the fridge, went back into the living room, gave one to Bryce, who was already collapsed on the sofa. I joined him. I uncapped the water, took a couple of deep swallows, as did Bryce.
When we came up for air, he looked at me. "If it means anything, I'm sorry."
"Not your fault. If it was anyone's, it was mine, for not being more careful."
"He still fucked you over. It's a lot of money."
I smiled. "Well, I think we all know where that money went." I tried to imagine them laughing at me, as I'm sure they did, poor little muscle-brained poster child for mouth-breathing idiocy forking over a fake rent check every month just for it to get spent on alcohol and weed and who knew what else.
"Something else for you to talk to my dad about," Bryce offered.
I turned to him, suddenly angry. "You know what, Bryce? I'm fucking tired of talking about Lyndon. I really am." Immediately, I felt sorry for snapping at Bryce when I should really have been snapping at Lyndon … but I was just so goddamned tired of everything, of the way the whole fucking year went, of being a stranger in my own house, paying for a room I hardly ever got to use, cheated out of my hard-earned rent. I was tired of school, of wrestling, of trying to navigate the minefield of my coming out to people who made fun of what I was, who used what I was to strike fear into the hearts of others, into themselves.
Most of all, I was simply tired of being lonely.
Bryce reached out, grabbed my arm. "Omer, I'm sorry. I really am. You're right."
I forced myself to calm down. I turned to Bryce, planted a smile on my face. Tomorrow morning, he would be gone from my life; even if he - by some miraculous twist of fate - ended back up here, I doubted that he would want to hang around with the likes of me. We were as different as two people could possibly be. "Sorry for the bike ride. We went further than I'd intended."
Bryce shrugged. I think he understood that I was very deliberately trying to change the subject away from his brother and his general assholery. "It was a lot more than I would have thought. But, I … well, I ride a lot at home. I'm used to it."
I chuckled. "Well, I hope so. It's really the easiest way to get around campus. Plus it keeps you healthy."
He grinned at me. "Maybe I'll just get one of those electric scooters."
I smiled back. "Some guys do that. Other people yell at them and mock them to their faces. Don't be one of those guys."
He chuckled, then looked around the room; it was pretty much a mess, as was the whole house … but it always had been. Every so often, when the rest of them were gone, I tried to clean up as much as I could … but it was still a challenge, and I never got any real help. I figured out early on that that was somehow part and parcel of being a roommate - cleaning up after three barely human primates - even if it hadn't been spelled out clearly in the Craigslist ad they'd posted. "This place is a pigsty."
I nodded. "Yeah. It always has been. Nobody does anything about it except me … and I hardly even live here. Good thing that Duane forgot to go in."
"I figured you were the only one doing the cleaning. It was nice enough when they first moved in. Shit's gonna hit the fan big time when they move out."
"Yeah. I think I know where my deposit is going to go."
Bryce tapped the side of the bong with an index finger, rolled hie eyes. "I think it's all right here, Omer."
I let that go, thought about something else. "You know what, Bryce? I don't remember ever meeting you."
He looked at me for a moment. Then, "It was before you moved in. Sometime last summer, I think. Lyndon wanted to be in as soon as possible."
"Party early and often."
"Yeah, I guess. And the rest is history."
I glanced at my phone; it was getting near five in the afternoon. "You figure your dad's had the talk, by now?"
"At this point? Yeah, probably." Abruptly, he stood up. "You know what, Omer? I'm tired of talking about Lyndon, too. I'm going to go get ready for dinner. You probably should, too."
And, with that, he was gone.
I waited until I heard the bathroom door close, then went up to my own apartment to get ready.
While I stood under the tepid jets of water, I tried not to think of Bryce, just one floor below me, doing the same thing I was. Was he, too, thinking of me? I permitted myself that vanity, knew it to be only that. Tomorrow he would be gone and I would be alone, again. I would get through tonight, with his parents, with a chastened and out-of-sorts Lyndon, and then I would be done with him, with all of them. I understood all of his talk of coming here to be only that, idle prattle; I could not imagine his parents - having watched one son fall apart in the loosened confines of his independence - giving their other son the same license, in the same place. I hoped that Bryce found what he wanted, the life that he wanted.
Maybe, some day, I would, too.
As I twisted and turned under the shower, I thought about one more day, perhaps the most amazing and strange of all, one that I was still trying to understand. I knew, now, that - if he stayed - I would never, could never tell Bryce about that night and what had almost happened.
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