One of the things I’ve always wanted to do, and has been frequently requested, was to look at a few scenes from my books from the other side’s point of view. As I’m still celebrating Jeremiah’s first anniversary, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at his and Collin’s meet cute at the elevator banks. It’s a little long (oops!), but I hope you enjoy it below!
I huffed out a breath as I dipped and dived down the street, weaving in and out of traffic. I’d been stuck helping an attorney clear out a paper jam because his fresh manicure couldn’t possibly be ruined by something as mundane as fishing out the rogue sheet of paper that kept him from finishing his job. Or whatever. I was a teensy bit cranky tonight, and I needed my two drink maximum more than I could describe. Even changing into my possible too-tight shorts and my PrEP-py t-shirt didn’t help, and that was a shame.
I spied the bright blue and red neon sign over the bar where I was meeting Ryan and Lizzie. It had been too long. I mean, it had been three weeks, which was a lot for me, but it felt more like forever right now. The front of the bar was glass, and as I made my way to the entrance, I could see Ryan jabbering on animatedly with Lizzie, who was absolutely in her “too cool for school” persona. I laughed. They were fun to watch.
A group of guys exited as I reached the door, and one of them gave me a quick up-and-down while he held the door open. I muttered a soft “thank you.” and he licked his lips before following his friends out. Okay, so that made me feel better.
Lizzie spotted me immediately, and I pointed them out to the hostess before making my way over.
“Hey, Coll,” she said when I got near. We kissed each other’s cheeks, then I moved to Ryan.
“Lassie!” he yelled, then pulled me down to smack a kiss on my lips, as was our usual. I ruffled his hair and he swatted my hand away, then I sat.
“Sorry I’m late,” I said, digging into the platter of half-eaten nachos on the table. “Work was ridiculous today.”
“Work is always ridiculous with you,” Lizzie said. I crinkled my nose at her, even though she was right. “I don’t know why you stay.”
A host of reasons popped up and evaporated just as quickly. This wasn’t a new argument, and hell, it wasn’t even really an argument at all. We all knew Lizzie was right. But since we were both stubborn as hell, her assured in her correctness and me entrenched in my reluctance to change, the conversation went a whole bunch of nowhere.
“Never mind that,” I said, waving a tortilla chip at them. “What were you so excited about before I got here? I could see you guys from outside.”
Ryan paused with a nacho halfway to his mouth and coughed. Enough that me and Lizzie both scooted our chairs over to rub on his back.
“You okay?” I asked when the fit seemed to subside.
His face was beet red, and Lizzie handed him the glass of water a nervous server had left for us as he’d passed. “I’m fine,” he said after a few long gulps. He sighed and smiled at me. “We were just talking about Lizzie’s new graphic design project.”
Well, that was a lie. Lizzie rarely discussed her work with us. Like, ever. Even if we watched her work and asked questions and everything, she kind of just waved us off. And Ryan actually lived with her, so he could ask any other time.
I turned to her and cocked my head in question, but she didn’t deny Ryan’s response. I shrugged, like I didn’t really care one way or the other. Another lie, but today’d been bad enough without pestering him to give me an answer when he clearly didn’t want to. “Okay, if you don’t want to say, you don’t have to. So what’re we doing now?”
“Shots!” he yelled, which I’m pretty sure was in relief more than anything.
I glared at him. “Absolutely not. I want to enjoy the rest of my weekend, not spend it worshipping the porcelain goddess of mockery and bad choices.”
“Besides, you don’t have the tolerance for it,” Lizzie added in her perfectly practiced droll voice. I stuck my tongue out at her.
My lack of tolerance for alcohol was legendary. One epic night of Never Have I Ever, and I’d spent what was apparently a lovely evening huddled over that same goddess three shots in. I would never live it down. Now I contented myself with two apple ciders and called it a night. I was such a cheap date.
“Okay, okay. Enough of that,” I said. “You guys want to go back to the apartment?”
My reward for that eminently logical suggestion was two withering stares. Never mind that then. “Alright, I said, “I guess we’re staying here.”
We stayed at the table, me alternating between shots of cider and ginger ale, Ryan opting for gin while Lizzie had her usual vodka.
And three hours later, I regretted every life choice I’d made to that point. Because both Lizzie and Ryan were nearly incapable of walking. The bartender had cut them off almost thirty minutes ago, and after closing out Lizzie’s tab—it was her week to pay, I’d had the choice of walking them the two whole blocks home, or calling for a ride. Somehow, I’d thought walking was the better option. Work some of that alcohol out of their systems, get some fresh air in them, all that jazz.
I hadn’t taken into consideration Lizzie’s 4-inch Jimmy Choo’s, or Ryan’s absolute dead weight while I basically dragged him with me. Which is a long-winded way of saying I was a gross mess by the time I reached Crestline Apartments and hauled them in. I took the entrance closest to me rather than our typical center one, and slowly walked them down the hall to the elevators.
A Black man was standing in front of them, talking to our concierge, Mr. Johnson. From the back all I could see were broad shoulders and a round ass, and I couldn’t even take a moment to appreciate it because Ryan stumbled then, and we almost all went sideways.
We were almost to the lobby when the elevator came and the guy stepped in. I called out “hold that” and prayed he heard me. I didn’t know if I’d make it if I had to wait for the next one.
His hand shot out as I hurried Lizzie and Ryan as fast as I dared and shuffled them on. “Thanks. Appreciate it,” I said, trying for a small smile. I wasn’t sure I succeeded.
He nodded, made himself comfortable in the corner, and after asking me for the floor I needed and pushing eight, stared straight ahead.
Ryan giggled to himself, over what I didn’t know, and I risked a glance at the stranger. He was dressed like he’d come from work, or had maybe gone to one of those clubs with really suspect dress codes. Slacks and a button down. Boring. But he was gorgeous, with the dark, rich skin that looked like acne wouldn’t dare mar it, a full mouth that glistened when he swiped his tongue across it and made me wonder how it’d look smudged with my lip gloss. Damn it, I was starting to get excited and couldn’t even hide it because Lizzie was nearly comatose next to me.
We got to the eighth floor and I tried to nod at him as I maneuvered my friends off. Except Lizzie’s heel caught on a snag in the carpet and we all went down. Because of course we did.
“You need some help?” The guy was standing in the doorframe, one arm behind him, probably to keep the door from closing.
“Oh, no need. I’ve got them.” How was this my life? I’m sure I looked a mess from trying to support the dead weight of two people, and I practically felt my navy blue liner running down my face like a crying clown.
To make it worse, he rolled his eyes and stepped off the elevator, letting it close behind him. “I’m a paramedic,” he said, a slight laugh buried in his words. “Let me help.”
He bent down and gently scooped Lizzie off the floor, taking care not to jostle her more than necessary, and she promptly turned into him like he was the most comfortable thing in the world. I wanted to swap places, and I could be the one curled up in this stranger’s arms. I kept my mouth shut, thank god, and once Lizzie was settled, I pulled a just-barely-more-lucid Ryan to his feet and steadied him against me.
“Where am I going?” he asked, his voice soft, like he didn’t want to disturb Lizzie’s rest against him. For a moment I felt bad about inviting a stranger into a house I didn’t even live at, but I couldn’t get them both there by myself anymore. They were too far gone. And since leaving either of them wasn’t an option, they’d just have to forgive me for this. And maybe listen to me the next time.
We took our time walking down the hall, the guy quiet and far more gentle with Lizzie than I would’ve been able to pull off. That calm strength was…comforting? Something, but I wasn’t even a little apprehensive about him, and since I was apprehensive about nearly everything, that was saying something. Once we reached the door, I propped Ryan against the wall while I fished in his pocket for the keys. “Gimme a sec,” I muttered to the guy, and noticed how he moved to stand closer to Ryan, supporting his other side. I jostled the door open, since the wood swelled and it liked to get stuck in the summer, then pushed inside.
“She’s down the hall to the right,” I said, pointing.
He gave me a quick nod and set off in that direction. I ushered Ryan down the short hallway to the left until we reached his bedroom, where he promptly collapsed on the mattress.
I rolled my lower lip in and wondered if maybe I shouldn’t go check on Lizzie. My occasional mother-hen-ness didn’t mean I always had the tools to actually mother hen. Like now. I’d be in a world of hurt if elevator man hadn’t helped. I huffed out a small puff of air, then started removing Ryan’s jeans. He wore them like a ball-suffocating second skin, the same as I wore mine. I twisted and turned my friend, getting his hips up and pants down his thighs, then working them off from his ankles.
At one point Ryan muttered something that sounded like…well, I didn’t quite know what it sounded like, but maybe he was coming to? “What’d you say, babe?” I asked. His answer was a garbled mess which, why was I surprised? He was drunk and I was changing him like a baby and expecting him to respond to me like he wasn’t.
A shadow fell over part of the bed and I inhaled deeply through my nose, hoping it wasn’t obvious. Elevator man stood in the doorway, quiet, watching. For reasons I couldn’t explain, my senses were hyper-aware of him, like my body was tuned to his. Which was the height of my way-too-fantastical imagination and a clear need to get laid. I squeezed my eyes shut briefly, then finished working Ryan’s jeans off him before I stood and turned.
“Did you need something?” I tried to play cool, but I wasn’t sure I’d pulled it off. It probably sounded more desperate than anything.
The side of the guy’s mouth tipped up, and he pointed with a thumb behind him. “I left your friend in there with her clothes on, but get some water and aspirin or whatever in her system.”
I blew out a deep breath and let my shoulders sag. This guy was the real deal, and it sucked that I had to meet him looking like a drowned rat and too worried about my friends to even attempt flirting. That was without the whole, is he or isn’t he deal? “Thanks. Thanks for helping. Sorry I was…” I let the words trail off, not sure how to respond, then ran a hand through my hair, which was a combination of sticky and greasy—in other words, gross—and tried again. “It’s been a long day and I’m tired.”
His smile was quick, but stunning. “Same.” He held out a hand. “Jeremiah.”
I stared at it, probably looking like a fool, then smiled and shook it. Warm, nearly hot, and I wanted to burrow myself into that sensation. Cuddle up with him and see if the rest of him was as warm. Lose myself in him, and boy, I needed to take a step back. “Nice to meet you, Jeremiah.”
I swallowed the urge to tell him my name. To tell him my life story, when I’d known this guy for not even ten minutes. Something about him made me very comfortable. And that made me a little uncomfortable.
“You gonna tell me your name, pretty?”
I felt my entire body heat, and I just knew my cheeks had gone as red as Ryan’s had earlier. But that discomfort over my willingness to tell him anything he wanted to know washed over me.
Tonight I’d call this self-preservation. Tomorrow I’d almost surely call it something else. Stupidity. Folly. Inanity. “Umm, I don’t…I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
My body rebelled at my words and I trembled. Elevator man frowned slightly, and it was only then I realized he could probably feel the way I shook. He dropped my arm and I stumbled back quickly before righting myself. This man was so handsome, and almost sounded like he might be half-interested in me, which couldn’t be real. Not for me, and definitely not looking like this.
He gave me a short nod and walked away, toward the front door, then walked out without a backwards glance. I shut and locked it, then stared through the peephole until he disappeared from sight.