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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2. How... Unexpected


 

Chapter Two

        The apartment was lonely without Olivia in it. And empty.


        I stood in the nearly bare living room, Lucy weaving between my legs, rubbing her head against me and begging for attention. The sudden realization that most of the apartment had been decorated with Olivia's stuff was just starting to dawn on me. In fact, the only things that were left in the apartment were my TV, my bed, my dresser, and a few dishes.


         After we moved all of Olivia's things into Tyler's apartment, our apartment just felt so... strange. Only, I suppose it wasn't 'our' apartment anymore.


        I let out a heavily dramatic sigh, sitting down in the middle of the furniture-less living room, and scratching Lucy's head as I pulled my phone out of my pocket. I scrolled through my emails, hoping that I'd finally hear back from one of the applications I'd sent out. I'd spent all of Sunday evening sending emails and applying for more apartments, but still had heard nothing back. And with Olivia officially moved out, I had less than thirty days to find a new home, per our lease agreement. I frowned slightly, looking back over the same few emails I'd had in my inbox since that morning – None, of course, were the email I was looking for.


        I laid back on the carpet, groaning, and Lucy moved to place her cold nose against my cheek.


        "What will we do, Miss Lucy?" I said softly, and a quiet purr vibrated from her small body as she pressed her face against mine. I sighed again, trying not to let the overwhelming anxiety take hold of me. "Well, at least one of us is happy."




                                                                                                                *



        I was grumpy as I sat at my work desk. It had been over a week since Olivia had moved out, and I still hadn't received a single email. And the more ads I looked over, the more discouraged I became. No one had posted anything new since last Sunday, and I had officially crossed over into the weird part of the internet. I read a couple of the ads before I couldn't take it anymore, and closed the browser.


        "Good morning, Miss Graves."


        I looked up from my computer to see Mr. Aaron Johnson standing at my desk, a pleasant smile fixed on his face. He was an older man – late forties, if I had to guess – with graying dark hair, and sun kissed skin. Aside from the small wrinkles that creased the outer corners of his eyes, and the sides of his mouth, he was a handsome man. And every day he wore a very stylish, crisp suit, tailor-made and very expensive-looking.


        "Good morning, Mr. Johnson," I answered. "Something I can help you with?"


        I usually only saw Mr. Johnson in passing, when he was on his way to lunch or on his way back into his office. As lead publisher, he was a busy man, and rarely had need to stop and talk to me. Especially since he had his own assistant to help handle his work affairs.


        "Cynthia is out sick today," he said, frowning slightly. "Could you do me a favor, and give Arthur Banks Book Store a call and see how many copies of Julian Carter's new book they want?"


        "Of course," I replied, offering a smile.


        "Excellent. Tell them the books will be ready to ship out in three weeks, so we'll need their order by this Friday."


        I nodded, and he smiled again. "Here, as a 'thank you'." He placed a thick book with elegant white writing against a dark blue cover on my desk. "The first copy's all yours."


        And with that, he hurried off towards the elevator, and I grabbed the book, turning it over to look at it.


        "The Lost Boy," I read aloud, flipping through the pages of the book. No doubt this would be another hit. If there was one nice thing I could say about Julian Carter, it was that he never produced a bad book.


        I turned the book over, scanning over the short description of the story written on the back. My eyes rested on Julian Carter's picture. Here, he didn't look so bad. He wore a nicely fitted suit, and a smirk pulled at the corner of his mouth. His hair was fixed and styled this time, and he was clean shaven. I would have almost thought him handsome, if I didn't know how much of an ass he really was.


        I rolled my eyes, dropping the book into my purse, then picked up the receiver to my desk phone to call the bookstore. The phone only rang once before I felt my own cell phone vibrate in my lap, and I looked down, glancing at the number.


        Unknown.


        I almost didn't answer it, until it dawned on me that it could be someone calling about one of my applications. I hung up my work phone, just as an Arthur Banks Book Store employee picked up their phone.


        "Hello?" I said into my cell phone.


        There was a long pause, before a man's voice said, "Is this Eleanor Graves?"


        "That's me," I answered, a little too excitedly.


        "This is Alex Reed. You emailed me about my online ad for the spare bedroom I have for rent."


        Huh. I don't know why I assumed Alex Reed was a girl.


        "Uh, yes, that's right," I said.


        "If you have time today, I can give you a tour of the house, see if you like it. There's also a few questions I would like to ask in person."


        There was something strangely familiar about his voice, but I couldn't quite place it. It nagged me for a moment, as if it were a word on the tip of my tongue that I just couldn't think of. It was a voice I'd heard recently. But where?


        "Hello?"


        His voice pulled me from my thoughts, and I cleared my throat.


        "Yes, sorry," I said, probably too quickly. "I can come today after work. Will 5:30 pm work for you?"


        "Yes. See you then." And then he hung up.


        I stared at my phone for a moment, my heart beating a little faster as the excitement settled in. This was exactly what I'd been waiting for. And if this interview went well, everything would stay exactly as it was, and I wouldn't have to quit school, or my job.


        If the interview went well.


        I frowned. I'd never been particularly good with interviews. Even my interview for my current job hadn't gone at all like I'd wanted – I'd stammered through the answers to the questions, and spilled coffee all over the CEO. The fact that they had even been willing to give me a chance baffled me still. What if this Alex Reed wasn't impressed with me? Or our personalities clashed?


        Ugh. Stop it, Eleanor.


        I took a deep breath, calming my nerves, and turned back to my work phone so that I could finish the task Mr. Johnson had asked me to complete.


        No. Everything will be perfect. It has to be.




        The rest of the day seemed to drag as I waited for 5pm to arrive, and I worked on menial tasks to keep my mind off of my nerves. The only upside to my being nervous was that my desk looked immaculate by the end of the day. When 5pm finally arrived, I grabbed my purse, hurrying out the door so I could catch the bus headed toward my destination.


        A twenty minute bus ride, and five minute walk later, I approached the house fixed at the address in the email I'd received from Alex shortly after our call had ended. It was a decent-sized house, not too big, but definitely not small. Dark blue shutters adorned the windows, and a bright white door sat in the center. I approached the white picket fence, opening the gate, and followed the cobblestone path that led to the porch steps. It was quaint and cute, and already I was in love with it. I noted the small garden that sat directly under the window to the left of the front door as I climbed the porch steps. A small porch swing sat to the right of the door, and it swayed slightly in the light breeze.


        I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. I was already in love with the exterior of the house, which only increased my desire for this interview to go well. If Alex Reed turned me down, I knew I'd just be devastated.


        I reached the front door, and raised my hand to press the doorbell. But before I could push the button, the door suddenly swung open, and I pulled my hand back quickly, a little startled. I stared up at the face of the tall man in front of me, and I could feel the crease form between my eyebrows as confusion settled over me.


        "What – Do I have the right address?"


        I looked around, silently cursing my GPS for leading me to the wrong house, but my eyes caught sight of the mailbox. And sure enough, 228, Reed was printed in bold black letters across the side. I looked back at the person in front of me, who looked less than impressed himself.


        "Julian Carter?" I finally said, and I've never in my life seen someone roll their eyes so hard. He looked different now than he had at our last meeting – his clothes were clean and neat, and he had shaved the stubble from his face – but it was definitely still the same man that had waltzed into Brookes' Publishing just a couple of weeks before and demanded to see Mr. Johnson.


        His hazel eyes scanned over me, starting from my face, all the way down to my shoes, and then back at my face again. He squinted at me, and I was almost certain by his expression that he recognized me too. But his mouth formed into a thin line, and he said, "Great. Another fan."


        He gestured to my purse, and I looked down, realizing the book Mr. Johnson had given me was sticking out. Certainly he doesn't think I'm stalking him.


        I pushed the book back into my bag, and looked back at Julian, confused.


        "I'm Eleanor Graves," I said finally. "Don't you remember me?"


        "No," he answered flatly.


        "I'm the receptionist at Brookes' Publishing," I continued, trying to jog his memory. Certainly I wasn't that forgettable. "We spoke a couple of weeks ago when you came in for -."


        "Do you want the tour, or not?" he interrupted, and I stared back at him blankly.


        An awkward silence settled over us as I tried to make sense of the situation, and a thought popped into my head.


        "I thought I was meeting with Alex Reed," I said, and Julian rolled his eyes. Again.


        "I am Alex Reed," he answered, exasperation hanging heavy on his words. "'Julian Carter' is my pen name. I'd expect you to know that if you really worked for Brookes' Publishing."


        I frowned and opened my mouth to say something smart, but Julian – or rather Alex – stepped back farther into the house, opening the door wider. "Come in if you're going to come in, otherwise I'd like to keep the door closed and the bugs out."


        I paused for a moment, taking it all in. I should have known, as soon as I saw this perfect little house, that this was too good to be true, that there was clearly something wrong. My one and only call back was from Julian Carter – or Alex Reed, whatever his name was! That wasn't fair. He certainly wasn't what I was picturing when I'd sent him my application in the first place. And had I known the ad had been placed by him, I absolutely wouldn't have even bothered applying.


        I wondered if it was even worth going through with the tour and the interview process. I hadn't even stepped into the house, and already our personalities were clashing. He was a selfish ass, self-centered and rude...
        But he was also my only call back, and my time to find a new apartment was running out. His ad did say that he was gone during most of the day, and I'd be starting school soon so that would keep me busy. Maybe we could just stay out of each other's hair until I could find another apartment.


        Alex cleared his throat impatiently, his eyes boring into me. "I really don't have time for... Whatever it is you're doing," he said, annoyed.


        I pushed down the desire to snap back and took a deep breath, then offered a smile. "Sorry," I said. "I'd love to see the inside of the house."


        He didn't even wait for me to get fully into the house before pointing to the front room. "This is the living room," he said flatly, and I noticed the room was mostly bare, save for the couch pushed against the right wall. There were no decorations, no pictures hanging, no coffee table or side tables, there was literally just the couch.



        He took me through the rest of the house quickly, and I was surprised to see that the kitchen/dining area was pretty big. Down the hall leading to the left side of the house was his bedroom, his office and his bathroom, none of which he bothered to show me the inside of. Instead, he took me down to the right side of the house where two doors sat opposite each other.


        He opened the door on the right wall. "Here's a closet you can use for your things." I barely had time to glance inside the small closet before he shut the door again. He turned his attention to the door on the left, opening it, and gesturing for me to walk inside.


        I stepped in, impressed with the size of the room. I hadn't expected to have a room so big for myself. It was at least a size and half bigger than my room at my apartment. It was bare, of course, but unlike the rest of the house – whose walls were a boring off-white - the walls of this room were a deep maroon color, and looked nice against the beige carpeted floor. Long blinds hung over a sliding glass door on the opposite wall of where we were standing, and led to a small balcony outside.


        "You'd have your own bathroom," Alex said, pointing to one of the doors on the right wall. "And there's a walk-in closet there." He pointed to the door next to the bathroom door. "Is this room adequate?"


        "It's huge," I blurted out.


        "I'll take that as a yes."


        I nodded emphatically, glancing up at Alex, and stepped back out into the hallway.


        "Well, in that case, I only have a couple of questions for you," he said, closing the bedroom door behind me, before leading back toward the front of the house. He didn't wait for me to respond before saying, "Do you play loud music?" He turned on his heel to face me, studying my face.


        "No, I have headphones," I answered.


        He nodded thoughtfully. "Good." The reply was quiet, and I assumed more to himself than to me. "What is your opinion of seafood?"


        I stared at him blankly. "What?"


        "Seafood. Do you like it?" He enunciated his words as if he was talking to small child, and I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes at him.


        "I don't hate it," I answered honestly. "But I don't eat it regularly, either. Why?"


        "I can't stand the smell of fish cooking. It distracts me from my writing, and I can't have that."


        I nodded, but didn't say anything. I suppose that made sense, even if it was a bit random.


        "Lastly," he said, opening the front door. "Do you intend on having a lot of people over? I don't like having a lot of people coming in and out of my house, and though I am gone most days, I will not entertain guests on the days that I am home."


        "I'll be starting my sophomore year of college in three weeks," I said, and he quirked a brow as if he didn't understand what that had to do with anything. "I won't have time to have people coming in and out at all hours."


        He nodded once, and I stepped out onto the porch, turning to face him.


        "I suppose that's... sufficient," he replied. He was quiet for a long moment, and I wasn't sure if he was waiting for me to leave before he closed the door. Not sure of what else to do, I stuck my hand out for him to shake, and he glanced down at it as if I'd just offered him my laundry to do. I withdrew my hand, and was about to turn to leave, but he looked back up at my face, and said, "I will have your key ready for you Saturday morning, and the lease for you to sign. You may move in then." And then he shut the door in my face.


        I stood there for a while, stunned and unmoving, as a wave of mixed emotions crashed down on me. On the one hand, Alex Reed was indescribably annoying, and the thought of living with him was enough to make my stress skyrocket. It was clear he had zero people skills, and very little patience for anything that even slightly inconvenienced him.


        But on the other hand, I had found a new place to live. And it was only two blocks away from the college, and a fifteen minute bike ride to work. Plus, the bedroom was huge, and I got my own balcony. My apartment didn't even have a balcony.


        I made my way off of the porch, down the cobblestone pathway, and back through the gate of the white picket fence, a small smile forming on my lips. The pros, in this case, far outweighed the cons. And believe me – Alex was a pretty big con. But I could make this work.


        I mean, really, what other choice did I have?

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