Needless to say, any chance of ever sitting on his couch again would be completely gone.
Life would be easier if I could just hate Joshua Templeman. I look at his empty chair, and then close my eyes, the blue of his bedroom washing through me.
I’m about to lose something that I never had to begin with.
I GO HOME early as per Helene’s suggestion, and look for something to occupy myself.
Everything is tidy, thanks to Josh. I check online for any new Smurf auctions, and do a little stock take of my current collection. I count the Papa Smurfs.
I look in my empty fridge, and think of his rainbow of fruit and vegetables. I decide to make a cup of tea and have none. I could go out to the store, but instead I drink a glass of water. I feel cold and bundle myself in a cardigan.
Now that I’ve seen his apartment, I can’t stop looking at my own with new eyes. It’s so drab. White walls, beige carpet, the couch a nondescript color in between. No patterned rugs or framed paintings.
I shower and put on makeup, which is ridiculous. Why would I spray perfume into my cleavage? Or put on my nice jeans? There’s no one here to see me, or smell me. I’ve got nowhere to go. It’s been so long since I’ve had someone in the city I could call.
I sit down and my knee is bouncing. My insides are crawling. I feel like a magnet, shaking with the need to move. Is this how addicts feel? I am beginning to realize what’s happening, but I can’t admit it to myself, not yet.
Has holding a phone and looking at a contact name ever been this terrifying?
I should be sitting here looking at
I should be giving Danny a call, asking him to meet me for a movie or a bite to eat. We could plot and plan my project. He’s my new friend. He’d meet me wherever I asked in twenty minutes. I bet he would. I’m dressed. I’m ready.
But I don’t. Instead, I do something I don’t think I’ve ever done.
I hit the Call button.
Immediately I hang up and throw my phone onto the bed like a grenade. I wipe my damp palms on my thighs and let out a wheezing breath.
My phone begins to ring.
Incoming: Joshua Templeman
“Oh, hi,” I manage to say lightly when I answer. I grind the heel of my hand into my temple. I have no dignity.
“I had a missed call. It rang once.”
There’s loud pulsing music in the background. He’s probably swilling liquor in a bar, surrounded by tall models in stretchy white dresses.
“You’re busy. I’ll talk to you about it tomorrow.”
“I’m at the gym.”
“Weights. I do weights at night.”
The response implies he does cardio another time. He makes a faint grunt, and then I hear a heavy metal clang.
“So what’s up? Don’t tell me you pocket-dialed me.”
“No.” There’s no point in pretending.
“Interesting.” There’s a muffled clothing sound, maybe a towel, and then a door closes. The obnoxious pulsing music gets quieter.
“I’m outside now. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen your name on my caller ID. Something happen at work?”
“I know. I was thinking that too.” There is a loaded pause. “No, it’s not work related.”
“That’s a shame. I was hoping Bexley had a fatal embolism.”
I make an amused honk. Then I fidget. “I was calling because . . .”
I haven’t seen you today. I’ve been feeling mixed up and desperately sad, and for some reason seeing you might help the weird pain in my chest. I don’t have friends. Except for you. Except you’re not.
“Yes . . .” He is not helping me out at ALL.
“I’m hungry and I have no food. And I haven’t got any tea, and my apartment is cold. And I’m bored.”
“What a very sad little life.”
“You’ve got lots of food and tea. And your heating is better than mine, and I . . .”
There is nothing but silence.
“I’m not bored when I’m with you.” I’m mortified. “But I’d better just—”
He cuts me off. “Better come over then.”
Relief floods through me. “Should I bring something?”
“What would you bring?”
“I could grab some food on the way.”
“No, it’s okay, I’ve got something to cook. Do you want me to pick you up?”
“I’d better drive myself.”
“Probably safer.” We both know why. It’d be too easy for me to stay the night otherwise.
I’m already holding my purse, coat, and keys. My feet are in shoes. I’m locking my door and jogging down the hall to the elevator.
“Will you show me the muscles you worked on?”
“I thought you wanted me for more than that.” I can hear a car start. At least I’m not the only impatient one.
“Race you there. I want to see you all sweaty. We need to get even.”
“Give me half an hour. No, an hour.” He’s alarmed.
“I’ll wait for you in the lobby.”
“Do not leave now.”
“See you soon,” I reply and hang up.
I start laughing when I start my car and pull out into traffic. It’s a new game, the Racing Game, with two cars at different points on a city grid, speeding toward a central location. It’s scary how I want to be in his apartment on his couch so badly I’m jiggling my knee impatiently at red lights. I’d bet anything he’s doing the same.
When I’m jogging up the sidewalk to the entrance to his building, I’ve basically exhausted all of my weak excuses, caveats, reasoning, and we’re down to this. I run into the lobby.
I haven’t seen Josh all day, and I miss him.
The elevator has an up arrow above it. I hold my breath. It bings.
He couldn’t imagine you with anyone but himself.
The doors snap open and there he is.
He’s ruffled and sweaty, weighed down by gym gear. His brow creases when he spots me, his eyes unsure. He puts a hand out to hold the elevator door.
My. Heart. Bursts.
“I won!” I scream as I run at him. He has enough time to put out his arms as I jump. He hits the back wall with a grunt as I manage to get my arms and legs around him. The doors slide closed and he manages to hit the button for his floor.
“I think technically I won. I was in the building first.” I hear him say over my head.
“I won, I won,” I repeat until he laughs and concedes.
“Okay. You won.”
His sweat smells like rainwater and cedar, leaving a faint rosemary-pine tingle in my nostrils. I press my face against his neck and breathe in, again and again until the elevator bings, and we’re on the fourth floor. I try to muster up the strength to let him go, but the addictive press of our bodies together is stronger than my willpower.
“Okay then.” He begins to walk down the hallway. I’m clinging like a koala to his front, coat flapping, my bag bumping against his gym bag. I hope he doesn’t bump into any neighbors. I lean back enough to see his face and see amusement shining in his eyes as he puts down his bag beside his door and begins sorting through his keys.
“Every man should get a welcome home like that.”
“Don’t mind me. Go about your business.”
I hug harder. His collarbone fits nicely under my cheekbone. He’s wearing a hoodie and his body feels humid and damp.
I hear him drop his gym gear into the basket. He toes off his sneakers, which seems a little bit more difficult, and he takes my bag. He presses a button on the heating control.
“Seriously, just pretend I’m not here.”
He walks us into the kitchen and bends to look in the refrigerator, making me grip tighter. He fills a glass and I press my ear to his neck to listen to him swallow.
I tighten my legs around him, and he slides a hand to my butt and squeezes it once in a friendly way. Then he gives it a slap. “Ow, what’s in your pocket?”
“Oh.” I remember now and feel like a nerd. I slither down to my feet. “It’s nothing.”
“It hurt my hand.” He pulls the lumpy shape out of my pocket and cranes to see what he’s found “It’s a Smurf. Of course. What else would you fill your pockets with? Why does it have a bow on it?”
“I have, like, ten of him. It’s Grouchy Smurf.”
“If I didn’t know how much you adore Smurfs, I’d be insulted.” His mouth quirks and I know I’ve pleased him. “So what’s with the Smurfs, anyway?”
“My dad had a regular delivery over the state line. He’d leave before dawn and be back after I went to bed. He always bought me a Smurf at the gas station on the way home.”
“So they remind you of your dad. That’s nice.”
“It meant that he was thinking of me.” I shuffle on the spot.
“Well, thank you for thinking of me.”
“Well, you gave me something of yours, so. We’re even.”
“Is that so important? Being even?”
“Of course.” I notice he has a little whiteboard with a weekly meal plan. He’s such a freak.
“Okay, well you’re clean, and I’m not. I need a shower.”
“How do you smell so good after the gym?” I go into the living room and throw myself down onto the couch with a groan. I sink into it like it’s made of memory foam. Hello, Lucy, the couch tells me. I knew you’d be back.
“I didn’t think I did,” he replies from the kitchen. I’m hearing water boiling and the fridge opening and teaspoon clinking.
“You do.” I pat around for the ribbon cushion. “Like a muscly pinecone.”
“I think it’s my soap. Mom gives it to me in bulk. She likes making care packages.”
He appears, upside down, and I see a slice of heavy bare shoulder revealed by his hoodie sliding off. He’s wearing a tank under there. My mouth puddles with drool. He puts a mug near me and hands me the cushion.
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