Going for Broke: Oakland Hills Friends to Lovers Romantic Comedy (Friends with Benefits)

Going for Broke (Oakland Hills)

Friends with Benefits

Gretchen Galway

Eton Field

GOING FOR BROKE

Copyright © 2016 by Gretchen Galway

Eton Field, Publisher

www.gretchengalway.com

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, no part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the Author.

All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

ISBN (eBook): 978-1-939872-14-2

v.20160610

Chapter 1

B
illie Garcia watched
her ex-boyfriend from across the café, tipping her cup back for another mouthful of Darjeeling before she remembered it was empty.

As empty as her bank account had been when she’d been shacked up with Mr. Right over there last year. His beard was longer now, but well trimmed. It suited him. From the melting looks his female companion was giving him, Billie wasn’t the only one to think so.

She squeezed out a few drops from her damp tea bag into her cup. Not for a moment did she regret dumping Josh. He’d bled her dry, financially and emotionally. When she’d told him she was moving out, he’d thought she was kidding. Granted, he was a good-looking guy and she shopped in the big-girl stores, but please. An extravagant, inconsiderate hunk was no prize.

She glanced up at him again, stifling a sigh. If only she’d chosen a different café that morning. Her day had been rough enough without running into her ex. How had she ever fallen for that handsome jerk? Well, yes, he really was handsome. Impossible not to mention it. But was she really so shallow that a pretty face could make her chuck basic standards?

Billie shifted in her seat so that her back was to the couple, then slurped up the dregs of her tea. Maybe she
was
that shallow. She’d allowed that face—and muscles, dimpled chin, and tight butt—to blind her to the obvious.

He’d never loved her. He’d only loved sleeping with her and taking her rent money.

She peeked at the couple again over her shoulder, holding her cup to her lips as a shield. His current victim was a curvy young woman with curly black hair and a trusting look in her big round eyes. A woman who looked suspiciously like Billie—same coloring, hair, body type. He was like a serial killer with a favorite victim profile. She should leave before she gave in to temptation and ran over to warn the poor girl.

When her phone began to ring—and she saw it was her mother—Billie jumped up and quickly left the café without looking back. There were far more important things than ex-boyfriends.

The sky over Oakland on that February afternoon couldn’t decide if it was going to rain or give them a few hours of early-spring sunshine. Thin raindrops fell from a patchy blue sky onto her A’s cap—a hat she was glad she’d been wearing since it had probably stopped Josh from recognizing her. He was horribly nearsighted but had always insisted his generous daily consumption of fermented foods was better than glasses.

At least she hadn’t been in love with him. She’d never been that stupid. Not once.

She lifted the phone to her ear and turned away from busy College Avenue to a quiet, residential side street. “Hi, Mom.”

“Oh, Billie,” her mother, Sandra, said. “How are you doing?” Her voice was pinched with concern.

The grief that Billie had set aside to take a few shallow moments hating on her ex came flooding back. Just the morning before, her father’s mother had died. She’d been ill for some time, and her passing hadn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but it was still hard. Billie had loved Grammy to pieces.

“I’m all right,” Billie said with a sigh. “I took the day off.” She worked in the permit center in the neighboring town of Flores Verdes, just across the bay from San Francisco, and she hadn’t been up to another day of taking abuse from a long stream of unhappy citizens. Or her boss.

“You sound like you’re outside,” her mother said. “I hear traffic. Maybe you should call me back when you get home.”

“Why? What is it?”

“It’s kind of big news. I want to make sure you can hear me.”

Billie stopped in front of a multimillion-dollar bungalow with a tiny yard overflowing with blooming yellow daffodils. Still reeling from Grammy’s death, she felt her stomach drop at the thought of another bombshell. “I can hear you. What is it?”

The line went quiet.

“Mom? Are you there?” Billie asked again.

“I’m here. It’s just such a surprise. Your father told me ten minutes ago.”

“What?” Billie said. “Is it about the cats? Because I’m not allowed to have one where I’m—”

“She left you two the house,” her mother said. “Not your father. You and Jane, free and clear. It’s yours.”

Chapter 2

A
ll day
, Billie had been struggling with the realization that she’d never see her grandmother’s twinkling gray eyes again.

And now she had to grapple with something else.

“The house in Oakland?” Billie asked.

“What other house is there?”

She could only hope there was another one. Perhaps up in Sonoma County. Or up at Lake Tahoe. A clean, modern, lovely house that wasn’t full of cat filth and
People
magazines from the 1980s.

“Me and Jane?” Billie asked. “Why didn’t she tell us before?”

“She must’ve wanted it to be a surprise. She loved you two so much.”

Billie’s throat tightened. She had trouble getting any words out. “Thanks for letting me know.”

“I’ve upset you. I wanted to tell you before the lawyer did.”

“Thanks,” Billie said.

“Do call your father. He’s having a hard time too.”

They’d been divorced for decades, but her parents still talked to one another, perhaps because they’d so quickly moved on to start other families.

“I will.” Billie inhaled a calming breath. “After I talk to Jane.”

As soon as she got home—a pale shadow of one, since after she’d left Josh, she’d had to sublet a room in a run-down house overflowing with Berkeley students—she called Jane, and the sound of her sister’s voice brought all her memories of her grandmother to the surface. They cried for a few minutes, expressing their guilt for not spending enough time with her the past few months, their sadness at her passing, their favorite memories of her over the years.

“I wish she’d told us about the house so we could’ve thanked her,” Jane said.

“I know. It was so generous of her.” In her little bedroom, Billie poured filtered water into her electric kettle and turned it on. She drank tea like some people breathed air, but without as many interruptions. “Too bad we’ll have to sell it.”

Billie had a job, but it was a modest civil service position. Paying property taxes for a single-family home on her salary would be a stretch, let alone paying for all the repairs the place would need. Her sister was a corporate accountant, which meant she had more funds but would be even stingier than Billie was about paying for it all. No doubt they would have to sell it for what they could get and move on.

But Jane surprised her. “Are you kidding?” her sister exclaimed. “This would be a terrible time to sell.”

“But the market’s up again,” Billie said. “We could find somebody who’d buy it.”

“You must be out of your mind. Even if we sold it, which we just can’t, we’d have to fix it up first. We’d be throwing away a fortune if we didn’t,” Jane said. “Besides, Grammy left it to us because we’d keep it. If she wanted it sold, she would’ve given it to Dad. And who knows? Maybe she gave it to us because she felt bad about your renting a room in a house with strangers.”

Billie had been too embarrassed to tell either her grandmother or her successful older sister just how bad her current domestic situation was. Six months earlier, she’d left Josh and taken the first thing she could find with a month-to-month lease. Her bedroom was fine, but the communal kitchen violated even the weakest of health codes, so she’d been cooking all her meals in her room with her microwave and electric kettle. And the shared bathroom was even worse. Clods of hair the size of grapefruit huddled like dead animals in the shower drain, leaving her feet standing ankle-deep in a gray, greasy, tepid puddle.

It was still better than living with the wrong guy. Which made her think of Jane’s boyfriend.

“Andrew’s not going to want to pack up his books and computers and move into Grammy’s house,” Billie said. “Especially not after he sees it in person.”

“Don’t worry about Andrew. Even if we don’t end up living there, I don’t want to sell it. Houses don’t grow on trees. Especially so close to San Francisco.”

Billie sipped her tea. There were plenty of houses. The problem was they were filled with people who had more money than she did.

“There’s nothing like real estate,” Jane continued. “Land. A home. Grammy knew how important that was, especially for women. Sure, we have jobs, and food to eat, health insurance. But we won’t be able to afford a house like that, not in that location, for a long time.”

“I still can’t,” Billie said.

“I’ve done the numbers—”

“Of course you have,” Billie said. “You eat numbers for breakfast.” Billie preferred scones with extra butter. Way better. But it did explain why she was living in a dump.

“We can split the property taxes fifty-fifty, and the repairs—”

“God knows what else needs to be fixed. Last time I was there, Grammy had duct-taped a crack in the bathroom window. Half the drawers in the kitchen don’t slide right. The kitchen floor—”

“Floors are cheap. I’m more worried about the roof and electrical,” Jane said.

“You don’t
sound
worried.”

“We just need to think of it as an investment. One that’ll pay off in the best way. I’m so excited.” Jane sighed. “And depressed, of course. I’d still rather have Grammy than her house.”

“Maybe we should talk about this next week. After the funeral.”

“I’ll be out of town on business,” Jane said. “I’m flying to Chicago on Tuesday for at least a week. I was originally leaving Monday, but my boss is letting me stay for the funeral.”

“Nice of her.”

“I know, she sucks, but all that corporate money is going to buy us a new roof. Or whatever.”

“That’s just it, Jane. I don’t have any corporate money. I’m a clerk for the lovely but nearly bankrupt City of Flores Verdes, living paycheck to paycheck.”

“What happened to your savings? I know you don’t take home very much, but a year or two ago you told me you had some tucked away for emergencies. And it’s not like you’re living the high life.”

Billie sipped her tea, her favorite green mint, and felt her face flush with embarrassment. Having known how Jane would never understand squandering money—especially on a man—Billie hadn’t told her about the loss of her little savings. “I flushed it down a handsome toilet,” she mumbled.

“What?”

“Josh.”

Jane gasped. “He
stole
it?”

“Oh no. I gave it to him willingly. I paid the rent, I bought the groceries, I covered his car payment. He was an exotic pet I couldn’t bear to give up, like a tiger with a terminal illness, and I had to pay for all his vet bills and special foods.” An organic, paleo, gluten-free, grass-fed tiger with bowels even more reactive than his politics.

“But you did give him up finally, thank God.”

“Took me too long,” Billie said. “Never again.”

Jane sighed. “That changes things. I thought you had a nest egg like I do. But if you’re broke…” She fell silent.

For a few tantalizing minutes, Billie had gotten caught up in her sister’s vision of owning the house and fixing it up. When would they ever get a chance like this again?

“It’s not just the money, of course,” Jane continued. “We don’t know what the place needs. And handling the repairs is going to take more than money. It’ll take time. Actually being there, dealing with it all.”

That was true. Both of them worked full time. And what did they know about major home repairs? Their mother had hardly been one to pick up a hammer and fix anything. Dad, wonderful though he was, only knew computer hardware, not the other kind, and he’d moved away ages ago. If anything had ever broken at the house, Mom had called her best friend, whose son loved to fix things even though he’d only been a teenager at the time, just like Jane and Billie.

And now he was one of Billie’s oldest friends.

An idea began to take shape. A crazy idea, but an irresistible one. Why not take advantage of all the resources they had? Brilliant, industrious, and handsome, Ian Cooper was the peachiest resource around.

Jane would hate the idea. Absolutely hate it.

Billie sipped her tea.

Did her sister really
have
to know all the details? She’d be busy at work. It wasn’t as if Billie’s friendship with Ian was a secret. Just an unpleasant truth they avoided talking about.

Billie took a deep breath. “My lease is only month to month.” She’d been looking around for a new place but hadn’t found anything yet. The decent apartments all wanted first and last, a deposit, an animal sacrifice…

Berkeley was impossible in the middle of the school year.

“So?”

“What if I move into Grammy’s house?” Billie rushed on. “If you’re contributing money, how about I put in the time?”

“You’d do that? Live there in all that mess?”

“If Grammy could do it, why not me?”

“Her sense of smell was long gone,” Jane said. “Yours isn’t.”

“A few gallons of toxic chemicals will take care of that,” Billie said. “If I lived there, we wouldn’t be in such a hurry to fix everything right away. Without paying rent, I’ll be able to contribute more to repairs.”

“But we don’t know what needs to be done,” Jane said.

“Hey, you were the one who wanted to do this.”

“I do, I do,” Jane said quickly. “Are you really willing to move in? You know what it’s like.”

“Sure.” Grammy’s house, as bad as it was, would be like the Ritz in comparison to where Billie was living now. “You’ll be putting in more money than I can. It’s only fair.”

“That would be great,” Jane said. “But don’t you want to wait a few weeks before you move in? I’m going out of town. You’ll have to tackle the worst of it all by yourself.”

Not if Ian agreed to her plan.

“I’m sure,” Billie said.