Crime Or Punishment
Jessamine Copeland was in serious need of a drink.
She’d had a really shitty day. To be honest, she’d had a really shitty couple of months, and today wasn’t really any different.
There was no doubt that she loved her job; or at least she loved the idea of what her job could become. Ever since was a child, she’d loved reinventing clothes or making entirely new designs and she’d always jumped at the chance to create new looks for her friends and family, so getting an internship with a local up and coming designer while she was in school was a dream come true. And when it turned into a full time job after she graduated, she was ecstatic.
But now she just felt stuck.
It wasn’t as though she’d lost her passion for design, but the inspiration just didn’t seem to come anymore. She’d spend hours just staring at her sketchbook, willing lightning to strike. And what was worse was that her boss seemed to be acutely aware of her complete lack of new ideas, as Jessamine hadn’t been assigned anything remotely resembling an actual project since she started working full time.
She let out a sigh of contentment as she slipped out of her stilettos just inside the front door, flashing a weary smile at her roommate. Cassie Thompson stood at the kitchen counter, emptying the contents of a wine bottle into two large glasses.
“Rough day?” Cassie asked, shooting Jessamine a sympathetic smile.
They’d met when they were randomly assigned to be roommates their sophomore year of college and four years later, they were more like sisters then best friends. Seeing as the tech company Cassie worked for was close to the design house were Jessamine worked, it seemed only natural that they stay roommates as they took on the real world.
“You could say that,” Jessamine groaned, dropping onto the couch and tucking her feet beneath her.
Holding the two glasses of white wine, Cassie walked around the counter to join her roommate on the couch, holding one of the glasses out in Jessamine’s direction. “Maybe this will help.”
“You’re a goddess,” Jessamine replied automatically, taking a very large sip once she had the glass in her grasp. “If my brother doesn’t end up marrying you, I will.”
It still kind of blew Jessamine’s mind that her baby brother, Mr. Noncommitment himself, had been happily dating Cassie for nearly two years now. Granted, Jessamine had been a little anxious at the thought of her worlds overlapping in that way, but it turned out that Cassie and Tyler were kind of perfect for each other and even more than a year later, they were still disgustingly in love. To be honest, Jessamine wouldn’t be surprised if her brother popped the question at some point in the future.
Despite being in the relationship and knowing the full extent of Tyler’s feelings for her, Cassie still blushed at the mention of her boyfriend as she settled down on the couch next to her roommate and asked, “So what happened?”
“Nothing really out of the ordinary,” Jessamine shrugged, taking another sip of her wine, “it’s just…do you ever feel like you’re stuck?”
Cassie cocked her head to the side, her dark chocolate curls bouncing against her cheek. “In what way?”
She wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that question. The truth was that it wasn’t just professionally where she felt as though her life wasn’t really progressing. It seemed like everyone around her was accomplishing goals left and right and she was still exactly where she was a year ago. Zach and Kira were living in domestic bliss, Zach working for a local politician and Kira running the community center, both focused on their upcoming nuptials and upcoming baby. Meredith was most likely going to lead her college’s soccer team to another championship title and still completely in love with Oliver, who was already showing some of his work in local galleries. Piper was a year away from graduating from the most prestigious music conservatory in the country, and Tyler and Zoey had both begun their junior years of college, both having already done internships in fields they wanted to pursue after graduation. They were all forging ahead with their lives towards bright futures and Jessamine, well, she wasn’t exactly sure where she was headed.
“I don’t know, I’m just frustrated I guess,” Jessamine sighed. “It feels like Layla still sees me as an intern.”
When Jessamine first got the internship at Marilyn Novak, she’d been beyond ecstatic to work with Layla Murray, the most talented designer to come out of Parsons in the last decade. Layla was ambitious and driven and mind-blowingly talented and Jessamine respected the hell out of her, but in the two years that Jessamine had been working under Layla, Jessamine felt as though Layla hadn’t seen her potential for growth.
“If you count your internship, you’ve been working for that company for over two years,” Cassie pointed out, recalling that Jessamine had worked for the designer part time during her senior year of college.
“Exactly,” Jessamine nodded, unsurprised that she and her roommate bestie were on the same page. “But Layla still won’t give me any work that isn’t completely menial. I just feel like I can do so much more than just get supplies and coffee and measure things out.”
“You definitely can,” Cassie replied, supportive as always.
Although having her roommate on her side did make Jessamine feel slightly better, there were still a few knots in her stomach. “It probably doesn’t help that all my ideas lately have been flops.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” Cassie assured her.
“You’re sweet, but it definitely is,” Jessamine let out a bitter laugh. “I just haven’t been super inspired lately.”
She wasn’t sure why the inspiration was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t as though she’d had some sort of traumatic event occur which had just switched off her ability to be creative. Nothing had really changed. And maybe that’s what the problem was; she was still exactly where she’d always been.
“Maybe you just need a night off,” Cassie suggested, finishing off the last of her wine. “Tyler and I are going to dinner and a movie. Why don’t you come with?”
She knew that Cassie and Tyler would never intentionally make her feel like a third wheel, but tonight was most definitely supposed to be date night and she could already feel the intensity of the glares her brother would be shooting in her direction if she crashed what was supposed to be a night out with his girl. Tyler went to school locally, so it wasn’t as though they were in a long distance relationship, but they were both busy, Tyler with school and Cassie with work, so they cherished every minute of time they got to spend together.
“Thanks, but I think I’ll stay in,” she replied, swirling the last bit of her wine in the bottom of the glass and deciding whether she might need another one. “Maybe have a bubble bath or something.”
“Okay,” Cassie nodded, pushing herself off the couch to rinse off her glass and deposit it in the dishwasher before she went to get ready, calling over her shoulder, “If you change your mind, let me know.”
Jessamine did change her mind, but only about the bubble bath. She opted for a hot shower, allowing the warm water to pound away the tension in her muscles before changing into her at home lounging outfit consisting of a pair of boxer shorts she’d had since she was a teenager and an oversized t-shirt she’d gotten for free while visiting Tyler on campus.
Settling in on her bed with a cup of green tea, she propped her laptop up on her crossed legs and prepared for a night of binge watching the first interesting crime show she could find on Netflix.
She had a show all picked out and ready to go when the sound of rock music blasting from next door jolted her into an upright position. She and Cassie had only been living in this apartment for a few months, so they hadn’t met very many of their neighbors, which meant she had no idea who was blasting this infernal racket through her walls, but she had every intention of finding out.
Setting her laptop to the side, she swung her legs off her bed and grabbed her keys before she marched out the door and to the left, angrily knocking on the door of the apartment next to hers and crossing her arms over her chest in frustration as she waited for the occupant to answer.
Gage Dresden felt as though he’d been hit by lightning.
The impatient knocking had been slightly irritating, but as soon as he pulled open the door, all those negative feelings vanished, because all he could see was her. It was as though she was all that existed in the world, and he briefly forgot his name as he took in the petite brunette who was currently glaring daggers in his direction.
Her black hair was twisted into a knot at the crown of her head, a few stray curls framing her face, and her dark eyes were flashing beautifully with anger. Her arms were crossed over the front an oversized t-shirt that nearly hid the fact that she was wearing what looked to be ratty boxer shorts as she tapped one bare foot in frustration, her plump lips pressed together as she kept her murderous gaze direct. He’d never seen anything so beautiful in his life.
Jessamine didn’t know what she was expecting to find on the other side of the door, she just knew she was mad as hell. The fact that she’d been having a shitty life for the past few months was probably causing her to overreact just a little, but all she wanted was a nice quiet evening alone and her neighbor seemed intent on ruining that for her.
And she got even madder when the door swung open because of course the guy next door would be absolutely gorgeous.
He was probably a foot taller than her, though his height didn’t throw her off, because coming in at just over five feet meant she was used to feeling like a member of the Lollipop Guild. Dark blonde hair fell in waves across his forehead until he tossed his head casually to the side to reveal piercing periwinkle eyes. Sleeves of dark ink tattoos extended down both arms and if she weren’t so irritated already, she might have stopped to discover the tales they told.
But for the moment, she was on a mission, so she didn’t let the adorable smile that lit his face and the friendly way he said, “Hi,” as he stuck his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and his muscles tightened against the sleeves of his t-shirt distract her from her goal.
“Hi,” she replied, a little breathless, but regaining her confidence with each passing second. “Could you turn down the music please? I can hear every swear word through the wall.”
“I didn’t realize it was so loud,” he admitted with a sheepish smile, leaning against the doorframe, “I get kinda caught up in my own world, you know?”
He hadn’t had any intention of disturbing his neighbors when he cranked up the music as part of an effort to unwind, but now he was more than grateful for his foray into being an annoyance because without it, he wasn’t sure he’d ever have come face to face with the beautiful creature standing before him.
Seeing as the guy seemed genuinely apologetic, Jessamine toned down her anger just a notch, though her arms remained firmly crossed over her chest. “And the soundtrack to your world is deafening?”
“I guess so,” he shrugged, thoroughly enjoying their interaction, despite her fury.
“Well, if you wouldn’t mind, maybe it could be a little softer?” she asked, her tone still laced with irritation, “You know, for the people in this world.”
Before he could respond, she turned on her heel and stomped back into her apartment, shutting the door loudly.
“Nice to meet you too,” Gage said softly to the empty hallway, unable to control the smile growing on his lips as he closed the door and went to lower the volume of his music, knowing for a fact this wouldn’t be the last time he did whatever she asked.
Jessamine smiled as she settled back on her bed and heard the sound of the rock music fade out. Sometimes it was the small victories that made all the difference.