Authors: Lauren Blakely
laughter booms across all of Battery Park as he greases the chain on his bike. A streetlamp illuminates his work. Morning hints at the horizon, but the sky is still the dark blue before the dawn. It's five-thirty on a Friday, and we're getting ready to ride.
I adjust the tire pressure on my bike as I jerk my head to look at Max. “What's so funny?”
He wipes down the chain with a rag, making sure it's well-oiled. “What you just said. That's what is funny.”
“That I'm moving in with Josie?”
He nods several times. “Yup. That one. And I thought you were the genius in the family. But you must have forgotten to take a dose of common sense the other day,” he says as he spins the chain.
Max builds custom cars for a living, so this kind of pre-ride prep is part of his rule book. Besides, today's training calls for thirty miles, and we want to make sure the two-wheelers can handle that. With this century ride coming up soon, we need to be ready. Hence the early morning start. We're on a team that's raising money for better medical care for veterans.
I stand, resting a palm on the seat of my road bike. “This choice is one hundred percent common sense. We've been friends forever, and we both need a place to live. Besides, you kicked me out.”
Max stands, too, rising to his full height. I'm a tall guy, but he's taller than my six feet, and broader. He's basically the definition of intimidating, especially when you add in the big muscles and the dark eyes. But he's a total teddy bear to me and always has been, so the big hulking look doesn't work.
He points at my chest. “I did not kick you out. I told you that you were welcome to stay in the lap of older brother luxury as long as you wanted,” he says, gesturing behind him to the sweet-as-sin high-rise building he lives in. I already rode a few miles downtown to meet him here.
“Nah. Too far from Mercy. Josie's closer. Only takes me ten minutes to get to work from her place, instead of thirty from here.”
He claps a hand on my shoulder. “I hardly think the extra twenty minutes each way is worth you shacking up with a girl you're hot for, man. That's crazy.”
I scoff. “I'm not hot for Josie. I've been friends with her forever.”
He fixes me with a steely stare. Fine, he's not all teddy bear. Sometimes he's a hard ass, like when he tries to give me his serious eyes. “Do you or do you not think she's hot?”
I raise my chin. I can hold my own under his inquisition. Besides, the answer is as easy as pie. A delicious cherry pie, like the one Josie made for me a few weeks ago. “I do think she's hot.” He smirks, but I hold up a finger to correct him. “On a purely scientific, empirical basis.”
He shakes his head like he doesn't believe me.
“Let the record reflect I have never done a damn thing about it. And that's because I'm highly evolved. I can admire a woman's appearance without wanting to get in her pants.”
Max claps me on the back. “Then I hope you and your purely scientific appreciation of Josie's physical attributes have no problem being in such close proximity to all those empirical assets of hers,” he says, grabbing the helmet from the handlebars and snapping it on with one hand. He straddles his bike.
I mount mine, too. “Why do you think I can't handle living with her? I like her. She's awesome.”
His laughter answers me again. “Because you flirt with her incessantly.”
We pedal away from the park, heading toward the Hudson River Greenway with a handful of other early-morning cyclists.
“And yet, I have somehow amazingly never come on to her. Don't you think if I was attracted to her, something would have happened at least once in all the years I've known her?”
He shakes his head as we pick up speed, riding side by side on the path now. “No. Because now you're kicking it up a notch, and there's this thing that happens when you pour gasoline on something and then light a match.”
“Oh yeah?” I adopt a simpleton tone. “What's that thing that happens? Does it . . . I dunno . . . catch fire?”
He snorts. “I would smack you upside the head if we weren't on bikes right now.” Our wheels turn faster as we sail over the smooth concrete path, swerving carefully around joggers and power-walkers.
As we pass a pack of runners, I pull ahead. “I bet you would,” I call out. “If you could catch me.”
I spend all of the next thirty miles maintaining a pace that's a couple of bike lengths ahead of my big brother. When we're done, my heart beats fast, and sweat slides down my forehead. I dismount where we started, in Battery Park, and he does the same.
I glance at my watch. “Just enough time for a hearty breakfast before work.” I've got an hour until I'm due at Mercy for my shift. Fridays tend to be busy days at the ER. The action heats up, especially on a Friday afternoon. This might be my only meal today.
“Let's do it.”
“Oh, and by the way, that's exactly how I'll manage living with Josieâlike I did staying ahead of you the whole ride. I'll just keep pace ahead of any potential complications,” I say, as we make our way to our favorite diner right across the street.
“Keep telling yourself that.” We lock up our bikes, and head inside to order.
And that's exactly what I'll tell myself when I move in this weekend.
to the curved wooden stand with a hook at the top. “This. Explain this.”
Josie sets her hands on her hips. “It's a banana holder.”
I give her a stern look. “I can read. I don't need to know
. I need to know
.” I poke the object on the shelf at Bed Bath & Beyond, otherwise known as the Nexus of Unnecessary Things. Pretty sure there's some kind of vortex or force field right smack dab in the middle of this store attracting all the weird, bizarre, and odd home goods. “Why can't they sit on the kitchen counter? Or, how about in a bowl?”
“Maybe the bananas just like to dangle?” she suggests. “Hang free and all?”
Smacking my forehead, I go along with it. “Aha. That makes perfect sense.”
“I'm here to help.” She tugs on my shirtsleeve. “But can we please get to the sheet aisle? You can't sleep on a naked mattress.”
“That may be true, but I could definitely sleep naked on a mattress,” I offer, and she laughs as we navigate through another sardine-packed aisle in the mammoth store.
It's one in the afternoon, and I just moved in this morning. That took all of two hours. Spending my twenties in med school and as a resident gave me very little time for the acquisition of things, so most of my possessions fit in a duffel bag. I have very little. Not even sheets for a queen-size bed. Ergo, I'm spending Saturday at Bed Bath & Beyond, which is a bit like wandering through a Buzzfeed post titled “Ten Things I'll Never Use.”
More like five hundred. Wait. Make that five hundred and one, because I just spotted the new number one item on the list.
“That,” I say as I make a beeline for a shelf of crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e torches. Grabbing a silvery one, I hold it up. “Please say we can have a housewarming party, and you'll make crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e, and I can stride all proud and awesome into the kitchen,” I say, puffing out my chest and deepening my voice. “And I can light it with a torch, and we'll all
at the manly fire I made when I lit up a dessert.”
She arches an eyebrow. “A manly fire?”
I nod vigorously. “And then you'll let the guests take turns punching me in the face for being a total douche for owning a crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e torch.”
She narrows her eyes. “You actually want people to punch you?”
I'm deadly serious as I answer her. “If I ever own a crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e torch, you have carte blanche to punch me, Josie. You really should.” I drop the torch on the shelf and take her hand, clasping it tightly in mine. “Promise me. From this day forward. Promise you'll punch me if I ever own a crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e torch, a rotating tie rack, or more than one kind of cheese grater. This is part of our roommate pact.”
She grips my hand tighter, her green eyes glowing with stark seriousness. “I solemnly swear to pummel you under all the aforementioned circumstances. As proof of our friendship and roommate solidarity.”
“You're a saint,” I say, then wrap a hand around her head and tug her close for a quick kiss on her forehead.
And hello, sweet, sexy scent of Josie. What is this delicious smell? Is it . . . oh fuck me.
My God, she smells like cherries. Like the perfect summer fruit. Like the naughtiest fruit. And I've got to wonder if that cherry scent is her face lotion, her shampoo, or her body wash?
My mind is adrift, and the word association begins. Because what goes with body wash but nudity?
Naked woman in the shower. Washing. Lathering. Soaping.
Snap the fuck out it, Summers.
I stuff those images into a far corner in the dark closet of my mind and pull back from Josie, leaving the questions unanswered. I slap on a happy, wholesome smile. “Thank you for your commitment to my non-douchery endeavors.”
“I've got your back,” she says, and pats me.
Then she points to a cupcake tin. She pants like a dog. “Must. Have.”
“Don't you have twenty of those?”
She nods as she grabs it from a shelf. “Yes. But I need more.” She spins around, and her hand darts out for something else. “It's an icing smoother. I need a new one. Gah, this aisle is like baker porn.” She smiles gleefully.
“Baker porn. I like that,” I say, then offer to hold the kitchen goods. She hands them to me, and I tuck them under my arm.
When we turn the corner toward the next aisle, Josie stops at the end cap. She taps on a big silvery box. “Quick. Waffle maker. This is the true test of our roommate compatibility. Do you need a waffle maker?”
I peer at her through narrowed eyes, then slam my free hand as if I'm hitting a buzzer on a game show. “And the correct answer is: No. Never. That's what Sunday brunch is for.”
She holds up a palm and we smack hands. “You win this round of the New Roommate Show. Because who wants to buy a monstrosity for the kitchen counter to make waffles in once a year and then have no place to put it in our tiny New York apartment?”
“Not this guy.”
“And not this girl.”
Damn, we rock at living together.
We soldier on through the store.
On our quest for sheets, we wander through sconces. And seriously, what the fuck is a sconce? Does anyone even know what a sconce is? No, no one does, because it's not a thing. Then an entire rack of high-end ice cream makers, which forces me to askâwho the hell decided we should make our own ice cream? Have people, I dunno, not heard of Talenti's, Edy's, Ben and Jerry's, or the corner ice cream shop?
At the end of a maze of aisles and escalators, we arrive at the sheets. I blink and stare. Up and up and up. “Josie, there are literally five hundred kinds of sheets here,” I say, my tone heavy.
“Choice is good,” she says, tapping her finger on her chin as she checks out the options.
I survey the rows upon rows of navy, black, white, dotted, and other manly-patterned sheets, and immediately I'm overwhelmed. Why is sheet shopping so complicated? I swear restarting a heart is easier than figuring out the proper thread count.
I gesture to the mountains of Egyptian cotton. “But each one says it's better than the last. What happens if I get the soft three hundred? Will I wonder if the five hundred was the softest after all? And is bigger better? Do I need the eight hundred? How do I decide?”
She grabs a packet of four hundred thread count sheets and thrusts it in my arms with an authority that's downright . . . hot. “That's how you do it.”
“Damn, woman. You just made the decision like that.” I snap my fingers.
“You can't go wrong with white sheets. And they'll be just the right amount of soft,” she says, stroking the plastic cover of the sheets. My eyes drift to her fingers, and I stare as she runs them down the cover of the sheets. My mind leapfrogs several inappropriate paces ahead to how her fingers might feel running down my abs . . . Or if her belly is just the right amount of soft . . .
I shake my head. Of course she's the right amount of soft. She should be soft. Women are usually softâthat's just a simple fact.
“I'm sold,” I say, tucking the sheets under my arm with the rest of our haul and ferrying her away from the bed supplies lest any more errant fantasies pop into my head thanks to the free association of Josie, sheets, fingers, stroking, soft skin, cherries, or any fucking other thing.
As we leave this section, she stops at a giant tub of velvety pillows of all shapes and sizes. “I need a new pillow.”
I frown in confusion. “For what?”
She grabs a royal blue pillow with sequins on the edges and clutches it to her chest. “I like pillows.”
“Are you a pillow-phile?”
“Total pillow-phile.” Dropping the blue one in the vat, she dips her hand in and riffles around, rooting through a sea of chocolate brown, deep purple, and rich red pillows. Some are square, some circular, some cylindrical. She finds one that's emerald green and long.
“Look!” Her face lights up as if she's discovered a pirate's booty.
“What's the pillow love all about, Josie?”
Hugging it tighter, she answers, “Pillows are wonderful. We can nap with them, cuddle with them, put our feet on them. Also,” she says, wagging a finger to draw me closer and dropping her voice to a whisper, “they're boob friends.”
And I'm a cartoon character knocked senseless. It's as if I've been hit with a frying pan of naughty, and the dirty lobe of my brain has rattled free. “Boob friends?”
Josie wiggles her eyebrows and backs up into the aisle next to the pillows.
I'd follow her anywhere right now because she just uttered my favorite word.
. For the record, my second favorite word is tits. Third is breasts.
She bites her lip, glances from side to side, then draws the pillow right between the valley of the goddesses on her chest.
And my dick springs to attention in my jeans, the shameless fucker.
Then, it's story time for Josie Hammer, as she launches into a tale. “Once upon a time, I had a stuffed crocodile. He was a small, green creature who lived on my bed, a present from when I was younger and in the middle of a big love fest for the
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile
books. I made him talk, and I named him Lyle Lyle, too.”
Her eyes twinkle. “But what was truly clever was how in middle school I discovered Lyle Lyle's real purpose. You see, he came in quite handy for this early bloomer. When I was twelve and started getting these,” she says, gesturing to those absolutely fucking magnificent globes, “I started sleeping with Lyle Lyle.”
“You slept with the stuffed crocodile?” I ask, my throat as dry as my dick is hard.
She nods and hugs the green pillow tighter between her breasts.
“Why did you sleep with him?” I ask because the answer eludes me.
She shifts her weight so she's leaning a bit to the right. “Because when you sleep on your side, the girls kind of fall on top of each other and smash each other. It can be a little uncomfortable.”
Yeah, like the tightness in my pants right now
“I bet,” I choke out.
“So Lyle Lyle got a job. I enlisted him as a boob friend. I slept with him every night, and he delivered complete and utter boob comfort.”
That lucky fucking inanimate animal. “I want to grow up to be a stuffed crocodile.”
Josie's green eyes widen, then she laughs. “I like you just fine as you, though.”
I hold up my forearm. “Then consider this. Would this work as a boob friend? Hypothetically, of course. I'm pretty sure my hand would fit nicely between a pair of boobs.”
She swats me. “If the pillow fails, I'll rap twice on the wall.”
“Honestly, you don't even have to knock. Just come into my room, grab my hand, and slide it between the girls.” My eyes drift to her 36Cs. What? I can tell from looking. It's a scientific gift of mine.
“What color are my eyes?”
Her question doesn't compute. I snap my gaze back up to her face. “Green.”
She points to the bridge of her nose. “And they're here.”
“Seriously? You were talking about boobs. Pragmatically speaking, I had no choice but to look at the topic of conversation.”
She gives me an I-caught-you
I hold up my hands. “This is not a Swedish Fish moment. You brought it up.”
She lifts the green pillow and bonks me on the head with it. “And your hand offer is noted.”
“Just trying to be helpful. That's all.”
“And I appreciate it. I'm also buying this pillow.”
When we reach the counter, I pay for the pillow and hand it to her. I pay for her baking goods, too. “Have I ever told you I give amazing gifts? It's kind of a special talent of mine.”
She rolls her eyes, but as we leave, she lets go of the teasing and drops a soft kiss on my cheek. “Thank you for the amazing gifts. That was very sweet of you.”
Later, as we spend our first night together as roommates, I'm weirdly jealous of a pillow.
But a week or so after that, it's not pillows I'm jealous of.