Home > Under One Roof (The STEMinist Novellas #1)

Under One Roof (The STEMinist Novellas #1)
Author: Ali Hazelwood

 


Prologue


   Present

   I look at the pile of dishes in the sink and reach a painful realization: I’ve got it bad.

   Actually, scratch that. I already knew I had it bad. But if I hadn’t, this would be a dead giveaway: the fact that I cannot glance at a colander and twelve dirty forks without seeing Liam’s dark eyes as he leans against the counter, arms crossed on his chest; without hearing his stern-yet-teasing voice asking me, “Postmodern installation art? Or are we just out of soap?”

   It comes right on the trail of arriving home late and noticing that he left the porch light on for me. That one . . . oh, that one always makes my heart hiccup in a half-lovely, half-wrenching way. Also heart-hiccup inducing: I remember to turn it off once I’m inside. Very unlike me, and possibly a sign that the chia seed sludge he’s been making me for breakfast in the mornings when I’m late for work is actually making my brain smarter.

   It’s good that I’ve decided to move out. For the best. These heart hiccups are not sustainable in the long term, not to my mental or cardiovascular health. I’m only a humble beginner at this whole pining thing, but I can safely state that living with some guy you used to hate and somehow ended up slipping in love with is not a wise move. Trust me, I have a doctorate.

   (In a totally unrelated field, but still.)

   You know what is good about the pining? The constant nervous energy. It has me looking at the pile of dishes and thinking that cleaning the kitchen could be a fun activity. When Liam enters the room, I’m riding the unexpected urge to load the dishwasher as far as it will carry me. I glance up at him, notice the way he nearly fills the doorframe, and order my heart not to hiccup. It does it anyway—even adds a flip for good measure.

   My heart’s a jackass.

   “You’re probably wondering if a sniper is forcing me to do the dishes at gunpoint.” I beam at Liam without really expecting him to smile back, because—Liam. He’s next to impossible to read, but I’ve long stopped trying to see his amusement, and I just let myself feel it. It’s nice, and warm, and I want to bathe in it. I want to make him shake his head, and say “Mara” in that tone of his, and laugh against his better judgment. I want to push up on my toes, reach out to fix the dark strand of hair on his forehead, burrow into his chest to smell the clean, delicious smell of his skin.

   But I doubt he wants any of that. So I turn back to rinse a cereal bowl hiding under the colander.

   “I figured you were being mind-controlled by those parasitic spores we saw on that documentary.” His voice is low. Rich. I will miss it so, so much.

   “Those were barnacles— See, I knew you fell asleep halfway.” He doesn’t reply. Which is fine, because—Liam. A man of few smiles and even fewer words. “So, you know the neighbors’ puppy? That French bulldog? He must have gotten away during a walk, because I just saw him run toward me in the middle of the street. Leash hanging from his neck and all.” I reach out for a towel and my hand bumps into him. He’s standing right behind me now. “Oops. Sorry. Anyway, I carried him back home and he was so cute . . .”

   I stop. Because all of a sudden Liam is not just standing behind me. I’m being crowded against the sink, the edge of the counter pressed into my hip bones, and there’s a tall wall of heat flat against my back.

   Oh my God.

   Is he . . . Did he trip? He must have tripped. This is an accident.

   “Liam?”

   “This okay, Mara?” he asks, but he doesn’t move away. He stays right where he is, front pressed against my back, hands against the counter on each side of my hips, and . . . Is this some kind of lucid dream? Is this a heart-hiccup-generated cardiovascular event? Is my brain converting my most shameful nighttime fantasies into hallucinations?

   “Liam?” I whimper, because he is nuzzling my hair. Right above my temple, with his nose and maybe even his mouth, and it seems deliberate. Very much not an accident. Is he—? No. No, surely not.

   But his hands spread on my belly, and that’s what tips me off that this is different. This doesn’t feel like one of those accidental brushing of arms in the hallway, the ones I’ve been telling myself to stop obsessing over. It doesn’t feel like that time I tripped over my computer cord and almost stumbled into his lap, and it doesn’t feel like him gently holding my wrist to check how badly I burned my thumb while cooking on the stove. This feels . . . “Liam?”

   “Shh.” I feel his lips at my temple, warm and reassuring. “Everything’s okay, Mara.”

   Something hot and liquid begins to coil at the bottom of my belly.

 

 

Chapter 1


   Six months ago

   “Frankly, They get on like a house on fire is the most misleading saying in the English language. Faulty wiring? Misuse of heating equipment? Suspected arson? Not evocative of two people getting along in the least. You know what a house on fire has me picturing? Bazookas. Flamethrowers. Sirens in the distance. Because nothing is more guaranteed to start a house fire than two enemies blowtorching each other’s most prized possession. Want to trigger an explosion? Being nice to your roommate is not going to do it. Lighting a match on top of their kerosene-soaked handmade quilt, on the other hand—”

   “Miss?” The Uber driver turns, looking guilty about interrupting my pre-apocalyptic spiel. “Just a heads-up—we’re about five minutes from your destination.”

   I smile an apologetic Thank you and glance back at my phone. My two best friends’ faces take up the entire screen. Then, on the upper corner there’s me: more frowny than usual (well justified), more pasty than usual (is that even possible?), more ginger than usual (must be the filter, right?).

   “That’s a totally fair take, Mara,” Sadie says with a puzzled expression, “and I encourage you to submit your, um, very valid complaints to Madame Merriam-Webster or whoever’s in charge of these matters, but . . . I literally only asked you how the funeral went.”

   “Yes, Mara—how’d—funeral—go—?” The quality on Hannah’s end of the call is pitiful, but that’s business as usual.

   This, I suppose, is what happens when you meet your best friends in grad school: One minute you’re happy as a clam, clutching your shiny brand-new engineering diploma, giggling your way through a fifth round of Midori sours. The next you’re in tears, because you’re all going separate ways. FaceTime becomes as necessary as oxygen. There are zero neon-green cocktails in sight. Your slightly deranged monologues don’t happen in the privacy of the apartment you share, but in the semipublic backseat of an Uber, while you’re on your way to have a very, very weird conversation.

   See, that’s the thing I hate the most about adulting: at some point, one has to start doing it. Sadie is designing fancy eco-sustainable buildings in New York City. Hannah is freezing her butt off at some Arctic research station NASA put up in Norway. And as for me . . .

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