Penelope Roman didn’t realize she was choking on her blueberry muffin until the coughs started coming. She was too busy staring at the flier in front of her. The shock of what she saw made her swallow air with her pastry.
“Are you okay?” came a voice from behind her, but she paid it no mind. She was busy trying to memorize all of the details as she stifled another cough.
One bedroom apartment available immediately. $600/month. Must interview in person with landlord. 235 Sackett Street.
“Ma’am, are you—” said another voice.
Penelope stared harder at the lavender-colored flier, with strips of the address hanging from it. She grabbed one and stuffed it in her pocket.
$600 a month? How hasn’t this been snatched up? I wonder what the catch is. Penelope thought to herself, as she coughed harder.
She then realized the whole coffee shop was staring at her.
“It’s not Covid,” she tried to explain through coughs, pointing to the dry muffin she was holding.
“Have some water. On the house,” said Jeff, the barista, who was now extending a cup to her, before going back to cash out the rest of the brunch rush.
Penelope smiled and took it from him, gratefully. She took a gulp, downed the muffin clog, and looked back at the flier, wondering why more slips of paper hadn’t disappeared.
She tossed the rest of the eight dollar muffin in the trash (ugh, Brooklyn!) and went back to the counter to thank Jeff. She couldn’t quite catch his eyes over the swarm of strollers and tiny dogs, however.
“Hey, Jeff,” she called, hoping to get his attention.
“No worries,” he called back, with a wave of his hand and his eyes on the next customer.
“I was actually wondering if you-” Penelope was going to ask if he knew anything about the flier, but stopped herself before she announced the information to the rest of the coffee shop.
No use giving myself more competition, she thought, then paused. Penelope walked back over to the flier and tore off the remaining strips before leaving to 235 Sackett Street.
As Penelope approached the stoop of the two-story brownstone, she looked around, confused. There were no lines of people climbing over each other to get in, there were no “for rent signs,” there were no signs of life—at all.
Penelope looked at the slip of paper in her hand and at the address on the building, comparing the two. Yep, this is definitely it, she thought as she approached the front door and gently knocked, surprised to find it already open.
As the door swung open, for the second time in the same day, Penelope felt like she was dreaming. Hard wood floors, a loft space, high ceilings, exposed brick. Her interior designer heart skipped a beat. Penelope took a few steps inside and felt her stomach flip with giddiness. She could already see so clearly how she would set up the space, starting with getting some boho chic furniture into the main space—
“Hey,” came a voice from behind her. Penelope turned around to find a man in his twenties standing there, with scruff on his face and music notes tattooed on his forearm. His ripped t-shirt didn’t scream “landlord,” to her, but then again, these trust fund kids always went around trying to look like they didn’t have money…
“So what’s the deal?” he asked, looking at her with blue eyes that matched his blue tee.
“What do you mean?” she asked back. “My name is Penelope.” She extended her hand.
“Nolan,” he said, shaking it firmly. “I mean, I’m ready to sign. What do I need to do?”
“Oh. I’m not—I thought you were—” Penelope stammered. “I’m ready to sign too.”
“Well, it seems like we have a problem then,” Nolan said, withdrawing his hand and holding out one of the lavender slips from the flier. “I was here first.”
“Actually, I was,” came a third, quieter, and distinctly female voice. Nolan and Penelope turned to see a petite Black woman with white hair standing in the doorway. “My name is Flo Donovan, and I own this property.”
Penelope pushed past Nolan with the slip of paper still in her hand. “Hi Mrs. Donovan, my name is Penelope Roman, and I’m very interested in renting your apartment.”
“And I’m Nolan Elliot,” he said, taking a step forward, shoulder to shoulder with Penelope. “I’m also interested, and you should know that I was the first one here, so—”
Flo cut him off with a wave of her hand. “I don’t care about that,” she said, scrutinizing them both. “I want to know why you want the apartment.”
Penelope and Nolan looked at each other, each deciding who should speak first.
“Mrs. Donovan,” Penelope started, “I want to be an interior designer, and I’ve been looking for the perfect place to be inspired by, and really let my creativity shine.” She continued, shifting her focus to the floor. “I live with my boyfriend now, and…” Penelope drifted off, trying to think of the right words to describe her situation. “It’s not ideal,” was the best she could do.
“I’m a starving artist,” Nolan said, jumping in before Penelope could elaborate. “I’m kind of...between homes at the moment, and I could really use a place like this to get back on my feet. And work on my music.”
Flo looked at both of them. “Okay,” she said simply, reaching into her pocket.
“Okay...what?” Nolan asked.
“Okay, you can both stay. For now.” Flo placed two sets of keys on the kitchen island. “I’ll give you until December 31 to prove to me who is the most responsible tenant—and who deserves to live here permanently.”
Flo started to walk out the door. “But it’s a one bedroom apartment,” Penelope called out.
“It’s a loft,” Flo said, not turning back.
“How are we supposed to convince you?” Nolan shouted at Flo’s back.
“That’s up to you. Surprise me,” she replied, flashing a smile as she shut the door behind her.
Penelope and Nolan looked at each other and then the keys on the island...and then back at each other again. Penelope weighed her options as she thought: This couldn’t be a real offer—could it?
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