Designer: Q Designs
Scheduled to release: October 17, 2017
Music . . . the heart’s greatest librarian.
The average song is three and a half minutes long; those three and a half minutes could lead to a slow blink, a glimpse of the past, or catapult the soul into heart-shattering nostalgia.
At the height of my career, I had the life I wanted, the life I’d always envisioned. I’d found my tempo, my rhythm. Then I received a phone call that left me off key.
You see, my favorite songs had a way of playing simultaneously. I was in love with one man’s beats and another’s lyrics. But when it came to the soundtrack of a life, how could anyone choose a favorite song? So, to erase any doubt, I ditched my first-class ticket and decided to take a drive, fixed on the rearview.
And the long road home to the man who was waiting for me.
Later that night, I was guilted into bringing Reid a plate for dinner since he was a no-show. Paige had done everything to insinuate his absence had everything to do with me. Even at nine at night the heat had a way of making the short walk to his apartment unbearable. By the time I reached his door, I was foaming at the mouth and desperately needed some water. I was on my fourth knock when Reid answered the door with a towel wrapped around him and one of the plastic shopping bags from our trip to the store fastened around his cast. Steaming food in hand, I ignored the shock at the sight of him being close to naked and pushed past to set the hot bowl on his counter.
More surprise filtered through me as I took in the scarce furnishings. A worn mattress in the living room where the couch should be, an old box TV that had to be around ten years old, and a single chair on his open porch on the small balcony.
“I didn’t say you could come in.” Anger laced his voice as he moved to stand in front of me and obstruct my view. His chest was etched deep with muscle and covered in tattoos. I swallowed hard as I met his hard stare.
“Well, it was either you dropped that towel to take this plate, and I see you naked, or. . .”
Instantly, he dropped the towel and my eyes followed. He was wearing boxer briefs. I turned my back and started rummaging through his cabinet for a glass. They were empty, and I realized that the majority of his dishes were in the sink. To his credit, they were soaking in lukewarm, partially soapy water. “I just need something to drink, and I’ll leave.”
“Suit yourself.” He moved toward the hallway and seconds later I heard his shower. On instinct, I began to wash his dishes as I glanced around his kitchen. It was completely void of life or color and reminded me of a cheap motel room, just the bare necessities, and that was a generous assessment.
The trash loosely gathered on the side of the small faux granite island across from the sink, but I could see a large part of it was scattered, if not purposefully, across the floor. He’d obviously had a hard time getting it together and had a fit when it didn’t go his way. I suppressed a grin as I pulled a dustpan and brush from his empty pantry. Bare, other than the box of Trix and Ramen noodles that sat on the plastic shelf.
I glanced at the counter next to a cheap coffee maker and saw a final notice for Reid Crowne. He had a seventy-five dollar late fee attached to his rent. And they were threatening to evict him over it. Seventy-five dollars? Assholes.
I pulled a roll of Clorox wipes from beneath his sink and scrubbed down the counters before I pulled the trash out to his porch to take when I left. Reid didn’t have a mop, so I was walking around his kitchen with wipes on my Converse when he emerged freshly showered, his face stony as he watched me.
“What in the hell are you doing?” His hair was matted as he rounded the counter in only his jeans, which hugged snugly at his hips. I saw a small amount of soap gathered behind his ear when he tossed his freshly used towel on the island between us. I grabbed it and gave him a small smile. “Come here.”
“Uh, no. You were leaving.”
“Jesus.” I moved past him to find his bathroom, and as I suspected, his bedroom was empty, too. There was nothing there but the scattered remains of an old plastic hanger and an empty box for an old phone. It was if Reid was squatting in someone else’s apartment. In his bathroom, which was surprisingly clean, I grabbed his shampoo and marched back into the kitchen. He was staring at the dishes in the wire dishrack where I’d set them.
“How long have you been in that cast?”
He turned to me with something close to annoyance. “Almost a month.”
I walked over to the sink and turned it on before I tested the temperature with my finger. “Well,” I motioned with my head, “come on.”
After realizing my intention, his shoulders stiffened, and he shook his head. “I’m managing.”
“Truce. Okay? Five-minute truce.”
Reid eyed me carefully and then walked out to the porch to grab the plastic chair. It wasn’t the right height, but we made do. Covered in sweat from cleaning, I leaned over him and tilted his head back before I ran my fingers through his soap-filled hair.
I pursed my lips. “I guess your good hand gave up on you already?”
“I was distracted by the noise in my kitchen.” I looked down at him as I pressed the nozzle to his temple and began to re-soak his hair. I poured a little shampoo—the cheap shit with a dollar store tag on it—in my hand and added it to the shampoo unintentionally left behind before digging my nails into his scalp. He let out an involuntary grunt at the feel, and I looked down to find his eyes staring up at me.
Vulnerability and shame were what I read in them before they flicked away. I made quick work of running the suds through his silky strands. He smelled of the half-worn bar of Irish Spring that sat in the stall of his shower and shampoo. When I finished, I cut off the water and pushed the towel into his hand. He rose from the chair, catching the water that had already slid down his chest. This time I looked away, but not before I heard his soft thank you.
Glancing at the living room, I noted a picture next to his mattress. It was of Reid and I assumed the ex-girlfriend Paige told me about. That lone image in the sea of emptiness in which he dwelled spoke volumes to me, and I couldn’t help but look back at Reid who was silently watching me. “All your secrets are safe with me,” I promised. He slowly nodded as I walked out the door and pulled the trash down the stairs with me.
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