“This is the front door key, and this is the mail key,” the woman in the office at Sagebrush Apartments explained, placing the keys on the desk as I filled out paperwork. “Looks like you have roommates; are they all moving in today?”
“Shawn should be here later today,” I said. “Brian is moving in later this week, I think. I’m not sure about Josh.”
The office employee took me around the grounds, showing me where to find the pool, laundry room, and mailboxes, and where to empty garbage. She handed me a brochure, the same brochure I got when I first came here in May, but this one was the actual color printing, not the blotchy black-and-white photocopy that they had given me on that day when they were out of color copies. The brochure had a map of the complex on it; she circled my apartment’s location, as well as the locations of the communal areas she had shown me. “Just come back here if you need anything. We’re open until six. And once you get your phone connected, you can call this number.” She underlined the office phone number.
“I will,” I said. “Thanks.”
I walked back to the car in the office parking lot. Mom and Dad were parked next to me, waiting in Dad’s gray pickup truck. “I have the keys,” I said. “Follow me.” I drove my red Ford Bronco around to the back of the complex and parked next to building K. Sagebrush Apartments consisted of around a dozen small buildings, named with letters, each containing six to eight individual apartment units. While I waited for Dad to find a parking place, I looked through the brochure that I had gotten from the office. Inside, on the second page, was the floor plan for each of the different types of apartments, and as I looked at my apartment, I saw something that made me recoil in horror and shame. I may have made a huge mistake when I signed this lease four months ago.
On the blotchy photocopy I was given in May, when I was deciding between this apartment and another one, it looked like the large bedroom that I would be sharing with Shawn was 11 by 18 feet. But on this clear copy, it was definitely 11 by 13 feet. The other place I had considered did have a very large bedroom, and I had told Shawn and Brian that the two places were similarly sized, and this one was less expensive. I supposed, however, that if the others wanted to save money, they did not have room to complain about the place being a little small.
I tried to hide my disappointment at the room size when I unlocked the door and went inside, Mom and Dad behind me. “This is nice!” Mom said. “There’s that wood-burning stove you told me about. That’ll come in handy when it gets cold.” The stove was right in front of the door, with a stairway on the left leading upstairs to a small loft and the three bedrooms. The living room was on the right, with the dining area straight ahead and the kitchen to the right of the living room, open to the living room through a bar behind the sink.
I went upstairs to my bedroom and looked around. It was not huge, but not as tiny as I had feared. I said to Mom and Dad, “Claire from church has a bed loft she’s going to sell me, with a desk underneath. Do you remember Claire?”
“I’m not sure,” Mom replied. I remembered Mom saying something embarrassing about Claire when she and Dad came to church with me freshman year, and I chose not to remind her.
“Once I get that set up, I’ll have more room,” I said.
“That’ll be good. You said Shawn is moving in later today?”
“Yeah. I think so. He’s back in Jeromeville already for his student teaching program.”
“Oh yeah, he’s going to be a teacher. What’s he teaching?”
“High school math.”
“I didn’t know he was a math guy too. But you met him from that Christian group, right?”
“Yes. Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. He was my Bible study leader last year.”
Mom and Dad and I emptied the truck of the things we brought from home. Next, we drove across Jeromeville to Second Street Self Storage, where I had stored everything from the old apartment. It took us two trips to unload it all. The Post Office was just around the corner from the storage unit, and we stopped there on the second trip. I waited in line for five minutes, then I filled out a form to have mail forwarded to the new apartment and picked up the mail they had been holding. Coupons and other junk mail. Notices from utilities acknowledging that I had canceled service at the old apartment. And a letter, in a small, off-white envelope. When I saw who it was from, I felt an excited surge of adrenaline run through my body, and I tried to make myself look calm and normal when I got back in the truck.
“Did you get anything good?” Mom asked when she saw me holding a stack of mail.
“A lot of junk,” I said. “And a letter.”
“Who’s it from?”
A sweet girl with pretty blue eyes, I wanted to say. I wish I had the guts to ask her out. And even though she’s a good Christian girl and I know it’s wrong, I wish both of us could fit on Claire’s bed loft. “A girl from JCF,” I said instead. “Named Haley.”
When we got home with the rest of my things from the storage unit, I put Haley’s letter and my other mail on top of the dresser. I wanted to read it, but I also wanted to finish moving, and I did not want to read the letter in front of anyone. I put the mattress on the floor, where the bed loft would eventually go, with my computer on the floor next to it. That would not be particularly comfortable; I needed to call Claire soon.
We moved the rest of my furniture, what little I had, into the apartment. The bookshelf went into the bedroom, between the mattress and the closet. The television, the little table that held it, and the chair I sat on while watching it went into the empty living room; I would adjust it as necessary after the others brought more living room furniture. We kept my kitchen and bathroom supplies, and my books and clothes, in boxes; I would unpack those gradually over the next couple days. We left the box spring and the folding table I used as a desk in the truck, for Mom and Dad to take home; I would have no need for those once I got the bed loft set up.
After we finished unpacking, Mom and Dad took me to McDonald’s, where I ordered an Arch Deluxe. “Are those any good?” Mom asked. “I haven’t tried one yet.”
“I think so. I like it.”
“What’s so special about it?”
“It’s on a different kind of bun, with special sauce, and supposedly higher quality ingredients. It’s supposed to be marketed more toward adults.”
“I’ll try it next time. I’d ask for a taste, but I don’t want to eat your burger.”
“So what do you have going on in the next few weeks? You’re going to that camp with JCF, right?”
“Yeah. The camp is the 16th through the 20th.”
“Where is it?”
“A retreat center somewhere outside of Green Meadows. About a two hour drive.”
“Is Taylor going to be there?”
“I don’t think so. He’s been more involved with his church lately instead of JCF.”
“Are Liz and Ramon going to be there?”
“Will that Haley girl be there?”
“I’m not sure. Probably.”
Mom, apparently having exhausted all of my friends whose names she could think of at the moment, changed the subject, telling me about my brother Mark and his friends and the start of their school year a week ago. It was Mark’s first year of high school, and so far he seemed to be enjoying it.
After we finished eating, Mom wrote me a check for three hundred dollars. “This is for when you go grocery shopping,” she explained, “and anything else you might need for the new place.”
“Thank you,” I said.
When we got back to the new apartment, we had to park several spaces down from where we were before, because a moving truck was in our old parking space. Shawn and a guy I did not know were figuring out how best to unload a couch from the truck.
“Hey, Greg,” Shawn said, seeing me out of the corner of his eye.
“Hi. How’s moving going?”
“We got most of my big things unloaded. Looks like you did too.”
“Yes. Mom and Dad, this is Shawn.”
Shawn walked over to shake my parents’ hands. “Nice to meet you,” he said.
“You too!” Mom replied. “We were just going to head out. We have a long drive back to Plumdale. And it looks like you guys have everything under control.”
“Sounds good,” I said.
“Enjoy the new apartment,” Mom said, giving me a hug. “And good luck with the new school year, and with camp. Nice meeting you, Shawn.”
Dad hugged me afterward. “Dad loves you,” he said.
“You too,” I replied.
After Mom and Dad left, while Shawn was busy with the couch, I went upstairs to read Haley’s letter, quickly, so that Shawn would not see me.
August 29, 1996
Thanks so much for writing! I was glad to hear about your summer so far. Sorry it took me a while to write back. I’ve been so busy! It sounds like your new apartment with Brian and Shawn will be good, and it’s in a good location too. You mentioned Urbana – that’s exciting! I’ve heard great things about it. It’s awesome that you want to know more about how God has called you to serve Him. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going. I really want to, but I’m just not sure if I can.
Summer has been great so far! I’m working at a kids’ day camp, which is so much fun! It’s been very nice to be home relaxing with my parents. I love summer! Tomorrow is the last day of work, so I’m really excited for the next three weeks of relaxing vacation.
Well, thanks again for your letter! I love getting mail! Have a great end of the summer. I’ll see you in a few weeks!
That was sweet, I thought. Haley actually wrote me back, finally. I smiled and put the letter in a drawer, thinking about what I would say when I wrote to her next. After that, I found the box where my telephone was, plugged it in, and dialed Claire’s number. As I was waiting for an answer, I realized that if I got Claire’s answering machine, I was not entirely sure what number to tell her to call back. I assumed that Brian had successfully transferred his telephone service to the new apartment, since there was a dial tone, so my phone number was now Brian’s number. However, I had not actually confirmed this with Brian or Shawn.
“Hello?” a female voice said, making that thought a moot point.
“Is Claire there?” I asked.
“This is Claire.”
“Hi. This is Greg. I’m unpacking, and I was calling to ask about the bed loft.”
“Yes! Are you ready for it?”
“I am, but I don’t know if it’ll all fit in my car.”
“My new roommate is coming up tomorrow with a U-Haul. Can we just drop it off after she finishes unpacking?”
“Sure! That’ll be perfect!”
“You’ll probably need a ratchet to put it together. Do you have one?”
“No, but I can get one. It’s probably a good thing to have around.”
“Good idea. I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”
“Yes! Sounds good!”
After the phone call, I went downstairs and helped Shawn until we got everything out of his truck. This place was starting to feel livable, although when it was time for bed and I slept on my mattress on the floor, it suddenly felt a little less livable.
The following afternoon, Claire arrived with the disassembled bed loft in the truck. “Here it is,” she said. “These two big pieces go on the ends, and this long flat one is the desk underneath. These two go across the top to support the bed, and then these three flat pieces go between them. You put the mattress on top of those. And those go diagonally to brace the corners. All the nuts and bolts are in that bag.”
“I think I get it.”
“These other pieces over here, you can make a shelf that goes around the desk. But that’s optional.”
“I don’t remember exactly how that goes. My dad built this for my older sister when she was in college. It’s been great, but I don’t need it anymore. I’m excited to have my own room!”
“I’m a little nervous about not having my own room,” I replied. “But this will help with both of us fitting into that space.”
“Definitely! Should we start carrying it in?”
“Sure,” I said.
With Claire’s help, I carefully carried all the bed pieces upstairs into the bedroom. “This is a nice place,” Claire said. “It has an upstairs. And a wood stove.”
“I know. That’ll be useful in the winter.”
After several trips up and down the stairs, we finished unloading the bed; I was sweating and breathing heavily by now. “Thank you,” I said, giving Claire the fifty dollars we had agreen upon for the bed loft.
“You’re welcome! I’ll see you at church?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Bye. Have a good one.”
After Claire left, I went upstairs, trying to figure out exactly how to assemble the bed. First, I got out the new ratcheting socket wrench I had bought that morning. I propped up the two large side pieces, wondering if it mattered which was the right and which was the left. The side pieces had holes for the diagonal braces, which went in the back; I used this to figure out which one was which. Next, I found the two long beams that went across left to right, and attached those to the right side piece, with the extra holes in the back again. Each beam attached to each side with two bolts. I tried to attach the diagonal pieces next, but I seemed to be missing a bolt, so I only attached one diagonal brace. Next, I bolted each of the three flat pieces that held the mattress to the frame. I adjusted the position of the bed in the room, making sure the back and the right were almost touching the walls, but not quite. This would definitely make the room feel less crowded.
After that, I lifted the mattress into position. Then I slid the desk, which was really more of a table, underneath the mattress. The table did not attach with bolts; it rested on wood bars that protruded from the side pieces. Finally, I shoved the unused shelf pieces under the table, and I moved the ladder up against the frame, near where the pillow would eventually go. I took a step backward and admired my work, then I got in the shower, since I was dripping sweat at this point. This was perfect. After I got out of the shower, I read Haley’s letter again, then I sat at the desk under the bed, found a sheet of paper, and began writing.
September 3, 1996
Hi! Thanks for writing! It was so good to hear from you! I’m getting settled in the new apartment. Shawn moved in yesterday too, and Brian is coming later this week. It’s been an adjustment sharing the large bedroom, but Claire Seaver sold me her old bed loft, so that saves a lot of room.
I added no further context to the name “Claire Seaver.” I knew that Haley and Claire knew each other, through an embarrassing moment that happened back in the spring.
The rest of my summer was fun. My birthday was August 15, and my Bible study made me cupcakes. I wasn’t expecting that at all. Then I went to my parents’ house for a couple weeks. My brother and his friends and I have this game called Moport, like a cross between soccer and hockey and football, and we had a two-on-two Moport tournament. I’ve been riding my bike a lot too.
I hope you get to go to Urbana. I keep hearing such good things about it. As a new Christian, I don’t know if I’m ready to go fly overseas and preach the Gospel, but I want to find out what kind of service opportunities are out there, especially with so many of my friends doing stuff like that. I saw the guys from J-Cov when they got back from Morocco; it sounds like that was a great experience.
I’m excited for Outreach Camp! I’ve never been up that way. And it’ll be good to see everyone. It’ll be good to get more involved with JCF and find out what God wants me to do.
What classes are you taking this quarter? I’m taking advanced calculus, numerical analysis, and Intro to New Testament. I’ve heard such good things about New Testament and the professor. I’m going to do chorus too. People from my church choir keep telling me I should, and Amelia said the same thing at Bible study once. You said you used to do chorus, right? Is the audition hard? I’m a little nervous. I forget; are you going to Outreach Camp? I’ll see you soon!
As I have gotten older, I have noticed that one peculiarity of adulthood, particularly for a storyteller like me, is that certain inanimate objects will acquire backstories because of memories of how they were acquired. To this day, I still have Claire’s bed loft. I used it as my bed for the remaining five years that I lived with different combinations of roommates in Jeromeville, as well as two living situations later in life when I rented a room in someone else’s house. When I bought my current house, in my early thirties, Claire’s bed loft became a storage shelf in the garage for a while. I set it up again some time later as the guest bed, where it remains today, and it became my bed again for four months when my house was torn up for repairs and I had nowhere to move my regular bed. Claire’s bed loft was quite possibly the best fifty dollars I have ever spent.
I walked to the mailboxes and dropped Haley’s letter in the outgoing mail slot. It was warm and breezy, with that smell of late summer afternoon all around me. A day like today felt exactly like the way life should be. I had the next two weeks to get used to living with Shawn and Brian and Josh. Then I would be spending a week in God’s creation with dozens of my brothers and sisters in Christ. And I would see Haley soon. Great things were going to happen this year. I knew it.