Something was wrong. I knew it the moment I walked in the door. With one hand I flicked on the light, dumping my purse onto the couch with the other. After the dimly lit hallway, the sudden glare was dazzling. Little lights flashed before my eyes. When they cleared all I saw were spaces … spaces where, just this morning, things had been.
Like the couch.
My purse hit the floor and everything came tumbling out, tampons, loose coins, pens and make-up. A stick of deodorant rolled into the corner. The now empty corner since both the TV and its cabinet were gone. My thrift store retro table and chairs remained, same with my over-flowing book case. But the bulk of the room lay bare.
“What the hell?” A stupid question, what had happened here was obvious. Across from me, my roommate’s door stood wide open. Nothing but darkness and dust bunnies in there. No point in denying it.
Skye had bailed on me.
My shoulders slumped as the weight of two months’ worth of back rent, food and utilities came crushing down upon me. Even my throat closed tight. So this is what it felt like to have a friend f**k you over. I could barely breathe.
“Anne, can I borrow your velvet coat? I promise I’ll …” Lauren, my neighbor from the apartment next door strode in (knocking never had been her style). Then, like me, she stopped dead. “Where’s your couch?”
I took a deep breath and let it out slow. It didn’t help. “I guess Skye took it. ”
My mouth opened, but really, what was there to say?
“She’s gone and you didn’t know she was leaving?” Lauren cocked her head, making her mass of long dark hair swing to and fro. I’d always envied her that hair. Mine was strawberry blonde and fine. Anything past shoulder length and it hung limp like I’d stuck my head in a bucket of grease. It’s why I didn’t tend to let it grow longer than jaw length.
Not that hair mattered.
Making rent mattered.
Having food to eat mattered.
Hair styles? Not so much.
My eyes burned, betrayal stung like a bitch. Skye and I had been friends for years. I’d trusted her. We’d trash talked boys and shared secrets, cried on each other’s shoulders. It just didn’t make sense.
Except it did.
It so very painfully did.
“No. ” My voice sounded strange. I swallowed hard, clearing my throat. “No, I didn’t know she was leaving. ”
“Weird. You two always seemed to get along great. ”
“Why would she take off like that?”
“She owed me money,” I admitted, kneeling to collect the contents of my purse. Not to pray to God. I’d given up on him a long time ago.
Lauren gasped. “You’re joking. That f**king bitch!”
“Babe, we’re running late. ” Nate, my other next door neighbor, filled the door way, eyes impatient. He was a tall well-built guy with an edge. Normally, I envied Lauren her boyfriend. Right then the glory of Nate was lost on me. I was so f**ked.
“What’s going on?” he asked, looking around. “Hey, Anne. ”
“Hi, Nate. ”
“Where’s your shit?”
Lauren threw her hands in the air. “Skye took her shit!”
“No,” I corrected. “Skye took her shit. But she took my money. ”
“How much money?” Nate asked, displeasure dropping his voice by about an octave.
“Enough,” I said. “I’ve been covering for her since she lost her job. ”
“Damn,” muttered Nate.
“Yeah. ” Seriously, yeah.
I picked up my purse and flipped it open. Sixty-five dollars and one lone shiny quarter. How had I let it get this far? My pay check from the book shop was gone and my credit card maxed. Lizzy had needed help yesterday paying for textbooks and no way would I turn her down. Getting my sister through college came first.
This morning I’d told Skye we needed to talk. All day I’d felt crappy about it, my stomach churning. Because the truth was, the sum total of my talk involved telling her that she needed to ask her parents, or her fancy ass new boyfriend, for a loan to pay me back. I couldn’t keep the both of us housed and fed any longer while she searched for a new job. So she also needed to talk to one of them about a place to stay. Yes, I was kicking her to the curb. The guilt had weighed in my stomach like a stone.
What were the chances of her feeling any remorse for screwing me over? Not likely.
I finished retrieving the contents of my handbag and zipped it up tight. “Ah, yeah, Lauren, the coat’s in my closet. At least I hope it is. Help yourself. ”
Rent was due in eight days. Maybe I could work a miracle. There were sure to be some cash savvy twenty-three year olds with savings in the bank out there. At least one of them must need a place to stay? I’d been doing fine before this. But there’d always been something my sister or I needed more than future financial stability. Books, clothes, a night on the town, all those little treats that made living worthwhile. We’d sacrificed enough already. Yet here I was, broke and on my knees.
Guess I should have prioritized better. Hindsight sucked.
Worst case scenario, I could probably get away with sleeping on the floor of Lizzy’s dorm room if we were super sly. God knows our mom didn’t have the cash. Asking her for help was out. If I sold my great-aunt’s pearls it might help toward the deposit on another apartment, a smaller one that I could afford on my own.
I’d fix this somehow. Of course, I would. Fixing shit was my specialty.
And if I ever saw Skye again I was going to f**king kill her.
“What’ll you do?” asked Nate, lounging against the door frame.
I rose to my feet, dusting off the knees of my black pants. “I’ll work something out. ”
Nate gave me a look and I returned it as calmly as I could. The next thing to come out of his mouth had better not be pity. My day had been crappy enough. With great determination, I gave him a smile. “So, where are you guys off to?”
“Party at David and Ev’s,” Lauren answered from inside my room. “You should come with us. ”
Ev, Nate’s sister and Lauren’s former roomie, had married David Ferris, premier rock god and lead guitarist for the band Stage Dive, a few months ago. Long story. I was still trying to get my head around it, frankly. One minute, she’d been the nice blonde girl next door who went to the same college as Lizzy and made killer coffee at Ruby’s Café. The next, our apartment block had been surrounded by paparazzi. Skye had given interviews on the front step—not that she’d known anything. I’d snuck out the back.
Mostly, my relationship with Ev had involved saying hi when we’d passed on the stairs, back when she used to live here, and with me hitting Ruby’s Café every morning for a big-ass coffee on my way to work. We’d always been friendly. But I wouldn’t say we were friends exactly. Given Lauren’s penchant for borrowing my clothes, I knew her much better.
“She should come, right, Nate?”
Nate grunted his affirmation. Either that or his disinterest. With him it was kind of hard to tell.
“That’s okay,” I demurred. Debris lined the walls where the couch and cabinet had stood; all of the collected crap Skye had left behind. “I had a new book to read, but I should probably get busy cleaning. Guess we hadn’t dusted under the furniture for a while. At least I won’t have much to move when the time comes. ”
“Come with us. ”
“Lauren, I wasn’t invited,” I said.
“Neither are we half the time,” said Nate.
“The y love us! Of course they want us there. ” Lauren reemerged from my room and gave her boyfriend the stink eye. She looked better in the black vintage jacket than I ever would, a fact that I chose not to secretly hate her for. If that didn’t earn me points into heaven then nothing would. Maybe I’d give it to her as a good-bye present before I left.
“Come on, Anne,” she said. “Ev won’t mind. ”
“Good to go?” Nate jiggled his car keys impatiently.
Hanging with rock stars didn’t seem the appropriate response to learning you’d soon be out on the street. Maybe one day when I was at my sparkling, buffed-up best I could strut on by and say hi. That day was not today. Mostly I felt tired, defeated. Given I’d been feeling that way since I turned sixteen, it wasn’t the strongest of excuses. Lauren didn’t need to know that, however.
“Thanks, guys,” I said. “But I only just got home. ”
“Um, honey, your home kind of sucks ass right now,” said Lauren, taking in my dust bunnies and lack of décor with a sweeping glance. “Besides, it’s Friday night. Who sits at home on a Friday night? You wearing your work gear or jumping into jeans? I’d suggest the jeans. ”
“No. ” Lauren grasped my shoulders and looked me in the eye. “You have been f**ked over by a friend. I have no words to tell you how furious that makes me. You’re coming with us. Hide in a corner all night if you want. But you’re not sitting here alone dwelling on that thieving ho. You know I never did like her. ”
Stupidly, I did. Or had. Whatever.
“Didn’t I say that, Nate?”
Nate shrugged and jangled his keys some more.
“Go. Get ready. ” Lauren gave me a push in the general direction of my bedroom.
In my current situation, this might be my only opportunity to meet David Ferris. Ev still showed up here now and then, but I’d never seen him, despite occasionally “hanging out” on the steps just in case. He wasn’t my absolute favorite out of the four members of Stage Dive. That honor was reserved for the drummer, Mal Ericson. A few years ago, I’d crushed on him something hard. But still … the David Ferris. For the chance to meet even just one of them, I had to go. A few years ago, I’d had a bit of a thing for the band. Nothing to do with their being buff rock gods. No, I was a musical purist.
“Alright, give me ten minutes. ” It was the absolute minimum time frame within which I could mentally, if not physically, prepare myself to face the rich and famous. Fortunately, my care factor was now dangerously close to f**k-it levels. Tonight would probably be the best time to meet Mr. Ferris. I might actually manage to keep my cool and not be an awestruck waste of space.
“Five minutes,” said Nate. “The game will be starting. ”
“Would you relax?” asked Lauren.
“No. ” The man made a snapping sound and Lauren giggled. I didn’t look back. I didn’t want to know. The walls here were disgustingly thin so Lauren and Nate’s nocturnal mating habits weren’t much of a secret. Happily I was usually at work during the day. Those hours were a mystery to me, and not one that I pondered.
Oh, alright. Occasionally I pondered because I hadn’t gotten anything non-self-induced in a while. Also, apparently I had some repressed voyeuristic tendencies in need of addressing.
Was I really up to a night of watching couples rubbing against one another?
I could call Reece, though he’d said he had a date tonight. Of course, he always had a date. Reece was perfect in every way apart from his man-whore tendencies. My best guy friend liked to spread his love around, to put it mildly. He seemed to be on a conjugal-related first-name basis with the better part of the straight Portland female population aged eighteen to forty-eight. Everyone except me, basically.
Which was fine.
There was nothing wrong with just being friends. Though someday I truly believed we’d make a great couple. He was just so easy to be around. With everything we had in common, we could go the distance. In the meantime, I was content to wait, do my own thing. Not that lately I’d been doing anything or anyone, but you get what I mean.