Under any other circumstances, Landers and Huntzer never would have met let alone become friends. It was only the fate of being assigned as dorm mates at Green College that brought their worlds together.
Landers was raised by a single mother in the small town of Enville and the only reason he was attending Green College was because his Great Aunt Harriet agreed to pay his costs, a promise she made when he was in sixth grade.
"You do well in school, make good grades, and stay out of trouble and I will pay for your college," Great Aunt Harriett told him at Christmas that year.
Landers took her at her word and he worked hard in high school to be worthy of college. He was a consistent honor roll student and when he was accepted at Green College, Great Aunt Harriett was the first to congratulate him and she made good on her promise to have his college bills sent to her address.
Huntzer came from a Boston family of privilege, raised in comfortable financial and social settings, attending private prep schools, and given access to whatever he wanted. Life for Huntzer came easy and he didn't work hard which was one reason why he was an average student at best. But with his personality and his Boston accent, it didn't matter: Huntzer was the most popular guy in the room no matter who else was present.
Landers arrived at Green College on a bus with a duffle bag over his back and another bag in his hand. It took him all of four minutes to settle into his dorm room at Greenly Hall – he brought seven books and a used lap top computer along with his clothes and a photo of his sister and mother.
Huntzer arrived in an expensive sports car (Freshman weren't supposed to have cars on campus but Huntzer never let rules stop him from doing what he wanted). His belongs arrived in a separate rented truck: a portable refrigerator, a microwave, a flat screen television, a desk top computer, a stereo system, an Oriental floor rug, a bust of Groucho Marx ("I thought it was Karl Marx," was Huntzer's joke line whenever somebody commented on it), and a movie theater popcorn machine.
Room 207 in Greenly Hall became instantly crowded and cluttered once Huntzer moved in. Landers stuffed a bunch of old clothes he had been wearing for years into his dresser drawers. He owned one corduroy suit jacket and a pair of sneakers. Huntzer's closet was full of expensive trousers, dress shirts, vests and sweaters. There were at least a dozen pairs of shoes on his closet floor. He had a box full of rings, chains, and single earrings on the top of his dresser.
Landers spent his Sunday evenings doing his wash in the dorm basement laundry room (dollar for the washer, 75 cents for the dryer). Huntzer had his clothes sent out for dry cleaning.
Landers didn't say much to Huntzer – what was there to say? – and the roommates didn't communicate much during their first few weeks of shared quarters. Huntzer wasn't around much – late nights out and weekends away seemed to be his mode of operation but Landers wasn't complaining. He liked it when his roomie wasn't around – Landers found Huntzer to be self-centered, egotistical, loud, obnoxious and full of shit. Landers was annoyed that Huntzer lived by his own rules and didn't pay much attention to the basics Landers took seriously: attending class, studying, getting a good night's sleep.
When Landers wasn't in class or at the library, he was working his part time job at the dining hall. Great Aunt Harriett wasn't providing him spending cash so he needed to work to have pocket money. Huntzer hadn't worked a day in his life but he was never short on cash: he had at least three gold plated credit cards and a bank ATM card with his photo on it.
Huntzer considered Landers a bore. "Do you ever leave this room?" He asked sarcastically.
"To go to class," Landers replied. "Unlike you who goes everywhere except to class."
Even guys who weren't homosexual considered Huntzer a good looking man. He had golden blond hair, perfect skin, a killer smile, teeth that looked fake real, and penetratingly hypnotizing blue eyes. He had the perfect build and he looked athletically fit even though he didn't work out.
"The Greek God," some of the guys in the dorm called Huntzer.
Landers hair appeared un-brushed (even after he just combed it). He had acne scars on his cheeks and a perpetual three day growth of beard. His nose had been broken in 10th grade and it still looked crooked. There was a scar on the corner of his mouth from an unfortunate mishap when he was seven. He was lanky but he seemed to shrink into himself and he walked as if his bones were made of rubber.
Huntzer was routinely on his cell phone talking to everybody except Landers who didn't have a whole lot to say anyway. The first real conversation that took place between them was when Landers called Huntzer "Max" (instead of the usual Huntzer or Huntz like everybody else on the dorm floor).
"Actually, it's Maximum," Huntzer clarified.
Landers thought that was a strange name. "Not Maxwell?" He asked stupidly.
"You don't think I know my own name?" Huntzer countered with annoyance. "It's Maximum on my birth certificate. My father knew from the embryo that I was going to be supreme and extreme – the greatest and utmost there ever was!"
"And the most modest," Landers said sarcastically.
"Don't be bitter, Paul," Huntzer told Landers with an amused grin.
Paul: named after his father who was gone before Landers was out of his high chair. His sister was fathered by a different man (who was gone too). Landers' mother was never very successful at romance and she finally gave up, contently raising her two children as a single mom while working an office job for a local insurance agent. Lander's life was marred by absences, loneliness, money problems, and a sense of being 'less than' being raised by a struggling single mom. He never felt good enough and he knew he had to work harder than his peers just to break even. He had no idea where he would be if not for the kindness of Great Aunt Harriett who was funding his education – which only made him feel even more pressure to succeed. How could he possibly let Harriett down by not doing well in college?
Landers didn't want to be like his father so he didn't date much. It was striking that Huntzer had a different girl with him every time Landers saw him out and about on campus whereas Landers was never seen with a girl.
After partying, socializing, screwing and skipping classes for most of the semester Huntzer realized he was in danger of flunking a few classes so he called upon Landers to save him.
"The old man will take my wheels away if I flunk a class," a freaked out Huntzer worried.
"Capital punishment," Landers deadpanned.
"You're smart," Huntzer said. "Tutor me. Help me out. Bail me out."
"I'm not that smart," Landers countered. "I just have to work harder than you because I don't have seventeen safety nets to fall back on."
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself," Huntzer said. "You going to help me or not?"
So Landers worked with Huntzer on a two-week crash course, helping him cram for finals and working with him to catch up on overdue work. Huntzer was still a pain in the ass – showing up at the Library for a study session with some girl on his arm and often deflecting the conversation away from the studying – but he bared down during the pinch and he actually managed to pass all his courses, thanks in large part to Landers' perseverance in keeping his roommate's nose glued to the grindstone.
Landers stayed on campus for Thanksgiving – working extra shifts at the dining hall to make needed money – but he went home for Christmas, partly so he could make a report to Great Aunt Harriett and let her know her money was going to good use. He was able to work his old job at the local Stop and Save and he offered his kid sister (now a high school junior) sage advice about life outside of Enville. He worried about Laurel – a girl with no father in her life – but she seemed to have a good head on her shoulders and his mother was a close presence in her life.
Landers wondered if Aunt Harriett would be as generous with Laurel - Auntie was old fashioned and she might decide that young women like Laurel should be getting married and raising children and not going to college.
There was a foot of snow on the ground when Landers got back to campus at the end of Christmas break. Huntzer didn't arrive until two days after the winter semester started.
"I was in Bermuda," he explained with his usual carefree attitude.
Landers was amused to realize that he actually missed Huntzer over the break and that he was worried about him when he didn't return at the assumed time for the start of the winter semester. Maybe he was starting to like the guy!?
The two roommates had deeper conversations as the semester went on and they got to know each other better. Landers began to enjoy Huntzer's sense of humor and care free spirit and Huntzer relied on Landers' serious nature to buckle down when he needed to get serious about his classes, studies, or life.
When Huntzer learned that it was Landers' mother's birthday, he offered to drive Landers home for the weekend. It was his first charitable gesture and Landers decided to take him up on it. Landers felt weird driving home in Huntzer's fancy sports car and Huntzer looked surprised when Landers directed him to a run-down neighborhood in the small run-down and dying old mill town with houses (and tenement houses) in various states of disrepair.
"Are my wheels going to be safe here?" Huntzer worried.
"Maybe not at night," Landers replied.
The outside of the house needed work but Mrs. Landers kept the interior of her home as attractive and pleasant as she could even with older furniture and appliances. The rugs were frayed and the paint faded but there was still a comfortable feel to the place and Landers never felt embarrassed on the rare occasions he brought people home.
"It is what it is," his mother was fond of saying.
Huntzer was surprisingly polite, low key, gracious, kind, and personable during the visit – all traits Landers hadn't observed in him before. Landers was afraid the womanizing Huntzer was going to try to seduce his kid sister Laurel who seemed taken by the visitor but Huntzer went out of his way to be respectful and appropriate by playing a big brother role instead of his usual Casanova Playboy routine.
Huntzer was also charming to Landers' mother who genuinely liked the guy, offering unsolicited motherly advice whenever the opportunity presented itself. Huntzer didn't appear to be insulted or offended by such comments and he seemed to enjoy Mrs. Landers' hospitality and pampering, much to the amusement of Landers who got a kick out of seeing Huntzer 'tamed'.
Mrs. Landers was an excellent cook and Huntzer enjoyed the home meal and participating in Mrs. Landers' birthday celebration. Laurel made the cake and Landers brought home fresh maple syrup from one of Blue County's most popular sugar houses as his gift. Landers would have been offended with Huntzer's presentation of some expensive bath oils and soaps to his mother as his gift had Landers not known that Huntzer had an entire supply of collectibles stashed in the dorm room to give to his various woman pursuits. Mrs. Landers was genuinely moved by the gesture.
Huntzer was spending the night in a family run motel a few miles away. "I know you don't want me around your sister," he told Landers on the side and Landers felt guilty for not trusting the guy more.
Huntzer had been on his best behavior during the visit but there wasn't an extra bed so unless he wanted to crash on the couch he was better off at the motel anyway even though Laurel tried to talk Huntzer into spending the night at the house.
Landers took his mother to morning Mass the next day and Huntzer met them at the local diner for a late breakfast afterward. Huntzer insisted on picking up the tab - the first time since he and Landers became roommates that Huntzer showed such generosity.
"I know people resent my status so I try not to flaunt it," he explained.
"We don't mind you flaunting," Laurel smiled after eating her three course brunch.
Huntzer actually asked Landers a few personal questions during the ride back to Green College, mostly about his family since Huntzer had spent time with Lander's mother and sister. Landers was amused because prior to this weekend Huntzer was about the most disinterested person he had met, an "I" guy who was totally absorbed in his own existence and rarely paid attention to others.
Landers gave a basic overview of his upbringing in a single mother household with a half-sister and not a whole lot of money. He also talked about his "Benefactor" Great Aunt Harriett who made it possible for him to be attending Green.
"Why doesn't the old lady help out your mother?" Huntzer wanted to know.
"She doesn't approve of my mother's life choices," Landers explained.
"Life choices?" Huntzer asked with confusion.
"Two kids by two different men, never married, that sort of stuff," Landers replied with a shrug. "Great Auntie is all about standards and virtues."
Huntzer wasn't about to insult Landers by giving him cash. But the well-to-do dorm mate brought back an extra sub sandwich or other treat to the room once in a while. Because they were relatively the same size, Huntzer gave Landers a nice coat. "I don't wear it anymore," he said.
Landers appreciated the gestures and as long as Huntzer didn't treat him like a perpetual charity case Landers didn't mind periodically accepting Huntzer's offers. If he could make his meal card at the student dining hall last longer that was saving money and Landers was always strapped for cash anyway, depending on how many hours he could score in his job at the dining facility. Landers sent money home whenever he could to help his mother and sister too.
Huntzer asked Landers if he'd accompany him home to his father's birthday party.
"Isn't there some chick you'd rather bring?" Landers asked with surprise, seated at his dorm desk as usual hitting the books.
"This isn't a chick thing," Huntzer said. "I need some manly presence."
Landers laughed at that remark. "I don't have to pretend to be your gay lover or something, do I?"
"My family's weird, but not that weird," Huntzer replied with a frown.
So Landers once again found himself in Huntzer's sports car, this time heading for Boston instead of Enville. Huntzer's family lived in a three story townhouse nestled among a block of similarly brick Victorian townhouses in downtown Boston, not far from the State House. The row houses looked rustic and historic with unique architecture including bay windows on all three floors and a balcony. Landers was stunned when he walked inside the Huntzer home and realized he was standing inside a piece of property that was worth five million dollars easy. The rooms were large and endless, the décor modern and fancy with expensive furniture, impressive art work, and a maid and a cook to take care of the domestic duties. All Landers could think of was that old television show, 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous'
Mr. and Mrs. Huntzer were stiff and sophisticated people and Landers felt out of place as soon as he met them. They immediately started pumping their son for information with a barrage of questions and inquiries and poor Huntzer looked browbeaten within two minutes of their arrival. Landers was given his own room on the third floor of the Huntzer tower and Huntzer spent as little time as possible actually inside the house, dragging Landers out with him to meet old friends and explore the neat city. They were required to attend cocktails and dinner that evening and of course be present at the party for Mr. Hutzer the following night but in between the younger Huntzer was on the go and Landers had a hard time keeping up with him and his social circles.
Huntzer had an attractive and prissy older sister who was dating some guy from Harvard. Landers was intimidated even saying hello to her. There were a couple of older Huntzer brothers no longer living at home but they showed up for the old man's birthday gathering on Saturday night. Huntzer still featured his wide grin and witty comments but he was much more controlled and stated in front of his family and Landers understood this is how the 1% lived. He didn't ask Huntzer how his family came into such big money and Huntzer didn't offer any background information beyond ridiculing and insulting his family behind their backs.
As wealthy and well off as the Huntzer family was, Landers sensed something sad and lonely about them, picking up on some sort of unspoken tension hanging in the air most of the time. It was clear that the Huntzer family was surprised that their son had brought somebody like Landers home with him – Landers knew he was a hopeless fish out of water with no frames of reference to relate to the Huntzer family. When he volunteered (or was asked) information about himself – his hometown, his family background, what he did with his time – Landers felt all the more removed and out of place.
"Don't let those assholes get you down," Huntzer told Landers when they had retired to the third floor after the old man's party. Huntzer was noticeably drunk although Landers had stuck with Coca-Cola all evening.
"You would have been better off bringing a chick home," Landers observed.
"They would have considered her a whore whoever she was," Huntzer replied. "Nobody attending Green College can measure up to the snobby society bitches my parents want me consorting with."
It occurred to Landers that Huntzer lived a strangely lonely life even with all the money and status.
"What are you doing at Green in the first place?" Landers wondered.
"I broke all the rules," Huntzer grinned. "I didn't have the grades or record for any of the elite places but the old man went to school with the Chancellor at Green so I landed there. Purgatory, the old man says, but I don't mind. Nobody knows me out there so I can be who I want to be and do what I want to do."
Landers realized that Huntzer wasn't that bad of a guy and by the time they got back to Greenly Hall on Sunday night Landers was pretty sure that he and Huntzer had actually become friends, as highly improbable and unlikely as that had felt at the beginning of the school year. They were always going to be different – an odd couple as Landers' sister Laurel put it – but they had developed a kindship and a bond that Landers knew was uniquely different from the childhood and high school friendships he had known.
Landers headed home for the summer when Freshman year ended, living at home, working at the Stop and Save, and doing yard work and other chores for Great Aunt Harriett who lived alone in a big house in the one remaining nice neighborhood in town as a thank you for paying for his college. Landers wasn't sure if he'd see Huntzer again – he assumed he might get his own place to escape the restrictions and hassles of dorm life – so Landers was surprised when he looked up from the shelves he was stocking to see Huntzer standing in front of him with a huge grin on his face. Enville was about halfway between Boston and Green College so Huntzer had obviously gone out of his way to look up his (former?) dorm mate.
"What are you doing here?" Landers wanted to know. "I told you to stay away from my sister!"
"You can have my sister!" Huntzer laughed.
They ended up driving into the city and watching a Red Sox game at Fenway. Landers spent the night at the Huntzer Tower although Landers could tell that Huntzer's parents weren't all that glad to see him again. Huntzer repeated the routine a few more times over the summer – showing up at Landers' house or the Stop and Save to kidnap him for a trip to Cape Cod (the family had a (10 room) 'cottage' on the ocean there), a concert out at Tanglewood, and a day trip to Summer's Beach (they took Laurel and her friend with them that time – but it was all on the up and up).
Such adventures led Landers to believe that he and Huntzer had become friends.