You Know How It Is
Six months. Six long, torturous months had dragged by since Andrew had died, and still she felt like she was just pretending at life. The only way she could tell time had passed was that, slowly, she had gotten better at it. Day by day, she played at happiness, never telling anyone how she really felt. She was getting so good at it, in fact, that sometimes she even fooled herself, until she fell back into silence again and while everyone else's happiness continued on, hers was snuffed out.
Kicking the snow off her boots, Willa Monroe fished her keys out of her purse and pushed her way into the pristine white building that she now called home. She took the stairs two at a time up to the second floor and let herself into her shared apartment, tossing her purse onto the side table by the door and peeling her coat off.
"In the bathroom!" a voice called, the sound of the shower cutting off a moment later.
"Just me, Rhonda!" she called back as she worked off her boots. She left them lay, the black hiking boots looking out of place beside the other woman's bright pink runners. A towel-wrapped head peeked out of the bathroom, flashing a bright smile.
"Oh, hey Wil. I'll be out in a sec." Rhonda disappeared back into the bathroom, the door shutting behind her, and Willa made her way to the kitchen. The Ledyard Apartments had seemed at first like a boon; a smaller building filled with upper class students, no late night booze fests or parties, and a more academic atmosphere. Having lived off campus during freshman year, she had been leery of campus housing, and she had jumped at the opportunity to apply for something a little more controlled. The down side? Roommates. Sharing a common room, kitchen, and bathrooms with three other women made her yearn for the quiet comfort of the apartment she and Andrew had shared.
Unfortunately, without his support, there was no way she could afford to live off campus.
Pulling open the fridge, Wil retrieved the ground beef she'd stashed the day before and turned the oven on. There were only a few things she could do well, but her meatloaf was a smash hit and often requested on her nights to cook. By the time Rhonda emerged from the bathroom, it was in the oven, and Wil had just settled onto the couch. Rhonda snatched the remote away from her, earning an eye roll as she flopped onto the beanbag chair in the corner – her personal addition to the apartment's décor.
"God, I can't stand Judge Madison," she moaned as she flicked the TV on, setting the remote down anyway. "He's such a prick."
Wil almost felt the corners of her mouth turn up into a smile; there was a certain comfort to Rhonda's predictability. With her platinum blonde hair and gorgeous blue eyes, she had the potential to be a beauty, and she acted the part. Unfortunately, about 20 pounds kept her from being the model many would expect, and her own disgust at the whole industry probably fueled those pounds, just to keep the stereotypes away. Still, as she began to paint her nails and soak up the drama on TV – another stilted lover, claiming the man she was going to marry had stolen her car and trashed it racing down the highway – Wil couldn't help thinking she'd fit right in if she wanted to.
Rhonda Wallace had turned into an easy friend though, one that didn't know her past and didn't treat her any differently for it. On move-in day, when Wil had shown up in sweats and a tank, Rhonda had clucked her tongue on seeing her and pulled her forcefully into the bathroom, taking her shoulder-length brown hair from its ponytail and drawing it up into a twirled bun, teasing strands around her face and telling her that, if she had to be dressed to work, her hair should still look good. It was largely due to Rhonda that Wil had started taking care of her appearance again, if only to avoid the endless nagging.
"So, what's the good word?" Rhonda asked as a commercial came on, looking up from her crimson nails.
Wil shrugged. "Not much," she admitted. "Class. Christmas shopping. You know how it is. I've got a piece due Friday that I'll probably be working on all night."
"Yeah, I've got a paper on Monday that I need to finish up. I thought they were supposed to work the freshmen and go easy on us poor soph's," she said, then perked up. "Oh! But there's this new student in my English class – you have got to see him, Wil! He is hotness personified. Maybe I can hook you two up."
"Right," Wil said with a smirk. "I'm not sure I can handle the Hotness. What about you – or are you more serious about Jeremy than you let on?" A warm smile crept onto Rhonda's face, and when she looked away, Wil got all the answer she knew she would get. She laughed and asked, "When do you see him next?"
"Tomorrow night," Rhonda told her, her voice animated. "He's been talking about this karaoke place he knows for a while and wants to get me on stage. I keep telling him I'm tone deaf, but he won't listen."
"Everyone there will probably be tone deaf, Rhonda. Go. Have fun!" Wil encouraged.
"Please. Singing's more your gig." A sly grin crept onto Rhonda's face. "You should come! And maybe I can invite the Hotness too. Seriously, Wil, we've been living together for 2 months and I've never seen you so much as talk to a guy. Is there someone back home? Are you a lesbian? Cause if you are, you know, I'm cool with that…but I'll have to stop going from the bathroom to my room naked. No offence."
The door opened, thank God, and saved Wil from having to answer. Rhonda had tried to pry information on her love life out of her a few times before, but it just wasn't a path she was ready to go down. She'd been there before, and every time she saw the inevitable pity in their eyes she wanted to punch them in the face.
Kate Miller and Eve Greenley – Yvonne, if you wanted to get on her bad side – were about as different as they came. Kate was short, with cropped black hair and a spot on her nose that had once held a nose ring in her more rebellious days. Eve, in contrast, was nearly six foot with an hourglass figure, blonde hair, and bad acne that she was a master of concealing. They'd been friends since middle school, and were now sharing the double room in their apartment. The pair was always telling tales of what they called their "latest adventure." Usually, it involved a few drinks, some high heels, and a flare for the dramatic. They were, perhaps, the strangest honors chemistry students in the entire Dartmouth student body.
"Attention, ladies!" Kate chirped as she tossed her coat into her bedroom on the way past. "I have a very important announcement: my second boyfriend has been spotted in the quad after my English class, and we will not be telling the first about his discovery." Eve rolled her eyes and ducked into their room, no doubt to pick up Kate's latest mess, while she continued into the living room and draped herself on the empty end of the couch.
"Don't think Max can take the competition?" Rhonda raised her eyebrows, and Kate scoffed at the idea.
"I know he can't this time!" She swung her legs up onto the couch, sitting cross-legged to face the other women. "He is, perhaps, the most beautiful man on the planet. Perfect blonde hair, tall, fit, with the most incredible eyes."
"You saw him too?" Rhonda perked up. "Isn't he just unbelievable?"
"You know it! Oh, to be near him…" Fanning herself, Kate leaned backward and gave a low whistle.
"Isn't your boyfriend already a senior, Katie dear?" Eve asked as she came out of the bedroom. She had lost her coat and changed into a pair of brown sweats, which she brushed a piece of lint from as she perched onto the arm of the couch. Wil took it as an opportunity to stand, motioning for Eve to take her vacated spot.
"I need to finish up dinner," she mumbled, practically ignored by the other three. Kate flipped Eve the bird and stuck out her tongue. There was a scathing retort in there somewhere, but Wil had disappeared around the corner, doing her best to block the three of them out. By the time dinner was ready, they were deep in conversation about their latest hookups and breakups, and Wil ate in silence before slipping into her room to finish up some course work before bed.
The study of music was Wil's passion. Well, no, that wasn't quite right – singing was her passion, but the study of music was a close second. Before Andrew had died, Wil had been on the fast track to soloist for the Dartmouth Chamber Singers, but after finishing the season with them she had chosen not to return for a second year. Walking past the rehearsal rooms on her way from a music composition class, she was amazed how such familiar scenes could hold so many memories.
There, on the bench in the foyer, they'd sat and talked until 1 in the morning after a rehearsal. The two of them had stared out the glass walls and watched the stars drift in the sky, Andrew pointing out constellations she would never have known to look for. In that room, with its blank white walls and single piano, he'd sat and watched as she practiced for hours on her first small group solo with the Singers, obsessing over every nuance until she'd gotten it right. At these doors, so identical to every double door on campus, they'd parted with a kiss too many times to count…
Shaking her head, she pulled herself out of the memories and choked back the tears that came with them. Quickly behind the tears came the anger, and she kicked an unsuspecting metal chair that sat in the hallway, sending it skittering down the freshly waxed floor. She sucked in a breath, watching as it slid to a stop, then gingerly made her way down after it and took it back to where it had sat. All she'd gotten for her outburst was a dose of reality in the form of a sore foot.
Setting her tablet bag and purse on the floor, she turned and sat on the chair, slowly loosening the laces on her boot. She eased it off and flexed her toes back and forth; pain flared, and she winced. Gingerly, she rubbed her foot, easing the pain down to a dull ache before putting her boot back on. "Stupid chair," she muttered, reaching for her bags.
Harsh notes broke out from down the hall. A pianist was rehearsing, and the piece was enough to make her pause. To say it was difficult to play would be an understatement; it was the most complex piece of music she'd ever heard. The notes came together faster than she would have thought possible, weaving in and out like a dance. Whoever played the piece was incredibly talented, reaching a level of skill on the piano Wil doubted she could ever match. She got by on a piano, certainly, but her skill was vocal.
What stopped her was not the complexity, though – it was the anger. If her anger had been explosive, the music was a battle. Notes punched out like shots, warring for attention, and she could practically feel the piano shake under their force.
Her hand closed around her bags, and Wil made her way down the hall, stopping outside of the door the music came from. Like all rehearsal rooms, there were no windows, and she wished briefly for a glimpse inside. The anger, so familiar to her, hurt. She wanted to offer what little comfort she might to whoever sat inside.
Slowly, creeping in like a fog, a second line emerged under the angry assault, and this one pulled at Wil's heart and brought tears to her eyes. Pain… So much pain. It was a sorrowful cry that hid beneath the anger, creeping into the notes and slowing the tempo gradually.
Suddenly, the music shifted. The anger was lost, the quick tempo left behind for something more gentle and familiar. Still, it was played marvelously, and she laid a hand on the door to the room. The tears spilled over, and she sang quietly, knowing the pianist would not hear her through the door.
gonna live my life
Like every day's the last
Without a simple goodbye
It all goes by so fast.
now that you're gone
I can't cry hard enough
No I can't cry hard enough
For you to hear me now.
open my eyes
And see for the first time
I let go of you like
A child letting go of his kite.
it goes up in the sky
There it goes beyond the clouds
For no reason why
can't cry hard enough
No, I can't cry hard enough
For you to hear me now.
Her voice had faded to nothing by the time the song was done. Inside the room, the music faltered briefly before another seamless segue took it into a quiet rendition of Debussy's Clair de Lune. After a few shaky breaths, Wil took her hand from the door and brushed away the tears on her cheeks. She couldn't count how many times she had listened to that song since Andrew's death, and every time, she knew that someone, somewhere, had felt the same pain she was hiding.
Who was behind the chilling music?
She tossed aside the thought as quickly as it came. Every day, she hid the pain she carried with her, pretending there was nothing wrong when in reality nothing was right. Who was she to intrude in someone else's pain if she refused to share her own? With a soft sigh, she wished the pianist well and turned away, making her way down the hall and out the double doors.
"Wil! Oh, thank God, finally. Get over here!"
Kate's excited voice caught Wil's attention as soon as she stepped out of the music building. Why Kate wouldn't come into the building was a mystery, but she claimed that there was a certain "mojo" to the building that she felt she couldn't intrude on. The same was said of the any building holding classes related to psychology or humanities, so as far as Wil could tell, the mojo was less about intruding and more about failing; as strong as she was in scientific fields, she struggled with the less precise subjects.
Without further warning, Kate rushed her, grabbing her arm and hauling her down the shoveled pathway. "What, class run late? Never mind. You have clue me in on the easiest songs when we get there tonight, so you have to get ready!"
Wil sighed. As much as she liked Rhonda, and even Eve, she sometimes just could not keep up with Kate.
"Listen, Kate," she began, pulling her arm out of the other woman's grasp. "I don't think-"
"No, I won't hear it!" Kate interrupted, holding up a hand. "You never do anything fun with us, and I'm sick of it. You have some kind of bad air around you that needs cleansing, and I am going to cleanse it. Come on!"
"Sorry, Wil," Rhonda's voice sounded behind them, and both she and Eve came walking up behind them, Eve studying her tablet and tracing lines with one gloved hand. She glanced up briefly, smiling and offering a small wave before going back to her reading. "You know how Kate is."
"You had to mention karaoke to her?" Wil asked, shaking her head.
"Of course she did! I am a part of all things fun!" Sprinting ahead, Kate scooped up a handful of snow and compacted it into a ball. "And those who do not agree with pay the consequences – muahaha!" She threw her head back in cheesy evil laughter that was cut short with the front of her jacket exploded in white. Eve tucked her tablet into bag, looking entirely innocent. Without a word, Kate flung her snowball. Her throw went wide, perhaps on purpose, and slammed into Rhonda's arm. She squealed, and her eyes narrowed.
"Now you're in for it," Eve snickered. All three bent for a handful of snow, and Wil hurried down the path and out of their way. Her face was warm, but her eyes would have betrayed her as she watched those three war in the snow, much as she and Andrew had done time and again.
Was everything supposed to come back to him? It wasn't fair! She wanted to scream. For a moment, she wished she could forget, could let go and enjoy without that familiar ache, and instantly she felt guilty for it. How could she want to forget him?
A snowball whacked into her from behind, and she turned to see her roommates panting, smiles bright on their faces.
"I thought we had some karaoke to get ready for?" she asked, forcing brightness into her tone. Kate gasped, reaching for her purse and pulling out a compact.
"Oh no!" she cried, running a hand through her hair. "My hair is ruined! Come on girls, we have some serious work to do!" She sprinted past Wil, the others laughing behind her.
When they reached their apartment, it was all business. Rhonda, Kate, and Eve fled to their rooms, sorting through outfits with wild abandon. Wil snuck into her own room, closing the door behind her, and took a moment before going to her closet. An hour and one extremely cramped bathroom mirror check later, they were dressed and ready. Rhonda had chosen a stunning navy dress and matching knee-high boots, Kate and Eve matching black numbers, and Wil a shimmering burgundy ankle-length dress that caught the red in her hair. Just in time, a knock came at the door.
"Boys!" Kate exclaimed, rushing over to throw the door open. Their dates at their sides, the three escorted women bundled into their coats and started out, dragging a hesitant Wil behind them.
"Nothing like being a seventh wheel," she mumbled, locking the apartment behind them. Then Rhonda grabbed her hand, squeezed it gently, and with a reassuring smile pulled her toward the stairs.
"Come on," she said lightly, "you can ride with me and Jeremy! I dropped a few hints where the Hotness could overhear me…maybe he'll show!"
"Oh? Someone I should be worried about?" Jeremy asked, holding the door open for them. Kate, Eve, and their dates wandered ahead, chatting and heading to the parking lot. Jeremy's hand ghosted against the small of Rhonda's back as they walked, and Wil looked pointedly away from the casual intimacy of the gesture.
"Hardly," Rhonda scoffed, raising onto her toes to kiss him on the cheek. "But a girl has to appreciate the scenery, right?"
Jeremy's car was a little black Ford sedan that had to be nearly as old as they were. It had been well kept over the years, and a recent paint job made it look newer than it was; only the style gave it away as a much older model. The lights flashed as they approached, and Wil nodded appreciatively; the systems had been upgraded as well to more current sensor locks. With a few quick steps, Jeremy pulled open both side doors and gave a slight bow.
"Ladies, our chariot awaits!"