This was not how Johnny wanted his life to go. He was going to have it all. A successful career as a jockey, maybe retire at 40 and live the rest of his life off his inheritance. Maybe open a horse rescue, help mentor up and coming riders. A simple, quiet life. He didn’t need five houses and a yacht. Well, maybe a yacht would be cool but kind of impractical in the heart of Texas. Point was- he had it made. And now it’s all gone.
Here he stands- well, sits, staring up at the number plate of his new campus apartment, squinting a little at the information sheet he was given, gripping a duffle bag to his chest. Johnny took a deep breath and shut his eyes, attempting to calm his simmering resentment and anxiety. He heard noise coming from inside.
Was it… singing? He listened closer to the door. A boisterous tenor voice was belting out something… operatic? But slightly out of tune. He furrowed his eyebrows and looked off to the side, sighing. He wheeled back a bit out of the way of the door and turned the handle, pushing the door open.
In the back of the room he saw a lanky guy on the floor, singing obnoxiously in a language he couldn’t quite place. He was sorting through a box of what appeared to be clothes, putting them on hangers. He had long sandy blonde hair, tied up in a ponytail. He couldn’t see much else from this distance.
The man stopped singing as the door opened, but didn’t turn to look at him. He spoke, still quite loud. “ Buonasera! Piacere! I already picked my side of the room but I left the bunk choice up to you.” He gestured vaguely in the direction of a bunk bed off to the side. On a good day Johnny would’ve found this funny, but it was not a particularly good day.
He wheeled himself in, tossing his duffle bag on the bottom bunk. “Don’t really think I have a choice in the matter, but thanks.” Johnny said, dryly.
The man tilted his head in confusion and then turned around to look at him. Johnny could see the immediate look of guilt wash on the man’s face and smirked.
“Oh! They didn’t tell me that- uh… Not that they should’ve but…” He shook his head, avoiding eye contact, saying a word he didn’t understand but assumed it was a swear. “I’m sorry.” Johnny waved his hand a little, indicating his indifference.
“Don’t sweat it, I’ve heard worse.” Johnny pulled back the velcro on his fingerless leather gloves and stowed them in a side pocket of his chair.
Johnny took a moment to take in the man’s… unique appearance. He had thick dark eyebrows which made him wonder if his hair color was natural. His facial hair was shaved in alternating squares. Weird. He was wearing a simple plum button up, sleeves pushed up to his elbows, and khaki pants that weren’t quite skinny jeans. He was wearing glasses but quickly took them off when he looked back at him. Johnny looked away when he realized he was staring a little too long.
“Anyway, hi. I’m Gyro, it’s nice to meet you.” He sat up a bit and reached out a hand to Johnny. Johnny pretended he didn’t see the friendly gesture, opting instead to start unpacking as well.
In his periphery he saw the other man pout some and retract his hand.
After a few moments of awkward silence he realized Gyro was waiting for a reply. “Oh, uh, I’m Johnny.”
He started removing the various things he could carry in the holster bags of his chair, reaching around the back to pull out his backpack. He had some movers on the way the next day with the rest of his stuff. Not that there was much, but it’s not like he could get everything up here himself without it taking twenty years.
He stole a quick glance at the man’s side of the room. Gyro didn’t have a whole lot unpacked yet, but he did see a little teddy bear sitting on the window sill. He squinted and saw a flag on the little t-shirt the bear was wearing. Italian? Was that it?
“I thought gyros were Greek, not Italian.” Johnny mused after an even longer awkward silence, pulling his crutches out from their holster on the back of his chair, wheeling back then pushing off the chair and situating himself on the bed, setting the crutches aside.
“Haha, that’s a new one.” Gyro replied, sarcastically but still friendly. “It’s a nickname, I’ve heard it more times than my real name, so it may as well be my actual name.” Just as Johnny started to ask him what his real name was, Gyro held up a finger and tutted. “Don’t even try, a man’s gotta have some secrets.” He stood and went to pick up another box, resting it on his desk.
Johnny couldn’t really argue with that, he didn’t like to divulge more information than he needed to. He hoisted himself up onto the bed more, getting comfortable- well, as comfortable as an empty mattress with no pillows could be. He pulled his legs up to sit cross legged and pulled out his phone, absently scrolling.
“So, is this all you brought with you?” Gyro turned the chair of his desk around to face Johnny, sitting and leaning forward. “Cause, if you need something, I’ll share anything but my underwear.” He said with a goofy grin and a wink, punctuating his sentence with his pointer finger. His teeth were… gold? The man paused and thought for a moment, weighing something in his mind. “Well, maybe not everything .” Johnny wondered if Gyro’s cheeks were naturally rosy or if what he just said flustered him. He was certainly something .
“Uh, thanks but, I have some guys bringing the rest of my things up for me tomorrow. I appreciate the offer, though.” He looked back at his phone, then laid back on the bed, sighing and shutting his eyes, covering them with his arm. It hadn’t even been ten minutes and he was already socially exhausted. He listened as Gyro went back to putting away his things, blessedly not singing but humming occasionally. Johnny almost found it cute. Almost.
Gyro bothered him occasionally with idle chatter as he put his clothes on hangers. What’s your major? Equestrian studies? Interesting choice. I’m pre-med. Where are you from? Kentucky, huh? Hmm. I don’t really know where that is off the top of my head but it’s far from here, right? This went on a while until Gyro got the hint that Johnny wasn’t really in the mood to talk.
Minutes ticked by and he began to doze off, but right as he was going under, Gyro spoke up again.
“I was gonna order some pizza if you wanted some.” Johnny peeked an eye open at him, watching the man tap on his phone, raising an eyebrow. But before he could make a clever quip- “I promise I’m not a stereotype, it’s just that it’s quick and cheap.” Was this guy a mind reader or are Americans really that predictable?
“Um, sure. How much is-” He was cut off again.
“Nope! My treat. But if you wanna throw some tip money in, I’m sure the delivery driver will appreciate it.” Gyro was smiling at him again. “I was just going to order mozzarella and mushroom. Sound good?” He started dialing the number without listening for an answer.
“Yeah, s’fine.” He muttered, although it sounded like that question was just a formality.
After placing the order, Gyro looked over at Johnny. “Wanna exchange numbers? In case one of us gets locked out, or worse?” He grinned.
“Uh, sure, whatever.”
They exchanged phones to put in their respective contacts.
“Gyro… Zeppelin? Like Led Zeppelin?” Johnny inquired after looking over the new contact. There was a cowboy hat emoji next to the name.
“Ughhh.” Gyro groaned and muttered something in Italian. “It’s Zeppeli. Autocorrect doesn’t respect my marvelous lineage. We were here before Led Zeppelin, damnit!” He hit his desk in mock anger, unable to keep a straight face. Johnny smirked and updated the name.
While they waited for their dinner, Johnny got up with his crutches and took his backpack with him over to his new desk, starting to unload his textbooks and supplies.
One of his papers slipped from his fingers and it slid across the floor. He waited a few moments, expecting Gyro to get it for him. But surprisingly, he ignored it. He was leaning back in his chair with his boots propped up on the desk ( Cowboy boots? Really? ), tapping away on his phone, looking bored. Johnny was so used to people bending over backwards to help him, forgetting that he was a fully formed, mostly functional adult. This was refreshing.
Johnny got up and carefully limped over to the paper. He eased himself down on his knees and grabbed it, using Gyro’s desk to pull himself back up. It was embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as someone treating him like a helpless child. He caught a glance of Gyro’s shiny green belt buckle on his way up- two hands pointing down and center. Johnny purposely looked up and away, feeling an uncomfortable warmth in his chest.
He got back into his chair and wheeled across the room to his bag. He pulled a few singles out of his wallet and wheeled over to Gyro, setting the money down on his desk and turning on a dime to head towards the door. “I’m gonna go out for a few, don’t wait up.” Johnny waved absently, not waiting for a reply. He pulled open the door and wheeled himself to the elevator.
Sitting outside in the cool evening air, he shut his eyes, breathing in deep. It’s just a year. We aren’t guaranteed to keep the same roommate every semester. It’s going to be fine. He’s not that bad. It’s fine. He repeated these thoughts in his mind like a mantra to keep his anxiety at bay.
About twenty minutes passed and he saw a car pull up by the dorm building. He watched as the delivery person got out with a carrying bag and passed him. He waited for them to leave again before going back inside.
They spent the rest of the evening sitting together and eating. Gyro propped up his laptop on a couple boxes in front of the bunk bed so he and Johnny could watch some Netflix. It was nice.
The next few days passed uneventfully. Johnny got the rest of his possessions moved in and put away, although taking a bit longer than Gyro. His roommate helped him move a few boxes but other than that, Johnny was more or less left alone. His first few classes were a breeze, his homework load was significantly less than he thought it would be. His unease slowly died away.
Johnny rode the elevator up to his floor, rubbing his bleary eyes. It was the afternoon, but he was already exhausted. He had a hard time sleeping in an unfamiliar room with an unfamiliar person. He wheeled his way to the door but stopped abruptly when he saw a hat hanging off the door knob. A cowboy hat. Odd. He put his ear to the door, wondering what on earth this could mean. He heard a quiet rhythmic creaking, and someone who sounded short of breath.
Realization washed over him and he wheeled back, startled, face flushing. He was about to leave when he remembered what he came up here for in the first place. His flash drive with one of his assignments, due for his next class in a half hour. Uh oh.