10. No Pity
Standing outside the duplex, Nate sighed in resignation. It was after 5 PM. After office hours. Leila should be here at any time.
Nate had called her office earlier and her friend and P.A.- Jared- answered. He made this appointment with him and gave his name. Jared had been silent for a moment before asking him exactly what he wanted. His suspicion about Nate was high and he had all his feelers out.
The apartment was Nate’s answer. But that wasn’t really all he wanted.
Swearing Jared to silence, he told him that he was looking into getting his own place, but admittedly stated it was only one of the reasons he wanted to meet with her.
It had been his mantra since leaving the house 45 minutes ago. He hadn’t started work yet, but for some reason, the wait to see the apartment and make his apologies to Leila felt like he had done his 8 hours in the office.
Jared had been reluctant to make the appointment for him, but Nate had insisted and must have sounded sincere enough that Jared went ahead and set him up to see the place. He sounded reluctant, but then again, Jared had been there for some of his finer displays of assholishness.
Nate knew from Violet that Leila didn’t live too far from her office and with traffic being heavy this time of day, it would probably take her somewhere between 5:30 or 5:45 to get home. It was only 5:20 right now.
And he had taken one of his father’s cars to get here. He really needed to go out and purchase one of his own- maybe this weekend. Mass transit getting to Kintech would be a bitch on Monday, though he would probably just hitch a ride with his father for the first couple of weeks.
On the outside, the duplex Leila owned looked homey. Nothing flashy and nothing intricate, just a two-story single home that had been converted somewhere within the last twenty years to become a duplex. It was something that was quite popular nowadays with real estate being the fickle bitch it was in California. A fickle, greedy bitch.
The outside of the house appeared to have been painted with the surrounding houses in mind. It somehow surprised him with its light blue color scheme, the darker blue of the shutters, that Leila would want to fit into her neighborhood at all. She had always struck Nate as someone who could- and would- be outrageous just for the sake of being seen as wild, unbidden.
If that were the case, if Leila had wanted to be free and contrary, she would have painted it orange or lime green. But no- it was light blue, Easter egg blue, reminding him of fluffy clouds on a hot summer’s day.
The house was almost too domestic.
Though he supposed that could have been a smart idea, painting the house pastel blue. Who would want to rent a house in lime green or orange? A die-hard San Francisco Giants fan? A blind person? Or maybe just a colorblind individual who wore paisley with plaid. Together. Poor blokes.
Nate was still standing there and staring at the domicile when a voice rang out from the sidewalk.
“Nate? What the fuck- oh don’t tell me!”
Leila. And she looked furious as Hell. At him. At the world. Probably at Jared too for keeping this a secret. Luckily she seemed fond of the man and his testicles would probably remain firmly attached to his body. Nate’s however...
“Leila,” Nate croaked out before clearing his throat. “I heard you had a place for rent and I also wanted to speak with you.”
Leila blinked back at him, undecided. She could make a hell of a stink right out here in public and give the neighbors a show, or she could take it inside and retain some dignity.
Right... dignity it was. Damn it.
“Come inside,” she told him, jerking her chin toward the door. “We can talk in the downstairs unit.” No way was she letting him into her personal space. Not this ass.
Her heels clicked noisily against the pavement before trudging up the steps, hurried and resounding amongst the relative quiet of the residential neighborhood.
Nate almost smiled as he saw her struggling with the keys to her apartment which seemed to be lodged somewhere deep in her oversized tote bag. A flustered Leila had a pretty pink blush on her cheeks.
Brushing her hair back, she thrust her small hands into the bag again, dug around and retrieved a set of keys that a janitor would have been proud of.
“How could you possibly lose a set of keys that large in your bag?” Nate asked, amused.
“It’s a large bag. I got a lot of shit. Now don’t hit your overly large ego on the door on your way in,” she bit out, gaze not even wavering to his, irritable.
Dropping her tote by the door of the downstairs apartment, Leila looked around. The painters had done a good job getting the gouges made by nails in her walls from the previous tenant. She should have known not to rent to a recent graduate of Berkeley. Flighty as fuck and had no respect for other people’s belongings.
“This is the place! Hate it? Then let’s go,” she told him, trying to hurry him along with venom and a lack of enthusiasm.
“How many bedrooms?” Nate asked, purposely ignoring Leila’s snark. It was something to say. Something that wasn’t quite ‘sorry’. Yet.
“Two,” she said blinking at his lack of bite back. “One’s really small. Couldn’t swing a cat without giving it a traumatic brain injury, I reckon.”
“Well, I’m only one person and I have no cats,” he told her and walked further into the place.
“Nate,” Leila stated, voice low but without her usual grit. “What are you doing here?”
He looked back at her and his breath caught. She looked vulnerable without her oversized bag weighing her down and hair frazzled and strewn about her face from her earlier flustered state. Puzzlement on Leila made her look all of the 16-year-old girl he had once known and crushed on.
“I’m looking for a place to live that isn’t owned by my father,” he stated, slowly. “And I wanted to talk with you as well.”
She blinked again, disbelieving.
“Was the hunt for an apartment just a ruse to get me to talk with you without smacking the teeth out of your mouth?”
Smiling, Nate responded. “Only partially. I actually do want my own place, even if I have to share a wall with someone.”
Walking further into the room unsteadily, Leila leaned up against the wall.
“What do you have to say to me?” she asked, brows sloping down in a frown. “Did you wish to call me a whore in the privacy of my own abode or did you want to merely see if my walls were covered in semen?”
Closing his eyes in a slow blink, Nate let out a resigned sigh.
Bite the bullet, asshole.
“None of the above,” he told her honestly. “I actually just wanted to apologize to you.”
“Apologize?” she asked, brows quirking upward. “Did you smoke something on your way here? I hope you Ubered it and didn’t take your car. I would hate to have to console Violet if you wrap yourself around a telephone pole.”
“I’m completely serious and completely sober.” Nate took a step closer to her. “I realize my words hurt you the last time we spoke. I... I saw you with Jared outside the bar that day.”
Leila’s face shut down again.
“So that is what this is? Pity? You made me... you wanted to apologize because you realized you upset me? If I hadn’t... been upset would you have thought to come to me to apologize?”
Nate didn’t know what to say to that. He wanted to tell her that yes, he would have realized his wrongdoings. Eventually. He didn’t know. Seeing her cry had been like a kick in the gut to him. One that he had desperately needed.
“Listen, Nathan,” she said, pushing herself away from the wall. “I don’t need your pity and I don’t need your apologies. My heart’s not broken and I don’t need some meaningless words to make me feel better.”
Leila dipped her hand into the bag and brought out a manila folder. She fished out a few forms that had been neatly stapled together, most likely by her assistant, and gave them to him after she stalked over to him.
“If you want the place, you can fill out these forms,” she told him, coldly. “Pending a background check, I think you’re good for the rent. It’s 1.5 months deposit and first month’s rent to start out with. You can slip the forms under my door when you’re done if you like. Pets... if you had one would be an extra $300 a month.”
With that, she stalked over to the door and walked out. Before closing it, she threw back a look at him. One he couldn’t decipher.
And she left him there in the empty lower apartment with some paper and a staggered look on his face.
Nate didn’t follow Leila. At least, not right away. He stood there, gaping after her. In one word he was floored. Usually when one apologizes, the other is gracious enough to accept it, not toss it back at him. But maybe he was used to a different type of person. The Brits were a lot different from the feisty Leila. Milder. Magnanimous. Less fight and more tranquil. He hadn’t expected this.
Perhaps words weren’t enough. Perhaps he should do something else, prove he was indeed sorry. But he couldn’t think of anything to do.
Instead, he signed the documents without looking at the apartment and slipped up the stairs with them completely filled out. He even had a check with him, should she need it.
The rent was usual for the area. Leila didn’t try to price gouge, though the area was one of the nicer residential neighborhoods that he had seen. Moderate income families, many with children, or older couples who had lived on the block for decades. The perfect place to have a home and family, maybe grandkids to play in the backyard one day. Leila had picked her home well.
Knocking on the door of the upstairs unit, Nate knew Leila wouldn’t open for him easily, if at all.
“Leila,” he called loudly, assured no one outside would hear him. He was well away from the front door. “I can hear you shuffling around in there. Let me in, please. I wasn’t done.”
He thought he heard her mutter something. Something along the lines of ‘well I am’ perhaps. Sighing, he leaned his head against her door and knocked again. He could feel the vibrations against his skull and it bit at his skin a bit.
“Leila!” he called out and was surprised when the door was suddenly gone. He hadn’t realized she had ventured toward the door.
After stumbling, Nate looked down at her feet, and saw she was barefoot. No wonder he hadn’t heard her.
“What is it, Nate?” She crossed her hands over her chest and popped outa hip. Never a good sign from a woman.
“I wasn’t done apologizing to you,” he told her lamely.
“Are you looking for forgiveness?” she asked. “Fine, I forgive you, now please go away. I want to start on supper and Marie Callendar’s won’t microwave itself.”
“No, I wanted something more than that,” he told her. “A clean slate. All of this behind us. Starting over. Please.”
“I... don’t know if I can do that,” she said, honesty laid bare on her features.
That word haunted her again. And she resolved to not let it bother her. Not this time. It was just a word. Five letters.
“Listen, put down the horribly over salted microwave pre-packaged meal and let’s have dinner together,” Nate coaxed. “I promise I’ll be good. Won’t even bat an eyelash if you look at a guy while we’re eating.”
She frowned at that, and Nate wondered why.
“That would be tacky if I was eating dinner with one guy and eyeballing someone else,” she told him. “I believe in actually engaging in conversation during dinner and not eye-fucking my next willing victim.”
“I wouldn’t mind, honestly,” he told her.
Yes, I would- but I’ll take what I can get. Just... come with me. I can be a gentleman. That I can do. Promise.
Leila bit into her lip, considering his proposition. A do-over. Dinner. With Nate? It seemed like an impossible task, but she would probably have to deal with him sometime in the near future. For Violet. At the wedding. She could do this for her best friend- right?
“O-okay,” she said slowly. “But I’ll pay for myself. I can afford it. No pity dinners.”
“Sure,” he told her, glad she agreed.
Fat fucking chance that she was paying for herself, Nate thought as he patted the wallet in his back pocket. He could well afford to buy them both dinner, though he had to admire her independence. It was liberating after having been with Lorelei and paying for anything from dinner dates to a new set of towels for her washroom. The girl had known how to make her man pay through the nose for her. Sodding old cow.
Biting back the bitter taste of bile in his throat, Nate forced himself not to think about his ex, though he wondered if she was still shacked up with the same guy. Probably hit it and quit it if he wasn’t wealthy enough for her.
Good riddance to the bitch. He hoped she choked on his load the next time she went down on him. Or got a shot in the eye. That might even be better.
Smiling at his thoughts, he stepped into Leila’s apartment, looking around while she went to get shoes on again.
The apartment was furnished well. Not the typical black leather he would have thought she would use. Instead, it was all microfiber and fluffy throw pillows. Something he could see himself furnishing his apartment with. He may have grown up with wealth, but the trappings of it had never mattered much to him. He supposed it would be different if he had grown up poor, always wanting more.
Still, he waited patiently by the door for Leila to get ready. When she finally came out from down the small hallway, he found she was wearing something different as well.
Looking her up and down, Leila must have read the question in his eyes.
Instead of her office attire, she was wearing a pair of capris and sandals, low heeled ones.
“What?” she asked, raising a brow at him. “You try walking around on stilts and uncomfortable office apparel all day.”
Smiling, he felt his heart rate increase for some reason.
“C’mon, let’s go,” he told her. “I’m starving here.”
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