They met through a mutual friend. It was the sort of statement happy couples gave when relating their first meeting over dinner with friends or at a party. The difference here was they weren't a couple, but roommates. Given the depressing nature of that year, Nami still remembered the circumstances that eventually led up to their meeting like it was yesterday.
At the time, the luncheon seemed mundane and ordinary. No one really expected any life changing chain of events were taking place. Life was always unpredictable in that fashion.
Her situation was very simple.
Nami desperately needed a place to live in the City. The daily 80-minute commute to work was next to impossible to maintain without any tardy. That was if the traffic was light. The City was starting on its road improvement construction projects that it had been promising for years, randomly closing one lane at time. It was good because the roads needed it badly with its many potholes and cracks. It was bad for her only that it meant adding another half hour to her commute time.
So when Usopp, her old college friend, mentioned he knew someone who needed a roommate in a two-bedroom condo, she leaped at his words. He told her the location and the rent, which was close to her work and cheap.
Usopp knew how much Nami loved cheap things.
She would get her own bathroom and a balcony with a gorgeous view of the bay. It was only when he got to her impending roommate did her heart fall. His friend was male.
"Don't worry. He's gay."
"Gay? How do you know any gay men?" She took a long sip from her coffee and wrinkled her nose at the taste. It was too bitter. The way he went on about how great the place was, she suspected it was too good to be true. He reminded her of a shady car salesman she had the misfortune of dealing with once.
"I know a lot of people you don't know." Usopp started counting them off on his hand. "There's Dorry the butcher, Broggy the barber, Oimo the postman, Kashi the florist-"
"Okay, okay. I get the point. You know a lot of people."
"He's cool. You'll like him. He's just in a tight spot right now, but don't tell him I told you that," he spoke rather quickly. He leaned in closer and whispered to her, "He's very sensitive. You know, being gay and all."
"Oh, I see." Like that made any sense. "So how do you know him?"
"We went to the same high school, but I didn't really get to know him until our senior year. You see, he had crush on me, but I had to turn him down. Me being straight, it wouldn't have work out. But don't tell him that you know! It might bring up bad memories."
"Sure. No problem." She rolled her eyes like she really cared.
In the end, Nami decided it couldn't hurt to met the guy and check the place out. Usopp said he would arrange a meeting with him later in the week. If anything felt fishy or creepy about him, she could just turn it down without any bad feelings.
Three days later, Nami met Usopp in front of a 8-story apartment building of his friend's condo. The building was built out of white concrete with a blue roof. The neighborhood itself was made up of cafes, bookstores, restaurants, deli shops and a convenience stores. Small nicely trimmed trees dotted the sidewalk and the street was clean and free of liter. Nami was already hooked by the fashion boutiques that seemed ubiquitous in the area.
Usopp rang the buzzer and they waited a few minutes for him to come down and greet them.
Sanji wasn't like any gay man Nami knew, which wasn't saying a whole lot considering she probably knew only one. She half expected him to be flamboyant and feminine like the ones from the television shows, but he was nothing like that. In fact, he was the exact opposite.
Dressed entirely in black: shirt, slacks, jacket, the whole shebang, the only thing that wasn't black was his hair, which was a bright sunny blond. He was tall and slender and had a bit of chin hair that might have been a work in progress for possibly a beard. Nami wouldn't have known he was gay if Usopp hadn't told her in advance.
They exchanged the customary formal introduction, shaking hands and such and then he led them upstairs. He explained the elevator was out of service while maintenance was attending to it.
By the time they reach the third floor, Usopp was short of breath and struggling.
"Go on without me. I forgot my asthma medication."
"You don't have asthma," Sanji stated and threw him a disgusted glare.
Usopp ignored him and sat down on the step, digging in his backpack for something. Nami and Sanji exchanged disapproving looks. She could only shrug her shoulders. There was no point in arguing with him. If he said he had an illness, he had it, despite all evidence to the contrary. They left him alone and climbed up two more flight of stairs to the fifth floor.
"So what do you do for a living?" he asked as he unlocked the door.
"I work for a design build firm as an architect."
"So you design buildings?
"As matter of fact, I do. Usopp says you cook for a living. What kind of food?"
"Mainly seafood, but I can cook anything you like." It sounded like a boast coming from him.
That was the extend of their conversation. She didn't try to force anymore out of him with small talk and he didn't bother to prolong it either. She followed him inside.
The first room they toured was the kitchen. It had a stainless steel French door refrigerator and a black six-burner stove with a hood overhead. The maple cabinets nicely complemented the black granite countertop. Nami, who rarely cooked, thought it was the most luxurious-looking kitchen she had ever seen and wondered if he would object to her putting in a microwave. But she was getting way ahead of herself.
The next room was the living room. It was just as extravagant as the kitchen. A black leather sofa and large flat screen television were the main furniture she noticed. Finally the last room of interest was the vacant room that occupied the corner of the building. Compare to the other two rooms, it was bland, but only because it had nothing in it. It was little dusty and a few cobwebs had settled in the corners of the ceiling. The bathroom only had a shower stall, which suited her fine since she never bothered to take bubble baths. And there was indeed a balcony with view of the bay like Usopp mentioned.
Usopp? That reminded her. Where was he? How long did it take to climb up two more flights of stairs? Maybe he had passed out somewhere between the third and fifth floor.
Sanji stood aloof, studying her from outside the room. He had a cigarette hanging from his mouth and his hands were hidden in his pants pockets. "So what do you think?"
"It looks good. Did you live with someone else before?" She slid open balcony door and step out to take in the fresh air. She could see the entire neighborhood from up here. It felt fantastic.
A loud pounding at the front door interrupted them and pulled Nami back in.
"Oi, let me in," Usopp shouted.
"About time. What took you so long?"
They headed back and let Usopp in. He still appeared flushed and out of breath. "Any good?"
She folded her arms and stared at him. He was seriously out of shape. "I'll think about it and get back to you on it."
It didn't take Nami long to get back to him. Since Sanji was Usopp's old friend and he was gay, she reasoned it would be okay. Even if he wasn't gay, she known people to room with people of the opposite sex without any problems.
Within a week, she had the paperwork filled out and the keys handed to her. Moving was a pain so she hired a moving company to take care of things. She was too busy with work to deal with the packing and sorting. She decided her survey desk, swivel chair, twin-size bed, bookcase and drawer chest were the most important furniture to bring. The ones she didn't need, she would leave at home with her older sister. Of course all her clothes and shoes came with her. She couldn't bear to leave any of them behind. And anything else she might need she would buy after she moved in.
Space was made in the cabinets for her kitchen appliances, which included a rusty electric kettle, a food processor, and a toaster. The refrigerator's right half was emptied for her use as well. When Nami asked about where she could put her microwave, she swore Sanji appeared offended but he turned away too fast from her to be sure. He told her she could stick it in the corner of the counter.
Sanji showed her where the laundromat was and where to dispose of the garbage. He gave her instructions on separating the garbage for recycling and compose.
At first, Nami wasn't sure how to handle herself around a gay man. She worried about the possible male 'friend' he could bring home late at night, but that never happened as far as she could tell. At least, she was never awoken by any heavy moaning and panting emanating from his room. He didn't have any strange habits and was quiet and very neat for a guy.
The most convenient thing about her new roommate was she saw very little of him after moving in. His work schedule always put him at home at different hours of the day. Sanji worked the swing shift. Meaning, by the time Nami left for work, he was still asleep and when he got home, she was already in bed.
The only form of communication she ever received from him was the periodic Post-it note left on the refrigerator door. Mostly, it was a note to remind her to clean after herself in the kitchen or to take out the trash.
Overall, Nami was delighted with the arrangement. It was like she had the whole place to herself. She made full use of his living room with the big screen television and comfy couch. The kitchen, on the other hand, was another matter.
Nami had never seen a stove with six burners before. It also had more switches and buttons than she thought possible for a stove to have. She tried to turn it on once, but it started making a clicking noise like a time bomb. It seriously freaked her out. The last thing she wanted was to set the kitchen on fire. It was there and then, she decided to stick by her microwave for all her cooking needs.
Strange thing was, his stove still looked brand new. Why he had a stove that grand, but barely use was weird. But he was a chef so it was probably what chefs did.
They lived together like this for months, each living their own separate lives. It never once occurred to Nami how odd their setup was. How two people living in the same space could know so little of each other. Every time she passed the door to his room, she never once thought about what he was doing or how he was.
To be fair, Sanji never once approached her with any overture of friendship. So they went about their own business like the other person never truly existed.
It was then on one particular, inconsequential day that Fate decided to step in on their behalf.