I was staring into oblivion, with my finger still pressed onto the buzzer. He could not be here. Maybe I was hallucinating. Or maybe I had actually conjured him up with the sheer force of my imaginative will power. The possibilities seemed endless. But the one that was the most probable, seemed to be the least likely to my sleep-dulled brain.
After an instant, a weird static-like noise emanated from the machine and I realized that my sudden blanked-out reaction hadn't been made apparent upon the person who was the cause of this stupor. If he was really out there then he must surely be waiting for some kind of answer.
I breathlessly called out into the machine, "Sorry, I didn't catch your name." Although I definitely had made no mistake, I was just buying myself some time for sanity to prevail and for my heartbeats to slow down to normal.
"It's Neil...uhmm...from Accounts. I gave you a ride home last night", came a bewildered reply from the other end.
"Oh, I am so sorry. Come on up. I'm on the second floor. Apartment 14B. Third door on the left from the stairwell."
That was sane enough, I silently congratulated myself. At least he doesn't think that I am a moron. Although I still wasn't too sure about how long my weird, silent reaction had lasted. So that could still be a weighty issue in his determination of my sanity. Hey hey hey, stop right there. Maybe I am going crazy. I never talk to myself. Or never did earlier. Stop it. Stop it right away. He must be coming to the door any minute now, and just look at yourself. Go, make yourself decent, I ordered myself. Maybe I was losing my marbles.
I rushed into the bedroom and flung open my closet, hurriedly throwing aside clothes while mentally deciding what I should have been wearing at noon on a weekend. I looked down at my sweats. The pants would do, but the top was ratty enough to be in some garbage dump. In a flurry, I dove into the bottom shelf and resurfaced, victorious. I had managed to retrieve a non-crumpled tee, offering decent coverage, and appropriate for this time of the day.
I threw my top off of my shoulders and had barely managed to get my head through the tee that I heard my doorbell ring. The loud peal startled me and I stubbed my toe against the dresser. My heartbeat started thundering, and my foot throbbed to a different tune altogether. I struggled with my tee and stumbled out towards the door.
"In a second", I yelled out.
One final look at myself and I could see that I really hadn't managed any better than what I had started out with. And to top it all, my hair looked like a forest ravaged by stormy winds. But I had to make myself temporarily forget about the debacle that was my appearance, and concentrate on getting words out of my mouth.
I turned the door-knob hesitantly, and the peeped from behind the door.
Across the threshold was a perfectly put-together, hair all tousled yet in place, smiling man who held my gaze and my jacket. I could only hope that I was smiling. I made a conscious effort to look welcoming and stepped out from behind the door.
"You don't have a safety chain?"
Seeing my confused expression, he leaned towards the door and tapped that part of the wood where a safety chain should have been in place. "No safety chain", he said again, trying to make me understand as if I were a child.
I shook my head, still rattled by this conversation, and said apologetically, "I moved in recently and a lot of things still need to be taken care of. It's on my list, but I just haven't gotten to it yet."
He smiled. Not mockingly or sarcastically. He just smiled.
"So are you going to invite me in, or are we going to discuss your security situation in the hallway?", he laughingly said.
"I'm so sorry. Please come on in." I gestured to him to enter and then shut the door behind him. I pointedly locked the door so that I could show him that I wasn't so lax when it came to my protection.
I pointed to my couch, the only piece of comfortable furniture in my living room and asked him to sit. He sauntered over to it and looked down at the numerous cushions thrown onto it, all haphazardly and without any sense to the patterns. He shifted some of them around to make place for himself and sat down.
I sat across from him, cross-legged, on my bean bag. "So..."
"I came...", he said exactly at the same time as I had started to speak. "You go first", he blurted out.
"I was just wondering you know. To what do I owe this pleasure", I smiled at him, trying to untangle my hair as effectively as possible without him noticing.
"I thought you may be missing a piece of clothing".
I looked at him, mouth hanging open, and then down at myself, frantically trying to see what I had missed that was so glaringly obvious. Suddenly the sound of his laughter stopped my frisking and I turned to him. "What?"
He held up my jacket and chuckled. "I meant this. You left it in my car last night. And trust me, nothing in your attire suggests a wardrobe malfunction."
"Oh....you had me scared for a second. And thanks for bringing that by. I had totally forgotten about it. I still haven't managed to gather my wits since last night."
"I couldn't have told. You look wonderful. Although your nose does remind me of a certain reindeer." Again his laugh took on a magical tone, or maybe it was just my ears ringing.
"Ah...this. Well the soaking I got last night didn't leave me unscathed. A red nose and a complimentary headache are my reminders from yesterday."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. You should be resting. I should have called before announcing myself uninvited. I..."
"Naah...It's okay. I am all rested for today and I was getting out of bed when you buzzed, so please don't apologize. And thanks for the jacket. I really wouldn't have noticed its absence until I was halfway down the street", I laughed at myself to ease his sudden hesitation.
"So do you need anything? Aspirin, chicken soup, cough syrup. I could grab them for you if..."
"Not at all. I am absolutely fine. I have already....aaacchhooo". And I sneezed. Completely spoiling my speech on how medically independent and capable I was.
"Excuse me". I got up and headed into the bathroom and grabbed some tissues from the cabinet. I tried valiantly to run a comb through my hair while i was at it, but I could tell from the first stroke that it was a losing battle that I was waging. I pinched my cheeks, trying to get some color into them so that my nose didn't stand out.
As I headed back into the living room, I saw him browsing through my book shelf on the wall. He held a book in his hand and was intently reading the back cover of another. "So you found something of interest then", I said as I walked over to where he was standing.
"Hey, are you alright?"
"Yes yes. Just some after-effects from yesterday. Nothing major. So, did you find anything good in my collection?"
"I never would have taken you for a romantic. But it seems I was way off in my assumption."
"Well, you were right the first time. I am definitely not a romantic. I only like reading about romance. It more than fulfills any craving for it that I may have in my own life, because I don't suffer fools gladly, and that is what all romantics are. Or should I say, become. And that is my favorite author that you are holding in your hand."
I reached over to the shelf and picked out another book. Flipping the pages I said, "This is one of her best works. That is if you have any interest in romantic fiction."
"I didn't ten seconds back, but your explanation seems to have tingled my curiosity. I guess I should have a go at it just so I can grasp what exactly you are talking about. Although I have not read romance before, unless you count Mills and Boon. Which I stole plenty of, from my sister, when I was in High School."
"Oh, yes. Mills and Boons count as well, and they count big. They are the Gospel of romantic fiction. So how was the experience?"
"It was fine. I found myself wanting more than what they provided. The anticipation and the build-up generally led to an insipid climax, if you know what I mean", he said, grinning wickedly over his shoulder.
"Well, what can I say. Maybe you'd be better off reading what Hefner provides as literary works", I laughed at his horrified expression.
He set down the book he had been checking out and sat down on the couch with the one that I had recommended. "Not my cup of tea, to be honest. So can I borrow this?"
"Sure sure. Anytime."
"And you are sure I am not interrupting or intruding in any way?"
"Not at all. I didn't know I was craving company until you showed up", I smiled at him, hoping that my smile reflected that I actually meant what I was saying. It probably meant more than he could imagine.
"So, you wanna have some coffee. I will have to scavenge for something eatable in here but coffee I can promise", I asked him .
"Yeah, that's actually the second reason for my appearance at your doorstep. I need coffee. My machine broke down last night and I am in desperate need for the instant kind that you promised last night." His laugh set my heart rate zooming, yet again.
"It'll just be a sec."
I headed into the kitchen and busied myself with this mundane task. Setting the water on to boil, I peeked out and said loudly, "How do you take your coffee?"
"Black and sweet. Two spoons please", came back the reply.
"Coming right up."
I set out my mom's coffee mugs, the only good ones that I owned, and made his coffee to order. I had some leftover store-bought cookies which I carried out with the coffee.
"Here, let me help you with that."
"Thanks", I said as I handed the mug to him.
"So, you like it strong as well", he said, peering into the mug I held in my hand.
"Strong and not as sweet as yours."
"I don't think you would need any added sweetener in your life", he smiled at me. Getting his meaning, I could feel myself blushing to the roots of my hair and just couldn't blurt out a word in response, so I just busied myself with the mug in my hand.