Chapter 1: "Hunting"

Two-bedroom, 1 bath in Great Location!

Female in late-twenties seeks nice, funny, sane female roommate. Great space, lots of windows. Only one bathroom (sorry!) Room is large with decent-sized closet and fresh coat of blue paint. I'm showing the room this weekend. Call to set up a time to swing by and check it out!

Rent=$650/month. $1000 security deposit. Approx. $60/month utilities.

I've always hated the sound of wind chimes. And in my irritated state, I wanted to take a blowdart to the face of Kat's psychotic, elderly neighbor for hanging them on the overhead of her deck. She has at least seven or eight different types out there. We're talking the wooden ones that make you feel like you're out safari-ing in Africa somewhere instead of watching "The Bad Girls Club" on YouTube, the ones that are large enough for small children to use them for rather boring tunnel slides, the small ones that sound like several hundred hummingbirds got caught in the rinse cycle, and some that were relatively standard but annoyed the living shit out of me on cheery principle alone.

I sighed, running my hands through my hair and toying with the idea of taking an exercise break. It was the only thing that calmed me after a chime-induced rage. All I wanted to do was like, forty-five minutes or so of strength training, an hour of yoga, a quick run around the block, and maybe a little kickboxing if my trainer was back from Disneyland. Nothing too taxing.

But I couldn't justify it in the hailstorm of adult responsibilities that I found myself ducking from these days. And the more I ducked, the larger the hail became, as though even metaphorical nature had decided to mock my efforts.

But, finally. Maybe…

I had been searching for at least an hour. And before the hour, I had been searching for two weeks. And before the two weeks, I had been sleeping on Kat's Beddinge Murbo and waking up every morning to cat paws in my mouth and her automatic coffee maker pursuing its purpose with loud grunting and a slow, monotonous drip a mere few feet away from my head.

Before the paws and the drip, I was sharing an apartment in the city with a culinary student named "Jamie." She was tall and had a once-endearing nervous laugh that liked to show up right after she would finish asking me a supposedly personal question. Also, she sang Radiohead in the shower when she thought I wasn't home, and spoke three languages fluently. Two conversationally.

A month before the search, Jamie decided that she was completely in love with me and used her advantage—she was the only one on the lease, you see—to persuade me to be in love with her as well. In case you're tragically unaware, love is this sort of forced thing that's most effectively nurtured through the intensely romantic pressure of choosing between homelessness and sharing a bed with a woman who used blackmail and California landlord/tenant law as a means to lure you there against your own free will and sound mind. Apparently.

Needless to say, I chose the homelessness. Coercion has never made me feel particularly warm, nor a pleasant brand of fuzzy. So all of my personal belongings now lie on the bottom of a storage closet in my best friend's basement-level apartment in Berkeley and I lie on a couch with the company of her outrageously manic and dangerously obese cat named Ottoman perusing Craigslist for my next potential living situation and perhaps, a missed connection or a free bookcase.

"Stop sighing," Kat says, eyeing me over the top of the latest "Real Simple" magazine. She's balancing an IZZE bottle on one knee and a canister of Blue Diamond salted almonds on the other, which altogether makes her look like some sort of urban circus juggler or a human advertisement for Target.

"I can't help it. This apartment hunting shit is driving me insane. As in, if I don't find a place to live in the next five and a half seconds, I'm admitting defeat and proposing to Jamie."

She narrows her eyes at me and shakes her head, slamming "Real Simple" down so hard that you'd think she hated scrapbooking and summer picnic recipes. "Ashley, you've been at this for what? A few weeks? Do you realize how long it takes even relatively normal people to find a place to live in the Bay Area?"

"Nope."

"Months and months and months."

"Probably not."

"Okay, fine," she says, taking a long swig from the IZZE bottle, "but it can take a really long time, so chill the fuck out. The only reason you even care is because it's starting to affect your sex life."

"Dude, it so is. Oh my God."

"You and your over-compensation, I swear…"

"I was a late bloomer—as you know—and I'm simply making up for lost time. Just catching up with everyone else in the world. That's all."

"Spare me. I've heard all of your validations before. Just admit that you're a whore."

"What's the old adage again? Something like, 'do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life?'"

"I don't know if that technically counts as an 'adage,' but…"

"I love that that's the part that bothers you."

She laughs and shakes her head again, "Actually, none of it bothers me. I'm totally supportive of your decision to sleep with every vagina in the United States of America as long as none of the diseases you contract are of the airborne variety. In that case, you and I would have to be those friends that only text or something. Other than that, keep on truckin', Ash. Be the best little whore you can be."

"You're the best."

"You know it. So, there's nothing going on over there at all?" she asks, gesturing towards my laptop as she pops a few almonds.

"There's one that I think I'm going to call about. But it's been on here since this morning and it's a really good price in a pretty sweet neighborhood, so…"

"You think they probably got a million calls on it already, huh?"

"Exactly."

"Well, no harm in trying."

"Dude, I hate that phrase. There's almost always harm in trying. There are like, fifty different kinds of harm that can come from trying. You've got disappointment, rejection, insecurity…"

"Call the number or I'm doing it for you."

I look around the room for my phone, finally locating it on the edge of the kitchen counter and I stand up to retrieve it. Ottoman weaves himself in and out of my legs and I attempt to walk and I nearly plunge to my untimely demise fifty or sixty times each way. Kat just smiles, staring at her massive, murderous companion with unwavering adoration. It's a love I'll most likely never know.

I dial the number and wait as Kat and Ottoman stare at me with wide eyes. It rings only twice before there's an answer—which tells me that she doesn't date enough to know the rules of telephonic communication—and when I hear the voice, my eyes narrow.

"Hello?"

"Hey, I just saw the post on Craigslist."

"Ah, right. Yeah, okay. Hold on," she says, and I hear papers being shuffled around before she returns sounding quite out of sorts, "sorry about that. Okay, now…hi."

"Uh…yeah, hey. I was wondering if maybe I could come by and check out the apartment. Is this a bad time?"

"To come by?"

"No, to call."

"Oh, no. I'm working from home today, which means I'm kind of everywhere and everyone's calling me asking me for shit I can't find or don't know about and I clearly don't understand how I'm supposed to delegate all of this properly because there's no way I'm responsible for…yeah, okay. I'm sorry. When do you want to come by?"

"Oh, well your post said something about the weekend."

"I just said that because that's what people say when they post those things. I don't know. When's good for you?"

"Well…"

"What are you doing right now?"

"Right now?"

"Uh-huh. As in…you know, right now."

"Right now I'm watching my roommate eat almonds."

"Can't miss that, I guess."

I laugh, shaking my head, "Right. I'm free, actually."

"Well, just come by now. I mean, you might as well get the true picture of what living with me is like."

"Is it valid intuition that I'm frightened?"

When she laughs, it triggers a memory of something from high school and I can't even breathe from the sudden wave of nostalgia, "I like you already. The address is on the thing, right?"

I recover long enough to give a quick, "Yeah."

"Then I'll see you soon. Call me if you get lost or anything," she answers before the line goes dead.

I stare at my phone, completely aware that Kat's eyes are still on me, waiting for an explanation. But all I can think about are the years of wanting and pining and stalking her down long high school hallways, waiting for my moment to say, "look at me, please."

"Fuck you, bitch. What the fuck? Talk!" Kat yells, taking its name literally and launching a throw pillow at my face, "and we're not roommates, by the way. You're crashing indefinitely."

"Hey, do you remember that girl I had a crush on all through high school?" I ask, suddenly thankful that I had kept Kat around after all these years despite the constant profanity, the dismal outlook on life in general, and the surprisingly accurate aim.

"You had a crush on everything in high school. Like, mops…chalkboards…fire alarms…"

"Shut up. I'm serious. Do you remember Spencer?"

"Why didn't you just say her name to begin with, dude? Of course I remember Spencer Carlin. Everybody loved her."

"Right, except no one loved her as much as I did."

"No, true. You were all weird about it, huh? Like, you'd get all defensive if someone didn't agree with you that she was the second coming or whatever. Like you had birthed her out of your own vag or something."

"That's an awful way to put it, but yeah," I say, reaching for my shoes, "that feels like forever ago and yesterday at the same time."

"But, wait…something happened with her, right? There's some kind of weird tragedy."

"Yeah."

"And so she was out of school for a long time, right? Am I making this shit up?"

"No, no. You're right. There was a car wreck. Her family was coming back from a football game and they collided with this guy and for whatever reason the car exploded. Like, it just went up in flames. It was awful. And then Spencer's grandparents moved in so she could finish out the school year."

"See? That's why I hate everything. Nice chicks like Spencer Carlin get completely fucked over by the universe while crazy bitches like Jamie end up rich with their tits perfectly intact."

"What?"

"Sorry. I'm just bitter because I'm broke and I need a better bra."

I shake my head, standing up so I can find my car keys, "Yeah, well…"

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going to see the place."

"Wait, why did you ask me if I remembered Spencer?"

"I don't know. It's weird but this girl sounds just like her."

"This girl? Apartment girl?"

"Yeah."

"But we moved so far away. How could that be?"

"We moved from L.A. to Berkeley."

"Whatever. Do you think it's her? And why in God's name would you still recognize her voice?"

"Are you serious? This is me you're talking to. This is the girl who found Spencer Carlin's senior yearbook on a table in the library and spent two hours writing all of her stupid feelings in it and then ate herself into a mashed potato-induced coma when nothing ever came of it."

"What was she supposed to do, Ash? Track you down—even though you've never even had a full conversation—and admit that she's been harboring feelings for you too? I mean, come on. Not only that, you weren't exactly at your most confident back in the day."

She was right. In high school I was 75 pounds heavier, only wore sweatshirts with kittens on them, thought multi-colored rubber bands made my braces cooler, and played the piccolo. The combination obviously proved socially lethal. I hung out with a small girl whose skin was paler than your whitest, newest Crayola crayon and whose hair was slightly blacker than…well, everything she owned. Her name was Kat, and on the school's social totem pole, she made me look like a varsity fucking cheerleader. So of course we were instant friends.

But it wasn't enough for me. I had dreams of better. I had dreams of one day losing my virginity to someone who didn't only exist online. So I took action.

After I spent two years living in the gym and on a diet so absurd it was as though I was gearing up to be featured on MTV's "True Life: I Hate Happiness," everything changed. The braces came off, the kitten sweatshirts were donated to the local thrift store's reject pile, and the piccolo…well, it's been hard to part with it. But it didn't matter because suddenly, I was hot. Hot girls can play any instrument they want because they're hot! And everyone who was willing to do away with shame and dignity and romance let me drive them back to whatever apartment I was living in at the time and work out twenty-two years of virginity on them.

"Are you even listening?"

I look up to find Kat frowning at me, and then I'm right back in the present with Ottoman wrapped around my ankles.

"Of course."

"I said, are you nervous?"

"Why would I be nervous?"

"What if it's her? I mean, you're Ashley Davies 2.0 now. Doesn't that change everything?"

She was right. This was the climax of the first part of my life—seeing my most epic, ridiculous crush realized because finally I was the one everyone wanted. Is there a difference between being the one that everyone loves and the one that everyone wants? Does it even matter?

"I have to go," I say with new conviction, tripping over Ottoman on the way to the door, "I'll call you if I end up staying the night."

"You're so fucking full of yourself. If I did fucking power yoga, I could fuck everything that moves too. I simply prefer to get my daily exercise by tossing and turning in my sleep."

"You're very strange."

"Just because it's different doesn't make it less than, okay? And for your sake, I hope this really is Spencer."

"She had the most incredible blue eyes, a smile that could silence a crying infant, and the body of every teen movie fantasy neighbor ever, and you know what? After all this time, it's the voice that still haunts me. She has this voice, Kat."

"The sad part is, you don't even realize the Pandora's Box you're about to open up, here. She's going to unravel this new version of you so fast it's not even going to be funny. I mean, I don't find many things funny to begin with, but…"

"You're wrong. I'm not the same girl I was nine years ago."

"Same girl. More fun-size and with straighter teeth, yeah. But trust me, Ashley, you're the same girl."

I tried not to let the door slam behind me as I hurried to conquer old windmills with better armor.

I will no longer be posting here. Instead, I have set up a livejournal account for this story and any others in the future so that I can have better interaction with everyone. Find and friend me there at urbankazoos(dot)livejournal(dot)com. Thanks, and see you there!