The New Neighbour
I hadn’t seen the new guy since the test on Wednesday, and seeing as that it was Friday, I actually felt a little better, even though I still hadn’t heard of any news in regards to Calvin and Rebecca.
Thanks to my good mood, I had decided to try to cook something I had seen Bobby Flay make last week on the Food Network.
During the elevator ride up to my floor, I was trying to remember if I had all the ingredients I needed to make Philadelphia Style Steak. I had gone grocery shopping at the little market by my apartment building just the other day, - because I knew I wouldn’t be home until around five o’clock, which meant there’d be no fresh produce left – so I was pretty sure I had everything I needed.
I got off on the 15th floor, and was surprised to see moving boxes all over the hallway. I immediately looked to my right, where apartment 15B was, curious to find out who my new neighbour was but was disappointed when I saw that the door was closed. Not making any noise, I walked towards the door to try to hear if anyone was inside. Not having heard anything, I decided to take a peek at the boxes surrounding the apartment. I mean, a quick look to see if my new neighbour was a guy or a girl wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t invasion of privacy or anything. I was just curious. And since there were only two apartments per floor, I had every right to know the sex of the person I’d be sharing the top floor with.
I reached down to a big box a good four meters away from the door, only to find it taped shut. Disappointed, I started looking around for a box that didn’t have tape on it and spotted one tied with a string to the left of my neighbour’s door. I quickly walked over and started untying the string. Ok, to meet my new neighbour, I thought just as I was opening the flaps.
“What are you doing?” I heard a voice ask curiously.
Fuck! I looked up to see a beautiful woman, about my age, leaning against the door frame, looking at me with a quizzical expression.
When had she opened the door? And how hadn’t I heard her?
“Um... hi. I’m... I’m your neighbour,” I managed in a strangled squawk.
She had continued to look at me, her expression not changing, until she burst out laughing.
“I’m assuming you were just trying to make sure that box was closed properly,” she said after she was done laughing.
“Uh... yea... I mean, yes, of course,” I said.
“I’m just kidding. No need to worry. Been there done that at my last building. And I’m not moving in here, so you don’t have to worry. I’m Claire by the way,” she said with a friendly smile.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Jess. And I’m really sorry about all this... I’m going to go hide in my apartment now if you don’t mind,” I said embarrassed.
“Haha. Ok, catch you later.”
I quickly walked over to my apartment an let myself in. My God, that was so embarrassing I thought as I took off my shoes and left my purse and keys on the accent table. I wonder if she meant it when she said that she’d snooped in other people’s moving boxes. I hope so. I really didn’t want her to think I’m some weirdo. Hmm, maybe I should take her a steak when I’m done cooking them, since I had purchased two. (This wasn’t by choice, by the way. Steve, my butcher, would always laugh at me when I’d ask for one steak, so to shut him up, about three months ago, I started buying two steaks, letting him think I had a boyfriend. Technically, it wasn’t exactly a lie. I mean Calvin was bound to see that we were mean to be together, and before long, I’d actually need to buy two steaks.) But she might think that’s just weird. I guess I’d have to wait and see how they’d taste, and then decide.
I turned on my laptop and while I waited for it to power up, changed out of my work clothes into my “home” outfit of boxers and a tank top. Carrying my laptop, I walked over to the kitchen and after selecting my latest playlist on Grooveshark and turning up the volume, I started looking over the recipe to make sure I had everything.
David Guetta’s latest hit Commander came on, and after turning it up louder, I began cooking. This was going to be so much fun!
By seven o’clock, I was still cooking.
At least, that’s what I thought I had been doing. The oven was roaring with heat. Pots were bubbling on the stove. The blender was working away. I’d burned my right hand twice when placing things in pans. My recipe print out was open on the kitchen counter, drenched with spilled oil and hot milk. I was puce in the face, sweating hard, and trying every so often to run my hand under cold water.
I’d been going for a solid two hours. And I hadn’t yet made anything that could actually be eaten. So far I’d discarded the one steak, two pans of burned onions, and a saucepan of steak sauce.
I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong. I mean I had been following the recipe word for word, so it didn’t make sense. Plus, I was starving so there was no time for analysis. Every time something went wrong I’d just dump it and start over again.
Suddenly I smelled something burning and turned to see my steak on fire. I grabbed an oven mitt to handle the pan, when the smoke detector went off, startling me, and causing me to drop the pan on the ground, barely getting a chance to move out of the way.
“OH. MY. GOD!” I yelled. “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God. This can’t be happening!” I hurled the pan across the kitchen, where it smashed against the dishwasher.
“What the hell –” a male voice exclaimed in surprise.
I looked up to see the new guy from work standing there, with nothing but a pair of boxers (black, Calvin Klein ones), and I knew that I was hallucinating. There was no way he was actually in my apartment. And in a pair of boxers, nonetheless. “Oh my God, it’s you! You work at Anderson Advertising right? Is everything ok?”
“Everything’s fine,” I said rattled. “Thank you.” I made a dismissive motion with my hand, but he didn’t move.
“Um, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing here... I didn’t stalk you or anything. I actually just moved in next door. I was packing away some stuff actually, and then I heard the alarm go off, and I came knocking but there was no answer, and then I tried the door and it was unlocked, so I just came in to see if everything was ok,” he said, surveying the mess.
“Oh. Right. Well, um, everything’s fine. I’m just in the... most complex stage of the... um...” I glanced down at the stove and gave an involuntary scream. “Fuck! The steak sauce!”
“Get it off the heat, for God’s sake!” he exclaimed while reaching for an oven mitt and putting it on his hand. He snatched up the pan and moved it to another burner. “What on earth is in that?”
“Nothing, just the usual ingredients: mustard, honey, horseradish...”
He takes a wooden spoon and tastes the sauce. “Baking soda? You put baking soda in gravy? There is no way that the recipe calls for –” He breaks off and sniffs the air. “Hang on. Is something burning?”
I watch helplessly as he grabbed a pot with a thick, black mixture.
Oh, no. My provolone sauce.
“What is that supposed to be?” he asked incredulously.
“It’s provolone sauce,” I retorted. My cheeks were burning but I lifted my chin, trying to retain some kind of dignity. “I guess, I left it over the fire too long.”
He placed the pot in the sink and turned to look at me, his face working with disbelief. “Want some advice? Don’t ever cook again. I’m serious. I just moved in and I actually really like my apartment. Plus, it took me like three months to find it and I don’t have any time to go apartment hunting.”
“I can cook, smartass. I just must have missed a step or something. I was actually cooking a Bobby Flay recipe, thank you very much. Very complicated,” I said pissed.
He was leaning against the counter, his arms folded. He reached over to where I had the recipe, and started reading over it. “Hmm, not exactly beginner but not advanced either. Wait, why were you making two steaks?” he asked confused.
“Um, I wasn’t,” I said.
“I guess it’s none of my business. But if you’re having a guest over tonight I would suggest take-out.”
I sank down onto a bar stool and massaged my aching lower back. I hadn’t realised how exhausted I was. “I wasn’t cooking for two. I just always buy two of everything when I go to my butcher,” I explained.
“Why in the world would you do that?”
I felt a painful wrench inside. I couldn’t face telling the whole dreadful story. Besides, it’s so pathetic.
“It’s complicated,” I said.
“I’ve got time,” he replied, a smile playing on his lips, “but first, I think we should clean up, because it will be a pain to clean it up after everything’s dried up.”
Compationably, we emptied pans and pots into the bin. I scrubbed all the smeared surfaces while he mopped the floor.
“So how long have you been working at Anderson?” he asked as he was rinsing out the mop in a bucket.
“Four years. I did my co-op there during my last year at NYU, so I was hired right after I graduated.”
“Oh, cool. Well, it seems like a good company to work for. I grew up in Connecticut, so after Yale, I worked for an advertising company in New Haven.”
“Wow, you went to Yale?” I asked impressed.
“Yea. Well, everyone in my family went there so I didn’t really have a choice.
I opened my mouth to ask him when he went to university – then on second thought, closed it and shut the dishwasher. I didn’t want to start getting into details, going down the “do we know anyone in common?” road. Besides, he was an ass, so why get to know him?
A quick glance at the clock told me it was eight thirty but at last the kitchen looked a bit more normal. I picked up a bottle of Chardonnay from my wine rack, and poured some into two wine glasses. I offered one to my new neighbour who took a large gulp and then placed his glass on the counter. We sat there in silence for a while; the music having stopped playing a while ago.
I guess he isn’t that bad, I thought. I mean he had helped me clean up. Although he still hadn’t apologised for the whole “acting like an ass” thing at The Food Emporium. But maybe he was going too.
I looked up at him and saw that he was studying me with an... amused expression.
“BEN? BEN WHERE ARE YOU?” I almost fell out of my chair at the sound of someone yelling. A few seconds later, Claire appeared in front of us looking like a frickin movie star in a gorgeous green dress which brought out her eyes.
“Ben, my God, I was getting worried. Sorry for barging in like this Jess, but your front door was open and I couldn’t find Ben, so I thought I’d come ask you if you’d seen him,” she said looking relieved to have found him.
I had totally forgotten about her. Oh, God. They were probably a couple. Probably engaged to be married, I thought bitterly.
“Claire, you look incredible,” I heard him say.
And she did. The bitch.
“Thanks Benny. But you can’t take me out in your boxers so get your butt back to the apartment to get dressed. Your tux is hanging up in your closet,” she said smiling. “Oh, and I made you a grilled sirloin with a red pepper sauce and goat cheese with fucilli and creamed spinach on the side because I knew you’d be hungry when you came home from work,” she added.
“You are the best. Have I told you that I love you?” he said.
“Only a few hundred times today,” she said sweetly.
Can someone please hold my hair back while I puke? Seriously, couldn’t they do this somewhere else? Like in their apartment? Oh my God, they better not have chosen any of the rooms next to my apartment for their bedroom, cause if I heard anything, I will definitely burn the place down.
“Ok, well, we should go so I can change,” “Benny” said.
“Oh, yea, of course. Thanks for the help,” I said.
“Uh huh. Don’t mention it,” he replied.
“See ya later Jess,” Claire said before turning to go, with him following close behind.
“Yup, see ya.”
“And don’t attempt to cook anything,” he called out to me from the door.
“I won’t,” I promised.
“Why did you say that?” I heard Claire ask.
“Trust me, you wouldn’t believe what a mess she’d made before. You should teach her how to cook. She’d learn a lot from an amazing chef like you,” I heard him reply.
I heard them laugh together and their laughter was shortly silenced by whoever closed the door behind them.
Asshole. It’s not my fault that the recipe was so complicated. “You should teach her how to cook” blah, blah, blah. Please, my cooking skills were fantastic, thank you very much. UHH, God I hated him so much!
I filled my wine glass up to the top, and decided to call Sarah to tell everything that had just happened and to invite her over so she could cheer me up.
About thirty minutes later, I heard a knock on my bedroom door.
“Your door was unlocked,” Sarah said walking in. “You need to learn to lock it Jess. Especially since Ben and his gf like to walk in without knocking. I mean they obviously aren’t like your last neighbour, but still.”
“Don’t worry about it, my new neighbour definitely won’t want to stalk me, like Harry did. Not when he’s dating a movie star, who not only cooks for him, but who also cooks him gourmet meals.”
“Hmm, clearly your mood hasn’t improved since we talked on the phone. What are you up to now? You looked like you were deep in thought when I walked in” she said ignoring my comment and sitting on my bed.
“I’m imagining how happy Calvin and Rebecca must be” I answered honestly. “And the more time that goes by, the more depressed I get.”
“You shouldn’t think about it.”
“Yea, I know. But I can’t help it. That’s just how I am. How about you? How are you?”
“On a scale of one to ten,” she said thoughtfully, “probably six. Maybe seven.”
She reached for her purse and took out the latest copy of Cosmo.
“No more tests,” I pleaded. “Either way, I’m gonna get a zero, regardless of the subject.”
“I didn’t say anything about a test, but I do think you need some advice,” she said. “Hmm, ok. Here we are. Cancer. Listen carefully.”
I signed. Here we go again. Wasn’t my life miserable enough without all that stuff?
“Your love life is very slow at the moment,” Sarah read out loud. “Isn’t that right? See the horoscope is right!”
“S, my love life is always very slow,” I pointed out. “It’s actually nonexistent. And evidently, Cosmo noticed it too.”
“Be patient though, nothing is what it seems. Soon you’ll find yourself hopelessly in love with someone who also loves you back.”
S looked up from the magazine with a thoughtful expression. “Hmm. Enigmatic but interesting. You have to be patient. So basically, you have to wait for Calvin and Rebecca to break up again. Which will definitely happen, just I told you.”
Nothing makes Sarah happier than when a horoscope mirrors her great advice. Maybe she will be a psychic or something. She’ll make a ton of money – from housewives of various successful men and desperate teenagers, all part of her future clientele.
“What if they never break up?” I asked. “What if they stay together till they’re eighty? Then I’ll have to wait till Rebecca slips and breaks her hip. But by that time, will I still want Calvin? I mean eighty is really old. What am I supposed to do till then? Learn how to play bingo so that I can entertain him when finally get together?”
“Baha! Seriously Jess! Haha! How do you even come up with these things?”
“It’s my sick imagination talking.”
“Anyways, you gotta stop that. You have to start living in reality.”
Sarah turned back to the horoscope. And she said I didn’t live in reality! God, I think we’re both losing it.
“The part about not everything being what it seems like definitely relates to Calvin and Rebecca. On the outside they seem happy. But in reality, they’re miserable and they fight all the time.”
“Really?” I asked. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. It’s only a matter of time before they break up. And then, it will be your turn to strike.”
The way Sarah made it seem, it sounded like a very easy thing to do. Maybe she was right though. I just had to be more optimistic. Or else, I wouldn’t be able to get anyone.