11. Straight And Narrow
“You filled out the paperwork,” Leila said to him, sounding surprised. “Are you sure you could handle all the loud noises and calls to God coming from apartment day and night?”
Nate looked over at her from his position behind his father’s sleek BMW. He didn’t know if she was kidding or not, though her small smile made him think she was.
“I suppose I could take up my noise complaints with the landlord if... oh, wait- that would be you,” he said, smiling. It was hard trying not to take a jab at her, but... he was trying. Trying damned hard.
He saw Leila smile from his peripheral vision and he relaxed a bit, tension rolling off him like water from a duck’s back.
“I don’t bring my dates home,” she told him, quietly peeking over at him to gauge his reaction. He seemed surprised.
“And why not?” he asked. Soiled sheets? Too intimate? The possibilities were endless.
“I had a few overly attached suitors that came calling after the... fun had ended,” she said. “Nothing serious, but I didn’t like the hangdog puppy-dog eyes they gave. Made me want to pityfuck them just to make it go away.”
“A pityfuck?” Nate laughed at that. “I can’t see you giving it up for someone on account that you pitied them.”
“What? I can be... accomodating,” she told him, mouth twitching. “But only if they were memorable. The others I... well, let’s just say I owe a few cops a couple of favors.”
“Are you that memorable in bed or were they the clingy type?” Nate asked, curious to know the answer. First hand.
“I’d like to think it was the former, but I think it would probably be a but of both,” she told him, the first true smile breaking out on her face.
Dear, sweet Jesus. Why did that get him hard? He wondered idly which part of her was most memorable for the men. Her pussy? Her mouth? Another part of her anatomy?
Shifting in his seat, Nate changed the subject.
“What are you in the mood for? Italian? Indian?” he asked. He was trying to think of his grumbling stomach and not with the throbbing appendage hidden beneath his trousers. Yeah, that was sort of happening. Not.
“To eat or... to eat?” she asked, her eyebrow arching suggestively at the end.
“Uhm, food-wise,” Nate said, again shuffling in his seat.
“Italian,” she said. “Love Italian.”
Nate didn’t know whether she was speaking of the food or... otherwise.
“Great, I know just the place.” He wished he could adjust himself. Maybe in the parking lot when they got there. Hopefully, she wouldn’t notice.
The place they went to wasn’t anything fancy, just a mom and pop Italian dining experience owned by a large family with grown children who worked as servers and behind the bar. It gave off a familial feel instead of something ritzy and cold.
La Divina was the name on the storefront. Nate was wondering if they were fans of opera right before an aria came on quietly over speakers in the wall. Maria Callas. No wonder they had called the place that. They had named it after their favorite singer.
‘Casta Diva’ was playing low as they were seated in a booth near the back. The place was moderately crowded for a weekday. Mostly families or couples having a leisurely meal at a decent hour of the day.
Walking after their female hostess, Nate had nodded toward the soliltary booth in the corner, the one farthest away from other diners.
“May we sit there?” Nate asked the hostess.
“Of course,” she told him, smiling delicately.
After being seated, the hostess brought them two iced waters and some menus, telling them their server would be with them shortly.
“Wine?” Nate asked, looking at the drink selection. The wine list wasn’t much, but everything on there was perfect for the type of dishes the place served.
“Pardon?” Leila asked, looking up from her own menu at him.
“Would you like to share a bottle of wine with me?” Nate asked, perusing the list. It was mostly reds with an odd smattering of whites, probably to go with the seafood dishes.
“Yeah, sure,” Leila said, gazing back at her menu.
After they had ordered, Nate surprised her with an unanticipated question.
“How long does it take to do a background check?”
“Uhm, a few days,” she told him, tilting her head in confusion. What the hell?
“Good,” he said. “I don’t have any furnishings so I’d like to be able to purchase them so I don’t have to sleep on the ground. That is, if I get the apartment.”
He tipped a wink at her and her brows knitted together. This was a different Nate than the one she loathed. Playful. It was... disarming. And charming.
Who knew Nate could be anything other than an asshole?
Leila blinked back at him. ADHD much? His conversation skills lacked something. Focus probably.
“Yes, that’s fine,” she said hurriedly. “Why don’t you just use the furniture in your bedroom at your home now?”
“Leila, it’s all from when I was in high school,” Nate told her. “It reminds me of acne, nocturnal emissions and fumbled romps on the sack.”
Leila smiled at his self-depracating manner. It was new and welcome.
“Thinking that bringing those items from your parent’s home will continue your sexual frustration into a new home?” she asked, wicked smile on her face.
“Something like that,” he said, jaw twitching. “Don’t need any bad mojo following me from my teen years.”
They talked, quite amiably, through an appetizer of calamari.
“So, I have to ask,” Leila said after finishing off another bite of fried, seafoody goodness. “Why?”
“Why rent? Why move back to the States? Why... what?” he retorted. She needed to be more specific.
“Why... everything,” she explained. “Why apologize and why dinner?”
“I owe you an apology dinner at the very least,” he told her. “And the apology, the words, weren’t enough.”
Leila’s eyes narrowed.
“I told you I was paying for myself.”
“Well, we’ll see.”
They were silent for a moment, both looking at the empty tray of appetizers they had practically swallowed whole.
“As for the apology,” Nate said, lifting his head from his gaze at the white ceramic tray. “I owed it to you. Not for my own mental health, but because you didn’t deserve what I said. None of it. It was a double standard and childish of me to try to place you- and other women- above other people. I’ve... I’ve always been under the impression that women were the fairer sex, that they had certain expectations thrust upon them and I was wrong. Just because someone has an active, healthy, sex life doesn’t mean they are a whore or easy. I’m... I’m the opposite of Russ. I don’t do the one night stand thing. I’ve far too much respect for women- well, most women- to do that.”
Leila’s lips twitched.
“I suppose I am a bit of a surprise,” Leila said, settling on an answer after a moment. “Most women aren’t as free-thinking as I am with who I get between the sheets with, I admit.”
“Why is that?” Nate interrupted. All of the sudden, he needed to know why. Why she was... the way she was. There had to be a reason, hadn’t there?
“It’s a long and quite personal story,” she told him. She shifted in her seat, her discomfort with the line of questioning apparent. “It’s not something I tell to everyone and if we’re starting over, I’d like to become friends first before pulling out all the skeletons in my closet.”
She gave him a sad half-smile, and Nate knew not to push her.
Baby steps, asshole, he told himself. Walk.
“Fair enough,” he told her. “But I do hope you realize by now that my apologies are sincere. Each and every one of them. I can’t guarantee not to fuck up in the future, but I’m trying my hardest to keep that from happening.”
“I know you are,” Leila said. She saw that he was trying. He had receded from being an asshole to just being an ass.
“Did you friend leave? Russ?” she asked him after they had received their entrees.
Nate was digging into a plate of pasta that looked like it could feed a small village in Africa, and Leila was trying to tackle a mound of noodles that were supposed to be parts of lasagne but looked more like a tower. A leaning tower.
“Yeah, dropped him off at the plane,” Nate told her. “Had to make sure the fucker got on the right one. It wouldn’t surprise me if he switched flights if he saw a tempting enough female. I don’t need a call from customs saying that he’s trying to board a flight abroad to follow his dick.”
Leila almost snarfed wine through her nose, knowing what Nate probably said was 100% true. Russ would just try to squeeze past customs to get at a lovely bit of lady action. Damn the authorities.
“How did end up with such a playboy for a friend?” She had to ask. Russ was Nate’s opposite in many ways.
“We were roommates freshman year,” Nate said with a sigh. “He got more tail in his first week than I did my whole freshman year.”
Leila broke out in laughter.
“That had to make sleeping arrangements ineresting,” she needled. “He didn’t offer you his sloppy seconds, did he?”
“God no!” Nate exclaimed. “His beer goggles needed some serious readjustment at the time. Some of the girls were complete dogs.”
“Did you have to throw a bone out the door to get them to leave?” She snickered.
“Nah. Russ was always great with getting them out the door so I could get a decent night’s rest,” Nate told her, forking up some more noodles. “Left them with a kiss and a fake phone number usually.”
“Hmm... not surprising, really,” Leila commented before glancing back over at Nate with a knowing smile. “Was it your phone number he gave out?”
“Well... sometimes,” he admitted.
“Oh Lord! That man’s a hoot!” Leila practically cackled with glee. Maybe she should try that, only give her dates another gentleman’s number. Scare the hell out of Jared or Carl. Although Jared would have probably appreciated the thought... right until he realized the man on the other end of the line preffered pussy to cock.
“Don’t let him know that,” Nate told her, smirking. “He’ll start doing it again. I don’t need the booty calls at 3 AM to start back up, thank you very much.”
“And you never once even tried to get with a girl he had had sex with?” Leila found that almost unbelievable.
“Well, there was one girl I was sort of hard up for that Russ fucked,” Nate told her. “After he had had her, I didn’t know what STD’s he might have given her so I forgot about her. I don’t need a lifetime supply of herpes.”
“Hmm... does cramp one’s sex life,” Leila said, smiling wickedly.
“You...” his voice trailed off.
“No-o-o-o...” she giggled. “But you should have seen your face!”
Thank God, he thought.
Well, not that it mattered.
Nate ended up stealing the check before it even made it to the table. He had gone out to find his server and waited patiently for them to finish printing out a receipt. When he got back to the table after ‘using the men’s room’, he told Leila they were squared away and gently grabbed her by the arm to escort her from the place.
“At least me get the tip,” she said, walking with Nate reluctantly to the front of the restaurant.
“Already taken care of,” he told her, hurrying her through the door like they had robbed the place blind instead of paid for their food like the law-abiding citizens they were. He wouldn’t have been surprised if she would try to go back and put more money- any denomination really- on the top of the table. And he had tipped the server well enough.
“Geez, are you sure you paid and we aren’t going to be 86′ed from that restaurant forever?” she asked as she was hustled toward the BMW.
“Positive,” he told her. “My wallet is noticeably lighter now.”
Leila rolled her eyes and stared straight ahead. The restaurant they had gone to was about a ten minute ride from her house and they both sat in comfortable silence, the radio on very low in the background.
“Would you actually like to tour the apartment you might be renting?” Leila teased when they pulled up to the duplex.
“How do you know I didn’t take my own little- albeit hasty- tour of the place when you left me down there before?”
“Nate, you didn’t even have time to read the agreement and sign, much less take a tour of the flat,” Leila chided. “Either you can see through walls- which is a disturbing thought to say the least- or you simply signed on the dotted line and came barreling up my stairs an-”
“I don’t barrel!”
“Okay leadfoot,” she told him with a scoff.
“Fine, I’ll tour the place,” he said, parking the car and getting out.
When they walked into the downstairs unit, Leila flipped the switch at the entrance to the unit.
“Electricity already turned on?” he asked.
“It comes with the rent,” she told him with a shrug. “It was more of a pain in the ass than it was worth to have PG&E fit us with two meter readers.”
“I see,” he told her, walking further into the room.
She showed him the main bedroom, the bathroom and the medium-sized kitchen. She saved the smallest room for last.
“Lots of people use the smaller room for a computer room,” she told him, flicking on the switch.
Nothing. No light.
“Damn it,” she muttered.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Fucking raggedy-ass electricians,” she grumbled. “They were supposed to have fixed this last week.”
She took a few more steps into the room and stumbled, almost tripping over an errant box that the last tenants must have accidentally left.
Leila would have faceplanted onto the floor had it not been for a steadying pair of hands. Nate’s. They were curled around her middle and she was soon pressed into a firm chest and torso.
Never having been this close to him before, it made her remember the fast and heady crush she had on him almost ten years ago. The one that had faded as fast as twilight into darkness.
“Thanks,” she said to him, voice shaky. “Assholes can’t fix a light and my previous tenants are as flaky as they come.”
Nathan grunted, his hands still gripping her waist.
The air around them was suddenly cloying and dense as Leila fought to catch her breath.
Nate’s breathing was heavy as well, possibly from trying to keep the woman upright.
“You can let go of me now.”