A short story about two roommates who didn't exactly intend to be together
|Part 3: New Faces|
It seemed like an eternity before the mousy little arctic fox could find his voice again. He felt like he had been just punched in the gut, and had to catch his breath for a while before he could speak. But even when he felt physically able to once again, words just couldn’t form on his lips.
NONE of it made sense. Surely it couldn’t have been possible that he had misread something somewhere. He was far too thorough for that…right? Maybe he DID overlook something in his research. He desperately wanted to consult his cell phone to check, but his entire body was petrified with shock and refused to heed his commands.
Suddenly, his mind was jolted out of its state of stupor. It took a few blinks for Michael to come to his senses long enough to realize that he was being spoken to by the mammal that stood in front of him.
“I…I’m sorry,” he said, his voice sounding squeaky to his own canine ears. “I…I didn’t…I didn’t hear what you said.”
Without missing a beat, the canine with brick red fur thrust his hand out, fingers splayed open to reveal his pink paw pads.
When he spoke, Michael’s ears unconsciously twitched at the volume, “I said, nice to meet ya!”
A sweeping smile swept across his face then, a grin that seemed almost too wide for his cheeks to support. While it was a friendly gesture, Michael was exceedingly hesitant as he reached out to grab the other’s hand. When their paws did finally connect, it took everything the arctic fox had not to yelp at the strength in the smaller mammal’s squeeze.
“It’s…uhh a pleasure…. Mister..ummmmm Joel, right?”
The mammal named Louie stifled a laugh, an action that Michael mentally took some umbrage to. There was nothing funny about what was said, so what in the world was this guy laughing at? A brief lightning bolt of panic struck him suddenly. Michael’s heart and mind raced at the thought that something must be wrong with him somewhere: perhaps his clothes were messed up in some way, or his fur was sticking up at an embarrassing angle. Just the thought of it, whether it was actually true or not, made the young arctic fox blush.
“Heh heh, no need for all the formalities, dude. You can call me by my nickname, Blue. Everybody around here does. Hey, Mchumba, where’d you find this guy?”
Michael’s heart stopped when the giraffe next to him piped up. In the psychological tunnel vision, Michael had nearly forgotten that the towering mammal was still standing next to him. He just caught his breath in time to hear what he said.
“I can’t take all the credit, Mister Joel. He found us, though not without some difficulty I’m afraid.”
Louie looked back at his new roommate suddenly. Michel felt his chest seize up when those cool, blue eyes stared back into his own.
“Ahhhh. Oh, lemme guess: you thought the place was in Tundratown, right? See boss man, I TOLD ya that you’d better do something about that. I bet there’s a place in that winter wonderland that’s getting all your business just because we can’t market the joint well enough!”
Mchumba said, “Yes yes, you’ve made your point quite clear the FIRST hundred times you’ve brought it up. But I’m afraid that City Hall doesn’t share your…enthusiasm for changing the street names. It’s only a shame that we can’t use you in our marketing strategy. I’m certain new residents will line the streets once they’ve learned that the ever popular Blue was living in our complex.”
That seemed to shift attention away from Michael. He looked on as more of a spectator, watching as his new roommate leaned his back against the doorjamb and folded his arms across his chest. Behind him, his tail, which was nearly as voluminous as he was wide, swayed through the air like it had caught a breeze.
“Ohhhh, so you’re funny now too, huh? Be honest with me now, how long did it take you to come up with THAT gold nugget?”
Mchumba chuckled heartily, the sound reverberating off of Michael’s bones. “Long enough. I’m a simple manager of a humble establishment. I’m not the comedic genius you are, Mister Joel.”
“Well isn’t THAT the understatement of the century.” A wry grin crept across his face, and a series of chuckles emanated from behind his teeth. He pushed himself off the doorjamb and once again faced his new guest.
“So, not that I don’t want to get to know you right away, but I’d much rather take the conversation INSIDE the apartment. The décor’s MUCH nicer in there… oh, no offense boss man, the place is VERY lovely.”
The giraffe shook his head incredulously. “Understatement of the century, Mister Joel. Understatement of the century.”
Mchumba craned his neck downwards, directing his attention towards Michael. “I’ll let you settle yourself in and get acquainted with Mister Joel here. If you need absolutely anything at all, you can feel free to give me a call anytime, or alternatively stop by my office. My door is always open to members of the Myrtle Crown family.”
Michael’s ears twitched and turned sideways when Louie suddenly piped up. “A fact that I regularly exploit for personal enjoyment.”
The giraffe let that one slide, rolling his eyes without facing the other mammal as his only response. He gave a final little farewell to the two of them before striding down the hall, keys clattering away into the distance: first going down the hall in one direction, then doubling back and going the opposite way.
The young arctic fox was so fixated on the sound of the jingling keys that the voice of his red-furred roommate took him by surprise once again. He said, “I swear, he’d lose his head if it wasn’t attached. And that’s pretty sad if we’re including the neck into the equation too.”
A sharp slap to the shoulder blades sent a cascade of shivers coursing through Michael’s nervous system. He was so tense that his joints seemed to creak like rusted metal when he turned around. When he finally did manage to turn, he noticed that his roommate was already inside the apartment, walking even deeper in. The arctic fox, feeling uncomfortable entering a space that wasn’t totally his, hesitated in entering.
The other mammal must have heard that no footsteps followed his, and had turned back. He waved his hand in a beckoning motion at first, but when his eyes caught sight of the luggage at Michael’s feet, he sashayed back out into the hallway. Without a second’s hesitation, he reached down and picked up a suitcase, pausing only to gaily smile at the young fox before tilting his head towards the door. Once more he passed through the doorway.
Hesitation gripped Michael once again, but his legs seemed to act independently of his brain. Carefully, with his remaining bags in tow, they led him through the passageway and onto the other side of the doorframe.
Much to his surprise, it had appeared that his roommate wasn’t joking when he said the space was finely furnished. The room he had stepped into, after walking through the short hallway, was a quaint little living room. The walls were painted a bright sky blue, a shade that reminded Michael of thick glaciers from back home. The furniture looked like powdered snow, as white as his own fur during the wintertime.
He walked through the room mystified by what he saw. It wasn’t that he hadn’t seen such nice furniture before in his life, but rather that all this furniture was HIS. On the far side of the room was a small kitchenette area. Stainless steel appliances glistened in the midday light, making them look like decorations on a Christmas tree rather than implements for cooking and storing food.
The sudden sound of a loud thud caused him to turn around. When he did, he caught sight of Louie clambering onto a cushioned platform in front of an enormous bay window. The bag he was carrying was placed in front of him, and once he had taken his seat, was promptly used as an ottoman with which to prop his furry foot paws up. As he did that, he leaned back against a pillow and folded his arms behind his head. His eyes were firmly fixed on Michael; who couldn’t tell if the look he gave was smug and arrogant or delighted in impressing the newcomer.
Louie said, “So, ya like the pad, huh? Not gonna lie, I’m pretty proud of it. You should’ve seen what it looked like before I got here: all plain and beige and boring. I decided a little color was in order and, well, the rest is history. Very, very recent history. Frankly, I’m surprised 'Better Zoos and Gardens' hasn’t come to me with an offer yet.”
Michael didn’t know how to respond to that, so he kept his thoughts to himself. Quietly, almost sheepishly, he made his way closer to the window. As he did, he saw more and more of the view outside as he looked past his roommate’s grinning face. Through the glass, he saw a wide expanse of Sahara Square. Desolate sand dunes stretched far across the horizon like an ocean, cutting the brilliant blue sky with a harsh, desecrated beige line. For some reason, looking out at the view made Michael feel like he was cast adrift in that unforgiving sand. In his mind, he tried to clamber to the surface of the raging torrents of grit like it was a churning sea, but he was unable to make any progress. And even when his head DID pop back up to the surface, he could see no hope for salvation. Just more sand: endless and endless waves of it.
The big question struck Michael once again: what on earth was he doing here? He was where he’d always dreamed of being, right in the one place in the world that would free him from his restricted life back home. But once he got here, he hadn’t been able to do anything right. He crumbled under the pressures of the place far more easily than he had anticipated, and it turned him into little more than a fumbling child when he should be a confident adult.
But it seemed that even when he WAS in his element, in his room back home, he couldn’t do anything right. He had neglected to properly research the location of his new home, and even then, he had failed to notice the critical detail that he wouldn’t have the room to himself. Just when he'd thought he had everything together, his plans were shattered to pieces; and with them, his self-confidence.
He remembered the advice his parents had given him before he had left.
"You really have to know what you’re doing in order to make it out okay there."
He felt his ears sag into the top of his head, while his tail lost all firmness and fell to the floor. For the first time in his life, he had to admit that his worrywart parents were actually right. You DO have to know what you’re doing in this place. Otherwise, you risk getting swallowed up and drowning in your own insecurities. And there was very little hope of ever coming up from that.
Louie’s voice caused Michael to flinch. The red-furred canine had turned around at some point; now sitting on his haunches, he looked out the window like a cat surveying its territory from its perch on a high rock.
He said, “View’s pretty nice here, isn’t it? Granted, it’s mostly sand, but still. I think it’s pretty nice. It kinda reminds me of the ocean, just grainier and with less fish. Also, I wouldn’t recommend going out and swimming in it either: believe me, I’ve tried. Jumping headlong into one-hundred-and-twenty-degree sand doesn’t exactly make your day. Plus it’s more like jumping into concrete than snow, but hey, that’s a lesson learned.”
Suddenly, he flipped around, eyes wide with excitement. He said hurriedly, “HEY, I know what we should do! Let’s get out there and see everything this town’s got in store for two eligible bachelors like us! I mean you didn’t exactly see all the sights yet, right? What better way to sightsee than with a guide as charming and knowledgeable as me?”
Louie was up and across the room far faster than Michael thought possible. Before he could issue his rebuttal, he was already being shoved out the door by the smaller mammal. The initial shove knocked the bags from his hands and, without the extra weight to keep him immobile, he was easily led back towards the door. Just before the spontaneous duo crossed back into the hallway, Michael found his voice to issue a somewhat meager complaint between shoves.
“Bu…but what about my stuff? I gotta unpack….and everything.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. Your stuff isn’t going to grow legs and walk away on us. I’m pretty sure that style of luggage went unfashionable years ago, and you seem like a pretty trend-savvy fella to me. I mean, just look at what you’re wearing: a sweatshirt AND sweatpants! They both even have sweat in the name! Oh darling, I feel WOEFULLY underdressed next to you.”
Before more could be said, they were both out the door. Much to Michael’s relief, his pushy roomie finally stopped shoving him, though this was just so that he could turn around and lock the door to their room behind him. The young arctic fox took a step towards the door to hurry back inside, only to realize that he had never been given a key of his own.
A disgruntled sigh left Michael’s lips as he watched Louie pocket the only key and turn around eagerly. He shooed his roommate with a gesture of his paws and, realizing that there was nowhere else to go, the arctic newcomer trudged out of the way in order to let his guide lead the way.
As they started down the hall towards the elevators, Louie turned and began walking backward, holding his paw to his face and making a sound like the static of a radio before speaking in an exaggeratedly pleasant voice.
“We at the Blue International Touring Company would like to thank you for joining us today. We have an exciting day lined up for you folks, so just sit back and relax as we show you the sights of our fair city.”
He turned back around just in time to bump into the elevator doors. It was hard enough to cause the doors to rattle, which made Michael reel. As he cautiously opened his eyes and unfolded his ears, he saw that he was reacting far more severely than his roommate was. Louie, whilst rubbing his nose, cheerfully giggled as he pressed the button to call the elevator. When it arrived and he stepped on, he wore a smile on his face no different than if he had never committed the blunder at all.
Without thinking on it any further, Michael stepped inside the elevator and the pair descended together.