Roommate by Sarina Bowen

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Sometimes adulting just sucks.

These are my thoughts as I drive my rickety Volkswagen Bug up my parents’ gravel driveway. I haven’t been here for most of a decade, and I’m bracing myself in every possible way. Anything could have happened during the intervening years. They could have moved away. (Although that’s unlikely.) They could have gotten divorced. (Also hard to picture.)

Conceivably, one or both could be dead.

I don’t even know how I’ll feel if that last thing has happened. My parents and I didn’t part on good terms, to put it lightly. But people can change their ways.

Not all of them do, though.

At first glance, my parents’ property looks exactly the same. The little one-story house is still clad in cheap vinyl siding, and its shade of ochre-yellow is just how I remember it.

The tall pines have been carefully pruned of their dead lower branches, which argues for the continued existence of my father, who always enjoyed firing up his chainsaw to tidy things up. Also, Dad’s old ride-on mower is visible inside the garage.

He’s still around, then. I feel a little hit of relief, which makes no sense. The man will probably shut the door in my face when he sees who’s come to visit. This is going to end badly. I’m already ninety-nine percent sure.

Still, I need to ask for their help. After paying for the gas to drive up from Nashville, I have less than four hundred dollars to my name. And no job. If they turn me away, I’m sleeping in my car again tonight.

It won’t kill me, but it’s not ideal.

Parking in front of the garage, I get out and almost bleep the locks. I’m so used to parking in Nashville. I haven’t lived under these tall pines for eight years.

Back then, I couldn’t wait to leave this place. I had my reasons, and some of them were solid. And I used to hate the trees and the winding country roads as much as I hated my parents’ attitude.

I still hate the things my parents said to my teenage self. But Vermont looks better to me than it ever did before. I’m ready to live somewhere without smog and traffic. I miss the smell of woodsmoke in the nighttime air, and the sight of the sun setting over the Green Mountains.

Maybe it’s weird to feel nostalgia for a place that wasn’t good to me. But I’m in the mood to give Vermont a second chance. I’m hoping it gives me a second chance, too. And I’m about to find out if driving eleven hundred miles was a good idea or just plain stupid.

As I approach the house, the front door is already opening. My dad stands on the other side of the screen door, TV remote in his hand, staring at me like he’s seen a ghost.

“Hi,” I say carefully.

“Roddy,” he whispers. He makes no move to open the screen door, but then, neither do I. Maybe we both need a minute to get over our mutual shock.

He looks older. It startles me to catalog all the gray in his hair and the new wrinkles around his eyes.

I’m pretty sure that I don’t look like the skinny eighteen-year-old I used to be, either. So he’s staring back at me trying to get over that, too.

“You’re back?” he asks, still befuddled.

“Well…” I let out a nervous chuckle. “I’ve been living in Nashville. And yesterday I just got in my car and drove up here without a plan. It took me two days.”

I won’t tell him why I left Nashville. He won’t want to hear about the awful way my relationship ended. Hell, he won’t want to hear about my relationship at all.

“So,” I continue. “I’m happy to be back in Vermont. But I’m kind of starting over. And I was wondering if…”

“Ralph?” my mother’s voice calls from deeper inside the small house.

I have very little time to prepare before she appears behind him. She’s drying her hands on a dish towel, her hair in a messy bun.

My heart gives a little squeeze of familiarity before I can steel myself.

“Roderick,” she whispers, her eyes popping wide. “Oh, honey. What’s happened?”

“Well, not much,” I stammer. “I just needed to get out of Nashville and start over. So I was thinking of doing that here.”

“Here?” She squeezes the dish towel, her eyes alight.

“Perhaps,” I say, trying to sound like it isn’t my only option in the whole world. But if I step over the threshold and stay with them, it has to be because I’m invited. I won’t live with their disdain. Sleeping in the car would be better.