Playing House

Teddy has a very clear vision of how she wants her life to be. She'll finally move out of her parents' house (check), she'll land that job as a DJ at the local radio station (double check), and she'll move into a little apartment and maybe get a cat. (Sort of check?). The only apartment she can find on such short notice has to be shared and she decides that she doesn't mind living with Michael even if he is kind of a neat freak and constantly steals her peanut butter. But pretending that she's married to him to keep their conservative landlord from kicking them out definitely isn't part of the plan.

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2. Muffins & Eavesdropping

With a groan that’s most likely unnecessary, I dump the final three extra full cardboard boxes on the apartment floor and turn at the sound of Michael making a similar noise to see him releasing the straps of two duffel bags from his shoulders and glaring at me once he’s no longer encumbered.

“What?” I ask, widening my eyes to make myself look as innocent as possible because my amazing powers of perception have picked up that he’s not exactly pleased with me at the moment.

“12. Trips,” he says dramatically, crossing his arms over his chest and increasing the frostiness in his glare. “It took us 12 trips to get your stuff up here.” The tone of his voice changes to a higher pitch and I assume he’s attempting – rather hilariously – to imitate me. “‘Oh, I don’t have that much stuff, Michael, it won’t take that long’.” He loses the accent as I try not to lose my chill. “12 trips.”

“Don’t be such a baby,” I shoot back. “Are you gonna help me unpack?”

It crosses my mind that I haven’t been nice enough to him for me to warrant any help on his part, but he sighs and rolls his eyes and nods. “Fine.” Bending down to begin pulling items from one of the duffel bags he’d just brought in, he glances up when he hears a noise coming from the hallway and his eyes immediately widen in horror. “Oh, shit, shut the door.”

I do as he asks, taking two quick steps forward and closing the door, pressing my back against the wood and wondering why my heart is racing when I have absolutely no clue what’s happening. I really need to change my life philosophy from ‘do first, ask questions later’ to ‘think about the consequences of your actions’.

“Why did I just do that?” I ask, my voice coming out shaky and panting, as though I’ve just run a marathon.

Shrugging nonchalantly, he returns to digging through the duffel bag that contains my snapback collection. “I don’t want Mrs. Crowder to see us.”

He says that as though I’m supposed to have any idea what it means. “Who’s Mrs. Crowder?”

“The landlady,” he shudders as he speaks, like the mere mention of her name sends chills to his core. Which seems a bit melodramatic, really. “She’s crotchety.”

“Crotchety?” I know that’s a real word, but I’ve never actually heard it spoken before, so I try not to burst out laughing as he explains.

“Yeah, she hates everybody,” he continues, “She always used to yell at me and my old roommate for literally everything. Our lights were too bright. We opened the door too slowly. Our footsteps were too loud. Trust me, she’s not someone you want to meet.”

Those do sound like pretty minor offenses for someone to get upset over, but maybe Mrs. Crowder is one of those people who just needs someone to show a little kindness so they’ll open up and show their true colors. And if anyone can bring out someone’s soft side, it’s me. I grin widely, puffing out my chest. “I bet I can make her like me.”

“Please don’t try,” Michael begs, looking genuinely distressed at the thought.

“Oh, come on. Maybe she just needs someone to be nice to her,” I roll my eyes, “I know, I’ll bake some cookies and bring them to her.”

He shoots me an incredulous look. “You bake?”

I briefly wonder if I should be offended at his assumption that I have no culinary skills before realizing that I can’t, because he’s right. I have absolutely no culinary skills. The last time I attempted to cook, I nearly set the house on fire because I didn’t put enough water to boil for the pasta. I was promptly banned from the kitchen by mother and now when I make food for myself, I stick to meals that are already prepared or have extremely exact microwave times on the packet. If I’m trying to make a good impression, it’s probably better not to give Mrs. Crowder something I attempted to make.

“No, that’s a good point,” I shake my head. “I’ll buy them.”

Michael snorts, digging out a wall clock from the bottom of the duffel bag. “Well, it’s the thought that counts.”

“Exactly,” I grin widely.

He pauses as he hugs the clock to his chest and twists from side to side as though he’s a child holding a stuffed animal, the concern in his expression increasing with each passing second. “I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

“Trust me, Michael,” I say with much more confidence than I feel. “I know what I’m doing.”

“For some reason,” he sighs, “that’s what I’m afraid of.”

I ignore his comment as I lean over to pull my purse from the nearest pile of boxes and head towards the door. “It’ll be great. You’ll see.”

Before he can ask where I’m going, I’m heading down the hallway and pulling my phone out to locate the nearest bakery. Forty-five minutes later, I’m holding a box containing an assortment of muffins and walking to the back corner of the first floor to find the landlady’s office, hoping that my theory that no one can resist baked goods holds up.

Her door is open when I approach and I see a woman who looks to be in her seventies sitting at a large desk with round glasses perched on the tip of her nose as she stares at a piece of paper. Stepping through the doorway, I smile widely and part my lips to greet her, only to realize she’s not alone and there’s another couple seated in the chairs across from her.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m interrupting,” I say, my eyes widening in horror as I step back into the hallway.

Going against the grain of the description I’ve been given by Michael, Mrs. Crowder smiles sweetly as she acknowledges my presence. “I’ll be with you in just a minute, dear,” she says before turning her attention back to the couple.

I stand in the hallway with my back pressed against the wall, trying not to be nosy, but ultimately failing and listening in on the conversation. Apparently the couple in the office is looking to rent an apartment in the building and there’s a unit available on the second floor.

“That would be great, we’d love to check it out,” one of them says.

“Of course,” Mrs. Crowder replies, “Let me just get some background information on you first…I assume the two of you are married.”

“No, just dating,” the other one responds. “We’ve been together three years.”

“I see.”

Even though I can’t see her face, I hear disappointment in Mrs. Crowder’s tone, which prompts the appropriate reply of, “Is there a problem?”

“I’m sorry, this building is currently full.”

“But you just said…” one of the couple sputter out, understandably confused at how fast she changed her mind.

“I refuse to lease a room to a couple living in sin.”

Living in sin? What century are we in? The couple echo my thought process. “What are you talking about?”

“Only married couples are allowed to live in this building,” Mrs. Crowder replies sternly. “You’ll have to look elsewhere for an apartment.”

There’s shuffling inside the office as the couple rise from their seats and exit the room, looking a mixture of completely confused and just a little bit angry as they hurry past me down the hallway. I’m not exactly pumped to meet the landlady now, but seeing as she already knows I’m here, I don’t have much of a choice, so I take a deep breath and pop my head around the corner, stretching my lips into my sweetest smile.

“Yes, hello,” she says when she notices me in the doorway, “can I help you?”

“Mrs. Crowder?” I ask, continuing when she nods, stepping into the office, “My name’s Teddy, I just moved in to the building and I just wanted to drop by and say hello. I brought you some muffins.”

All of that came out very quickly because I’m now about ten times more nervous than I was five minutes ago. She smiles as she takes the box of muffins and gestures for me to sit. “Oh, thank you. I didn’t realize there were any new tenants.”

I internally wince. Consulting with Michael about how to handle this situation probably would have been a good idea after all. Apparently he hadn’t told the landlady that his old roommate moved out. Maybe he figures that as long as the rent is getting paid, it doesn’t matter where it’s coming from.

And normally, I’d agree that it isn’t that big a deal, but Mrs. Crowder seems extremely rigid. If she’s unwilling to let an unmarried couple move in, chances are she’s not going to be too happy about one living in her building without her knowledge.

Unfortunately, I’ve already introduced myself. I consider lying about which apartment I’m in before realizing she probably has more knowledge of all of the other tenants in the building than me and will get suspicious if I say something that doesn’t add up. So I go for the truth. Sort of.

“Michael’s so forgetful,” I laugh nonchalantly, hoping and praying that she just won’t know who that is, “I told him to tell you, but of course, he didn’t.”

“Michael? On the third floor?” she replies automatically. Because of course she actually does know everyone in the building. Her eyes narrow out of suspicion. “And you just moved in?”

“Yes. I just moved in with Michael,” I sigh, completely prepared to get a speech on how we both must pack up our things immediately, but my mouth seems to have different ideas than my brain, because I blurt out, “Because I’m his wife. We’re married.”

What. The. Hell. I am the world’s biggest idiot. How could I possibly think that saying I’m married to Michael would be a good idea. In what universe do lies like that ever actually pan out?

She’s going to see right through me. She has too, because I’m practically dripping in sweat by this point, but amazingly enough, her expression lights with joy and her smile widens. “Oh, that’s fantastic!” My lips part in shock at the realization that she actually believes me, but then her gaze drifts to my left hand to notice my obvious lack of jewelry on a very significant finger. “Where’s your ring?”

I consider just confessing. That would be the right thing to do. But Mrs. Crowder seemed so happy when I told her I was married and if she finds out I’m lying, then I’ll be out on the street for sure. So I rack my brain for excuse as to why I don’t have a ring and come up with, “At the jewelers. One of the diamonds came out.”

That’s a plausible excuse. Now I just have to go buy ring with multiple diamonds. Fuck.

“Of course,” she nods, smiling softly as she rises from her seat and sticks out a hand for me to shake. “Well, it was very nice to meet you, Teddy. Come by if you ever need anything.”

I’m a bit relieved that she’s ushering me out, so I don’t waste the opportunity to escape and shake her hand before practically sprinting out the door, calling out over my shoulder, “I will. Have a nice day.”

Once I’m in the elevator, I let out a sigh of relief, only to realize that I’m not in the clear yet. I still have to tell Michael the truth. I chew on my lower lip nervously as I push open the apartment door to see Michael has given up on trying to unpack my things and settled in between various boxes on the couch.

He looks up from his video game as I enter, silently lifting his chin to ask how it went and I scrunch up my nose as a pre apology as I perch myself on the edge of the coffee table where he’s resting his feet and sigh. “We have a problem.”

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