Part One

I was seeing double. Unfortunately, however, I was hearing nothing. I tore my gaze from the identical twin sisters discussing my housing fate in the nearby kitchen. There was no point in staring at the two blue-eyed brunettes anyway… Despite Apartment 202’s open-concept design, their voices were so hushed, I couldn’t hear one syllable from where I was sitting. Recalling that old saying about a watched pot never boiling, I admired my aesthetically pleasing surroundings to distract myself.

The pictures I’d received didn’t do the place justice… A kitchenette, dining section and living room constituted its common areas. While two bedrooms connected by a ‘Jack and Jill bathroom’ made up its private spaces. As suggested by the outdated bathroom-between-rooms layout, the building was an older one. In terms of square feet though, compared with the modern condo units that fell within my (unimpressive) price range, this apartment would definitely give me more bang for the buck. Size-wise, it was no penthouse, but at least it wasn’t a shoebox either.

What primarily drew me in though was the living room. It was bordered by a mix of exposed red-brick walls and plain white ones. It also had three large windows that let in a lot of sunlight for a second-floor apartment. Its furniture consisted of mismatched pieces that shouldn’t blend well together but somehow did… Positioned around a large gray filigree rug were: a three-seater navy-colored couch, a low glass table, an olive green accent chair and a garish patchwork armchair. There was also a 65-inch wall-mounted flat screen TV with a glossy white entertainment cabinet below it. In my eyes, the room struck the perfect balance between art and function, between individuality and practicality.

Nothing was official, so I knew I shouldn’t get my hopes up prematurely… But I couldn’t stop visualizing myself living here. It sounded silly, but there was just a vibe in the air that told me it would be such a conducive environment. Probably because the three-bedroom unit I was due to vacate soon had to be part of the Top 3 worst places I’d ever lived in. It was a dingy apartment that I’d been sharing for the past year with a young married couple and another woman in her late twenties. During daylight, there was non-stop banging from the nearby construction yards. While at night, there was non-stop banging from my three roommates’ two bedrooms. Funnily enough, I preferred the former… Digging and drilling were easier to tune out than mewling and moaning.

But beggars couldn’t be choosers. After an unexpected but necessary breakup last year, I was forced to find a new roof real quick. Anyway, suffice to say that in my regular pursuit of peace and quiet, I’d spent more money on overpriced coffee and pastries than any rational person in my tax bracket should. Given how much of a nightmare my current living situation was, I was hoping that it was time for my luck to turn.

Even the longest streak of misfortune had to end at some point, right?

Now that I’d seen Apartment 202 with my own eyes, I would’ve been severely disappointed if Gray didn’t think I’d be a good fit for her. I turned my head to sneak another glance at the pretty twins. I was desperate for a clue as to which way they were leaning toward. The attempt at stealth proved to be pointless. My potential roommate and I locked eyes as soon as I looked in their direction. Her pink lips curled up in a smile and tiny dimples appeared on her slightly freckled cheeks.

Despite how anxiously hopeful I was feeling, grinning at her came naturally to me.

It went without saying that the internet wasn’t the best place to turn to when one was looking for a new home. ‘Stranger danger’ or whatever. But it wasn’t like I’d responded to some sketchy post on an infamous classified ad website. Gray and I were placed in contact with one another by a second cousin of hers whom I’d recently met during a work gig.

Long story short, this whole situation was the result of modern-day serendipity. Last week, my new acquaintance had read mine and his cousin’s ‘perfect-fit posts’ on the same day, i.e., she needed a new roommate to split rent with and I needed a new place to move into. And fortunately, he’d taken it upon himself to act as a go-between for us. I’d ended up direct-messaging Gray first, and our back-and-forth communication culminated in the ‘roommate interview’ that was transpiring this afternoon. Though we’d just met, based on how different she and I were from one another, I was certain that if a third party hadn’t randomly connected us, we would’ve never crossed paths. From our initial conversations, I’d learned that we were not only part of unrelated industries but also active in distinct social circles.

After a few more torturous minutes, the twins returned to the living room with their verdict. They sat on the couch opposite the colorful armchair I was on. Ironically, although Gray’s overall appearance was edgier bahis şirketleri than her classically clean-cut sister’s, she was the less intimidating one.

No joke, they had to be one of the most easily distinguishable pairs of identical twins on the planet… Their facial features and body structures might’ve been mirror-images of each other’s, but only Gray had a plethora of tattoos decorating her pale skin. Earlier, she’d described her sister to me as ‘the artist’ and herself as ‘the living canvas.’ Which seemed accurate—she was art incarnated. Dressed in a cornflower blue sleeveless romper, the many multi-colored inked pieces on her legs, thighs, arms, shoulder blades, upper back and even neck were at least partially visible. In stark contrast, her twin had no tattoos that I could readily see.

I flinched whenever I had to get a shot on my arm, so I wondered how high Gray’s pain tolerance was after the countless times a buzzing tattoo gun had glided all over her skin.

“So, Cass…” Not that I minded, but she’d called me by the shortened version of my nickname from the get-go. Accordingly, she’d also made it clear to me that I shouldn’t call her by her legal name (Grace). A twinkle of light gleamed from the small diamond stud piercing on her left nostril. “I just have one last question for you: are you a serial killer?”

I blinked, confused by the dark unexpected inquiry. I wondered if I’d unwittingly done or said something that gave off ‘murderer vibes.’ Before I could assure her that I had no desire to get booked into ‘Belle Reve Federal Penitentiary’ or attend the annual dinner party at ‘Hotel Cortez,’ her twin cut in.

“Gray! Can you take this seriously?” She requested, annoyed. “Sorry, Cassidy.”

“‘Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin,'” Gray recited from memory. I had no idea what she was quoting, but the words obviously weren’t hers. “‘If the caveman known how to laugh. History would have been different.'”

“Stop,” her twin demanded. Sitting side by side, I internally likened the pair’s polar opposite facial expressions to those of Melpomene (the Muse of Tragedy) and Thalia (the Muse of Comedy). The contrasting masks of theater. “I’m not even kidding.”

“Fine, fine.” Gray raised her hands in a surrendering gesture. “I am taking this seriously though. I asked her what you wanted to know, didn’t I?” Her bright blue eyes directly met my green ones. “Cass, my big sister here who, take note, is older than me by a whopping twenty-two minutes… She’s worried about something bad happening once she moves out to live happily ever after with her new fiancé. But that’s not on you. She’s just paranoid ’cause she falls asleep listening to true crime podcasts. Anyway, can you just put her overdramatic ass at ease by promising me you’re not going to murder me in my sleep or whatever?”

Despite the absurdity of the request, I nodded, yes. “Sure, ‘I promise I won’t murder you in your sleep or whatever.'” I mimicked her playful tone and teasing smirk. “Cross my heart, Gray.”

“Cool.” She grinned, baring her straight, white-teeth smile. “Since we’ve already settled all the important stuff, when can you move in?”

I couldn’t see my own reflection at the moment, but I knew for a fact that on my face was a carbon copy of her beaming expression.

. . .

Now that the subleasing agreement was signed and my last box of belongings was in my bedroom, it was official! I was a tenant of Apartment 202, and it would be my home with Gray for the next eleven months, three weeks and two days (at most). A very specific amount of time, but that was the remaining term from the twin’s original three-year lease agreement.

I smiled at my roommate who was sitting on the still-bare mattress in my new room. Her layered, mid-length dark auburn hair was partly sticking to her face because of the sweat she’d built up while helping me move in. She tucked some strands behind her ear, revealing a constellation of piercings. The more time I spent with her, the more familiar I became with her body art… I was sure that before long, my mental cartography of her many vividly colored tattoos would be more or less mapped out.

So far, I knew that her two full-sleeve ones were nautical-themed. Her right arm was enveloped by two gorgeously depicted sea creatures. While her left one showed a stormy seafaring scene with a grand sailing ship as its centerpiece. The several smaller pieces that covered her legs were far less uniform. Her thighs, shins, calves and even knees showcased: red roses on thorny vines, a flower-crowned skull, a couple of origami birds, fluffy clouds, a blackhole swallowing up planets, starry galaxies, an incredibly intricate rocket ship. Honestly, I wasn’t even confident that I’d named them all… But I didn’t want to creep her out by staring at her legs for longer than was deemed appropriate.

Even at a glance, it was evident that her skin was marked by a pluralism of varied focal points bahis firmaları and subjects. Nonetheless, there was still an undeniable sense of cohesion among the unique images. The line work, shading and color choices harmonized all the bits and pieces, all the flecks and fragments. In my eyes, she was living proof of how beneficial it was for any kind of artist to continue honing their chosen craft, refining their specialized style.

Among her tattoos I’d seen so far, my favorite one had to be the floral piece on the left side of her neck. All of her twin’s creations were stunning. But there was just something about the dainty light blue flowers curving up her throat that I found captivating.

“Damn, you weren’t kidding, you do have a lot of stuff.”

“Well, I did warn you that you were gonna regret offering to help me, remember?”

“Who said anything about regrets?” She challenged with a grin. “Just reminding you, I need an adjustment period. It’s been a while since I lived with someone whose DNA code isn’t almost identical to mine… If I’m getting on your nerves by hanging around too much, just let me know.”

Her candidness was refreshing. After what felt like an eternity of skirting around issues to keep the peace at my old place, an open line of honest communication was exactly what I needed. “While I doubt it’s ever gonna come to that, I promise I will as long as you do, too.”

“Deal.” She pointed at the stack of two large boxes labeled ‘Filming Equipment’ in big, black letters. “Are those like video cameras?”

“Nope, stands and lighting stuff. Tripods, ring lights, softbox kits. I used to have my own gear, but I sold most of it a while back. Now, I only have a couple mirrorless cameras. And I just borrow or rent equipment from people I know in case I need anything.”

“Gotcha. Not that I know anything about anything… But this city doesn’t seem like the best one for an aspiring film director.”

She was right. But after a truly toxic year and a half in the so-called City of Angels, I knew in my soul that it wasn’t the place for me. Lots of people could hack it in Tinseltown, but I wasn’t one of them.

“Might not be for most people. But movies and shows are shot everywhere,” I answered with a shrug. “Plus, I went to film school here and I’ve always loved this city’s vibe… So, when an old professor of mine let me know that she could get me a job as the second assistant director for a TV show filmed here, I came back.”

“Oh cool, what’s the show?”

I mentioned the gritty police procedural by name then explained how the season that’d just wrapped up was the final one. “It was an entertaining show with talented actors, but it wasn’t getting enough views, so it got canceled… Anyway, I’ve been canvassing for production work for a while and I have some leads. Fingers crossed, I get those jobs, so I don’t just bum around here for the next eleven months.”

“Well, if you don’t, you can always work on your own stuff, right?”

“I wish, but nah.” I shot down her optimism. “It’s been so, so long since I made anything. Like I have ideas, but that’s all they are… Ideas.”

The words came from my lips, but the sheer truthfulness of my answer caught me off guard. Her question was one I was regularly asked by friends, acquaintances and (most frequently) my mom. It was one I had a memorized and well-rehearsed ‘cookie-cutter answer’ for. An all-in-one, go-to response glazed with white lies that painted my situation in a better light. A vague comeback about how I had ‘something special in the works.’ Pathetic as it was, at this point, I was a master of the catchy adage: ‘fake it until you make it.’ The years I’d spent networking in the hopes of building ‘life-changing connections’ instilled in me the ability to downplay how stagnant my professional life was.

Which was why I was so rattled by my slip-up of being transparent with Gray.

Sure, we now lived together, but that didn’t change the fact that I’d only met her recently. It was literally day one of us being roommates, which meant it was far too soon for the two of us to have a heart-to-heart conversation. Before we could delve deeper into my career (or more precisely, the lack thereof), my phone rang. A call from my mom was usually the worst part of my day, but this late afternoon, it was a welcome distraction. Like I hadn’t even been in Apartment 202 for twelve hours… What I needed to focus on was unpacking my physical possessions—not unloading my emotional baggage.

“Uh, it’s my mom.” Fortunately, from where Gray was, she couldn’t see ‘Norma Bates’ on the screen. “I should take this.”

“Yeah, of course.” She got up from my bed. “I should start getting ready for my date anyway. I’ll probably get home late, but just call me in case you need anything.”

“I appreciate it, but enjoy your night with your girlfriend. I’m sure I’ll be able to manage.” Once she left my room, I closed the door. Stifling a sigh, I lifelessly greeted the caller. kaçak bahis siteleri “Hey, Mom…”

Instead of a greeting, the first thing I heard was a reminder to send her the complete address of my new place. Even though I was twenty-seven years old, she often spoke to me as if I was the same age as my two much, much younger brothers. I’d left home at eighteen, almost a decade ago, but sadly, time hadn’t tempered her overprotective and overbearing tendencies. Admittedly, our mother-daughter relationship was weird… It sounded excessive, but since I first moved away, we’d talked on the phone at least once every day to appease her fervent parental paranoia. And yeah, though our calls didn’t seem to bring either of us any joy, they were an integral part of our respective daily routines.

Two minutes into the conversation, the ‘maternal undermining session’ commenced. It was the same old song and dance that she’d composed and choreographed long ago. For her, I not only had stars in my eyes, but I was also ‘seeing pink elephants.’ Her unsupportive stance had always stung, but it hurt more now that I was nearing the last two years of my twenties. I couldn’t help but feel that each day I remained stagnant career-wise just added to her war chest of insults… Not that she needed additional arsenal or ammo.

Based on experience, the time-honored saying: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words could never hurt me’ was a sugarcoated lie.

. . .

The dreary weather mirrored my gloomy mood perfectly. It was as if the cloudy evening sky had been computer-generated to highlight how miserable I was. Envisaging myself as the star of a nonexistent movie might’ve seemed egomaniacal… But the thought wasn’t rooted in narcissism. For as long as I could remember, I’d just been obsessed with movies. A lifelong personal interest of mine that not only engulfed my whole childhood but also steered my entire academic life, leading me to the career path I was now traversing.

Fueled by a deathless desire to write and direct my own films someday, I’d taken innumerable steps in the hopes that they’d bring me closer to my ultimate goals. Some of which were inconsequential, like starting an unofficial film club in my old high school. Some of which were life-altering, like attending an expensive film school that’d pretty much guaranteed I’d be drowning in student debt for the foreseeable future. Yay. I might’ve damaged my credit score, but at least I’d earned this fancy piece of paper with my full name on it! Otherwise known as the dusty diploma in my closet. If I sounded extremely cynical, it was because I was dead tired. After yet another hellish day on the production crew of some direct-to-video movie, I felt like I’d gone through the wringer.

It began to drizzle. The water on my skin disproved the idea that the dusky sky was CGI tailored to my emotional state. As far as I was aware, graphics couldn’t wet a person… A roar of thunder rumbled through the air and I cursed under my breath. I wore the hood of my plain black hoodie and sped up. I wasn’t much of a runner, but my new apartment building wasn’t very far and I wanted to get indoors before I got soaked.

Once I was safe from the rainwater, I took the stairs to the second floor. As I got closer to Apartment 202, I was met by the sight of two women standing in front of the door. They were kissing right on the lips. They weren’t full-on making out, but their kiss was definitely not a platonic one. The sound of my footsteps caused them to stop. Two sets of eyes locked on my face. One darker brown pair and one lighter blue pair. The brunette looked down, while her blond-haired counterpart sent me a toothy grin.

To be clear—I, myself, was straight… But I had no issue whatsoever with the two strangers’ sapphic kiss. I mean, if I did, then I would’ve never moved in with Gray who was an out and proud lesbian. The only reason I was struggling to make eye contact with the attractive couple was because I’d intruded upon their intimate moment.

“Excuse me.” Shyly, I pointed my keys at the door they were blocking. “I live there and I- uh, I just gotta get through.”

“Yeah, of course, I was just saying a quick goodbye to my girlfriend,” the blue-eyed blonde said. Out of the three of us, only she was unfazed by my unintentional voyeurism. She pulled her girlfriend by their connected hands, clearing the last obstacle in my journey home.

“You must be Gray’s roommate,” the brunette remarked with a kind smile. Despite being a lot more tanned than her girlfriend and my way-too-pale self, her cheeks were visibly blushing. And though I didn’t have access to a mirror, I knew my face was sporting a scarlet tint, too. After a beat of silence, I remembered it was common courtesy to respond with words.

“Yeah, hi! I’m Cassidy—Gray’s new roommate.”

. . .

As soon as I opened my bedroom door, I saw Gray cleaning up our living room. She was erasing the evidence of her core friend group’s heavy drinking. The fact that last night was the first time I’d met any of her five best friends (four in person and one online) despite all of us living in the same city for years highlighted how disjointed our social circles were.

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