Roommate Wars: Chapter 16

Elise

Well, wonders never ceased. I’d gone on a date last night, and it had actually gone well.

Conner was super cute and not the least bit clingy. As it turned out, he had bigger aspirations than flower delivery. Even though I’d told Jack I didn’t mind the delivery job, it was confusing why a twenty-seven-year-old wouldn’t have moved on to something else. Turned out Conner was studying to be a CPA and doing the delivery gig on the side until he finished school. As far as future careers went, that one was stable, if incredibly boring. But to each his own.

I walked down the hallway, balancing a laundry basket on my hip. Jack was at some team meeting and had been gone since early this morning, which had seemed excessive for a weekend afternoon, but he was a bigwig. I supposed it made sense.

He’d been gone a lot lately. I appreciated the alone time, but when he didn’t get home until late, it felt off. I’d gotten used to him working in the room across the hall and being here when I returned from dates. The apartment was too quiet when he was gone.

And I was extremely frustrated with myself for thinking so.

Life had been lonelier at the roach apartment, with only my belligerent neighbor for daily interactions, and that was what I’d wanted. So why was I getting attached to my roommate? And Jack, of all people?

No—just no.

I entered the living room and turned up the music I streamed through some fancy device Jack had spent twenty minutes patiently explaining. I sang off-key while I folded his surprisingly expensive designer boxer briefs. I did not take him for a fancy guy, but when I looked at the labels of his clothes (they were staring at me, so of course I looked), they were brands I recognized as upscale.

The man was casual with good taste, and apparently spent big bucks on clothes that hugged his…

Stay away from it.

I was trying to block romantic thoughts of Jack from my mind, and I’d succeeded…to some degree. Occasionally. Okay, rarely.

The night we slept together I’d been in some sort of post-sleepwalking stupor. I’d kissed him without thinking. Jack had always been somewhat cranky toward me, so it had taken me by surprise when he returned my kiss. But however murky the physical details of that night were, the emotions remained in Technicolor…

Jack’s strong hands had cupped my face, and his eyes were so dark I couldn’t make out the green. But the intent behind his gaze had been clear…filled with lust and something decidedly more.

I squeezed my eyes closed, but it didn’t matter, because I could still feel the touch of his lips, cherishing and worshiping me… Gah, stop thinking about it!

I sang at the top of my lungs to the chorus of a Taylor Swift song, my voice cracking predictably right as the doorbell rang. Lunging over the laundry basket, I nearly fell in the process of answering the door. But a solicitor was preferable to where my thoughts had wandered.

When I looked through the peephole, an older man was standing in front of the door, and he didn’t give off a solicitor vibe. He appeared frail, so not exactly the serial killer type either.

I opened the door without the chain.

The man’s eyes widened in surprise. He leaned back and peered at what I imagined was the apartment number beside the door. “I’m looking for Jack…” He glanced past me into the apartment, his brow furrowed. “Haven’t been here in a while, and my son’s friend recently remodeled the building. Did I stop at the wrong place?”

“No, no, this is it,” I said. “Come on in.” I stepped aside to let him pass, but Jack’s dad looked befuddled—and I was right there with him.

This little old man was Jack’s dad?

His hair was wispy, and he had dark circles under his eyes. He was a few inches shorter than Jack and very thin.

“I’m Elise,” I said. “His…” Oh, shit! Would Jack want me calling myself his girlfriend or his roommate? Shit, shit!

Sensing my hesitation, Jack’s dad held out his hand. “I’m Tom. It’s nice to meet you.” He looked around. “Is my son here?”

“He’s been working in the office lately.”

Tom’s chin jerked back. “The office? Really?”

I chuckled. “It’s a change, for sure.” I made my way into the kitchen and asked Tom to have a seat at the counter. “Can I get you something to drink?” I opened the fridge and hesitated. “We have beer and…beer. Ah!” I said, happily. “There’s also orange juice.”

Tom smiled. “I’ll take a glass of orange juice if it’s not too much trouble.”

I poured a glass and set it in front of him. “Did Jack know you were coming?”

“No, I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d swing by. He hasn’t returned my calls.” The look on Tom’s face was more than worry.

I pulled out my phone. “I can try him. See where he is.”

Tom waved off my suggestion. “He’ll reach out when he’s ready.”

That was a strange response, but I smiled, suddenly unsure of everything. “Do you live in town?” It would be strange if I hadn’t heard about Jack’s father or seen him even though he was in town.

Tom took a sip of his juice and set down the glass, nodding. “I’m right over at Fillmore and Sutter.”

So not far. And definitely in town.

“How long have you lived with Jack?” Tom said, catching me off guard. But at least this question I could answer easily.

“Just a couple of weeks. It’s new.”

He nodded. “How did you meet my son?”

Also an easy question to answer. “My sister rented the second bedroom for a while before she started dating Max.”

A bright smile lit Tom’s face. “I’ve heard of your sister. Heard Max, my boy, fell hard for her.”

I poured myself water and stood at the counter across from Tom. “Max is a lot to put up with,” I quipped. “But he keeps up a steady supply of artisan chocolate for my sister, so he has that going for him.”

Tom laughed. “That boy has a sweet tooth.”

“Did Jack tell you that Max used to sneak down and steal Sophia’s gourmet chocolate when she wasn’t at home?”

Tom shook his head. “He did not tell me this, but it doesn’t surprise me. He and Jack used to clean out my pantry every afternoon. Never saw anything like it. You wouldn’t believe the food bill I had back then.”

I nodded. “I can envision it. Jack is a garbage disposal. I fed him the worst dinner the other night, and he gobbled it up like it was filet mignon instead of burned beef patties.”

Tom laughed, his cheeks turning rosy with mirth. “There were plenty of dinners I made after Jack’s mother passed where that kid didn’t bat an eye. Overcooked vegetables, oversalted meat—he ate it all.” Tom’s expression softened into one of sadness. “I think he didn’t want to complain. My sweet wife took pity on me early on over my lack of skills in the kitchen, and she did most of the cooking.” He shook his head, then looked up and smiled, though the sorrow lingered. “I’m glad Jack has someone now. Glad he’s got you in his life.”

I’d opened my mouth to correct him when the front door swung wide. I must not have shut it fully.

Jack stepped inside. “Dad? What are you doing here?”

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