Joan sloughed her fuzzy plum bathrobe over her pajamas and trundled out of her bedroom, nose bent on the scent of freshly brewed coffee.
“You’re back,” she said spotting Nell staring out the window at dawn breaking over their slim view of the city.
She wore the same strappy dress she had when she’d left the night before, a clinging maroon and velvet ensemble hugging her curves and ending halfway up her thighs. A mane of amber hair had lost some of its bounce and drooped at her bare shoulders. Her painted toes drummed the kitchen tiles, freed from the matching stilettos.
Nell shrugged and stroked manicured fingers along her naked arms.
Joan dug out her mug, the sugar jar and bottle of creamer and mixed together her morning concoction. She plucked another mug from the cupboard and filled it halfway.
“Bad night?” she asked, offering the untainted beverage.
“Hum?” Nell tore her gaze away from the fog drenched skyscrapers and took the drink. “Thanks.”
Leaning against the counter, Joan cupped her mug at her waist. She rubbed one eye and stared at the Van Gogh Sunflower print across the narrow kitchen, hanging above the small dining table cluttered with unopened mail, salt and pepper shakers and her telephone. She joined Nell with a few tentative sips on the scalding brew and waited for her roommate to find her tongue.
“It’s really over this time,” whispered Nell.
“What’d Sam do now?”
“He’s just…” Nell let out a throaty groan. “It’s like he can cast this spell on me when we’re together. I’ll agree to anything and readily dump all my plans.”
“Money and charm can do that.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want that, you know? I have plans, I have goals. I can’t just be a trophy he can wear like an accessory whenever he needs a pretty face around.”
“Have you told him this? Maybe Sam doesn’t know how you feel. How he’s making you feel.”
Nell rolled her eyes and glared out the window.
“I’m not like you and Sam’s definitely not like Jeremy. We can’t just talk and make everything okay.”
Joan winced and hunched into her robe. Morning began lightening Nell’s thoughts and with an expulsive sigh, she put her back to the view. Joan latched onto Van Gogh’s flowers, and ignored Nell’s glance toward the front door where her stilettos, Joan’s flats and assortment of other women’s shoes cluttered the foyer.
“Jeremy’s not here is he?” asked Nell.
Joan shook her head and started counting the sunflower’s petals.
Nell took one of the two seats at the kitchen table, daintily crossing one leg over the other. Joan looked away as Nell’s gaze latched onto her like a fish on a hook. “What happened?”
A long exhale bled out of Joan, preceding the speculation keeping her up most of the night. “I think he wants to see other people.”
“You think?” Nell cocked a skeptical brow. “That’s usually not something so indecisive.”
Joan shook her head and waggled one hand. “He kept talking about this new Saucier at the restaurant. She’s so talented, she has great ideas, she’s worked here, she’s worked there. He practically gave me her whole resume.”
Joan shrugged and bounced her fingernail against the mug. “I guess. He introduced me when I headed over after work before their dinner run. Peachy cheeks, curly black hair and blue eyes. Medium height and curves she knows how to handle.”
“So like you?”
Joan forced down a mouthful of coffee and stared at Nell.
She shrugged and assumed her “who-me?” expression, driven home with an innocent smile.
Wincing, Joan stared into her creamy brew.
“So based on all this “evidence”,” said Nell, complete with the air quotes, “you think Jeremy wants this new girl?”
“Well…they have so much more in common and she was all bubbly and…” Joan tossed back her tousled curls and batted her eyelashes at an imagined Jeremy standing at her side. With a sigh, she slumped back onto the counter. “He called last night and I’ve never heard him come up with so many apologetic excuses when he was explaining why they wanted to show her all the late night chef spots and why I couldn’t come along. It wasn’t like him.”
“Ouch…” Nell gnaws her lower lip. “That doesn’t sound good.”
Joan waved away the sympathy and veered the conversation back on course. “What are you going to do?”
Nell sighed and traced her finger around the lip of her cup. “Shower. Change. Go to work.”
“I know what you meant.” She stood and drained her mug. “We can drown in ice cream tonight, okay?”
Joan chuckled. “Sounds good.”
Her telephone chimed with a distinctive tone, illuminating the screen with a smiling face reflected in the salt shaker. Joan clutched her coffee and stared at the pixilated image of Jeremy.
“Aren’t you going to answer?” asked Nell.
“If I don’t talk to him, I can’t know for sure,” said Joan, turning to the counter and the bulbous cookie jar.
Nell scoffed. “You hypocrite.”
“Hey,” said Joan, extracting a chocolate chunk round with Jeremy’s chef prints all over it.
“He at least calls,” said Nell as the telephone buzzing died. “I probably won’t hear from Sam until he has another “function” I’m supposed to jump to attend.” Nell scooped up the phone and waggled the mute device in a hypnotic rhythm. “Call him back.”
Frowning, Joan followed the phone back and forth, trapped in the movement. She flinched when Nell seized the cookie and replaced the treat with the phone.
“Go on, or you’re going to be late to work.” Nell took one large bite and her eyes fluttered as her chewing slowed to savor the morsel. “At least get another batch of these out of him before you kick him to the curb. They’ll go great with Ben and Jerry.”
Joan quirked her mouth into a half grin while her gaze remained locked on the blank screen. She set down her coffee without shifting her eyes; her indecisive thumb hovering over the redial button.