“Come on up,” I said, speaking into the intercom. “It’s unlocked.”
His voice crackled back at me through the speaker, “Right-o.”
I buzzed him in before rushing off to the kitchen. I knew it wouldn’t take him long to get up to my apartment, so I needed to finish tidying up as soon as possible. Letting out a loud, exasperated sigh, I took a look around. Dishes filled the sink. Why were there always dishes filling the sink? There was my morning coffee mug, my midday coffee mug and my “have I put in eight hours yet?” coffee mug. Next to them was an empty bowl from breakfast, along with the knife I had used to cut the fruit I’d eaten from it. Who knows where I had left the fork. Had I left it on the desk?
I didn’t bother to wash anything. There simply wasn’t enough time for that. The mugs clanked against each other, threatening to break, as I slammed the dishwasher shut. Priscilla, my British Shorthair, went round and round my feet, mewing as she did. I threw two scoops of kibble into her food bowl. Thankfully, she gobbled up whatever fell onto the floor because I didn’t have time to sweep. It was far more important for me to find my misplaced silverware.
What good would it do for him to find a fork somewhere it didn’t belong? Sure, he would never judge me for it, but he’s so…particular about some things. I mean, he’s the kind of man who color coordinates his shirts, socks and underwear. He only ever wears varying shades of blue, grey and green with a splash of black and white for good measure, but that isn’t the point. It still takes effort, time and an adequate amount of lunacy to ensure your shirts achieve the perfect gradation of midnight blue to periwinkle.
I rifled through the papers on my desk, hurriedly checking between towering stacks of Vogue and W. It had to be there, but where? Forks don’t suddenly sprout legs and walk off on their own, but all the same, I couldn’t find it. I had just started to dig through one of the drawers when everything went dark.
A friendly, familiar voice came from behind me, “Looking for something?”
Hunched over and slightly caught off guard, I blindly grasped the desk. “Well, not anymore. I can’t see!”
Giles laughed, “Huh. That’s strange. I can’t imagine why not.”
“It wouldn’t have anything to do with you covering my eyes, would it?”
“Who, me? I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing.”
“Uh-huh. Sure you wouldn’t. How did you sneak up on me like that anyway? It’s kinda scary. I didn’t even hear the door.”
With that, he removed his hand from my face. Spinning around, I looked up at him. Examining his face as though I’d never seen him before, my mouth fell open in disbelief.
“Oh. It’s just you.”
Giles raised a brow at me. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing,” I said, shrugging. “It’s nothing. I just thought you might be an attractive intruder with a penchant for playfulness, that’s all.”
His green eyes rolled as he feigned displeasure. “Did you now? And may I ask what would make you assume that the intruder was attractive?”
I shrugged, “Just a hunch. You sounded attractive, anyway.”
Giles suddenly lunged toward me. Wrapping an arm around my waist, he tickled me in retaliation. “Well, pardon me for not meeting your expectations!”
“No!” I cried, laughing uncontrollably. “Let me go! I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”
I withed and wiggled, but he persisted with the torture until I was cackling so hard I could hardly breathe. By the time he relented, my mascara was only moments away from streaming down my flushed face.
Giles face lit up with amusement as he watched me struggle in vain to regain my composure. Curse him for finding out my secret weakness! After discovering that the sides of my torso are uncommonly vulnerable to tickling, he’s been attacking me at random ever since. He can be such a child when he wants to be. It’s exceedingly rare and it never lasts very long, but when he momentarily forgets that he’s 30 years old and no longer a boy in primary school, it is the sweetest thing you could ever witness.
“I bet you’re wishing I’d been a complete stranger now, huh?”
Wiping at the corners of my eyes and still fighting to suppress the giggles, I tried to catch my breath. “Bah! I was only half disappointed. Besides, you aren’t such a bad alternative. You may not be a creeper, but you’re cute after all.”
As I playfully pecked him on the cheek, the scent of bergamot, rosemary and balsam wafted into the air. I instantly recognized it as the cologne I’d given him for his birthday. I smiled to myself. Giles has worn that same cologne every night since his party, and I know it isn’t out of mere obligation. That man will not do, say or wear anything he doesn’t want to—other people’s feelings be damned. He genuinely loves it, I can tell. Like other things he loves, it has become a part of his routine— a part of him. When I was searching for the ideal gift, I’d enlisted our mutual friend, Gemma, to help me track down the ideal gift. Her in-depth knowledge of Selfridges—as well as their male sales staff—proved to be an invaluable resource. In the end, the scent we chose matched him perfectly: assertive, bright, down to earth and one of a kind.
Quickly trading our frolicsome antics for loving sentiments, Giles and I went on to engage in our typical date night banter. You know, where he tells me how “lovely” I look before being told that he’s completely off his rocker and/or having serious eyesight issues. He usually wins the “argument” though—no surprise there. I did manage to squeeze in a few compliments of my own though. He waved it off, but he’d earned every word I said. Tonight he was wearing his favorite dark grey cardigan, a black and white gingham dress shirt, and a smile as bright as the quickly fading sun. He looked…well, amazing. How dare he be so well put together all the time, I thought. He’s a man. He doesn’t even try. It isn’t fair.
I don’t know why I’m still surprised by him. Giles has this annoying talent for looking as though he puts way more thought into his appearance than he actually does. It may take me over an hour to come up with an outfit that I’m happy with and still, it never looks quite as effortless. Meanwhile, there’s him—practically able to roll out of bed dressed to the nines. In general, he has a natural air of excellence that swirls around him like a forcefield, blessing everything he touches. However, his impeccably refined nature is made most apparent in his grooming habits. He polishes his oxfords each night before he goes to bed. He thinks it is perfectly normal to shop for antipasti at Waitrose wearing cufflinks and a tie—even when he has nowhere else to go. His watch collection is so extensive that it makes Jaeger-LeCoultre’s entire range look like small potatoes. He has even gone through the trouble of naming each and every timepiece—Olivia, his father’s old Ballon Bleu, is his favorite.
Hardly superficial or self-absorbed, Giles simply likes what he likes, and he is quite comfortable being exactly who he is. With a humble heart of pure gold, nothing he does is ever for show. As his friends lovingly put it, he is the naturally “dapper chap” of their social circle. I often joke that he was born holding a tin of pomade in one hand and a comb in the other. Giles only laughs at me. He neither accepts or denies it. Perhaps it entertains him to appear perfect on accident. With him, it can be hard to tell.
When he asked me if I was ready to head out, I hesitated for a moment. I had wanted to find the fork before leaving, but I was far too embarrassed to say anything about it. Besides, we were both starved and craving Chinese. The fork could wait. Our Chinese takeaway, however, could not. With a nod of my head, he grabbed my hand and walked me to the door.
Prissy, full of food and water, peeped her head around the corner to see us off. Affectionately waving goodbye to her, Giles promised to bring his own cat, Malcolm, to visit with her soon. We laughed at her as she blinked her little pale blue eyes and meowed in seeming acknowledgement. Giles and I decided that the playdate must have sounded like a good idea to her too. It was a nice excuse for us to see each other again, if nothing else.
As we closed the door behind us and made our way towards the elevator, Giles got a faraway look in his eyes. I’ve seen that same distant expression on his face more times than I can count. You see, he is a terribly deep thinker. He spends time mulling things over far more than he ever speaks, so I’m quite used to his sudden “thinking sprees”. I normally have to nudge him before he reanimates, but this time, he snapped out of it on his own.
“Do you think this is anything like leaving children at home with sitters?” asked Giles.
“What? You mean, leaving Prissy?”
“Yeah, like when the parents go out for the evenings. You can’t take children to cocktail parties and things of that sort.”
“No, I suppose you can’t. What about it though?”
The elevator announced its arrival with a loud ding. It opened the doors just long enough for us to step inside its metallic mouth before closing them again. Giles pressed the button labeled with a glowing ‘L’ so that we’d be let out onto street level. Our voices echoed as we continued the conversation.
“I was just thinking about how it is when I leave Malcolm for the day. Sometimes he looks sad, like he doesn’t want me to leave him behind. Don’t kids do the same thing?”
I nodded knowingly. “Oh, absolutely.”
“Do you think it will make you sad to leave your children like that?”
He noticed the curious glance I shot up at him, so he quickly added, “You know…someday.”
“Hmm. I don’t remember ever telling you that I wanted children.”
His voice had turned so thin and panicked that it actually surprised me. I had never heard him sound so concerned before. In fact, I had never heard him sound concerned at all. It must have shocked Giles as well because he felt compelled to correct and repeat himself—this time in his normal pitch. I couldn’t help but laugh at his attempt to clean things up. Even out of my peripheral I could see his cheeks turning the faintest shade of red, so I tried not to give him too much of a hard time.
“No, I do! We’ve just never talked about…children before, that’s all. I’d like them one day though. Someday. But to answer your question, I’m sure I would feel sad leaving them. I feel bad for Prissy too, but what can I do? I don’t think she’d care for the tube.”
Giles, still moderately flustered, laughed nervously. “Right, right. Me too.”
As we arrived at ground floor and stepped out of the elevator into the vacant lobby, Giles quickly went on to change the subject. He decided to mask his apparent embarrassment with talk of dumplings and Peking Duck. Though I smiled and nodded to indicate that I was listening, I kept wondering what had made Giles bring up children. In all of our time knowing one another, I had only heard him speak of children in reference to his eldest sister’s two kids.
Besides, he is the type of person who only exerts energy talking about things he deems “immediately pertinent and wholly necessary”. Dreamy and speculative imaginations were my thing, while boring, present-day practicality was his. It was strangely uncharacteristic of him to say something to me about “someday” children, much less my own. Had something changed without me having been aware of it? As I laced my arm through his and went out into the crisp evening air, I was amused. Amused and highly suspicious.
(To Be Continued)…