Every week, on Wednesday night, I get groceries delivered from Peapod. There’s a discount if I’m willing to accept the delivery any time during a six-hour window, and since I never, ever leave my apartment, I always opt for the longer window. The Peapod delivery guy comes into my apartment, deposits my groceries on the kitchen counter, and I tip him a tenner. If the delivery guy is running ahead of schedule, sometimes after he sees the ten-dollar bill and gets a good look at me, he’ll offer to help me put the groceries away. I never say no.
Of course, I don’t cook most nights. Make that, I don’t cook—ever. The groceries are mostly cereal and milk, bread, cold cuts. If I want a hot meal, I get delivery. I live in Manhattan, where the choices for takeout food are endless. There’s no shortage of able-bodied delivery guys willing to bring food directly to my door, thus enabling my inevitable trajectory toward being completely homebound.
Tonight, I feel like a burger.
A juicy cheeseburger, grilled to a medium, slathered with cheese and bacon. I don’t work up much of an appetite sitting around my apartment all day, so I skipped lunch, and now I’m starving. I might even get a side of French fries.
There used to be a diner five blocks away that was my go-to for a good burger, but they shut down during the summer, so I haven’t had a decent burger since then. The only burger I’ve had recently came with the Number Five meal at McDonald’s. Yes, even McDonald’s delivers now. Really, there’s no reason to ever venture outside.
I asked Luis about it, and he told me that there’s a diner a few blocks away that makes a decent burger, so I look up the number and give them a call. The girl who answers the phone sounds very young, and I can hear her popping her bubble gum on the other line.
“Uh, hi,” I say. “Do you deliver?”
The girl cracks her gum loudly. “Yup. What do you want?”
“Bacon cheeseburger. Medium. Side of fries.”
“Okay,” the girl says. “And how do you want that burger cooked?”
I grit my teeth. “Medium.”
“Oh.” She pauses to hopefully write it down. “And do you want any fries with that?”
My temple throbs. Maybe I should just hang up and get Thai food. “Yes, I do.”
“All right,” she says. “So it’ll be, like, fifteen minutes?”
I’m about to tell her my address but then I realize I’m talking to a dead line. What the hell? This is why it’s better to order online—you don’t have to deal with a gum-popping idiot.
I call back the number, hoping to get someone else, but not at all surprised when the same girl answers the phone. My right arm tenses up against my will, my fingers squeezing into a tight fist. “Hey, I just put in an order for delivery,” I tell her. “But you never took my address.”
“Yeah,” the girl says, “that’s ‘cuz we don’t deliver. You have to pick it up.”
A vein throbs in my temple. I asked her if they deliver. I may not be as sharp as I used to be Before, but I know I asked her that. It was the first thing I said when I called. I want this burger, but it might cost me my sanity. “You told me you guys deliver.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“I assure you, you did.”
I can almost hear her shrug. “Well, we don’t. Do you want the order or not?”
Maybe I could try out Uber Eats, which I’ve heard good things about. They’ll bring the food right to my door for a nominal fee. If I set it up right now, I’m sure they could get the burger and bring it back to me within the hour. If not, I could call another burger place that does deliver.
As I’m weighing my options, I get a sick feeling in my stomach. This diner is two blocks away. Two blocks and there isn’t even snow on the ground yet. But here I am, frantic to find some way to have the food brought to me so I don’t have to get it myself. If I can’t make it two blocks, I’m in trouble.
I’m going to end up one of those people who are scared to even leave the building. Sooner than I’d thought.
I’m too young to let that happen to me. My lifestyle is becoming unhealthy. Two blocks shouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle for me.
“Fine,” I say. “I’ll come get it.”
Luann is a godsend. I have to work late today at the restaurant, and she agreed to pick up Henry while she was getting Katie. Apparently, Henry and Katie are getting tight. I believe my son may have his first crush. It’s adorable.
But other than that, my day at the restaurant is horrible with a capital H. It’s not even the end of the lunch rush, and it seems like every customer had a ridiculous complaint we can’t figure out how to address. Right now, I’m standing in front of the table of a man wearing a suit jacket and bowtie, with Harry Potter spectacles resting on his nose, and I’m having the stupidest argument I’ve ever had in my life.
“I can’t eat egg yolks,” the man is saying. “It’s a health issue. I’m surprised in this day and age you can’t accommodate such a simple request.”
“We have an egg white omelet,” I explain patiently. “But we can’t make you a sunny side up egg with only egg whites.”
“Well, why not?” the man demands to know.
This is literally the eighth or ninth time I’ve explained it to him during this conversation, but for the tenth time, I say, “Because the ‘sun’ in a sunny side up egg is made from the yolk.”
“You’re telling me you can’t make it from the egg white though?” The man seems astonished. “You’re not able to fulfill that simple request?”
“I…” I don’t know what to say. We could make him an egg white omelet and call it sunny side up, but he could say we didn’t give him what he ordered, which would technically be true, since there’s no way to give him what he ordered. “No, we can’t. But I’d be happy to get you an egg white omelet, or if you’d like—”
“I’m not going to debate this with you,” the man barks at me. “If you can’t make me what I want, I’ll go somewhere else.”
Right around now, I want to snap back at him, “Good luck with that, dumbass!” But I don’t. If there’s one thing I learned in the service industry, it’s to take the crap with a smile like it’s a joy to have it shoveled on me. I keep the smile plastered on my face as I say, “I’m so sorry to hear that, sir.”
And I don’t even give him the finger when he leaves. I’ve really matured in the last decade.
A few customers have been watching our little interaction, including a man who is standing at the empty register at the front. The manager’s daughter, Ashlee, is supposed to be manning the register and taking phone orders, but she’s inexplicably disappeared—again. If it were possible to fire that girl, I would definitely do it, especially since when she returns after her frequent disappearances, she frequently stinks of marijuana. In any case, since Ashlee is MIA and the waitresses are all busy, I rush over to help the man at the register. He looks up when I arrive and…
Gosh, he’s nice-looking. My breath catches in my throat at the sight of his startling blue-green eyes. He’s wearing glasses with simple black frames, but even his lenses can’t hide them—it’s a little hard to look away. Short dirty blond hair, slight mussed from the hat he’d been wearing. A day’s stubble on his chin. And he’s got the absolute sexiest one-inch white scar above his left eyebrow.
An adorable smile spreads across his face as he lays his eyes on me. Wow, that smile. I don’t know if I’ve ever had anyone look at me quite that way—not even Greg.
And then we’re just staring at each other like a couple of idiots. I’m staring at his lips and wondering what it would be like to kiss him. I’m wondering what it would be like to run my hand through his dark blond hair. Or better yet, down his bare chest.
I can’t remember falling quite so instantly in lust with a guy… ever. My heart won’t stop thudding in my chest.
Oh my God, is it getting hot in here?
“I, uh…,” he starts to say, but then he seems to lose his train of thought. It seems impossible, but he looks like he’s just as into me as I am into him.
I swallow hard. I have to remember I’m at work. Can’t start ripping my clothes off now. Be professional, Noelle. “Can… can I help you?”
“Oh.” He blinks a few times, as if remembering where he is. His smile is adorably embarrassed. “I… uh, I got a to-go order.”
He lifts his left hand to rub his forehead, touching that sexy scar of his. I wonder how he got that scar—he doesn’t look like the kind of guy who would be in a fistfight, but the thought of him slugging a guy in the back alley of a bar sends another tingle through me. I notice one other detail: no ring. He’s not married.
“By the way,” he says, “that customer over there was nuts. You can’t order a sunny side up egg with only egg whites. The sun is the yolk.”
“Thank you.” He’s hot and he’s sane. It’s a good combination. One that’s unfortunately very rare in single men my age.
“Plus,” he adds, “egg white omelets are awful. The best part is the yolk.”
Hot and sane and with good taste in eggs. “I agree. Especially when it’s all runny.”
“Yeah!” He nods eagerly. I love the way his face lights up. “You should have just brought that guy a sunny side up egg. Maybe that’s why he was such an ass—lack of egg yolks.”
“The customer is always right, you know?”
“I’m impressed at your patience.”
“Well, I’m very nice.”
“Yeah, I noticed.” The smile fades slightly from his lips. “I’m not nice, so…”
“No?” I don’t believe it. A guy who smiles like that has got to be nice. I can tell from his face. “I’m pretty sure you’re nice.”
“No, I’m really not,” he sighs. His aqua eyes bore into me. Even with the geeky glasses, he’s sexy enough that he could be a player—the stubble and the scar put him over the edge. But I don’t get a player kind of vibe from him. Everything about him cries out Mr. Nice Guy. “I promise you—I’m not nice. I used to be, but…”
I shrug. “Well, everyone can’t be nice, can they? As long as you’re not a complete asshole.”
“And what if I am?”
I look right into those intense blue-green eyes. “Prove it.”
He lifts an eyebrow and grins crookedly. “Prove it?”
“Yeah. What makes you think you’re such an asshole?” When he doesn’t answer, I prompt him, “Do you torture puppies?” I think of Katie Williamson sobbing in the lobby after her encounter with that asshole in 5B. “Make schoolgirls cry?”
“Uh…” The tips of his ears turn pink. “I’ve made a few schoolgirls cry.”
I doubt it. He’s good-looking, but I suspect he doesn’t have it in him to be mean. “And what else?”
“Well,” he says thoughtfully, “sometimes when I finish the milk from the milk carton, I put it back in the fridge empty.”
I clutch my hand to my chest. “Oh my. I may have to ask you leave, Mister.”
“Is that really the best you’ve got?” I grin at him as I roll my eyes. “Sorry, but I’m still not convinced.”
“Okay, how about this: when I was a kid, I told my sister there was a boogeyman in her closet, and she had to sleep in my parents’ bed for two months.”
“Kids will be kids.”
“All right, all right…” He’s really thinking about it now, a sexy crease forming between his eyebrows. “Um…”
“May I suggest you can’t think of anything because you’re actually a nice guy?”
He shakes his head soberly. “No. Trust me.”
It’s funny—usually, it’s the opposite. The city is full of asshole guys who are masquerading as nice guys. Even if he is an asshole, I’d have to appreciate his refreshing honesty. Although I don’t believe it.
“You gotta give me something then.” I spread my hands apart. “Like, demand that I give you a bacon cheeseburger without any bacon or cheese. Or… I don’t know… park your car in the handicapped space outside.”
He blinks a few times at that last one. His mouth falls open, and the flush in his ears enters his cheeks. Uh oh.
“You didn’t, did you?” I say. “I mean, park in the handicapped spot?”
If he did… well, I’d definitely have to give the guy his Asshole Card. Even if you’re just running in to get takeout, it’s not okay to park in those spots. Not that I would never date a guy who did that, but I’d definitely have to educate him a bit.
“No,” the guy mumbles. “I… uh, I walked over.”
My heart sinks. He’s broken his eye contact and is looking anywhere but at me. I don’t know what I said wrong, but it was obviously something. I clear my throat, and look at the to-go orders behind me. There are three of them. “So what name is your order under?”
“Jeremy,” I repeat. I identify the name scribbled on the middle bag. I lift it up—it’s light. Just food for him, I assume.
“Bacon cheeseburger?” I ask. “With sweet potato fries on the side?”
He nods and reaches for the container with his left hand, still avoiding my eyes. What the hell did I do wrong? “Thanks.”
I slide his check across the counter. “Cash or credit?”
Then he hesitates.
Seriously, he better not be one of those deadbeats who “discovers” at the register that he’s unable to pay. That is the worst. If that’s the case, he’s most definitely an asshole. He’d be even worse than the customer I had yesterday who not only decided not to tip, but took it upon himself to deduct two dollars from his tab because of “poor service.”
But then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet, which I can immediately see has plenty of green bills in it. He places the wallet down on the counter and starts fumbling with it. That’s when I notice he’s doing the whole thing one-handed. I hadn’t realized it before because his coat is so bulky, but now that I’m looking, I can see his right arm is pressed against his chest, the hand squeezed into a tight fist. And now I see exactly why he got quiet when I made that stupid stupid comment about the handicapped parking spot.
I wish I could say my reaction to his visible disability is something classy like… I don’t know… not staring. Or better yet, not letting my jaw hang open.
I’d like to say that but I can’t.
Jeremy looks up and notices the way I’m staring. He’s beet-red now. When he finally gets out a bill from his wallet, he practically shoves it at me. “Here. Keep the change.”
He’s tipped me over a hundred percent on the bill. “I hope you enjoy your burger.”
He avoids my eyes. “Yeah, thanks,” he mutters.
And then he reaches for a metal crutch that’s leaning against the counter. I had vaguely noticed the crutch, but it hadn’t even occurred to me it was his. After he’s got his forearm laced through the metal rings, he reaches out for the plastic bag containing his order. His blue-green eyes meet mine briefly, and he shakes his head almost imperceptibly.
He turns away from me and limps in the direction of the door. He leans heavily on the crutch, leading with his left foot, then pulling his right along slowly and carefully. At one point, his right foot sticks on a crack in our floor, and he struggles for a moment before getting it loose.
As he puts his good hand on the handle of the door, I realize something:
I still find this man incredibly sexy.
I haven’t looked at a guy and felt this way in so long. I don’t know what his deal is, but I don’t care. I know it’s cheesy, but I believe in love at first sight. When I first laid eyes on Greg, I knew he was the man I was going to marry. And… well, that didn’t work out so great in the end, but the point is, I was right. I did marry Greg.
I don’t want to blow it with this guy. I really think he could be…
Something. I don’t know what yet, but something.
I can’t let him leave. Once he does, he’ll never come back. So before he can get out the door, I quickly lift my hand to wave at him, offer him my most come-hither smile, and say, “Come back again if you like the burger, okay?”
He hesitates, gripping the handle of his crutch in his left hand. He turns to look at me, but there’s no affection in his eyes. He nods briefly. It’s barely even a nod. It’s a quarter-nod. “Yeah. Okay.”
Damn. I’ll probably never see him again.
I miss it.
The girl working the counter at Moonlight Diner was flirting with me. Actually, she was more of a woman than a girl. Yeah, definitely a woman. She had these sexy lines around her mouth that made me think she was probably a couple of years older than I am. Everything about her was sexy, actually. Her dark hair pulled into a messy bun behind her head. Her suggestive smile. The way she didn’t lose her cool when that asshole customer was laying into her.
I was very out of practice. Women don’t flirt with me anymore. For starters, there’s the fact that I rarely leave my apartment, which means I don’t interact with human beings much in general. On top of that, I know the crutch and my bad arm are not what most women would think of as attractive. The truth is, just thinking about it makes me lose all my confidence. So I don’t even bother flirting.
But there was something about this woman—the one whose nametag pinned to her chest said Noelle. Noelle. She’s the first thing that’s reminded me of Christmas that I haven’t hated. When our eyes met, it was like a truck hit me. I mean that in the best possible way. I looked at her, and all I could think to myself is, I want to kiss this woman.
I want this woman.
Really, really bad.
I haven’t felt that way in a long time. Yeah, I still look at porn and jerk off and all that shit because it’s a biological need. But it’s really unsatisfying. On the rare occasion I meet a real life woman around my age, I generally feel nothing. I had thought maybe the bleed in my brain killed my libido too, on top of everything else.
Noelle proved that isn’t true. I’m still as horny as I ever was. I just hadn’t met the right woman. When I looked at her and she smiled back at me in a way that wasn’t at all condescending, I thought maybe I’d finally met the right woman. Maybe I could ask her out and it would actually go somewhere instead of a stammered apology when I try to ask for another date, followed by a cold shower.
Then she made that joke about the handicapped spot outside. And that’s when I realized:
She didn’t know.
If I could have hid it from her, God help me, I would have. But I knew it was only a matter of time. Minutes… or more like seconds. Sure enough, as soon as I tried to pay, I gave myself away. When she finally noticed my right arm clenched to my chest, she started gawking at me.
Just like fucking everyone else.
I’m an idiot. I didn’t realize she hadn’t noticed. I thought she was the one woman who saw my disability and liked me anyway. That was a real punch in the gut.
I miss women. I miss being close to women. I miss kissing. Holy shit, I really miss kissing.
And there’s sex. I haven’t had sex in over four years. It’s starting to feel permanent.
Something’s got to change. Otherwise, I’m going to be single for the rest of my life.
Will Noelle discover Jeremy is actually the neighbor she hates?
To be continued....