Authors: Marie James
ore Than a Memory
Copyright © 2016 Marie James
Editing by Monica Black at Word Nerd Edits
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale, or organizations is entirely coincidental.
ou look better
.” I smile at my computer screen.
What were once vibrant blue eyes peer back at me, red-rimmed and dull.
“I still feel like shit.”
Prominent shadows under his eyes, lines of exhaustion across his forehead, and the downturn of his once always smiling lips are evidence of his tiredness, but it’s to be expected.
“You’re gorgeous. Even better looking than the day I fell in love with you.”
“And what day was that, sweet cheeks?” His eyes brighten marginally. We’ve had this conversation more than once.
I love the nickname he gave me so long ago. He was trying to act mature and look important in front of his friends. In high school, many guys thought acting like a douche was the best way to get the girl. It was never “beautiful”, “pretty girl”, or hell, even my first name. Years later, the intentionally derogative name stuck. I used to hate it, but now I wouldn’t want to be called anything else.
“First day of freshman year,” I say with a knowing smirk. Even when he was propped up against the wall with a small group of buddies our first day of high school, spouting offensive comments my way, I knew he was mine.
“I was covered in acne and had braces.”
“Like I said, even better looking than the day I fell in love with you.” He chuckles at my wink. I love the sound of his laugh. I haven’t heard it as much lately, and today, it’s a balm to my saddened heart.
His face grows serious and his Adam’s apple bobs with a rough swallow. “I miss you so much.”
“Can’t be more than I miss you.” My face falls and my eyes tear up, unable to keep the pain contained at hearing the devotion in his voice.
“I’ll be home soon. I promise.”
I reach out and stroke his face on the computer screen. I miss him more with each passing day. “I love you.”
“I love you, sweet cheeks. Chat with you later?”
I nod just before the screen goes dark. Chat with you later…never goodbye.
* * *
knee deep in YouTube videos when my phone rings. I ignore it like I always do the first time, and continue to watch the panda bear as it swings upside down on a rope ladder. The phone rings again and I sigh, scooping it up off the table.
“Yes, Mother?” I don’t even have to look at the screen. She’s the only one who calls me anymore, and for that, I’m grateful. I lost my tolerance for fake, nosy people months ago.
“How are you?” The lighthearted tinkle of her voice drives me nuts. At least, it seems to these days.
“You know why I’m calling, Olivia. Are you ready to discuss it?” She’s been hounding me for weeks. It’s either talk about it now, or wait and try to put her off again tomorrow. The longer I take to discuss the issue, the greater the chance of her showing up on my doorstep—and that’s the last thing I need.
Closing my computer, I sit up straighter on the couch, strengthening my resolve for what’s to come.
“Now is fine,” I say, the words coming out in a huff. I pick at the stickers covering my laptop, my lips purse as I wait for my mother to preach the same sermon she’s been shoving down my throat for months.
“Are you planning to go back to school this semester?”
“No,” I say, blinking into the empty room, my voice portraying every bit of the shitty attitude I have toward the topic. She already knew the answer. It’s the same every time she asks.
“You need to come home then.” Her voice grows deeper, which means she’s losing her patience—another thing that seems to be happening more readily these last few weeks.
“I’m not coming home.”
Her sigh is so loud, I have to pull my phone away from my ear. “I knew you were going to say that.”
Then why did you ask?
“I’m going to rent the other room,” she says, a coolness in her voice, as if she didn’t drop a damn bomb in the middle of my living room.
I chuckle with a flippant defiance. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I need help with the rent.”
Annoyed, I almost hang up on her. She’s clearly lost her mind. My mother hasn’t worked a day in her adult life. My father has been beyond successful in numerous business endeavors. We’re what people would consider upper-upper class. She spends half of my apartment’s rent on her hair each month. She’s far from desperate in needing assistance to pay for the empty room.
“Think of something else. The rent excuse isn’t going to fly.” Frustrated with the broken record, I grab my laptop and head to my bedroom. A long nap after this conversation is a must.
“I’m tired of you being alone.” Her voice holds more emotion than I’m used to. It’s genuine. She’s dedicated her entire life to me, and I know it breaks her heart to see me making decisions she can’t control. I feel like a failure, but it’s what happens when life fails you.
“I’m fine. I promise,” I say with growing frustration. Lying back on my bed, I focus on the rotation of the fan blades—constant, never-ending, reliable when so many things in life aren’t.
“Are you taking your medicine?”
I clench my teeth until I swear they’re about to crack. “I don’t need the medicine.”
“The doctor said—”
“I know my body. I don’t care what the doctor said.”
“Have you been eating?”
I sigh, not caring if the sound rings loud in her ear. “I eat.”
“Have you left the apartment this week?”
I scrub my hand over my face. “What’s with the twenty questions? I’m not coming home. I like it here. I’m not leaving.”
“Well,” she says with more indignation in her voice than before.
I sit up on the bed and listen with sharpened focus for the first time since she called. Not one good thing ever comes from my mother using
Well, pads are better than tampons. Insert embarrassing middle school volleyball game here.
Well, trucks are better than cars. They don’t have a back seat. Almost lost my virginity in the bed of a truck.
Well, I sold that desk because you don’t use it anymore. All of my money from working the previous summer was stashed in a hidden compartment in one of the drawers.
“A young lady is coming in an hour to look at the apartment. I suggest you make it presentable.”
I roll my eyes so far back, I can almost see my own ass. Like this damn place isn’t spotless already…
“Damn it, Mom! I don’t want a roommate.”
“It’s time. She’ll be there shortly.” With that, she hangs up the phone.
I fall back onto the bed with a huff and toss my phone to the side. My last roommate was my best friend from high school. We started college together, full of hopes and dreams last fall, then I dropped out shortly after spring semester began and she continued her journey. She’s now in a sorority on campus, and I haven’t seen her in months. I could say I miss her, but we’ve changed so much over the last year, I guess I miss who we used to be.
Refusing to sit idle any longer, I get up with a renewed determination and a devious plan. Fifteen minutes later, the apartment is a wreck. Dirty clothes everywhere, the mini-blind cords pulled so they hang askew, food wrappers from the trash on the floor and counter, and dishes piled up in and around the sink—clean dishes, but enough for a good visual alarm. I’m not crazy enough to dirty a bunch of dishes.
I sit on the couch and can’t help the calculating smirk settling on my lips when the doorbell rings. My antisocial mask in place, I pull the door open.
“Olivia?” The pretty brunette standing in the doorway takes in my appearance and has the class not to wrinkle her nose. My hair is all over the place and my clothes are practically torn to shreds. “I’m Emerson Daniels. I spoke with your mother about the room available.”
“Ollie,” I offer, ignoring her outstretched hand.
I almost feel bad for what I’ve done to the apartment—almost. Looking at her bright smile brings more sadness. In a different lifetime, I could’ve been friends with this girl. She has an air about her, sophisticated yet down to earth.
Stepping away from the door, I sweep out my arm, indicating for her to come inside, and point down the hall. “Last door on the left.”
I ignore her as she tours the apartment on her own. My fingers itch to open my laptop, but I space out, watching a penguin documentary on Netflix instead.
“Is there a laundry room?” she asks, walking back into the room. I pop up on the couch, startled by her reappearance, and search for the time. The apartment is only so big, how long had she been checking it out?
had she been checking out for so long?
She picks a towel up between her forefinger and thumb and places it on the end of the couch near my feet before settling in to the armchair.
I put that towel there to deter anyone from sitting and getting comfortable. I almost smirk at her—almost.
A soft smile tilts her lips up and I overanalyze the response, wondering just what in the hell my mother told this girl. “Laundry room?” she asks again.
“Stacked washer and dryer just off the kitchen.”
She acknowledges me with a quick nod, but doesn’t get up to verify. I turn my attention back to the television, praying she takes a hint.
“This is a great apartment,” she says, talking more to herself than me as she gazes around the living room.
I know it is. I also know trying to trash it up was a futile attempt at giving it less appeal. There’s only so much damage that can be done on short notice.
“Only two blocks from campus,” she murmurs, and I wish she’d take her contemplation out to her car. “How far is it to the baseball complex?”
I cut my eyes to her, but refuse to give the appearance of her owning my undivided attention. The last thing I need is a cleat chasing roommate.
“All the way on the opposite side of campus,” I say, even though it won’t make a difference. She doesn’t seem deterred.
“Okay then,” she says with a quick slap to her knees before standing. “We’ll make it work. Can’t beat furnished with a laundry room.”
“Great,” I mutter without getting off the couch.
“I’ll contact your mother and make sure the contract is signed and emailed back. Move in next week,” she says, clapping her hands. “I’m so thankful we found this place. I think he’ll be pleased.”
The door closes behind her with a thud and my eyes narrow in annoyance. All the work I put into destroying my apartment was futile.
If she shows up with her boyfriend and the expectation he’s either moving in or spending all his time here, she’s got another thing coming. A roommate is bad enough. One who has a man glued to her isn’t even an option, unless she stays mostly at his place. That would totally be acceptable.
I spend the next hour de-trashing the apartment. I wish I could leave it nasty as a way to try to deter her one last time when she arrives next week, but I couldn’t live in the filth for a couple hours, much less several days. My mother calls it OCD, but it’s just due diligence.
An email alert draws my attention as I settle on the couch with a dry box of cereal. Opening my laptop, I check for the unread mail. Just as I suspected, it’s a copy of the signed contract from a Bryson Daniels. Well, at least rent will be on time if her father is taking care of the lease.