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Roommate Wars: Chapter 17


When I walked into the apartment, it was to a scene I hadn’t expected. My dad and Elise were hanging out in the kitchen, and if I wasn’t mistaken, my dad had just called Elise my girlfriend.

“Dad?” I closed the door behind me. “What are you doing here?” The chemo had taken a toll on his body, and he wasn’t regaining his health fast enough to my mind. “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.” He smiled at Elise. “Just getting to know your new girlfriend here.”

Elise’s eyes widened comically. “I’m not—” she started before I cut her off.

“Sorry I wasn’t home when you arrived.”

“You know, Jack,” my dad said, “you can introduce me to your girlfriends. I don’t bite.”

My dad’s back was to Elise, and she pointed furiously behind him, jabbing at the air and silently cursing me.

I hadn’t planned to call Elise my girlfriend in front of my dad. He’d finished treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma a couple of months ago, and I’d been checking on him regularly, but the last couple of weeks had been busy, for lack of a better word, with Elise moving in. Agreeing about her being my girlfriend seemed easier than trying to explain the long story to my sick father. “None of my exes were special enough to introduce you to,” I finally said. “Elise is different.”

Elise’s jaw unhinged.

“Yet you haven’t told me about her,” my dad said.

“You’re meeting her now.” I stood beside Elise and wrapped my arm around her waist, hoping she’d relax. “We’ve known each other for months, but she recently moved in to rent the second bedroom, and things happened from there.”

My dad’s eyes narrowed. “I see. Well, I like this one. Don’t go breaking up with her. You have a pattern, son.”

“It’s not his fault,” Elise said. “He’s never dated anyone as good as me.”

And there was the real Elise, sassy as ever.

She grinned and pinched my ass where my dad couldn’t see, and I pressed my lips together, holding back a smile.

Elise was right. I’d never dated anyone like her—sweet, sassy, smart, and a smartass.

She slipped past me. “I’ll leave you two to catch up.”

Elise walked down the hall to what I assumed was her bedroom, and my dad’s mouth twisted. “This one’s different.”

I set a jug of milk I’d picked up inside the fridge. “Dad, you’ve never met the women I’ve dated.”

He strummed his fingers along the counter. “I’ve met a few of them coming and going, like today. They were nice enough. Elise is different.”

She also wasn’t my real girlfriend, I thought but didn’t say. “It’s still new, Dad.” I poured myself a glass of water. “Try not to get your hopes up.”

He frowned. “Why not? You’re thirty. Don’t you want a nice woman by your side?”

If I said no, it would blow my ruse. “Sure.”

His expression grew serious. “Jack…” He hitched his thumb in the direction Elise had gone. “She’s a good one. Got a good heart; I can feel it. And she’s funny. Don’t push her away.”

I flinched. My dad was getting more perceptive in his old age. “Noted. Now, how are you feeling?”

He ran his hands down his ribs where there should have been mid-life layering. “Feeling fit. It’s why I decided to go out.”

My brow furrowed. “The doctor said it’s good for you to get out once you’re feeling well.” I said this more for my benefit than my father’s. It was hard to see him moving around while still weak. “Are you sure you don’t need the nurse I hired? I can call and have her come back a few times a week.”

My father groaned. “Not Nurse Ratched. That woman has balls of steel. She made me the most horrendous food. The kind you give people who are in the hospital on their deathbed.”

My stomach dropped. He was joking, but too close to the truth.

He could have died. He still could. The doctors were confident they’d removed the cancer and that he was on the road to recovery, but life was never certain. A part of me had never gotten over the death of my mother when I was thirteen. I couldn’t lose my dad too. Other than Max, he was the only family I had left. “It was the nurse’s job to help you recover and take care of you. Healthy food never tastes good.”

“Healthy is not how I would describe the food Ratched fed me. Gelatinous, sometimes liquidy goo is more accurate. I’d like to live, Jack. Feed me any more of that crap and I’ll keel over.”

I rubbed my forehead. “Dad, don’t joke.”

At my tense expression, my father said, “Sorry, son. Truthfully, I’m feeling better. I just need to get back to the gym and regain my athletic body.”

I laughed.

“Hey, no laughing. I’ve lost all this weight; I figure I’ll put it back on as muscle this time around.”

“You do that. Just make sure you tell me when you’re going so I can be there.” And make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.

My dad stood and stretched his back the same way I did. I had few memories of my mother, but her laughing at the two of us doing the same mannerisms was one of my favorites.

“All right, well, I better get going. Don’t want to wear myself out with all this activity and not be able to go to the gym to get swell.”

I chuckled. “It’s swole, Dad. You go to the gym to get swole.”

“Swell, swole, same thing. Just wait until your old man gets shredded.”

I looked at him sideways. “Are you still watching Real Housewives of Orange County?”

“Of course I am. Not much else to do while convalescing. Why?”

That explained the vocabulary. “Nothing, just checking.”

I walked him to the door and gave him a hug—panicked at how thin he felt in my arms. I started to walk him out when he held up his hand.

“Stay. I’ve got this.”

My dad had his pride. It drove me nuts, but I understood it. “What are you doing tomorrow night? Want to grab dinner?” His appetite was returning, and maybe I could tempt him to eat more with his favorite foods.

“I’m around,” my dad said, taking the first step down the stairs. He stopped and looked back. “Just make sure I’m home early. Got a new episode of a show I’m watching…” He scratched his head. “Can’t remember the name of it, but the couples introduce each other to their parents the first day they meet.” He shook his head and smiled. “Talk about landmines. It’s riveting.”

I chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’ll have you back by nine.”


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