Authors: C.J. Lake
Copyright © 2014 by C.J. Lake
Snow House Books
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
The scanning, uploading, and distributing of this book via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the copyright owner is illegal and punishable by law.
Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.
: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Ethan Field entered his apartment and found his roommate lounging on the couch playing on his Xbox--as usual. “Tragan, can I talk to you a second?”
” came the distracted reply. Tragan’s eyes didn’t leave the screen nor did his hands slow down on the controller.
Ethan glanced at the television as some jaggedly drawn action figures were loudly getting their heads blown off. He restrained an eye-roll. He wouldn’t exactly miss this. “First of all…did somebody use my bathroom last night?”
Still consumed in his game, Tragan replied, “No, I don’t think so--oh, wait--yes. I forgot. Pellican had some bad clams. Sorry,
I guess your bathroom was closer.”
With a tight nod, Eth
an said, “I see. I asked because the counter was all wet as if someone had splashed water all around, and my towel was on the floor.”
“Oh, really?” Tragan said, glancing over for a second, appearing contrite. “Sorry, buddy, I didn’t even realize. Listen, just toss your towel with my laundry
and I’ll take care of it,” he offered casually.
The mention of Tragan’s laundry brought to mind the pile of dirty clothes on the floor by the dryer that Ethan often had to step over. “No, that’s fine,” Ethan said now,
simply refusing the offer instead of retorting:
Hasn’t my towel been through enough already?
“Okay, if you’re sure,” Tragan remarked absently
, leaning to the side as his thumbs rapidly punched the controller.
Clearing his throat, Ethan proceeded. “There’s something else. You
know how I’ve been applying to graduate programs for awhile now?”
“No,” Tragan said.
Ethan paused, flummoxed for a moment. He was sure he had mentioned it on several occasions. Then again, why should he be surprised that his roommate hadn’t heard or retained the information? Though Ethan had lived with Tragan Barrett for over six months, the two were hardly friends. They co-existed peacefully enough--probably due to the fact that they barely interacted. “All right, well, anyway,” Ethan continued, “I’ve been accepted to an environmental biology program in London. I’m planning to move in two weeks.”
hat finally got Tragan’s attention. He hit “pause” and glanced over.
icably intimidated by his roommate’s dark, confident almost-glare, Ethan hastened to add, “But don’t worry, I’ve found a replacement roommate already. My friend, Andy, is going to finish out the lease for me.”
” Tragan agreed slowly. “So is Andy gonna be able to cover the rent each month?”
Ethan replied with a certain nod, “that would never be an issue. Andy is very responsible.”
He’s not going to be selling drugs out of the apartment, right? That happened to a friend of mine once.”
“Of course not,”
Ethan said, mildly offended. Jeez, he
said that Andy was a friend. “Trust me, Andy’s fine. No drama, no criminal record--you won’t have any problems.”
After what appeared to be a thoughtful moment, Tragan shrugged. “
All right, cool. As long as his rent’s paid each month, we should be good. By the way, when’s all this happening again?” he said as he returned his attention to the TV and hit “play.”
.” Then, feeling compelled to sell the idea, Ethan added, “I know it’s short notice, but Andy will be an easy roommate. However, there
something you should know--”
” Tragan whispered and angrily shook his controller. “Damn it…” he was murmuring to himself, as Ethan’s eyes drifted over to the screen. The action figure with a “T” on his chest was backed into a corner, animated machine guns pointed at him.
,” Ethan said, hoping to gain Tragan’s attention again. “As I was saying, see, Andy’s family is originally from Boston. We’ve known each other for years--”
Tragan interjected to assure him, “Hey, if
the guy’s a friend of yours and you’re vouching for him, I’m sure he’s fine. We’ve never had any problems, right?”
Ethan admitted. It was technically true, he supposed, but still…
Just then Tragan’s phone
started buzzing. He tossed the controller aside and grabbed his cell off the coffee table. “Sorry, hang on a second,” he told Ethan, then answered his phone with his usual gruff “Yeah.”
Feeling a bit edgy, Ethan waited.
“You’re downstairs? All right, I’ll be down in a second.” No doubt one of Tragan’s annoying friends. Ethan also wouldn’t miss the sight of them sprawled all over the living room. “Hey, do you assholes have money for the tolls this time?” Tragan added with a laugh as he rose from the couch.
When they weren’t dominating the apartment, Tragan’s friends liked to go to Wallets, a casino just over the Connecticut/Massachusetts border. From Ethan’s understanding, Wallets was quite a bit smaller than Foxwoods, but apparently just as addictive (at least to
Tragan slipped his phone in his back pocket, as he passed Ethan and headed toward the door. Snapping up his jacket from the entry way floor, he looked over and said, “By the way, congratulations on the grad school thing.”
“Thank you. M
y flight to London is in fifteen days.”
you’re gonna be all packed up by then?” he added conversationally.
“I’m hiring a professional crew to help
and having several things put in storage. Of course I’m just going to leave the bed there for Andy. And I still have a ton of details to take care of, so I’ll be in and out a lot until I leave.”
Tragan nodded. “Okay, cool. Listen, if I don’t see you…” He surprised
Ethan by walking a few steps toward him and extending his hand. “Good luck out there, buddy. Nice living with you.”
ou, too,” Ethan managed, surprised by the gesture. The handshake was brief but casual as though they were friends. As Tragan turned back toward the door, Ethan blurted: “Wait. Real quick, about Andy…”
looked back, raised his brows, waiting. “Yeah?”
Ethan hesitated, now reconsidering his initial idea. Why tell Tragan about Andy, after all? Come to think of it, it might backfire. What if Tragan said no? What if he had a problem with it?
Ethan wouldn’t correct Tragan’s assumption--wouldn’t mention that Andy was actually a girl. The next few months were too important to her. Besides, he had meant everything he’d just said. Andy really
responsible. Undoubtedly she
be a perfect roommate. Why give Tragan a reason to say no?
he could be self-absorbed and immature, Ethan’s roommate wasn’t some horrible person. And he’d never seemed particularly combative. Surely Tragan would treat Andy with the same apathy he’d shown Ethan during their stint as roommates. Since Andy had her own friends, her own life, she wouldn’t require more than that.
“Uh, can I give Andy the keys before I go?”
Ethan said, keeping the rest to himself.
“Sure,” Tragan replied
, shoving his coat on. Then his phone started buzzing again. “Yeah,” he said once he brought it to his ear, and flipped Ethan a careless wave on his way out the door.
Two weeks later
The thing you should know about Tragan is…he’s kind of an ass.”
“Oh, no,” Andy said cautiously. “H
ow so exactly?” If Ethan was referring to a run-of-the-mill social ineptitude, she could deal with that. But if he was some overgrown frat boy, she’d have to back out of this arrangement right now. She’d graduated college three months ago and already had no desire to relive the annoying parts of it; frat boys qualified.
I suppose he’s
,” Ethan corrected. “Maybe I’m exaggerating.” He buttoned up his coat as the wind picked up. It was early March in Boston, which meant the air had graduated from freezing cold to pleasantly chilling--at least if you were a native. Now Andy rubbed her hands over her arms to warm up, as her blond hair flew over her shoulder with the wind.
“Damn, I always forget a
ponytail holder,” she remarked.
The T stop was unusually deserted today. S
oon the train would come and Ethan would be on his way to the airport, and Andy would cut across Beacon Street to Trader Joe’s, where she’d shop until her boyfriend, Brad, came to pick her up. “So what’s so bad about the guy?” Andy asked, honestly more curious than concerned. She highly doubted Ethan would have suggested she take over his lease if he thought she’d hate living there.
one of his carry-on bags onto his shoulder, Ethan straightened his glasses on his nose. “Okay, Tragan’s basically a decent guy. Live and let live--I doubt he’ll bother you, per se.”
But?” she probed.
e’s not the most refined guy in the world. Let’s put it that way.”
“So he’s a slob?” Andy guessed.
“Not that bad, I guess, but not neat, either.” Andy reserved comment, because coming from Ethan, who was somewhere between fastidious and
, the critique was hard to take too seriously. “And he’s pretty self-centered,” Ethan went on. “You know, all about himself and his friends. Also, he has a car, but don’t expect him to offer rides.”
Though Andy n
odded along, she didn’t consider any of this a red flag so far. After all she wasn’t taking over Ethan’s lease to make friends. It was a short-term housing solution that was conveniently near the hospital. “What does he do for a living? Just out of curiosity.”
“He works in construction.
I have to say, that was one good thing about living with him--he’s not a deadbeat. He’ll pay his own way 100 percent. But he’s not going to come in and ask what’s new in your life. And don’t expect any intellectual conversations.”
Ethan…” Andy muttered, slanting him a disapproving look. “Don’t be such a snob.”
held up his hands. “I’m not! I’m just trying to give you the full picture.”
“Fine, well, I’ll get my intellectual conversations on the streets,” she joked, and Ethan made a
familiar self-effacing grimace. A soft emotion touched Andy’s heart then. Even though Ethan could be rigid and a bit socially awkward, he was a sweet guy. She’d known him for almost ten years now, because their parents were long-time friends. “Basically it sounds like we’ll stay out of each other’s way,” Andy added, shivering as the wind kicked up again.
Unless you want to use the living room,” Ethan blurted. “His friends are over a lot, either playing videogames or watching sports obsessively. So I wouldn’t want you to count on any girl-talk bonding sessions after a long day. But then, I suppose you have Brad for that.”
dy half-grinned at the acerbic, though meaningless dig at her boyfriend. “I’m not sure Brad would find that funny,” she noted. Ethan’s only response was a smirk. She knew Ethan wasn’t a fan of Brad’s, but in truth, he barely knew him. Though Brad had been Andy’s boyfriend for two years, the two men didn’t cross paths much. Nevertheless, Ethan was black-and-white when it came to ethics, and he could never get on board with the idea that Brad had been Andy’s doctor, however briefly. For a short while, he’d even referred to Brad as a “Ken doll”--apparently too perfectly blonde and handsome to be an acceptable mate--until Andy put a firm stop to that.
she switched gears, focusing again on her new roommate. “By the way, how old is Tragan anyway?”
“He’s our age. Twenty-three,
I think,” Ethan said, then dug into his coat pocket and pulled out a silver ring with two keys dangling from it. “Before I forget, here you go. The smaller one is the mail key.” When he dropped the set in her hand, he shook his head in exaggerated bafflement. “Why do you wear those? They’re totally impractical.”
“I like them,”
Andy said in defense of her cashmere finger-less gloves. “I can get you a pair, if you were hinting…”
,” he said, cringing, which made her laugh. She’d known Ethan Field long enough to see his cynical personality for what it was: a defense mechanism, in a way--a protective cloak he wore most of the time. “Andy, I meant to ask: how are you feeling these days?” he said then, his tone becoming more careful.
“I’m fine,” Andy assured him quickly. “Really, I haven’t had any
problems for a while.”
“All right, that’s good,” Ethan said, his brow still
pinched. “Just take care of yourself. That’s the most important thing.”
“I know,” Andy sai
d, hoping to change the topic.
On the upside, I think you’ll like the apartment. I’ll describe it to you, briefly.”
“All right,” she said, even though she’d see it soon enough.
“When you walk in, the living room is immediately to your right. Down a short hallway will be your bedroom and bathroom on the left. The kitchen is at the back--it’s pretty big with a bay window you’ll love--and then Tragan’s room and bathroom are on the right side of the apartment. Oh, I’ll mention while it occurs to me: there’s a slight lift in the floor when you enter the kitchen from your side. So just be careful--don’t trip.”
“Speaking from experience?”
Ethan quirked his mouth, though he admitted nothing.
the T came into view, rumbling loudly up the tracks. “Oh, that’s you,” Andy said and without further preamble, wrapped Ethan in a tight hug. “Good luck. Reach out to me when you get a chance, let me know how it’s going, okay?”
“Sure, of course,”
Ethan said, hugging her back. “Take care, Andy. Next time you see me, I may have a British accent.”
She had to laugh. “Good, I’ll be disappointed if you don’t.”
When the T hissed to a loud, grinding stop beside them, Ethan hefted his suitcase and bags up the steps just in time before the doors closed. As the train began to roll away from her, Andy sighed and turned the keys over in her hand. 417 Grove Street, Apartment 3b. A short-term living arrangement. The perfect transition.
Though she adored her mom, Andy
couldn’t stand another day living in her house. She needed some breathing room, some independence. Twisting the keys again, she pushed aside all of Ethan’s little warnings and misgivings about his roommate. When it came to the apartment, Andy didn’t have any particular expectations, so she didn’t have much apprehension, either.
eally--how bad could it be?