“God damn, motherfucking, sonofabitch,” I mumble at the exterior door of my apartment complex when the damn key won’t turn in the damn lock. It doesn’t help that I’m trying to keep my purse from sliding off my shoulder while at the same time I’m also working to prevent bags of groceries from cutting off circulation to my hand.
Jiggling the key in a futile attempt to now dislodge it from the lock, I nearly drop everything into the snow beside me.
The key is now stuck.
Why? Why does this shit happen to me? I’d like to think I’m generally a good person, but clearly, the universe or karma or whatever, disagrees. I must have been a real asshole in some other life.
Shuffling footsteps behind me ratchet my anxiety levels off the damn Richter scale. Great, my key is stuck in the door and one of my neighbors needs to get inside.
“So sorry,” I mumble to the person behind me without turning to face them. “My key’s stuck.” I tug frantically at the metal, wrenching on it in a way I’m sure would break it if I were actually strong enough.
“Need some help?” the deep timbre of my exceedingly hot neighbor from down the hall offers from behind me.
Of course, it would be him.
“Just give me a minute,” I plead, desperation making me wrench on the key until I’m sure I might actually break the damn thing in the lock and leave us both stranded out here.
Hot neighbor guy waits patiently, not a sound from him while I continue to make a fool of myself. He says nothing, but I swear I can feel him watching, silently judging me for my ineptitude with a fucking door.
“Fine,” I proclaim, dropping my hand and nearly losing the groceries. “Yes, I could use some help.” You’ve won this time door, but it’s the last. I swear to all that is holy, that hunk of metal is defective. This scene, with me going a round or two with the door isn’t a new one, it happens at least once a week. “I think my key’s broken,” I add in an attempt to make myself appear a little less pathetic.
“I’ve got it,” he replies, waiting.
I assume, he’s waiting for me to move out of the way so he can get on to the part where he actually ‘gets’ it. I turn slowly, so as to make sure I don’t whip my groceries into the door, or my leg, and descend the concrete steps. All three of them.
Hot neighbor guy gives me a smile as he grabs ahold of my keys. Not like one of those patronizing smiles, but one that appears as though he understands my pain.
Maybe I’m not the only one who has problems with this door. “Does your key do this too?” I ask, because I have to fill the silence with something so I don’t feel quite so weird.
“On occasion,” he answers, gently working my key up and down and back and forth before sliding it from the lock. Holding it up, he squints at it in the dim illumination of the yellowed light above the door. “Yeah, your key is fucked,” he announces, then holds his up beside mine. “Look at the teeth here.” He points to my key. “They’re not supposed to be worn like that.”
“Awesome,” I reply dourly. Now I have to harass Gerald, the building superintendent, for a new key. I feel bad any time I have to bother him for something—which seems to be far too often for the three months I’ve been living here.
My neighbor shrugs. “Gerald will give you a new one if you ask. Just make sure you let him know this one needs to get trashed, so he doesn’t give it to a new tenant.”
“Yeah, thanks,” I concede with a sigh.
Hot neighbor slides his key into the lock and deftly twists it, producing that wonderfully satisfying sound of the lock popping open. No wiggling of keys or anything. I have to admit I’m mildly jealous of his working key.
Holding the door open, he holds out his hand to me. It looks almost like how you’d imagine a Disney prince would hold out his hand to assist his brand-new princess he’s head over heels with even though he met her three hours ago.
Except, I have no idea why neighbor guy has his hand out like that.
“I can carry your bags,” he offers, nodding to the bags hanging from the crook of my elbow. “I promise I won’t run off with your groceries,” he coaxes with a smile.
God, that smile. I like it a little too much. It’s one of the warmest and welcoming expressions I’ve ever seen, and it scares the crap out of me because people aren’t really that nice. I mean, like, my family gives me smiles like that, but they’re my family. They’re legally obligated to love me, despite all my fuck-ups in life. This guy, however, doesn’t know me at all and not only is he gracing me with this beautiful smile, he’s offering to help me.
This is exactly how it started last time, with gallant gestures and handsome smiles. Although, I don’t see that same spark of underlying evil in my neighbor’s eyes as I saw in my ex’s. Then again, I didn’t catch on that the glimmer in Dustin’s eyes I always mistook for mischief was actually malevolence until the first time he hit me.
“Uh, I’ve got it,” I blow him off nonchalantly, unsuccessfully shrugging with the weight of my groceries tugging at the straining muscles of my shoulders.
His eyebrows rise a bit before he cocks his head to the side, studying me while he holds the door open and allows all the heat from the foyer to warm the entire outside of Minnesota. “Okay,” he concedes. “I’m just trying to help.”
Ugh. He is just trying to be helpful. And nice. I hesitate for another moment, have I become so cynical that I believe there’s an ulterior motive behind every offer of kindness? Yep.
Damn you, Dustin. You’ve ruined my faith in humanity.
“If you run, I will hunt you down. I know where you live,” I threaten with a smirk, handing over the heaviest of the bags. Only one. I don’t want him to feel I’m taking advantage of his kindness.
“Fair enough,” he responds with a chuckle, holding the door open, waiting for me to pass. Like a gentleman.
The problem is, the stoop is small. Like, when it’s raining and there are two people waiting to get in the door, one person is absolutely getting drenched because both parties cannot fit on the tiny slab. Which means, I have to practically grind up against him to get through the door without falling off the edge. So I suck it up and take that bullet. It’s just too bad there are puffy coats in between us.
My cheeks glow pink with embarrassment when I brush against him to get over the threshold. Thank goodness for the frigid outside air, because then at least I can pretend my blush is a result of some mild wind burn, rather than the illicit thoughts running through my head at merely the proximity to this man.
Ignoring my body’s juvenile reaction to the closeness of an attractive man, I hoof it up two flights of stairs to the third floor. We’re not fancy enough to have an elevator here at the Riverview Apartments—with no view of the river. That, and my floor—the third—is the top floor of the building, not really worth putting an elevator in, I suppose.
At the top of the stairs, I turn and wait for him to catch up, watching him ascend the stairs like some Greek god arising from the ocean. Except, of course, the glaring flaws in my analogy, like the absence of water and the addition of shit-brown carpet.
“Thanks for your help,” I say, holding out my hand for my bag. “You can stop staring at my ass now.”
His mouth quirks up into a grin as he hands me back the bag.
Damn, now it feels heavy.
“You’re going to cut off circulation to your fingers if you keep carrying your bags like that,” he advises, that adorable smirk still pulling up the corner of his kissable lips.
“Thanks for the tip,” I call over my shoulder as I head down the hall to my door, a smile firmly plastered to my face.
“And for the record, I wasn’t staring. I only glanced a few times,” he yells down the hall to me.
Chuckling, I shake my head, but I feel all warm and gooey inside. If he thinks I’m attractive enough to stare at my ass after a ten hour shift at the hospital, he’d be floored if he saw me when I actually get ready to go out. Oh wait, I don’t go out.
“Good night,” I tell him.
“Good night,” he responds back.
One of these days…I’m going to have to actually find out his name.