Living with Mr. Reed

When Ellie's best friend decides to move in with her boyfriend, Ellie has no choice but to find another place to live. But Alex Reed is hardly the roommate she was looking for, and the last person she expects to get along with. He's rude, entitled, and an overall ass. Still, as time goes on, Ellie begins to see that there's another side to the jerk she shares a house with. And learning more about his troubled past may be enough to change her mind about him. Perhaps, even enough to make her fall in love...

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5. Caught Red-handed

Chapter Five

       
         I didn't see much of Alex over the next couple of days. He was usually asleep when I woke up in the mornings for work, and when I got home, he was gone. I wondered, somewhat full of myself, if it was his dislike for me that was keeping him away. He hadn't said a single word to me after telling me Lucy could stay. As a matter of fact, any time we did pass each other – when one of us going into the house, and the other going out – he wouldn't even look at me.


        At the same time, though, I did see him coming from his office the few times I saw him at all, and I wondered if that meant he was working on a new book. It wouldn't have surprised me at all if he was a workaholic. He didn't seem to have much else going on aside of his work. I rarely saw him ever talk on the phone, and he never had people over. In fact, I was pretty sure Maggie was the only person he spoke to on a regular basis. His work, from what I could tell, was the only steady thing in his life. That thought almost made me want to read my copy of his book, see if it lived up to all the hype.


        Almost.


        But I didn't want him to catch me reading it, and think, for one second, that I was one of his little fangirls. God only knows how inflated his ego would get then.


        And I definitely won't be responsible for that.


        I unlocked the front door of the house, shoving my keys into my purse as the door swung open. It was Wednesday afternoon, and I had a uniquely difficult day, dealing with people all clamoring to speak with Mr. Johnson. It was as if a dam had burst, and spewed out aspiring writers all over the city. I couldn't count the number of times I had to tell someone that they couldn't just simply walk into Mr. Johnson's office, unpublished work in hand, and demand he have it ready to sell by the next week. It needed to be edited, and read over to see if he thought it would even profitable. He couldn't go putting Brookes' Publishing's name on just anything. Besides, we required appointments. And despite Alex's utter disregard for our rules, we did abide by them.


        Lucy greeted me at the door with a purr, and rubbed her head against my leg. I scratched behind her ears, and attempted not to trip over her as she followed me to the bedroom. After changing quickly, we both walked to the kitchen, and I grabbed a scoop of her cat food, only to realize when I reached her bowl that it was already full. I looked at Lucy, who looked back up at me as if she didn't know how that food had gotten there either. I thought at first that maybe she hadn't eaten her food from that morning, but she was happy, and healthy – there would be no reason for to not have eaten it. Then it dawned on me.


        "Did Alex fill this up for you?" I asked her, scratching her head. I was truly bewildered, but a small smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. Doesn't like cats indeed, I thought.


        I poured the cat food I'd scooped out back into its container, and headed down the hall to Alex's office, intending to ask him if he was responsible for replenishing her food bowl. But as soon as I entered the hallway, I could see balled up pieces of paper littering the floor outside of his office. As I got closer, I noticed the door was wide open. I peaked my head inside, but Alex was not in there.


        But his car is in the garage, I thought. I wonder where he went.


        I started to turn around and head back into the kitchen. My stomach was rumbling, and I still hadn't decided what I wanted for dinner. But I looked down at the floor at all the scattered, balled up pages, and I could practically hear them calling to me, begging me to unball them and read their contents. I was curious by nature. I looked around, checking to make sure I hadn't somehow missed Alex's tall, lanky figure standing somewhere nearby, but the hall – and presumably the house – was empty. I picked up one of the pages, unballing it, and cringing slightly at the sound, as if that would have been enough to alert Alex that I was being nosy and going through his things.


        Of course, I knew I shouldn't be doing it. If I wanted to read something he'd written, there were plenty of copies of his books around work – hell, my own copy of his most recent book was shoved into my nightstand somewhere. But there was something so exciting about looking through something he most likely didn't want anyone to see. Like it would somehow show me a gateway into his mind, and how his brain worked.


        I scanned over the page's contents, unable, at first, to decipher the words scrawled out in his messy handwriting. I didn't even realize he wrote things in longhand – I'd only ever seen him with his laptop. But I quickly dismissed that thought, as I read the words on the page.


        It was only a small excerpt, a small piece of a larger puzzle that Alex was putting together with his words. And it was genius. It didn't take me long to read, and when I finished it, I was left wanting more, an unsettling feeling sitting heavy in the pit of my stomach as I wished I had the rest of the story to read. It became blatantly clear to me, right in that moment, why Alex's books always did so well, why people kept coming back for more, and why Mr. Johnson put up with him. As much as I loved books, I'd read so many, but none had left me feeling the way I felt right then.


        "Ahem."


        The sound startled me, and I jumped, my heartbeat picking up.


        I looked up slowly, though it wasn't necessary. I already knew who was standing over my shoulder – whose breath was tickling the back of my neck. Alex's hazel eyes were staring down at me, a hard look on his face, but he didn't look angry. He looked inquisitive. His eyes searched my face, but I wasn't exactly sure what he was looking for, or expecting to see. All I could offer him was the blush making my cheeks grow more red by the second. The embarrassment of having been caught red-handed snooping in Alex's things was almost unbearable.


        Then he finally turned his attention away from my face, and onto the paper that was in my hands, and I felt like I was able to breathe again.


        "Please," he said, his voice low and soft as he took the paper from my hands gently. "Don't go through my things, Miss Graves."


        "I -" I hesitated. I wasn't sure what to say. "Right. Sorry about that," I finally forced out. I couldn't even bring myself to look at him at that point.


        He didn't say anything back, just picked up the remaining papers that littered the floor, and disappeared into his office, the door shutting firmly behind him. I stood in the hallway for a long moment, letting out a heavy sigh of relief. He'd been so nice about it. He didn't yell, or snatch the paper from me, or throw me out of the house with only the clothes on my back. He'd been so... civil. It was so unexpected. And I was mortified.


        I let out a quiet groan. It was one of those situations that I would randomly remember in the middle of the night in years to come, and physically cringe about. I attempted to rid the whole thing from my mind with the shake of my head, turning my thoughts instead to my tummy. With perfect timing, it let out a loud growl, and I headed back down the hall towards the kitchen.


        But before I rounded the corner, I heard Alex's office door creak open, followed by his voice. "Miss Graves?"


        I turned around to face him. "Yes?" I asked meekly.


        He cleared his throat, scratching the back of his neck uncomfortably as he looked away from me for a moment. When he looked back at me, it was evident he was attempting to hide his discomfort. "I'm... sorry," he said, and I raised my eyebrows at him. He's apologizing to me? "I shouldn't have snapped at you about the... cat."


        "Oh." I wasn't expecting that at all. "Don't worry about it." I waved my hand at him awkwardly, a poor attempt at showing him I was over it.


        Alex nodded his head, seeming to accept that response, and dipped back into his office.


        I did not see him for the rest of the day.




        The next day, I left work early and met Olivia and Tyler at the university's bookstore. The Fall semester of my second year was starting in a little over a week, and none of us had gotten the textbooks we'd need for our classes yet. We each walked through the small store, which was hidden towards the back of the university, close the dorms, with our class schedules nearly glued to our faces as we searched for the correct books. I grimaced at the prices of the books as I picked them up, balancing them between my arm and chin. They were expensive, and most of them probably wouldn't even be used. Professors had a tendency to skip over the textbooks when it came to teaching. When I found the last book I needed – coincidentally enough, it was the last copy – I stood at the back of the long line that wrapped around the bookstore, and stopped at the door. Olivia and Tyler joined me shortly after, Olivia speaking to me in a low voice as we waited for our turn to check out.


        "I still can't believe he caught you looking through is trash," Olivia said, smirking at me as she flicked her long, very straight hair over her shoulder.


        I rolled my eyes. "I wasn't going through his trash," I said flatly. I had explained to her and Tyler the mortifying situation I had found myself in as we walked to the bookstore. Olivia, of course, though it was hilarious. And maybe I deserved that, just a little. But at least Tyler was nice enough to try to hide his smile. "I was just... reading something he had tossed out. But it was in the hallway for anyone to pick up!"


        Olivia's grin widened making her look like the Cheshire cat. "I really don't see a difference," she shrugged. I looked to Tyler for help, but he shook his head. "Besides," she continued. "You know very well it wasn't there for anyone to read. It was outside of his office on his half of the house. You were being nosy."


        "Yeah, well," I replied. "Why are you taking his side?"


        Olivia raised an eyebrow, and gave me a look that told me she thought I was being dramatic again. "I'm not taking his side," she answered, her voice taking on a motherly tone. "Did you at least apologize?"


        "Of course I did." I was almost offended that she felt the need to ask. "I'm not a complete neanderthal."


        She laughed, shaking her head. "Of course not."


        "He apologized too," I added, and she blinked at me in surprise. "For 'snapping at me about the cat'. His words, not mine."


        Olivia was thoughtful for a moment. "Now, that's interesting," she said finally.


        "Why?"


        She rolled her eyes. "Really, Ellie," she said impatiently. "Because that means he's trying, making an effort to smooth things out between you two."


        I scoffed at that idea. "I very highly doubt that. He probably just had a moment of self awareness, and realized how ridiculous he looked huffing and puffing like that."


        "I think you're being too hard on him."


        That stunned me for a moment, and all I could was stare at her. "Olivia," I said, once I'd regained my composure and found my voice again. "He is the asshole, not me. What is with you defending him all of a sudden? You were the one who told me not to move in with him in the first place. Because he's asshole."


        Olivia exhaled an exasperated sigh, looking at Tyler for help, but he gave her the same look he'd given me. Good man. Don't get in the middle of this debate, your girlfriend is going down.


        "Look," she said, shifting the stack of books she was carrying to her other arm, and tucking her hair behind her ear. "All I'm saying is, you have a tendency to judge people a little harshly, and you have a hard time letting go of your initial opinion of them, even if they prove you wrong. If he's trying to make things less antagonistic between the two of you, you should make an effort too."


        I stared at Olivia for a long moment, not sure how to respond. I couldn't argue with her first point. It was true: I judged people way too harshly at times. And if my first impression of someone was a bad one, it remained that way, forever. But being fully aware of my own shortcoming hadn't made it any easier to work on. I'd tried. But with Alex, it wasn't just a first impression that had left such a bad taste in my mouth. Literally every interaction I had had with him, except the one from the day before, he'd only been a jerk. He was demanding, entitled, rude, impatient, and so many other things. He had proven to me, time and time again, that those were his true colors. I didn't catch him on a bad day, or provoke him, that's just who he was.


        "Besides," Olivia continued, cutting into my thoughts. "You signed a year long lease. You might as well at least attempt to make the year livable."


        Another good point. Damn it Olivia.


        I let out a very heavy, dramatic sigh. "Fine, fine," I grumbled. "If I tell you I'll try, can we drop this?" I had no interest in continuing an argument I was losing.


        "Will you mean it?"


        "Are you buying lunch?"


        She and Tyler both laughed out loud, and I gave into the smile that was threatening to replace the scowl on my lips. "Yes," she said, grinning, and I nodded, rolling my eyes playfully.


        "Then I suppose you have a deal," I said, turning back around just as the line finally began moving.

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