My housemates away for four months, I am sub-letting both their rooms. Matt comes to look around. A 3rd-year student and self-confessed “computer geek,” his hair in need of a tidy, he has a warm smile and is oh-so-uncomplicated. He mentions an acquaintance, Shaun is also looking for a room, saving me a task. As housemates, guys are miles easier than girls. They move in the following Friday. Easy-going, both are fine with the housework schedule I put on the fridge door; cupboard space and shower timings are discussed, and bill payments arranged. Perfect.
We quickly settle in, coming and going with our own lives, crossing paths most days. I have my own friends, as does Matt. Shaun does not seem to have any.
Weeks in, I notice Shaun crushing on me. I recently ended it with a boyfriend, and though Shaun seems okay, he is not my type at all, and I am not even remotely interested. In time, wherever I am in the house, Shaun’s there, too. He follows me. I feel him staring. When all three of us watch TV, Shaun sits beside me on the sofa, forever glancing over. When I work downstairs, I catch him gazing at me intently. Sometimes, he tries engaging me in a chat, but he talks of trivialities – we have nothing in common. It’s irritating how he’s always there. I wonder if he is skipping college classes – he doesn’t seem to leave the house much anymore.
Overly attentive, Shaun constantly offers to make me coffee or take my turn with housework. I politely decline with an air of “I-can-do-it-myself.” It is grating – he’s always underfoot like a needy puppy, demanding attention, in an unabashedly mega-zealous way. I try to soften; he clearly has minimal experience with girls, and I don’t want to hurt him. Oscillating between empathetic patience and simply ignoring him, I try to remain pleasant. The word “harmless” swims around my mind. His crush deepens.
I come home one day to find some laundry I left in the dryer now folded neatly on my bed. We never enter each other’s rooms, ever – we just don’t do it. An unwritten code. Besides, my ‘penthouse’ room is on the top floor, the boys’ rooms on the floor below – there’s no reason for them to come up there. Stomping downstairs, I challenge Shaun in a frosty tone as to how my clothes got on my bed.
“Oh, I folded them and took them up for you.” He grins, affectionately. I feel immediately unkind, and my irritation evaporates. “Harmless,” I remind myself.
Shaun always seems to know where I am going. I figure he takes note of my timetable and hears me on the phone to friends. He knows all their names too. It feels a little creepy, but I shake it off. He’s constantly home now. Still, I disregard Shaun’s attention, and his increasingly overt attempts to capture mine.
He’s in the kitchen when I return home from an appointment one day. In silence, I pour a drink with my back to him, willing him to go. But he speaks.
“How was your day?”
“Yeah, fine.” In truth, it was intense, and I am not in the mood to talk.
“Did you find a parking spot near the hospital? It’s always so busy up there.”
I freeze. How does Shaun know where I’ve been this time? No one knew I had kept it to myself.
Stunned, I whisper “Yes,” take my glass, and run up to my room. My sliding mirrored closet door is open. I notice immediately – I never leave it like that. A box on the closet floor where I keep special cards and letters has been moved. The contents are all in their envelopes the wrong way – I know, I’m left-handed. Someone has been through the entire box.
Trembling a little, anger rising with my heart-rate, I look around my room; my journal is hidden in the bottom drawer of my bedside cabinet. The drawer is open and has been rifled, my journal now on top. Such an invasion. It must be Shaun, but how to prove it? His efforts to get closer to me are becoming tiresome.
Days later, I arrive back late afternoon, take a shower and go into my room to get ready to go out. Opening my underwear drawer, my blood runs cold. The drawer’s contents have been completely reorganized. In that chilling moment, I know it was Shaun.
Pulling the damp towel tighter around me, long wet hair dripping onto the carpet I stare into the drawer. I feel vulnerable and afraid. Panic thrusts my thoughts into frenzied overdrive, envisaging Shaun on my bedroom floor, my intimate garments scattered around him, holding my underwear in his hands. Had he pictured me wearing it? Imagined himself pulling it off me? Did he have an erection? Was he masturbating? It’s tainted and dirty now; I want to wash everything. Or even throw it away. I cannot be certain anything is missing and feel sick with dread. A line has been crossed. In a single moment, a harmless crush turns into something else.
I tell Matt everything, and he’s shocked. We confront Shaun giving him three days to get out. He flies into a rage which scares me, yet doesn’t deny our allegations. I avoid Shaun altogether, and Matt changes his schedule for the week, so I’m never alone. Matt’s there when I get back from class, walks me to work and back, offers to sleep on my bedroom floor. Later Matt tells me his mother warned him Shaun could be dangerous. He could hurt me. She’s right, and Matt’s scared, too.
Friday comes. Shaun goes. Locks are changed. We hear he’s left town. It will take some time to feel safe in the house again.
*Names have been changed.