Jess laughed as she pulled up to the sidewalk leading to the entry of Sandpiper Bluff. “I take it you’re not going to church this morning, and no problem, you can keep them. I have another pair I like better anyway.” Jess looked at the building and cringed. “Do you want me to go in with you?”
Maggie opened the car door and got out. “That won’t be necessary.”
Jess waved as she drove away. Maggie felt woozy as she walked up to the double doors and inside the vestibule. She decided to look into the cloudy window of her mailbox to see if there was any mail in it, but as expected there was not. She unlocked the door and went inside the building. Glancing over at the superintendent’s office, she hoped to see Mr. Zimmerman so that she could ask about getting a better lock for her apartment door, but he was not there.
Other than the sound of her shoes scuffing on the steps as she walked up to the second floor, the building was quiet. As she walked to her apartment, Bruce’s door opened.
“Oh, hi, Maggie,” Bruce said. He moved the garbage bag he was holding to his other hand and raised his eyebrows. “Do you feel okay?”
Maggie knew she looked awful. She had not showered, had bed head, and she still was wearing Jess’s sunglasses. She stopped and looked at him. He wore a white T-shirt, blue denim jeans, and his black hair was swept neatly up from the forehead. She took the sunglasses off and smiled. “I’m fine, just had a little too much to drink last night.”
“I have just the cure for that,” he said, opening his door wider. “Come on in and I’ll get you fixed up.”
“That’s all right, but I think I’ll just go take a nap.” Then she remembered she was out of aspirin. “You wouldn’t happen to have any aspirin would you?”
“I have a whole bottle of pills. Come inside and I’ll get them for you.”
Maggie thought she had to get to know the guy anyway, so she might as well follow him inside apartment 20A. She looked at his lock on the way inside; it looked the same as hers. “The locks in this place are old; do you have to use a skeleton key?”
“No, not a skeleton key,” he said, gesturing for Maggie to sit at the chrome dining table. His apartment was different from hers. The kitchen was the first room walked into; the living room was beyond that—it was larger than hers with south and west-facing windows—and the bathroom and bedroom were to the left.
Bruce walked to the bathroom and returned with a bottle of aspirin. He drew a glass of water and sat both the bottle and water in front of her on the Formica tabletop. Then he filled the teakettle with water and sat it on the stove’s burner. “Chamomile tea with honey will cure that hangover of yours.”
Maggie swallowed the aspirin. She did not want to stay, but he was already heating the water. “Maybe one cup.”
He pulled out a turquoise vinyl covered cushioned chair and sat at the table across from her. “Are you liking it here?”
No. “Yes, the place has great views. How about you; have you lived here long?”
He leaned back and crossed his muscular arms over his chest. “Yeah, I’ve been here a long time. It’s hard to leave this place. Sure, Mr. Zimmerman could do a better job of maintaining it, but not a bad trade-off for living on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.” He did not take his eyes off her. “So what do you do for a living?”
Maggie was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with his fixed gaze. Or was it bedroom eyes. “I’m a writer.”
“A writer, that’s wonderful,” he said, sounding interested. “I would have taken you for a nurse. You look so kind and empathetic, especially since you helped Debbie out by babysitting Susie. Not many people would have done that.”
Maggie glanced at the steam coming out of the teakettle’s spout and then looked at Bruce. “Good guess, I used to work as a nurse. And the babysitting,” she shrugged. “Debbie needed help, what was I to do?”
“Debbie always has problems with finding someone to watch Susie, mostly because she can be a handful.” Bruce leaned forward and put his elbows on the table. “I used to watch her, but I think she needs to be at a psychiatric hospital.”
“Why is that?” Maggie thought there was something off about Susie, and Debbie for that matter.
“Because Susie has an antisocial personality disorder. You don’t have a cat, bird, or some other animal, do you?”
The teakettle’s sharp whistle was increasing with Maggie’s anxiety. “No, but why?”
Bruce stood, took the angry kettle off the heat, and poured the boiling water over an infuser of chamomile inside the rose porcelain teapot. While the tea steeped, he said, “She has a history of being cruel to animals . . . Even people.”
“What?” Maggie was shocked. How could Debbie ask her to babysit a child that should be institutionalized? “You have to be kidding.”
Bruce took two matching teacups, spoons, and a honey pot with a wand to the table. “She’s better now. Debbie makes sure she takes her medicine. There haven’t been any negative episodes in a long time.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I used to be her psychiatrist.” Bruce removed the infuser from the teapot and poured them each a cup of steaming tea.
“Is it safe to babysit her?” Maggie watched Bruce drizzle honey into her cup of chamomile. Her throbbing head and queasy stomach were minor compared to the terror of having babysat someone who could be dangerous.
He sipped his tea. “It’s safe.”
Maggie looked at the light brown liquid in her cup. She stirred and took a sip, thinking there was no way she was babysitting again. The tea was warm and soothing. Maybe she was overreacting; Bruce did say she was better. “This is good.”
Bruce reached across the table with an open hand, beckoning for a handhold. “Anything for you, neighbor.”
Maggie looked at Bruce; he was attractive. She would play along and put her hand in his, but that would be the extent of any physical contact between them. No sooner had she felt his warm, strong hand, then the door opened. It was Debbie.
Debbie stopped in her tracks and looked at their hands. “Maggie! I wasn’t expecting to see you here. What’s going on?”
Bruce pulled his hand away. “Maggie wasn’t feeling well, so I made her some of my special hangover medicine. What are you up to?”
Debbie finished walking inside and closed the door behind her. “Just came to see you.”
Maggie could not help but notice Debbie’s skimpy clothing. A tight T-shirt hugged her braless breasts while low-cut, short shorts showed her belly button. Maggie got the impression Debbie was there for more than a cup of tea. “I was just leaving.”
“You don’t need to leave on my account.” Debbie walked over to Bruce and put a hand on his shoulder. “I may need a babysitter soon, are you up for it?”
Babysit? “Ah . . .” Maggie stood up.
“I don’t know yet, I’ll let you know.” Debbie moved behind Bruce, put her arms around his shoulders, and brought her head next to his so that they were cheek to cheek.
Maggie looked at Bruce, who was looking back at her with eyes that said, I am interested in you. When she looked at Debbie’s eyes, they said, He is mine. Stay away.