Legal Briefs Page 3

He led me to his car, a nice little Saab convertible, and held the door open for me. I tried not to swallow hard or breathe too quickly as he slid into the driver’s seat next to me. It was completely ridiculous that lately his proximity would affect me so much. We had known each other since we were four! This was Adam! I could smell his cologne again and I was becoming a big fan of Giorgio Armani.

I told him my address, trying to sound calm and cool, and he pulled out into traffic. The engine purred and the dashboard looked like it belonged in a 747. The music came on and I was amused to hear Pitbull singing Mr. Right Now. It occurred to me for the first time that Adam had good taste. He was obviously financially comfortable these days too, driving a nice car and living in the best neighborhood in South Philly. Oh well, I was suffering for my art.

I snuck a few looks at him as we rode in silence for several minutes listening to music. He had grown up from being one of the cutest boys in my class, to being devastatingly handsome. His hair was such a dark brown it was almost black, and even though it was cut short, it had a slight curl to it. He had eyes like warm chocolate and his dark lashes and eyebrows showcased them perfectly. I was especially fascinated with that light stubble he always seemed to have on his chin. I imagined that it appeared five minutes after he shaved. I realized then that I had been subconsciously rubbing my cheek, and I clutched onto my seat. It didn’t make any sense that I could feel such a strong physical desire for someone who aggravated the hell out of me, but I had given up on trying to make sense of it.

“Why didn’t you just move in with Jessica when Gabrielle and Braden got married?” he asked finally, after we had been riding in silence for several minutes.

“Her lease is up at the end of the month and she’s moving in with Cameron.”

“Why don’t you have a boyfriend to move in with? You’re good-looking.” I noted vaguely that he had just complimented me, possibly for the first time ever.

“Thanks, but I’m not going to date somebody just for a place to live. I want to be with someone who makes me feel something,” I glanced over at him. I was just about to ask him why he cared when we pulled on to my block.

“Which building is yours?”

“Up there on the right.” I pointed and reached down to get my purse off the floor.

“Do your parents know you’re living here?” he asked. I realized the question made sense. We had grown up together and he knew that my parents could afford to help me out.

“They figure that if I want to follow some pipe dream of being an author, I should finance it myself.” I tried not to sound too bitter, but I’m not sure I succeeded.

“I see,” he replied, and thankfully let it go. He parked and shut off the engine.

I looked up and down the sidewalk nervously. I knew there had been some robberies in the area recently. I could make it to my building’s outer entrance from here in about five seconds. Getting it open might take five minutes, though, unfortunately. It was an old apartment building and the lock on the front door was sticking lately.

“You can just drop me off,” I said distractedly, preparing to make the door dash.

“Are you nuts?” He was obviously preparing to walk me in, and as images of Adam in my bed floated through my mind, it occurred to me that I probably was.

Chapter Three

I looked around quickly, opened the door, and hopped out. Adam was beside me in a second. I tried to open the front door with my key, but as usual, it stuck and I had to jiggle it while we stood out on the sidewalk like sitting ducks. At that moment, I was grateful he had stayed with me. Finally, the lock clicked and we made it into the entry. I got my key for the inner door lock ready, but before I could insert it, R. Nardo, the guy who lived in the apartment next to me, came bursting through, nearly hitting me in the face with it. He rushed past and out the front door without a backward glance, let alone an “excuse me.”

“You’ll have to tell me what charm school you went to,” I called after him.

“Don’t get mouthy with the locals, Lilith. You’ll wind up getting capped and then who’s going to keep me amused?”

A guy in a ripped green army jacket and knit watch cap came down the stairs. Like most of my neighbors, I knew his initial and last name from his mailbox, M. Kazinski, but I also knew that people called him ‘Scratch’ for some reason. At least I had heard people out on the sidewalk call him that. I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to know why. He looked up, and seeing Adam and me, put his head back down and pushed past us without a word.

The elevator was broken again, as evidenced by the seemingly permanent ‘Out of Order’ sign. At least the four flights of stairs kept me in shape. Unfortunately, a light was burned out in the stairwell, making it pretty creepy. We had just gotten to the second landing when another figure came flying around the corner. This time it was the guy who lived across the hall from me.

My building was filled with weird people, but U. Hu was probably one of the weirdest. He was a short Asian man of indeterminate age. He was always dressed head to toe in black and he was always lurking somewhere or darting around. I often saw him moving large packages and boxes in and out of his apartment late at night. He sailed down the steps past us, nearly knocking me over in the process. Adam grabbed me in the nick of time.

“What in the hell was that, a Ninja?” he asked, looking over the railing.

“That was U. Hu, my neighbor,” I said breathlessly, still feeling the pins and needles from the adrenaline rush.

“You who?”

“The letter U and H-U. That’s what’s on his mailbox, anyway.” As we approached the third floor the angry voices of the people in apartment 301 traveled down the stairs.

“Yo Regina! You want some kind of friggin’ Prince Charming!”

“Prince Charming? Give me a break, Mario! I would settle for a guy who picked his friggin’ underwear up off the floor!”

“I call them the Sopranos,” I said to Adam as we reached the landing. The door to 302 suddenly flew open then and I heard a shriek, “Will the two of yous keep it down already?! You’re given’ me a fuckin’ headache!”

“Donna?” I called.

“Hey, Lil. Is that you, honey?”

I wasn’t really sure how old Donna was, forty, maybe even fifty? Let’s just say she was a bit past her first bloom, but in her younger days, she had allegedly been a famous beauty and had once held the coveted title of Miss Philly Cheesesteak. She walked out into the hallway. Donna often had a little nip in the evenings. Dressed in a pink terrycloth robe with a henna red wig in wild disarray, her mascara on her cheeks and her lipstick on her chin, she looked like she had been nipping for a while that night.

“How are you doing, Donna?” I asked, trying to be nice. She was after all, one of the friendliest neighbors I had. In fact, she was really friendly, especially to men. I had a feeling that’s how she made a living these days.

“Who’s the cutie pie?” she slurred, leering at Adam.

“This is Adam, my uh …Adam.”

“Well, hello there Adam my Adam,” she said flirtatiously. “Then she turned back to me with a conspiratorial smile. “I’m glad you finally found yourself a man, honey, and this one looks like he could make ya holler. Couldn’t you baby?” She winked at Adam and hacked out a three-pack-a-day cough.

“I’ll make sure she doesn’t holler too loudly.” I turned and gave him a deadly look.

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” she cackled. “He’s funny too. Too bad I got company comin’ or maybe I’d even come up and join yous!” She wiggled her drawn-on eyebrows suggestively.

“Well, okay then.” I smiled. “Have a good night.” I needed to not picture that. Ever.

“Good night, honey. Make sure he lets you go cowgirl!” I heard her smoker’s cough/laugh echo as she turned around and returned to her apartment.

“I sure will. Take care,” I called after her. We hadn’t gotten far when I heard the clunk of combat boots on the stairs and I knew Vixen, the tattoo artist with the nasty disposition, was on her way home. Just then, the Sopranos started yelling again.

“Hey! Can I get some friggin’ privacy, Mario?”

“Fuckin-A, Regina, why don’t you lock the friggin’ bathroom door?!”

“Hey!” came the shrill scream from the stairs as all five feet of Hurricane Vixen touched down. She was a real cutie with dreadlocks, her face pierced with about fifty pounds of metal, and more ink on her body than in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. “Are those two fuckheads fighting again?”

I didn’t answer. It seemed like a rhetorical question. As we watched, she stormed up to the Sopranos’ door and banged hard enough to make me wonder if she might put her fist through it. It flew open and there stood Mario himself, in all of his glory. Dressed in a wife beater t-shirt and greasy jeans that didn’t quite make it over Mount Beergut, Mario had as much hair on his chest as on his head.

“Yo! What you want, you nasty twat?!”

“What do you think I want, asshat? Shut the f**k up or I’m callin’ the cops again!”

Mario slammed the door in her face and she kicked it with one combat boot-clad foot, flashing us her faux leopard-skin G-string in the process. I turned and moved on. I could feel Adam trying not to laugh behind me as we climbed up the final flight of stairs. When we made it to my floor, I noticed a light bulb was also out in the hall now.

“Nice ambiance,” Adam commented. “Sets the mood for a mugging perfectly.”

“You’re a prosecutor. You have crime on the brain.”

I noticed movement up ahead, and to my surprise, I saw a tall guy I didn’t recognize opening up the door to 404, which had been vacant. I hadn’t realized anyone had moved in. He turned around, and seeing us, he put his head down quickly, opened his door and dove inside, slamming the door behind him. He would fit in here just fine, I decided.

The door next to his opened and out walked Herb, who was a customer service representative for The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority, as he liked to inform people on a regular basis. Herb was short, with glasses, auburn hair and pale skin. He was pretty nondescript other than that, the kind of guy nobody would notice. I was fairly sure that’s why SEPTA had hired him for customer service. I’m not sure, but I think Herb had a crush on me.

“Hello, Lily, how are you this evening?” Herb asked with a smile.

“I’m fine, Herb. How are you?”

“Well, the Trenton Line had signal problems and didn’t get on time to coordinate with New Jersey Transit, so there were some irate customers tonight.”

“Irate customers on SEPTA? When does that ever happen?” I teased.

“Oh! It happens all the time. You would be amazed!”

“I was kidding.”

“Oh, right! Ha!” He snorted. “Is that your boyfriend?”

“Nah, I just picked her up at a club,” Adam answered and I gave him a deadly look.

“Adam and I grew up together,” I said in an acid tone.

“Old friends, then, have a good night!” He turned and went back into his apartment.

I slid my key into the three deadbolts and the lock and let us in, flipping on the lights as we entered. We had finally run the gauntlet and made it to safety.

“What a fun building!” Adam said, turning to me.

“It’s not that bad,” I said defensively.

“Not that bad? You have to stand out on the street like a target to get the front door open,” he pointed out. “The elevator is broken and your stairwell is dark. So is your hallway, for that matter, and this really is a rough area. I just prosecuted a guy for an attempted murder that took place a block from here.”

“Thanks, Adam. I really appreciate you telling me that. I’ll sleep so much better tonight.”

“I’m not even going to get into your neighbors. It’s going to take some therapy for me to forget about Donna. Or at least some really good Scotch.”

“Yeah, let’s never talk about that,” I said, grimacing. “Since you’re here, is there anything I can offer you?”

“Is sex one of my choices?” he asked, looking around.

My apartment wasn’t much, but I liked it and it was spacious for the price. It was filled with books and vintage furniture from the forties that I had found at various second-hand shops. I imagined that it had a sort of film noir look, and so the centerpiece was a large reproduction of an old movie poster from The Big Sleep that I absolutely loved.

“Your choices are coffee or tea,” I answered, taking his coat and hanging it up on a peg next to mine by the door.

“If that’s your final offer, I’ll take tea.”

“I’m not rushing you, but you may not want to leave your car parked out there too long,” I said, as I headed into my kitchen to scrounge up some tea bags and put the kettle on.

“The drug dealers around here have fancier rides than that. You don’t have a car?”

“I do. It’s an old beat-up Ford Fiesta, though, so nobody would want to steal it,” I called back, turning the stove on and filling the kettle.

“Good thinking!” he teased.

“Yeah, okay. When I’m a famous author I’ll buy a new car. Hopefully, then I won’t be living in …”

“A tenement? War zone? Nuthouse?” he broke in.

“This neighborhood.” With the water set to boil, I returned to the living-room. He was looking at the pictures hanging on my wall. There weren’t many, just one of Gabrielle and me in law school and a couple with friends from further back.

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