JJ sat on his bed, trying to act inconspicuous - this whole situation made him nervous. He placed his copy of Segu on the side table and started to readjust his piercings for the fourth time. First his nose piercing, then his earlobes. Earl was sitting at his desk, writing in his huge leather journal, almost done filling out the second volume since JJ was forced into rooming with him after the snow storm devastated the campus.
When will this fucker leave? JJ thought. I just want to get this shit over with. Come to think of it, why am I doing this? I mean, I like Catrin, at least, I think I do, but this is just weird. I know she’s magic, but a pencil? She can really do shit with a pencil?
After readjusting his navel piercing, three turns to get it how he liked, he started to reach further down to finish with his fidgeting when Earl shut his journal with a grand, theatrical thud.
“All done! Another fine piece for my canon. I’m going to go to Holy Grounds to grab a macchiato. Want anything?”
“Hmm… hot chocolate, please.”
JJ stood up, reached into his black jeans, produced a canvas wallet, and handed over some cash. Earl smirked, looking every bit the prototypical preppy white boy in his Lacoste polo and skinny jeans, his porkpie hat covering his slickly gelled hair.
“Cool. I’ll be back in a bit. Me and the boys are planning for the party at Charlene’s place next week. I hope Catrin’s gonna be there!”
JJ tried to not roll his eyes at Earl’s earnestness (Hope she’ll be OK. Wait, why do I care? She can take care of herself. I’m just doing her a favor.) “Dude, for like the fifth time, I don’t think she’s into you.”
“Ah, JJ, she’s playing hard to get! That’s Women 101! I’m sure when she hears me at the slam, she’ll realize how awesome I am!”
“If you think so.”
“I know so! Later!”
Earl left the room and shut the door. JJ let out a deep sigh and rubbed his temples. Women 101… shithead needs some Steinem in his skull. He walked over to Earl’s desk. It was meticulously laid out with a variety of textbooks, notebooks, and writing utensils of every kind. Pens, pencils, mechanical pencils, even a quill and ink bottle with a plaque from the Mount Vernon Museum. Looking for a less obvious target, JJ saw a blue pencil, with numerous bite marks and a well worn eraser.
“... The fuck? You want me to do what?”
“Grab something of his, preferably something he uses a lot.” Catrin held up a wrist and jangled her bracelets. “If I can turn it into a charm, even better.”
“What does that accomplish?”
“It gives me options. I could hex Earl without having to stare him down.”
“So, what, make him freeze up like you did me?”
“That was supposed to keep you from connecting if you swung again. I just… he’s not taking no, it’s gotten worse since we’ve all been stuck in the same building, and I’d like more options than ‘mace’ and ‘shank’.”
“Fair enough. Killing should be… low on the totem pole. He was saying he hoped you’d be at Charlene’s party Saturday.”
“One, Charlene, so no. Two, Earl, so definitely no. Want to go catch the matinee of Tomorrow Never Dies instead?”
“That’d be fun.”
JJ strode over to Catrin’s room and knocked on the door. “Coming!” came, muffled by the door, followed by a bit of crashing around. Catrin opened the door and smiled at JJ. “Hey there. Come on in,”Catrin said, opening the door wider.
The dividing line between Catrin’s side and her roommate Maggie’s was practically a physical boundary with a pile of dirty clothes ending sharply at the half-line of the room.
“Sorry about the clothes, Maggie’s laundry plan seems to consist of ‘as little as possible’.”
“It could be worse. Earl trips balls if I place a single sock on his side of the room. God forbid I don’t make my bed.”
“What is he, your mother? So, this refuge from the insufferable one or…?”
“... He’s not here. ‘Sides. I try to not get angry at people. You know what happens when I get angry at people,” JJ said, clenching his fists.
Catrin cocked an eyebrow, glancing at his hands. “Going to stab yourself with that pencil if you clench any harder. Hey,” she said, cupping his hand and brushing a thumb over his knuckles. “Safe place. Deep breaths. Maybe more expressing frustration and not burying it until it explodes? You ever tried meditation?”
“Not really. Mom suggested it, but the few times I tried I couldn’t focus.”
“Mantra or no mantra? It’s like any other skill, the more times you practice, the easier it gets. And the beginning is always frustrating as shit.”
“Something you chant to yourself. Doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just a focusing tool. Hell, you could use ‘by the power of Grayskull’ if you wanted.”
“I see. Well, it’s something I could try. So we cool?”
“Didn’t think we were uncool there. I mean it about the safe place.” Catrin looked down at JJ’s hand. “Where did this thing come from anyway, doesn’t look like your style.”
“That’s what I thought would be a good totem for Earl. Fucker’s obsessed with his poetry. Taking a fancier thing or one of his notebooks would be missed, right?”
Catrin rocked up on her toes and kissed JJ on the check. “Thank you. Yes, this is perfect.” She turn to her desk and started rummaging through it.
JJ caressed his cheek and blushed. It’d been too long since he’d had any type of pleasure like that. Too long. Wait, slow down there, cowboy. It was just a kiss. I don’t think… I mean, I don’t know...
“Ah ha!” Catrin said, pulling out some thin wire. She looped a bit through one of her bracelets and then started twisting wire around the eraser end of the pencil. “Hand me those scissors on my desk? The heavier duty ones.”
JJ walked over to grab the scissors. He paused to look over the desk. Catrin’s copy of Segu was sitting next to a pad of legal paper, half filled with notes. A couple moleskin notebooks and a dictionary leaned against her desktop tower, between it and a CRT monitor. Damn, it’s better than mine. Two whole gigs of harddrive? Who needs that much space? What she doing, hexing the internet? “That’s a mighty nice computer. What’s an English Lit major need something that beasty for?”
“Hand-me-down from my older brother. So right now, still cleaning out his porn and playing Diablo. Idiot-brother does not know how to sanitize his hard drive.”
“Shit, don’t remind me. I know it’s our thing, but finding my siblings’ and my parents’ stashes were awkward as all hell.”
Catrin looked up with a slightly shell-shocked expression as the scissors snapped through the wire. “Nooooope, not thinking about that and my parents…. Nope.”Glancing at her watch, Catrin stood up with a start. “Shit, we have to book it to Dr. Smith’s class,” she said, grabbing her book-bag and swiping the Segu off the desk. “Got 10 minutes until she starts docking points.”
JJ ran back to his bedroom to grab his book-bag and join Catrin. He looked back over at Earl’s desk guiltily before running back to the door to the stairwell.
Walking out the dorm, Catrin looked over at JJ. “Any chance I can talk you into snagging something from Neko?”