Roommates.com, Roomster, Craigslist; Mercer Hekel had tried them all. He met with evangelicals who harbored ill will toward “libtards,” a couple of “straight guys” who wanted a roommate who was “okay with nudity,” and a recovering meth addict nurse who was just trying to get her shit together. Her twenty three year old daughter shared her bedroom so that they could fit a fifth person into their three bedroom house.
And then there was Sandy. She was witty and perked up at the sound of his stable job. He was a few years older than she was thinking; she was twenty eight, her roommate twenty nine and a half, but thirty five wasn’t “too too old, so, sure! Let’s get together and make sure we’re not serial killers or walking clichés!”
Mercer was surprised at how much space they weren’t using. He was prepared for the tiny bedroom, but the unfinished basement was huge, and the only things down there were a mattress and some camping equipment.
“All of this would be yours,” Sandy told him.
“I dig it,” Mercer replied, stifling his awe. He admired the yard from the glass door in the back corner. “It’s $450?” he asked.
“Yeah, sorry. I was going to say $400, but-“
“$450’s fine,” he assured her.
They made their way upstairs, through the fireplaced living room, past the piano, the couch, past a cat, and into the garage, where Mercer found himself astonished by a recliner and loveseat.
“This is awesome,” he said matter-of-factly.
“We like to sit,” Sandy nodded. “You can have the chair if you want,” she offered. “I usually sit over here.”
“Is that, uh,” Mercer began and drew a blank on the other roommate’s name.
“David’s chair? Yeah,” Sandy filled in.
“Right,” Mercer said with a snap.
“No worries,” she said. “He should be home soon. He’s an engineer. Designs skyscrapers or something.”
“Oh, that’s cool,” Mercer said, taking the chair with a controlled plop.
“Yeah. You sell mattresses, right?” she asked.
“Yep.” Mercer nods. “I manage the Home Towne Mattress on 56th.
“Oh, that’s right,” Sandy said. “That’s not too far a drive, is it?”
“Nah,” Mercer said. “That’s the first thing I checked when I saw your ad.”
“Nice,” Sandy said.
“Yeah, it only adds about ten minutes with traffic.”
“That’s not too bad,” Sandy said.
It went on like that for nearly forty minutes, the two of them trading information and telling all the superficial get-to-know-you anecdotes that everyone has hidden away for such occasions. David and Sandy had met in college. David’s job wasn’t really as fancy as it sounded. Sandy’s job as tech support wasn’t interesting enough to go into. Mercer hated cucumbers. The usual.
“So, uh,” Sandy asks, “I did ask you if you smoke, right?”
Mercer looked at the cigarette in his hand.
“Yeah?” he intoned.
“No, like, smoke,” she said and pointed at the bowl on the side table.
“Oh,” Mercer responded. “I can’t believe I missed that.”
“Must be used to it,” he said.
She grinned, “Good.”
She opened the table drawer, and a sack of bud came out to say hello. She packed the bowl and handed it to him.
“You’re so generous,” Mercer said.
He sparked the grass, took only half the green hit, and passed it back while holding his breath.
“Manners!” Sandy exclaimed before taking her puff.
“I like that,” she croaked, passing it back.
They fell into the rhythm of smoking. There was a good vibe set, and a comfortably tense silence washed over them.
“Is this the guy?” David asked a few minutes later. He carried a cheap lager and gestured an offer to Mercer.
Mercer waved it off graciously. Sandy nodded, lighting a cigarette.
“You gonna introduce us, weirdo?” David asked Sandy impatiently. His look asked Mercer if he could believe what was happening.
“I’m so glad,” Sandy said to Mercer, “that someone finally gets to see the kind of abuse I put up with.”
“Abuse?” David said, offended. “Fucking abuse, she says!”
“You heard me,” Sandy shot back. And then to them both, “Mercer, Davey, Davey this is our new roommate, Mercer.”
“Don’t call me Davey.”
Mercer’s laugh broke their bit, and they all shared a chuckle.
“What’s up man, I’m David.” He stressed the second syllable.
“Mercer. Nice to meet you.”
They went for the same type of handshake. A good sign.
“New roommate, huh?” David asked and pulled a lawn chair from seemingly nowhere.
“I just decided,” Sandy said.
“Nice,” Mercer said.
David laughed, “Well, I guess you’re in, man. Congrats.”
He took his seat.
“Now you can tell me about yourself.”
It was all the same information, but this time, Sandy took her turn when Mercer skipped something. They soon dug deeper and began sharing self-deprecating stories.
“I survived falling out of the raft in category four rapids, I hiked all the way to the top of the waterfall and jumped off, and then I sprained my ankle getting into the truck to come home!”
Sandy was red-faced as she spoke, and the guys were breathless.
“How?” Mercer managed to ask.
“I don’t know!” Sandy gasped.
And later, “I thought it was spinach dip or something,” David said. “That’s what it tasted like.”
“It was cheese dip from, like, six months earlier!” Sandy exclaimed.
“It was green,” David winced and Mercer gagged.
Mercer jumped in to move the subject to something less revolting. Sort of.
“We used to go camping a lot when I was a kid. I thought I was a daredevil, and I’d take these great big running leaps over the fire pit.”
The others were already cringing.
“And then one day my foot got caught in the grill.” He sighed. “Down I went.”
“Ouch!” David cried. Sandy was covering her eyes, trying to block the mental image of seared flesh.
“I still have some scars from it,” Mercer concluded, pointing at his leg. “After that,” he said, “Dad moved us away from the mountains, and we went to the beach instead.”
“Probably safer,” Sandy said.
Mercer shook his head. “Not really.”