The Tribulations of Swedish Furniture
"Uh," the tall, slender blond frowned at me, and I glanced up from my place on the living room floor to watch as she shifted her purse further onto her shoulder. "Just wait until tomorrow and I'll have Mike do it."
My lips pursed. I was a smart, independent gal. I didn't need Mike, my roommate's perfectly lovely, polite beau, to put together the Ikea bookshelf I'd picked out, purchased, spent twelve minutes carting to my car, and single-handedly carried up three flights of stairs. This was my first big furniture purchase, and I was going to take credit for the whole shebang.
Our mismatched living room was pieced together with my sister's college coffee and end tables, Laura's aunt's old loveseat with a neutral slipcover to hide the horrendous floral print beneath, a grey couch we'd gotten for a steal at a local secondhand store, and the 46' television we'd gone in and purchased together. It would be knockdown-drag-out fight to see who got to keep that baby after we graduated. Luckily, at the pace we were going we'd have an extra semester or two to enjoy it together.
The living room was a strange hodgepodge of things, but with Laura's oil paintings hanging on the wall and the toss pillows and lamp I'd picked up at Target, it was pleasant, girly and practically had 'college apartment' painted across it in big, bold letters. All it was missing was the beautiful bookshelf I'd picked up that afternoon which was long and complicated enough to stretch from the couch to the end of the wall.
"Thanks Laura," I answered, crossing my legs as I continued to shake open the box. "But this is something I've got to do on my own."
She laughed, and I heard the door open the behind me. "Whatever Kate," she hovered, feeling slightly guilty for leaving me in my latest fit of crazy. "If you get stuck though, we can have Mike do it. It won't even be charity." She paused, and I glanced up to see her grinning from the doorway. "We'll bake him cookies or something."
Rolling my eyes, I stabbed at the plastic with the flathead screwdriver. "Thanks Laura. Have a nice date night."
'Date night' was code for 'Mike's roommate is out of town this weekend and you'll be wearing pajama pants, screeching at an Ikea manual so we're going to have sex at his place for a change'.
I didn't mind, of course. In fact, I was actually kind of grateful that she'd even picked out a movie and bothered to dress up like it was an actual date. Laura and I shared everything with one another, but she'd always been rather private about her sex life. To no avail, of course, because she'd preferred to have it on her own high thread count sheets instead of in Mike's dingy boy's room. I can't remember the last time I hadn't left my room to find Mike hunched over the coffee pot as we exchanged the all too familiar 'g'morning'. It was fine though, as my own affairs were no secret to her. Not because any of my former boyfriends had a habit of staying over, but because I wasn't one to hold back anything when it came to Laura.
"Will do. Have a nice…" she cast me another long glance before giving up with noncommittal shrug, "time."
I laughed as the door slid back into its frame and successfully opened the box, dumping all of its contents onto the carpeted floor.
Opening the manual to first page, I went about arranging the pieces as they were laid out in the guide. The largest pieces of wood went to the left, aligned in descending order. All of the washers, screws, and strange metal doodads simply labeled 'A', 'J', 'R', 'QS' and 'PS4' in neat rows to the far right.
With everything neatly arranged just as it was on the first page, I started on page two: the assembly. Successfully adjoining the largest board to the seventh largest board with four of the 'R' pieces, I flipped the page only to stare blankly at the mess of lines and parts that didn't seem to align as promised.
One and half episodes of Arrested Development later, I was still on page two wondering if perhaps I should allow Mike to do it for me. At this rate, he'd probably stroll in tomorrow afternoon just as I was moving onto step three.
"No," I managed through ground teeth. I had to do this. And it didn't have anything to do with how dependent Laura had become on Mike, or how every phone conversation with my mom would involve the line 'well, honey, I just wish you were happy. What happened with Eric? If you can't back together with him, at least try and date someone else sweetheart', or how Eric wasn't all that good with building things but if he'd been here he'd be trying his darndest. No, it was none of those things, as frustrating as they were individually. It was just that I was going to put this effing shelf together.
Frustration catching up with me, I pulled apart the two skinny pieces of wood, unscrewed the metal doodads and reapplied the washers I'd missed. I wasn't entirely sure they were necessary, as I pieced the boards back together and it didn't suddenly seem remarkably more stable than before.
Another hard spin of the Phillips head, and the cheap wood splintered.
"Ak," I blinked, trying to patch up my error, but to no avail. In the end, it wound up looking worse than before, and because I was frustrated I wasn't going to do something sane, say give up or cry. No, instead I gripped the red, plastic handle of Laura's hammer and pounded the fluffy carpet by my toes and the ruined plywood.
It was Friday night, and though I'd been perfectly content to escape being the third-wheel to Laura's and Mike pre-sex activities, I did rather enjoy Zombieland and wouldn't have minded watching that right about now. It beat banging a hammer against the ground. I was also becoming aware of how pathetic I looked not going out to the pub with my friends. Laura had said I should, after all, and she usually knew best.
Laura and I went the high school together, but we hadn't been the best of friends. Simply acquaintances who'd studied AP Economics together at the local coffee shop once or twice a month our senior year. When we'd found out we were attending the same university two states over, we'd both been overcome with a sense of joy and relief.
"We should carpool home for holidays and weekends," she'd grinned, and I nodded enthusiastically. Part of the appeal of going to a college so far away was getting some distance from my high school peers, but it was nice to know that I wouldn't be completely alone. And I liked Laura, so that was a plus.
"Definitely. And we should get dinner on campus." I smiled. "It'll be nice knowing someone."
The next afternoon in class Laura asked if I had a roommate, and since I hadn't and the idea of living with the pretty, hygienic, sane blond was incredible. Especially with the horror stories of my older sisters' first randomly selected dorm-mates.
We'd gotten along swimmingly, and sophomore year had moved off campus to our third-story apartment. We'd made a group of friends, and through that group she'd met Mike and I'd met Eric and were both happy. Then Eric and I hadn't worked out, and seven months later I was still dodgy around our friends. I was over him, sure, but it was still difficult to listen to him talk about other girls or his dog (that I loved and missed more than Eric) or have him smile at me and ask if I wanted a beer. And then he'd bring me a beer without asking what I'd wanted because we'd dated for two months and had been friends for three years and he knew me that well. Simply put, it just wasn't my idea of good time. Especially not with Laura there to distract me from his newest girlfriend, Katy. Whose name was dreadfully similar to mine, and was sweet and funny and kind. She and I had talked at our small booth when they guys were at the bar watching a game, and I actually rather liked her. But, truthfully, I'd prefer to stay cooped in my apartment, pretending to piece together Swedish furniture while banging a hammer against the floor in frustration than spend an evening with my friends. Pathetic, I know.
I stopped banging when I heard a knock, and blinked.
"Uh," a voice said, muffled through the other side of the door. "Everything okay in there?"
"Er," mumbling, I set the hammer aside and got to my feet. I was conscious of my plated brown hair, the worn blue t-shirt and plaid pajama pants I lived in when inside the walls of my apartment. "I'm okay," I answered, trying to look pleasant and sane as I opened the door. That failed, of course, because my heart nearly stopped. Standing before me was my neighbor – B6.
"You sure?" He asked, eyes scanning my apartment, darting towards the neatly lain-out pieces of my soon-to-be bookshelf before finally (finally!) resting to me.
"Oh, yeah," I shrugged, hoping my voice wasn't strained and my cheeks weren't as flushed as they felt. "Just putting together a bookshelf." I had a way about stating the obvious.
His lips quipped slightly, and my heart lurched in my chest, my bones melted, that kind of thing. I'd never actually spoken to B6 before, and I was not giving him the best first impression. "It's from Ikea," I said, wincing as the words left my mouth.
B6 nodded, his eyes still on the cheap planks of wood. "I guessed as much, but, you know B7, that shelf doesn't look like it requires much hammering." He glanced at me. "It's designed to slide together, no need to pound the wood into place."
Well, if I wasn't blushing before, I was most certainly now. He'd called me B7. For over two years, Laura and I joked about the crush I harbored for B6. And he smiled at me. And apparently he assumed I was an idiot who didn't know the hammer was for the occasional gentle tap. "It doesn't. I wasn't hammering the wood." I blinked, wondering why I couldn't stop talking. "I was banging it against the floor."
Nodding, B6 fixed me with a gaze that I was all too familiar with. Laura was known to give it to me, Mike was almost constantly shooting it in my direction, and even Eric had been guilty of The Stare, the one that suspected me of having a mental deficiency.
I sighed, hoping with my next words would erase the I-have-a-crazy-neighbor look in B6's eyes. "Sorry for making so much noise," I smiled, tugging slightly on my braid. "I promise to try and take out my frustration in… less boisterous ways in the future."
He nodded, but he didn't look scared. In fact, he looked sort of amused. "No problem, just doing my neighborly duty and making sure everything was okay." He glanced at me, the pajama-clad girl putting together furniture by herself on a Friday night, and his smile widened. "Need some help?"
No! My mind screamed. I do not need help. But it was B6 who was asking me. B6, who I eagerly walked earlier than necessary to my 8 am classes for, just so I could catch a glimpse of him coming back from his morning run. B6, who had close-cropped, dark blond hair and kind, hazel eyes. B6, who was nearly six foot five and had straight, impossibly white teeth. I was a sucker for impossibly white teeth. I blinked. "Well, just a bit, actually."
"Good," he said, entering the apartment and I shut the door behind him, suddenly elated that I hadn't gone for the movie or pub options. He continued, "It's not all that complicated, but sometimes it's a two-person job."
I wanted to hug B6 for not making me feel like an incompetent girl who couldn't build her own step-by-step furniture. A two-person job, sure, I grinned, that eased my earlier frustration.
He glanced at the TV, Arrested Development DVD's still spattering on, and smiled at me before squatting in front of the bookshelf scraps. "Good episode," he commented, picking up the instructions and surveying my work. "I always liked Gammy."
"When I grow old, I want my grandchildren to call me Gammy," I said, taking a seat cross-legged beside him. "And my husband will be Pop-pop."
He chuckled slightly, but his eyes never left the completed bit of shelving. "Not bad, B7."
I blushed, not wanting to admit it had taken me nearly two hours to get to the second page of the instruction manual. "Kate," I said, suddenly, and I wasn't blushing or feeling nervous or clammy. I was looking at him; he met my gaze, and I shrugged. "Name's Kate."
"Thomas," he answered, the small, bemused smile still tugging at his lips.
I cocked my head to the side as I watched him return his attention the booklet. "Not 'Tom' or 'Tommy'?"
Thomas shook his head, and I saw he was looking at the first page of the manual, staring at the part explanations before his eyes darted towards the unused shelving pieces neatly aligned on my living room floor. "You know, this is just part descriptions, right?" His hazel eyes met mine, and I bobbed my head slightly. "You didn't have to align them like in the picture."
"I know," I glanced down at my organization. "But I thought it would make it easier. And besides," I'm sure my eyes crinkled as I winced, dreading my next confession; "I like things in order."
He laughed. It was a low, ashy laugh that made my chest tighten. And then, he moved his arm towards the row of aligned screws and swiped two of them, turning them horizontally. I glared at him, and one side of his mouth tipped to a smile. The glare faded, and I bit my lower lip, trying for the life of me not to blush like a 16 year-old with a unspeakable crush.
"I'm not sure what do next," I confessed, straightening the pair of screws and turning to instruction sheet in Thomas' hands.
"Hence the pounding?"
I smiled. "Hence the pounding."
"Well, it's simple, really," and he explained the next two steps and I fell in love with B6 - Thomas, the white-toothed runner, Swedish-furniture-building extraordinaire.
He wasn't condescending as he detailed the next few steps, and he let me handle the screwdriver and waited patiently as I secured two more boards together. Being helpful was one thing, something I valued highly, but being helpful to your slightly-crazed neighbor you'd never met only to give up your Friday evening to put her bookcase together was so humanitarian it felt unreal. Especially for a good-looking college guy with a nice butt and an even nicer smile.
"Thomas," I said, watching as he continued to assemble my bookcase with ease. "Thanks for helping me."
"No problem Kate," he said, glancing up for a moment, grinning, and then securing another board to the main frame.
"I mean, it's a Friday night," I stared at him, noticing his generic collegiate-tee and jeans. It didn't look like he had a fancy date or anything, but surely he'd been on his way somewhere. "I didn't mean to ruin your plans."
"It's not a big deal," he didn't look up this time, only continued to work. "I like being useful, for a change. It's nice."
I couldn't help but laugh. "Good."
"Could you hand me the allen wrench?"
"Uh." Blinking at parts and tools in front of me, I sucked my lower lip between my teeth and met Thomas' gaze. "Allen wrench?"
His kind, yet irritatingly amused half-smile returned. "The metal piece," he explained, and raising his index finger drew an outline in the air, "that looks like that this."
"Ah-ha!" I proclaimed proudly, extending the bent piece of metal to him and watching as he continued to work. The parts were in piece now, and I could see the remnants of a bookshelf scattered across my living room floor. All there was to do now was join the large pieces together, which made having a six-foot male around rather handy.
"Thank goodness you came over," I exclaimed, watching him wrap up all of his, our, hard work. It had taken less time for him to put the remaining seven pages of the shelf together than it had me the first two. I chalked it up to Thomas being amazing, not me being a lowly-stereotypical girl who can't build her own furniture. "I would have had to stand on a chair to get that bad boy up."
He laughed, and stepped back. For a moment, we both stood in silence, studying the beautiful, three-faceted shelf propped against the living room wall. It was barren, of course, but still lovely with its Birch veneer and dual planks. "Wow," I said, turning to Thomas. I had to lift my chin to meet his gaze. "Seriously, thank you."
"I assure you," he nodded, still looking at the shelf. "The pleasure was all mine. I like building things." He chuckled, and oh God, there it was again, that thrill of excitement racing down my spine. "Not usually cheap things from bulk furniture stores, of course, but it's actually kind of nice."
"It is nice, isn't it?"
And he nodded. For a few more moments we stood in silence.
"Would you like a drink?" I asked, feeling rather rude for not asking while he was working.
Thomas, however, didn't seem to think the suggestion rude at all. "Sure. That'd be great." He put the tools back into Laura's toolbox and swiped his hands across his jeans. "What've you got?"
"Uh, well," I entered to the teensy galley kitchen, and he followed. "Beer's on the second shelf."
Thomas opened the fridge and I hovered by the cabinet, wondering if he'd want a glass. He scanned the extraordinary collection of microbrews crowding the entire middle shelf of the fridge, and his eyebrows rose appreciatively. "Impressive, ladies of B7." Silently, I delighted in the fact that Mike was a beer snob and practically a third roommate. But I certainly wasn't giving him credit for the beer. Not today. "Would you like one?"
"Yeah," I nodded, "Just grab me one of whatever you're having."
He took two beers and opened each of them, and we sat on the sofa, half watching Arrested Development and half admiring my lovely new bookshelf.
"Thanks again," I said, hoping I wasn't sounding like a broken record. I really did want him to know how much I appreciated his help, and beer and multiple 'thank yous' was all I was coming up with. "I really couldn't have done it without you."
"I have to wonder," he commented, taking another swig of beer before looking at me. One of his brows arched in question. "Why your boyfriend's not helping you out?"
It was my turn to raise a questioning brow. "Uh, ouch Thomas."
"Well, because I don't have one, thank you very much." I took a quick sip of beer, and fixed my glare at him from the corner of my eye. Then, I shrugged. "No need to have a boyfriend around to help when my loony hammer antics send perfectly capable guys my way."
He looked surprised. "But, I thought… Short, dark hair, iPad toting?"
At his words, I laughed. It was my real, too loud and slightly unattractive laugh, but I couldn't hold back at his words like I usually did when I first met guys I was attracted to. "Mike?" He thought Mike was my boyfriend? I laughed again. "Sorry, but, ha. That's just too funny."
"But he's always here."
"Shagging my roommate," I grinned. "Not really into short, dark, iPad totters, you see?"
"Good," he answered, and his eyes were back on the television. They flashed down towards our messy entertainment setup, a jumble of wires spilling out across the fan, and grinned at the Wii. "Oh, sweet, Mario Kart."
"Ug," My head lolled back onto the sofa. Mario Kart was Mike and Laura's favorite non-sexual activity. I was sick of that stupid game. "Please, please don't make me play Mario Kart." I checked the time on my cell phone. "Do you want to get dinner? A pizza, on me, as a way to say thanks."
He glanced down at his own phone, quickly typed out a text message, and nodded. "Sounds great. As long as it's Antonio's and not some delivery place."
I swapped my pajama pants for my outside of the apartment jeans and quickly fixed my plait, side-bangs, and slipped on a pair of shoes before meeting him back outside the door. "All set?"
We walked side-by-side, not saying much and just enjoying the nighttime and the random groups of drunks stumbling towards College Main. Our apartment complex was two blocks off from the bars and restaurants skirting the north side of the campus. It was a pleasant walk, and once we made it inside Antonio's we ordered our slices, I paid like the grateful girl that I was, and we situated ourselves in a corner booth to eat slices of pizza larger than my head.
"You were texting earlier," I said through a mouthful of pepperoni. Trying to tame my misplaced manners, apparently manual labor made me famished, I finished chewing and took a sip from my coke. "Cancel your plans for the evening?"
He smiled that nice, half smile and polished off his first slice. "Yeah. But it was dinner with the guys." Starting on his second, he folded the crust and continued. "No big deal."
I took another bite and nodded, feeling the heat rise to my cheeks. "Good suggestion, by the way." I stabbed at the bottom of my plastic cup with my straw. "I forgot how delicious Antonio's is."
We'd finished off our pizza, and I sipped from the straw. As I watched Thomas leaning back against the booth across from me I could help but think how good he looked then, in that moment. My attractive, untouchable neighbor turned out to be so much better than I'd imagined.
"Thanks for the pizza, Kate," he took our plates and deposited them in the garbage before returning back at my side. "I wish I could return the favor."
"You put my bookcase together, silly."
I detangled myself from the booth and we walked awkwardly towards the door. He hesitated as we entered the brisk night air, and I felt a little pang of sadness at the thought of our non-date coming to an end.
"It's still early," he commented as we rounded the corner to the strip of bars and clubs flanking the road. "Join me for a drink?"
I felt the smile on my lips, and nodded eagerly.
"Cool," he managed, looking me in the eyes for a moment before turning his attention back to our surroundings. "Do you like Kieran's Pub?"
I stopped walking and he turned slightly to face me. "I-" shifting my weight, I sighed. "I love Kieran's, actually, but I was supposed to meet some friends there tonight." I thought of my friends, and how I had only told Sara that I already had plans. It didn't matter if my other plans changed slightly and landed me at Kieran's, right? "But it's fine. Let's go."
He seemed pretty eager to get out of the cold night, and we quickly flashed our ID's to the doorman before entering the dark, cliché Irish pub. I knew my friends would be crouched in a corner booth way past buzzed by now, but all thoughts on anything other than my companion faded as Thomas placed his hand on my back and guided me towards the bar.
"Hey Kate," Nicole, the pretty stick-thin bartender greeted, flipping her dramatic black hair away from her face. "How're yah?"
"Good Nicky," I returned, my heart resuming to beat as normal as Thomas' hand dropped back to his side and the much-welcomed warmth disappeared.
"'Ello love," the other bartender nodded towards me, hands on the Guinness tab as he expertly pulled a pint. "I've got something new in that you'll love." He looked at my tall, handsome companion. "Shall I make it two?"
Thomas was grinning at me, and I sighed. "Uh, Logan, this is Thomas. Thomas," I motioned to the man now placing a pair of pints in front of a couple on the other end of the bar. "Logan."
Logan quickly pulled as each a seasonal amber and placed them before us on limp, paper coasters. "I'll just put them on that monstrous tab you're never going to pay."
I rolled my eyes with a shrug, but Thomas frowned.
"I was going to pay." He fished out his wallet from his jeans. "You bought dinner."
"Oh," Logan commented, flashing me a knowing look. "A gentleman? Tom, trust me on this one, Kate here's tab is so padded these two beers won't matter one iota."
Thomas still paid, and I'm sure Logan gave him some insane deal because Logan was a kind spirit and would never overcharge a gentleman. At least not one who was with me. We grabbed our beers and took a seat at a high table near the far wall.
"I'm not an alcoholic." The words were out of my mouth as soon as I was seated on the shaky stool.
Thomas only laughed.
"I just… hang out here a lot." I shrugged, sampling the crisp microbrew. Logan was right, it was amazing. "I love it though. No other bar in a hundred mile radius to campus can hold a candle to this place."
His hazel eyes were bright despite the low lighting, and I felt myself blushing.
"My friends and I come here," he said, giving the glass an appreciative glance. I loved a guy that could enjoy a good beer, but who wasn't all snobby about it. "But I don't know Logan and Nicky by name."
"Yes, well," and then I stopped talking, because in a corner booth I spotted Sara and Rhea, waving in my direction. I lifted my hand in a small wave to say pleasepleasepleasedon'tcomeoverhere. Naturally, to no avail. "Well," I finished lamely, "here come my friends."
Sara and Rhea trotted over to our small, cramped table, and were followed by James, Chi, Eric, and Katy quickly at their heels.
"Kate," Rhea greeted, tossing her arms around me. I returned her hug, and she teetered as she pulled away. "And who is this delicious specimen of man?"
"Okay, wow," I breathed, but Thomas only grinned as Rhea waggled her eyebrows in drunken interest and leaned against Sober Sara for support. "Everyone, this is Thomas. Thomas," my eyes scanned the faces of the large majority of my group of friends. "Everyone."
"I figured you were with Mike and Laura," Sara said, her features lighting up with the knowledge that I wasn't playing third wheel but, in fact, on date of my very own. Which I wasn't, but… still. Sara always looked out for me; well, not just me, but everyone. It's why she was sober right now. She'd make it her mission to make sure everyone got home, especially Chi who probably wouldn't notice.
Chi and James made a comment about going to the bar to get another beer, and Katy, shooting me a polite smile, said she'd join them.
Sara, still holding Rhea up, watched as Eric introduced himself to Thomas. The guys shook hands and made conversation about school, the natural conversation of two college students who'd recently been introduced. Releasing Rhea, Sara slid to my side and punched my shoulder.
"I'm so happy for you, Kate."
"Oh," I took another long drink from my glass. "Thanks."
"Me too," Eric said, stopping his conversation about BCS bowl games and instead smiling brightly at me. "But you don't have to hide your plans from us if you're dating someone, Kate. I don't mind. Actually, it's nice to see you out and about."
Oh God… please, please someone just kill me. I could feel the assuredly attractive flush on my face and neck, and I avoided looking at Thomas incase he was squirming awkwardly at being my new boyfriend all of a sudden. And to top it all off, Eric had just made me sound like some shut-in who hadn't dated since we'd broken it off. Not all that far from the truth, but I didn't necessarily want to give Thomas any more reason to think I was touched in the head.
"So, how did you guys meet?" Eric asked, making friendly conversation with the man across from me.
"Kate and I are neighbors," he explained, smiling at me from over the lip of his beer. And I melted; more heart pounding and bones evaporating beneath my flushed skin, that kind of thing. "I was helping her put her bookcase together. She wanted to do it on her own, of course."
"Well that's Kate for you," Eric laughed. "One time she wouldn't let me change her tire because, and she stamped her foot while she said this, mind you, 'it was just something I have to for myself, damnit!'"
Thomas looked genuinely amused by this. I sighed. At this rate, I'd need another beer.
"So, how long have you two been dating? And why are you hiding it from us, Kate?"
I groaned. "Jesus, Eric, I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition."
Without missing a beat, Thomas chimed in. "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition."
I grinned at him from across the booth, and then Thomas was answering Eric's questions.
"Well, this is actually our first, um," he glanced at me for support, and I shrugged helplessly, "date. And it wasn't actually planned, so, Kate wasn't really hiding anything. My fault, really."
The inflection at the word 'date' alluded to the fact that it was a question in form, but I ignored it and flashed him a thankful smile. "So, translation, scat guys."
Eric nodded and joined Chi, James, and Katy at their booth, sliding next to her and kissing her cheek. Rhea and Sara each gave me a hug before retuning to the bar where some unfortunate guy would be suckered into buying them drinks.
"I'm sorry about that," I sighed, sipping my beer and trying to decipher the calm, collected look on Thomas' features. He didn't look put-off in the slightest by my intoxicated friends or the previous topic of conversation. "Thanks for the bookshelf, and the beer, and for lying to my friends for me, and, oh goodness, I'm sure there's something else I need to thank you for, Thomas. So thanks."
He laughed. "I promise, Kate. This is a lot more fun than eating wings and watching Sports Center at Philip's."
"Look…" My beer was gone, but the sides were still cool and slick with condensation. I ran my fingers against it, feeling a bubble of nervousness stir in my gut. "You don't have to be freaked out or anything. No pressure on the dating front. My friends are drunk, and they just… well…"
"Eric wants you to be happy," he commented, also finished with his beer. A part of me wanted to get up and get us new ones just to escape the sudden awkward air of our tiny table.
"Yes, well, he feels guilty because his wonderful, polite new girlfriend, Katy," I frowned, even though I honestly did like her and it wasn't anyone's fault that our names were so similar, "is around all the time, but it really doesn't bother me. Can I get you another beer?"
He nodded, and I quickly got to my feet. When I returned to our table, Thomas was slipping his phone back into his pocket and smiled as I approached and handed him a beer.
"You really changed your own tire?"
Nodding, I slid onto the stool. "Yep."
Thomas whistled. "Changes tires, watches Arrested Development, has excellent taste in beer, laughs at my Monty Python references," his eyes were back on mine and I had to remind myself to breathe. "I would really like to take you out sometime. On a real date. If, of course, you'd like to."
"Yes." The word escaped my lips far too quickly, but I didn't care. I didn't want him to think I'd even needed a second to think about it. B6 and I are going on a date. And perhaps we even were on one right now. It was grey area, sure, but as we finished our beers and headed back towards our apartment complex, he slipped his hand into mine. His large, warm fingers gave my hand a gentle squeeze.
We trudged up the stairs, and he hovered outside the door with the metal B7 tacked onto its chipped paint. I hesitated to retrieve my keys from my purse because he was standing in front of me and I didn't want to leave his side. "I really like you, Kate."
At his words, I smiled and pulled my hand out of my purse, sans keys. "I like you too, Thomas."
"No, really," he breathed, shaking his head as his eyes slid closed. "Like really, really like you."
"Thomas… I leave for my eight ams at seven fifteen in the morning."
His eyes were opened again, the light of my porch light making all the blues and greens stand out against the striking golden browns. One of his brows rose, and I chewed on my lower lip.
"It doesn't take me forty-five minutes to walk to class."
He still looked confused, and briefly I wondered if I should continue with my confession. But he deserved to know, so I carried on.
"I like getting coffee on my way to class, picking up a newspaper and working on the crossword before it starts," a deep breath, and then, "but mostly I like to see you when you're coming in from your morning run."
A smile broke across his features, and he holds my hands in his.
"But I… you're…" I blinked, unsure of how to recount the muddled, wonderful thoughts that had been flittering though my head all evening, from the moment he'd knocked on my door. "I didn't even know you then, but after tonight, Thomas, you're fucking amazing, you know that?"
He didn't respond, but leaned in and captured my lips with his. It was short, with just the smallest amount of pressure. He smiled against my lips before standing straight again.
"You're fucking amazing too, Kate."
And then I tiptoed and pressed my lips against his.
When we pulled away, he rested his forehead against mine.
"At least walking you home is going to be convenient."
Yes, I couldn't hide my excitement; it would be a rather nice arrangement.
"I'll pick you up tomorrow," he said, giving me one last kiss before taking a step back. I fished my keys out of my purse and retuned his small, content smile.
Inside my apartment I dropped my purse on the coffee table and locked the deadbolt. I'd never felt unsafe while Laura was away, but it was kind of nice to have the assurance of having a strong, good-looking male neighbor who was sweet and charming and funny.
I then flicked off the light, and the moonlight streamed through the curtains and across the Birch wood bookcase. I sighed.
"I love you, bookshelf," I whispered, thanking the heavens for the wonderful complexity of self-assembly Swedish furniture. And for B6, Thomas, the man who was someday going to be my grandkid's Pop-pop.
Okay, so maybe that was taking it too far. I laughed into the dark living room, still eying the bookcase. Too awake with excited jitters, I started unpacking my boxes of books, and the empty picture frames Laura had wanted to scatter decoratively about its shelves.
For now, I'd take one day at a time, starting tomorrow, with my date. And who knew, if things went well, maybe he'd earn himself a spot inside some of these empty picture frames.
Of that, I had no doubt. There'd be Luara with her short, iPad toting boyfriend, and me with the boy from next door.