Play Me(8)

By: Katie McCoy

“That’s not an excuse!”

“I’m trying to apologize!” he argued, his foot still against the door. “It was a late night, okay?”

“Perhaps if you were more responsible with your evenings, your mornings would be less . . . rough.” I tried to inject as much primness into my voice as possible.

He frowned. Perfect. There was a reason that other students in high school had called me the Ice Queen. If I was good at anything, it was freezing people out. I had a black belt in resting bitch face.

But instead of backing off, he merely crossed his arms. My one super power had failed.

“I’ve never had complaints about my roughness before.”

My face went hot again, but I was not about to let him get the upper hand.

“I’m sure you’ve heard how easily it is to fake something like that,” I shot back.

His eyebrows went up and I could tell I had surprised him. “I can tell when a woman is faking,” he responded, his voice very low.

“That’s what all men think,” I told him.

“Is that so?” he asked and leaned forward, just slightly.

“No!” I said, far too quickly and too loudly. This Ice Queen was on the verge of melting in the face of his scruffy hotness. Don’t let it go, I told myself. Keep it together, Elsa.

He laughed and leaned back. “Just wait a few more hours before practicing in the morning, please?” He ran a hand through his hair and for the first time I really saw the dark circles under his eyes. Maybe he wasn’t just hung over. But before I could respond, or even really react, he had removed his foot from the door, turned, and was trudging up the stairs.

I let out a huff, annoyed that he had gotten the last word, and went back into my apartment.

A few hours of not practicing later, I headed over to Mission Street to meet my sister for our weekly lunch and afternoon of shopping. Or rather, her afternoon of shopping.

Like always, I spotted Nina from a block away, wearing a bright vintage wrap dress and big colored sunglasses. She didn’t even wait for me to sit down. “Ella,” she said. “Why must you always dress like you’re attending a funeral?” Lately she had been speaking with a slightly affected accent, probably her attempt to sound more worldly. I tried not to roll my eyes. I loved my sister, but sometimes she was too much for me to deal with. Sometimes meaning always. “Please tell me today is the day you’re finally going to let me find you something sexy and beautiful.”

Nina lowered her sunglasses to give me the once-over I always got when I saw her. Usually I didn’t mind her scrutiny. But for some reason, this morning, after the conversation I had had with my hot but annoying neighbor, I really didn’t want to listen to the lecture I knew was coming. Nina’s hair, while naturally dark like mine, had been dyed a variety of colors over the years. Right now, however, she was sporting the latest trend—mermaid hair, the ends of her dyed platinum blonde hair painted sea green. Like always, it looked amazing on her, while it would have looked ridiculous on me. The same was the case with all the colorful clothes she kept urging me to buy. But it wasn’t new clothes that she wanted me to get. It was a new personality. One that was more like hers. Like my parents. I often wondered if I had been left at their doorstep or something. I was way too normal to be from the same gene pool as them. “I don’t need more clothes,” I told Nina, trying not to think of how my new closet looked so empty with my meager wardrobe in it. But I wore everything in there on a regular basis. I didn’t need anything else.

“It isn’t about need,” Nina said. “It’s about want. About indulging yourself once in a while.”

I didn’t bother to tell her that I knew how to indulge, and when I wanted to, I bought myself a new lingerie set. That, of course, no one saw. Except, of course, my new neighbor. For a moment I wondered what he would do if I didn’t buy any curtains and wore my red lace bra and panty set tonight. Would he be banging on my door the next morning, but for a different reason?

The thought was so ridiculous and so out of character that I pushed it aside. What was wrong with me today? First I had wanted to check out his tattoos, now I wanted to willingly parade around my apartment in lingerie, hoping he would check me out again? The thought that someone like him, all rough edges and late nights, would be interested in me, with my practical clothes and love of following sheet music, was totally absurd.

“So.” I unfolded my napkin and spread it out on my lap. I was eager to change the subject. “How are mom and dad?”