It was 10:13am and Nina’s alarm had been going off for two hours. She was going to turn it off, truly, but when she rolled over the first time there was an earthquake and she’d suffered a concussion. At least, that’s what it felt like. She slipped out of bed and crawled into the bathroom where she threw up some interesting colors and then laid there on the deliciously cool tile floor until all the nausea passed and she couldn’t stand to hear the bee-beep. bee-beep. bee-beep. any longer.
Once she got to her feet and rinsed her mouth out with some Listerine, Nina grimaced at her reflection in the mirror. Her makeup held on better than expected, save for the dark smudged circles under her eyes- wait, nope. That was just legit her own haggard skin. She was even still wearing her dress and–
Dang. Tabby still had her shoes.
Groaning, Nina shuffled all the way back to her bed, turned off her alarm, and face-planted onto the mattress. What was she thinking? Why hadn’t she counted her drinks? Why didn’t anyone stop her! Uugh, she was just going to die like this, it was fine.
It was only a minute later that her text alert went off.
When she managed to convince herself to actually look at it, she found a message from an unknown number. Whoever was texting clearly knew her though.
Have coffee with me.
“Who is this,” she mumbled to the empty room.
Before she considered or even wondered who the text was from she replied with the honest truth.
cant coffee busy dying rn
Once she hit send, Nina fought her brain fog and tried to remember if she gave out her number to anyone last night. It wasn’t something she made a habit of doing, and Nina hadn’t drank so much that she blackout. In fact, as she threw an arm over her eyes to block out the light, she very clearly remembered breaking her resolution of not banging someone on the first date. She did one worse, because she hadn’t been on a date at all!
It was fun though. Maybe even more so because Jay had been wat-
“Ooooh noooo,” Nina sat up quickly, glancing down wide eyed at her phone. She hadn’t given out her number, but she had used Jay’s phone to text herself a questionnaire. This had to be him. But now she was too afraid to text and ask. Was she in trouble? She couldn’t be! She hadn’t broken any rules, right? Dang, she probably seemed like the biggest hot mess, breaking noses, being a newbie, getting drunk and screwing some stranger like that.
She tossed the phone over to her pillow like it was a snake. Maybe she should ignore it!
As if it knew what she was thinking, her phone went off again.
Stop that. You’re not allowed.
As she watched, another message followed.
I could bring you coffee.
“If I don’t pick it up, I’m not in trouble,” she exclaimed, to absolutely no one.
Once she realized she was behaving like an absolute lunatic, Nina huffed and reached to snatch the phone again.
This was definitely Jay. Nina sighed and flopped back down again. She’d already sent one text, so ignoring him would be stupid now. What was she so embarrassed about anyway? Nina went there specifically looking for potential future lovers, and he knew that. So she stared him in the eyes while she fucked a guy, big deal.
“Oh my god, what is wrong with meeeee,” she groaned. She quickly thumbed another reply.
i haven’t even showered! the illusion of cuteness will be b r o k e n
You’re still in your dress from last night, aren’t you?
You’d look cute in a burlap sack, Nina. Let me bring you the damn coffee.
Text me your address. You can shower while I’m on the way.
Nina’s arms fell limp at her sides as she frowned up at the ceiling. How did he even know? She was probably a textbook case of repressed divorcee goes wild. Nina would’ve only had to show up in latex and zippers to be the ultimate of basic losers.
Coffee sounded really good, though. And Jay was a cool dude. It’d be nice to talk to someone that wasn’t family or Tabby.
okay dungeon daddy you win
Nina texted her address along with the reply and then dragged herself off to the shower.
When she came back to her room, she found another message waiting for her.
You have fifteen minutes.
It had already been about that long since he’d sent the text.
“Aw, jeeze.” Nina dropped the phone again and tossed her damp towel to the floor. If he was as punctual as he was serious about his caretaker duties, then he likely meant exactly fifteen minutes. Nina scrambled to comb through her still-wet hair and snatched up a robe to throw on. She cinched it tight around her waist, grumbling to herself about headaches, and guys, and coffee then padded her way across her tiny apartment to the front door.
Nina peered out the peep hole and made a startled yelp when dark hair suddenly came into view. She leaned her shoulder against the door, debating for a second time on whether or not she would open it.
She was being absolutely mental. Nina was a grown woman, nothing about this should be intimidating or awkward in the slightest. Sucking it up, she unlocked the door and pulled it open.
“Goooood morning,” she chirped a little bit higher pitched than was normal.
“Morning.” He was fighting a smile, his eyes flicking up and down over her once. In contrast to Nina, he looked perfectly put together in a flattering grey sweater and dark jeans, with a black leather jacket to combat the fall morning air. There was a to-go cup in each of his hands and a plastic bag slung over one arm.
“Here. Carefully,” he said, pressing a coffee into Nina’s hand. It was hot, but the cardboard grip and his heads-up kept her from burning her fingers. “I have cream and sugar in the bag.”
“That sounds really good right now,” she muttered, stepping aside so he could walk in and then closing the door behind him. Nina wasn’t a coffee person; all she knew was that it could wake her up and it only tasted good with copious amounts of cream and sugar. And today it smelled better than anything in the world.
She led the way across the small studio space, and unlike Jay it did not look polished or put together. The apartment itself wasn’t in top condition when she moved in, and it was pretty obvious by the amount of boxes stacked around and the limited amount of items pulled out that Nina didn’t think of it as a permanent residence either. The only personal touch visible (besides the apparent habit of her tossing off her shoes and stockings in any direction when she got home) were dozens of plants and succulents in ideal sun-catching places.
Nina at least had a big sofa and coffee table and that is where she sat down, pulling the lid off her cup and taking a sip of the scalding liquid despite the warning that it was hot and unsweetened. She covered her mouth with her hand for a split second while she made a face at it.
“Thank you,” she finally said. “Also I think I owe you an apology too. At least for running off with Tabby and forgetting about our tour.”
“It’s alright,” said Jay, settling next to her on the sofa and setting the shopping bag down on her coffee table. He pulled out a handful of sugar packets and half-and-half, and pushed the lot of them to a spot in front of Nina. “I was a little concerned until I saw you two at the bar. Figured you were done for the night.”
He sat back, taking a sip of his undoctored coffee, and looked at her. Really looked, holding her gaze for a long moment and then moving on to the rest of her, from head to toe.
“Did I screw up?” he asked finally. “Should I have stopped that?”
Nina froze like a deer in headlights, wondering what warranted such an examination until common sense struck her. He’d been worried about her. She was the dungeon newbie and could’ve gotten herself into all kinds of disasters. Of course, it wasn’t about her personally, but it felt good to have someone actually take the time to check on her and see if she was still alive.
“I was a little drunk,” admitted Nina as she ripped open about four sugar packets to dump in her coffee. “But not so drunk that I didn’t know what I was agreeing to. I maaaybe wouldn’t have done it without knowing his name first, but I don’t regret it. Definitely don’t regret it.”
Once she’d added several of the creamers, Nina leaned back on the sofa to make herself comfortable, looking much like someone who’d just discovered a revelation. A few swallows of coffee helped that lingering churning in her stomach.
“Never, ever going to get drunk again though. Still not convinced I won’t drop dead later.”
“I told you that you’re not allowed,” Jay reminded her, grinning.
“You know, going forward, it’s generally not a good idea to drink if you’re going to do a scene anyway. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into ahead of time.” He looked around at her apartment and Nina felt like he was sizing it up the same way he always seemed to be doing to her, but he didn’t say anything–at least, not about her place.
“You need to eat something. Is there food in your fridge?”
“There’s food,” she defended. Actually, now that she thought about it, there probably wasn’t much beyond orange juice and some breakfast burritos in the freezer. Maybe some leftover Chinese takeout if she was lucky. Nina hadn’t really spend a lot of time at home in the past few months between work and her new exciting dating life. And really, it seemed pointless to go through all the trouble of cooking something nice just for herself.
“Well, maybe not. But that’s fine, I can just crawl back into bed and sleep.” Or sleep on the couch, she thought. Now that she was comfortable, Nina was hesitant to move and start her head throbbing again. She didn’t have to work tomorrow either, so she was free to be a useless lump all she wanted.
“I normally don’t drink at all,” she mumbled in continuance of their conversation. “A glass of wine at most, but I’m usually the designated driver or the one getting called in the middle of the night to pick someone up. And this-” she paused to point at all the packed boxes, “is temporary. I didn’t have a lot of money left after the divorce, so I am um… in transition, I guess? I’m saving a down payment for something nicer. I am much, much more put together than this, I swear.”
“You’re really cute when you’re embarrassed, you know that?” Laughing, Jay pulled out his phone. “I get it, Nina. I’ve been through my share of breakups. Stop explaining yourself and help me pick some breakfast.”
He shifted closer to her on the couch, angling his phone screen so she had a clear view. He’d pulled up Grubhub and was scrolling through the nearby options for delivery.
“This place has good sandwiches,” he told her, his thumb hovering over one item in the list. “Looks like there’s also a waffle place. Thoughts?”
She was not cute when she was embarrassed, but once she’d realized she was sitting there flushing and twisting up her mouth like she was sixteen and some boy she liked had paid her a compliment, Nina had to give it to him. Jay was the first person to step foot in her apartment beside her cousin and Tabby, and it did’t help he’d seen her make a fool of herself last night. But the only one being ridiculous about it was herself.
“It’s a hard habit to break,” she admitted, scooting closer so she could poke at his phone and do a little scrolling of her own. It was hard to think about food at all, but she knew she’d need to eat something if she wanted to survive.
“What about just a pillow case full of bacon and some fries?”
He let out a huff of laughter and scrolled back up. “I can find the next best thing.”
In the end, Jay just ordered for her, and then they were left waiting for the food to arrive. Nina’s guest seemed perfectly content to sit in silence and sip his coffee, and for a few long moments she thought he wouldn’t say anything again.
Then, he glanced at her. “I expected more books.”
Nina had down her coffee in four large swallows and curled up with one of the sofa throw pillows. Sitting in silence suited her just as much as talking about any little thing that popped into her head. For the moment she was just glad to let her swimming head have a break, and it helped that Jay had one of those easy auras about him. Nina didn’t feel like she had to be on guard or entertaining or anything more than existing, which was a stark contrast to people like Tabby or even her ex, where Nina was always hyper-aware of what they were up to.
When he finally brought up books, Nina grinned wide, almost proud of herself.
“What do you think is in all of these boxes?” She leaned to point to one stack in particular. “I have encyclopedia sets from three different decades. And every novel Stephen King has published so far. He’s not even my favorite author, but he’s written so many it’s kinda fun having the collection.”
“All of the new ones are in my room,” she pointed over her shoulder at the wall behind them. “Nothing as impressive as the encyclopedias, but I’m reading that kinda stuff at work all day anyway.”
“Can I take a look?”
There had to be some irony in the fact her favorite genre was psychological suspense thrillers and here she was eagerly slipping off the couch to take a man she just met yesterday to see her bedroom. But so few people ever asked about Nina’s reading that she was delighted to actually show them off.
Nina’s bedroom was much more put together than the rest of the apartment and it was obvious that’s where she spent most of her time. Aside from her bed not being made and a few days worth of clothes scattered on the floor, everything else was neatly put away. Her books were in tidy stacks or on shelves and her most recent reading material sitting on her nightstand. There were several plants in here too, all in lovely pots and well taken care of.
Nina kicked some of the clothes over towards the closet, but aside from twisting her mouth up, she didn’t apologize or make a fuss about her mess again.
“All of my furniture is new. Well, not new new, I like going to flea markets for old books anyway, and there’s always some neat piece of furniture if you look hard enough.” She took a seat on the corner of the bed, rubbing her temple with the heel of her palm.
“I like flea markets too. And thrift stores.” Jay gave the shelves a quick glance, but then skipped right past them to Nina’s nightstand and plucked up her current read, flipping directly to her bookmark.
“You’re reading those next?” he asked, nodding to the short stack that still sat on her nightstand.
Nina felt a little bit like she was being investigated, which was mildly entertaining as Jay seemed to be one of those people who just did it naturally whether it was on purpose or not. She’d watched him yesterday keeping a hawk-eyed on every detail going on in the club, and now here he was sussing out whatever secrets she might be hiding. Nina tended to offer up information about herself even when people didn’t ask, but she was curious to see what he’d conjure up.
“Yeah. It’s hard to go somewhere and only get one book, so I always end up with a bunch.” She lift her arm and pointed over to the sliding door behind her. “That’s my closet,” Nina threw out there, just to see if he’d go look through there too. It was kind of hard to swallow the mischievous smile that wanted to creep up.
He looked at her, lips twitching.
“I’m nosy,” he admitted readily. “Does it bother you?”
Sitting down next to her on the bed, Jay continued to read the first page or two where Nina had left off, then shut the book and turned to the back cover copy.
“A little morbid,” he teased her. He set it back down next to her to-read pile. “Are you into true crime too, or just the fiction?”
Nina shrugged her shoulders and couldn’t help but smile at him.
“True crime is fun too, but I’d rather watch that than read it. Um- also in smaller doses because then I start looking around me trying to guess who might be a murderer and get a little carried away.” It was particularly easy to get all worked up and paranoid now that she lived by herself and there wasn’t someone to wake up when she heard weird noises, but Nina kept that tidbit to herself.
“You like to know people,” Nina observed out loud. “A details person. So why physical therapy instead of something like psychology or being a cop?”
“Who’s the psychologist now?” He shrugged. “Physical therapy is rewarding. I actually see results. And I’d rather help people get better than lock them up.”
Nina laughed, leaning over to bump against his shoulder.
“When do you ever take a break? You’re improving lives during the day and keeping an eye out for hot messes like me at night. I feel like someone should be bringing you coffee and breakfast.”
“Are you volunteering?” His smile widened. “I like taking care of people. For me, being able to make people feel happy or safe, or pushing them to accomplish what they need… That’s what makes me feel good. I do read or go running in my downtime, though.”
He turned his head back towards her bookshelf, though he remained seated. “I have different tastes than you do, but I have a few thrillers you might like. I tend to read nonfiction for the most part. That and hard sci-fi.”
“You should really be careful making offers like that to a desperate divorcee looking for friends and a good time.” she teased. “But if you’ve got books for me, I’ll bring you dinner. It’s been a while, but you never really forget how to cook.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.”
Once the food came, they curled up on the couch and squabbled over what to watch on Netflix before settling on The Assassination of Gianni Versaci. At some point, full of bacon cheese fries and dozy from the painkillers Jay insisted she take, Nina drifted off. Jay shook her awake some time later long enough to lock up behind him, and then she crawled back into bed.