Ready Or Not

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Starlight Or Moonlight

The change of scenery was a welcome distraction.

Not that she didn’t absolutely adore her roommate and her brother. Tyler had come over after class and the three of them had gone to dinner at their favorite little pub down the street. They’d talked and laughed and had a grand old time and Jessamine had felt completely at home. She always did when she was around them and they would never make her feel like a third wheel.

But every time Cassie looked at Tyler like he hung all the stars in the sky or Tyler’s fingers automatically found his girlfriend’s while they walked side by side, Jessamine would feel a strange ache in her heart.

It felt a lot like longing and she hated that. She hated that she so desperately wished to have the kind of relationship that Cassie and Tyler had. That she wanted to be so in love with someone that just the sound of their name could make her smile. Or that she wanted someone to look at her like she was holding their entire universe together.

It was stupid.

She didn’t need anyone. She never had. She’d always been strong and independent and completely sure of herself. And she wasn’t sure why now, when she had so many other things to worry about in her life, was the point that she wished she could share it with someone.

So when she felt that ache, she’d excused herself from the post dinner cuddling session, grabbed her sketchbook and pencils, and fled to the roof. It was ten floors up and she’d discovered that the door was perpetually unlocked about three weeks after she moved in and ever since then, she’d come up here whenever she needed to clear her head.

She sank down in the foldable chair she’d dragged along with her the second time she’d come and gazed into the darkness, interspersed by twinkling lights, and searched for inspiration. It frustrated her beyond belief that she’d been so uninspired lately and she was hoping the breathtaking sight would cause her inner creative wheels to turn.

It kind of worked. It took about fifteen minutes, but eventually, her pencil began to move against the sketchpad paper in light strokes, only for her to be immediately interrupted by the sound of the roof door opening.

She started, initially frightened that it would be the apartment complex security guard telling her to get lost, but found her blood rushing with a strange mixture of relief and exhilaration at the sight of her hot next door neighbor. “Oh, it’s you.”

He was wearing a denim button up, but she wasn’t disappointed, because he’d rolled the sleeves to reveal the symphony of tattoos on his forearms and admired the way his tendons flexed as he stuffed his fingers in the front pockets of his black jeans and walked towards her.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been greeted so warmly in my entire life,” he smiled easily, glad that he was able to hide his slight breathlessness and the rapid beating of his heart.

She looked just as gorgeous as she had the first time he saw her, a little more dressed up this time, though. She wore a white cardigan over a black floral dress that must fall to the floor, seeing as it was entirely covering her legs as she sat cross legged on a foldable chair, a sketchpad in her lap and a pencil in her hand.

“Sorry,” she sighed, immediately wincing at her less than friendly tone. Despite the annoyance that had preceded her last interaction with the hottie next door, she’d be the first to admit that she might have been unnecessarily harsh with him. “It’s just been one of those…”

“Days?” he offered, leaning back against the thick concrete ledge of the roof across from her, crossing his legs at the ankles. He wanted to be closer to her, but seeing as there was a height difference when they were both standing, towering over her while she was sitting wouldn’t set the right mood. So he decided to keep a comfortable distance instead.

Despite the ever present knots of anxiety in her muscles, she let out a short laugh. “Months?”

“Gotcha,” he nodded, crossing his arms over his chest and studying the worry lines on her forehead, wanting nothing more than to wish them away. “I guess that explains why you’re so tightly corked.”

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise, thinking that she’d most definitely misheard him, because no stranger would say something that brash to another stranger. “Excuse me?”

He grimaced, realizing how that sounded and immediately corrected himself. “I just mean that it seems like you could use a break.”

Tilting her head to the side, she just stared at him for a moment, wondering how he could possibly know so much about her in such a short amount of time. “You sound like my roommate.”

“Well they’re right,” he grinned widely.

She rolled her eyes. “Thanks.”

“I’m Gage,” he said, because it had been a week since he’d last seen her and not knowing her name was driving him crazy. She didn’t offer it right away, so he coaxed it out of her. “This is the part of a conversation where the other person usually replies with their name.”

“Jessamine,” she said, the corners of her lips lifting into the smallest smile. She forced herself not to grin entirely because she had a feeling he’d take a full blown smile the wrong way. Attractive as he may be, she wasn’t looking for any complications in her life at the moment and this whole package of bad boy yumminess had complicated written all over him.

“Beautiful,” he replied, his gaze so direct that she got the feeling he wasn’t talking about her name and she fought back a blush. He nodded towards the sketchpad in her lap, one which was sketched a half finished drawing of a woman’s silhouette. “Are you an artist?”

“Not exactly,” she shook her head and let out a frustrated sigh, “These sketches are for the designer I work for. Or they will be if I ever finish them.”

“Blocked?” he wrinkled his nose sympathetically. “I’ve been there.”

Despite her no complications rule, she was a bit intrigued. It was always nice to talk to someone who could understand her struggles. “You an artist?”

“In a way,” he lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “I’m a tattoo artist.”

“Very cool,” she replied, completely impressed.

She’d always loved tattoos and piercings. Everyone in her family did. Hell, every one of her pseudo siblings was either tattooed or pierced, with the exception of Zach, who passed out at the mere sight of a needle. She had ink herself – a small, black gecko on her ribcage and her parents’ and brother’s initials on the back of her right shoulder – though people generally assumed she wasn’t the type of girl to do such a thing. Which is exactly why she did it in the first place. She didn’t like being put in a box.

“Did you just compliment me?” he grinned, feeling his entire body warm. “I feel like this is a breakthrough in our relationship.”

“Relationship?” she lifted one eyebrow, not entirely sure how she felt about the fact that the adorable dimples in his cheeks made her heart rate speed up just a little bit. “We met like a week ago.”

He shook his head, his smile still wide. “Technically a week ago you just glared at me angrily.”

“So that means we met ten minutes ago,” she deadpanned, “Even less basis for a relationship.”

He shrugged, not willing to backtrack when they were making some sort of progress. “All relationships have to start somewhere, right?”

In theory, she knew that was true, but she got the sense that there was always some sort of deeper meaning behind Gage’s words. “And where is this relationship going?”

He had plenty of ideas. Normally, that kind of line would be the perfect opening to suggest some adult fun, but as an entire highlight reel of possibilities played in his mind, he realized that Jessamine was special. He’d known that from the moment he’d opened his door to find her glaring daggers in his direction. He wanted this to last, which meant that he couldn’t scare her off.

So he smiled softly and said, “We’re going to be friends.”

She did her best not to return his grin. She wanted to. So badly. His smile was wide and adorable and filled with light and it was insanely difficult not to stretch her lips to the same facial expression.

But years of practice meant that Jessamine was calm, cool, and collected in every situation. She wasn’t the type of person who got swept up my sweet words and cute smiles. He was gorgeous, but she knew better. She couldn’t afford this kind of distraction; there were too many other things in her life that needed her attention right now.

“I should get going,” she said, uncrossing her legs and dropping her bare feet to the concrete, knowing that the longer she stayed, the more her willpower would crumble.

Nodding, Gage stood up straight. “I’ll walk you down.”

“You’re leaving already?” she lifted an eyebrow in surprise, clutching her pencil and sketchpad to her chest as he held open the roof door for her to step back into the stairwell. “Didn’t you come up here for a reason?”

Gage was a strong believer in fate and destiny. So when he’d gotten off work and come to the roof to do some deep late night thinking about the girl next door, he figured the fact that he saw Jessamine sitting there was the universe’s way of telling him that they were meant to be in each other’s lives.

But seeing as she hadn’t responded to his offer to be friends, he got the sense that saying any of that would just freak her out, so instead, he settled for, “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“So now you’re going to be mysterious?” she shot back, half annoyed, half intrigued. A part of her was wondering if he’d followed her up here. Another part of her was wondering why she found the thought of him seeking her out to be flattering rather than creepy.

He shrugged as they made their way down the stairs. “Gotta keep things interesting.”

“Fair enough.” She paused outside her apartment door, wondering why she didn’t want to say goodbye just yet.

“You’re warming up to me,” he grinned, “I can tell.”

And that was her cue to leave. Rolling her eyes, she twisted the doorknob and pushed open the door that she’d purposefully left open since Cassie and Tyler were inside and said, “Goodnight, Gage,” over her shoulder as she entered, closing the door before he got a chance to respond.

Gage stood in the hallway, smiling like an idiot, and whispered, “Sweet dreams, Jessamine,” before he retreated to his own apartment.

“Back so soon?” Tyler asked from where he and Cassie were snuggled up on the couch watching TV, absentmindedly combing his fingers through his girlfriend’s hair.

“Yeah, I just…,” Jessamine paused, pursing her lips as she directed her next question at her roommate. “Cass have you met our neighbor to the left?”

“Can’t say that I have,” Cassie shook her head. If she didn’t know any better, she would think that the unflappable Jessamine Copeland looked a bit…flustered. “Why?”

Jessamine thought about telling the truth, mostly because she didn’t really like having secrets from Cassie and Tyler, but then she decided against it. After all, she figured the chances that she’d encounter Gage again were probably slim to none, even if he did live next door.

“No reason,” she said, flashing them a smile as she headed towards her room. “Night guys.”

She exhaled deeply as she closed her bedroom door and flopped down her bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering why it felt as though her heart was about to burst out of her chest.

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