Roommate Wars: Chapter 6

Elise

I returned home later that afternoon to find Jack hanging out with Max, each wearing virtual reality goggles. The two of them were walking around the living room like tourists admiring architecture.

This wasn’t an unfamiliar scenario. I’d tried out VR goggles when Sophia lived here. At the time, I’d checked out a video game Jack designed, and it had been super fun. Though whatever game they were playing now seemed tamer than the last one, which had involved swords.

I closed the front door, and Jack must have had the volume set to low, because he lifted his headset and turned to me. “You’re home?” He checked the time on his phone, and his eyes rounded. “Wow, I didn’t realize it was this late.”

Max pulled off his headset and set it on the coffee table. “I should get going,” he said. But instead of leaving, he reached for a handful of cheese crackers from a bowl and jammed them in his mouth, taking his sweet time.

Jack’s gaze dipped to my pants before he snickered and looked away. “I see Sophia hooked you up. She’s shorter than you, right?”

My mouth compressed. Must he trigger me at every turn? Jack was the reason I had no clothes! “She’s five foot five,” I pointed out, defending my current fashion look.

“And you’re, what? Five-eight.”

It was smooth that he knew that right off the bat. “Yes.”

“Which explains the flood situation you have going on.”

I clenched my hands together and closed my eyes. “Do you know how embarrassing it was walking around like this?”

He shrugged. “The shirt looks good.”

The shirt was his, the ass. And yes, it was pretty cute, rolled up at the sleeves and unbuttoned at the top with a camisole underneath. But the pants were another story. “These pants are skinners, showing every line of my underwear”—was that a blush from Jackson?—“and yes, there is a flood in the house, and not in a cute, fashionable way. The pants are pencil style. They look ridiculous stopping halfway up my calves.”

He turned to Max, who’d been silently watching our exchange. “Thoughts?”

Max grabbed another handful of crackers and made his way to the door. “I make no comments about my girlfriend’s wardrobe because she looks incredible in everything.”

Jack and I exchanged a revolted look. Probably the only thing we agreed on was how nauseating Sophia and Max were together.

“I need my clothes back.” I swung my head in Max’s direction. “Any chance I can get a lift to my old apartment?”

“Hell no,” Jack said and moved in front of me. “Let’s go, Elise. We’re getting you something to wear.”


“What do you think of this?” I asked Jack, holding up black slacks from the sale rack.

After a bit of bickering in the car, I’d convinced him I needed to go to Target and not a mall. He’d seemed confused, but he hadn’t seen the balance in my savings account.

He looked at the pants and shrugged lightly. “They look okay.” He glanced around, his brow furrowed. “Why do I feel like I’ve done this before?”

“Shopping at Target?” I asked as I checked the price tag.

“No.” He waved his hand choppily. “I’ve done this before—bought women’s clothes. Only with your sister when she lived in the apartment.” He pouted adorably. “I am not a personal shopper.”

“This was your idea. If you recall, I wanted to return to my apartment and the items I left behind.” I lifted a blue blouse that had gaudy orange flowers on it. It wasn’t my style, but I wanted to see his reaction.

His mouth twisted as though he’d eaten something bitter, and he turned his thumb down.

Okay, so his taste was on point. No wonder Soph had used him when she needed fashion advice.

“Think of it as a window into a woman’s life,” I said. “This will help you with your dating situation.”

He snorted. “There is no situation. Your sister was a good wingwoman, but I’m flying solo. Don’t need the complication.”

I wanted to ask why, because in some ways Jack was very what you see is what you get, yet not so much in other ways. For instance, only Max knew everything Jack did for a living. I’d confirmed it with Sophia, who was clueless, even though she’d lived with the guy.

“I feel you. Relationships are on the back burner for me too,” I said, “though I’m up for other things.” I put the floral blouse back on the rack.

He leaned his tall, athletic frame against a divider that separated the women’s section from the men’s. “What exactly do you mean by other things?” His expression was suddenly intent.

I shrugged. “I’m not against companionship. Just not interested in a serious relationship.”

“Why not? You’re passably attractive.” He said this all casual-like, as though he was just considering it.

I rolled my eyes. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

He grinned and tipped up his chin, changing the subject with his next comment. “You going to wear that one pair of pants every day?”

I held up the black slacks. They were cute, in a crepe-like fabric, and lined, which I gave Target bonus points for. I could absolutely rock these for a couple of weeks until I had more options. “Yep. I’ll borrow a pair of Sophia’s sweatpants for bumming around and pick up a pair of jeans somewhere, but for now, this will do.” I twisted my mouth. “I considered leaving a few things behind at my mom’s, and now I’m kicking myself for not doing it.”

He frowned. “One pair of pants and borrowed sweats isn’t enough to get by.”

“Course it is. I also have the boxers I stole from you.”

He sighed. “Elise, let me buy you more clothes. I own multiple businesses, remember? Paying for a Target shopping spree is nothing.”

Jack probably didn’t think me incapable the way I’d internalized myself to be over the last few years, but I wanted every one of my actions to speak to independence. So even if he meant well, I wasn’t going to take him up on the offer. “Target can get pricey. Having multiple businesses doesn’t mean you have money to blow.”

“It does, actually.”

I looked up abruptly, catching his flat expression. “But you live in a rental inside Max’s building.”

“Because it’s practical. Max can’t go a day without seeing me.”

I rolled my eyes in disbelief. “You mean the other way around.”

He sighed. “We’ve been in a full bromance for over fifteen years. Happy?”

I smiled. “As long as you admit your love affair.”

“The point is,” he said, brushing off invisible dust from the divider, “we spend a lot of time together, and living in the same building makes sense. Plus, it’s fun.”

I nodded thoughtfully. “This is true. Isn’t there a third unit?”

“A studio. It’s vacant.”

I had no interest in moving this close to my sister. I wanted to build a life of my own that I shared with my sister. Still… “How much is Max asking for it?”

Jack rattled off a number that was a third higher than what I paid for my last place. Max’s building was in a fancy section of San Francisco. Even if the rent was super cheap for Russian Hill, it was still too rich for my blood. “I can’t afford that.”

“Which is why I haven’t suggested it.” Jack yawned.

I still wasn’t taking him up on his offer, tempting as it was. “Thank you, but I’ve got this.”

Jack stood silently, his green eyes observing me, assessing, as though I were some peculiar specimen.

“What?” I said.

He shrugged, moving his eyes past my face to the other shoppers milling around. “Nothing. You’re just—different.”

“And awesome, I know.” He frowned, and I grinned. “Come on, let’s head over there.” I pointed at another section. “I need underwear.”

“Underwear?” His expression was pure gold.

“Can you handle it?”

He wiped the nervous look off his face and strutted behind me. “I’ll even help you pick.”

I grabbed a lavender bra that would give my small bust a little boost and tossed it in the basket, ignoring the fact that Jack might be watching. Then I walked a few feet to the underwear section, searching for the exact right pair.

“What do you think of these?” I held up beige granny panties.

His face was horrified. “You’re joking.”

“Lucky for you, I am.” I snickered and put the panties back on the rack.

“Lucky for me?” he said. “You mean lucky for whoever you plan on dating.”

Jack moved to a round table with pizza-slice-shaped bins on top and picked through a bunch of thongs. He held up a bedazzled chartreuse pair. “How about this?” His expression was so bland, I thought he might be serious.

“Jackson, that’s not my style.”

He tossed the panties back in the bin. “Good, because I’d burn them if they made it through the laundry.”

“You know,” I said, gesturing at the panties he’d just discarded, “women try those on…”

For a moment he didn’t seem to get it, and then his eyes widened, and he looked down at his hand.

I laughed, tears coming to my eyes. “Since when did you become squeamish?”

“I blame Max.”

Max was more fastidious, though according to Sophia he could be dirty in the bedroom—a piece of information I’d been trying to scrub from my brain ever since she shared it.

I went to a row of panty multipacks and reached for a six-pack of cotton, no-fuss bikinis that were supposed to have minimal panty lines. I tossed them in the basket.

Jack glanced in. “Very practical. Let me know if you ever want to upgrade your underwear game. I’d be happy to donate to the charity.”

“So I can wear sexy underwear for my future boyfriends?”

He frowned again. “When you put it like that, maybe you should stick to the big ones…” He started toward the granny panties, and I grabbed his arm.

“Come on,” I said, laughing. “Let’s check out.”

I had just enough in the bank for the black pants, two tops, and new underwear. I’d also grabbed shampoo and conditioner because I was out.

On our way to the exit, my gaze zeroed in on an impulse buy that looked too good to pass up and was sure to annoy Jack. I stopped and held up my hand. “Hang on.” I pointed at an apron that said Hot Stuff Coming Through and turned to him. “I’m supposed to cook for you in exchange for boarding, right? Well, I need that. Consider it my uniform.”

He glanced at the apron. “Is the hot stuff supposed to be you or the food?”

“Me, of course.”

He sent me a tired look. “You’re only cooking three nights a week.”

“You said you wanted to buy me something. This is what you can buy me.”

He shook his head and stared at me for a beat, then walked over, grabbed the apron, and headed for the checkout.

Self-checkout, to be exact, which was sexy because it was self-reliant.

And I might have admired his ass in the jeans he was wearing, because he was cute, even if I wasn’t interested in dating my new roommate. All guys who shopped patiently with women and bought them ridiculous aprons were cute. This was just fact.

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