When Jason first met Calvin, the new semester was already two days old. Jason had already covered all of the available wallspace in their shared room with Star Wars posters and full-page advertisements for advanced computer systems. Quincy's cage took up half of the other desk, and his clothing was strewn across the entirety of the floor. He had pretty much settled into the idea of getting a double room all to himself for the semester. Which is why it was a shock to come back from Boundary Value Problems for Engineers (Honors section) to find his life-sized Boba Fett cutout leaning against the wall in the hallway. A haphazard mustache had been scrawled on his helmet, and Jason's collection of Battlestar Galactica figurines was piled at his feet, including the mint-condition vintage ones. For a moment, Jason saw red.
He slammed open the door to his room, already reaching for the Bat'leth he had hanging over the door frame. He was shouting the Mak'tar chant of strength, Larak tarath, larak tarath!, fully aware that he was mixing fandoms but, for once, far too angry to care.
And then something soft hit him in the chest.
Jason stopped, Bat'leth precariously supported by noodle-strength arms and sheer determination, and stared at the bedraggled stuffed tiger that had landed at his feet. Across the room, a sandy-haired guy in a red-and-black striped shirt caught his eye and waved cheekily, unperturbed by Jason's red, sweaty face and deadly weapon. “Sorry about Hobbes,” he said, tearing down the June centerfold of PC Buyer magazine and replacing it with a reproduction Jurassic Park poster, “It's hard for him to override his primitive instinct to pounce.”
Jason was too distressed by the loss of one of his favorite foldouts (8 gigs of RAM! Quad-core processing! Dual-boot capabilities and all the expansion bays a boy could want!) to care about why this boy was talking about the stuffed tiger like he was real, and directed his energy toward safely stowing his Klingon weaponry and yelling at his new roommate instead.
He never did get an answer for why Calvin was two days late showing up for college, nor did Calvin ever ask why Jason had ceremonial alien swords hanging above the doorway.
Perhaps he should have taken the whole encounter as a sign of what was to come.
After a week of fighting over everything from shelf space and who got the bed by the window to the relative merits of toboggans versus disc sleds, Jason thought he understood Calvin a little better, although he was still confused by some things. Sitting at his desk, Quincy draped over his shoulders, he decided that the only logical way to understand Calvin better was good old data analysis, and he rubbed his hands together in glee. No reason not to be scientifically sound, after all, even if personality comprehension was a gray area in terms of accuracy and objectivity.
He opened a new spreadsheet on his computer - the one part of the room that he had declared absolutely, positively, definitely off-limits - labeled it Calvin, pondered a moment, added (and Hobbes), and began typing.
This one was obvious. Under Observable Support, he typed never attends class or attempts homework, spends free time in the tree outside our window, and no obvious career goals. Actually, that last one was a lie – Calvin had already mentioned several times that his lifelong wish was to become the first combination astronaut/alligator wrestler. Jason still wasn't sure if he was joking. But, just in case he wasn't, Jason entered lofty aspirations under the Contradictory Data column.
In fact, the more he thought about it, the more he typed in that second column. Calvin might have been entirely unmotivated to do assigned schoolwork, but he had already built a 1/6th sized model of Deinonychus antirrhopus which, annoying as it had been, taking up the rest of the limited space in their tiny room, was still quite impressive. And his wall mural of the solar system was, Jason grudgingly admitted, far more appealing than the copy of Yoda's wrinkled visage that stared down at Jason while he slept. So he typed out Conclusion: self-motivated and moved on.
This one was a little harder for Jason to admit to, given that having a delusional roommate was not exactly part of the college ideal. But since Calvin continued to insist that his stuffed tiger was the one continuously trashing the room, or eating all of the canned tuna and peanut butter, it was a little hard to ignore. However, Jason sometimes had to admit that he got an eerie sense of being watched whenever he was alone in the room with Hobbes, which was thankfully not often. And occasionally he swore that the raggedy tiger answered back when Calvin talked to him, especially late at night when Calvin probably thought Jason was asleep.
But Jason himself had little room to talk – he had spent most of his childhood and adolescence on imagined characters, and his room was evidence that he still hadn't left it all behind, not by a long shot. So, grimacing in distaste, Jason was forced to type Unclear – possible shared delusion. He really hated admitting that he didn't know something, even when that something was the psychological state of his roommate.
Calvin seemed particularly proud of this facet of his personality. For example: on Jason's side of the room, the wall above his desk is reserved for science fair ribbons, a recruitment letter from the CIA, and a George Lucas-signed copy of his script for Star Wars VII: Return of the Revenge of Darth Jason. On Calvin's side, it featured cease and desist notices from various Senator's aides, notifications of his forced 'discontinuation' from Cub Scouts and other youth organizations, and a framed copy of his first-grade report card which read, in shaky cursive, “Please, dear God, just pass him. I can't handle him for another year.”
The evidence was even clearer when Jason heard Calvin talk to his parents on the phone – most of it consisted of Calvin loudly protesting the need to choose a major and restrict his 'potential for greatness unrealized' and the tinny sound of his mother yelling back at him “JUST PICK SOMETHING, CALVIN! YOU CAN'T GO TO COLLEGE FOREVER!” The conclusion this time was clear: authority issues, attention seeker. Jason could relate.
Almost before he had finished typing the word, Jason deleted it. Calvin might have a horrible diet, even for a college student, since ramen and hot dogs are not exactly what anyone would deem a healthy meal, especially not for every meal for a week. Not to mention the Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. And his idea of a good movie might have been Midnight Murdering Cheerleaders from Mars, Part II. But still, Calvin was not unrefined. Oddly Sophisticated, he typed instead, thinking about how Calvin could wax philosophical with the best of them, or at least fake it well enough for a prospective engineer like Jason to be unable to tell the difference.
Jason had once asked Calvin if he was planning on making Calvinball a University sport anytime soon, since Calvin had been playing it with whoever would participate on a near-daily basis for the last week. (It was partly a selfish question as well - Jason wanted to know to see if he could use Calvin's methods to get lightsaber duels added on as an extension to the fencing program. But mostly he was genuinely curious; from what he had seen of it Calvinball was a fun, if frustratingly obtuse, game.)
But Calvin had just laid back with his head in his hands, his feet dangling off the edge of the bed, and said “Nah.” He plucked a copy of The Metamorphosis out of Hobbes' paws from where he was propped against the wall, leafing through it as he spoke. “The whole point of Calvinball is that there are no rules. Constructing a set of formalized expectations and guidelines for what is, essentially, a stream of consciousness free-for-all of a game would entirely defeat the purpose.” And then he burped, long and loud, hopped out of bed, and ran out of the room, shouting something about trying to do it again while recording it for YouTube.
Quincy suddenly grabbed a chunk of Jason's hair and yanked, effectively pulling him back on task. The cursor on his screen blinked at him accusingly, as if mocking him for his disorganized and uninformative spreadsheet.
Angrily, he deleted the whole thing, frustrated at himself for believing he could quantify personality traits in a simple spreadsheet. Obviously Calvin was too complicated a character to figure out using something so simple – unlike Paige, or Peter, he didn't have an strictly defined motivation like popularity that could be easily quantified, dissected, and understood. Nor was he like Marcus, who was so similar to Jason himself that they hardly ever had to discuss what to do next. Obviously he'd have to try again with Calvin, but this time he'd use a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet – they'd never failed him before.
He glanced at the clock and was startled to realize that he'd been working on this spreadsheet for over an hour, and now only had twenty minutes before his Differential Equations class began downstairs. He was horrified – he'd only completed the work for the next week, rather than the full month's worth he was expecting to be done with by now. He gathered up his required textbooks (and a copy of Algebraic Topology, to read in between classes), deposited Quincy back into his cage, and made his way downstairs, drafting Calvin's character sheet in his head. He'd figure out what made his roommate tick, he was sure of it. He just needed more time.
A month passed, and the character sheet idea fell flat. There was no box to check for 'physically manifests imaginary friend as stuffed tiger,' or 'speaks about his self-actualizing anima and yet can't figure out the tip on a $10 pizza.'
Jason was getting desperate. The last time he was this out of his depth, Eileen Jacobsen had shoved him into a locker because he gave her a chemistry set for Valentine's Day. He doubted that the same thing would happen in this case, but he couldn't be too sure. Besides, Calvin had told him the horror stories of what he used to do to his babysitters, and Jason had no interest in being woken up by a surprise visit from the fire department, or in having all of his notes for the semester flushed down the toilet. (Not that he hadn't already memorized the course material, but it was always nice to have a backup system.)
The problem, he decided, was that he was talking to Marcus less and less these days. Of course they always chatted inside The World of WarQuest, and they Skyped every so often, but it wasn't the same. He didn't have someone he could talk to all the time, and duct tape himself to the sled with, and play RPG chess against. Everything was a lot harder to figure out without his best friend around.
As he took the stairs two at a time back to his room, lost in thought, he was almost bowled over by Calvin going the other way. Jason took one look at him and figured he must have eaten at least a couple of bowls of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs for breakfast.
“Hello, fellow explorer!” he shouted, nearly vibrating out of his shoes, his messy salute nearly knocking the safari hat off his head. “Any interest in partaking in a grand adventure with me? There's sure to be treasure!”
Wildly, Jason again considered the possibility that his roommate was on hallucinogenic drugs, but discounted it again almost immediately. The only harmful substances Calvin took in were sugar and caffeine, although those came in near-lethal amounts. He nodded at Calvin. “Sure, sounds great!” he said. “What are we doing this time, jungle-themed LARPing?”
“No, that stuff's boring. We're doing geocaching! Except it's going to be extreme geocaching.” He indicated the overstuffed bag on his back. “We're going to find the most complicated cache point around here, and then make an even more complicated one! You in?”
Jason thought for a moment, realizing that his life had gotten a lot more physical since he'd met Calvin. Maybe, with any luck, he'd have some actual muscle by the end of the semester. “Why not?” he said, already going through his mental inventory of their room. “But I don't think I have anything very useful for 'extreme geocaching.' I mean, I guess I could bring my Captain America shield...”
“Whatever you think'll help, ok? I'll be downstairs – meet me there in ten minutes with whatever you've got! It's gonna be awesome.”
Two hours later, Jason is dangling upside-down from the exterior of the Fine Arts building, hopelessly entangled in his Matrix-style coat and Calvin's jury-rigged climbing harness (which seemed to have been made from shoelaces, backpack straps and... flagpole ropes?), and yet he still couldn't find it in himself to disagree – it was totally awesome.
Soon it enough it was nearly time for Thanksgiving break, and still Jason hadn't figured out what Calvin might do next. One morning he woke up to Calvin violently recreating the battle of Waterloo on the floor between their beds with a combination of Jason's action figures (the non-vintage ones, thankyouverymuch) and his own dinosaurs and sculpted monstrosities. Strawberry jam-colored blood was smeared all over the floor, and Napoleon was played by Quincy, who mostly sat very still and blinked a lot under his bicorn hat. Another time he walked in on Calvin dancing along to horrible pop music with Hobbes in his arms, both of them sporting some truly hideous sunglasses.
Some days he would wake up and Calvin would just be gone, Hobbes too, and he wouldn't see either of them for days. They would come back smelling like the ocean, or toting cardboard boxes with enigmatic titles like transmatter array, or they'd come back silently, in the middle of the night, so that when he woke up in the morning it was to the sight of a herd of plaster aliens marching down the middle of their room and the sound of Calvin's snores.
Once he even stumbled upon Calvin leading a one-man (well, one man and one tiger) protest in front of the Administration building, fist raised high in defiance against the 'socially defined definition of success as purely monetary, with education being a means to an end.' Or something. Jason wasn't paying attention – he was mostly focused on the sign that Calvin had propped up against Hobbes at his feet that read “Make tuna sandwiches, not war.”
Calvin's eyes lit up when he saw Jason, and he waved him over. “You're just in time! The capitalist patriarchy is about to crumble under the power of the truth I am speaking!”
“I doubt it,” said Jason, and immediately hated himself for the crestfallen look on Calvin's face. He hurried to complete his thought when 'crestfallen' began to turn into 'angry.' “It's just, I mean, wouldn't it be better if you could get this message across to everyone all at once? Instead of trying to shout it to a building by yourself?”
“Well, yeah,” Calvin said, “Hobbes suggested that we start a letter writing campaign, but I didn't want to waste that much paper – it's important to protect our forests, you know,” he added, looking falsely modest. Jason didn't buy it for one minute. “All right, fine, I just hate writing letters. But what else am I supposed to do?”
Jason was suddenly struck with an idea. “Come with me,” he said, snatching the sign from Hobbes' paws. “I have a plan.”
The following day, every page on the university website scrolled the words “DOWN WITH THE CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY” on a loop, and Calvin and Jason were called in for yet another meeting with the Dean, who still wasn't over the geocaching stunt. Jason still thought they were taking the whole thing a bit too seriously, although it probably didn't help that he'd coded the entire site to redirect every click to a Rick Astley music video.
After the break, they spent a lot of time just talking. Jason was bored because he'd completed all the assignments in the syllabus in the first couple weeks of classes, but he didn't know what Calvin's excuse was. Probably he was just wasting time while trying to think up a good way to build a human-propelled plane made out of desk chairs or something. But whatever the reason, more often than not, Jason found himself confiding in Calvin things he would normally tell Marcus.
He was pretty sure this made them friends, although that line might have been crossed the first time they almost got arrested together. He still wasn't quite sure how these things worked.
They were laying out on their beds one afternoon, glare from the fresh snow making their room too bright with reflected sunshine, when Calvin first brought up the subject of girls.
“Susie Derkins was my next door neighbor when I was little,” he said, pushing himself up on his elbows. “I used to throw snowballs at her and tell her she smelled funny. She was my friend all the way through high school.” He dropped back down onto his back. “She doesn't talk to me anymore.”
There was an awkward silence for a bit, then Jason said, “there was this girl, Eileen, who used to torture me in middle school. I just tried to avoid her. We – me and Marcus, my best friend – we'd always try to avoid her at camp and stuff. We went out for a couple days, but it was way too weird. I'd rather hang out with Marcus, anyway.” He took a deep breath. “I miss him,” he sighed. “I miss him a lot.”
“Hobbes says that dames are great, but he'd rather have a friend any day,” Calvin said, and the way Hobbes was sprawled over made his embroidered face look almost... alive, somehow. Jason didn't question it – he learned early on that there was something weird going on with that tiger, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know just what that was.
“I agree with him,” he said instead, and looked over at Calvin.
“Me too,” he said, and a great, toothy smile broke out on his face. “Wanna go sledding down Jailhouse Hill? I stole some lunch trays from the cafeteria this morning - we can test the modified versions of the airbag suits you've been working on!”
Jason rolled off his bed, immediately alert. “I'll grab the speed camera and the measuring tape. You got the helmets and the speedometer?”
“You know it!” shouted Calvin, already halfway out the door with his coat draped over his head and Hobbes stuffed under one arm. “Race you there!”
By the end of the night, Jason knew, they'd be facing the Dean again, possibly with some bruises and broken bones for their trouble, but he couldn't really summon up the energy to care about being punished by an authority figure. Maybe Jason was getting used to being surprised, or maybe Calvin was just a bad influence. Whatever the case, though, Jason had the oddest feeling that Marcus would definitely approve.