Slip of the Tongue(3)

By: Jessica Hawkins

“Aha. A rare glimpse of the elegant 6B in her natural form,” he says. “Lucky me.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or blush. For a charged moment, it’s as if we’re both going to speak, but neither of us does.

“Sorry,” he says first. “I shouldn’t have said that. I read too much National Geographic.”

I wave a hand. “No—it was funny.”

“I’m just trying to say I like it curly—I mean, it was nice earlier too, when you had it straight. So, just in general, it’s . . . nice.” He scratches his jaw. “You’re probably wondering why I’m here.” He produces two twenty-dollar bills from his pocket. “You saved me this morning.”

I thank him and stick the money in my robe. “How was it?”

“Words can’t describe.”

“What’d you have?”

“All the breakfast,” he says.

“Did you get the hash browns like I said?”

He raises his eyebrows. “I’m not exaggerating. I ordered every breakfast item they had.”

I gape at him. “Seriously?”

“Toast, oatmeal, fruit, orange juice . . .” He pats his stomach. “And while it was mostly good, I can now definitively say, hash browns are the best thing on the menu. Dipped in egg yolk—”

I bounce on the balls of my feet. “I do the same thing.”

“You’re a sunny-side-up girl?” he asks.

I nod. “If I wanted my eggs scrambled, I’d go to a tanning booth.”

He has the decency to laugh at my obscure joke before his expression turns serious. “Don’t even get me started on over easy.”

“Never trust anyone who orders their eggs over easy.”

This time, we both laugh. Ginger’s tags clink as she sticks her nose between us. Water drips from my hair. “Do you want to come in? I’m about to start dinner.”

It’s not entirely true. Monday nights, I usually raid the freezer or heat up leftovers from the weekend. Cooking for myself feels decadent, but tonight, I’m not cooking for myself. My neighbor is here.

He glances down the hallway, toward his apartment, and sticks his hands in his pockets. “I, ah . . . I really shouldn’t,” he says. “I still have a lot of unpacking to do.”

“Oh. All right.” I try not to let the sting of his rejection show on my face. I barely know him. Surely, he has friends of his own to eat dinner with. I pull Ginger out of the doorway by her collar. “Okay, then. Thanks for paying me back so fast.”

He smiles. “Sure.”

I shut the door and return to the bathroom, but I only dry my hair until it’s no longer dripping. It’s been a while since I wore it curly. It’ll be a nice change. I mentally list what’s saved on the DVR. Even though I watch plenty of TV, there’s a lot to choose from. I should probably find a hobby of my own, but sometimes, nothing beats staying in. Especially on a cold Monday night.

Once I’m in my sweats, I pour myself a glass of red wine and open the fridge. I could make something nutritious, but now all I can think of is breakfast food. Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Sunny-side-up eggs. Hash browns. I wonder gleefully about the look on my favorite waitress’s face when the man across the hall ordered everything on the menu.

Ginger perks up from where she’s lying in the middle of the kitchen floor. A second later, there’s another knock at the door. She barks once and leaves the room.

I react the same way. Straighten up. Get wary. I don’t know the neighbors very well. At thirty-one, everyone on this floor is nearly twice my age anyway. We say hello, and that’s it. It’s intentional.

Except for this man, who’s on my doorstep for the second time in twenty minutes. It’s possible I’ve said more words to him than anyone else in the building. I don’t open up all the way since I’m not wearing a bra. Yes, I decide—he is a hunk. It’s a good word to describe him. “Hello again, 6A.”

“So,” he says, “I thought it over. I haven’t unpacked the kitchen yet. It’s not really my domain. Plus, my heater is still blowing like I’m made of plastic and it wants to melt me.” He billows his t-shirt, the same one from earlier. He looks ready for summer.

“Mine’s off,” I warn. “It’s cold in here.”

He groans. “You might as well be talking dirty to me.”

I arch an eyebrow and invite him in. “I’m making stir-fry.” I hadn’t planned on it, but there are vegetables in the fridge and leftover Thai ginger chicken from last night. “Are you a vegetarian?”

“Babe, no.”

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