“Darn it!” Tori jiggled her key in the lock for the fourteenth time and nothing. She was still on the outside of the door and the ringing phone was on the inside. She took a deep breath and let it out while counting to ten. Even slow breathing didn’t help. Tears pricked her eyes as this straw fell on her camel's back. All day long, anything that could go wrong... did go wrong. And, the fact she was going to have to break down and call a locksmith... a locksmith she couldn’t afford... at eight o’clock at night was nearly too much to handle.
She looked up and down the hall wondering which of her neighbors might be home. Since she’d moved into the condo her grandmother had left her, she’d been too busy to meet any of them. She barely saw them enough to nod to in the elevator. Why hadn’t she given in when her best friend told her she really needed to buy a cell phone—even just one of those prepaid kinds? She wouldn’t be in this predicament now. She could just call Sandye and have her come to get her.
Figuring she might as well get started, she turned her back on the hateful door and its hateful lock and rapped on the door across the hall. Dead silence. Not even a scurry of anyone on the other side looking through the security peep hole. With a sigh, she went to the next door down and knocked.
After several long moments, the door cracked open, its security chain in place. A watery blue eye peered out at Tori.
“Yes?” A soft, wavering voice nearly breathed out the words.
“Hi. I’m so sorry to be bothering you so late, but I live in 2-C...”
The chain slipped out of its socket and the door swung open. “You must be young Tori. Come in, come in.” A small, white-haired woman stepped back from the door. “I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you right away. Your grandmother was one of my dearest friends. I really should have come over before now to introduce myself.”
The flow of words washed over Tori like a flood. Well, she wanted to borrow a phone and surely there was one somewhere here. Her gaze swept the living room to see pictures, and cats, on nearly every surface.
“Don’t mind the cats, dearie,” the woman said, almost as if she were reading Tori’s mind. “Just sit anywhere. Push them off if they won’t move. Stubborn creatures.”
“I was just wondering if I could borrow your phone to call a locksmith, Mrs....” Tori’s voice trailed off as she realized she didn’t know the woman’s name.
“Oh, just call me Mattie. Everyone does.” She bustled around, brushing cats off chairs, then turned back to Tori. “So, Florence never got that lock worked on. I told her she should let my Marvin take care of it for her, but she was as stubborn as these cats. Never wanted help.”
Marvin? Tori bit her lip to stop from smiling at the old-fashioned name. “Is...Marvin a locksmith?”
Mattie looked at her, surprise on her face. “Why, of course not, dear. Marvin is my grandson.”
Tori blinked. Was she so tired and stressed that she wasn’t following the conversation or was Mattie just not making sense?
“Let me call him and then I’ll get us a nice cup of tea while we’re waiting. He’s a good boy. He works on clocks, you know.”
While Mattie dialed and spoke softly on the phone, Tori put her hand to her forehead and tried to think of a way to extricate herself from this mess. She should just borrow the phone, call Sandye and worry about the locksmith tomorrow.
Mattie turned back from the phone and said, “It’s settled. He will be right here. Isn’t it nice that he lives in our building?” She bustled into the kitchen and continued to talk over the bar as she put water on to boil. “I really think my daughter... you know, Marvin’s mother, put him up to moving here after I fell. Just in case. They think I can’t take care of myself you know. After all, what single man would want to live in the same building with his grandmother otherwise?”
Tori was beginning to think Mattie’s family was right. “I hate to bother your grandson. I can just call my friend and worry about the locksmith tomorrow.”
“Oh, no worries. Like I said, he’s here in the building and there’s no use in you spending money when Marvin can take care of things. Why, Marvin is just a marvel...”
A knock at the door broke into her reveries, thankfully before Tori could laugh at the image of a marvelous Marvin. Why, Mattie made him sound like a superhero.
To Tori’s amazement, the man who came through the door when Mattie opened it could have passed as a superhero. Tall, dark-haired, with blue eyes he must have gotten from his grandmother...except his weren’t watered by age, but were clear and direct. In his hand, he held a box with a new lock and knob set.
He smiled and followed her gaze down to his hand. “Grandma had me pick this up ages ago, when Mrs. Huddleston first started having lock problems. She knew it was only a matter of time. You must be the Tori I’ve heard so much about.” He held out his free hand.
Tori blushed at the openly admiring look he gave her as his larger hand enveloped Tori’s. The warmth of his hand filtered to her chest. Okay, so he was good-looking. But...
“And you must be...”
“Please don’t say it. Only my grandmother uses my first name. Please, call me Stephen.”
“Stephen,” she agreed. “And...you work with clocks?” She wondered how much more of what Mattie had said was, in fact, factual.
He shot his grandmother a fond look. “I played around with them when I was in college. I don’t have time now. I’m a lawyer. But, why don’t I get this new lock put in?” Tori followed him down the hall and watched as he jiggled the key with as much success as she had had.
“Yep,” he said, handing her back her key. “I think you are past due for a new lock. The problem is...we have to get you inside somehow.”
“Well, why can’t you just take this one out?”
“Locks are designed to only be removed from the inside. It’s kind of a safety thing.”
She looked at his grin and then said, “Oh.” Well, that made sense.
“I thought this might be a problem... Grandma wasn’t very clear... so I brought some graphite just in case. We can probably get you in, but this lock definitely needs to be changed out tonight.”
With a sigh, she said, “Let’s do it.”
True to his word, within a few minutes after spraying the graphite into the keyhole, he was able to get the door open. Replacing the lock took a bit longer. After about half an hour of laughing, looking for the right size screwdrivers, and—much to Tori’s delight —a lot of flirting, Stephen finally handed her the new keys with a flourish.
“I don’t know how I can ever repay you,” Tori said.
“I do.” He grinned. “I don’t know about you, but I’m famished. Let me take you out for a sandwich, and we’ll call it even.”
About the Author: Judy Thomas is a writer, editor, co-owner of a website, wife, mom, and amateur photographer. She and her husband also own a tree and stump removal company. In her spare time, she thinks about cleaning the house. You can hang out with her at her blog: http://jhthomas.blogspot.com .