It was surreally hot in here. I stood at the small gathering of wine bottles near the kitchen of my apartment and watched each one seeping a long, red line of wine from cork to carpet.
I groaned. There went God knew how much money. The wine would be skunked now.
I went to the thermostat by my desk and saw it read a balmy 94 degrees. I sighed.
“Great. Three days before Christmas, but in my apartment it’s nearly a desert temperature.”
The phone rang, but I let it go. Searching through the dining room closet for the spray cleaner and a new sponge. Sweat rolled down my neck and under my fetching red sweater. I snatched the Santa hat off my head and tossed it on the dining room table. Hot. Too hot.
I found the spray cleaner with a victorious little cry and went to the wine rack. It was messy work taking each bottle and setting it on its end on the sideboard. The rack was coated in wine, the antique wood of the sideboard was puddled with ruby liquid and nearly every bottle had given up the ghost.
“Fan-fucking-tastic.” I sprayed the dots of red on the beige carpet and wondered just how much of my security deposit I’d get back when I moved. Probably none. They’d claim the carpet was irreparably damaged and would have to be replaced.
“Balls!” I said.
I heard a thump from over my head and knew Brogan was home. I’d have to head up there once the carpet was sprayed and the little tiny peroxide bubbles of cleaning goodness were doing their job. He’d need to come down with his key and unstick my stuck thermostat.
Thank god he was home.
Jon Brogan had lived above me since I’d moved in and had said about three words total to me. All of them “hi”. He was nice enough and smiled but sorta shy and I was not the person who had a lot of time or energy to draw out idle chitchat from men who didn’t want to talk to me.
I glanced at the desk by the foyer door and saw there was a goodie bag for him. Christmas was a big thing with me and I always had little gifts to give out. Since he was the live-in handyman at this six apartment joint, I had a little gift for him.
“Hello, Jon Brogan,” I said as I vigorously sprayed. “No, no. No need to speak to me. I just wanted you to have this little Christmas goodie and to…ya know…come turn my apartment into a livable space that isn’t the optimum temperature and humidity for growing hot house tomatoes!”
I stood, brushed my black slacks at the knees and wished I was back at the office Christmas party I’d just left. Then I sighed. The only thing worse than coming home from a party to a ninety-something degree apartment in December is coming home to it late. And drunk.
“You did well, Natalie,” I said to myself. “Leaving to avoid Kevin-the-handsy-IT-guy was genius. You’re a gem. You’re a goddess.”
Then I laughed at myself. Okay, I might be slightly drunk. Well, not drunk. Let’s say buzzed, shall we? It’s a little classier.
I kicked off my heels and peeled off my red sweater. Then I took a big breath. I did the logical thing and opened the windows. A cold blast of winter air came rushing in.
Another big breath and my fingers sifted through my long hair. A few sweat-sticky dark strands hugged my cheeks, and I brushed them away. I’d let the wind work its magic and go beg Brogan—because no one called him Jon—to come down and fix this mess. Quick. Like one of Santa’s elves.
I unlocked the door to the connecting hallway and took the steps in my stockinged feet. I was seriously reconsidering bothering a man who’d barely spoken to me the year I’d lived in the apartments. Oh, he was pretty, I’d give him that. Dark brown hair so rich it almost appeared black and big blue eyes that seemed to swing their way round to green when he was smiling. But he had a girlfriend who was about as sane as a sack full of angry cats. I’d heard her yelling and storming out on more than one occasion recently.
I paused. Had I seen Celine’s car out front? I thought and thought and realized that the only cars parked out in the reserved spots had been mine, Brogan’s big ugly green truck and Mrs. Wilson from unit five’s ancient Chevy Malibu.
A few more steps disappeared beneath my feet and I paused again. Was I going to be disturbing him?
“Stop it, stop it, stop it,” I whispered to myself. “You’re only asking the man to do his job, not come string tinsel and go caroling with you. Go.”
At the top of the steps I knocked lightly and waited. Nothing. No sound at all. Of course not, I’d barely rapped the wood with my knuckles. I knocked again. Louder this time.
I heard a muffled response that sounded like “Come in!”
So I did. I went in. I opened the door and was met with a neat and orderly apartment. And Brogan on his sofa, quickly tucking himself into jaunty Ho, Ho, Ho! boxer shorts.
I gasped, covered my eyes and let out a tortured little squeal. He’d been…um. Entertaining himself.