“Listen,” she said, turning around to face him. “I don't like having a male roommate. I think you will agree that getting shacked up with a woman you don't know isn't your idea of a good time.”
Raif did not agree with her. He had had twelve roommates over the past five years and the clean, sensible, beautiful woman in front of him had nothing in common with any of them. He was not at all opposed to having her as a roommate. Her name was Wyntessa, which was not at all normal. Most of the time he heard her called Wyn, sometimes Wynny, though the two ys rubbed him the wrong way. In any case, she was spectacularly pretty with gray eyes, twisted cedar hair, and a kitchen that had no dirty dishes in the sink. He kept involuntarily glancing in the kitchen. She had fresh-cut flowers in a vase and a scented candle burning in the center of the dining room table.
Wyn kept talking like Raif had agreed that the situation was bleak. “It's unfair to you and it's unfair to me.”
She was referring to what happened to her roommate and his roommate. Two women had moved into apartment number 201 on the first of September (that had been Wyn and Muriel). Two men had moved into apartment 202 on the first of September (that had been Raif and Trevor). By the twenty-first of September, woman number two, Muriel, and man number two, Trevor, had fallen deeply in love. They decided they wanted to move in together and since the ladies’ apartment had two bedrooms and the fellers’ apartment had one, they came to a simple solution where no one had to be overly inconvenienced and Trevor and Muriel could start playing house immediately. All they had to do was trade Raif for Muriel and all would be well.
Except all was not well as Raif was staring down a very angry Wyn, who did not want to room with a man.
Raif started talking slowly and quietly so he wouldn’t scare her or turn her fury toward him. “I'm very clean,” he began. “I'm not loud, and I don't have parties. I may stay out late, but you don't have to keep tabs on me. I'll be sensitive and not hang out in the common rooms if you have company.”
Wyn pouted beautifully. “You are not the problem. Though us rooming together is obviously what we have to do, I will find you a new place to live and get new roommates for both of us. If all goes well, you won't have to live here longer than a week.”
“If you don't want me here, I can find my own place. I don’t need your help,” Raif argued.
“No. I know Trev was a pretty good roommate. I mean, if he was trash, Muriel wouldn't be at Ikea buying lamp shades with him, now would she? I can't make you so desperate for a new place to live that you move in with just anyone. We have to find someone of quality. And I'll help, at least.”
Raif nodded. He motioned that he wished to move past her to the bedroom behind her. She swished a hand in assent and let him enter Muriel's freshly emptied room.
He looked around the bare room and noticed where the power outlets were, what kind of light bulb was in the overhead light fixture, and how many holes there were in the drywall. He opened the closet door and looked inside.
Wyn leaned against the door frame, her arms crossed protectively, and trembled slightly.
“I'm harmless, I assure you,” Raif said as he closed the closet door. “Nothing funny is going to happen, and hey, maybe having me around will be fun.”
“What could be fun?”
“Oh, I don't know. Say you're on a date and end up not liking the guy. At the front door, you tell him off, but he’s not listening. You open the door and he ducks under your arm, only to run into me watching TV. You come in and ask me what I'm doing here when we broke up all those months ago. I say I couldn't stop thinking about you. You appear to gush. Boyo leaves, annoyed and humiliated. You and I smack a high five.”
Wyn cupped both hands under her face. “That's quite the imagination you have. Never once in my life has a man 'ducked under my arm' or done something I've asked him not to do.”
Raif scanned the beautiful, yet severe, line of her lips. She had to be telling the truth. As alluring as she was, she was also completely terrifying, and yeah, he bet none of her dates disobeyed her if they wanted a second date. Over her shoulder, he could see the clean sink. For more than one reason, all of her dates would want a second one.
He sighed. “I'll find a way to be useful to you. I'm handy and well organized. I'm good at carrying very full laundry baskets, and grocery bags.”
“Please stop,” she groaned. “I need some alone time.” She rounded the corner and vanished into her bedroom.
While she was having her 'alone time' Raif brought over his things. Trevor helped him move his bed frame, mattress, computer desk, and drawers full of his clothes. Normally, they would have talked, and they did, right up until the moment they entered Wyn's apartment. Raif put a finger to his lips and Trevor nodded. Upsetting Wyntessa by making a racket would not help anything.
After everything was arranged in Raif's room, he came out to find Wyn sitting at the kitchen table. She was cutting strips of colored paper, scribbling on them, and then rolling them around a pencil. When the paper was tightly rolled, she tied the tiny scroll with a string and pulled out the pencil.
“Are you having a good time?” he asked, pulling up a chair. “Want my help?”
“No!” she said, covering up her work with her hands, and grasping at an unbroken sheet of paper.
“Okay. I won't intrude, but we need to talk about how we're going to split some things.”
“Like what?” she barked.
She frowned and looked downcast.
“You don't even want to share a fridge with me?” he asked patiently.
It obviously took considerable effort for her to say her next words. “I suppose we could just split it down the middle.”
“Wait,” Raif said. “Why does this seem like a brand new idea to you? You're what? Twenty-one? This can't be your first time having a roommate.”
“Of course, it's not. I just usually did all the shopping and all the cooking and my roommate would clean up after.”
“So, Muriel is the one who cleaned the sink?” Raif asked with bated breath.
“No. I cleaned the sink.”
He let out a sigh of relief.
“She's been out dating Trevor every night since we got here. I have been cooking for myself and cleaning my own sink. I kind of got used to doing everything myself. I suppose I see why we need to come to a temporary arrangement about splitting things.”
“Halving the fridge is fine with me.”
“And you'll wash the dishes you dirty?” Wyn asked suspiciously.
“And you'll pay half the utility bills?”
She picked up her pencil with an air of finality. “Then I guess there's nothing else for us to talk about.”
Raif got up and started for his bedroom when suddenly Wyn said, “Before you go, will you pull that jar down from the cupboard for me?”
Tall as he was, he didn’t question her, and obediently looked above the cupboard. “There are a lot of jars up here. Which one do you want?”
“The biggest one,” she said casually.
“The biggest one it is,” he mouthed as he easily hefted it and sat it down on the table next to her.
“Thanks,” she said, though it seemed like it somehow hurt her to say it.
“It was the least I could do,” he said because it actually was the least he could do.
In the morning, Raif got up as the sun was rising. He had a shower and made his way to the kitchen. He was only planning on getting a drink of water, as he didn't own anything more than condiments in the fridge. He planned to get a bite in one of the food courts between classes and go grocery shopping after school. He was about to leave when he saw a little meal set out on the table covered by adorable glass domes. His initial response was that the meal had nothing to do with him, but he was curious. Did Wyn always set out her breakfast the night before? However, on closer examination, the breakfast was for him. There was an envelope on the table in front of the dome covering a cinnamon bun. He opened the envelope. It was filled with confetti and a crisp piece of stationary.
I'm only calling you 'dear' because that is how a proper letter ought to begin. You get confetti because none of this is your fault.
I need to explain why I don't want you to live with me. I have an older brother. When he was in college he moved in with a girl, thinking that it wouldn't be different than having any other roommate. He was wrong. He ended up marrying her. However, they are all wrong for each other. They have nothing in common and being in the same room as them is a punishment for all involved. They yell, disagree, fight, refuse to talk to each other and the time spent with them is nightmarish.
Proximity is not love.
I don't want to repeat their mistake, but since we have both been landed in this situation, we have to make the most of it.
I have thought of a system to help avoid us relying on each other emotionally, or even becoming friends. We will cooperate, which is all I want. If you want to talk to me in person, you will need to take a paper out of this jar and do what it says. If you can't do the task, you can email me. I want to pretend we’re miles away from each other under different stars.
P.S. I'm giving you my email address.
P.P.S. Enjoy breakfast. Welcome home.
Raif folded up the paper and thought about the contents of it for twenty seconds before he stuffed the bun in his mouth, left the rest of the food on the table (there was cut melon and a carton of apple juice), and departed.
On his way to school, he thought about what Wyn wrote. She said she was afraid to fall in love with him and it wasn’t personal? Horsefeathers! It was personal. It couldn’t be anything but personal.
When he was younger, girls falling for him was an almost daily occurrence. The frequency had ebbed as he’d aged, partly because he had less interest in chasing random girls and partly because he kept his flirting at such a low level, it didn’t arouse expectations.
He kicked upturns in the pavement as he walked. He wished he’d brought her note along with him so he could read it again and find hints to the truth. She didn’t want to talk to him. What had he done to make her not want to talk to him? He’d done something. Sometime in the past, he’d done something to anger her. If only he could figure out what.
In class, he couldn’t focus on the lecture. Raif gazed out the window, thinking about what he looked like and wondering if Wyn found him attractive. He was ordinary with an average build, average face, average money, average all over, except for maybe one thing. He had a good nose. He'd been told repeatedly by girls that the cartilage in his nose was where it was at. Dark hair, hazel eyes, and excellent nose cartilage. But that couldn't be enough to win over Wyntessa.
He always thought his ability to win over girls came from his charm. He was a man who wasn’t afraid to say whatever needed to be said, do whatever needed to be done to get a girl to like him, and when he was a teenager, it had been easy to give the girls what they wanted.
He’d given his attention to every girl who wanted it. Needless to say, he had had exactly as many flirtationships blow up in his face as he deserved, but he was certain he hadn’t done or said anything out of line when dealing with Wyn. He had been perfect. He had been better than perfect.
Grown women were another matter. Grown women wanted to be mysterious. They wanted physical proof that there was some cosmic connection between them. So, they didn’t say what they wanted. They wanted him to guess, figure it out, have the same goals, and want the same things.
Once he had been on a date where she wanted him to choose a dessert for her. If he chose the thing she wanted, he’d get a second date. If he chose wrong, he could never take her out again.
He chose wrong… but not because he meant to. There had been eight items on the menu, thus only a 12.5% chance of success. It was a shame too because she had beautiful legs.
Without a doubt, he knew he could get along with Wyn. She was a superior sort of woman. Fighting typical female stereotypes, he felt that Wyn had played no games in her letter. She’d been honest about her feelings and been ladylike enough not to insult him to his face by explaining how much she objected to him personally. She didn’t want to shack up with a player, end up in bed with him, and regret it for the rest of her life.
If that was all it was, everything would be fine. He just needed a little time to prove to her that he deserved that clean sink.
He hadn't had a chance to read any of the little scrolls she’d put in the jar, but he felt that didn't matter. If she wanted space, he’d give her space. What mattered most was the clean sink.
Most of the apartments Raif had lived in didn't have dishwashers. Whoever lived there had to do the dishes. The thing was, Raif had never had a roommate who did the dishes. Raif would wash his dishes, but he did not have a generous enough spirit to do the dishes for other grown men. Every night, the dishes would stack up. They would smell and after a certain point, no one wanted to wash them, and there was a stinky eye-sore in the middle of the apartment while everyone wasted their money eating out rather than becoming real adults.
He felt he couldn't let this opportunity slide. He had seven more months of his program and when he graduated, his job would pay the whole rent. Then no more roommates forever. If only he could convince Wyn to let him stay that long.
Wyn was a liar. She had written thirteen and a half versions of the letter she gave Raif and the one she presented to him was the most palatable, but it was still a lie. The part about her brother was true enough, so the whole thing was coated in enough truth to stop anyone from guessing what the lie contained in the letter could be.
The lie was that it wasn’t personal. Actually, her discomfort had everything to do with Raif. The thing was, when they moved into the same building on September first, mere steps from each other, it wasn't the first time she'd met him. She had met him exactly three times before that.
The thing was, Wyn was beautiful like an anime girl, except better. Tactless young men were always telling her that she looked like Sailor Moon, except not Sailor Moon herself because she was a brunette and Sailor Moon was blonde. It was a little hilarious because once the guy started scrambling for the other sailor scouts, he would look at Wyn's reaction and realize he had failed epically. One guy even put up his hands in surrender, shook his head, and wandered off.
What all this added up to was that Wyn had huge eyes, an expressive mouth, and terrifying manners that were so superior she had never once been dumped by a boyfriend or stood up by a date.
That's where Raif entered, oblivious of having entered the scene at all. She first saw Raif in that classic way people see each other for the first time... across a crowded room. There was a blue spotlight on him as he weaved his way through the club and even though another man had been paying her a compliment, she didn't hear him. She only saw the man who looked better than an elf out of Middle Earth crossing the room. His face was very pointed with three points all in a line: one for his widow’s peak, one for his nose, and the last for his chin.
Wyn told herself she was not in love, because to be in love with a person you knew nothing about was completely stupid.
When she was introduced to him later that night, he looked through her. It wasn’t that he was looking at another girl behind her, he wasn't. If she was beautiful like an anime girl, he saw something else about her… something boring.
At first, she didn’t take it personally that he’d shown such little interest in her. Maybe he wasn’t interested in women, but the occasional glance across the room showed that he liked women.
Maybe he was already in a relationship. Yet, that didn’t seem quite right either as he noticed various women throughout the night. Wyn watched him let his fingers rest on the waist of one woman. He kissed the hand of another, though it might have been a joke as they both laughed. He twirled another girl before taking her out to dance. For them, he was all smiles and interest.
For her, there had been nothing.
She felt her charms desert her like dry leaves swirling in the breeze, probably the way anime girls felt when their admirers left them for real girls.
When the night was over, Wyn found the meeting disconcerting. In the past, even if a man was not particularly interested in her, he was at least polite to her. It would have been easy to chalk Raif up as a rude man, but that wasn’t true either. He hadn’t been rude. He’d been uninterested. It probably wouldn’t have mattered if she hadn’t been so attracted to him. It was a surprising disappointment.
She thought she wouldn’t see him again.
However, she was mistaken. At last year's Christmas party, she was the date of a student in Raif's faculty (agriculture and forestry). She didn't expect to see Raif there, though she was aware it was a possibility.
When Wyn got ready for the party that night, she simply knew she looked better than she had ever looked before. The roommate of the season was a hairdresser in training who did her hair up in the most exquisite winter braid, so there was a photo session before she left for the party. It proved what Wyn thought, she would never look better again in her entire lifetime. Not in her graduation pictures and not on her wedding day. She was at her peak.
When she ran into Raif at the party, not only did he not remember meeting her the first time, he also did not appear to think anything about the way she looked. She had blinded every man she’d met that night, but Raif didn’t look at her twice. She wouldn’t have minded his lack of admiration if he’d had a date that night, but he didn’t. He moved from circle to circle, seemingly chasing no one except a good time, dancing with this girl and flirting with that girl. If he was playing the field, if he was flirting with all the girls… then why not her too?
The last encounter had been in the university library. It was like a scene out of a terrible rom-com. She’d been browsing and saw him on the other side of the bookshelf, looking at her over top of the books. He was tall, so he had to bend down to accomplish it. Then, like she wasn’t even there, he leaned forward and tugged a book loose on her side that had been shelved with the spine inwards. He could see the title from his perspective.
He hadn’t been making eyes at her through the books after all!
It was the third blow-by.
When she met him moving into the same apartment building, Wyn wore no warpaint, wore black sweatpants with cat hair and dog hair clinging to them (the sad aftermath of staying with her sister the week before), and her hair tied into a messy bun that could have rightly been described as a dirty bun.
They bumped into each other and he had no idea who she was again! Regardless, he offered to help her carry in the things that were too heavy for her. So, this man who was not gorgeous, but somehow much better than gorgeous, because of his incredibly striking looks, his complete inability to fall for the superficial, and the kindness to help anyone, even on his moving day, had not found it in his heart to date her, flirt with her or even make small talk with her.
He must not like anything about her! Not her looks or her quick wit or even her incredible availability since she was one door down the hall. Not even one thing!
And now, through some incredibly backward twist of fate, he hadn’t stayed down the hall from her but moved into her very apartment.
Wyn felt sick to her stomach. If they lived together, shared warm drinks in the middle of the night, watched TV together, bumped into each other in their towels or housecoats, and saw each other when they were least prepared to face the world, she would fall in love with him. Maybe, through some warped scheme of the universe, he would fall in love with her too, but not because he would have under any other circumstance.
Well, Wyn did not want to be moved around like invisible forces controlled her life. Raif never would have fallen in love with her if they had carried on the way they were. It had already been incredibly serendipitous that he had moved into the apartment next to her. It was unbelievable that things had progressed as far as they had.
At least, she'd thought of the jar. That way he didn't have to talk to her if he didn't want to. Nothing quite like a well-placed hoop for him to jump through to see exactly how he felt. In this case, a hundred hoops. With the help of the internet, it was easy to come up with a hundred dumb tasks to keep him at arm’s length. Some of them were entirely too difficult, too demanding, and there was no rule that said she couldn’t refill the jar with more requests any time she wanted.
Unconsciously, she put her nose higher up in the air and didn’t think about the thing she feared most—the idea she kept locked deep inside her. What if he shared those warm drinks with her, helped her clean the windows, went grocery shopping with her, and did all the things she’d done with her other roommates and, at the end of it, was still not in love with her? What if he didn’t even like her? What if she was still unappealing to him?
Anime girls weren’t anything after the show was over.
Raif had been busy that day. Classes had been more demanding than he’d expected, and afterward, he had to go grocery shopping.
At seven-thirty that evening, he sat at the kitchen table in Wyn’s apartment eating an oversized sandwich he bought at the deli. Wyn was watching TV in her room. He could hear the laugh track through the door.
He wasn’t lonely. Actually, he was delighted. So far, her arrangement suited him just fine.
He got out his phone and composed an email to her where he thanked her for the bun, apologized for not putting away the plate of sliced fruit, which was no longer on the table, and told her he would be more than happy to go along with her plan. He emphasized that he wanted to be a good roommate and would stay out of her way as much as possible. He sent the email and felt like a saint.
With nothing to do, but finish his sandwich, he glanced at the jar that remained on the table. Curiosity bit him. He opened the jar and pulled out one of the scrolls.
It was on blue paper and when he unrolled it, there was a blue flower print on the inside. He was impressed she had used two-sided paper on the project. Then he read the request.
Bring me a glass of ice water that is filled with ice first and water second.
He looked around the room like it had to be a joke. Adult women did not ask for glasses of water. They asked for nothing and got ticked off when they got it. A woman asking for something directly was unheard of and very curious.
All he had to do to get Wyn to talk to him was get her a glass of water? Well, he didn’t know if he had anything to say to her, but here was a woman saying exactly what she wanted and he would be damned if he wasn’t going to give it to her.
He put down his sandwich, went to the freezer, and popped it open. There were ice cube trays, but they were empty. In that case, a glass of ice water was a little trickier to procure than he’d originally thought. He filled the trays, but they wouldn’t be ready for hours, and he needed ice now.
Raif put on his shoes and left the apartment. He tapped on Trevor’s door, but no one answered.
The nearest grocery store was ten blocks away and he’d already been there that night. The closest convenience store was two blocks away, but expensive.
He was about to give up when he thought of the request the girl made. It was small. Under normal circumstances, it would have been nothing.
He cringed. He’d already seen the note. He couldn’t ignore it.
He smacked his back pocket to make sure his wallet was still there and then hoofed it to the convenience store to buy ice.
By the time he made it back, his sandwich had melted, meaning the green peppers and dressing had oozed out, but he didn’t even look at it. Instead, he went to the cupboard, examined all of Wyn’s cups until he found the one he considered to be the prettiest, and pulled it out. He filled it with ice, then water, added a detail, and took it to her room.
He lightly tapped on the door.
Wyn heard his knock and answered it.
He handed her the water with the note skewered like a cocktail umbrella on top.
“Thank you,” she said, a little dumbfounded. Somewhere in her mind, she thought that he wouldn’t follow the instructions on any of her notes. She took a sip. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Nothing,” he said with a dazzling smile before he returned to the kitchen.
She followed him, vexed and disappointed. “What do you mean, ‘nothing’?”
He put the leftover ice in the freezer, sat back down at the table, and tried to salvage the remains of his sandwich by rolling it back up in the wax paper it had been sold to him in.
“Why did you pick a wish out if you didn’t want to talk to me?” she persisted.
“Because I wanted to know what kind of requests they were, and then it seemed unkind to ignore your request on the first day we’re living together. I told you, I want to be a good roommate. Finding another roommate strikes me as exhausting and stupid. It’s a really bad time of year to find someone new to live with. You’ll give me a chance, won’t you?”
She looked at him for a moment, clearly as uncomfortable as she’d been the day before with no improvement. “Let’s take turns buying toilet paper,” she said, not answering his question directly, but skirting it. “Obviously, I’m going first. It’s your job to notice when we need our next pack and to buy it.”
She went back to her room.
The next day Raif tried not to look at the jar. The jar was not important. He had no reason to talk to Wyn. He ought to leave her alone. The sink was still clean and he was still happy.
Yet, when he sat down to a dinner of bacon and eggs, with no one around, he got curious again.
He opened the lid and pulled out the next request. This one was on green paper and unlike the scrolls, it was folded up into a tiny fortune teller. He opened it and read it.
Vacuum the inside of the couch. Muriel was supposed to do it before she left and she neglected her responsibility. The vacuum is in the linen closet.
He turned the paper around in his hand and pondered the meaning of the note. She was not requiring him to do it. She was leaving it as an option. It wasn’t even much of a request. It was ordinary roommate stuff!
He had been stupid not to see it before. With the jar, she had provided him a way to prove that he was a good roommate. Doing everything she wanted in one week would be the kill shot he needed to make her want him to stay.
He looked at the jar and patted its lid affectionately.
It was inefficient for him to pick a paper out and then do what it directed. He needed to know what all the papers said so he could do as many as possible before the end of the week.
He finished his dinner, washed his dishes, and took the jar into his bedroom.
Wyn had been out the night Raif had his epiphany at the kitchen table. She spent the evening telling her sister about how unfair all of it was and how mad she was at Muriel for not being able to date Trevor quietly. Instead, she had to move in with him.
Wyn’s sister, Tanya, had laughed and said, “Come on! That isn’t going to last. She and Trevor are going to have all the fun you can have being grown-ups ‘living together’ in less than two months. She’ll be back living with you before the end of the term. Don’t throw Mr. Middle Earth out. He’s going to need to move back in with Trevor in a few weeks. From what you said, he is neither a slob nor a letch. That’s rare. Why don’t you marry him?”
Tanya waved it away. She believed strongly in Wyn’s charms and did not see that any man her sister set her sights on should be able to resist her. Lots of men craved what Wyn had to offer. It wasn’t the typical hair-flipping, lollipop-licking, bubblegum-popping fun a lot of guys went for in college. It was grown up. It was homemade soup on a cold night. It was a well-organized apartment. It was a clean car and perfectly applied lipstick. Any man feeling homesick might just cry real tears when Wyn set the table with a roast beef dinner.
“Cook for him. He’ll be putty in your hands,” Tanya advised.
Wyn defensively stuck her nose in the air a second time. She had actually already cooked for him. She’d made the cinnamon bun she laid out for him the morning before. He’d thanked her for it, but she was unsure if he knew she’d made it (and the other five in the freezer) herself.
“He hasn’t done anything to deserve my cooking,” she said snottily, unwilling to mention the bun.
“Whatever. From what you said, Muriel was an okay roommate. Just wait for her to get Trevor out of her system. Six weeks tops.”
Wyn shrugged and thought about what her sister said as she went home. The more she thought about it, the more she was convinced that she wasn’t going to have to wait six weeks. Muriel and Trevor would tire of each other sooner. During the time that Wyn had lived away from home, she’d seen dozens of relationships surge to existence only to crash into nothing only a few days later.
By morning, she’d decided to let Raif stay until the end of the term. There was always a little reshuffling of roommates at the change of term and so it would be the perfect time to adjust their living arrangements. That was… if Muriel and Trevor had not broken up by then.
Besides, she was starting to suspect that Raif was actually kind of boring.
She’s said it.
He was boring.
It felt good to say it. On the way back to her apartment after her classes finished, she said it over and over.
“Raif is boring. He’s boring. Super boring!” She was bouncing on the sidewalk like a little girl, trying to miss the cracks and not caring who heard her.
But someone did hear her and shouted at her from an apartment above. “If you’re talking about Raif Laurant, he’s not boring. He’s hot like cinnamon hearts on Valentine’s.”
Wyn looked up only to see a head retreat over a balcony rail.
Repenting, she started walking like an adult.
She had been talking about Raif Laurant.
When she got home, she saw him emerge from his bedroom while she took off her shoes.
He was holding a package. It was a box-like present with a separate lid and a bow.
She looked at it and then looked at him. “Is that for me?”
He nodded and said casually, “But it’s not for keeps. It’s only for the afternoon. I borrowed them from a friend.”
She set down her bag. “And you bothered to wrap them, whatever they are?”
Raif grinned. “I wanted it to be a surprise.”
She moved to take the box from him.
“I’ll hold it. Open the lid.”
By this point, Wyn was not impressed or interested. She did not want a present or anything. After talking with her sister and now looking at the man in front of her, she felt that she had behaved childishly saying anything about her brother and her fears. She shouldn’t have made the jar, told him that she didn’t want to fall in love with him, or even asked him to move out. The more she thought about it, the more she felt sure that Tanya was correct and Muriel would move back very soon.
“Why don’t you just tell me what you want to talk to me about?” Wyn said dryly, as she looked around for the jar.
It wasn’t on the table.
She turned back to Raif, who hadn’t answered her. He was making a visible effort to keep the box steady. She hadn’t started tapping her toe yet, but she was about to start.
“I don’t have anything I need to talk to you about,” he confessed sheepishly. “Can you open the lid already? I’m trying to give you something.”
“Is it that heavy?” she asked, stepping forward.
“It’s not heavy at all.”
The lid popped up.
Wyn yelped in surprise. “Something’s alive in there?”
“Don’t ruin everything,” Raif said calmly, as he moved the package to one hand and opened the lid for her.
There were two white furry things inside. At first, Wyn thought they might be bunnies, but as she got closer, she saw they were kittens. She thought back to the jar. On one of the pieces of paper, she had asked him to get her a cat or a dog to play with for an afternoon. She had thought it was one of the most outlandish requests that she’d put in the jar and he had done it for her on the second day?
She dropped her pretensions and scooped up one of the fur babies. “Aw,” she mouthed as she cradled it next to her heart. “How did you do this?”
“My cousin fosters kittens to keep them out of the shelter to stop them from getting sick. I asked her if I could borrow a few of her houseguests for the afternoon. This one is called Tommy and that one is Mark One. These boys will be put up for adoption next week. When they get adopted, they’ll get new names.”
Wyn felt a little sick. “So, you did this for me? Why?”
“Because your note asked me to.”
“And why are you doing nice things for me when you don’t need to talk to me?”
Raif had been surprised at how much his gesture moved her. In his experience, women were generally happy with the things he did for them, but they weren’t moved to tears. Wyn looked like she might start crying.
Suddenly, he was struck with the stark difference between polite acceptance and genuinely making someone happy. Had he ever made anyone happy before? He thought he had, but when he saw Wyn’s face, he began to wonder.
“Uh…” he hesitated. “I know you’re not pleased with this situation… with me being here, but I… like you.”
Wyn’s eyes, which had been brimming with unshed tears, abruptly dried. She didn’t believe that for an instant. “You like me?” she repeated, incredulity in her tone.
Raif couldn’t help but glance at the sink. Without thinking, he told her the truth. “I’m not a slob.”
“I’ve noticed,” she agreed calmly.
“I’ve never had a roommate who kept a clean apartment before.”
The sound that came out of Wyn’s mouth was halfway between a raspberry and a snort.
“You don’t believe me?” he challenged.
“No, I believe you.” She took the kitten and sat down on the couch. “I’ve never dated a man who didn’t keep his apartment a secret from me until at least the fifth date. Even then, he didn’t want to show it to me.”
“Was it a deal-breaker for you that they didn’t know how to clean an apartment?” he asked, sitting in an armchair.
“I wouldn’t say it ended the relationship. I would say that it took the magic out of the romance. It was like I had only been seeing what I wanted to see about the guy until I saw the mess he lived in. Once I saw that, his other flaws were a lot more obvious. Have your dates considered it a deal breaker even though it wasn’t your mess?”
“I could always take a woman into my room if I was comfortable doing that. My room isn’t a sinkhole, but it’s never been inspiring. I keep my room like it’s an army bunker. It’s not my home. I’ve been very much aware that every place I’ve lived while going to school is temporary. I’m not putting down roots, I’m going to class.”
Wyn nodded. “I guess I can understand why you’d feel like that. I mean… I don’t feel like that.”
“I know,” he said, with a breath full of understanding.
But Wyn had rarely felt understood by a man and immediately resented it. “How could you know something like that about me?”
“Just by looking around. You’ve lived here for a month and you’ve already decorated. There are beautiful, well-chosen pictures and accessories everywhere. They don’t belong to Muriel or she would have taken them with her to cover the bare walls of the apartment down the hall. Trevor and I didn’t toss elegant throw pillows on our couch. I bought our couch off Craig’s List and it is an absolute piece of garbage. The only upswing for it was that it was clean enough that I felt like I could sit on it without contracting a disease. I said Trev could have it.”
“Aren’t you going to need it?”
“Why not? This situation living with me can’t last.”
Raif looked at her. She was holding her breath, waiting for him to agree with her, but he wasn’t going to. He was thinking that he hadn’t been fast enough on the uptake. He thought he had taken every opportunity to win her over. She’d like having him as a roommate and he’d have a nice time living with her for as long as it could last.
He had been dead wrong.
He shouldn’t have been aiming for roommate status. He should have been trying for something more.
“Why don’t you want to fall in love with me?” he suddenly asked.
She averted her eyes and dove for her lie. “It’s not personal.”
He didn’t contradict her. “Maybe I’d like it if it was personal,” he said, keeping his voice and eyes steady. “I like you. I would not have moved in here if I didn’t, no matter what Trevor said.”
She smirked. “You don’t know me.”
“Not intimately, of course, but I know you.”
She didn’t drop the smirk from her face. “When? When did you meet me?”
“I met you at a high school grad party in Colhurst. I was in grade eleven and I was escorting Kimberly Maxwell. You were in grade ten and you were escorting Brad Williams.”
Wyn almost choked as the memory flooded her. She had forgotten all about that.
Wyn had been sitting by the bonfire. Kids were drinking. Her date, Brad, was very drunk, and he was lying in the back of a pickup truck on a mattress explaining to an equally drunk boy that high school was rigged.
She hadn’t known anything about grad parties, and all of her classmates had been so jealous of her because she had been asked to go as a date. She had been excited too. She had fussed over her dress, her shoes, her makeup, and her hair. She’d driven herself nuts making sure that she was the prettiest date there.
It hadn’t mattered.
She had only had a month to prepare. Some of the girls who were graduating had been making plans for their outfits their whole lives. In the end, Wyn looked good, but she wasn’t shattering any records.
She also didn’t know Brad very well. He was from a different town and no one at the party knew her. Not even the chaperones knew her. That meant they didn’t know she was under eighteen, couldn’t drink, and shouldn’t even be there. She hadn’t been prepared for the night to be so sour. It turned out, she didn’t like Brad and she was tired of listening to him talk. Seeking escape, she sat down near the fire because it was warm there and she was away from Brad. She wanted to leave, but she wasn’t quite prepared to admit to her parents or her friends that she was extremely bored, and it was only midnight. On grad night, no one expected her to come home at all.
That was when a guy came up to her. He had dark hair, hazel eyes, and a pointed face.
“I brought you a stump,” he said, thumping it down next to her. Then he extended his hand to her and helped her off the grass.
“Thanks,” she said, sitting down on it.
He came back a minute later with a stump of his own. Sitting down on it, he asked her, “Where’s your date?”
“Over there.” She gestured vaguely in Brad’s direction.
“Yeah…” the boy said, rolling the word around in his mouth. “He’s not your date.”
“Because, it’s past midnight… just barely.”
“I’m pretty sure dates don’t expire like parking passes,” Wyn said stiffly.
“No. They do,” he said, with a smile. “My date is making out with our host’s older brother. Your date has about 20 minutes before he passes out cold. It’s his first night drinking, huh? He doesn’t realize he’s overdoing it because he’s drinking like they do on TV. And I’m glad.”
His eyes gleamed with fun. “Because I’ve been watching you all night. You’re not from around here, are you?”
“No. I live in Wellspring.”
“Thought so. Let me ask you a question. What’s your idea of the perfect date?”
“Location or person?”
“The location is here. The person is me. What would you like to do? Are you a prankster? Do you want to play a joke on the graduates?”
“Do you like kissing? I could kiss you all night.” The way he said it made it seem like he was not serious, but a second look said he might be. His eyes sparkled with amusement and mischief.
She was more tempted than she ought to have been by his invitation. Instead of kissing him, she said, “That’s not without its appeal, but wouldn’t you only be doing that to get revenge on your wayward date?”
“No. She brought me to grad for the pictures. She wanted to have an impressive-looking guy by her side and, though I don’t see it myself, she said I fit the bill. Let it never be said that I didn’t help a girl when she asked me.”
Wyn cocked her head. She had an idea. “Do you have a car?”
“And you’re sober?”
“Dead sober. I’m only seventeen.”
“Can you drive me home?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said without hesitation.
“And you won’t feel bad about deserting your girl?”
He stood up. “Not at all. She planned to sleep here tonight and she’s already disappeared with what’s-his-name. Don’t worry about it. I’ll drive back here after I’ve dropped you off.”
Wyn stood up too. “Just let me tell Brad that I’m leaving.”
“Yup. Go tell him.”
When Wyn got in the car, she realized she was getting into a vehicle with a stranger. She hadn’t asked him his name. She had even considered making out with him and she didn’t know his name, but as she sat down, she felt like a fool and like she couldn’t. Instead, she asked him to tell her about himself.
He started the car. “I like to date.”
“So you’re a heartbreaker?”
“Not at all. I’m friendly… and though it is true that I have been called a player, I don’t do it because I’m trying to hurt them or get another notch on my belt. I do it because I’m friendly and I like to date. I like to start a date by telling them that, so they don’t think that the attention I’m giving them signifies anything special.”
Wyn smiled. “I like how you worked that in, phrasing it like a conversation you had once with another girl and it doesn’t have anything to do with me. Very clever.”
Wyn leaned back comfortably in her seat. “How many girls have you dated?”
“How many Fridays and Saturdays are there in a year?” he quipped.
“A hundred and four.”
“Well, probably triple that and then cut it into quarters. I don’t take a different girl out every time.”
“Your math is dizzying.”
“How many guys have you dated?”
Wyn didn’t want to reply. She hadn’t dated that much. That had been part of the reason she had been so excited to go out with Brad. “Let’s put it this way, I’ve never gone out with a guy I wanted to kiss at the beginning of the date… until tonight.”
He smiled and turned on the radio. “Did my offer to drive you home mean that much to you?”
“Yes,” she said in the darkness.
“It’s understandable. They were loud and gross.”
In the darkness of the car, they talked. The drive was over an hour and they used the time well. She told him about herself and he listened like he cared. When they pulled up in front of her house, he turned off the car and got out.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
He came around and opened her door. “I’m walking you to your door.”
She stepped out and stood in front of him. “You don’t need to be that gallant.”
“Never tell a man you don’t want him to treat you well,” he said, suddenly taking her hand and rubbing it with his warm one. “I really enjoyed driving you home. The party will be a different kind of madhouse at three o’clock in the morning than it was at midnight. Wouldn’t it be nice if I lived down the street and I could just stay here? In the morning, we could meet up, and I could take you on one of the dates I plan. I’ll bet you look beautiful when you play tennis.”
She kissed him.
She wrapped her hand around the back of his neck, pulled his mouth on top of hers, and kissed him.
She told herself she was going to do that when he stopped the car. She had completely forgotten that he still hadn’t told her his name and she hadn’t asked. She didn’t know where he lived or get his phone number. She knew nothing. She was kissing a stranger on the street.
The spell was broken when he kissed her back.
She realized instantly that she was dealing with a boy who had done an incredible amount of kissing and he knew far better what to do than she did. Why hadn’t she picked that up from his conversation? His hands were in the right places and she had never had that happen to her before.
Suddenly, she felt twelve years old and hopelessly outclassed. Her mouth froze and he got the cue that she was finished.
He let go of her and shot her a smile. He gripped her hand tighter and pulled her gently to her front door. He touched her shoulders and gently kissed her forehead. “You are something special. Come find me when you’re ready.” He got out a pen and wrote his phone number on her hand. Then he let her go and went back to his car.
Inside, she was more tired than the one-thirty on the clock suggested she should be and she went straight to sleep.
When she woke up, she smiled and looked at the pen mark he’d made on her hand. To her surprise, it wasn’t his phone number. He’d written the words, “I could have kissed you all night.”
Author's Notes: Please visit https://tigrix1.wixsite.com/stephanievanorman to receive your own copy of Tiny Wishes by Stephanie Van Orman.
About the author
I write novels like I am part-printer, part book factory, and a little girl running away with a balloon. I'm here as an experiment and I'm unsure if this is a place where I can fit in. We'll see.