Home > The American Roommate Experiment

The American Roommate Experiment
Author: Elena Armas

 


CHAPTER ONE


Rosie


Someone was trying to break into my apartment.

Fine. Technically, it wasn’t my apartment, but rather the apartment I was currently staying in. That didn’t change the facts. Because if living in a couple of questionable neighborhoods in New York had taught me anything, it was that if someone didn’t knock, they weren’t interested in asking to be let in.

Evidence number one: the insistent rattling of the—thankfully locked—entrance door.

The sound stopped, allowing me to release all the air I had been holding in.

Gaze fixed on the lock, I waited.

All right. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was a neighbor mistaking this as their apartment. Or maybe whoever was out there would eventually knock and—

What sounded like someone banging a shoulder against the door startled me, making me jump backward.

Nope.

Not a knock. Probably not a neighbor, either.

My next breath was shallow, oxygen barely making it to its destination. But heck, I couldn’t blame my lungs, really. I couldn’t even blame my brain for not being able to accomplish basic functions like breathing after the day I’d had.

A couple of hours ago, what had been my cozy and beautifully well-kept apartment for the last five years had all but crumbled down on me. Literally. And we’re not talking about a crack in the ceiling and some falling dust.

A section of my ceiling gave out and collapsed. Collapsed. Right before my eyes. Almost on top of me. Creating a hole large enough to gift me with a clear view of my upstairs neighbor Mr. Brown’s private bits as he looked down at me. And allowing me to learn something I never needed or wanted to know: my middle-aged neighbor did not wear anything beneath his robe. Not a single thing.

A sight that had been as traumatizing as having a piece of cement nearly knock you down on your way to the couch.

And now this. The break-in. After I pulled myself together enough to gather my stuff—under Mr. Brown’s careful scrutiny and still freely hanging… bits—and made it to the only place I could think of, given the circumstances, now someone was trying to force their way in.

What sounded like a curse in a foreign language came through, the noise against the lock resuming.

Oh, crap.

Out of the more than eight million people living in New York City, it had to be me being potentially robbed, hadn’t it?

Turning on the tips of my toes, I stepped away from the door of the studio apartment I had fled to in search of shelter and let my gaze dart around the familiar place, studying my options.

Thanks to the open plan of the apartment, there were no decent hiding spots. The only room with a door, the bathroom, didn’t even have a lock. There were no weaponizable objects, either, except for a crooked clay candleholder born from a lazy DIY Sunday and a flimsy boho standing lamp I wasn’t sure about. Escaping through a window wasn’t an option, either, considering this was a second floor and there was no fire escape.

The frustrated swearing came through more clearly now. The voice was deep, musical, and the words I did not recognize or understand were chased by a very loud huff.

Heart racing, I brought my hands to my temples in an attempt to subdue the growing panic.

This could be worse, I told myself. Whoever is out there is clearly not very good at this. At break-ins. And they don’t know I’m inside. For all they know, the apartment is empty. This gives me—

My phone pinged with a notification, the loud and sharp sound breaking the silence.

And giving my presence away.

Crap.

Wincing, I lunged for the device that rested on the kitchen island. It couldn’t have been more than three or four steps away. But my brain, which was still struggling with basic functions like, let’s say, moving three or four steps forward, miscalculated the distance, and my hip collided with a stool.

“No, no, no,” I heard the words coming out of my mouth in a whimper, one of my hands reaching out. Unsuccessfully. Because—

The stool crashed against the floor.

My eyelids fell shut. As if my brain was trying to at least spare me the sight of the mess I had made.

Silence followed the big bang, filling the room with what I knew was a false sense of calm.

I opened one eye, taking a peek in the direction of the door.

Maybe this was good. Maybe that had scared… him? Them? Away—

“Hello?” The deep voice on the other side of the door called. “Is anyone home?”

Dammit.

Squaring my shoulders, I turned around very slowly. There was still a chance that—

The jingle I had set for that stupid motivational app I’d downloaded earlier today blared through the apartment for a second time.

Jesus. Someone was out to get me today. Karma, kismet, fate, Lady Luck, or some all-powerful entity I had clearly pissed off. Maybe even Murphy and his stupid law.

I finally grabbed my phone to set the stupid thing to silent.

Involuntarily, my eyes scanned the supposedly inspirational quote on the screen: IF OPPORTUNITY DOESN’T KNOCK, BUILD A DOOR.

“Seriously?” I heard myself whisper.

“I could hear that, you know?” Intruder said. “The phone, then the bang, then the phone again.” A pause. “Are you… okay?”

I frowned. How considerate for a possible burglar.

He pressed on: “I know there’s someone in there. I can hear you breathing.”

A gasp of outrage left me. I was not a heavy breather.

“Okay, listen,” Intruder said with a chuckle. A chuckle. Was he laughing? At my expense? “I’m just—”

“No, you listen,” I finally blurted out, hearing my voice crack and wobble. “Whatever it is that you’re doing, I don’t care. I’ve—I’ve—” I’d been standing there like a doofus, doing nothing. And that stopped now. “I’m calling the cops.”

“The cops?”

“Exactly.” I unlocked my phone with shaky fingers. I was done with this… this… situation. Heck, I was done with today. “You have a few minutes to leave before they get here. There’s a police station right around the corner.” There wasn’t, and I hoped he didn’t know that. “So I’d start running if I were you.”

I took one miniscule, careful step in the direction of the door, then stopped to listen for a reaction. Hopefully, the sound of his steps fleeing.

But I heard nothing.

“Are you listening?” I called, then hardened my voice before speaking again. “I have friends in NYPD.” I didn’t. The closest thing I had to that was Uncle Al, who was a security guard for a company on Fifth Avenue. But that didn’t seem to impress Intruder, because silence continued to follow my statement. “Okay, fine. I warned you. Now, I’m dialing, so it’s up to you… mother… clinking apartment-breaker!”

“What?”

Ignoring my unfortunate and not at all threatening choice of words, I set the call on speaker and a few seconds later, the emergency dispatcher’s voice filled the apartment. “Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”

“Hi—” I cleared my throat. “Hello. There’s… there’s someone trying to break in the apartment I’m in.”

“Wait, you’re really calling?” Intruder yelped. But then, he said, “Oh, okay. I see.” Following that with another chuckle. Another. Chuckle. Did he find any of this funny? “This is a joke.”

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