Well, hello there. It’s late Friday night and I have just uploaded my ninth steamy romantic comedy novel to Amazon. No pre-order this time–it will go directly into Kindle Unlimited. UPDATE: Available now right HERE!
Here is the blurb for COME BACK TO BED, teasers and the first two chapters of this 75,000 word book.
Dear grouchy neighbor: I’m considering your offer and need clarification before proceeding. Despite being an artist, I think you know that as a busy New Yorker, I am also practical and straightforward.
That said, I need to make sure you know that this could never turn into anything serious. I don’t care if you’re trying to get over your ex-girlfriend or hoping she’ll eventually want to get back together with you—just don’t project your messy feelings about her onto me.
Because, despite your resemblance to an underwear model, I won’t be falling for you. Ever.
Yours, with clear boundaries,
p.s. I’d like to be very clear that regardless of whether or not we do this, nothing will change my feelings for your dog (and we both know she loves me too).
Dear nutty neighbor: As a lawyer, I must clarify that I never made an offer. It was a suggestion regarding the possibility of a non-permanent, no-strings-attached arrangement between two consenting adults whose beds are separated by a wall.
As a man who shares your disdain for messy feelings, I applaud your confidence in your ability to not fall for me. Hold onto that. I’d also like to make it clear that I don’t care if you want to get over your crush on your boss or if you still hope he’ll realize you’re the woman of his dreams. That said, I definitely wasn’t thinking about my ex-girlfriend when I kissed you in the laundry room, and I’m quite sure you weren’t thinking about your boss.
As a dog daddy, I’m glad you’re so taken with my girl, but if you try to steal her, I will get all Liam Neeson up in your pretty face.
As a busy New Yorker, I think clear boundaries are hot, and I have one hour free to blow your mind tonight. So turn off Netflix, put down that glass of wine, and let’s do this.
Yours for now,
(copyright 2019 Kayley Loring)
CHAPTER ONE – Bernadette
FROM: DOLLY KEMP <firstname.lastname@example.org>
TO: BERNADETTE FARMER <email@example.com>
Bernadette my dear—greetings from Prague! I think you would love it and be so inspired here. There is art everywhere, and I want to buy all of it. Everything is gorgeous and delicious (especially the beer and sausages). Marty and I are having a ball.
Speaking of sausages and balls—I’m sure you have enjoyed not hearing us fooling around next door for the past three months. LOL. Numerous guests at five-star hotels all over Europe have not been so lucky.
I hope you are well, and I have a favor to ask of you.
My lawyer nephew needs a place to stay for a while and will be living in my apartment until he finds one of his own.
His name is Matt McGovern, Esq.
He is my younger sister’s son.
Matt spends most of his life at work or out on the town, so you probably won’t even know he’s there.
Can I trouble you to give him your spare key for my flat tonight? I know you are a private person, so I didn’t give him your phone number. I told him to buzz you at 4A around 7:30 pm. If that is inconvenient for you, you can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org to plan a better time.
You have similar personal email addresses—isn’t that cute?!
Thank you for taking care of my plants.
I still don’t know when we will be returning, but you may continue to pay rent at the discounted rate until then.
It was fun having the floor to myself while it lasted.
And by “fun,” I mean blissfully uneventful and quiet.
Dolly Kemp is my landlady and neighbor. She owns both condos on the fourth floor of the Upper West Side townhouse we live in, sublets the smaller one to me, and charges me less when she’s out of town because I water her plants while she’s gone. She is a retired investment banker and an enthusiastic art collector, a senior citizen who has a far racier wardrobe and love life than I do. Since I don’t know exactly how old she or her younger sister is, her nephew could be anywhere from mid-twenties to early fifties.
Here’s hoping he’s a shy fifty-something intellectual property lawyer who listens to classical music and does crossword puzzles to relax when he’s at home. I don’t know if that person actually exists anywhere on earth in the twenty-first century, but that’s my idea of a good neighbor. Polite, quiet, and almost never at home.
I myself am a twenty-seven-year-old homebody who deeply values what little time I get to spend in my apartment. Being the well-paid executive personal assistant to a very successful (and moderately sexy—okay super sexy) recently-divorced artist means that I spend most of my days doing whatever he needs me to do for him, whenever and wherever he wants me to do it. And no, none of those things ever involve sex. Unfortunately. Unless you count the time he asked me to pose partially nude for a painting, but I may as well have been a naked bowl of fruit as far as he was concerned. A really demure, secretly horny bowl of fruit.
Being a homebody in Manhattan is like being a vegetarian in a meat market, but when your life revolves around another person in the way that mine does, in a city of eight and a half million other people, you really need that room of your own. Even when you spend most of your time in that room thinking about your boss. Even when you spend most of your time in any room thinking about your boss.
Today, world-renowned artist Sebastian Smith has tasked me with stretching canvases, ordering paints from Japan, brushes from China, responding to interview requests, and updating his website, all of which I have been able to do in his four-bedroom converted loft in Tribeca. He himself has spent the day driving around the Hudson Valley for inspiration, and while I’d always prefer to see his face and hear his voice, it does make for an easier work day. I should easily make it home before seven-thirty, so I shoot Dolly an email saying just that.
I get off at the 79th Street station instead of 86th, because the sun hasn’t gone down yet and it’s a gorgeous mid-March early evening after a full week of rain. I always enjoy people-watching as I walk up Broadway, but it’s especially fun now that New Yorkers are starting to show some skin again.
I really love my Upper West Side neighborhood. I am the only single under thirty-year-old in the art world that I know of who chooses to live up here. It’s old-school—a little mellower than downtown—and with its relatively unpretentious residents and neighborhood feel, it’s the closest I can get to my home state of Vermont without leaving Manhattan. And okay, yes, I also moved here because of You’ve Got Mail, and I hear “Dreams” by The Cranberries in my head whenever I walk around here. Don’t judge me. Call me crazy, but at this point in my life I’d rather be safe and living in Nora Ephron’s charming but not-at-all-cool late-Nineties fantasy world than do ecstasy at an after-party where the DJ is some model with a famous parent and a bottle of Heineken costs more than the Uber ride it took to get there.
I cut across to 85th to check out the floral offerings at my local green grocer, but my attention is diverted by the cutest damn Boston Terrier I’ve ever seen. She has a pink collar, is staring right at me, and I swear it’s love at first sight for both of us.
I don’t want to brag or anything, but dogs love me. Like, every dog I’ve ever met. To dogs, I’m basically a five-foot seven jerky treat with a voice and hands. I march straight over to that black and white beauty and drop to my knees. She keeps licking her chops as she stands up on her hind legs, resting her paws on my thighs and hopping up and down.
“Ooooh you’re so cute! Look at that face! Look at that sweet sweet little face! Ohhhh, what’s your name, happy girl? You’re a pretty girl, aren’t you? What’s your name?…What’s her name?”
I stand up as my eyes follow the leash up to the big strong hand that’s holding it, and the man in the suit and coat who is attached to the hand. He is so ludicrously gorgeous, I just burst out laughing. This must happen often when people look at him, because his facial expression betrays absolutely no sense of surprise. In fact, he is completely stone-faced. Like a handsome statue. A handsome statue in a modern-cut suit and slim tie and trench coat that is probably worth more than everything I own, who is talking on the phone through his earbuds, who has no intention of answering my very important question about his dog’s name. He just stares at me while continuing to engage in his phone conversation about contracts and clauses or something.
Seriously though—what is he thinking? Who just stands around outside a grocery store looking that handsome, unless…I look around for a camera crew. Am I interrupting a photo shoot or a movie set? Nope. Unless it’s a hidden camera reality show about people reacting to cute dogs and annoyingly attractive strangers.
He is expressionless as he continues to watch me while talking on the phone. I kind of want to slap his face because it’s so obnoxiously good-looking. Inside, though, my vulva is dimming the lights and queuing up “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye. Calm down, vulva! It’s just some guy on the sidewalk, you’ll never see him or his sweet dog again.
I bend down to rub the dog’s head again, whisper “I love you” to her, then continue on my way back home.
I have about fifteen minutes before Matt McGovern, Esquire is supposed to show up, so I check my mailbox. I never expect to actually receive anything besides marketing crap, but there’s a squishy mailer stuffed in there, and I stare at it for a few seconds before casting my mind back to five nights ago when I had ordered a sexy dress in a pinot-induced online shopping frenzy. I sometimes have to attend gallery openings and parties with Sebastian (for work, not as a date), and I keep buying sexy dresses online while under the influence, with every intention of wearing them. Then I return them and show up to events in a black cardigan, really expensive jeans, hoop earrings and red lipstick, because that’s the level of sophistication that I’m comfortable with.
I run up the stairs to the fourth floor, taking two at a time…Okay, I do that for one floor and then walk up the rest of the way. I don’t want to be all sweaty when I’m trying on this dress. Also, I may be having a heart attack.
As soon as I’m inside my apartment I tear off my coat, top and bra, rip open the package and pull out the folded burgundy red dress. I remember thinking that it would go well with my dark auburn hair, but I don’t remember the plunging V neck or the stupid zipper in the back. Sighing, I remove my socks, shoes and jeans, already knowing that I’ll be returning this sleeveless number on my way to work tomorrow.
I have no idea how much time has passed since finally getting this dress on and staring at myself in the mirror. It took about a month to zip it up in back because it’s so tight and then I decided I should at least see what it looked like with the right shoes, and then it seemed necessary to find the right lipstick before taking it off and packing it up again and now my intercom is buzzing and I can just tell from the way the guy presses the buzzer quickly, two times, that he’s impatient. So, I don’t have time to change out of this dress. I grab my keys and tell the buzzy intercom guy that I’ll be right down to let him in.
I remove my heels while taking the stairs and then slip them back on before reaching the front door. Through the glass and decorative iron grate, I can see that the man is tall and probably not fifty-something. When I open the door, I stare up at someone who is as surprised and confused to see me standing here as I am to see him.
It’s laugh-out-loud handsome stone-faced suit guy. He is just as handsome and stone-faced as he was the first time I saw him. I still feel the need to laugh when he gives me a quick, expressionless once-over.
“You’re Bernadette Farmer?”
“Yes. And you’re…” I feel like I should ask for some sort of identification, but he’s so freakishly handsome and serious, I don’t know why he’d bother standing here staring at me if he weren’t Dolly’s nephew. Unless, of course, he’s a serial killer who’s about to murder me. If so, this would be a great outfit to die in.
“Matt McGovern. Dolly Kemp is my aunt.”
He just stands there studying me, for what feels like a year. An actual year, starting with winter as his coal dark eyes search my face, his jaw frozen in place; a late spring thaw as his liquid gaze trickles down the front of me; sudden blazing hot summer as it returns back up over my curves; and see how the leaves now turn from red to gold to brown and then die off instantly when he meets my stare again. Unblinking. Like a cowboy in one of those old westerns my dad and I used to make fun of, but I secretly fantasized about banging Gary Cooper in the back of a saloon.
When I was a child, I was trained to see a person or object as a collection of lines shadows, shapes and contours, but when I look at this guy it’s like I’m blinded by my physical response to the overall effect of his…everything.
He’s an assault to my retinas.
Or maybe he’s just an asshole.
Either way, I want to slap him.
Also, I may have just had a very quick tiny orgasm.
Like an orgasm zap. Is that a thing?
Feeling the need to take control of this situation, I thrust my hand out to shake his, but he’s got a huge duffel bag hanging from one shoulder, a cross-body satchel, an overstuffed garment bag and guitar case in one hand, leash in the other.
“Hi,” he says. He makes no effort to shake my hand, which is fine. That’s when I finally look down and see the beautiful Boston Terrier, who is shifting around on her paws, wagging her whole body, licking her lips and snuffling and slobbering a little bit. She is so much happier to see me than Matt McGovern is. I don’t recall Dolly mentioning there would be a dog staying in her apartment, but the building is pet-friendly, and I have no complaints.
“And we meet again! Hello, sweet thing!” I sing to the dog, as I start to bend forward, then think better of it as I realize I’m already showing about seventy percent more cleavage than I’m generally comfortable with. “Uh. Come on in. I have the keys for you.” I step aside, holding the door open for them.
His eyes stay locked on my exposed cleavage for about one full second, before they return to my face, which is probably very pink and feels like it’s contorted and having a mild spasm on one side.
“You’re Dolly’s neighbor?”
“And tenant, yes.”
He nods his head once, adjusts the handles of the duffel bag on his shoulder, then leads his dog across the threshold. “I thought you’d be a lot older. Like, seventy.”
“I get that a lot. Sorry to disappoint you.”
He stops, once inside, to survey the foyer. My new canine friend assesses the smells.
“Are you just visiting New York, or new in town?”
“Neither.” He doesn’t offer any more information.
“Okay. So this is the foyer. Those are the mailboxes!” I wave my hands like the candelabra in Beauty and the Beast and I’m about to belt out “Be Our Guest.”
“I won’t be here long enough to get mail.”
“Alrighty then. Marco the super lives in unit 1A over there.”
He just eyes the stairs.
“No elevator, right?”
“Yeah, it’s a pre-war walk-up. Built in 1920.”
“We’re on the fourth floor?”
“Yeah, you’ll be in apartment 4B, it’s three flights of stairs. You get used to it.”
“After you,” he says.
“Do you want me to take…” I hold my hand out, offering to take the leash.
“I got it.”
I watch his lips, waiting for them to form the word “thanks,” but those lips are glued shut. They honestly do look like they’re made for kissing, but I sort of just want to tell him to kiss my ass, throw Dolly’s key on the floor and run back to my apartment so I can get out of this damn dress.
I mean—New Yorkers have always had a bad reputation for being rude and impatient, but I rarely come across anyone here who’s actually this cold and impolite. I’m not exactly Little Miss Sunshine, but I do pride myself on being a nice person who gives people the benefit of the doubt. He’s probably just stressed about moving. So, I will give this handsome asshole nephew of my landlady another chance.
“May I ask your dog’s name?” Again.
“Awww, Daisy!” I coo. “Such a sweet pretty name for such a sweet pretty girl! How old is she?”
“Five! Perfect! Awww, that’s the perfect age! Awwww!”
Daisy looks up at me, spins around, hops and makes a weird little cartoon alien gopher sound that matches the pitch of my “aww.”
I’m in love.
Matt McGovern clears his throat while focusing on the second-floor landing like getting up there is the most important thing in the world right now, and wouldn’t it be just great if we could make that happen immediately? He doesn’t jerk his head and whistle sharply to indicate that I should get going, but he may as well.
“Right. Well. I’m sure you’re eager to get to your new apartment.”
“It’s just temporary.”
“Yeah. So you said.” He waits for me to take the lead up the steps. I don’t know if he’s being a gentleman or if he plans to stare at my ass, or both, but I have never been so self-conscious about how I move while walking up stairs. It feels like my hips are swaying too much. I don’t want him to think I’m trying to move seductively, but I sort of have to sway my hips to lift my knees in this tight dress. Oh God—what if he thinks I changed into this dress for him?
“Um. I was just trying on this dress that I ordered online when you buzzed me. I kind of forgot you were coming when I saw the package, so I put it on. I don’t usually dress like this at home. I mean, I just got home from working all day, I don’t usually dress like this for work either. Or ever, really.” I’m babbling. What is it about exceptionally handsome silent assholes that makes people babble? I am usually so comfortable with silence. “I don’t usually get much time to shop, so when there’s a sale online I go a little nuts. I think I’ll have to return this, it’s not really me.”
“You should keep it,” he mumbles.
“What?” I don’t turn around. My hand stays on the rail and my eyes stay glued to my feet, so I don’t fall over.
“Keep it. It’s a nice dress. You look good.” He somehow manages to say those words in such a way as to make it sound like he is in no way giving me a compliment.
“Oh.” I don’t say “thank you,” because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to be thanked, and I’m also quite certain that we already hate each other. This makes me laugh, for some reason. Again. It’s hilarious how much this person seems to offend me. I have never felt this kind of hostility towards someone I’ve just met before. Now I just want to keep talking as much as possible because it obviously annoys him.
“So you’re a lawyer?”
“Dolly didn’t tell me much about you, other than your name and your esquireship. Is that what it’s called? An esquireship?”
Two more delightful flights of stairs to go!
“Anyway, there are eight units in the building, two on each floor. There’s a laundry room in the basement. It’s a pretty quiet building, everyone’s nice but keeps to themselves. Old people, working people, blah blah blah, you won’t be here long enough to get to know them anyway. Mrs. Benson on the third floor has a poodle but that’s the only other dog in the building. I occasionally hear him barking, but not much.” I lower my voice before continuing: “Mrs. Benson is so sweet, but she has these dinner parties that are a total disaster, you know, she tries to have the kind of Upper West Side intellectual dinner parties you see in movies, but her friends and family just get drunk and argue with each other. So, if she corners you and invites you—well, you’ve been warned.”
“What else? I watered Dolly’s plants on the weekend, so if you could water them on Sunday that would be great. The water pressure in the showers here are pretty good, but never quite as hot as I’d like.”
One more floor!
“Dolly said you’ll probably be out and about most of the time.”
Gasp! A response!
“She said you’re usually either at work or out on the town.”
“Usually, but I don’t have a dog-walker in this neighborhood yet, so I’ll have to come home more.”
“Oh right. Where are you moving from?”
“Oh yeah? I’m in SoHo a lot. My boss is in Tribeca, so I’m downtown most of the time. Do you work downtown?”
“Really—that’s so interesting—tell me more!”
He doesn’t tell me more. I didn’t expect him to. I finally glance back at him, and see something that I don’t expect at all—he’s smiling. He looks totally amused.
I am so startled by the complete transformation of his face, that I lose my balance. I swipe at the air, blurt out about five swear words and feel myself falling backwards in slow-motion. And then I’m leaning back into Matt McGovern’s strong sturdy body. He has taken a step up and calmly wrapped his arm around my waist, one leg firmly set to the side of mine to keep me in place. He’s still holding onto Daisy’s leash and seems to be in no danger of losing his balance himself.
“I got you,” he says, in a deep quiet voice that actually does make me feel safe.
Until I look up and see him staring down at me with those eyes that aren’t black as coal so much as they’re dark chocolate, but I’m the one who’s melting.
I grab onto the handrail and pull myself upright and steady. “Thanks,” I say. “I just lost my balance.”
“I mean, I’m usually pretty good at walking up stairs.”
“I hear you get used to it.”
“It’s just this stupid dress is so tight. I’m definitely sending it back.”
“Aaaand fourth floor—ladies’ lingerie!” Oh God. I’ve gone from being the kooky lady who falls backwards to the old guy who makes dumb jokes in elevators. I must be having an allergic reaction to his pheromones. That’s a thing, right?
I point to my front door and then his. “Mine. Yours. I’ll get the lock for you.” I remove Dolly’s spare key from my keychain and unlock the door to 4B, leaving the key in the door. “Don’t forget to grab that when your hands are free. The spare key for the exterior door is in that tray on the console table.”
“Thanks. Appreciate it.”
“Sure thing.” I start making my way over to 4A and the bottle of pinot noir that I will be polishing off momentarily.
“Do you usually talk this much?”
I turn back to him and the annoying smirk on his annoying gorgeous face. “No. Not at all.”
“Do you usually talk more than this?”
He places the duffel bag, garment bag and guitar case on the floor and shrugs. “A bit.”
“Are you usually this big of a dick?”
“Nah, it’s kind of a new thing for me.”
“Well, I think you’ve found your calling.”
He picks Daisy up, pulls the key out of the lock and goes inside the apartment.
“Okay, enjoy your stay! It was wonderful to meet you—Daisy!”
The door shuts and I’m alone in the hallway, shaking my head and reaching my hand behind me, because I can somehow still feel his chest pressed up against my back.
The most interesting thing about the past ten minutes—I didn’t think about my boss once.
CHAPTER TWO – Matt
Well, that was unexpected.
Wish I could say it’s a welcome surprise. Not like it’s that much of a surprise that Aunt Dolly didn’t mention her neighbor’s an attractive young woman. If she had, I probably would have found myself an Airbnb. Dolly never liked Vanessa. I always wondered why she kept talking about “Bernadette next door” and how I should meet her. Why do I need to meet a seventy year-old artist nerd, I’d think.
I leave my stuff on the floor in the front hallway, hang my coat in the closet and loosen my tie. I can’t wait to get out of this suit. I only wore it because I had a lunch meeting with other lawyers today. The rich tech and math geeks that I work with usually get uncomfortable when I wear a suit to the office, the general counsel that I report to hates it when I dress better than him, and I’ve gotten so used to my downtown style I think I just act different when I dress like a typical corporate lawyer. Like a big dick, apparently.
Daisy’s hard at work, sniffing around.
“What do you think, girl? This is where we’ll be staying for a few weeks, maybe.”
I’ve only been to visit my aunt here once, and I don’t recall getting the full tour. It’s a good-sized space—bigger than our place. I mean—bigger than the place I’ve been living in with Vanessa for the past three years and paying a hundred percent of the rent for, like a fucking idiot. I follow Daisy down the hall to the living room. Her nosey judge-y nature aside, Aunt Dolly has always had exceptional taste in almost everything.
The art and furniture in this room is stunning without being intimidating. Sort of like Vanessa. Which is why I never understood how Dolly could be so against my relationship with her. Even now.
I pull my phone out of my back pocket to check my messages. Still nothing from Vanessa. At least I went a good fifteen minutes without checking my texts or her social media accounts. Guess all it took for me to turn into an obsessed teenage girl was getting dumped by the woman of my dreams. No big deal.
It’s only been four days since I’ve seen her.
Four days since I hired guys to move the few large objects that I consider to be mine into a small storage unit.
Two months of her not acting like herself.
Two months since she let me touch her in bed.
One month of her insisting that “it just isn’t working for us anymore.”
One month of me asking if there’s someone else and her saying: “There isn’t an ‘us’ anymore. I just need space. I just need to find myself again.”
She just needs time and space to find herself again and I’ll give it to her.
I haven’t failed.
It’s not over yet.
Daisy ignores me. She’s too busy investigating smells in my aunt’s bedroom.
“Let’s stay out of this room,” I tell her, as I peek inside. It’s basically a big tasteful boudoir, pretty much what I’d expect of my mom’s long-divorced, sexed-up older sister. “Come on, Daisy. Out. Let’s find our room.”
Our room is the guest room, on the opposite side of the hallway. It’s a pretty small room, painted bright white and just wide enough for a queen size bed and a bedside table. But it’s the painting on the wall above the bed that makes the room magnificent. A heavy square canvas about four feet wide all around. Abstract, muted blues, white and gold blending into each other, just a hint of seascape. It kind of looks like marble, but there’s a warmth to it. It seems alive and changeable. I have no idea why I like it so much, I just do.
I check the signature in the lower right corner. B. Farmer. Bernadette Farmer?
What do you know.
The less-than-seventy-year-old artist nerd has got talent.
A bod and talent and some kind of fragrance that I’ve never encountered before and more than one screw loose, so far as I can tell.
I can’t help but wonder what she’s doing on the other side of the wall right now. Taking off that dress? Scheming to steal my dog? Both, probably.
Daisy circles my legs and barks her approval of our new digs.
“Yeah. It’ll do for now.” I pick her up and let her drench my face with saliva. Honestly don’t know what I would have done the past few days without her. “I’m gonna have to find you a dog daycare, huh girl?”
As soon as I let my parents know that we’d moved out of our apartment, I got an email from Aunt Dolly insisting that I stay at her place. That’s how it goes in my family—I tell my parents there’s an issue, they say they’re sorry to hear it and ask if there’s anything they can do. I say ‘no’ and then we stop talking about it, my mom emails her sister and then Dolly offers up her opinions and solutions for everything. It’s efficient and effective.
I figured it would be nice for Daisy to be near two big parks for a change, but I’m not going to be able to come home at lunch to walk her like I could sometimes do when we lived downtown. If we don’t move back in with Vanessa, this could be a good opportunity to find a ground floor unit with some backyard space.
But it’s too soon to think about that just yet.
I go back out to the hallway to bring my stuff to the guest room. I could text Vanessa to ask if there was anything else of mine that I missed, but I’m determined to get her to make the first move. After three nights in a hotel with my dog, the least she could do is text to ask where we’ve been staying.
I can hear Bernadette’s front door shut and realize a few seconds later that I’ve been holding my breath. She doesn’t knock on my door. Fortunately. Don’t know why she would. Other than to baby-talk at my dog again.
Suddenly, a yappy dog starts barking downstairs, and Daisy joins in on the fun. Must be Mrs. Benson’s poodle. Daisy’s scampering back and forth along the front door, her flat nose to the ground. Poodle must be barking at the door directly downstairs.
“Hey! Shush.” I raise my finger to her and give her my best alpha voice. “Daisy, quiet.” I pick her up and take her to the guest room, shut the door. She quiets down immediately, and I am one proud dog daddy. The poodle downstairs, though, keeps barking.
When I’m back in the front hallway to pick up my bags, I hear a faint knock. It’s so faint and hesitant that I can’t quite tell if it’s on my door or Bernadette’s. Three louder knocks confirm that someone’s outside my door, and I have to wipe the grin off my face before opening it.
“Hi,” says Bernadette Farmer. She’s still wearing that dress, her arms hiding behind her back, one foot crossed behind the other, looking up at me sheepishly. She wrinkles her nose. “Sorry about the poodle.”
“Should have known you had something to do with that.”
“I just knocked on Mrs. Benson’s door to see if she could help me with something, but she’s not at home.”
“Fascinating. Thanks for the update.” Lavender and something. That’s what she smells like. Lavender and vanilla and something else…Trouble. That’s definitely what I’m sensing. “Good night, then,” I say, as I slowly swing the door shut.
She sticks her leg inside and the rest of her quickly follows. She is quick on her toes, despite her inability to climb three flights of stairs without falling backwards. Not that I minded.
“I didn’t want to bother you,” she says, “but I need help…” She sighs and twists her lips to the side.
“Are you going to make me guess what you need help with?”
“I need help unzipping this dress in the back.”
Now that she’s standing closer, I can also smell wine on her breath. Not something I noticed when she gave me the key. Guess I drove her to drink between then and now. I could use one myself. Hell, I needed one as soon as she ran towards me on the sidewalk and dropped to her knees. Okay, so she was running to my dog—but it will take a while for me to forget that image.
“If I’m going to return it, I don’t want to risk tearing it, and I can’t quite reach the doodad for some reason. This thing is so tight, I’m afraid the sides will rip if I…”
“Turn around,” I say. I honestly didn’t mean for it to sound like a sexual command, but for some reason it came out that way.
She blinks her big hazel eyes, bites her lower lip, then slowly turns her back to me. In one swift motion, she sweeps her long hair out of the way, over one shoulder, then stands straight as a rod, her arms tight at her sides.
The front is quite enchanting, or maybe it’s her cleavage that had me in danger of being under a spell.
But the back of the dress, even though it covers a lot more of her, is even more enticing.
It’s a long zipper, from the base of the back of her neck all the way down to her waist. There are still a few hairs in the way, so I brush them aside, unable to avoid touching the bare skin of her long neck. I notice her shiver. She wraps her arms around herself, as if she shivered because she was cold. I’d better get this over with quick.
I unzip her, not all the way to her waist. She can do the rest herself, I imagine. I can’t help but notice that there’s no bra under there. Which is interesting.
Her crossed arms slide up the front of her body, adeptly keeping her private parts in place and out of sight. She glances over her shoulder without turning around. “Thank you. Sorry to bother you.”
She uses her foot to open the door. “Daisy settling in okay?”
“So far so good.”
I want to talk to her about her painting, but it doesn’t feel like this is the right moment, after I’ve basically just undressed her.
“Yeah?” She shifts her body around so that she’s half-facing me, checking to make sure she isn’t showing any side-boob, then decides to face me full-on.
“I was just going to ask if there’s a good place that delivers around here.”
“Well yeah, there are tons of good places! Actually, your aunt has a great list up in the kitchen by her phone, we pretty much order from the same restaurants. She has a landline. You don’t have to answer it, it goes straight to voicemail. Oh, and I forgot to tell you the thermostat is set pretty low, so you should turn it up at night. It makes a little noise when it starts up, that’s normal.”
“Right. I am familiar with heating system noises. But thanks.”
“Okay then.” She furrows her brow at me, and I’m not sure why it feels so necessary to be such a dick to her, it just does. “Good night, Daisy!” she calls out, looking around for her.
Daisy barks a happy “yarf” greeting from inside the guest room. She rarely barks, so it’s weird that she’d respond to a new person like that.
“You know where to find me if you want to hang out with a nice human!” the new person yells out again.
“I’m nice to my dog,” I growl.
“Lucky her,” she snaps, as she spins back towards the door.
“Good night, Miss Farmer.”
“Good night, your esquireship.”
And then she’s gone.
I get Daisy’s feeding station all set up in the kitchen and then check out Dolly’s impressively detailed food delivery list. I use an app, of course, so I don’t have to actually speak to a human being on the phone, but I’m too hungry to do all the research necessary to make an informed decision. According to the list, the fastest delivery after 7:30 pm is from a bar & grill, so I find them on my app and order a burger and fries and guacamole and chips, because it has been that kind of week.
It’s been years since I’ve hung out or eaten on the Upper West Side. The last time my parents came to visit, we all met up with Dolly, who insisted on eating at a bistro just south of Columbia university. It was actually really good, but I would never make the trip out there if I didn’t have to. And I guess Vanessa and I went to a fundraiser at the Museum of Natural History a couple of years ago…
My phone buzzes with a message and what do you know? It’s from Vanessa. Three little words. How are you?
I’m kind of numb.
I’m in a weird place, emotionally, but I’d never admit that to another human being.
I’m not clear if this is really a break-up or just a break, and I’m afraid to even talk to attractive women who aren’t you yet, because I don’t need any of that Ross and Rachel “We were on a break!” drama.
I miss you, but I’m afraid I might just be missing some glorified fantasy of you.
I miss us, but I can’t remember the last time it felt like we were the Us that I loved.
I don’t want to hate you, but I’m not thrilled by the way you’ve handled this situation so far.
I’m wondering how it’s possible that you haven’t even asked about Daisy, even though you’ve always been kind of jealous of her and I used to think it was cute but now I’m afraid it’s because you might actually be a bit of a bitch.
If you really did break up with me because of another guy I wish you’d just fucking tell me. It would kill me, but at least I’d know.
But what I type is: Fine. You?
Maybe if I’d already changed out of my suit I would have been able to respond with a few more words, in the way that I know she’d appreciate, but fuck it. After four days of radio silence, a lot of guys wouldn’t respond at all. The animated dots tell me that she’s typing a fairly long response. I stare at the phone and wonder if, given her response, Daisy and I should go back to SoHo tonight. I guess I’ll wait until the food’s been delivered. Gotta take care of me first, right Oprah?
Then the animated dots disappear. No response comes. I look down at Daisy, who is sitting by her water bowl staring up at me, like: “Oh, buddy. Just let her go already. I’m the only girl you need. You’ll see.”
And not a minute later, I find out from Facebook that my relationship status has changed.
Apparently, I’m officially single again.