Chapter 1: Writer's Block
"Gosh, darn it!" Gina groaned as she sat in front of her door and banged the back of her head against it.
"You went for mail, didn't you?" chuckled Liam from his doorway across the hall. "I thought you kept a spare key under your mat for just this reason."
"I do," pouted Gina, staring at her feet. "But I used it yesterday and forgot to put it back."
"Good thing I made you give me a copy!" Liam laughed louder as he retreated into his apartment to grab Gina's other spare.
"I'm beginning to think getting my Master's is over-rated!"
"Geez! At least give me a chance to get out of my apartment, first!" teased Liam, heading for Gina's door.
"What is it this time?"
"I have this paper due in two days and I'm stuck! Why do I need my Master's? I've got a good job! All that going for my Master's is accomplishing is reducing my social life to nothing and making my work life stressful because of the lack of sleep while taking these damn night classes!"
Liam was amazed that she was able to get through all that in one breath. She must really be stressed this time, he thought. "When was the last time you got out of your apartment for more than work, class or mail?" Liam had unlocked Gina's door and followed her inside.
"What month is it?"
He started to laugh at Gina's question. "Okay! Give me back my key. Where's your spare? Put it back under the mat and grab your keys. I'm taking you out for breakfast and then a good long walk to clear your head!"
"Didn't you hear me? I've got a paper due Monday night and I've got writer's block! I don't have the time to go."
"You don't have the time NOT to go! Now, are you going to come willingly or am I going to carry you?"
Liam hustled Gina back out of her apartment and into his car. He headed to a quiet breakfast spot he knew of that made omelets just the way Gina liked them.
"Satisfied?" Gina sounded like a little child who was angry at being forced to clean her plate. But truth be told, she couldn't be angry at Liam for long. The two had struck up an immediate friendship five years earlier and he had been a support during her quest for her Master's.
"Okay, I'm satisfied that you've had a good meal -- you've finally fed that brain of yours! Now, let's go for a walk to clear your head and get that grey matter energized." Liam escorted a grumbling Gina out of the diner after paying the bill. Once back at their apartment complex, he led Gina to the path behind their building.
As they went walking, Liam began to ask Gina questions regarding work and her classes in general, and then about her paper. At what became the halfway point of their walk, Gina had a breakthrough.
"That's it! I was looking at the project from the wrong perspective!" Gina jumped in place and began punching the air in triumph.
"What would you do differently?"
The friends continued their walk back to their apartments. All the while, Liam asked Gina probing questions regarding her new enlightenment so she wouldn't forget her train of thought. Once home, he watched as Gina marched through her door ready to tackle her paper, victorious over her writer's block. Liam went across the hall to his apartment with a smile on his face.
As he made himself some coffee, Liam still wore that smile. Bridget would be so proud of me, he thought. He sat down at the kitchen table with his coffee and allowed his mind to wander. His sister was the smarter of the two O'Shea children. Words and numbers always seemed to come easier to her. Liam was better with the sciences and, as it turned out, with the culinary arts -- much to the dismay of his father. Whenever Liam was having trouble writing a paper for school, Bridget was right there helping him sort out his thoughts.
She would bring him to the kitchen and ask him to make her a snack. As he was doing this, she would talk with him, just as he had done with Gina. Bridget would first ask Liam about his girlfriend or the latest movie, and then turn the conversation around to school, and then to the class at hand. Once she was there, she would gently coerce the assignment out of Liam, asking questions that would help him get his thoughts in order. Inevitably, Bridget got a nice snack as payment for her services and Liam got a better grade on his assignment. As he washed out his coffee mug and set it in the strainer, he said a silent prayer of thanks to his Bridget for all that she had done for him and all that she continued to do.
Later that evening, Liam checked in on Gina.
"How's it coming?" Liam asked as Gina opened the door.
"Great! I've just got to document a couple more references, spell check, and proofread, and it should be ready for Monday!" Gina left Liam in her doorway while she moved back to her desk.
"Good news! Okay, get your coat." Liam invited himself in and let the door close behind him.
"Because it's getting chilly now that it's dark out and I don't want you getting sick before you turn your paper in."
"I don't need a weather report, Liam! Why do I need my coat? Where am I going?"
"You're taking me out to dinner."
"Because you're grateful for my help on your paper and it's my birthday."
"I am grateful, and Happy Birthday, but I don't have any money to take you out to celebrate. I don't get paid until next week."
"That's okay; I'm buying."
"But, if I'm taking YOU out, shouldn't I buy?"
"My mom would have my neck if I ever let a woman pay for my dinner!"
"Why don't I make dinner, instead?"
"I've tasted your cooking." Liam dodged the balled up paper that Gina threw at his head. "And, you've been holed up here all day. You need a change of venue for a few hours."
"I went out this morning, remember. Besides, I'm not ready. I told you I have to finish documenting my references, spell check and proofread!"
"Can I get a rain check?"
"On my birthday? It only comes around once a year!"
"Where are the references you need to document?" Gina pointed to the list on the top of a stack of papers by her elbow. "All you have to do is type them in! Don't you type, like, over fifty words a minute? Spell checking will take no time," he continued, peering over her shoulder onto the computer screen. "You've already set it to autocorrect. Proofing can wait until tomorrow, after a good night's sleep and a rested pair of eyes, and I can add a second set. So take a shower and get cleaned up. I'll be back in forty-five minutes to get you."
"What if I don't open the door?"
"I'll use my key!" Liam flashed his mischievous Irish grin and winked at her as he left.
Forty-five minutes on the dot, Liam was back at Gina's door. He knocked once and there was no answer. Just as he was about to knock a second time, Gina swung open the door. Liam had to stop for a minute to catch his breath. He had seen Gina wearing clothes for many occasions: business, casual, and even party. But she looked totally different tonight; classy was the word that came to Liam's mind.
"I hope I'm dressed okay." Gina was tentative, mistaking Liam's silence for disapproval. "You never told me where we were going. I just figured it would be to someplace a little more upper-class."
"Ah, sorry! You look great! Yeah, you are definitely dressed right!" Liam couldn't figure out why his throat felt dry.
The couple enjoyed a superb meal with all the trimmings. After they finished, Liam escorted Gina to an empty table in the lounge area adjacent to the restaurant where they could continue their conversation.
"What is Emily going to think about you being out with me on a Saturday night -- and on your birthday, no less? Won't she be a little put out?"
"She's already put out -- out of the picture. We broke up about two weeks ago."
"I'm sorry. It goes to show just how out of the loop I've been. I tell you, it makes me wonder why I'm even trying for my Master's. I'm not sure it's all worth it!"
"You know it will be! It doesn't bother me that you didn't know about Emily and me. You've had other things on your plate, lately. And as you can tell, it doesn't bother me that Emily is out of the picture. She was starting to get too possessive, anyway."
"I just should have been there! You dropped everything when Chris and I had that big fight and broke up. Another result of my Master's, by the way. I should have been there for you."
"I was there for you because that asshole started that whole incident in the hallway. Master's or not, you're better off without him. But I still wouldn't worry about me. You're here now helping me celebrate my birthday. Wanna dance?"
Just then, the band played a slow song. Liam led Gina to the floor where they danced a number of dances, both slow and fast. They continued to talk and laugh the night away.
"Thanks so much for a wonderful night," Liam began, after walking Gina back to her door. "I can't remember having as much fun celebrating my birthday, or being in such fantastic company."
"'Fantastic company, ' huh? Well, you're welcome." Gina wrapped her arms around Liam's waist. "Happy Birthday, friend!" Liam wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly to his body, nestling her head under his chin. He bent down and placed a kiss on the top of her head before letting her go inside her apartment.
Tuesday evening the neighbors met up at the mailboxes.
"How did class go last night?"
"Good! Thanks for helping me proof on Sunday. I turned in my paper on time and I should have it back in a week or two. I've got a test in my class tomorrow night. Ugh!"
"How many more classes do you need to take?"
"These are it. If all goes well, I should be done with classes this winter. That will just leave me to finish my thesis and get it submitted. I'm hoping to be totally done by late spring."
"We'll have to do something special then."
Gina and Liam both got wrapped up in their schedules; Gina toiled additional hours on a project for work while Liam clocked additional hours due to special party requests at the restaurant. Two weeks had passed when Gina knocked on Liam's door.
"Hey, what's up?" Liam noticed Gina standing smugly with her hands behind her back.
"I brought you something. Can I come in?"
"Let me guess, <sniff> you got your paper back."
"That's right," she answered as she entered his apartment.
"And, <sniff> you got a good grade on it, too! Congratulations!"
"How did you know?" Gina placed the bag on the table while giving Liam a suspicious look.
Getting out plates and utensils, Liam explained. "It's elementary, my dear Murphy. It's been a couple weeks since you turned in your paper. Seeing that you brought something for me, I surmised you got your grade back. Smelling it, I could tell that you didn't cook, so it must have been a good grade!" Dodging her playful punches, he pulled the Chinese food out of the sack.
"Care to join me?" Liam flashed Gina an easy-going smile.
"I don't know if I should after that remark about my cooking!"
"Aww, c'mon! You know I'm the better cook. There aren't too many things I do better than you, so you have to allow me some opportunity for teasing!"
"You only cook better than me because you do it professionally! And you only think I don't cook well because you're a picky eater!" Gina stood there with her fists resting on her hips, sticking her bottom lip out in a pout when she was done talking.
It didn't take long for Liam to start laughing at Gina's pose. Before long, Gina started laughing, too. Then they both sat down to enjoy the food of victory.
"Darn it! Not again!" Gina refrained from banging her head against her door this time. She knocked lightly on Liam's door, hoping he was home.
"What's wrong with you? You look awful!"
"Thanks, pal. I knew I could count on you for an honest assessment of the situation!" Gina leaned her head against Liam's doorframe. "Listen, can I borrow my key? I got a ride home from work and I forgot my keys in my desk. I've got a killer migraine. I just want to go in and lie down."
Liam retrieved Gina's key and opened her door. As he helped her inside, he gently relieved her of her coat and the bags she was carrying.
"Go get changed and lie down on your bed. I'll be in your room in a minute."
"Look, Liam. I appreciate the use of the key, but I just need to sleep. I don't mean to be rude but there is nothing you can do for my migraine. I've gotten them before. It's best if I just try to sleep it off."
"Go do as you're told; no arguments. If what I plan to do doesn't work, you can tell me 'I told you so' when you feel better. Now, go!"
Gina stuck her tongue out at Liam and then trudged to her room to change. Liam lightly tapped on her door a few moments later as Gina was climbing into bed.
"No! Go away! I just want to sleep!"
Chuckling, Liam entered the darkened room, keeping the door open to allow some light in. With him, he brought a pan of steaming towels.
"Lie on your stomach. Straighten out your legs. Relax."
"What are you going to do? I just want to sleep!"
"I knew someone once who used to get a lot of migraines. I read up on massage therapy and how it could be used to help alleviate some of the pressure. It helped her headaches most of the time. So just relax and let me get to work."
Gina began to protest when Liam started to lift up her shirt.
"I've got warm towels to help loosen your back muscles until I get to work on them. It won't help you to get your shirt all wet -- this shirt is too tight-fitting. Let's take it off. And these sweats. I thought you were going to put on a pair of shorts. You always wear shorts around your apartment. You'll need to lose these, too." Gina didn't have any more energy to argue, so she lay limp while Liam began removing her clothes.
The warm towels on her back felt good while Liam started to massage her feet, then her legs. She wasn't sure where she should be concentrating -- the warmth radiating from her back, or the wonderful release Liam's hands were causing.
Liam was trying hard to keep his mind on what he was doing. It was difficult with her lying there, in just her panties and the warm towels. He thought he could handle it; after all, she was like another sister to him. But at that moment, he wasn't having thoughts like a brother should have for his sister. He always knew she was cute, but he never saw her as "sexy" before this.
Finishing her legs, Liam covered them with her blankets and removed the now-cooled towels from her back. The more he worked on her back, the more he felt her melt in his hands. Her occasional moans of relief grew non-existent. By the time Liam was satisfied that Gina's back was done, he realized she had fallen asleep. Quietly, he covered her, cleaned up the towels and left her room, closing the door behind him.
Liam hung around Gina's apartment waiting to see if she felt better. He tried to stay busy by preparing a few dishes in case Gina was hungry when she woke up. If she wanted to eat, all she would have to do is place the dish in the microwave. He finally settled down in her living room with one of her magazines.
"Hey, what time is it?" Gina padded down the hallway, wearing a thick green robe. "Have you been here the whole time?"
"It's only eight o'clock. How are you feeling? Are you hungry? I've prepared some food in case you wanted something to eat. I wasn't sure what you would want, though. It'll only take a couple minutes to cook."
"I guess you have been here the whole time!"
"I wanted to make sure you were feeling better. Or give you the chance to tell me 'I told you so.'"
"Well, I am feeling better. Thank you, again! You always seem to be there for me."
"That's what friends are for, right? Anyway, are you hungry?"
"A little bit, I think. I can't believe I feel better already!"
"Let's talk about it while dinner cooks."
Gina sat on the sofa while Liam went into the kitchen to warm a dish in the microwave. When he returned, Gina snuggled closer to him while his arms encircled her shoulders.
"Chris called me the other night. We went out for lunch today and he was trying to apologize; he wants to get back together. After lunch, the shit hit the fan on a project I'm working on, so I had some smoothing over to do with a client. I've got to work all weekend to fix the mess that someone else created. And I've got a week to finish another paper due in my Monday night class. Have I given you enough?"
"Dr. Liam's prescription is to have a good dinner -- which is heating as we speak..."
"Have a long soak in a very warm bath -- preferably with a slight scent to the water and room..."
"I don't have any bath beads or anything like that."
"I think Emily might have left something over at my place. She always liked that stuff."
"Anything else, doctor?"
"Yes. After your long soak, you need to crawl into bed under your warm covers and sleep until you wake up -- no alarm."
"Sounds nice, but I have too much to do to take a night off and then sleep in on Saturday."
"You came home with a migraine, correct?"
"Aside from eating dinner, what would you have done differently for your migraine? Wouldn't you still be going to bed early? Would you really remember to set your alarm for tomorrow? Besides, you get up early every day, your sleeping in would only be until about 8:00."
"Okay, you've made your point. I think I'll take that prescription, doctor."
"Good! Dinner's ready."
When they were done eating, Liam went to his apartment to retrieve the bath beads while Gina cleaned up the dishes. Once back, he started Gina's tub and applied the beads to the warming water. Liam shuffled Gina off to soak once the bath was ready.