“Honey, I’m home!” I gleefully kick off my snow boots and drop my purse onto the side table by the door expecting my boyfriend of two years to come running carrying a fist full of flowers or at least balloons on this special day.
“Billy?” I sigh as I entered the small living room of our two-bedroom apartment, “What the heck?”
Only this morning I spent fifteen minutes cleaning before work instead of doing my hair so we could relax tonight but that obviously had been in vain since empty cola cans and messy plates along with chip bags littered the area.
“Hey sugar,” Billy rushes out of the bathroom wearing his coat. He shaved too, and I grin despite the way he dodged my open arms, “Have a good day? I’ll be back late, so eat without me.”
Wait, what? “Um… aren’t you forgetting something?” He better not considering the fiasco of last year. He and I went three rounds before I forgave him.
“Stella,” he moves my bag to retrieve his keys and wallet, “I told you the guys were getting together tonight since Matt leaves for China in two days. We won’t be able to do it again for eight months.”
Oh, had he? I narrow my gaze and exhale before losing my shit. It’s something I battle with but he said he loved me for the first time after I’d gone ballistic when I walked miles in the rain because he didn’t pick me up from work so he could finish a video game six weeks into our relationship.
“Can you slow down?” I trail into the hallway watching him push the elevator button twice. Always twice. “Think real hard.”
“What?” his dark eyes sweep up and down my outfit, “Did you wear those tights all day?”
I look down at my snowflake hose, “Duh. Christmas is in a week. We’re festive and silly at Paw’s Up.”
He smirks and the doors open, “See you later.”
Seriously? Oh no! He forgot my birthday AGAIN! This is not happening! I recall the conversation my friend Hail and I had today while bathing Mr. Two-Toes.
“Billy is never home and when he is there’s a mess like a snail trail behind him. He hasn’t worked in three months after the car wash closed either. I don’t know, sometimes I think we need a vacation to reconnect.”
“Stella,” Hail’s inked arm reached around in a side hug, “He’s cheating.”
I gasped, “What the hell? He would never! Please explain how you came to this stupid conclusion.”
“It’s not your fault,” he handed me a fluffy towel, “I’ve listened to you bitch about Billy and he’s lost that loving feeling. But you… love makes you blind, but I see,” he sing-songs, “Don’t worry honey, I’ll be here when that rat bastard slips.”
“Thanks?” shaking my head, covered Mr. Two-Toes with the soft fabric, “It’s my birthday. He swore after last year to go all out. I’m so excited!”
He cupped his ears, “Ugh, you squeal like a horse. Has anyone told you that?”
I can’t let Hail’s words muddle my brain further. Couples run into rough patches but this is ridiculous. I played off his concern of Billy’s faithfulness but we haven’t had sex in weeks and when we did, he came in three pumps then rolled over and went to sleep.
I throw the entrance to the stairwell open and fly down five stories to reach the lobby. Catching sight of Billy exiting through the double doors, my heart warns me cardio isn’t safe when I’m ten pounds overweight and haven’t moved this fast in years, but ignore the hot flash to scamper outside.
A green Toyota pulls along the curb and Billy opens the passenger door. Gasping for breath, wheeze his name. His head shoots up in surprise but not before I spot a busty blonde behind the wheel.
“Stella,” he hisses, slamming the door while trying to block my view of the driver, “What are you doing?”
“Excuse me?” my thumping heartbeat causes a vein in my left eye to tick, “Who the fuck is in the car?”
“Matt’s friend, sent to pick me up,” he waves his wrist in the air, blinking hard, “You have that crazy look in your eyes. Calm down.”
“Calm down?” I shout, at the same time the window lowers and the woman coos, “Baby, tell your sister we’ll be late for our reservation. Traffic sucks.”
I freeze and so does he, but there’s panic in his dark eyes while mine scream murder.
“Tails,” I lazily slur over the phone rounding the corner to the building I live in, “but you cheat all the time so don’t.”
“Don’t cheat?” my little sister giggles over the line, “Never! Oh, it’s heads! Guess we’ll only see you on New Year’s Eve,” I can hear her pout, “Better bring me lots of presents!”
“Gift cards you mean?”
I slow my drunken swagger spotting a petite woman in a skirt covered with the face of Santa Claus, snowflake tights and a fluffy red sweater with the words ‘Paw’s Up Reindeer!’ splashed across the front in glitter with no shoes on standing in an inch of snow while screaming at a guy who looks as if he’s seconds away from shitting his pants.
“I gotta go,” I hang up on Erin and wander closer to the couple fighting.
Ah, it’s Stella and Billy. Seems she finally caught her boyfriend cheating. About time too, because if I had to inform one more skank she knocked on the wrong apartment, would tell the Spitfire myself. Stella is not my favorite neighbor but deserves someone better than that man whore.
“It’s my birthday!” she screams and my ears hurt, “How can you do this! I want you out by Sunday.”
“Sugar,” he lowers his voice when he sees my smirk behind her. She’s shivering in the cold and I cross my arms in concern, “I swear she’s a friend of Matt’s.”
“Matt is a fucking librarian and hasn’t been on a date in months! She’s soooo not his type. Stop! Don’t touch me!” she bats his hand away when he tried to turn her toward the lobby.
“Hey lady,” I slur.
She waves me off without breaking eye contact with her terrified boyfriend, “I mean it, Billy. Move. We’re over.”
“My name is on the lease too,” he objects, standing straighter, “Take a breath.”
“Fuck you!” she holds up her fists, ready to attack.
“Hey lady,” I tap her shoulder fully aware she could round on me too.
She whirls around and our eyes meet. Damn, she’s cute. We did not get off on the right foot when I moved in six months ago. She didn’t like taking the stairs when movers spent two days delivering my things and I didn’t like her potty mouth when I chuckled she could use the exercise. I might have been drunk then too.
“What do you want asshole?” she bites out through quivering pink lips.
“Where are your shoes?” I glare at Billy, “She will get sick.”
“Oh!” she glances down as if just realizing she’s half dressed.
“Billy-boo!” a tall blond with tits up to her chin whines from the car running on the curb, “What should I do? We’re late!”
Stella’s immense blue eyes widen with a sharp inhale. Uh-oh. Billy has the same panicked expression I’m sure is on my face. For a tiny woman, Stella doesn’t pull her punches. One time I caught her picking a fight with the homeless man two streets down when he slapped her butt. I went to intervene when she kicked him in the nuts and afterward saw her bring him dinner.
“Go,” Billy hollers at the exact moment Stella darts for the vehicle, “Go, Cher!”
Without thinking of the consequences of losing my balls to the short monster dressed in festive garb, wrap my arms around Stella’s waist and carry her into the warm lobby. There are four of our neighbors gawking inside. Just great!
“How dare you!” she fights against my hold, then the worst thing happens. She lets out a loud sob. “Asshole. It’s my birthday!”
“Billy,” I grind out when he stands between the open door and street, “You should leave. Give her a day or two.”
He doesn’t hesitate to rush off with the clueless blonde and Stella voices my own thoughts, “Such a fucking bastard!”
“Okay folks,” I drawl when people linger in case she has a drop of drama leftover, “Nothing to see here. Or, nothing we haven’t seen before at The Muse.”
The fire goes out of Stella the second I release her. She’s so small and pathetic looking my cold heart warms at the sight. “Let’s get you a drink.”
She blinks and frowns before marching to the elevator, “Fuck off Hogan.”
I enter the lift with her, “Have something against whiskey? Change your wet clothes first. I’ve got a bottle Corsair.”
“What is wrong with you?” she glares at me shivering in her soaked tights, “I can’t believe Hail was right.”
“Who’s Hail?” I reach into my overcoat for my flask and don’t offer her any since she told me to fuck off. She can be a rude little witch sometimes, “Shit, who cares.”
She sighs and peers up at me with those big blues which belong on someone six inches taller. They make her appear soft and she is anything but fluffy. Maybe her ass but I happen to like a woman with round hips. I stare back at her drinking until we exit onto the fifth floor.
“Thanks for…” she trails off when we arrive at her apartment, “Stopping me from making a bigger scene. He isn’t worth going to jail.”
“Good call,” I snort, falling against my door opposite hers, “You okay tonight? Not feeling suicidal your boyfriend ran off with a stunning blonde?”
“Oh my god!” she screeches and I cover my ears, “You are such a dick!”
Laughing at her correct assessment while fishing keys out of a pocket I don’t remember putting them in, press the issue, “So, is that a no? You’ll ruin my buzz if I have to perform CPR later.”
“How would you even know I’m in trouble?”
“Are you shitting me?” I growl and her cheeks flush, “People go crazy over the holidays.”
“Come over and keep a watchful eye if you’re so concerned.”
I smirk at her sass grateful she’s not crying over that loser, “Corsair will change your life lady.”