When we neared my place, all humor and playfulness evaporated from my system, replaced by the anxiety from earlier. He turned to me and smiled as he stopped the car in front of my apartment building, putting the emergency lights on. “I can park. I’m curious to see your place.”
“It won’t take long, I’ll just be a minute,” I said, hopping out. I didn’t want to risk him running into my ex, if he was still around. Things would go from bad to disastrous. “Keep the car running.”
He seemed a little confused but then nodded. “I’ll be waiting.”
As I scaled the wooden steps of my building’s stairwell, I couldn’t help checking over my shoulder every few steps or being wary of dark corners. I breathed a sigh of relief when I reached my door without incidence. When I entered the apartment I found Riley in a robe on the sofa watching television, a box of tissues next to her.
“Brought you some stuff,” I said, handing her the orange juice and Dayquil.
“Thanks, you’re the best.” Her voice was nasally and she blew into a tissue to clear her nose.
“Do you have the flu? Should I take you the doctor?” I put the back of my hand up to her forehead to check her temperature.
“Nah, I think it’s only a cold. I just need to keep blowing my nose every few minutes.”
“Glad to hear it’s not serious.”
She looked at my shoes which I hadn’t taken off like I normally would when I entered the apartment. “You going somewhere?”
I suddenly felt guilty for bailing on her. “Riley, I’m going to stay at Vincent’s tonight.”
Her eyes grew wide. “Oh, congratulations! I’m glad to see you’re finally coming out of your dating shell.”
“About that . . . I need to tell you something.” I waited until she gave me her undivided attention. “Don’t open the door for anyone. Especially if it’s the guy who came by earlier. Whatever you do, don’t let him inside.”
Her brows furrowed. “Who is he? Should I be worried?”
“He was someone I dated before I moved here. Don’t worry, he only cares about me; he won’t do anything to you. I’ll tell you more about it some other time. But keep your mace handy just in case.”
“Whoa, whoa.” Her hands made shoving motions in front of her face. “You can’t just say ‘keep your mace handy’ and dash out. What’s going on? Do we need to call the cops?”
I shook my head. “We can’t call the police. It’s complicated.” As reluctant as I was divulging details that had haunted me for the past two years, I briefly told her about Marty and how he hurt me. How he was the reason I moved from Boston to NYC in the first place. I didn’t have the time or desire to elaborate on sordid details, but she deserved some sort of explanation.
She looked at me with concern as if I was the sick one. When I didn’t explain further, she sighed and said, “Okay, Kristen. You can tell me the rest later. I’ll keep an eye out.”
“Thanks for understanding, Riley.”
“When are you coming back?”
“Maybe tomorrow. I’ll bring you some more goodies.”
She sniffled. “All right, stay safe.”
I went to my room and quickly changed out of my work clothes into a comfy pair of jeans and a light blouse. I packed an extra set of clothes and my toothbrush into a night bag.
When I finished packing, I waved to Riley and left the apartment, returning to Vincent’s Camry.
“Is your roommate all right?” He sounded as concerned about Riley as I was. “I can drive her to the hospital.”
“I appreciate the thought, but she just needs sleep and vitamin C.”
“You’re not sick are you?”
“I don’t think so.”
Before I could react his lips were on mine again, this time parting my lips with his tongue. He probed my mouth with slow licks of his tongue against my own. Caught up in the heated embrace, I momentarily forgot my concerns.
“Good,” he said after our mini makeout session ended. “I’d hate to miss work because I couldn’t stop myself from kissing you.”
The engine started and we headed toward his place. It was only a few blocks away but with the rush hour traffic in Manhattan it would take us twenty minutes.
We stopped at a red light. I glanced out the window and saw someone on the sidewalk with brown hair and rimless glasses. The hairs on my neck stiffened. It looked like him, but wasn’t. Fidgeting in my seat, my hand began rubbing my pinky again.
“Something wrong? You look nervous.” Vincent’s voice startled me.
I shook my head. “I guess I’m just looking forward to seeing your place.”
He grinned. “That makes the two of us.”
We pulled into his underground garage complex that resembled ones built for malls. It was filled with exotic cars. With my minimal knowledge on the topic, I was only able to identify a half dozen Lamborghinis and Corvettes but I was still impressed by the eye-catching designs of the ones I couldn’t name. After a few loops to the lower levels, we found an empty spot and parked.
Still in awe, I asked, “How many people live in your building? There are a lot of expensive cars here.”
He smiled. “Just a few tenants. Most of these are mine.”
“Oh.” Realizing he could’ve picked me up in any of these much nicer, much more expensive cars, I had a greater appreciation for his being discreet about our involvement. The Camry was far less luxurious than the Lamborghini.
We stepped into an elevator and Vincent inserted a key into the control panel. The trip to his floor was both faster and quieter than I anticipated. I’d expected a hallway leading to his front door, but when the elevator opened I saw a grand piano and a pair of sand-colored plush sofas around a glass coffee table on dark hardwood flooring illuminated by elegant accent lighting—we were already in his living room. We were on the south side of the building, but the spacious layout enabled sight across the apartment to the north side windows where I could see the Chrysler building as well as the rest of Manhattan. One step out the elevator and I realized the entire building floor was his apartment.
“Impressive,” I said, slack-jawed.
“Glad you like it,” he said smoothly, leading us deeper into the living room.
I set my bag on the floor and took a seat on his couch as he carried the grocery bags into the kitchen. He returned with a glass of white wine wearing slippers instead of his black loafers.
“Should I take off my shoes?” I asked, not seeing the pile of shoes I was accustomed to seeing when entering my apartment. Instead, there were a bunch of modern abstract statues on display, making this place seem more like a showroom than a personal living area.
He eyed my flats. “You can just put them next to the couch, make yourself comfortable.”
In the middle of taking my shoes off my stomach growled again, which was his cue to begin washing vegetables in the kitchen.
“What are we eating?” I hollered. We’d picked up a lot of things, some serious and some just for fun, like a box of Teddy Grahams. It was probably more than we needed and I wasn’t sure what he planned to cook for dinner and what he planned to save in the freezer.
“It’s a surprise.”
“Do you need any help?” Not that I was a great cook myself, but I could at least cut vegetables.
“There’s not too much prep work. It’ll just be a few minutes. Feel free to look around and make yourself at home. ”
Looking around was exactly what I wanted to do. “Are you sure you don’t want to give me a tour? I might see something embarrassing.” I cringed at the thought of Vincent seeing my bedroom. He’d find papers littering my desk and undergarments hanging on chairs and strewn across the floor. It wasn’t that I was messy; I just had my own organization system.
“Oh I don’t know. Underwear, stuffed animals, porn, sex toys.”
He was silent for a moment. “Just don’t look too hard then.”
I couldn’t tell whether that was a joke or not but decided I didn’t want to ask. As I went from room to room, I noticed everything was neatly arranged and clean, far from your typical bachelor pad. I wondered if he had a maid keep his apartment tidy or if he did it himself. Knowing him, it was another line on his already impressive résumé—accomplished housekeeper. I took a moment to muse the fantasy of him being a manservant.
When I found his office, I spotted documents on his desk that were thoroughly highlighted and marked with detailed notes. Curious, I sifted through them and recognized they were the ones I gave him during our first meeting. I put a lot of work into those documents. He must have thoroughly studied them before deciding to choose my company as his wealth management firm and making me his point-of-contact.
At the beginning of my self-guided tour, I couldn’t help making comparisons between Vincent’s living style and Marty’s. They were both neat and meticulous. But towards the end I found some movie posters of martial arts films from the 80s. That cheesiness was decidedly not like my ex.
By the time I circled back to the living room, fascination with Vincent preoccupied my mind. Besides the posters and getting to see his wardrobe of suits, I was disappointed not to find many more personal items. It seemed as if he had moved in recently. He did mention traveling multiple times per week, so maybe he kept the family pictures somewhere else.
He had an elaborate kitchen though, fit for a top chef. I was pulled toward the food by the wonderful smell.
“Have a seat in the dining room. I’ll bring the dishes out,” he said untying his apron and hanging it on a nearby rack. He was still in his work clothes, but traded black loafers for sandals.
When I took a seat at the table, there were already two glasses of white wine set out with the tableware.
“Something fresh and light.” He entered with two plates in hand.
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