Grace held her breath until Ulysses moved. He blinked at her and scrambled into his small pool. She sprinkled a few grains of his food into the water and he went after them with the precision of a heat-seeking missile. The turtle belonged to her roommate, Elyse, but she neglected him. Grace feared one day she would wake up and find he had passed away.
Assured of the red-eared slider’s vitality, she stumbled into the bathroom, groggy from lack of sleep. She should never have turned off the snooze alarm. Her boss had scheduled a morning meeting and she might have to run all the way to work to arrive in time.
Despite her blurry vision, a vivid pink color in the wastebasket caught her attention. Her heart sank when she read the words on the box, Pregnancy Test Kit. She supposed she should not be surprised. Every man in New York City adored Elyse. Her slightly exotic, almond-shaped eyes, curly, coal-black hair, and perfect hourglass figure drew men to her.
Grace’s throat tightened. Her roommate might be in major trouble. A lot of young women went through pregnancy scares, but Elyse never had any trouble until now, which was a miracle considering her physique.
A cold chill went down Grace’s spine. How could Elyse take care of a baby if she could not take care of Ulysses?
Grace fought to tame her short, mousy brown bed-head hair and lost the battle. She put down the brush and opted to wear a hat. Her current favorite resembled a designer hat she saw at Saks. She purchased the knock-off from a vendor on the street, since the genuine article would have reduced her to poverty. She tilted the chapeau to one side and imagined herself a movie star from one of the ancient black and white films Gram favored. She pursed her lips and batted her eyelashes. The vision in the mirror did not resemble Lillian Gish. Disappointed, she told herself the bitter cold of February would give her frostbitten ears if she did not wear the hat.
Her gaze rested on the pink box again and a cold knot settled in her chest. Should she ask Elyse about the test? Would Elyse volunteer the information?
She had been sharing the apartment on Lorimer Street in Brooklyn with Elyse for the past year and a half. Men regularly appeared on the doorstep hungering after Elyse. She had more boyfriends than Ben & Jerry had ice cream flavors, but most of the swains did not last long until Aidan came along. Elyse’s infatuation with Aidan proved the most intense, up until one week ago when they had a fight.
Elyse called him a slacker because he did not have a job, nor did he appear to have any hope of landing one soon. “Do you think you can sponge off me for the rest of your life?”
Aidan did not respond. Instead, he walked out.
After the altercation, Aidan went from being an unemployed actor to imitating a rather good magician. He vanished, which might not be too hard to accomplish in a city with eight million people, but the speed of his departure made it impressive, at least to Grace. He had been crashing at an apartment with two other young men, and they vowed he had left no forwarding address after he’d packed up and moved out in less than an hour.
Grace needed more time than that to pack up her books.
After Aidan’s departure, Elyse dissolved into long bouts of crying. Her grief would undoubtedly worsen if the pregnancy test came out positive.
Grace glanced at the mirror again. Dark smudges under her eyes attested to all her sympathetic listening. What else could she do? Elyse had helped her through the worst tragedy in her life. She had to be there for her friend.
Over and over, Elyse had blurted out between sobs, “He was such a poser!”
Grace bit her lip to prevent herself from saying, “Well, yeah. He’s an actor.”
The dull throb of a headache pulsed in her temples. She had the chore of taking out the garbage this week, which made her solely responsible for stuffing the pregnancy test kit box into the building’s trashcan. She did not want anyone else in the apartment building to view the evidence. Especially, the new guy in apartment 2L who always seemed to be hanging around the garbage cans whenever she stepped outside. The mailbox in the vestibule listed him as Russell Thorpe.
She frowned as she recalled how often he hung around the stairway when she came downstairs. When she picked up her mail, he stood in the vestibule and glanced over her shoulder, as she flipped through her bills.
Was he a stalker?
If so, he didn’t instill any fear or panic in her. She did not break out in a cold sweat. On the contrary, instant warmth slid through her and her heart flip-flopped at his nearness though they never spoke to each other. Sometimes, he nodded at her.
Her brief musing ended, when Elyse banged on the bathroom door.
“Let me in!”
Grace hurried out. Elyse stood before her with wide eyes and a hand over her mouth. Then she ran into the bathroom and slammed the door.
Grace sank onto one of the kitchen chairs and covered her eyes. Elyse has morning sickness!
Grace squelched a groan, when she glanced at her watch. The boss scheduled the meeting at work for nine-thirty—in Manhattan. She hated rush hour in the subway,—strangers pressed together as closely as oranges in the display case at the fruit stand on Nassau Avenue.
She heard the sound of the toilet flushing, as she grabbed her backpack and coat.
“Are you going to be okay?” she called out.
“Get moving. You’re late.”
“I M me at work!” She ran down the stairs. The guy in 2L came out of his door, but she kept her eyes focused on the steps. She did not want to look at him. If she cast a glance at him she would be left with the sensation of losing her balance and toppling off her surfboard. She had never met a man as tall, as handsome, or so...intense.
“Are you practicing for the marathon?” A hint of humor touched his voice.
She caught a whiff of his aftershave, as she passed. The woodsy undertones had her remembering the scent of the tall pines which grew in Gram’s backyard in Long Branch, New Jersey.
“I’m late.” She clipped her words, as she gripped the railing of the last flight of stairs.
“That’s unusual for you.”
Her heart thundered, as she hurried into the vestibule and escaped onto the street. What was she going to do? The guy watched her every move.
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