Just Checking In

Like I’ve said during my Friday posts: I’ve been busy at work planning for Summer Reading. What does that mean? It means I don’t have a lot of time to write–at least, not write chapters in my current stories that I think are up to the quality they should be. And yet it is story day on the schedule, so… quite a dilemma. But then I thought it might be fun to try my hand at some “flash fiction.” It would be a good writing exercise for me and still (hopefully) provide an enjoyable read. So I found a prompt and challenged myself to write that story in only 500 words or less.

Prompt: Two very different college roommates.

Jeremy did nothing haphazardly: the suitcase on his bed was filled with neatly folded clothes; his books were neat and organized; his bed was set….  unlike his roommate, who freely tossed everything to the side. 

     Cal was currently out of the room, presumably in class (though the odds were far more likely that he was simply “out”).  Cal’s half of the room was marked by papers, clothes, boxes, and food, all scattered helter-skelter across the floor and desk.  Cal called it “organized chaos” (which was an excuse for lazy people, in Jeremy’s opinion).

     As he rolled up another pair of jeans, Jeremy examined the suitcases contents.  Frowning, he straightened and went to the closet, catching a quick glimpse of his reflection:  tall and skinny, he had never quite lost his sickly appearance:  he was naturally pale with a hollow face and eyes that seemed slightly too large for his face.  His light brown hair was short, but his bangs never failed to get into his eyes. 

     He blew his hair of the way now, searching through his closet: his favorite t-shirt was currently MIA.  Just as he was beginning to get frustrated, his cell rang and he rushed to it, catching it on the third ring.  “Hello?  Oh, hey, Mom.  Yeah, I’m packing now.  Hold on, let me put you on speaker.”   

     “Jeremy?  Jeremy, can you hear me?

     “Just fine, Mom.”

     “Right, well, are you alone?”

     “For the time, Mom.”

     “Good.  Calvin hasn’t been… pressuring you, has he?”

     “No idea what you’re talking about, Mom.”

     “You know exactly what I’m talking about, Jeremy.  Is he in the room with you?”
     “No, Mom,” Cal replied, diving back into his closet.

     “Well, I was just calling to check on… things.” 

Mrs. Bowers was a genuine pessimist, always expecting the worst in people.  But with Cal, her worries were well-founded: Cal looked like a troublemaker: Messy dark hair and eyes that always shone with mischief.  He was loud, reckless, and unpredictable.

But, as Jeremy always said:

“Cal’s not as bad he wants people to think he is, Mom.”

She made a tutting, disbelieving sound.

“Mom, everything is fine.  Don’t worry so much.”

“Well, I think–”

“Hey, Mrs. Bowers!” Cal appeared in the doorway, grinning sardonically.  Jeremy didn’t know if Cal had been listening; if he had, Cal showed no signs of being offended.

“Is that you, Calvin?”  Mrs. Bowers snapped.  “What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into now?”

“Mrs. Bowers,” Cal replied, clutching his heart, “I’m hurt. I’ll have you know I’m maintaining a 3.5 average.”

“I thought it was a 3.0?” Jeremy interrupted, sticking his head out of the closet.

“Shut-up, Jeremy.  I’m trying to lie to your Mom so she’ll like me more.”

“Get out of here!” Jeremy sniggered, throwing some jeans at Cal’s head. 

Cal ducked out the way, smirking.  “Death by denim?  Really?”

Jeremy rolled his eyes as Cal advanced into the room, plopping onto his bed.

“Anyways,” Jeremy continued, rolling his eyes.  “I’ll be coming down over the weekend for my birthday, Mom.”

     “But,” Cal exclaimed, jumping up and jogging to the phone, “until then, we have him!”

     “Calvin Grayson, you’d better not–”

     “Don’t worry, Mrs. Bowers,” Cal began in tones of mock-condolence.  “We’re just taking him to some strip clubs, maybe a bar or two.  The usual.”

     “CAL!” both Bowers shouted at the same time, but Cal only smiled cheekily, saying, “We have homework, Mrs. Bowers.  Talk to you later.”  He swiped his fingers numbly over the screen, tossing it onto the nearby bed.

     “Did you just hang up on my Mom?”

     Cal shrugged.  “She needs to let her little baby bird fly,” he crooned.  “Honestly, that woman has a tighter grip on you than a freakin’ viper.”

     “I can still hear you!”

     Cal jumped, and Jeremy started laughing.

     “You didn’t hang up the phone, Calvin,” Mrs. Bowers continued, her voice rising in pitch, “And you can bet I am going to tell your mother!”

     “Oh shit,” Cal hissed, nodding to Jeremy.  “I’m headin’ for Canada!” He ran to the door, yelling, “Au revoir!”

     “See ya’ later,” Jeremy shouted after him, shaking his head.  He packed the last of his clothes into his suitcase, saying, “Now, where were we, Mom?”

     “I don’t know about that boy… and I don’t know about you, Jeremy, for hanging around him.”

     Jeremy rolled his eyes, settling onto the bed.  Somehow, his Mom always found a way to make the problem about him.  They were both caught in the constant cycle of “high expectations;” Mrs. Bowers was doomed to be forever disappointed, and Jeremy to be forever frustrated.

     “Cal’s a good guy, Mom.”

     She made a pft sound.  “He’s a long way from the boy in the first grade, Jeremy.  And even then he wasn’t all that ‘good.’”  Mrs. Bowers continued to talk about calls to the principal’s office, notes sent home, and–of course–that stupid frog.

     “Meriwether was the best thing that ever happened all the times I was sick,” Jeremy argued.

     His mom made another one of those odd noises.  “Yes, well, one way or another, I’ve made my point.”

     Jeremy rolled his eyes again.  “Sure thing, Mom.  But Cal was right–I seriously do have homework.”

     “Of course, sweetheart, study hard.”

     “Will do.”

     “Love you, Jeremy.”

     “Love you, too.”  Jeremy hung up the phone (for real), leaning back against the wall.  Across from him, on Cal’s side of the room, was a full length print of Starry, Starry Night

     Jeremy stared at it, becoming lost in the hues of blue and yellow.  He couldn’t help but wonder why someone as rebellious as Cal would hang art on his wall.  Some old punk band would describe him better, like The Clash, or Velvet Underground, or The Ramones, or–

     “Is it safe again?”

     Jeremy jumped.  Cal was at the door, eyes darting from side to side wildly.  Jeremy nodded solemnly, and Cal flung himself on his bed.  He looked evenly at Jeremy.  “What?”

     “You should act better around my Mom.”

     “Oh, please,” Cal said sarcastically, “your mom thinks I’m a saint.”

     Jeremy laughed.  “Yeah right.”

     Cal straightened, as if he’d been jolted with electricity.  “Should I be offended?”

     Jeremy didn’t respond, just shook his head. (Though that was probably response enough.)

     Cal narrowed his eyes at him, thought for a moment, then proclaimed: “I’m late for class!” He grabbed his camera off his desk, spun around and snapped a picture of a surprised and frazzled Jeremy, before darting into the hall.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

————

Yeah, so…. This is obviously more than 500 words. (It’s roughly double.) But I just started writing and kept going. It kind of flowed. I really liked it, and I might just return to this sometime as an actual, novel-length story. I had a lot of fun writing the relationship between Cal and Jeremy, and I’m wondering more about how they became friends and what the future holds for them….

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