Lindsay, fumbling for her keys, was almost bowled over when the apartment door opened, and her roommate Jan stormed out and rushed downstairs. She called after Jan who ignored her. She heard the outer door slam downstairs. Entering the living room, she immediately sensed the tension in the atmosphere. Elvis the cat, was cowering behind the television, his favorite hiding place when scared. Laura and Ellie both appeared flustered and angry.
“Can anyone tell me what’s going on around here?” Lindsay said, throwing her bookbag down and taking off her coat.
“She got upset because I used some of her Lapsang Souchong tea without permission while she was out. I’d run out of mine and was dying for a cup. Of course, her ladyship can’t drink common or garden black tea like the rest of us peasants. I apologized and said I’d replace it, but she blew up,” said Ellie, pacing the room. “So, I lost my temper too and told her to grow up and start acting her age instead of her shoe size. What a diva.”
“What made it worse was that it turned out I’d used up her carton of milk by mistake. I’m so stressed out by these finals coming up that I didn’t pay attention when I took the milk out of the fridge. I offered mine, but she’s lactose intolerant, so that wouldn’t do,” said Laura. “I know she’s your friend, Lindsay, but has she always had this short a fuse? Perhaps we were inconsiderate, but I don’t think it qualified for this much drama.”
Lindsay flopped down on the couch and wearily massaged her forehead.
“Speaking of tea,” said Ellie, taking a deep breath. “I think we could use some. Not her precious Lapsang, of course. I’m off to put the kettle on.”
She returned, distributing mugs of tea and plates of cake.
“There’s not much that some caffeine and sugar won’t fix. We’re all freaking out about these exams. Only three weeks to go till break, thank goodness.”
“Tell me something,” said Laura, brushing crumbs off her shirt. “How come Jan was switching colleges at this point in the year anyway and how did she know we needed a roommate?”
Lindsay sipped her tea and put the mug down. She took a deep breath and faced the others.
“I haven’t told you the full story. I've known Jan forever. Our mothers are friends, and we practically grew up together. I thought she’d fit in okay. I’ve never known her to act like that before, but I suppose you must live with someone to really get to know them. We were in such a time crunch with Ruth leaving, and I knew it would be hard to meet the rent. I thought it was a win-win situation. Jan needed a place to stay at short notice, and we needed another person.”
She paused to drink some more tea.
“By coincidence, Jan’s mother had called my mother right around that time, desperately worried about Jan, who was not doing well at the college where she was. When she heard that we were losing a roommate, she begged for Jan to get the spot. Jan had to change schools because of a crisis.”
“What kind of crisis?” said Laura. “Were the roommates not up to her standards there either?”
“It was more serious than that,” said Lindsay.
“Well, tell us, for Pete’s sake,” said Ellie impatiently. “Was it drinking? Drugs? What? Why are you prolonging the suspense? Have we been sharing with a psycho?”
“I’m trying to be mindful of confidentiality,” said Lindsay, stroking Elvis who had ventured out from behind the television and jumped into her lap, purring loudly. She took a deep breath.
“Here goes. I think I can say this much. Jan had a terrible experience with a guy she met soon after she went to college. It was all sunshine and roses at first, but then it went downhill fast. She broke it off, but it was too difficult to stay at the same school.”
None of them had heard the door open. Jan entered, looking weary and sat down. The others glanced at each other, embarrassed.
“It’s okay,” Jan said, with a small smile. “You can hear the unabridged version, though I appreciate Lindsay trying to be discreet. I came back to apologize for going off the deep end. It’s not who I am. It’s been a terrible year. Could I trouble you for some tea? Black tea is fine.”
“Of course. Milk and sugar? No, wait, only milk? Right, but we don’t have lactose free…” Ellie fled to the kitchen; her face flushed.
Mug in hand, Jan looked down, took a deep breath and began.
“I’d never had a boyfriend before going to college. I qualified as weird in high school for reading poetry and having a purple streak in my hair. When I met this senior who liked me, I was flattered. It was great at first. He came to poetry readings with me, and we’d sit up late discussing literature, the meaning of life, all kinds of deep stuff. The guys I’d known till then were only interested in booze, girls and sports, in no particular order. But as I began to meet people and make more friends, he got clingier and clingier.”
“Did he threaten you?” said Laura.
Jan shook her head.
“No, that might have been easier to deal with. It was all passive-aggressive stuff that made me look neurotic if I tried to describe it. He’d tell me to go ahead and do things with other people, but then give me the cold shoulder or get all mopey when I did. Didn’t I know how much I meant to him? His life hadn’t been complete till he met me. We were made for each other. With hindsight, it sounds like a third-rate romance novel, but he made me feel lower than pond scum. I went along with it for a while, but finally I couldn’t take it anymore and broke off with him. Things got really weird after that.”
Lindsay pushed Elvis off her lap.
“Hold it right there. I think we all need something stronger than tea.”
She returned with a bottle of wine and glasses.
Jan took a big gulp of wine and continued.
“He wasn’t doing anything I could make a complaint about. Just coincidence that he kept turning up in the same places as me and my friends, giving me sad looks from a distance. I’d bump into him when I came out of class or the gym. I started getting a bunch of hang-up calls, not from his phone of course. Finally, he guilt-tripped me into meeting him at his place for what he called a farewell evening. He proceeded to serve me spiked wine and assault me. That’s why I had to change schools. I kept seeing him around every corner, jumping at every shadow and imagining everyone was talking about me.”
She wiped a tear away. Lindsay gripped her hand sympathetically. Ellie and Laura looked shell-shocked.
“Wow, I am so sorry to hear that,” Ellie finally said. “What a creep. What did you do?”
“First of all, I had to convince my dad and brothers that killing him was not a solution. I've always thought I was not a violent person, but on some level the idea did appeal. I didn’t need to attend their trial for murder,” said Jan with a wry smile. “He did get expelled right before graduation. We went to the police, but they said the case probably wouldn’t stand up in court. It was he said, she said. I’m underage for drinking and I couldn’t prove he’d spiked the drink. I’ve never been a big drinker or passed out from drinking before. I was so groggy afterwards that I couldn’t remember everything clearly at first. When things came back to mind later, they made it seem like I was changing my story and making things up.”
“That sucks,” said Laura. “How are you doing now?”
“I’m okay most of the time. I’ve been seeing a therapist and that helps. My family have been supportive. But I have nightmares and flashbacks, and like you saw today, little stupid things that would never have bothered me before set me off.”
“I’m sorry it all blew out of proportion today,” said Ellie. “If we’d known…but I understand that you didn’t want to broadcast it. What can we do?”
“Just be my friends. I don’t need to be pitied or treated with kid gloves,” Jan said.
Laughing, she pulled a ferocious mock-grimace.
“Though it might be better never to touch my Lapsang Souchong again!”