The Cinderella Deal

By: Jennifer Crusie

The storm raged dark outside, the light in the hallway flickered, and Lincoln Blaise cast a broad shadow over the mailboxes, but it didn’t matter. He knew by heart what the card on the box above his said:



Daisy Flattery Apartment 1B

Stories Told, Ideas Illuminated Unreal but Not Untrue



Linc frowned at the card, positive it didn’t belong on a mailbox in the dignified old house he shared with three other tenants. That was why he’d rented the apartment in the first place: it had dignity. Linc liked dignity the way he liked calm and control and quiet. It had taken him a long time to get all of those things into his life and into one apartment. Then he’d met his downstairs neighbor. His frown deepened as he remembered the first time he’d seen Daisy Flattery in the flesh, practically hissing at him as he shooed a cat away from his rebuilt black Porsche, her dark, frizzy hair crackling around her face like lightning. Later sightings hadn’t improved his first impression, and the memory of them didn’t improve his mood now. She wore long dresses in electric colors, and since she was tall, they were very long, and she was always scowling at him, her heavy brows drawn together under that dumb blue velvet hat she wore pulled down around her ears even in the summer. She looked like somebody from Little House on the Prairie on acid, which was why he usually took care to ignore her.



But now, staring down at the card on her mailbox, appropriately backlit by the apocalyptic storm, he knew there was a possibility he might actually have to get to know her. And it was his own damn fault. The thought gave him a headache, so he shoved his mail into his jacket pocket and went up the stairs to his apartment and his aspirin.

 

Downstairs, Daisy Flattery frowned too, and cocked her head to try to catch again the sound she’d heard. It had been something between a creaking door and a cat in trouble. She looked over at Liz to see if she was showing signs of life, but Liz was, as usual, a black velvet blob stretched out on the end table Daisy had rescued from a trash heap two streets over. The cat basked in the warmth from the cracked crystal lamp Daisy had found at Goodwill for a dollar. The three made a lovely picture, light and texture and color, silky fur and smooth wood and warm lamp glow. Unbelievably, fools had thrown away all three; sometimes the blindness of people just amazed Daisy.

“Hello?” The petite blonde across the chipped oak table from Daisy waved her hand. “You there? You have the gooniest look on your face.”

“I thought I heard something,” Daisy told her best friend. “Never mind. Where was I? Oh, yeah. I’m broke.” She shrugged at Julia across from her. “Nothing new.”

“Well, you’re depressed about it. That’s new.” Julia took a sugar cookie from the plate in front of her and shoved the rest toward Daisy with one manicured hand, narrowly missing Daisy’s stained glass lamp. The lamp was another find: blue, green, and yellow Tiffany pieces with a crack in one that had made it just possible for her to buy it. The crack had been the clincher for Daisy: with the crack, the lamp had a history, a story; it was real. Sort of like her hands, she tried to tell herself as she compared them to Julia’s. Blunt, paint-stained, no two nails the same length. Interesting. Real. Julia, as usual, had missed color and pattern completely and was still on words. “Also, you’re the one who has to come up with the bucks for the feline senior cat chow. I should eat so good.”

“Right.” Daisy scrunched up her face. She hated thinking about money, which was probably why she hadn’t had much for the past four years. “Maybe leaving teaching wasn’t such a good idea.”

Julia straightened so fast, Liz opened an eye again.

“Are you kidding? This is new. I can’t believe you’re doubting yourself.” She leaned across the table to stare into Daisy’s eyes . “Get a grip. Make some tea to go with these cookies. Tell me a story. Do something weird and unpractical so I’ll know you’re Daisy Flattery.”

“Very funny.” Daisy pushed her chair back and went to find tea bags and her beat-up copper teakettle. She was sure the tea bags were in one of the canisters on the shelf, but the kettle could be anywhere. She opened the bottom cupboard and started pawing through the pans, books, and paintbrushes that had somehow taken up housekeeping together.

“I’m not kidding.” Julia followed her to the sink. “I’ve known you for twelve years, and this is the first time I’ve heard you say you can’t do something.”

Daisy was so outraged at the thought that she pulled her head out of the cupboard without giving herself enough clearance and smacked herself hard. “Ouch.” She rubbed her head through her springy curls.

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