“Any friends you can stay with? Someone from work?”
“No one that I’m super comfortable with, no.”
Jeremy piped up, “Do you think you could stay at a nearby hotel? Just until things get sorted.”
Alice glanced down at her bare feet. She hadn’t even been able to put her shoes on before we dragged her out of there. The likelihood that she had her wallet and essential ID pieces on her was slim to none.
“I… I don’t have the money to stay at a hotel,” she whispered. “I had my tip money stashed away in a jar in my apartment.”
“Yeah, that’s gone,” I said aloud without thinking. Jeremy slapped me hard against the shoulder and glared at me.
A silent conversation passed between me and him. I could see the spark in his dark brown eyes, the one that told me he had an incredibly brilliant idea, or an incredibly stupid one. In most cases, it was brilliantly stupid. Jeremy and I were typically always on the same wavelength. He did most of the talking, while I did most of the heavy lifting. We didn’t have to discuss things aloud because we already knew our options. Alice would either sleep out in the cold, or…
“Why don’t you stay with us?” Jeremy beamed.
“W-what?” she breathed, an adorably hopeful and heartbreakingly sweet smile spreading across her lips. “R-really?”
“We have a spare bedroom at our place,” I stated. “We’ve been using it as storage, but I can clear it out. If you want.”
Alice bit her lower lip, casting her eyes down to the cold pavement, seemingly deep in thought. I wasn’t sure what her answer would be. The logical part of my brain told me she’d never go for it. We were strangers, barely even acquaintances. She’d have to be downright desperate to take us up on the offer.
“Okay,” she answered finally.
“Really?” Jeremy almost squealed.
“Yeah, I’m kind of desperate. I promise not to overstay my welcome.”
Well, damn. I didn’t see that coming, I thought quietly to myself.
As weirded out as I was about this whole turn of events, a tiny voice in the back of my head was just as delighted as Jeremy appeared to be. The only difference was I knew how to lock that voice away and stop myself from looking like a complete idiot. Jeremy, unfortunately, did not have the same filtering process.
“Wonderful!” he exclaimed. “I mean, not wonderful per se. Your home did just burn down. I mean, um–”
“Cállate,” I sighed, patting him hard on the back.
“Right, right. I’m shutting up now.”
Alice’s eyes passed between Jeremy and I, the corners of her eyes crinkling a bit. After everything that had just happened, it was good to see her smiling.
It had been a long time since I last lived with a girl. I grew up in a house full of sisters, so I was certain of two things: they needed their own space, and it wasn’t okay to go putting on their makeup –for fun– without their permission. Little boys could be curious, okay? Nothing wrong with that. As long as I abided by those two rules, I didn’t see much of a problem letting Alice stay in the spare bedroom until she could get back up on her feet.
If I was being perfectly honest, I didn’t think Max would have gone along with my suggestion. The fact that he agreed to it only served to prove my theory that he was secretly all gooey and soft on the inside. I’d never say that out loud to him because Lord knew Max would deck me as soon as I got the words out, and I’d rather not risk taking any damage to the face. It was my money maker, after all. Then again, I heard chicks liked the rugged, tough-guy look.
Alice was understandably dead on her feet. The poor thing had absolutely nothing left to her name; not even a change of clothes. I managed to scrounge up an old pair of sweatpants and a white t-shirt with the Sacramento Fire Department logo printed on the front, along with a clean bath towel.
“Here,” I said, handing everything to her. “Shower’s free. Max’s is making up the bed for you. And you can wear these for the night.”
Alice smiled gratefully, but wearily, taking everything from my hands. The tips of her fingers brushed against mine, softly and barely there. The contact sent a shiver up the length of my arm, goosebumps trailing as it went.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “I really don’t know how to repay you.”
I shook my head. “There’s no need for that. As long as you’re feeling better, that’s all the repayment we need.”
Alice nodded and turned away, carefully treading down the hall toward the bathroom. It was a good thing I did a serious round of cleaning on my day off, otherwise she would have been walking into a nightmare. I didn’t exactly feel like getting into the details. All that mattered was the tub had been scrubbed down, the toilet was as pearly white as teeth, and there were no stray beard hairs stuck to the sink bowl. All it took was a little elbow grease on my part, but now it was fit to serve guests.