third day I walked into my new apartment building there was the smell of
something baking in the air. Melting butter mingled with brown sugar was
coming down the stairs toward me like that white, ghostlike cartoon steam
that would materialize into a bent and beckoning index finger. My stomach
felt suddenly empty. Who in this building would bake? The barber shop on
the first floor was closed. It couldnt be the landlords on the second
floor who were both hooked up to oxygen tanks and only ate microwaveable
meals. That left the mystery tenant on floor three. Last night I had seen
a man walk into the building before me and purposely hung back so that I
could avoid introducing myself. The time just didnt feel right. I
looked more closely at his mailbox and the slip of masking tape that at
one point must have had his name on it but the ink was all smudged. Taking
a deep, delicious breath, I walked up the stairs and past the landlords
door, now catching an unmistakable whiff of semi-sweet chocolate. As my
foot creaked on the top step of the third floor, the apartment door flung
open and I almost lost my balance. Grabbing the railing, I steadied myself
and looked at the Cheshire cat smile hanging in the air in front of me.
"Hello there, you must be my upstairs neighbor!" He bellowed in a warm, upbeat British voice. "Im Cyril and you must come inside and have a cookie."
"Hi, thank you so much but Id really better get upstairs. I have some work to do. Nice to meet you, though, Cyril. Im Nicole."
"Oh, cmon, five minutes and one cookie into the future and youll be an even more productive little worker bee. Cmon in." He opened the door wider still and locked his twinkling blue eyes with mine. Cyril was about five foot eight with thinning blond hair, a slightly wrinkled face which made him look about thirty-five, and enormous white teeth that were impossibly straight and perfectly proportioned. I smiled back at him and shyly entered his apartment, which turned out to be sleek and modern with white walls, a stainless steel kitchen, low-slug retro furniture in oranges and reds and lots of frosted glass.
"Help yourself," he said, pointing me toward a small plate with a few golden brown chocolate chip cookies on it. I plucked one off of the plate and stood with my jacket on in the middle of the room. Cyril walked around to the other side of the kitchen table and sat down with his arms crossed politely in front of him. "I saw you last night walking behind me and figured you might be the anti-social type," he said with a voice full of gentle understanding.
"Im sorry to seem like a freak, I was just tired and had all these groceries and thought it would be better to wait until I felt human before presenting myself. And I was worried that seeing someone creep up behind you would scare you," I explained.
"Nah, Im not one to be easily frightened," he smirked. "But my little sister was a shy girl so Im used to that kind of thing."
"Well, Im not sure Im shy exactly, but I am sorry, I should have said hello."
"No worries, doll. Now, arent you going to take a bite of that scrumptious cookie?" His smile was teasing now, his head tilted and his eyes still locked on mine. Come to think of it, he hadnt really looked anywhere else since I walked in. A primitive chill flooded my body. But I was always paranoid, always expecting the worst from people. As I walked down the streets of Brooklyn I constantly imagined being struck by a car that would veer up onto the sidewalk, pinning me against a brick wall, or a man who would duck quietly out of the shadows, wrap his arm around my neck and drag me into an alley before I could squeak out a sound. I glanced over at Cyril in his apple-green cashmere sweater and decided he was too thin and effeminate to be physically threatening. I smiled back at him weakly and ate all of the cookie at once. It was a standard chocolate chip cookie, but it was also perfect. He must have used the recipe on the Tollhouse chocolate chip bag like I always do. The sugar and fat seemed to hit my bloodstream instantly. My parasympathetic nervous system kicked into gear and I felt my body relax. My shoulders actually dropped.
"Looks like you really needed a treat tonight," Cyril quipped.
"Yeah, I guess I did," I laughed. And then I kept laughing. I started giggling and just didnt stop. My mind was still working, I knew I shouldnt be laughing like this. I knew something was weird. I was freaking out, losing it. I looked over at Cyril with panic and apology in my eyes. "Im sorry," I squeaked between giggles. "I dont know whats wrong with me."
"Nothings wrong with you, doll," Cyril whispered reassuringly as he came around the table toward me. I stared at him in confused surprise and stifled my laughter though my chest was still heaving and my sides contracting. "Now, dont you feel better?" he said into my ear while his hands slid around my waist.
I opened my mouth to say no but my head had begun to weigh a hundred pounds. I slumped forward against his shoulder and closed my eyes. His hand was reaching down into my jeans and it felt hard and warm. When it reached down further it stopped and I heard a low, distant laugh and a pleased thick voice say "My God, youre soaking wet." I know, I thought to myself. Somewhere deep in my fog I felt sick and scared and embarrassed and horribly, inexplicably aroused.
"Thats wonderful, doll," said that milky, faraway voice. "When someone offers you some sugar, you should eat it."
NICOLE BELAND is a freelance writer who occasionally tries to write about subjects other than sex. But somehow...