It was my final semester of nursing school and I was just diagnosed with diabetes (Type 1), how much worse could it get? Well, I was about to find out.
“Oh my God Sarah, you can stay with me! It’ll be so fun,” Jennifer squealed at our nursing school study group. The doctor had suggested I live with someone while I got used to my new diagnosis. I had never lived with anyone besides my parents. Not only had I never had a roommate, I never had many girlfriends at all. I was flattered she was so eager to help me.
“Why don’t you stay with your boyfriend?” Nick asked. Nick was the only male in our group, the only male in our whole class. Our group consisted of Nick, Jennifer, myself and 2 other girls, whom I called the ‘cacklers.’ Because that’s about all they did, like chickens, clucking and picking at everything.
“Way to make it awkward Nick,” Jennifer teased, punching Nick in the leg. She flirted with Nick, but when he returned the flirting she would complain he wanted her so bad that it was awkward. “I just can’t deal. He knows I have a boyfriend,” she’d say.
“We broke up. I’m never going out with another doctor,” I said to answer Nick’s question.
“Oh please Sarah, you guys weren’t even serious,” Jennifer snorted, rolling her eyes. Jennifer was good at doing that, not exactly plunging the knife in your back but leaving it precariously placed, just enough to feel the pain but not enough to convict her of anything. I looked up at the knife-wielder, my friend, and shot her a look as I got up from the table. Maybe we weren’t serious, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt any less. It was like snake bite, quick and painful, done before you even know what happened. I had joined a dating website to help ease the pain. I had been messaging with a couple of guys back and forth, nothing serious though.
Over the next couple of days I packed my things at my old apartment and met Jennifer to see her condo. It was cute. I wasn’t picky. I wouldn’t be there long anyway. Everything was meticulous. She put as much effort into the condo as she did her own appearance. She was good at making a perfect outer shell to cover the sinister, scaled reptile within. She brought me up to my room, right across the hall from hers.
“Oh cool there is already furniture in here. I don’t have to move everything twice.” I said smiling, looking into my room.
“Well, I talked to Mom about that and she doesn’t actually want you using it,” she said.
“Oh…okay, no problem…so should we move it into a storage unit?” I asked, thinking it was odd I couldn’t just use it for the few weeks.
“That’s the other thing. She doesn’t want you to move it either. She’d rather you didn’t. I mean if it were up to me I’d totally let you. But it’s really her condo. So…”
“No problem,” I said. No big deal, it was only for a few weeks. I’d figure it out.
That Saturday I moved into the furnished bedroom with a box of clothes and an old camping air mattress. The air mattress was too big to fit on the floor so I had to put it on top of the bed. At night I had to be sure not to roll too close to the edges or it would flip over.
The next morning she was gone before I got up. As I stepped into the shower and pulled the curtain back, all of the beads from one rung came raining down onto the floor. I got back out, naked, scrambling on my hands and knees, to pick up the rolling beads. The cat, hearing the kerfuffle, sauntered in and started batting the beads out the door.
“Cookie! Stop!” I screeched and she ran off. I slid the beads back on the rung, which wasn’t easy since they kept sliding off, all the while the shower spraying me.
When I got out I saw four or five more beads on the ground. Damn. It was so difficult to roll them on if I tried to roll those on, they’d all roll back off again. There were already twelve or so on each rung so four more didn’t make a difference. Besides, the curtain rolled back and forth fine without them. I wrapped them in toilet paper, and then wrapped that in the wrapper of a sanitary pad and THEN pushed that to the middle of the trashcan.
I studied most of the day. Jennifer pulled in the driveway that evening with her boyfriend, Brian. He was fine, that’s the best word I can think of to describe him. No discernable features. When I said “hi” he would give a wave and a quiet “hi” from behind Jennifer.
I got up from the couch and made my way up to my room before they came in, ducking low so they wouldn’t see me in the windows.
An hour later there was a knock on my bedroom door.
“Come in,” I said. It was Jennifer.
“Hey,” I said cheerfully putting my book down.
“Hey Sarah,” she said and paused leaning on the doorframe. “Did anything happen in the bathroom today?” she asked raising an eyebrow. I was almost eye level with her while laying on my elevated air mattress.
“No,” I said sort of laughing.
“You sure?” she asked quizzically.
“No Jennifer, what do you mean?” I asked getting annoyed.
She held out her fist and opened her hand. And there they were, the four beads from the shower rung. I didn’t know what to say. I panicked. I said I didn’t know what they were or where they came from.
“Uh-huh,” she muttered and closed her fist around the beads again as she turned and walked out. I fought to not let the negative emotions swallow me whole. I followed Elsa’s advice to just let it go. But where did she get those beads? A cold chill ran up my spine and I looked over my shoulder. But no one was there.
“My mother said to make the check out to her, not me,” Jennifer said the next morning as we made our coffee.
“Oh,” I said looking up. I had just assumed I was staying there for free as a friendly gesture, especially since it was for such a short period of time. I was too embarrassed to say that, though. Besides, I was no dead beat. I had a job. And I certainly didn’t want to put her mother out, even though she didn’t mind making me uncomfortable, sleeping halfway to the ceiling.
“Oh right, and how much did she say?” I asked.
“$400 a month.”
“No problem,” I said reaching for my purse.
That Monday we were back in our study group, a cackler asked how our first weekend living together was.
“Good,” I said.
“So fun,” Jennifer answered as she looked to me.
“So Sarah, that sucks you guys broke up,” Nick said when it was just the two of us at the table. Out of our group, Nick and I were probably the friendliest.
“Yeah, whatever, its no big deal,” I said.
Nick scrawled his number on my notebook.
“If you ever want to go grab a drink and talk about stuff besides nursing,” he said smiling.
“Cool,” I said and smiled back. He wasn’t flirting with me, we were just friends, most of my friends were guys. He wasn’t bad looking, but he wasn’t my type. I ripped the piece of paper and slipped into my pocket before Jennifer saw.
Jennifer was very tall and very pretty. She had no reason to be jealous of me, I’m not ugly but she was definitely prettier. Jennifer agreed. She once said that she could never be friends with someone who was prettier than her. Which is fine with me, I’m happy with who I am. Confident, I guess you’d say.
As class started I took a seat in front of Nick, Jennifer and the cacklers. I really needed to pay attention. Anatomy was my hardest subject. They giggled behind me, calling me nerd and poking me in the back, I ignored them. Then I heard Jennifer say to the cacklers “she’s just not a girl’s girl.”
Nick and I had text each other a couple times that week between classes. We decided to go out that Saturday for a couple drinks. I told Jennifer I had a date, but I didn’t tell her with Nick.
“Just some guy from the dating site. We’ll see. I don’t know,” I said shrugging. I wasn’t embarrassed of Nick I just didn’t want her making it weird. Which she would do, her and the cacklers teasing us, making it even more difficult to concentrate during class.
I met Nick at a small bar equidistant from us. I had three Bud Lites while he nursed down one. Lame. Feeling a bit loose, I opened up and told him about the air mattress, the shower beads, and the $400 rent. We laughed and when we had nothing else to say, we left.
“See you Monday,” I called out walking to my Uber. Alone.
The next morning I was eating a bowl of cereal sitting on my inflatable bed, feeling like a child with my legs dangling so far off the ground. Jennifer knocked and came in.
“How did your date go?” she said with a lisp from the white strips on her already ultra white teeth.
“Oh fine. It was no big deal. I drank a few beers”
“Yeah…Nick said you were drunk,” she said with a smile and walked out. Brian was looking at me, sitting on Jennifer’s bed across the hall. I felt like I had been split in two.
I avoided talking to Nick or Jennifer at school, arriving right as class was starting and leaving quickly afterward. It was our final week and I was dealing with a new chronic disease, I didn’t need any more drama. I walked into class. Jennifer was talking to a cackler.
“Oh you look so good,” Jennifer cooed while looking at the cackler’s engagement photos.
I sat down. Behind me the giggling and talking continued though out class. When class was over I picked up my books and was ready to make a run for it.
“Hey Sarah, “ Jennifer called. I turned around. Jennifer was sandwiched between the two cacklers.
“So, the neighbor said she saw Brian’s car at the condo yesterday while I was at my moms,” she said in an accusatory tone.
“Ohhhh,” one of the cacklers squealed.
“Scandalous,” the other one said laughing.
“No I didn’t see him, I was there all day.” I said, my face turning red.
“Well that’s what she said,” Jennifer said crossing her arms waiting for an explanation. Nick looked up at me. Stupid Nick. I hadn’t spoken to him since our lame date. I wondered what else he might have told to her about that night.
“No Jennifer, I was not there with Brian, if that’s what you’re getting at,” there was so much more I wanted to say but I just turned and kept going.
“Geez, calm down,” she said smiling, the cacklers giggled in unison.
I went to my parent’s house right after class and stayed until dinner. It was dark by the time I pulled into the condo driveway, parking next to Brian. The living room lights were on. I walked in and there they were on couch together, sharing a bowl of popcorn, laughing at a movie. I guess she wasn’t mad at him about the alleged affair.
“Hey, there you are. I was getting worried about you. Where have you been?” she asked sugary sweet.
“At my parents. I have to go study, see you guys later.” I said and went up to my room. Only two more weeks.
“Can I talk to you really quick?” Jennifer said a few days later. “It’s kind of embarrassing for me to ask, but it’s for my Mom… She wants you to pay for the mold removal on the bathroom ceiling. It wasn’t there before you got here and I read it’s actually really bad for you,” she said looking doe-eyed and concerned.
“Jennifer… I’ve only been here two and a half weeks, I couldn’t have possibly grown mold and ruined your bathroom and your health in that short of a time.’
“Okay I’ll tell her you said that, “ she said closing the door behind her.
I started picking up extra shifts at work to avoid her. Bringing my books to work and staying after my shifts to study. We graduated in one week. One more week, I can do this. I had worked as a waitress all through nursing school. Jennifer worked as a nanny. That’s what she said anyway, I never saw her actually go to work. And I know now her mother paid the mortgage and all Jennifer’s bills.
My phone started buzzing in my pocket. I looked down. It was Jennifer. She never called, only texted. This must be bad, I thought rushing to the bathroom to take the call.
“Sarah, I thought you were at work,” she said.
“I am, why what’s up?” I asked nervously.
“Well then someone hacked into your Facebook account and they keep messaged me,“ she said with a giggle.
“No way, “ I said. I didn’t believe her. That had never happened to me before. And if it were true, why would she think it was funny? She took a screen shot of the messages and sent it to me. Sure enough there ‘I’ was, asking Jennifer what she was up to and if she wanted to meet up.
“He’s probably messaging all your contacts,” she said laughing.
A knot formed in my throat and I thought I was going to throw up.
“Tell them you know it’s not me. Tell them you’re going to report them… I don’t know… Do something,” I said panicking.
“Now they’re telling me what a bitch I am,“ she said laughing even harder as I became angrier.
“Jennifer it’s not funny!” I yelled into the phone.
“Whatever, byyyye” she said and hung up on me.
Two more days, you can do this. I threw myself into my studies and ignored everything else. One evening while Jennifer and Brian went out to dinner I was studying alone in my room. I had left my computer at my mother’s house and I needed to submit a paper. Damn. It was too late to drive all the way to my parent’s house. I went to Jennifer’s bedroom to use her computer.
It’s only to submit a paper. It’s no big deal. I crept into her room, sat at her desk and flipped her computer open, careful not to touch anything or even look at anything too closely. Maybe it was an invasion of privacy, maybe I should have asked first, but all I had to do was just submit an already written paper on the school website. As the computer came to life a photo came up on the screen. It took me a second to place it, like seeing an old neighbor at the grocery store. And then I placed it. It was the ‘man’ I had been messaging with on the dating website. It took me another minute to realize this was ‘his’ home page, she was writing to me as if she were this man. She had made a fake account. I slammed it shut and ran to my room. I rubbed my hands over the footprints in her freshly vacuumed rug on the way out. I was sick.
I immediately blocked ‘him.’ I graduated and moved out that weekend without ever telling her I knew. I changed my phone number, canceled all my social media accounts, and never heard from any of them again. I had been the leading lady in her drama, until peeked behind the curtain and found the director who orchestrated it was a sinister slimey illusion. I would not let the burning hatred get the best of me. I would not let her paralyze me with anger, because there is always something good around the corner.
Eight years later I was at the zoo with my son and husband. Pushing a stroller around the monkey cages I heard “Holy shit. Sarah??” My heart began pounding as I looked around. One of the cacklers was walking towards me. We made small talk for a couple minutes, as I kept walking, eager to get away. She told me Jennifer and Brian had gotten married, she was even in their wedding. All our old nursing group friends were there. They had all stayed in touch and even had kids who had play dates together. Luckily my son started crying in his stroller so I excused myself. “Nice seeing you,” I yelled over my shoulder walking away.
That afternoon I got a call from my mother.
“Do you know someone named Jennifer?”
“Why?” I asked nervously.
“She sent me a private message on my Facebook saying she recognized you in some of my pictures and wondered if I would give her your phone number. I figured I would ask you first,” Mom said.
My phone began buzzing in my pocket. It was my sister. She said Jennifer had just messaged her the same thing.
“Block her!” I emphatically told them both.
“Why? Who is she?” my mother asked.
“A girl’s girl.”
To this day when I’m at home alone and I feel eyes on me, I close the curtains. Because you never really know who is watching.