Still, I leave a message. Not because I’m so anxious to see the h-o-t contractor Angela said was available but because I could use the good deal she mentioned. Bonus point, it’s one more thing I can cross off today’s to-do list.
I put Jimi in reverse and slowly back out of the parking spot, then head to Aunt Maggie’s, still reveling in the joy of actually having accomplished something today.
Normally, I’m not a big list person, but I have to admit that right now, there’s something really satisfying about crossing through number one—get trash bags. If I can also cross through number two, find a contractor, then the day will have a good shot at being a win, despite its inauspicious beginnings.
I could really, really use a win right now.
I decide to bite the bullet and scribble one more item on my to-do list: find a job. And immediately wish I hadn’t as panic squeezes my chest like a vise. I take a deep breath simply to prove to myself that I can and blow it out slowly—just like all those mindful apps tell you to. It doesn’t work. Big surprise. Great, now I have the tightness in my chest and feel like a loser—as if I need the help.
Mindfulness is well and good for most things, but I’m pretty sure expecting it to take care of a cheating ex, a broken-down house, a nearly empty bank account, and a lack of job prospects is asking a little much of anything but a fairy godmother. I mean, I’m all for mind over matter, but sometimes the cold hard truth is the cold hard truth. And right now, there isn’t enough positive thinking or relaxation techniques in the universe to take away my cold hard truth.
Especially since my mindfulness app is charging me a monthly fee.
And now there’s one more thing to add to my to-do list—cancel my mindfulness app. And while I’m logged into my autopay subscriptions, I might as well say goodbye to ad-free Hulu.
I take a big sip of my second venti caramel macchiato of the day—I prefer to drink my anxiety, thank you very much—and white knuckle the steering wheel for the traffic-filled drive home.
It isn’t that I’m not used to traffic—Manhattan has a lot of it, obviously—but it’s been a long time since I had to drive myself in it. There really is something to be said for public transportation.
By the time I get home, my nerves are frazzled—thanks only to the traffic and definitely not the fact that enough caffeine is jangling around in my system to light up Times Square.
After a prolonged fight with Aunt Maggie’s extremely finicky garage opener—moving it waaaaaaay up the list of things to get fixed in this place—I pop the trunk and start carrying groceries into the house. I’m on my third trip of just trash bags alone when a red pickup truck pulls into the driveway.
Yeah, someone has the wrong house—the kind of someone who climbs out of his truck with big dick energy and the sexy swagger to back it up. Curly dark hair frames high cheekbones and twinkling brown eyes. Broad shoulders, beefy arms, and very, very large work boots complete the picture. And it’s a great picture. If only he weren’t also about seven or eight years younger than me.
“Can I help you?” I ask when that long-legged gait finally brings him to a stop right next to me.
“I’m Miguel,” he says with a slow grin that might have curled my toes if such a thing were even possible anymore.
When I continue to stare at him blankly, he raises a brow. “Miguel Perez, Manny’s brother? Angela—”
“Oh!” I exclaim as it hits me—good Lord, I’m extra slow today, even for me. “You’re Mikey!”
He grins. “Yeah, everyone calls me that.” Then he holds out a hand for me to shake. “Nice to meet you, Mallory.”
“Nice to meet you, too.” I shake his hand and reach for another few bags of groceries. “Talk about fast service, considering I only called you about twenty minutes ago.”
“Yeah, but Angie texted me as soon as she ran into you in the grocery store and told me to expect your call. And when I got your voicemail, I realized your house was just around the corner from where I’m working now, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to drop by and get a look at what you’re dealing with.”
He takes a couple of steps back and looks the house up and down like a rubbernecker eyeballing a traffic accident before letting out a long, low whistle. “Looks like the answer is a lot.”
My stomach drops another three stories down closer to the earth’s core, even though I already know the place is a mess. “That’s not the answer I was hoping for.”
“I know.” He gives me a sympathetic look as he grabs the last few sacks of groceries and follows me into the house. “Where do you want me to start?”
“The garage door opener,” I answer. “Something is really wrong with it, and I would love to have it replaced. I know, it doesn’t seem like a big thing, but I figured it was low-hanging fruit, and I really need a win here. Other than that…” I trail off as I sweep my hands outward, encompassing, well, everything in sight. “Have at it. Though I do have one request.”
“And that is?” He pulls his phone out of his pocket, and I watch as he swipes open some kind of construction app.
“Can you work up two separate bids? One for outside and one for inside? I’ve got to get the outside up to HOA standards and, depending on how much that costs, that may be all I can afford to do right now.”
“Gotcha.” He gives me a grin that shows off his dazzling white teeth to his advantage. I smile back, even as I wonder vaguely how many women have fallen for that aw-shucks smile before.
Probably a lot, though it does nothing for me except make me wonder who his dentist is. I’m almost due for my next cleaning.
Miguel—excuse me, Mikey—starts making the rounds outside while I put my groceries away. Then, when he still hasn’t come in, I eat a whole snack pack of Oreos (for medicinal purposes and science and because I just wanted to and Karl can’t say shit about it) out of the Calories canister. They are a little stale, but those who are stress-eating out of fear of their construction bill can’t be choosy.
He still hasn’t come in by the time I swallow the last Oreo, already giving a lusty look at the last two packs in the canister. They really are the food of the gods, and two more packs wouldn’t kill anybody. But considering how my day is going, I’m guessing I’ll need them later, so I grab the box of trash bags instead. While Mikey comes in and starts assessing the interior, I spend the rest of what feels like an eternity cleaning out the kitchen cabinets, most of which are filled with knickknacks that belong anywhere but in the silverware drawer or mug cabinet.
I’m just about to start on the very scary cabinet under the sink when Mikey finally walks back into the kitchen.
“So, what’s the damage?” I ask, trying to be flippant and fun instead of the worried and slightly nauseous I really am.