Dale Spencer was not having a good day. He was, in fact, having a terrible day.
First, his alarm hadn't gone off, meaning he'd gotten to work an hour late, which caused him to receive a tongue lashing from his boss.
As a result of being late, he'd had to work through lunch and – since he'd forgotten breakfast as well – was about to pass out when he asked a coworker to grab him something from the café down the road.
Of course, Dale had forgotten to specify exactly what he'd wanted, and Justin had brought him back nothing but a cup of coffee. Dale hated coffee.
So, with nothing but coffee to hold him over, Dale had gotten back to the reports he'd been working on, only to discover that his computer had crashed and all the data was lost.
Then, after going back and forth with the arrogant jerks otherwise known as the IT Team (or Jerk Squad, according to Karen from HR), he had been informed he would need to start from scratch on a new system, and didn't he realize that hard drives couldn't just magically save everything?
With his head on his desk and depression in his heart, Dale groaned in utter agony. "This has got to be the worst day ever." He told himself conversationally, shifting his head to the side so he could see the small analog clock seated next to his half-drunk cup of disgusting coffee.
4:55 pm, it read, and a grin crept onto Dale's face. Only five more minutes, and he could go home, curl up into bed, and pretend this day had never happened.
Only, the thought of going home brought the frown right back to his lips. Dale had a great two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, but he really couldn't afford it. Heck, he was fresh out of college (with the debt to prove it), working an entry level data analyst position, and living in the center of an immensely popular city.
He needed a roommate.
The real problem was that he couldn't find one. He'd asked around his workplace, friend group, and his usual takeaway place, but no one else seemed to be looking for a place to live.
Rubbing a hand over his face and praying he figured out all of his problems soon, Dale was out of his seat when the clock read 5:00 pm, hurrying down to his car before someone tried to talk to him.
He really, really just wanted to go to sleep.
Dale swung around so fast he almost knocked over the display of soup cans next to him. Taking a moment to seek out the voice, he managed a grin when he saw his good friend, Ryan, striding up to him.
They clasped each other in the usual we're-both-men-here-so-let's-just-casually-hug-but-nothing-girly manner, releasing one another before Ryan started speaking. "How's everything going, man?"
Dale shrugged, though he knew Ryan would see right through his façade. Having grown up together, they were practically brothers: Ryan could see right through Dale. Not to mention that Ryan was a police officer, and could probably read just about anyone.
"Not so good, huh," Ryan concluded, crossing his arms over his chest and eyeing Dale skeptically.
"Yeah," Dale rubbed the back of his neck, feeling especially small all of a sudden. "Not so good."
Ryan nodded once in understanding, then brightened up. "Would your day get better if I told you I found you a roommate?"
Perking up instantly, Dale leaned forward against the handle of his shopping cart. "Yes; I'm guessing you've already done background checks and stuff like that?"
With a grin and a thumbs-up, Ryan nodded enthusiastically. "Sure did, man. She's all good to go. Got a lot of energy, but I think you'll like her, and . . ." he trailed off when he caught the confused look on Dale's face. "What?"
Dale swallowed nervously, feeling like a preteen boy. "What do you mean, her?"
Ryan threw his head back and laughed, as if Dale had just told him the greatest joke in existence. "Are you serious? Man, get out of elementary school – I promise she doesn't have cooties," he wiggled his fingers to emphasize this.
Dale rolled his eyes, hoping the flush on his face wasn't visible. "Shut up, Ryan. Listen, I Just don't want to deal with girl drama and awkward run-ins when she's only just gotten out of the shower and is wearing nothing but a towel."
If anything, Dale's points just made Ryan laugh harder. "We're not in a romance novel," he soothed, patting Dale on the back in what was probably supposed to be a comforting gesture. "It'll be fine. I'll send you her phone number and you can clean up the place and have her come over to check it out."
Mulling over his options, Dale could only nod in consent. After all, the only other thing he could do was lose his apartment, seeing as how he had yet to find another possible roommate. "Okay, fine, you win."
Ryan smirked smugly. "That's what I thought." He pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket and handed it to Dale with a slight chuckle. "Here you go. I've gotta run: Marissa is probably wondering why this milk run has taken me so long."
At the mention of Ryan's fiancée, Dale waved him off. "Better get back then, darling." Ryan glared at him as he strode off, but not before miming calling someone. Groaning in mock agony, Dale pocketed the paper, refocusing on his shopping and trying to ignore his anxiety at possibly gaining a female roommate.
"Get a grip," he told himself, throwing some almost expired milk in his cart. "You're a grown man; what trouble could some girl cause you?"
The answer, it turned out, was a lot.
Twiddling his fingers absently, Dale watched warily as Esme Watts paraded around his apartment, running her hands over the granite countertop and eyeing his refrigerator as if it had somehow offended her.
Around five foot two inches, wearing jeans, a purple T-shirt, brown hair pulled up in a ponytail, and lugging around a giant pink tote that could probably fit a 15.6-inch laptop and the state of Texas, she didn't look like much.
All thoughts of her being a petite, unassuming twenty-three-year-old had vanished as soon as she opened her mouth.
"Esme Watts," she had greeted cheerily with a southern accent, her bright white teeth channeling the sun as she shook his hand jovially. "It's so nice to meet you, Dale," she had tacked on, breezing past him and into the apartment without another word.
He had stared dumbly for thirty seconds before trailing after her, which led him back to the present, standing silently while Esme gave the apartment a once over.
"Well," she said finally, spinning around to face him with that extremely happy smile of hers. "I have to say, it's lovely. I'll move in tomorrow, if that's alright with you?"
Dale could only nod, staring in awe as the tiny woman marched out of the apartment just as quickly as she had come in.
Yeah, she would be trouble all right.
Dale just wasn't sure if it would be good thing.
"Oh, God," he groaned two days later. He wasn't a detective in any way, but he knew the smell of coffee almost better than he knew his family tree.
The smell of coffee was almost worse than the taste.
Heaving himself out of bed, he took two steps in the direction of the door before freezing.
He'd completely forgotten about his new roommate (sad, considering there was no other way coffee would get into his apartment otherwise), and he stopped to pull on a T-shirt before continuing to the kitchen, ignoring his mussed hair and bleary eyes.
Esme was seated in front of the island, feet swinging below her on the barstool, with one hand holding a cup of coffee while the other held a newspaper. "Good morning!" she exclaimed, sending him a wide smile. "How did you sleep?"
Dale fumbled through the refrigerator, gripping the milk tightly as he spun around to face her. He wasn't used to conversation before seven a.m., and he watched her blankly for several beats before her expectant look pulled words from his lips. "Fine. Uh, you?"
"Just perfect, thanks!" she chirped, taking a sip from her mug as her eyes returned to the paper.
Grateful for the return of silence, Dale shifted his attention back to his bowl of cereal, standing at the counter. Ryan would laugh if he'd seen him, but Dale felt weird sitting next to someone he barely knew.
Plus, if he did, the cup of coffee would be right under his nose, and he didn't need that this early.
They sat in what Dale considered to be uncomfortable silence until he'd finished his cereal, retreating back to his room with a mumbled, "Seeya later."
He dressed, and then waited like a coward for her to leave first. When the door was shut and he was sure she was gone, Dale finally left, somehow getting to work thirty minutes early (if there was one thing coffee could do, it was wake him up almost instantly).
"So," Ryan's voice asked through the phone while Dale was on his lunch break later that day, "How's everything going?"
Dale sighed in frustration, pulling his hand through his hair. "God, Ryan, it's so awkward; I don't know anything about her, and it's just so weird. I don't even know what she does for a living, for crying out loud!"
Silence for a moment, and then, "Geez, Dale, since when have you turned into a teenage girl?"
"Shut up, Ryan," he snarled, "This is all your fault anyway."
Ryan just chuckled heartily, and Dale could feel the other man's smirk through the phone. "Well, if it helps at all, she's a nurse at the local children's hospital."
Dale smacked his forehead against the table. "Of course she is. Anyone that happy has to be some kind of heroic lifesaver. It all makes sense now."
He was only slightly appreciative when Ryan didn't laugh this time (Dale knew the police officer would start making fun of him as soon as he hung up). "If it helps at all, you'll probably find your rhythm soon enough. Just wait: you'll have a morning routine and all."
Dale rolled his eyes, realizing that Ryan had decided to make fun of him earlier than expected. "Sure, Ryan, whatever you say."
Ryan, as it turned out, was right.
A week later, and he and Esme had settled into a comfortable morning routine.
"Morning, Esme," he greeted through a yawn, plopping down in front of the counter while she flipped pancakes on the stove, humming some happy pop song under her breath.
"Good morning, sunshine!" she tossed him a smile, spinning to face him just long enough to drop a glass of milk in front of him. He accepted it with a nod of thanks, pulling it up to his nose in an attempt to block out the smell of the motor oil she insisted on drinking every morning.
"Long shift today?" he asked when he felt more awake, grinning when a plate of pancakes landed in front of him, followed by a fork, napkin, and syrup.
She sat next to him with her own plate of pancakes, drenching them in honey (she didn't like syrup) as she answered. "Yes, sir: got a double today, so I won't be back until eleven or twelve."
Dale's nose wrinkled in distaste. "These long shifts sound awful. I don't know why you would stay so long for work."
"It's not work if you love what you do," she replied, pointing her fork at him as if it would get him to agree with her.
He chuckled through a mouthful of food, sending up silent thanks that this woman was an amazing cook. "More power to ya, champ," was his reply, and her snort of laughter made him smile too.
It was almost nice, waking up to another person.
What's this, another romance story? *Gasps* It is! Well, would you look at that?
This will be about 4 chapters, in case you were wondering, and I'll update every few days.
Reviews are appreciated!
Seeya in a bit,