I just punched a girl in the face. Not just any girl. My best friend. My roommate.
Well, as of five minutes ago, I guess I should call her my ex-roommate.
Her nose began bleeding almost immediately, and for a second, I felt bad for hitting her. But then I remembered what a lying, betraying whore she is, and it made me want to punch her again. I would have if Hunter hadn’t prevented it by stepping between us.
So instead, I punched him. I didn’t do any damage to him, unfortunately. Not like the damage I’d done to my hand.
Punching someone hurts a lot worse than I imagined it would. Not that I spend an excessive amount of time imagining how it would feel to punch people. Although I am having that urge again as I stare down at my phone at the incoming text from Ridge. He’s another one I’d like to get even with. I know he technically has nothing to do with my current predicament, but he could have given me a heads-up a little sooner. Therefore, I’d like to punch him, too.
Ridge: Are you OK? Do u want to come up until the rain stops?
Of course, I don’t want to come up. My fist hurts enough as it is, and if I went up to Ridge’s apartment, it would hurt a whole lot worse after I finished with him.
I turn around and look up at his balcony. He’s leaning against his sliding-glass door; phone in hand, watching me. It’s almost dark, but the lights from the courtyard illuminate his face. His dark eyes lock with mine and the way his mouth curls up into a soft, regretful smile makes it hard to remember why I’m even upset with him in the first place. He runs a free hand through the hair hanging loosely over his forehead, revealing even more of the worry in his expression. Or maybe that’s a look of regret. As it should be.
I decide not to reply and flip him off instead. He shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders, as if to say, I tried, and then he goes back inside his apartment and slides his door shut.
I put the phone back in my pocket before it gets wet, and I look around at the courtyard of the apartment complex where I’ve lived for two whole months. When we first moved in, the hot Texas summer was swallowing up the last traces of spring, but this courtyard seemed to somehow still cling to life. Vibrant blue and purple hydrangeas lined the walkways leading up to the staircases and the fountain affixed in the center of the courtyard.
Now that summer has reached its most unattractive peak, the water in the fountain has long since evaporated. The hydrangeas are a sad, wilted reminder of the excitement I felt when Tori and I first moved in here. Looking at the courtyard now, defeated by the season, is an eerie parallel to how I feel at the moment. Defeated and sad.
I’m sitting on the edge of the now empty cement fountain, my elbows propped up on the two suitcases that contain most of my belongings, waiting for a cab to pick me up. I have no idea where it’s going to take me, but I know I’d rather be anywhere except where I am right now. Which is, well, homeless.
I could call my parents, but that would give them ammunition to start firing all the We told you so’s at me.
We told you not to move so far away, Sydney.
We told you not to get serious with that guy.
We told you if you had chosen prelaw over music, we would have paid for it.
We told you to punch with your thumb on the outside of your fist.
Okay, maybe they never taught me the proper punching techniques, but if they’re so right all the damn time, they should have.
I clench my fist, then spread out my fingers, then clench it again. My hand is surprisingly sore, and I’m pretty sure I should put ice on it. I feel sorry for guys. Punching sucks.
Know what else sucks? Rain. It always finds the most inappropriate time to fall, like right now, while I’m homeless.
The cab finally pulls up, and I stand and grab my suitcases. I roll them behind me as the cab driver gets out and pops open the trunk. Before I even hand him the first suitcase, my heart sinks as I suddenly realize that I don’t even have my purse on me.
I look around, back to where I was sitting on the suitcases, then feel around my body as if my purse will magically appear across my shoulder. But I know exactly where my purse is. I pulled it off my shoulder and dropped it to the floor right before I punched Tori in her overpriced, Cameron Diaz nose.
I sigh. And I laugh. Of course, I left my purse. My first day of being homeless would have been way too easy if I’d had a purse with me.
“I’m sorry,” I say to the cab driver, who is now loading my second piece of luggage. “I changed my mind. I don’t need a cab right now.”
I know there’s a hotel about a half-mile from here. If I can just work up the courage to go back inside and get my purse, I’ll walk there and get a room until I figure out what to do. It’s not as if I can get any wetter.
The driver takes the suitcases back out of the cab, sets them on the curb in front of me, and walks back to the driver’s side without ever making eye contact. He just gets into his car and drives away, as if my canceling is a relief.
Do I look that pathetic?
I take my suitcases and walk back to where I was seated before I realized I was purseless. I glance up to my apartment and wonder what would happen if I went back there to get my wallet. I sort of left things in a mess when I walked out the door. I guess I’d rather be homeless in the rain than go back up there.
I take a seat on my luggage again and contemplate my situation. I could pay someone to go upstairs for me. But who? No one’s outside, and who’s to say Hunter or Tori would even give the person my purse?
This really sucks. I know I’m going to have to end up calling one of my friends, but right now, I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone how clueless I’ve been for the last two years. I’ve been completely blindsided.
I already hate being twenty-two, and I still have 364 more days to go.
It sucks so bad that I’m . . . crying?
Great. I’m crying now. I’m a purseless, crying, violent, homeless girl. And as much as I don’t want to admit it, I think I might also be heartbroken.
Yep. Sobbing now. Pretty sure this must be what it feels like to have your heart broken.
“It’s raining. Hurry up.”
I glance up to see a girl hovering over me. She’s holding an umbrella over her head and looking down at me with agitation while she hops from one foot to the other, waiting for me to do something. “I’m getting soaked. Hurry.”
Her voice is a little demanding, as if she’s doing me some sort of favor and I’m being ungrateful. I arch an eyebrow as I look up at her, shielding the rain from my eyes with my hand. I don’t know why she’s complaining about getting wet, when there isn’t much clothing to get wet. She’s wearing next to nothing. I glance at her shirt, which is missing its entire bottom half, and realize she’s in a Hooters outfit.
Could this day get any weirder? I’m sitting on almost everything I own in a torrential downpour, being bossed around by a bitchy Hooters waitress.
I’m still staring at her shirt when she grabs my hand and pulls me up in a huff. “Ridge said you would do this. I’ve got to get to work. Follow me, and I’ll show you where the apartment is.” She grabs one of my suitcases, pops the handle out, and shoves it at me. She takes the other and walks swiftly out of the courtyard. I follow her, for no other reason than the fact that she’s taken one of my suitcases with her and I want it back.
She yells over her shoulder as she begins to ascend the stairwell. “I don’t know how long you plan on staying, but I’ve only got one rule. Stay the hell out of my room.”
She reaches an apartment and opens the door, never even looking back to see if I’m following her. Once I reach the top of the stairs, I pause outside the apartment and look down
I shake my head, look away, then take a hesitant step inside the unfamiliar apartment. The layout is similar to my own apartment, only this one is a double split bedroom with four total bedrooms. My and Tori’s apartment only had two bedrooms, but the living rooms are the same size.
The only other noticeable difference is that I don’t see any lying, backstabbing, bloody-nosed whores standing in this one. Nor do I see any of Tori’s dirty dishes or laundry lying around.
The girl sets my suitcase down beside the door, then steps aside and waits for me to . . . well, I don’t know what she’s waiting for me to do.
She rolls her eyes and grabs my arm, pulling me out of the doorway and further into the apartment. “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you even speak?” She begins to close the door behind her but pauses and turns around, wide-eyed. She holds her finger up in the air. “Wait,” she says. “You’re not . . .” She rolls her eyes and smacks herself in the forehead. “Oh, my God, you’re deaf.”
Huh? What the hell is wrong with this girl? I shake my head and start to answer her, but she interrupts me.
“God, Bridgette,” she mumbles to herself. She rubs her hands down her face and groans, completely ignoring the fact that I’m shaking my head. “You’re such an insensitive bitch sometimes.”
Wow. This girl has some serious issues in the people-skills department. She’s sort of a bitch, even though she’s making an effort not to be one. Now that she thinks I’m deaf. I don’t even know how to respond. She shakes her head as if she’s disappointed in herself, then looks straight at me.
“I . . . HAVE . . . TO . . . GO . . . TO . . . WORK . . . NOW!” she yells very loudly and painfully slowly. I grimace and step back, which should be a huge clue that I can hear her practically yelling, but she doesn’t notice. She points to a door at the end of the hallway. “RIDGE . . . IS . . . IN . . . HIS . . . ROOM!”
Before I have a chance to tell her she can stop yelling, she leaves the apartment and closes the door behind her.
I have no idea what to think. Or what to do now. I’m standing, soaking wet, in the middle of an unfamiliar apartment, and the only person besides Hunter and Tori whom I feel like punching is now just a few feet away in another room. And speaking of Ridge, why the hell did he send his psycho Hooters girlfriend to get me? I take out my phone and have begun to text him when his bedroom door opens.
He walks out into the hallway with an armful of blankets and a pillow. As soon as he makes eye contact with me, I gasp. I hope it’s not a noticeable gasp. It’s just that I’ve never actually seen him up close before, and he’s even better-looking from just a few feet away than he is from across an apartment courtyard.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen eyes that can actually speak. I’m not sure what I mean by that. It just seems as if he could shoot me the tiniest glance with those dark eyes of his, and I’d know exactly what they needed me to do. They’re piercing and intense and—oh, my God, I’m staring.
The corner of his mouth tilts up in a knowing smile as he passes me and heads straight for the couch.
Despite his appealing and slightly innocent-looking face, I want to yell at him for being so deceitful. He shouldn’t have waited more than two weeks to tell me. I would have had a chance to plan all this out a little better. I don’t understand how we could have had two weeks’ worth of conversations without his feeling the need to tell me that my boyfriend and my best friend were screwing.
Ridge throws the blankets and the pillow onto the couch.
“I’m not staying here, Ridge,” I say, attempting to stop him from wasting time with his hospitality. I know he feels bad for me, but I hardly know him, and I’d feel a lot more comfortable in a hotel room than sleeping on a strange couch.
Then again, hotel rooms require money.
Something I don’t have on me at the moment.
Something that’s inside my purse, across the courtyard, in an apartment with the only two people in the world I don’t want to see right now.
Maybe a couch isn’t such a bad idea after all.
He gets the couch made up and turns around, dropping his eyes to my soaking-wet clothes. I look down at the puddle of water I’m creating in the middle of his floor.
“Oh, sorry,” I mutter. My hair is matted to my face; my shirt is now a see-through pathetic excuse for a barrier between the outside world and my very pink, very noticeable bra. “Where’s your bathroom?”
He nods his head toward the bathroom door.
I turn around, unzip a suitcase, and begin to rummage through it while Ridge walks back into his bedroom. I’m glad he doesn’t ask me questions about what happened after our conversation earlier. I’m not in the mood to talk about it.
I select a pair of yoga pants and a tank top, then grab my bag of toiletries and head to the bathroom. It disturbs me that everything about this apartment reminds me of my own, with just a few subtle differences. This is the same bathroom with the Jack-and-Jill doors on the left and right, leading to the two bedrooms that adjoin it. One is Ridge’s, obviously. I’m curious about who the other bedroom belongs to but not curious enough to open it. The Hooters girl’s one rule was to stay the hell out of her room, and she doesn’t seem like the type to kid around.
I shut the door that leads to the living room and lock it, then check the locks on both doors to the bedrooms to make sure no one can walk in. I have no idea if anyone lives in this apartment other than Ridge and the Hooters girl, but I don’t want to chance it.
I pull off my sopping clothes and throw them into the sink to avoid soaking the floor. I turn on the shower and wait until the water gets warm, then step in. I stand under the stream of water and close my eyes, thankful that I’m not still sitting outside in the rain. At the same time, I’m not really happy to be where I am, either.
I never expected my twenty-second birthday to end with me showering in a strange apartment and sleeping on a couch that belongs to a guy I’ve barely known for two weeks, all at the hands of the two people I cared about and trusted the most.
TWO WEEKS EARLIER
I slide open my balcony door and step outside, thankful that the sun has already dipped behind the building next door, cooling the air to what could pass as a perfect fall temperature. Almost on cue, the sound of his guitar floats across the courtyard as I take a seat and lean back into the patio lounger. I tell Tori I come out here to get homework done, because I don’t want to admit that the guitar is the only reason I’m outside every night at eight, like clockwork.
For weeks now, the guy in the apartment across the courtyard has sat on his balcony and played for at least an hour. Every night, I sit outside and listen.
I’ve noticed a few other neighbors come out to their balconies when he’s playing, but no one is as loyal as I am. I don’t understand how someone could hear these songs and not crave them day after day. Then again, music has always been a passion of mine, so maybe I’m just a little more infatuated with his sound than other people are. I’ve played the piano for as long as I can remember, and although I’ve never shared it with anyone, I love writing music. I even switched my major to music education two years ago. My plan is to be an elementary music teacher, although if my father had his way, I’d still be prelaw.
“A life of mediocrity is a waste of a life,” he said when I informed him that I was changing my major.
A life of mediocrity. I find that more amusing than insulting, since he seems to be the most dissatisfied person I’ve ever known. And he’s a lawyer. Go figure.
One of the familiar songs ends and the guy with the guitar begins to play something he’s never played before. I’ve grown ac
I lean forward in the chair, rest my arms on the edge of the balcony, and watch him. His balcony is directly across the courtyard, far enough away that I don’t feel weird when I watch him but close enough that I make sure I’m never watching him when Hunter’s around. I don’t think Hunter would like the fact that I’ve developed a tiny crush on this guy’s talent.
I can’t deny it, though. Anyone who watches how passionately this guy plays would crush on his talent. The way he keeps his eyes closed the entire time, focusing intently on every stroke against every guitar string. I like it best when he sits cross-legged with the guitar upright between his legs. He pulls it against his chest and plays it like a stand-up bass, keeping his eyes closed the whole time. It’s so mesmerizing to watch him that sometimes I catch myself holding my breath, and I don’t even realize I’m doing it until I’m gasping for air.
It also doesn’t help that he’s cute. At least, he seems cute from here. His light brown hair is unruly and moves with him, falling across his forehead every time he looks down at his guitar. He’s too far away to distinguish eye color or distinct features, but the details don’t matter when coupled with the passion he has for his music. There’s a confidence to him that I find compelling. I’ve always admired musicians who are able to tune out everyone and everything around them and pour all of their focus into their music. To be able to shut the world off and allow yourself to be completely swept away is something I’ve always wanted the confidence to do, but I just don’t have it.
This guy has it. He’s confident and talented. I’ve always been a sucker for musicians, but more in a fantasy way. They’re a different breed. A breed that rarely makes for good boyfriends.
He glances at me as if he can hear my thoughts, and then a slow grin appears across his face. He never once pauses the song while he continues to watch me. The eye contact makes me blush, so I drop my arms and pull my notebook back onto my lap and look down at it. I hate that he just caught me staring so hard. Not that I was doing anything wrong; it just feels odd for him to know I was watching him. I glance up again, and he’s still watching me, but he’s not smiling anymore. The way he’s staring causes my heart to speed up, so I look away and focus on my notebook.
Way to be a creeper, Sydney.