A sequel to "A Room With A View "
Jim O'Rourke glanced up from the stack of papers he'd been feeding into the high-powered copier, just in time to catch sight of the smartly dressed young woman who'd just walked into Reproduction. That was one of the few perks of working here at Moore and Ryan, the nineteen year old told himself, even if he was only doing so part-time while he went to college. The women you got to meet were in a class he normally didn't find in his native Brooklyn.
Or at least that was what all of his friends told him and for the most part, at least so far, he had to agree. Before any of the other copy drones could spot her, Jim put his assignment on hold and quickly headed for the countertop that separated the small reception area from the larger work one.
"Welcome to the lower depths," Jim smiled, making light of the departments basement location as he brushed a lock of his sandy hair out of his eyes, "what can I do for you this afternoon?"
"Is Mario around?" the twenty-seven year old Hispanic woman asked, a noticeable anxiety in her voice.
"I'm afraid he had to leave early today," the young man replied, trying hard not to be too noticeable as he checked out the attractive woman, "but I'm sure I'll be able to help you."
"I hope so," the black haired woman said, a look of concern on her face as she laid a large stack of folders and loose papers on the counter.
Jim listened attentively as the caramel skinned woman explained that she needed eight hundred copies of the pile of documents in front of her made into a report. Glancing through the material with the professional eye the college student had developed over the last eight months, he quickly decided that would hardly be a problem. With copying and collating, it would only be an hour or two's work at most.
"Even if I needed it before five?" the woman asked, the simple question explaining her predicament.
That, thought Jim, might be a problem. It was no wonder she had wanted to talk to Mario, who was the assistant manager responsible for the Reproduction Department. It was her bad luck to have come in on a day when his daughter had delivered his first grandchild and he was off at the hospital. Not to mention that there were three other projects already in the pipeline, all of them promised for today and none carrying less than the signature of a department head.
"That might be difficult," Jim admitted as he glanced up at the large clock over the door.
"Even if I said my job might depend on it?"
Jim didn't put it into words, but the look that flashed across his face said that he'd heard that one before.
"I know that sounds melodramatic," the woman said, "but it's really true."
She went on to explain that the report had originally been printed two days ago, in plenty of time for a major presentation to the company's stockholder meeting this evening. It was only late last night that she discovered that certain data her group has been responsible for had been reported incorrectly. It had taken her pretty much the entire night to redo the numbers and make all the corrections. Something her boss wasn't going to care about if it wasn't there to be handed out at the meeting.
"I don't know if I can..." Jim started to say, then stopped in mid-sentence as he looked into her face and realized that he'd seen this woman before. Or at least he thought he did.
He paused for a moment more, his face blushing a deep red as a long ago memory resurfaced. A condition evident enough to catch the woman's attention.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"Maria?" Jim asked in turn, "Maria Gonzalez?"
"How do you know my name?" she asked, sure that she hadn't given it and the work order with her signature was still in her hand.
"You used to live in an apartment house in Brooklyn, about three years ago," he continued.
"Do we know each other?" Maria asked, her question answering his.
"Jim O'Rourke, I lived just across the hall," he finally explained.
"Jimmy O'Rourke," Maria repeated as she tried to match up the memory of the skinny teenager with the much more developed young man in front of her. "My Goodness, I never would've recognized you."
With the growth spurt that Jim had gone through the year after Maria had moved out of the apartment building, it was easy to see how she wouldn't have made the connection. The opposite, however, was hardly true. With the exception of longer hair, the former waitress looked pretty much the same.
"Well I should've recognized you," Jim said, trying to banish any residual trace of embarrassment. "You look exactly the same."
Maria thanked him for the compliment, her face flashing a smile of appreciation. Her eyes, however, then glanced down at her report, still reflecting her need to get it done quickly.
"Don't worry," Jim said as he picked up on the hint, "it'll be ready in time. I promise, I'll take care of it personally."
A look of relief filled Maria's face as she took Jim's hand with both of hers and thanked him. He said it was nothing, the least he could do for an old neighbor.
Jim stood at the counter and watched Maria exit and disappear around the hallway corner. He then took another minute for his hard-on to go down before getting back to work himself.
"Damn Jimmy," Alex Willis, his best friend on the job asked him as he went back to the twin copiers both of them had been working at. "Why the hell did you promise her that report would be ready in time? We've got enough as it is to keep us busy until quitting time."
"I promised her, that's reason enough," Jim said as he turned his on machine back on and began to feed paper into it. "And I can get it done if I work on it through lunch, especially if you help me."
"You want me to give up my lunch and not get paid for it?" Alex said, his tone showing his reluctance.
"Do I have to count up how many times I covered for you on afternoons when you blew out of here early last summer?" Jim countered, his question putting an end to Alex's reluctance.
"Geez, you'd think she showed you her tits or something the way you're bending over backward to help her," Alex muttered instead, low enough for only Jim to hear him.
"Actually she did," Jim answered, if only in his thoughts, "even if she doesn't know she did."
With that he speeded up the normal pace of his work so that he could finish the project in the copier and get to Maria's as soon as possible,
"Jimmy, you are a lifesaver," Maria said when she showed up a few hours later and picked up her report.
"I'm glad I could help," Jim replied, "and I really prefer Jim now."
"Of course," Maria smiled, "you're not the little kid across the hall anymore."
Glancing over her shoulder, Maria gave instructions to the two boys from the mailroom as to where they should take the piles of reports they had just loaded on their hand trucks. As they left, she again turned her attention back to Jim.
"I know you had to have really hustled to get this report done for me," she said, "and I want you to know how grateful I am."
"It's okay," Jim smiled. "I was happy to do it."
"At least let me buy you dinner to show my thanks," Maria insisted, "I know you had to have skipped lunch at the least."
"You don't have to..." he started to say and then changed his mind, "oh why not. But nothing too fancy, I wouldn't want you to go to too much trouble."
"We could just go to Harrahan's over on Kent Avenue," she proposed, "say around six."
"Six would be fine," Jim said, thinking what the hell, he had earned a good dinner at least.
"I'll see you there," Maria promised as she went off after the mailroom clerks to make sure their important cargo made it to where it was supposed to be.
Six O'clock came soon enough and most of the staff had already punched out when Alex came up to Jim to say good night.
"So we're even now, right?" he said, thinking this was a good time to try and get out of any future obligations.
"Not a chance," Jim grinned, "not with the amount of times you skipped out of here. But I'll tell you what my friend, I do appreciate the help and you went a long way towards wiping the slate clean."
Alex figured that was good enough and said his goodnight. The weekend was here and the last thing he wanted to do was hang around work longer than he absolutely had to.
Dinner at Harrahan's more than made up for the skipped lunch. He'd even had a few beers to go with it although Jim was pretty certain that the waiter really hadn't bought the bogus ID he showed when he ordered. But Maria evidently was a regular and they were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Dinner conversation had consisted mostly of how people they both knew were now doing. Maria had asked about his parents and was sad to learn his dad had died the previous year. His mom, he told her, had moved out of Brooklyn to live with her sister in Queens. His oldest sister, Susan was now married with two kids of her own and Judy, the middle child was engaged to a guy she was already living with.
Mentioning Judy's engagement, Jim asked Maria what had happened to Carlos, the man she had become engaged to just before she had moved out of the apartment house. He was about ten years older than her, Jim remembered, and owned his own home contracting business.
"In the end, it just didn't work out," Maria said briskly.
What she didn't want to say was that the two of them had an explosive breakup one afternoon when she'd come home unexpectedly and found Carlos in bed with the fifty-two year old woman who worked as the secretary/bookkeeper in his office. Evidently, the two of them had been fuck buddies for the last few years and saw no reason to change that simply because Carlos was now engaged. Maria was far from a prude, in fact she had previously lived out one of Carlos's fantasies for his birthday by having a three-way with him and another woman only a few months before. What she couldn't abide was him lying to her. Sex was one thing, trust another.
"I know I said it before, Jim," Maria said as she changed the subject, "but you really saved my ass today. That was the first real assignment that my boss ever gave me on my own and most of the other uptight bitches in my office who went to schools other than City College would've liked nothing better than to see me fall flat on my face. I wouldn't have put it past any of them to have jumbled the numbers in the first place."
Jim knew the type of people Maria was talking about all too well. When any of them honored him with their presence down in reproduction they looked at him as if he was some lower form of life. If helping Maria had indeed disappointed one of them, then that alone was worth the effort.
But Maria's mention of her ass reminded the nineteen year old of why he actually owed the woman sitting across from him. Back in his mid-teens, he discovered one night that Maria's bedroom was right across from his, separated by only the length of a clothesline.
More importantly, he'd discovered the curvaceous Puerto Rican kept the window open and the shades up on warm summer nights and he could look right into her apartment. And as long as he kept his own lights off, he was practically invisible as he watched her.
This led to his most important advance in sex education since he'd discovered where his Dad hid the Playboys, one that the few close friends he told about it could only envy. Maria was the first woman he had actually seen naked. More so, it wasn't long before she became his main masturbation fantasy, going so far as to schedule his self-pleasures to coincide with the time he knew she turned in for the evening.
Remembering the many nights he had happily jerked off watching her, Jim was also reminded of the night, shortly before Maria had moved out, that he had the chance to watch her masturbate. That was also the night when he'd been sure that, despite the fact that the lights in his own room were off, she had somehow spotted him watching her. Especially since the next day a new pair of blinds had appeared in her window, obstructing his cherished view. If she had seen him, she'd never said anything about it, but he had worried over it for weeks.
"Jim?" Maria repeated after getting no response from her guest the first two times she had said his name.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Jim said as he snapped back, "I guess my mind drifted for a moment."
"We all do that sometimes," Maria said with an understanding smile.
Looking back at Maria, Jim now realized he had a new little problem. No, make that one little problem and one that was getting bigger by the moment. Looking at the well-dressed businesswoman across the table, he no longer saw her as she was. Instead, he couldn't help but picture her naked, as she had been on those warm summer nights. And with that image came the second problem, an erection that put the one he'd had this afternoon to shame.
Maria didn't seem to notice his discomfort and went on with her conversation. She asked about the old neighborhood and if he ever went back there.
"Actually," Jim said almost hesitantly, "I still live there. I took over the apartment after everyone else moved out. I know its not Manhattan but its all I can afford."
"Manhattan's not all it's cracked up to be," Maria offered. "At least it's not what I thought it would be. The apartment I have now is half the size of the one I had in Brooklyn and I have to share it with two other girls just to make the rent."
The cost of living in the city was something Jim was all too familiar with. If it wasn't for the fact that his family had a long-term lease with the building owners, dating back to when it wasn't such a nice neighborhood, he'd never have been able to afford an apartment as large as his, even in Brooklyn and especially not in Park Slope. His rent was a fraction of what the three bedroom could actually bring in, but the lease was airtight as long as a member of the original family living there when it was signed was an occupant.
The waiter appeared and asked if they wanted anything else. A quick glance between them confirmed the answer was no for both. Maria paid the check with her charge card, but Jim insisted on at least taking care of the tip.
They walked together to the train station, then said their goodnights as Maria was headed uptown and Jim back to Brooklyn. Both agreed that it had been the best non-date that either had ever been on.
Maria started to head for the stairs to her platform then stopped. Jim was watching her go and hadn't moved yet and was surprised when she turned back around.
"Say no if it's an imposition, but I was just wondering," Maria said after walking back to him. "I have to go to Brooklyn tomorrow anyway and I was wondering if you'd mind if I stopped by in the afternoon and took a look at the old building. Just to bring back some old memories you understand. If you have any other plans, just say so, it's okay."
"No, I don't have anything planned," Jim admitted, having no reason to say otherwise since he'd told Maria earlier that he wasn't seeing anyone right now. "If you like it, feel free to stop by."
"I think I want to do that," Maria replied, "but only if it's not an imposition."
"Not at all, stop on by," Jim repeated.
Maria leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, saying he had turned into a really nice guy. As she then rushed down the stairs to catch the uptown train that was just pulling into the station, Jim wondered what all that had been about. Why be sentimental about an old building? It was different for him, after all, he had grown up there and his family had lived in the building since his grandparent's day. Maria, on the other hand, had only lived there a few years.
"Oh well," he thought as he walked down to wait for his own train, "I'll find out tomorrow I guess."
Saturday passed normally enough with Jim spending the morning playing softball in Prospect Park with some friends from the local bar. The afternoon was spent catching up on the laundry, which made him think again of Maria as he hung it out on the line. It was getting late and he wondered if she'd had a change of mind and wasn't going to stop by. He really should've given her his number, he thought, so she could call and let him know at least.
Less than ten minutes later, his doorbell rang and when he opened the door, there stood Maria, dressed in dark slacks and a light blue blouse, holding a large white plastic bag. The small white cartons visible inside identified it as Chinese takeout and the wording on the bag said it came from the small restaurant down on the avenue.
"I hope you haven't had lunch yet," Maria said as she stepped inside. "I really didn't feel right showing up empty handed."
"No, I haven't," Jim said as the enticing aromas from the cartons reminded him that he'd barely had breakfast either.
"Great," Maria said as she carried the bag into the kitchen, "why don't you get us some plates and I hope you have something cold to drink, I didn't like the look of the cooler they had at the take out place. To say the sodas were room temperature would be kind."
"I have cold drinks," Jim replied, knowing the cooler in question and agreeing with Maria's assessment. He opened the refrigerator door to check what he had, realizing as he did that shopping was something he hadn't gotten around to this week. "Would you like a soda or a beer?" he asked as he took inventory.
"A beer would be great," Maria said as she opened the cartons and dished out a generous portion of each on the plates Jim had produced.
Jim placed two cold bottles on the table. He got his beer from the local deli where he'd been picking up six packs for his father and uncles since he was ten years old. The owners, who had known him all his life, weren't going to deny him the right to a few beers because some stupid law said he had to be twenty-one to buy one.
"The neighborhood certainly has improved in the few years since I moved out," Maria said as she tossed a piece of shrimp into her mouth.
"Yeah, it has gotten a lot better," Jim agreed as he went to work on the beef and broccoli.
"I passed a real estate office down on the avenue when I stopped to pick up the lunch," Maria said between bites, "Looking at the apartments they had listed in the window, I can't believe what they're getting for them. It's almost as bad as Manhattan."
"Yeah, they have jacked up the rents pretty bad," Jim concurred, "That's why I'm so glad we have that long-term lease."
When Maria inquired what that was all about, Jim explained it to her. The owners had several times tried to break the lease, but failed. Worked out at a time when people were moving out in droves, the agreement had been worked out by an uncle who was a lawyer. One that knew all the loopholes and made sure everyone had been covered.
"Wow, that's even better than rent control," Maria exclaimed as she realized that Jim was paying less than her one-third share of her Manhattan apartment.
They talked a little more about the neighborhood and continued their discussion from last night about Jim's plans in school and Maria's at work. Finally she asked if she could look around the apartment and Jim said of course. After all, he had spent a good amount of time last night after getting home cleaning it up in case she did show up.
"It really hasn't changed much," Maria said as she recognized most of the same furniture from the last time she had been here.
"Well Mom didn't take much more than her clothes when she moved in with Aunt June," Jim explained, "and neither Susan or Judy wanted any of the old furniture."
"Oh I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it," Maria said. "In fact, I kind of like it, it looks very comfortable."
Jim said that it was.
"You still have the same bedroom?" Maria said as she stepped from the living room to the smallest of the three bedrooms. "I thought you'd have taken one of the bigger ones since the whole apartment is yours now. "I guess I'm just comfortable in the little one," Jim shrugged, "after all I grew up in it."
Actually, there was a good reason he kept his old room, but he really felt silly explaining it. Sleeping in his parent's bed was out of the question. Somehow, he really didn't feel comfortable having a woman sleep over, and it did happen occasionally, and getting it on in the same bed his parents had. He could of course just buy a new bed, but never got around to it. As for his sister's room, well he had no reluctance about getting laid there, even though both Susan and Judy had done it there when their parents weren't home. He just had other plans for the large room, such as turning it into a sort of den where he could study and work in peace.
"Well there's the old home," Maria said as she looked out across the courtyard into her former apartment. "You know, I never realized you could look right into my bedroom before."
Jim almost choked. It took all his self-control to take a deep breath and then say "Really?"
"Oh come on, you can't have never noticed," Maria laughed. "Especially at night when the lights are on."
Not knowing what to say, Jim just smiled and hoped she would let the observation drop.
"Who lives there now?" Maria asked curiously.
"A nice lady named Mrs. Dumbrowsky," Jim answered, "she works at the Parish rectory. But I really don't think she plans to move anytime soon. She took the apartment after her husband died." he added, remembering what Maria had said about wishing she'd had her old apartment back and thinking that was what all of this was about.
"Oh I wasn't wondering if the apartment was available," Maria said as she continued to look out into the courtyard. "I probably wouldn't be able to handle what they now charge for rent anyway."
She pulled her head back in and turned around to Jim. The broad grin on her face told him she certainly had been thinking about something.
"Is something wrong?" Jim asked.
"I was just wondering," she said, "if you lay in bed at night and jerk off to her while she changes like you used to do when you watched me, that's all."
This time, Jim did choke.
"Easy now," Maria said as she patted him on his back, "take short breaths and relax."
"You knew?" Jim sputtered out as he regained his breath.
"Well, not in the beginning," Maria said, the smile on her face reassuring him that the revelation hadn't been made out of anger. "But one night I just happened to be looking in the right direction when someone opened the bedroom door here," she explained with a motion to the door to her right. "The light from the living room lit up this room just long enough for me to notice that someone was laying on the bed over there." she added with a motion in the other direction.
"Probably mom checking up on me one of those nights I forgot to put on the door latch," Jim thought, remembering how his mother had been concerned that he might be sick since he was going to bed so early with no school to get up for.
"After that, it stood to reason that if I could see into this room, whoever was in here certainly could see into mine, especially since my dresser, with that big mirror on top of it, was right in what would be someone's line on sight. So the first thing I did was move the furniture around."
"Wait a minute, I remember that," Jim said as he thought back to the night his little peepshow ended. "That was the night I saw you..."
"Masturbate?" Maria said, using the word that Jim seemed to hesitate on.
A nod of his head said that was it.
"Well, to be honest I was pretty angry when I first realized that someone was spying on me," Maria went on, "especially because I though it was your father at first. He was always checking me out in the halls so naturally I assumed it was him. It wasn't until I came over here the next day, your sister, Judy was home and invited me in, that I discovered that it was your room that was right across from mine."
"Weren't you still angry?"
"Not as much," Maria continued, "after all, I had little brothers and they were always trying to catch me coming out of the shower or looking down my blouse. It's just natural for a teenage boy to try and see a naked girl. And to be totally honest, after I began to think about it, the thought sort of turned me on. I mean having some sixteen year old, and a cute one at that I have to add, getting all hard looking at me. Of course I couldn't let it keep going on, but I decided to give you one last show before I put an end to it for good."
"Shit!" Jim exclaimed as he remembered that show. "I think that was the hardest I ever came in my life. Sorry, I mean..."
"That's okay," Maria smiled, "I'll take that as the compliment I'm sure you intended it to be."
Jim was relieved at that, even as he asked her what was the real reason she had come to see him today. He really didn't believe the story about being homesick for the old neighborhood.
"Well, I have to admit, that was a little hokey," Maria confessed, "but it wasn't too far from the truth. The way the neighborhood is now, I do regret moving away."
Jim was listening intently, so much so that he didn't realize that Maria had taken a few steps closer to him until she reached out and draped her arms over his shoulders.
"And then, when I had the good fortune to run into you yesterday, my no longer so young friend, it occurred to me that maybe, we might be able to work out a mutually beneficial arrangement."
"What kind of arrangement?" Jim said as he became a little suspicious, but not so much that he asked her to remove her arms.
"Well before I get into that, I do want to say I didn't have this idea until after we had dinner last night," Maria pointed out. "I really did appreciate the help you gave me yesterday and my ass really was on the line."
"Okay, I believe you about that part," Jim replied, "but what was this about an arrangement?"
"Well," Maria said with a deep breath, "here you are with this big beautiful apartment, and there I am with my one-third of my little apartment, and a rent that just keeps going up and up. So ... what I was thinking was, maybe you could use a roommate."
"What?" Jim asked as he stepped back out of her arms. "What made you think I would want a roommate?"
"Well, until you told me about your sweetheart deal with the rent here, I actually thought you might have trouble meeting it by yourself. After all, you can't be making that much working part time and still going to school."
"My dad's union gave me a full scholarship based on my grades," Jim interrupted, "and he left me some insurance money, enough to make up the difference."
"I see," Maria replied. "I didn't know that. But there was one other thing I was willing to bring to the deal, something that I thought might help you see it as to your advantage."