“It’s not even seven. Your caffeine addiction must be worse than mine.” Just as I reach for the door to my apartment building, Flint’s uncharacteristically cheery voice calls from behind me.
I turn, not expecting or wanting to see anyone I know when I’m in desperate need of a shower. I have the hood to my sweatshirt pulled over my head.
“Hey …” I smile. “I’m incognito. How did you recognize me?”
“Ass and legs. They’re unmistakable.”
“Sometimes.” He saunters toward me holding two hot cups, no suit this morning, just jeans and a sweater.
“Did your parents give you permission to sneak out this morning? Or did you not go home? Was I not your only female companion last night?”
“Jealous?” His head cocks to the side.
“Nope.” I open the door and head toward the stairs. “I risk feeding your ego by saying this, but you’re what some women might call sex on a stick. As you know, I call you Sex in a Suit, but anyway, it would be a shame not to share you, so I hope whoever came after me enjoyed you as much as I did.”
“I feel cheap.”
I unlock my door and open it up to my clean apartment. “No.” Shooting him a flirty look over my shoulder, I walk down my entry hall. “I’ve seen your suits, your car, and your house, Mr. Hopkins. You’re far from cheap.”
His gaze lands on the bucket of cleaning supplies by the door to the deck. “You cleaned up for me. It’s like you knew I was coming.”
I set my coffee on the kitchen counter and fish my bagel from its bag. “Ha! No … you are quite the surprise this morning.”
He removes the lid to his coffee cup, smirking while bringing it to his mouth. He sips it while keeping his eyes on me.
“Did you stop by just to bring me coffee? Early morning bootie call? Or to remind me that I need to find a new place to rent?”
Flint’s smile fades as his eyes divert to everywhere in the room but me. “It’s not person—”
“I know, I know … it’s business, not personal.”
“Would you let me finish?” He gives me a stern look.
I blow out a slow breath and nod.
“I know you’re pissed off that I didn’t fully understand your job before signing our rental agreement, but the truth is I can’t focus on my job when you’re banging on drums and singing all afternoon. It’s not personal. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to be vindictive. When we met, I liked you and thought you would be a good renter. And whether you choose to believe it or not, I do need to concentrate to do my job properly.”
I weigh his words, but they don’t solve my problem. “You didn’t answer my question. Why are you here?”
His chin dips as he shakes his head.
“Sex? You can say it. I won’t judge you. Let me take a quick shower and we’ll have sex.”
“Jesus …” he whispers. “You make it sound like a job, like I’m paying you for sex. That’s not why …”
“Fine. Do you want to sit down and talk? Do you want half of my bagel?”
He continues to shake his head.
“Then what? Why are you here?”
“I don’t know!” He flinches at his own outburst when he looks up at me.
“Well, then we can play until you figure it out.” I turn, retreating to the bedroom next to mine. “Good morning, gentlemen and my lady.” I open the door to the cage. “Come. We have company this morning. Come on.”
Flint stands in the middle of my living room with complete confusion etched along his face. It morphs into disgust and his body goes rigid when he spots what’s skittering down the hall behind me. “What the fuck?” he whispers.
“You’ve met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but I’d like you to meet Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Frédérick Chopin, and Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, the only girl. But she prefers to go by the name Lady Gaga.”
I can’t describe the horror on his face as he watches my five pet rats roam around him and onto the furniture.
“Still thinking about having sex with me? My little classical composers won’t bother us, but I’m not going to lie … Gaga likes to watch.”
I’ve never used my pets to ward off the attention of a man. Rats are misunderstood as pets. Feeding that misunderstanding by making them seem creepy is not my intention, but right now I don’t know what to do with the man before me.
Our days are numbered, and I feel like he needs an easy out. I’ll let my babies be his out. “I don’t know if Harry told you, but Mozart is a Dumbo rat, hence the cute ears on the side of his head instead of the top, and Bach, Chopin, and Beethoven are Rex rats. They have soft, curly coats and curly whiskers. And Lady Gaga, as you can see, is a hairless rat. I have to keep a close eye on her so she doesn’t get too cold.”
Flint watches my babies for a few moments and looks at me.
“You’re welcome to bring Harry by to see all of them. My landlord won’t let me take them to the office building.”
After a few slow blinks and a blank look, he watches for long tails as he walks to the door. “Goodbye.”
“Bye,” I whisper long after the door shuts behind him.
Plopping down in my recliner, I stare at my phone, needing some love, so I call my dad.
“What do you want?”
I grin at his grumpy façade. “Hey, Dad. I figured you might still be out fishing.”
“Been there. Done that. Did you just roll out of bed?”
“Yeah, like … three hours ago. Couldn’t sleep.”
“No. Just a racing mind. You should come for a visit?”
“And leave my boat?”
“It would survive without you.” I chuckle.
“I think you’re the one who should come for a visit.”
“I’m not ready.”
“Can’t stay in the middle forever.”
I laugh. “I like Minnesota. It’s cold here, but I like it.”
“Goddamn! When did my New England girl turn into such a delicate little flower?”
“When I moved to Florida and then Southern California.”
“That’s a bunch of bull. Southern California is not Arizona. Are you sick?”
“I’m fine, Dad.”
“You’re calling me. That usually means you’re not fine. What’s going on?”
Lady Gaga crawls into the front pouch of my sweatshirt. Smart girl. “I just miss you. Can’t I want to hear your voice without reason?”
“It’s a gruff old voice, but if that’s what you need, then I can talk all day.”
“You seeing anyone?”
“Do you have a new mother?”
“Well, you’re suggesting I’ve replaced her. Why can’t I ask if you’ve replaced her?”
“It’s not the same thing and you know it.”
“If you come for a visit, I’ll let you fix me up with a hot, younger woman. You have any friends?”
I twist my lips. “I was thinking we’d hire a professional.”
“Now you’re talking.”
We both laugh in spite of the underlying pain of losing my mom.
“You find yourself a worthy man? I bet you’re breaking hearts especially if you still shamelessly flirt like your mom always did. God … she was a ball-buster.”
“I’m doing my best.”
My hands clinch a few times. “Haven’t talked to him.”
“You miss him?”
Drawing in a shaky breath, I nod. “Sometimes.” All the time. I miss him every day. In spite of how terrible he was to me. I remember the old Alex.
“Maybe he just needs more time.”
We’re divorced. Dad knows this, yet he acts like we’re just separated, awaiting reconciliation.
“Maybe.” Time can’t heal everything. I know this. I also know my dad wants to keep hope alive.
“I got the pictures you sent me of your new office space. Looks perfect.”
I grunt a laugh. He doesn’t know about my recent eviction notice. “It’s okay. I’d still like to find a main level place. I could potentially end up with a handicapped client who has a fear of elevators. Then what?”
“You go to their house. Years ago healthcare used to be more personalized. Doctors made house calls. It would probably be cheaper to drive to clients’ homes than rent a space in the city.”
“It’s an idea.” Not a perfect one, but I don’t want to think about it right now. I really did just call to hear his voice.
“What are you doing for the holidays? Going to see Alex or coming to see me?”
Again with my ex-husband. My dad is such a dreamer.
“I thought you could come to me.”
“Christmas in your dinky apartment?”
“You haven’t seen my apartment. What makes you think it’s dinky?” It’s dinky.
“Just a hunch.”
“Besides, I don’t have anyone to watch my rats.”
“Oh, Elle … don’t tell me you still have those varmints.”