Chapter One; Beginnings
It's very easy to lose yourself in something else. Sometimes it's a hobby, sometimes it's a book, and sometimes it's someone else.
It only took me three minutes to get lost in Louis Matthews.
"Hey, there," I greeted him willingly as I exited the apartment building and noticed him looking for his keys. "Here, just go on in," I offered, holding the door open for him.
Without looking at me for more than two seconds, he walked inside. "Thanks, you're a real hero. I'm new here, you see."
"No problem," I assured him, allowing my eyes to roam shamelessly over his body. "My name's Annie," I introduced myself, as he paused to glance at the newspaper in his hands.
"Louis Matthews," he said distractedly, not looking up at me again as he turned to continue into the building. I watched him go, slight dismay at being ignored filling me slightly. As I released the door and turned to leave, I heard him call after me. "Hey, Hero!"
I scrambled slightly to catch the door before it shut and looked up at him eagerly, half-expecting to be asked for a phone number. Internally, I began rehearsing my spiel: Why, this is unexpected. Uh, sure—do you have a pen and paper? No? Well, I've got some lipstick, here—I'll just scribble it down on this napkin—
"Do you know the way to Court Street? I have a date tonight, and I'm not quite sure how to get there." He didn't even look at me as he asked, just continued reading his paper.
Half-heartedly, I mumbled, "Yeah, two streets over, that way." I pointed, and he glanced up momentarily.
"Thanks, Hero. Real life-saver," he mumbled, resuming his pace up the stairs.
I let go of the door and watched it swing shut before turning and heading down the steps towards the street, where I successfully hailed a cab for myself and directed the driver toward Cherryblossom blvd.
He had a date; well of course he did. He was a gorgeous man; why wouldn't he have a date on a Friday night? With a self-pitying sigh, I snapped my purse open and pulled out my phone. I opened it and speed-dialed number four—Maya. "I'll be there in two seconds," she said persistently the second she answered her phone.
"No, Maya, I'm not there yet, either," I said impatiently, glaring out the window at the sunny September afternoon. "I was just calling to tell you that I was going to be late."
She giggled on the other end. "What a pair we are, huh?" She sighed and stifled her laughter. "How far are you?"
"I'll be there in two minutes," I said, hoping my estimate was correct. Maya was usually the punctual twin; I couldn't imagine what had caused her to be late for our dinner. "I'll see you there."
"Okay. Love you, Annie."
"You too; bye-bye." I shut my phone and replaced it in my bag, snapping the clasp closed and asking the taxi driver, "How far do you think we are?"
"Two minutes," he grumbled, signaling a left turn. I smiled. Great.
Maya was waiting outside the restaurant for me, dressed in a white-and-yellow sundress and short pumps. Her hair was done up in neat, brown curls, and her make-up was absolutely flawless. I resisted the urge to vomit, and handed the cab driver the requested twenty dollars, along with a five dollar tip. "Thank you," I said, before closing the door and turning to meet my sister. "Hey, you," I greeted her, closing the distance between us and sharing a hug with her. When we pulled apart, I observed her chocolate eyes dancing hesitantly over my own outfit; patched, loose jeans and a tight v-neck t-shirt. Her expression pained briefly as she took in the purple ends of my hair, but she smoothed it out before I could complain to her.
"C'mon, then," she said, taking my hand and leading me into the building.
They seated us at our reserved table—the one we always ate dinner at on every other Friday at five-thirty. Our small booth by the window fit the two of us nicely, along with any company we might have invited to tag along with us. The hostess handed us our menus and left us with a healthy smile. "So," I said anxiously, sliding into my seat and watching her do the same, "what's up?"
She opened her menu under the pretense of looking at the selections, but I knew she was just stalling; Maya always ordered the same thing every time we came to Blossom's Dining Room: a Caesar salad with light dressing and no chicken, a stuffed Danish squash, and non-fat peach yogurt for dessert. She obviously was nervous about telling me something, but I didn't push her. If there was one thing I knew about Maya, it was that she would not be pushed by any means. "Nothing, really," she said offhandedly, flipping to page three of the menu. "How about you?"
Curious about the day's specials, I flipped the menu over to the back, glancing down the list. "Ooh, the Chicken Alexander looks good," I muttered, reading the dish description more carefully. "Nothing too new with me…There's a cute new guy that just moved into my building," I offered, for conversation's sake. "His name's Louis Matthews."
"Hmm," she muttered, closing the menu and glancing up at me. "Did you talk to him?"
I blushed, remembering my brief encounter with the new tenant. "Well, yeah. I gave him directions to Court Street." I shrugged, glancing up as a waiter approached our table. "He came off kind of rude," I admitted, "but I'm sure he was just in a hurry."
She tsk'd and shook her head. "You're always too optimistic," she chided, smiling charmingly as the waiter reached us. "I'll just have an ice water with a lemon in it," she told him. He nodded silently and scribbled her order down.
"And you, miss?" he inquired of me, an easy, friendly grin splayed across his face. I blushed; he was even cuter than Louis; dark, messy hair and beautiful, tan skin.
"A glass of Chardonnay, if that's alright," I said, pulling my ID out of my purse. I showed it to him, and he nodded briefly, heading toward the kitchen.
Maya sighed wistfully and smirked at me. "Now that was a cute new guy." She leaned forward across the table toward me and whispered, "Have you ever seen him here before?" When I shook my head, she leaned back in her seat. "Me either. How long do you think he's been here?"
I smiled as he reappeared through the kitchen doors and headed toward us again, two glasses in hand. "Well, why don't we ask him?"
When he stopped in front of the table and placed my wine down, I inquired, "How long have you been here?"
Another easy smile brightened his face as he set down Maya's water. "About a week."
"Huh," Maya muttered, still gazing up at him. "We were just wondering."
"Alright," he said, a graceful, embarrassed flush painting his cheeks. "Can I take your orders? Or do you have more questions?" he asked playfully.
I giggled, and shook my head. "No, no, that's okay. I'm going to skip an appetizer, but I'll have a plate of the Chicken Alexander with a side of broccoli, please. And we'll see about dessert later."
"Okay," he said, looking at my sister. She placed her usual order, and the waiter hurried back to the kitchen again.
"Now," I said, anticipating the long wait for our meal, "tell me what you have to tell me."
She bit her lip, guiltily staring at me. "Is it that obvious?" She sighed at my nod, and said, "Okay, here goes." Another sigh, and she told me, "I'm pregnant."
There was a whole minute before I reacted. "What?" I jumped up and switched to her bench so I could wrap my arms around her. "Seriously?"
"Mmhmm," she said into my shoulder, refusing to end the embrace. "Two weeks, now," she said with a sad laugh. I pulled back and realized she was crying.
"Why are you upset?" I demanded. "This is a beautiful thing. I'm going to be an aunt."
She shook her head, and replied, "When I told him, Jason left." She stifled a sob, and wiped her face.
"Oh, no," I said, horrified. How could Jason do this? He was always such a great guy; why would he do this? "Oh, honey, that's alright." I pat her tenderly on the back. "You'll be just fine; I'm here."
She nodded, sniffled, and wiped her tears again. "I know, that's why I had to tell you right away." She sighed and looked up at me flatly. "Just promise that you'll help me with this baby."
"Of course," I said, watching my sister pull herself together. "Absolutely, Maya. Don't even worry about that. I'll always be here."
She smiled wetly and admitted, "That helps."