My roommate Rosie is absolutely horrible at dealing with boys. She does this thing where she can’t ever seem to like them, and she usually just ends up convincing herself that it’s them when it’s her, and the whole thing is very pointless in the end.
Rosie is also bad at cutting strings. And by this, I mean that she is terribly, terribly good at cutting strings. She breaks up with boys often and out of nowhere, and sometimes she doesn’t even break up with them, she just decides one day to walk away, and then I have to pick up the pieces in Biology two weeks later when her boys come up and ask me what happened. I’ve crafted the perfect response for this: “Rosie hasn’t mentioned you at all.”
That usually stumps them long enough for me to slide past Dr. Haswell and out the door.
The thing with Rosie is that she’s convinced herself no boys really like her. But the truth is that every boy likes Rosie. She’s quick-witted. And funny. And she’s small—thin as a rail, barely scrapes five feet. Tall boys like her because they can feel big and manly around her. Short boys like her because, well, they’re taller than her, to put it bluntly.
Of course, Rosie has her own preferences. She once told me she actually likes boys who are a bit shorter. But not so incredibly short that she can’t wear heels, because at barely five feet, she deserves to wear heels.
Really, they just have to be taller than her. But, also, they can’t be too tall. If they’re too tall she feels like a child. Take Jason Freeman who was on the basketball team, for example. He was a six foot eight, two hundred and fifteen-pound, giant muscle. I remember Rosie coming home one night and plopping down on the sofa with a gentle sigh.
“I can’t see Jason anymore,” she stated. “He’s so large. It makes me feel like a doll. Like I’m kissing my dad.”
I shuddered at her analogy. “What are you going to do?” I asked her.
“You’re not even going to call him?”
“Kate, it’s not like we’re dating or anything.”
A week and a half later, Jason Freeman trotted over to me in the dining hall, his dark, wiry limbs swinging beside him. I had to bend my neck backward so I could look up at him. He had the rest of his team at his back and two plates full of creamed corn, and mash potatoes, and whatever meat the dining hall was serving that day.
I gave him my rehearsed line and sent him on his way.
Rosie leaves boys behind her like pieces of gum that you drop on the sidewalk because you got tired of chewing.
But wow, does she have lots of boy-friends. These are the boys whose googly stares she somehow manages to skirt around as she gently shoves them right into the friend zone. Which, if you’re smart and you like her, is exactly where you want to be with Rosie.
You see, when Rosie has a friend that is a boy, he is like her brother. She will tell him anything and spend lots and lots of time with him. He’ll take her for ice cream, or drinks, or to see the newest chick flick in town, because he just wants to be seen out with her. That, and he likes her. He always likes her. But Rosie always has her blinders on to such things, and when he inevitably tells her how he feels, she is crushed and confused, and the relationship fizzles away, until I’m the one going to the movies and getting ice cream and drinks with her.
She still manages to juggle a few of these boy-friends at once, though. Always in threes for some reason.
Most recently, it’s Tim and Tom and Truman. Tim and Tom are twin brothers, so their names start with “T,” because their parents are the kind who think it’s fun to name their twin kids similar names to see how confused they can make people and also themselves. Truman is just their roommate. I don’t think his name is really Truman, but that’s what we call him, and I like it. The point is, these poor boys are all together and at once in love with my little, pretty roommate, and she has absolutely no clue.
All three are strappingly handsome. Tens all around. Any girl would be absolutely thrilled to have any one of them approach her.
Tom is quiet and somewhat dorky, but in the best way. He wears glasses with thick frames, and devours novels, and is going to be a lawyer. He has coarse dark hair, and a five o’clock shadow, and wears crew neck sweaters and brown corduroys. Tom has the gift of gab. That boy could make you fall onto the ground in fits of laughter with his one-liners.
He also writes beautifully. Often of Rosie. Even if it isn’t supposed to be about Rosie, it’s still about her, and, repeatedly, I tell him this every Thursday when he comes over. He’ll show me what he’s working on while he waits to take her to the museum or to a play on campus, Rosie still getting ready, the steam of her shower seeping out under the crack in the bathroom door. He is horribly romantic, to be quite honest.
Tim, Tom’s brother, is also wildly attractive and hopelessly in love with Rosie. Tim has that prince charming aesthetic down flat: curly dark locks and blue eyes and pale skin and a square jaw line. Tim plays intramural football, and Rosie goes to his game every Tuesday night at 10 o’clock. Sometimes she drags me along. We’ll be the only two there, because it’s intramural football, and it’s 10 o’clock on a Tuesday night.
Once, when it was the semifinals, or the playoffs, or the championship, or something like that, Rosie made a sign and painted her face and wrote ‘GO TIM’ on her little biceps. She made me write it on mine too, and we showed up looking like fools.
Well, that is, I showed up looking like a fool, my dark brown hair ribbboned with the bright orange of Tim’s team colors and my freckled cheeks painted all over, meshing with my boring, brown eyes.
But Rosie looked very cute, as always, her strawberry blonde hair tied in ribbons, her smile wide, her tiny frame carrying a poster the size of her torso. Every boy on both teams smiled at her and then looked towards Tim with jealousy.
The perk of being one of Rosie’s boy-friends is that you don’t have to explain that she isn’t your girlfriend but your girl-friend, because she acts so much like a girlfriend that it doesn’t even matter much.
The last boy-friend is Truman. He’s got sandy, shaggy hair, and tanned skin, and golden eyes. I swear they’re golden, because they’re not really brown, but they’re not yellow. I mean, yellow eyes would be very weird. But they do have this yellow quality to them and also little flecks of browns and greenish- browns, and maybe there’s even some reddish-browns in there, if you look really close.
He’s very goofy and studies engineering but also likes to pick on his guitar while he’s slunked in the black leather couch of the boys’ apartment. He knows Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews and Guns N’ Roses and Van Morrison and the Arctic Monkeys all by heart. And if he doesn’t know it by heart, then you can bet he’s looking up the chords within a moment’s notice.
Truman is also quite adventurous and has jumped out of planes and off cliffs. One time he hiked the Appalachian Trail for two weeks. I remember Rosie went on about how jealous she was, and how she bet she could be outdoorsy. Then a spider crawled across the floor, and she screamed and jumped onto the couch until I let it out the window.
After the spider, Rosie talked about how Truman had very strong legs, and how she bet he’d hiked so many miles. I remember thinking that, if she’d wanted, Truman would have hiked all the way back here to Pittsburgh just to see her and take her to the mall, his tan, mud-flecked calves trotting behind her, a hiking backpack sitting tightly on his broad shoulders while she bounced between perfumes, and high heels, and the allure of department stores.
I also remember thinking that maybe Rosie had finally decided she liked one of her boyfriends as a boyfriend, plain and simple.
He likes to be athletic too. Truman, that is. And when I say this, I mean he really likes to run. A lot. One time, Rosie dragged me all the way to Nebraska to cheer him on for one of his races. He had to run a hundred miles. One hundred miles! I couldn’t believe it. We were going to stand on the race course and drive to meet him at places. Rosie was very gung-ho about the whole thing for about 10 miles of it, but then the sun set (it was an overnight race), and she got tired and gave me the wheel.
Truman was very pleasant about the whole thing, though, and he smiled and chatted with me at each of the checkpoints throughout the night. I gave him some snacks to refuel and fresh socks for his worn feet. Rosie slept very quietly in the back seat, curled under a blanket, while Truman and I sat in the big open trunk of my Honda CRV, our legs dangling out over a concrete road in the middle of nowhere. I read somewhere that changing your socks is very helpful in these sorts of long races, and Truman was quite thankful for my thoughtfulness.
Well, yesterday, something about ‘Rosie’s Boys’ changed (as always). Tom made the decision that it was the perfect time to tell Rosie his feelings. His feelings being that he liked her. He’s going away for a law internship and won’t see Rosie for some time, and he’ll inevitably miss her, and, I guess, he just thought that telling her how he felt was the only way he could keep her.
Since it was a Thursday, Tom was already over for his and Rosie’s cultural outing (or whatever they called it). While Rosie showered, and I took notes out of my statistics textbook, he sat on the couch rubbing his knees and staring straight ahead at nothing. Or, now that I think about it, maybe he was staring at the bathroom doorknob so he could remember the exact way he felt moments before he professed his love to Rosie. It really wouldn’t surprise me.
Anyway, he kept sitting there rubbing and rubbing his knees like he was trying to create some friction in his hands or something, so he could maybe touch his hair, exploding the dark bits into lightening frays all over his head, firing himself up for whatever he was going to do. I remember it crystal clear. I remember I was taking down the equation for margins of error, and he said it.
“I’m going to tell her.”
I stopped briefly and stared at the unfinished equation without looking at the nervous boy sitting on my couch with his sweaty knee palms.
“Kate, did you hear me? I’m going to tell Rosie.”
I finished the equation and looked up at him, my glasses balancing on the tip of my nose. “What do you mean?”
“I have to tell her how I feel. Before I go.”
“Are you sure that’s the best idea?” (It’s usually always impossible to dissuade Rosie’s Boys once they’ve made up their minds)
“It just feels like it’s now or never. I’m leaving in two weeks. That might be all I have. She needs to know.”
She didn’t need to know.
I thought this but didn’t tell him because he looked so eager, and I had to study. Then, he reached into the pocket of his tweed suitcoat and pulled out the treasure trove of everything he’d ever written that wasn’t about Rosie but really was. He scattered the crumpled up and folded papers all over our coffee table, and one even fluttered onto my textbook. I picked it up and uncrinkled it over the smooth, white pages of p and percentage:
She gently tips her toes across the tile of the museum floor, Pollock and Gehr beaming down through her spread wide sapphire eyes.
I folded the note back up and looked at Tom. We both stared at each other as the squeak of the shower handle, and the hush of streaming water stopping, drifted from the bathroom into the living room. The steam seeping out from under the bathroom door sucked back in as I stood up to go.
“Best of luck to ya,” I offered him half-heartedly, grabbing my books and heading into my room.
It didn’t go well. I really wished that Tom would have at least waited until they were out of the apartment to tell Rosie. But apparently the notes never made their way back into his pocket. When Rosie opened the bathroom door and paraded out into the living room wrapped in her thick pink robe, and shower steam, and the smell of cherry vanilla soap, she saw all the little pieces of scrap paper scattered across the table.
I very much wanted to avoid the whole experience, but I couldn’t help myself from turning down the volume on The Vaccines. Truman had just recommended them to me when we ran into each other at lunch. He was trying to learn one of their songs. I liked to listen to the soft guitar strums and picture his fingers plucking away to make the gentle sounds.
“What are those?” Rosie asked, half-jokingly. I heard her soft steps across the carpet. She was trying to avoid the confrontation. The inevitable reveal.
“Wait,” he pleaded.
I have to admit I was little embarrassed for Tom. The pity this situation created in my heart was almost unbearable. All I wanted to do was run out and throw all the papers into a fire so everything would be okay.
Instead my sneakers stuck to the floor and my ear stuck to the door.
“Yes. Yes, read the papers. Please.”
“What are they?” her muffled steps approached the coffee table.
“They’re for you.”
After that, everything erupted. It ended with Rosie never changing out of her pink bath robe, the papers scattered all over the apartment, lots of shouting, a slammed door, and Rosie in bed before 9 PM with a bucket of popcorn and You’ve Got Mail.
Truman called me.
“What happened?” He wanted to know. Apparently, Tom had come back to the apartment inebriated and rambling about how Rosie was insane. He was presently passed out on their couch.
“He told her.”
“No fucking way.”
“What did she say?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I tried not to listen.”
“It didn’t end well?”
“So now what?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…if Tom and Rosie aren’t really talking anymore. Then—”
“Then what about you and Tim and Rosie?” I suddenly felt very annoyed with Truman. Of course he only cared if he still had a chance. “Don’t worry. I’m sure you guys will still be able to see her.”
“I have to study.”
I hung up, bit my pencil, and stared at the margin of errors equation. But I really only saw Truman’s golden eyes the night of the marathon when he pulled on the extra pair of socks I’d brought him.
Then my phone rang again.
“What happened to Tom?”
“I just told Truman. He couldn’t tell you?”
“You talked to Truman?”
“Yeah. He called me.”
“Truman called you?”
“Why? Is there a rule somewhere saying that Truman can’t call me?”
“What? No. No, no. Truman can do whatever he wants.”
“You called me, Tim?”
“So, what’s up?”
“Forget it. I’ll just ask Truman.”
“So, he really called you?”
And then, because Tim was so weird on the phone about Truman calling me about Tom, and the margin of errors equation was all that I’d been staring at for an hour, I picked up my phone again and thought of golden and red and green flecks as I pushed the call button under Truman’s name.
“What’s up, Kate?”
“Why was Tim so weird when I told him you called me?”
“Tim. He acted all weird when I mentioned you’d called me.”
“Huh. I’m not sure.”
“Are you sure you’re not sure?”
“Yeah. Tim’s a freak.”
“It’s just that there must have been a reason.”
“A reason for what?”
“For him to have reacted so weird.”
“Why are you so curious about this?”
“I’m not. I mean…”
“Kate, Tim is just weird sometimes.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry.”
There was silence, but I didn’t want to hang up. Instead, I kept staring at the stupid equation in my notebook and thinking about Truman grasping his cellphone, pressing it against his ear, and listening to me breathe softly while I read the equation in my mind. My statistical inhalations.
I wondered what he was looking at.
“What are you doing right now?”
“Yes,” I said, shutting my notebook.
For some reason I felt like I could detect a smile on his lips when he said, “Not much. I’m a little bored, honestly.”
I smiled back.
“You know,” he continued. “When I was asking about Rosie and Tom…I wasn’t worried about not seeing Rosie.”
A deep part of me felt a little pain for Rosie, a little guilt, maybe. But, to be honest, most of me was smiling, and it felt as though something was taking over my whole being. Still, my brain was whispering that Truman was Rosie’s boy. That he could only be Rosie’s boy.
“We should do something.”
The words fell out into the mouth piece of my cell phone.
I pressed again. “It’s not too late. And Tim could come too. And Tom, if he’s alive.”
They were all Rosie’s boys.
“Ah, Kate…I don’t know.”
“Come on! What else are you going to do? I know you guys don’t have class tomorrow. Plus, Rosie’s sad and has gone to bed, and I’ve completely given up on trying to study. I could use a drink. In fact, I think I need one.”
The words were flying out of my mouth now, barely stopping to check in with my brain. All I could see were strong calves, and shaggy hair, and used socks, and a sweaty torso bared to my headlights in the middle of the night as Truman changed into cleaner clothes the night of the race. All I could see were his brown eyes with greenish-reddish-brownish flecks and imagine his pink lips softly brushing against mine as I clutched fresh socks in my hand and Rosie snored softly in the back seat, the dawn drawing itself over the planes of Nebraska.
While my mind wandered, I heard Truman ask the boys if they were game to go out. He told me yes. They’d meet me at 10.
I went to the bathroom and put on a new shade of lipstick and some eye-shadow. I eyed Rosie’s perfume and thought about the time she spritzed it in the air one Tuesday night before an intramural game of Tim’s and then danced in its fog as it spilled down over her strawberry locks. I took perfume and fired it up into the air of the bathroom, letting it shower down and around my brown-haired, brown-eyed, perfectly simple self.
I checked my watch: 10:03 PM.
I would be late. The right kind of late. Rosie always liked to keep her boys waiting—long enough that they got a little worried, but not too long that they were mad once she arrived.
Before heading out, I stopped in for a peek into Rosie’s room. She was splayed across her bed, still wrapped in her pink bathrobe, a half empty bucket of popcorn sitting on her night stand. Her soft breaths carried me back to the images of Truman running in Nebraska, his sneakers beating pavement in the middle of the night. I tried to block him out—his golden eyes and smiley lips—for just one moment as I stared at my roommate. I thought that maybe Rosie was a bit broken. Or maybe I was. Or maybe even the whole world.
I stepped out of our apartment at 10:07 PM and slugged on my black jacket. The heels of my boots hit the sidewalk, carrying me down the dark streets of the city. As I pushed open the door to the bar to see three faces lighting up at my entrance, I let the words Kate’s Boys creep into my mind for the first time.
Abby Capella was born and raised in Syracuse, New York. She is a recent graduate from the University of Pittsburgh. Currently, she works as an English teacher in the south of Spain. This is her first published piece. Follow her on twitter: https://twitter.com/abby_capella