Roommate Wars: Chapter 36


Jack

Elise had been putting in long hours since my trip to Napa, and we’d hardly seen each other over the last few weeks due to some epidemiological foot fungus outbreak—not really, but it sounded more interesting when I called it that. Now she was talking about adding hours at Sophia’s shop.

Sophia couldn’t seem to hire enough workers. That woman needed to stop being so successful so I could get my girlfriend back.

But all that chaos meant I hadn’t shared with Elise the turn of events at work. I’d been busy hiring a new CEO, who started in two weeks, and I also wasn’t sure how Elise would react when she found out what Thalia had been plotting.

Elise was protective, and I was looking out for Thalia’s life, because my girlfriend might un-alive her.

I’d been patient since Elise moved out two months ago. Mostly. I only insinuated myself at her place every couple of days. Which she didn’t seem to mind, since I provided orgasms and occasional takeout—the first being her and my favorite. But today I was putting on my business cap and thinking ahead to our future. Plus, if she agreed to my proposal, I could see her all the time.

I knocked on her door, laptop in a work case draped over my shoulder, then let myself in with the key she’d given me because they rolled old school in her building.

Elise walked out of the bathroom with a toothbrush dangling from her mouth, her hair in a lopsided bun on top of her head. “I thought we were going out to dinner in your neighborhood?”

I cleared my throat and tried to act professional, but she was distracting me in one of my T-shirts without a bra. I persevered. “We have important business to discuss.”

“We do?” She walked into the kitchen and spat out the toothpaste. “Like what?”

“Hang on.” I reached outside the entrance, grabbed the projector I’d left there, and carried it inside.

She followed me into the living room/bed area and sat on the loveseat. “Jackson? What are you up to?”

“Patience, Hot Stuff.”

I set up my laptop and connected it to the projector, directing an image on the biggest wall in the room, which was small. None of this was necessary, except one had to go big or go home, and I was going big.

Elise tucked her legs up on the couch and grinned at the wall as though we were about to watch a movie. “This is so exciting. You’ve never brought out your sexy projector. Is this how you convince investors?”

“Yes,” I said, all seriousness, cueing up the first slide and turning on the bright red laser pointer I’d brought. “Only my clients are less stubborn and more practical than my girlfriend.” I sent her a hard look with no heat behind it, and she merely laughed.

Clearly, I wasn’t the one in control here. A man could dream.

“Please pay attention.”

She folded her hands and sat up straighter.

“Reasons Why Elise and Jack Should Move in Together,” I read and punched the enter button on my laptop to move to the next slide. “Number One: I love you.” I looked over and raised my eyebrow.

“A good reason,” she agreed.

I hit enter and pulled up another slide. There was no reason to have separate slides, but this was for dramatic effect. “Number Two: I know how to order food and feed you, and I provide other services.”

She looked over, smiling secretively. “Other services?”

“You know what I’m talking about. Number Three: You like my bed and my skills in bed, which circles back to ‘other services.’” I winked and hit the key for the next slide. “Number Four: I can’t imagine a life without you, and I promise to support you and your dreams, whatever they may be.”

Her eyes softened. “Jack, that’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said. Another solid reason in your favor.”

“Thank you. And finally, Number Five: I fired Thalia a few weeks ago. She lied and told our investors we were together, and I wanted to toss her out the window. I decided homicide would be extreme, so I fired her instead.”

Elise’s eyes widened. “What?” She stood, flexing her hands like she was ready to strangle my former CEO.

“It was the final straw. I haven’t heard from her since, but I’ve been told through the grapevine—my assistant—that she’s already moved on to another wealthy boss.”

“Eww.” Elise’s disgusted expression turned to one of sadness and she walked over and hugged me. “I’m sorry she did that to you, and I’m sorry you’re out a CEO. What will you do? You guys were making such good progress.”

Typical Elise—more worried about others than herself. “The company’s doing just fine. Fortunately, the investor we were wooing had experienced a similar situation and totally understood.”

“Good Lord, what is wrong with people?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care.” I pulled her close and kissed her. “I’m just sorry Thalia ever tried to come between us. I should have fired her the first time she was rude to you. No reason to keep a toxic person like that around, especially someone who hurts the woman I love.”

Elise touched my jaw, smiling softly. Then she snatched the laser pointer and tossed it over her shoulder. “Moving in together is officially open for discussion.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

I picked her up and carried her to the bed while she laughed. “Let’s celebrate.”


No official conversations had taken place regarding me and Elise moving in together, because we were too busy celebrating the opening of “discussions,” and also because Lizzie’s delayed housewarming party was a few nights later.

I picked up Elise, then drove back across town and parked obscenely far from the Victorian due to Saturday night crowds. I held my girlfriend’s hand as we got in our daily ass workout walking up the steep hill to Max’s building.

A couple of minutes later, I juggled a bottle of wine as our breaths left condensation puffs in the cool December air and Elise knocked on Lizzie’s ground-floor door.

Voices streamed out from the tiny apartment as we waited to be let in, which meant Lizzie had invited everyone we knew, because her place sounded packed.

After a beat, the door swung open. “Helloooo!” Lizzie said and gave a deep bow, wavy red hair bobbing as she swung back upright. She was wearing jeans and a light green fitted sweater that made her pale blue eyes look gray. “Welcome to the cat-lady den,” she said and waved us inside.

Elise and I gave Lizzie a quick hug, then walked into the crowded studio apartment. I couldn’t see what she’d done with the place because bodies were strewn everywhere. Well-dressed bodies, but still, this place was crowded.

Max had finally gotten around to having someone paint and clean the studio, and Lizzie moved in a couple of months ago. She’d been traveling due to some asshole at work giving her the shitty out-of-town jobs, so the San Francisco homecoming had been pushed back until now.

I climbed over Archibald, Lizzie’s black Persian cat, who was meaner than an angry raccoon, and wiggled past Max’s parents and Elise’s mom, also in attendance tonight, along with my dad.

We’d finally introduced my dad to the other parents, at Elise’s urging, and as expected, they loved hanging out together. Not sure why they had to be here tonight, but whatever—it was Lizzie’s party.

“Hi, Tom,” Elise said and gave my dad a big hug.

He held her arms and leaned back. “Elise, my girl. You’re looking lovely, as usual.”

They chatted, and I slid past to greet friends Lizzie still kept in touch with. There had to be twenty-five people crammed in an eight-hundred-square-foot space, but the alcohol was flowing, and Lizzie had outdone herself in the hors d’oeuvres department.

After an hour or so, I hunted down my girlfriend on a small couch in the corner. She was talking to a coworker of Lizzie’s. Even so, Elise silently stood and made room for me on the couch, then sat on my lap, all while continuing her conversation.

After a lull, she turned to me and gave me a quick kiss. “How are your high school buddies?”

“Doing well, but Max was acting strange.” I glanced at where he stood. He had a bead of sweat on his temple, which was entirely not like him. He was as cool as a cucumber in the most cutthroat board meetings. “You think he’s sick? Should I say something?”

Elise looked over, but Max had walked across the room to where Sophia was chatting with the parents. He leaned down and whispered something in her ear.

Sophia appeared confused and continued to stare up at Max as he glanced out at the small room.

“Everyone, if you don’t mind, I’d like your attention.” He gazed down at Sophia lovingly.

I scooted to the edge of the couch, taking Elise with me, as though preparing for something, though I didn’t know what. “What the…?”

“Is he—” Elise started before Max’s next words cut her off.

“As you know, I’ve been in love with Sophia for some time. She is the most caring, hardworking, generous person I know, and she makes me incredibly happy.”

Sophia’s mouth parted and her eyes widened.

Elise slapped a hand over her mouth, nearly hitting me in the process.

Max dropped to one knee and said, “Sophia, I love you, and I want to share my life with you. Please do me the honor of becoming my wife.”

Elise squealed, squeezing the hell out of my arm and bobbing up and down on my lap while the room erupted in shouts.

I glanced at Elise’s mom, who was grinning expectantly, as though she’d been aware of Max’s intention.

Max pulled out a black velvet jewelry box and opened it, revealing a fat rock Sophia didn’t even look at before nodding her head and climbing onto his lap.

“Aww,” Elise said, looking at me with tears in her eyes. “They are so sickly sweet, but I can’t even eye roll. It’s so beautiful.” She hugged me, and I held her like that, wondering when the right time would be to ask Elise to marry me. Not now, but hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

She leaned back, and her eyes lit up. “Ooh, you know what this means, don’t you? Society wedding!”

“I thought you didn’t like high society?”

“Some of them are really nice. Plus, Max and Soph’s wedding will have amazing food.” She looked at her sister surrounded by people and worried her lip. “I want to congratulate her, but she’s being swarmed.”

Elise snuggled in close, brimming with happiness for her sister. “You know, Jackson, I’ve been thinking about how I felt the need to live on my own and why.” She looked me in the eye. “I was thinking about it even before your proposal to move in together. And what I realized is that no one is independent—not you or me or Soph or Max. We all depend on each other for one reason or another, and that’s okay. That’s community, and it makes everyone happy to have others they can spend time with and reach out to when needed.”

I squeezed her hand and smiled. She was right, and it was a lesson I’d been learning myself over the last year.

Her brow pinched. “I thought I was the worst person for allowing my sister to take care of me, but Soph depends on me too. I’m the yin to her yang. When she was getting ditched by boyfriends and friends who ridiculed her for where we lived, Mom and I lifted her up. We may not have supported her financially, but we were there cheering her on. I miss her, and I miss you. The one thing living on my own taught me is that life is no good if you’re not with the people you love.” She cradled my face. “I love you, Jack. I thought I couldn’t prove my love without proving I didn’t need you and that being with you was a choice. But I can choose to be with you and still need you, and that’s okay… Let’s move back in together.”

I let out the air I’d been holding. “Finally.”

“Finally?”

“Been waiting for you to say those words—not those precise words, but the gist. I was prepared to wait however long I needed to, but I’m happy you realized it sooner. I want my pretzel back.” I touched the back of her neck and guided her head down, kissing her deeply.

She laughed. “Have you been holding out?”

“More like hovering and waiting for you to realize how wonderful I am.”

“I realized that during our fateful one-night stand. Why do you think I freaked out and bolted?”

“Because I was too hot to handle?”

“Especially because of that. Pretty sure I can handle you now, though.” She kissed my forehead, which was right at lip level. For some reason, the forehead kiss and not the lip kiss received a cat call from Lizzie, who’d apparently been watching despite the engagement commotion.

“Stop tarnishing the vibe of my cat-lady den!” she shouted. This was definitely drunk Lizzie behavior.

Kitty Burrows shook her head in the direction of Lizzie, whom she called “spirited,” and my dad and Karl Burrows laughed while the rest of the party continued to crowd around Sophia and Max. Though I caught Sophia looking over eagerly at her sister.

“Sophia is looking for you,” I said, and Elise glanced up. She waved and blew Sophia kisses, standing as though preparing to go over. “As for living together,” I said, rising beside her, “we can live in my two-bedroom until we decide on where you want to end up.”

“That’s perfect.” She grinned and hugged my neck tightly. “Let’s congratulate Soph and Max, and then we can talk about our moving-in plans.”

We’d started to make our way to Max and Sophia when a loud horn blared.

And honked in a succession of quick beats, followed by another obnoxious blare.

I looked out a partially blocked window—the one Lizzie was standing in front of with her arms crossed.

Her expression was pure rage as she stormed from the window to the front door.

The entire room had momentarily gone silent at the horn honking, and I glanced at Max, who had the same “oh shit” expression I did.

We’d done everything in our power growing up to never anger Lizzie, and we hadn’t seen her with that look in years.

“This is bad,” I murmured to Elise and held her hand as I followed behind Lizzie.

We clambered around partygoers, chasing after Lizzie.

She stormed onto the pavement out front, her reddish-gold hair like a flame behind her. “Hey, asshole!” she yelled to someone out of view.

I stopped near the door, keeping Elise tucked behind me, and Max and Sophia joined us.

“What’s going on?” Max said.

“No idea.”

I couldn’t see the person Lizzie was talking to because they were around a corner, but her hands were on her hips, so it was go time.

“Stop being a parking whore!” she shouted. “You don’t own the street.”

“Damn,” Max said, shaking his head. “The new guy next door got on Lizzie’s bad side.”

“He’s screwed,” I agreed.

The neighbor didn’t know it yet, but he’d just started a war.

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