“When will this end? I said N, O, no.”
“Allie Anne March." The old man’s voice rushed through the speaker, “Please, don’t hang—”
She was too tired to care for his words.
The girl stared at the granite counter, lifted a ladle, and poured spicy soup into a small bowl. The harmony between the greens and the noodles made her forget the annoying day. She placed silverware on a tray and garnished her masterpiece with onions and cilantro.
Mr. Pops wiggled at the front door and scratched his paw against the wooden frame.
“What’s that, boy? You wan'a pee-pee again?” Allie lifted the serving tray, walked just a few feet across around the breakfast table, and turned on the doorknob. Startled, she squeezed the ends of the tray.
“Hey, Allie, is Dean here?” asked Jay. “I haven’t seen him since our Calculus final.”
“Jay,” she let him into the apartment. “I haven’t seen Dean in three days but he’s in his bedroom ‘cause I hear the bathroom flushing sometimes.”
“Damn, was the break-up that bad?” He scratched the back of his head. “Meryl is making a crisis. She’s been posting it on social media.”
The steam coming from the soup bowl slithered through his nostrils. “That smells great.”
“Thank you.” She lifted the tray up to her chest. “I cooked it for Dean. It’ll help him end the rough week.”
Jay made a half smile and winked. “Do I find myself a girlfriend and break-up with her for soup?”
She giggled. “Treat yourself. I’ll go check for signs of life.”
Allie positioned the plate over her forearm preparing to knock on Dean’s door. She withdrew her fist, debating if she should disturb his sleep. The best choice was to walk inside and leave the soup on his nightstand, but that would not work if he locked the door.
Before she decided, Mr. Pops tapped the wood with his nose, creating a narrow gap. Allie raised one of her eyebrows at the old German shepherd and leaned forward. She could see the bed frame and a man’s silhouette. There was movement, and she almost heard him whisper her name. So she figured it was okay to enter.
“What the fu—?” Dean grunted.
Allie’s skin turned to paper; her blood petrified inside her veins. Her eyes stuck on his lower body as he held his meat in his right hand. Out of countless probabilities in the infinite universe, she had found him unloading his orgasm onto his bare chest. A drop ran down his abdomen.
The girl looked away, but mostly ashamed of herself; of the way her body had reacted to it by making her damp between her thighs.
The sight of her was both arousing and embarrassing. Dean’s brain commanded his hand to cover his groin with a blanket, but his limbs refused to hide his body from the woman he had been thinking about all morning.
His torso was a Jackson Pollock painting. The man was a mess.
“I’m guessing this is one of those moments we don’t talk about,” she said.
He nodded as his hands clutched the pillow, wishing to see her undress.
“Keep yourself hydrated." She scurried toward the nightstand, put the tray down, and ran out of the room.
Dean appeared in the kitchen with an empty bowl, dressed in camo shorts and a fitted t-shirt that underlined his muscles. He wasn’t big, but he had defined biceps and a flat stomach. His broad shoulders and strong calves made Allie hold on to the kitchen counter. For the first time, her body craved a man who wasn’t her fiancé. Grayson was the love of her life. She shouldn’t have been thinking of someone else, so she removed herself from the kitchen and walked toward the balcony.
“What’s up, Jay?” Dean’s eyes followed his hot roommate’s buttocks. No panty marks showed through her pink leggings. She was definitely wearing a thong.
“Hey, man, how do you like the break-up soup?” Jay finished his second bowl, watching his best friend slobber all over his thoughts.
“Yeah, Allie thought breaking-up got you down, so she made you soup.” The friend giggled at the enchanted man. “Boy, that soup works.”
Dean jerked his head out of the trance.
“Huh, what? I’m not depressed. I’ve been sleeping real good. That calculus test had me worried, though.”
“Tell me about it. I burned my corneas on chapter twelve that night. Did you pass?” asked Jay.
“Hell yeah, I didn’t go to sleep until they posted that ninety-eight online.”
“Ninety five, baby!” Jay bumped fists with his friend. “We should celebrate.”
“I agree.” Dean’s head turned toward the balcony, watching his roommate bend over her stomach.
Jay snapped his thumb and index finger in front of Dean’s face. “I thought you said she had a fiancé.”
At the mention of reality, the walls and ceiling cramped the place. Dean’s eyebrows imploded, letting his jealousy spill in front of him.
“I fucking hate that guy.”
“Damn, why the hate?” Jay raised his palms. “I get it. She’s hot, but you have to keep yourself together. Are you goin'a steal another dude’s girl? Not cool, bro.”
“I know, I know.” Dean brought his hands to his head. “It goes against my principles. I don’t understand why I’m so affected by her.”
“Hey, let’s go bowling.”
“Yeah, we should leave.”
“No, I mean, you can bring her.” Jay winked. “You’ll get to know her better.”
Jay’s idea was dangerous, but Dean sure loved it, so he abandoned his friend with the idea in his head.
"This looks amazing," he said.
"Thank you. After I'm done, I want to add some lights." Allie put her transplanter down.
She adorned the edge of the balcony with blue plumbagos, while coneflowers blossomed at the bottom. Cross vine wrapped itself around a net on the ceiling. The rest of the plants in the garden were herbs like basil, cilantro, and rosemary. Every transplant positioned in a careful, specific manner to make sure the finished product was a botanical paradise.
"If Mom was here, she'd love it." Dean sniffed the rosemary.
"Does your mom like gardening?" asked Allie.
"Her backyard is a show. She adds lights, too, but only during holidays. Dad loves them. Who taught you how to do this?"
"I grew up around nuns who grew their own food, so I helped them around the garden, and whatever they didn't teach me, I taught myself."
"Cool. Did your parents take you to church all the time?"
Allie brushed her hair behind her ears. "I was in Catholic school until I was ten."
Dean continued to observe the surrounding details. He inhaled and turned to Allie. "I wanted to apologize about earlier—"
"I thought we weren't going to talk about that," her cheeks flushed.
"I know,” he rubbed the sweat off his palms on his t-shirt.
“Honestly, I should be the one to apologize,” Allie looked down. "I didn’t knock."
Dean smirked having enjoyed being discovered by the girl he was fantasizing about. He changed the subject. He hated seeing her uncomfortable by the memory, wanting her to lust as much as he had.
"Jay and I were going bowling. Want to tag along?"
"Yeah, sure. Let me change into something more appropriate."
They both walked into the living room when they heard somebody knock.
Jay stared at his phone, while drinking soup.
"I got it," he said, opening the door.
"Grayson!" Allie ran into his arms and gave him a smooch.
Jay and Dean glanced at each other. Dean rolled his eyes.
"This is Jay," said Allie, holding her fiancé's left hand. Grayson gave him a handshake. "And you know Dean."
Dean lowered his head and rubbed the sole of his left foot against his right forefoot avoiding any interaction.
"Nice meeting you. We were just going bowling. Come with us," said Jay. His best friend gave him a menacing look.
"I'm not sure," replied Grayson.
"Please, can we go. It'll be fun," Allie said.
“Okay, if you insist," he replied hesitantly.
An attendant gave Allie and Jay their bowling shoes first, so they sat at the booth in front of their assigned alley. Dean ordered pizza and soda, while Grayson signed the receipt for his own shoe rental. Pop music blasted as players screamed in excitement. The giant screens showing the top scores over the lanes attracted a competitive crowd. The waxed floor reflected the pins, waiting for players to knock them down.
"Hey neighbor!" A grandfather spoke behind Grayson. He held a boy's hand.
Grayson turned his head. He brought his eyebrows together, then pulled his facial muscles back.
"Hey," he replied.
"I didn't know you liked bowling." The man frowned.
"I'm just hanging out with some of my buddies." Grayson moved the end of the pen against the bottom of the receipt, pretending to be writing still.
"All right, it was great seeing you. Have a nice day." The man waved as the boy pulled him toward the vending machines.
Dean glanced at the scribbles on the paper and waited for the old man to leave. He lifted a cup holder and an enormous pizza box from the counter.
"That was odd," he said.
"What was odd?" asked Grayson.
"Why wouldn't you say you were here with your fiancée?"
"Do we have a problem, man?" Grayson's voice became deeper. He scanned Dean, cracking his knuckles.
"Nope. I’m just saying, if I was with a girl like Allie, I would show her off." Dean sighed and relaxed his shoulders. He thought of ways he could crush Grayson's knuckles before the pizza hit the ground.
"I’m not ashamed of my girl. Mind your own business,” Grayson spoke in a rude tone but at a lower volume.
"Sure, just remember I'm not your buddy."
The air parched around them, baking their eyelids open. Grayson sauntered past Dean toward the booth. Both men sent menacing looks at each other.
"Your turn." Grayson gave Allie a purple bowling ball.
"My favorite color." Allie left the booth. She pulled up her belt loops, making her pompous upside down heart stand out.
Jay's neck almost broke if it hadn't been for Dean's rapid elbow throw.
"Damn, Freeman," Jay whispered. "Are you triyn’ to fracture my arm?”
"Back off, Jay. I'm already mad at you for letting her boyfriend come with us." Dean bit on a slice of sausage n' bacon.
"Dude, if I didn’t invite him, she wouldn't have come. Like I always say, get to know your enemy.” Jay yanked the pizza out of his hand.
"You never say that." Dean slapped the food before it reached his friend’s mouth.
"What? I say it all the time."
They both laughed and watched Allie let go of the purple ball.
"Yes!" Allie pointed at the knocked down pins in her lane. She turned to Grayson's red face. "Aww, you'll win next time. Don't worry." She leaned over for a kiss but he stomped back to the booth.
"My turn!" Dean raised his hand.
He would have preferred Grayson to win because they would have competed against each other; a match he was confident would teach his opponent a lesson. In his head, it was a knight's battle. The price was the princess’s heart. But this was equally good. The bravest soldier got time with Her Highness.
In the first roll, he wasn't trying; his score was three out of ten. Although she was distracting, he welcomed her sight. Making her laugh with his terrible aim was his goal. Her grin was spellbinding. All until she surprised him with two consecutive perfect scores.
During the last round, he caught up with her. This was his last throw. He needed to get all pins to fall to win. Delighted by the tight match, he slid his right fingers in the holes of the bowling ball and rolled a curveball. The heavy, round object hit the pins from the right, leaving only one standing upright.
"Congratulations, you’ve won." Dean made a quick reverence.
"That was outstanding," said Allie.
He offered a handshake, but she instead offered a hug. His lungs stopped functioning as he buried his face on her neck. She smelled like coconut, vanilla, chocolate, strawberries, cookies, and everything else that he found delicious. Then, a force separated them. Grayson had jumped off the booth and yanked Allie's arm.