I spent the morning at work searching online for apartments, which caused a ball of anxiety to tighten in my stomach as reality smacked me in the face. I knew living in the city was expensive, but I didn’t think it was that expensive. I’d found studio apartments, where the bathroom and kitchen were practically in the same room, and I still couldn’t afford them. I was one second away from a cry fest when Justin Jameson and Carter Jennings walked into Elly’s psych clinic for lunch. Just the sight of Justin in his professor ensemble brightened my day. He paired brown loafers with khaki pants that hung from his lean hips. The navy blue sweater vest over his light-blue plaid button-down highlighted his wiry frame and made his hazel-blue eyes pop against his tan skin. His long, sandy blond hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, his normal work style. To some, his appearance probably wasn’t sexy in the slightest, but it was one of my favorites.
Ever since Carter had moved back to the city last year, he and Justin spent most of their lunch breaks at Elly’s clinic. It wasn’t too far away from NYU, where they both taught. Now that Carter and Elly were married and expecting their first child together, not a day went by that he missed having lunch with her.
“Hey, Tessa,” Carter said, placing their bags on the table in the lobby.
“Hey, guys,” I said, smiling politely. I was in no mood to have lunch with anyone, even my friends, so I decided to forgo the sandwich I’d packed and continue apartment hunting. “Elly’s last patient just left, so she should be out in a minute.”
“Okay,” Carter said, taking a seat. He started unpacking the lunch he’d brought, a smile proudly stamped across his face. Justin sat across from him, doctoring his sandwich with dressing.
Elly soon appeared in the lobby, rocking an adorable black dress that slightly hid her baby bump. “Hey, guys!”
“Hey, babe,” Carter said, as Justin offered her a silent nod.
She immediately greeted Carter with a kiss and plopped down in the seat next to him. “What’d you bring us today?” she asked, rubbing her belly.
“A turkey sub without mayo this time,” he replied.
“Oh good, because Baby Jennings is not a fan of mayonnaise,” she said with a cringe as she unwrapped the paper. “Did you get the vinegar and oil and oregano?”
Carter laughed. “Of course.”
“I love you,” she said, offering him another kiss. She turned her attention toward me and smiled. “Tessa, are you going to eat with us?”
I sighed and shook my head. “Nah, I’m not really hungry.”
“How are you not hungry?” Elly asked, before taking a bite of her sub.
Well, I wasn’t eating for two, and the reality check of apartment hunting had completely stolen my appetite.
“What are you looking up on there?” Carter asked, nodding toward my computer.
Leaning back in my chair, I gazed over at my friends and confessed. “Trey wants to move out and get a place with a friend, but I told him they could have my place and I would find something. So, I’m apartment hunting now.”
“Are you having any luck?” Elly asked.
“Not really,” I said gravely. “Even the crappier places I’ve found are on the higher end of my budget. I had no idea how expensive apartments were now. Living under rent control will do that to a person.”
“You know, I could give you a raise,” Elly said, smiling genuinely. “But you’ll probably just say you don’t need one, so why don’t you move in with us for the time being?”
“No, I don’t deserve a raise, and I couldn’t do that to you guys. You just got married a few months ago, and you have a baby on the way. Thanks for the offer, but I just can’t.”
“Okay,” Elly said, rolling her eyes. “But the offer still stands. You’re always welcome.”
“I know,” I said, turning my attention back to my computer screen. I decided to widen my search to other boroughs, so I began looking there while they ate in comfortable silence.
“What about Paige?” Elly asked. “She has a spare bedroom at her place.”
“You lived with Paige back in college,” I stated. “You really think she wants a roommate now? She couldn’t wait to find her own place once you guys graduated.”
“True,” she said.
“Speaking of Paige,” Carter said. “Where is she? She usually has lunch with us.”
Paige had texted me earlier, saying she had a lunch meeting for work. Elly and I shared a glance, and then she turned to Carter and sighed. “She had a work lunch she had to attend today, and she’ll probably have them until the baby arrives. She’s avoiding me now that she knows I’m pregnant.”
“Are you serious?” Carter asked, brows furrowed.
“Carter,” Elly warned, shaking her head.
“Whatever,” he stated, taking a bite of his sub. “She needs to get over whatever issues she has with babies. Everyone loves babies.”
“Some people prefer a child-free lifestyle,” she continued. “We’ve talked about this.”
“I know, but she’s one of our friends,” he argued. “All I’m saying is that she shouldn’t feel the need to avoid us for nine months.”
Elly smiled at him and then playfully took a bite of her sandwich and asked with a mouthful, “Can we please drop this so I can go back to enjoying my lunch?”
“Yes,” he laughed, placing a chaste kiss on her cheek. “Fuel up, babe.”
I laughed as I scrolled through the apartment listings. I’d been spoiled for too long, and now I was paying for it. I worked full-time as Elly’s receptionist, and I still couldn’t afford any of these places. I couldn’t imagine what dump Trey and Josh would’ve ended up finding on their measly part-time paychecks.
“Move in with me.”
Turning my head back toward the table, I looked up in shock and found Justin staring back at me. “W-what?”
“I said, you can move in with me.”
I couldn’t possibly live with Justin Jameson, especially not after the sex dream I had starring him the night before. I had the world’s biggest crush on him, and it’d somehow moved into wet dream territory. How the hell was I supposed to live with him?
“I can’t,” I said shyly, shaking my head. “I-um-I don’t know if I can aff—”
“I have an extra bedroom,” he explained. “I’ve never had a roommate before, but I think we could make it work. Plus, I think I speak for everyone when I say I can’t let one of my friends live in a box just because it’s in her budget.”
Great. Now, I’m his charity case.
“Thanks, but I don’t think I can afford even half your rent.”
Justin lived in a nice condo near Washington Square. The building had a doorman and included amenities like a spa and housecleaners. It also had a five-star restaurant and a lounge in the lobby. I probably couldn’t even afford a third of the rent at a place like his.
“You wouldn’t have to worry about rent,” he stated, his smile widening. “I bought the condo years ago, so it’s mine now.”
Of course, he had it paid off already. Justin came from ridiculously smart, rich parents who authored science textbooks now. Apparently, they’d been genius scientists back when he was younger, but they’d since retired to write. He never talked about them and we’d never met them. All I knew was that they passed all of their intelligence on to him, which led to Justin entering college at the age of fourteen. Now, after acquiring several doctorate degrees in various fields, he was 30-years-old and already tenured at NYU.
I didn’t even graduate high school.
“I can’t just live with you for free,” I said, feeling my cheeks heat with embarrassment.
“Why not?” he asked earnestly.
Carter and Elly quietly watched us as if they were watching a tennis match, back and forth, with considerable interest.
“I-I don’t know,” I stuttered, nervously playing with the buttons on my keyboard. “I would feel like I owe you, and I don’t want to be some charity case.”
Justin sat back in his seat and gave me a smirk. “You’re no one’s charity case. You’re my friend.”
My heart sank at the mention of our friendship. Sadly, friends were all we’d ever be.
Get over it already, Tess.
“If it makes you feel better, we can split the utilities or groceries or whatever,” he said, before popping a chip in his mouth.
I watched as he chewed, smiling back at me, and the knot of anxiety that had settled in my stomach quickly crawled up into my throat. His sweetness was one of the things I loved most about him. He would do anything to help anyone. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. But God, it would be impossible to live with him, feeling the way I did about him.
Justin was a man of habit: he wasn’t too keen on change. So, the fact that he even offered me his guest bedroom was a huge step for him, especially since he’d never had a roommate. We were opposites in almost every way. He came from money and intelligence; I came from parents who abused drugs and alcohol. He had several academic degrees; I only had my GED. Where he was the silent observer of our group of friends, I was our social butterfly, always chatting away and eager to go out and have fun.
For years now, I’d believed he deserved a woman more like himself, but my beliefs couldn’t deter my feelings for him. He had no idea how I felt about him, and I chalked it up to his obliviousness to women and the effect he had on us.
“I think this is perfect!” Elly cheered. She gazed over at me excitedly, and I sent daggers her way. She knew how I felt. She knew he favored consistency. Yet, she was encouraging this living arrangement.
“What do you say, Tessa?” Carter asked with a smile.
The three of them stared at me, silently begging for my answer. Justin looked slightly amused, as if he couldn’t figure out why I even had to think about it. Carter appeared as eager as his wife, which made me question what he knew about my feelings toward Justin. Elly’s gaze never waived, pleading with me to agree.
So, I did.
“Okay,” I replied, nodding stiffly.
“Yay!” Elly squealed, clapping her hands. “When can she move in, Justin?”
He laughed, smiling back at me. “As soon as you want. The room is already furnished, but you’re welcome to change anything and make it your own.”
You’re welcome to change anything. Who was this guy and where did Dr. I-Hate-Change go?
“Thanks,” I offered. “I really appreciate it.”
“Maybe we can help you move in this weekend?” Elly suggested.
“No,” Carter rebuked, shaking his head at her. “You will not be helping with anything. You can just sit back and relax with our baby.”
“I’m pregnant, Carter; I’m not debilitated!”
“I know,” he said, sliding his hand over her bump. “I just don’t want anything to happen to either one of you. You can just order us around while we move Tessa in. How does that sound?”
“Great,” Justin muttered, unenthusiastically. “Just what we want—a woman ordering us around.”
“Don’t act like you don’t like it, Jameson,” Carter teased, wrapping his arm around Elly’s shoulders and pulling her closer. He placed a kiss on her temple and then stood from his seat. “We should be getting back to work.”
Elly pulled him back down for a longer kiss and then swatted him on the butt. “Okay, I’ll see you later. Love you.”
“Love you,” he said, smiling down at her.
Justin cleaned up the table, discarded their trash, and then came over to my desk and leaned up against it. “So, are we moving you in this weekend then?”
I sighed. “Yeah, I think the sooner, the better. You know teenagers. They want their independence. The sooner I’m out, the quicker Josh can move in.”
“I understand,” he laughed.
Gazing into his beautiful, bright blue eyes, I smiled. “Thanks again for offering me your spare room. I probably would’ve ended up in a box in the Bronx again.”
“You deserve much more than that,” he replied. Then he pushed away from my desk and walked toward the door with Carter. “See you later, roomie!”
Laughing, I waved at them as they exited Elly’s clinic. “Bye, guys!”
Once they were gone, Elly rushed over to my desk and perched on the edge, wearing a huge grin and laughing. “This is probably the best thing that could’ve ever happened to you!”
“No, it’s not,” I muttered, rolling my eyes. “How am I supposed to live with him, Elly? I’ve been in love with him for years, and he doesn’t even know it! He completely ignores any of my advances or flirting.”
“Justin’s introverted,” she explained. “I think once you move in with him, you’ll see a totally different side of each other, and I mean that in a good way. He’s really quiet when we’re all together, but one-on-one, I think he’ll open up to you. He may act like he’s oblivious, but no guy can live with a woman he’s not related to and not think about having sex with her.”
“Oh my God, I never even thought about all the crap he’s going to learn about me. Like my period schedule. Am I supposed to keep my tampons in his bathroom or hide them in my bedroom? See, nothing in his place will be mine! Everything is his because it’s his place that he bought! Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yes,” she sighed, rolling her eyes. “And I think you’re freaking out over nothing! Justin is an adult. He knows you have a period. Leave your tampons wherever you want. It’s not like he’s going to have the nerve to tell you to put them somewhere else.”
When I just stared at her, she continued. “I about choked on my food when he said you could move in. This is progress for him, Tessa! He’s never had a roommate before, so he wouldn’t have offered if he didn’t want you there.”
“You know, I’m really starting to hate this positive, no worries side of you,” I mumbled, shaking my head.
“Hakuna matata!” she cheered with a little shake of her hips, causing us both to break out in laughter.