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A Reluctant Roommate Chapters 1-3

Chapter One



Something inside of me dies as Andy opens the back of the small U-Haul truck. Just a few things, she’d said. You’ll barely notice me. That’s when I should have gotten suspicious. She’s not the type of person anyone could fail to notice. Everything about her is loud, always has been.

            Now, looking in the back of the van, I realized what I should have known from the get-go: her stuff is loud too, and there’s a lot of it. She obviously doesn’t ascribe to the Marie Kondo philosophy of only keeping things that bring you joy; either that, or she must be drowning in joy.

            There’s everything in the van that you’d expect to go in a bedroom: a bedframe and mattress, a bureau, and a bedside table. All of that’s fine, obviously. What worries me are the dozens of other boxes, along with three rolled-up rugs, multiple lamps, and several frames wrapped in layers of bubble wrap. Is she going to put those things out in the living room? I can already tell they’re not to my taste. Through the packing, shades of teal, red, orange, and gold are trying to sear my retinas.

            Color has its place, obviously. I use color in the games I design—a pop of bright color can be a statement, a message; it can be beautiful. But the place for it is not in my living room, where I keep a pseudo office in the corner. That’s supposed to be the neutral zone. My sister Marnie agreed to that, but Marnie just moved in with her fiancé. If Andy were a Craigslist roommate, then I could comfortably be a dick about it—my house, my rules—but she’s my little sister’s best friend, has been since they were in first grade, and if I’m a dick to her, I’ll be hearing about it.

            Still, I can’t totally hold it in. “Um, Andy, where’s all this shi—stuff supposed to go?”

            She looks embarrassed for half a second, and I remember that her grandmother just kicked her out of their house. Although she gave Andy a couple of weeks to move out, Marnie tells me she’s been ignoring her, pretending she really is dead to her, a pronouncement she made after finding out she had an account on OnlyFans. It’s a site where people pay for content.

            Porn. Porn is what’s usually on there.

            Andy says she only made videos of her feet for fetishists, and I know she was being truthful, because I have a natural curiosity and spent half the night searching for her account after I found out she was on there.

            It seems unfair that she’s lost her job and her family because of a few videos of her freakishly dexterous feet…and, I’ll admit it, a sexy one of her long curly hair brushing her tanned toes. Maybe it was just the mental image of her bending over, and—

            Anyway. I know better than anyone that life’s unfair, there are no guarantees, and everything can change at the drop of the coin.

            Like me, here and now.

            I was having an uncomplicated year, and suddenly Andy’s moving in with me, bringing all of her brightly colored crap with her.

            “I can find somewhere else to go,” Andy says, surprising me. “You didn’t ask for any of this. It’s pretty shitty of me to put all of my problems on you. Maybe I can get a storage unit for this stuff. The movers who packed it up were pretty reasonably priced. I can hire them to unload it, and then I’ll couch surf until I get my shit together.”

She’s always had a short fuse, and I was expecting her to argue with me. The unexpected vulnerability in her eyes can be the only explanation for what I say next.

            “No. I’m happy to have you here, and we’ll find room for your things.” Because I’m an idiot, I double down. “All of them.”

            Sweat beads on my brow. What the fuck have I agreed to? And why do I keep agreeing to it?

            Andy smiles and surprises me by pulling me into a hug. “Thank you, Drew. You’ve always been one of the good ones.” She’s five-eight or five-nine but still half a head shorter than me. The hug puts my nose directly above her glossy black curls. I feel like a pervert for breathing her in, but it smells good, spicy and sweet, and she feels good too. Too good.

            I release her so quickly, she nearly falls backward. She’s wearing sandals, I see, that distinctive rose gold toe ring winking up at me, reminding me of those videos.

            Reminding me that I got hard when I watched her hair swaying over her feet, and you’re not supposed to get hard when you’re looking at her sister’s best friend—especially your sister’s best friend who’s about to move in with you.

            “What’s going on over here?” Marnie says from behind us. Even though we only just got done moving all of her shit into the house she and her fiancé, Griffin, are renting, she insisted on helping Andy move in today. I’m guessing the kind of help she wants to offer is emotional support, because she’s about five-two and a buck twenty. She won’t be moving the heavy stuff.

            We'll need Griffin for that, and my other sister Sinclair’s boyfriend, Rafe, who’s built like a Transformer. My buddies would have come over to help, but I haven’t told them about Andy yet. I’m not sure why, except…

Andy’s hot. That’s a fact, not an opinion, and I certainly don’t intend to do anything about it. Everyone has a type, but she’s one of those people who transcend things like type. She’s also my sister’s best friend, and I don’t want my friends over here every five minutes trying to hit on her.

            I'll have to tell them, obviously.


            “Nothing,” I say, taking a big step back. “Nothing at all. We were just looking at all of this shi—” I feel Andy’s eyes on me. “All of this lovely stuff Andy brought. Couldn’t be happier.”

            “So why’d you shove me?” Andy asks, putting a hand on her hip.

            “There was no shoving. I just forcefully released you,” I say. “I was alarmed. Marnie caught me off guard.”

            Marnie’s giving me an I see right through you look, and in some ways, I’m sure she does. That’s what comes from cohabitating with someone for so long. We’ve lived under the same roof for most of our lives. She’s uprooted herself, and it’s a change I can feel down to my bones. There have been a lot of them lately, and it feels like the life I had, the one I was perfectly comfortable with, has been slipping out of my grip.

            Change is good, Marnie told me the other day. Change is growing.

            She’s not altogether wrong. There have been good changes lately: our sister, Sinclair, is back in our lives after being swallowed by Hollywood for nearly two decades. She’s famous enough that you’re nearly guaranteed to get photographed scratching your ass or stuffing your face with a giant pretzel if you go to the mall with her, but she’s ours again. And her boyfriend, Rafe, is a great guy. He’s a former personal trainer, and we’ve been working out together. Griffin and Enoch, the fiancé of Marnie’s other best friend, usually join us. Look at you, Marnie teased me when I got back from our first session. You’re expanding your circle. Did it hurt?

            Again, not wrong. My buddies, Burke, Danny, and Shane, and I spend the majority of our time together. We have our weekly DnD game, our yearly two-week camping trip, and when we want to meet up and drink and complain about shit, we do that together too. We understand each other, and we have the kind of deep bond that’s forged when four people have experienced something horrible together. Still, I’m glad my sisters have found men who make them happy, and even more pleased they haven’t settled for assholes. Marnie almost married a taint made human last fall, and I busted my ass to make sure it didn’t happen.

            Griffin pounds me on the back, a little too hard, almost as if he hears my thoughts and is silently thanking me for clearing the way for him. “Let’s get to it, man.”

            So we do.



            I’m in trouble.

            A huge multi-colored rug is on the floor in the living room, covered in splashes of pink, turquoise, gold, and red as if someone held a paint party for drunk people. I don’t know what possessed me, but when Andy bit her lip and said it wouldn’t fit in her bedroom, looking on the verge of tears because it had belonged to her mother—her deceased mother—I volunteered to put in the living room.

            Marnie looked at me with bugged out eyes, correctly asserting that I’d lost my mind, but then admitted she and Griffin could use the neutral rug in their living room.

The good thing about compromise is that I was able to convince Andy that we shouldn’t add brightly colored pictures to the walls in the living room now that the floor is covered in color splotches. Still, there’s a brass tea set sitting out on the counter in the kitchen, because there was no room for it in any of the cabinets, and anyway, she likes it sitting out.

            Andy has also put out what must be half a dozen candles, all with different scents, and a turquoise-painted garage-sale bookcase filled with paperbacks, some of them facing out so the shirtless men are staring at me.

            I’m hoping I can get her to hide the man-chest books away in her room, or at least arrange them so none of them are watching me, but I won’t try tonight. Her face is drawn and her eyes look glassy. Even though I don’t really want her here, I do want her to be happy. Comfortable. She’s like…

Well, I wouldn’t say she’s like another sister, but she’s important to Marnie, and therefore important to me.

            “Are you two staying in tonight?” I ask, glancing at Marnie and Andy, huddled together on the couch under a bright throw with a geometric design in purple and turquoise.

            It’s hers, obviously.

            “Yeah, we’re going to have a few drinks,” Marnie says, “and Sinclair’s coming over.”

            Rafe, who showed up about a half hour after we got started, laughs and grins at them. “That’s my girl. Missed the hard part and coming in for the fun.” Turning to me, he asks, “You want to grab a drink at the bar, man?”

            He means Griffin’s bar, Summer Nights. Griffin left a few hours ago to open it, which was fine since Rafe could have moved everything by himself. Possibly with one arm tied behind his back.

            “Sure,” I say, because I could absolutely use that drink.

            “Hey.” Andy throws off the blanket. She gets up, and I immediately step back, worried she might be going to go in for another hug. Kind of wanting her to do it at the same time. “I don’t have a transmissible disease,” she says, her tone annoyed.

            “Does that mean you have untransmissible ones?”

            She gives my shoulder a nudge. “Shut up and let me thank you again. Some of my best memories from childhood are from this house. It’s always been like a second home to me, and you’re like another brother. Except less shitty than my brothers.” Her brothers who were such dicks to her about the whole OnlyFans thing, and only slightly less dickish before that. Tears well in her eyes, and I feel like someone reached into my chest and flicked my heart. “Being here makes me feel like I haven’t lost everything.”

            Then, of course, she hugs me again, her curves pressing into me and the maddening smell of her hair wrapping around me, reminding me that I don’t think of her as a sister.

            Rafe and I head out to his car, a rust-beaten hunk of junk that my sister must hate that he’s kept. I like him better for it. Sinclair’s loaded, and some men would use her for her money, but Rafe’s not the type to walk around with his hand open, hoping someone slaps money into it.

            Neither am I. Sinclair keeps trying to buy me expensive shit for the house, but I almost always refuse. There’s a fine line—I don’t want her to think her money is what I value, and I also don’t want to make her feel bad by always saying no.

            When we get into the car, Rafe shoots me a look. There’s a small smile playing on his face. “You’re fucked, buddy.”

            “Yeah,” I say, combing a hand back through my hair. “That rug’s pretty ugly, huh? She was getting upset, though, and I don’t like seeing women cry. I especially don’t like it when Andy cries, because she’s not a crier—”

            I cut myself off because he’s shaking his head. “Not what I meant. You have a thing for her, and she just said she sees you as a brother. What are you going to do about that?”


Chapter Two



“Fuck those fucking, shit-eating, dumbass assholes!” I shout.

            “Did it work?” Sinclair asks. Marnie’s sister showed up twenty minutes ago, and because she likes to do everything big, she came with a box of cocktail supplies that she set on the counter in the kitchen. I guess Griffin’s been teaching her how to mix drinks, which is good, because that woman’s pours used to be so heavy I wasn’t even grateful for it.

            “No,” I say, throwing a throw pillow across the room. I mean, seriously, it’s there in the name, folks. Their only reason for existence is so they can be thrown around by pissed-off women. Maybe I’ll buy some more of them. “I hate them.”

            Them being my brothers, Theo and Jack. My mother gave us all Anglican names—Theodore, Jack, Andrea—much to my grandmother’s distaste. We’re only a fourth Puerto Rican, my mother would tell her, and Abuela would snap back that it was the only part that mattered.

            She might be right. I barely remember my grandfather, other than that he was quiet and severe. He’s probably the one who taught my mom that her heritage didn’t matter, because despite having Spanish ancestry, he was adamant that my grandmother speak to Mom in English rather than Spanish. Abuela must have been more accommodating back then, because she only spoke to Mom in Spanish when he wasn’t around. Theo, Jack, and I have just learned bits and pieces, usually from being cursed out by our grandmother. Then there’s my dad. He didn’t marry my mom, despite years of hints, direct requests, and three children. Nor did he stick around to teach us anything, so clearly the half our DNA that came from him is flawed.

            Maybe the three of us are programmed to be bad at relationships. With each other, with other people. Hell, it’s not a bad theory: my longest relationship only lasted for six weeks, and that last week was a boring-as-hell test I gave myself to see if I could make it.

            I couldn’t.

            My friends tease me about having a three-week rule, because I usually cut a guy loose after three weeks. Marnie claims it’s because I date beautiful, stupid men.

            She’s probably right, but what can I say? I have a taste for big biceps, muscular thighs, and pretty eyes.

            I guess that means I’m kind of shitty, so maybe I shouldn’t be mad at my brothers for being shitty too. But I am mad. I’m mad enough that I want to put a curse on them, or ask Nicole and Damien, our private investigator friends, to break into their house and load up malware on all their devices and fill their shampoo bottles with Nair. (Yeah, they got the good Ruiz hair, too, those bastards.)  If you think those aren’t the kind of things private investigators would do, then you haven’t met these private investigators.

            But I’m getting ahead of myself.

            Here's what went down. I saw something on the news about OnlyFans, and how some content creators were able to make thousands without doing anything really revealing. My grandmother and I needed the money. She’d inherited my mother’s house, which seems like a pretty shit exchange given that she also inherited two kids beneath the age of eighteen and a dickish new adult, and the house is a bit of a dump. In the same week, I was told we needed new windows, new paint, and to do something about the constant flooding in the basement. I didn’t really listen to the long description of what needed to be done, because my mind was fixed on the thousand-dollar price tag.

At the time, I was a daycare teacher. Daycare teachers don’t make jack shit. And before you say, but Andy, didn’t you do it for the kids?, I’ll admit that while I did enjoy the kids—some of them—they weren’t exactly handing out tips. Good will alone wasn’t going to stop that house from falling down around us.

            So I did my research on OnlyFans, and it didn’t take me long to find my niche—I’ve always had nice feet. I used to go to a male pedicurist who’d give me these really thorough pedicures and non-stop compliments. Which was nice until he started asking me for photos of my feet. So I started an account, posting only photos and videos of my feet, occasionally with my hair sweeping over them because my hair is my other best feature—long and dark and so curly it tangles if I look at it wrong.

            I figured I was in the clear. Who the hell could ID me based on my feet and hair?

            The head of the daycare.

            Apparently he’d taken as much notice of my feet as that one pedicurist. Because he recognized my rose-gold toe ring and my arch, which he called distinctive, as much as my long, black hair. He fired me on the spot, although from the way he kept eyeballing my feet as he did it, I have a feeling he was hoping I’d offer to negotiate.

            Hell to the no. I don’t negotiate with terrorists or perverts.

            So I left the job and told my grandmother that I’d quit because I couldn’t stand the spoiled little kids anymore. A lie because while they were all spoiled, most of them were too young to have been ruined by it yet.

            I didn’t post any new content on the account. Not because I was ashamed of what I’d done—I really do have kick-ass feet—but because I started worrying about what Abuela would think, and to my misfortune, she’s one of maybe five people whose opinion matters.

            Turns out my asshole big brother, Theo, who’s never thought much of anyone but himself and especially thinks poorly of me, knows the director of the daycare center. They got to talking over drinks, and he told Theo the whole thing and showed him the videos. Theo knew it was me, obviously; we share DNA.

            And he told our middle brother, Jack.

            And then they both showed it to my grandmother.

            She immediately declared I was dead to her—apparently, it’s one thing to sway your booty in your own home and use men to scratch and itch and quite another to put yourself online for strange men to ogle.

            So, yeah, my brothers suck.

            Abuela does, too, I guess, but she’s also slowly dying from heart disease. She’s in hospice care, and I—in addition to the nurses who stop by the house—am the one who usually takes care of her. Still, she threw me out. I don’t blame her as much as you might think. She’s always had very strict views on who should do what, where, and when—and I’ve shattered plenty of them. For her, this was one foot too far.

            I’m hoping she’ll get over it if I give her enough space.

            I’m hoping we’ll get back on good terms before she dies.

            I’m hoping the nurse Medicaid is paying for will actually take care of her, and listen to her, and watch telenovelas with her, like I always have.

            I’m hoping my brothers develop gangrene of the dick.

            I’m tempted to text Theo and tell him that if he’d only fixed the house like we’d asked him to, I would never have had to resort to such desperate measures. But before this went down, we’d only ever texted about Abuela’s care.

            So now, here I am. In the Jones’s house, where I probably spent as much time as I did at my own place when I was growing up.

            It still feels surreal to see my stuff mixed up with his—my gorgeous, colorful rug on the ground and his boring prints on the walls. Seriously, one of them is a paper bag in a frame. If there’s some modern art significance, I don’t see it.

            “There are other exercises we can try,” Sinclair says, and I feel a pang of remorse. Truthfully, I used to dislike Marnie and Drew’s sister. Part of it was reflexive dislike—she’s famous and gorgeous, and I’m inclined to think most famous, gorgeous people are assholes. I mean, it’s not necessarily their fault. If I were famous and gorgeous, I’d probably become an asshole too. It’s like the price you pay for living the high life. The rest of the dislike was from the dismissive way she used to treat Marnie and Drew, but I’ve come to realize their mother is largely to blame for that. She basically groomed Sinclair to be an actress ever since she was a little girl. But Sinclair’s finally broken free of her, and she’s pretty awesome, it turns out. Like right now. She was invited to a hoity-toity fundraiser tonight, and instead she chose to be here with us, trying to help me channel my rage by shouting obscenities at my brothers and throwing pillows. Apparently, this is the sort of thing she does to prepare for roles.

            “Nah, it’s okay,” I tell her, patting her arm. “I think I’m just gonna get a drink.”

            “I’ll mix us those cocktails,” she says brightly, getting to her feet.

            “Her drinks really are much less lethal than they used to be,” Marnie tells me when she notices my scrunched nose. “Promise.”

            “So you promise it won’t taste like rubbing alcohol? I realize all alcohol is basically poison, but a person shouldn’t feel like they’re being poisoned.”

            Marnie lifts a hand and waves it from side to side. “50-50.”

            I huff a laugh. “It’s too bad that Grace is in New York. She’ll regret missing the 50-50 cocktails.” Our friend and her fiancé will be spending the next month in New York City. His nephew got into a summer photography program taught by a pretty well-known photographer, and they decided to make the trip with him.

            Sinclair comes over with a silver tray—probably real silver, knowing her—with four surprisingly appealing cocktails on it. They’re a bright berry color, with lime slices on the rims.

            I’m about to ask who the fourth is for, or if she had the correct expectation that I would want to double fist tonight, but she says, “You told me raspberry margaritas were your favorite. I figured out how to make them. It took me a couple of hours last night, and Rafe and his dad and I got really drunk, but—”

            “Hold up,” I say, but not before taking one of the drinks and setting it on a coaster. “Rafe’s dad’s still living with you?” It blows my mind that a starlet like her has been sharing a roof with Reggie O’Dooley, an older man who spends the majority of his time at Griffin’s bar spouting stories that people only half listen to.

            She sighs. “He’s leaving next week. I’m actually going to miss him. A little. I mean, the lack of privacy isn’t ideal.”

            Marnie takes her drink off the tray, and Sinclair sets the tray down on the coffee table before choosing one of the glasses.

            Marnie lifts her glass up, and we both tap ours to hers. “To new beginnings,” she says pointedly to me.

            I take a sip, find it surprisingly delightful. “So,” I say, looking at the fourth glass. “Who’s that for?”

            Someone knocks on the door at exactly that moment, as if they’d been waiting for their cue, and Marnie jumps up to answer it in a way that suggests she knew we’d be having company.

Did they get me a male stripper? I wouldn’t say no to a Chippendale.

            Hell, maybe he could be my next three-week guy.

            But it’s Nicole who bursts through the door, her pink pixie cut messy, her studded leather tank top paired with track pants strangely cool.

            “I heard there was a party, and you didn’t invite me,” she says to me, clucking her tongue. A smile plays on her face as her eyes dart from the rug to my bookshelf, pausing on several scented candles. “Drew has got to hate this shit. Fan-tastic.”

            “He was very polite about making space for me, I’ll have you know,” I tell her. But even as I say it, I have to admit she’s probably right. Drew must hate my shit. I’m taking advantage of him, and I don’t like it. But he’s one of the few people in my life that I know I can rely on. If it’s late, and I need someone to give me a ride, I’ve always known I could text or call him, and he’d either come himself or send one of his buddies. He’s reliable. He’s like a ship in a tossing storm.

            Except maybe I’m the storm.

            Nicole grabs the drink on the tray, takes a long sip, then asks, “This for me?” Which kind of seems beside the point after she’s sucked down a third of it.

            “Yes,” Marnie says. “Take a seat.”

            She does, and I ask, “Is this some kind of intervention?”     

            “Not an intervention, no,” Marnie says, “but Nicole did mention that you haven’t given her and Damien anything to do. It’s been two weeks.”

            “Seriously?” I say, waving around the room. “I’ve been a little busy, in case you hadn’t noticed. Besides, Nicole’s the one who guilted Drew into letting me stay here.”

            Nicole grins and nods as she lowers into the armchair across form us, as if she’s holding court. “It’s true, I did do that.”

            She and Damien run the Fairy Godmother Agency, named as such because while they do real detective work for money, they also have a charitable sideline—they choose one sad-sack woman at a time to help with a life makeover. Not just with P.I. stuff, with anything she needs. It’s their way of giving back, I guess.

They helped Marnie find a fake boyfriend and track down the asshole who leaked an embarrassing video of her; they helped Grace try to get revenge on Enoch for being a tool, and when she decided his tool was a-okay with her, they put her shitty boss in the hot seat; they helped Sinclair ID the person who was stalking her and tanked the reputation of an actor who’d taken advantage of her when she was way too young. Oh, and they’re the ones who found her Rafe, who was her life-in bodyguard before he became her boyfriend.

            So why, you may be wondering have I not unleashed these hellhounds made human on my shitty brothers?

            I guess I’m just used to handling my own business, to taking the fight to the people who deserve it rather than handing it off to someone else. Letting Nicole and Damien deal with my shit would feel like quitting. It would feel like admitting I can’t handle it myself.

            The things is…I can’t handle it myself.

            I’ve tried. The only thing I’ve done so far was to sign both of my brothers up for natural male enhancement reading material. And while it’s very satisfying to imagine Theo’s much younger fiancée finding that pamphlet in the mail, it’s not satisfying enough. Sending them glitter bombs and gummy dicks didn’t do it for me either. There’s still a restlessness inside me. An uneasiness. A feeling that there are wrongs to be righted.

            “I don’t like…” I clear my throat, frustrated. “I should be able to take care of this this myself.”

            Marnie gives me a knowing look. “You try handling everything yourself.”

            “What about a job?” Nicole says. “You still jobless?”

            “Yes,” I say through my teeth. It’s not for lack of trying. While just about every restaurant in town is looking for staff, none of them appear eager to hire me. Admittedly, I don’t want to work at a restaurant, but money is money, however you earn it.

            “Well, that’s easy,” Nicole says.

            “No, it’s not,” I respond, pouting and knowing it. “If it were easy, I’d already have a job.”

            “You do now.” She sets the drink down on the table, purposefully avoiding a coaster. Something tells me Drew’s going to zero in on that the sweat outline of that cup like a bloodhound. It’s not that he’s nitpicky and neat, really—Marnie’s told me that he sometimes goes an unreasonable amount of time without doing the laundry—but he’s observant. So while he may be the kind of guy you can rely on to pick you up at two in the morning when you stink of gin and can’t stop giggling, but he’s also the kind of guy who might give you shit about making a ring on his coffee table. Probably more to give you hell than because he actually cares. In a weird way, it’s one of the things I appreciate about him. If he had too many good qualities, he’d be obnoxious.

            “What do you mean, I do now?” I ask, glancing from Nicole to Marnie and Sinclair to see if either of them might know what the hell she’s talking about. Marnie obviously knows something—her cheeks are pink in that I know some shit, but I’m not supposed to say anything way; it’s impossible to tell with Sinclair, but then again, she’s been an actress since she was a toddler. She’s good at hiding things.

            “Just what I said,” Nicole says, shaking her head slightly. “And here I thought you were smart.”

            "Presume I am. How would I interpret what you just said?”
            "I’m giving you a job. You work for me.”

            I sit up a bit straighter, suddenly feeling more cheerful. “For real?”

            "Did I stutter?”

            I look straight at her and say, “My rate is thirty-dollars per hour.”

            She reaches out a hand for a shake. I give her a good one.

            "Good,” she says with a grin. “I would have paid you twice that.”


Chapter Three



            “You’ve got to show her you’re a man,” Reggie says, belching loudly as he lowers his glass to the bar. His beard is especially bushy today, and I have a sudden mental image of a squirrel popping out of it. “Try working out in the apartment. That’s what got Sinclair hot and bothered for my boy. She told me so.”  

            Rafe just smirks at his father, slowly shaking his head in fond aggravation. The lighting in the bar is low, and it smells faintly of spilled beer, although not in an unpleasant way. There’s a murmuring of conversation that makes for pleasant background noise.

            "For the purposes of this conversation, let’s assume I don’t want to hear anything remotely sexual about either of my sisters,” I say as I play with the glass in front of me. “In fact, I’m comfortable with making that a blanket assumption.”

            Reggie lifts his hands. “Just trying to help, bub. I can tell you need someone to play with the old bait and tackle.”

            I’m flustered enough that I nearly tip my beer over, but I catch it in time.

            “See what I’m talking about?” Reggie says conversationally. “You’re all tensed up. You need to let those swimmers do their business, even if it’s just into a rubber. You get too many of them backed up, and it’s bad for the system.”

            “I don’t…I’ve had plenty of people play with my…”

Dammit. I don’t even know what I’m saying right now.
           “How long has it been, man?” Griffin says from behind the bar. He grabs my glass without asking and refills it. Good. I have a feeling I’m going to need it to get through this conversation.

            "There’ve been a few…you know…one night stands since Lilah.”

            “You and Lilah broke up over a year ago,” he says, lifting his eyebrows.

            “Only one night stands, huh?” Reggie says. “They didn’t want to come back for more? If you need a little advice about making them hot between the sheets, I can give you some pointers. The ladies used to call me Reggie the Dinosaur.”

            “Dad, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a compliment on your sexual prowess,” Rafe says with a surprisingly straight face.

            “Don’t you bet on it,” Reggie rebuts. “I had one lady tell me I ate her out like I was a Tyrannosaurus Rex.”

I choke a little, even though I don’t have anything in my mouth. The guy who was sitting next to me gets up and leaves, heading farther down the bar.

            “I don’t need any advice for how to have sex, Reggie,” I finally manage. “They weren’t one night stands because I was bad in bed. It’s—”

            “He wasn’t over Lilah breaking things off,” Griffin suggests.

            I can understand why he’d think so. Lilah and I would’ve gotten married if she’d had her say.

             No, you got this all wrong,” Rafe says, glancing first at Griffin and then at me. “Our boy’s got it worse than we thought. He already had a thing for Andy.”

            “I didn’t.”

            Not yet.

            Or at least I wasn’t aware of it yet.

            I think of her long dark curls cascading over her sun-tanned feet, that little ring winking up at me. I’ve never had a thing for feet. Other people’s feet are disgusting, better kept tucked into their shoes. They’re meant for conveyance, for bringing a body from one place to another. But then I saw that damn video, and it made me realize things I had no business realizing.

            “We’re going to help you with this,” Griffin says.

            Reggie agrees much too enthusiastically. “I’m gonna let you borrow my copy of the Kama Sutra. Now, I know what you’re going to think, but it’s just frosting between the pages. I was looking at it when I had this big box of donuts, and—

            “I’m not borrowing your copy of the Kama Sutra, man, I told you it’s not a problem with—” I almost say my bait and tackle, but I bite my tongue in time. “Anyway. I don’t want anything to happen with Andy. She’s like a sister to Marnie, and besides, she’s staying with me. I won’t do anything to make her uncomfortable. She’s had enough shit happen to her—she doesn’t need me letting her down too.”

            “And that, my friend, is exactly why you shouldn’t give up,” Griffin says emphatically. “You care about her. She deserves to be with someone who cares about her.”

            I squirm on my stool, uncomfortable. They’re getting me all wrong. I might care about Andy, I might want her, but that doesn’t mean anything can or should happen between us. Not that she’d ever go for me anyway. She—

            “Can I get a drink down here?” a woman calls out from a few stools down. Griffin waves in acknowledgement but stays put.

            “Andy thinks I’m boring,” I say. Then, because there’s something to be said for honesty, “Fuck, from her perspective, I am boring. There’s no way a woman like her would be interested in someone like me. I like things to be comfortable. Easy. She’s—”

            Trouble, but in a way that makes you want more.

            “Can you leave the boring guy alone and come take my order?” the woman calls out.

Griffin shakes his head slightly, his mouth quirked in a smile, then reaches over the bar to clap me on the shoulder before walking away. 

            “You don’t like your boring life half as much as you think you do,” Rafe says knowingly.

            I’m suddenly annoyed with him. Where does he get off telling me what I do and don’t like? First, he had to have his say about Andy, and now this.

            “Are you my self-appointed therapist?”

            “Maybe I should be,” he says good-naturedly. “If I were, I’d point out that if you were so into your comfortable, easy life, then you wouldn’t have such a hard-on for someone like Andy.”

            His words cling to me like the seed pods from a burdock plant. For some reason, I find myself thinking of Lilah. She was an accountant like my father, and she made these really impressive spreadsheets to help keep herself—and the people in her life—organized. They were color coordinated and everything. She made one for Marnie and me so we could evenly share the chores in the house after our dad died. (We ignored it.) She made one for me so I could keep my ideas organized for work. (I ignored it.)

            She made one to schedule our sex life.

            I tried to ignore it.

            “You know, Lilah made really nice spreadsheets,” I find myself saying. “Top notch. They were supposed to make everything more streamlined.”

            “You broke up with her, didn’t you?” he says, his eyes sparkling as he shifts toward me on his stool. It creaks in disagreement, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it shattered. I’m a tall guy, but Rafe’s tall and wide—a beast—the kind of person who could break chairs just by sitting on them. “Griffin seems to think she broke things off, so I’m guessing you told people it was mutual, but he’s wrong. You did.”

            Hell, maybe he really should be my therapist. He’s seeing through me like cellophane tonight.

             should have felt right with Lilah—she was sexy and smart, and life always felt organized with her. Under control. Safe. She kept me—and herself—on track. But we had a conversation about our future one night, and she followed up the next morning by presenting me with a spreadsheet tallying up what we should spend on our wedding. I felt like I was in a business meeting, and it made me twitchy in a way that surprised me. I thought about it for two days. I even made my own damn list. Then Marnie told me she was sick of me sitting around brooding, and backed me into going bowling with her and her friends. What she didn’t mention was that it was glo-stick night. I rolled my eyes at her when we walked in and then asked Andy if this was her bright idea.

            “Obviously,” she said, “I’m full of bright ideas.”

            Then she snapped glo-sticks together into a crown and set it on top of her curls. “I hereby declare myself the Queen of Bright Ideas.”

            She made another and set it on top of my head. “The court jester.”

            “I’m grateful for the confirmation that you think I’m hilarious, but no thanks,” I said, pocketing it.

            It glowed from inside my pocket, and she told me my balls were on fire.

            Hell, it was fun. We wore glo-sticks and drank Jello shots and danced in the dark when they shut off the lights at midnight. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I certainly didn’t want Lilah to be there. And that decided it. If I had more fun hanging out with my sister and her friends than with my girlfriend, then something wasn’t right in my relationship.

So when Lilah came over for breakfast the next day, I sat her down and told her no.

            “No to a big wedding?” She’d pursed her lips and tucked a loose strand of hair into her bun. “We could elope, although I won’t go to Vegas, Andrew. It’s dirty. I know someone who caught herpes from a toilet seat at one of the casinos.”

            “I don’t think you can get herpes that way.”

             You tell that to her open sores,” she said, sniffing.

            I was tempted to ask her if she’d seen the open sores, but there was no point in getting in an argument about it. So I cleared my throat. “I think we need to break up, Lilah,” I said. “I care about you, but there’s something…”


            The most disorganized thing she ever did was to dump my dirty laundry into the toilet and then scrape loser into the side of my car. The penmanship was, of course, good, the word very readable.

            I left it there. It’s a reminder, although what the lesson is supposed to be, I’m less sure.

            Somehow Marnie slept through all of it, and when she asked me about the “loser” engraving later on, I pretended it was the result of a bet I’d lost with my friends.

            “Okay, yeah, you’re right,” I say. “But it was because she made a spreadsheet for our sex life. Everyone has their limits.”

            “You sure you don’t need some lessons, friend?” Reggie says, stroking his beard thoughtfully. “Because that’s not the kind of thing a woman would do if you’re steaming it up between the sheets.”

            I shake my head, more amused than annoyed. “She was just like that. She literally had a spreadsheet for everything.” Turning to Rafe, I nod. “So, yeah, in a way you’re right. I guess I don’t want life to be too boring. But I don’t have it bad for Andy like you’re thinking. I just… She’s hot. I’ve noticed for years, but that doesn’t mean I feel inclined to do anything about it. And not just because she’s my sister’s friend. She’s…an agent of chaos. I don’t need that in my life.”

He studies me for a long moment, then twists his mouth to the side and leans closer on his stool, the seat creaking. “I’m telling you this as a friend, Drew, that might be exactly what you need.”

            “What about her books, man?” Griffin says, returning to his spot behind the bar and resuming the conversation as if he hadn’t left. “Marnie tells me she’s into romance books. Why don’t you try reading one of them? It’d give you something to talk about.”

            “They all have half-naked men on the covers. I don’t want to read about some guy’s rigid sword or cucumber or whatever euphemism they use.” 

            Reggie snorts. “But you’d also get to read about the woman’s quivering pudding, son.”

            “I don’t want to read about any of it,” I say. “I’d rather keep food and sex separate.”

            “Maybe you really do have a limited imagination,” Rafe says, smirking.

            “Romance books aren’t like that anymore,” Griffin says. Then shrugs. “Most of them, at least. They use the proper words for things.”

Reggie helpfully spouts off a few.
           “So, what?” I ask, feeling sweat gathering under my collar. “Are you telling me she reads porn?”

            How many times have I seen Andy curled up on the couch in my house, a paperback book or her kindle clutched in her hand, reading with a rapt expression next to Marnie? I can see her now, biting her lip, maybe twisting a lock of her impossible hair. Was she reading graphic sex while she did that? The thought’s more alluring than I’d like it to be, and I know I’ll never be able to see her reading again without wondering what’s in front of her.

Thanks a lot, Griffin.

            “Yes,” Griffin says, with a wicked grin. “People always appreciate it when you pay attention to the things they like and keep an open mind. If you’re very lucky, she might even want to act out the scenes with you.”

            “Damn it, you’re talking about my sister, aren’t you? Do you have any bleach behind the counter I can pour into my ears?”

            He looks amused, because of course he does—it’s not his sister who’s being discussed. “Speaking of…does Marnie know about any of this, man? Because if she does, she hasn’t said anything to me.”

            “No,” I say, feeling my ears burning. “And you’re not going to tell her either.” I shoot an accusatory look at Rafe. “Or Sinclair.”  

            They both lift their hands. “Don’t worry,” Rafe says with a slight smile. “I’ve been told I don’t gossip nearly enough. Just make sure you don’t let anyone get my dad drunk.”

            “He has a point,” Reggie says, lifting his glass. “I do get a little chatty when I’ve had one too many.” He says this as if he couldn’t talk the ear off an elephant without drinking a single drop of alcohol.


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