Read Full Package Online

Authors: Lauren Blakely

Full Package (2 page)

2

J
osie dangles
a red fish in front of me.

“Caught it today,” she says with a boastful nod at the tiny treat in her hand. “Fresh from the candy shop shelves.”

“Did it put up a fight?”

She shakes her head as she drops the fish in its plastic bag. “Nope. It succumbed to my credit card. Reeled it in, just like that.” She snaps her fingers.

We're at Abingdon Square Park, a small triangular patch of green at the edge of the Village. It's one of the few parks that feels like its own island in Manhattan, and we settle onto a navy blue wooden bench. We're not far from the sweet shop where she finished her sushi candy-making class.

She takes a new treat from her bag, and holds it in her palm. “You ready?”

I open my mouth. “Pop it in, baby.”

Yeah, maybe that sounded dirty.

Who cares? I don't, nor does Josie, who also happens to be the little sister of my best bud, Wyatt. She's requested I serve as her guinea pig tonight. The first taste test? A Swedish Fish roll, as she calls it. The red gummy is parked atop a Rice Krispies Treat center and wrapped in a green Fruit Roll-Up.

Moments like this remind me that perspective is key. Because, man, my life could be worse. Sure, I'm going to be living the Airbnb lifestyle any day now, bouncing from lumpy couch to lumpier futon, but sweetness is about to land on my tongue.

I bite into the candy roll, and it's a carnival of deliciousness. My eyebrows wriggle, and I nod approvingly as I finish chewing. I adopt an over-the-top restaurant critic's voice. “Just the perfect mix of marshmallow goodness that pairs ever so wonderfully with the tang of the Fruit Roll-Up. Add in the flavor sensation of the perennial favorite, Swedish Fish, and you have a masterpiece on your hands.”

Josie's a baker, but not just any baker. She's a world-class
dessertier
. I don't know if that's a word, but it fucking should be given how this woman can wield a mixer and a baking pan. There's nothing sweet that she can't make taste like a party in your mouth. Probably why her taking over her parents' old shop, Sunshine Bakery, has been such a success.

Her eyes widen at my masterpiece compliment. “Really? You're not just saying that, are you?”

I'm stone-faced as I answer her. “I never lie about treats. Case in point. Remember the time you made those chocolate chip cookies that contained the world's worst food item?”

“You still can't say the name of it, can you?”

I close my eyes, an involuntary shudder running down my spine. “Just trying to block out the memory of . . .” Taking a deep breath, I force out the next word. “Raisins.” When I open my eyes, I'm sure they're still laced with horror as I recall what she did to those helpless cookies. “Seriously. How could you defile something as wonderful as a chocolate chip cookie with a . . . dried grape?”

She shrugs helplessly. “That's how you discover what works and what doesn't work in the kitchen. You have to try. I was trying something new. Cowboy cookies with chocolate chips, coconut and—”

I clasp my palm over her lips. “Don't say it again.” I release my hold on her mouth, and she rolls her eyes then mouths
raisins
.

I cringe. “Anyway, these sushi rolls are the opposite. They're perfect. But why'd you need to take a class? Why not just follow a recipe?”

Her answer is simple. “I like taking classes, and I want these desserts to be the best. Plus, the woman who runs that sweet shop has the best candies. Those aren't regular Swedish Fish that you can buy in a grocery store. They're hand-made from her family recipe. That's why I wanted you to meet me as soon as class ended. To taste them fresh.”

“Are you going to serve them fresh?”

She nods excitedly and spreads her hands wide, the silver, heart-shaped ring on her index finger glinting in the evening sun. “Here's my plan. I thought I'd start offering a new fun and quirky treat each day. Like candy sushi on Mondays at three, and then on Tuesdays I'd do coconut chocolate chip cookies, minus the food item that shall not be named.”

I mouth
thank you
.

“On Wednesday afternoons I'd offer a grapefruit macaron, for instance. And I can market the shop more on social media like the food trucks do. It'll be like appointment treats daily at the Sunshine Bakery.”

“That's brilliant.” I clear my throat, sigh deeply, and set a hand on her arm. “But I need to break this to you. No one likes grapefruit. Not even in a macaron.”

Her green eyes shine like she has a secret. “Ah, but you've never tried my grapefruit macaron. I'll make that for you next. It's delish. I promise,” she says, then reaches up to tighten her ponytail. Her dark brown hair is streaked with pink near the tips. Normally shades of bright colors in the locks do nothing for me, but on Josie, it just works. It suits her personality. She's bright and outgoing. Friendly and happy. She's exactly the type of person who can rock pink-streaked hair
and
selling cake, cookies, and seven-layer bars at a cheery bakery on the Upper West Side, plus sushi candy, too.

She has the whole look—the soft curves, the inviting smile, the warm eyes, the fun hair, and the upbeat attitude. Like it's a surprise this woman became one of my closest friends after I met her about ten years ago. It's impossible
not
to like Josie.

And I'm not even talking about her rack. See? I'm so well-behaved.

She gives me two more treats to try, and neither one floats my boat. I tell her that each time, and she simply nods and says thanks. Dipping her hand in the bag, she grabs what looks like a Twinkie sushi roll wrapped in taffy to represent the seaweed.

“Try this one,” she says, handing me a slice as a summer breeze rustles the branches of a nearby tree.

I arch an eyebrow in question. “Aren't Twinkies bad for you?”

She winks at me. “Don't you know? Everything that tastes good is bad for you. Besides, it's not a
Twinkie
Twinkie,” she adds, pointing at the dessert sushi.

“What is it? Like a Twinkie's bastard cousin? A Winkie Twinkie? A Kinky Twinkie?”

“It's a Trinkie,” she says, laughing. “It's homemade. I whipped it up and brought it to the class. I made my own version of Twinkies. So they're not, y'know, disgusting. Here you go,” she tells me.

I bite into the treat, and my eyes go wide. “Holy shit. You have to sell that.”

“I'm so glad you like it,” Josie says, with a grin. “And now you have done your due diligence as my favorite taste tester. Do you have any idea how awful it was for me when you were in Africa?”

“I can't even imagine the hell you went through without me around,” I say, since I was gone for a year with Doctors Without Borders, doing a stint in the Central African Republic and helping out the people who've suffered most through the armed conflict and instability in that country. Those were some of the most challenging but also most gratifying times I've ever spent. It made me a better doctor; I hope it made me a better person, too.

It definitely made me miss Josie's taste tests of treats, though.

“It was rough, Chase,” she says, all serious-looking as she teases me. “I just had to take it day by day to get through.”

“Speaking of rough days . . . So this guy came into the ER earlier,” I say, since Josie enjoys Tales from the ER. Her eyes light up, and she rubs her hands as if to say
tell me, tell me.
“He was testing the structural integrity of a chandelier,” I say, then share the rest of the story of Aquaman's adventures.

She cringes, then laughs. “Well, that beats my crazy morning.”

I narrow my eyes. “Don't tell me you tried to get intimate with a KitchenAid mixer?”

“Ha. No. Last week, I started looking for a roomie now that Natalie's moved out.”

“Oh, yeah?” Natalie is Josie's former roommate. Now she's hitched to Wyatt and they're living together in his apartment.

“Talk about a pain in the forehead. This morning a woman who answered my ad stopped by to see my place and wanted to know my ‘quiet hours.' Like, what time each night we have mandatory lights out at my home.” Josie shoots me a look that tells me that's the nuttiest idea.

“Did you tell her the curfew at Chez Josie?”

“Nine p.m. On the dot,” she says primly, straightening her spine. “But I didn't bother to tell her that after nine is when I go crazy and watch loud and naughty HBO shows.”

“Like there's any other kind.”

She taps my leg. “But that doesn't even compare to the lady who wanted to know if the building allowed snakes.”

“No fucking way,” I say, recoiling. I can handle blood, guts, and all manner of foreign objects in completely wrong locations, but animals that slither? Nope. Can't do it.

“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” Josie and I ask in unison, quoting
Raiders of the Lost Ark
.

She shudders. “I swear looking for a roommate is all I've been doing, too. And the parade of crazy started as soon as I began advertising for a single female roommate, twenties to thirties. The
next
woman who answered the ad wanted to know if I would be baking at home. She said she was allergic to flour and feared my apartment would aggravate her sensitivities.”

“See? I'm not sensitive at all. You could bake around me anytime.”

“You could taste test everything I want to try making.”

I puff up my cheeks. “I'd balloon out.” I make a basketball arc over my stomach, too.

“Hardly.” She darts out a hand and pats my belly. It's flat as a board. I work out a lot. Plus, I walk or bike all over the city. I like to stay busy. My mom said when I was a kid, I was a perpetual motion machine. She also called me high-energy, always on, and exasperating. And not necessarily in that order. But that's why medicine fits me so well, and that's also why I picked the ER for my practice. Keeps me on my toes, keeps me busy, keeps me moving. It's a mental and a physical challenge.

“If only you were a girl.” Josie sighs dejectedly. “You'd be the perfect roommate.”

“If only I were a girl, I'd play with my tits all day.”

“You would not.”

“Would so.” I waggle my hands in front of my chest to mime my activity of choice in this
if only
scenario.

She swats me. “You're ridiculous.” She tilts her head as a bird chirps in a nearby tree. “But enough about me. You must have good news on the apartment front by now. Did you get the place in Chelsea you were hoping for?”

I drag a hand through my hair. “Nope. And let's just say there were some conditions attached to the latest offer that made me realize I need to start from scratch. Mainly, my leasing agent pitched me a threesome.”

Her jaw drops. “For real?”

I nod. “Yeah, for real. I'm confident it was a bona fide offer, since she told me she makes a great ceviche, too. Like, why else would you mention the ceviche? Clearly, she was using it as a lure.”

Josie frowns. “I don't get it. Is ceviche like a thing in threesomes?”

I laugh, and shake my head. “No. Actually, I don't know because I'm not into that. But all I know is she was so goddamn normal about both the threesome and the fish dish, that's how I knew she was
for real
.”

Josie holds up her hands in surrender. “You win. That's crazier than the curfew lady, the snake lady, or the no-baking lady.”

“You're telling me. Bouncing around from place to place is wearing on me,” I say with a sigh. When I'd returned to the United States a few months ago, I moved in with my brother Max, but he lives downtown—and I mean way downtown—and I work uptown. Besides, it's not my style to stay with him forever. “It's like I have some sort of curse when it comes to finding a decent rental. And you have a curse when it comes to finding—”

“A decent roommate.” Her voice trails off as she stares at me. Really stares. And as she seems to study me, the answer clicks. The lightbulb literally goes off at the same time for both of us. I can see it in the sparkle in her eyes. I'm sure it matches mine.

“Why didn't we think of this before?” she asks slowly, as if she's inviting me to fill in the blanks.

I gesture from her to me. “You mean the fact that I can solve your roommate problem and you can solve my housing woes?”

She nods several times. “Just because I was originally looking for a female roommate doesn't mean . . .”

“That a male roommate wouldn't work out?” I offer, and a burst of hope rises in me. This could be the answer. Holy shit. This could be the motherfucking answer, and I won't have to give up a spleen, a kidney, or my love of one-on-one sex in exchange for polyamory.

She swallows. Looks nervous. “Would that be weird? I know you wanted a place to yourself.”

I shake my head adamantly. “I just want
a place
at this point. Are you really offering?” I ask, and maybe I should consider all the fine details and nuances. But fuck, this isn't a patient presenting with unusual symptoms where I need to call in Dr. House. This is a simple malady. This is the headache with the take-aspirin-and-call-me-in-the-morning solution.

She holds out one hand like a scale, weighing the situation. “I need a roommate. I haven't found anyone who isn't crazy.” Then the other hand. “You need somewhere to live. You haven't found any place that isn't cursed.” She brushes her palms together. “And let's not forget we get along super well, and always have.”

I nod vigorously. “We're like the poster children for getting along well.”

“I mean, has there ever been a guy and a girl friend who get along as well as we do?”

I slash my hand through the air. “Fuck no. Not in the history of the world.”

“Plus, you like my cooking, and I like your ability to not hog the bathroom mirror for a full hour when you dry your hair and do your makeup.”