We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world.
There’s something to be said about the way in which we see ourselves; every flaw magnified and glaringly obvious. As children, those imperfections seem to be all-consuming. And, as it goes, the more focus we put on our own flaws, the more fodder there is for cruel, adolescent minds.
The stranglehold that Routine Rose had on me when I entered high school was enough to make me see nothing but flaws in myself. Of course, it was just a name they’d given me—something that echoed in my mind with every errant twitch of my fingers. Being her was all I knew of who I was, and in never being just Rose, I closed my eyes to any other way I was seen… for many years, that is.
The half-bath light was still on, so I knew he was still at the house. I sighed and squinted at the light that seeped across the hall and under my door. He always left lights on. Robby mentioned him staying for the weekend, but I’d be damned if I was going to sit through my movie marathon with him popping in again. It was like he could hear through the walls, and I swear, his number one goal was to piss me off by spoiling whatever I was watching. I tucked my movies under my bed before hurrying down the hall.
My brother, Rob, had met Tristan Moore just before their senior year when he transferred to Blue River and joined him on the varsity hockey team. Together, they led the Braves to a league championship win and became inseparable. I was a junior then, and I was a star at nothing. But it was partway through that year that I did pick something up, and thus began my one acceptable obsession.
Those were the days of video stores and rent-any-three specials, and so, my weekends were spent tucking in to popcorn and Red Hots and curling up to watch any movie set back in time that I’d never seen yet, plus those I couldn’t resist rewatching.
And to be honest, it did become a true obsession—watching period dramas. But like I said, it was a good one; one that catered nicely to my love of history. It wasn’t like the fixations I’d had that tended to irritate people or make them think I was weird. There was a big difference between obsessive movie marathons and honing in on every crumb on a table and removing it with precision while losing focus on someone speaking to me. Obsession… fixation—one seemed to help with the other, so I continued on doing what I loved—alone.
Weekends by myself were fine in high school and they helped me to be as good a student as Rob, but I had to admit, I was lucky to have him for a brother. As soon as I got my acceptance letter to the University of Virginia, he held the only vacant room in his just-off-campus house and insisted I move in. It made sense for us to share a house and we were close as siblings go. But, after living together for two years and enduring endless spoil-laden pop-ins from Tristan, I was on the hunt for a new apartment.
“Rose, who’s going to fix little things around here if you leave?” Rob sighed and tilted his head at me from across the kitchen.
“There’s no ‘if’, there’s only when. And it’s not like I’m moving across the country. I’ll probably be close enough to walk over and remind you which drill bit to use when you need me. Plus, you should know these things by now. Didn’t you and dad technically build the ice rink together?”
“Yeah, but I just wanted to skate on it, not learn to build shit.” He narrowed his dark brows, crossing his arms with noticeable frustration.
“Well, regardless, I’ll be around. Just... have more of my own space.” He sighed once more and closed the cupboard above my head pointedly, looking up as it creaked open again. It was on my list of things to work on, but now I wasn’t so sure that list was worth keeping.
“Sorry, Rob. I just—”
“What’s going on in here?” Tristan stepped into the kitchen and slipped between us, heading for the fridge. It was an older model and he was too tall to see into it without bending way down. I took in a slow and irritated breath as he eyed me, then crouched to grab a beer. His ink black hair fell into his view and he swept it back behind his ears.
“Nothing. Going to bed.”
He straightened, leaning forward on the counter as I turned my back to him. “Well, enjoy Atonement. You know—”
“Actually”—I whipped around to look up at him—“I’ve already seen it, so you can save your you-knows.” “Mhmm. Yeah, I know you’ve seen it.” His height made me crane my neck and stare straight at the frustrating little beauty mark above his lip. “I was just going to mention that box of tissues you may need for when everyone dies and Chingachgook is the only living Mohican at the end of The Last of the Mohicans—hence the title, you know.”
“Oh my God! What is wrong with you?!” I reached up to slam the faulty cabinet and marched past Rob. “THIS is why I’m moving out, Robby!”
“You’re moving out?” Tristan’s voice was distant as I continued through the hall and cut into my room, locking the door behind me. I passed into the bathroom and locked that door as well, turning on the shower and angrily shaking my head at the mirror.
Tristan irritating me was like a weird sickness. It used to shadow all my compulsions, masking the feelings I once had for him, but now it just drew me to other things that I often fixated on. I stared at my skin while my chest still pumped through its frustration. It was fall now, but the summer had brought out more freckles on my nose this year and they weren’t the cute kind. They were the blotchy kind that from a distance discolored my skin and looked odd with my deep brown hair. Next, my eyes zeroed in on the scar above my left eyebrow just as...
“Roh-ohse,” Tristan’s voice slipped like velvet through the bathroom door, making me jump. He drew my name out in a sing-song way he knew got under my skin. “Don’t be a spoil sport.”
“Spoil—a SPOIL sport?! You have got to be... You are the one who spoils everything. And how did you get in my room? I locked the door!”
“Keys exist, Rose... You know you shouldn’t leave Rob like this.”
“Why don’t you just move in and stop acting like you give a shit if I get a new place? You stay here enough, anyhow. You should be paying rent!”
“I like my situation.” I rolled my eyes even though he couldn’t see.
“You like living with Heather when it suits you.”
“I’ve never lived with Heather. And I haven’t seen her in like... eight months.”
“Probably because you’re intolerable.”
The silence on the other side of the door made me consider if he’d left. I toed into the tub, fuming and shaking my head, and reached for the shower curtain.
“Good luck finding an apartment, Rose,” his voice rumbled through the door again. “There’s a reason Rob had to hold the room for you when you started here. There’s nothing available this late and you know it.” “Then maybe I’ll transfer.” Another long silence.
“You’d transfer schools and leave Rob because of me?”
“Would you just LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY?!”
It was hard to say why Tristan always got to me the way he did. They weren't all bad, the spoilers. Sometimes he opted for stupid ones that only made me laugh. But then the real ones, the ones that really wrecked the end, he'd drop those on me and I'd lose it.
But it was more than that. It was that he was just always around. Rob and I had been so close growing up, it made it easy for me to skip over the part where teenagers make close friends. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t need a BFF when I had a perfectly good, perfectly reliable brother.
So then there was Tristan. Tristan who never left. Tristan who arrived one day at our house before the hockey season started and became some honorary member of the family. Tristan who sailed his way into UVa on sheer brain power, ensuring that he was always going to be around. Tristan who made me feel a little less important to Rob these past years.
The bathroom was too steamy after my shower to see the mirror, but I wiped at it anyhow, trying to see my face for long enough to remove my smudgy eyeliner. I gave up quickly as my phone buzzed in the other room. Rob: Tristan says you kicked him out of the house. He left looking all pouty.
Me: *eye roll* I told him to go away because he broke into my room. But tbh, I don’t care if he left.
Rob: You know why he fucks with you.
Me: Bc he sucks?
Rob: Seriously, Roslyn?
Me: I don’t care, ROBERT. Tristan is like the guest who overstays their welcome, never helps out, and gets away with doing annoying shit all the time. I hope he’s at home crying. Tell him to stop coming over so much. He can move in when I leave if he needs to be that close to you.
Rob: He isn’t here to be close to me.
I stared at my phone screen for long enough to reread his last text four times. I knew what he was trying to say, but I also knew he was exaggerating. Rob had a way of making things into bigger situations than they ever were. It was one of his best qualities in some ways. He could really make you think you were an unstoppable, amazing person. But he could also turn molehills into mountains and that was exactly what he was doing. I slid my phone onto my nightstand, killed the light, and turned on the TV.
Even though Tristan had ruined part of The Last of the Mohicans, it was a great movie. It had everything I loved about a good period drama—passion, risk, adventure, tragedy, and love. And it had meaning. It meant something when it was written—that in the end, Chingachgook was the very last of all of the Mohicans; that history had overrun his tribe, the world had shifted, and things had changed so much.
It was a spoiler, though, that everyone else had died. And it was the type of spoiler he loved to give me. Somehow he always knew what I was watching and how to ruin things. She dies in the end, Rose. Those two never end up together, Rose. He doesn’t really love her, Rose. They lose their farm, Rose. He was the constant, irritating thing in my life—aside from my OCD.
Moving out was going to change things, though. I was finally ready to be on my own, anyhow. Rob and I would still see each other, but I needed this. I needed to do something that was just about me.
But, much to my frustration, Tristan was right. I’d already left a voicemail with a woman who manages rentals all over town, asking if something was open. Rob knew her well enough from waiting on her at his coffee house job to get her personal number, so I’d been hoping she could find me a place. But after a few days, she’d only called back to say they had no rental units open and I’d probably have to wait to sublet from someone.
So I knew I’d have to be patient, but at least I had one thing to look forward to that Tristan couldn’t ruin for me: a movie marathon that weekend at the art cinema. They were showing Austen and Brontë classics and since I’d seen them all a million times, I didn’t do much to hide my excitement over the tickets I had for a show each night, plus a Sunday matinee.
Tristan sat across from me in the kitchen the following afternoon—his dark eyebrows lifted—thumbing the tickets I’d bought on presale that now stuck partially out of my purse. It was his scrutinous, faux judgmental look. “Ambitious, Roslyn. You’re going to... three showings?”
“Yep. But it doesn’t surprise you, so you can put those away.”
“Put what away?” His head tilted to one side as his left brow arched.
“Those hideous eyebrows. Nobody needs to see those things creeping up your face. You already know I love every one of those movies.”
“Hideous?! Ouch.” He clutched at his chest as if in pain, then slid from his chair and inched around the counter toward me. “I could swear I heard you say something about loving the dark Heathcliff look.” His fingers tapped in a slow pattern on the edge of the countertop as he studied me. My eyes flitted across those long, tapered fingers. His hands betrayed the fact that he worked on roofs every summer, and yet, the strength of them was at odds with their graceful length. There was a time when I’d imagined what it would be like to feel them sifting their way through my hair. I swallowed and looked away from his hands.
“I’ve never heard you swear. And who said you have that look?” I glanced over as he deliberately dropped his gaze and threw me those sort of shadowed, brooding eyes I tried to hate. If I was being honest, he did have the Heathcliff look. His dark hair came down to frame the sharp cheekbones that stuck out beneath his soft, coppery skin. He’d be a perfect half-native Heathcliff.
I shook my head at him and pursed my lips as he took another step my way. His hazel eyes cut through a veil of long lashes to look down into mine, the length of them flirting with the highest point of his cheekbones. I could feel the flare of heat on my face in the moment that he slid a touch closer and dipped his chin down to emphasize his penetrating gaze, his fingers slowly playing on the counter’s edge once more. “You know, it must be warm in here... your cheeks are awfully fucking red.” He exaggerated the word, drawing his lips up in sly smile as he left the room and I took a stupid, shaky breath. Of course he’d find yet another way to be irritating. I am definitely NOT attracted to Tristan Moore… anymore.
“It doesn’t sound right when you swear!” I called after him a few seconds late.