Recap: After being thoroughly chastised by her roommate, Sasha, she finally begins to wake up to the reality of the situation. She can't just mope in her friend's apartment and expect a free meal ticket. She just can't clean the house and expect that to be her form of rent. She's going to properly try now. She's going to try to face her problems head on. Little does she realize that Jake would be the first to put her new resolve to the test.
Do Not Disturb
"Were you able to connect?"
The printer comes alive with a whir.
Jake expertly navigates the mounds of dirty laundry and sneakers strewn between the two twin-size beds. He leaps onto his mattress, and the wooden frame groans as he unearths a half-empty bag of Doritos from under his covers.
"I think you mean delicious."
He shovels them in by the handful, and my eyes track his cheese-dusted palms as he wipes them clean on his sheets.
"You're such a slob."
"You have enough paper?"
"How many are you printing?"
"You think that's enough?"
"God, I hope so."
"Sasha has your resume posted up at Harvey's."
I swivel in the computer chair, ripping my laptop's cord from the wall socket in the process. "He—what?"
"He pinned it to the community board. You know, with all the business cards and lost dog posters?"
"He was supposed to be sending it to—"
"Oh, he did. He just also posted it. I mean, what can it hurt?"
"Uh…how 'bout my privacy?"
"No one's going to stalk you."
"Still, make him take it down. I don't like it."
"Tell him yourself. He'll be home later."
"Ah, come on. You're not still sore about the groceries are you?"
"Have you seen my wallet recently?"
"Why? What's the damage?"
I grind my teeth to keep from answering. Who buys ten bucks worth of cabbage? Surly Russians, apparently.
"I wouldn't worry about it, Em. He's helping you out with the whole job-search thing, you know."
"And what about you? Do you know anyone looking for some help?"
He purses his lips. "Nothing entry level. Sorry."
Without a paper tray, my resumes slip from the printer's feed and fall to the floor. I scoop them up one by one before Jake and Sasha's pigsty of a room can claim them.
"He said he's looking into city work," Jake says.
"Yeah, I'm trying for something in fisheries, but apparently Sasha knows someone in Parks and Rec."
"Oh, hey, awesome. That's perfect."
"Yeah, he says they're looking for the hiking types. Maybe my boat license will help."
"I didn't know you had a boat license."
"I got it after you graduated."
Jake tips the bag's crumbs into his mouth, crumples the plastic, and tosses it towards the overflowing wastebasket. He doesn't bat an eye when it misses, of course.
"Maybe I should pay you to clean in here."
"No way. Your roommate nearly skinned me for the kitchen."
"Hey, you don't see me or Sunny complaining! Stuff Sasha."
A growl escapes the back of my throat. "Stuff Sunny while you're at it."
"That bad, huh?"
"How does anyone stand her?"
"She's hardly home. I almost never see her."
"Try sharing a room with her."
"Is she waking you up? I could talk to her about it."
"Who's she fighting with all the time? She sure isn't polite about it."
"Wow…that just makes it worse."
"Well, to be fair, it's not like we know the whole story, what with all the Japanese."
"She speaks Korean."
"Tell me again how you landed the job at Microsoft?"
"Ah, don't fret. You'll find something."
"I hope so." I flatten my stack of resumes, but even with their careful wording and professional layout, they still seem so pathetically shallow. Objective: money. Education: high school. Employment history: nada. Skills: hiking, boating, and cleaning up dog poop.
Jake changes the subject. "Have you heard from your mom?"
"I talked to her last night."
"How's she doing?"
"Good. Still bratty."
"How old is he now?"
"And what about Alex?" It's the first time Jake has said his name since I first came here. Now he can't look me in the eye.
"What about Alex?"
"Now don't bite my head off. I'm just curious."
"Nothing, okay? He hasn't contacted me."
"Have you tried to—?"
"No. Of course not. I'm not that desperate." What a joke. If I'm over it, why do I cling to my phone, why do I check his Facebook and Twitter updates hourly?
"I just think you should talk about it."
"And I think I'm fine."
"Come on. Let me be your friend."
"I have. You think I like mooching off you and your roommates like this?"
"I owe it to you."
I barely hide my flinch in time. "Is this about my dad?"
"Not one of my finer moments."
"I told you I would be fine."
"I should have stayed."
"And that wasn't necessary. Yeah, I was sad, but we knew it was coming. I've come to terms with it now."
"But, you know, I could have been your shoulder—"
"Alex was my shoulder." I regret the words as soon as they're spoken.
Jake shrugs as if it doesn't bother him, but his eyes rove the floor as if seeking solace from the trash- and boxer-strewn carpet.
"I'm sorry, that came out wrong."
"No, I know. Don't worry about it."
But I do worry, because the frown darting across his face isn't normal. The sorrow haunting his expression isn't suited for his carefree features.
"Maybe we should talk about something else."
"Why him, Emma?"
"I'm not trying to be weird, really." With a strangled growl, Jake throws his blanket to the floor. He perches on the edge of his bed, his feet buried beneath his comforter and dirty sheets.
"You were about to leave for college, Jake."
"But I would have stayed."
"How could I ask you to do that?"
"Because that's what friends do."
"There was no need for you sacrifice all that. You may not believe me, but it really wasn't so bad. We were prepared when the time came."
"I still would have liked to help."
"It's not like I was picking Alex over you, Jake. It just made more sense that way. I wasn't going to ask you to stay."
"But you were picking him over me. We were going to get an apartment together after you graduated, remember? We were going to go to school together."
"And then my dad died and plans changed."
"Jesus, Emma. He wouldn't have wanted you to give up everything."
I slam my laptop shut. "I don't want to talk about this."
"That's what you always say, and I don't get it. Why can't I say it?"
"Please, Jake…I'm not ready for this."
"And you weren't ready for it then, either."
"Well, last time I kind of had a boyfriend, remember?"
"God, I know." Jake buries his head into his palms, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands, his shoulders hunched up around his ears.
I can't believe he still harbors these feelings for me. How have they survived four years of my neglect? Guilt wrenches my stomach, my hands grow damp, and my pulse drums in my temple. What will Jake say next? I want to run before I find out, and yet I'm glued to the computer chair, breath frozen in my throat.
My voice croaks as I finally whisper, "Would you like me to leave?"
"No." He lifts his head, revealing bloodshot eyes. "It's not your fault my timing's always so shitty."
Is the bitterness in his tone aimed at me or himself?
"I was never choosing my relationship with Alex over my friendship with you. But it's not like I was going to ask you to give up your dream to sit around patting my back."
"No, really. What would you have done in my position?"
"I get it."
My assurances aren't reaching him. Itchy discomfort crawls up my spine, and my toes twitch in their wooly socks. "Can I sit next to you?"
He brushes cheese powder from his mattress and gives it a pat.
I balance my laptop and resumes on a stack of milk crates and then slide from the computer chair to his bed in one silent motion. I'm afraid moving too quickly might startle him. He's already on the brink of tears, and I'm not ready to see him cry.
With great delicacy, I slide my hand across his back. I rub his flannel-clad shoulders with a couple jerky swipes of my arm.
"You really suck at this," he whispers.
I grimace. "I know."
Nevertheless, he leans his head against mine and breathes a sigh of relief. "This is totally uncool."
"Nah, it's cool."
"I was going to wait until the dust had settled, you know? Like, what if Alex wanted to get back together?"
"You're fine. I appreciate your honesty."
"I like you, Ems. I always have, and this is totally inappropriate, and I'm totally lame."
"You understand…but you need time?"
The front door opens, and Sunny's high heels clap across the linoleum. She's on her phone again, ranting in breathless, squeaky Korean.
I moan. "Oh, man."
"Hello? Anyone home?" Sunny kicks off her shoes, and they slam into the wall with a clatter.
We don't answer. By some unspoken agreement, I keep my arm tucked around Jake's waist and he keeps his head laid against mine. It's awkward, and I'm stiff, but sitting with him like this is almost comfortable. It's warm and familiar.
Sunny returns to her phone conversation, and her voice fades down the hall as she crosses into the living room.
We think we've avoided her when Jake's bedroom door swings open.
Sasha kicks his way through the mounds of rubbish. "Jake, you in here? Have you seen Emma?"
I yank my arm from Jake's waist, but not before Sasha's seen us.
The bartender's head whips the other way as he backpedals from the room. "Whoa! Whoa! S-s-sorry!"
Sasha's tone says enough, and soon Sunny's jogging over, her voice trilling. "What? What's going on, Sashy?"
The bed bounces as Jake lunges to his feet and bounds for the exit. "Hey! We weren't doing anything!" He rips open the door, chasing after his roommate. "We weren't doing anything! Wipe that look off your face! We weren't doing anything."
Sunny howls with laughter.
Cheeks flaming, I gather my things and join the others in the cramped hallway.
Sunny winks, Jake shakes his head, and Sasha crosses his arms across his broad chest.
"We weren't doing anything, honest," Jake insists.
"We weren't," I second, squeezing myself between Jake and Sasha.
The bartender arches an accusing eyebrow at me and my blush deepens. "Oh yeah, sure. Just a little cuddling in bed."
Sunny's still got her mother on her cellphone, but she's forgotten all about it. She leans against the wall instead, heaving for breath between hysterical giggles.
I square my shoulders. "Believe what you want. Whatever."
"Oh man, Emily. You're such a whata playa," Sunny manages between bursts of laughter.
"I'm not playing anyone," I growl.
"No, I'm impressed."
Sasha narrows his eyes at Jake. "Put up a sign next time, okay?"
"Nothing happened!" Jake exclaims.
"Suuure," Sunny crows.
Something in her expression digs beneath the skin. Her lips quirk into a smug grin while a plucked eyebrow drifts upwards.
We haven't stood face to face since Halloween, since Harvey's. Of course, she hasn't apologized; she hasn't even offered me an explanation.
A snarl escapes from behind my clenched teeth. "Is this fun to you?"
The grin drops from her face. "What do you mean by that?"
"I mean, do you have fun tearing me down?"
"Don't be so dramatic."
"See, I don't think I'm being dramatic at all. You've been breathing down my neck since I got here. And then at Harvey—"
"Oh, come on, like I did that on purpose."
"Seriously? You're telling me you accidentally ripped off my top?"
"So what? You've still been a bitch—"
"Say that to my face."
"Ha, what? I am."
Sasha raises his hands and tries to step between us. "Hey now, let's calm down."
Sunny shoves him away. "Where do you get off calling anyone a bitch, bitch?"
"I'm just calling it as I see it."
Her mother's equally nasal voice blares through the earpiece. Like mother like daughter, I suppose.
For a second, I think Sunny might strike me. I even prepare for the impact, digging my heels into the carpet and loosening my knees. However, while her hands shake, her jaw clenches, and her eyes narrow to slits, she doesn't lunge. She doesn't attack.
We stare at one another, beautiful Sunny against tomboyish me.
Her mother shouts, "Yeoboseyo? Uhdiyah, Sunye?"
Inch by inch, Sunny raises the phone to her ear, ending our confrontation. She leaves for the bedroom, appeasing her mother with a clipped response. "Na yeogi isseoh."
Jake releases the breath he had been holding. "That was close."
Sasha chills me with an icy glare. "That was rude."
I fold my arms and return his stare. "So what? She's rude all the time. Maybe it's time someone was honest with her."
"She didn't mean to take off your shirt in front of all those people, you know."
"Yes she did, or she wouldn't have done it."
"She wasn't thinking."
"Doesn't matter, she still has to take responsibility for her actions."
"Yeah, sure. But it was still an accident. She thought you were wearing something underneath it."
"Excuse me if I don't believe that."
"Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed."
"You can thank Sunny for that, too."
Jake extracts the resumes from my clenched fist. Without meaning to, I've wrinkled them past the point of salvation. "Emma has a point, Sasha. Let's just let it go."
Sasha grumbles. "Of course you would take her side."
I glance at Jake in time to see the blush blooming across his pale cheeks.
"Duh. She's my best friend."
"Yeah?" He doesn't sound convinced.
"Whatever, dude." Jake taps my shoulder. "Want to grab a bite?"
I shoot Sasha a dark look. "No thanks. I'm low on cash at the moment." Forty-three dollars low.
Jake shrugs. "No worries. I'll pick up the tab."
Jake and I both know what he's thinking as we slip on our shoes and jackets, but neither of us deny it. Jake's generosity is not totally platonic, and maybe Sasha's right to think I'm taking advantage of him. But I've tallied everything I owe Jake, I really have: the ferry ride to San Juan Island, the Chinese takeout and pizza, even the bar of Irish Spring soap he gave me from his Costco-size pack.
I can bet Sasha's added it up, too. The bartender guards his money as zealously as a dragon guards its hoard… Which is why I have spent ten of my precious dollars replacing his rotten cabbage.
Then Sasha surprises us both by asking, "Hey, can I go?"
Jake's hand drops from the doorknob. "Really?"
"Yeah," he says, rolling his shoulders. "Unless it's some sort of date? Oh god, is this some sort of date?"
"No," Jake and I say at the same time.
"Then cool. I'll pay for myself."
Now Jake looks downright suspicious. "What's your game, Sasha?"
"I needed to talk to Emma, remember?"
I lift an eyebrow. "What about?"
He cocks a grin. "I think I've got you an interview."
Next Chapter: "Celebrate with Cabbage," Emma's happy, genuinely happy. Maybe she even has friends, maybe she's finally figuring out this whole single thing... and then who should text her but...?
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