I realize that this storyline has probably been done to death but I got the idea stuck in my head and ran with it. Huge thanks to Zadien, my brainstorming buddy and good friend.


2. Yeah, About That…

Charlie Mason checked the time on her cell phone and cursed, throwing the rest of her uniform into the gym bag and slinging it over her shoulder as she jogged out of the break room. Her boss had wanted to talk to her at the end of her shift, the conversation lasting longer than she had anticipated. She was anxious for dinner and to meet the new roommate that Sam said would show up sometime that day. She hoped that the girl showed up after she managed to shower but somehow doubted she would be so lucky. Their new roommate's first impression of her would be a stinky cook straight from work.

With a resigned sigh, Charlie left the restaurant and boarded the bus that waited at the terminal near the parking lot. Most of the day had been spent cooking one house special after another, a few side orders thrown in to make it less monotonous. Not for the first time, she wished she had invested in a car before moving to Stanton just so she wouldn't have to ride the bus home after work. She didn't want to bother Sam or Max to drive her home and the public transport was free so she allowed it to drop her off at the end of her road. At least the other passengers gave her a wide berth due to the scent of sweat and grease that clung to her.

What she really wanted was a nice long bath, a meal and then a peaceful night's rest. If the new roommate had showed up, the latter was very unlikely to happen.

Sam had assured her that their new roommate had seemed cool through email but Charlie was still skeptical. After all, how much could you learn about a person through the Internet? They could make up just about anything about themselves and you would never know better until you met them in person or conducted a private investigation. For all they knew, their new roommate was a homicidal freak show just waiting to murder them in their beds. Or she was a cool person, just like Sam had said.

Charlie frowned. Sam was not normally so trusting, so just what about this girl had convinced Sam that she was trustworthy? They weren't that desperate for a new roommate, were they?

She sighed. Yes, yes they were.

Charlie shoved bangs from her eyes and wished she had had the time or the change of clothes to shower after work instead of showing up at the house and presenting herself as a smelly worker but figured if she breezed through the house fast enough, she wouldn't meet the new girl until after she'd bathed anyway. Hopefully.

There was a new car next to Sam's Ford Taurus, a rusty green truck with random bumper stickers placed around the back. Max's red VW Bug was missing, meaning she had already left for work. She was glad that the summer was almost over. Ten hour shifts at the restaurant were torture and she was not only exhausted but smelly and cranky when she finally got back home.

Charlie shook her head and entered the house through the side door and into the kitchen, circling back toward the living room and immediately racing up the stairs without saying so much as a hello to her roommate who was sitting in front of the TV. She vaguely heard Sam yell a hello as she threw her things into her room and headed into the bathroom, shouting a hello back.

Charlie shut the door and stripped out of her filthy clothes, shoving them into a corner with her foot as she turned on the hot water. The heat felt wonderful against her exhausted muscles and she sighed, leaning into the spray. Practice would start again once the semester

began and then her job at the restaurant would be reserved for Sundays only. Then instead of working five to six days a week she would only work one. She was only glad that now that she had been promoted to a senior chef she didn't have to listen to Greg as much. Now on equal terms she wouldn't get fired for ignoring his instructions when he tried to deliberately sabotage her meals.

A few minutes later she stepped out of the shower and wrapped a large towel around her body, picking up her clothes and carrying them back into her room to deposit in the laundry basket. She towel dried her hair and threw on a pair of basketball shorts and a black tank top before padding down the stairs to find dinner.

"I made spaghetti, there's leftovers in the fridge," Sam said helpfully as she came into the kitchen. Charlie smiled her thanks and popped the spaghetti in the microwave.

Sam settled into her usual place at the kitchen table and rested her chin in her hand. "How was work?"

Charlie sighed. "The same. Greg's still an ass and the customers are still uncreative." The microwave beeped and Charlie stirred the spaghetti before popping it in again.

Sam frowned. "He hasn't let up any?"

Charlie shook her head. "Nah, it's okay. I can handle myself." The microwave beeped again and she took her plate to the table, sliding into place across from Sam. "So," she said before taking a bite of her spaghetti, "How's our new roomie?"

Sam's mouth quirked in an odd smile. "Interesting. Doesn't say much but seems nice enough."

"So long as rent is paid, I guess it doesn't matter much," Charlie mused. "So what's her major?"

That smile was back again and Charlie wondered just what was so strange. "He is an art major."

Charlie nearly dropped her fork. She stared at the amused look on Sam's face and after a moment realized her mouth had dropped open. "Sorry, did you say he?"

"Yup." Sam was outright grinning now. "Y'know how everyone always assumes we're guys because of our nicknames?" Charlie rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Well everyone thinks he's a girl because of his nickname. Nat isn't short for Natalie like we thought, it's short for Nathaniel."

Charlie continued to stare for a long moment and then shook her head, going back to her dinner. "Max must really love that."

Sam laughed. "Yeah, but you should have seen his face when she hit on him. He looked almost terrified."

Odd, most guys did not hesitate to take Max up on her invitation. Charlie frowned. Actually, the only guys to ever react that way had been gay, if she remembered correctly. Although, to be fair, he could just be very geeky and not used to girls hitting on him. Max did not tend to discriminate. Much. "Maybe he's not used to being pounced like that."

Sam didn't look convinced. "Maybe. Oh well. He seems nice though, and quiet, so we don't have to worry about random parties. At least I don't think so."

Charlie wrinkled her nose in distaste. She had been to several college parties – Max had insisted – but she had never really enjoyed herself. She would drink on occasion but the multitudes of drunken bodies swaying to music and having random trysts upstairs had never been her thing. If this guy was not a partier, then that was one point in his favor in her book.

"So where is he?"

Sam shrugged. "He hasn't really left his room much since he moved in but he left the door cracked open so if you want to say hello you can. I don't think he'd mind much, he seemed pretty friendly."

"You warned him about Max though, right?"

Sam waved a hand to indicate that she had. "So are you going to introduce yourself? His light's still on."

"It'd better be, it's barely eight."

Charlie swallowed the last bite of spaghetti and moved to put the dishes in the dish washer. She chewed her lip as she thought about leaving the introduction for tomorrow morning. It hadn't been a problem when she had thought their new roommate was a girl, but now that she knew it was a guy, it was a little different. She had never understood guys and college had not helped at all in that respect. She had had guy friends in the past but she had learned that her aggressive manner on the field tended to intimidate them and they had slowly drifted away. She had never really understood the reasoning for it because it wasn't like she was a bitch off-field. She just didn't know what to say.

Sam made an exasperated noise and gave her a gentle push toward the hallway. "Just go introduce yourself, he's cool, I promise."

"Right." Charlie straightened her shoulders and slipped into the hall, pausing at the door to rap her knuckles against it despite the fact that it was left open a crack.

"It's open."

Charlie hesitated, having heard the distracted tone in his otherwise smooth bass. Was he busy? She pushed the door open slowly and poked her head in, taking in the room's transformation. Instead of an empty room, it was cluttered with a futon pushed beneath the windows on the far wall and a desk set up across from the closet and bathroom doors. An easel stood nearby with a blank canvas set up, a paintbrush resting in front of it, and a large mound of sketchbooks – some worn, some looking brand-new – sat next to the bed. Dark green curtains hung down from the window to brush the pillows on the bed, filtering the light enough so that the lamp on the desk had to be turned on to see properly.

He sat with his back to the door, hunched over the desk. From the quiet scratching of a pencil on paper, she assumed he was sketching.

She cleared her throat and took a hesitant step into the room just as the seated figure turned around to look at her. For a moment they stared at one another, her eyes widened in surprise while his gazed back in open curiosity. Charlie blinked slowly, taking in the lean frame and amber-brown eyes framed with long, dark lashes. His dark hair was swept away from his eyes but was already falling back in a vague imitation of bed head but somehow Charlie thought that his hair was always like that. He wore a pair of loose gray-washed jeans and a baggy hoodie, pretty standard guy-wear but it suited him anyway.

Charlie wondered if it was Sam's rarely seen sadistic sense of humor that was the reasoning for her never stating that the guy was seriously hot.

Suddenly realizing that she had been staring at him for a little too long, Charlie fought not to blush and shifted her weight from foot to foot. "So you're the Nat-not-Natalie?"

She almost rolled her eyes. Ugh, seriously? Nat-not-Natalie?

Nat smiled and her cheeks warmed. He had an adorable smile. "And you're the Charlie-not-Charles?"

Okay, now she felt even more stupid. Charlie winced, rubbing her cheek absently. "Yeah, that's me." Oh God this was awkward, what should she say? Nat seemed to be studying her from beneath his thick bangs and she tried not to fidget. She must have looked like such an idiot just standing there in his room.

"Sam said you're an athlete. What do you play?" he asked, twirling a pencil between his fingers. She hadn't even noticed the pencil until he started playing with it.

"Soccer," she said. "Normally center forward. You play?"

"In high school. I was goalie."

"Why'd you stop?"

Nat shrugged. "No time, I guess. Didn't care enough to stick with it, y'know?"

"Not really." Oh God she sounded like such a bitch. She wanted to take back her words but she would probably only make things worse. Oh God, why did she suck so bad at talking to guys?! If she backed out now maybe she could fix things at least a little. "I'm tired so I'm going up. See you around I guess." She tried to smile and worried it looked more like a grimace as she escaped his room and ran up the stairs to throw herself on Sam's bed. She only caught a glimpse of his expression as she fled. Her heart sank when she saw the confusion on his face.

Sam blinked from her place on the floor and paused in turning a page in her book. "Charlie, what's wrong?"

"I'm an idiot." Her words were muffled by the pillow and she turned her head, sighing heavily and rolling onto her back. "A total moron, he probably thinks I'm such a bitch right now."

Sam patiently marked her place and closed the book, settling her hands in her lap. "Okay, explain exactly what happened."

Charlie obediently relayed the entire conversation while staring at the ceiling. Her hands moved to demonstrate how Nat had played with his pencil and fluttered when she found no words to adequately explain how she felt. "And I'm only like this with guys! I swear, it's a curse. I'm perfectly fine around girls but as soon as a cute guy shows up I'm a total moron! He probably hates me now."

"I think you're being a bit dramatic there, Charlie, and you're acting oddly feminine-"

"Fuck off."

"That's better. And I really don't think it was that bad-"

"It's only a little better than the pizza incident, Sam."

Sam paused for a long moment and nodded. "Yes, the pizza incident was definitely worse. I'm sure Nat doesn't hate you though."

"No, he just thinks I'm stupid."

"Not stupid, per se-"

"Fine, a bitch. Just like what he said-"

"Now, Charlie…"

Charlie sat up and ran her fingers through her tangled hair. "I'm serious, Sam. I'm not deaf, I know what they say about me. I'm an ice queen and a grade A bitch to all men and a dyke to boot."

Sam's lips twitched. "Well Max certainly doesn't help that last one."

Charlie rolled her eyes but she felt a faint smile pulling on the corners of her mouth. "I'm willing to overlook that one because it helped get rid of the pervert and it was funny."

"It certainly was, although I think the threesome was a bit uncalled for."

"You loved it." Charlie grinned when she saw the crinkle in Sam's eyes that was the only sign of her laughter. "It's not like we had to do anything to prove it, either. Max took care of all that with her actions."

"True. And the Facebook bumper stickers afterward were pretty funny. 'I promise to be your lesbian lover when ugly guys hit on you in bars' if I remember correctly."

"You did." Charlie slouched on the bed, staring at the floor. "But seriously, I don't mean to be so bitchy, it just happens! It's like an automatic defense or something."

"Probably. But I think you're underestimating Nat. He seems like a genuinely nice guy. A little spacey, but nice." Sam grinned. "And very, very cute."

"Keep that up and I'm telling Caleb."

Sam waved the threat off, dubbing it as empty. Charlie suspected that Sam's boyfriend already knew about their new roommate and would be over within a day or two to check the guy out. While Caleb was not necessarily an overly possessive boyfriend, he certainly kept an eye on Sam to make sure she was happy.

"Why don't you try slowing down? You just react with guys, try slowing down and thinking about what to say before you say it."

"And let them think I'm stupid because I take so long to answer?"

Sam lifted a brow and Charlie momentarily wondered how she did that. "No, I mean be more careful about what you say and how you say it. I know you don't mean to but your tone turns rather cold when you talk to guys so they automatically think you're not interested in them."

Charlie buried her face in her hands and mumbled, "It's a reflex, I swear. I don't do it on purpose."

"Well, Jake certainly didn't help things-"

"Don't say his name." Now Charlie knew that her tone was icy and she winced, immediately deflating. "Sorry, Sam. I don't know why, he just still gets to me."

Sam smiled faintly and patted Charlie's knee. "I know. But don't you think a year is long enough-"

"You'd think but apparently it isn't."

Sam looked ready to disagree but thankfully didn't. "Well, you've got a whole year to make it up to him. You'll think of something I'm sure."

Charlie groaned. "Oh God, a whole year of me making a complete ass of myself-"

"Hey! Negative attitude!"

"I'm so glad I get to totally ruin my life by completely humiliating myself for a solid twelve months in front of this really cute guy!"

"Not what I meant."

The next morning Charlie was at the stove making French toast while Sam and Max sipped coffee in an attempt to wake themselves up. Their day had started the moment a particularly loud clap of thunder had cut the electricity for five minutes and had all three girls sitting bolt upright in their beds. As the storm continued outside they decided it would be better to troop downstairs and start their day.

"Ugh, I hate mornings," Max complained as she rested her head on the table. "Last night sucked. Some drunk guy splashed his drink all over my chest and tried to pull my shorts off."

Charlie decided to keep her mouth shut. Sam ignored her. She had said again and again that Max should stop working at the bar Daisy Dukes because the outfit only invited such behavior from drunkards but Max insisted it was good money and she could only work nights anyway. Granted, Max did get incredible tips. "Did you have Tom kick him out?"

Max snorted and would have glared if she had been awake enough. Even still, the slitted eyes and bedraggled hair made her look more frightening than usual. "Fuck yeah I did. Asshole won't be allowed back if Tom has his way. The guy's a regular dickwad and pulls this kinda shit all the time." She pathetically waved an arm in Charlie's direction. "Ugh, come on Charlie, I'm starving."

"Then get your ass over here and help me you whore," Charlie retorted, waving the spatula and nearly splattering egg all over the kitchen. "I'm going as fast as I can."

Max's head hit the table with a solid thunk and Sam sighed, leaning back in her chair. Max had pulled on a red thong and matching tank top instead of opting to walk around the house naked, as she was wont to do. Apparently she had enough modesty left to cover herself up slightly when the chance of being seen by their male roommate came up. Sam had pulled on a ratty pair of plaid shorts and an old shirt of Caleb's that she had stolen. Charlie herself was wearing her usual pajamas, a pair of boxer shorts – silk and wonderfully comfortable – and a black sports bra, her hair pulled into a ponytail at the nape.

She set a plate down in front of Max with three pieces of French toast and then another in front of Sam. She went back to the stove to make her own, humming quietly to herself as she worked.

"This is great, thanks Charlie," Sam said around a mouthful of French toast.

Charlie shrugged and flipped her pieces over on the pan, still humming until the sound of a door on the other side of the stairs opening caught everyone's attention.

Charlie paused in making her breakfast as their newest roommate stumbled into the kitchen wearing only a pair of black boxers set low on his narrow hips. His black hair was in disarray, more so than it had been yesterday, and looked like it needed a cut, strands brushing the back of his neck and cheeks. His eyes were barely open as he grabbed a mug from the cupboard and poured himself a cup of coffee.

All three girls gawked as he stared blearily at the kitchen tiles, gulping down coffee and not seeming to notice that he had suddenly become the center of attention.

Max was unsubtle in the way she leaned back in her chair, food forgotten, as she openly stared.

Charlie stood nearly beside him, her eyes wide in astonishment and a faint tint of pink on her cheeks as she stared. She had not gotten a good look at Nat when she had introduced herself the night before, but now she saw that he was tall. Far taller than she had thought, at least a head taller than she was. His shoulders were broad, his torso lean and strong tapering down to narrow hips and long legs. Nat had several tattoos, one being a tribal design around his right bicep that she caught only glimpses of when he lifted the coffee mug to his lips. Across his broad back was a black phoenix design, wings following the curve of his shoulder blades and tail

curling around the middle of his back. She absently wondered if he had drawn it himself until he shifted his weight and she was distracted by the muscles in his back and arms rippling beneath tan skin. The phoenix almost looked like it was fluttering its wings.

Being this close she could smell him, a mixture of cinnamon, a faint whiff of aftershave and the scent of pencil shavings. It was an odd combination but it suited him. After a moment she shook herself of her stupor and licked her lips. "Umm, Nat? You want some French toast?"

Nat shook his head slowly and drained the rest of his coffee. "Later," he mumbled, putting the mug in the sink as he padded back to his room and reappeared a few minutes later wearing a pair of track pants, tank top and sneakers and went out the front door, presumably for a jog.

The three girls exchanged looks when the front door closed and silence reigned until Max spoke.

"Well fuck. I think I've just converted to morning personism."

rae: Thank you for the constructive criticism, almost no one writes it anymore. I'll look into it when I go back to edit everything again. Glad you enjoyed it otherwise, I hope you keep reading.

Also a big thanks to Zadien, WithoutException, KatieTheWriter, and andee lee for reviewing.