Hunter and Mark had known each other since they were very young. Neither of them knew Ronnie, Hunter’s assigned roommate for his freshman year in the dorms. Hunter had volunteered with a program to help adolescents who had mental impairments while he was in high school, and now he qualified for another program which would pair ‘normal students’ with students with disabilities as roommates. Hunter’s family didn’t have much money, so the greatly discounted room and board fees in college helped ensure that his student loans would be decreased. Hunter had talked with Ronnie on the phone twice during the summer before their first year of college. Mark also talked with his roommate, a ‘traditional student’ named Caleb. Mark had told Hunter that he was his first choice for roommates since he didn’t know too many people going to the same state school from the area that they were from. Mark told Hunter that Caleb would ‘have to do’ and he would see plenty of Hunter since they would be on the same floor.
Ronnie arrived on campus the Wednesday before the Monday when classes would begin. Hunter and Mark had been there since that Monday and had spent the time trying to meet new people and playing video games with some of their classmates on the floor. They tried to get into a bar or two to no avail, but one of their new neighbors had a fake ID, so they were able to sneak beer and mixers onto the floor. Mark had sized up the Resident Assistant and determined that he was ‘cool unless someone complains about loudness or weed smoke or something.’
Hunter was in his room Wednesday afternoon when Ronnie arrived.
‘Hi, I’m Ronnie.’
‘How’s it going buddy?’
‘Oh I don’t know. Nervous’, Ronnie said with a nervous chuckle.
‘Well, it’s almost dinnertime. Do you want to eat dinner downstairs with me and some of the guys?’
Ronnie looked to his mother who introduced herself and then to Hunter.
‘My dad is waiting in the car and I think I’m going to Burger King with them. Is that right mom?’
‘It’s up to you Ronnie. We will see you this weekend but if you want to go with us that’s fine.’
‘I think I’ll go with them. Maybe later Hunter.’
‘Well Ronnie, dad is waiting in the car, so we should get going.’
‘OK. I’ll be back in a little bit then.’ Ronnie said to Hunter.
‘Have fun at Burger King, Ronnie.’
‘Nice to meet you Hunter. Have fun with your buddies tonight.’ Ronnie’s mom said.
‘Sure. Nice to meet you too ma’am.’
‘Jenny is fine Hunter. See you.’
Later at dinner, Mark was curious about the new guy.
‘So, is he totally retarded or something.’
‘Fuck Mark, you know I am not only his roommate but I’m supposed to help him with his college experience. He isn’t retarded. I think he might be slightly autistic or have a brain injury or something. They don’t give us his medical file and I doubt the diagnosis would be ‘retarded’ for Christ’s sake.’
‘Touchy, touchy. Sorry I didn’t mean to upset you about you’re new girlfriend you have been charged to help, for a price.’
‘What is that supposed to mean?’
Two of the other guys said they were going back upstairs and to hit them up when they get back and then left Mark and Hunter at the table.
‘I’m just playing with you man. Sorry about using the R word, OK?’
‘No problem. Just don’t say that shit around him. I imagine he’ll be on his own most of the time but I have to take him to a social or educational venue in a non-classroom setting twice a week, just to let you know.’
‘That sounds easy enough.’
‘I sure as hell hope Ronnie isn’t totally crazy or some sort of momma’s baby.’
‘That would be a giant buzz kill dude.’ Mark said.
They finished eating and went upstairs. When they got there, Ronnie was nowhere to be found so they went to Mark’s room where another guy from the floor named Antonio had copped some alcohol from the guy with the ID. Hunter hung out until ten thirty or eleven and stopped back to his room to find Ronnie watching the late night TV shows.
‘Oh hey Ronnie, watching Jimmy Fallon?’
‘I think. I always get his name mixed up with Steven Colbert.’
Hunter shuffled around and sat on his bed adjacent to Ronnie who sat in an easy chair, with the TV on the far side of the room.
‘Both those guys are f’ing funny. Mind if I watch? I might go to a little get together at Antonio’s friends in Madson, but I wouldn’t mind some comedy.’
‘What is f’ing funny to you about them?’
‘You know…. They’re fucking funny.’
‘Yeah. Colbert is funnier sometimes as his true self than he was as his fake self.’
‘Hahaha. I guess so.’ Hunter said.
What is Madson?’ Ronnie said.
‘That is the dorm between here and the river.’
They watched for about fifteen minutes and then Hunter announced that he was leaving and would be back later.
Ronnie said, ‘OK, good night!’
‘Yeah, you too Ronnie. Bye.’
Hunter came back a little tipsy around two am and accidentally turned on the light to see Ronnie sleeping on the bottom bunk. He quickly turned off the light and bumped into the chair as he climbed into his bed, swearing under his breath. Ronnie didn’t appear to wake up and was still asleep when Hunter got up around nine-thirty.
Hunter met Mark and four other guys from the floor for breakfast.
‘Some party there Hunt.’ Mark said.
The guy sitting next to Caleb, who went to high school with Caleb, announced that based on the preliminary evidence, college girls are going to be great. Everyone nodded and two of the guys from the floor high-fived and did a fancy hand shake thing.
‘What was your buddy up to last night Hunt?’
‘Not much. A little late night TV and then bed. He seems to sleep a lot. Still cashed out when I came here.’
‘What is on the social agenda for this evening then fellas.’ Caleb said.
‘I am going to take Ronnie bowling. Then I just have to take him to a movie or something in the next five days. I might be up for something later if anything is going on.’ Hunter said.
‘Oh, Ronnie is in that peer helper program.’ one guy said.
‘Yeah, that’s cool.’ Caleb’s friend said.
‘Are you going to bring him around.’ Caleb said.
Everyone looked around for a moment at each other.
‘I don’t know. He seems a little shaky. We’ll see I guess.’ Hunter said.
‘Would it be alright if I tagged along for bowling tonight.’ Mark said.
‘I don’t see that harm in that. No drinking though.’
‘I might just be stoned already. Or drunk. Or drunk and stoned.’
This drew laughter and the table broke up to attend to things that were needed to be done, like getting books, signing up for on-line programs and phone calls. Later, Hunter found out that all these tasks had been done for Ronnie by other educational helpers in his program.
Back at the dorm, after breakfast, Hunter found the room empty. He was masturbating while watching the internet when he heard the key enter the lock on his door. Hunter quickly arranged himself and leaned back at the computer desk. Ronnie came into the room and plopped down in the easy chair.
‘What’s up Ronnie?’
‘Not much Hunter. I was just walking around exploring the campus. It is nice. What do you think?’
‘Yeah, I’d say so too. Hey, do you want to go bowling tonight?’
‘Sure. I like bowling.’
‘Would it be OK if my buddy from my town Mark came too.’
‘Sure. When are we going?’
‘After dinner. You want to eat with some of the other guys tonight?’
‘Yeah, that sounds cool. Thanks’
‘OK, well I’ll be back before dinner. I’m going to go call my mom and a friend and check out the bookstore in a minute or two’
Hunter called his female friend who stayed in their hometown to attend the local college and sent his mom a couple text messages. After running errands, he met Ronnie and they went downstairs to the dining area, where Mark, Caleb and Caleb’s friend Bill had saved them a couple seats at a table. The conversation was minimal and Ronnie didn’t have much to add other than a nod or an ‘uh huh’ once in a while.
Later, Ronnie, Mark and Hunter walked into the bowling alley and got their bowling shoes and went to their lane.
‘So, Ronnie, how many games do you want to play?’ Hunter said.
‘I usually play three, just like in league.’
‘You had bowling league in high school?’ Mark asked
‘Our church had a team, a youth team. Yes.’ Ronnie said.
Mark looked at Hunter. Hunter then said, ‘Well we probably only have time for two.’
‘Oh, three doesn’t take long. You don’t like bowling? You stayed out late last night.’ Ronnie said.
‘We’ll see how it goes, but yeah we could probably do three if you want.’ Hunter said.
Mark began to fidget by the end of the first game and started bowling left-handed.
‘I think I’m just as good left-handed as right.’
‘That does not take much man. Geez Ronnie, you’re not bad. One fifty-seven isn’t too shabby.’ Hunter said.
‘My high is one eighty-three. Haven’t cracked two hundred but that is a goal.’ Ronnie said.
‘A guy has to have ambition. How about we make it interesting? A quarter a point if Ronnie spots us fifty, winner takes all?’ Mark said.
Hunter rolled his eyes at Mark.
‘This is a friendly game.’ Hunter said.
‘I don’t gamble. My dad said if I did, I’d lose my shirt.’ Ronnie said.
This got Mark and Hunter giggling.
‘Maybe you could just buy another shirt unless you’re too attached to that one.’ Mark said.
‘Huh?’ Ronnie said.
‘Nevermind. I got to get going after this next game anyway guys. I heard there might be another party at Madson.’ Mark said.
Hunter shuffled a bit and didn’t say anything.
‘What kind of party?’ Ronnie said.
‘Oh, the usual. Booze and girls,,, hopefully.’ Mark said.
‘I think I’ll just watch Jimmy.’ Ronnie said.
‘That sounds fun. You do that Ronnie. Oh, hey, we could put it on the TV there, what do you say?’ Mark said.
‘Can I talk with you for a second Mark?’ Hunter said.
The two stepped to the back of the lane area.
‘What are you kidding? I can’t go get him drunk, I’ll get crucified if they find out?’
‘I think it’ll be fun. Sink or swim that is what my old man says. Ronnie needs to put some hair on his chest.’
‘No it won’t be. I am not going to baby-sit an eighteen year old at some crazy party. No way.’ Hunter said.
‘Fine be that way. What are you going to do if he wants to tag along?’ Mark said.
‘I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Come on. Let’s just bowl.’
By the start of the third game Mark was gone. Ronnie was serious about getting a five hundred series and Hunter was only occasionally having good frames.
‘Hey Ronnie, what did you think about what Mark mentioned about the, you know, party?’
‘Oh, that doesn’t sound fun for me tonight. What is the occasion anyway?’
‘The occasion? Oh, yeah. Nothing really. Just a way to get to know people.’
‘I’m getting to know you guys here, right?’
‘You’re right Ronnie. You’re right.’
Later in the week, the subject of Ronnie came up again. Hunter and Mark were at Burger King eating dinner when Mark mentioned that he thought that it might be fun to take Ronnie to a party where there were girls et cetera.
‘I bet you anything that he is a virgin man.’ Mark said.
‘So what if he is. Could you blame him? I’m practically a virgin myself Don Juan.’ Hunter said.
‘What if we took him to that titty bar to see if he likes it?’
‘Nnnnnope. Bad idea. I could just check his browsing history to see if he likes it.’
‘You mean he looks at porn? Do they recommend that for his frustrations dealing with he adolescent hormones in his special program?’
‘I don’t know. If you’re so curious why don’t you just ask him, Mark?’
‘What, just say, ‘Well there Ronnie, if you had your choice would you go for the hole or the pole… or maybe both.’
‘Maybe you could weave it into a joke or something innocuous so he’d be comfortable talking with you?’
‘Do you talk with him about it?’
‘Sex? God no. I barely know more about him than you do. Plus, he doesn’t seem to be much of a jokester.’
‘Such a shame to be stuck with a dud for a roommate. At least you get paid to do it.’
‘I don’t know. He is actually a good egg. I mean he’s clean and polite and when he’s not in his study groups, he is playing a video game or watching TV usually.’
‘Really? Sounds like great fun.’ Mark said.
‘About that titty bar, do you think that we could get in?’ Hunter said.
‘I heard that they don’t check ID’s very carefully, but you don’t want to drink too much or you’ll get bounced out of there fast.’
‘Let’s get a group together…’
‘Now we’re talking brother!’ Mark said.
‘Well, I’ve got to head soon, maybe we could go on Sunday.’
‘Good idea, there is no cover then. What are you up to tonight? Are you meeting that one girl you are talking to? Any luck so far?’
‘It has been encouraging but no fireworks yet and yes we are meeting at some coffee shop after her six-thirty discussion session is over.’ Hunter said.
‘Wow, that is late.’
‘Yeah, Ashley really wanted to take this certain political science class and it was the only opening that freshmen could get.’
‘Sounds like she is some sort of serious student.’
‘I have an early lecture, but we’ll see if we can make it a late night anyway.’ Hunter said.
‘I don’t blame you. Show me a picture of her again.’
Hunter showed Mark a couple photos that Ashley had posted.
‘Mmmm. Not too bad Hunter.’
‘I have to step up my game to have a chance with her. So far so good. I have her attention…. For now at least.’
‘Does she have any cute friends who would talk with a lowly underclassman such as myself?’
‘I will keep my ears open for you.’
‘And your eyes too. If any of them look as hot as her, then I’d be all over that.’
‘Easy you man-beast.’
‘Go ahead get out of here! I see that you are playing this Good Samaritan angle to its fullest Hunter.’
‘Maybe Mark. You have to always consider the bigger picture. I’ll see you at breakfast. Say hey to Caleb for me.’
‘Later Hunter. Don’t do anything that I wouldn’t do.’
On Sunday night, Mark, Hunter, Caleb, Antonio and a few other guys went to the strip club but didn’t stay that long because they couldn’t drink there and they didn’t have much money for tipping the dancers. Mark almost got kicked out for touching a stripper excessively whilst tipping her. He said to the bouncers, ‘Don’t be fags. I didn’t do anything.’ Hunter didn’t say anything to Mark but Antonio told him to chill out or they’d all have to leave. Leave is what they did not long after. Although Ronnie wasn’t invited along, Mark and Caleb spoke about Ronnie and were laughing at some inside joke together while they sat at a table a little ways from the dancing girls.
On Tuesday, Hunter woke up and found that Ronnie was nowhere to be found. The first place he went knocking was Mark and Caleb’s room. He was both relieved and angered to see Ronnie passed out on the floor of their dorm room.
‘What the hell is going on here, Mark?’
‘Be a little quiet, Caleb is still sleeping.’
‘What about my roommate there?’
‘Oh, yeah. Him too. Hehe.’
‘I don’t think this is funny.’
‘Come on. Lighten up. He just got a little drunk over at Antonio’s friends’ in Madson. That’s all man.’ Mark said.
‘Looks more than a little drunk. Why didn’t you take him back to his room?’
‘Man, I thought it was good that he got out and he is just down the hall from his room anyway.’
‘What did he drink anyway?’
‘Oh a little of this and a little of that. Long Island Iced Teas and White Russians mainly and some girl drinks.’
‘Great combination. What is wrong with a few beers? Why the girl drinks?’
‘Why not?’ Mark said.
‘So you break him in with the good tasting stuff instead of just keeping it to beer?’
‘It wasn’t like he drank that much.’
‘Sure it wasn’t. Did he do anything else? Weed? Speed?’
‘Not that I saw.’
‘What? He was wandering around the dorms too? He couldn’t have been too far away from you.’
‘Well, we went to a house party on the East side of town not far from campus. There were a lot of people there. Don’t be uncool about it Hunter. You’re not his keeper.’
‘Yeah, well what a great way to start the day. Roommate missing. I have to get to a lecture. Please get him back to his own bed, OK?’
‘Sure thing Hunt.’
Hunter left and walked down the hall toward his room. He passed the resident assistant’s door before going back to his room and gathering his backpack and wallet and things. Then he ran down the steps and quickly walked to the bus. His day was busy with classes and discussions and he would not get a chance to be back to his room until late in the afternoon.
A couple hours later, he texted Ronnie and didn’t get a response. Then again and hour later, still with no response. He heard from Ronnie several hours later around two- thirty in the afternoon.
‘Hey, what’s up Ronnie?’
‘Not too much Hunter?’
‘Did you go out last night?’
‘Well how did it go?’
‘I don’t know, it was alright I guess.’
‘Do you mind if I ask you a question?’
‘Sure Hunter, you’re my friend.’
‘Do you remember anything in particular about the party?’
‘Oh, there were girls there but I didn’t really talk with them. Mark kept giving me drinks and they tasted good so I drank them.’
‘What kind of drinks?’
‘One guy called them girl drinks, but they were drinking them too, so I thought it was alright. I don’t remember much. Some girl was mad at Mark and told her to stop it and take me home.’
‘Did you go back to the dorm then?’
‘No, Mark was still drinking and said he was having a good time so we stayed.’
‘How much longer?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t remember how I got back to Mark’s room. Hunter, why didn’t he take me back to my room?’
‘I’m not sure Ronnie. I’m not sure. Hey, let’s have dinner later and maybe we can talk some more.’
‘That would be great Hunter. See you later!’
‘See you later man.’ Hunter said, and then added, ‘Oh, by the way, have you talked with Mark today?’
‘Yup. He asked if I wanted to go with some of the guys to the strip club tonight.’
‘He did. Well how do you feel about that?’
‘I don’t know. Do you think that he will be mad with me if I don’t go?’ Ronnie asked.
‘No I don’t, Ronnie. I think that you should do what you are comfortable with and leave it at that.’
‘I guess so, but I don’t want them to be mad at me.’
Hunter paused for a moment and said, ‘Don’t worry about Mark. He won’t be mad at you and neither will any of the guys. You’re not preventing them from doing anything at all, so I wouldn‘t worry about it.’
‘Thanks Hunter. I hope to see you later at dinner.’
‘Definitely Ronnie. See you later.’
Hunter finished up with his studies in the library and started to head back to the dorm but made a left turn instead of a right. He walked to the program advisor’s office a few blocks away and made it there before they closed that afternoon. Since there were only a few dozen students in Ronnie’s program out of tens of thousands enrolled in the university, the office was quiet and he was able to see the advisor.
‘What’s on your mind, Hunter?’ The advisor began.
‘Oh I don’t know Mr. Hanson, I don’t know if this is going to be helpful or not.’
‘Please call me Mike. Why don’t you let me know what is happening? I assume this is about Ronnie.’
‘It is. I’m worried about how some of the guys around the dorms are trying to initiate him into university life.’
‘I can just imagine. There are some pretty immature young men around here. We’ve had other students in similar situations with you come to us for advice.’
‘I’m not going to name names. They took him to a party and got him drunk and now they are inviting him to a strip club to, I guess, try to ‘-man him up- or something.’
‘Well if they are providing alcohol to a minor then that is a discipline issue offense and can result in probation or in some instances expulsion. The strip club nearest here doesn’t have a liquor license so it is a eighteen year old entry joint so, for better or worse, that is frowned upon, but not breaking any rules per se.’
‘What do you suggest?’ Hunter asked.
‘Well how is Ronnie handling this?’
‘He says he is afraid of making them mad if he doesn’t go or something, but he doesn’t seem comfortable at all about drinking and strippers.’
‘I’d suggest immediate action considering Ronnie’s feelings and the fact that the first few weeks of college are so important socially and academically. Ronnie probably doesn’t need to worry about pleasing the local party animals. He has enough on his plate academically. We don’t handle discipline of other students. However, I can take note of your concerns. The next step would be to contact Ronnie’s resident assistant to talk with Ronnie and monitor the situation. We are set up like a scholastic assistance service but the discipline goes to the dorms and the dean of undergraduates if there is sufficient cause for action.’
‘So I’d have to talk with the RA?’
‘We can initiate an investigation, but you would most likely be asked to state your opinions based on your experience.’
‘That sounds pretty serious all of a sudden.’
‘We can handle it like an anonymous report if you like. I would suggest talking with the RA though, just to clue him in on what you feel is disturbing behavior. They are trained in conflict resolution and also on special needs students.’
Hunter was alternating between tapping his knee and fidgeting with a pen while talking with Mr. Hanson. He looked around at the photos and mementos. Mr. Hanson paused.
You seem to be at a crossroads where you will need to determine whom you want to associate with and why, by the way. I’d be careful. The phrase guilt by association is definitely a real thing. Regarding Ronnie, the RA can initiate discipline if there would be something that came up while looking into the matter. This could be without your direct involvement, unless you feel that it is necessary to bring anything up to your RA or us.’
‘So basically right now it is up to you and the RA to deal with these guys?’
‘Not so much. You are his roommate and you probably have as much of a relationship with Ronnie as anyone in the university. What is up to you, however, is how much you would like to… intervene.’
‘I see. Well, I’ll think about it. Ronnie gets back a little before dinnertime so I’m going to go. We are supposed to meet for dinner.’
‘Hunter, thank you. It takes courage to step up for another.’
‘Well I feel like a rat now.’
‘Why is that?’
‘I’ve known this guy, the party guy, almost all my life.’
‘But how are you saving your own ass in this scenario? Unless you have a different definition of rat.’ The advisor said.
‘Ok. I see what you mean. Thanks too. I hope this all works out alright.’
‘It usually does. We want a healthy community for everyone. It is not just about Ronnie, is it.’
Hunter walked the several blocks back to his room. He noticed a slight chill in the air signaling the end of summer. The air was still fragrant like the previous warm afternoons. He walked a little more deliberately than usual for other reasons. When he got back to his room he turned on the radio at a medium volume and took out his phone to make a call.