by Adjory Thomas
Chapter 1: Wet
It was raining when Caleb met the woman, soaked to the bone with the scent of tobacco smoke and booze surrounding her as she sat on the steps of the apartment complex. She shot a cold stare at him from underneath her hood as she took a long drag of her cigarette. Caleb found it unnerving, and yet he held his hand out to her as the heavy droplets beat against his umbrella. The dark haired, green eyed beauty seemed to pause, her eyes shifting down and back up as if contemplating it, before reaching out to take his hand. The clean-cut young man, clad in a business suit, grunted as he pulled her up, noting that her clothes were so drenched that they were weighing her down a bit. He almost cracked a joke, but thought better of it, his lips curling into a crooked grin as he restrained a laugh.
The expression on his face certainly didn't escape the woman as she arched an eyebrow and brushed away her matted hair from her visage, stepping underneath the large umbrella. "What's so funny?" She asked with a hard, loud inward snort, letting out an involuntary shiver as she snuffed out her cig on the brick wall of the building.
"Oh, nothing" Caleb lied, quickly wiping the smile off his face. A rush of cars passed by as he walked up the stairs, the woman sticking close as she followed. "Why were you sitting out in the rain?" he asked, "If you don't mind me asking, that is."
"I was trying to get out of the rain inside the building for a bit, but the cranky old bastard that owns the place kicked me out" she replied, a scowl appearing on her face. She unceremoniously flicked her dead cigarette into the streets, a van passing over it moments later.
"Ah, that's just Irwin," Caleb mumbled, his expression souring as he ran a hand through his dripping, parted hair. He flung the moisture off with a few shakes of his hand. "He owns the place. Yeah, he's a real hard ass, but the rent here is dirt cheap so everyone here puts up with it." Taking in just how wet her clothing was, Caleb motioned toward the door. "Want to come in?" He wasn't going to press the issue of why she was out on the streets, but he wasn't about to leave her out here after seeing her like this, either. The thin hooded sweatshirt she wore couldn't possibly be enough to keep her warm, especially with how wet it was. The weather was said to reach a record low tonight with heavy rain, and as if on cue, the weather took a turn for the worst. The rain suddenly burst into a torrent, giant droplets assaulting the umbrella. The winds picked up and almost threatened to twist it inside out. Closing the umbrella with some difficulty, Caleb hurriedly opened the door, bursting into the lobby and almost slipping across the linoleum floor.
Smiling in spite of herself, the previously grim faced woman grabbed the man before he could take a spill, hanging onto the doorknob to keep her balance as she pushed the door closed. Sighing, she shrugged, heavy clothes dripping onto the floor as she finally answered. "Hell, why not? Anything's better than outside."
"Who's out there!?" a voice rang out through the lobby, an older man in his late 60's shuffling in with a grimace on his face as he stared at the woman. He had a thinning gray hair in a flattop underneath a beat-up old fedora and was dressed in a blue and white striped polo, jeans, white sneakers, and a dark leather raincoat. "Oh, it's you again" he muttered, sneering as he gave her a shooing motion. "Didn't I tell you to get out? I've no need of freeloaders!"
"Relax, Mr. Conners, she's with me" Caleb chimed in, stepping forward. Thinking on the spot, he continued. "She just wanted to get out of the rain while she waited for me to get home."
"Well why didn't she just say so in the first place!?" he growled out in a deep, gravelly voice, his face scrunching up as he eyed the two while walking past. "I'm heading out to do some shopping. No funny business while I'm gone." Opening up the door, the landlord grabbed his umbrella and shut the door with a heavy slam.
"What the hell is his problem?" the stranger asked, her visible breath billowing through the air like clouds of smoke as they stood in the freezing cold lobby.
"Eh, don't mind him," Caleb replied as he ascended the staircase. "He's always an ass to everyone. It's like his daily sustenance." The woman soon followed, their steps creaking with each stride up the stairs. Soon they reached the man's apartment, and he fished around in his pocket for his keys. "Forgive the mess; I haven't had a chance to clean this week." As he opened the door and the two entered, the stranger was surprised to see how... neat the place was. A blue sofa and coffee table sat in the middle of the one bedroom, one bathroom apartment, a medium sized LCD TV with built in DVD player on top of a small entertainment center sitting in front of it. DVDs were lined up to the left in alphabetical order on a shelf, and a video game console rested below. Near the window sat a bowl with a pair of goldfish. A few unmatched socks hanging over the sofa, video game cases lying on the floor, and a couple unwashed dishes constituted the 'mess'.
"Cleaner than the last place" the woman said absentmindedly.
"What was that?" Caleb asked, as he walked over to feed the fish.
"Oh, it was nothing" she replied, with a bit less assurance than she would have preferred as she rubbed her numb hands to try and warm them. The red digits ached as they thawed in the gradually warming room.
Either way, Caleb didn't notice. After feeding his pets, he picked up the briefcase he had set aside and went into his room, telling the woman to make herself at home. When he returned, he was minus his suit jacket, still dressed in a pair of gray slacks, white dress shirt, red tie, and black shoes and socks. "Feel free to get out of those wet clothes and take a shower if you'd like" he told the stranger as he walked to the phone and began dialing a number. "You're free to use any clothes you can find that fit. The bathroom is the one to the right of my bedroom and the towels are in the closet right in between them. I'll just order a pizza for the both of us if that's alright with you."
"Sure, whatever" she replied rather half-heartedly, stripping her clothes off as she walked to the closet and leaving them in a trail. Grabbing two towels and a washcloth, she entered the bathroom and closed the door, locking it. After about 15 minutes or so, she emerged from a large rush of steam, drying off her hair while the other towel was wrapped tightly about her body. She found a now shoe-less Caleb sitting on the sofa, watching a game show of some sort on television. "I'm thirsty, you got anything to drink?"
"Oh sure," Caleb replied, "Feel free to check the fridge. Oh, right..." Taking his attention away from the TV, he stood up and held out his hand once more. "...my name is Caleb Clough. Yours?"
"We don't need names" she shot coldly, turning away and making her way to the kitchen. As she opened the fridge, she searched around for a bit before shutting it with a sigh. "You're out of beer" she complained, padding back into the living room.
"I don't drink" he retorted in annoyance, understandbly peeved after being snubbed by his rather ungrateful new house guest. He was sitting back on the sofa, eyes at the ceiling and hands behind his head as he wondered what he had gotten himself into.
"You're joking, right? Never mind, I guess I'll have to make do..."
"Make do? What do you mean?" Caleb almost leapt out of his seat as he felt for a pair of hands on his belt. Looking down, he found the stranger struggling with his buckle. In an instant, his hands shot down to stop her, more than a little shocked by this development. "Christ, what the hell are you doing!?"
Knelt down on her knees before her host, the woman shot an almost tearful stare up at him as she yanked her wrists away from his grasp. "What do you think? I'm earning my keep."
"Where'd you get that load of crap?" he asked, utterly perplexed by her sudden behavior.
Her face turned red as she looked away, mumbling under her breath. "The last guy I tried to stay with told me to show him some 'appreciation'..."
Swallowing hard, Caleb reluctantly pried further. "Did... did you--?"
"No!" she quickly shouted as her head snapped forward to face him, cutting him off and ending any such speculation. "God, no. I socked him right in the face and left that asshole on the ground where he belongs."
Calming, the man nodded understandingly and patted the cushion next to him. As the woman stood up and sat down, he continued. "And yet, even after all that, you still accepted my invitation. Why?"
"Cuz it was damn cold" she said with a small smile. Her expression soon became somber, however. "All right, if you don't want into my pants... Why? Why are you being so nice to me? We don't even know each other."
"Why do you have to get something to give something? It's like you said, it's cold out there."
"You're right. Sorry about all that." Heaving with a sigh, the stranger rose up from the sofa and walked to the bedroom. "I'm going to get dressed, is that okay?"
"Of course. Nothing's changed. Feel free to help yourself to whatever's comfortable." Thinking for a moment, he continued. "Ah, by the way, your wet clothes are in the wash right now. The machine is downstairs to the left of the main lobby."
As she entered the bedroom, the woman knelt down in front of the drawers and began searching for something to wear. She came out with a large plain white t-shirt and a pair of blue and white plaid boxers. She also saw something else, something very amusing. Reaching further into the drawers, she wrenched out a pair of light pastel blue pajama pants with yellow ducks on them. The stranger let out a short laugh, slowly standing up before falling back onto the cushions and raising her legs to put the pants on. "I'm sure he won't mind" she murmured to herself, hearing the doorbell ring. It was quickly followed by the voice of Caleb and a female's voice, presumably a pizza delivery woman. It was a comfortable bed, she noted, sitting up and letting the waistband of the pajama pants snap against her. Not as comfortable as hers, though. Standing back on her feet, she walked back into the living room. The pizza delivery woman was gone and there was a large pizza box laid out. "These pants are cute," she teased, twirling in a circle as she made her way back to the sofa, "Why keep them hidden away?"
"They were... a gift" Caleb replied uneasily, lifting the box lid to reveal a steaming hot pizza. The scent rose from the box and wafted through the room, the hungry pair feeling their mouths drool. "I forgot to ask you what you liked before you hopped into the shower, is pepperoni all right?" He still couldn't believe his situation. He still wasn't quite sure what he was thinking when he held his hand out to her, and her aloof attitude was beginning to get to him. He couldn't say he could blame her, though. He couldn't even imagine what she had been through.
"It's fine," she assured him, grabbing a slice and placing it on one of the paper plates that were set out.
The meal was fairly uneventful, the two watching television together on the couch. Any attempts by Caleb to start up a conversation were quickly dodged. After a while he gave up. He figured that since they most likely wouldn't see each other again after today, it would be a waste to try and get her to open up.
After several mind numbing hours of television, Caleb glanced at the clock and gasped. It was already almost 11 PM. "Geez, I have to get to bed, soon!" He slowly stood up with a stretch of his back and arms, grunting. "Nngh... Do you want the bed or the couch?"
"Either is fine with me" the woman said with a faint smile. "You need a better night's sleep than I do. Go ahead and take the bed." As if already claiming it, she swung her legs up and over to stretch her body along the sofa.
"I'll be fine. Good night."
"Okay, if you say so. There's a couple extra pillows and blankets in the same closet as the towels." As he entered his bedroom, Caleb let out an exhausted huff as he sat down on his bed. Loosening his tie, he began to undress, walking to the bathroom to wash up a bit after taking off both his dress shirt and under shirt. After taking a quick shower of his own, he returned to the bedroom and shut the door. His night wear for the evening consisted of a mere white athletic shirt and a black pair of boxers. He had almost opted for a pair of pajama pants due to being in the presence of a lady, but he didn't expect to see her again after tonight. Opening up the sheets, he hopped underneath and reached for the lamp to turn it off. With a sigh, the man began settling in. Less than ten minutes later, he was jarred from a light sleep by a knock on the door. Yawning, he groaned in annoyance. "Come in..."
The woman entered with a grimace on her face, dragging her pillow behind her. "The couch is too lumpy" she whined.
"I warned you" Caleb said with a short laugh. "Want the bed?" he asked, sitting up before turning the lamp back on. Wincing from the light, he caught the woman's nod and began to get out from under the sheets.
"Where are you going?" she asked as she closed the door, walking towards the bed and making a trip around to hop in on the other side. "It's like you said, you're not expecting anything out of me, right? I trust you." She slid underneath the sheets, bundling up. "It's Lena, by the way" she finally said, her back to the man.
Turning to face him, Lena gave Caleb a big grin. "My name is Lena. And Caleb?"
"Yeah?" The man's eyes widened as she leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek, his face turning red as a beet.
"Thanks. For everything."
"N-no problem" he stuttered out, quickly turning away to hide his blush and turn the light off as the woman giggled. The two settled down for the night, bundling up underneath the covers and nodding off.
When he awoke the next morning, Caleb was alone. His only company was the blaring alarm clock. After hitting the snooze button, he sat up with a lazy grumble. He had certainly expected this, so he couldn't fathom why he was feeling so disappointed. There was no time to dwell on it, though, it was time to get up for work. Making his bed, he searched his closet for his suit, tie, and a fresh dress shirt. Laying his clothes out on the bed, he then went into the bathroom to get ready. After a shave and a shower, followed by a couple minutes of preparing his hair, he was set to head out. He'd have to grab something real quick on the way to the office. As per his normal morning routine, he caught the subway downtown. After a quick stop by a café to grab a donut and a cup of coffee, he then entered the nearby skyscraper to start another day of work.
Caleb let out a shiver as he entered the building, the heater warming his freezing body. Greeting people as he crossed the floor, he entered the open and already crowded elevator, pushing through and profusely apologizing as he reached for the button for his floor. No one spoke as the elevator traveled higher and higher up the building, the load lightening every couple of floors as people departed in small clusters until Caleb was alone. The elevator continued its trip until it was near the top of the building. When it finally came to a stop, he picked up his briefcase and stepped out.
"Clough!" His employer, Greg Chaplin, shouted as he step out of the elevator. "You're late!" He was an older man with dark, thinning hair that had been combed over and a pair of glasses resting on his nose. Dressed in a black suit, gray vest and dark blue tie, he walked over to his assistant. "Mr. Bella is in a meeting! You should have been here at least ten minutes earlier!"
"Right. I forgot." This was going to be a long day…
Caleb came into the meeting late, disrupting the presentation and gaining him leers from everyone else in the room. As he sat down nervously, pen and pad in hand, he began to jot down the main points for Mr. Bella to read later. The rest of the day went fairly smoothly, save for getting chewed out by both Mr. Chaplin and Mr. Bella for day dreaming. He was quite distracted today, and only he knew why…
If he could, Caleb would gladly give up his job to someone else. He was the assistant of Chaplin, who in turn was Bella's assistant. To make matters worse, Rico Bella was a friend of his father. This meant that he not only was treated as a lower being on the food chain by his employers, but a few of his co-workers despised him because they only felt he got the job because of nepotism, which very well may be true. At the fresh young age of 25, he was hardly as qualified for the job as his older and more educated work peers.
As if none of that was bad enough, he found the job itself painfully and mind numbingly dull. Every day was the same: He'd sit in on a morning meeting, taking notes that he spent most of the early day organizing into a report for his bosses to reference. He also proof-read the paperwork of those working under him. In addition, he was expected to pick up the slack when his employer's were sick or off on vacation. In the late afternoon, he attended another meeting, taking more notes and had to have another report ready by the morning. To add insult to injury, it was also apparently in his job description to get coffee for Mr. Chaplin and Mr. Bella each morning. His official title was 'Executive Assistant', but he felt more like an overworked and glorified errand boy. Fortunately, like all work days, it eventually came to an end... Until the next morning, that is.
"God, I'm so sick and tired of this…" the man mumbled miserably on the subway home. By this point, he had completely dropped the idea of ever seeing Lena again. It had been a one-time meeting and that was that. She needed a place to stay for the night and he had given her one. It was time to move on. After a couple minutes the train came to a stop, and he continued his trek home by foot, just as he did every day. Eventually he reached the apartment complex, coming to a complete stop as his jaw dropped at an unexpected sight. Sitting on the doorstep was a familiar face, dressed in ratty sneakers, baggy jeans, and a thin red hooded sweatshirt.
Lena gave the man a bright smile as she waved briefly. "Yo! Cal! Buy me a drink?"
Caleb gave a crooked smile at the woman's familiarity, but he couldn't help but let out a laugh. He didn't know why, but he was just glad to see her again. Shaking his head in exasperation but in good nature nonetheless, he extended his hand to her the same way he did the previous evening, pulling her up to her feet. "Sure, whatever."
End of Part 1