Beginning Again Ch. 03
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Thank you again for your support for chapters one and two – I really appreciate the votes and the comments. A special thank you to DeathAndTaxes, a brilliant and prolific author, for her help with the Spanish in this chapter.
All characters are fictional adults.
An early snow was a blessing.
Not for Mac, of course. Walking for hours in dress shoes through an inch of snow-turned-slush made a frustrating and fruitless job search all the more uncomfortable. But despite the polite rejections and sneering dismissals, he was in good spirits. Friday night was burger night. More than that, tonight was the night that Nadja would escape the confines of the apartment. He was taking her out for the first time since their aborted shopping trip five days ago.
He liked thinking about her. She was the only good thing in his life.
Everything else – his clothes, apartment, finances, job prospects and his future in general – was worthless and depressing. His parole officer was all the way up his ass about finding a job, but no one was hiring – and those who were didn’t seem enthusiastic about an ex-con working for them. Rent was due and his prison-earned savings were dwindling fast.
But Nadja’s presence was an escape from all that. At least for a few hours each day, she made him feel important and respected – even revered. It had only been a week since he’d ‘found’ her, and already she was becoming the foundation around which he was rebuilding his life. And that made him uneasy.
He knew the situation for what it was. He hadn’t won her over with his charm or looks or wealth. She lived with him because she literally had no better option, and he knew a relationship based entirely on naked self-interest wasn’t something he should be building around. But for the foreseeable future she wasn’t going anywhere and he couldn’t, either. They were both prisoners of circumstance, so why not make the best of it?
His feet were aching and damp and his toes were numb by the time he climbed the stairs to his apartment. Six hours of cold-calling all over town for a job. No success.
On the bright side, no headaches. Maybe the colder weather was helping, or the anger management counseling was working. Or maybe it was Nadja – she was good at diffusing him. But whatever the reason, he only had two really bad ones the past week, and fewer headaches put him in a better mood.
She met him at the door. Sometimes she was scantily clad and seductive but today she was naked and brazen, and he felt an erotic heat surge through him at the sight of her slim body. She was his for the taking and she never let him forget it. ‘Anything, any time’ is what she’d pledged and she was true to her word, not just accepting his advances but enthusiastically encouraging them.
“I’m glad you’re back,” she said, smiling and trying to locate his eyes with hers. She did sound happy to seem him, and he was beginning to think it wasn’t just an act.
“You look delicious!”
“All yours,” she said, then turned a slow circle. She was petite and still a little on the skinny side, but a weeks’ worth of solid meals had her looking less fragile than before.
He liked the way Nadja looked. She wasn’t a Playboy bunny but she had simple good looks and she didn’t need any help from makeup – it was all her. He liked her on the inside, too. Even though she’d clearly been dealt a bad hand and had glimpsed the worst of life, she hadn’t become hateful or bitter. He knew there was a lot she was hiding from him, but he didn’t much care. He was holding back a lot from her, too. That’s how it was in this shitty world; you stowed your own baggage.
They’d been together for a week and other than a few surface questions they’d avoided diving into the ugliest chapters of each others’ lives. He knew she’d been a prostitute and it was clear that she’d suffered – badly – at the hands of her pimp. She knew he’d been in prison, with everything that implied. No point in rehashing the gory details. Better to turn the page and leave the past behind.
“Ready for tonight?” he asked.
Her smile faded, replaced by a nervous grimace. “Do I have to do this?”
She’d been protesting burger night in subtle and not-so-subtle ways since he’d floated the idea a few nights back. He understood how she felt about going outside. But she couldn’t hole up forever in a one-room apartment.
“No,” he said.
She paused. “But it would make you happy.”
She breathed a why-me sigh. “I suppose I should get dressed.”
He’d been to Wally’s and picked out a small pair of women’s track pants, a couple of t-shirts in her size and a warm winter jacket. Naturally, none of them fit right – what did he know about picking out clothes for women? He’d also bought a pink toque and a long pink scarf. He figured when she was all wrapped up she’d be unrecognizable. And if not, if her pimp recognized her? Well…apparently he already beat up that bastard once. He’d be more than happy to do it again.
She’d told him about the fight in the alley with Aden and escort bayan kağıthane another guy. He still couldn’t remember even the vaguest detail about it. The fact that it was unresolved was a concern – what had become of those two assholes? What had he done? And what price would he pay? The police had Mac’s fingerprints and DNA on file, so if it got to that point the evidence would lead the cops right to his doorstep.
But a week after the fight, nothing.
Somehow, he’d gotten away with beating up two people in a public alley and then – on foot – abducting a young woman…and he didn’t have the foggiest idea how. Maybe his unconscious brain was some sort of criminal mastermind. Too bad none of that brilliance spilled over into his conscious mind!
“Let me grab a quick shower to thaw out first,” he said, pulling at his tie to loosen it as he kicked off his shoes.
“No hot water,” she said apologetically, as though somehow it had been her fault, “I’m boiling the kettle.”
“No hot water – again? Jesus! That bitch said it would be fixed!” Anger began to build as he bent over and pulled his soggy shoes back on, muttering curses toward the building manager. “This is bullshit. There’s fucking snow outside and we don’t have any hot water? I’m going down there.”
“Is that the right thing to do, when you’re so angry?”
Mac hesitated. Nadja had developed a way of giving him advice in a tone that made it sound like she was asking for HIS advice. It was strangely effective.
He exhaled loudly, then drew a deep breath and unclenched his jaw.
“No, it would probably be a stupid thing to do,” he agreed at last.
“Only if you think so.”
“Yeah. Maybe I’ll change first, have a cup of coffee,” he said.
“Sit on the couch. I’ll bring it to you,” she said with a smile and a wink.
He quickly shed his clothing and threw on jeans and a sweatshirt. By the time he’d seated himself on the old couch, Nadja had poured him a mug and brought it to him. She returned to the kitchenette. Her movements around the tiny apartment were graceful and sure; she knew her way around perfectly. It was hard to tear his eyes off her naked body as she moved.
He took a sip, then breathed a relaxed sigh and looked around the apartment.
“The place looks good. You’ve been busy,” he said. The windows had been cleaned, the kitchenette was spotless, the bed was made.
“Thank you. I did the laundry, too. The bedsheets, anyway. I could have done it all but I need you to sort it into whites and colours.”
“Wait – how did you do the laundry?”
“I remembered you saying that there are machines in the basement,” she said, “and I know where you keep your jar of quarters, so…”
“You left the apartment?” He couldn’t contain his surprise. She hadn’t been outside the apartment since their aborted shopping trip five days ago.
“Yes,” she said, and he could hear the pride in her voice. “just inside the building here. I was practicing for tonight, I guess.”
“So brave!” He was genuinely impressed.
“How did you get those washing machines to work? All they ever do is eat my money.”
“I asked the building manager about it and she showed me the trick.”
He took another sip of coffee. Ask the building manager? There was a novel concept. Why hadn’t it ever occurred to him?
“How did you even find the building manager?” he asked.
“I asked a lady in the hallway and she brought me there.”
“Just like that?”
“Yes. She was nice.”
“There are nice people living here?”
“It looks that way,” Nadja said.
He drained the mug of coffee, then leaned back into the couch. She sat down next to him and he reached over and rubbed her bare leg. Her skin was warm and smooth…and inviting. He was tempted to forget about dinner at Maria’s Grill altogether.
“So, what’s the trick?” he asked.
“For the washing machines?”
She looked over at him, her expression mischievous. “What do I get if I tell you?”
He chuckled. She was definitely changing. Leaving the apartment on her own was a huge step, and she’d developed a playfulness that didn’t trade on her sex appeal. Big changes for the cautious, reserved, frightened young woman he’d taken in a week ago.
“Anything. Name your price,” he said.
“Forget about burger night?”
“Anything but that, I meant.”
“Hmm. Ice cream,” she said after a brief pause, “strawberry ice cream.”
“You drive a hard bargain.”
“I guess YOU could ask the building manager,” she said.
“I’d better not. She’s probably still pissed about yesterday,” he said, recalling his poorly chosen words to the middle-aged woman when the hot water had stopped working.
“Sounds like you’re at my mercy then.”
“Fine. I surrender.”
“Remember you told me that the machine costs two-twenty-five in quarters? It’s actually two-fifty,” Nadja said.
“But…the sticker on the machine says two-twenty-five.”
“She says it’s an old sticker.”
“Goddamn it! She’s escort bayan taksim been ripping me off for the past three weeks! I’ve been paying twice, thinking that the machine’s been eating my money,” he said, not knowing exactly how annoyed he should be. In truth, he’d only done his laundry twice since moving in. “I don’t take back ANY of the things I said about her yesterday.”
A giggle was her only response.
They walked slowly down the stairs toward street level. Very slowly. Each stair seemed like a tiny journey all of its own.
“Doing okay?” he asked.
Nadja nodded but he could feel the way she gripped his forearm. She was wrapped from head to toe in clothing. Her ex-pimp would have to be some kind of genius to recognize her dressed as she was.
They reached the front door and Mac pushed it open. She stiffened as the sounds and scents of the city greeted her. Her hand on his arm became a death grip.
“Forward, or back?” he asked, determined not to force her into anything traumatic.
She was silent and still for a minute or two.
“Forward.” Her voice was quiet, but determined.
“Maria’s is four blocks away. We’ll stop and check in every half-block. Sound good?”
She nodded again and he led her out onto the street. It was unseasonably cold and that, combined with the snow, had brought the Christmas window-shoppers out in force. The sidewalks were crowded and walking was necessarily slow. Steering her around pedestrians and other obstacles was a challenge and he was careful to point out places where the sidewalk was uneven.
“How are we doing?” he asked after five minutes of stop-and-go walking.
“Good. It sounds like there are a lot of people,” she said. Her voice sounded stronger.
“Tons. Everyone figured out that Christmas is coming.”
Maybe the idea of being an anonymous face in a large crowd strengthened her courage; she sounded more confident at each check-in along the way.
Maria’s Grill was a true greasy spoon. Everything on the menu was either grilled or fried. French fries accompanied every entree. But the food was brought to the table by a waitress, on ceramic plates, with metal cutlery and glass cups for the soft drinks, so it was a cut above standard fast food.
Mac had been there many times since his release from prison. It was always crowded, but the extra wait was worth it; they had great hamburgers. Burgers were the one food that he’d desperately missed while he was in prison, and since he got out he couldn’t seem to get his fill of them.
He loved the atmosphere of the place. Good crowd; a mix of college kids on a budget, business types from the surrounding office buildings grabbing a quick bite before the commute home, construction workers from the new site going up a couple of blocks away. Everyone was there to enjoy a bad-for-your-health, blue-collar meal. No one whining about the food or putting on airs.
Mac and Nadja got a seat after only a ten-minute wait. He spent a couple of minutes reading the menu to her and she eventually decided on the chicken fingers. He wanted the bacon cheddar burger – probably the greatest burger he’d tasted in all his twenty-six years – maybe the greatest one in all of human history.
As they waited for their meals, Mac described their surroundings, the layout of the restaurant, the plastic-and-chrome 1970’s décor, the other patrons. Eventually they lapsed into a companionable silence and took in the sounds and scents of the restaurant. Nadja seemed alert but not nervous; there was safety in crowds.
“Would you ever work in a place like this?” she asked.
“I’d work anyplace where they’d pay me,” he replied, “why do you ask?”
“How can you tell that?”
“One of the cooks is complaining to a waitress because their dish-washer just quit this evening.”
Mac paused and strained his ears listening for the conversation, but the crowd was generating so much noise he couldn’t focus on any one speaker for long.
“You’ve got better hearing than I do,” he said.
“They’re speaking Spanish, so their voices are easy to find.”
“You speak Spanish?”
She shrugged. “I understand it more than I speak it. I spoke it in my childhood.”
“You don’t even have an accent now.”
“Childhood was a long time ago.” There was a trace of bitterness in her voice that discouraged him from dragging her any further down memory lane.
“I’ll come back tomorrow morning with a resume and apply,” he said.
“Why not just ask for the job now, while you’re here?”
“Well, you can’t just ask for a job. There’s a whole goddamn process. I have to wear a suit, bring in a resume. Make an appointment for an interview…” he trailed off, remembering the job hunting advice he’d received prior to leaving prison.
“The manager’s here tonight. I hear her going from table to table chatting with people.”
“Maria? She’s the owner. She’s here every night. Nice lady.”
Maria was the living manifestation of her restaurant. A heavyset woman who seemed to şişli escort bayan love people, she could mingle with folks from all walks of life, bantering and poking fun at them – and at herself. A woman full of laughter who seemed to have no pretenses.
“So? Just ask her for the job.”
“That’s not how it works. No one gets anything just by asking for it. You’ve got to jump through hoops, prove yourself. Pay your dues, that kind of thing.”
“I guess you have more experience than I do with these things,” she said.
They were interrupted by the waitress bringing them their food. Mac spent a moment describing to Nadja how the food on her plate was arranged – chicken, fries and plumb sauce.
“This is huge! How could any one person eat this much food?” she asked, but Mac was already two bites into his burger and couldn’t do more than grunt. He was in heaven.
They ate in silence, and Mac thought more about Nadja’s advice. Ask for the job? Just come right out and ask? The notion seemed naive. Nadja was younger than him, after all, and didn’t know as much about how the world worked. Asking for a job was a lot different than asking the building manager for directions on how to use a washing machine. For starters…well…
Well, maybe there were more similarities than differences.
“Mac!” Maria called his name from four tables away. “How did you sneak in here without me seeing you?”
He grinned. It was impossible not to. He was fond of Maria – everyone was.
“And who is this?” Maria came to a stop beside their table and rested her hand on Nadja’s shoulder. Nadja didn’t flinch away.
“This is Nadja. Nadja this is Maria.”
“Hola señora,” Nadja said, searching for the older woman’s eyes.
“Ooh, Mac, she’s a beauty!” Maria exclaimed, loud enough for most of the restaurant to hear. Nadja flushed red, and Mac was sure his own face was an even deeper shade. So much for keeping a low profile. “And she speaks Spanish! You’ve got great taste.”
“Yeah. Luckily, she doesn’t,” he quipped, prompting a gale of laughter from Maria and a shy smile from Nadja.
“¿Es un buen tipo?” Maria asked Nadja.
“Si. Muy bueno,” she replied, her smile becoming more genuine.
Mac didn’t understand what was being said – languages weren’t his thing – but everyone was still smiling at the end so he let it go.
“Did your dishwasher just quit?”
“Word travels fast!”
Ask for the job? No suit, no resume, no references? In the middle of a crowded restaurant and in front of his half-eaten dinner?
Sure. What did he have to lose?
He stood and faced Maria.
“I want that job,” he said, trying to sound assertive.
She seemed surprised, but met his eyes for a long moment, long enough that Mac wished he had just stuffed a fork-full of fries in his mouth and not bothered.
“Can you start tomorrow morning at 7?” she replied at last.
They got back to the apartment at eight-forty – just under the wire of Mac’s nine o’clock parole-mandated curfew. He set the take-out container on the counter – most of Nadja’s dinner was inside. Nadja divested herself of her shoes and winter jacket.
“Not too bad, was it?” he asked.
“A little scary at first, but you made me feel safe,” she replied, then rested her hand on his shoulder lightly, “Thank you, Mac. For everything.”
“Ha! Thank YOU! I’ve been busting my ass for three weeks looking for work, but you somehow found me a job in less than an hour. Fucking unbelievable,” he replied, unable to contain his elation. He wrapped her up in a tight hug, which she endured patiently if not enthusiastically. He knew she wasn’t into that sort of thing.
“I think we have something to celebrate,” she said when he let her go. She pulled the t-shirt over her head and off, then linked her hands behind her back, thrusting her breasts towards him invitingly. Her dark nipples practically begged for his fingers.
Instead, he hooked his fingers in the waistband of her track pants and slowly pushed them down her legs, going to his knees in front of her to pool them around her ankles. She raised her feet one at a time and let him remove the pants completely, leaving her bare.
He took her hips in his hands and held her steady as he kissed the soft skin under her navel, then bent lower to press his lips to the top of her slit. He loved the scent of her skin, the softness of it under his hands and lips.
“I get anything I want?” he said, his voice low and hungry.
“Always,” she purred, “just name it.”
“I want to make you come,” he said, kissing her flat stomach, “I want you to show me how.”
“This is for YOU,” she said, taking a step back, “you’re the man of the hour. Why not let me pay tribute?”
She knelt and reached for the button of his jeans, but he wouldn’t be put off. He’d been thinking about it for a while, and she’d helped him so much tonight that it seemed like the right time. It bothered him a little, doing all the taking and none of the giving. Tonight was a good night to start balancing the scales…
He grasped her wrist, then easily lifted her naked body into his arms. She seemed tense, or maybe just cold. He’d do what he could to heat her up fast. He walked three steps to the couch and set her down in the middle of it, then knelt in front of her.
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