~The Friendship Series ~
It wasn’t the best idea Aaron Foster had ever come up with, but he was desperate. It had been three months since “the break-up,” and although he was still sure his heart would never recover, if he didn’t find a roommate soon, his heart wouldn’t be the only thing out on the street.
“Hello, you,” Harmony Jordan said, throwing an arm around him and digging her chin into his shoulder as he stood next to the company bulletin board, notice in-hand, gathering up the courage to tack it up. “What ya doing?”
“Looking for a roommate.”
Slowly Harmony’s arm slid from his shoulder, and she crossed her arms, her long, sandy-colored hair sliding down almost to them. “Oh, yeah, I forgot, Bubbles moved out.”
“Mandy,” he said petulantly. “Her name is Mandy.”
“Mandy, Brandy, Candy, Bubbles. Whatever. You know, you could do better than her.”
He looked at her, set the square of his jaw, and shook his head. “Nope. Not anymore. I’ve given up on doing better.”
Harmony cocked a disbelieving red eyebrow at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means, I’m taking myself out of the game.” With renewed determination, he reached up and tacked the notice to the board. “I am officially single and proud of it.”
“Yeah, right.” She narrowed her hazel eyes at him without ever even glancing at the notice. “So, let me guess. Single, white male with medium-great apartment looking for roommate to split the rent. No smokers, druggies, or women need apply. 555-6472.” She laughed as the annoyed look spread across his face. “Oh, yeah. And no pets either.”
Their gazes locked as he tried to decide how much of her speech was teasing and how much was making fun of him. Her smile was maddening to the core.
“What?” he finally asked in frustration.
“Nothing.” She shrugged as though the question and him were utterly beyond help. On her heel she turned and started away from him.
For two steps he followed her, and then he turned back to the board, ripped the notice off the wall, and looked at it. “Single, white male… ” With one crunch he crumpled it into a tiny ball and threw it into the first available trashcan as he raced after her.
“What should I do then?” he asked, catching her just as she turned into her cubicle. “How else could I go about finding a roommate?”
She shrugged as her hands rifled through the papers on her desk. “You put the word out—to your friends, people you know. Ask them if they know someone who’s looking.”
“And that works?” he asked skeptically.
“That’s how I met my last roommate. Best roommate I’ve ever had. She cooked, she cleaned, she even bought the groceries if I gave her the money.”
“Hmm.” He leaned onto her desk. “Sounds great. How can I… ”
“You can’t have her.” Harmony, shorter in stature than him and much less sophisticated, continued to rifle through the papers strewn on her desk.
“Because she got married six months ago that’s why.”
“Oh.” He held out the papers in his own hands knowing he should be working. “Well, then, do you think…?”
“Sure,” she said, looking up with a soft smile. “I’ll ask around.”
The papers fell back to his knee as he looked at her gratefully. “Man, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Two days later Harmony poked her head around the corner of Aaron’s cubicle. “Good news.”
He didn’t bother to look up as his pencil continued down the list in front of him. “Oh, yeah? What’s that?”
“I think I found someone.”
“How nice for you.” His focus never shifting from his work.
“Not for me, dufus—for you.”
He looked up in confusion as his attention skipped from the line of numbers he’d been working to reconcile. “Huh?”
“I found you a roommate,” she said before she ducked back out of his cubicle and into her own.
“What?” He jumped up, sending his chair crashing to the floor although he didn’t notice. In two seconds he was in her cubicle. He pulled the extra chair over to her desk and sat down expectantly. “Talk to me.”
She sorted the papers on her desk for one more second, and then she looked at him as excitement flowed through her eyes. “A friend of mine—Jay Theron—you remember him, he’s the guy we met when we were picking out your couch that time. Remember, the ugly yellow thing you said reminded you of your grandmother’s…”
The story stopped, and she looked at him as though they hadn’t been sitting in her cubicle the whole time. “Oh, yeah. Well, anyway, Jay’s got this cousin. He’s from New York or Philadelphia or something. He just moved to town, and he’s staying with Jay until he can find a place.”
Slowly she tilted her head to one side and looked at him expectantly. He sat, looking at her, waiting for the rest of the story, but she said nothing.
“And?” he finally said, lifting his hand in the air.
“And,” she said as annoyance crept into her voice, “he’ll be at your apartment tonight at eight—just for a meeting, nothing permanent.”
“Oh, my gosh.” His eyes closed in relief. “Harmony, you are a lifesaver, you know that?” With no pretense he stood, walked around her desk, and hugged her to him. “You have to be the best friend in the whole entire world.”
She smiled into his starched shirt as she closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of him being so close. “Glad I could help.”
There wasn’t enough stuff in his apartment to clean three times, but Aaron wanted everything to be perfect for this meeting. He arranged the two pillows Harmony had bought for his couch twice before giving up and running the dust cloth over the stereo system. It was silly to be so obsessed with keeping the apartment, but he’d always been the sentimental type.
Losing Mandy was almost more than his over-sensitive side could take—moving would’ve been the final straw. Carefully he replaced the smooth, ebony marble statue that had mysteriously appeared on his work desk last Christmas. It had stayed on his desk at work until Mandy had come home and announced she was seeing someone else. Then the statue had relocated to this place over his television.
He was sure his receiving it was a mistake, but something about it was so personal, he didn’t have the heart to throw it out.
The knock brought him back into the apartment, and he checked the area once more before taking a deep breath and opening the door.
“Hi.” A slightly bearded man just younger than Aaron stood there in the hallway. His clothes were less-than fashionable, even a little on the worn side.
“Hi,” Aaron said awkwardly, sure this was the guy Harmony had sent but not sure how to ask that of a perfect stranger.
They stood like that for a moment, sizing each other up.
“I’m Drew,” the young man finally said, extending his hand. “Drew Easton.”
Aaron smiled in relief. “Aaron Foster.” They shook hands. “You’re Jay’s cousin?”
“Yep,” Drew said, not moving from the doorway.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Aaron stepped back to let Drew cross the threshold into the apartment.
“Nice place.” Drew kept his hands dug securely in his pockets. Weaving his body back and forth, he examined the apartment from each vantage point as his feet carried him across the hardwood floor.
“I just got home,” Aaron said, lying only a tiny bit. “I haven’t really had time to clean it up much.”
“It’s nice,” Drew said again, stopping to examine the kitchen and the little table.
Aaron fought for something to say. “So, you just moved here?”
“Yeah, from Buffalo.”
“Oh? Why’d you move?”
“Too cold,” Drew said. “So, the bedrooms are upstairs then?”
“Yeah.” Aaron held a hand up in invitation of the stairs. “There’s two bedrooms and a bath.”
He let Drew go up ahead of him and then followed him, running his hands together with each step. “The rent’s not outrageous, but it’s a little too much for me to come up with myself.”
“What happened to your last roommate?” Drew asked, ducking into the empty bedroom at the top of the stairs.
“I killed her,” Aaron said a little too seriously, and Drew turned and arched an eyebrow at him. “No.” Aaron laughed, hoping it didn’t sound hollow but knowing it did. “She moved out.”
“She?” Drew nodded in understanding as he walked down the short hallway to the bathroom. “So, how do you plan on splitting the groceries?”
Aaron shrugged. “We could either buy our own or pool the money. Whichever.”
Drew nodded. “And the utilities and stuff?”
“The phone’s really the only thing we have to worry about. All the rest is included.”
“Wow,” Drew said, appraising the situation. “Well, are you… do you have any other prospects?”
“Nope, you’re it,” Aaron said with a shrug.
“Well, I’ll take it then.” Drew extended his hand again. “When can I move in?”
“Whenever you’re ready,” Aaron said, accepting the handshake as gratefulness and relief wrapped across his heart.
“I hear congratulations are in order,” Harmony said, leaning on Aaron’s doorway with two Dixie cups in-hand the next morning.
He looked up from the computer and leaned back in his chair. “Hey, yeah, I didn’t get a chance to thank you this morning.”
“Yeah, yeah, but you meant to. I know.” She handed him one cup and sat down.
“Champagne on the job?” he asked skeptically. “Harmony, I didn’t know.”
“Yes, you did,” she said as he took a drink. “It’s ginger ale.”
He nodded knowingly as he pulled the cup down. “Figures.”
“Aren’t we even going to toast?” she asked, having never so much as lifted her own cup.
She set her elbows on his desk and stared at him thoughtfully. “I don’t know. To old friends and new friends.”
He raised his cup to hers. “And all those in between.”