Sharing space (the complete series)

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Sharing Space – The Complete Series

 

by

 

Nina Perez

 

Copyright © 2014 Nina Perez

All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

 

 

Book One: Roommate Wanted

 

Book Two: Family Ties

 

Book Three: Slow Burn

 

Book Four: Taking Chances

 

Book Five: Winter Wishes

 

Book Six: Before Forever

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roommate WantedBook One

 

Chapter One

 

What You Get For Chicken Noodle Soup and Good Intentions

 

Chloe

 

 

What am I going to do with all this soup?

 

That was the first thought that leapt into my head upon finding my boyfriend of eight months in bed with another woman.

 

What am I going to do with all this soup? 

 

I suppose I could have reacted as if I were in a soap opera and flung the door open, my lower lip trembling, and asked, "What is the meaning of this?  What's going on here?" From the moaning, groaning, and absence of clothing, it was obvious what was going on.

 

As Myra calls it, I could have gotten a little ghetto on him. "Oh no you didn’t!” Reminding Lawrence that I did grow up in Brooklyn and was capable of all kinds of shadiness: putting sugar in his gas tank, slashing his tires, and leaving dog poop in the mailbox. 

 

My first response should have been an indication of where my priorities were.  Sure, I was upset that a man I thought to be true was now sweating and panting over another woman on a bedspread I’d purchased, but I was more concerned with who was going to eat the six-dollar bowl of soup I’d bought for him. I hated chicken noodle soup and I didn’t have money to waste. My credit card payment was not only due, it was late.

 

It seemed my problems, like celebrity deaths, were rolling in threes. The cheating boyfriend was just the proverbial straw on my already-overburdened camel’s back, and before the maxed-out credit bill arrived there’d been the bombshell from my roommate. An aspiring actress, Grace had suddenly decided that Los Angeles was “the place to be” and left me with two weeks to find another roommate or come up with her half of the rent. So you can see where someone in my situation might be heartbroken, but also a little financially stressed over this betrayal.

 

"How about I swing by your office today and take you to lunch?" That wasme, earlier in the day, playing the role of the thoughtful girlfriend. 

 

"Uh, nah babe, not today. I think I'm coming down with something. I’ll just stay home today and get some rest.” That was Lawrence, coughing and sneezing, playing the role of the flu-ridden boyfriend.

 

Taking my thoughtfulness a step further I decided to take a long lunch, pick up a large chicken noodle vegetable soup for my ailing man and a chunky chicken Caesar salad for myself, hop in a cab, and surprise Lawrence with lunch. I learned it was not the flu that had kept my man home from work that day. As I stood there with my surprise lunch and good intentions, Lawrence panted over a big-booty sister with a busty chest.

 

Had the fool forgotten he'd given me a key?

 

I fumed as I strode through the lobby of his building, head held highà laAngela Bassett inWhat's Love Got To Do With It.Of course, I did so minus the fierce white pant suit and busted face. I hailed another cab to take me back to my office and considered watching the movie that night. I thought it might be exactly what I needed to remind myself that I was a proud black woman who didn’t have to take mess from anybody—or, at the very least, remind myself that it could always be a lot worse.  

 

Coughing and sneezing my ass.

 

***

 

"No he didn't!” exclaimed Myra Landon, slurping down a spoonful of soup.

 

Myra and I were marketing assistants at Braxton and Lloyd Consulting Agency, and she was my best friend. Where I was tall and thin, she was short and thick with a behind to rival Serena Williams’. I wore my hair a little longer than shoulder length and Myra kept her unprocessed hair in a short cut. We were exact opposites in almost every way imaginable, yet she remained my girl. We'd seen each other through all kinds of drama. There were plenty of times when I had been the one yelling, "No he didn't!” Although, never while sucking down a bowl of soup that cost six bucks. Manhattan was too damn expensive. 

 

"Yes, he did.” I replied for the third time. 

 

"I told you his ass was no good.”

 

I wanted so badly to tell her to shut up, to tell her she had told me no such thing, but I couldn't. She had, and she was right. Lawrence Baldwin was a marketing executive at a flash sales site for urban apparel. We met eight months ago when his company hired our firm to take over their social media advertising. Myra took one look at him and said he looked like he had the wordplayastamped on his drawers. I’d thought so, too, but working lunches turned to dinners, turned to bona-fide dates, and I’d discovered a sensitive man under the handsome and confident exterior.

 

Coughing and sneezing my ass.

 

I stabbed at the salad from behind my desk. My boss, Lila Monroe, was in Australia for the whole week. Myra was the assistant to Mr. Hampton Lloyd himself, the Lloyd in Braxton & Lloyd—who also happened to be in Australia. Myra suspected that Lila and old Hamp were "getting down" down under. To that I’d naively replied, "They're both married." Myra, having an answer for everything, said, "So what? People cheat, that's what they do, holy vows or not."  I didn't care if Lila and Hamp were doing the horizontal tango all over Australia with koala bears and kangaroos to boot. Lila being gone had lightened my workload and allowed me to focus on the other things I had going on—like my dwindling finances.

 

"This is turning into the week from hell." I dumped the rest of my salad in the trashcan. 

 

"When does Grace leave?” Myra asked. 

 

"She left." 

 

"What?” Myra finished the last of the soup. "I thought she was here till the end of the month." 

 

“That's what I thought too, but then she tells me she got an audition forGeneral Hospitalor some other soap and said she had to leave immediately." 

 

"Shady.”

 

"Uh huh. Funny how with this last minute decision, she still managed to have all of her stuff packed and gone the next day. I just hope someone answers my ad soon. If not, I'll have to come up with next month's rent on my own and then wait while Mr. Tucci finds someone." I shot Myra a quick glance. "You sure you won't reconsider moving in with me?"

 

"Girl, you know I love you but two divas in one apartment is not a good idea."

 

"Grace and I managed okay."

 

"That's because Grace was always laid up in some guy's bed at his apartment. No. Our wonderful friendship will last longer if we make it a point to never live together. Besides, I can’t break my lease."

 

"Well, then I definitely need to find a roommate, like yesterday.  I cannot afford to pay that rent on my own and I really don't want to see who Mr. Tucci finds."

 

"People will call. You live in a rent-controlled midtown apartment. It's a dream. Now I have to get back to work. I have six meetings to set up and I wanted to leave early today."

 

"Big plans?” I asked. 

 

"I don't know how big it is. We've only been out twice.” Myra flashed a wicked smile. 

 

"You are so nasty."

 

"I know."

 

With a wave of her hand Myra was gone. I gazed out the window; from my thirtieth floor office every one of the bustling New Yorkers below looked like they were ants of various colors. As I watched, the ants began to blur. I didn't cry often and was ashamed that the past week's events were having such an effect on me. 

 

I should have been relieved that Lawrence had shown his true colors before I’d fallen totally in love with him. I wasn't quite there, but I was close. Lawrence knew where all my buttons were and he knew how to push them. It was more than just his lovemaking skills. There were times when Lawrence was funny, tender, and generous, and times when I felt he had really been there for me, especially when it came to my job.

 

There was a lot of jealousy from the other assistants when I’d landed a job working alongside Lila Monroe who, as rumor had it, was to be made partner soon. Lila managed three teams solely devoted to social media accounts. It was surprising how many companies had not yet embraced the benefits of onIine marketing and, even worse, the many that had but were doing it all wrong. We were in high demand, so much so that Lila was looking to compile a fourth team and she’d need someone to lead it. I was hoping that someone would be me.

 

That meant more than late nights and working on the weekends. It meant staying on top of the latest social media trends and figuring out ways our clients could use them to connect with their customers. I’d already had my work recognized in several team meetings, doing nothing to raise my popularity with the other assistants. I told myself that they were just intimidated by my hard work, but Myra suspected it was because of my race. It didn’t matter to me what was behind it, I didn’t let it stop me. Lila and I had hit it off immediately. She knew what it was like to work harder just to get the same rewards given so easily to male executives. She didn’t let the inequality stop her from getting what she wanted, and recognized that I didn't either.

 

Lawrence had made a nice sounding board to come home to, and I would miss that: someone there at the end of the day who would listen to you, sympathize, rub your back, and then make love to you until your toes curled.

 

Snap out of it, Chloe.

 

Inner-self pep talks kept me sane.

 

Pull yourself together, Ms. Brooks. You will get through this, even if it is the worst week ever.

 

***

 

I considered staying in bed all day Saturday. It didn’t seem like such a bad idea to pull the covers over my head, cocoon myself in the new comforter from Bed, Bath and Beyond, and lie there until my mind realized that my body wasn’t moving and resigned itself to sleep again. Then I remembered that I had charged that comforter to my overdue VISA card. One thought led to another and they all seemed to lead to my financial situation.

 

I wasn't poor, but I wasn't exactly living like a Kardashian either. The savings I had tucked away were nothing to get excited over. There was no way I could afford to pay the next month’s rent on my own, at least not without making some sacrifices—like food—and I’d become accustomed to eating regularly. If I were forced to pay for the apartment alone on a long-term basis, I’d quickly deplete my modest savings. My top priority had to be finding a new roommate even though I wasn’t looking forward to living with a stranger.  

 

Grace had been a temp for B&L when I learned the rent was being raised on my Greenwich Village studio. She came to my rescue and told me she was looking for a roommate. A rent-controlled midtown apartment was damn near impossible to find anymore. The landlord, Mr. Tucci, was a nice enough man with clear rules: one person per bedroom (that meant don't even think about having three grown-ass folks living in a two-bedroom apartment), no loud music after ten at night (weekends included), and he expected the rent in full the first of each month.  If your roommate moved out, well boo-freakin'-hoo, rent in full on the first, please. 

 

I was allowed to find my own replacement as long as he was able to meet them and check their references. If you were over twenty-one, had a job, and weren’t wanted for any crimes, you were basically in. I placed an ad in a few papers and on Craig’s List, hoping for quick responses. It had only been a few days since the ad first ran, but I was getting a little discouraged; I hadn’t received any inquiries.

 

Once I’d established that hiding in the bed wouldn’t provide a solution, I dragged myself to the bathroom. After a long shower I threw on shorts and a tee and went down to the small lobby to grab one of the newspapers provided each day, compliments of Mr. Tucci. Over a cup of tea, with my feet propped on the coffee table, I thumbed through the pages. During the week when I was preparing to go out and face the big bad city I needed a cup of coffee to start my day. I took it black and strong, which was how I liked to think I carried myself. The weekends were an entirely different story. They provided an opportunity for me to relax, unwind, and put things in perspective.

 

This morning, however, the warmth of the mug in my hands and the minty aroma coming off the steam did little to help, and sitting around waiting for the phone to ring was only driving me crazy. If someone did call, the odds were great they’d want to see the apartment and not just take my word for what it looked like. Between my long work hours and Grace’s complete lack of housekeeping skills, our place had seen better days. I plugged my iPod into the docking station in the living room, put my playlist reserved for workouts on shuffle, and went to work.

 

The living room required the least effort, so I began there. I kept it simply decorated with artwork I found at flea markets or art galleries in SoHo. Grace had taken what little furniture she had with her. The remaining living room set, coffee table, and bookshelf were mine, and they served as another reminder that I needed to pay my VISA bill—I’d charged them all on my credit card, too.  

 

The dining room was nothing more than an extension of the living room, and the only thing keeping the dining room from also being the kitchen was a slightly-taller-than-waist-high bar upon which sat a vase I could never remember to keep filled with flowers.

 

With the latest and best in kitchen appliances lining the countertops, one would assume I spent more time in the kitchen than I actually did. I could throw down, but time rarely allowed for home-cooked meals. In fact, the most cooking I’d done lately had been for Lawrence when we’d been too tired to go out. As I scrubbed the kitchen floor, I let my mind drift back to the nights when I’d tantalized Lawrence in the dining room as well as the bedroom. I'm a nurturer, and taking care of him made me feel good. I found pleasure in preparing a delicious meal for Lawrence, giving him a backrub, and listening as he talked about his day. We’d then retire to my bedroom where I could satisfy his other needs, and when we fell asleep in each other's arms I was content because I felt not only wanted, I felt needed. Those days were over, though, and I didn’t want to look back.

 

I was cleaning the bathroom when the phone rang. I wasn’t going to answer it in case it was Lawrence, but I needed a roommate more than I wanted to avoid his sorry excuses. I dropped the spray bottle of cleaner in the tub and bolted for my cell phone in the living room.

 

"Hello.” I answered in a voice that I hoped conveyed, "If you're the no-good bastard who cheated on me, drop dead. However, if you're interested in the apartment, don't I sound nice, normal, and well-adjusted?" A lot to expect out of one word, I know.

 

"Hello, I'm calling in reference to the ad in the paper. Roommate wanted?” said the female voice.

 

"Yes."

 

"Is it still available?"

 

I wanted to squeal. Instead I answered, "Yes it is.  Are you available to come see it tomorrow?"

 

And so it went. By Saturday night I had arranged for four women to stop by the next day at separate times and view the apartment. I spaced out the appointments so that I could spend a few minutes getting a feel for each of them. I had no desire to recreate the movieSingle White Femalewith an all-black cast. 

 

"What if they're white?” asked Myra.

 

We were sitting in my living room sharing a carton of Moo Goo Gai Pan and sipping white wine. I placed my glass on the coffee table, gave her a stink look, and replied, "So what if they are? Anyway, one is named LaKeera and she sounds black on the phone."

 

It was written all over Myra’s face that she was about to say something I wouldn’t like. I’d seen that look all too often. "Just likeyousound white over the phone?"

 

I’d lost count of the times I'd arranged meetings over the phone only to meet the person and have them do a classic double take. My whole life I had been told I "sounded white" - whatever that meant. It was annoying to say the least, and downright insulting at best. How was I supposed to sound? As much as I hated it done to me, I had to admit I'd just done the same thing: assumed the women were black. Myra had me cold.

 

"Well, whatever.  It doesn't matter if they’re white or not."

 

"You wouldn't mind living with a white girl?” Myra raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. 

 

I sensed a trick question. If I said no, that would be a lie. It's not like I have anything against white girls, but I grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood where my exposure to white people was limited. It might be kind of weird to live with a white girl, but at this point as long as she could pay the rent and not get in my way, I'd live with a green girl. I tried to relay that to Myra.

 

"Well, I couldn't do it. At all.” she said. "We put up with enough of their nasty-ass attitudes at work without having to come home to one."

 

"Most of the drama at work comes from those chicks feeling threatened. I don’t think it’s about me being black. It’s just that I’m doing well and I just happen to be black. I’m this close to getting something they want.” I held up my hand, the tips of my thumb and index finger just an inch apart.

 

"And what happens when you come home with a fine-ass chocolate brother and she wantsthat?"

 

"Myra please, I'd have to hurt that girl."

 

"I know that's right!” We slapped hands in a high five.

 

"But you know what? I could just as easily get a trifling sistah for a roommate. Let us not forget that it was a brown woman I busted Lawrence with yesterday."

 

"True.  But I just couldn't live with a white girl.  Anyway, has he called?"

 

"Thankfully, no. I'm so not ready to deal with that."

 

"Well, he'll call as soon as he thinks of a lie he believes you're stupid enough to fall for."

 

"There's no such lie so hopefully he'll just save his breath.”

 

My laptop was sitting on the coffee table and I reached over to press the power button. I mentally crossed my fingers and toes as the MacBook hummed to life. "What are you doing?” Myra asked as she poured herself another glass of wine. 

 

"Checking my e-mail. When I spoke to one of the girls on the phone she mentioned that she sent an e-mail first before calling. I didn't bother to check and I could possibly have more applicants.”

 

"So, did you get any?"

 

I scanned my inbox and sure enough one e-mail’s subject read, ”RE: Roommate Wanted.” I did a fist pump in the air. I was on a roll! Quickly I opened it and started to read. "Girl, listen to this. She says that the phone number in my ad was blurred on their copy of the paper, but she was really interested, so she e-mailed."

 

"Cool. You gonna call her now?  It's still early."

 

"I would, but there's no number here. I guess I can just reply to the e-mail. I'll tell her she can come at four tomorrow.”

 

Unable to believe my luck, I typed a reply complete with directions by car and train. The email didn't specify what borough she was coming from, so I covered all bases and included my phone number in case there were any problems. The return email address was [email protected] A few keystrokes and clicks later, and it was sent. I went to bed that night with a renewed sense of optimism and excitement. Out of five responses, I was sure I’d find one suitable roommate... right?

Chapter Two

 

Mixed Bag

 

Chloe

 

 

With the previous week turning out to be such a shit show, I didn't think my next week could be any worse. I was wrong, and it all started with my shower.  Whereas the morning before I had to talk myself into getting out of bed, like a kid at Christmas I hopped out of bed on Sunday.

 

My usual Sunday attire consisted of PJ bottoms and tank tops. Since I wasn't going for the sloth look when meeting my future roommate, I decided on a pair of khaki capris and a white short-sleeved shirt. I spent a little longer than usual under the spray of the shower, allowing myself to fantasize about my new roommate. She'd have a great job and could afford her half of the rent. She wouldn't be a fast-ass, because I couldn't stand how Grace would bring dudes in and out of the apartment like there was a turnstile at the front door. Of course my new roommate would be smart and funny, and we’d stay up late chatting about men, life, and clothes. She wouldn't use all the hot water, she'd clean up after herself, and she'd keep the ketchup in the cabinet and not in the fridge—I hated when people did that.Ah, she'd be perfect!I turned off the water and prepared to get dressed.

 

Correction: I turned the knob, but the water didn't stop spraying. I turned and turned the knob and round and round it went, but the water kept coming. I briefly scanned my memory for anything I’d have done recently to piss off the universe. Not coming up with anything, I settled for slapping the knob with my loofah. My first applicant was due in half an hour. This would not do. Mumbling curses under my breath, I threw on a robe and grabbed the phone. Mr. Tucci answered on the second ring and I quickly explained the situation.

 

"Ah, don't worry, Chloe. I'll have someone up there this afternoon."

 

"This afternoon?” I shrieked. "That's not good enough. Mr. Tucci, I have five people coming to view the apartment today; one of them will be here soon. How is this going to look? Can't you get Mario here, like, now?"

 

"That's the thing. Mario is out of town this weekend. He's not coming back till tonight, so you can either wait till he gets in at who knows what time, or I can get my cousin Lou up there this afternoon. Lou lives on Long Island and I know for a fact that he ain’t gonna be able to get over here till later this afternoon.”

 

"Are you sure?” I asked.

 

“Positive.”

 

Mr. Tucci looks like something right out ofThe Sopranos. One time he had some of his family over and they were entering the building at the same time Myra and I were leaving. They really looked like “family,” if you know what I mean. Whatever it was that had Cousin Lou otherwise occupied that Sunday morning, I didn't want to know. I doubted it was church.

 

"Well, can you call a plumber or something?"

 

"You think we're gonna get a plumber in here on a Sunday without spending an arm and a leg? As long as the drain isn’t plugged up you're fine."

 

"Can't you look at it?  Please?” I was desperate.

 

"Chloe, what happened last time I tried to fix something in your apartment?"

 

"We had to sleep in our coats and hats for three days until the radiator could get fixed?"

 

"Exactly. I'm the landlord, the lord of the land. As the lord, I have people do that stuff for me."

 

"But what am I supposed to tell the people coming to look at the apartment?"

 

"This is New York City. These things happen. I'm sure they'll understand."

 

I didn't have time to argue. I still had to get dressed. He was right. As long as the tub didn't fill up, I'd be fine. I hoped.

 

"Okay, but please, Mr. Tucci, tell your cousin it'd be great if he could get here sooner than later?"

 

"Will do.  And Chloe?"

 

"Yes?"

 

"No freaks."

 

"Do I look like the type to live with freaks?"

 

"Well..."

 

"Goodbye, Mr. Tucci."

 

I was pretty sure he’d been kidding. He had to realize, in all the time that I'd been his tenant, that I had my head on straight and made good decisions. Well, if you didn’t count Lawrence, but he had no way of knowing aboutthat.As I got dressed I began to feel at ease, despite my running shower. Things would work out fine. Today was the day I'd meet my new roommate. I was sure of it.

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