"Did you know dolphins are the only animals besides humans that get pleasure from sex and hurting other dolphins? Makes me wonder if they have some sort of dolphin S&M. I think I just burned my eggs."
Liv was used to her friend's strangeness. She didn't question why he was thinking of dolphin sex or why he was cooking eggs at eleven at night. That’s just the way her friend was. But that didn’t stop her from laughing.
"It's a valid question," said Axel. His scratchy voice sounded even scratchier on the phone.
"I'm sure it is in your world," she said while laughing. She switched the phone to her other ear. She was sitting on the couch in her living room, watching TV and on the phone at the same time.
Liv could hear Axel chuckle and she knew he was running his paint stained fingers through his hair. Axel was a poet/writer/painter/photographer/accountant. He almost always wore old and worn paint splattered clothes. (She suspected that he splattered paint on his clothes on purpose, but she wasn't sure. She could never tell with Axel.) The paint stains on his fingers seemed to always be there. Despite knowing him for more than a couple of years, she could never expect what he would do or say next. He was always saying the strangest things she ever heard, but still they made sense. Over time, to her surprise, they became close friends. She never felt more relaxed than when she was around Axel. Whenever the stress from her life seemed too much to handle, Axel always made her feel lighter.
She yawned as tiredness caught up with her.
"You sound tired. You wanna hang up?"
"No, I'm not that tired."
The truth was that she was exhausted. Liv was a teacher's assistant for a fifth grade class, attended a university after that, then worked at a department store. That day was busier than usual because there was a clueless substitute in charge of the kindergarten class and two of her co-workers at the store called in sick. When she came home, all she wanted to do was lay on the couch for a few hours before she did her homework. But when she opened her apartment door, she thought for a brief moment that a tornado went through her apartment. She had spent nearly two hours cleaning up.
The said tornado was named Jessica, who was her roommate of three months. Jessica was liked by almost everyone she met, meaning her family was rich. She was a tall, thin, bottle blonde, big breasted, 20 year old girl. She was nice enough but there were just a few things about her that got on Liv's nerves. For one, Jessica called her "Livvie-loo," which was a name she detested. Jessica was also a bit too naive and dependant on others. Liv swore the girl couldn't find her way to the bathroom if someone didn’t lead her to it.
Jessica's rich parents made her live on her own and go to the university, hoping that she would gain some real life experiences. Of course, they paid for her tuition and living expenses and important things like shoes and cell phones. Liv guessed the check Jessica's parents sent every month wasn't too much since she needed a roommate, or "roomie" as Jessica says it. But most of the time, Liv felt like more like a live-in maid instead of a roommate. Liv considered moving numerous times, but she was too busy and too broke to move.
She was brought out of her brooding when she heard Axel talking. "Hm. These eggs ain't so bad actually. They look kinda interesting too. Maybe I should take a picture of it."
Axel's voice brought her out of her brooding. "You're actually eating food you cooked?"
"Yep. It's staying in my stomach too. Better than what I cooked last time."
Liv laughed, feeling lighter once more. She changed the channel to a popular romance movie "Oh, that is so fake," she said.
"Sleepless in Seattle." She watched as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan met in the Empire State Building. "Those two barely even speak 3 words to each other and I’m supposed to believe that they fall in love?"
"Sometimes you don’t need words," Axel said.
"That's a strange thing for a writer to say."
There was silence on the other end of the line and Liv shook her head in amusement.
Axel broke his silence with another one of his questions. "Do you realize that, sixty years from now, old people will be listening to heavy metal?"
Liv took a deep breath and turned around, facing her roommate who was running through a busy college walkway to reach her. She could see a few guys stare at her, or rather two bouncing and perky parts of her, as she ran.
"Hi Jessica," she said as Jessica reached her.
"Hi, roomie!" Her voice was obnoxiously cheerful and perky like certain parts of her body. "I just wanted to say that I'm SO sorry for not cleaning last night."
Liv was shocked. Jessica never apologized. "That's okay."
"I had some girlfriends over and I was planning to clean later, really. But then my girlfriend told me about this party, and I just HAD to go. You understand, right? Anyway," she curled her chemically damaged hair with her index finger, "could you do me one teensy favor?"
Liv mentally slapped herself for not knowing better. Jessica's favors were never "teensy." She lost count of the many favors she did for Jessica. "Sure. What is it?"
"You took American Literature, right?"
"Yes." Liv knew where this was going.
"I was wondering if you could help me." Jessica's voice was dripping with sugar. "I have midterm coming up tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? What do you need help with?"
"Um, everything," she smiled. "I was wondering if we could, you know, make it like a cram session or something?"
Liv could only stand there in silence, her eyes staring at the ground. All of those little "favors" Jessica had asked her to do built up like falling snowflakes. This last snowflake was the one that caused an avalanche.
"Helloooo? Livvie-loo? Livvie? Are you in there?"
Liv mumbled something indecipherable.
"I said I hate that stupid name." Liv looked her roommate straight in the eyes. "My name is Liv, you spoiled, ungrateful brat! Get that through your thick blonde head! And no! I won't help you. I won't help you ever again! Why don’t you grow a fucking spine for Christ's sake and fucking GROW UP! I won't be there to wipe your ass every time you take a shit! I'm through with this! Go find yourself a new slave to live with!"
Liv realized that she had just ripped into her roommate in a public place. The college students around them were staring. She looked at Jessica, who looked like a child that just got hit. Tears were running down Jessica's cheeks. Liv ran.
"I'm a fuckup," Liv said when Axel answered his door. She went straight to his apartment after she was through with work. She didn't have the courage to go home.
Axel raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure that's debatable." He led her into his apartment and they both sat on his couch. "Now, start from the beginning."
Liv explained what happened. "I made her cry, Axel. I don't know when I can show my face to her again."
"Yep, you're right. You kinda fucked up."
She looked down in shame.
"But we're all fuckups, so you're okay. It's not like you'll not fuck up again. You WILL fuck up again. And again. And again, and again, and again." Liv could tell Axel was getting amused by his own words. "And again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and—"
"I think I get your point."
He just smiled and led her to his painting table, in the corner of his living room. (He always said "I write this way, why shouldn’t I paint this way?" when someone asked why he painted on a table.) He put a paintbrush in her hand. "Here," he said.
"What am I doing to do with this?"
Axel squeezed tubes of paint, putting the globs of paint on a styrofoam plate and pulled out a canvas from underneath the table.
"But I can’t paint."
Axel held her hand with the paintbrush in it and dipped the brush into the paint. "Just go," he said softly near her ear. "And get lost."
"Well, if you want me to leave so bad." She made a lame attempt at a joke and he laughed. She took a deep breath before the bristles touched the canvas.
She painted. In strokes that were arching, spiraling, loose, carefree. Soon the canvas was covered with colors that clashed, mixed into one another, formed patterns of disorder. She got lost.
Axel looked at her finished painting, his hand to his chin and a raised eyebrow. He would have looked like a serious art critic if it weren't for the paint splattered shirt he was wearing. After a minute said with mock seriousness, "This is total crap."
Liv laughed but she stopped when she saw his face. There was a truly serious expression on his face this time. He unflinchingly stared right into her eyes. She never thought that he could look so solemn. She was jarred so much that all she could do was just stare right back. She could not look away.
"Sometimes you don’t need to hold back so much," he said. Then, he smiled and picked up the painting. "So, where do you think I should hang this?"
Liv silently entered her apartment. She went to the living room and sat on the chair. Jessica was sitting next to her, just as silent as she was.
"I'm sorry!" Jessica burst out. Liv could see Jessica was crying. "I really, REALLY am."
Liv sighed. "I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have yelled at you like that, especially in public. You didn't deserve it."
Jessica began to ramble in a shaky voice. "But I did. I know what you said was true. I know I'm a spoiled brat. I'm a rich kid, of course I’m a spoiled brat. And I came here because I DIDN’T want to be a spoiled brat anymore. You know, my parents never wanted me to come here. I WANTED to come here. I wanted to be mature. But it's just, like, so damn easy to be spoiled when you and my parents were taking care of everything."
Liv felt like an idiot that she held back what she was feeling; doing so only hurt Jessica in the long run.
"Do you know why I wanted you to be my roomie? 'Cause I didn't need one, you know, not with the money my mom and dad give me. And it's not 'cause you could take care of me or something. Well, sort of. I saw you around in school and you were so grown-up. You were so damn mature! Everyone knew who to copy from. You're everything I'm not. I just wanted to be like you, you know? I thought that hey if I lived with you I'd, like, learn something. But I guessed I failed at that, huh?"
Liv's automatic reaction was to say no, but she stopped herself. "Yes, you did." Jessica looked away from her. Liv put a hand on her roommate's shoulder. "You failed, but that doesn't mean you can't try again. I’ll even help you. But that doesn't mean I'll constantly hold your hand."
Liv was taken aback when she was engulfed in a tight hug. "You're the best Livvie, er, I mean Liv. Does that mean you'll still be my roomie?"
"Yes," Liv said and was hugged even tighter. Liv pulled away and smiled at her. "Okay, enough of this emotional stuff."
Jessica giggled. "Alright. Where were you anyways? You came home late."
"I was at Axel's"
"Axel's? Ooohh, you were at Axel's, I see."
Liv found herself blushing, to her surprise. "Shut up. You know it's not like that."
"I know you secretly want him to bend you over than painting table of his and—"
"Jessica!" She felt her face heat up even more. She couldn't believe a kid was making her blush.
Jessica was caught in a fit of giggles. She was laughing so hard that she had to lean against Liv for support.
Liv pushed Jessica off her. "Stop it," Liv said.
"Sorry," Jessica gasped in between laughs, "it's just, your face is so red!"
"I think I'll reconsider being your roommate," Liv grumbled.
Jessica’s laughter died down. "Okay, okay, sorry. But seriously, you should, like, just let go and tell him how you really feel."
Sometimes you don’t need to hold back so much.
She realized at that moment that she had something that she was holding back.
"I said tell him how you—"
Liv hugged Jessica this time. "Thank you." She then stood up and went to the door.
"Wha—hey! Liv, where are you going?"
"Axel's" was all Liv said before she left.
Like a dam that burst, she didn't hold back this time. She took a step forward and kissed him. She noticed that he didn't seem to be too surprised as his arms moved around her waist, holding her tightly.
Did Axel know all this time? She didn't put it past him.
She shouldn't have held herself back for so long. It was SO much better when she didn't.
When the kiss ended they both looked at each other and smiled. They didn't need to say anything.
Sometimes, you don't need words.