Slip of the Tongue(2)

By: Jessica Hawkins



“Shit,” he states.

Because I’m paying attention to him and not where I’m going, it takes me a moment to understand. Literally—shit. I hop sideways just in time, narrowly avoiding a pile of dog poop. “Ugh.”

He grins. “Mondays.”

“Lazy assholes is more like it.”

“Spoken like a true city girl.” He smiles bigger. “Have you lived in the building long?”

“Four years yesterday.” We stop so Ginger can pee on her usual tree. “But I went to NYU. I’ve lived on the east side for over ten years.”

“So you hate it here.”

I laugh, and God, does it feel good. My dry cheeks crack like they’re made of concrete and I’ve hit them with a hammer. We continue walking, Ginger looking back at us every few seconds, as if we might disappear on her. My mood has lifted. Sometimes, in this city, talking to strangers is a burden. They want something—directions, money, time. I’m glad I stopped for my new neighbor, though. He’s chasing off the dark clouds that’ve been hanging around lately.

But then, he stops abruptly and groans. I get the sudden, intense feeling this walk is over. “I left my wallet in the apartment. Think they’ll let me open a tab?”

“Not a chance.” We’re a few feet from the crosswalk, and I nod across the street. “There’s the diner.”

“Okay.” He wipes his nose on his sleeve. Mine is also running a little despite the fact that the walk has warmed me up. I don’t believe he isn’t the slightest bit cold. “I better run back. I’m about to eat my hand.”

I don’t have to think twice. He’s helped me out just by making me feel better, and I want to return the favor. “I’ll spot you,” I say, digging in my pocket for cash. I keep forty bucks in my coat in case of dog-walking emergencies. Since I can hear his stomach grumbling from here, I give him both twenties. “Get the hash browns. Trust me.”

He takes the money. “You’re an angel. I’ll pay you back.”

“No problem.” I nod at Ginger, who pants, giving us her signature Golden-Retriever smile. “Consider it a thanks for your services.”

“For a ten-minute walk? Expensive pooch.” He hands me back the leash, then adds, “Unless you want to join me? My treat,” he teases.

I’m surprised by his invitation but even more so that I’m disappointed to turn it down. Hash browns and good company sound like a great way to spend the morning. “I should get to work,” I say with some reluctance. “Not everyone can make rent walking dogs.”

“Good point.” He grins. The walk signal begins to count down. Last chance to change my mind and play hooky from work. He holds up the money. “Thanks again.”

He jogs across the street toward the restaurant. I wonder what his name is. And why he isn’t also on his way to work on a Monday morning.

Except for him, the view from this corner is familiar. I’ve stood here more times than I can count. Ginger pulls on her leash. She knows this is where we turn back for the apartment. The sun is still out, but clouds edge the city. Alone again, any humor in my morning dissipates. My mood creeps back down to where it was earlier—where it’s been for months.





TWO


After work, I shower longer than necessary. Some days, working PR in New York City leaves a layer of grime on my skin. And the hot water just feels good. I could stand here all night. I don’t really have anything else to do. It’s already been dark an hour, and the apartment is cold. Eventually, I reach one arm beyond the shower curtain and take a handful of terrycloth. Getting out is like pulling off a Band-Aid, same as always this time of year. In studied form, I turn off the faucet and have a towel around myself the next second.

I’m at the bathroom counter, getting out my blow dryer when Ginger barks. She doesn’t stop, so I head to the door, tying the sash of my worth-every-penny cashmere robe. It takes me a moment to figure out I’m looking at my new neighbor through the peephole. The hallway seems to shine a spotlight right on him.

“Is this a bad time?” he asks when I open the door.

I’m not much warmer, and my hair is wet. My nipples whisper against the inside of my robe like a secret. “For what?”

“So, apparently you have curly hair,” he says, ignoring my question, letting his eyes wander over me. “It’s like I don’t even know you.”

I hesitate, and then let my smile happen. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve his teasing, but I think I like it. “I wear it straight most of the time.”

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