Authors: Teresa Noelle Roberts
As he turned away, looking reluctant, Jen considered hollering,
I need you
, just to see what he’d do.
But they both had things on their plates.
If this did go somewhere, Jen reflected as she headed up to the turret, she thought she could get used to being involved with someone who got the hard-work concept. Drake might be a smidge too serious, but that meant he should be able to respect that art too took dedication.
Jen thought it was going to be odd being in the empty apartment that wasn’t quite hers yet, knowing Drake was in the house but busy with his own work. But after a few minutes of assessing what needed to be done with the window and figuring out how to get it out, she got into the rhythm of the project. The window was put in like an old-fashioned storm window, the kind her parents still had at the farm in McLean. Pretty straightforward. And she could see why there was such an awful draft. Like a storm window, it was supposed to have another window under it, but the bottom half of the old double-hung window beneath it was stuck open, and the simple expedient of pulling on it didn’t work.
She couldn’t remember how to fix that, but she knew who would. Taking out her cell, she called her parents’ number. “Hey, Dad,” she said, jumping right into it, “remember how I said I’d be repairing the stained glass in my new place? Seems I also need to fix a double-hung window that’s stuck open. How do I do that?”
“You gonna remember your left from your right if I tell you? Otherwise I might as well come by and fix it myself.”
She sighed. Some things never changed. “I think I can figure it out if you can stand walking me through it. I know how busy it is on the farm in spring.”
“Which reminds me, about your moving…”
“Wasn’t going to ask. I know you’ll be plowing if the weather’s good, and if it’s not, you don’t have a cap on the truck. Rafi lined up some friends who have a van.”
Her father harrumphed. “Good. But I wanted to say…about that old truck. I’m getting a new one by the end of the summer. Instead of trading it in, I’ll sell it to you for a thousand dollars. Can you swing that? Don’t want you taking out loans.”
Jen did the math in her head. She had a few hundred dollars saved, the result of good holiday sales and a lot of scrimping. If she kept scrimping, and the Solstice Show was halfway decent, she might find herself with a vehicle again. “Yes!” she said, hoping she was right, “but not until the end of June at the earliest.”
Her father made one of those noncommittal noises that pretty much summed up their relationship. They loved each other, and Jen had learned a lot about thrift and hard work in the face of adversity from his life as a dairy farmer. But he didn’t get her. “That’s right. You got one of them silly shows coming up. Let me know as soon as you can. If the sales don’t come through and you can’t get the money together, I’ll take the trade-in. No point in holding on to the damn thing until it rusts to nothing.”
She sighed inwardly but out loud said, “Don’t worry. I’ll do it. This apartment’s a great deal, and fixing the window is barter. Now, about the window?”
And that got her father back onto a more comfortable topic.
As she followed his directions until the window was where it belonged again, she was also plotting how to save for the truck. She loved riding her bike, but she wasn’t going through another Ithaca winter completely dependent on it if she could help it.
That pleasant prospect and the work on the window kept her from thinking too much about Drake. Even the next day, when she didn’t see him at all, she was too absorbed in refoiling and resoldering the window and replacing the two broken bits with the closest color match she could find to think too much about him.
When she came back to rehang the window on the third day, the day she knew he’d be busy at his grad student’s thesis defense, she found an envelope tucked under the window’s frame, addressed to her. Opening it with shaking hands, she found a handwritten note from Drake. His penmanship was both neat and bold, very masculine—it suited him. “
Thank you for your hard work. It looks beautiful. And who knew there was another window to keep out drafts? Not me, and apparently not my great-aunts. I almost got you flowers, but then you’d have to get them home on your bike. And I don’t know what you like.
” Attached to the note was a gift certificate to a local florist.
Jen’s first reaction was to give it back. He was already paying her by not insisting on a security deposit and giving a huge discount on the rent.
But then he’d probably turn around and use it to get her flowers once she moved in. What else was he going to do with it? Drake didn’t seem like the kind of guy who bought himself flowers, and he didn’t have a girlfriend. At least she hoped he didn’t. Given the way they kept spontaneously making out, that would be awkward.
He had “playmates”, according to Avi. Nothing wrong with a few good playmates. That was a perfect way to describe her last few relationships—more than hookups, less than committed. And you didn’t expect flowers from playmates.
Conscience satisfied, she let herself squee and hug the gift certificate to herself. Buying flowers wasn’t in her budget, and after a long Ithaca winter, a nice bouquet was just what the doctor ordered.
And Drake, after all, was a doctor.
Jen and her belongings arrived at seven a.m. on move-in day. Drake, a morning person himself, liked her eagerness to get started. He thought he was prepared, with work gloves handy in case he or someone else needed them, and a pot of coffee for Jen and her helpers.
What he wasn’t prepared for was the way his cock sprang to life as soon as he saw her coming up the walk, toting an enormous trash bag full of something soft and squishy. She was dressed in worn jeans and a blue-green sweatshirt, both several sizes too big for her slender frame, and bright red high-top sneakers. Her wild hair was pulled back into a ponytail that still managed to look disorganized.
Drake conceded she might look even better in some slinky red-carpet-type gown, but he’d need empirical proof, seeing how good she looked in ratty moving clothes.
Jen had arrived in an overstuffed Subaru Outback, driven by her very pregnant former housemate, her bike on the roof rack. A van adorned with the name and logo of the Lonesome Polecat Orchestra, a local folk-rock band, pulled in behind the Subaru. Three guys poured out of that van. One grabbed a random box while the other two started lugging a box spring up the stairs. “Put it in the turret!” she called out after them.
Odd decision, since the closet was in the other room and he’d already said the turret was poorly insulated, but it was none of his business. And it was kind of an amazing room. Not to mention less drafty since she’d done her good work on the window.
Drake grabbed the mattress that went with that box spring—only a twin, manageable for someone his height—and started wrestling it upstairs.
The van was unloaded in half an hour. “Is that it?” Drake asked, looking at the meager accumulation of belongings clustered in the apartment. A bed, a couple of folding tables, an armchair upholstered in bottle-green velvet and a desk chair covered in the same lush velvet, which was definitely not original unless, while he wasn’t looking, they’d started making faux Victorian desk chairs; a few boxes of books and what he thought were audiobooks; some brightly colored clothes on hangers and peeping out of rapidly stuffed garbage bags; a bright blue laptop that qualified as vintage and was heavy enough that he thought it could double as a kettlebell for someone Jen’s size; and a few boxes labeled “kitchen”.
And coming up the stairs in Jen’s arms, an enormous petunia with soft pinky-orange flowers. Coral, he thought, was what a woman would call the color. Jen might have an even more specific name for it, being an artist. “Thank you!” she exclaimed. “I got it with your gift card.”
“You’re welcome.” He followed her into the kitchen, where she hung the plant on a hook that was already in the ceiling near the south-facing window. It must date from Marian and Judith’s day, but he’d never noticed before. The plant looked surprisingly good with the weird color scheme in the kitchen. He wouldn’t have imagined it would work. He wouldn’t have imagined
would work with chocolate-brown-with-aqua accents, but the plant did. Jen had a good eye. “Is there more stuff coming?”
Jen shrugged. “My art’s in Melinda’s car. I wanted to wait for the furniture and big stuff to get in before I dealt with the fragile stuff.”
“Do you need a hand?”
She shook her head. “I’ll take care of it. If anything gets damaged, I don’t want to have to be mad at someone else. Do you mind if I bring a few things up through your space like we did with the bed? The stairs are wider, and I don’t want to risk banging into the walls.”
Drake nodded. “Got it. I don’t like anyone messing with my computer.” Then he stood back while a surprising number of carefully wrapped objects of different shapes and sizes made their way upstairs.
Part of him was bemused that she had so much obviously precious artwork when she had so few other possessions and most of them were secondhand and shabby. The other part of him… Well, he wouldn’t say he got it, but he got that she was investing in what mattered to her and not worrying about the rest. Some of his friends thought it was weird he’d set up his living room as a dojo (and bondage dungeon, but the vast majority of his friends didn’t know about that) instead of putting a huge TV on one of the walls and making it into a place to chill. Truth was, chilling wasn’t his style, and the rare times he wanted to watch a movie, streaming it on the iPad worked fine.
Yeah, he and Jen were way different in the details, but he was seeing more and more underlying similarities. The question was, did the similarities extend to her being able to appreciate the bondage rigging points built into his living room? Now that was a question that merited more investigation.
Maybe he should head upstairs and check on his new tenant, ask if she wanted coffee or something. Just the neighborly thing to do.
“Do you need a hand with anything? More coffee maybe? Or should I leave you alone to unpack?” Drake stood in the doorway, and Jen couldn’t tell if he wanted her to ask him to stay or dismiss him. He was wearing his serious, professorial face, but there was something in his eyes, something in the way he watched her, something in the way he leaned on the doorframe, lazy as a cat, but like a cat sometimes was, active in his laziness, that suggested his thoughts might be more serious than fun. Naughty, even.
“I can think of a few things I could use a hand with.” She stifled laughter. She honestly hadn’t meant it to sound suggestive, but it came out that way.
“I imagine.” Drake came closer and suddenly the room seemed very warm. Or maybe that was just her panties. “What can I do for you?” The words could just refer to all the million things involved with getting settled in a new place, and on one level, probably did.
But Drake felt that tension too. She could hear it in his voice, see it in the way he carried himself. He was studying her like she was prey, or maybe an opponent in some kind of contest, trying to figure out his next move. Funny thing was, he probably thought he was being subtle, but he was obviously trying to decide whether he should jump in where they’d left off or pretend it had never happened and start their acquaintance fresh.
Still, he wasn’t as awkward as a lot of guys might be. He wasn’t slobbering like a puppy who thought she had a treat in her pocket, but wasn’t ignoring her either. More like he was waiting for a clear signal.
What the hell. She decided to give him one, an opening he could take in several ways. Otherwise, she’d never get anything done, and that would be bad, right?
She’d never been the type to wait demurely for a guy to make up his mind. That was like waiting for everything to fall into place so you could quit your horrible nine-to-five job and commit to art—a great way to be old and gray and still waiting. You had to
things fall into place, whether you were talking about work or relationships. Create opportunities. The worst that would happen in either case was you’d fall on your face. And then you got up, brushed yourself off and tried something different.
She stood up from the floor, where she’d been sorting through a box. “How about welcoming me to the house properly,” she said, her voice slipping to a sultry whisper almost despite herself, and held out her hand.
Drake took her hand, shook it in a friendly but businesslike way. “Glad to have you here.” God, his hands were big.
He stepped closer, not letting go of her hand, close enough she could feel the heat of his body. A shudder ran through her, made up of equal parts desire and confusion. She felt paralyzed. Jen’s normal impulse would be to kiss this man, who seemed like he wanted desperately to kiss her but was holding back. At least pull him into a hug, make it clear she was interested. Yet she couldn’t move, trapped by his serious gray eyes, the heat of his touch, the set of his mouth under that tidy beard.
“You confound me,” he said, his voice harsh, dark. “Jen, Jen, Jen, what am I going to do with you?”
“I have a few ideas.”
“So do I. Problem is, while we’d both enjoy these ideas, I’m not sure they’re smart.” Jen froze, unable even to breathe. At least they were on the same page about wanting each other. She wanted to ask him if he truly cared if it was a bad idea, to make it clear she was all about the good-bad ideas, say she even had a clue what those ideas might entail, but she couldn’t speak.