"What are you watching?" Mattie asked, sweeping into the room with Martin behind her and throwing her coat across her roommate's bed.
"Dateline," Becca said without even looking up.
Mattie paused a minute to watch the TV that she had pronounced "too small" at first sight. At twelve inches, small or not, it was as big a TV as the two could fit into their dorm room. "Why?" she finally asked.
"It's the only thing on," Becca dryly responded.
"Uh," Mattie sighed. "You'd think with 64 channels, there'd be something better than that on." Her cable service at home only delivered 47 channels and she was still awed by the addition of the extra 17. "Oh, that's awful," she proclaimed as the exposé on child labor drew her attention. "Somebody ought to do something about those poor kids."
She stepped on her Made in China rug as she made her way across the clothes-strewn floor to her bed.
Martin continued to stand awkwardly in the doorway, occasionally clearing his throat. Becca finally turned her head to glare at him. In doing so, she blocked Mattie's sight of the TV enough to make her look up.
"Martin? You're still here? Why don't you go back to your own room?"
His face began to look even more pained. "Well…" he began.
"What?" Mattie cut him off.
"Well…" Martin looked anxiously at Becca. As hard as it was for him to voice his admirations for Mattie, it was always doubly hard when her roommate was around. The grimace Becca gave every time he came to the door had not gone unnoticed.
"Spit it out, Martin," Mattie was beginning to develop a pained expression herself. She really would have rather watched Dateline than talk with Martin.
In her opinion, she spent way too much time talking to Martin… He had latched on to her early in the fall and was proving hard to shake loose… Shy, awkward, gullible, Martin…
But, at least he provided an alternative to spending all her time with Becca.
"Don't you want to watch a movie… or something…" he lamely finished, realizing too late that the girls' TV was already in use.
Mattie looked at the ceiling for a moment, but avoided groaning out loud at him. "I know I owe you one… But not tonight, Okay?"
Martin's face fell, but then lit up again with the thought of the promised date. "Well, I guess I'll leave then… See you at lunch tomorrow?" He ended his speech on a hopeful note.
Mattie sighed. "Goodnight, Martin."
When his acne-covered face left the doorway, Mattie fell back melodramatically on her bed. "Thank God he's gone!" She made no effort to keep her voice down until Martin was out of hearing range.
"What'd he do this time?" Becca asked, not sure she really wanted to know, yet fairly sure the question would take at least half an hour to answer.
"Oh, he rescued me from Cute Soccer Boy… Who really didn't turn out to be that cute after all," she informed Becca nonchalantly. "… But he did it in such a Martin-like way! You see…"
She began to drone away.
Becca was already behind the curve. She didn't even know who Cute Soccer Boy was. She had thought Mattie was still interested in Cute Drum Major Boy. Hadn't she just been gabbing about him a few nights before?
Becca turned from the TV and tried to focus on Mattie. Thanks to her own dumb question, she'd never know the fate of the poor little Guatemalan boy who'd spent his whole life making Air Jordans.
After a careful search of the first two floors of the library the day before, (Mattie was saying) she had settled into a carrel on the third floor, convinced it would be the perfect study spot.
There were two guys with football jackets draped over their chairs at the next table, and another cutie in a baseball cap near the e-mail terminals. She had been the only female in sight, which made it the perfect place to do her kind of studying. She pulled out a magazine and pretended to read.
To make a long story short, (so Mattie said, although Becca hardly believed her) two hours later, when she walked out of the library, a very cute and well-built soccer player held the door open for her.
"My Lady," he said, bowing, and giving her a lopsided grin. (Mattie said she had suppressed a rude comment at that and let him take her hand.
Cute Soccer Boy, he may have been, but, upon closer inspection, Jeffrey was starting to wear a little thin.
"Remind me to beware the overanxious ones from now on," Mattie asked her roommate. "They're probably desperate for a reason.")
"See you tomorrow night," Jeffrey had grinned as he deposited Mattie in the dorm lobby.
"Sure," Mattie had sighed, already wishing a convenient case of malaria would descend upon him the following night (or so she informed Becca.)
Martin had been in the lobby reading the campus newspaper. "Who was he?" he had jumped up as soon as Jeffrey was out the doors.
"Aren't you ever in your room?" Mattie had asked.
Martin ignored her. "Who was he?"
"A loser," she had sighed and plopped into one of the plush chairs beside Martin's. "Seriously, what are you doing down here?"
"You're going on a date with a loser?"
"Martin, can't you just climb the stairs over there and go home?"
"Where are you going to go with him?"
Mattie had decided if Martin wasn't going to leave, she was going to have to. "See you later, Martin."
"At dinner, right?"
Well (Mattie said) she'd had her date with Jeffrey earlier in the night at the University Cup. (She made sure to tell Becca to remind her to never, ever, let her go to the coffee shop on a date again. Jeffrey's coffee breath had really gotten on her nerves.)
"I had a lovely time," he had told her, with that dumb goofy grin plastered on his face, as they stood on the dorm's front porch.
That grin was really starting to get on Mattie's nerves… Just like his breath. She had hoped he thought her own breath smelled just as awful, but no such luck.
He smiled expectantly, and then leaned forward. Seeing what was coming, Mattie closed her eyes in a sign of endurance and tilted her head to her right. Jeffrey had also tilted his head to his right. Their mouths only met in the center of the "x" they made.
(As if kissing him wouldn't have been disgusting enough, Mattie told Becca.)
"Whoops!" Jeffrey had grinned. He looked way too interested in correcting their mistake. Looking for an escape route, she had glanced inside the glass doors of the dorm.
Martin made his move, then. He had been sitting in the chairs, pretending to read the same edition of the campus paper she'd seen him with the day before. Now, he got up and started towards the doors.
"Look," Mattie had said, pushing away from Jeffrey. "I have something to tell you."
Jeffrey's eyes had bugged out as he looked at her. (WHY did I not notice his eyes did that when I was in the library! She sighed to Becca.)
"This has been… fun," she told Jeffrey, giving Martin a glance, "But… I have to tell you… I don't think my boyfriend really wants me to see you again."
"What?" Jeffrey sounded confused as he noticed Martin for the first time.
"Nothing personal, understand? He just doesn't seem to like any of my dates," Mattie had said, starting to grin. "In fact, he gets pretty jealous."
Not-So-Cute Soccer Boy had wrinkled up his forehead. "But…"
"What? Oh, I guess I forgot to mention him yesterday, didn't I? Sorry. Got carried away, I guess."
Jeffrey moved backwards and missed the step. He went sprawling on the sidewalk in front of the porch, confused and stunned.
Mattie had left him there with a sigh of relief. "Thank God you were here," she said to Martin as she walked in. "Why couldn't you have showed up two hours ago at the coffee shop? I had to listen to him go on and on about what a bully he was back in parochial school."
Martin looked out at the figure alone in the dark, holding his tailbone as he limped back to his dorm on the other side of campus. "Maybe he needs an ambulance or something…" he had said, unsure.
"Don't be silly, Martin," Mattie had told him, halfway up the stairs already.
Her admirer gave one last look outside. "Okay…" he started to follow her, and called up ahead, "Hey, do you do that to every guy who kisses you?"
"Martin," she had told him. "You will never find out!"
"… And then he just followed me right up here," Mattie sighed. "You saw the rest… I'm just going to have to get tough with that boy."
Becca couldn't even look at her melodramatic roommate. She had a wild desire to laugh at her. "I'm going out for a smoke," she told her, in a high-strung tone.
"I don't know how you can do that," Mattie responded, glancing at her own reflection in the mirror.
"I'll be back," Becca breezed.
Mattie made no reply. She was already leaning in to inspect her face for clogged pores. No doubt there would be other soccer players to impress someday.
Outside, Becca shivered through her cynical grin and lit a cigarette. Mattie would be a riot if you didn't actually have to live with her, she thought.
She ignored the sign on the door that warned smokers to stay at least 25 feet away from the building, and leaned up against the brickwork. She imagined gathering her friends around in the student union the next day and sharing the latest installment of Days of Mattie's Life.
Her friends, who didn't live with Mattie, all would think she was a riot. But they would be sympathetic too. It'll be better next year, they'd say… When the hell of being assigned a freshman year roommate would be over.
Four more months, Becca groaned. She took another puff on her cigarette, and watched her smoky breath float up into the night sky.