I'd like to thank those who took part in my most recent Twitter survey. The winning results being, a contemporary romance with a quirky church girl. That in mind, I present to you, a sample of my novella Offbeat to start off the new year. Happy 2019 readers!
Chapter One: Accommodate
Drenched in a guilty sweat, Jeff ran up the stairs to his two bedroom apartment—with only fourteen minutes before his next potential roommate was to inspect the place. He thanked the sky that the stranger wasn’t obnoxiously punctual. The first minute was wasted as he rattled his key in the stubborn doorknob, as he rushed to get his act together.
While Jeff had been renting the unit for well over a year, his previous roommate Lucas had moved out with his girlfriend, so Jeff was going to be shy eight hundred dollars with a spare room.
Skipping the shower, he combed his dark hair back with his grizzly fingers. Lifting his arm he dared a whiff of his sour body odour, and zipped up a sweatshirt in hopes it would cover up the smell, or at least the perfume that had rubbed off on him. With ten minutes to spare, he piled as many dishes as he could in the dishwasher, scrubbed the toilet bowl, and shut anything potentially cringe-worthy behind his bedroom door. Peeking over to the stove clock, he noticed this stranger was now eight minutes late.
His sweat soaked through his shirt.
Panicking, he ripped it off for a clean t-shirt from the dryer. Above Jeff noticed the spring breeze scent of his dryer sheets, sparking an idea in his frazzled mind. Three knocks on the door disturbed him as he shoved it down his shirt. With no time to scrub it against his skin or pull it out, he opened the door.
“Hi. You must be Jeffrey.”
The stranger had short rose-gold hair with thick bangs that covered their eyes, and a black and grey plaid shirt buttoned to the neck. They wore thick frames that weighed their appearance down, scuffing red marks along the bridge of their nose.
“Jeff.” he corrected, welcoming his guest. His eyes trailed down, noticing the two minuscule lumps on her chest.
“Sorry, my bad. I’m Chrissy. So this is it.” she said enthusiastically. “And eight hundred, you say?” She glanced down to the gym studio across the street. Jeff nodded. Chrissy pivoted around to the kitchen, cautious opening the cabinets at random. She lifted her hand to prevent a container or two from falling. Jeff blushed. Chrissy didn’t seem to mind, when she went straight to the fridge.
“Health-nut huh?” she said scanning through all the fruits, vegetables, and the leftover salmon packed away in a sealed container. She shut the fridge door. Her gaze carried over to the weights in the living room and bungee cord dangling from the ceiling.
“There’s a washer and dryer over here...” he mentioned distracting her from Chrissy’s bizarre intrusion of privacy.
“Yeah I saw it. Where do you work, Jeff?” She flicked the kitchen tap on testing the water pressure. It was moderate, cold then hot enough. He scratched the back of his greasy neck. Stretching out his deltoids, the dryer sheet drifted to the laminate floor. He caught it and crammed it into his back pocket, before she noticed.
“Me? Oh. Just down the street there.” He gestured towards the gym. “I’m a personal trainer. And you?” Developing a sudden interest towards the woman, he leaned up against the counter between her and the dishwasher. Her lips pressed together.
“Huh. Does that mean I can’t eat cake?” Jeff smirked at her comment, not insulted at the least. Desserts generate business. Through her thick bangs, he caught her eyes. She swallowed her breath, “Graphic designer. It’s not as cool as it sounds. I basically draw up logos on Photoshop, and set up computer-illiterate baby boomers with a website.”
Trying to be clever and relate, Jeff slid out his phone and opened an app to his online feed, with a picture showing off his musculature. “Oh. I just use social media to promote myself; I do a lot of mouth to mouth.” He coughed, “I mean word of mouth.” Chrissy pitifully laughed.
“You have a girlfriend?” she asked. Jeff shook his head proudly. “Are most of your clients women?” Jeff shrugged in hopes his suave would impress her.
Chrissy spun around to the spare bedroom with nearly two hundred square feet. “Wow.” Her eyebrows rose. Her hand slowly caressed the worn oak surface of the table, next to the door. “The closet is small, but can I keep the desk? It seems it would be a beast to move.”
“It won’t be in the way?”
“Any other questions,” Jeff queried as Chrissy stood by the small boxed window. Three iron bars protected the outside, as she overlooked the street view.
“It’s my first apartment okay. Yeah... I was getting sick of Mom and Dad looking over my shoulder, you know? Um... give me a second.” She tugged at her lips pondering though the list of generic questions she half remembered. “Are utilities included?”
They walked out to the living room, but spotting his dusty music collection she rushed over to the shelf of CD’s, scanning over the titles.
“No.” Jeff paused watching her flip through the albums. “We split the cost. In the winter you should expect to pay closer to a thousand. I split groceries too. I eat a lot, in fact I’m going to eat whatever is in the fridge, so don’t bother labelling it.”
Chrissy glanced up to his blue eyes. “Even cake?”
“Especially cake.” He winked. She bent down reading the fine print of the bottom CD cases, budding with interest—Jeff invested in the view of her voluptuous backend.
“I admire your honesty Jeffrey. I’m going to need a day or two to think about it. I’ll send you an email when and if I’m ready to move in.” she said while sliding the handful of jewelled cases back into the shelf. And by thinking about it, she meant sparing a moment to pray, if she bothered to.
“Jeff.” he corrected her.
“I know.” She shrugged. Standing up, she shook the figurative dust off her knees. He smiled politely, despite the putrid fumes wafting from his armpits. Envying a shower, he promptly encouraged her to the front door.
“I can’t help but feel like there’s a catch. Large bedroom, great location, affordable cost. Anything you should warn me about?”
Jeff rubbed the underside of his nose. “What are your thoughts on guests staying the night?”
Far too innocent, Chrissy shrugged. “How many?”
She rolled her eyes. “Huh. I’ve outgrown the whole sleepover stage.” She opened the door to the narrow regretfully carpeted hallway with a trace of cigarette smoke corrupting a standard mildew scent.
Jeff nervously stroked the back of his ear. “So if I’m busy in my room...” His words trailed off. Jeff’s hand covered the doorknob. Chrissy rolled her eyes again without a concern.
“I’ll respect your privacy. No worries. I’m somewhat of a hermit anyways.” She waved farewell with a budding curiosity to who his friends may be. Despite him having a handful of years over her: four, five, six at the most—she wondered if perhaps she’d be able to recognize a couple faces.
Jeff shut the door, hurried to the bathroom, and peeled off his shirt. He winked into the mirror before twisting the shower faucet to the maximum heat. The water boiled his skin red purely satisfying and numb to the senses.
Three knocks interrupted him. He quickly wrapped a towel around his waist to open the door. “Hey,” he said with a smoulder. Chrissy swallowed her breath. Water dripped down his skin following the indentations of his muscles.
“A month. Not biweekly right?”
Jeff grinned, “Yeah.” She nodded then shuffled down the hall.
He returned to the bathroom, with a long chain of text messages on his phone. Many of them were clients checking up on him. One in particular requested a photo. With a smirk cut off from the frame, he dropped his towel and replied.
The weather was favourable for early May. The sun outshone the chilly air, making it optimal weather for moving day. “Hey. You’re still here.” Chrissy announced. Jeff, partially insulted raised an eyebrow. Tugging the garbage bags of clothes from her hands, he tossed them in her bedroom.
“Uh yeah? I thought you’d want help moving your stuff.” She shook her head, the color of her skin darker with embarrassment. She gestured him out. He furrowed his brows.
“My family is going to be here any minute.” She covered her mouth. “I didn’t mean for it to come out that way, it’s not that... it’s just... my parents are not the greatest with first impressions.”
Jeff chuckled. How could her parents struggle with first impressions? He swore their daughter was dressed like a man at their first encounter. So used to the appearance of spandex and sassy fluorescent deep-cut tank tops, Jeff spotting a tailored plaid shirt on a woman who refused to reveal any skin was somewhat perplexing.
“Do I embarrass you?” He hooked his muscular arm around her short chunky frame. She squinted, acting as if he was.
“No, it’s just. Yikes.” With a squeak, she closed her eyes. Her father and brother Joshua filled the hallway with two twin mattresses cautiously navigating them. They were thwacking them wall to wall, so Jeff let go to assist them. They leaned them along the wall of her room. In a sweat, Chrissy’s father wiped his hand on his denim pant leg and held it out for Jeff to shake, stunned at his traditional approach, he did so merely to be courteous.
“Hey. I’m Jeff. Chrissy’s roommate.”
Her father’s friendly smile remained, but his handshake nearly crippled him.
“You’re her roommate? Hmm.” Her father scanned the apartment. “It’s just the two of you?” Chrissy’s father turned to her. She tried grinning herself out of his authoritative glare, but ultimately failed.
“What does your girlfriend think about this?” His brows scrunched. Chrissy crossed her arms, more irritated than Jeff.
“Dad. It’s fine. I’m not interested in him, if that’s what you’re wondering.” she said it far too readily. Jeff blinked, confused. She’s not interested in him, at all? But she saw him shirtless, and he was sure there was some form of chemistry developing between them. And with all his innuendoes of cake or her intimately intrusive behaviour, was there no spark? Who could resist a muscular man with charm—apparently Chrissy.
“I don’t believe a guy and girl should be under the same roof.” Her father announced. Chrissy shrugged, fairly unapologetic. She had already signed the agreement. It was with confidence too, proud she was taking her first steps on her own since earning her diploma.
“Separate rooms. Dad, people do this all the time now and it’s no big deal.” Chrissy placed her hand on her father’s shoulder. Jeff joined her brother, avoiding the building tension. “Trust me, you won’t have to worry. Like I said, I’m not interested.”
Not another word on the subject was discussed, not with Jeff present at least. However, by her father’s domineering glance Chrissy knew the topic was far from over.
“Should I order a pizza or...”Jeff offered, his finger pointed around the room as he hinted for suggestions.
Chrissy’s father shook her head. “So I’ll see you at church tomorrow?” he asked. She nodded, shutting the door on them. Without a word, she entered her bedroom dead focused on unpacking her belongings, gratefully without them.
Jeff cleared his throat to steal her attention as he leaned against the doorframe. “That was weird.” Chrissy rolled her eyes, dumping the third garbage bag. A mountain of clothes covered her mattress. Jeff inched closer, handing her a wire hanger each time she was done with the last. “Do they hate me or something?”
She giggled. “My parents don’t hate. They’re just conservative, and I’m... liberal. Moving out is what we needed. I am an adult so... yeah?” It was clear by her tone of voice that Chrissy loved her parents dearly and she only hoped for the same in return. She assumed by her upbringing that they sought out a meaningful relationship with her, but she was nothing like her older brother. This subconsciously brought a weighing doubt, especially because she knew she was different.
It wasn’t her rose-gold hair or quirky mannerisms. Chrissy was a creative woman, who had yet to figure out if she could accept herself. Anxious to what her family thought of her, she withheld the deep discussions to herself and sometimes privately in prayer.
Chrissy gave up on untying the last garbage bag, so she dug her fingernails in to tear it open. Her blankets fell out with a few worn out children’s towels. Jeff smirked recalling his first time away from home. Unlike Chrissy, he moved miles away from his family to attend University. After his scholarship ran out, he decided to leave his kinesiology degree unfinished to assist in boot camp programs targeted towards women his age.
Piling the towels in one arm, Chrissy picked up a shoe box with her free hand. “You don’t share toiletries do you?” She asked sarcastically standing in the bathroom. Jeff revealed the empty spaces within the vanity, assuming she would hog the entire space. For curiosity’s sake, she opened the one space he didn’t offer. Towels, bottles of soap, his razor, and his styling products had burst out falling onto her toes. She snickered. Placing her shoebox down, she opened it to reveal: a toothbrush, a hairbrush, a disposable razor, shampoo, floss, toothpaste, and a Ziploc baggie’s worth of makeup. “That’s it.” she confirmed, organizing them neatly in the first drawer. She set her folded towels underneath, with room to spare. His jaw dropped, while he shoved his hair gel back into the cupboard.
He cleared his throat. “Simple.”
She brushed her bangs out her face to reveal standard brown eyes. There was nothing special about them. No unique flecks or hazel rings to add variety to her plain far too common irises.
“Sure. There’s enough complicated with my life. A bar of soap shouldn’t add to that.”
Most of my fiction stories are written in first person and in the present tense, but I'm always finding ways to challenge myself to improve on the craft. (This is before professional editing.) Yes, this was a longer blog post than most, so thank you for checking this out and share your thoughts.
...And because I'm a big meanie, you don't meet Drew and Desiree, other crucial characters in the Offbeat novella until chapter two.