The first few weeks after placing Leah up for adoption were the hardest and loneliest weeks of my life. I missed her so much sometimes I didn't think I could keep living. Day by day, it got a little easier. Not once did I regret my decision. I saw Leah and her parents once since I gave birth to her. Jennifer and Matthew had such a wonderful relationship. I knew Leah was in perfect hands. Back at the shelter, I had started to warm up to the idea of tank tops and shorts instead of sweats and sneakers. The first time I wore a tank top I felt naked. It had been so long since I was allowed to show my arms. I was also given a donated personal hygiene bag with a little makeup which I now wore. I was starting to feel like my old self again.
Every week I would check the bulletin board for a cheap apartment for rent. One morning, I glanced through the ads and my eyes stopped on a little high rise not too far from the shelter.
It was a one bedroom apartment but the bedroom had two twin beds. It was meant to be shared. This was probably a good thing because I couldn't afford the rent on my own as a part time bartender. It was tiny, but looked perfect for me.
I called Cassie immediately to see if she knew of anyone I could ask to be my roommate. Cassie told me she would do some investigative work and get back to me. I gave her the address of the apartment on the ad and thanked her. I glanced at the clock. "Damn," I muttered. I was late for my shift.
I arrived at Waylon's a few minutes late. I paused when I went in. Daisy had been talking about hiring some local acts to play on the weekends. It looked as if she actually followed through. On the stage was a man who looked as if he was the same age as me.
He was amazingly skilled on the guitar. I listened to him, entranced by his every move. I must have stood there, swaying to the beat, for a good 15 minutes. The music was great and I had to admit, the view wasn't so bad either. Finally, Daisy flagged me down to start my shift.
I worked a few hours before I took my first break. By that point, the guitarist had finished his act and was lingering around the bar meeting the locals. I glanced up and saw Cassie. I ran over to her, eager for good news. "I think I may have found you a new roommate," she said excitedly. "If it makes you uncomfortable, I completely understand, but I think it would be a great fit," she continued. "What would make me uncomfortable?" I asked her. "Well, your new roommate would be male," she answered. Male? I thought to myself. The only other boy I had ever lived with was...him. I was a little apprehensive and Cassie sensed that. "I know it's a little unconventional, but I know this man personally. He is down on his luck right now and really needs a roommate. You two actually have a lot in common," Cassie assured me. "It wouldn't hurt to meet him," I told her. "Great! I asked him to come down tonight to meet you! He should be here..." Cassie trailed off, scanning the room. I saw the recognition in her face as her eyes met with a man's across the bar. She flagged him over and my heart almost skipped a beat.
"Jace, this is Lily Clark. Lily, this is Jace Collins," Cassie introduced us. My mouth dried and I froze. Jace was very attractive. He had big, green eyes and an inviting smile. I could smell him from where I stood. He smelled like leather and sweat, but in a good way. I loved his style. His long hair and leather jacket made him look like a rock star. I promptly recovered and complimented him on his music. We made small talk for a while and then Cassie announced she needed to get going.
I hugged her goodbye. "If anything about this unsettles you, you'll let me know?" she questioned so Jace could not hear. I nodded. Cassie asked me not make a decision yet. Jace would be playing at the bar all week so I could take the time I needed to get to know him and see if he would make a good roommate.
I still had a few minutes left of my break so I invited Jace to play some bar games with me. "So, you know Cassie well?" he asked me. I nodded, still too shy to really open up. The implications of me knowing Cassie awkwardly hung in the air. I wanted to ask him how he knew Cassie but I thought that was too forward of me. We made more small talk, neither one of us willing to really ask the questions we needed to. I decided I would test him out a little bit. "Well, I have to get back to my shift. Can I make you a drink? It's on the house," I asked him. "Sure," he said with a smile as he followed me back to the bar.
Jace nursed the cocktail I made him and we chatted at the bar for about an hour. The cocktail seemed to loosen him up a little bit. Now for the test. "Can I make you another drink?" I offered. "No, I'm actually not much of a drinker. You make great drinks though! Thank you," Jace answered. I scrubbed a shot glass and breathed a sigh of relief. Jace had passed my first test.
The next week flew by. Jace and I spent a lot of time together after his gigs. We kept conversation superficial but I grew to like him. He never pressured me to answer questions. I threw a few other little tests at him and he passed each one with flying colors. I shamelessly flirted with a customer one night so I could see Jace's reaction and didn't seem to mind at all. One night I came in with a top that left very little to the imagination. Jace's look was one of infatuation, not jealously or anger. I called Cassie in at the end of the week to tell her I had decided Jace would be a good fit. I was relieved to hear Jace felt the same way about me.
Jace and I moved in the next week and Cassie stopped by to help. The living room was small and had a TV that didn't work.
There was a bookshelf in the corner but the books were extremely used and outdated.
The kitchen was small, but open. The appliances were cheap and in need of cleaning.
The entryway led to the bathroom on the left, the elevator straight ahead, and our bedroom to the right.
Our bedroom was cramped and consisted of two matching twin beds. The beds were cheap but better quality than those at the shelter.
On the other side of the room was a little green dresser and a mirror. I occupied the first two drawers and Jace filled the bottom two.
After I had unpacked, I walked into the living room to enjoy the view from our new high rise. I gazed out into the city and up into the mountains where the mansions were located. I paused and dread filled my stomach. I couldn't believe it. Our living room window had a crystal clear view of Matthew's mansion. I quickly turned away and my face paled.
"Are you alright?" Cassie asked me. "Oh...yea.." I answered. "Just a little tired," I answered as convincingly as I could. Not one person knew who I really was, not even Cassie. I didn't feel safe telling anyone. She hugged me tightly. "The shelter is within walking distance," Cassie reminded me. "If you need anything, I'm here for you."
With Cassie gone, Jace and I sat down for our first dinner together. He made a salad because he "didn't know how to work a stove." I laughed but I think he was serious. I stifled a yawn. I wanted to go to bed but I couldn't get over the awkwardness of a coed room.
Jace let me get ready for bed first. I climbed into bed and feigned sleep. I watched him walk into the room in his pajamas. Without the bulky leather jacket, I could see the muscle definition in his arms and the outline of his abs. Jace climbed into bed and turned the lights off. When I heard the slow, rhythmic breathing of Jace asleep, I finally let myself get some rest.