Esther watches me from across the loft, grinning wickedly. She flips the eggs, innocently as she chuckles to herself. I frown, putting my paint brush down, waiting for her to explain herself. She laughs, “I was thinking. My family has no idea that when Ash moved out, you stayed.” She starts, and interrupts herself in a fit of giggles.
I frown at the mention of my ex-girlfriend. Ash had been Esther’s roommate for five years, and since I spent most nights, I decided to fill her positions as “Esther’s roomie” once she declared she was moving to Oxford without me. Esther took my offer with great enthusiasm, noting that it had essentially been the three of us the entire time. “And since they’ve all been paranoid about the fact that they couldn’t control my dating life, and I could hide it more effectively, I think-”
“Esther- what’s this really about?” I interrupt.
She laughs again, shaking her head as I glare at her. “Nothing. just that I’d pay you to help me fuck with them.” She tells me, placing the eggs in a plate before cracking three others into the pan.
“And why do you wish to get their panties in a twist?” I wonder, eyebrows raising.
She bites her lip, grinning. “To observe the great effect I have on them, of course.”
I sigh, throwing my head back in frustration. “Why now?” I question, glancing back at my painting. She flips one of the eggs, fiddling with the paddle as if to stall in order to get a rise out of me. Her forearms and hands are full of faded ink from all the fiddling she does when she works. Her tapping the pen on her own hands and clicking it in concentration while working ensured that she always had ink somewhere.
“Cause I’m not sure it’d be as fun to go to the family diner alone. Especially not if the other option is to see eyebrows shooting up to the hairline.” She says, grin stretching as she imagines it. I roll my eyes, smiling slightly at how excited she is.
“You look dangerously pleased with yourself.” I comment cheekily. Her eyebrows shoot up as a teasing smile replaces her grin. I shake my head and continue painting.
“You’re not gonna think about my offer?” she asks, feigning offense. I scoff. “You and I both know it’d be bloody fun.” She exclaims, ignoring my annoyed expression. Esther stops leaning against the counter to place the eggs into a plate and sighs, placing the plate on the edge of the table nearest to me.
“I don’t think messing with your family is a smooth way to assert our friendship in the future.” I mutter, shifting my stool closer to the table. I nod in cheers before I start eating, and she smiles at me as she chews.
“Friendship,” she mumbles thoughtfully with a smile, “what friendship?” she teases. I hum in acknowledgement, going along with her jokes. “Well, you are gonna have to get used to that mentality if I do convince you to help con my family.” She tells me with a hint of a smile in her voice, and I nod again, too absorbed in the food in front of me to argue.
Once I’ve scarfed the eggs down, and successfully ignored Esther’s teasing smile and prodding comments, I get up with a sigh. I scratch the back of my head as I get up to put my dish in the sink. “Thanks for the eggs. I’m going to take a shower before you can shower me with more reasons for going along with your ruse.” I say, narrowing my eyes at her as I back away toward the bathroom. She laughs, rolling her eyes at the pun. “I won’t be in cahoots with a damn slytherin, not today.” I add, knowing in this case she’ll ignore my “house stereotypes,” a common topic for someone who was a huge fan of Harry Potter, even in her twenties.
She laughs. “You can’t escape me for long,” she tells me, voice getting louder as I shut the door behind me. On my way out of the bathroom, I shamelessly walk around with my towel wrapped around my waist. She nods at me from her spot at her desk, smiling when I raise my eyebrows at the lack of whistling. She chuckles, and shakes her head as she looks back down to the pile papers and fiddles with her pen. With a smile, I note that there are almost twice as many accidental pen strokes on her fingers and palm.
Not long after Ash had moved out, and even before that, I’d gotten used to Esther’s teasing. At first, she mostly teased Ash about me while I was in the room, but that quickly changed. At first, I wondered why Ash did nothing to stop her, but I soon learned they both thought quirky unnecessary things weren’t to be addressed in an unsupportive way. Times where Esther and I waited for Ash to get home got us spending more time alone, which meant I got used Esther’s unsocial and studious self, as well as her easily entertained and overly-enthusiastic self. There were many days where I’d be with Ash while Esther was around; this got me used to her neutral self. Neutral as in “being sloppy and lazy in all ways possible.” After about a year of having me around, she didn’t care that I saw her come out of the bathroom after the shower, or that if I was already there when she woke up, she’d be a mess of ruffled hair and loose baggy clothes. Ash had hardly cared about it either, and most weekends the two of them were beyond lazy and rumpled.
Ash had been gone for more than six months, but the flat had hardly changed. If anything, there were more books and video games. Ash’s study area had been rearranged to fit my needs; a stack of canvases and paint supplies along with other assorted art supplies surrounded the desk. The flat’s windows were open a lot more now that Ash was gone, since Esther prefered sunlight over pot lights too. Things were nice.
Esther’s parents hadn’t been to the loft since before Ash had left, and she often had them host her instead. I’d met them a couple times, but Esther and I had agreed very early on that minimizing our being under the same roof would be ideal.
I sigh as I sit back down on my stool, unsure how to go about continuing the painting. After being so rudely interrupted by Esther’s maniacal thinking, I realized there was no going back to calmly painting, not until I fully made up my mind about the offer. I can’t say I know why I’m still considering it.
Esther stays at her desk even after I sit on the couch and set up Netflix. I’m supposed to cook tonight, so after an episode, I set up on the counter. Esther finally gets up as I’m getting the pan out of the cupboard. “I’m going for a bike ride. Call me when dinner’s almost ready if I’m not back yet, okay?” I nod her way, and she shrugs on her jacket, saluting me with her hat as she opens the door.
When she comes back, she looks more refreshed, sliding into her place at the table easily. She wolfs her food down, and taps her fingers on the table as she watches me finish eating. I sigh as she smirks. “What now?” I ask.
She scratches at the nape of her neck, and I narrow my eyes suspiciously at the nervous habit. She shrugs as if to dismiss my staring. “You haven’t stopped thinking about my offer, despite the fact that you think it’s not a good idea.” She tells me, pleased smile ignoring my expression. It’s not a question. She chuckles as I roll my eyes.
“Yes, your devilish thoughts have been mincing in my brain.” I reply. “Happy?”
She smiles. “Extremely.”
“The only thing they’ll think is ‘Why the fuck is she dating her roommates’ ex?’ Followed by a bunch of judgmental thoughts and crude questions. Why would I agree to that?” I mumble, stabbing at the crumbs in my plate. She sighs. “What do you want me to say?”
“Other than ‘fuck yeah, I’ll totes be in cahoots with you, dude.’?” She wonders, sighing when I scoff. “I just want to have a little fun thinking like an annoyed teenager,” Esther explains.
I roll my eyes. “Alright fine, if you’re going to call bullshit every time I defend myself, I’ll just be crude instead.” She tells me. I sigh, gesturing for her to continue. “Yeah, I wanna see if I can get a rise out of them. Why the fuck wouldn’t I? I’m just out of Uni, what the hell else am I supposed to be doing if not proving to them that I’ve got this,” she exclaims. “I’ve got to go full frontal, like fucking huge sign and pickaxe with a mob behind me and shit. In a total, thanks but I can handle it from here.”
“I think they’ll just think you’re giving them the I-told-you-I-could-handle-it point of view.” I rebutted with a shrug.
“That’s not my problem, now is it?” She replies, cocking an eyebrow in satisfaction.
I get up, collecting the dishes and sighing when she chuckles to herself. “Yeah, family can be fucking annoying, but tone it down on the cunning slytherin act, would you?”
“Request denied until further notice.” She mumbles pushing her chair in as she joins me at the sink. “I might be making shit arguments about why to do this, but you’re not even trying to convince me not to.” She tells me.
I scoff, scrubbing the dishes. She laughs as I ignore her. “They bloody might as well see I’m handling a job and a steady relationship. I mean, sure, they’re all pleased if they see me with a job, and that’s great, but,” she laughs, “a relationship, fake or not, gets them all worried and chaotic. It’s fucking beyond enjoyable to watch, especially now that they can’t do squat about it.”
“Not that they could do much before, as Ash often told me.” I mutter bleakly. She beams.
The rest of the night, I avoid the topic by bingeing on TV shows and listening to music as I paint. She joins me on the couch until I go back to painting. The music is eventually replaced by her own music as she softly strums on her guitar. She hums quietly until she’s plucked up the courage to sing, and I smile at the familiarity of this moment.
The next morning, I’m already up when Esther comes out of her room, blinking slowly as she groans and contorts as if to stretch. She steps slowly toward the counter, yawning and staggering as she grunts and sighs tiredly. Her hair sticks out at all angles and her eyes are hooded by thick stands of wavy hair. “Morning,” she mumbles almost inaudibly, waving her hand awkwardly as she stretches again. I nod, smiling as she scowls and yawns until her jaw cracks. “Ow,” she whispers, scoffing as she turns back to the fridge to get the cold coffee. Her free hand stays on top of her head, petting the hair in order to flatten it.
I ignore her as she goes about her morning routine – one that I’ve seen often enough to know in my sleep and wait until she’s hunched over her cup of rice krispies before addressing her. “What time are we commuting to your parents?” I ask as she looks at me. She chokes on her sip of coffee, grin spreading wide as she hacks and her eyes water. I laugh then, going to my room before she can catch her breath and start gloating. “You won’t get rid of me that easily, Q.” She says loudly, her voice muffled by the door.
It takes less than ten minutes for her to walk in. She wears one of her most worn shirts under a loose button up. The sleeves are rolled, exposing her forearms. “Nice to see you in the clothes you wore five days ago,” I say, chuckling as she scowls and slaps my shoulder. Esther had at least twenty shirts, but wore the same five almost every week – not that she didn’t use the rest of them up by layering, of course, as she had rebutted many times when I’d teased her about it. “I’m going to go paint, if you’ll follow me out of my own bloody room.” I mutter, and her mouth closes (she’d been about to say something) as she rolls her eyes and gestures for me to lead the way.
We do our own things to kill time, and I wind up almost finishing the painting before Esther talks me into playing video games with her. The tips of her thumb, as well as a few other fingers have ink spots, and there are faded marks from yesterday. Esther laughs as she notices my counting the marks, “It’d be cool to get rid of those with hand sanitizer,” she mumbles thoughtfully, scratching the back of her neck. I continue counting despite her fidgeting. “Stop.” She whines, chuckling as she pushes my face away. “It’s not like you don’t always have paint at least somewhere,” she tells me, poking at a spot near my elbow and tracing a line that approaches my forearm.
I frown and touch at the spot, only to find dried paint there. She pokes at my wrist, drawing another line, and I roll my eyes. “Alright, alright, I got it. We’re both sloppy workers.” I say, getting up and checking my watch. “Time to play couple.” I say cheekily, smiling when she grins. I put my shoes on and open the door to our loft, waiting for her just outside.
“As you wish,” she mumbles, locking the door behind us.