“Three female housemates wanted to share luxurious four-bedroom residence in upscale urban neighborhood. Classic historical house within walking distance of downtown, campus, and shopping. No smokers, no drugs, no pets. $550 a month includes all utilities. Oneyear lease, no exceptions. First and last, plus cleaning deposit required. Send résumé to Ms. Weis, PO Box 4721, Herrington Heights.”
Megan Abernathy folded the newspaper in half and circled the ad with her neon green highlighter pen. Then she read the words again, more carefully this time. This place sounded pretty swanky. And it should be, at $550 a month for just a room! She glanced around her crowded and messy bedroom—one of two in a crummy little apartment she shared with three other young women.
To be fair, it was her roommate’s half of the bedroom that looked the worst. Megan’s side was relatively neat. Well, other than the plastic storage crates stacked against the wall. But that’s what came from remaining in a less than satisfactory housing situation for so long. It had seemed like a smart move a couple years back—a real leap from dormitory living, but still on campus. Now it felt like a jail cell.
Megan kicked a stray flip-flop back to Bethany’s side of the room. She had meant to find another place to live after graduation, along with a job. But then Dad got sick in early May. And the summer slipped sideways with his nonstop medical treatments, hospitalizations, and finally, after the doctors admitted they’d exhausted all options, his funeral in late August. Consequently she had no time to think about housing or job possibilities or much of anything to do with her future. And maybe it didn’t matter anyway. Maybe she just didn’t even care anymore.
“Don’t become a martyr,” her mother had warned when she dropped Megan back at the rundown apartment a couple of weeks ago. “Your portion of Dad’s life insurance can easily help you afford a bigger and better place, sweetheart. You did so well in school, and we never really celebrated your graduation. I’m sure that Dad would’ve wanted you to—”
“I’ll be fine,”Megan had reassured her. “I just need to find a job.” Her plan had been to get her feet under her before moving to a better place. Of course, she couldn’t mention her regrets over not putting in applications for teaching positions last spring. That would only make her mom feel worse. Now it was the end of September, way too late to snag a teaching job. Instead, she told her mom not to worry. “I just want to take a year to figure things out,” she said.
“A year can be a lifetime.”Momsighed, then gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“How about you, Mom?” Megan suddenly remembered that her mother was going home to an empty house now, a totally different lifestyle. “Will you be okay?”
“With God’s help, I will.” Then Mom frowned up at the dismal apartment complex behind Megan. “Just promise me that you’ll at least consider another place to live. I worry about your safety in this neighborhood.”
Now, just two weeks later, Megan wondered if her mom was right about this neighborhood after all. The headlines in this morning’s paper reported that another college coed seemed to be missing. Since the sophomore had only been gone two days, a missing-person report hadn’t been filed, but the girl’s roommate felt certain that foul play was involved, and no family members had seen her either. This was the second female student to go missing in six months. And the truth was, it creeped Megan out. Not having classes to distract her only made matters worse and gave her more time to fixate on things.
More than that, she regretted not giving up her space in this apartment last June, back when she’d begun to suspect that her roommate was turning into a wild child.
Bethany had seemed okay when she moved in a year ago. She was a junior and fairly serious about school, but by springtime things started to deteriorate. Last summer, while Megan was gone, Bethany turned their room into a pigsty and, according to the other roommates, became even more indiscriminate about her male friends and partying habits. At this rate, Megan would be surprised if Bethany would even manage to graduate this year.Megan warned Bethany that her late-night partying could get her into serious trouble, not unlike the poor girl who had been missing since Friday.
Megan used her foot to nudge several stray clothes and mismatched shoes onto the skanky-looking pile of dirty laundry that seemed to be smoldering at the foot of Bethany’s unmade bed. Then she liberally sprayed this festering mound with Febreze—her new best friend—and hoped that dirty laundry wasn’t combustible. Satisfied that she was keeping the stench at bay, she returned to perusing the classifieds.
She had to get out of here. Whether to escape her raunchy roommate or the fear of some campus criminal, today, she decided, was D-day. D for determination. After slogging around in a slightly depressed slump for the past few weeks, she’d forced herself out of bed first thing this morning and went out to pick up the newspaper. Now Megan was determined to 1) get a job, any job, and 2) move out. And not necessarily in that order. After carefully searching the help-wanted section she had wandered on to the housing ads, which, typical of autumn and the beginning of school, were less than promising. But that one with the “luxurious four bedrooms” caught her eye, and it sounded surprisingly tempting just now. But to send a résumé? Just to rent a room? It seemed a little over the top.
Then again, the house did sound nice. Maybe it would be worth sending her résumé. How much trouble would it be? Just turn on her computer and pull up the doc and print it out. She needed to do this anyway if she was going to apply for those two jobs that she’d highlighted this morning. Easy breezy.
Of course, Megan never liked doing things the easy way. So, after she pulled up her résumé, which she’d edited just two weeks ago, she felt compelled to go over it again thoroughly, tweaking here and there to make sure it appeared impressive enough for this “upscale” and “classic” house that she suddenly felt desperate to inhabit. She imagined herself going to work from a beautiful home where she had a large closet with an organized and well-maintained wardrobe, not to mention a bedroom all to herself, perhaps a master suite? Maybe she would splurge on a bedroom set, even if it was simply from Ikea. And she’d get some cool bedding and bath linens and perhaps an area rug too. It was sounding better by the minute.
After about an hour, she was satisfied, or nearly. She printed out her perfected résumé on pale pink stationery, something she would never do for a job interview because it would look too girly; but she hoped this might get the homeowner’s attention. Megan wanted to show this woman that she wasn’t just the run-of-the-mill, unemployed college grad. She carefully folded the two pages and placed them in a matching pale pink envelope and, using her best penmanship, addressed it.
Then, not wanting to waste time—it was Saturday and noon was the last mail pickup on this part of campus—Megan hurried out to the mailbox in front of the apartments and slipped it in, pausing to silently ask God to give it his blessing.
“Hey, Megan!” The nasal sound of that voice was familiar—and it seemed there would be no escaping it.Megan turned to see Gwen Phillips, a girl she’d known since middle school, quickly approaching.
“Hi, Gwen,” said Megan, forcing a smile.
“I haven’t seen you around since graduation,” said Gwen as she joined her. “I thought maybe you’d gone home to recover.” She laughed. “Or have you moved off campus?”
“No,” admitted Megan. She nodded to the dull tan building behind her. “I still live here.”
Gwen made a face. “How can you stand that place?”
Megan shrugged. “Actually, I’m thinking about moving out.”
“I’m thinking about moving too,” said Gwen eagerly. “Especially after hearing about Rebecca Grant being missing now. Her roommate is certain that Rebecca was abducted.”
“Do you know her?”
“Not really, but my roommate had a class with her, and she talked to Rebecca’s roommate, so it feels like I do.”
“It’s too bad.”
“And it’s probably going to turn out just like Amanda LeCroix. Can you believe it was last March that she went missing and they still haven’t found her body yet?”
“Her body?” Megan frowned.
“Well, she’s obviously been murdered. And who knows what else? Anyway, I don’t blame you for wanting to move off campus. I’ve still got two terms left, but I hate living in a dorm, and it feels totally unsafe. There’s absolutely no security whatsoever.”
Megan just nodded, trying to think of a way to disengage from Gwen. In fact, all her instincts told her to end this conversation ASAP. But today’s morning devotion had included that bothersome little scripture about loving one’s enemies. And while Gwen wasn’t exactly an enemy per se—she was actually a fellow Christian—Megan did not consider her a friend. In fact, Megan usually went out of her way to avoid this obnoxious girl. She knew it was wrong, maybe even sinful, not to mention totally judgmental on her part, but Megan seriously disliked Gwen Phillips.
It might’ve started with that time in seventh grade when Gwen publicly disinvited Holly Benson from a sleepover because Gwen declared her “unsaved.” Gwen was one of those Christians who thought if the Bible was a “sword,” then she should use it to cut other people into little pieces—people who weren’t “saved” anyway. Megan didn’t have much patience for that sort of thing.
“Anyway, I’ve been considering moving off campus myself,” said Gwen eagerly. “I mean I still want to be close by, but I’ve been doing some research and I’ve found that it’s kind of slim pickings around here, not to mention spendy. But, hey, Megan, maybe you and I should consider getting something together. Maybe we could find a small house or a condo or—”
“I…uh…I’ve already got something in mind,” said Megan quickly.
“What?” Gwen stepped closer and Megan stepped back.
“Well, it was an ad I saw, and I’ve already applied for it, actually.” Okay, that wasn’t completely true. But at least her résumé was officially in the mail now.
“Which ad?” Gwen queried doggedly. “Where was the place?”
“Oh, I don’t know … I mean it didn’t have an address. Just a house, you know.”
“Was it that four-bedroom, the one that sounded pretty shee-shee and uptown and all that?”
Megan shrugged as if she were unsure, although she was in fact not.
“Well, if that’s the one, you might as well forget it. It sounds like everyone is trying to get into it. You won’t have the slightest chance.”
Megan smiled as if it made no difference. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“So you want to look into something with me then?”
Megan glanced at her watch. “Uh, actually, I need to get going. I’m supposed to meet someone right now, Gwen.”
“Well, call me,” urged Gwen. “You know my cell number, don’t you?”
Megan nodded. “Oh, sure. I’ve got it.”
“See ya then.”
“Later,” said Megan in a forced cheerful voice. “Take care, Gwen!” Then she turned and ran up the steps to the apartment, feeling a mixture of guilt and relief. She hated lying to anyone. But more than that, she couldn’t bear to spend another minute with Gwen Phillips!
Still, she felt like she’d wasted her whole morning as she went back into her smelly apartment, kicking a wadded sweatshirt as she walked through the door. Gwen was probably right—Megan probably didn’t have the slightest chance of getting into that luxurious house.
She flopped onto her bed and let out a big sigh. She knew that she should get out of this stuffy room, get some fresh air and some fall sunshine—maybe even put on her running shoes and take a jog. But ever since Dad had died…well, she just wasn’t functioning quite like she used to. It was hard to believe that friends had once called her a perennial optimist. Some had even made fun of her—calling her Pollyanna because she could find the bright side of anything. Until this past summer anyway.
That’s when skepticism had crept in … when she’d started to change.
Megan’s degree was in art education, but she’d almost majored in psychology and consequently knew enough about depression to know that perhaps she was dealing with it now. But Megan also knew that, unlike many unfortunate depression sufferers, she had God. Couldn’t God stave off depression for her? For the past few weeks, she’d been reading her Bible daily, which was much better than ever before. Shouldn’t that make a difference? But even as she told herself these things, she felt that familiar
lump in her throat as tears of frustration gathered inside of her.
“Christians aren’t immune to sadness,” her good friend Jarred had told her recently. “Trying to pretend that you’re not grieving won’t make the sadness stop, Megan.”
“But it’s been weeks,” she said. “And I know that Dad’s with God. He was a Christian, you know.”
“I know.” Jarred had put his hand on her shoulder, probably practicing his counseling skills. “But you gotta admit that you still miss him, right?”
She nodded, knowing full well where this was going. Jarred was leading a grief therapy group as part of his master’s thesis. More and more, he seemed determined to include her as one of his practice cases.
“Come to my group,” he urged. “You’d be a real asset, Megan. There are only a couple of other Christians. We need you there.”
“I’ll think about it,” she’d told him. But that was about all she’d done. She looked at the blue flyer he’d given her. It was still lying on the coffee table where she’d tossed it a couple weeks ago. Now it was partially buried beneath her other roommates’ piles of junk mail and a couple of old pizza boxes. According to the flyer, the group met on Saturdays at five. She knew she should go, but she also knew that she wouldn’t. And she knew that she should probably go outside and take a walk or a run or get a cup of coffee. But she also knew that she wouldn’t. Instead, she went back to her smelly room and pulled down the shades and crawled into her bed. Maybe she would burrow in and stay there until Christmas.