Jock Romeo by Sara Ney

4

LILLY

It’s Sunday.

It’s Sunday and I’ve spent my free time this entire weekend—between practice, cheering, and working out—painstakingly gluing this award back into its rightful shape. I had to research online to see what the thing is actually supposed to look like, and I must say, I did a pretty dang good job replicating it considering I had nothing to go on but broken glass.

It wasn’t easy making it resemble its former self, but luckily, a bunch of the pieces were intact enough that Roman’s name is visible.

Legible.

Sort of?

The rest is hodgepodge.

I’m not sure what his full name actually is because the letters of his last name appear to be missing from the shards and I wasn’t sure what his last name was to begin with—I feel like this looks okay?

I hold it up and study it in the light, tilting it this way and that. I went to the hobby store as soon as I left Eliza’s house and got some clear glitter—the super fine kind that’s more expensive and lustrous—to fill in the gaps with.

The whole thing sparkles like a diamond.

I’d even added a few clear rhinestones to the back to patch up a few holes. It looks like a trophy that would be presented during a lip-syncing competition or as a white elephant gift, but at least he will still have it to display on his shelf.

All in all, I’m quite pleased.

Laying it out on my desk, I roll it in a towel so it’s safe when I put it back into its box. Clean up the mess I’ve made in my bedroom, getting out the vacuum and rolling it back and forth across the carpet beneath the desk.

My roommate sticks her head in the room and watches me until she catches my eye and I turn off the loud vacuum.

“Want to come do my room next?” she teases, although I have a feeling there’s a bit of truth to her question—Kaylee would gladly allow me to do the cleaning in the entire house, including her bedroom.

“Yeah right,” I tease back. “Should I do your windows too?”

I hate cleaning. There is no way on this earth I’m doing her windows, let alone her carpet. The dust on my shelves is the same dust that has been there since the day we moved in.

“Sure, why not?” She leans against the doorjamb. “What on earth are you doing anyway? You’ve been in here for hours.”

I have been, and now I am starving.

“I was crafting.” Finished with the carpet, I wind the cord before hanging it back on the handle of the vacuum. “I was working on something for a friend, and now I have to go take it over to his place.”

“Oh a friend? Is this a male friend?”

I did just say his place.

And she says it in that way, her tone implying there is more to this male than friendship—but she would be wrong, and I suppose I’m not really in the mood for her banter.

“Eliza and Jack have a new roommate, and he broke a glass trophy when he was moving in so I decided I was going to fix it up for him.”

“Let me see.”

I don’t mind letting her look, especially since piecing everything back together was a lot of work—I don’t mind showing it off to her.

I’m shocked, however, that Kaylee made no comment when I mentioned Eliza and Jack.

See, the three of them have a history, and not a positive one.

I mentioned a few times that Eliza used to be my roommate; well, Kaylee is the reason she’s no longer living in this house. Kaylee is the reason we have an empty room. Some people might blame Jack and Eliza—they began liking each other when Kaylee and Jack were talking.

Never fooled around or anything, had never even gone on an official date. But Kaylee met him first and befriended him first and had a crush on him first—which means she automatically considered him…hers. She found him so no one else could keep him.

The night she found out Eliza had befriended Jack, things went downhill, and shortly thereafter?

Our trio became a duo.

Carefully unfolding the newly repaired trophy, I set it down gently in the center of my desk, aware that my roommate is sometimes critical of things she doesn’t understand.

As if on cue, she wrinkles up her nose.

“What on earth is that supposed to be?”

“Judging by your tone, I gather you aren’t impressed with my skills.” I laugh, wiping a smudge off the center name plate.

“Um, maybe I’d be impressed if I knew what it was.”

“It’s an award he won for a scholarship—a very prestigious scholarship.” Pride laces my tone for a guy I’ve only just met, and I feel strangely protective.

“It looks fancy. Is it for like, yachting or something?”

Wow.

Not even close.

“No, it’s an academic scholarship. He won a semester at Cambridge University in England.”

Kaylee is also not impressed by this information.

“Oh, so he’s a nerd?”

A nerd?

What is she, ten?

“I wouldn’t call him a nerd. He won this because he’s smart.”

Smart may be putting it mildly; I have a suspicion Roman is actually brilliant and was downplaying the significance of his award. I did a little bit of digging while I was researching photographs of the award online to get an idea of how to reconstruct it and discovered very few college students in the United States receive the honor.

If no eligible applicants apply, there have been years no one has won it.

Furthermore, it’s not easy to gain entrance into Cambridge.

Like, at all.

I take offense at Kaylee’s criticism and comments about Roman and bristle, straightening my spine.

What an asshole.

I say none of these things out loud, because pissing her off has consequences I’m not in the mood to deal with—those or the bad attitude that usually follows. So I zip my lips and study the trophy anew.

It shines like a disco ball, and while I love it and think it turned out great, he’ll probably be horrified by the shininess. Then again, perhaps he’ll also love it in its new form?

One can hope!

“You made that?” Kaylee’s voice is laced with disdain—it sounds as if she’s eating a sour lemon.

I shake my head. “I didn’t make it. I just told you—it broke and I’m fixing it. He dropped the box it was in and it shattered and I felt absolutely terrible.”

“Is this a guy you’re interested in? Do you like him? As more than a friend?”

Is she serious? I just discovered my boyfriend of four months was cheating on me and she honestly believes I’m going to put myself back on the dating market so soon afterward? I’m beginning to think she doesn’t know me well at all.

“No, he’s just a really nice guy.”

She considers this, and I know doing something nice for someone for no reason and getting nothing in return is a difficult concept for her to understand. It’s not a concept she is used to.

“So you don’t want to date anybody?”

I’m failing to understand how, from her perspective, me fixing this jazzy award and turning it from nothing back into something is somehow me wanting this guy to take me on a date.

Not to judge her, but she has led a charmed life; she’s a very spoiled person, and I want her out of my room. Taking the towel I had the trophy wrapped up in, I spread it back out on the surface of my desk then gingerly lay the award on top of it and fold it like a burrito.

Or a swaddled baby.

Back in the box it goes, away from her perusal.

I make a show of putting on my sneakers and shrugging into a hoodie, grabbing my car keys off of the hook near my door. “I think I’m going to run this back over to him. The glue is dry enough, and I can’t wait for him to see it.”

“Whatever floats your boat.” She gets one last word in before disappearing down the hallway and retreating to her own bedroom.

I wait for the sound of her door closing before hefting the box and cautiously carrying it through the kitchen and out the side door. I set it on the ground while I unlock my car then place it in the back seat, using the seat belt to strap it in. God forbid I have to hit the brakes on my ride to Roman’s place and the damn thing breaks all over again.

Can you even imagine?

That would be my luck.

The house is quiet when I arrive, pulling into the short driveway and parking my car in front of the detached garage. Jack’s truck is gone and my ex-roommate doesn’t have a car of her own, so I’m not sure if anyone will be home. I have no idea and no way of knowing if the Jeep parked on the curb belongs to Roman or one of the neighbors.

I retrieve the box baby from the back seat. Smooth back the hair escaping from my ponytail before knocking on the front door. Wait a few seconds before pressing the glowing button for the doorbell. No sound comes from inside the house, and there don’t appear to be any lights on, at least not on the first floor.

Just as I give up and turn to go back to my car, the front door is pulled open.

It’s Roman.

And he looks as if he’s about to go somewhere, denim jacket covering a collared shirt he has tucked into dark jeans. His unkempt hair has been combed into a tidy style, and I will admit he kind of looks…cute?

Or perhaps I’m just surprised.

When we met, he looked as if he’d just run ten laps around a race track: exhausted, tired, and messy.

“I’m sorry,” I hasten to apologize. “Are you about to go somewhere?”

It’s none of your business, Lilly!

His eyes flit back and forth between my face and the box I’m holding in my arms, cradling it like the precious cargo it is.

He stuffs his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “Actually, yeah. I’m headed to my parents’ place for Sunday dinner.”

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” Technically I haven’t done anything wrong and therefore there’s no need to actually apologize—I just feel like an idiot for standing here holding a box in the middle of the afternoon, unannounced.

He looks as awkward about it as I feel. “Is that what I think it is?”

“Oh!” I remember the award in my hands, inside the box, inside the towel. “Yes! I’m done putting everything back together.” Then, because I feel a babble coming on… “It’s like Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall.”

Er.

Sort of.

But not really.

“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men…er…”

Stop talking, Lilly.

Couldn’t put Humpty together again?”

“Yes. But as soon as I said it, I realized it doesn’t actually make sense.” I laugh nervously, holding up the box for him to take.

“I got what you meant.” He smiles warmly.

What a nice guy.

Stepping out of the doorway, he invites me in with a sweep of his hand. “Wanna come in?”

“You have to leave and I don’t want to keep you. Here.” I hold out the box so he can take it—and he does, but he still insists I come inside.

“There’s no rush. It’s just spaghetti, and it doesn’t take me long to get there.”

The box is in his arms now instead of mine, and I brush past him, stepping hesitantly up into the foyer.

It feels strange being here without Eliza—as if I’m invading her space or something, crashing the house to see her roommate and not her, though my intentions are pure.

Obviously.

Still, the house is almost eerily quiet, not a single peep. “Is everyone gone?”

Roman nods, closing the door behind me and locking it. I imagine when he leaves he’ll go out the side door next to the garage. “Jack took Eliza to see some stand-up comedian who’s doing a show downtown. They’ll probably be home late. Maybe ten?”

“Oh, he took her to a show?” I sigh wistfully. “I love that for her.”

He has nothing to say to that, nothing to say about my tone as a teeny-tiny pang of jealousy shoots through my stomach. Eliza has what I want: a boyfriend who dotes on her and treats her to nights out. I bet she got all dolled up, probably wore a dress and heels.

Er.

Or maybe not, as this is Eliza we’re talking about. She’s much more comfortable in jeans and a cute shirt or hoodie.

All I’m saying is, my last few boyfriends never did squat for me. I can’t even recall going to dinner with Kyle—the nicest thing we did for a date night was the movies and the burger place next to campus, and that place is a bar.

Well. He’s in the past, and I’m moving forward.

I’m going to find me a guy like Jack…

Honest and fun and considerate. At least, I’m assuming Jack is all those things, which I’m judging solely by the way he looks at Eliza and speaks to her. I’ve gleaned a lot about him in the short time I’ve seen them together as a couple. Plus, Eliza is a young woman of conviction, and I know the reason she hasn’t dated anyone before Jack is because she would never put up with the same shit I’ve tolerated.

Her backbone is stronger, but I’m working on mine.

As I follow Roman through the house, he flips on the kitchen light before setting the box on the counter.

“I assume you brought this for me?” He taps the top of it with two fingers.

“Yes, it’s your award.” I wring my hands. “I’ve been working on it religiously since taking it back to my place.”

He nods. “Let’s check it out then.”

Roman is smiling as he begins tentatively prying open the top of the box I put packing tape on, sealing the flaps down as though I were sending the item on a cross-country journey.

He is tall enough to peer inside before his hands dig around, reaching to carefully grasp it between two very large hands.

I do my best not to stare.

You are not looking for a boyfriend, Lilly—you’re not even looking for a boy that’s a friend. Stop looking at him.

Lifting it out slowly, this piece of glass wrapped in a towel, he lets out a low whistle. “Moment of truth, eh?”

I worry my bottom lip, fearful now that he’ll be disappointed—the award is much different than it looked before it was ruined (based on my research), but I’m optimistic he’ll be open-minded about the glitter and rhinestones.

Who doesn’t want some sparkle in their life?

Roman lays the award on the counter like a baby—the same way I did—peeling back the layers one by one and unrolling the swaddling. Beneath the glow of the overhead light, the newly constructed masterpiece shimmers and sparkles, and I watch his face carefully, waiting for his reaction.

His eyebrows shoot up.

Mouth opens.

Closes.

Oh god. “Do you hate it?”

Roman finally lifts his gaze—his eyes are blue—as a smile spreads slowly across his mouth.

He rightens the award, resting it vertically on the counter.

“Wow, Lilly. This is…”

Horrible.

Ugly.

Stupid.

“…awesome.”

That perks me up, and I raise my chin. “Really? You don’t hate it?”

Rather than staring at me, he’s staring at the accolade as if seeing it for the first time—which he basically is. It was like a puzzle being pieced back together; all it required was patience and lots of super glue.

“No, I don’t hate it. This is amazing.” His hands hoist it up and his eyes inspect it. “Is this glitter glue or just glue you put glitter on?”

“Um, both,” I admit, face turning red as I put my fingers to my forehead. “My bedroom is an absolute mess. I’m going to have glitter everywhere for months.”

Roman studies my face, gaze going to my hairline. “You have some there. And there.” He points to it but doesn’t touch me.

“I love anything that sparkles,” I confess sheepishly, embarrassed that I am a grown adult who loves to craft. “I usually don’t have time for it.” This project fueled my soul for the short time it took me to complete it, in a way that cheerleading does not.

I should do it more often; maybe I should even consider taking an art class at the rec center—Lord knows I’d never be able to take one through the university. My mother would kill me. There’s no chance in hell she would be willing to pay tuition costs for me to putter.

“You should do it more often—craft, I mean. This—what you’ve done—is incredible. Why don’t you take an art class somewhere?”

Is he a mind reader?

I stare at him again, stupefied. “Get out of my brain.” I laugh. “I would, but my parents would never go for it.”

He’s quiet, thinking to himself, brows furrowing. His head nods slowly. “Sure, I get that.”

Self-consciously, I’m aware of the sky darkening outside, the intimate setting, the closeness of our bodies as we stand in this space, surrounded by complete silence.

It’s getting late.

“I should go.”

“You don’t have to rush out.”

Nor do I want to.

Leave, that is.

The truth is, I don’t want to go back to my house—Kaylee is still home and she’s in a mood, and even if I hang out in my bedroom, the vibes lingering in the air will be weird.

But Roman is being polite, and I should say my goodbyes and be on my merry way.

“Do you want to come to Sunday dinner with my family? My mom said I could bring my new roommates,” Roman blurts out, the invitation coming out of nowhere. “Shit. Sorry, I’m not trying to be creepy.”

I tilt my head. “What are you having?” Wait…what am I even talking about? No, no, no—I cannot go to some random dude’s parents’ house for dinner, some dude I just met. No.

“Spaghetti.”

Duh, he said that already. Why does he make me so nervous that I forget myself?

“Spaghetti is my weakness and it’s sweet of you to offer, but I really shouldn’t.”

His shoulders fall, but in a relieved kind of way. “Are you sure? It doesn’t seem like you want to be alone.”

We just met; how does this person keep reading my thoughts? “I can’t ambush your family because I don’t want to go home—that would be so weird.”

I’m a grown-up; I can handle a salty roommate. Besides, it’s not as if Kaylee hasn’t been difficult before.

Dozens of times, actually.

“But do you want to be alone tonight?”

He knows I’ve had a rough go of it lately, and he’s being kind.

I shrug. “I wouldn’t technically be alone if I went home. My roommate is there. It’s just…she’s in a funk, which makes the mood at the house…” I search for the words. “Off.

Off.

That’s putting it mildly. When Kaylee is in a funk or a snit, she tends to make everyone else miserable. I could tell earlier when she came into my room she was itching to start an argument—about what, I do not know.

“She makes the mood off? What does that mean?”

“It’s girl speak for ‘The whole house feels weird and I have to tiptoe around because any little thing can set her off.’” She’s probably getting her period, though I wouldn’t dare say that to her face.

She’d metaphorically scratch my eyes out.

“Why don’t you hang out here?”

“I can’t just hang out here.” Pause. “You don’t think that would be weird?”

Roman’s wide shoulders rise and fall in a shrug. “I’m sure Eliza and Jack wouldn’t mind if you stayed here a while until you wanted to go home.”

No, Eliza wouldn’t mind—she’s as kind and giving as a person could be—but would it be weird if I just hung out with no one here?

The idea has merit: lie low until Kaylee’s mood swings back into a congenial direction. I have no studying to do—well, there is always studying to do, but I have nothing with me—and there is a new show streaming I wouldn’t mind bingeing.

Kaylee and I had to get rid of a few monthly subscriptions after she kicked Eliza out; we’re on a tighter budget until we can find a new roommate, so I haven’t caught up on my favorites on an actual television.

“Know what? I think I’ll take you up on that offer and stay.”

Roman locates a set of car keys on the counter near the side door. “This door has a keypad so it’ll lock automatically when you leave, if you leave while we’re gone. I…um…” He glances down at his feet. “I’ll be gone about two hours. I’m just doing dinner. Feel free to do whatever, and my room is upstairs if you’d rather watch the TV in there.”

“I won’t read your diary.” Ha! “I pinky promise.”

I hold out my hand so he can wrap his smallest finger around mine, but instead, he just stares down at my hand.

“Thanks a lot for doing this.” Roman puts his hand on the base of the award still sitting in the center of the counter, thumb now brushing against the smooth glass. A lot of it was salvageable except the top part, so it’s still distinguishingly an accolade…even though his name was part of the broken section.

“Gosh, I was so happy to. I feel terrible.”

His head gives a slow shake. “It wasn’t your fault I dropped the box.”

“No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel sorry for you. The award was a really big deal, and you should have something to show for it.”

Roman taps his head the same way he tapped it the day the box fell on the ground. “Still got those memories though.”

He’s brought that up twice, which means he’s a bit sentimental. I think that’s very sweet and cute.

I don’t mention to him that as a cheerleader and someone who has competed in pageants almost her entire life, physical trophies are more important than memories—at least in my mother’s opinion. She loved nothing more than to set another gold trophy on the shelf in my bedroom; it’s almost as if she were the one winning.

Roman fumbles with his keys. “I should get going so I can get back at a decent hour—I still have some reading to do.”

It doesn’t surprise me that he will come home and study tonight, most likely into the wee hours of the morning. Unlike myself. I, on the other hand, plan to sit my lazy ass on the couch and binge whatever shows I can find that I’ve been missing.

Eventually, he goes.

I watch out the window as Roman climbs into his burgundy Jeep, turns the headlights on, buckles himself into the driver seat, and slowly pulls away from the curb. I watch until he’s no longer in sight, his taillights glowing in the dark and the evening sky covering his departure.

Well. Now I’m definitely all alone, and somehow this alone feels even lonelier than it would if I were home. I’m not familiar with this house and I’m not familiar with two of the people who live here—the only person I know, obviously, is Eliza…and I’m not sure we’re good enough friends for me to be loitering alone in her personal space.

I feel like I’m creeping.

Heading to the fridge, I pull open the door to peer at the deliciousness inside. She has way more food than I do, and I’m delighted to find leftovers on the shelf; along with those I pull out a plate of pizza that’s been covered with plastic wrap.

There are only three slices, so I put the entire thing into the microwave and hit the start button, pillaging one cabinet after the next to locate a glass for water. After I’m done warming up the food, I carry my plate and make toward the quaint living room off the kitchen where the television is. I futz around with the remote control, completely unable to figure out how to turn the darn thing on.

How hard can this be?

I hit the power button then hit it again, and the only thing that happens is the little red light on the television going on and off.

Well.

This isn’t exactly the relaxing evening away from my own place that I hoped for.

It’s dark now, but instead of turning on the light, I pick up myself and the plate—I’ve managed to inhale all the pieces of pizza in the short amount of time I’ve been screwing around with the TV—and take the plate to the kitchen, rinsing it off quickly before putting it into the dishwasher next to the sink.

Hmmm.

Should I go or should I stay?The latter seems useless if I’m just going to sit in the dark waiting awkwardly for my friends to return.

Roman told me to make myself at home, but that doesn’t mean I should actually make myself at home. Part of him was just being polite; the other half…actually that half was probably just being polite, too.

Ultimately, I decide I’m going to have a look around—Eliza didn’t give me a full tour when I was here over the weekend, mostly because Roman interrupted us then broke his award and I then exited with his box in tow.

My hand slides along the smooth wooden railing leading up to the second story where the bedrooms are, and I take the steps one by one as if in a horror movie with certain peril (i.e. bludgeoning death) waiting for me at the top of the stairs.

Lucky for me, there is a light switch at the top.

I flip it on.

The first bedroom I peek into is a small one with a desk and a couch in it, the only indication that it’s actually a spare bedroom the closet. It’s outdated with thick drapes and a gold lamp, a damask wallpaper still stuck to the walls.

I’m over to the next one, which winds up being the primary suite—at least I think it must be because the bed is huge. What’s giving me pause is the comforter, a Spider-Man quilt more suited for a young person, not a grown-up.

I know for a fact both Jack and Eliza adore comics and film and Marvel, so this does seem fitting. A giant flat-screen television is on the opposite wall, and I poke around to find the large adjacent bathroom.

There’s a big bathtub, a shower, double sinks, and a walk-in closet.

Lucky!

A bath would be so amazing right now.

I haven’t taken one in ages, and maybe it would relieve some of this tension in my shoulders. I would never actually do it, but I totally want to.

Can you imagine if I climbed into the tub, made myself at home, and then Eliza and Jack came home and I was up here bathing in a sea of bubbles?

They don’t even know I’m here. How awkward would that be? Plus, it would probably be a dramatic scene when they discover me, unannounced, lounging in their bathroom naked.

I flip off the light and exit their bedroom, retracing my steps and heading back down the hallway to check out Roman’s room. I push his door open farther before entering, a little desk lamp glowing on his bedside table.

He has managed to make it his own in a short amount of time, the shelving lining the walls already filled with awards and accolades, even a few medals draping from them. I walk over to them so I can inspect each and every one, my brows rising with interest as my eyes scan the engravings.

All of them are academic, which I already kind of assumed was the case.

On his bed is a basic comforter, but it looks really nice—expensive, even. At the foot of the bed is a trunk. Everything is neat and orderly, unlike my bedroom at home with its unorganized chaos.

I make my way over to the window so I can peer out into the backyard, down at the child’s playset the previous owners of the house left behind. It’s old and rusty and one of the chains for the swings has broken, limply falling to the ground in a heap.

I used to have a playset like this one in our backyard growing up—back when I was carefree and worry-free. Back before I started dancing and doing gymnastics, before my mother wouldn’t let me play on it anymore for fear that I would get hurt and no longer be able to perform.

She worried I would break my arm and not be able to compete in pageants, and things never got better as I grew older; she only became more controlling—your stereotypical stage mom, wanting her daughter to be famous. I don’t know what on earth she thought I would do with my life, but being in the entertainment business or being a professional dancer certainly wasn’t, isn’t, and never will be my dream come true.

We’ve already established the fact that I am only on the university’s cheerleading team so I can pay my bills.

I release the curtain, letting it fall into place before turning back to Roman’s bedroom. My fingers graze the top of his dresser, skimming along the wood the same way they grazed the banister rails. He has a small tray with change in it—a few pennies and some quarters—and a guitar pick. I glance around the room and don’t see a guitar case anywhere, and I wonder if he got this from somewhere or if he actually plays.

Next, my eyes take in a few receipts, crumpled up and discarded. A pair of black-framed glasses. A bottle of cough medicine.

And a bracelet.

A bracelet.

It’s a braided friendship bracelet, and it looks old and worn and oddly familiar—the same familiarity I felt when I first laid eyes on Roman and wondered if I knew him. The bracelet is made of my favorite colors and I used to make them all the time, painstakingly weaving them in my free time and giving them away to people, stacking them on my wrist one after the other. At one point, I had twenty-three bracelets on my arm.

I gave him this bracelet.

I gave Roman this bracelet when we were freshmen, and he kept it all these years.

Taking it from the dresser, I hold it between my fingers and sit myself down at the foot of his bed, working the fabric between my fingertips as if I were playing a tiny violin. The yarn has worn as if he’s been doing the same thing over and over these past few years.

Threadbare.

Did he recognize me last weekend when we met, down in the kitchen? Did he already know my name? He didn’t introduce himself as Rome that night at the party when we were sitting on the stairs talking, but honestly, the two variations aren’t distinctly different at all, so I’m embarrassed I didn’t make the connection.

He must think I am a ditz.

He must recognize me; I don’t look that different than I did three years ago. I mean, sure, my hair is a lot longer than it used to be, and yes, I’ve had it highlighted and dyed more times than I can count since then. But I am the same person—my face is the same, I am the same height.

Roman, on the other hand…

He’s gotten taller, a little bit bulkier, and has ditched the glasses. Not to mention his hair is longer and unkempt.

Making myself comfortable, I kick off my shoes and relax further onto his bed, positioning myself to rest against the wall. Locate the remote control for the TV and hit the power button—it goes on way easier than the living room television did.

I can’t concentrate on anything except this bracelet in my hands, and I think about it the entire time I’m lying here propped up on Roman’s fluffy pillows.

If he recognized me, why didn’t he say anything? Why did he let me think we’d never met? Does he not want to be associated with me because I’m not smart? Is he the type of guy who only associates with intellectuals socially?

I’m not completely oblivious; I know there are people like that in this world—perhaps he is one of them.

No, Roman isn’t like that. I don’t know him well at all, but…my gut tells me he is a sincere person. He comes off as very humble, with his priorities in order. Most people would’ve gotten angry or upset that their trophy was all but destroyed, but he took it in stride, not losing his cool. Trying to make Eliza and me feel better when we expressed our remorse.

That is a man with his priorities in order.

People over things.

Roman is a good person.

His room? Neat as a pin.

Tidy, like he is, except for his unruly hair.

He had it back tonight, in a kind of man-bun.

I make myself even more comfortable, flipping through the channels, readjusting the pillows beneath my back and head as if nesting. The bracelet is still in my hand, and I make a mental note to put it back before I do something stupid like fall asleep with it in my hand.

It’s completely dark now outside; I yawn, tired and still hungry, and also lonely.

I manage to find something to entertain myself, my mind whirling with possibilities. What does it mean that he kept this bracelet instead of throwing it in the trash as most guys would have done? Obviously Roman is sentimental; there are so many things in this bedroom that indicate that fact.

But it does nothing to explain why he would keep a bracelet from a random stranger, albeit a female one.

My eyelids are getting heavy as I sit here staring blankly at the television. I should probably turn on the bedroom light because the glare isn’t great for my eyesight and makes it hard to watch the program—I’m just so darn lazy and don’t want to climb out of this bed and walk the five feet to the light switch on the wall by the door.

Stomach grumbles a little.

Lids get heavier still…

Outside, the moon rises higher into the night sky above the houses in the distance, casting a little light into the bedroom but not enough to make a difference. I wonder what the man on the moon is up to tonight. Perhaps he’s just as lonely as I am. Maybe I should’ve gone to dinner with Roman; at least then I wouldn’t be sitting in this empty house by myself.

I’m sure by now Kaylee is curious about where I’ve gone, so I check my phone to see if I’ve missed any text messages from her.

Three.

Kaylee:Wanna get dinner?

Kaylee:Hello?

Kaylee:Where are you? I checked your location and don’t recognize the address. Everything okay?

I let out a yawn and tap out a lazy Came to Liza’s for something to eat.

Kaylee:Oh.

Just “Oh.” Classic Kaylee with an Oh that speaks louder than an actual sentence. It’s clearly her subtle way of disapproving without actually intoning her opinion.

Passive aggressive.

Me:You were busy when I left and I didn’t want to bug you.

Kaylee:Sure.

Me:What’d you end up eating?

Kaylee:McDonald’s.

McDonald’s? That doesn’t sound like Kaylee at all—she can’t be serious. I love McDonald’s more than the next person and eat it all the time, but my roommate does not. In fact, the last time I went for a McFish sandwich and fries during Lent because I crave them something fierce, she guilted me the whole time I was eating it to the point that I got up out of my chair and dumped the remaining part of the sandwich in the trash.

Me:Huh. Are we totally out of food?

Kaylee:No—I was feeling sorry for myself because my best friend abandoned me without telling me where she was going.

Best friends?

That’s a stretch.

I like Kaylee, but we are in no way best friends, and I’d venture to say I’m closer to Eliza than I’ve ever been to her…even when I wasn’t all that close to Eliza. The period of time I was dating Kyle, I was a bit of a shit friend to everyone. I hate to admit I was one of those girls—the kind who ignores all her friends when she starts dating someone new—but the truth is, I was.

Kyle love-bombed me from the beginning, and I fell for every second of it.

Me:Sorry I didn’t send you a message, but I told you shortly before I left that I was returning the award to Jack and Eliza’s new roommate, remember?

Kaylee:Whatever. I went to the gym after you left me all alone at the house.

Me:So you left for the gym without telling me but you’re irritated I left to come here?

Suddenly, whatever guilt I was feeling dissolves, and I take my phone and set it back on the bedside table, closing my eyes and listening to the television rather than watching it.

So peaceful here.

So comfy…