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Do you want to date my roommate?
by Rachel 
Reh

      Todd lives in the basement and has a lot of secrets. He’s of average build, with a mop of brown hair he cuts himself, dark eyes, and a shadow of a beard that trails down his chin. In fact, he looks like a Todd, the way some people fit into their names like a well-worn shoe. He does something in the medical marijuana industry—what, I don’t know—and moonlights as a standup comic on weekends where he is well known in local circles for being “actually funny.”

 

      The day I moved in, he was making pancakes with a tiny girl in athleisure who tried and failed to guess my zodiac sign when she saw me. Todd introduced me to his yoga-teaching, tarot- reading girlfriend and asked if I needed help with the boxes. That was the first and last time he ever offered me a favor, but it made a good enough impression that I let the shared burden of our household chores slide for a while, mistaking his laziness for mystique.

 

      But it didn’t bother me. The place was great and the rent was a steal. And Todd, I realized, was a decent roommate in the sense that he didn’t do dishes but was hardly ever outside his bedroom, so it kind of evened out.

 

      I learn most things about him through the other housemates: He used to cultivate tomatoes on a farm in Virginia, man a food truck in the Caribbean, and work as a cellar hand in wineries up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway before he moved back to DC. I have done maybe two things in my professional career, so this nomadic trajectory of Todd’s life fascinated me.

 

      But he divulged nothing. I probed with innocuous questions: tips for growing nightshades on our deck, a proposal to split the cost of eggs, what he’s doing this weekend. Every inquiry was met with the most acrobatic verbal gymnastics, somersaulting from questions to jokes so he could turn our conversation into a comedic bit and retreat to the basement.

 

      I began to study him, like a specimen. Todd owns a car but rarely drives it. He has a penchant for mango vape pens and The Strokes. He plays a lot of bootleg video games. For someone who was once a line cook, he avoids the kitchen and only eats one meal a day. He is also utterly ambivalent about his environment: When my boyfriend moved in, I asked if we could buy new furniture, reorganize the kitchen cabinets, and paint the scuffed walls to rid the place of its group house vibe. He said, with full candor, “I do not care how you redecorate.”

 

      Todd might like me as a person, but he does not want to be my friend. If you amassed all the hours we spent together, maybe a quarter would involve speaking to one another. I thought this dynamic might improve over the pandemic, but if anything, we’ve grown more comfortable in silence, puttering around the kitchen, saying nothing more than an initial greeting.

 

      “Your roommate is cute,” my friend points out one day at a cocktail bar, unprompted. I stare at her, thinking I’ve misheard.

 

      "Todd?”

      “Yeah,” she laughs, as if I’m being dense. My friend is pretty, salaried, rarely single. I imagine her in our basement. I imagine her picking up his protein powder, sitting shotgun in his 2006 Hyundai with the windows down. “Is he still seeing that girl?”

 

      No, I tell her, and this onset of bachelorhood has made his life rote and a little sad. It’s winter, and he is dressing like the main character of a cartoon, sporting the same sweatshirt with orange block lettering and a backwards hat he keeps on even indoors. I know his habits by now: he emerges at noon on weekdays and lights up on the porch before sunset. Sometimes, if I run into him on his way out, I’ll ask where he’s going, and sometimes, he’ll respond.

 

     “Where ya off to?” I say one Friday after we cross paths in the front door, keys jamming the lock.

 

      “Got a show at Hopscotch.”

 

      He answers all my questions in this quick, amicable way like he’s trying to gently be rid of me.

 

      “Can I come?” I ask, knowing I was crossing some unspoken boundary, but curious to see if he would say no to my face.

 

      He doesn’t, and I go, inviting my friend. It’s cold out and the comedy club is a welcome, humid reprieve. On stage, Todd is nervous but not crippling so, running through jokes and mumbling the punchline. They manage to land more often than not, the crowd giggling in short little spurts like they’re surprised to find themselves laughing.

 

      I watch my friend watch him. She is wearing the blue top I know she only wears on dates and her eyes are carefully lined and smokey. She holds her beer like a prop, smile wide and bright like she’s posing. Flirting? When his set is over, she claps the loudest.

 

      “Do you want to date my roommate?” I ask in the din of applause.

 

      I don’t really want her to. I don’t want to see this version of her in my home, using my cereal bowls, watching a movie in the living room, neglecting to refill the Brita. But she could be my Todd-whisperer, the envoy of the catacombs.

 

      She shrugs. Frowns but also nods, like she’s open to something distasteful for the novelty of it. Todd ambles offstage. He gets a lot of back claps and handshakes. I assume he will come over to our table and watch the rest of the lineup. But he starts for the stairs, aiming again for his escape.

 

      “Hey,” I call out to him while they’re announcing the next comic. “Todd, my friend—”

 

      “Uber’s outside,” he says.

 

      He doesn’t even look up from the steps. Next to me, my friend laughs for real.

Rachel Reh is a writer and communications professional living in Washington, DC. She has been a featured reader for The Inner Loop and a participant of the Jenny McKean Moore writing workshop. You may find her work at www.rachelreh.com and her babbling on Twitter @rachelreh.

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