The current novel I'm preparing for release. This is my first contemporary novel, and is largely set in Western Washington State (the place I call home) I hope you will enjoy and leave a review!
Me: Alex's leaving me, and I don't really have anyone to turn to. I don't have anywhere to go. Please. I need a place to live and I've heard you might know of something. Im sorry. I know its been a long time.
Jake Graham: You still on island?
Jake Graham: We're down a roommate here, but then I live a good two hours away…
Me: I don't mind. Really.
Jake Graham: What about your mom?
Me: No space. Ive already talked to her
Jake Graham: Shit Em. Youre welcome here
Me: I don't have a job
Jake Graham: more options down here. We can find you something.
Jake Graham: when does he want you out?
Jake Graham: so soon? what an ass
Jake Graham: will you be okay?
Jake Graham: Emma?
Me: he's just left. He's staying with his brother until I leave.
Jake Graham: he's keeping the apartment?
Jake Graham: what about the lease?
Me: it's in his name
Jake Graham: dick
Jake Graham: did you need to talk?
Me: we are talking
Jake Graham: I could call you
Me: Not right now. Sorry.
Jake Graham: can I at least come up for the weekend? I can help you pack.
Jake Graham: I could bring the truck?
Me: I don't need a truck. I only have a couple boxes
Jake Graham: emma, please let me come up. Im worried.
Jake Graham: where did you go?
Jake Graham: is he back?
Jake Graham: whats going on over there?
Me: Can you call me tomorrow? We can talk more then.
Jake Graham: what are you doing now?
Waiting for Dinner
Three boxes and two suitcases. Four years of my life stacked on a single dolly. Four days ago I had a couch and a television and a dining room table.
Jake stoops to peer into my face. "You okay?"
"Look, forget Alex. What does he know?"
He knows me. He knows I loved garlic and hated asparagus. He knows all my favorite books (sci-fi) and movies (sci-fi) and TV shows (cop dramas). He knows I vacuumed just so I could lie on a clean carpet. He knows my favorite fragrance (pine) and my favorite color (green). No, Alex knows me, he just doesn't like me.
"Here, let me." I take the larger suitcase from Jake and wrestle with the sticky handle. I haven't used it in years.
"So what do you think?"
How much are they paying for this? The question popped into my head as we pulled into the Secret Meadow's parking lot. It's nothing like my white, blockish complex in Friday Harbor. The walls are painted green and sunset orange. Wrought iron fences complement large, ornamental balconies. Their furnishings could be transplanted from a Pottery Barn catalog: flower boxes, tomato vines, rosemary bushes, giant grills with shiny lids, wicker chairs, and paisley-print cushions.
"I thought you lived in student housing."
"Nope…just some random apartment. It's expensive," Jake admits, slamming the tailgate. "But we split the rent, so it's not so bad."
"I see." My palms itch. I need a job. The hundred bucks Mom gave me will buy some groceries and toiletries, but not much else.
"We're paying for the location." His head jerks towards the park-and-ride across the street. "I work just up the road."
He leans against the dolly and rubs the back of his neck. "Kind of. More like an internship."
"Wow. I didn't know."
He grins. "Impressed?"
More like jealous. From afar, his life hadn't seemed so enviable—long hours studying and late-night stocking shifts at the local grocery store. I'm seeing him up close for the first time in years. He's got his fancy apartment in Redmond, and soon he'll have his college degree. He's worked hard to get what he wants. What have I done?
What had Alex called me? Complacent?
"You got everything?"
"The elevator's this way."
"There's an elevator?"
"Nice, isn't it?"
"Are you sure I'm really allowed to do this? Won't the management want to do a background check on me or something?"
He holds the door to the lobby open for me. "You'll have to fill out some paperwork, and they'll likely want to check your credit. But we do it all the time. It's the nature of living with other students. Everyone's always coming and going."
"And it doesn't matter that I'm not a student?"
The lobby is large and empty. The red rug does little to dampen the pounding of my hiking boots against the tiles. Two elevators occupy the right wall, their metal doors gleaming. The leasing office is on the left, its glass windows dark and shuttered. The fake ficus in the corner has been recently cleaned; its plastic leaves are still wet.
While Jake waits for the elevator, I sneak my phone from my pocket. I hold it at my hip so he doesn't see it. No messages.
The elevator arrives with a ding, and Jake wiggles the dolly over the metal threshold. I squeeze in after him. With my boxes and suitcases, the space is barely large enough to hold us.
"A little tight. Press three."
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Jake reminds me of everything he's done for me in the last couple days. The phone calls, the long drive, the Chinese takeout.
"I really appreciate this, Jake."
"Hey, don't worry about it. What are best friends for?"
"I haven't been a really great friend to you."
"Well, life took us in different directions. Doesn't mean we aren't still friends."
The elevator lurches to a stop, and we stumble out upon a carpeted hall.
Jake rattles off the complex's amenities as he leads me to the apartment. He tells me about the gym and the sauna and his preferred cafe of the two below us. He tells me where I can go to get milk and eggs. He tells me where I can buy bus passes, like I can afford one.
Jake's apartment is at the end of the hallway, a corner unit. The door's unlocked. One of his roommates is home. My heart rises into my throat as I shuffle into the linoleum entranceway.
I'm greeted with the sight of a messy kitchen. The others have left their dirty dishes soaking on the counter. Marinara speckles the glass-top stove. The microwave door hangs open. Old grounds cover the coffeemaker, and spilt coffee stains the beige kitchen floor.
"It's a little messy, sorry."
"No, it's okay." I'm not in a position to complain, and I don't care that it smells like old socks. I'm grateful for the dirty kitchen. It's better than no kitchen.
Jake parks the dolly against the wall where the greasy wheels won't stain the carpet. "We take turns buying the necessities: toilet paper, coffee, sugar, stuff like that. But if it doesn't have a name on it, everything in the fridge is fair game."
"I'll contribute what I can."
He shrugs. "I understand you'll be a bit strapped for a while. Don't worry about it. I'll help you until you figure something out."
A door around the corner opens. By the sound of the thundering shower, it must be to the bathroom.
"Is someone there?" The girl's voice is nasal, almost squeaky.
"It's me, Sunny. I've got Emma here if you wanted to say hi."
Sunny turns off the shower and pounces around the corner. She's naked but for the towel wrapped around her petite frame. Her wet hair dangles around her doll-like face, black hair bleached orange. The hot shower has brought a flushed glow to her tawny skin. Her almond eyes sparkle, her pink lips purse, and a carefully plucked eyebrows arches.
She pouts, and her brown eyes scan me head to foot. I can't tell what displeases her most, my jeans or my baggy t-shirt.
"Uh…hi. I'm Emma."
"Sunye." She brushes back her hair to expose bony shoulders. "Jake's already told me about you."
Jake laughs and knocks his elbow against mine. "All good things, I swear."
How long does Sunny intend to stand around in her towel and birthday suit? Jake isn't blushing or turning away. Does Sunny make a habit of prancing around naked?
"It's nice to meet you."
"You'll be staying in my room," says Sunny, her elegant nose jutting ever-so-slightly upwards. "You can have Emily's old bed."
Jake rubs the back of his neck. "She moved out last June. Landed a job at Microsoft. Too good for us now."
He forces a chuckle, avoiding my eyes. Either he misses her, or he's envious of her success.
"Ugh, enough about Emily." Sunny snorts. "I'll take you to our room."
She jogs off to the bedroom, and I kick off my boots and scramble after her. She's already swinging the door shut when I wiggle in after her.
"Here it is."
The long strip of blue tape stuck to the carpet catches my eye first. It divides the room in half. One side is empty except for a tiny desk and twin-size bed. The other is plastered in posters and expired calendars and bumper stickers.
Sunny's half of the room is piled high with dirty laundry. Her bed is covered in school books: math and accounting and microeconomics. Her MacBook casts a blue glow onto her pink comforter, and that's when I notice how dark it is in here. The window is on her side of the room, but she's covered it with a huge blanket. The blanket, in turn, is covered in glow-in-the-dark stars.
She really likes stickers.
"I added the tape when Emily moved in, but I don't see any reason to take it off now. You keep to your space and I'll keep to mine. The closet's through there." She nods her head at the door behind me.
The walk-in closet is on my side of the room, but when I open the door, I discover that Sunny's laid boundary tape here, too. She's good at filling her space. Her side of the closet is stuffed with vibrant clothes and shoes and large buckled belts. She's tacked little satchels stuffed with lavender to the wall.
I don't have hangers, and it looks like Sunny has none to spare. Another expense I can't afford. For now I'll be living out of my suitcases.
I return to the bedroom to find Sunny naked, her damp towel discarded on her bed. She's climbing through her laundry pile, digging for something suitable to wear. I cough, whirl around, and ball my hands into fists.
Sunny sighs, returning from her expedition with a purple thong. "I hate this one."
Even so, she yanks the lacy thing on and turns circles in front of her vanity mirror. She arches her back, pushes out her rear, and juts her chest. She's gorgeous, thin and confident and poised. Her golden skin is without freckle or blemish, and yet she clucks at her reflection. She grimaces as she pinches her hip.
She peeks at me, and I whirl away as a flush spreads across my cheeks.
"I should get the rest of my things from—"
"I hear your boyfriend left you."
Sunny drops into the vanity chair, abandoning the critical self-examination. She pulls out eyeshadow palettes, brushes, and tubes of primer and toner and moisturizer and who knows what else. She's too busy ordering her products to notice me chewing the inside of my cheek.
Sunny glances at me, her gaze probing my reflection for a half-second before returning to her creams and perfumes.
"Were you together a long time?"
"Did he fall for someone else?"
I grab the phone in my pocket and give it a squeeze. "No."
"You're sure?" She turns on her chair to face me. Even with gobs of moisturizer on her face, she's unfairly beautiful. Wearing nothing but her thong, I wonder if she means to flaunt. I have a sneaking suspicion she's trying to rattle me. After all, she does seem the dramatic, lascivious type.
"So he just got sick of you?"
"We grew apart."
"But he dumped you."
"We grew apart."
"Sure." She elongates the word before finishing with a knowing smile. "Well, if you ever need to get yourself wasted, you're welcome to join me at—"
"No, thank you." I don't mean to snap, but my impatience gets the better of me. The hand curled around my cell shakes.
If Sunny noticed the added venom, it doesn't bother her. She shrugs her shoulders and pumps a dollop of foundation onto her brush.
I stifle the monster clawing at the pit of my stomach. "Have I done something to upset you?"
Her waxed eyebrow lifts. She's very good at looking skeptical. "How would you have upset me? I've just met you."
"I just hope you don't think I'm some freeloader. I intend to find a job, you know."
"Oh, yeah, I'm sure you'll get right on that."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Let's be honest. Jake's paying your way. Why get a job when everything's being handed to you?"
"I'm going to pay him back."
"Yeah, sure, Emily."
A knock on the door interrupts us.
"Everything okay in there, Emma?" Jake calls. "I have your boxes here."
Sunny wrinkles her nose. "He's come to rescue you. What a doll."
I glare at her before leaving her to her makeup. Jake's waiting in the hall as I sneak through the door. I don't want him to see Sunny, but a part of me doubts she would mind. A part of me thinks it's nothing Jake hasn't seen a hundred times before, parading about the living room.
"Everything okay?" He takes my shoulder again. Is he reading my thoughts, or is he just expecting me to be miserable?
"Do you think Alex was cheating?"
He scowls. "Christ, what did Sunny say?"
"But do you think he was cheating?"
"I don't think even Alex is that stupid."
I survey the living room. The coffee table is covered in old coffee cups and pop cans. Textbooks fill the crooked shelf sagging in the corner. Someone's left schoolwork and takeout spread across the dining table.
"No," I say. All I want is the familiar, but that, I fear, is impossible. This place is strange, and Sunny is hostile. It stinks of old cabbage and teriyaki. A half-empty beer produces a stench of fermentation and mold.
I wait for the phone in my pocket to beep. Alex needs to call first. If I'm thinking about him, shouldn't he be thinking about me? It's almost dinner. He'll be returning home and wanting food. What will he do when he remembers he's dumped me?
What if he texts me and I don't feel it?
I slide my hand into my back pocket and wrap it around the phone.
"He was a fool to leave you, Em. You deserve better than that."
So everyone's told me. Mom, Granddad, my little brother, too young to know what I do and don't deserve. Jake's said it twice now, and both times I've ignored him. He's wrong, but I can't tell him that. I know what he would say. You're delusional. You're in denial. You just need to give it time.
"Are you sure you aren't hungry? I could order us some more Chinese."
My bottom lip trembles. Here it comes. I cover my mouth with the back of my hand, swallow a sob, and blink back a rush of tears.
"Ah, shit, Em, I'm sorry."
My cheeks flush. It's embarrassing, crying in front of Jake. I don't think I've broken down in front of him since fifth grade. I was combing the beach when a boy threw sand in my face. Jake chased my assailant down the beach, his fist filled with pebbles.
Now this older, ganglier Jake pats my arms, cocks his head to the side, and asks, "TV?"
I'm still remembering him pelting my fifth-grade bully with sand and pebbles. I force myself to release the phone and wipe my cheeks. "TV."
"Please, no more Chinese."
"Not even good Chinese?"
"No more Chinese."
He vaults over the couch. A deflated pillow bounces to the ground, and paper crinkles beneath his weight. Debris litters every surface of the apartment, but Jake clears a cushion for me without regard for the papers and empty tortilla bags raining upon the beige carpet.
"I guess I should have cleaned up a bit," he says with a sheepish grimace. "Come sit. We'll get the rest of your things squared away once Sunny's hit the road."
His wiggling brow and bobbing Adam's apple are so familiar to me. He is older and tanner and less freckled than he was in high school, but his smile will always be the same.
Then the cell chirps, and I scramble to extract it from my back pocket.
Mom: u settled in ok?
I shoot her a response, and when I look up again, Jake's smile is gone.
"Ah." He finds the remote buried beneath the books piled on the coffee table. He clicks on the television set. Nice TV for college students, the kind Alex would have liked—HD, 40". He would browse online stores like we could afford one. He'd say, "This one's got some good reviews," or "Don't you think this one's too small? I mean, what's the point?" even when we could never hope to afford one.
"So, how's Mary and Jason?"
"Fine. Busy. Jason's taken up soccer."
I take the seat, but that feeling of cozy nostalgia is gone. Jake flips through the channels, his eyes glued to the screen, and I fold my hands together, my cell clutched between my steepled fingers.
"Yeah, he likes it."
He settled on the weather station, something neither of us is particularly interested in watching. The weather girl talks a lot about La Nina and how that could be bad news for the Pacific Northwest.
"…And expect colder temperatures. People at home should remember to check…"
Sunny makes her dramatic reappearance. I'm not shocked to find her outfit—a gold-sequined tank top, lacy bolero, and black velvet miniskirt—every bit as showy as her cosmetics.
When she nearly trips over my boxes, she shoots me a glowering look. "Uh, excuse me? What is this?"
"Goin' clubbing, Sunny?"
"Class." She huffs. "Then Harvey's."
"Sasha working tonight?"
"How long are these boxes going to be here?"
I feel her glare on the back of my head, but I can't look her in the eye. "I'm going to take care of them tonight."
She pokes at one of my boxes with a gold high heel. "Swell job, there."
"Lay off, Sunny."
"Christ, what are you losers watching?"
"Yeah, but why? You know we have Netflix, right?"
"Weren't you leaving?"
"Oh right," she smirks. "Excuuuuse me. Don't let me interrupt."
Her heels clap against the linoleum as she opens the fridge and prods the contents. Even from the couch, the stink of old vegetables wrinkles my nose.
"Yikes, what's Sasha got in here?"
"Well, it's bad now."
"Then toss it."
"And deal with that fight? No thanks. You toss it."
"Go to class, Sunny."
Her head pops above the counter. She's found herself a cup of yogurt and an orange.
"And now to Jamie with a look at the passes— Yes, thank you, Adam. The passes can expect half a foot of snow tonight and tomorrow morning. This is good news for skiers, who have been…"
Sunny tromps around the dining area, lapping up her yogurt and collecting the contents of her purse. Her phone, I observe as she tosses it into her purse, is as gold and sparkling as her shirt. Head to toe, she's covered in tiny adhesive gems.
"Right, I'm off. Take care of those boxes. They're a hazard, you know."
Then she struts into the hall, slamming the front door behind her.
Jake's hand takes mine as he peels my fingers from the phone. With his other, he turns down the television's volume.
"You'll be okay, you know."
I nod like I agree.
"You were such a badass in high school."
I force a smile. "I was, wasn't I?"
"See? You got this."
My smile dims, and so does Jake's.
"Why don't you put down the phone? We'll pass on the Chinese and get some pizza. What do you say? Wanna watch some bad TV? I bet we can find something cringe-worthy."
"Pizza sounds good." But I don't release the phone. I slide it from my lap but keep it pressed to my thigh. I match his stare and purse my lips.
He knows what I'm thinking. He knows that I'm still hoping Alex will call. It's past five. He'll be off work. If traffic isn't bad, he will be walking through our front door at any minute. He'll find the dark living room and clean kitchen and remember his mistake.
But he doesn't call, and the weather woman drones on about the mountains and the rain and the chilly Halloween forecasted for this Wednesday. She shares a couple pictures of dogs in booties and yellow raincoats. She giggles at the camera before the studio cuts back to Anchorman Adam.
Jake means well, but I'm not going to put down the phone and he won't release my hand. I'm caught between my silent cellphone and his clammy hand. It could be awkward, but then he switches the channel. We play a game, dubbing a Spanish-language soap opera with our own inappropriate dialogue.
We laugh to the point of tears. I like the way he laughs. It's the full-bodied kind, so his hands shake as he hoots and howls. Even so, I keep my phone close and count each minute that crawls past without it beeping or buzzing or ringing.
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