“Hello. Are you home?” Odera called out stepping into the foyer. “Oh, there you are. I just love your building.”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“I wanted to surprise you.”
“You succeeded. How did you get my keys?”
Rather than respond, she scrutinized my half-lens reading glasses.
“You’re too young for that style.”
I inhaled deeply and released slowly.
“The building and apartment keys?”
With each arm hugging a separate grocery bag, key ring held between her teeth, she hip-bumped the door shut. Shuffling the bags, she addressed me as though she had returned from a grocery shopping expedition, “I made duplicates from the ones I borrowed from your locker. Aren’t you going to be a gentleman and help with these?”
“My locker has a lock. And what makes you think that I need groceries?”
Odera walked toward the kitchen.
“You were showering. You should pay more attention: I could have been a thief. As for food, you usually eat from the caterer’s truck. Of all the meals we’ve shared, the only home-cooked ones were the picnics I brought. Not that I haven’t invited you over for scads of them.” Cupboard doors creaked, opening and closing with little thumps and bangs. “Hmm, just as I thought: cereal, KD and canned foods. Nothing substantial.”
“Leave the keys on the table. Take the groceries with you.” I rubbed the bridge of my nose. As much as I found the situation appealing, equally strong feelings of dissent warred inside. I did not know whether to kiss her or to kick her ass to the curb. Having entered the kitchen, I was unprepared to witness Odera rearranging my kitchen cupboards. “Didn’t you hear me?”
“Oh, I heard you,” she acknowledged, unruffled, “but you do not really mean it. Grams said that you have your poles crossed. Aren’t you going to give me a hug?”
She stepped forward.
“My what, crossed?” Traitorous arms went around her to find her soft and pliant. “You’re polar dysfunctional. In truth, you want me to stay while pretending disinterest. Quite unconvincingly. I’m exercising my prerogative,” she said stepping back. “And though you would love me to cook Sunday dinner, you’d rather order a pizza than admit it.”
She crinkled her nose at the smell of old loaves of bread that were beginning to mould.
“Odera.” She ignored me. “Would you stop for a moment and listen to yourself. You can’t just come in here whenever you please. It is home invasion and ― and I might have had another woman here.”
“Are you going to have me arrested? If you had compromised before today and spoken to Daddy, you would not be in this bind. He wouldn’t have terminated your employment then, but I can’t promise anything if he has to bail me out of jail.” Critically looking me up and down, a scrutinizing finger pressed to her lips, she said, “As for another woman, tell me there’s someone else and I’ll leave.”
A Cheshire cat’s wide grin mocked my consternation.
“There’s someone else. Don’t let the door hit your shoulder on the way out.”
“Liar. I guess you’ll have to turn me in. Can I call 911 for you?”
“You damn well know that I’m not going to call the cops. Put that phone away!” I snatched it out of her hand and tossed it on the kitchen table ― lured into advocating her presence by that act. “I’ll have the locks changed if you won’t be reasonable.”
“Did I mention that I met Ms. Wilson? She’s a real sweetheart. We had a nice little chat. She understands relationships have ups and downs and that we’re working through ours.”
“Fine. I’ll move,” I threatened, and flashed a rogue grin when I considered Ms. Wilson’s surprise to find Odera at her door. “There isn’t any us unless I include your multiple personality disorder or perhaps its sudden onset schizophrenia you’re exhibiting?”
“No, us? We spend more time together than most couples. I think we qualify as us. Anyway, don’t you need Mike’s permission to move? By the way, Ms. Tucker says she’s sorry about tonight. We bumped into each other in the hallway. Her nephew is having a baby. She rushed off to the hospital.” Odera squirted dish soap into a plastic bucket. “How did you charm her into feeding you?”
“Is there anybody in the building whom you haven’t ingratiated your annoying benevolence onto?”
“It’s unusual that you know your neighbours so well. Even rarer to interact with them so closely. So much for being the chairman of the lonely hermit club. Ask yourself why you live in a building where everyone is on friendly terms, yet you prefer to isolate? Polar Opposite Disorder confirmed again.”
When confronted by the absurd, I have learned to bow my head and laugh or go nuts trying to make sense out of a senseless situation. Knowing Odera, it eluded me how I failed to predict this event. Previous hints about wanting to drop by to stream a movie and cook supper should have warned me. Our conversations told her everything she needed to know to infiltrate my building. I had practically invited her over.
“Do we have an arrangement?”
“You take friendship to the max.”
“You poor delusional man, you have no idea, but you soon will. I promise,” she pledged and kissed my cheek as she headed out of the kitchen. “Where’s your bedroom?”
“What? Why? I thought you were cooking?”
“I’m going to change clothes.”
“You didn’t bring any.”
“Would you begrudge me borrowing a shirt? Never mind. Here it is.”
Closet doors slid open with a scrape and a rasp. Hangers scratched along the bar. I breached the doorway to see Odera unbuttoning her shirt.
“Did you honestly think I’d cook in that pigsty? Men, whatever they can’t see, they don’t clean.”
Having selected a white and grey pinstripe shirt, she slipped it on and fastened six of nine buttons. The unfastened buttons exposed a sea of cleavage. Employing that innate skill all women possessed to undress in a roomful of people ― without exposing anything they chose not to show ― she peeled down her blue jeans under the cloth of my shirt. Odera shared a wily grin that said she understood she had thwarted my eyes and turned to examine the shirt’s fit. She twisted back and forth in front of the mirror, going up to her tiptoes and back down to ensure the shirt modestly covered her backside. The shirttails of my abducted shirt fell mid-thigh.
“You have good taste in clothes, Bruce. Years out of date, of course. We’re going to have to remedy that.”
“You could always wear nothing.”
“Suddenly you want me to stay? Suddenly you admit to a relationship?”
“When in Rome.”
Odera walked past me, back down the hallway, headed for the kitchen, not unlike a Knight Templar embarked upon a Holy Crusade to wage bacterial warfare. I followed the soft slip-slap of bare feet upon hardwood, struck silent as she rolled shirtsleeves to her elbows. The pinstriped shirt looked better on her than an emerald evening gown.
“What are you up to?” I asked recovering my ability to speak. “Odera.”
“Whatever do you mean? I’m cleaning your kitchen and cooking dinner. I adore your kitchen table and chairs.”
“Woman quit blowing smoke up my ass. Why are you walking around here half-naked? I’ve been patient, waiting to hear the truth, but this is entirely out of character, even for you,” I affirmed, unable to smother a mirth-filled snort. “Time for a little of that honesty you crave.”
Before my eyes I watched her confidence shatter. The longer she processed my questions, the darker the fug that descended upon her. Uncertainty ran rampant through her expression. Into her lively spirit entered sullen shadows.
“I can’t tell you. Not yet. I need to do this,” and squeezed my hand. Found within that pressure, she sent a plea for support. “I promise to reveal everything tonight. I know I’m being secretive, but let it play out. Okay?”
“I’ll never understand you.”
“Yes, you will. That’s why I’m here. Now go finish writing. I’ll give you a shout when supper’s ready. C’mon, I’ll walk you.”
The possible reasons for her arrival swirled in my head. Consummation of our friendship? Too obvious but now I was hoping. She interrupted my thoughts when she tugged me into the living room. Having guided me into my typing chair, she ran her fingers through my hair, clandestinely planning an attack upon my sanctuary, I felt certain. Yet toying with my hair, she read the last paragraph I had written. Her eyebrows scrunched together while I battled not to take her in my arms.
“Can a person really run through the forest quicker than a mounted man?”
“If it’s Scotland in CE 140 and it hasn’t been deforested,” I replied appreciating the symmetry of a leg.
“Oh, that’s why I didn’t see anything but moors and hillocks.”
She casually leafed through a hardcover book titled, The Highland Clans. As she leaned closer to the text, my abducted shirt billowed open.
“Weren’t you going to clean? Go do whatever it is you have to do.”
“In a moment,” she murmured and turned another page while earnestly scratching an itch high up, which exposed a mile of outer thigh.
“Now. Out!” I said, turning her around and giving her a little shove, nearly overcome by a desire to devour her on the loveseat. “Leave or I’ll never get work done. I’m not a friggin’ monk. What’s got into you?”
Casting a catlike half-grin over her shoulder, one that asserted she had won an unspoken point, she called from the kitchen archway, “I knew you’d lose your pretend frostiness. Now you’ve proven to yourself that your recent coldness was a sham.”
“I’d be attracted to any half-naked woman flaunting herself.”
“When’s the last time you had one over? Even you could lure one here if she was drunk,” said Odera leaning against the kitchen entrance like a cat scratching its back, arching her back so the shirt pulled tight across her chest. “If it’s only sex, why haven’t you made a play for me? I’ve sent mega signals. If I was just a set of walking boobs, you’d have jumped me quicker than one of your raven-haired hooker dolls.”
“Mansbridge, if you don’t leave, I’ll gag you.”When she opened her mouth to speak again, I half-heartedly launched a book at her. She ducked into the kitchen in a swirl of red-blonde hair and laughter. What the hell was she up to? More than half-heartedly, I imagined an erotic use for each piece of furniture. My home became an endless gymnasium in which to host the bedroom Olympics. All I lacked was a chandelier.