Phone in one hand, I unfold the newspaper page in the other.
DON’T WANNA BE HOMELESS
May 24th-September 2nd Gillamour Island
Looking 4 housing on island.
Alls I need: ceiling & walls. No joke—I’ll live in ur closet.
Can’t pay more than $500/month, but I share my snacks.
Contact Bodie ManinaStetson@lifeworks.com (917) 555-3216
Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day. For three short months, putting up with a roommate is doable. The bar is so swamped over the summer, I’m hardly ever home anyway. And if I’m lucky, this “man in a Stetson” will agree to walk Hugo when I can’t get home to do it myself. If nothing else, I owe it to the old dog’s bladder.
Hi Bodie. Caught your ad in the Waterfront Gazette. I have a room for rent on the island.
I run my fingers through my shaggy, sun-bleached hair, suck in a deep breath to strengthen my resolve, and finish the text.
Slightly bigger than a closet, and it’s got a ceiling and walls. LOL.
I refrain from adding a winky-face emoji, but go me for injecting humor. After pressing send, I rub the goosebumps from my arms. I am so not a people person.
The reply pops up before I have a chance to stick my phone on the arm of the chair.
I gawk at the four-letter word. Cool? That’s all this Bodie guy has to say in response to such a supremely generous offer? Because anything less than $1000/month is a steal for a rental with a private bedroom so close to the beach in summer season. As I shake my head, cursing silently, he adds to his original, extremely inadequate reply.
Size ain’t everything, am I right?
The potential for a measly five hundred bucks a month doesn’t make responding to his one-liner worth the effort. And in my experience, the only men who make size jokes are ones who have issues with being short. Anyway, it’s a damned good thing I’m not looking to get rich. I’m merely saving for a car—something bright and beachy and distracting—and so I require a temporary influx of cash. If I can deal with a stranger—a small-statured cowboy, no less— invading my precious private space for a couple of months, I’ll have enough for the required “good faith” down payment to the Bank of Dad.
My name’s Oliver. I live downtown. Across the street from Pendle Beach. My cottage is a shoebox, but I’ve got a spare bedroom w/a twin bed & an empty bureau. Only 1 bathroom, so we’ll have to share. Living room, sunny porch w/an outdoor shower. I take another stab at humor.
And a tiny kitchen where you can keep your snacks.
Gonna call you Ollie.
My humor has again fallen flat. And... this guy seems pretty much out to lunch.
I should also let you know that I have a dog. A yellow lab. Name’s Hugo. Maybe Bodie hates dogs. Or is allergic to them. I catch myself smiling. The Hugo-factor will probably kill the deal and I’ll have to find another less irritating way to raise the down payment. But what do I have left to sell other than my body? Men seem to appreciate it—they call me “sleek” and “lanky.” Women are into me too, but with them I wouldn’t prove to be as much fun between the sheets. In any case, sex work isn’t a realistic option for me. Not being a people person and all.
Bodie’s probably just a man of few words. That’s “cool” when you’re sharing a tiny cottage and you’re a serious introvert.
My phone vibrates again.
Parking a prob? Got a bike.
A bike? He must mean a motorcycle.
There’s plenty—on and off street. I flip my phone in my hand to study the image of the car my heart is set on parking in the tiny spot beside my cozy cottage. Last week in my routine internet search for the perfect used car, I fell madly in love, printed the picture, and taped it to the back of my phone. Very middle school, I get that. And I haven’t been able to concentrate on much else since. But it got my mind off Jack.
The vehicle’s owner—an Abby Turner who lives across Pinella Bridge on the mainland—promised to hold the car for me until September fifth. She likes the idea of one last summer season with her “baby.” So I’ll only be hoofing it and taking the beach shuttle for three more months. Then the little yellow bug will be my baby.
What it comes down to is, I’ve learned not to put my faith in human beings. To be blunt, I need another boyfriend like I need a hole in the head. Not that I’ve had many, but my rela‐tionships always end badly, leaving me unbearably lonely. Which is strange considering I don’t mind being alone. Then there’s my family. Mom and Dad live separately, but nearby. I do my best to keep a safe distance between them and me, as our bond tends to be complicated. Complicated—a PC way of saying they seriously stress me out.
And I already have a dog.
I’m just so stuck in a rut; a new-to-me car is the obvious solution. But between school loans and a mortgage, I’m in debt. Buying a car will create even more debt. It’s a financial risk I’m willing to take, as I’m hoping it will liven things up and get me out of the depressing habit of basking in my self-created misery.
When do you want to come by and check out the place, Bodie?
No need. I’ll take it. $500/month, yeah?
I thought I was impulsive to sell my sacred privacy for the price of a less-than-practical car. But this guy is reckless. He’s moving into a house, sight unseen, with a total stranger. I could be a serial killer. But then, so could he. I shrug and type.
Gotta move in on Friday, Ollie.
Ollie? So not me, but Bodie doesn’t know that. Yet.
It’ll have to be early in the day. I work at four.
Great. Bodie has a job. I probably should have thought to ask. And what about references? I really ought to request those too. But it’s only for the summer. How much harm can one guy do to my tightly guarded life in three short months?
Do you need help bringing in your stuff? Nah. Don’t have much shit.
And now it’s my turn to type that four-letter word.
All I have left to do is the formal meet and greet and then fork over a key.
I grit my teeth and seal my fate.
My address is 17 Pendle Lane. White cottage w/yellow shutters & front door.
Yellow. He repeats. Yellow shutters. Yellow door. Yellow pup. Yellow’s cool.
Don’t I know it? I’m risking my very sanity for a 2017 Sandstorm Yellow Volkswagen Beetle Dune. But it’s a convertible and I’m a sucker for wind in my hair.
What time should I expect you? See ya Friday, dude.
So much for timing.
Friday, it is.
“HEY, TOP DOG.” Sam insists on calling me this, although I’m his coworker, not his boss. And I’ve never been a top, though he has no way of knowing this.
“Sam, you’re late.” I press the ice-crush button to drown out his excuse, which he most certainly considers a valid reason. But since I’m not going to do anything about his tardiness, there’s no use hearing it.
The blender stops too soon; Sam is still babbling. “So anyway, thanks to Mom’s nails not being dry, she didn’t get home to watch LeeLee on time. And I missed the three o’clock shuttle.”
Again. But Sam’s a single dad to the cutest little girl on the island, so of course I cut him some more slack. Maybe my frozen loner heart is mottled with soft spots—for LeeLee, Hugo, Dad—at least lately—and maybe even a little one for Sam because he’s been trying so damn hard to make sure LeeLee is emotionally stable since his nasty divorce last summer. Jack almost melted the ice encasing my heart but ended up sending me back into romantic deep-freeze. Probably never to emerge. And speaking of icy things, it’s time for the drink’s special ingredients. I toss a handful of sugar-coated, frozen strawberries into the blender and pour in Surf’s Up’s custom daiquiri mix. The one I created. Then finally a generous stream of Tito’s. “Table ten is waiting for a bucket of Buds.”
“On it.” Sam heads to the ice bin. He grabs a clean orange pail from one of the overhead hooks but stops and says, “It’s gonna be out of control in here tonight seeing as it’s the first warm day of the season.”
“The guests will sure be thirsty,” I chime in. Small talk takes effort, and I do my best. I tend to stray toward work-related topics. “Um, you need to pull your hair back, right?”
“Oh, yeah. Right.” He captures his long dreads in a loose ponytail. “Did Jack hire a new bouncer yet?”
Sam sinks the bucket into the ice bin. “Not your worry.” I have to raise my voice to be heard over the roar of the blender. And I so very much hate to shout—don’t care for too much attention.
“Um...it kinda is my problem. Last night I had to break up a brawl over there, by the jukebox. The dude, as well as the lady, was twice my size.” He glances past the bar to the antique jukebox in the corner, and his eyes fill with clouds. Rainclouds, not the puffy, white sunny-day kind.
Sam’s got a point; he’s way too small to break up brawls. There’s plenty of cause for concern. It’s the week before Memorial Day. Folks tend to let their hair down when vacation is in sight, even if it’s just a long weekend. Surf’s Up needed a new bouncer like yesterday. It’s a crying shame our last doorman thought it was a good idea to proposition the girls waiting in line to get inside. And to very vocally rate how hot they are on a scale of one to ten.
I nod and reach to the high shelf for some thick-stemmed glasses. Rod “The Angel Slayer” Bernardi definitely had to go. And Jack made me do the dirty deed. I’m no angel, but the look in Rod’s eyes when I sacked him told me I was next in line to be slayed.
“I’ll keep an eye out for trouble tonight.”
“Like you don’t have enough to do, Top Dog. Running the bar, even with Mika’s help, is more than a fulltime job.” Sam grins. “And, not that you’re interested, but my prediction is you’re gonna be a total waste product by the end of the summer if you’re serious about buying the chick car you told me about.”
“Since when do cars have gender assignments?”
He takes his time arranging the bottles in the bucket. “Whatever. Just watch my back tonight. LeeLee graduates from preschool tomorrow morning, and I can’t show up with a black eye.”
It’s been damned rowdy in here since Jack made me can Rod. Still, there’s no way I’m about to admit this to another employee. I don’t have plans to throw Jack under the bus, even if he threw me under a Mack Truck. It’ll be a miracle if I get home to Hugo at a decent hour, though. My dog is the only truly positive living being in my life—he deserves to be treated as such.
“Look, Jack swears the new bouncer, some guy named Nicholas Bowden, will be here on Friday. I can keep things under control until then.” It’s just two nights.
I pull my hair into a messy bun on top of my head. Don’t need any distractions tonight.