Excerpt from “Immortal Dilemma”
We must have been the only two people that didn’t belong anywhere else. It’s the only explanation how I wound up with Janelle for a roommate. I was furious that my mom refused to let me come out to Las Vegas for the college’s early orientation. Everyone else seemed so happy with their roommates. I bet they paired off at the orientation. Oh well. In mom’s defense, we really didn’t have the money for the extra trip and it was our busy season at the restaurant. I would have to make the best of it. Roommate trouble isn’t on the top of my priority list. However, I did want to make it work as much as possible, so I planned to have dinner with Janelle that night. Nothing fancy, just the dormitory café. At least this way we’d have a chance to chat face to face without being wrapped up in school work and other distractions.
First impressions could always be wrong, and I’d been wrapped up in trying to get my new schedule deciphered, trying to find my way around a campus full of identical buildings, and quite honestly, my nerves were sometimes getting the best of me. Maybe I hadn’t given her a fair chance. It was possible we had more in common than I thought. Janelle seemed to sleep a lot during the day. It was strange I hadn’t even seen any evidence of her buying books. Her focus seemed to be on her nightly social life, the internet, and famous people. She spent a lot of time talking about people that she didn’t know as if they were close friends. Some of them I’d heard of, some I just nodded and pretended I knew what she was talking about. Celebrity gossip seemed so meaningless to me.
I straightened up my side of our dorm room while I waited for her. The room was small to begin with, and Janelle’s belongings oozed over the imaginary line that designated my side of the room. Even her stuff was loud. Her bedding was zebra print with hot pink accents. Every inch of her wall space was covered with posters of scary looking people and weird lettering. She had poetry pinned up haphazardly, overlapping the posters. Her clothes, all black, exploded out of her closet and the debris of the last week’s outfits was all over the floor. I hadn’t brought much along with me, since the logistics of getting things cross country made packing efficiently an art form, but still I craved neatness and order.
Janelle returned about a half an hour later than promised. My stomach was growling so I was anxious to head to dinner. She immediately opened a bag of chips and flopped down on her unmade bed in front of her computer.
“Weren’t we going to go to dinner tonight?” I tried not to sound annoyed. Deep down I still hoped this girl had some redeeming qualities.
“Oh, yeah, you want to go now?” She replied with a mouth full of food.
“Well, I am kinda hungry. But you just had those chips.”
“No, no, no…not a problem,” Janelle got up off the bed and pulled her T shirt down over her stomach. She finished off her snack. “Let’s go.”
Dinner was in full swing and the cafeteria was crowded. Tonight’s offerings were baked chicken and spaghetti. I opted for the spaghetti. One thing I’d have a hard time getting used to here was the food. It was all so overcooked, overprocessed, and bland. Not like my family’s restaurant.
“Do you mind me asking you, why did you pick Las Vegas State College?” Janelle started the conversation after we settled at our table with our trays. “You don’t seem to like it here very much.”
Janelle was paying more attention to me than I thought. I hadn’t realized I was projecting so of my discomfort. “Well, some of my friends moved here, and I thought it would be a good place to try something completely different than I was used to.”
Janelle swallowed a scoop of mashed potatoes. “I’ve got to hand it to you for having big brass balls. I couldn’t wait to get out of Snoozeville, either. But I knew what I was getting myself into coming here. My parents have been dragging me here since I was a kid. Didn’t your friends tell you what this crazy place was like?”
“Um…no. Well, sort of,” If you count my mom badgering me ever since I brought up coming here, all I knew was I was moving to the devil’s playground. “All I’d heard about was the gambling, and the heat…and the hookers.” It shocked me to see the trucks on the Strip towing billboards, advertising “HOT GIRLS DIRECT TO YOUR ROOM!” Equally shocking were the signs just off the Strip proclaiming “CASH FOR CAR TITLES.” What happened to people, they’d drove here in hopes of winning big, and then had to sell their car to keep gambling? How would they get home? It just seemed so sad and desperate to me.
“That’s just a myth. Prostitution is only legal in Nye County. Pahrump—That’s where you find The Bunny Ranch, The Chicken Ranch, The Midnight Ranch…”
I cut her off. I wasn’t in the market to hire a prostitute. “Whatever. I just wanted to see what things were like here…And I really wanted to see my friend.” So that was the understatement of the year.
Janelle seemed confused by this. “Your friends, or friend, must have told you something about the city.”
“No….I haven’t actually talked to him, to them, in a while. Not since they moved here from California.” Saying these things out loud didn’t help my cause. I pushed my food around on my plate, hoping it would get more appetizing. I guess I wasn’t as hungry as I thought I was.
“Ooooo-oooh it’s a him, huh? An ex? Or a friend with benefits? How long ago did you did you talk to him?”
“Not exactly a boyfriend. Four years ago.”
Janelle had moved on to her dessert and was scraping cupcake frosting off of the baking paper. “Wow. And you haven’t talked to him at all? That’s a long time, Callie. You really moved all the way out here because of someone you haven’t seen in four years? You were, what, fourteen?” She licked pink goo off of her fingers slowly as she waited for my answer. It turned my stomach a little. That, and actually telling someone why I’d really come all this way under the guise of school.
“It’s, uh, complicated. I just felt like I had to come here. Tristan—his name is Tristan. I just needed to see him again.” I sounded as ridiculous as Janelle did when she rambled on and on about her celebrities. Well, at least I knew Tristan. Or did I? Four years was a long time.
“Tristan, huh?” She said thoughtfully. “So have you like, friended him on Facebook or googled him? He should be easy enough to find.”
“Uh no,” That sounded stalkerish. “Why would I do that? I don’t even have a Facebook.” Facebook had been severely frowned upon in my house.
“Huh.” Janelle took a minute to digest that. Of course she didn’t understand. Maybe I should just go back to Martha’s Vineyard and forget this whole thing. No, there was no going back to my hippie, home-school world where hardly anything, or anyone, new came in, and definitely nobody went out.
Finally, she asked, “Is he hot?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah.”
“Is he a good kisser? Please tell me you at least kissed him.”
My heart skipped a beat thinking about it. “Yeah.”
“Alrighty then. Do you know how to get in touch with him?”
I hoped so.