A private pool, a basketball and tennis court, and a hall for special occasions surrounded the apartment buildings. The sidewalks of the gated community were like a compact town within itself.
At the end of the sidewalk, Allie stood by apartment forty-one B. She had to be dreaming. Never had she seen such green grass, nor such a peaceful place.
“Morning." An elderly couple greeted her as they jogged through the trail.
Adorable. She imagined them as her and Grayson in sixty years. The future sounded exciting.
She checked the address one more time and compared the metallic number on the wooden frame to her own writing. Her phone and car keys went back into her pockets, while scrutinizing her clothes for stains. Finding a laundromat in Houston’s rush hour to wash off her fiancé’s love had been a nightmare.
A youthful man in slim-cut jeans and a t-shirt appeared. He swept his short honey-colored hair away from his forehead and dusted off the potato chip crumbs that sat on his chest.
"Wow," he said, ogling at top speed.
"Um, hello?" Allie frowned.
This guy’s cute, like a young Marlon Brando. Meant in a non-romantic way, of course. It was just her brain complimenting a gorgeous man.
"C-can-may I help you?" he stuttered.
"I'm Allie March. I called you earlier about the flyer."
"Right, yeah. You're Allie, Allie March, the girl on the phone, Allie." He blinked and coughed. "I'm Dean Freeman."
Dean extended his hand for a handshake. The warmth and softness of the girl’s palm was electrifying. A sudden urge to know if it had also affected her stung his brain, but she only smiled.
When she called, he had given her no importance. Her arrival would be one more interview in the sea of irresponsible college students.
“Please come in." He stepped aside.
Allie scanned the details of the small apartment. She slipped off her wedge sandals and left them beside the sneakers by the door. He gawked at how small her feet were compared to his shoes, her feminine mannerisms, the way her curls bounced against her back, and her rear. Those cheeks under her yoga pants were a perfect upside down heart.
He froze. Had she caught him staring? If she did, she would have escaped the apartment screaming.
Focus on her face, Dean. On those plump lips that together formed a glorious red circle.
A granite bar divided the dining room and the empty kitchen. In front of the kitchen entrance, the hardwood continued into the ample living room. By the window there was a flat screen TV and a game console. On the opposite wall, a gleam of light rushed through the balcony, illuminating a khaki furniture set.
Speechless, the girl moved toward the sofa.
"I know. It's small," said Dean. "There’s limited space in the bedroom, but my previous roommate left an old queen mattress."
"Small? Queen-sized bed?" she said. Her pupils slowly turned into a dot. "No, it's... it's all right. Could I check out the bedroom?"
He guided her through a short hallway between the kitchen and the living room. At the end, there were three doors. The one on the left was his bedroom, and the middle one was the bathroom. Behind the right lock, they located a bed, a nightstand, and a chest of drawers.
"I'm sorry, I might have misunderstood," she said. "I thought you said over the phone you wanted four hundred a month. Like American dollars?"
"Yes," he snickered. "Definitely, not four hundred pesos. Where did you learn about the rental? Do you go to Rice University?"
"No, I don't go to college. I found the Ugly Female Roommate flyer on the street.”
Dean's eyebrows shot up behind his head.
"I'm so sorry about that. My... girlfriend made the flyer," he recalled he was taken. His pale cheeks turned magenta, "I begged her not to do that."
"It's okay," she chuckled. "She has great humor. Anyway, why so cheap? Is this a dangerous neighborhood?"
"No, it's fantastic. You can check online. I just need the extra cash. If I asked for more money, no college student would want to rent it. I'm lucky my dad owns the condo. Do you mind dogs?"
"Not at all. I love dogs, but I'm allergic to cats. Do you mind plants?"
"As long as I don't have to water them."
"Great! When can you move—?"
A voice coming from the living room interrupted Dean. His girlfriend, Meryl, came into view. Mr. Pops, Dean's old German shepherd, walked behind her.
"Hello?" The woman froze, only using her eyeballs to scan the short girl in front of her.
"Meryl, this is Allie. She found your flyer." Dean watched her with the corner of his eye.
Mr. Pops laid down on the floor by him.
Meryl showed a full set of teeth and stood by the doorframe of his bedroom, across from them. "Dean, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure. Excuse me." He smiled at Allie and followed Meryl into the room.
"Is everything okay?" Dean whispered.
"No, Dean. Isn't it obvious that nothing's okay?" Meryl crossed her arms and rested her body weight on her right leg.
She was as tall as him. A skinny, fake brunette with short hair who didn't need much work to look elegant. Her long, full eyelashes made her look as if she was wearing permanent eyeliner and mascara.
"What do you mean?" he asked in an innocent tone, knowing what was coming.
Meryl was jealous of her own shadow.
"I mean there is a girl with giant hoots in your apartment, Dean. Giant hoots," she prodded her finger at the door.
Dean clipped his lips between his thumb and index fingers, trying not to laugh. "Did she mention she worked at Hooters? I don't remember."
"Are you kidding me? Please, you know what I mean. With that body, she probably doesn’t work hard for tips. I specifically said, you can only have an ugly girl as a roommate."
The dilemma could have been resolved by telling his girlfriend how hideous Allie looked in those high-waisted yoga pants that showcased her mouthwatering peach-shaped rear; how disgusting it was that her perfect bosom made him want to bite his lower lip every time they bounced along with her footsteps. From the entrance to the queen mattress, his brain had thought of a thousand sexual scenarios.
"We could have avoided this if you hadn't annoyed Michael so much," he said instead, raising his hands up to his shoulders.
"You know Michael was a terrible roommate. Boys are worse than girls. He was always trying to distract you and wanting you to ditch me. Oh and thank goodness Jay desisted from moving in. I don't like her and I want her out of this house, ASAP."
"Meryl, you don't like anybody and I'm tired of looking for a roommate already. Mr. Pop's medical bills will not pay for themselves, so Hooters or not, she's staying."
Meryl wrapped her arms around Dean's neck and swayed her hips against his groin. "Or I could finally move in with you and we can have each other every night," she sucked on his lower lip slowly.
He turned her around, stroking her thigh. "We've already talked about that, baby. We agreed it wasn't the right time for either of us. Plus, you’d need to find a job.”
“But Dee, I want to have you close to me,” she whined. "You know I can’t get a job. Daddy’s paying for extra acting classes.”
"You can sleep over anytime. Let’s wait. Why ruin a good thing?"
Meryl pushed herself away from Dean and pressed her lips together.
"Fine. Let her stay, but I'll be watching her skanky ass."
She crossed her arms again and dropped on the bed. Her boyfriend shrugged and exited the room.
After what felt like a lengthy discussion, Dean and Meryl walked out of the bedroom to find Allie petting Mr. Pops on his stomach. Her nose shrank, making silly faces.
"Allie, I notice you don’t have a southern accent. Are you from here?" Meryl tapped her thigh twice and Mr. Pops trotted toward her.
“No, I'm from Oregon.” Allie got up, shaking bits of fur off her hand. “My fiancé is from here. He's the primary reason I moved to Houston. He's a lawyer at Queens & Jones.”
"You have a fiancé? And he's a lawyer! Isn't that great?" Dean addressed Allie in a high-pitched voice while glancing at Meryl.
"Yes, congratulations," said Meryl.
"Thank you," Allie grinned.
"When can you move in?" asked Dean.
"If it's not too much trouble for you guys, I'd like to move in today."
"Fine with me.”
"Same here." Meryl turned her head and rolled her eyes. "Well, I'm going home." She grabbed her leather bag from the dining room table.
"I'll walk you out," replied Dean.
Meryl paced to her car quietly. She was a few steps ahead of her boyfriend.
"Are you mad?" asked Dean.
"Hey, you were the one who didn't want me to have a male roommate because, according to you, we'd become dumb college bros. I need the extra cash, Meryl.”
His girlfriend sighed and reached for her keys inside her bag.
“Meryl.” Dean pulled her arm gently. “She has a fiancé and you're my girlfriend. I would never cheat on you. You know I'm not that kinda guy." He kissed her lips and trapped her between him and her black sedan.
“How long have we been together?” She dodged a second kiss.
“Uh, why are you asking that?” His question was a way to hide his faulty memory and disinterest for relationship math.
“You don’t know, do you? We’ve been dating long enough for you to propose, yet here I am." She lifted her left hand and tapped her bare ring finger.
Meryl’s parents insinuated something along those lines during their last dinner party, prompting Dean to avoid them. He feared his girlfriend was thinking about marriage. The option didn’t scare him, but he always thought it had to come naturally.
“Baby, we’re both poor and busy. Semester finals are almost here. I don’t want to propose in a rush. I want to do everything right." He rubbed her chin. When his smirk didn’t convince her, he brushed his lips against the corner of her mouth.
"Okay, okay," she said, embracing his waist and returning the kiss.
That night, Dean glanced at his watch, searching for Mr. Pops. The German shepherd loved to take naps in the living room, but tonight, he noticed a yellow and brown tail wiggling behind Allie's bedroom door.
Dean pushed the door open to find Allie changed into translucent pajamas. Her nipples poked through a loose t-shirt that ended two inches after her breasts, and her shorts had left half of her butt cheeks uncovered.
Only God knew what a sucker he was for girls showing their bellybuttons.
Allie bent over her stomach, scratching Mr. Pop's head. There was no question, after his earlier warm up with Meryl and the accidental view, he was going to bed early that night. He hadn't touched himself in a while, and frankly, he and Meryl barely had sex once a month. Asking his girlfriend to please him was hard labor. She required a ritual of dinner, flowers, and talking about all the mistakes he made. After sex, there was always a fight, either due to a lack of cuddling or she misinterpreted something he said. It was a disaster, so he relied on his hand to do his girlfriend's job.
Wanking it, some called it. Dean referred to it as avoiding drama.
"Um, sorry." He tried to focus on the dog. "It's time for his medicine. Is he bothering you?"
"Not at all," she grinned. "He's so fluffy. What's his name?"
"Mr. Pops. He'll be eighteen in a month." Avoiding eye contact, Dean patted his thigh twice and Mr. Pops ambled out of the room.
"Dean." She reached for a hand purse on top of the bed and took out several bills neatly folded in half. "This is for the first month."
"Cool, thanks. Goodnight." He almost snatched the money out of her hands and flashed out of the room.