Hmmmm. Breathe. In, out. So soft. So warm. So sleepy. So nice. Fuzzy sheets FTW. Drifting back--
"--corner of Sherbrooke and Parc. Police have closed the intersection briefly. Meanwhile, traffic on the 40 eastbound is experiencing slowdowns throughout the West Island--"
Nia shot her alarm clock radio a dirty look as she swung her legs down from the bed. As soon as her toes touched the chilly hardwood, she meeped and scurried over to the corner of the room, where she'd tossed her slippers the previous night. Goddamn hardwood. Why hadn't she invested in an area rug, or ten?
Slippers in place, Nia ventured out of her bedroom--only to slink right back in to grab her housecoat. It was fricking freezing out of bed. Stupid alarm clock radio. Stupid getting out of bed. Stupid having to go to work. Stupid winter. Stupid everything.
Nia stuck her bread into the toaster, scooped the grounds into the coffeemaker, and, figuring she probably shouldn't go another day without washing her hair, jumped into the shower.
"You, hair, are useless," she muttered. "I should cut you all off. It would save me half an hour of blow-drying every other morning. Also, if you make me blow another fuse, Garrett is going to murder me with his axe."
Garrett was the guy who lived on the first floor of the building--Nia was on the third--and so, whenever there was a problem with a fuse or anything, he was the one who had to go down and fix it. Since Nia's hair dryer had blown three fuses in the past month, he was kind of pissed off right now. Also, he had an axe that he used to chop firewood for his awesome wood-burning stove. The wood-burning stove was probably the thing that annoyed Nia the most. More specifically--how come he had an awesome wood-burning stove in his apartment and she didn't have one in hers?
It was another of life's inequalities.
Clean, fed, and caffeinated, Nia felt much better, although still cold. She jerked the knob of the thermostat violently, hoping for a sudden increase in heat.
Nada. The radiators didn't even seem to be running.
"Screw that. Stupid old houses," Nia muttered, heading back to her bedroom to get dressed.
The clock radio was still running. "Well, folks, it's gonna be a pretty cold one today. We're looking at a high of -27 C--how's that for a high, eh?--and we're currently sitting at -34. Now that's gonna feel like -40 with the wind chill."
"Yeah, cold enough for ya? We're actually approaching the record for the coldest temperature recorded in the city. On January 15th, 1957, it went down to -37.8 degrees Celsius--and that's without the wind chill."
"And that's what you call a deep freeze. After the break, we're going to have your morning rush-hour traffic report--"
Nia switched off the radio. It was making her feel cold.
"Minus forty. Well, shit. You know what this means." She dove into the bottom drawer of her dresser, and after a few minutes of shuffling, came up victorious. "Long johns under the work pants."
By the time she was finally ready to leave, Nia was decked out in her long johns and wool pants, a thick-knit sweater over her blouse, fuzzy socks, knee-high boots, a thigh-length sheepskin coat, wool tuque, leather gloves lined in rabbit fur, and a wool/angora blend scarf.
Because sometimes you have to go outside wrapped in animal by-products, or you will quite literally freeze to death.
A blast of freeze-your-face-off cold wind hit Nia the second she opened her door. She would have shut it and gathered her strength before actually going outside, except that Garrett was out in the laneway wearing little more than a flannel jacket and jeans, and she didn't want to seem wimpy in front of him.
"Morning," she mumbled as she descended the last flight of stairs, but the greeting was muffled by her scarf.
"Well, aren't you dressed for the weather." Before she could think of a snappy retort, Garrett hefted a pile of logs into his arms and disappeared into his apartment.
Bastard. It was fucking cold!
"Correction," Nia muttered to herself as she stepped out onto the street and experienced a blast of arctic wind to the face. "It's holy-fucking-mother-of-Jesus-why-are-you-doing-this-to-me-I-am-moving-to-Vancouver-tomorrow cold."
The ten-minute walk to the bus stop had never been so long. By the time she arrived, Nia had upgraded the level of cold to moving-to-Jamaica-tomorrow cold. Also, she really, really wished that balaclavas were still in style. And snowpants.
Because it was cold, the bus was late. Nia knew that the bus would be late, but she left at her regular time anyway, just in case. Because she really did not want to miss the bus. Also, she was just a punctual person. Of course, this punctuality meant that she ended up standing in the subarctic temperatures for half an hour. By the time the bus finally arrived, she had upgraded the level of cold to moving-to-any-equatorial-third-world-country-that-will-take-me cold.
Oh, winter is such fun.
Work was warm. Work was nice and warm. Work was even warmer than her apartment, due to the fact that her apartment was on the top floor of an old building, and thus poorly insulated.
It was with regret that Nia parted from work at the end of the day. Outside, the temperature seemed to have dropped from what it had been that morning, if that was even possible. All that kept Nia going as she trundled back from the bus stop was the thought of her apartment, and the giant blanket that was lying on her sofa, and the possibility of making a huge fricking cup of cinnamon tea.
She was already imagining the taste of the cinnamon tea on her tongue as she planted her boot firmly on the first step up to her apartment. Maybe she would make some soup, too, if she wasn't sufficiently warm after the tea. Did she even have soup in her pantry?
Holy crokinole-y. Nia grabbed at the railing for dear life and glared at Garrett, who had stuck his head out of his door to call out to her.
"What? Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"
But Garrett ignored her question, instead saying, "Christ, Nia, walk heavy enough? We could hear you from inside. And why are you hanging on the railing so tightly?"
Nia felt her eyes narrow further. "It's slippery!" she exclaimed defensively. "Also, you scared me. What do you want?"
Shaking his head slightly, Garrett leaned further out his door. "Could you come in, please? It's really cold outside."
Oh, so now he admitted it was cold.
"I'm not going in your apartment with you, are you crazy?" Nia shook her head impatiently and took another step upwards. "For all I know you might tie me up and chop off my head with your axe and steal the contents of my purse. I'm never going to go into your apartment."
"Well, you probably should, since it's the only one that's currently heated," Garrett called up after her.
This gave Nia pause. "What?" She whirled around, but Garrett had already gone inside and closed the door.
Figured. Stupid-ass man.
Treading carefully, but not heavily, Nia descended the stairs again and banged on Garrett's door. "Dammit, open up. What do you mean, it's the only one that's currently heated, you stupid--stupid--"
Her insults trailed off as the door opened and she ran smack-dab into Mrs. Morgan, the sweet little old lady who lived on the second floor.
"Nia," she beamed. "It's wonderful to see you."
Reaching out to the door jamb to steady herself, Nia managed a smile. "Hi, Mrs. Morgan. Do you have any idea what's going on?"
As Mrs. Morgan ushered her inside and closed the door, Nia felt the warmth of the room begin to wash over her. Garrett was leaning over the wood stove, stoking the fire until the flames leaped. He was, Nia noted disapprovingly, wearing a flannel shirt. Did he own anything that wasn't flannel? Other than his jeans, which she had to admit were well-cut and worn out in some interesting places?
"What's going on?" she asked again as he straightened, partially to take her mind off the places where his jeans were worn out.
"The furnace is broken," Garrett replied, moving towards her. "It must have happened sometime last night, but I didn't notice anything was wrong until a couple of hours ago. I called the company, but they're not going to be able to get here until tomorrow morning. And so, being the kind and non-axe-murdering guy that I am, I've invited you and Mrs. Morgan to spend the evening in my living room by the fire, so you won't get hypothermia."
Oops. Nia lowered her eyes guiltily, realizing she had practically accused Garrett of being an axe murderer to his face.
Then she remembered that this inconveniently broken furnace meant that she was going to have to either spend the evening in his presence or go upstairs to her God-awful frozen apartment, and she wondered how he would feel if she went for the axe herself.
"Thank you," she mumbled when he looked at her expectantly. "That's... really nice of you."
"Come over here by the fire and warm up," Mrs. Morgan called, patting the space beside her on the sofa. "You must be frozen to the bone. Garrett, why don't you run into the kitchen and fix up a plate of the beef and carrot stew I brought down, I think that'll be just the thing to get Nia nice and cozy."
Reacting to Mrs. Morgan's orders as they would have their own mothers', Garrett stalked sulkily off the the kitchen, while Nia sank down next to Mrs. Morgan and glanced around. Garrett's apartment was nicer than she'd expected. The floors were a golden softwood, and while his furniture looked kind of like it had come from a garage sale, at least it matched. Nia frowned as she realized how large the apartment was--probably five and a half rooms, enormous compared to her paltry two and a half.
Figured. Bigger apartment, wood stove--he had to have it all.
That train of thought was broken off as Nia caught a whiff of something wonderful-smelling. Before she could ask what it was, Garrett set a bowl of beef and carrot stew on the coffee table in front of her and grimaced. "You know, you could at least try to look like you're not offended by my furniture."
"What? I was not--" Okay, so she had kind of been glaring at his furniture. "There's nothing wrong with it. Look, it matches."
Garrett rolled his eyes and stalked back to the kitchen.
"God, what crawled up his ass and died?" Nia muttered, reaching for the stew.
"Do you want my honest opinion?" Mrs. Morgan asked, and Nia dropped her spoon, horrified.
"Oh, my God, did I say that out loud?"
Mrs. Morgan laughed.
"I'm sorry, I'll go wash my mouth out with soap if you want," Nia offered, cheeks flushing. "Sometimes I talk to myself..."
"At least you've got some colour in that pretty face of yours now. And don't worry yourself one bit. I don't get offended easily. Eat! Eat!"
Nia ate happily. Mrs. Morgan's stew was like a sunbeam breaking through the clouds, filling her stomach and warming her all the way through. She was so caught up in the heavenly bliss of it all that she didn't notice that Garrett had come back into the room until she set her bowl down contentedly and leaned backward, licking the last traces of stew off her lips.
And then almost fell off the sofa when she glanced up and caught Garrett's expression. One corner of his mouth was turned up, like he was amused, but his eyes didn't look amused at all. They looked like they meant business. Nia felt a fresh wave of heat over her cheeks, and she quickly turned to Mrs. Morgan.
"Thanks, Mrs. Morgan. That was so delicious, and just what I needed to warm me up."
Mrs. Morgan pursed her lips. "You can't be finished yet. Garrett, get her some more! You're too skinny, girl, you need to eat."
Nia rolled her eyes but didn't object when Garrett took her bowl. "You sound like my grandmother. I'm not too skinny. I'm actually trying to lose weight."
"What?" exclaimed Mrs. Morgan. Garrett actually stopped, turned around, looked her up and down, and raised an eyebrow.
Uncomfortable, Nia looked away from Garrett's assessment.
"Why would you ever do that?" blustered Mrs. Morgan. "You have lovely proportions. Garrett, tell her she has lovely proportions."
"Mrs. Morgan," Nia said quickly, because she didn't want Garrett to say it and she definitely didn't want him to refuse to say it. "I'm in the plus sizes department. I don't know if you've been shopping lately, but clothes these days are usually made for women who don't have hips. Or any other curves, for that matter."
"And that is what tailoring was invented for," barked Mrs. Morgan severely. "My dear, you have a lovely figure. The hourglass is the most fertile. Do you think any one of those stick women could push a baby out? Don't ever be ashamed to have hips, missy!"
By this point, Nia's cheeks were so red that she stood, said, "I think I need a glass of water," and pushed past Garrett into the kitchen.
"And don't think men want to go to bed with a stick woman either!" Mrs. Morgan called after her.
"Oh, God," Nia muttered, wetting her hands and pressing them to her flushed cheeks.
"I don't think you need to lose any weight," said Garrett from behind her.
Could this possibly get any more mortifying? "Thank you for your expert opinion. I'll definitely take it into consideration."
When she turned around to face him, Garrett looked like he wasn't sure whether to be amused or annoyed. "I guess you're going to pass on that second serving of stew then."
Nia glared at him. "Give me that." She grabbed her bowl from his hand and ladled a few more scoops of stew into it, before closing her eyes and leaning backwards to inhale the heavenly scent of it.
"That's an interesting way of dieting. So you just smell your food instead of eating it?"
Annoyed, Nia snapped her eyes open and glared. "I'm not actually trying to lose weight, okay? I just tell people that because they all seem to think that a woman my size should be trying to lose weight."
Garrett didn't look particularly surprised by this information. He just cocked his head to one side and looked her over again. "Why? You're not fat."
Nia tried to pretend she was having this conversation with anyone but her hot asshole of a neighbour. "I'm on the wrong side of the healthy BMI line."
"But that doesn't take into account things like body type. I'm sure you have a good body fat percentage."
What? Nia had to replay the words in her head for a second to make sure he'd actually said what she thought he'd said. I'm sure you have a good body fat percentage? Who SAYS things like that?
"Can we please not have this conversation ever again?" she requested, and quickly returned to the living room.
Despite the wood stove, Garrett's living room got colder as evening turned to night. Mrs. Morgan whipped up some mulled wine, and Garrett got some thick wool blankets out of the linen closet, and Nia huddled close to Mrs. Morgan on the sofa while Garrett stood staunchly alone on the other side of the room, a sour expression on his face.
"What's wrong with him?" Nia mumbled when he went out to get some more wood.
Mrs. Morgan glanced at her and sighed. "Oh, my dear. Do you have to be so rude to the poor boy?"
This made Nia pause. "What?"
"You've made it perfectly clear he has no chances with you, and yet he's invited you into his home out of the kindness of his heart, and you don't even have the decency to show him good manners?"
"But he was rude to me first! He always looks at me like I'm some kind of joke. And he--" Nia's brain went numb for a second. "Wait. What do you mean, I've made it perfectly clear he has no chances with me?"
Mrs. Morgan's raised an eyebrow.
"That's--that's ridiculous," Nia huffed. "What makes you think he even wants a chance with me?"
"Are you doubting all my years of experience?" Mrs. Morgan asked archly. "Just think about it for a moment."
Nia did. Now that she thought about it, before her hairdryer had started to blow fuses, she'd wondered if maybe Garrett was flirting with her. And then, because she was attracted to him and didn't want to be, she hadn't been the nicest person in the world. Oops.
But that didn't mean--then she thought about the way he'd looked at her when she was finishing up her stew, the way his eyes had drifted up and down her body when they'd been talking about the whole weight-loss thing, and--
Fuck. Oh, fuckedy fuck. He really did want to do the horizontal tango with her. Without her consent, Nia's mind wandered off into X-Rated Happy Land.
And then Garrett came back in, looking all manly with his armload of logs, and Nia took a quick gulp of mulled wine to distract herself.
No, Nia. Bad girl. No sex fantasies about your neighbour. Especially since he probably hates you now.
Oh, right. He did probably hate her now. Fuck. Nia took another gulp of mulled wine and wished it was morning and the furnace repair guy was here.
After tending to the fire, Garrett put the hockey game on, and they watched it in a somewhat companionable silence. Whenever Nia found herself thinking dirty thoughts about Garrett, she tried to distract herself with the game, and if that didn't work, she took another slug of mulled wine. She was going through it pretty quickly--but then, so was Garrett, who was sitting all alone in his armchair, while Nia and Mrs. Morgan at least managed to share some body heat.
At about midnight, Mrs. Morgan sighed and stood up. "My old bones are telling me it's time for bed."
"You're not going up to your apartment are you?" Nia asked, horrified of being left alone with Garrett.
"Come on, Mrs. Morgan, stay down here where it's warm. You can have my bed," Garrett offered.
But Mrs. Morgan shook her head. "I'll sleep better between my own sheets. I'll have my electric blanket on the bed and a hot water bottle for my toes, and I'll be just fine. I never lived in a house with a real furnace until I was married, and it didn't kill me then."
Nia felt like she should probably argue, but the mulled wine had made her pleasantly warm and drowsy. She could hear Garrett saying that if Mrs. Morgan felt cold at all in the night, she should come back down, and not bother if it woke him. And then he must have opened the door, because Nia felt a blast of chilly air. She tightened her blanket around her, trying to warm up.
Then there was something big and warm next to her. Instinctively, she moved towards it, and it wasn't until she heard an amused, "Cold?" that she realized she'd just snuggled up to Garrett.
By that point she was too comfortable and warm and sleepy to move, so she just mumbled something and tried to burrow further into him. His arm came around her, and she sighed as the warmth seeped into her.
"Any more mulled wine?" she managed to mutter, figuring he probably didn't want to cuddle all night.
"Sorry, we went through it all. But if you're still cold, I can think of a few other ways to keep warm."
As soon as she realized what he'd said, she shot straight up and stared at him, heart thundering. "What?"
He looked amused. "I was going to suggest decaf coffee. I don't know where your mind is."
Sheepish, she sank back down against him. "I'm fine for now, thanks."
After a few minutes, the mulled wine and the crackling of the fire brought her back to her drowsy state. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply--and then opened her eyes again, sleepily. Garrett smelled like...
"Do you use lavender-scented fabric softener?"
Garrett stopped moving, and Nia belatedly realized he'd been softly stroking her hair. It had felt nice.
"Do I look like the kind of guy who uses fabric softener?"
Nia thought about it for a second. "Yes."
"Scented fabric softener?"
"Flower-scented fabric softener?"
"I will take that as, 'Why yes Nia, I do use lavender-scented fabric softener, how observant of you to notice.'"
Garrett chuckled, and Nia felt his chest vibrate. Smiling, she snuggled a little bit closer.
"Just don't tell anyone. It's kind of emasculating."
"Mmm. You're pretty manly, I think your reputation can take it."
He was silent for a few seconds. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You know. The flannel. You own a lot of flannel. And the axe. It kind of makes me think of a pioneer man, you know, clearing his land and building his little cabin with the strength of his back."
If Nia had been fully awake, or had had less mulled wine, she would never have vocalized that particular thought. But just now the entire scene didn't even seem real. With her eyes closed, she could believe she was in her bed, having a very good dream.
Garrett resumed stroking her hair. "For what it's worth, I think you would've made a good pioneer woman."
"You better not be making another joke about my hips."
"I like your hips. I would never joke about them." One of his hands snuck down to trace the curve of said hip, like he was trying to prove that he was telling the truth.
"I like them too. Even though I'm supposed to want to be a stick woman."
"If you decide you want to be a stick woman I'm never speaking to you again."
Nia opened her eyes drowsily and tilted her head back so she could look at him. "You never speak to me now. Well, I mean, you yell at me when I blow a fuse."
"I talked to you just this morning," Garrett said defensively.
"Yeah, to make fun of me for being cold."
"I wasn't making fun of you. You looked kind of adorable underneath all those layers."
She silently replayed the scene in her mind. Okay, so he hadn't really been making fun of her. She was just kind of oversensitive. But...
"Little bit, yeah."
"I wasn't adorable."
"How do you know?"
Nia wrinkled her nose. "I looked at myself in the mirror before I left. I didn't look adorable, I looked like someone who wanted to be warm."
"Why can't you be both?"
"I find it kind of adorable that you're always cold."
That sent warmth to her cheeks. "How can that possibly be adorable?"
He was looking away from her, towards the wood stove, but a corner of his mouth turned up. "Because then I can think of ways to warm you up."
Nia didn't give herself permission to tingle, but she did anyway. "Did you break the furnace on purpose?"
"What?" Garrett laughed and turned his head to face hers. "No. But I am kind of glad that it did break."
"Because you look really adorable right now."
Nia felt her insides melt--once again, without her permission--and she could do nothing to stop them. Garrett bent his head, and the next thing she knew, he was pressing a kiss to her forehead.
Suddenly, Nia wasn't sleepy anymore. Reaching out, she took Garrett's face in her hands and pulled him back down to kiss her again--this time on the mouth.
Garrett's hands came to rest on her waist, and the warmth and strength of them made her squirm against him. She would have done this much sooner if she'd known he could make her squirm within seconds.
"I know some really good ways for you to warm me up," she said, smiling mischievously. "And not one of them involves decaf coffee."
Garrett grinned. "I think I'm up for the challenge."
Nia woke to voices coming from somewhere in the next room. Grumbling, she rolled over and tried to pull the covers over her head. But something about them felt wrong.
After a second, Nia realized that she wasn't curled up between her flannelette sheets, and she sure as heck wasn't wearing her fleece pyjamas. When she cautiously opened her eyes, she didn't recognize her surroundings at all.
She was in a large bed in a large room, furnished in heavy oak. The sheets were a crisp white cotton, the bedspread deep red. And when she looked down to examine herself she was wearing--a men's blue flannel shirt?
And then she heard Garrett's voice from the hall and it all came rushing back to her. The broken furnace. The evening with Garrett and Mrs. Morgan. The mulled wine. The cuddling. The coitus.
Round one on the sofa and round two in bed. After that, mulled wine and exhaustion had claimed them both.
Swinging her legs down from the bed, Nia glanced around for her clothes, before remembering that they were in the living room. Because that was where she'd removed them.
But there were still voices in the hall, and she didn't want to risk going out to the living room wearing just Garrett's shirt. She sat awkwardly on the bed, pulling the cuffs of Garrett's sleeves over her fingers.
She didn't have to wait long. She was still looking around for a clock when the bedroom door squeaked open and Garrett came in.
He stopped as soon as he saw that she was awake, and they looked at each other in silence for a few minutes. Nia reflected that he couldn't have been up for long--he was still wearing flannel pyjama pants (what else), his hair sticking up at odd angles, the little bit of scruff on his jaw testament to the fact that he hadn't shaved yet. Actually, he looked like a yummy Sunday morning treat.
"Morning," he said.
"So the furnace guy was here. He just had to replace a part. We're back up and running now, he said that your place should be up to room temperature by noon."
"Oh, great." Actually, Nia had kind of forgotten about that part. "What time is it now?"
Garrett glanced at a watch sitting on the dresser. Damn, how had she missed that?
"Great. Yeah." Wait a second. There was something wrong with that. Mainly, that it wasn't Sunday morning. "Oh, crapola. 10:20? I was supposed to be at work two hours ago!"
Nia sprang off the bed and dashed towards the door, only to have Garrett shift until he was completely blocking her path. She stared up at him disbelievingly.
"Did you not hear me? I have to be at work!"
"No, you don't. Last night you emailed work and told them you had to wait for the furnace repair guy to come, so you wouldn't be in until noon at the earliest. Remember?"
Now that he mentioned it, she did remember going into his study to use his computer. The most salient thing she could recall was the big desk chair, mostly because she'd wondered if they could have a little fun in it.
Not that she'd said anything aloud. She didn't think.
"Right. Right, okay. I... I should probably still go get, um, dressed now and, uh, I--what are you doing?"
Nia didn't actually need an answer to that question. She knew exactly what he was doing. He was nibbling at the tender skin on her neck, and if she got him to stop for one second to answer her question, maybe she would gain enough self-control to leave and get ready for work. Hopefully.
"You don't need to rush off just yet," Garrett said, moving his hands into some interesting places that shot Nia's self-control back to hell. "There's still some time."
It was still a bad idea. If he kept on touching her like that, she might just consider giving up work altogether to spend the rest of her life right here. Mmmmmm....
Oh, what the hell.
Nia stepped away and fell back on the bed dramatically. "Alright. You win. Now take me."
Which he proceeded to do, gladly.
Two hours later, Nia jolted awake from a light doze and said, "Fuck."
"Hmm?" Garrett raised his head sleepily. "What's up now?"
"It's past noon, and I need to shower before I can even think about going to work, and then it's going to be an hour on public transit--I won't be able to make it in before two. Fuck!" Fighting the rise of the panic, Nia struggled out of the tangled sheets.
She could not lose this job. She couldn't.
Garrett shrugged. "So call and say the furnace guy hasn't come yet, and you won't be able to make it in at all today."
"I can't do that! I can't just baldly lie to my boss so that I can have meaningless sex all day! Do you know what that's called? Selfishness and not dependable...ableness!"
Frantic, Nia rushed to the living room and started sorting madly through the pile of clothing items for her underwear. How had she let this happen? Nia, whose nickname was "Miss No-Sick-Days-For-Me"?
She was halfway into her pants when Garrett's voice sounded behind her. "Meaningless sex?"
Uh-oh. Nia paused. He sounded--well, not angry, exactly, but... surprised? In a bad way? What was that supposed to mean?
Oh no. Oh no. You are NOT letting yourself get distracted, missy. You need to get out of this door as soon as humanly possible so you can go back to being Little Miss Punctuality All the Time. Holy Whack-a-Mole-y, girl, what is this boy doing to you?
"Can we please not have this conversation right now?" Nia said sharply, reaching for her blouse.
"Why not? I think it's the best time for it, when everything's still fresh in our minds. Unless you have somewhere more important to be."
Nia finished buttoning her blouse and turned to face him. He was leaning against the door to the kitchen, arms crossed, completely pissed off and completely naked. For some reason, that made Nia even angrier.
"You know what I have? I have two things that are very important to me, and they are called honesty and work ethic. I don't expect you to understand them, since you're so eager to blow off your own job--I'm assuming, here, that you actually have one. And yes, my job is more important than you, because without my job I'm a homeless person on the street, and without you--" Nia stopped and drew a deep breath. "There is no without you, because there is no with you, or at least there wasn't until last night. So I'm sorry my long-term security comes before the twelve hours we've just spent together. Don't take it personally."
Garrett didn't respond as she gathered the rest of her stuff and towards the door. Before she closed it, she looked back. He hadn't moved. "You know, maybe you should think about getting in to work yourself."
His glower became more glowery. "I work from home."
Nia almost dropped her stuff. "I see. Thanks for being so understanding about the fact that I work in an office where people depend on me to be there."
And then she slammed the door.
"You know how repair guys are," Nia said into the phone as she dragged a comb through her damp hair.
"Never known one to be on time," her boss sighed on the other end of the line.
"Anyway, I'm so glad it's all fixed now. I nearly froze to death last night." Lie number two of the day. Nia wouldn't let herself feel guilty. "I'll be ready to leave in about five minutes, and so I should be in by two. Two-thirty, if I miss the bus."
Her boss laughed. "Nia, you only work until four-thirty. It's not worth coming in for two hours. Just stay home. Stay warm. It's not your fault your furnace was on the fritz."
Okay, so now Nia felt guilty. "Are you sure? I feel really bad I couldn't make it in earlier--"
"Nia. Not your fault. I applaud you for even trying. Most people wouldn't have."
Wouldn't they? The guilt quotient ratcheted up further, especially when Nia thought about what she'd said to Garrett.
Then again, Nia told herself, her boss's reaction was dependent on a lie, and would be different if she were asking to have the day off to spend the day in bed with Garrett.
"Alright. I guess I'll see you tomorrow morning, then."
Nia hung up and collapsed into a chair, comb clattering to the floor. Suddenly she had a little niggling inside of her saying that she'd been a huge bitch to Garrett. The guilt prickled at her until eventually she stood up, tightened the belt on her housecoat, marched purposefully across the apartment, and flung herself outside.
Holy Mackinaw, was it freezing! But Nia would not let the deep-bone chill detract from her mission. Chanting, "Fuckedy fuckedy fuckedy fuckedy fuck!", she raced down both flights of stairs until she found herself, for the second time in as many days, staring at Garrett's door.
Gathering her courage, and wanting to avoid frostbite, Nia tried the door. It was unlocked--as she had left it, not an hour ago?--and she let herself cautiously in.
The living room was empty, except for Garrett's clothes from the night before, which he had apparently not bothered to pick up yet. Nia took a couple of tentative steps forward. Well, damn. When you ran through -40 weather in your housecoat and wet hair to apologize to a guy, he wasn't supposed to be MIA.
Nia made a face at the wood stove, and was just about to look in the kitchen when she heard Garrett's voice echoing from down the hallway.
Suddenly nervous, Nia followed the sound of his voice. He seemed to be talking on the phone with either his boss or a client, Nia couldn't tell which. Taking a deep breath, she stepped into the doorway to the study.
Sure enough, Garrett was sitting in his large, comfy-looking leather desk chair, phone to ear, facing away from her. He had put his flannel pyjama pants back on, but the sight of his bare back and arms was enough to remind Nia of last night's semi-tipsy chair sex fantasy. She had to lean against the door frame to regain her equilibrium.
The entire situation had taken on a surreal quality. Nia felt almost as though she was observing someone else's life as she watched Garrett wrap up the call, hang up the phone. He rolled his shoulders, ran a hand through his hair, sighed. Then he swiveled his chair around, hands braced on the armrests, about to stand--
Then he saw Nia, collapsed back into his chair, and yelled, "Holy fuck!"
This jolted Nia back into reality.
"How did you get in?" Garrett demanded, a bit angrily.
"The door was unlocked," Nia remarked calmly.
"Why are you here? I thought you had to go to work."
Nia glanced away and bit her lip, hurt but not surprised by the bitterness in his tone. "I... well. I called my boss and told her I wouldn't be in the office until two or two-thirty, and she said not to bother coming. She's writing today off as a sick day, since I never take those anyway. So... I wanted to apologize, I guess. For being rude earlier, and stuff. Yeah." When Garrett didn't say anything, she shrugged and took a step backward. "Well, that's it, really. I'm sorry I was kind of bitchy. I'll just... go now."
She turned to leave, but Garrett's voice stopped her. "I'm sorry too."
Shocked, she whirled to face him. "What?"
Garrett looked distinctly uncomfortable. "I mean, I didn't understand how important your work ethic and stuff is to you, and I didn't think that you might be in danger of losing your job and... I should have, I guess. So I'm sorry."
"I'm not actually in danger of losing my job," Nia said, trying to process the rest. "I was kind of overreacting. I panic sometimes."
They stood staring at each other for a few minutes, and then Nia said, "So you know, I'm totally free for the rest of the day."
Garrett smirked sexily. "Is that so?"
"Uh-huh. Also, I really really like your desk chair."
"My desk ch--?"
But Nia cut off his befuddled question by jumping on top of him, throwing her arms around his neck, and kissing him for all she was worth.
"Yes. Your desk chair," she whispered breathily.
"I'm beginning to see the appeal," he muttered. "What do you say? Make up for lost time?"
"How much time did we lose? An hour?"
"You can do a lot in an hour," he informed her, quirking an eyebrow.
"Intriguing. I may need a demonstration."
Later in the afternoon, over shawarmas (need to keep your protein levels up), Garrett looked at Nia and asked, "Did you mean what you said this morning, about meaningless sex?"
Nia almost spit out her drink. "Not particularly, no. I was just kind of freaking out."
Garrett shrugged a little nervously. "I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page. Because... I think we have possibilities."
Nia grinned and leaned in to kiss his cheek. He was so adorable when he was uncomfortable about his emotions.
"I think these possibilities are definitely worth exploring," she told him.
And the smile he gave her after that? Holy cannoli, was it worth a broken furnace.
AN: Because it's really really cold in my apartment. Also I'm lonely because my roommate is still in Africa (why are all my friends' lives so much more exciting than mine?).
For the Fahrenheit-ers in the crowd, -40 (forty below) is the same in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. The high of -27 would be about 17 below zero in Fahrenheit. So, yeah. Cold.
So. Yeah. Totally intended to post more often. I actually had one-shots outlined for every month of the fall, but I never actually got around to finishing them. Last semester was the semester from hell--working two part-time jobs, school full time, grad school and scholarship applications, and my best friend had some mental health issues. Buuut you don't want to hear about this, so. Excuses cut.
On a completely unrelated note, you might notice that this one-shot is set in Montreal. That's because (a) I went there recently to visit friends and family and (b) I'm considering moving there next year for grad school. So I'm thinking a lot about what it would be like to live there. (I already know moving in wouldn't be fun... lots of walkups, many with exterior stairs like Nia's.) Thoughts? On the setting, I mean. Although you can tell me your opinion of grad school too.
I had better sign off now before I start to ramble. Please review! I love you all!