I don’t know how long I’m out, but I wake to a knock on my door. Sitting up, I run my fingers through my hair and pick up my phone to see that it is 7:56 in the freaking morning. Jumping up, I hug the sheets around me as I stomp to the door. I grab the door knock and swing the door open.
“What the fu-” I stop when I see Ethan standing at my door with coffee in hand. He smirks, letting his eyes roam over me.
“Good morn-” I slam the door in his face without letting him finish.
I didn’t know what else to do. I’m freaking naked for Christ sake and my apartment....oh don’t get me started on this apartment. I totally forgot that he was doing a home check.
Flinging the sheets off my body, I quickly pull on an oversized shirt and a pair of sweat pants. Before racing back to the door.
I open it slightly and slip out, closing the door behind me.
“I’m so sorry, Ethan. It totally slipped my mind that you were coming” I sigh trying to catch my breath as he stands there with an amused look on his face.
“Obviously. It’s my fault though. I didn’t exactly tell you what time I’d be here. I’m sorry I woke you. Peace offering?” He holds out a cup of coffee and I take it.
I take a sip and stare at him. A few seconds pass and he clears his throat.
“So the point of a home visit is usually to see the home, not the hall”
“I can’t let you go in there. Please just take my word for it. My place isn’t....” I trail off trying to find the words to explain my apartment. If he walks in, he’ll freak. He asks me how I could live this way. I wouldn’t be able to explain.
“Let me in, Thea.”
“I can’t. I won’t”
Ethan frowns and suddenly, he reaches forward, grabbing the door knob. As he turns, he steps forward causing me to quickly step back as we enter my hole in the wall. I give in and let him pass.
Deciding not to look for a reaction, I look down at the floor as he walks around. While leaning against the closed door, I don’t hear a peep from him. No hum of displeasure or disgust. Just silence. His own footsteps barely make a noise. He walks around for about 10 minutes before joining me at the door. When I finally look up, his expression is hard and serious.
“Thea, this place is unlivable” Wow, don’t spare my feelings. Please, just slap me with the truth.
“I know” I mumble. “It’s all I could afford when I first moved here and if it weren’t for you hiring me, I would’ve lost this place”
“That wouldn’t be that bad.” Ethan says smugly.
“Yeah, but I’d rather live in this unlivable place than out on the streets.” I frown as I raise my voice at his arrogance. Ethan nods “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come off as an ass.”
“No. It’s not. I’m sorry, Thea, but I can’t let you stay here”
“Let? You can’t let me stay here? I’m sorry, but you’re not my father. I can live where ever I want”
“But do you want to live here?”
“Of course not, but who are you to tell me that I can’t?”
“I’m your boss”
“Well, I quit” I shrug and surprisingly, Ethan starts laughing.
I frown up at him and he crosses his arms “I’m not letting you quit and I’m not letting you live here. So you can either gather up what you want to take or I can drag you out of here with the clothes on your back. Your choice” We stare at each other for a moment, challenging one another on who is going to break and when I finally blink, I know I’ve lost.
“Well, where the heck and I supposed to live?”
A smile grew on Ethan’s lips “You’ll see. Just gather up what you want and I’ll take you there before Anna takes you shopping.”
“Okay, Daddy Warbucks” I whisper to myself as I turn away from him, but the moment I hear his snort, I know he heard me.
I spend a few moments, gathering what I want before I decide that the rest could be done whatever with. I don’t care about it. As I finish, I stand in the middle of the room and look around, remembering all the long days and nights I spent hungry. Turning to Ethan, he is standing at the door, looking at me intently.
“The first night I ever spent in here, I cried. I sat in the middle of that bed and cried my eyes out because I was afraid. It was dark and lonely and I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Ethan walks up to my side and sighs. “Well you’ve come a long way from crying. Clearly, there are other things you do in the middle of the bed”
Just then, he gestures to the floor by the bed. I follow his finger and my eyes widen when I catch sight of the condom wrapper on the floor, just barely under the bed. My cheeks heat and embarrassment sets in. I inhale sharply.
“Can we go, now?”
“Don’t you want to let your boyfriend know that you’re leaving?” I don’t know if Ethan is being serious or not.
“He isn’t my boyfriend.” I say as I turn to head to the door. I’m out in the hall before Ethan even turns around. I don’t know what he is thinking, but whatever it is doesn’t show on his face as we head down the flights of stairs. Before leaving, I stop by the landlord’s office. Knocking on the door, he opens in within five seconds.
“Thea, what can I do you for?”
I hold up my key “I’m moving. Here is my key”
His face drops immediately. “Oh, no. That’s unfortunate. I thought you were happy here.” He chuckles and his beer belly shakes a little.
“Well, my boss here doesn’t think my apartment is suitable for living” I smirk and the old man glares at Ethan.
“Is that so?”
“Yes, sir. Thea works for me now and I want her to live somewhere that doesn’t require duct tape to hold together.” I look up at Ethan as he talks.
My landlord eyes me for a moment before taking the keys “I’m not giving back your deposit. You’re breaking your lease”
I open my mouth to speak, but Ethan beats me to it “She doesn’t need it. Let’s go, Thea. Your business here is done”
I follow Ethan out of the building and out front is a black car with a man in a suit standing next to it. Ethan gives him a nod and the man walks around to the driver's side as Ethan opens the door for me. Sliding in, looking more like a homeless person than ever, I feel like my whole day is going to be filled with new unexpected things. As Ethan slides in and closes the door, the driver starts driving. I sit in silence for a moment before turning to Ethan.
“So where am I going to live?”
“A building not too far from work. I know the owner. You’ll like it. I’ll have furniture in it by the end of the day.”
“Oh. Thank you”
“You’re welcome.” Ethan reaches into his pocket and pulls out an elastic.
“Hair up, please.” I take the rubber band and quickly place a neat bun on top of my head.
When I look at him, he nods. What is with him and ponytails? I didn’t see anyone in his office with a ponytail, but then again no one else’s hair looked like a beaver’s nest. On the ride to the apartment, the lack of sleep wears on me and my eyes get extremely heavy. I try to stay awake, but I end up leaning against the car door to take a little nap as we ride across the city.
I’ve never really been able to just take a nap during the day. And if I tried to lay down for one, the thoughts of what I need to do and have to always consumed my thoughts, keeping me awake. So to let myself doze off in a car is something special.
My eyes flutter a bit before closing again for more sleep. I hear my name again this time accompanied by a large hand on my shoulder. I open my eyes this time and turn my head to see Ethan looking at me.
“I said wake up. We’re here” He gives me a small smile before opening the door.
After he gets out, he holds his hand out for me. Taking it, I get out and the sun shines in my eyes, warming my skin and neck. Crossing my arms, I follow Ethan into the building and all eyes fall on me. I always try to avoid being gawked and stared at. I don’t like it. It doesn’t take much to know what they were thinking of me. That I am trash or something. The stares alone make me want to curl up and disappear. I cross my arms tighter and take a deep breath, wishing I were invisible.
When we step to the desk, Ethan starts speaking to the receptionist and I stand behind him about to have a panic attack. My skin crawls with the thought of people staring at me. As people pass by, my chest tightens and I can almost hear their whispers, calling me poor and filthy and asking themselves why someone like me is in this building. The tipping point is when I turn my head to the side and see two women staring at me and when I catch them, they quickly look away and laugh.
I search and find a restroom sign and almost run to it. I hear Ethan calling my name, but I ignore it. Thankfully, the bathroom is empty. Locking myself in the stall, I hug myself tightly, hyperventilating, and rocking myself. I hear the bathroom door open and footsteps.
When Ethan hears me breathing, he comes up to the stall door. “Thea, open the door, now”
His voice isn’t loud, but calm yet serious. Reaching forward, I unlock it and it swings open. Ethan looks down at me and I just want to hide from him.
“I’m sorry” I huff out and Ethan kneels down in front of me.
“Calm down.” Ethan says as he tears a piece of tissue off the roll. Thinking it’s to dry my eyes from the tears threatening to spill over, it surprises me when he tears off one square and hands it to me.
“Tear it into straight strips”
I give him a questioning look and he repeats himself with more authority. Taking the piece of tissue from his hand, I begin tearing neat strips off, focusing on making them perfect. The restroom falls silent and by the time I’m done, my heartbeat and breathing are back to normal.
“Better?” Ethan speaks.
I nod and he holds his hand out. Placing the tissue strips in his hand, he smiles. “When you’re about to have a panic attack, give yourself a task to focus on.”
“How did you know that?”
“My mother has them. My father started her on scrapbooking to help.” Ethan shrugs as he stands. “What happened?”
Smoothing my hair back, I sigh “I don’t like people staring at me. It makes me uncomfortable like I’m being judged from every angle. I can almost hear them whispering and laughing at me”
“Understandable. I personally think in due time, it’ll get better”
“Money won’t help with my issues, Ethan.”
“I’m not saying it will, but the stability will give you time to assess and rectify said issues. Now come. Your new apartment is ready” He holds up the keys, jingling them. The sight of them makes me smile.
Ethan and I ride the elevator up to the sixth floor and when we get off, I take in how far apart the doors are. There are only like 5 doors on the whole hall. “There aren’t many people on this floor”
“Yes, because not many people can afford them”
“But I can’t afford them so why are we here?” I stop and look at him. I knew it. I knew he would do this, put me up into some uber expensive place that I don’t need.
“Just come. It doesn’t cost anything. I own it”
“Excuse me? You what? Back up, Daddy Warbucks and start explaining. You can’t just fly that past me and expect me to shrug and go along with it.” I wave him back and he sighs
“I used to stay in this condo when the one I stay in now was being renovated. I still own it” He goes to start walking again, but I’m not letting him off that easy.
“Whoa whoa whoa, come back here. You live in this building?”
“Yes. 14th floor”
“Ethan, I can’t live here”
“You can and you will. Now, come”
I huff and plant my feet “Stop telling me to come like I’m your little fluffy lap dog.” Ethan eyes me for a moment as if realizing something humorous.
“Please, just look at the condo and then say you don’t want it”
Ethan gives me a pleading look and I walk to him “Thank you. God, you’re so stubborn”
“And you’re bossy”
“Because I’m the boss.” He mumbles as he unlocks the door and opens it. I step inside and it’s like a fairy Godmother poofed me from my shitty pumpkin apartment to a castle.
“Holy shit, I mean, wow. Like really, wow”
“I’ll take that as a yes, Ethan I would love to live here and I will stop being so resistant to change” Ethan mocks me as he walks past and goes to a large window. He pushes a button allowing the shades to open revealing the view. My eyes widen and I don’t know what to think. When I look at Ethan, he is smirking and it makes my cheeks warm.
“Thank you, Ethan. Really, I don’t deserve any of this.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. But yes, it’s all yours and I’ll arrange for furniture to be delivered while you’re with Anna” He gestures towards the door and when I turn, Anna is standing there.
“Ready to go shopping?!” She squeals and my happy mood goes right down the drain.