Authors: Maite Gannon
The brothers found an apartment a month
before the start of the semester
. It was a three-bedroom unit with one bathroom, a decent kitchen, and a living room.
“You want the room at the end of the hall?” Matt offered. Pete was the musical twin. The room at the end of the hall was farthest away from the common areas, which would be the site of a lot of ambient noise.
Matt didn’t have much to unpack. He was an engineering student and inherently minimalist when it came to possessions. If an object didn’t have a specific and immediately purpose, he got rid of it. There wasn’t a sentimental bone in his body. Pete, on the other hand, and been working toward getting a degree in music long before the university accepted him. He filled whole shelves with scores of sheet music that he ordered online from companies who transcribed them into braille. His cello and music stand took up a
chunk of space. Between the desk and the bed, he had just enough room to set up his instrument and practice.
“Good thing these rooms are tight,” Matt said. “If you misplace something, you’ll know it can’t have gone very far.”
The problem was what to do with the third bedroom. The budget would be tight if the twins continued to live there without another roommate.
“I’ll put an ad
,” Matt said over dinner. They hadn’t unpacked the kitchen yet, so dinner was takeout eaten on the floor.
“Make sure the ad says we want a female roommate,” Pete said. “Girls are cleaner.”
“Sure,” Matt agreed. They’d need a roommate who wasn’t a slob, because leaving things lying around wasn’t an option when sharing space with a blind person.
Matt put the ads
online and around campus. They got one call from a woman who, when she came to view the place, turned out to be in her forties. The next caller was actually a man, and was a Born Again Christian who tried to convince them
that unmarried men
and women shouldn’t share space.
“Where do these people
?” Matt wondered, and crossed the religious nut off his list.
The caller after that knew Pete from the music department. “No way,” Pete said before Matt could even schedule her to view the apartment. “She plays trombone.”
“And that’s bad?”
“Do you want to listen to trombone practice seven days a week, five hours a day?”
“Point taken.” Matt crossed her off the list. It was bad enough listening to his brother play the same songs over and over again, and cellos sounded
They found their third roommate a week before the semester began. She was a visual art major with a focus on painting, which satisfied Pete’s criteria. How loud could painting be? It wasn’t like she was going to run a pottery wheel in her bedroom. She was also good looking, which satisfied Matt’s criteria.
“Any problems with being tidy?” he asked her.
Claire had a very whimsical wardrobe. She looked like a little china doll trying to be a clown, and it prompted Matt to ask if she was going to burn incense and put up bead curtains over the door.
“I’m allergic to incense and I’m an artist, not a hippie.”
“Do you have a problem with hours of repetitive music every day of the week?” Pete asked, and explained that he was
“I have earplugs.”
She looked the twins up and down, trying to judge if they were creeps. They were either identical or very similar fraternal twins, and if the one on the left weren’t looking at the fridge for no reason she wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart. They were both tall and lean, with dark curls cut the same way. Even their teeth were crooked in the same places.
“So which of you is which again?” Introductions had been hasty and Claire had no memory for names and faces.
They pointed to each other and said, “He’s the evil one,” in unison.
“Cute. But seriously.”
Matt put a hand to his chest. “I’m Matt, the good looking one. This is Pete.” He tapped his brother’s shoulder.
“If you’re having a conversation with one of us and don’t get eye contact, you’re talking to me.”
“So, interested in moving in?”
The first thing Claire did was
the floor of her bedroom in plastic sheeting and drop cloths. This was going to be her studio for the next year. She set up her easel in a place where it would get good light from the wide window—the apartment’s best selling point—and arranged the rest of the furniture by afterthought. She didn’t have much—just a futon, a little chest of drawers, and cheap plastic shelves for her paint cans and supplies.
“You’ve settled in nicely,” Matt said, inspecting the fat stack of canvases she’d leaned against the wall. “If you want to put anything up on the living room walls, the place could use a bit of brightening up.” The previous tenants had left the walls unpainted. Every room was coated only in white primer.
“Here.” Claire picked up her big black portfolio bag and set it on the futon. “Go through it and find something you like.”
Matt flipped through her prints, sketches, and canvases. He chose one of her small canvases, heaped with chunky paint, because he liked the colors. It was a picture of a small boat tied off in an urban canal
sunset, rendered in a riot of vibrant color. He hung it above the couch.
“Now you’re officially moved in,” he said. The day after, Claire found him showing Pete the lines and structure of the painting. Matt traced the outline of the boat and the canal wall with his fingers, and Pete’s hand followed him.
“Sorry,” Matt said to her. “We won’t touch.”
Claire felt bad about telling them not to, even though touching a painting could affect the texture of the paint and shed hand oils onto the surface.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Touch all you want. This isn’t a museum.”
“Here.” Matt took his brother by the wrist and put his hand back on the canvas. “Get your fill before she’s rich and famous.”
That first month, Claire proved to be a very orderly and low-maintenance roommate, and the brothers began to relax about their decision to let her move in. Claire was clean, drama-free, and when it was her night to make dinner she never phoned it in with Kraft Dinner. She didn’t complain about Pete’s music or that, when it was his turn to make dinner, it was a rotating menu of frozen pizza and frozen lasagna. Claire even participated in their weekly ritual of crap TV (
depending which was airing a new season) with Chinese takeout.
Claire didn’t show her weird side until the third week of the semester, when she started work on the painting that would be her term project. Matt walked by her open bedroom door and made a strangled sound of alarm.
“What?” Pete called from the living room.
“Oh my God, she’s painting naked,” he announced.
“You noticed,” Claire remarked dryly. She wasn’t
naked. For the early stage of drafting the composition, she’d kept her bra and panties on.
“You’re aware that you live with two heterosexual men, right?”
“Then why are you naked?” Matt demanded, torn between excitement and alarm.
“This is how I paint.”
Matt turned to yell down the hall to Pete. “We picked the right roommate!”
It delighted Matt that Claire’s decision to work in the nude was a habit, not a one-off. Some days she’d come home from class feeling particularly inspired, and would strip on her way to her studio. It was all he could do not to follow her like a horny puppy and stand in the door, watching her paint. Maybe she’d get a drop on her breast and he could wipe it off…
It amused Pete that Claire had turned his brother into a drooling moron. He noticed the way Matt’s footsteps slowed every time he passed Claire’s room, just to prolong the sight of her naked back. The longer the semester went on and the more detailed her painting grew, the less often Claire kept her bra and panties on.
“Do you think I should say something to her?” Matt asked Pete. “I mean, she wouldn’t walk around with nothing on if she didn’t want attention, right?”
“I think that’s just how she works,” Pete said. “If she wanted you to make a move, she’d probably give a more
Matt waved off the suggestion. “You don’t get it.”
“You don’t get artists. This is her
“Yeah, but would you really practice the cello without pants on just for the hell of it? Or would you do it because your roommate is fuckhot and you want to be noticed?”
Pete took his brother by the shoulders, trying to make him see reason. “Matt, even if she is interested, as unlikely as that possibility may be, it’s a bad idea. She’s your roommate. It’s like incest.”
Matt didn’t immediately make a move on Claire, but Pete was wary of leaving them alone in a room together. Living with Claire was easy and she was fun to be around—if Matt scared her off, they’d never find another roommate who was as good as Claire.
“Promise me you won’t make her feel uncomfortable.”
“I can’t promise that.” Just the other day Matt had been lamenting—without bothering to keep his voice down—that their bedroom doors didn’t line up across from each other. If they did, he’d have been able to look at her while he “studied.”
“There are plenty of other naked women you can stare at. They’re all over the internet.”
.” Matt made a noise that sounded like Homer Simpson salivating over a donut. “Seriously, dude, if you could see you’d be standing right there with me, watching her ass while she paints. It’s got just the right amount of jiggle.”
“She’s off limits.”
“No harm in looking.”
“You say that now, but if she packs up and moves out, I guarantee you that the person we find to take her place won’t be as good.”
Matt hummed thoughtfully. Pete had a point. “What if I ogle from afar? Or cut it down to fifteen minutes at a time?
Pete shook his head. “There’s no hope for you.”
Pete was most at ease when his brother was out of the apartment. Claire could paint in peace, without being ogled like a stripper, and Pete could practice his cello without listening to Matt whimper and drool down the hall. Tuesdays were best, when Matt had class from nine in the morning until seven at night.
When Pete woke up that Tuesday morning—late, because he didn’t have class until three—Claire was painting with her door open. He could smell the wet paint when he walked down the hall and heard the faint swishes and daubs as her brush met the canvas.
“Claire, do you want a pizza pocket?” he yelled as he pulled the box out of the freezer.
He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as his breakfast spun in the microwave. Today was going to be one of those days where he didn’t put real clothes on until he absolutely had to.
The microwave beeped and Pete took his plate into the living room. He ate it over the course of a
rerun and calculated how much more TV he could afford to watch and not fall behind on his assignments. Not much, he concluded, and trudged back to his room when the episode was finished.
Claire called out to him as he walked past, “Pete, I need your advice on this painting.”
Pete paused next to her doorway. “You know I’m the blind twin, right?”
“Excuses, excuses. Come in, please.”
Pete edged into the room, searching the floor with his feet like they were the heads of metal detectors over sand. “You don’t have anything lying on the floor, do you?” By rule, the floors of the shared areas were to be kept clean for safety’s sake, and the furniture was never moved without giving Pete notice. Claire’s room, however, was not public space. She could litter the floor with thumbtacks if she wanted.
“I’ve got some paint cans.”
He heard her kicking them aside to clear a path to her easel. Claire took him by the shoulders and positioned him in front of her new painting.
“I want you to tell me what you think.”
“I think it smells like paint.”
“It’s a picture of a bridge, sort of cartoony but done in daubs. I’ve used purples for the sky. There’s a gap in the middle of the bridge and two people on either side of it, facing each other.”
“What else are they doing?”
“Just watching each other. They’re the only two people in the picture.”
“Do they want to be closer together?”