Usually I took the stairs up to my sixth floor apartment-- especially if I'd indulged in donuts and mochas at work--but today I didn't have the energy. I shuffled over to the elevator, stepped in, and pressed 6.
Once inside my apartment, I dumped the mail onto the coffee table without looking at it, grabbed a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream from the freezer, and slumped onto the couch, remote in hand. I didn't want to think about the events of the day, but I couldn't seem to help myself. Not even a rerun of my favorite sitcom could distract me from obsessing over the day.
First, I was late leaving for work. I noticed a stain on my white shirt just as I was exiting the building. I had to go back up to my apartment to change. It took me several minutes to find something appropriate that hadn't been relegated to the laundry basket. Even then, my patterned shirt didn't really match my plaid trousers.
Traffic was a bear. A big rig accident delayed me for fifteen more minutes, and parking was limited at my usual lot. I had to hike almost a mile to my office building. I arrived more disheveled than I liked. I had seven voice mails and thirteen emails waiting for me, so I couldn't take the time to clean up.
My boss called an impromptu meeting at lunchtime, so I was unable to keep my date with my best friend, Lily. We now hadn't been able to check in with each other for over a week, an all-time record for us.
I took two difficult phone calls from disgruntled customers in the afternoon. One of the women actually yelled at me--for something that wasn't at all my fault. It required all my energy not to yell back.
Last, but not least, I lost an antique button from my black cardigan somewhere on the walk between the office building and my car. I knew I'd never be able to find another one. All told, definitely a rotten day.
At the height of my self-pity party, the doorbell rang.
I abandoned my ice cream and the remote, and padded to the door. I looked through the peephole to see Ken, the man who had just moved into apartment 803. I'd only caught glimpses of him as we passed each other with a wave on the stairwell, and only knew about him from my next-door neighbor, who had met him at the downstairs health club. She'd described him--quite accurately--as tall, blue-eyed, friendly, and fit. He seemed to have opposite hours of mine; just when I was arriving home, he was leaving.
I smoothed my hair, wiped under my eyes to catch any stray mascara, and opened the door.
He held out a hand. "Hi. I'm your neighbor, Ken. Are you Amy?"
I nodded and accepted the handshake. “That's me.”
"I got some of your mail today," he said, and handed over three envelopes. "The mailman read the numbers wrong. 803 and 603 look similar. An easy mistake."
"Thank you,” I said, noting that all three pieces of mail were bills. Good thing I was getting paid next week. “That was so nice of you to bring it down."
"No problem. I'm just on my way to work. I'm a security guard at the art museum on 5th. I've got the night shift for the next three weeks."
He certainly had my attention. I'd visited the museum at least a dozen times over the past few years, and had been considering buying a yearly pass. "Really? I love that place."
"Yeah. It's a great job. I get paid for looking after the paintings. I especially like it when we get in a new exhibit. I can spend hours looking at the art."
I looked into Ken's sparkling blue eyes. Not only was he attractive, he was an art lover! But just as I was hoping to continue the conversation, he checked his watch and said he had to go.
Back on the couch, I sighed. I'd been feeling lonely over the past few months, ever since I broke up with my long-time boyfriend, John. I'd been hoping to meet someone new. Here was someone nice, who was attractive, and liked art seemingly as much as I did. But other than passing in the stairwell, how would I ever see him?
Lily had an answer for me the next day when we met up for our rescheduled lunch. We'd chosen our favorite restaurant--the old-fashioned diner on Green Avenue, complete with miniature jukeboxes at each table. We'd already inserted several quarters and chosen our favorite songs.
"Easy,” Lily said, taking a sip of chocolate milkshake. “You can work out at the health club. Make conversation while you're running on side-by-side treadmills.”
"I don't think that'll work, at least for now,” I said. “From what I understand, he goes really early. Like at five. I think he must go when he gets home from working the night shift."
"So? You don't have to go to work until eight."
"You forget that I'm not a morning person. Not only that, but I hardly look my best at dawn." I smiled at her wryly.
"Okay,” Lily said, grabbing one of my French fries. I swatted her hand. “Next time you see him in the stairwell, ask him for coffee."
"I don't know," I said, shaking my head. "I don't think I would have the guts. You know me. I can never make the first move. John didn't even know I liked him when he asked me out for the first time. He expected me to say no."
"Well, I'm out of ideas,” Lily said, raising her hands in surrender. “You'll have to figure it out yourself. Too bad he's not working the day shift right now. You could call in sick, show up, and the two of you could spend a romantic afternoon looking at paintings together."
My afternoon progressed much better than it had the day before. When I got home, I felt peppy enough to walk up the stairs. Unfortunately, however, I didn't see Ken.
When I threw my mail onto the coffee table, I remembered that I had never looked at the envelopes I'd tossed there the day before.
Skimming through the stack, I was surprised to find that every single piece of mail was addressed to Ken Coleman. I had gotten his mail just as he had gotten mine!
I immediately gathered up the envelopes, determined to leave them at Ken's doorstep. I knew I wouldn't have the courage to ring his doorbell as he had rung mine.
Just as I was laying the mail in front of the door, the latch opened, and Ken stepped out.
"Hi, Amy," he said, apparently unperturbed that I was bending at his doorstep.
"I just wanted to bring you your mail,” I said. “I'm so embarrassed. I've had it since yesterday. I'm afraid I didn't look at it until just now."
He took the envelopes from me. "This must be kismet. I was hoping to run into you. The art museum is getting in a new exhibition on Saturday, and I don't have to work that night. Would you like to go with me to check it out?"
I looked down at the envelopes in his hand and said yes, making a mental note to thank my postal carrier as soon as possible for confusing an eight with a six.
About the Author: Carol Ayer's short stories have been published by Woman's World, Every Day Fiction, and previously at The Long and the Short of It. Her e-novella, "Storybook Love," is a sweet romance set at a storybook park. It is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Visit Carol's website at www.CarolAyer.com.