Cooper was one of the New York elite, a socialite and renowned playboy who found himself on the cover of gossip magazines as much as the Kardashians. The day I first met him, he looked like he was shooting for incognito in a baseball hat, shades on, and the first one in the store that day, which was a time when the nerds were usually still curled up asleep in their moms’ basements, dreaming of Sailor Moon. I knew who he was almost right away, and when he asked about some pretty specific underground comics, I knew two things: 1) we would end up being friends and 2) he was the coolest geek I’d ever met.
So, I became his dealer of sorts. Helped sneak him into ComicCon in a freaking full-blown custom-made Batman suit. And when he became the investor for his friend Rose to open the book-slash-comic bar, he asked me to help her run it, and the salary he offered almost made me faint.
The second thing I did when I came to New York was find an apartment, which ended up being on the Upper West, subletting a room from a guy named Giovanni, who I never met. My roommate then was Francesca, who had been Giovanni’s girlfriend until she came home and found him nailing a friend of hers. There was apparently a lot of swearing in Italian as she threw all of his clothes off the fire escape — a story that my upstairs neighbor Mrs. Frank loved to retell.
A few months after I moved in — long enough for me to badger her into teaching how to make pasta and speak a little Italian — she met some Wall Street dude who moved her into his penthouse on the East Side, and the subletting carousel began. I’d been living in the apartment for two years, and in that time, I’d had no less than six roommates, including Francesca and Tyler, and he’d lived with me for almost a year. Each one ended up letting the apartment to someone else, changing the scenery every couple of months. My last roommate had sent Tyler to take her place, the guy her friend had just dumped who had nowhere else to go.
I’d never lived with a straight guy before, certainly not one who was built like a freaking stallion. But the second he told me his name, I knew exactly who he was. Everybody knew about Tyler Knight, the Nebraska tight end to watch, the sure thing for an NFL contract. In fact, he played when I was a freshman in college, and I still remember watching the game when he was injured on TV, seeing him lying unconscious on the field as they administered CPR. But the injury to his spine took away any hope he had of a career in the NFL, and we all mourned for him.
I was a little star struck with him at first. The fact that I lived with a legend was crazy enough. The fact that we were actually friends was the nuttiest thing of all.
But friends we were, falling into our relationship easily. I’d never even entertained the idea of him and me as anything more than what we were. He belonged on his shelf and I belonged on mine — the separation between us may as well have been the Great Divide. But friends was a different playing field, one that brought us level as long as the terms were in place. We balanced each other well, even down to the little things — I made the coffee, he cooked the eggs. I knew when to razz him and I knew when he needed a win. So did he. And having something familiar made it a little easier to be so far away from everything I knew.
He stepped out of his room, head to ankle in business casual — he was still barefoot — and it was all cut to perfection, without a pleat or misfitted seam to be seen. His togetherness sent another little flutter through me, while at the same time highlighting the differences between us. I’d never be considered what someone would call together. He smiled as he walked into the kitchen, heading straight for the coffee pot.
“Sleep well?” I asked, abandoning my book.
“As well as I could with Kafka barking all night,” he said as he poured himself a cup.
I snorted as I stood and grabbed my coffee cup, heading into the kitchen to sit at the table. “That dog barks at his own shadow, I swear. If Mrs. Frank wasn’t the coolest old lady in the world, I’d riot.”
“For only weighing six pounds, that dog has some real pipes.” He leaned on the counter and took a sip.
“You’ve got to get a white noise machine or something. I learned that years ago — it’s top of the must-have list for living in this apartment.”
He shrugged. “I know. I just forget to actually get one.”
“There’s an app for that, you know.”
He tossed me his phone. “Great. Set it up.”
I caught it and made a face at the busted screen while he watched, amused. “When are you going to get this thing fixed? I mean, you’re all put together, but your phone looks like shit. I can’t even read the icons.” I squinted my eyes at it for emphasis. “How the hell do you play chess on this?”
But he smiled. “It works just fine. It’s what’s inside that counts.”
I snorted and rolled my eyes.
He winked and took another sip of his coffee, setting the cup on the counter before opening the fridge. He pulled out the supplies he needed to make eggs — first the long paper carton, then diced tomatoes, chives, and mushrooms he’d pre-cut, then rummaged through the cabinets for his favorite skillet and silver mixing bowl.
“Are you coming home before singles night to change?” he asked as he picked up a brown egg and cracked it on the side of the bowl.
I picked up my Dalek mug, wrapping my fingers around it. “No, I’m taking my costume and everything with me.”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you — I’m bringing a friend tonight.”
My brow raised. “Oh? Do tell.”
“His name is Martin. Met him in a business class in college — he’s an accountant. We haven’t hung out in a while, so I invited him to come with, figured you could maybe set him up. He’s one of the best guys I know, real and honest, you know?”