Chapter 1. Roommate Ads

There's just something about the unattainable. You glamorize and romanticize it in your head like it's some kind of amazing thing. In all reality you only want it because you can't have it. When I was younger there was a certain brand of ice cream sandwiches that always sat in our freezer, but us kids were never allowed to eat them. I used to think they must have been the best ice cream sandwiches ever if we were forbidden to touch them. But one day my younger sister badgered my mother into letting us have one, turns out it was just ice cream between two pieces of chocolate. Go figure.

That's what I was trying to convince myself was going on with the apartment I now stood in. It was just another set of walls, and I was sure it only looked like it'd be nice to live in. But I couldn't help it, this was my dream place. It was a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment. The whole lower level was completely open, the east wall was mostly engrossed by a gigantic window that had a fantastic view of the city. Every appliance in the newly refurbished kitchen area was stainless steel, be still my heart, and all of the floors were hardwood. I take that back, the living room was situated with the softest white carpet I have ever had the pleasure of placing my bare feet upon. The stairs were on the right, they were the kind that you could see between the steps, that freaked a lot of people out, but I loved it. And if you stood in the living room and looked up you could see the hallway and every door on the upper level. I might as well face it; the place was perfect for me. And I had just been outbid. I took in the space again. How hard could it be to find another apartment, right?

"Miss Marsh?" The Landlord asked nervously. I blew out a sigh and turned away, headed for the door.

"Forget it." I said wearily, "I give up. And don't call me that." I couldn't place another bid. I was surprised I'd made it this far in the process, really. It wasn't like I had a lot of money to throw around on buying my own place. I mean, I'm only 23, I can't get a high paying job. One can always dream. I left the apartment complex and stomped my way through San Fransisco. I stomped because I didn't have a car, which isn't weird. I can't drive in cities...or the country...or, you know, tundra or whatever. My driving skills aren't top notch. When I moved to the city five years ago I started using public transportation, and let me tell you: I don't think I'm ever going back. It wasn't far to my current residence, I lived in a nice little apartment with my older brother, Aaron. He's been in the city since he was 20, so...six years. I entered the apartment and slammed the door behind me.

"Jaycee, is that you?" I heard my older brother call from the kitchen.

"Who else?" I yelled back as I kicked off my shoes. Aaron poked his head out of the kitchen and studied me.

"So..." He said slowly, "How'd it go?"

"It didn't." I grumbled, walking the few feet to our ridiculously large (seriously, this thing took up half the apartment) black leather couch and fishing the remote out from between the cushions to turn the TV on. Aaron walked out of the kitchen and handed me a steaming bowl of ramen noodles.

"I had extra." He assured me when I looked at him with shock. I was just shocked because Aaron never ever shared his ramen noodles. He'd say something like "I paid for them and I decide who eats them. Now go make me a sandwich!" Or I might be paraphrasing. I blew on a spoonful of noodles and broth while Aaron returned to the kitchen to get another bowl. He returned just in time to hear me cuss and throw down my spoon. "Oh yeah, it might be hot." He said lamely.

"Thanks." I hissed sarcastically.

"Sorry." Aaron was a 26 year old...I don't even know how to describe him. His hair is dark brown, no question about it, and his eyes are gray. At his ripe old age he had already developed crow's feet and smile lines, which isn't exactly a bad thing in my book. Lately he'd taken to wearing a goatee, and I had to admit it looked pretty good. Aaron was an expert at popularity, or as I like to call it: manipulation. That means he's good at getting people to like him, getting a lot of good friends and keeping them. I, on the other hand, was more likely to have one or two best friends while keeping the rest of the human race at a polite distance. But Aaron always had this him, he was one of my favorite people ever. I envied him in a lot of ways, not the least of which was his hair. My hair was dark blond. Or it might have been light brown, it really depended on the lighting. It was chin-short and Shirley Temple curly. I had a small nose, thick, dark eyebrows, nice eyelashes, and boring blue-gray eyes. I'm sure that all sounds really adorable in a list, but I'm not all that attractive. Sure, my hair has the potential to look nice. I always have a lot of potential. But do I ever follow through with it? No. I don't bother doing anything with my hair, I never feeling like putting on much make up. I never put in the effort. I'm flaky that way.

"It was so nice." I mourned, sinking into the couch, "Now I need to find another place!"

"And you're running out of time to do it." Aaron pointed out.

"You're not being helpful!"

"I'm sorry. Jaycee, how may I be of more help to you?"

"Shut up."

"I'm sorry, seriously, this time." He said more sincerely. I looked at him, widening my eyes and pushing my bottom lip forward in the best puppy-dog look I could muster.

"You could not leave." I suggested for what must have been the millionth time. Aaron just stirred his noodles guiltily and didn't answer. Yep, that's right. This is all his fault. Well, maybe not all his fault. He couldn't help that he was getting a promotion that meant he'd have to move two hours north and leave his little sister all by her lonesome. I couldn't deny him the upgrade, but boy I was sure making it hard on him. "Sorry." I muttered, "I'm just running out of options."

"You're just avoiding them." He insisted.

"What options am I avoiding?" I snapped.

"You could swallow your pride and look for a roommate."

"I wanted my own place, though." I complained, "I wanted to prove that I could do things on my own."

"You kind of accomplished that when you moved to the city."

"Yes, I made a huge leap by stepping foot in the city without parental help only to get shoved back several paces by mooching off my big brother." I looked up and saw Aaron pinching the bridge of his nose, I was stressing him out.

"You could call Kaya." He suggested. Kaya was our younger sister, she recently turned 21, and she had also recently moved to San Fransisco. I'm going to explain that: the three of us grew up in a small town in Nevada, about three and a half hours away from San Fransisco. But our parents made a fatal mistake when they took us on a vacation to San Fransisco during my last summer of Jr. High. We each individually fell in love with the place and vowed to live there some day, and now we did. Good to see that I can come through with something. Anyway, back to Kaya.

Kaya was blond. Not the kind of blond, kind of brown color I was. She was blond blond. Her golden locks were always neatly curled and hung around her shoulders. She was petite, her eyes were sparkly blue, her face was perfect, she was just one of those miraculously gorgeous people. The name Kaya is greek for "Pure", or something. Which is ironic because she'd slept with more men than I had even made conversation with. I did not find that comforting; when it's just freaking raining men all over your precious baby sister and you can't even get a date. Long story short: I love Kaya, but she's a diva.

"I think that's a bad plan." I said, "Plus, she has a roommate." That was true, and she was no rose either. She was a Lily, actually. Lily Marita: Queen of the bitches. She and Kaya got along fine, but we always butted heads.

"What about...what's her name? Kiyomi Chiba?" Aaron asked. I raised my eyebrows at him, actually impressed that he remembered my best friend's name. I can never remember anything, I didn't know who Aaron's best friend was, or even if he had a best friend. Or a girlfriend. No wait...I remember him dating this one girl...Margarette? Bridgette? Estelle?...Sarah? I wonder whatever happened to her...

"Nope." I said simply. Kiyomi Chiba was my very best friend. I'd moved in with Aaron when I was 18, right before I started taking my college courses. I'd met Kiyomi literally the very day I moved in. I accidentally dropped one of my moving boxes on her foot as she passed by. It's funny what kinds of things can start a relationship. Kiyomi is Japanese-American. Her parents immigrated here from Japan (legally, I might add) before she was born. She's an American citizen by birth but she can speak Japanese fluently, that's what she speaks at home. I speak a few phrases, mostly I learned them from dinner at her parent's house. They live in what I like to call an apartment on steroids, it's basically a house but inside a huge apartment building. Kiyomi lives in a boarder house on the outskirts of the city, she gets a reduced rent by helping out around the place, which isn't such a bad deal. She goes to her parents about 6 days out of 10 for dinner, I go with her about 5 of those times. Her parents absolutely adore me (parents are like that with me) and I enjoy them immensely, not to mention the free food.

Yes, I said it, I'll do pretty much anything for free food. Like I said, it's not like I'm a millionaire with a huge salary. Hell, I barely have a college education. I have an office job doing...Actually, I change my story every time someone asks what I do for a living, I'm not sure anyone knows the truth.

"Give me a break here, JJ." Aaron said, using his childhood nickname for me.

"Don't worry about me. I'll find a roommate, okay?" I put a hand on his shoulder and met his eyes squarely. I'm difficult and high maintenance, and I know it. But I always feel bad about it afterward. Especially with Aaron, he doesn't deserve my brattiness or my problems.

"Promise?" He asked suspiciously. I nodded at once.

"Of course. Tomorrow I will head on down to Cafe Aristotle with a newspaper and I won't come back here until I have a place to go. How does that sound?" I asked soothingly.

"I don't really care what you do. I'm not the one who's apartment hunting." Aaron said with a shrug, taking the remote from me and leaning back into the couch while simultaneously turning up the sound on the basketball game we were watching. After the initial shock wore off the only comeback I could think of was to roll my eyes.

It just so happened that I didn't get down to Cafe Aristotle until three days later. Oops. I kept meaning to, but I got busy, and Aaron was on my back about it the whole time ("Get your ass off the couch and don't come back until you find a fucking place!") but only because he cares. So I finally got a Maple steamer and settled down at a table with the apartment listings and roommate ads in front of me. I know what you're thinking; Jaycee, if you complain about being so poor, why do you spend your money on expensive coffee? Because I like nice things. Sue me.

Cafe Aristotle is the cutest little coffee place on the planet. It's one of those places that tourists never look at twice, but locals are always crawling back for more. I was a regular here, so were Aaron and Kiyomi. We knew the names of every employee, we knew their favorite drinks, we knew about their families. It's actually really nice. There are quaint tables and comfy furniture; armchairs, couches, and suchlike. There was wi-fi, a friendly atmosphere, and the menu never changed. My kind of place. I was bent over the paper with a red pen in hand, looking at the open apartments (all of which were out of my price range) when someone stopped at the other side of my table. I looked up and my mouth dropped open.

There was a man standing in front of me, awkwardly holding his coffee cup. He was tall, dark, and handsome if I ever saw it. He towered over my table and looked at me out of frosty green eyes that were framed by beautifully long lashes. His black eyebrows were arched and as I watched he nervously ran his hand through his glossy, neat black hair.

"May I sit here?" He asked in a silky low voice. At this point I was close to drooling, but I managed to snap my mouth shut and nod. As he took the seat across from me I glanced around at the rest of the cafe, every table and armchair was taken. I couldn't complain as my eyes drifted back to my new coffee buddy, the crowd made a hunk ask to sit with me. Little old me! "What are you drinking?" He asked me, gesturing at my cup. Embarrassingly enough, it took me a minute to find my voice for an answer.

"Maple Steamer." I said weakly.

"Never had one, do you like it?" He asked.

"Do you want to try a sip?" I offered, pushing my coffee cup toward him. He smiled at me, making my breath catch in my throat, and reached for the cup. His eyebrows raised as he took a sip and pushed the cup back over to me. He didn't say anything as he took another sip of his coffee. "Well?" I prodded.

"Good." He said thoughtfully, "In return, would you like a sip of my Caramel Coffee?"

"You drink caramel coffee?" I asked in surprise, taking the cup he offered me and taking a sip before handing it back to him.

"Yes." He said questioningly.

"Sorry." I apologized at once, "I was just...judging you."

"Much appreciated." He said sarcastically. I just shrugged and went back to looking at the paper. Across from me, he fidgeted and shifted in his seat.

"Need something?" I looked back up at him with an eyebrow raised.

"Out of curiosity," He said slowly, "What exactly did you assume about me when you 'judged' me?" I set down my pen and propped my chin in my hand, observing the man sitting across from me.

"Well," I sighed, "I guessed that you would drink your coffee black. Adding things in your coffee is really...domestic. It's just not macho."

"You think I look macho?" He asked, grinning widely.

"I always hope men are macho." I clarified.

"So I guess you're into that."

"I'm very into that." I said. He chuckled.

"What else did you think about me?"

"I dunno. Lives alone, a complete ladies man, possibly has a big dog." I listed. He watched me with his head cocked slightly to the right, a lock of his straight black hair fell across his forehead.

"I don't have a dog." He said quietly, "I did, but he died recently."

"I'm sorry."

"It's just a dog." He said with a heavy sigh. "Also, I wouldn't exactly call myself a 'ladies man'."

"I bet you do okay." I accused him.

"I guess." His upper lip twitched a little, his eyes were amused. "And yeah, I live alone."

"Ha!" I pumped my fist up in triumph. The man laughed outright. I took a sip of my steamer and picked up my pen again, trying to focus on the tiny newsprint. My Coffeemate leaned across the table and looked at the paper.

"Searching for a roommate?" He asked.

"Yes." I answered, quickly becoming forlorn, "I was going to get my own apartment, but I can't really afford it. I got outbid on my dream home because my job doesn't pay that much. I mean, it pays different. Actually, it pays pretty damn well but I always complain about it because in the end it wasn't enough to afford the place."

"What's your job?"

"I type out the words for the special order M&Ms." I said without infliction.

"Really?" He asked incredulously.

"No." He looked shocked for a moment, then he laughed, but he didn't ask me what my real job was.

"Why are you looking for a new apartment?"

"Well, for the past five years I've lived with my older brother, Aaron. But he just got a promotion and has to move away, leaving me to fend for myself."

"Why don't you just stay there?" He asked kindly. That drew a sigh from me.

"It's always been Aaron's apartment. I don't think I could handle being there without him, it's too sad. And I really do want to be independent and get my own place. Also, the walls in that apartment are red and the carpet is stained, I'm not too crazy about it."

"Hm." He seemed deep in thought, "Is this Aaron your only sibling?"

"Nah. We've got a little sister, Kaya. And no, I can't live with her because her roommate hates my guts." I explained at once.

"What'd you do to her roommate?"

"What makes you think this is my fault?" I snapped, he only grinned.

"Sorry, what'd she do?" He amended.

"She changed the TV channel, made rude comments about my love life, doesn't laugh at any of my jokes, and is all around pretty mean to me."

"Imagine, she wouldn't even laugh at your jokes." He shook his head in mock mourning.

"Hey!" I chastised, sticking my tongue out at him, "I'm pretty damn funny."

"I'm sure." He took another swig of coffee and I returned my attention to the ads once more. As I scanned the roommate ads my eyes were drawn to one in the center of the page with a horribly familiar address.

"Dammit!" I said loudly. The guy sitting with me raised his eyebrows. "No, not you." I assured him, taking my red pen and circling the ad. "I can't believe it." I continued in a huff.

"Would you care to fill me in, or would you like to continue mumbling to yourself?" The guy asked lightly.

"I'm sorry. It's just...there was this apartment that I mentioned earlier. I got outbid on it and now I find out that the son of a bitch that cheated me out of it is looking for a roommate!" I groaned, "After all of that! Whoever this asshole is can't afford to stay there by themselves either!"

"Well, are you going to apply for the roommate position?" He asked, staying calm despite my unreasonable hysterics.

"I don't know. I don't think I have a chance." I said. He reached across the table and took the newspaper out from under me, his eyebrows raised even further when he looked at the circled ad.

"You should ask about it." He said decisively, lying the paper down in front of him and meeting my eyes, "I think you could get it."

"What makes you say that?" I grumbled.

"You have one of those personalities." He slid the paper back to me and tapped the ad with his pointed finger, "Also, this is my new address." I froze, my eyes wide.

"You're the one who bought the apartment?" I asked through numb lips. He nodded.

"Yes. And I don't really appreciate being called a son of a bitch and an asshole."

"I'm so sorry." I apologized vigorously, "I really am, I didn't mean it!"

"Don't worry about it." He said, waving me off, "So what do you say?"

"What do I say to what?" I asked uncomprehendingly.

"Do you want to be my roommate?" He asked, speaking slowly as if I wasn't very bright. Which I'm not, really, but still...

"I...I don't...but...we just met!" I insisted.

"And I already know most of the things I would have asked at the interview." He said with a shrug, "I know a bit about your family, why you're moving, and I know that I just purchased your perfect apartment. I also know that I really need a roommate."

"I'm sorry, but who the hell are you?" I demanded. I've never won any awards for politeness.

"You mean you have to know my name before agreeing to move in with me?" He asked, I could tell he was joking by his smile.

"What can I say? I'm a traditionalist." I replied. After a moment he held out his hand.

"Gregory Abbott, call me Greg." He introduced himself.

"Jaycee Marsh." I took his hand and shook it.

"Jaycee, that's a pretty name." He complimented. I blushed. "So, Jaycee, are you interested in my offer?"

"You may know some things about me, but I don't know anything about you." I pointed out.

"Wrong." Greg said, tapping the address again, "You know where I live."

That was nasty, bribing me with a great apartment. I gnawed at my lip, this Greg Abbott guy could have been anybody, I'd only met him a few minutes before. He probably always does this to beautiful young women, then he lures them back to his place and shoves them into his freezer. Well, probably not, it's the principle of thing. Still...maybe I could do this. Maybe I could live in that great apartment in such close quarters with the sexiest man I'd ever met, who consequently was a complete stranger. What could possibly go wrong?