I'm so fickle... I'm always jumping back and forth between around 6 different novels-in-progress.
Jack Brogan had just inhaled a mouthful of dust when the phone started to ring. The sharp electronic trill made him jerk and, crouched as he was by a partially deconstructed computer tower, he hit his head on the underside of the computer desk.
Cursing under his breath, he crawled out, coughed up some dust, rubbed his aching head, and made his way through the apartment to where the phone almost vibrated with noise.
He picked up, the taste of dust and lint lingering on his tongue unpleasantly. “Hello?”
Tilly. He’d recognize her voice anywhere, anytime. Tilly Quan, his oldest friend, the girl he’d kissed when they were just five years old, before either of them knew what kissing really meant. That memory resurfaced every time he thought of her.
“Hi,” he said, comfortably, the dust he’d coughed on forgotten. “How’s the lone ranger?”
Tilly’s given name was Tiger-Lily. She came from a very tight-knit Chinese family, and Jack called her the lone ranger because she’d moved out of the family home when she’d turned eighteen. Although she and her parents were still close, she’d never looked back. A natural adventurer, Tilly had yearned to see beyond her own back yard.
“Same old,” she answered lightly. “You?”
The happy cadence of her voice curled around him and he realised how much he missed her.
They’d been practically inseparable until she’d moved out of home to attend college in
“Oh, I’m good.” He looked at himself in the long mirror that hung in the hall, to the left of the telephone table. His thick, tousled brown hair was clotted with dust. Ugh. He needed a shower.
“Glad to hear it.” Her cheerful voice spiralled up the phone line. Then, “Do you have weekend plans?”
He did, if playing a new video game while drinking a fairly large amount of beer counted as plans. “I’m not sure,” he said cautiously. “Why?”
Tilly would forever be the queen of last minute proposals. As a teenager, he couldn’t remember a weekend when she hadn’t arrived at his parents’ house, wanting to go to the pictures, or mess around the city, or some other crazy thing she’d thought up five minutes beforehand.
His life had never been dull with Tilly around.
Sometimes he missed her boundless energy and joie de vivre; her drive and ability to launch herself whole-heartedly into everything and anything she did.
“Well.” Tilly paused, and Jack knew she was about to launch into a speech.
She didn’t disappoint him.
“You know how, when we see each other-” which didn’t happen as often as he’d like “-I always have some hilarious story about my huge family’s endless attempts to match-make me?”
“Yeah,” he replied with a laugh. Her three sisters were happily married, babies on the way, and Tilly’s family seemed very keen for her to follow in their footsteps. They threw men at her left, right and centre.
After years of this treatment, however, Tilly had adapted. Whenever she needed to attend a family function, such as a wedding, a baby shower, or a birthday party, she always brought along a date. The date, usually a friend, or occasionally someone Tilly met on the way to the function, deterred questions and matchmaking prospects.
“Well, the thing is…” Tilly inhaled, then said, all in a rush, “I’m going to a wedding in
Jack blinked, absorbing what she’d said. He had to rewind her words in his mind and play them back at a slower speed.
He said the first thing that popped into his head. “I, ah, I don’t have a suit.”
“That’s fine,” Tilly all but sang. “I’ll buy you one.”
“Tilly,” he scolded. Although she made a very good living selling her artwork, he didn’t want her to waste money on a suit that he’d probably only wear once.
“It’s fine,” she replied, and something cut into her voice on the last word. Something that sounded suspiciously like traffic. “Anyway, hon, I have to go now. What are you doing? Are you home?”
Jack had a feeling he knew what she’d say next. “Yeah,” he answered cautiously.
“Well, guess what! I’m in
He smiled into the receiver. As soon as he heard Tilly’s voice, he should have been expecting something like this. “Sure,” he said, and heard the laugh that echoed in his tone.
“I knew I could count on you, Jack.” As was her signature, she blew a kiss down the phone at him, and then hung up.
Jack stared at the receiver in his hand for a few moments. When he put it down, he caught his reflection in the mirror.
Tilly would arrive in a half hour. He had dust all over his hair. The computer lay in pieces on the floor of the living area. Unwashed dishes stacked in the sink.
He’d better get a move on.
A good twenty minutes later, after Jack had cleaned the small kitchen, done the dishes, and finished emptying his computer of lint, dust bunnies and other nastiness, he stood in the shower and let the water wash away all the dirt of the day.
And then he realised.
He hadn’t actually agreed to be Tilly’s date.
The woman was good.
* * *
Tilly paid the cab driver and hopped out the door, tugging her squat, scarlet red suitcase on wheels behind her. She smiled sunnily at the driver as he pulled away. He grunted, using the universal language of cab drivers the world over.
Tilly grinned. She loved
She walked the few steps to Jack’s building and pressed the buzzer for his apartment number on the shiny metal plate by the huge glass-fronted security door. Through it, she could see a large square doormat, its brown spikes flattened by use, and a wall of mailboxes.
It’s been too long since I came here. Jack was her oldest friend, and she didn’t see him often enough. Sometimes, just before she went to sleep, she thought of him, remembering how close they’d been growing up, and she missed that.
But she also liked her life. Travelling to new places, painting what she found – the rover flowed in her veins. Being stuck in one place, raising a family, like her sisters, would never make her happy. A niggling part of her knew her family were often displeased with her choices, but hey. She was a twenty-first century woman, and if she wanted to do something, and she had the wherewithal to do it herself, then she would.
Jack’s deep voice crackled through the speaker in the door pad. “It’s open. Come on up.”
Tilly pushed the heavy glass door. It swung open, and she pulled her suitcase through, yanking it forwards before the glass door collided with it. She considered indulging her small lazy streak and taking the elevator, but Jack’s apartment was only on the second floor and she could probably use the exercise, or so her mother told her.
At the thought of her Asian-American family’s matriarch, Tilly rolled her eyes good-naturedly.
She hefted the suitcase up the stairs. She’d obviously forgotten just how much shoes weighed.
Finally, after a few heroic spurt of energy, the suitcase sat on Jack’s floor. She rolled it to the door, and just as she started to lift her hand to the door and knock, it opened.
He stood there, chocolate brown hair darkened to black by the recent damp of a shower. Strands curled around his face, stroking high cheekbones and a jaw scattered with light stubble from lack of a recent shave. He wore a plain blue t-shirt. It clung to the lean lines of his torso. A damp patch spread over his chest where he hadn’t yet dried off properly.
A white towel lay over his shoulder. He wore dark brown cords and no socks. Behind the lenses of his black-framed glasses, his ocean-blue eyes darkened as he looked at her.
Tilly hoped she wasn’t drooling. “Ah, hi.”
He smelled of something sinful.
“Hey.” He opened the door a bit wider. “Sorry, I just got out of the shower.”
“No problem.” Tilly turned up the wattage on her smile and shook off the tug of lust low in her body. Had it been so long since she’d had sex that she would started lusting after Jack? No way. They’d known each other since forever. “Sorry I just sort of descended on you,” she said as Jack closed the door behind her. He brushed past her, and as he did she felt a naughty little thrill sneak up her arm.
Annoyed with herself, she pushed it away. Wow. She totally needed to get laid if she was getting a kick from touching Jack. He was like a brother to her.
“You hungry?” he asked. “Thirsty?”
“I’d love a drink. It’s roasting outside.” She parked her suitcase by the arm of the couch in Jack’s living space and plopped down on to the cushions. She rubbed her slightly clammy palms on her cropped-jean clad thighs as Jack crossed to the small kitchen and took two soda bottles from the fridge. He popped them both open and handed her one.
Their fingers brushed. Tilly felt that little snap again and buried it away.
“Thanks,” she said, and took a deep drink. “Hey, the place looks good.”
His lips curved in an entertainingly grim smile that told her he’d only just cleaned up. Tilly didn’t call him on it.
He gestured to the apartment. “As you know, I, ah, don’t have a bed in the spare room. I have a sleeping bag and you could maybe use some cushions from the couch…”
“That’s fine with me.” Tilly drank her soda and stretched out her legs, admiring the poppy-red sneakers she’d bought a few days ago. She loved sneakers.
“Really?” He seemed surprised. "Of course, if you're uncomfortable, you can have the bed-"
She shrugged. “Jack, you only knew I’d be sleeping over a half hour ago. Quite frankly, I’m impressed that your place looks so nice.”
He looked sheepish.
Silence wound its way between them for a moment, then Jack asked, “So what’s the deal with this wedding?”
Tilly pushed her sleek fall of black hair behind her ear. She was lucky that no matter what she did, her hair remained poker straight. She’d even tried to curl it – and boy, had been a mistake – but her Asian genes simply refused to bow to even the most powerful of curling irons.
“Well, I’m just hoping you’ll show up and hang off my arm during the reception. Deflect any admirers my mother sends my way.”
Jack nodded. “I guess I can do that.”
Tilly blew out a breath. “Thanks.”
He tossed the towel on his shoulder over the back of a kitchen chair, and crossed to the room to her. Sitting beside her on the couch, he said, “You know, I don’t think it’d be so bad.”
Tilly laughed. “What? Hanging off my arm?”
“No. Well, I mean yes, that’ll be fine, of course-” he laughed at himself. “I mean, I think I’d be fine with my mom throwing women my way.”
“Ha.” Tilly finished her soda. “I bet you so would not.”
He shrugged. “I don’t think I’d do too badly. Besides, it’d take the pressure out of meeting someone.”
“On the contrary!” Tilly put her empty soda bottle down. It connected to the hardwood floor with a quiet click. “It puts so much pressure on you. The people who set up the date will be watching your every move and waiting to see how it turns out, and then when you don’t get on, there will be so. Many. Questions.”
Jack swallowed. “I guess maybe it’s a bit harder than I thought.”
Tilly stood and smoothed her skirt down. “I’ll go sort out my stuff.”
He eyed her suitcase. “Lighter than you normally pack.”
She shoved him playfully. “Shut up.”
She heard him laughing as she headed down the small hallway towards the guest room. It sat exactly as she remembered, empty, the one room in his place that was always neat as a pin. The drapes on either side of the window fluttered in the summer breeze.
Tilly shut the window. Jack had probably forgotten to close it. A breeze in
She settled the suitcase down and turned towards the small set of drawers.
She turned at a gentle knock on the half open door.
Jack stood there, leaning against the jamb, a half-smile gracing his face.
“You okay?” Tilly asked.
“Yeah.” He took a few steps towards her and grabbed her in a hug. “It’s good to see you again, Tilly.”
Oh. Tilly snuggled into his embrace. He felt the same every time she touched him, warm, dependable, safe. She knew she could count on Jack for anything. “I should have visited sooner.”
He released her, leaving Tilly feeling a little empty. “Well, you’re not entirely to blame. I should have come to see you, too.” He stepped back. “I’ll leave you to… sort stuff out. Want to go out for something to eat later?”
He closed the door behind her. An odd little tingle lingered on Tilly’s skin where Jack had embraced her. And wasn’t it the strangest thing?
She shrugged it off and set to hanging up the dress she’d be wearing tomorrow.
- Current Mood: cheerful