POINT OF VIEW: ALICE
~Five Years Earlier~
Room for rent in a shared apartment. $2,250 a month, utilities included. Must be willing to help around the communal area and cook four nights a week. Landlord/roommate – a medical resident, 29-year-old man.
I sigh as I grab my phone out of my pocket and dial the number on the advert. It wouldn’t be ideal to live with a guy I don’t know, but the rent prices in this city are ridiculous… I didn’t think this move through.
“Dr Caden Miller speaking,” a deep, soothing voice announces upon the call being answered.
“Hi, my name is Alice Collins, I’m calling about the room for rent,” I say nervously.
“Ah,” he mutters. “I’m really sorry, I’m actually looking for a male roommate.”
“Oh,” I mumble.
“Yeah, it’s just to keep it comfortable for everyone,” he explains. “I’m really sorry, Miss Collins.”
“No, it’s fine.” I pause. How do I end this conversation? “Have a lovely day,” I add before abruptly hanging up. “Christ…”
“No luck?” Lilie asks as she sets a cup of coffee down in front of me.
I sigh, shaking my head as I grab the iced drink. “At what point do I just list myself as permanently living in the hostel?”
“You’re not going to live there permanently,” she chuckles. “I’m sure you’ll find somewhere. Definitely look at houseshares though – there’s no chance of you getting an apartment to yourself for under $2,000.”
I sip my drink as I stare down at the advertisements. This is never going to work.
Legally having to take a day off each week is annoying – I have nowhere to be, so I’m still at work but can’t get paid. Instead, I’m paying for coffee…
My phone vibrates, and a message notification pops up while I doom scroll on social media. I open the text.
Unknown: Hey. Are you still looking for a place to stay?
Who the fuck is this?
Alice: Hi, I am. Who is this?
Unknown: Caden Miller. I regrettably turned you away last week… I’ve thought about it, and if you’re still interested in the room, it’s yours.
I blink as I stare down at my screen, slightly shocked. Surely I can’t be the only one who’s enquired…
Alice: Why the change of heart?
Caden: Nobody was interested in cheap rent in exchange for cooking.
I chuckle to myself as I type out my next message.
Alice: I’ll take the room… If you let me have it for $2,000 instead.
My phone rings and I answer. “Hello?”
A deep, velvet tone greets me. “You’re bartering with me? When you’re potentially going to end up homeless?” He laughs.
“I’m technically already homeless, therefore have nothing to lose. I may as well try to get the rent down to an affordable amount.”
“Actually, that makes sense. And, yes, you can have the room for $2,000. I’ll text you the address, I’ll be home from 10 PM tonight if you want to come over then. Otherwise, 9 AM tomorrow morning is my next free time,” he tells me.
10 PM? “If you’re okay with me moving in tonight, I’ll be there.”
“Fantastic – I look forward to meeting you, Miss Collins,” he says, and the call ends.
He remembered my name?
I’m let into the building by security. When I get to the door, I slightly panic before knocking. Please don’t be a serial killer.
The door opens. A tall man in a tailored suit stands in front of me. He quickly looks me over before smiling with an eyebrow raised. “Alice Collins?”
He offers me his hand. “Caden Miller, nice to meet you.”
This is him? I follow him into the apartment. The open-plan living room and kitchen is larger than other spaces I’ve seen advertised. Christ…
There are only three doors leading off from the large room. He gestures to the door furthest away. “That’s your room,” he says before gesturing to the other two doors. “That’s my room, and that’s the bathroom. You do have the larger room, but you have a window which would be great anywhere else in the world…”
“But here it’s like living on a rooftop instead of in a flat,” I joke.
He nods. “Yeah… I took the smaller room to avoid the sound pollution.”
I chuckle as I look around. “Can’t say I blame you.” I can feel his eyes on me.
When I look up at him, he smiles. “You can only stay a year.”
I bob my head, trying not to stare at him. He’s handsome, with a strong jawline, black hair, and blue eyes. And wears suits… “I’ll be out of your hair in no time.”
He laughs as he removes his suit jacket and collapses onto the oversized couch. “Let’s go over some rules…”
~One Year Later~
“You don’t have to go,” he blurts, watching me from the bedroom doorway as I frantically pack.
It’s never going to happen. Stop playing house. “Caden, you said it yourself on day one – we’re acquaintances, friends at best. The contract we both signed was for a year. We’re not going to change that now because you want someone to continue to cook for you,” I laugh awkwardly. I can’t believe he asked me to stay because he’ll miss me cooking for him…
“We’re not acquaintances, Alice. We are friends.” He pauses. “Just… Stay. I’ll cook four days a week instead.”
I burst into laughter. “Packet ramen four days a week? That’s your solution?”
Caden enters the room and grabs my shoulders, forcing me to face him. “Okay, maybe not… But I don’t want you to go.”
“Because you’ll have to cook every night,” I laugh.
“Because I like having you around,” he blurts. He inhales deeply, frowning with his brows pulling together. “Don’t go…”
“I’ve already paid my deposit for the new place,” I tell him.
He releases me. “Have you signed the lease?”
Caden interrupts me, “then you can get the money back and stay here…”
I roll my eyes and go back to packing. “It’s too complicated to stay,” I mumble. “What’re you going to say to Veronica?”
After a minute of silence, I look up and find him staring. A confused expression on his face. “Who’s Veronica?”
“The nurse I walked in on you having intercourse with…” I blink.
“Vivian,” he corrects, confidently.
I bite my lower lip, trying to hold back the laughter ready to erupt from inside me. “You don’t even know her name?”
“Her name is Vivian.”
I shake my head. “Her name is Veronica – I serve her almost every day at the cafe… I’ve seen her badge…”
Caden steps back, his mouth hanging open as he raises a hand to stroke his stubble while thinking. The look on his face is almost comical. “Veronica?”
The laughter escapes me, and I collapse onto my bed, hands over my face. He’s useless.
“This proves it, you can’t go anywhere – who’s going to remember the names of my dates?” He asks. I look up and find a serious expression on his face.
“You’ve got to be fucking with me… You’re not asking that seriously, are you?”
His smile is back, and he shakes his head. “No, I’m messing. But Veronica isn’t going to be an issue.”
“How is she not? She said it was her or me, and my lease ended with you last week. I can go.”
He grabs my suitcase off my bed and slings it on the floor before joining me, lying on the bed next to me. “She said it was you or her. I picked you.”
I look at him, his face just centimetres away from mine. “You did what?”
“You honestly think I’d give up my food source for a bit of ass?” He says in a serious tone before smiling, his warm and minty breath on my face.
He winks, gets up and leans to kiss my forehead. “You’re not going anywhere. Get me the number for the landlord and I’ll get your money back.”
Playing house continues.
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