Defining expectations…and rudeness
Standing with his feet in a pile of slush, gazing up at the ivy-covered brick, Koda felt overwhelmingly underdressed. Glancing down at his attire, then up at a picturesque bay window, was a stark reminder that he was entering another world. One in which he doubted he could ever belong. His only hope was that whoever he’d been paired to live with for the next year would be as uncomfortable and out of their element as he was. Maybe then they could bond over the mishaps that were sure to come.
Even his father’s voice in the back of his mind reminding him that he was more than the place he came from couldn’t motivate him to move away from his truck. He glanced up at the beautiful house again and shook his head, wondering what the neighbors would think when they saw the faded grey and blue pick-up in the driveway. The 1978 Prospector had been his old man’s well before he was born and with a lot of TLC, they’d kept her steady and reliable. Still, the shine had dulled from her weathered paint job over the course of the last two winters, both unexpectedly harsh. He’d need to prepare for sanding her down, priming her and applying a new coat come next year.
With a sigh, he stared at the front door, wondering what in the world he’d gotten himself into. Responding to the flyer circulated by the psychology department had been more out of bored curiosity than anything else, so when they’d called him and asked him to come in for an interview he figured it would give him a chance to find out more about the so-called social experiment. Never in a billion years had he expected to be chosen as one of the participants.
Tugging the key from his pocket, he stood debating whether to grab something from the truck or check the place out first to see where he’d be going. In the end, he decided to grab his backpack and duffle bag so as to not waste the trip.
There was an actual welcome mat in front of the door, soft, he realized, once he’d pulled his shoes off before heading in. Plush blue-grey carpet welcomed him, the color stretching on as far as the eye could see. It practically shimmered beneath the bright, floor to ceiling windows, and the living spaces, holy shit, talk about spacious. Good thing he’d taken off his shoes, the last thing he wanted to do was dirty the place up on his first day.
There was a huge bay window beside a kitchen filled with more stainless-steel appliances than Koda had ever seen in one place besides a store. Benches and a built-in table sat in a sort of nook with a picturesque view of the backyard with its awning covered patio furniture, fire ring, and hammocks. Grinning, he imagined laying in one with a sketchbook and animation pens; at least, when it was warmer anyway.
Heading right, he found a large bedroom with an in-suite bathroom. The space was about half the size of the trailer he’d grown up in. He checked the other hall, and found a smaller bathroom and beyond, another bedroom with built in bookcases and a window with a view of the forest. It was smaller than the other one and tucked toward the back of the house in a spot that seemed quiet and isolated from the communal living space.
He knew a good chunk of the project involved interacting with his new housemate, getting to know one another and planning activities to do during their free time. There was a whole checklist of things they were supposed to accomplish together over the course of the year, on top of the daily journal they were required to keep. All that interaction was going to leave him frazzled. Being able to retreat here would be great for his mental health. Besides, it wasn’t like he was choosing the larger space. He doubted his new house mate would care if he claimed the room way down here.
Depositing his stuff beside the bed, he headed out to the truck to fetch the rest of his belongings, grateful that the place was furnished. In the interest of time and cleanliness, he decided to just deposit everything inside the door, then move the truck into the garage and out of the way. It wasn’t as if he had much. His music collection, art desk and supplies, easel, clothes, movies, and books took up the bulk of it, along with his bedding, office chair, single serve coffee pot and portfolios. There was a box of artwork too, all from original pieces he’d designed and printed. Laptop, second monitor, camera, green screen, drawing tablet, they all went inside, along with his desk, which was still in the box from when he purchased it a week ago.
Once everything was inside, he opened the garage door and parked the truck to the left, shocked to see a door on the right side of the garage. Curious, he shut the garage door and tried his key in that lock, only to discover that it led to the washroom. He hadn’t even noticed it on his tour of the house. Grinning at the prospect of not having to bother with the laundromat for the next year, he headed through the house to start moving his things away from the door. In sock covered feet and being careful not to scuff the walls, he made short work of getting everything moved to the center of his bedroom before sitting down with a sigh.
Setting up a room was a bit out of his wheelhouse. With no clue where to begin, he faced the mess, feeling a little overwhelmed.
Taking a deep breath, he let it out slow as he let his eyes skim around the room. Besides the bed and dresser, there were two end tables beside the bed, a large closet and an open spot in front of the window. He carried the empty art desk there and set it down, then rolled the chair in front of it, figuring he could roll between desks if he parked the one for his computer in front of the other window. His wooden chest of sheets, linens, towels, and washcloths he placed at the foot of his bed before unloading his books, movies and CD’s into the bookcases, breaking down the boxes one at a time as he emptied them. He sat a lava lamp on each end table along with his echo dot and coffee pot. Nothing like being able to get the first pot of coffee started before he’d even gotten out of bed. Satisfied that he was off to a good start, he made his bed, placed a footlocker of records in the closet, then set up his record player and speakers on the dresser. From that point it was easy to set the easel between the art desk and the closet, then go ahead and get his clothes and art supplies unpacked along with his camera gear. That left just his computer stuff, but first he’d need to get the desk built. Looking around, he decided to carry the flattened boxes out to the garage first to give himself some room to work.
He’d was just settling down on the floor with the instructions in one hand and some old Buddy Guy on the stereo turntable when there was a knock on the door.
Not having seen a vehicle in the driveway, Kenji didn’t think his roommate had arrived yet. He’d never considered checking the garage, but when soft guitar notes drifted up the hall, he’d quickly realized that he and his parents were not alone in the house. Determined to start off on the right foot he followed the music to the back of the house, excited to have already discovered one thing he and his roommate had in common, the blues. Knocking on the closed door that greeted him, he bounced with anticipation.
“Yeah?” a voice called over the music.
Taking that as an invitation, Kenji stepped inside, only to be greeted by wary crystalline eyes framed by a long cascade of shimmering blue and white hair, shocking Kenji with the contrast of so many bright hues against ghostly pale skin.
“Hey, I’m Kenji but you can call me Ken. Guess we’re going to be living together for the year.” Sticking his right hand out, Kenji waited expectantly as his housemate gave a little wave and completely ignored the hand that had been offered him. On top of it, those blue eyes darted away from him and back to the project he’d been working on.
“And your name is?” Kenji prompted, anxiety growing with every silent moment that stretched between them.
Kenji watched the smaller fidget with the wood in front of him, fingertips pressed into it like it was taking all his willpower not to slam whip it at Kenji’s face. The thought alone had him taking a cautious step backwards, just in case Koda decided to give in to the temptation. “Guess I’ll leave you be. Just remember, this experiment is about getting to know one another. Between you and me, you’re off to a bad start.”
With that Kenji retreated out the door, tense and flustered by the time he reached his parents in the living room. Of course, his mother noticed. She noticed everything. With a sigh he realized his father and sister had started bringing stuff in, so he hurried to help them.
“Is your new housemate going to come out and meet us?” Kenji’s mother asked.
“Doubtful,” Kenji tossed over his shoulder as he rushed out the door.
His sister nudged him as he reached to gather a basket of clothes out of her truck, the streetlight gleaming off the carbon fiber of his prosthetic arm. “You okay? Are you having second thoughts?”
“A little, he isn’t the friendliest guy around,” Kenji grumbled as they headed back in.
“At least now you know it’s a he,” she quipped. “Still can’t believe you’re doing this.”
“You and me both.”
Upon seeking out the other bedroom, he was shocked Koda left him the larger room with the attached bathroom.
“Dang, this is nice” his sister remarked, nudging him out of her path so she could carry his books in and deposit them in the corner. “At least that’s one good point about doing this. Besides, the kitchen is totally lit. Mom and I checked it out while we were waiting for you. She’s probably in there now putting everything away.”
“I still can’t believe how much kitchen stuff she insisted I bring with me. I doubt I’ll use half of it if the only one I’m cooking for is myself.”
“Who knows, maybe you won’t be.”
Smiling ruefully, he turned and headed back out to the cars to finish bringing things in. Movement out of the corner of his eye made him pause at the entryway to the kitchen to see his mother standing on a chair, arranging the cupboards. With a fond smile he turned his focus on unloading and wondered if it would have been easier to start this new adventure without his family around. Of course, getting all his stuff here would have been a struggle unless he’d finally bitten the bullet and decided to start driving again.
Shuddering at the thought, Kenji made another trip out. The last as it turned out.
“If you were going to move out you certainly could have done much worse,” Kenji’s father chuckled. “So, do we get to meet who you’ll be living with? I’m curious to see how this matching process turned out. I, for one, will be eager to read the journals if Professor Pierce gets his results published. I don’t see why he wouldn’t, this is a marvelous idea.”
“Yeah, it's, something anyway,” Kenji said with a sigh. “Not sure about you guys meeting Koda though. He doesn’t seem extremely interested in interacting.”
“Not everyone is as instantly outgoing as you Kenji,” His father laughed. “I believe if you put your mind to it you could befriend a porcupine.”
“We might finally have the opportunity to find out,” Kenji muttered.
“Don’t be that way, son. It’s a good thing you’re doing. It feels like you’re finally willing to move forward from the accident. Why don’t you go and ask him again to come out? Could be he’s just shy and needs a bit of extra encouragement.”
“All right. I’ll try but I don’t promise anything,” Kenji remarked, heading once more for the door at the end of the hall. Along the way he found the laundry room, pleased that he wouldn’t have to cart his things home to get them cleaned. Rapping on Koda’s door, he expected a verbal answer, not the sight of a scowling Koda in a t-shirt that read My dragon can beat up your unicorn. He had purple fuzzy slippers on and a screwdriver in his hand.
“Hey, um, my parents would like to meet you, see who I’ll be living with for the next year,” Kenji hurried to explain as Koda’s scowl only grew deeper.
“No thanks,” Koda moved to shut the door, but Kenji shoved his prosthetic hand against it to hold it open. He could see the shock in Koda’s eyes as he stared from the hand to his face and back again.
“You’re being extremely rude,” Kenji remarked. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask …”
“You know what’s rude?” Koda cut him off. “Expecting others to react the way you think they should. I said no. I even said thanks. I meant both. Now, can you leave me alone for the rest of the night, please?”
“With pleasure,” Kenji huffed before turning and stalking back up the hall. He found his family in the kitchen with the freezer door open, his mother staring into the depths with a frown on her face.
“You can forget about meeting him today,” Kenji informed them.
“Half of the freezer is filled with boxed dinners,” his mother replied forlornly.
“Don’t worry Mom, I plan to cook my meals,” he assured her. “I promise, I’ll ride my bike to the supermarket tomorrow and stock up.”
“You’ll do not such thing. I’ll come get you and take you to the market, we’ll get fresh things. Once you can see how much you can fit in here you can decide how often you’ll need to shop.”
“Okay, mom. What time?”
“Let’s say eight.”
“I’ll be ready,” he relented, knowing she’d fret if she didn’t ensure he had enough food stocked up for an apocalypse if the zombies ever happened to rise. Smiling he hugged her and thanked all three of them for helping him move in.
His mother glanced towards the hallway and back to Kenji. “I do not like the idea of leaving you alone with a stranger. What if something were to happen to you? We have no description of him to give to the police. No way of identifying him if he turns out to be a serial killer or a lunatic or ….”
“Mom,” he remarked calmly, pulling her into a gentle hug “I am a third-degree black belt. I’m not really worried about protecting myself. I promise he’s not even close to my size and he doesn’t look like a serial killer. More like one of those sad emo kids that hang around the movie theater. It will be fine. I promise. Why don’t you let dad take you out to dinner before you head home? It’s been awhile since you two had a date night without dragging one of us kids along.”
“Your father and I enjoy your company.” She remarked.
“And we enjoy yours,” his sister jumped in, helping him out, “but Kenji’s right. You two deserve a night out alone. Don’t worry, I’ll make a pizza run before I leave him alone for the night. Who knows, the elusive roommate might just make an appearance if there aren’t so many of us around.”
Huffing, she narrowed her eyes at both siblings, “Ganging up on me now I see, harrumph.” They both laughed at that, getting her to laugh too before taking their father’s arm and allowing him to lead her out.
“Thanks,” Kenji remarked.
“No problem, besides, pizza sounds really good. You want your usual?”
Kenji reached for his wallet only to have her wave him off. “My treat this time. Besides, something tells me you’ll need all the fuel you can get to deal with the elusive Mr. Grumpy.”
Kenji let out a rough chuckle, hoping he didn’t sound too bitter. “No shit.”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Koda’s fingers shook as he fumbled for his cell phone, willing himself not to puke on it or the floor. Nothing was going the way he’d imagined. Not the house, not Kenji, who’s presence in his doorway had flustered him so bad the first time he hadn’t been able to formulate words, which was bad enough. When he’d come back the second time, Koda knew he’d come off as a complete asshole but the thought of coming out and meeting even more people had frazzled him even more. Even now, he was gulping in air, willing his finger to be steady enough to unlock his phone and hit his father’s number.
Kenji had been all bright smiles and enthusiasm, absolutely gorgeous with shimmering black hair, long on top and even longer on the right side, with an undercut that left pieces to slide forward over one eye. Despite having gone through the same unpacking process that Koda had earlier, Kenji had appeared unruffled and completely put together. Koda had felt grungy in comparison, and ridiculous considering what he was wearing, but he’d wanted something familiar and comfortable to ground him, not that it had worked.
One ring, three, his breath hitched, his eyes stung, and he knew he was going to start bawling if his dad didn’t answer.
Hey kid, wasn’t sure I was going to hear from you tonight. Did you get everything moved in okay?
“Yeah.” His voice caught halfway through the word, then the tears came, and his grip tightened on the phone like it was a lifeline. He could hear his father talking but he couldn’t make out the words through the storm of hiccups, gasps and sobs. Through it all, his dad kept talking, until Koda was calm enough to hear him clearly.
You good now?
“No, I wanna come home. This was stupid. I stayed home for college for a reason, so I wouldn’t have to live in a dorm with strangers. I must have been smoking some seriously potent shit to ever think this would be a good idea.”
Or maybe it let you finally see what I’ve known for years. That you stayed out of fear.
“Not true. I like living with you, its…”
Easy, comfortable, familiar, his father finished for him.
“So, what’s wrong with comfortable and familiar! Comfortable is good. I like being comfortable. What’s there not to like about it?”
There’s nothing wrong with it, but it can only take you so far son. You’ll never learn how to function on your own if you run back to the nest at the first flounder. You made a commitment to take part in this experiment, and I raised you to honor your commitments.
“But dad, this place is nothing like home. For one, it’s huge and it’s like no one’s ever lived here, the place is perfectly pristine. I’m scared to touch any damn thing for fear of leaving a smudge of paint or charcoal on something.”
And if that happens, you’ll clean it up. It’s no big deal. Houses were meant to be lived in. Have you met your roommate yet?
“Kenji, yeah and he’s just like the house. Shinny and fuckin’ perfect and I’ve already managed to both piss him off and be annoyed at him, which has to be some sort of a record for me.”
Or maybe it’s just what you need to get your head outta your ass and realize that people require as much patience as your artwork does.
“Yeah, but the difference between dealing with humans and a painting that won’t take shape is that I can just cover the canvas in a fresh coat of white paint if I want to start over again. What am I supposed to do to restart with a person?"
Talk to them, for one, and be patience with yourself and him. Figure out how you can get a do over with Kenji and build from there. A year is a long time to be annoyed with the person you’re living with.
“Which is exactly why I need to come home. It’s just going to get worse. He already accused me of being rude when I wouldn’t come out to meet his folks. It was hard enough meeting him, which I wasn’t ready to do when he knocked on my door. Why the hell couldn’t he have waited until morning, preferably after I’d had a chance to smoke a bowl and have some cereal?”
Maybe because not everything can be on your timetable, Koda. Did you ever stop to consider that he might have been nervous and wanted to meet you sooner rather than later so he wouldn’t have to keep worrying about what it would be like when it happened? Maybe his parents wanted to meet you because they were worried about their son living with a stranger and wanted to be certain you were a nice person.
“So why aren’t you worried?”
Because you’re my kid. If I’m worried about anyone its Kenji at this point, since I know it’s going to take a torpedo to blast you out of that room, at least until you get done brooding.
“Which is exactly why…”
For the last time, no. You’re not dropping out of the experiment, and if you do, you’re not moving back here, and before you call Avery and ask them if you can move in with them, the answer is no. They told me to tell you that.
“Fuck. Dad, what the hell?”
Ahh, resorting to swearing, that means you’re out of reasonable arguments, not like you had any to begin with. I’m hanging up now Koda. You’ve had a good cry and vented. I trust you will be okay now.
Mouth half hanging open, Koda stared at the now silent phone for half a minute before dropping it on the end table with a clatter. Frustrated, he threw himself across the bed, unable to believe the mess he’d gotten himself into, and that his father wasn’t allowing him to come home to get himself out of it.