By the time they boarded the ship from Novyi Zem, Jesper had resigned himself to the position of Colm Fahey’s second favorite child.
Inej had spent the last week of summer’s leave on the Fahey farm, and in that time period, she had; pinned an advertisement for a new flatmate, significantly decreased the time and increased the enjoyment of weeding jurda fields, put up with joke, after joke, after horrible joke from both Faheys (both Jesper’s upbeat sarcasm, and Colm’s good-natured jests), finished her summer assignments, helped encourage Jesper to do his own, and had sat in a small pile of cow bile helping Da bring a bloated, choking bovine back from the edge of death.
Jesper was sure Da was considering how to bring up the subject of adoption to her.
But the week had come and gone, and the boat had set ashore at the docks of Ketterdam. A cab brought them to the three-bedroom apartment they had affectionately labelled the Slat. The sun went down as they unpacked, as Inej cooked beans and Jesper boiled rice, as they discussed their individual summers, as they talked of how prepared they were for the new school year, (Inej, plenty; Jesper, not at all). How long until the next break. (Too long). If Inej wanted to stay with them then. (Absolutely). And finally…
“How long till the rest of them get here?” Jesper requested, drumming his fingers on his long empty bowl.
Inej bit her lip, picking up the bowls and moving towards the sink, only to be stopped by a bounding Jesper, taking the bowls from her. “Nina and Matthias be here tomorrow evening.”
Jesper nodded, pausing a moment to wipe down the dishes. It wasn't that he didn't care about Nina and Matthias. But, they weren't who he was asking after “And Kaz?” He asked, innocently.
“Who knows? It’s Kaz.”
“Hand me the soap. Do you reckon he’ll be here soonish?” He drummed his fingers on the sink, handing a bowl to Inej to dry. “‘Cause we have that whole, new flatmate advertisement, and we’re gonna need his vote.”
“Are you worried about the new flatmate, or are you nervous about seeing Kaz again?”
“Damn. Inej, And here I thought I’d have to worry about Nina calling me out.” He laughed, maybe a little too strongly, turning back around to face the Suli girl. “Can it be both? Because it’s both. I’m a bundle of nerves.”
Wylan van Eck was tired of staring at himself in the mirror. But here he was, eyebrows furrowed as his too-blue eyes traced his reflection from head to toe for the billionth time. His red gold locks were neatly curled out of his eyes. His suit was just baggy enough that he could pretend he didn’t have curves despite the slight pulling of his undershirt around his chest. He was slouching, he noticed, forcing himself to stand straighter, maybe just a little taller. Not that that did much.
He clutched his cut-out newspaper clipping in one hand, the advertisement Kuwei had seen, and read to him, in the other, his measly bag of whatever few belongings he had. His flute, his phone with his cracked screen, a few changes of clothes, and about one hundred and thirty kruge. And as he walked out of the junky pub bathroom, he squeezed his cut up advertisement, his grasping straw of freedom, harder, to the point where it was a crumpled square. He tried to recite it in his brain as he walked the streets, trying to find the right numbers, the numbers that might mean actual independence for the first time in his life.
A Flatmate to Help Share Rent Five
(5) university students at the Ketterdam Kampus seek a flatmate to help split rent.
Current residents include; one (1) Senior, (Matthias Helvar), two (2) juniors, (Kaz Brekker and Nina Zenik), and two (2) sophomores, (Jesper Fahey and Inej Ghafa).
Applicants are preferred, but not required to be: A university student.
Applicants may completely disregard ad if: You’re a bigoted sack of dicks.
Premises are 3 bed/1 bath/2 .5 bath. Rent: 70 Kruge a month. Followed by the address.
Wylan had never heard of these people before. Except Kaz Brekker, who’s rumors were widespread. The stories he’d heard… were less than child-safe. To put it mildly. But the ad was promising. And cheap. And Wylan wasn't a child anymore. So, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, squeezed his sheet of paper, and knocked on the door.
And then he waited.
He could hear jabbering behind the door in the next few minutes that followed. But soon, the door swung open. And in the door frame was a tall, dashingly handsome, dark skinned boy in pajamas, with hair that almost vanished down his head, and the most perfect, most kissable lips Wylan had ever seen. “Hi! You here about the ad?”
Even his voice was alluring, a low rich drawl, with an accent that Wylan had never heard before. “I…. what? Yes.” He nods, snapping out of his trance, crushing the paper in his palm while he nods and tries to smile. “The ad. For the flat. That’s why I’m here.”
The Zememi laughed, heartily, like his laugh alive and bouncing off the walls, while he swished his hand, and walked back into the room. “I’m Jesper Fahey. Come on, lemme introduce yah.”
And Wylan followed this strange figure through the door frame, only slightly processing the door slam behind him as he entered. His advertisement cut out now only a wad of paper in his palm. He could just process the shouts coming from the end of the hallway, aimed at Jesper. Though it took Wylan a second the understand both that there was noise, that there was anything except this long-limbed, bewitching creature. And it took him a bit more to understand that the shouts were not a cry to kick him out, because he surely didn't belong.
“Who’s at the door?”
“Flatmates!” That one, he noticed, came from a girl popping chicken nuggets in her mouth and pumping her fist in the air. Encouraging.
Now that he was focusing, there were a total of six people in the room, including him. A girl with a long braid and a salad was cross legged on the ground, a blond giant frowning at the girl who welcomed him. Jesper, now sitting in the middle of the floor, and a boy in a ratty arm ch, her head tilted at him, in some mild form of curiosity. Like a cat's. Next to her, was a blond giant, who looked as if he had just came out of a fairy tale about knights in shining armor, who had emptied a can of something in the time Wylan had been watching him. Chicken Nugget girl was next to him, touching his leg. And in an armchair, the only one not sitting on the floor among what must have been piles of fried chicken and potatoes and rolls- and Ghezen, he was interrupting dinner- Was a boy in a suit, leaning forwards on a sliver tipped cane. A crow rest it on it. Kaz Brekker. He had to be.
Jesper sat down besides the catlike girl, and waved his arms about the room, before popping a few Kaelish Fries into his own mouth. "Right. So, the chick trying to her all her chicken nuggets in one go," he points loosely at the girl who was the most enthusiastic about Wylan's intrusion, who now wiggled her eyebrows at him, "Is Nina. Never, ever leave any food around her that you actually want to eat later. Or waffles. No. Especially waffles."
He points towards the blond giant, who had moved on from his drink to another. Apparently fairytale knights didn't need food. "That's Matthias. Nothing can touch him, because he has the power of God AND anime on his side."
The blond grunted.
He gestures towards the girl with the plait, “That’s Inej. She’s probably some sort of goddess in disguise. She keeps us all functioning. Alive. And scheduled.”
She smiles, waving at Wylan.
He points at Brekker. “That’s Kaz. He’s like Batman, if batman were a total slytherin, and also a mafia crime boss.”
Nina, who’s finally swallowed her chicken nuggets, points at Jesper. “This is Jesper, who has definitely masturbated with a gun at some point."
“Jesper, the reason we can’t do weekly card games anymore.” Matthias offers.
“Jesper, who’s definitely convinced teachers to leave the profession.” Kaz suggests, smirking over at the Zememi, trying to defend himself.
“Jesper,” starts Inej, voice strong and steadfast, and final, quieting the others, “an excellent friend who’s heart is always in the right place.”
Wylan nods, still standing. Perhaps that’s a testament to how out of place he feels, watching them bicker. Like friends. He’s standing up because he’s the jackass who doesn’t know these people, who isn’t one of them.
They could all probably read too.
They were all probably right at home in their bodies.
“Now tell us about yourself.” A raspy, stone voice snaps him out of his thoughts. He swallows, squeezing his crushed piece of paper until he can feel his nails on his skin.
“I’m Wylan Hendriks. I’m a second year, chemical engineering major.”
“Where’d you spend last year for board?”
“With my dad, but that’s not an option anymore.” Wylan closes his eyes now. Ready for the next question that was sure to come.
“Why not?” He can hear the sympathy in Jesper’s baritone -maybe a little genuine interest?- and he draws in a deep breath.
“Because it’s suffocating. Because I can't breathe when I look at him. Because.... because I'm not going to live, trying to please someone who can't be happy with me as I am." He recites, just like he had with Kuwei. It sounds monotonous to his own ears. But he can feel tears start to well.
Nina looks at Jesper, who looks at Inej, who looks at Kaz.
“Do you have the money?”
“The position is yours.”