Home > The Roommate

The Roommate
Author: Rosie Danan

 

For Micah Benson.

   You’re the reason my characters get the love they deserve.

 

 

chapter one

 


   WHEN THE MAN of her dreams ran a hand across his devastatingly handsome face and said, “I have to tell you something, and I don’t want you to freak out,” Clara Wheaton considered, for the first time, the alarming possibility that she could get dumped by someone she’d never managed to date.

   She cursed her wicked ancestors as she glared at the pineapple-scented air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror of Everett Bloom’s Jeep Wrangler.

   No matter how many lines she’d fed her mother’s friends back in Greenwich about “pursuing fresh career opportunities,” she’d moved across the country because part of her believed she stood a chance at winning Everett’s heart after fourteen years of pining.

   “I rented my room out for the summer,” he said, the words both gentle and firm, the way someone might confess to a child that Santa wasn’t real.

   “You . . . rented your room?” Clara’s response came slowly, comprehension dawning with each syllable. “The one you offered me two weeks ago?” If he hadn’t been driving, and her mother hadn’t made her memorize the etiquette of Emily Post in her adolescence, she might have lunged at him.

   She’d broken the lease on her apartment in Manhattan, left behind her friends and family, and turned down a curatorial internship at the Guggenheim. All for . . . nothing?

   Even compared to generations of storied Wheaton family scandals, surely this nosedive into misadventure could claim a land speed record.

   The palm trees they passed along the freeway mocked her, a hallmark of the Hollywood happy ending slipping between her fingers.

   She hadn’t even unpacked her suitcases . . . an undigested airport pretzel still floated somewhere below her diaphragm. How could Everett already be saying good-bye?

   “No, hey wait, no. I didn’t rent your room.” His signature lazy smile—the same one she’d fallen for the moment his family moved in next door all those years ago—dropped back into place. “I rented the master. The band got an offer to go on tour last minute. Nothing too wild, but we’re opening for a blues band outside Santa Fe with this crazy cool sound, and Trent bought a sick van to haul the equipment . . .”

   His careless words sent her straight back to high school. How many times after his social standing skyrocketed in tenth grade had Everett canceled plans with her in favor of band practice? How many times since then had he looked over her shoulder instead of into her eyes when she tried to talk to him?

   No one would believe she’d earned two advanced degrees from Ivy League institutions only to end up this stupid.

   “Who rented the room?” Clara interrupted his detailed description of the tour van’s vintage fenders.

   “What? Oh, the room. Don’t worry. He’s this super nice guy. Josh something. Found him on the Internet a few days ago. Very chill.” He waved a hand in her general direction. “You’re gonna love him.”

   She closed her eyes so he wouldn’t see them roll toward the sunroof. No matter how many times she considered the lengths she would go to in her quest to finally win Everett Bloom’s affection, she’d never imagined this.

   He turned the car onto a street proudly sporting a rainbow crosswalk. “Listen, I’ll drop you off and give you my keys and stuff, but then I gotta head right out. We’re supposed to be in New Mexico by Friday.” The last traces of apology ebbed with his words.

   Clara watched his fingers, the ones she’d often imagined running through her hair in a tender caress, resume their furious beat on the steering wheel. She searched for any trace of her childhood best friend underneath his aloof veneer and came up short.

   Pain burned beneath her breastbone. Somewhere in her bloodline, a Wheaton had crossed Fate, cursing his descendants to pay the price. That was the only explanation for why, the one and only time Clara had taken a leap of faith, she’d landed with a spectacular belly flop.

   She dragged a deep breath into her lungs. There had to be a way to salvage this whole thing.

   “How long will you be gone?” If there was one thing she’d learned from her ne’er-do-well family, it was damage control.

   “Hard to say.” Everett pulled the Jeep up to a Spanish-style rancher in desperate need of a new coat of paint. “At least three months. We’ve got tour dates through August.”

   “Are you sure you can’t wait a few days to leave?” She hated the note of pleading that bled into her question. “I don’t know anyone else in Los Angeles.”

   A face from the past, blurry through the lens of adolescent memory, flashed through her mind before she pushed it away. “I don’t have a job here yet. Hell, I don’t even have a car.” She tried to laugh, to lighten the mood, but what came out sounded more like a grunt.

   Everett frowned. “I’m sorry, Cee. I know I promised to help you get settled, but this is a huge break for the band. You get that, right?” He reached over and squeezed her hand. “Look, this doesn’t have to change the plan we made. Everything I said over the phone is still true. This move, California, getting out from under your mother’s thumb . . . It’ll all be good for you.”

   He held his palm out for a high five in a long-familiar gesture. They might as well have been back in homeroom cramming for the SATs. Reluctantly, she completed the unspoken request.

   “L.A. is summer vacation from real life. Relax and have fun. I’ll be back before you know it.”

   Fun? She wanted to scream. Fun was a luxury for people with less to lose, but like generations of Wheaton women before her, Clara resigned herself to silent fuming instead of confrontation.

   If a friend had told her a week ago that they planned to move across the country and give up a better life than most people could lay claim to for a shot with a guy—even a particularly handsome guy—Clara would have invested significant energy into trying to stop them. That’s insane, she might have said. It’s always easy when the shoe is on the other foot. No one from Greenwich knew the consequences of an ill-conceived impulse better than a Wheaton. Unfortunately, like grain alcohol, unrequited love grows more potent with time.

   Everett unloaded her bags from the back of the Wrangler and hugged her—too tight and too fast to provide much comfort. “I’ll call you from the road in a couple of days to make sure you’re settled.” He fumbled with his key ring.

   Clara stared at her own hand with detachment as he pressed the small piece of metal into her palm. The urge to run, primal and nonsensical, sang under her skin.

   She had two choices. She could call a cab, book a seat on the next flight back to JFK, and try to rebuild her old life, piece by piece.

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