Originally posted Nov 2013. This is my very first effort at writing a story. It’s undergone a number of edits, but remains mostly as I first wrote it. The Valentine’s Day ending was one of those things that just happens when characters seem to magically take over.
The condo complex’s front door buzzer jolted Tess out of a daze she hadn’t realize she’d fallen into. The sudden rush of adrenaline made her run to the intercom.
“Yes?” She unnecessarily yelled, “Hello?…Angel?”
“Yep! It’s me, kiddo! I’m here!”
“OK, take the elevator to the 5th floor,” Tess instructed, “go through the door with the number 5 on it, go left to the end of the hall. I’m the last on the left.”
Not knowing exactly what to do next, Tess stood by her door and waited. People usually didn’t come to her place. It wasn’t the kind of neighborhood most folks felt comfortable visiting, though the reason why was now more legend than reality. Of course, Angel wouldn’t care about things like that.
Angelica Alejandra Popovich took three long high-heeled strides into her childhood friend’s living room, and then spun around in that ridiculously exaggerated way of hers, rocking her hips forward and side to side, as if she were on a model taking a turn at the end of a cat walk.
“How absolutely…! Just perfect. Really. Just perrrrfect!” She exclaimed.
Tess cringed, as she always did when Angel was being such a put-on. There was nothing to gush about a tiny, ’70s-era condo.
“You look great as always, Angel.”
Angelica flipped a manicured hand at Tess and turned again, moving her eyes all around the living room. Her back to Tess, she momentarily pursed her lips into a confused smirk, then she whipped back around with a smile.
“I mean it.” She struck a pose, giving Tess a dramatic, steady gaze. The game was always to see you cracked first. If she could hold this pose; the kind of exaggerated model-on-a-photo-shoot stance that drove Tess nuts, she knew she could make her friend cry uncle.
“Yeah, well,” Tess finally said, slowly shaking her head, knowing she’d been had, again, and let Angelica know it with a smirk of her own. She shrugged and sighed, “I’ve been here going on four years, so…”
“That long?! Really? Oh my God, Jesus, time just flies!”
Outside the wind kicked up and the windows in Tess’s place rattled, announcing the inevitable start to a deluge of rain, followed by pelting hail. The draft that whipped through the room was sharp, like the cold shock of a sensitive tooth. Angelica tried ignoring her discomfort for her Tess’s sake.
Tess moved into the kitchen. “Go ahead, give yourself a tour,” she gestured her friend toward the rest of the condo. “What’ya want to drink? I’ve got a Chardonnay and a red of some kind…” She stepped back into the frame of the kitchen entrance holding up both bottles. Angelica didn’t reply right away, expecting more options. She snapped to when she realized that was all being offered.
“Oh, sorry… what’s the red?”
“Uh,” Tess glanced at the label, “Red River something or other.”
“Oh, that’ll be fine, thanks hon!” she said with another flip of a hand.
Tess set the bottles on the coffee table and went back into the kitchen. “I’m just going to throw together something to snack on while dinner’s finishing…be just a sec…”
Angelica couldn’t explain it if she tried. Now seated on the couch, she took another look around. Despite the stormy weather than continued to bash against the windows and the occasional chill from the draft, she honestly felt cozy.
Tess darted back in with two wine glasses, handing them off to Angelica. “Just go ahead and pour yourself whatever. I’ll have the Chard. I’ll be just another sec with the carrots and stuff…”
“No worries, hon. None at all.” Angelica poured a generous glass of the red, took a cautious sip and was pleasantly surprised. She took a longer drink and settled back into the couch and continued taking in Tess’s place.
It was not perfect, of course. There was too much to look at; too much stuff, but on careful consideration, it actually wasn’t that bad. The furniture wasn’t all that cheap looking, and the colors of all the bits and pieces kind-of came together, in their own sort of mixed-up, every-hue-in-the-rainbow way. There were framed things of what she assumed was original art, and too many house plants that had been allowed to grow long and stringy.
She recognized Tess’s father’s photography hanging on the one larger wall in the living room, as well as a couple of Tess’s ex-husband’s camera work (The poor asshole, she thought. Hope he’s pulled himself together. At least he’s some other woman’s problem now). Of course there was the floor-to-ceiling shelves jammed with books, smaller framed photos of friends and family (she recognized one of Tess’s sister…she looked really happy. Was that taken before or after the thing, she wondered) and a strange assortment of nick-knacks oddly arranged in and among the books. Tess always was a sucker for street art markets, she mused.
The TV wasn’t that old, and there actually was a DVD player, cable hook up and, from the looks of it, a decent stereo system for all that jazzy horn music Tess liked so much. And, of course, there was a latest-and-greatest computer set up. It’s sleek white-and-chrome, ultra-modern styling looked completely out of place wih the rest of the place.
Angelica took in a short breath and shook her head. She ticked off a list: The windows are rattling and letting in a horrible chill; the large area rug couldn’t disguise the fact that the carpet is old, buckled and worn; and the kitchen and bathroom are most like in desperate need of a remodel. But, Tess’s got a ton of goddamn books; weird arts-n-craft stuff all over the place; her dad’s photos on the wall; and a brand new computer set up, so everything is OK. She shook her head again and took another gulp of wine.
Sitting there, surrounded by Tess’s things, Angelica saw her old friend in every book and trinket. Though they had always been different, and ultimately saw the world in a completely different way, they maintained the bond they made as children. Tess was like family. Like a fuzzy robe and slippers, Tess was the one thing Angelica knew she could always count on to be a comforting touchstone when the world started spinning a little too fast.
Tess came back into the room with a plate of crackers, cheese, olives, carrot sticks, some sort of beige dip, and sat down on the couch next to Angelica. Tess caught Angel looking at the bowl on the plate. “Hummus. I kind-of made it myself. I mean, I added lemon juice, a bit more garlic and Paprika.”
Angelica raised her eyebrows and gave a silent, “ah” while piling cheese onto a cracker. She took a bite, swallowed and then picked up her glass.
“I mean it, Tess, I really do. It’s cozy and it’s perfect.” She held up her wine glass, “And…it is all yours! Yours!”
“Yes,” Tess said. “It is…mine. It needs a ton of work, and it costs a fortune to heat in winter and cool in summer, and the homeowner’s are ridiculously high, I mean, for as rundown as the complex is, but, yeah. It’s mined. That is the one good thing about it.” They clicked glasses. And then Tess blurted, with deliberate dryness,
“Here’s to Valentine’s Day.”
Angelica snorted at the unexpected quip. “Ah, yes…that! By all means, let’s drink to VD day!”
As kids, it was one of their jokes; that Valentine’s Day had the same initials as “venereal disease.” The women giggled and gave each other the first genuinely warm smile since Angelica’s arrival. They took long drinks from their glasses, and smiled again. Tess always loved the irony that there would never be a way to bullshit Angel.
“Oh, hell. Let’s go out,” Angelica said, almost slamming her glass down on the coffee table, “Who the hell wants to eat in on Valentine’s Day, anyway. My treat.” She stood up. “You got a pair of rain boots I can borrow?”
Tess got up. “Yes. In the hall closet is a pair that should fit. Not pretty, of course…” Angelica gave that hand flip of hers and walked over to the closet.
Tess walked back into the kitchen and turned off the oven with the half-cooked ziti. What the hell, is right. She got her purse off the kitchen table, grabbed a coat out of the hall closet and followed her friend out into the stormy night.