I was sickened that anyone could use someone as sweet as Ellie for a damn profit margin. “Guys suck.”
Ellie raised her mug of tea at me in agreement.
After a while of chewing silently, Ellie cleared her throat. “I noticed a few photographs of your family in your room earlier. You know, you’re welcome to put them out in the sitting room or anywhere in the flat. It’s your home now too.”
I stiffened at the mention of my family, still uneasy about taking another attack. “That’s okay.”
I heard her answering sigh and braced myself. “You don’t really talk about them much.”
The time had come already? With Rhian it had been six weeks before she found out. Stomach churning, I pushed my plate away from me and sat back to meet Ellie’s anxious gaze. We were roommates now, we got along – surprisingly well, considering how different we were – and it was time to just lay my cards on the table. “My family is dead,” I told her numbly, no grief, no tears, nothing for her to see as I watched her cheeks grow instantly pale. “I don’t talk about them. Ever.”
I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe because Ellie was so open and kind I thought there would be an attempt to break through my guard. But she amazed me again. “Okay,” she answered, and I saw her struggling to hide the pity in her gaze.
“Alright then.” I gave her a soft, reassuring smile and she answered it, her shoulders relaxing.
A minute later she murmured, “You know, you can be a little bit intimidating.”
My lips curled up apologetically. “I know. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. I’m used to Braden.”
As though he’d heard his name, Ellie’s cell lit up and his name flashed across the screen. She answered it immediately, but without her usual cheer. Seems my dead family was a mood killer.
I don’t know how, but Ellie had managed to convince me to go out with them. I stared down at Ellie and Braden’s friends in a dress I’d borrowed from her wardrobe. They were seated on sofas around a low coffee table in a bar on George IV Bridge. Braden had called two hours ago asking us to meet them all here. Of course, I’d been ready an hour ago. Ellie had taken forever to get ready, and as she shot Adam a smile, I began to understand why.
“Everyone, this is my new flatmate Jocelyn.” She turned to me. “Jocelyn, this is Jenna and Ed.”
I’d gotten the run down in the cab down here. Jenna, the cute blonde with the quirky glasses and diamond engagement ring was Ellie’s best friend and fellow PhD student. Ed, the short blonde guy who made geeky stylish, was Jenna’s fiancé.
“And you’ve met Adam and Braden.” Her smile slipped a little as she looked at the woman sitting pressed up against Braden. She had pale, almost white, blonde hair, huge blue eyes, long limbs and a full pouty mouth. “And this is Holly. Braden’s girlfriend.”
I remembered instantly that Ellie didn’t like her. From the sneer Holly gave Ellie, it was clear the feeling was mutual. I said hello to everyone, avoiding Braden’s gaze and ignoring the way my heart was pounding against my ribcage just being near him and his girlfriend.
No way was I going to feel despondent about the fact that she reminded me of Jo: my complete opposite in every way.
Sitting down next to Jenna as Ellie rushed off to get us drinks, I tried to look anywhere but at the couple to my right.
“How are you settling in then, Jocelyn?” Adam asked from across the table.
Grateful, I gave him a wide smile. “Good, thanks. And it’s Joss.”
“So you and Ellie are rubbing along well then?”
Something in his voice told me it wasn’t a casual question. He was worried about my roommate. I began to wonder if Ellie’s feelings might be reciprocated. “We’re getting along amazingly. She’s a great person.”
My answer went over well with him. “Good, I’m glad. So Ellie tells me you’re writing a book?”
“Oh my God,” Holly interrupted with her throaty English accent. I hated that her accent was so cool. “Did I tell you, babe, that my friend Cheri got published?”
Braden shook his head, his eyes darting to my face. I glanced away quickly, pretending to be fascinated by Holly’s news of this mysterious Cheri person.
“Cheri is my best friend from home,” Holly explained to the table just as Ellie came back with the drinks. I shimmied over to let her in beside me. “She writes the best books.”
“What are they about?” Ed asked politely. I glanced at Jenna and saw she and Ellie were exchanging ‘a look’. I was getting that Holly was not at all well-liked among the girls.
“Oh they’re just amazing. They’re about this girl from the poorhouse who falls in love with this guy who’s a businessman but still has, like, an old English title… like an earl or something. So romantic. And her writing is just amazing. She’s just amazing.”
Okay. Apparently she was amazing.
“So it’s an historical novel?” Ed asked.
“No.” She shook her head in bemusement.
“Holly,” Braden appeared to be trying not to smile, “There’s no such thing as a poorhouse anymore. Are you sure it’s not an historical?”
“Well, Cheri didn’t say it was.”
“Then I’m sure you’re right,” Adam told her congenially. Ellie’s shoulders shook next to mine at the very well-disguised sarcasm in his reply. I tried to look anywhere but at Braden.
“Jenna, when’s your first dress-fitting again?” Ellie asked, peering around me.