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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1. Teddy & Michael

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I laid eyes on Michael Clifford. It’s three days after I found his advertisement online and call to inquire about the extra room in his apartment. He asks me to meet him at the coffee shop down the street from his place because he wants to size me up in person before giving me the tour.

Curling my fingers around the strap of my purse, I pick up my skateboard with my spare hand and look both ways before I jaywalk across the street towards the coffee shop on the opposite corner. It’s taken every ounce of willpower I have, but I managed not to look up my potential new roommate on the internet before our meeting, deciding that I will allow our first interaction to shape my judgments of him rather than parts of stories I found online.

This does provide me with somewhat of a dilemma, however, as I’m not entirely sure who I’m looking for when I step through the front door of the coffee shop. Eyes scanning over the people inside, my gaze finally settles on a man sitting at a table for two by the window. His snow white hair falls messily across his forehead, as though he often uses his fingers to make it look presentable rather than a comb, one hand drumming nervously on the table beside a still full iced coffee while the other massages his chin full of dark stubble. Both his ears were pierced, as well as one eyebrow, and from the looks of it, he has a tattoo wrapped around his arm and I can’t help but think that he looks like the kind of man who would be on the cover of a vampire romance novel. And I mean that entirely as a compliment.

I’m not one hundred percent sure it is him, but I figure I might as well try my luck, so I stride confidently towards his table, a warm smile stretching my lips as I speak. “Hello. Are you Michael?”

His gaze shifts quickly upwards from where he was staring dreamily out the window, his lips widening into a smile as he nods and stands, holding out a hand towards me. “Yes, you must be Teddy.”

“I am,” I grin, reaching out to shake his hand before slipping into the chair across from him, draping the strap of my purse over the back, depositing my skateboard on the floor, and lacing my fingers together in my lap once I’m facing him fully. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” he nods, reaching for his coffee, glancing down at it and then back up at me. “Do you want anything?”

“I’m good,” I shake my head, reminded of the three cups of coffee I’ve already had today and deciding not to overcaffinate myself. I want to make a good impression and I have a habit of talking too much when I’m over excited. “So how come you’re looking for a roommate?”

He takes a sip of his coffee before he replies, as though the mixture of bitter and sweet will make him more eloquent. “My old roommate moved out because he got married. I tried living by myself for a couple months, but on my salary, I could just barely cover the rent, so it’s just easier to split.”

“What do you do?” I ask, tilting my head to the side.

I imagine he’ll say something along the lines of artist or musician, purely based on the whole punk rock vibe he’s got going on and the fact that his fingers are callused from plucking guitar strings, so when he says, “I’m a math teacher,” I’m more than a little surprised, mostly because I can’t recall ever having a teacher who looked quite like him. Though I probably would have paid a lot more attention in math if he’d been at the front of the classroom.

“What about you?” he counters, his gaze direct and the clarity of his jade eyes sending shivers down my spine. “How come you’re looking for an apartment?”

For a moment, I consider lying to keep from embarrassing myself in front of this beautiful stranger, but then I decide that it’s not worth it. If we’re going to be living together, we need to trust each other. Plus, I’ve been trying to be a better person and honesty definitely falls into that category. So I tell him the truth. “Well, the short version is that my parents are kicking me out.”

To his credit, he doesn’t laugh, instead leaning in closer as though he’s intrigued and wants to know more, his fingers tightening around the base of his plastic cup. “And the long version?”

“To be honest, it’s a little complicated.” That’s my way of getting out of elaborating. This whole honesty thing is kind of a work in progress. The truth is that my parents are selling our family home in favor of buying an RV and travelling across the country and I haven’t quite come to terms with it yet. My philosophy is that the longer I put off accepting that it’s gonna happen, the less chance of it actually happening.

Michael studies for a moment, his gaze narrowing as though he knows there something I’m not telling him, but he doesn’t press me any further, leaning back in his chair and shrugging. “Another time, then.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” I accuse.

He lifts one eyebrow upwards and the tiniest hint of a smirk kinks his lips. “Do you?”

“You’re thinking it’s sad that I was living with my parents at my age.” That’s what most people thought when I told them I live with my parents. And I don’t know Michael well enough to assume he’ll be any different.

“Actually,” he replies, “I was thinking that sounds kinda nice.”

He’s being completely sincere; I can tell by the combination of the calmness in his tone and the fact that his eyes become just a bit sadder and it catches me off guard. “Oh.”

“Also, at your age?” he adds, saving me from awkwardly having to change the subject. “How old is it that you think you look, because honestly, you could pass as a high schooler.”

I’m momentarily taken aback about the fact that he’s so willing to insult me after knowing me for all of five minutes before deciding that I kind of like. I’d never be able to be friends with someone who took themselves too seriously and by bringing up the fact that I do look about fifteen (it’s because I’m short, I can’t help it), Michael has made me feel extremely comfortable.

So I laugh and pretend to be offended as I counter. “That’s rich coming from you, vampire boy.”

His eyebrows flit upwards, apparently not expecting me to have a retort, but the way his lips kink into a half smirk have me believing that he’s at least a little impressed. “Touche.”

“So,” I continue, thinking I could get used to the banter, “are you gonna show me this apartment or what?”

Leaning forward, he laces his fingers atop the table again and fixes me with a hard stare. “Aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself? I still haven’t decided if I like you.”

I guess technically he’s right, because it’s not like a few minutes is enough to make this huge of a decision, but I’m also desperate, because it would be great to have somewhere in the city to live before my new job starts the week after next. Leaning towards him to show him that I’m not at all intimidated, I match the intensity of his stare, the smallest smile playing at my lips. “What’s not to like?”

“You’re sure of yourself,” he notes, his smile widening but his gaze unwavering.

“Yep,” I nod, not backing down. “So can we go?”

He holds my stare for twelve more seconds before letting out a loud laugh. “Yeah. Let’s go. We can walk from here. It’s just a couple blocks over.”

“Sounds good,” I smile back, honestly a little relieved that me standing my ground had actually worked.

We rise from the table and grab our belongings and head towards the door, falling in step on the sidewalk in a comfortable silence, which Michael soon breaks. “So…sorry, did you already tell me what you do?”

“I guess not,” I realize, becoming happier at the idea of getting to talk about the one recent success I’d had in my life. “I’m a radio DJ.”

“Oh, really?” his face lights up excitedly and I wonder if Michael’s one of those people who gets excited about literally everything, “Any show I would have heard?”

I shake my head, moving my fingers to get a better grip on my skateboard. “Probably not. I used to be on a really small station in my hometown,” and by small I mean miniscule because I’m pretty sure the only people who ever listened to it were my parents and our next door neighbor, “but I actually just got a job with Max 107.8.”

I say those words surprisingly calmly for someone who’s been internally screaming since I’d accepted the job a week before. The show I’ll be cohosting airs at an hour of the night when I’m sure no one will be listening, but it’s a job on radio, so I’m not complaining.

“Oh, no way!” If possible, the amount of sunshine in his eyes levels up even more and he’s practically skipping as we cross the street, “I always play that station for my kids.”

“You play music during class?” That probably shouldn’t surprise me. If anyone I’ve ever met has satisfied the definition of free spirit, it’s Michael. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t stopped smiling since we met. Everything from the way his shoulders are so relaxed when he walks to the fact that there’s small holes ripped into the shoulders of his oversized green flannel indicates that he doesn’t have a care in the world.

I wish I could be more like that. Maybe I should take up meditation. Or yoga.

“Sometimes,” he replies, “I play it before class starts and as background noise if they’re working on practice problems,” he pauses, scrunching up his nose apologetically, “I’m not good with silence.”

This time, I’m definitely not surprised, purely based on the amount he’s been talking. “Okay, but you’re not one of those people who plays their music irritatingly loud are you? Because I don’t wanna end up hating you.”

I wouldn’t be home enough during weeknights for it to be a problem, but I intended on enjoying my sleep when I wasn’t working.

He laughs softly, slowing the pace of his walking in front of a four story brick building. “I think I can tone it down. It’s this building here.” Jogging up the front steps, he holds the door open for me, nodding at my skateboard as I slip past him. “You skate?”

“Yeah, anywhere that’s walkable,” I reply, following him down the hall to the elevator bank and watching him press the button for the third floor once we’re inside, feeling a smile stretch my lips because just thinking about the freedom I feel while skating sends blasts of sunshine through my veins. “Do you?”

“Not that coordinated,” he says, not sounding apologetic in the slightest. And why should he. It doesn’t seem as though being graceful is at all an essence of his being, seeing as I’d seen him trip over nothing while crossing the street a few minutes ago. Once we step of the elevator, he stops outside apartment 3C, sticking his key in the lock and jiggling slightly before pushing the door open and gesturing for me to enter with a grand flourish. “Here we are. What do you think?”

I pause once I’ve entered the apartment, taking my time as I allow my gaze to float over every aspect of the place in which I may live. It’s a medium sized apartment, opening to a kitchen on the right and a living area a little further back. Doors on opposite sides of the living area lead to what I assume are bedrooms. It’s cozy and homey and pretty much everything I could’ve hoped for in a home.

“I like it,” I flash Michael a smile, swaying happily from side to side because I cannot physically contain my excitement. “I can definitely see myself living here.”

He sounds a bit relieved when replies, a slow smile stretching his lips. “Well, then it’s yours. When do you wanna move in?”

“As soon as possible?” There’s a possibility that I say that a little too eagerly, but there’s never been a point in my life where everything seems to be going my way. But today’s been a good day to top off a great couple weeks. I’ve got a new job in a profession I love and I’ve found in apartment with a roommate that I don’t immediately hate. Life is good.

“Sounds good to me,” Michael grins, extending a hand for me to shake, an offer with which I oblige, “Welcome home, roomie.”

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