Paul turns the key into the lock and pauses a moment before he enters.
The cat runs to the door, and cocks his head. He was expecting his mistress to enter. Paul smiles and carefully edges past the orange tabby. Bobby is a housecat, declawed and complete prey outside, and he remembered Natasha had warned him before not to let the cat out.
“Crafty little thing,” she’d said with a smile. “He will try to sneak past you.”
Once the door is closed behind him, Paul reaches down and scratches Bobby behind the left ear, which prompts a satisfied purr. It had taken several visits for the animal to warm up to him, but by now he was an expected houseguest. As he took a seat on the couch, Bobby popped up beside him, not touching, but close enough to be companionable.
It was morning and Natasha was at work. She wouldn’t come home until six. There was still an hour before anyone expected Paul at his office.
Her apartment was quiet, a two bedroom tucked at the back of a small complex. The living room was cozy, furnished with a coffee table and two small sofas. The television was on, as she usually left it. Paul wasn’t sure if that was for the cat’s benefit, but he had the suspicion that she didn’t like people to be sure whether or not she was home.
There had to be dangers for a woman living alone in the city.
Standing, he stretches and walks into the kitchen. Natasha must have had breakfast, because there was a skillet, a plate, and a coffee cup in the sink. He touched the rim of the cup where the stain from her lipstick was pink against the white ceramic.
Her walls were devoid of of photgraphs. Natasha had a handful of close friends, but most of their pictures she kept on her phone.
On the desk in the room she used as an office space was a framed photo of Natasha and Paul together. He remembered snapping the photo. It was on their trip to Santa Monica Beach. Standing on the pier, the sunset turned the sky yellow and pink behind them.
In Natasha’s bedroom, he smiled at the usual mess. She had a habit of not making the bed in the morning. He takes off his shoes and slips into the bed. As he lays down he is greeted by the scent of her perfume. A tear comes from his eye, and he wipes it away.
Over the time they have been seperated, Paul has carved himself an existence in the shadows and fringes of her life. He hears things through second hand sources. And though he has tried everything he can think of to ease his grief, nothing seems to work.
Coming here seems to help, if only for a while.
There are no new pictures of other men. And from what he can tell, life for her has continued in a status quo.
Over the two weeks he hadn’t heard anything about her, when his friends lost track of her, had been torture. And though he knew that he shouldn’t come here, that it really did him no good, he couldn’t help himself. If he could not be with her, he could find some small solace in being near her things.
He tried to remember, the warmth of her body beside him. The taste of her flesh against his tongue. How he held her tight, feeling the bones of her spine against his fingertips. And her sigh, which sent shivers through him.
On a previous occassion, he’d actually fallen asleep in her bed, to wake sometime around four in the afternoon. When he woke he ran out of the house, fearing he’d get caught. What if Natasha had come home early by chance? That was a loss of control he couldn’t afford.
Bobby, with paws extended, gives a cautionary meow. He seems not to appreciate the intrusion into his bed. Paul hadn’t seen the feline enter, but his yellow eyes glowed with vexation.
Paul goes back through the house. In the bathroom, warm light spills through the open window above the shower. The tub is still wet, and there is the warm citrus scent of her favorite body gel.
He takes about thirty minutes. Touching her things. Listening to the drone of the television, the tick of the clock in the living room.
When he leaves, he feels both better and worse. Any closeness is better than none at all.
He passes the building where she works on the way in to his job. He looks up at the window where her office is, but he is too far away to catch a glimpse.
And he promises himself again, he’ll stay just far enough away that she won’t know he was ever there.
©2012 Lori Titus