Authors: T. K. Leigh
At the height of the frivolity, Sophia, dressed as Magenta from
Rocky Horror Picture Show
, complete with frizzy curly hair and a short maid’s dress, ushered everyone into the living room and we all went through the process of being assigned teams for tonight’s game of Karaoke Pictionary. I couldn’t remember how, but playing Pictionary stopped being important at some point and we all devoted our full attention to Karaoke.
With no rules, Sophia jumped up from the couch and dragged Darren with her. His normally intimidating physique was covered by the realistic costume he wore of Riff Raff from
, perfectly complementing Sophia’s Magenta. His dark suit was dingy with stuffing around the shoulders to make it appear as if he had a slight hunch. His face was covered with pale makeup, his eyes bloodshot, and the application of his stringy blond wig looked professionally done. That didn’t surprise me in this town.
Darren draped his limp arm around her, catching me off guard. “Are they together?” I whispered to Marcel.
He grinned. “Took you long enough to pick up on that.”
“This is the first time I’ve actually seen him touch her.”
He shrugged. “It started as a casual thing, but it’s recently become more serious, although neither of them will admit it.” He rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to Sophia as she searched her catalog of music. I had a pretty good feeling what song she was looking for, and when the opening bars of “Time Warp” sounded through the cramped living room, the crowd, which had blossomed over the past several hours, stood up and danced along with Sophia and Darren, who sang the parts of Magenta and Riff Raff respectively.
“I’m surprised you didn’t dress up as Dr. Frank N. Furter,” I said to Marcel as we all took a jump to the left.
“I can go back to my condo and change if you want me to,” he joked, winking.
“Please don’t tell me you have a secret stash of leather, fishnets, and heels in your closet.” I laughed, thrusting my pelvis forward in accordance with the instructions in the lyrics.
“Wouldn’t you like to find out, Miss Dixie!”
Sophia began to sing the second verse, her voice imitating Magenta’s so well, I had to do a double take to make sure it was my neighbor. “Do they do this often?” I asked Marcel as we continued to dance.
“A little-known fact about Miss Sophia… She
this movie. When I was new here, she dragged me to a midnight showing. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’ll never forget when we walked up and saw almost everyone in full costume. I thought Sophia would be out of place dressed as she was…”
“Which was?” I asked, intrigued.
“You’re looking at it, sweetheart. She’s gone as Columbia, complete with sequined mini tuxedo, but she rocks the Magenta look.
was the one out of place that night, wearing just a t-shirt and jeans. Everyone in our group was in costume. Hell, even her boss dressed up as Eddie.”
“Her boss meaning my neighbor?” I pressed, my interest piqued once again about the mysterious man living across the hall from me who seemed to be more of an enigma than anything.
“One and the same. He even rode up on a vintage motorcycle, just like in the movie. Of course, our Eddie is nowhere near as chubby as the Eddie in the movie. Not even close, girlfriend.” He raised his eyebrows at me.
“I’m starting to think y’all are just making this guy up. I’ve been here a month and I’ve yet to meet him.”
Marcel scanned the crowd as the song came to an end. “Well, tonight may be your night, sugar. Sophia mentioned he might make an appearance.”
“Well, be sure to point him out to me when he gets here.”
“Oh, you’ll know. If you see a tall, lean hunk of man with silky hair you just want to run your hands through and two-day-old scruff you want to drag your tongue across, that’s your man.”
“You’re describing half the men in this town, Marcel.”
He sighed. “Don’t I know it, Dixie. Don’t I know it.”
Music continued throughout the night, the old adage that you should never give a drunk a microphone proven by the sounds coming from the speakers. Red plastic cups covered nearly every available surface, and I felt bad for the crew Sophia hired to come clean tomorrow morning.
As the clock neared midnight and I was in the corner of the living room, trying to maintain my composure as one of Sophia’s drunk friends sang a stirring rendition of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, the lyrics mostly indecipherable through her slurred speech, an excited scream echoed from the kitchen. The entire place went practically silent for a split second before the roar of the party resumed.
“What’s going on?” I asked Marcel, craning my neck to see someone walk into the kitchen and nearly get tackled by a very intoxicated Sophia.
“It looks like your neighbor made it.” He grabbed my hand, pulling me from my comfortable spot on the couch and into the kitchen. “Allow me to introduce you to him, although you probably won’t see him for another month or so after today at the rate that man works.”
He navigated the crowd of people circling a man whose appearance fit Marcel’s description perfectly…at least from the back. His light brown hair looked remarkably silky, and there
a part of me that wanted to run my hands through it to see if it felt like it looked. He was tall with what appeared to be a nice figure. His costume consisted of a brownish robe, open in the front, and loafers. I watched him make his way through the crowd, standing on my tiptoes to try and see what he looked like, but his back was toward me. Still, there was something eerily familiar about his gait.
“Eddie!” Marcel approached him as I stood off to the side.
“Good to see you, man. It’s been a while.” They shook hands, hugging briefly.
“Keeping yourself busy?”
“More like out of trouble.” Both men laughed.
“The Ice Queen isn’t in town, is she?” Marcel shivered dramatically.
“No. She refuses to believe there’s a world outside the concrete jungle of New York City. And she’s not that cold once you get to know her.”
I remained fixed in place, feeling as if I were a fly on the wall, observing old friends conversing about people I knew nothing about.
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Marcel said, disbelief evident in his voice. “Come here. I want you to meet your new neighbor.” He ushered Eddie out of the crowd, his face coming into view.
I wish I could rewind time and remember every precise thought that entered my mind as that tall physique slowly faced me and I took in those familiar gray-blue eyes, full lips, and smile, but it all happened so fast.
“Nosebleeder?” I asked, incredulous. His facial hair had grown out a little over the week he had been gone, but there was no mistaking who it was.
“Baylee? What are you doing here?”
“Wait a second,” Marcel interrupted. “You two already know each other?”
“He’s Nosebleeder,” I said, my voice low.
“Holy shit, Miss Dixie!” Marcel exclaimed, his hand covering his mouth. “This is a twist I certainly wasn’t expecting!”
“You and me both,” I responded. “I thought you said his name was Eddie.”
“We have nicknames for everyone,” Marcel explained. “We started calling him that after going to that midnight showing of
I nodded, my eyes fixed on Sebby as I ran through the past month in my mind…the morning coffees, the questions, everything I had learned about him from Sophia and Marcel. I never would have imagined the Eddie they all spoke of was the same man with whom I spent my mornings. And who was this “Ice Queen” I heard Marcel mention? The way she was referred to made me believe she was his girlfriend…or worse.
My Irish temper rising, I grabbed Sebby’s hand and pulled him out of Sophia’s condo into the deserted hallway. I had questions I needed answers to and I didn’t want the entire party to overhear.
Spinning around to face him when we reached the vacant bank of elevators, I prodded, “Did you know?” I could feel my cheeks turning red. I wasn’t sure if it was due to anger or embarrassment. Or perhaps the wine.
“Know what? That you were my neighbor?” He stepped back, raising his hands in defense. “I’m just as surprised about this as you are!”
Pinching my lips, I studied his face, wishing I could see some sign he was telling the truth. I didn’t know what to think anymore.
“But I told you about game night!” I shot back. “You must have put two and two together!”
“Truthfully, it did cross my mind,” Sebby admitted. “Then I shook it off. I mean, you have to agree that the chance of us meeting and you being my neighbor is pretty slim.”
“Yes, but…” I tried to come up with something to counter his argument, but I knew he was right. There was nothing about me mentioning game night that would make him think I was his new neighbor. If I were in his shoes, I would have done what he did…consider it briefly, then wave it off as a coincidence.
“And what about this ‘Ice Queen’, as Marcel called her? Is she your girlfriend?” I crossed my arms in front of my chest.
“Yes, she is,” he said. I expected to see the telltale signs of a guilty conscience — shifting from foot to foot, lowering his eyes, stuttering, running his hand through his hair — but none of that happened. His gaze remained unwavering, his stance firm.
“When were you going to tell me about her? Or were you just going to lead me on and hope to have a little something on both coasts?” I fumed.
“Whoa, Baylee,” he soothed, his voice softening as his brow furrowed slightly. “I meant what I said. I genuinely enjoy hanging out with you, but I never led you on to think I was interested in you as anything other than a friend who gave me a bloody nose one morning.”
I thought he
interested and that’s why he wanted to spend time getting to know me. Maybe he was just friendly. Maybe I had been out of the dating world for so long, I had no idea what flirting looked like these days. Hell, I wondered if I even knew what flirting was to begin with.
“But men and women can’t just be friends!” I exclaimed, losing my patience. “It’s impossible!”
“Me! There will always be that thing between them.” I gestured between our bodies, growing more and more exasperated with the entire situation.
Narrowing his gaze, an awkward silence surrounded us. Then his lips curved into that smile I had grown accustomed to seeing nearly every morning. “Really, Dixie? Did you hear what you just said?”
I pinched my lips together, my nostrils flaring. I was pretty sure I looked like a dragon who was about to set fire to her attacker, but as Sebby stared at me, that smile plastered on his face, I couldn’t stay mad at him. It all seemed so absurd. Hindsight was always twenty-twenty.
Now that the truth was out, could we really just be friends? I had never had a guy friend before. Sure, I had grown close to Marcel over the past few weeks, but he had absolutely zero interest in dating me. At some point, things were certain to get complicated between Sebby and me, especially considering I had been attracted to him since the moment I laid eyes on his blood-covered face. Was that a good enough reason for me to toss out our “friendship”? One thing was certain… I hated the thought of waking up tomorrow morning and not being able to meet him at our park bench for coffee and a question.
Sighing, I softened my expression. “So you really are my neighbor?”
“It appears so.” He shoved his hands into the plaid shorts he wore underneath the robe.
Studying the complete ensemble, an epiphany washed over me. While he was missing the full mustache and beard, he had the rest of the look down perfectly. Dark sunglasses, robe, white t-shirt, dingy plaid shorts, beat-up loafers. “You’re the Big Lebowski!”
He flipped the sunglasses over his eyes and took a small carton of milk from the pocket of his robe. “I’m not Lebowski. I’m the Dude.”
“Your costume isn’t complete,” I added. “You’re missing a rug.”
Laughing, he placed his hand on the middle of my back and led me toward Sophia’s condo. “It really did tie the room together,” he joked.
Why did this man have to be so damn perfect?
the following morning, just as it had every other morning over the previous few weeks, but something was different. The knowledge that Sebby was my elusive neighbor still weighed on my mind. One minute, I was giving myself a pep talk that men and women became friends all the time. The next, I was convinced it was impossible. How could it work when I was attracted to him? Sure, I told myself I had no desire to get into any sort of relationship, being just weeks out of a ten-year marriage, but was that really how I felt? Maybe the connection I had to Sebby sparked something I wasn’t anticipating. Maybe I wanted to feel beautiful, something Will never did. And maybe, for these past few weeks, Sebby
make me feel that way.
Sport jumped onto my massive bed and nudged me with his wet nose. Dogs are creatures of habit, and mine was no different. He had grown so accustomed to going for a walk at the same time every morning that being thirty minutes past the time we usually left, it was throwing his routine off.
I looked at his eager eyes and wagging tail. I couldn’t deprive him of his morning exercise just because I was unsure about whether or not I wanted to face Sebby now that the cloud of alcohol from last night had dissipated. Truthfully, I wasn’t even sure he would be at our morning meeting spot now that I knew who he was.
I threw on a pair of yoga pants and a light jacket, then put Sport’s collar around his neck and hooked him up to his leash. Pausing briefly as I exited into the hallway, I stared at Sebby’s door. I probably looked like a stalker when I held my ear up to it, trying to hear any noise coming from within. I thought I knew who he was, but armed with the knowledge that we shared a hallway, it was almost like he was a completely different person. How was it possible I had never run into him before? Yes, he worked long hours, but surely I would have heard Gidget barking from inside his condo. Then again, based on the price of these places, they probably made sure to install soundproof walls and flooring.