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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3. Plans & Dilemmas

We’ve switched places. I’m now slouched into the couch, surrounded by overly full cardboard boxes, my hands clasped between my knees out of a habit because I feel like a school kid being reprimanded by the principal for correcting the teacher in class, even though Mr. Isaac’s recounting of what happened during D Day was entirely inaccurate.

Except that in this case, I am actually at fault. I am the one who opened my big mouth and ruined everything. We had something great, which lasted for all of two hours, because I just had to get the landlady to like me.

I might as well not even bother to unpack, because Michael’s probably going to kick me out anyway. That’s definitely what he’s getting ready to say.

He’s pacing in front of me. His right hand is shifting between fiddling with one of the two thousand bracelets on his wrist and reaching up to tug his fingers exasperatedly through his hair.

“Let me get this straight…,” he says slowly after about ten minutes of silent pacing, pausing right in front of me, “you went to go try and get into Mrs. Crowder’s good graces and ended up telling her that we’re married?”

“Pretty much,” I nod, scrunching up my nose apologetically. It’s amazing how such an epically disastrous act can be summed up in such few words.

Michael sighs, crossing his arms over his chest. “How does that even happen?”

That’s a good question. My response isn’t particularly explanatory. “I panicked.”

“But why was lying about something so huge your first instinct?” he counters.

Another good question. I’ve never had a proclivity for lying. At least, I didn’t think I did. But it is kind of worrying that when faced with a problematic situation, my go to solution was to lie my way out of it. Especially considering the lie affects more than just me.

“I don’t know,” I whisper, the knots of guilt in my stomach becoming larger with each passing second. “I just didn’t want her to kick us out of the building.”

“Why would she do that?” Michael furrows his brow in confusion. “If the rent’s getting paid, who cares?”

See, that’s exactly what I thought at first: it shouldn’t matter as long as she’s getting her money. But if she was unwilling to let an unmarried couple even lookat an empty apartment, then what’s to say she won’t kick both Michael and I out on our asses if she ever finds out that we’re also ‘living in sin’. I try not to roll my eyes at the recollection of that statement.

Matching the annoyance in his glare, I retort, “Apparently she does.”

“Okay, but what’s the worst that could happen if we just tell her there’s been a misunderstanding.” He says that so casually, like I’d told her I was from the city when I’m actually from the suburbs and she’d just misheard me.

“It’s not really a misunderstanding,” I point out, “I mean, I flat out said the words ‘he’s my husband, we’re married’. There’s not many ways to interpret that.”

Looking back, there probably was an easier way to handle the situation. Like, maybe Mrs. Crowder would buy that Michael and I siblings. We look nothing alike, but she might believe we’re adopted. That would definitely make things a hell of a lot easier, because there’d be no actual pretending involved. Acting like siblings was like acting like friends, which I’m sure we would be at some point in the near future, if this act of stupidity didn’t screw that up as well.

But I don’t think she’ll respond too kindly to ‘just kidding, we’re not married, we’re actually just brother and sister’.

“You’re making this really difficult, Teddy,” Michael exhales deeply out of frustration, lifting one hand to scratch the back of his head.

“I know, I fucked up, I’m sorry,” I say, for what probably won’t be the last time today. Or in the continuation of our roommate relationship. “So what do we do now?”

He’s silent for a moment, though his gaze remains locked on mine. About ten different emotions cross his face in the span of two minutes, his lips parting and closing multiple times, like he has something to say but he doesn’t know how to get it out, and then finally, he speaks. “We could pretend we’re married?”

“What?” I blink, sure I didn’t hear him say what I think I heard him say. “That’s crazy.”

He tilts his head from side to side as though considering the option that what he’s suggesting might be just a little bit insane before lifting his shoulders up and down in a shrug that says ‘it’s worth a shot’. “Is it?”

“Michael, we’ve known each other less than a week,” I point out. Though I guess people have gotten married after knowing each other for shorter periods of time. But usually a lot of alcohol is involved in those decisions. Michael is suggesting we do this while he’s completely sober and coherent. And to be honest, I’m impressed that he’s still both of those things. I’d have expected most people to be drinking vodka straight from the bottle by now.

“I know,” he replies, stating his position slowly and clearly, “I’m not saying that we actually have to get married. I’m just saying that for the sake of us both having somewhere to live, we can just act like we are.”

It takes me all of ten seconds to come to the conclusion that it’s not a completely ridiculous idea. I mean, how hard can it be? “So we put on a show for Mrs. Crowder.”

“Exactly,” he nods, “But when it’s just the two of us, we’re just roommates.”

That might actually work. It means the acting will only be necessary when the landlady is around. Apparently I’m not so great at lying, but pretending could actually be kind of fun.

“But what if she asks for proof?” I ask, wanting to make sure all the bases are covered.

“That we’re married? She won’t,” he assures me.

He seems confident, but I’m not buying it. “How can you be so sure?”

“She has no reason to doubt our marriage,” he explains, “Look, when my old roommate and I first rented the place, the only name on the lease was mine, and he would just give me his half of the money whenever it was time to pay rent. If we were married, we’d probably have joint bank accounts anyway, so she won’t get suspicious that I’m paying the full rent. You can just give me your half once a month.”

That explains why he hasn’t asked me to sign a lease with Mrs. Crowder. Which is honestly the least shady thing about this entire situation.

“That could work,” I purse my lips, thinking that this plan actually seems to be coming together quite nicely. There’s only one small hitch. “I do need a ring, though.”

Michael sighs heavily. Poor, frustrated soul. “What are you talking about?”

“Mrs. Crowder asked why I wasn’t wearing one and I told her mine was at the jewelers because one of the diamonds fell out.” I say it quickly, hoping he won’t notice the specifics of that statement.

“One of?” his eyes widen in horror and he gapes at me, “How many diamonds are on this fictional ring?”

I probably should’ve known I wouldn’t get away with that. Truly, it was a mistake on my part, along with everything else that had happened in the last hour. But I did feel particularly bad about the ring situation. I mean, Michael told me the entire reason he was looking for a roommate in the first place was because it was getting hard for him to pay his rent alone on his salary. So if he could barely afford his rent, then he sure as hell couldn’t afford to buy his fake wife a ring set with more than one diamond.

Luckily, as I’ve proved to myself today, I think quickly on my feet.

“Chill,” I say nonchalantly, wanting the tension in the room to dissipate. I lean forward between the boxes, feeling like it won’t be long until I’m buried beneath a pile of my hats. Though that would be the ideal way to go. “It doesn’t have to be real. It just has to look real.”

“So, like our relationship?” he shoots back immediately.

I blink, not expecting such a biting response. “Ouch.”

He looks like he feels guilty three seconds later, his gaze conveying his apology, even though his lips don’t. “You know what I mean.”

I guess I can’t really be hurt by that. After all, it’s exactly what we’re considering doing: making our relationship seem like something it isn’t, dressing it up like a sweet love story, when in reality, we’re just two people who need a roof over our heads and a place to sleep that’s not a huge commute from where we work.

“I can’t believe we’re actually thinking about this,” I marvel, “I mean, isn’t it illegal? I’ve seen the movies. Marriage fraud is a thing.”

At least, that’s what every movie that has two people who pretend to be married has ever told me. Maybe it’s just makes for a good story. Two people, forced to spend time together and act all lovey dovey in public so people don’t figure it out, only to realize that maybe they really are in love with their fake spouse after all. Cue dramatic sprint through airport and confession of love before someone boards a plane.

For some reason, I don’t foresee my story with Michael ending that way. Not that I don’t find him attractive, but I can already tell that we’re much too different. He’s a worrier and I tend not to think about the consequences of my actions. Which means I’ll probably be the reason he’s bald before he’s thirty.

“Yeah, if you’re trying not to get deported,” he rolls his eyes, taking a seat on the edge of the coffee table in front of me, “Like, if literally anybody else owned this building, the fact that we’re not married wouldn’t even be an issue.”

“That’s probably true,” I admit. Mrs. Crowder is definitely old fashioned in her ways. But since it’s her property, I guess she’s allowed to do what she wants. “Would you consider moving?”

“Wow, you really don’t wanna be fake married to me, huh?” He’s doing his best to sound mock offended, but to be honest, it kind of seems like he actually is hurt. Like the idea of me being completely revolted at the thought of being married to him makes his heart ache just a little.

And that makes me a little sad. Because despite not knowing Michael very long, one thing I’ve learned about him is that he just wants to be happy and he wants the people around him to be happy as well. He’s got one of those smiles that could power an entire city with its brightness and when you see it, you feel like you’re basking in the sun.

I want to see it again. I don’t want there to be hurt in his eyes. But it’s not in me to be sweet, so I go for the second best option: friendly bickering. “I’m the one who said it in the first place.”

It works. He looks momentarily confused, but then he catches on to what I’m doing and his eyes clear and his jawline becomes firm and although his tone is terse, there’s a smile pulling at the corners of his lips. “Fine. Are we doing this, or what?”

“Fine,” I nod, holding out a hand for him to shake. He slips his palm against mine and pumps up and down firmly and my smile turns into a laugh as I pull my hand away. “Husband.“

I thought it would be weird to say, and it’s strange in the sense that I’ve never said it before, or never referred to another person by that term, but it’s also kind of comforting and oddly nice. And I can tell by the way his expression lights at the term that he feels the same way, so maybe this won’t be a complete disaster after all.

   

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