She had seen him many times before, as she walked her dog around the apartment complex. He came mainly on Sundays, to accompany his parents to church. Sometimes he would arrive on Saturday evenings and stay the night.
He never spoke to her, except an occasional “Hello” as they passed on the walk. He would shy away from the prying beagle nose of her dog Argyle, although she knew that he did not have an aversion to dogs – she sometimes saw him walking his parents’ boxer, which, in her opinion, was much nosier than little Argyle. He was also friendly with the dogs of many other neighbors. So it must be that he disliked her dog in particular – or perhaps it was just her.
Of course, why should he like her? In all honesty, as she stood before the mirror she knew that there was nothing much of interest staring back at her. And of course he never took the time to find out what might be behind the face. Men like that were all too common.
Sill, it hurt. And still, she liked him.
Of course, why shouldn’t she like him? His face was open and friendly (at least when he was around others), and he had a laugh that warmed the heart. She wondered if he would laugh at her jokes.
And that was why she almost ignored him that night in the rain. It was a Saturday, and so it wasn't at all unusual to see him there, as she took Argyle on the last walk of the day. What was strange was that he seemed to be arguing with the driver of a taxi which was stopped in front of the building. She had never heard him argue.
At first she avoided the impulse to linger and listen, although she did hear enough to realize that he was arguing about the fare the driver had charged. But by the time she had circled the block he was still there, still searching his pockets frantically, still arguing.
And then it all became clear. A wallet lay on the ground, almost under the taxi. It must have fallen out of his pocket when he stepped out of the cab, and now he couldn’t find it. Without a word she stopped beside him, bent down and picked it up. As she straightened up and handed it to him, she met his eyes through rain-spotted glasses. It was the first time he had ever really looked at her, she realized. And a second later she realized something else, as well: he was drunk.
Argyle stared up at her reproachfully as he shivered in the downpour. Water from the man’s nose dripped into the wallet as he opened it to remove some bills. Why was she still standing there?
As the cabbie took the money, he looked at her and said, “Lady, you’d better get your friend to bed. He’s completely smashed.”
The cabbie seemed to know what he was talking about, she reflected, watching the taillights disappear into the night. Then she turned to her new charge. What did one do with a drunken man?
He started to sway, and instinctively she put out her arms to steady him. Then she sighed. All right. If she had to do it, she had to do it.
She helped him into the building and into the elevator. He leaned against the wall and she was tempted to leave him there – just walk out and let him wake up the next morning stretched out on the elevator floor.
Instead, they made a brief stop in her own apartment, so she could drop off Argyle and rid herself of her soaking raincoat.
They made it up to his parents’ apartment without incident. She knocked and got no answer. They must be in bed already.
“I’ll need your keys,” she said, speaking for the first time.
He tried to reach into his coat to get them, but he seemed to have forgotten exactly how a hand fit into a pocket. Finally, she became impatient and did it for him – first the left coat pocket, then the right. No keys.
Wait – the pants. She propped him up against the wall, opened his coat, and got his keys from his pants pocket.
As the door swung open, the boxer came darting out of the darkness, charging straight for them. She almost dropped her charge and ran, but the dog stopped at the last minute, sniffing the air, then wagged his tail.
She took a deep breath, then guided her charge into the apartment. The kitchen light was on, and she could see the dining and living rooms.
“Couch,” he mumbled, and she took him over to it, gently helping him to sit down. She straightened up and gazed down at him, slumped there in his soaking wet clothes.
No, she couldn’t leave him like this.
She pulled him back on his feet and, holding him with one hand so he wouldn’t fall over, stripped off his raincoat and suit jacket. She removed his tie. Then she tossed them over a chair and examined the rest of him. The bottoms of his trousers were wet. Well, that was too bad. She was not talking off his pants.
She gave him a little push on the chest and let him fall back onto the couch. Then she knelt and removed his shoes and socks. Immediately, he swung his legs up onto the couch and lay down. She found an afghan on the back of a chair and covered him with it.
She left his keys on the chair and got back to her own apartment as fast as she could.
The next day was bright and clear, with a high, arching blue sky. It was late in the morning when she saw him, coming home from church with his parents. Argyle tugged impatiently on his leash and she began to oblige, walking faster. But then she saw that the parents were going inside, and the son was not. He was looking at her.
The first thing she noticed when they came face to face was that his eyes weren’t even red. He looked as if he had never taken a drink in his life.
He smiled his open, friendly smile. His eyes were as blue as the sky. “I owe you a thanks,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t helped me out last night.”
“Don’t mention it.”
He smiled again. “It was beyond the duties of a neighbor, and I really appreciate it.”
She smiled back but did not reply.
Discomfort passed briefly – oh so briefly – over his face, then the smile reappeared as he thought of something that would make everything right. “I thought that maybe, if you don’t mind, we could have dinner sometime.”
She didn’t answer right away, and he looked at her strangely, as if she looked different. Well, that was fine. She felt different.
“No,” polite but firm, “but thank you all the same.”
He was surprised. “Are you sure? I mean – “
“Yes, I’m quite sure.”
He walked away, and she watched him. He was shaking his head.
Then she turned and started off in the other direction. She felt good. Admittedly, there had been few times in her life when she had had the pleasure of accepting an invitation from someone so good looking. But never before had she had the pleasure of refusing.
Misha Crews is the author of Homesong (Vanilla Heart Publishing, 2008) and the soone-to-be-released Still Waters, a tale of love and deception, set in 1950's Arlington, Virginia. As both a writer and lover of fiction from a very early age, Misha joins Fiction For Dessert now as co-editor. We're very lucky to have her! You can learn more about Misha and read excerpts of her work at her website Misha Crews.