Roommate Wars: Chapter 27

Elise

Max and Lizzie had brought wine and dessert. The fine chocolate was Soph’s contribution, of course, and for once, I wasn’t the drunk one tonight.

“It’s not my fault you guys were underedu…educa…ted,” Lizzie said, slurring her words and struggling to get out the last one.

“What’s she talking about?” I whispered to Jack.

“Woman stuff.” He shook his head.

Lizzie pointed at Max and rolled into Soph, who was looking equally hammered, squinting and trying to open another bottle of red wine. “These guys had no sisters. Didn’t know jack about women.” Lizzie snorted. “Get it, didn’t know jack? Jack…” She snort-laughed.

“Lizzie,” Jack said and grabbed her wineglass. “You’re cut off.”

She pouted, then jammed a handful of cheese crackers in her mouth, grinning at the guys with her head on Sophia’s shoulder.

Sophia was leaning into Lizzie too, so they looked like a pitched tent, holding each other up.

Max had his back to the couch, one knee propped up. “We learned a lot from Lizzie,” he said thoughtfully. “All about feminine products and how to not say anything annoying when she was having her…” He waved his hand.

“Period?” I offered.

“That,” Max said.

I chuckled silently. “Lizzie, you performed a debt of service to womankind by educating these two.”

She nodded, still grinning. “It wasn’t easy.” Her mouth puckered as though she was straining for thought. “They taught me stuff too. Like how men are most dangerous when they’re silent.” She wagged her finger. “Beware of the silent ones.”

The more food Lizzie shoved in her mouth, the clearer her speech, which was good, because I was getting a college degree on Jack. “What happens when they’re silent?”

“They’re plotting.” Her face scrunched. “Or angry—it’s a toss-up. Gotta shove ’em around a little.” She pushed Max’s knee as an example. “Get them to snap out of it.”

“Does it work?” I asked.

“Don’t encourage her,” Jack said, but I wasn’t sure if he was saying it to me about Lizzie or to Lizzie about me.

“For the most part.” She sighed. “They need encouragement to talk. They have feelings. Buried deep in their testosterone-pickled man-brains, but they’re in there.”

I tilted my head. “Lizzie, why did you never date one of them?” Both Jack and Max were top tier in the San Francisco dating market, with looks and charm. Once you factored in wealth, women probably threw their panties at them from a block away.

Scratch that—women did throw themselves at Max and Jack. Take Thalia, for instance. She was the reason Jack set up our fake-dating arrangement to begin with, which had migrated to real dating—but only for another week or so…

I glanced at the man in question. I didn’t want to leave Jack, if I was being honest. But I couldn’t hold on to him forever. He was a commitment-phobe and so was I. Plus, I had a life to establish, and I couldn’t do that while mooching off a boyfriend. It defied my need to prove myself.

Lizzie’s face comically contorted in horror. “You might as well ask me why I don’t date my brother.”

“Do you have a brother?”

“No,” she said. “But that’s because our rich parents are a one-and-done sort of lot.”

Jack tossed corn chips in his mouth from the bowl he’d slid closer to himself when I wasn’t looking.

“Is that true?” I said and moved the bowl of lovelies back in front of me.

“I wasn’t in high society.” He frowned at where I’d repositioned the bowl. “Only these two were. But I guess from their perspective, it’s true. They grew up with butlers and nannies and drivers.” He snapped his fingers. “What’s the other one? The one I always teased you about?”

“The laundress?” Lizzie suggested.

“No, that one’s extravagant, but practical. The other one.”

“Christmas tree stylist,” Max said.

Jack pointed at him. “That’s it! I grew up decorating the Christmas tree like a normal American. Sometimes the lights were symmetrical, but most of the time they weren’t. And the ornaments were always scattered willy-nilly. The first time Max came over for Christmas to help me decorate the tree, he was so confused.” Jack started laughing, and Max was smiling too.

Lizzie reached for the glass of wine Jack had moved away from her, and Max shoved a bottled water in her hand instead. She shrugged and drank the water.

“Ugliest tree I’d ever seen,” Max said. “You had to pick through the broken ornaments just to get to the halfway decent ones that looked twenty years old.”

Jack belly-laughed. “Because they were twenty years old.”

I smiled as the three of them laughed at old stories. I already adored Lizzie. You had to love a woman who put these two pampered bachelors in their place. Though Max wasn’t much of a bachelor anymore, with my sister living with him.

“I can picture it perfectly,” Soph said, smiling. “Have you ever seen Max load the dishwasher? He is so anal retentive about arranging the plates and bowls in corresponding rows.” She wiggled closer to him and looked up adoringly. “Did you have someone do that for you when you were growing up?”

He dropped his arm around her shoulders. “What do you think?”

“You did!”

He seemed to be smiling despite himself. “We had a chef, and he had a crew of helpers. Of course there was a person who washed the dishes.”

“Did they sort the dishwasher perfectly?” Soph asked.

“I wouldn’t know,” Max said. “I never washed dishes growing up.”

Soph looked pityingly at her boyfriend. “Amazing. It’s like you grew up in a foreign land, only you were two miles from where me and Elise lived.”

“That’s city life,” Lizzie said, and fell backward in slow motion onto one of the couch cushions we’d thrown on the floor after they arrived. We’d decided to move the party to the living room, but our place was so small we’d ditched the couch in favor of the floor and pushed the coffee table aside. “Lord save me from my parents,” she added. “They’re going to give me a brain aneurysm if I don’t find my own place soon.”

“You’re living with them?” Max asked.

“Unfortunately,” Lizzie said, sleepily. “It was supposed to be temporary, but the law firm has had me on one out-of-town project after another. Also, my mom has an excellent chef who caters to my dairy issues.”

“Why don’t you rent my studio?” Max suggested.

Lizzie lifted her head. “Don’t kid, Max. You know I love your building. Is the studio really available?”

“My tenant moved out weeks ago, and I haven’t had a chance to get it painted. I should get my assistant on that,” he said to himself. “In any case, I was planning on renting it soon.”

“Sold!” Lizzie said. “It’s mine. Don’t rent it to anyone else.”

“It’s small. You sure?”

“Small works. Do you allow cats?”

Max chuckled. “It’s your furniture Archibald will ruin, not mine.”

“Arch is a gentleman cat. He would never ruin furniture. He only shreds my favorite slippers—a habit any decent Persian would approve of, because my slippers rock and are an irresistible plaything.”

Lizzie rolled onto her side and faced me. Her hair was held back by a chip clip she’d stolen off Jack’s cheese crackers. Keeping those crackers fresh was one thing Jack obsessed about, so I was waiting for him to steal the clip back. “Speaking of parents and moving out of their homes, what were yours like? Did you decorate the Christmas tree growing up like Jack?”

I supposed to the uber-rich, things like personally decorating Christmas trees was an anomaly.

“We didn’t have a tree,” Soph said, answering for me.

Lizzie half sat up and looked at my sister. “Jewish?”

“Nope. Just no room for a tree.”

“In our defense,” I said, “we had Christmas trees when we were younger, just not after our dad died.”

Lizzie propped her head on her hand, her expression serious. “I’m sorry. It must have been hard losing your dad. And I heard your mom was recently sick? I spoke to Jack after she was hospitalized for the stroke, and it sounded terrifying. Is she doing better?”

I smiled, because this was a topic that I was happy to talk about. “She’s fantastic. And she’s very chummy with Max’s mom these days. Can you picture it? We come from a low-income family, and Max’s parents are, well, the opposite. It’s wild.”

Lizzie considered that a moment. “Kitty is warm once you get to know her. And she’s gotten more so since they lost a huge chunk of money that pushed them back to normal rich people standards. What do you think, Max?”

Max nodded. “My parents were dumped by lifelong friends and supported by people they barely knew. It was eye-opening. Meanwhile, during all that, my mom reconnected with Sophia’s mom, Brenda, whom she went to grade school with. The scandal was hard on my parents, and Brenda’s situation put things in perspective. Health is king, and what they were going through was minor in comparison. Plus, my mom has hoarder tendencies like Brenda, just in a rich-lady way. I think they secretly talk about ‘collecting.’”

Soph rested her head on Max’s shoulder. “My mom’s been really good about going to therapy and not reverting to old habits. I think having Max’s mom in her life has helped because she has a good friend now. She’d been isolated for so long, and for whatever reason, Kitty broke through, and now they’re scary close.”

Max winced. “I hate it when they whisper to each other. Makes me nervous.”

“Tell me about it.” Soph shivered. “You never know what they’re up to.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing them together,” Lizzie said cheerily.

“It’s a sight,” I said. “With my mom in her twenty-year-old muumuu and Kitty in her designer dresses. They absolutely love their ‘dates.’ I told Jack we should introduce his dad to them and bring all the parents together.”

Jack’s eyes grew round. “Don’t you dare introduce them to my innocent dad. He’s still getting over his illness.”

“What illness?” Max said.

I looked to see Jack’s response, because as far as I knew, he hadn’t shared his dad’s diagnosis with anyone.

Jack appeared cagey for a moment, before he cleared his throat and said, “He’s recovering from cancer.”

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