Jake Undone

By: Penelope Ward

Past the living room, there were two bedrooms on each side of the hallway and a bathroom straight ahead at the end. Ryan told me he would leave my room door open and there was a sticky note on the first door on the left that said “Nina’s Room.” A smiley face was drawn next to my name, which immediately gave me some comfort in an otherwise nerve-wracking situation.

I wheeled my suitcase inside and plopped the duffel bag on the full size bed. The walls were a pale gray, and there were no windows. This room was definitely going to need some sprucing up, and I couldn’t wait to go shopping tomorrow. I was too tired today to deal with redecorating.

I unzipped my suitcase and started to unpack when I suddenly noticed that there seemed to be low music coming from one of the bedrooms. The doors were closed, so I had initially assumed no one was home. I cracked my bedroom door open to listen in and suspected it was coming from the room diagonally across at the far end of the hallway.

Then, I heard a girl’s laugher over the music. Crap. I wasn’t ready to meet anyone. I stayed still, wondering whether I should just hide in my room and pretend I wasn’t here or go across the hall to say hello.

Before I could think it over, I heard a male voice moaning. Then, the girl moaned too.

Shit. They were having sex.

I stayed still, pondering whether I should just quietly sneak out of the house and go shopping now instead of tomorrow. It would be awkward running into them, if they knew I had heard them.

After ten minutes of trying to ignore the bed squeaking amidst “oh yeahs” and “aaahs” from the very vocal female participant, I decided to hightail it out of there.

I was lingering behind the entrance to my room, about to make my exit, when the door across the hall abruptly burst open releasing the sound of metal music and laughter. I froze behind the door, unable to open or close it completely, for fear of being found out. So I stayed still, peeking through the slightly open crack.

All I could see were feet pass by my room, but couldn’t make out faces. The male was tall with dark clothing and the female had a large purple rose tattoo on her ankle.

They were talking and laughing in the living room for a few minutes, and then I heard some keys and a door slam.

The apartment then turned eerily silent. Relieved, I concluded that they had left together.

Thank goodness that was over.

I spent the rest of the afternoon alone in my room unpacking. After my clothes were put away, I meandered out to the kitchen to make some chamomile tea and relax while I got accustomed to my surroundings. As I was pouring the boiling water, I heard the front door latch.

“Neeners!” Ryan shouted as he noticed me in the kitchen.

I placed my tea on the counter and ran over to my old friend, hugging him tightly. “Hey! I made it.”

“You did. How was the ride?” he asked.

“Not bad, just a couple of hours by bus and I took a cab here.”

“A cab? Must have been expensive. You didn’t want to take the subway from the bus station, huh? I figured.”

I looked down at my feet. “No, I’m not there yet. I have to work on that.”

Ryan had known me since I was ten and was best friends with my older brother, Jimmy. As a result, he was like a brother to me too and knew way more than he should about me, not all of it good.

Ryan sighed. “So, we’re still not taking subways, not riding in elevators, not flying. What else are we afraid of these days? Our own shadow?”

“We are working on it, Ry…I told you.”

He shook his head and tapped my shoulder lightly. “It’s only gonna get worse, Nina.”

The truth was, as of the past few years, irrational fears had started to rule my life. I avoided certain situations like the plague and would go to great lengths and inconveniences to do so, like taking a bus instead of flying from New York to Texas to visit my friend in Houston, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Over the years, the situation had gotten progressively worse and was quite paralyzing. It kept me from doing things that I would have loved, like traveling the world. A couple of years ago, at its worst, I had started to develop a full-blown fear of leaving the house. Through cognitive behavioral therapy, I was able to overcome my agoraphobia. So, I had come a long way, but there were still a lot of phobias that remained.

This all started one day with a panic attack in high school. We were on a field trip to the New York Public Library, and a few classmates and I got stuck in a dark elevator. I had begun to hyperventilate and thought I was going to die. Fifteen minutes later, the elevator moved, but the post-traumatic stress from that moment stuck. I have gone out of my way ever since to avoid crowds, subways, planes, heights, enclosed spaces or anything else that made me feel trapped.

“How are you going to work in a hospital someday if you can’t ride in an elevator, Nina? Are you gonna tell your dying patients to press five and fend for themselves while you take the stairs?”

“Ry, I’ll have it under control by then, okay? I appreciate your concern, but I have to do things in my own time. For now, I just need to focus on school starting Monday.”

“Okay, I’ll lay off your case…for now.”

I rolled my eyes and smiled. “Much appreciated.”

Ryan looked around and gestured with open arms. “So, how do you like the place?”

The truth was, I was feeling a little anxious about living away from home for the first time, but I put on a brave face. “I like it. My room is a little drab but that’s nothing that can’t be fixed.”

He started walking down the hall and waved for me to follow him. “Come on, let me show you around.”

“As you know, this first room on the left here is now yours,” he said, pointing to my room.

I nodded and followed him as he entered the next room on the left at the end of the hall, which was just past mine.

“This is my room,” he said.

Ryan’s room was immaculate with neutral colors and no clutter. On his chest of drawers, there was a picture of him and my brother Jimmy boating on the Hudson River. It made me smile to see that he had it displayed. I picked up the picture and looked around the room. “Wow, ever the neat freak, as always, Ry.”

“Indeed, Troll.”

“I was wondering how long it would take before that old nickname came out.”

Ryan and Jimmy always teased me growing up, because of my resemblance to the Olsen twins from that old show Full House. They called me the missing triplet. The name started out as “‘Trolsen,” which stood for “Triplet” and “Olsen,” then evolved over time into “Troll.” Even though it was meant to be a term of endearment, it bugged me sometimes. Admittedly, with my petite build, long dirty blond hair and very large blue eyes, I did look somewhat like those celebrity twins.

Ryan stepped out of his room, and I followed him.

“Okay, you may need to put on some sunglasses for this one,” he said as he opened the door across the hall.

“This…is Jake’s room.”

Jake. The sex room.

If this room had a theme song, it would be Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N’ Roses. It was a complete contrast to Ryan’s bedroom. It was smoky, musky and mysterious. Now, I knew what he meant about the sunglasses. The walls were a neon orange. Everything else in the room was black: black furniture, black bedding and a black window shade to keep out the light, since this room actually had a window.

It was like every component of the room contradicted another part: neon orange and black, bright window with a dark shade. On top of that, there was a large collection of gargoyle figurines atop the dresser, but right next to them was a black and white picture of two adorable little girls who looked identical. Whoever this guy was, he was an enigma.

“What’s Jake’s deal?” I asked.

Ryan ran his hand over his short blonde hair and laughed. “Jake…how could I possibly sum up Jake? He’s…different.”

I laughed. “What do you mean different?”

“I mean, he’s cool…he’s just a lot of things. You’ll have to meet him to know what I am talking about. He’s from Boston. He pretty much takes off and goes back there every weekend. I don’t know what he does there or if he has some side business or something. He’s kind of secretive. I know his family lives there. He’s close to his nieces apparently,” he said gesturing to the photo.

“What does he do for a living?”

“Actually, it’s sick how smart he is. He’s an engineer for a company in the city, and he pretty much can fix anything that breaks in the house. But when you see him, you’re gonna be like, ‘he’s an engineer?’”

“What do you mean, when I see him?”

Ryan grinned. “He’s interesting.”

“Okay. Whatever you say.”

I didn’t mention to Ryan that I had already kind of gotten a preview of my own regarding Jake’s interests. I could never admit that I was hiding behind a door listening in while Jake “entertained” his guest.

Ryan led me back down the hall, opening the door right across from mine.

“This…is Tarah’s room.”

This was the best bedroom in the house. Like Jake’s, it had a window, but was painted a delicate lavender. There was a built-in white bookshelf, neatly organized with books and pictures and the room smelled like fresh laundry. It looked like a page out of a Pottery Barn catalog. The sun was streaming in, and I was so wishing this was my room.

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