Birds of a Feather
I knew Jett was a slob before I moved in with him. I should have been prepared but I think staying with him when he was still living at his parents’ place made it even more unexpected. After a few weeks of living in this apartment, it became very clear that the reason his bedroom was adorably messy instead of worryingly dirty was parental intervention. I tried to convince him to hire a cleaning service, after leaving sticky notes, sending him emails and trying to bully him didn’t work, but he just shrugged and told me he would take care of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jett. I’m not a violent person. I just had never realized I could want to punch someone in the face so much.
He’s been a little better lately. It’s not much but at least he’s not putting out cigarettes in half-empty coffee mugs anymore. I’m not going to tell anyone how I found that out, but let’s just say, I was really stoned and it was an unpleasant night.
The worst part is that I didn’t even want to move in him when I moved down here. I had found the perfect place, a small bedroom in an apartment that wasn’t too far from the downtown area but that wasn’t close enough to take up most of my income. Before I could put a deposit down, Jett ambushed me.
His apartment was closer to where I’d have auditions. I wouldn’t need a car. His landlord was okay with cats. Jett asked me if it wouldn’t be great if I could take Whispers along with me when I moved out? I managed to meet most of his points head on. I moved out of town to start over, not so I could live with one of the people that I had gone to high school with.
Then he asked me how I would feel about living with strangers — strangers I would have to interact with — instead of living with my best friend. A best friend I’d had since I was fourteen. So he won. I moved in with him and put up with half-finished cups of coffee and ashtrays that needed to be emptied and the fact that I’m pretty sure he still doesn’t know what a duster actually looks like because I mind putting up with his shit a lot less than I mind putting up with strangers’ shit.
Plus, he puts up with my shit.
There are days when I just cannot and Jett knows to leave me alone. If he’s making dinner, he makes enough for me, he nods at me in the hallway and every now and then he asks me if I want a cup of coffee. It may take me up to a week but eventually I join him on the couch when he’s watching a TV show. I don’t really do anything, I just sit there and spend the entire time the show is on on my phone looking at pictures of cats. Sometimes dogs. Okay, mostly cats.
He gets it, though. I don’t think anyone else would get it.
And I get it when he dyes the tub green after having his hair done and can’t be bothered to clean it up or when he leaves foundation on the fabric of the sofa because he doesn’t want to do one of his vlogs when he’s breaking out. He’s being ridiculous, of course, but I don’t say anything. I don’t even roll my eyes. I just remind him that he needs to wash the covers on the sofa pillows when he’s doing his laundry. Jett is pretty good about being called out for shit even if he’s not the world’s most proactive guy.
Today, right now, this is one of the few times when we’re having a truly awkward conversation. My mom warned me about this. She said that living with Jett was going to make our relationship a lot more complicated, then she asked me if I was really sure I needed to buy a bed and looked at me like I was going to tell her some big secret.
It used to bother me that people thought we were together. At first, Jett found it confusing, then he started to find it absolutely hilarious. I didn’t understand why he thought it was funny back when we were kids but I think I get it now.
“You have to take it back,” I say as I sit down on the floor in front of him. The carpet is soft under me and I don’t want to sit on the sofa next to Jett in case he decides to try and tempt into keeping the damn thing.
“She,” Jett says, rolling his eyes. “Her name is Wendy.”
I groan, throwing my head back. “You gave her a name?”
“She’s a puppy,” he says. The dog is on his lap and he’s stopping her from moving by using his arm. “She needed a name.”
“You can’t adopt a pet without talking to me about it!” I say, a little more loudly than I mean to. “What about Whispers?”
“What about Whispers? Your cat never leaves your room anyway,” he says, stroking the little dog on the head. “Maybe this will be good for him. Maybe he’ll learn to socialize. God knows he won’t learn shit from you.”
“Okay, well, Wendy,” I say, spitting out the last word, “is not going to pick up after herself. She’s going to shed. You’re going to have to take her on walks and you’re going to have to train her. You’re going to have to bathe her, too, and I swear to God, if you don’t vacuum the floor — ”
“Niko, relax,” Jett says. “I promise you I’ll clean up after her.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“I promise,” he says. “Don’t make me take her back. Look at her, she’s so sweet.”
“A week,” I reply. “You have a week.”
“A week to do what? Train her? Yikes,” he replies. “Do you hear that? Your daddy Nikko thinks I can train you in just one week.”
I roll my eyes. “I’m not her daddy,” I say, shuddering. “You should stop being gross.”
He covers her floppy brown ears with his hands and she looks at me. She really is gorgeous, tiny, all black except for a white spot on her forehead. “You’re hurting her feelings.”
“You’re hurting my feelings,” I reply. “You should have consulted me.”
“I know, I know,” he says, stroking the top of her head. “You know that I normally would have but things have been…”
He doesn’t have to say anything else. I stand up and walk over so that I can sit down on the sofa next to him. “You should have still talked to me about this.”
“I’m sorry,” he says, shrugging. “I was just at the animal shelter to try and cheer myself up and I was playing with her. She looked so sad when I put her down, I had to bring her home.”
I looked down at the puppy. “Did they call her Wendy at the shelter?”
“Nope,” he says. “They called her Janet. Which is so not a name that you give a dog.”
I can’t help but smile at that.
“Can I keep her? Please?”
I shrug. “I don’t know,” I reply. “You can if you’ll look after her, but I don’t have time.”
“It’s cool,” he replies. “I work from home. It’ll be fine.”
I nod but I’m not sure if I agree. It doesn’t matter anymore anyway because the dog has climbed out from between Jett’s legs and she’s making her way to me. She sniffs my hand as I smile down at her. Then she opens her mouth and lays down next to me and I kind of melt a little bit.
I look up at Jett and roll my eyes but he’s grinning at me.
“Hey, Niko,” Jett says as he walks into the living room. “Can we talk for a minute?”
That doesn’t sound good. I sit up and nod, waiting for him to come over and sit down next to me. He has bags under his eyes and he hasn’t touched up his hair for a few weeks so it’s faded to this bleached blond colour that seems too close to his skin tone.
“What’s up?” I ask.
Wendy stirs only to look up and stretch, moving around only to come lay down by my feet.
“I don’t want you to hate me,” Jett says.
I cock my head, trying to ignore the growing lump in my throat.
“So you remember that sponsorship deal that I was talking to you about?”
I don’t say anything. I don’t like where this is going. Jett is a full-time content creator — I think that’s the fancy name for someone who has a lot of videos up on the internet — and he works with a lot of brands but his niche is kind of small and I know he doesn’t make that much money off his work. He used to, a while ago, then there was going to be that television show that he moved down here for and that fell through.
I was there with him when he got famous. He’s made me be in a couple of videos, where I’ve done his make-up and have answered uncomfortable questions about him. He thinks they’re hilarious, I just wonder if I can put them down on my acting resume. I don’t think I’m allowed to put them on my IMDB page considering that they were unscripted. He hasn’t asked me to be in a video for a while but I think that’s because he’s making less of them — it used to be easier when we both lived back home and he’d converted his parents’ attic into a makeshift home studio. We did it together, finding old blankets that his parents never used for the background and buying a second-hand tripod to hold up the shitty camera that started all of this.
Jett has to do appearances now; he has to be places, he has to go to parties, he has to show up at functions when he would much rather just be home and play with the dog.
“That’s not happening anymore,” he says, slumping forward and looking at the floor. “The sponsorship deal.”
“Shit, man,” I say, clapping my hand over his shoulder. “I’m really sorry about that.”
He sighs and looks up. He’s fidgeting now, which is never a good sign. This sounds like it’s about more than just his sponsorship deal and I don’t really know what to do to console him. He doesn’t usually struggle to open up so I’m starting to feel a little worried about him.
“I don’t have enough to pay for rent,” he finally says, so quietly I can barely hear him.
I raise my eyebrows, my heart beating fast. “What?”
“Niko, I don’t have enough to pay for my part of the rent,” he says. “I’m falling short — well, I have about minus fifty dollars at the end of this month.”
I swallow, my mouth suddenly dry. “When do you get paid?”
His gaze darts away from me and I realize that he looks like he wants to cry a little bit. “The sponsorship deal fell through.”
My eyes widen as my heart rate quickens. “That was your only sponsorship deal?”
“It was my biggest sponsorship deal,” he replies, looking down at his nails. They’re a dark electric purple right now, long and absolutely gorgeous. “The rest of my sponsorship barely cover the rest, to be honest, and my ad content…”
He doesn’t say anything else. I take a deep breath.
“Can you cover for me?” He says. “Just this one time.”
I swallow, trying to get rid of the knot in my throat. “I can’t,” I say, looking away from him. I’ve been avoiding talking to him about this because I didn’t want him to worry but it’s obvious that he needs to know now. “Remember that part I got in the community theatre production of Romeo and Juliet?”
“Mercutio,” he says. “I know. I’m so proud of you.”
“Yeah,” I reply, looking up at the ceiling. “So the person that was going to do it? He’s fine now.”
He shakes his head, his jaw dropping open. “But one of his lungs collapsed,” he says. “You can’t exactly be in a play with a collapsed lung.”
I shrug, taking in a deep breath. “It’s okay,” I say. “Well, no, it’s not okay, I quit my stupid waiter job to do this and now it’s like… well, I don’t have any spare money either.”
“Shit,” he says, closing his eyes. “I really don’t want to get evicted. Finding an apartment in this city is basically fucking impossible.”
I don’t ask him if he can ask his parents for money; he can’t. They already hate that he’s down here. They already hate that he lives with me. He doesn’t ask me if I can ask my parents for money, because they can’t afford it. They’re saving up to pay for Lizzie’s college because, well, she’s the good sibling.
She’s only ten years old. They might not fuck her up as much.
“We’ll figure it out,” I say quietly.
He nods. “Yeah,” he says. “I hope so.”
“This is a bad idea,” I say through gritted teeth. I’m standing in the corner of Jett’s office, my arms crossed over my chest, as I watch him take furniture out. I’m watching him take furniture out instead of helping him because I don’t want to do this and I don’t see why we should. Jett tells me that it’s our best option but I don’t think that we’ve thought this through. I keep trying to pitch ideas but Jett just shakes his head and I think he’s starting to get a bit sick of me. I can’t help myself, though — one of the things that he promised me was that we would get to live together without having to deal with anyone else. That was what made the decision for me in the first place.
Now we have to have a roommate and Jett insists that he has to move into this bullshit box that Jett uses as a home recording studio and that doesn’t even have a door. I managed to talk Jett into buying one of those bead curtains but he only said he would once he found one with a ridiculous design that has neon bead curtains that are super distracting. I don’t think they’re going to help him asleep at all.
I tried to explain to him that I didn’t mind taking the office but he looked at me like I had just said something ridiculous. I gave up then, sighing and slumping forward. His room was always the bigger one and it’s the one with the en-suite, so the new roommate is going to pay more than either one of us is in rent.
“This is not a bad idea,” Jett says as he sets his chair down in the doorway. “Look, I don’t know what else you want me to do. I’d be happy to pay rent with a credit card but I can’t do that shit.”
“I know you can’t,” I reply. “I know, I’m just — my world is being turned upside down a little bit, okay? I don’t mind seeing you every day because you’re you. This is going to be someone new. That I’m going to have to get used to being around all the time.”
“You may like her,” Jett says, grabbing the chair again.
I slump against the wall and cross my arms. “Her? You already selected someone?”
“Tentatively,” Jett replies. He slides the chair out of the bedroom and walks back into the den that will soon become his bedroom. “We’ve had about ten people tour through the fucking apartment and you can’t make up your mind. If she wants the room, then yeah, I have already selected someone.”
“This is like getting a puppy,” I mutter. “You don’t do this kind of shit without consulting me, Jett.”
“Except Wendy doesn’t pay rent,” he replies. “Are you really not going to help me with any of this?”
I roll my eyes. “I’ll help you, I guess,” I say as I walk up to him. “But only because I don’t want to get evicted.”
He smiles at me, his green eyes glimmering. “Not because you love me?”
“Nothing to do with that,” I reply, rolling my eyes as I smile back at him.
Chelsea only waits a few days to move in. She likes how close the place is to the downtown area, she doesn’t think that the rent is unreasonable and she’s very glad that she can bring her bird along with her. I almost ask her if that’s a euphemism but shut up when she glares at me, as if she could read my mind. I’m moderately sure that she can’t read my mind but with the way she’s looking at me, it’s hard to be certain.
She doesn’t have that much stuff to move in — a colourful blue and green hard-case suitcase seems to fit all her stuff, bird cage notwithstanding. She asks Jett and I to help set up the cage near the window because she thinks that the bird likes to see the outdoors every day.
Jett catches my gaze and smiles and I have to hold back laughter.
She’s not very chatty, at least not until she’s moved into what used to be Jett’s bedroom. She sits down on what used to be Jett’s bed and I feel weirdly territorial but Jett doesn’t say anything. He just cocks an eyebrow at me and smiles without showing me his teeth. I’ve always felt protective of him — it makes no sense, he’s been the one who has always defended me from bullies — and I really want to shout at this blonde, but there’s nothing that I can say to her. She’s renting a fancy furnished bedroom. The one that used to belong to my best friend.
When she leans back on the bed, her arms outstretched, I excuse myself. I can’t watch this anymore.
Jett walks out behind me and puts a reassuring hand on my shoulder, which makes me feel like shit. He’s the one losing his bedroom and he shouldn’t be the one that has to make me feel better about our situation, because it’s not like I’ve done anything to help us.
“She seems nice,” he says, raising his eyebrows and wiggling them once we are in the living room. “You might like her.”
“I won’t,” I reply. “And nice doesn’t do anything for me.”
Jett grins. “Seriously, Niko,” he says. “I don’t think you know yourself as well as you think you do.”
He looks back at the closed door of his former bedroom as if it’s supposed to mean something, but I have no idea what he’s talking about.