Authors: Melanie Shawn
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
He walked halfway up the block and stopped in front of the glass door that had the number 2202 painted over the top of it. He opened it and headed directly up the stairs. Katie’s apartment was on the third floor. He glanced at the text message again to reconfirm the apartment number: #314. On his way up the stairs, he noticed that it was a nice building. Older, but well-maintained. He could see Katie living here.
On his way to the unit, he passed an elderly woman who was peeking out of her door. She looked to be about 4’10” and she had curlers in her hair and a lit cigarette hanging out of her mouth. She eyed him suspiciously, but he smiled at her and noticed a faint flush rise from her neck to her cheeks. She mumbled something about him being a flirt and closed the door.
Before long, he had reached the door that had a plaque next to it with the metal numbers '314' attached to it. He took a deep breath. It was go time. He knocked and waited for an answer. Nothing. He knocked louder and said, “Chelle? Its Riley. Open up.”
He knocked again speaking loudly, “Chelle, Katie is really worried about you. Jason sent me to check on you. Open the door.”
He put his ear to the door to see if he could hear any movement, any noise – anything at all that would tell him that she was, in fact, alive and in the apartment.
He heard footsteps behind him and turned to see a portly man who looked to be about seventy coming up the stairs with a large set of keys in his hands. Riley exhaled. Wow. He hadn’t even realized that he had been holding his breath at the thought that it might be her walking up behind him.
“Hey there, young man,” the elderly gentleman said as he bustled up beside Riley, “I got a call from Katie and she said that you needed access to her apartment.”
The older gentleman unlocked the door, “There you go, son. My name is Randall, let me know if you need anything else.”
Riley extended his hand, “Riley Sloan, nice to meet you.”
The man smiled warmly, “Sloan, huh? Are you related to that boy Jason who swept in and stole our Katie from us?”
Riley liked this man, it made him feel better knowing that Katie, and Chelle for the last week, had been under his watchful eye. “I am, sir. Jason’s my little brother.”
“Well, he seemed like a good man. But I told him,” Randall sternly pointed his finger at Riley’s chest, “I said, if you hurt our Katie, mister, you’ll be dealing with me. And I meant it.”
“I’m sure you did, sir. And I'm also sure that he heard you loud and clear,” Riley knew for a fact that Jason would never do anything to hurt Katie. Jason was one of the good guys.
Not like him.
“Hey, do you know if Chelle, the girl who has been staying here, is out?” Riley asked.
Randall lowered his voice, “That poor girl hasn’t left the apartment in three days. She just keeps having food delivered...and I did notice a couple of deliveries from the liquor store across the street, as well,” Randall’s eyes narrowed and he took a protective step in front of the door. Keeping his voice low, he asked, “You aren’t the reason she’s been holed up in here crying her eyes out, now are ya, son?”
“No, sir.” Riley answered honestly, “I’m just here to make sure that she's alright.”
Seemingly satisfied with that answer, the man patted Riley briskly on the arm before stepping around him and heading back down the stairs.
Riley took a deep breath and opened the door, stepping into the darkened apartment. It took a moment for his vision to adjust to the dim light. He waited until it did before closing the front door. He looked around the small space and saw empty pizza boxes, Chinese food containers, wine bottles, bags of chips, and Snickers wrappers strewn across the kitchen table, the couch, and the floor. It smelled stale, like old food.
He stepped around and over the junk food debris and headed to what he assumed was the bedroom. “Chelle, open up. The landlord let me in,” he said as he knocked on the door.
Again, no answer.
He turned the knob and slowly pushed it open. In the room he could make out a chest of drawers against the far wall, a small desk in the left corner, a chair beside the door that had more empty food containers and a bed in the middle of the room.
In the center of the bed he saw a small form covered up with blankets. He stepped closer and not-so-quietly said, “Hey, Chelle. Wake up, sleepy head. You have company.”
He waited to see if he detected any movement. When nothing happened he took two steps to the head of the bed and pulled the deep purple comforter back revealing a dark-haired sleeping beauty.
He glanced up and down, taking a quick inventory of her stats. She was breathing steadily and sleeping soundly, in what was probably alcohol induced slumber from how deeply passed out she seemed to be.
Man, she was gorgeous. She really did look like a princess.
He thought back to the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale he had seen as a kid, on the big screen. Hmm. He seemed to remember something about a kiss. Looking down at Chelle’s perfect red lips, he was tempted to lean down and brush his mouth against hers.
Shaking his head and moving quickly away from the side of the bed he raked his hands through his hair. This poor girl was passed out, and from the looks of the apartment was not doing so well emotionally.
And what was his first reaction? He wanted to make-out with her. What the hell was wrong with him? He needed to get a grip.
He grimaced. He was certainly no Prince Charming.
He stepped back into the safety of the small living room and assessed the situation, mentally took note of what needed to be done. Looking around, he realized that the apartment was in worse shape than he had originally thought. There was no way he was going to make his flight tonight.
He had some calls to make, a rental car to return (no way was he paying $40 a day for parking) and, finally - some cleaning to do.
--- ~ ---
Chelle came awake to the sound of a beating drum. Why would someone be playing a drum indoors? Especially this loudly?
She tried to open her eyes, but found that her eyelids were encased in concrete. At least that was how it felt. They were heavy, and felt abrasive and itchy on her delicate eyes. She tried even harder to open them, but resigned herself to the fact that it was a losing battle.
If she could just get the drummer to stop banging!
She decided that she needed to sit up. Maybe that simple act would help her to open her eyes, to become aware of her surroundings. When she tried to lift her head, however, she realized her mistake. HUGE mistake! Her stomach rolled with nausea, and the banging sound became louder and was accompanied by sharp pains – pains that felt like ragged shards of glass being twisted viciously into her brain.
Note to self: Vodka and pizza do not mix.
That's when she realized that there was no mystery drummer in the bedroom (although if she didn't feel so crappy, she may not have objected to having a mystery drummer in her bedroom...). The thump-thump-thumping she heard was the pounding of her own head.
She laid her head back down in defeat, but did come up with a plan. She decided that she would lay perfectly still long enough for the nausea to pass, and then maybe she would just try and ROLL out of bed. Gravity, FTW!
She carefully placed her hands over her stomach and concentrated on breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth.
“You awake sleeping beauty?”
At the sound of the deep voice, adrenaline overcame all of her symptoms and Chelle bolted upright in bed, her eyes flying open.
Adrenaline didn't help her vision, though, and it was pretty fuzzy. She was having a hard time focusing. She could just make out a shadowy figure sitting in the chair across from the bed. Just as she was getting ready to scream bloody murder, the figure spoke again.
“Chelle, its Riley. Don’t be scared.”
The deep sexy voice certainly sounded like Riley. From what she could make out of his features, the seated figure looked like (a blurry version of) Riley. The frame was right – the blurry blob had Riley's wide, muscled shoulders and taut, sculpted waist. The rest of the features fit, as well. She could barely make out dark blonde hair and sun-kissed tanned skin.
But what in God’s name would Riley Sloan be doing here!?
“Riley?” Chelle spoke his name in disbelief. Trying to make some sort of sense of what was going on, she asked, “Is it...what are you...why are you here?”
“What?” she asked, bewildered.
“Sightseeing,” he repeated.
“In my bedroom?” she murmured, puzzled. She rubbed her eyes, trying to clear her vision to see if he was really here, in the flesh. After all these years. Live and in person – and in a chair that sat only a few feet away from her.
Was it true? Or was he just a smoking hot hallucination?
Probably the latter, she concluded.
She was most likely experiencing the final stages of her complete and total mental melt down.
Well, she thought sanguinely, I can think of worse ways to lose my mind than imagining the sexiest man in the world in my bedroom with me. If I have to go crazy, at least I have company.
Or, at least I'm imagining I do...
The figment of her imagination smiled at her and said, “Jason called me. Katie was worried about you. She's been trying to get a hold of you for a few days. When she wasn’t able to reach you, she wanted to fly home early to check on you. But, since I was already in California, they asked if I could stop by and make sure that you were
ay, so maybe not a figment of her addled imagination. She didn't imagine that some sexy hallucination she conjured up would sit there talking to her about phone calls and plane schedules.
She said, “I haven’t gotten any calls from her.” She reached over to retrieve her phone from the nightstand but her arms were so heavy that she didn’t quite make it.
“Your phone was dead. It’s charging in the kitchen.”
She tried to get out of bed, fueled by new urgency, saying, “I need to go call her.”
However, it seemed that even new urgency was not enough to overcome physical deficits, and this proved to be much trickier than she had assumed it would be. The blankets she lay in were wrapped around her tightly, and try as she might to free her arms and legs, it felt as though her limbs were filled with lead. She was having a tough time disentangling herself.
Riley stood and stepped towards her. She stopped writhing and just stared. Good LORD that was a mighty fine male specimen moving toward her! Riley was wearing a white v-neck t- shirt that he filled out like one of the models she used to drool over on the Calvin Klein billboards. Well, to be fair, she'd actually drooled over them because they reminded her of Riley...
He looked like a Greek God in jeans.
He stood beside her bed, “I already called them last night after I got here, and I let them know that you were
He picked up a bottle of water that she hadn’t noticed was sitting on the night stand.
“You got here last night?” she asked incredulously as he twisted the cap and handed the bottle to her. She took the proffered bottle and, as she did, her fingers brushed his.
Her body reacted as if she had gotten an electric shock. A zinging sensation raced from the pads of her fingertips where she had felt his hand beneath hers and zoomed all the way up her arm. She shivered.
Trying to cover up her completely out of proportion physical reaction to this innocent touch, she quickly brought the water bottle to her lips and started sipping from it. She had no idea if she had, in fact, been successful in concealing her reaction. Maybe he'd think she'd been...thirsty? It was worth a shot. When she looked up at him, he DID seem to have a small smirk on his lips. But she could have been imagining it.
“Yes, I got here last night. The landlord let me in. I tried to wake you, but you were passed out cold.”
“Where did you sleep?” she asked as she took another small sip of water. She definitely felt a little dehydrated...in addition to all of the other things that she was definitely feeling.
“I didn’t,” he answered matter-of-factly.
Her brow furrowed, “You didn’t sleep?”
He simply shook his head.
He shook his head again.
Chelle knew that she was still a little (well, maybe a lot) foggy-brained...but that simply didn’t make any sense. She was certain she would be having the same reaction even if she were clear-headed. Why in the world would he not sleep?
Well, she thought dryly, only one way to find out.
“Why didn’t you sleep?”
“I didn’t want you to wake up and be scared that some guy was in the apartment. Plus, I didn’t know how much you had drunk, so I wanted to make sure you were alright.”
“So you just watched me sleep,” she smiled sheepishly before taking another drink of water, “Sorry that must have been boring.”
His voice dropped an octave and there was almost a growl to it as he said softly, “No, it wasn’t.”