Wish You Were Here: A Novel: Chapter 3

Soul Affinity

I took the stairs two at a time and burst through the door. Helen was waiting for me. “He’s precious, all doe-eyed and unassuming,” she said. I ran around searching for a sweater while she continued talking. “He must have a decent job; he’s wearing a Tag watch, and those lofts near Bar Kenner are super expensive.”

“The watch doesn’t exactly fit his style. Maybe it was a gift?”

“He was just running out for takeout.” She braced my shoulders, stopping me from spinning in circles. “Don’t be standoffish. This guy seems nice. Plus he’s hot. Did I mention that?”

“Why do you and my brother insist on bringing up how standoffish I am?”

“Because you have a pretty bad track record. It’s time to change that. Just go have a drink with him and be chill.”

“It’s late and he’s a stranger. We just met on the street. Am I not allowed to be a little nervous?”

“Text every five minutes if that makes you feel better. I’ll stay up. Besides, it’s only two blocks away and you’ll be in public. You’ve done way shadier stuff than this. Remember when you met that guy at the Museum of Death?”

“Ugh, don’t remind me.”

“Wasn’t he wearing a dog collar?”

I was still rummaging through my closet for the perfect sweater, trying to ignore Helen. “Yes, yes he was.”

“What was the thing about his name?”

I laughed. “He told me his name was Atticus Danger and then I saw his ID; it said Albert Davis. Part of the skull and bones tattoo on his forearm rubbed off when I spilled my margarita on him at dinner.”

“And you’re worried about this guy? Just take an Uber if he creeps you out that bad.”

I gave her pistol fingers, even though I had already made up my mind. “That’s a good plan. I’ll go.”

“I’m proud of you. You never do anything fun. Ooh, maybe you guys will bone!”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’m going to have a drink. Stop pimping me out.” I hurried to the door. “If you don’t get a text from me by two a.m., file a missing persons report.”

I heard her cackling gleefully as the door shut behind me.

Adam watched me closely as I made my way down the stairs toward him for the second time that night. “You look lovely.”

“I just put on a sweater.”

“Well, you look lovely in that sweater.”

“Thank you.”

He took my hand in his. “Come on.”

I pulled him the other way. “It’s this way.”

“Oh right, ha! Just testing you.”

I honestly didn’t know what I was thinking, leaving my house at almost midnight on a dark street, four blocks from Skid Row, with a stranger. I guess my intuition wasn’t sounding any alarms when it came to Adam.

We found two seats at the bar and ordered the same glass of wine, so Adam suggested we get a bottle. “Why not?” I said, fully throwing caution to the wind.

“So, Charlotte, tell me about yourself. What do you do?”

“Well, I work at Blackbird’s, that shitty restaurant on Fourth. But I’m saving up to go to cosmetology school.”

“Blackbird’s? The place with the Bloody Mary bar and those weird flags?”

“That’s the one!” I said, with equal parts triumph and embarrassment.

“Good tortilla soup, though, right?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” Time to change the subject. “What about you, Adam?”

“I used to be a lawyer, actually.”

“A lawyer?” I didn’t expect that.

“Yeah, corporate litigation. The really depraved kind.” He smirked.

“What, did you find God or something?”

“Yeah, something like that.” He reached out and touched my bottom lip with his thumb. I had been chewing the inside of my mouth, a lovely habit I acquired as a toddler. “You’re gonna chew your mouth off.”

“I always do this.”

“It’s cute.”

“It’s kind of gross.”

“You’re right, it’s disgusting,” he said, but I could tell he was kidding.

“Hey!” I protested, and we both laughed. “So you were working as a corrupt lawyer and then you found God and quit? How do you afford that fancy Chinese take-out?”

He stared at me intensely for a moment. “Do you want to come over?” Whoa. That was abrupt.

“Um, what? To your house?”

“Yeah! Do you want to have a sleepover?” He waggled his eyebrows. Oh my god, this guy is forward.

“Honestly, that kind of freaks me out, Adam.” Truth be told, I totally wanted to have a sleepover at his house, but it was a little soon. Even by Helen’s standards.

“Okay, we’ll just have the wine then.” He took a sip as if he were totally unfazed by my rejection. “To answer your question, I’m taking a break from work. And I paint.”

“Houses?”

He laughed. “No, artwork.”

“Oh, that kind of painter.”

“Are you an art fan, Charlotte?”

“Who isn’t?”

“A lot of people, unfortunately.” He laughed. “Tell me more about your life, your family. How do you like to spend your time?”

He watched me like he was trying to commit everything I said to memory. There were things I noticed about him as he sat there, engrossed in my ramblings. First of all, he was insanely handsome. His skin and hair were just dark enough to make the brown of his eyes seem impossibly light, and he was tall and slim while looking strong and capable all at once.

It’s incredibly sexy when a man is as comfortable in his skin as Adam was. His motions were smooth, from the way he lifted his wineglass to his mouth to the way he gestured with his hands. There was an ease about him. And he was spontaneous and fun. It excited me.

“My mom and dad are still happily married, living in Thousand Oaks, where I grew up. I have a little brother, Chucky, who’s in school studying to be a dentist, just like my dad. Total golden boy. He’s kind of a dick. I’m close to my mom because she gets me, but my dad has always been hypercritical, at least of me. He calls me Paper Doll.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means he thinks I’m fickle. Like I’ll float away in a gust of wind.”

“Wow. That’s kinda harsh.”

“Well, I guess I am a bit scattered.”

“You don’t seem like that to me.”

“You don’t know me that well.”

He smiled like he thought that had no bearing on the situation.

“Boyfriend?” he asked.

“No. You?”

“I’m straight.”

I punched him in the shoulder. “I mean, do you have a girlfriend?”

He smiled. God, those dimples. Those lips. I couldn’t look away from him; it was as if we were inhabiting our own little vignette, separate from the rest of the bar. He squinted and then shook his head.

“What?” I asked.

“You’re really beautiful, Charlotte. And . . . I want to kiss you.”

“This is moving really fast, Adam,” I stammered.

“Life’s short,” he said again, looking intently into my eyes, entranced.

I held up my palm. “Not mine.”

“Braggart,” he whispered as he leaned in, watching my mouth.

We met halfway and suddenly we were kissing. Slowly, delicately. No other body parts touching but our lips.

He pulled away and opened his eyes. “Do you want to come to my house and have a sleepover?”

“You asked me already.”

“What was your answer again?”

“My answer was yes, absolutely, without a doubt. Let’s go back to your place.”

He pulled out his wallet and threw some money on the bar before holding up the bottle of wine to the bartender. “Can we take this?”

The bartender pushed the cork back into the half-empty bottle and then placed it in a paper bag and handed it to Adam. “See you soon, Adam,” he said.

“Yeah, you too, man.”

“Do you know him?” I asked.

“Sure. He’s the bartender here.” He held out his hand to help me off the stool. “Come on, kid, let’s have a pajama party.”

We walked hand in hand toward Adam’s apartment building. “You don’t seem lawyerly,” I said.

“What’s lawyerly? Like, douche-y?”

“No, like . . . disciplined. Tightly wound. High-strung. You were roaming the streets in the middle of the night, wearing flip-flops and offering Chinese food to strangers.”

“You must not know very many lawyers. Anyway, now I’m roaming the streets in the middle of the night, wearing flip-flops, carrying Chinese food, and holding your hand. I win. And there’s nothing more lawyerly than winning.”

I laughed. “Should I prepare myself for a ridiculously clean and organized loft? Like, will I have to take my shoes off?”

“It’s a total mess. I’m actually a little embarrassed,” he said, but I don’t think he was truly embarrassed. He just seemed too confident to be embarrassed about anything.

Adam stopped suddenly when he spotted a BMW parked crookedly in a space on the street in front of his building. It was decorated with several orange envelopes, which I recognized as parking tickets. “Shit, I didn’t even notice those earlier.” He began pulling the envelopes off one by one until he was holding a healthy stack.

“Is that your car?”

“No, I’m going to pay this poor fool’s parking tickets. Yes, it’s my car, silly.”

“Are you going to pay those?”

“No. I’m going to throw them away.”

“You’re not serious.”

“I am. I’ve learned lately that I only have so many fucks to give. I’ll move my car tomorrow, but tonight, I don’t give a fuck about these parking tickets, or the car.”

“What do you give a fuck about?”

“Getting to know you.” He squinted. “Maybe even painting you.” I didn’t believe for one second he was going to throw the tickets away, but I was getting the sense that Adam was undergoing some sort of change in his life. People who become lawyers aren’t the type to forget their phone at home and amass a ton of parking tickets. I wondered what happened at his job that had turned him into the person in front of me at that moment.

When we got to the top of the stairs, he stared at his keys for a while. “Here we go,” he said, but the first one didn’t work. The second one opened the door. “You know the bartender at that bar we were just at, but you don’t know which key opens your front door?” I teased. He just winked at me.

It was a traditional high-beamed, open loft space with big floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the street. The other walls were exposed brick. There were canvases, tarps, and paint supplies everywhere—literally hundreds of paintings just leaning in stacks against the walls. Other than a few kitchen appliances, a dresser, and a small table with two chairs, there was only a bed. No other furniture. The bed was unmade. I noticed the first four paintings I saw were of women. One in a park, one in a taxi, one lying across a bed in a flowing orange dress, and one looking out onto the ocean.

The loft was, in fact, a mess. It wasn’t filthy—it was actually quite clean—but there were items strewn about everywhere. I spotted a bra hanging over the chair near the table. I spun around and glared at Adam.

“You never answered me. Do you have a girlfriend?”

“No, that’s my friend’s. She models for me.”

“It looks like you have a lot of friends who model for you,” I shot back.

He looked at me curiously. “Does that bother you?”

“No,” I said lightly, suddenly feeling insecure.

“Are you hungry? I’m starving. And we need to finish this.” He held up the bottle of wine. “Plus, this is the best Chinese food ever.”

I had a feeling I was heading straight for bedpost-notch town. I’d never been there and frankly never wanted to go down that road. Until I met Adam.

“Okay,” I said. So what if he slept with a bunch of girls and then painted pictures of them? He was an artist. Isn’t that what artists were known for? Weren’t they so romantic that they’d cut their own ears off and mail them to the women they loved?

Wait, that’s not romantic; that’s insane.

Helen’s dumb bucket list had all kinds of things wrong with it, including being someone’s muse. If I became Adam’s muse, just for one night, would I get an ear in the mail the next day?

I banished my crazy thoughts and continued to walk around Adam’s apartment. His paintings were gorgeous—truly stunning. They were current but also felt classic, in the way that figurative paintings sometimes are. Some of the portraits were photorealistic, and others were intentionally out of proportion, like a Picasso. I wondered if my image would ever get lost in a stack somewhere in his cluttered loft.

I followed him into the kitchen area. He dished the food out onto two plates and then stuck them in the microwave. When I leaned against the counter near the microwave, he took my hands and spun me around to lean against the counter on the other side. “You shouldn’t stand near the microwave when it’s on.”

“Why?”

“It’ll cook your brains.”

“You don’t actually believe that.”

He opened his eyes wide. “Yeah, I do.”

I chuckled. “So, what’s the plan?”

“We’re chilling. We’re hanging out,” he said with his back toward me.

“This feels way too comfortable for two people who don’t know each other at all.”

He looked back at me. “We don’t know each other?”

I laughed, but it didn’t seem like he was kidding. He smiled, finally. “It does seem like that, doesn’t it? Let’s embrace it. We’re getting to know each other. What else would you be doing right now?”

“Um, sleeping? It’s pretty late.”

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” He took two steps before I was pinned against the counter, his body pressed to mine. “If you don’t want to be here, I understand. I can walk you home.”

My head tilted back and I looked him in the eyes. Our faces were inches apart, and then centimeters, and then millimeters, and then we were kissing.

I was dizzy when he pulled away. “I’ll stay for a while,” I said.

“Good, let’s get naked!”

“I don’t think so.”

The microwave dinged. “Okay, let’s eat then.”

I was in love with his spontaneity. I envied it. We sat at the small table, drank wine, and ate the warmed-up Chinese food.

“So tell me everything about you, Adam.”

“Well, I’m twenty-nine. I grew up in Northern California. My dad was one of those guys who got in early on a little company called Google, so we had lots of money growing up.”

“Oh that little company? Yeah, I’ve heard of it. Go on.” Jeez, this guy must be loaded. No wonder he paints all day.

“I went to law school here at Loyola, and that’s about it. Up until now, my adult life has always been about work, work, work.”

“You always painted on the side, though?”

“No, I just started a year ago. I just have an affinity for it.”

I looked around. “You’re kidding me. You painted all of these in a year?”

“I’m fast.”

“I guess.”

“Not at everything though.” He winked.

Adam didn’t have any framed pictures of family or friends anywhere. In fact, it looked like he didn’t really live there, like maybe it was just his studio. “Do you live here?”

He laughed. “Yes. Why would you ask that?”

“Well, there’s not really any personal items around.”

“What, like tchotchkes?”

“Yeah, or vacation pictures.”

“I had a really boring life when I was a lawyer. I thought I was doing the right thing all that time, billing hours and living for work, but then . . .” He hesitated. “One day, I just sort of woke up and realized I didn’t want to waste another minute of my life. I had been working so hard to make money, but I had no time to spend it. I lived and worked in a high-rise downtown, but when I ‘woke up,’ I realized I was suffocating. I bought this place, quit my job, and started painting. And I’ve never been happier.”

I was dying to know what had triggered his breakthrough moment. I had a feeling I wasn’t getting the whole story, but I didn’t want to pry.

“Do you have siblings?” I asked.

“No, I’m an only child. My parents were of the mind-set that people should do one really well.”

“Did they?”

“I’ll let you be the judge.” Before I could ask another question, he said, “Do you like donuts?”

“Yes.”

“What’s your favorite?”

“Uhhh . . . maple bars, I guess?”

“Shut up, me too! I know this place that’s open twenty-four hours. They make maple bars as big as my arm. Wanna go?”

“Now?”

“Yes, now. Why do you think I brought it up?”

“Okay. Can I use the bathroom?”

“Of course.” He pointed to the only other door beside the front door.

Once there, I checked my hair and reapplied lip gloss. I stared at myself in the mirror and mouthed, What are you doing?

“Come on, Gidget! Let’s get those donuts!” he called from the kitchen area.

“One sec!”

When I opened the door, he was standing on the other side with his shoulders slumped. He looked dejected. He raised his gaze from the floor to my eyes.

“Hi,” he said, his voice low.

“What’s wrong? You were excited about donuts thirty seconds ago.”

“I’m still excited about the donuts. I just got sad thinking that this night will eventually have to end.”

My heart thumped. “Well, let’s make it last as long as possible.”

He smiled. “I’m in. Oh, and you’re beautiful. Did I tell you that already?”

I didn’t say anything. He could tell me as many times as he wanted to.

“Donut time,” I said.

We held hands down the stairs. At the bottom, I realized it had gotten way colder out. “Oh shit, I forgot my sweater.”

“I’ll get it.” He quickly ran back up and returned with my sweater and a backpack.

“What’s in there?”

“Just some stuff. You want to help me?”

“Help you what?”

“Paint something. We have to be fast, though.”

My heart raced. “What?”

He pulled me along, “Come on, kitten.”

“You promised me donuts.” I was suddenly worried about getting arrested.

“Your payment for being my assistant will be a giant maple bar. I’ll even feed it to you.”


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