The patio is our only refuge from tonight’s heat. I glance down at my wristwatch then hold it close to my ear and listen. Nothing, no ticks. It feels about two or three in the morning. However, it could just as easily be hours in either direction. Time didn’t seem consistent anymore, not after Mallory. A baby ruins the concept of time altogether, unless you count nap time and feeding time. I touch my breasts. Poke around and underneath until it feels safe to squeeze. For the first time in months, I can hold my chest without the tender painful consequence of breast-feeding.
“We did six months,” I whisper to my sleeping daughter referring to my breast milk. Smoothing the mesh mosquito net covering the opening of her basket, I watch her chest rise and fall though otherwise she is as still as stone. It’s been almost a day of excruciating heat with a broken air conditioner thanks to 36-hours of rolling blackouts. My feet and arms ache from walking around the mall with a small arsenal of baby supplies. I rest my head on the padding of the luxury lawn chair as I stretch my legs out to lean against the partial patio wall. With the rising heat, the only perk of our second floor apartment is this perfect breeze, soft and consistent, breaking up the still hot weather.
An acoustic version of my ringtone in the distance catches my attention. Out of habit I stand up to grab my mobile but stop in my tracks when mommy brain clears. It’s not an acoustic version, the voice is live, and a little younger. Peering over the railing, my downstairs neighbor is singing as he walks down the street towards our building. Since Mallory’s birth, he’s been exceptionally kind, from bringing my mail upstairs to carrying in groceries every Tuesday night.
Just before he reaches the driveway, he hushes to a mute, but continues to mouth the words. I wave to him but he doesn’t look up so I exaggerate, flailing both arms above my head. The second he sees me I wish I hadn’t. His face turns red as he pulls his earphones out and his lips widen to a toothy grin.
“You caught me,” John yells up.
I hush him with as much vigor as I’d waved. “Mals sleeping!” I loudly whisper as I point towards the crib obstruct from his view.
“Outside?” He mouths.
I descend the stairs. “No air conditioning, no happy baby.” Words and communication with an adult is difficult after constant baby talk.
“Poor little Ani-Mal.” We both cringe at the nickname. “Sorry,” he laughs. “Still trying out names.”
“Coming home from a gig?” I’m desperate for a real conversation.
“Yes, ma’am,” he magnifies his Southern accent. “You know,” he looks up at the patio. “I bet my apartment is cooler than yours.”
“I’m sure yours isn’t decorated in baby items, but I have some nice furnishing from pre…”
John cuts me off with boisterous laughter, his hand attempting to muffle his uncontrollable roar. “No, no! I mean temperature wise, it’s probably cooler. For Mallorini to sleep.”
“Oh! Thank you, but we couldn’t. She’s still not sleeping all the way through the night…”
He walks towards his door during my protest and unlocks it, throwing his items just inside. “Perfect. Neither do musicians.” He passes me and ascends the stairs, I follow behind him, glancing between my steps and his butt in those worn jeans he wears more days than not. “Let’s grab her things first.”
Though our apartments’ layouts are identical, John’s apartment is white and nearly bare aside from stark black curtains and the standard furniture. The walls lack any decoration, not even a poster, but it is at least ten to twenty degrees cooler than mine. “Head to the bedroom,” he calls from just outside the door.
His bedroom is even less warm. The walls are painted a dark blue, the bed is plush with many throw pillows, and all the furniture looks close to new. There are sconces and large, framed prints of street musicians on the walls. “Were you robbed?”
“What!” He hurries behind me with Mallory’s diaper and our overnight bag. He looks around me and hesitates, “No…” His smile is infectious.
“Your living room…”
John puts the bags down next to the bed. “My bedroom is my sanctuary. The living room is for the band. Let’s grab Malleable.” He grins again. “Malleable, terrible.”
He sets up my daughter’s crib as I bottle feed her in a comfortable wing chair near the walk-in closet. John grabs a stuffed bear off his bed, camouflage among the pillows, and places it inside. “Do you want something to drink? I have the perfect home recipe to curb the heat.”
After tucking in Mallory and setting up the baby monitor, I wander back towards the living room. Leaning against the wall, I watch John in the kitchen muddle something green, mint perhaps, into two glasses. He lingers in front of the refrigerator before opening the door. John grabs bottles and a cream bucket out of the darkness before quickly shutting the fridge. He pours the contents of the bucket through a metal strainer into another glass and removes the non-melted bits of ice from the strainer. He pours liquid from unmarked glass bottles over the muddled contents and finally adds ice and straws.
“Fancy,” I remark. He chuckles as he hands me one of the glasses. It’s cold and sweet with hints of lemon, ginger, and mint. “This is wonderful.”
“It’s my mom’s specialty. I’ll let her know it’s a hit with the ladies.” Without breaking eye contact, he brings the glass closer to his face only to poke his cheek with the straw. He moves the straw to the side to drink directly from the rim, but as the glass tips the contents overwhelm him and the red tinted liquid cascades his face. “Shit!”
John pulls off his wet shirt and wipes his face and chest before crouching to the floor to wipe up the rest of the contents. The skin on his back is beautiful, dark, covering long, toned muscles. As his arm encircles the spill both quickly and meticulously, it flexes his pronounce bicep. A flash of heat rises through me and I sip on the straw until I hear the suction of an empty glass.
He looks up, “That good, huh?”
“Uh, yeah.” Come on, brain. Say something smart. “Wanted to finish it before it suffers the same consequence.” Good, good.
His perfect white teeth flash me as he stands and smiles. He holds out his hand and I place mine in his. He rubs my knuckles. “Did you want to hang onto your glass?”
“Oh!” He’s reaching for the glass not your hand, dummy! I retract my hand back sharply. “Oh my god. I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking,” I explain.
He leans down to me. “Same thing I’ve been thinking for months.” John kisses my forehead with his soft, plump lips and I nearly melt into another puddle he’d need to have to clean up. “Is it alright if I hold you?”
To be continued…