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...


7. Small Gestures

Chapter Seven

        Sunday seemed to go by in a blur. I didn't hear or see from Alex at all, and honestly, it was probably better that way. It was as if Alex was going out of his way to avoid me after Saturday's debacle. And I was still irritated that he had declined my dinner invitation Saturday evening - Mostly because it seemed like he was flip-flopping between wanting to be friendly, and wanting to remain the estranged asshole roommate. I was at least trying. He, on the other hand, couldn't seem to decide what he wanted. So getting back into school was a welcome reprieve from my awkward first week with my new roommate.

        Monday morning, I got to my first class early. I sat in the front row, scribbling down notes as the professor went over the syllabus for the semester, and the class rules – mostly about turning in assignments late, how to earn extra credit, and what percentage of our final grade the final exam was. But I began to grow annoyed towards the end of the class when a blonde haired guy a couple of rows behind me kept interrupting the professor with questions. My second class started at 10:00am, and was on the completely opposite end of the building, as it were, this class was already running late. By the time the teacher wrapped up the lecture for the day, it was already 9:50am, twenty minutes past the time it was supposed to end, and I now had only ten minutes to get across the school campus.

        I was almost in a full sprint as I made my way to my second class. I was never late. Even in high school, I had always been punctual, never missed a day – I certainly wasn't going to break that record now. The bag carrying my school books was slung over my shoulder, and swung wildly against me as I ran. I checked my watch every couple of minutes, growing frustrated as I realized there was no way I was going to make it to the classroom before 10:00am. I dodged oncoming traffic – groups of people walking casually to their classes, and I jealously wished I had that luxury. Beads of sweat were starting to form on my brows, and my breathing was growing ragged, but I glanced down at my watch again – 9:57am, and I wasn't much farther from my destination.

        Maybe I'll make it after all.

        I must have jinxed myself, because as I rounded the corner, only a couple of doors down from Professor Williams' Psych 101 class, I didn't see the tall skinny guy coming out of the same classroom I was heading into. Not at first. And he didn't see me either – He was too busy stuffing some papers into his bag, not paying attention to where he was going. By the time the two of us realized we were going to collide, it was far too late, and our bodies were already coming into contact with each other.

        "Oh, shit!" He said, as I crashed into him, and his voice matched my own surprise. He wrapped his long arms around me – willingly, or unwillingly, I couldn't tell – as we fell to the ground in a tangle of arms, legs, and school bags. The papers he'd been trying to put into his bag scattered on the floor around us, as well as one of my textbooks, and a few pens.

        "Oh my God, I am so sorry," I said, rolling off of him immediately. I began stuffing my things back into my bag as he gathered his papers back up.

        "No, it's fine. I wasn't looking where I was going. You aren't hurt, are you?" He offered me his hand then, and I took it, letting him help me to my feet. When I finally looked up at him, I was met with the prettiest brown eyes that reflected bits of gold. He was a young guy, around my age, with dark curly hair, cut short and styled neatly. I stared at him for a moment, before it finally clicked in my head.

        "Dylan?" I asked, surprised. Dylan had been in my Lit 101 class the year before, but he had been a bit heavier, his hair quite a bit longer, and a full beard on his chin. This man standing in front of me looked almost nothing like him, and I probably wouldn't have even recognized him if it wasn't for his eyes.

        Dylan was one of those friends that I had hit it off with as soon as we'd met the year before. But he lived out of state, and went home for the summer, so we hadn't had much of a chance to keep in contact with each other. In all honesty, with all of the stuff that had been going on in my life, I had almost forgotten about him. But I was ecstatic to see him, and I grinned back as I stared up at him

        "Ellie!" He threw his arm around me in a half hug, smooshing me into him.

        "You've changed," I said, still looking at him. "A lot."

        "I know!" He released me from the hug, grinning from ear to ear as he looked down at me. "I started dating this health nut at the end of the last semester. Now he's got me eating his health junk and running everyday."

        I laughed, adjusting my bag on my shoulder. "Well, you look great," I said. "I have to get to class – I'm pretty sure I'm really late by now, but we should catch up later."

        "You heading into Professor Williams' class?" He asked, and I nodded. "Don't worry, you have a couple of minutes. He left just a couple of seconds ahead of me to the restroom."

        I let out a sigh of relief, and Dylan chuckled. "Well, again, I am so sorry for running into you like that." I began edging toward the door, and Dylan waved his hand at me dismissively.

        "You'll just have to make it up to me." He grinned before turning around, and heading down the hallway.

        Dylan was right – I had plenty of time to find a decent seat and get my things set up on my desk the way I wanted before the professor entered the room. Just like the class before this one, he went over the syllabus, and some class rules. But unlike the professor in my previous class, he wasn't taking any questions until the very end, and he made it clear he wouldn't tolerate any disruptions in his classroom. And that was fine with me. There was nothing worse than a student who thought they were important enough to interrupt the professor anytime they felt like it.

        Professor Williams dismissed the class right at 11:30, giving us a small assignment to have done by our next class on Thursday. I made my way out to the front of the building where I had parked my bike, then headed directly to work.

        It was a slow day. None of the publishers had any appointments, and no unannounced visitors showed up, so I worked on my homework while I waited for the day to end. By the time 5pm finally rolled around, I was so ready to get home, I was growing antsy. It hadn't taken me long at all to complete my homework assignment, and I had even managed to read the first chapter in our textbook before the end of my shift.

        When I finally got home, I noted Alex's car wasn't in the driveway. I entered the house, only to find it empty, as I should have expected. But for some inexplicable reason, I was a little disappointed by the fact. Of course, I was used to Alex being gone – Saturday was proof enough of that. Still, the house just seemed... empty without him in it.

        Tuesday morning, as I entered my English 102 class, a huge grin spread across my face as I saw Dylan seated in one of the middle desks. He waved me over as soon as he saw me, and I shuffled into the desk next to him.

        "Fancy meeting you here," he said, smiling at me. "Did you see who else is here?" He nodded his head to his left, and I followed the direction he was gesturing to. A guy who’d been in our Lit class the year before was seated a couple of rows back. He’d spent the entire semester talking on the phone. He’d answer it in class, no matter what was going on, disrupting everyone. He was looking at something on his phone, tapping the screen every couple of seconds, and I rolled my eyes.

        "Great," I sighed, turning back around in my seat.

        "Joke's on him this year," Dylan replied. "I heard Professor Lang doesn't allow cell phones to even be on in her class. And if one goes off during a lecture, she'll kick you out."

        "I wish all of the professors would implement that rule." I frowned, and Dylan nodded.

        "So," he said, and I looked back up at him, catching the glint of gold in his eyes again. "Was I right about Professor Williams?"

        I nodded. "I even had time to arrange everything on my desk the way I like before he got back," I answered, and gestured to how I had my things set up perfectly on my desk.

        Dylan grinned. "Seems you owe me twice, then."

        "Definitely," I agreed.

        "Well, you can start by being my study buddy. If I recall correctly, you passed Lit 101 with a 99% last year."

        "Would have been a solid 100%, but Professor Louis docked a couple of points off of one of my essays for 'overuse of the word 'therefore'." I added air-quotes to further my point. I was still a little irritated by that.

        Dylan let out a loud laugh. "You know, I'm not even surprised that you're upset by a near perfect score," he said, and I let out a small chuckle.

        "So what's the second debt I owe you?" I asked after a moment.

        "Oh, yeah!" He tore off a piece of paper from his notebook, and scribbled something down. "I meant to give you my number before we left for summer break last year." He handed me the slip of paper, and I saw he'd written his phone number on it. "My boyfriend and I are going out this weekend with some friends. You should come. Invite whoever you want – It'll be a lot of fun."

        "I don't know," I said hesitantly. "I usually spend the weekend getting ahead in the textbooks to prepare for the next lecture."

        "Oh, I didn't mean to make it sound like you had a choice," Dylan replied, a playful grin on his lips, and twinkle in his gold eyes. "You owe me, remember? And besides, it's the only weekend we'll have for a while that won't be filled with homework assignments and study sessions. Please come."

        I waited a long moment to give him my answer, playing up the dramatic effect. Finally, I sighed heavily, and said, "Fine, if you insist."

        Dylan nodded emphatically. "I definitely do," he replied, just as a petite woman with black hair entered the room. She called the class to order, and the whole room fell silent as she began her lecture.

        When the class was over, I walked out with Dylan, feeling pretty confident that I was going to enjoy the course. Just as Dylan had implied, Professor Lang was a no nonsense kind of woman, who spoke quickly and expected your full attention when she was speaking. And just as Dylan had said, as soon as the guy with the cell phone answered his first call, she kicked him out, telling him he wasn't allowed back into her classroom unless his phone was off.

        "So, I'll catch you Thursday?" Dylan asked, as we stopped in front of the door to my next class.

        I nodded. "See you Thursday," I answered, and he smiled before making his way down the hall to his next class.

        Olivia needed absolutely no convincing to get and her and Tyler to come along. She was up for going out that weekend as soon as the words had left my mouth. I was just wrapping up my conversation with her as I walked into the house, noting as I parked my bike on the porch, that Alex's car was in the driveway. He was home early.

        I hung up the phone, just as I pushed the heavy door open, and stepped into the house. I immediately caught the scent of some kind of food cooking.

        "Miss Graves." Alex was standing in the kitchen, and he looked up at me as I walked in. "I ordered pizza if you'd like some."

        And, as if to answer the question for me, my stomach let out a ravenous growl, and I nodded. "I'm starving," I answered, dropping my bag off on the kitchen table. I had rushed to work right after the end of my class, and didn't even think to grab lunch beforehand.

        "I hope pepperoni is okay," he said, putting two slices of pizza on a plate and handing it to me.

        There were no banana peppers on it, but I couldn't expect him to know exactly how I liked my pizza. "Pepperoni is my favorite," I answered. I sat down at the kitchen table, and halfway expected him to follow suit, but he took his plate down the hall, and into his office, closing the door behind him.

        I let out a quiet sigh, and Lucy pushed her head against my leg, begging for a piece of pepperoni. I tore a piece off, handing it to her, and she licked it before walking away satisfied.

        "Miss Graves?"

        I looked up to see Alex standing in the entryway that connected the hallway to the kitchen/dining room area. I hadn't even heard him come out of his office, but there he was, leaning against the frame of the opening, one hand scratching the back of his neck like he was nervous. "I... Here." He set a coffee mug on the table, and it thumped heavily against the wood.

        I picked it up, confused, looking between him and the mug a couple of times before finally picking it up and looking at it. I was frozen for a second. On one side of the mug, in big purple, sloppy letters, read 'World's Greatest Daughter'. It was a cheesy thing, really. You could find those mugs everywhere. But my parents had given me a mug just like that the day I moved away to go to college. It was that very same mug that I'd been drinking out of Saturday morning, and broken in my clumsy state of embarrassment. And Alex had bought me a replacement.

        I looked up at him, even more confused than ever. "You got this for me?"

        He returned my look with a confused one of his own. "Well, I certainly didn't buy it for me. I'm no one's daughter."

        It took every ounce of self control I had in my body not laugh right out loud at that, because it seemed like this was supposed to be serious moment. "Of course," I said, clearing my throat. "Thank you. You really didn't have to do that."

        "I know," he replied. His hand was back at the nape of his neck, scratching it nervously again. Then he dropped his hands to his sides, and shrugged. "Well, I've got work to do."

        He turned to leave, but I found myself not ready to part from his company yet. "Do you want to go out with me and some of my friends this weekend?" The words tumbled out in a rush, and once it was out there, I immediately felt like a fool for asking. Alex and I were not friends, let alone on a level for me to invite him out where I planned to get absolutely shit-faced drunk, and make a complete and total ass of myself, as is customary when you're 19 and at a club.

        He turned back around to face me, surprised. "I – What?"

        I nodded. I'd already thrown it out there, I couldn't take it back now. "Yeah, this friend from my Lit class invited my friends and me out this weekend," I continued. "You could come if you want. You know, if you're not busy."

        Of course he's busy, you nut.

        He was quiet for a moment, thoughtful, and I found myself getting a little excited, hoping he was going to agree to come. But he finally shook his head, saying, "Thank you, but no. I have a lot of writing to get done this weekend."

        "Oh, okay." I nodded, picking at a pepperoni on my pizza. "Well, maybe next time."

        Alex gave a curt nod, then disappeared down the hallway again, and I heard his office door shut behind him.

        I sat in the dining room alone for a while, though my appetite had suddenly disappeared. I picked up the mug he'd bought me, turning it over my hand as I looked it over again. He had bought this for me, because I had broken my other one. It was such a simple, small gesture, not a huge deal at all.

        So why had it invoked this strange feeling in the pit of my stomach, that same feeling I would get when I’d ride a roller coaster, and the first big drop would come up. It was like my stomach had launched up into my chest, and my heart had plunged down into my belly. I set the mug down on the table, getting up to put the leftover pizza in the fridge. I needed a distraction, because the feeling was uncomfortable and came out of nowhere.

        But mostly, I needed a distraction, because I knew what the feeling was, and it was absolutely not welcome.

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