I dragged myself into my apartment deadbeat tired after the most nerve-racking day of my short life. Doing network installs as an employee was no big deal, but when it was my own company, my name and reputation on the line, it was an whole new ballgame. The network install went well as everyone else including me expected, but I'm pretty sure that the fear which permeated the armpit sweat stains offended even the hardnosed, late night bus denizens. The green glow of bedside clock read 1:00 AM as my carcass collapsed on the mattress and unconsciousness took me away.
The next thing I remember a huge thud rang out somewhere above my head. As I unglued my eyes the light speared me with shafts of bright pain through the blinds I had forgotten to shut. My arms were shielding my eyes from the cruel light when through the same wall as the thud a loud exclamation of "Shit!" followed by a blue streak of cursing, which gave me a good morning chuckle.
Curiosity got the best of me and I hauled my ass out of bed to make my way to the front door. I peeked out first and saw an open door with lots of boxes in the hallway: ah, a new neighbor. What the hell: I knocked on the open door and shouted out an "hello" but no one answered. I waited a couple of beats and made my way towards the bedroom, which shared a wall with my place. As I walked through the bedroom doorway I froze in my tracks.
There are moments in your life when you see something so compelling, so unexpectedly delightful that the entire world just stops. No sound penetrates, dust in the sunlight stands still, and no muscle in the body works.
I have seen my share of beautiful women but this one put my memories to shame. I can't remember if I was drawn to her hair, her figure, or her face first. I managed to get to all of them in a few ticks of a second, tucked into a pair of tight jeans and a white, dirt streaked T-shirt. And she was stunning.
She was looking down when my muscles came back to life and I kicked the unassembled footboard of her bed with my foot. She looked up at the sound of the 'thunk' as the pain in my toe transmitted the pain to my face.
A look of terror came over her face; I guess the view of a disheveled and unkempt male will do that to a woman alone in a new apartment. I had thought she was going to laugh at me at first but that fear in her face was much worse.
"I knocked and no one answered," I began and trailed off as she pinned herself against the wall.
I tried again. "I heard a big thud in my bedroom wall and thought someone might be hurt." I pointed to the large gash in the wall behind her cheap, flakeboard bookcase.
The tension eased out of her body and her shoulders dropped down; they were round and inviting and I wanted to touch and hold and rub and I was getting ahead of myself.
"Thanks," she finally replied none too happily.
"Jed. Jed Morrison," hoping to make a better impression.
"Jed? What kind of name is that?" she asked with a guarded tone.
I had heard this question far too many times. Like saying "hello" when you walk into a room, the automatic response just kicked in: "My parents were real religious and liked biblical names, like Jedidiah."
She stared a me for a moment, apparently trying to make up her mind about me. I decided to cut bait and take my loses.
I pointed at the wall and told her to find Mr. McCormick on the first floor because he did handyman repairs for cash and could be trusted to keep his mouth shut. I also suggested she buy a cheap, colorful blanket in Chinatown and hang it on the wall to "frame" her bookcase until she could get the hole repaired. I wished her well, said goodbye and went back to my place to clean myself and digest my humiliating entrance. I couldn't get the picture of her out of mind either.
The rest of the day was great. My secretary and two techs were one and all, in a great mood when I swung into the office, final check in hand from the big install. Referrals had been coming in for the past two weeks and calendar was filling fast. This company had a future.
Of course, that future still meant twelve hour days along with sweat and grind. Yet every morning as I locked my door I would look over hoping to glance at my new neighbor. Every night I would walk up the stairs hoping the same thing but weeks went by and I did not see her. Every time I took out the garbage or ran to and from the little grocery, I glanced at her door. The name on her mailbox said "C. Johnston;" Hell, I didn't even know her name.
I checked in the old lady Fogherty (that Mrs. Fogherty to us young folk) downstairs and she talked to her almost every day. I pumped her for information on my neighbor but she wouldn't give up anything, but for one mere scrap. My new neighbor had asked the old lady about me. My heart fluttered for a beat and then I shook off the fantasy. I hate it when the old women jerk my chain; they make me feel like a little dweeb all over again.
Back to work. Friday night I swore that I would not work Saturday, come hell or high water, and I kept my promise. I cooked myself a real breakfast and began cleaning the place for the distinct odor had become distinctly disgusting, even to me. The stereo was pumping out tunes when my doorbell rang.
My doorbell never rings. My heart started thumping inside my chest as I was thinking, 'what if, please if there is a God in the universe, let it be her' as I was also slapping myself to get a grip on reality.
Just as I opened the door I realized I was wearing my neon orange polyester sweatpants that no one has worn in a decade with my "Eat Shit and Die" marijuana brownie T-shirt of another earlier, bygone era. Of course, it was the incredible woman of my weeks of dreaming. She stared at my attire in surprise; she didn't even say "hello." She put her hand over her mouth and let escape a loud "guffaw." I didn't even know what a guffaw was until that moment but it was clear and loud.
I put up my hands defensively and declared, "I'm cleaning house, give me a break."
She dropped her hand and let slip, "The only thing missing is the fuzzy pink slippers."
"They're in the closet. I'll get them if you want," I shot out without thinking. No one outdoes me in wisecracks and my competitiveness is notorious.
At that moment I figured that life was just one cruel joke on me. I beckoned with my head and told her "Come on in. The toilet is clean and the coffee is hot."
"Well, I'm happy for you," she said with a tease in her voice and my stomach lurched back up to its proper place. "My vacuum broke, can I borrow yours? I promise to bring it back in a few minutes and if it's real coffee, I take some then."
I wrapped up the cord and handed her the machine without a word and out the door she went, closing it behind her. The door latch clicked into place just as I remembered that I didn't know her name. The humiliation just kept coming and I suspected that the slap of my palm on my forehead left a big, red mark, but I refused to look in the mirror to verify. I stayed in my luxurious cleaning attire too.
Thirty long minutes past and the respectability returned to my humble home. The knock at the door came again and I had to body check myself from flying to the door. I calmly turned the knob and pulled just as she pushed, harder than she expected, and the door flew into me and knocked me on my ass.
A quicker thinking person would have bounced right back up or a least held up an arm and asked for a boost up. I lay staring at the ceiling certain that I must have committed some terrible wrong against my mother and God was punishing me.
A face came into view, framed in light brown silky curls. From humiliation to hallelujah, I could have died right then and been happy.
"Are you okay?" she asked with real concern in her voice.
"I think I can see heaven," I remarked daring to stare into those deep eyes. I felt a hand on my chest as she bent down closer to me.
"I'm so sorry," she started as her eyes watered, "I wanted to make a good impression."
"You are," I whispered and without any thought, I propped myself up on my elbows and I kissed her on the lips, just a soft succulent wisp.
She pulled back in surprise and announced to no one in particular, "I think he's alright."