My face fell, along with the blue terry cloth towel wrapped around my body, when I opened the door to find Simon staring back at me, backpack slung over his left shoulder. No, no, no! This can’t be! What in God’s name is he doing here? I caught the towel with my left hand before it completely dropped to the floor and attempted to pull it tighter using only one hand.
“Hello, love!” Simon chirped in his annoying British accent, eying me up and down and giving me the creeps.
Using both hands, I cinched the towel as snug as it would go, practically cutting off my circulation. Damn it. Simon is not the Fed Ex man. Now just so you know, I don’t normally answer the door in a towel, but I was waiting for my new stilettos that I ordered from DSW. When the doorbell rang as I was getting out of the shower, I raced to answer it since I was sure it had to be the Fed Ex guy. Those damn shoes were supposed to be delivered yesterday and I’ve been waiting so patiently for them. I really needed them to come like, right now, since I planned my entire outfit for today’s interview around those shoes.
Had I glanced in the peep hole and saw Simon standing there, I wouldn’t have opened the door in a million years. In fact, Iprobably would have climbed out the fire escape. “This is a really bad time, Simon. What do you want?”
“Oh! There another bloke here, then?” Simon asked, craning his neck to peek into my apartment. Stepping out into the hallway, I pulled the door closed behind me.
“No! There is not. Not that it’s any of your concern,” I replied crossing my arms. At least, Austin wasn’t here right this moment, but that wasn’t really any of Simon’s business, now was it?
Simon leaned up against the wall, trying to appear cool. I bit my lip to suppress laughter. The building super had just painted that wall and Simon now had a big white line of paint on his sleeve.
“Ah, so no new chap? Still carrying a torch for old Simon then, huh?” He flashed one of his cheesy grins my way. God, did his audacity ever end?
“Listen, I’m really busy this morning. I have an interview at 11:00 and I thought you were the Fed Ex man with a package. Therefore if you could just tell me why your English ass is on my doorstep so I can bid you Cheerio, to borrow one of your expressions from your homeland.” I forced a tight smile.
“Well, I was really hoping you wouldn’t tell me to sod off, love. You see, I’ve been forced from my flat,” Simon drawled, leaning closer to my cleavage. “My, you smell delectable. New scent?”
I frowned as I side stepped his wandering nose. “No. Same old scent.” And same old Simon. “Listen, Simon, I’m so sorry to hear that, but A, I don’t see how that’s my problem and B, we call them apartments here in the States.” So freaking annoying. He’s lived here for nearly twenty years, but he still thinks the accent is charming and is going to get him his way. Simon was like those Italian guidos at the Jersey shore. They strut around town with their Italy tattoos and Italian horns around their necks pretending they’re born and bred in Italy when they’re actually from Bloomfield and probably haven’t ever been outside the tri-state area. Like my brothers.
“Alright then, my apartment. I was forced from my apartment.” He articulated the word carefully. It still sounded overly British. Why can’t he just talk like an American?
Come to think of it, at one point in time I did find Simon’s Britishness (if that’s even a word) sexy and irresistible. It’s pretty much how he got me into bed in the first place. Well, it’s not going to work today.
“And why, might I ask, were you forced from your apartment?” I enunciated every syllable hoping to piss him off. I could be a bitch if he was going to be a jerk.
Simon cringed. “Well, I had a little bit of dickering with the landlord over the rent.”
“By that, you mean you didn’t pay the rent?” Simon was completely irresponsible with money. His parents had been well off, but they never seemed to teach him the value of money. He threw it away on toys and frivolous endeavors without budgeting for essentials of daily living. It was another one of his many grating habits.
“Well, it was kind of hard. You see, I got sacked.”
“Shocker that is,” I remarked with a smirk. Simon was a very smart guy; his IQ was off the charts. But he absolutely refused to apply himself and I’m pretty sure he had an adult version of ADHD because he couldn’t seem to stay in any job for more than a few months. He changed his college major twice and then didn’t even graduate. He told me that it had “bored” him. With a big, fat trust account after his father died, he didn’t feel the need to ever be serious about a career or even a steady income.
“Please, Lizzie? I can’t get an apartment on a moment’s notice. The waiting lists are eons long and I have nowhere else to go. You know Mum’s in a home now. I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t desperate.” Simon’s face fell and his dark gray eyes grew wide and moist. Oh, shit. Not the puppy dog face. Simon, put the puppy dog face away! That infuriating man knew I could not resist the puppy dog face.
I closed my eyes to shut out his pathetic expression. “Don’t call me Lizzie. You know I hate that. What about Jake? Why can’t you stay with Jake?” Jake was Simon’s successful and talented screenplay writing older brother, whose home was literally three blocks from my apartment. Except, I still lived in the crap part of town and he was living in a mansion penthouse.
“Jake’s being an arse.” The way he said arse gave me goose-bumps. Damn accent again. Stop it now, Elizabeth. Do not let him get to you. “Something about not wanting company there when they’re doing construction. Mary Ellen is having a baby, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know,” I remarked dryly. He was so dense. Did he really think I kept in touch with his family after our breakup? I always found the whole bunch to be rather pretentious and I had been overjoyed to purge myself of all of them in the process of breaking up with him. It had been one of the perks of our relationship ending.
“Well, she is. Due in May. Going to be a girl. They’re doing the nursery in Mother Goose or some other nonsense like that.”
“How about Robert?” I suggested, ignoring his foray into the inane topic of nursery themes. Robert was Simon’s younger brother. He was a bit of a romantic drifter, but he did have a house in Long Island.
Simon waved off that suggestion. “He’s decided to live in Spain. New tart he met on vacation lives there and apparently he’s in love. Again. Remember Illyana? Yeah, this one speaks even less English than her. I bet all she knows is…”
Exasperated, I sighed loudly. “Listen, Simon, I’d love to chat and catch up with the last two years of your life, but I’ve really got to go.” I reached for the doorknob as I spoke. “Why don’t you friend request me on Facebook or something and we can be regular old chums,” I remarked with sarcasm.
“That’s quite naff. Leaving me out in the cold,” Simon pouted.
“It’s April, Simon. You’ll be fine. Go find a refrigerator box or something,” I countered as I turned the doorknob. Much to my chagrin, it wouldn’t turn. What the hell? I gripped it tighter and tried again; sometimes it stuck when it was humid.
As hard as I tried, the door wouldn’t budge. Oh sweet Jesus, please tell me I am not locked out! In the hallway. In a towel. With Simon. When I have an interview uptown in less than an hour!
Simon chuckled as I desperately rattled the doorknob. “A bit of a pickle, eh?” His voice was full of amusement.
“It’s not funny, Simon,” I growled through gritted teeth. “I really need this job. I can’t be late for the interview.” Tears burnt my eyes. Stop crying. You cannot lose it in front of Simon. I pulled at the door harder, to no avail. I tensed as Simon inched so close to me I could feel him breathing on my neck. What a creep!
“Ah, what happened to your job, Lizzie?” Simon inquired with sarcastic sweetness.
“My job is none of your beeswax,” I retorted as I jiggled the handle futilely. Son of Sam, why the hell won’t this open? I don’t remember locking it from the inside.
“Oh, so you don’t have a job either? And you were criticizing me?” Simon chuckled. “You want to be the pot or the kettle?”
I inhaled sharply as I whipped around, looking up at his pointy chin. “Good day, Simon,” I told him, curtly nodding before marching off barefoot to the bank of elevators at the end of the hall.
“Where are you going?” Simon called after me.
“Getting the Super to open my apartment door,” I called as I punched the button to summons the elevator. This was going to be one embarrassing visit to the Super’s apartment. Perhaps even more humiliating than the time Nora and I tried a new sushi restaurant and we both had explosive diarrhea and clogged up my toilet.
“Oh, well that seems rather mortifying,” Simon commented. Really, Simon? You don’t say. I focused on the glowing numbers lighting up on the top of the elevator door. Why was this damn thing so slow today? “So you need a key?” I heard Simon ask.
“Yes, Simon. Keys usually open doors,” I replied sarcastically, refocusing my gaze and staring down at my feet. I could see that my hot pink toenail polish was flaking off. Great. Now I have to wear boots and it’s hot. I can’t even wear the open toed shoes if I wanted to. Even if they came before I was done getting dressed. I’ll never get the job with chipped toe nail polish. Ugh, I’ve got to rethink my whole outfit now. My mind was reeling as the clock ticked down.
“A key like this one?” Simon called, just as the elevator doors opened. My upstairs neighbor, Mrs. McIntyre was inside the elevator, gawking at me with her mouth hanging open. She clutched her purse and her stupid toy poodle, Cupcake, close to her body like I was some sort of crazed animal snatcher. Haven’t you ever seen anyone waiting for an elevator in a towel, lady? I spun around to see Simon dangling a key in the air. My key. On my Mets lanyard. Son of a bitch! I’ve been looking all over for that!
The elevator door closed with Mrs. McIntyre and Cupcake safely behind it as I stormed over and attempted to snatch my key from Simon’s hand. He was shorter than average, a fact he absolutely hated, but he was still taller than I was and able to dangle the key well out of my reach. Holding on to the towel, I tried to jump for it, lost my balance and my body covering in the process. Quickly, I snatched up the towel and held it to my bare body. Thank goodness it was a weekday and most of my neighbors were already at work.
Simon laughed with glee as he tossed the key on top of the junk pile my neighbor kept outside his door, despite the association regulation forbidding use of hall space for personal storage. Every weekend, Mr. Jackson attempted to clean out his apartment, dragging furniture and boxes into the common hallway. And every weekend, the poor dear became so overwhelmed by the process of sifting through his hoard, he would quit halfway through. I didn’t have the heart to report him and his mess even though the pile of rubble was slowly encroaching on my own hallway space.
“Come on, Simon! That was a real shit thing to do!” I dragged a chair to the edge of the pile. Thankfully, Mr. Jackson had attempted cleaning his dining room this past weekend and his entire set of dining room chairs was leaning against the wall. I climbed onto the chair, trying to reach my key. Simon sidled up next to me and gazed upwards, getting a clear view of my naked hoo-ha. I stared down at him and tucked the towel between my thighs. “Are you serious right now?”
A broad grin erupted on his well chiseled face. Damn, I forgot what nice cheekbones he has. But he does look like he’s put on weight. That thought satisfied me for some perverse reason. “I don’t think you can reach the top of that pile, love.”
“I can too,” I replied, puffing out my chest. I can’t reach the top of this pile. Damn my parents and their genes. Short, fat people should not be allowed to procreate together! The result is even shorter, sausage-like children.
Simon casually leaned against my door frame, resulting in a white streak on his other sleeve. “I can help you out there, Lizzie. In exchange for one teensy little favor.” A sly smile spread across Simon’s lips.
“Don’t call me Lizzie,” I growled. I was stuck. Damn it. I needed his help. I sighed as I tightened my towel for the umpteenth time and ran my free hand through my hair which was now dry.”What do you want?”
Simon pushed off the door frame. “Oh you know what I want.”
I sucked in my breath. “You can’t live with me, Simon. It’s just not possible. I’m sorry.”
Pouting and casting his doleful eyes in my direction, Simon inquired, “How about just for a few days? Till I can find a new flat? I promise I won’t be a bugger.”
I cringed at the word flat. Flats were shoes, damn it, not apartments. Just listening to him butcher the English language gave me the feeling of nails on the chalkboard. Sighing, I explained, “It’s not that I think you’re going to be a bugger.” I actually know that you will be a huge pain in my ass. “I’m sort of seeing someone right now. And I don’t think he would appreciate coming home from his business trip to find you living in my apartment.” Especially since I never even let him spend the night, I reminded myself.
Simon’s face clouded slightly. But then he triumphantly remarked, “Ah! So there is someone else!”
Sighing, I nodded. “Yes. And it’s, um, serious. I don’t want to jeopardize that.”
Simon bobbed his head up and down with comprehension. “No, no, I understand. I don’t want to get in your way.”
I smiled gratefully. See? Simon can be a normal human being sometimes. “Thank you. Can I have my key now?”
Simon continued to smile. “No. I don’t think so. Why don’t you get your boyfriend to bring you the key?”
Oh my God he was so exasperating! Just when I think I’m making headway with the pompous prick!
I pointed my finger at him as I spoke. “First of all, Austin is out of town on business, as I mentioned before. And secondly, he doesn’t have a key to my apartment.” I quickly clamped my hand over my mouth. The words had escaped before I could stop myself.
“Ah, so not as serious as you’d like me to believe, my dear,” Simon said with a grin.
He had me there. Austin and I had been seeing each other for almost a year. He was a very talented baseball player, who was currently playing minor league ball. After being drafted right out of college, he spent a few years in Triple A where he batted .470 and played a mean center field. He was called up to the majors two years ago, before we met. A hamstring injury in his first year sidelined him for several weeks and he ended up being sent back down after rehab. We met at a bar that very night. He was out drinking with some of the other guys on the team. Even though I wasn’t a fan of his former team (cough, cough, Yankees), I recognized one of his teammates and as a lover of baseball in general, I was completely tongue tied. Nora dared me to go up and talk to them. She bet me the next month’s rent that I wouldn’t do it. I had lost my job a few weeks earlier, along with any shred of dignity I had, so I took the shot of whatever the hell the bartender put in front of me and waltzed over to the guys. And promptly got the heel of my boot stuck in the floorboards. And proceeded to fall flat on my face in front of them.
Austin’s friends thought it was hilarious and teased me, including the player I had worshipped up until that very moment. But Austin was sweet and helped me to my feet. While his friends moved on to picking up a group of girls who couldn’t even be out of high school, Austin and I sat alone at the bar and lamented about our recent career changes. We knocked back shot after shot and I guess I was drunk enough to go home with him that night, something I don’t normally do. But he had been a major league ball player after all so that probably clouded my usual virtuous judgment.
I was mortified when I woke up the next morning, naked in his bedroom. I was certain he was going to kick me out when he sobered up, telling me how much he regretted our transgression. Instead, to my shock, he asked me to spend the day with him.
I did just that. We lounged in bed, talking, ordering take out Chinese and drinking wine. Turned out, he had all the episodes of my favorite show, The Wonder Years, so we watched about three seasons worth of that. And of course we had sex a few times, too.
The next day, we actually got up and got dressed and spent the day in Central Park playing Frisbee and having a picnic. It was the most fun I had in ages, so we’ve been dating ever since. I was pretty sure it was exclusive, but I never really asked. I didn’t want to pressure him into anything else right now. I had a feeling he was frustrated with where his life was taking him professionally and he wasn’t going to be able to commit to our relationship just yet. I mean, we hadn’t even said “I love you” to each other yet. Not that I didn’t love him. I definitely did. I didn’t want to seem needy and all that. And I was a little out of practice. Did I mention I hadn’t dated anyone since my breakup with Simon?
So I didn’t really know if it was serious or not, but I wanted Simon to think it was. And also that my very jealous boyfriend would beat him up if he found him at my apartment.
“It is serious. He just doesn’t have a key because he’s out of town so much. He’s a baseball player,” I stressed importantly.
“Just dandy,” Simon remarked without enthusiasm. He never really gave a hoot about sports. “So if he’s out of town a lot, he won’t mind me staying here, then. It’s not like I will be in his way or anything.”
I shook my head defiantly. It reeked of a rotten idea.
“Come on, Lizzie. For old time’s sake?” Simon was practically on his knees.
“For old time’s sake is exactly why I don’t want you staying here, Simon. If you’ll remember…”
“I swear to Christ I’ve changed, Lizzie. I promise I won’t be the wanker I was back then. Please? You won’t even know I’m about.” He gazed into my eyes like a gazelle being mauled by a lion as he pleaded.
I rubbed my temples. I could feel a migraine coming on. Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I mean, it would only be for a few days and even though he’s a real jerk face, I can be gracious and try to forget the past. It’s not like what he did could ever hurt me again, right?
I sighed audibly. I can’t believe I’m going to do this. Certain that I was going to regret this for as long as I lived, I opened my mouth and said, “Ok, Simon. But only for a few days.” Simon beamed as he bounded to the top of the chair like a drunk leprechaun and retrieved my key. When he was on the ground again, I poked his chest with my finger. “And you stay on the couch. You don’t dare come near my bedroom.”
Simon winked. “Are you playing hard to get?”
I shoved him. “I’m dead serious, Simon. Stay on the couch and out of my way. You said I wouldn’t even know you were there? Well, make that happen.”
“Of course, of course. I wouldn’t dream of making this difficult for you.” He unlocked the door and stepped aside with a sweeping motion. “Ladies first.”
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