She couldn’t remember when she had stopped wearing worn out jeans, beaten up Chuck Taylors, red headbands and white shirts with paint stains in it, and honestly Alex didn’t mind having abandoned the starving artsy college student that came with it— now, her closet was mostly made up of pencil skirts and stilettos, she was finally able to have a diet that didn’t consist in different-ways-to-prepare-a-lamen and she could afford a place that could fit the living room that studio apartment she had shared with three other people, but sometimes her heart ached for the unlawfulness of her college days. Which was probably why she loved building presentation models. They felt real, messy, not like the 3D plants in a computer software; all the fine work and concentration required to turn the picture inside her head into miniature perfection was really all she needed to take her head off her mundane concerns.
Except that she didn’t want to take her head off her mundane concerns.
Alex dropped her crafting tools and tried to get rid of the dried glue from the tip of her fingers as she checked her phone for the hundredth time.
Had she been too forward in her approach? Maybe she should’ve waited until he asked her out, instead of the other way around. She wasn’t sure what the social rules were these days. Texting was a new kind of language altogether, with its own rules and nuances, and she couldn’t be sure of all of them—but complete radio silence couldn’t have been a good thing, right?
They’d been texting back and forth for nearly a week now. His name wasn’t Clark Kent, much to her dismay, but Elliot Masters, criminal attorney, which sounded just as good. She hadn’t met anyone named Elliot in a long time and she liked how it sounded. He was witty and funny over text and used all of his commas right, although sometimes riddled with typos obviously caused by his apparent inability to move his fingers. Alex was in heaven.
But as she stared at it, nstead of beeping with a new message, her phone rang. Alex looked, as if deciding whether to poke the bear or not. She finally took it in her hands, still sticky with that styrofoam glue she’d used to give texture to the miniature pool in her model. Her screen read Elliot, no heart emoji because —well, because she was a grown up, for fuck’s sake. Her own heart couldn’t be helped, though; it jumped inside her chest as if looking for a way out. They’d texted, but that was the first time he called.
She instinctively ran to the bathroom mirror. She laughed at her own stupidity before taking the call. It’s not like he can see me.
“Ha-i.” Alex sounded breathless, and she hated herself for that. She took a deep breath in and started again. “Hi.”
She heard some background noise and then finally his voice. “Hi. Hey. I didn’t think you’d take it.”
His voice had almost completely faded from her mind since their meeting, but now it was awake and alive, no accent to be found, with a dark color to it, also deeper than she remembered.
“Sorry. I took a while to get to my phone.” Alex lied, and now that she had a mirror, trying to stop all that smiling. “I had glue sticking everywhere.”
“Did I interrupt anything?” He asked. “I can call you another time-”
“Oh, no, no,” she rushed. “I was waiting… I mean. I’m free now.”
His laugh in the phone sounded so sexy. “Okay. I have something important to ask you.”
Silence, and then:
“So. I know we hit it off at the bar, and talking to you has been great…”
Her stomach sank down. He was married. Of course he was; no man this gorgeous, this old, wheelchair or not, was unclaimed. She didn’t make the rules— it’s just how the world worked. Alex swallowed hard, her eyes leaving her reflexion. “But?”
“No buts.” he seemed to think about his next sentence. “It’s just an... observation. You do know I’m in a wheelchair, right? I mean, you could have missed it at the bar…”
A wave of relief washed over her at the same time his reality slapped her in the face; she wondered just how many times women had missed it, but judging from how he felt the need to warn her, or at least check if it was okay, there must have had been enough. Had someone ever bailed on him after finding out that his wheels had been concealed under the table, as if that gorgeous man had suddenly turned contagious? Or disregarded those rock-solid shoulders, vivid blue eyes and heart-warming smile as belonging to a no longer sexual man, like a gay friend—handsome, but totally out of bounds. She desperately wanted to assure him— there was no way Alex would ever miss it.
“Yeah. I know, Elliot.”
More silence. Alex could swear she heard him heave a relieved sigh. “Okay. Good. I just wanted to make sure you were aware, it gets some people by surprise.”
“Not me.” Ever.
“Okay.” A short moment of awkward silence. “I’ll pick you up later, is that all right?”
“I’ll text you the directions.” She didn’t think her smile could get any wider, but it did. It’d give her wrinkles in a few years, but they were a small price to pay for that kind of feeling.
“Bye.” But Alex didn’t hang up, and neither did he.
“Bye.” When she laughed, he followed her. “I just said that. Yeah. Hm. Be careful with the glue.”
“You too.” Foot, meet mouth.
She heard his distant laugh as he finally put an end to the call.
Alex wanted to put a dent in the wall. You too? Oh my God. She leaned against the doorway, staring at her own reflexion in the mirror again. She looked giddy, stupid and… glowing. Like she hadn’t in forever.
Alex checked herself in the mirror for the last time — she promised herself — and didn’t apply any lipstick. Better safe than sorry, right? Her long, wavy brown hair fell down her shoulders and she approved how the eyeliner made her ordinary brown eyes stand out like an ancient egyptian queen’s, paired with a little black dress that made her legs look irresistible. It had been a while since she’d been on a proper date. Guys she’d met online didn’t count, as those were hardly ever dates. Late-at-night booty calls from Richard didn’t either. A real date. With a real guy.
Alex sat on her bed to lace her stilettos around her ankles and left the room feeling fresh and pretty, like the flowers Aunt Elida had put inside her centerpiece vase earlier.
“You look stunning, Alexandra.” Aunt Elida said, smiling ear to ear as she spun around and walked to the kitchen. She drank too much water when she got nervous. Alex almost didn’t hear what she said next: “So much like your mother.”
Alex froze for a moment, holding the door to the fridge open. She forced herself to pour the water inside a glass, feeling strangely numb. Thankfully her phone rang inside her handbag and she quickly reached for it. Elliot, as expected. She heard his voice and couldn’t help the twirl her stomach made, going from sickenly chilling to pleasantly warm in seconds.
“Hey, Alex.” She heard some background noise. “Look, I’m so sorry, I got caught up here at the office with a new client… I’ll probably work till past ten...”
Her stomach sank down to her knees. “Oh.”
“I’m so sorry. Really.”
Alex held the glass close to her mouth and couldn’t help how disappointed she sounded. “Yeah, I get it.”
“I’ll make it up to you, pinky promise. Rain check?”
“Sorry.” He said again.
Couldn’t he have called earlier, before she went down thr closet to find something to wear, before she’d applied make up and got all ready to leave, expectations through roof? She was furious — not at him, but at the situation. She had to remind herself of that. Alex took a deep breath in. Did she have a choice?
She hang up before he could say something else, that sour taste still in her mouth.
“Is he downstairs?” Aunt Elida asked when Alex showed up at the living room carrying a bottle of wine.
“He’s not coming.”
“Oh, darling.” her caring eyes were compassionate. “What are you doing?”
Alex held up two wine glasses.
“We’re drinking, Nana.”
Alex didn’t know where the idea of wearing high heels to a construction site had come from, but it was almost lunch time when she drove back to the firm with a bad ankle and dirty clothes.
“What happened to you?” Jeremy asked, her personal assistant, getting up from his desk when she limped towards her office.
“I slipped.” It was more than a slip, but she didn’t want to get into embarrassing details.
“You’ll never get that shirt clean again.” He said with a frown, following her. Alex knew it was true; her white dress shirt was forever ruined around the forearms, where she had tried to prevent the fall and failed miserably before faceplanting the concrete . “Ever.”
“Yeah. I have a lunch meeting in an hour, I can’t look like I’ve been playing in the mud.” She sighed heavily, sinking onto her big leather chair. “Do you have something for me? Any calls from the Andrews contractor?”
Jeremy smiled mischievously. He walked out of her office and she watched him through the glass walls as he came back with a huge flower bouquet she, in her haste to get the weight off her sore feet, hadn’t noticed before.
“Someone sent you these.”
“Oh my.” He put the arrange on the table, with gorgeous red flowers, always classy, and Alex circled it after the card.
It was so like Richard, sending her flowers. It told her he was back in town. Twice in a month? That’s gotta be a record. She loved getting flowers though, and he knew it. Nestled between the roses, a delicate creamy white card with gorgeous golden handwriting. She wondered what lies he’d write to get her back to his hotel room this time, and how poorly her attempt to avoid him would go this time.