The House Mate Page 3

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Right.

The incident.

That was the gentle way we’d begun referring to the complete and utter collapse of my personal life. Of course, I tended to opt mentally for the more fitting title of Addison’s Personal Apocalypse, but that was a little too wordy.

Not that I had anyone to blame for the destruction of my life other than myself since it all started when I turned my boyfriend gay.

I know what you’re thinking—that’s not possible. But let me assure you, it most certainly is.

I am living proof.

I wanted to ask if Lara had partially gotten these magazines in the hope that, if I learned how to make a man beg for more in ten easy steps, my next boyfriend wouldn’t fall victim to my personal doom.

Instead, I opted to ignore the magazines altogether.

“I’m keeping the nail polish.”

She nodded. “Thought it was your style. Now, come on, flip open a magazine and get to studying. We’re fixing your life, and it starts today.”

I let out a little snort. “Do you have a time machine?”

“Stop it.” Lara waved a page with a quiz at me. “How about we figure out your best colors. You hold swatches up to your skin to see if you’re an autumn or a spring or—”

I flopped back on the couch. “You don’t have to do this, you know. You’re already being too nice by letting me stay here.”

Lara rolled her eyes like she always did when I mentioned it. “It’s no problem. I know you would have done the same if something like that had happened to me.”

“Except it wouldn’t.” I punched the pillow behind my head and turned to face her. “You play it smart. Stay single, stay away from guys—”

“As if that’s a choice,” Lara said with an eye roll.

“It’s a good one. Then you don’t end up here, on your best friend’s couch with no apartment, no job, and no mojo.” I blew a strand of dull brown hair away from my face, and Lara gripped my wrist.

“It’s not your fault. You just didn’t know.”

Didn’t know was an understatement.

I was shocked. Floored. Frigging destroyed.

Of course, in hindsight, there were little things. Like, for example, he’d wanted to try a few things that were . . . less than usual for me in the bedroom, but I’d chalked that up to my relative inexperience. Half the stuff he asked for I’d never even heard of, and even though I did my best to please him, I was considerably less than masterful with the strap-on he’d gotten me as a birthday gift. It felt like every time I tried to step outside my carefully constructed sexual comfort zone, he walked away frustrated, and I walked away feeling a little less like a woman, a little less like a person, really, because I couldn’t seem to give him what he needed.

Maybe if I’d had these magazines then, I would have been able to make things turn out differently.

Maybe. But maybe not.

Holding my breath, I thought back to the night I’d woken to find an empty space in the bed beside me. I heard the low hum of the television and the telltale creaking of our ancient hand-me-down couch. Anxious to see if my boyfriend was all right, I’d crept into the living room only to find him sitting in the middle of the sofa with his hand stuffed down the front of his sweatpants, gay porn playing at low volume on the TV.

“What the hell?” I’d asked.

“What the hell with you?” he’d said, somewhat nonsensically. He ripped his hand away from his crotch like someone had electrocuted him, his eyes wide.

“Is that . . . is this what you’re into? Are you—” I’d sputtered, confused and hurt but hoping there was an explanation.

“God, Addison.” He sneered at me. “Don’t be so closed-minded. Fantasies are different from reality. You think just because you dress up as a slutty nurse I feel like you want to bang a doctor?”

“Wait, what?” I ran a hand over my face, still baffled by his logic, but also fighting tears. “No, but . . .” I motioned to the television.

“It’s no different. I would think my girlfriend could understand that.”

I choked on my words, trying to find the right ones, until finally I said, “Okay. Just give me a little time to process this, all right?”

Surely, if I loved him, this should be no issue. I was young. Hip. A cool girlfriend.

After that night, I’d done some googling and discovered that I wasn’t alone. He was right; plenty of guys did watch gay porn and weren’t gay. In a way, that was comforting, and again I threw myself into trying to make him happy. I bought things online and looked up different techniques, and still every time I walked away a little bit more broken than I had been before. A little bit more unsure about myself and my ability to please him.

I glanced at Lara, wondering if she was recalling the whole mess too, but her eyes were practically glued to an illustration of a cartoon man, complete with little arrows to highlight the erogenous zones.

I flicked through the glossy pages filled with fragrance ads and photos of happy women crunching on salads, stopping on a numbered list of ways to “Empower Your Inner Goddess.”

Maybe if I’d done that with Greg, I could have escaped with some of my self-confidence and dignity intact instead of being the last sucker to know.

“Okay, fine, what the hell. I’ll give it a try,” I muttered.

I skimmed through the list, which mainly focused on different ways to think about your underwear throughout the day, then glanced up at Lara. “I think my inner goddess is even more boring than my outer goddess.”

She made a tsking noise. “Stop, would you?”

The next section focused on work—how to tell your boss what you wanted, how to stay sexy on the job, what kind of underwear to wear to the office.

My stomach clenched at the word office.

“Do you think this career advice actually works?” I asked, trying to keep the edge of panic out of my voice. Not only had I lost Greg, but I had been working with him in the café he’d opened a little over two years ago. At the time, I’d told myself that I was sacrificing my dreams to help build his, and then, once his goal was realized, we’d find time for me. That we’d be partners in making our dreams come true.

As it happened, though, I was pretty sure I’d just been the best source of cheap labor.

Even now, I could hardly remember what my dreams were back then. As a teen and young adult, I’d spent every summer working at summer camps, teaching the kids sign language and arts and crafts. During school, I always worked in a day care and volunteered at an after-school center.

I guess that was what had always come naturally to me. I talked to Greg a couple of times about it. I definitely asked him once, when and if we ever got married, whether we might find time for me to go back to college for my teaching certificate. Eventually, it would have been nice to be a speech therapist. But now . . .

Now I was twenty-five and broke. And I didn’t think my underwear—no matter how flashy—was going to make my professional dreams a reality. I was going to have to find a job. Fast.

“What’s the worst breakup you ever had?” I asked Lara.

She blinked, closing her magazine for a moment. “I thought we weren’t talking about—”

“We’re not. I’m asking about you.”

She wrinkled her pert nose, her heart-shaped lips tilting to the side. “Probably Tim Erickson. My first love in high school. He dumped me right before prom.”

“How did you get back on your feet? What did you do?” I asked.

“I ate a lot of Chinese food.”

I nodded.

“Then I went to prom with someone really hot.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Oh?”

“Yeah, my cousin.” She laughed. “But my ex didn’t know that. Oh, and I got a part-time job. Got a new boyfriend out of that too.”

“Hmm.” I placed the magazine in front of me, then sat up cross-legged on the pull-out.

“Will you hand me my computer?” I asked.

“Uh-oh, I see gears turning. What are you up to?”

“Maybe fresh starts have some merit. I’m going to get started. Now, let’s see. I have to—” I opened a new tab on the Internet browser. “Find a new apartment.” I opened another tab. “Get new furniture.” I opened another tab. “Buy food for said apartment.” Another tab. “Find a job.”

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