Authors: Lauren Blakely
I gesture to my face. “In and out in under five. All-natural beauty here.”
She nudges me with her elbow. “The other great thing is we'll each have our space. Since I work early we wouldn't be on top of each other every second.”
My dick stirs, not because I'm horny for her, but hello? The image of her sweet, sexy body
on top of
me is legally required to induce an erection. If it didn't, I'd need to be tested for ED.
“We'd only be on top of each other a few seconds a day,” I fire back, because that was too good to resist. Then, to sell myself more, because this is the golden ticket for both of us, I add, “I'm also amazingly good at reaching objects on tall shelves, opening champagne bottles, taking out the trash, and any other manly tasks you want to throw my way. Not to mention sewing up wounds and restarting hearts.”
She taps a finger to her lips. “Manly tasks can be helpful. Plus, I have at least two dozen unopened champagne bottles crying out for your attention.”
I pump a fist. “Does that mean you'll take that roommate ad down? Like, now?”
She grabs her phone and removes the ad. Like that, we take the aspirin to fix the problem, and we don't even need to call the doctor in the morning.
rom the pages
of Josie's Recipe Book
Josie's Swedish Fish Rolls
1 tablespoon butter
(But please, use the gelatin-free kind, because gelatin = gross. And as my friend Spencer says, beef candy is not a thing.)
2 cups puffed rice cereal
4 Fruit Roll-Ups
of Swedish Fish is up to you. My rule of thumb is as many Swedish Fish as you need for the recipe, allowing for the fact that you will eat them as you make the sushi because Swedish Fish are delish.)
. Melt butter
in a medium saucepan over low heat and add marshmallows. Stir marshmallows until completely melted.
peaking of melted
, that's not at all how I feel around Chase Summers, no matter how good-looking he is. I swear that man does not melt me. He does, however, entertain me, and that's one of the many reasons I suggested we move in together. Living with Chase will be like having HBO on all day. Except, you know, minus the nudity. Unless I peek at him in the shower. And I'm totally not going to do that.
. Add cereal
and coat thoroughly.
out the fruit roll-ups. Place 1/4 of the coated cereal onto each fruit roll-up and spread across.
. Place a line
of fish on the coated cereal.
up the fruit roll-up with the crispy treat and the fish inside.
. Sushi candy needs a subtle, sensual touch.
a sharp knife into a bowl of very warm water. Slice. Serve.
. Share with a friend
: Pat self on back for having the most excellent idea of sharing an apartment with a good friend who makes you laugh and helps your business. We are such a great fit.
and I walk across town like two conquering generals who joined forces on the battlefield of New York real estate. Now we put the carnage behind us as we lay down the law of our new future.
Since she and Natalie took over a month-to-month lease from Charlotte when she moved out, we'll be paying some dude named Mr. Barnes. He owns the place, and Charlotte paved the way to transfer her lease when she left. Don't let anyone tell you New York real estate
about luck and who you know.
“I don't have a lot of rules, but I'll be frank. I don't like dirty socks, so please don't be a slob,” Josie tells me as her sandals click on the sidewalk en route to her place in Murray Hill. Her short little skirt shows off her bare legs, toned from the soccer rec league she plays in. Even though I'm not checking out her legs. Her strong, shapely legs.
I scoff. “I'm basically the neatest guy around.”
She gives me a side-eyed stare. “And you're straight?”
I hold up my hands. “Woman, straight men can be clean. Do not stereotype.”
She laughs and elbows my side as we stroll east. “I'm teasing. I know both things about you. Your straightness and your cleanliness, Doctor McHottie,” she says as we pass a flower shop. The nickname nearly halts me in my tracks, but before I can ask why she called me that, and if she does really think of me that way, she's moved on to a new topic. “As for music, noise, TV, and all that jazz, all I ask is we be respectful of each other. I do wake up early to open the bakery, and I need a solid seven hours of sleep or I'm a total witch.”
“You? A witch? I doubt it.”
She cackles and curves her fingers into claws. “Complete with the pointy hat and black cat if I don't sleep well.”
“I won't disturb your slumber with heavy metal, or playing my audiobooks out loud,” I say as we reach the crosswalk and wait for the little man in the sign to turn green. “Besides, I'm all about the earphones, anyway. My relationship with my headphones is quite possibly the longest one I've had.”
That trumps the year-long one with my ex, a fellow doctor named Adele, and even that lasted about eleven months longer than it should have. A dark cloud hovers at the edge of my thoughts; I don't like thinking about the girl who was my closest friend once upon a time. I basically try to never think of Adele, if I can help it.
“We're on the same page about hours, cleanliness, and cooking, and our schedules fit well together,” Josie says, as we separate briefly to give room to a harried mom charging through the evening crowds with a stroller. “Oh, and rent is due on the first of the month to Mr. Barnes, and if you want to move in right away, that would be awesome.” She seems a little guilty, like maybe she feels bad asking me to move in so soon. But hell, I'm effectively a homeless guy, so her speed-is-of-the-essence offer sounds good.
“I can be in this weekend,” I say.
“Thank God,” she says, exhaling deeply. “I have to admit, I took out a loan a few months ago to expand the bakery, and I've been stretched a bit thin between payments and rent each month. It's doable, but I just really need a roomie to spread the cost. That's why I'm so glad you can do this. You're saving me. I don't know what I'd do without you stepping up like this.”
I squeeze her shoulder. “You can count on me, Josie. I've got a year-long contract at Mercy, so I'm not skipping town. And besides, you're saving me, so we're totally even.”
“Good. I need you for even more than your talented mouth now,” she says, and I blink and stare at her, trying to figure out if she's even aware of the innuendo that just spilled from her pretty lips. But she's about to be.
I wiggle my eyebrows. “My mouth is damn talented. And did you know my tongue has amazing stamina?”
Rolling her eyes, she chuckles. “I deserved that. I left you no choice but to go there.”
I nod. “You can't say things like that and expect me not to comment.”
“Oh, believe you me, I know about your level of dirty commentary, and it's a damn good thing I find it amusing. And all your naughty comments are making me forget the tips and guidelines for roommate compatibility that I'm supposed to review.” She stops in front of a tall stone church with a slate gray exterior, gazing up at the vast New York sky, a rare cloudless blue this evening as the sun dips toward the horizon. She looks as if she's contemplating something, but then she shrugs happily. “I had this whole list of questions to ask potential roommates, but it doesn't really matter anymore. I know we're compatible.”
I hold my arms out wide. “I'm easy. What you see is what you get.”
“You know I love that about you,” she says as we resume our pace across town.
We've known each other for years, and Josie and I hit it off from day one. When I visited her parents' home in New York City with Wyatt during my junior year of college, we clicked instantly. The first time I walked through the door of the family's brownstone on the Upper West Side, she didn't even hesitate to throw her arms around me and welcome me into the home. After that embrace, she thrust a plate of mini cupcakes at me, and the rest was history.
She was home from college at the same time as I was, and one of the reasons we got along so well is we're close in age. I skipped two grades as a kid, so I wound up starting college at sixteen. Wyatt and I were in the same graduating class at school, but he's two years older. Anyway, I went on to spend many weekends at Wyatt's home since my folks live outside Seattle and I attended school near Manhattan. Along with Wyatt's twin brother, Nick, we all hung out together on those long weekends, watching movies and traipsing around the city checking out bands and visitingâironically, of courseâtourist traps like the wax museum in Times Square to photobomb as many pictures as possible.
At the clubs, Nick and Wyatt gave Josie and me a hard time because we weren't old enough to drink. In our favor, though, we discovered we made a powerful Scrabble team, and we crushed the Hammer twins in our games. I knew the killer science words like “dyspnea” and “zygosity,” and Josie, the lit major, slayed it with her all-around love of words, including her mastery of the two-letter Scrabble ones. We destroyed those fuckers one night in a nine-letter game with a one-two punch of “diplococci” and “Qi.”
They had to go out and buy us beer. Victory had never tasted so good.
Funny that even though Wyatt's my buddy, I've managed to become close friends with his sister, too. Probably helps that Wyatt knows there's nothing cooking between Josie and me. Hell, how else do you explain being friends with a girl this long? Obviously, I don't want her.
Besides, I've been there and learned the hard way that getting into a relationship with a woman you're friends with can only end in heartbreak. Thank you, Adele, for that little lesson. I won't go there again. Ever.
When we reach Fifth Avenue, Josie clears her throat, returning me to the moment. “But there is one thing I want to ask from my list of roommate questions.”
“Hit me with it.”
“What's your romantic situation? That's just something that's good to know for two people about to live together, don't you think?”
Her eyes meet mine. The question strikes me as odd. Doesn't she know my romantic situation? “I'm not involved with anyone. But you knew that.”
She holds up her hands, almost defensively. “I didn't want to assume anything. You might have met a pretty young thing last night,” she says lightly.
I laugh. “Nope. Last night I rode twenty-five miles with Max after work. Prep for the century we're doing at the end of the summer.” I raise my chin toward her, then something sticks in my throat as I force out, “Are you? Involved with someone romantically?”
Why does it sound like I'm croaking? And why am I clenching my fists, hoping to hell she'll say no?
She shakes her head as we cross the avenue and head toward her pad. I haven't seen her place before, but I know where she lives in the city. She moved when I was in Africa. “Nope.”
I breathe a strange sigh of relief. Then I tell myself it's just easier if whoever I live with is unentangled. Significant others can be ballbreakers, no matter the gender. “Cool,” I say, keeping my tone light.
“But I've started online dating.”
My stomach twists. “Why would you do that?”
She gives me a look as if I'm crazy for asking. “Why wouldn't I? I'm twenty-eight and single in the city. I wouldn't mind meeting a nice guy.”
“And you think you'll meet him online? A pretty young thing?”
“Why not? That's how people meet these days.” She gestures to me. “Where do you meet women?”
Most of the women I've been involved with in my late twenties have been doctors or nurses, to be honest, or chicks I met at a bar and banged. Hey, it happens. I don't say all that to Josie, though.
“Work, usually. That's where I meet people.” I rub a hand over my jaw, processing what online dating might mean. “Are you going to bring home some dude you meet online?”
She laughs. “You said that as if it tasted like vinegar.”
It kind of did. Truthfully, I hadn't noodled on this part of the roommate equation. While I didn't think either one of us would monk it up and practice celibacy, I hadn't factored in the impact of another person's love life, either. Shit, now I need to think about the nuances of her bringing dudes home. Like finding a sock on the doorknob when I get off work. That image doesn't sit well with me. “Will there be a tube sock to warn me to stay away?”
She winks. “No, a sexy black lace thong.”
I nearly stumble on a sidewalk crack. She'd look good in a black thong. She'd look good in a pink one. A white one. Any color. Oh fuck, and soon she might even walk around the apartment in justâ
“And for the record, I do not strut around the apartment wearing nothing but heels and underwear.”
Damn. There goes that dream. But maybe I can resurrect it. “Any chance you'd consider making that fashion statement? Say, in about three days, once I move in?”
She laughs as she shakes her head. “I don't think either one of us wants to be caught with our pants down. Let's be honest. I was looking for a female roommate because it's just easier for a woman to live with a woman. Same reason you were looking for your own place. But neither one of us had any luck. Now, we just have to be thoughtful and considerate of the fact that we're a man and a woman who are good friends living together, and we'll have to adjust to things like the other person dating, and me possibly bringing home a guy or you potentially bringing home a girl, right?”
I nod. She's right, even though I wish she weren't. And while it's not like I was hitting it and quitting it every single night, something about bringing a woman home to a place I'll share with Josie seems . . . odd. Even so, it's best to be prepared. “Yeah, we'll need a plan.”
“Should we just do what any good roommate does? Screw someone in the bathroom at a bar before we go home?” I suggest innocently, batting my eyes.
She swats my arm as we cross the street. “You're terrible. I simply mean that we'll need a code word. A heads-up. I'll text you, or you'll text me with that word.”
“Like aardvark? I've always thought aardvark would be an awesome code word because it's completely obvious it's a code word.”
She calls me on my bluff, narrowing her eyes as we reach the block with her building. “Aardvark it is. But what if things get awkward between us?”
“What would be awkward between us?”
She shrugs. “I don't know. Like maybe if you're showering when I come home, how will I know to stay out of the bathroom?”
I furrow my brow. “Wouldn't the sound of the shower be all you need to stay out?”
She snaps her fingers. “Good point. I guess I was just thinking . . . if anything felt awkward between us . . .” She waves her hand from her to me and back.
I get it now.
I pretend to whisper. “You mean,” I say, taking my time to drawl out each syllable, “sex-u-al ten-sion?”
Her cheeks flush. “No. I just mean awkward. I don't mean
. Just that we're a man and a woman living together. It's just smart to be prepared for any . . . weirdness.”
“Just kidding, Josie,” I say, and drape an arm around her. “Things will never be awkward between us. But if they ever get that way, just say âSwedish Fish.' That will be our safe word.”
“But then how do we defuse the tension?”
I tap my chin. “That's a very good question.”
Neither one of us has an answer.
A few minutes later, we enter her building, head to the elevator, and shoot up six floors. As we walk down the hall, she gives me her preamble. “Both rooms are tiny. When Charlotte moved out to live with Spencer, Mr. Barnes gave approval so that we could have Wyatt turn the one-bedroom apartment into two bedrooms so Natalie and I could live here.”
She unlocks the door, guides me through the living room, and swings open the entrance to my new bedroom.
My eyebrows shoot into my hairline. It's the size of . . . well, of a mattress. The bed is up against the wall, and if the other room is the same size as this one, that means my bed will be next to her bed.
One thin wall will separate us.
Talk about Swedish Fish.