The elevator doors opened to reveal the body propped against the mirrored wall.
“Is he dead?” Sameera asked in hushed tones, eyes fixed in morbid fascination at the unconscious man.
His legs were sprawled out in front of him, head lolling against the wall, mouth hung slightly open, a thin line of drool trailing from the corner to soak into his beard. The harsh lights overhead shone directly on his upturned face, and Sam couldn’t help but note how good looking he was, with the classic sculpted cheekbones, strong jaw and features pleasantly arranged.
“No, and we should wait for another car.” Yash wrinkled his nose at the strong smell wafting from inside the elevator.
“Smell that? The idiot’s drunk and probably fell asleep on his way to his apartment.”
Sam sniffed and sure enough the stink of spirits and something that smelled suspiciously like vomit hit her nostrils.
“Ugh, that’s disgusting.”
The man groaned and moved his head to rest on his chest, legs twitching restlessly. He quickly settled again and fell back asleep, soft snores filling the space. He was dressed in a black business suit that seemed a stark contrast to the drunken image he currently presented.
Probably some young hotshot who’d had one too many drinks after work hours. Considering that today was only Tuesday and the level of inebriation that’d led to this moment, he would be battling one hell of a hangover at work come tomorrow.
“Come on,” Curling a hand around her biceps, Yash pulled her away. He picked up the suitcase waiting by the door and motioned for Sam to grab the smaller carry case. “We’ll take the stairs. My apartment’s on the seventh, so it shouldn’t be too much a climb.”
Exhausted from eighteen straight hours of flying, plus an additional two hours spent navigating the nightmare that was the Manhattan transit system; Sam’s nerves protested the notion of more strenuous exercise.
Plus, how the hell did Yash expect to lug five suitcases up seven flights of stairs?
“Wait, Yash!” She gripped one edge of the door to stop it sliding closed and nudged her suitcase into the other edge. “Let’s just use the lift instead; I’m too tired to do stairs tonight.”
“Are you serious? You want to ride with that?” He shot her an incredulous look and stabbed a finger at the sprawled man. “Forget it. I’ll carry you on my back and come down for your stuff later.”
He meant it too. A fitness buff, Yash worked out religiously and the firm muscles of his arms and shoulders bulging beneath his T-shirt attested to that. He was probably capable of carrying her and about two suitcases with ease if she let him.
He set down the case and advanced towards her, but Sam having none of it. She backed up, placing a hand on his chest to halt his tracks, brown eyes flashing a warning. “Don’t even think about it.”
“Then you better get ready to start climbing,” he crossed his arms on his chest in the universal gesture for male stubbornness. “Because there’s no way you’re riding with him.”
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes, wondering not for the first time why she’d decided to move in with him rather than finding her own place. Yash was the quintessential overprotective older brother, his stubbornness constantly clashing with her assertive nature.
It had seemed a good idea at the time she’d brought it up, while breaking the news she was leaving Mumbai to her parents. It had certainly helped quell a lot of their anxiety at the thought that their last child and only daughter would be moving to a different continent, taking on a new job and essentially starting a new life.
When she’d mentioned the job was in New York and she’d be staying with Yash, Parvati Bhatt had instantly gotten on the phone to reel off a long list of instructions to her son concerning protecting his sister’s virtue. Only then had she relented and bulldozed her husband into agreeing.
She wished it was her other brother, Amir – the more relaxed sibling – she would be staying with, but unfortunately, he lived in Canada.
“Look,” Sam took a deep breath in an effort to expel irritation and held up a finger to punctuate her argument. “One, he’s harmless – he’s asleep for Pete’s sake. Two, we only have to put up with the smell for two minutes at the most. Three, if he tries anything you can always slug him back to coma land.”
Holding up the fourth finger, she delivered the final point. “We can get all my stuff in one trip; I can finally take a shower and get some much needed sleep.”
Yash considered her points and sighed. “Fine. But you stand as far away from him as possible until I get the rest of your stuff inside.”
Muttering under his breath about troublesome sisters, he pointed at a chair opposite, waited until she sat, before storming off to bring in the rest of the bags.
This time, Sam did roll her eyes. This was absolutely ridiculous, but since it meant she’d gotten her way, she would comply. Besides, sitting down was an excellent idea as her aching legs sighed in relief.
She glanced back at the man, wondering who he was and the story behind the handsome face. Studying people and learning what made them act the way they did was something she enjoyed doing in her spare time. Back in university, she’d almost chosen Human Psychology as her major, but had gone with her other passion, Business Administration instead.
That suit wasn’t cheap, plus the Rolex she’d spotted on his right wrist could easily have paid for her university tuition several times over. Sober, he would probably be some stuck-up trust fund baby, content to do nothing other than spending daddy’s money, drink and pick up women...or men for sexy times.
Yash returned, toting the rest of the luggage. He spared one last look at trust fund baby, stepped into the car and set down the cases, looking like he’d sucked a lemon. Sam crossed to join him, freeing the doors so they slid shut again. The air seemed to thicken with the cloying smell, the remnants of the airplane plane meal threatening to make a reappearance.
“Whew! This stinks.” Her attempt at humor was met with a dark look.
“You can’t complain, you were the one who insisted on this shenanigan.” Yash pressed the button for their floor and stepped back, practically crowding Sam against the wall.
“I was making a joke.” She rolled her eyes at Yash. “Seriously, you need to lighten up, bhai.”
“Haha. Now shut up, I’m trying not to breathe.”
“Do you know him?” Her eyes lingered on the sleeping man. Up close, she noticed his hair wasn’t exactly blond, more a blend of several light brown shades, the edges cut shorter than the middle. Idly, she was struck with the urge to know the color of his eyes. Would they be blue, green, or brown like hers?
“Yeah,” The reluctant admission caused her to look at Yash. “I’ve seen him around. Usually, run into him when we’re both leaving for work. I thought he was a decent chap, but looks like I was wrong.”
“Oh?” The new information sparked intrigue. “What’s his name?”
“I honestly have no idea. We’ve never really spoken to each other and everyone just kinda minds their own business, you know?”
They reached their floor. Yash dug out his keys from the back pocket of his jeans and tossed them to her. “Grab what you can and go ahead. It’s number 703.”
She held the keys but made no attempt to step out. Somehow, the knowledge that he was a passing acquaintance of Yash brought out the urge to help him.
What if he rolled over and drowned in his own vomit? Or what if he got robbed while unconscious or worse?
“What is it?” Yash paused in the act of shoving cases onto the hallway and cast her a puzzled look, that quickly turned to incredulous denial at her expression. “No, no fucking way!”
"I didn’t say anything!” Sam protested.
“I know that look, Sameera. It’s the one you get when you’ve thought up something ridiculous.” He straightened and glared. “That’s the good Samaritan look, and no, we are not helping this dude.”
“I don’t have a look.” She huffed, nose in the air. “But, we can’t just leave him here, Yash. He could get hurt.”
“Well, he shouldn’t have gotten shitfaced.”
“You said he was a decent guy. Maybe something happened that made him decide to do what he did. He could have gotten some bad news.”
“I thought he was a decent guy.” Yash sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Sam, leave this alone, please?”
Trust fund guy let out another groan. “Wedding...,” he swatted at an invisible fly, head rolling side to side. “Nicola...gotta go.”
The siblings exchanged a look. Sam wondered who Nicola could be. Girlfriend or fiancée? He’d mentioned a wedding so it was possible she could be his fiancée. Maybe they’d had a fight, or broken up and he’d turned to alcohol to ease the misery.
Either way, Yash was wrong. No one deserved to spend the night passed out in a pool of their own vomit.
Mouth set in resolve, Sam tossed the keys back to Yash and marched up to the stranger. She leaned over him, dark hair falling in a curtain around her face, trailing over his chest.
“Sam,” Yash’s tone held a mix of exasperation and annoyance. “The guy probably weighs twice what you do.”
She ignored him, gathering her hair up and twisting it into a ponytail which she secured with a wristband. She rolled up the sleeves of her cotton shirt, placed her hands on his shoulders, surprised to feel firm muscles underneath the fabric and pulled.
He didn’t budge. She tried again, bracing both feet wide apart and this time he moved, lolling forward and knocking her onto her butt.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Yash stepped forward, grabbed the guy before they both toppled to the ground and lifted him off Sam. He gave her back his keys and barked an order to go open the door.
Sam scrambled past, hurrying down the hallway, glancing at doors as she passed. She stopped at the right one and inserted the key card, pushing open the door. The apartment was cast in shadow, and she stepped aside as Yash, carrying the stranger over one shoulder, entered the living room.
The lights flicked on, flooding the apartment in soft yellow. The living room alone was nearly the size of a cricket field, one end completely covered floor to ceiling in glass windows, offering a stunning view of the city below. The dining area and kitchen were open to the living room, separated by a half wall. Several modern paintings hung from cream walls and a thick, tan carpet covered the entire floor. A huge TV hung from another wall, surrounded by a tan and white sectional.
Yash placed the man on the couch and glanced at his stained T-shirt. “Damn, this was a favorite. If he barfs on my furniture, you get to replace it.”
“I’ll do your laundry for a month,” Sam’s smile could melt steel. “But, thanks for helping him.”
He turned away and stalked to the kitchen, but not before Sam caught a glimpse of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
She knelt before the sofa, running her eyes over trust fund guy. He looked to be sleeping peacefully, long lashes brushing against ruddy cheeks.
An inexplicable urge to stroke those cheeks rose, but she tamped it down.
Don’t be creepy, Sameera.
Yash came close and handed her a glass filled with water. “I’ll hold up his head, try to get him to drink.”
She perched on the edge of the sofa, waiting until his head was elevated and placed the glass to his lips. When the liquid touched his lips, they parted, and he gulped down the water as though he’d been dying of thirst.
“More,” He whispered, reaching blindly for the glass. His fingers closed over her wrist instead, warm and strong. Sam’s skin tingled at the contact, light shocks running from the point of contact straight to her brain. “Please.”
“We’ll get some more,” She whispered, transferring the glass to her free hand. “It’s okay.”
He sighed, loosening his hold. Sam met Yash’s eyes and he nodded, taking the glass back to the kitchen.
She looked down again, and he was staring at her through unfocused bloodshot eyes, fair eyebrows furrowed.
“Who are you?”
“Hey buddy, I’m Sam,” She smiled at him. “Glad to see you awake.”
“I’m not Buddy,” He sounded unsure, shaking his head, deep in thought. He brightened as a thought occurred to him. “I’m Ryan.”
Sam’s smile widened. “It’s nice to meet you, Ryan.”
His lips formed a beautiful smile. “You’re beautiful, not like Nicky...” The smile tapered to a frown at the name, his face an interesting play of emotions. He looked confused, angry and sad, all in the space of a minute.
He had a broken heart. Sam’s guess had been right. Her heart went out to him, knowing all too well the pain of losing someone close to one’s heart and the need to escape that gut-wrenching ordeal. It didn’t matter if it was a breakup or death, the pain hit hard. Ryan had chosen alcohol as his escape.
She had chosen a new continent as hers.
Yash returned with the water. “He’s awake?”
“Yes,” She answered without taking her eyes off Ryan. Something in his gaze held her arrested, the intensity with which he returned the look, not even acknowledging Yash, made it seem the two of them were the only ones existing in a bubble universe. “He is.”
“Here,” Yash shoved the glass at her.
Taking the glass, she held it to Ryan. “Drink up.”
He pushed up to one elbow, the other reached up to cover her hand over the glass, bringing it to his lips. Sam was conscious of Yash shifting from one foot to the other, ready to intervene in case Ryan got funny.
He drank, much slower this time, never breaking eye contact until the glass was empty.
“Thank you.” Ryan let go of her hand and lay back, lids fluttering shut. Within seconds, his breathing evened out, falling into a peaceful sleep.