by Eric J. Krause
Roger finished clearing out Zane's closet and put a drop cloth down, though he wasn't sure quite why. They needed to replace the carpeting in this room soon anyway. Zane's slovenly ways had been murder on the walls, carpeting, and anything else unlucky enough to be stuck in here. Now that he was away at college, Roger and Lisa could make the room habitable again.
As Roger examined the inside of the closet, contemplating the best spot to start painting, an imperfection in the drywall caught his attention. He ran his hand over it and discovered a makeshift door. He pulled it open and found a crawl space that ran for a few feet and then took a hard turn to the right.
He turned and saw Lisa coming in with another drop cloth. "Check this out," he said. "There's a crawl space in here I never knew existed."
She tossed the sheet on the bed. "What do you mean? In the closet?"
"Yeah. I wonder if Zane knew about it."
She looked over his shoulder and scoffed. "He kept the closet so full of junk he couldn't see the back of it."
Roger started shimmying down the tunnel. "Yeah, and he's so lazy that he wouldn't explore it even if he knew it was there."
"Poor Zane," Lisa said as she followed. "How in the world is he surviving on his own in college?"
Roger turned the corner and found it opened up into a larger space. How in the world did this exist in his house without him knowing?
"How big is it?" she asked from behind him, but in the dark he couldn't answer at first.
They crawled out into the bigger space and stood up. This hidden room was as big as Zane's. There also seemed to be things in here, though it was still too dark for him to tell.
Lisa's eyes adjusted first. "Zane! What in the world are you doing here?"
"Hey, Mom. Hey, Dad. I, uh, was hoping you wouldn't notice me."
Once Roger was acclimated to the dark, he saw Zane lying on a ratty couch, presumably with crumbs on the front of his shirt.
"Hard not to when you're supposed to be away at school," Roger said.
"Yeah, well, they expected me to go to my classes, like, a lot. I mean, that's not why I went to college."
Roger waited for Lisa to explode, but instead she threw up her hands and dove out through the crawl space. Roger and Zane stood quietly for a minute until Roger broke the silence. "You expelled?"
"No," Zane said. "I just left the day before yesterday. They probably don't even know I'm gone."
"Then you have two choices. Head back to school or get a job."
That got Zane's attention, and he sat up for the first time. "A job? C'mon, Dad. Jobs are for tools."
"Then you either need to be a tool at school, or a tool with a job. Make up your mind. I'm sure your mother has worked herself into a frenzy by now. I can probably keep her out of here for an hour or so."
"Come on, Dad; be cool."
"I tried to be the cool dad during high school, and look where that got you. Since she'll be back soon, I'd suggest you be halfway to school by then. I'm guessing you have another way in and out of here."
Roger fell to his hands and knees and crawled back out of the secret room, ignoring Zane's moans and complaints. It was time to paint the closet.