Ella glanced at her watch. It was ten p.m. Her neighbor, the doctor usually arrived home at around ten pm. on the dot each night, but not recently. The rhythms of life are what she missed as a global pandemic took hold, and life slowly came to a halt around her.
She had paid attention to the news when the virus first emerged and stocked up on extra groceries and supplies in her tiny apartment just in case. She decided to ride out whatever was coming her way from home. Her cat Oscar was her company, and work kept her busy enough from home during the quarantine.
Ella had spent more time in the apartment over the first month of quarantine than she did for the entire two years she had lived there. In that two years, she had met a few of her neighbors but only casually, a wave in the hall, or holding the downstairs door, leaving extra coins on the washer downstairs, that sort of thing. Last year a single man had moved in across the hallway, he was a doctor, or so she guessed as she often saw him in pale green scrubs. He kept odd hours typically, and they never seemed to meet.
She remembered the day he moved in, he and his friends made so much noise trying to get his couch up the tight staircase in the 6-flat walk up. It was almost amusing to watch if it had not been so frustrating at the same time. That tight staircase was almost like a right of passage for the building, as each tenant had the same struggle on moving days. He and his four male friends had been good looking, but his dark curly hair, tan complexion, and deep brown eyes made butterflies fly around in her stomach when she looked at him. Ella wasn’t usually shy, but there was something powerful in the way he looked at her, giving off an air of intensity that she wasn’t sure she wanted to tangle with.
Ella continued to listen as the hour grew later, and the hallway outside her door remained quiet. She couldn’t explain precisely why she had begun to listen for his comings and goings, but she had just the same. She dozed off on the couch with Oscar curled up next to her purring. She woke to the noise of keys, hitting the wood floor in the hallway.
“Shit,” a man’s voice said.
He had not been loud; the transom windows above her door did nothing to muffle outside noise from the hallway. She perked up and listened as she heard the keys drop again, followed by something substantial leaning up against the wall. A key was needed at the downstairs door to get in, so whoever was in the hallway was supposed to be there. She looked down at Oscar, the white furball with orange, black, and gray spots. He stretched out his paws and then curled back into a ball. Ella took it as his way of saying, you’re on your own with that one lady. She pried Oscar from her lap and got up to look out the peephole. She could see the doctor from across the hall fumbling with his keys still. Reaching for the doorknob, she hesitated. What if he’s sick, I’ve done a really good job staying in and helping do my part, she wondered. Before she could open the door, he walked into his apartment. Ella looked down at her watch that read 1 am.
That night as she laid in bed, Oscar glued to her side again, she thought about the doctor across the hallway, him smiling with his friends. She found herself worrying about him. He lived alone; she never saw or heard anyone else come in our out of the apartment. She wondered how he was fairing, as the medical system was beyond stretched with resources. She wanted to help but wasn’t quite sure how.
As she made dinner that night and idea struck, she’d make a plate for him. That night she made extra dinner and kept a plate warm in her oven for him. She listened for him to come home as she watched the ten o’clock news, then the Late Show. She finally got off of the couch to turn the oven off when she heard feet shuffle down the hallway. She grabbed the plate with a potholder and went to open her front door.
The smiling doctor turned around at the noise of the door opening. Ella was shocked at how tired he looked.
“Hi, I hope this isn’t weird, but I made you a plate of dinner. It’s a chicken breast, rice, and veggies. I know you’ve been keeping crazy hours, and I just thought a hot home-cooked meal might be nice with you working so hard.”
His face lightened as he smiled.
“That’s very nice. That sounds delicious.”
Ella reached out her hand, “I’m Ella James.”
The doctor pulled his hands away.
“Right, sorry, I forgot, no handshakes any more.”
“It’s okay. Hi Ella, my name is Trevor. I don’t think we’ve formally met.”
“We haven’t, but that’s okay,” Ella said as she handed him the plate. “Careful, it’s hot.”
“Ow, it is.”
“Here, you can have the plate holder.”
He took it from her and put it under the plate. There was an award pause.
“Thank you again, Ella, this is really kind.”
“It’s the least I can do. Thank you for serving our community. I’ll let you eat in peace. Have a good night Trevor.”
“You too, good night Ella.”
Ella shut the door behind her and took a deep breath. She felt like she had been holding her breath the entire time she spoke to Trevor. He reminded her of a tired warrior. She felt like she had done something to help the cause in feeding Trevor. The next day she reran the scene from the night before in her head again, and again. She decided to make him dinner again and waited up to give it to him hot. He stumbled in, looking more tired than the night before around 2 am. Ella opened her door and offered him a plate of spaghetti and homemade meatballs. He took it grateful for the hot food.
For the next two weeks, Ella had dinner waiting for Trevor. Giving him dinner had become the highlight in her increasingly mundane quarantine schedule. They didn’t talk much when she handed him food in the wee hours of the morning, nor did she expect it. Last night he had brought her a bouquet of flowers to say thank you. They were a total surprise, and she was touched at the gesture of gratitude, not that she ever expected one. The next day she put the vase of flowers on her desk and enjoyed them immensely.
That night she cooked marinated lamb chops, couscous, and sautéed spinach. She sautéed the spinach at 10:30 pm for his portion, not wanting it to sit for hours. She waited for him to come in and felt a wave of excitement when she heard him shuffle down the hallway. She opened her door with the plate of dinner in her hand and looked at him. He had been crying, his eyes were red, and cheeks hastily dried.
“Hi,” he said meekly.
“Hi,” she said softly in return. “Are you okay?”
“Today was,” he paused, “it was a rough day.”
“I’m sorry. I really am,” she said as she handed him the warm plate.” Do you want to talk about it? I’m a good listener.”
“Nah, thank you again for dinner. This is the highlight of my day.”
“Mine too. If you change your mind, you know where to find me. Good night Trevor.”
Ella walked into her apartment and felt awful for Trevor. She could only imagine what he was living through. She had stopped watching the nightly news as the information straddled a line between informative and terrifying. Oscar jumped off of the couch and wound between her ankles before he pranced off to his water bowl in the kitchen. She locked her door, turned off the lights, and climbed into bed. Seeing Trevor so distraught had bothered her. She thought about the difference of him smiling and laughing with his friends on moving day to the man that stood before her earlier; it broke her heart. She rolled over, and Oscar took the action as an invitation as he curled up in the crook of her knees. She drifted off and was almost asleep when she heard a soft knock on her door. She sat up and listened, thinking her mind was playing tricks on her. She got out of bed when she heard it again. She answered her door in her pajamas, a cotton knit top and matching pants that hugged her figure perfectly. She opened the door and saw Trevor standing there with a stack of her plates. He had showered, she could smell his shampoo, and stood there in pajama pants and t-shirt. Most people were better looking after they made some effort, Trevor was the opposite. His five o’clock shadow just made him more handsome, Ella thought.
“Hi, I wanted to return these. I’m sorry if I woke you.”
Ella knew didn’t knock at almost 3 am to return plates, she knew he wanted something more but wasn’t exactly sure what.
“Thank you; you could have left them by the door.”
“I guess I could’ve, but I didn’t want them to get dirty or damaged, or stolen.”
He handed her just about every dinner plate she owned, and the stack was heavy. Still not completely awake, the plates slipped in her grasp, and the top four plates slid from the pile and hit the floor, breaking on impact. They had both bent down to catch them, as Ella cradled the other dishes to her chest, but neither of them had rescued the plate.
“I’m so sorry, Ella!”
“It’s alright it was my fault they slipped out of my hand.” She said as she turned and walked into her apartment, leaving the door open. She set the remaining plates on the kitchen counter and grabbed a broom and dustpan. When she returned to the hallway, Trevor already had a wastebasket from his apartment out and was picking up the larger pieces.
“I’m sorry, can I pay to replace them, or buy a new set?”
“No need. They’re old anyway.”
Ella swept the grit from the porcelain into the dustpan and tipped it into Trevor’s wastebasket.
“I wouldn’t go barefooted out here for a while,” she said as they both looked down at their bare feet and laughed.
“Would you like a cup of tea? I know it’s late but,” Trevor trailed off.
“I’d love one.”
“Great. It would just be nice to talk to someone who isn’t behind glass or a mask. But we should probably have tea in the hallway. I don’t want to risk infecting you.”
“Are you sick?”
“No, but I work with virus patients every day,” Trevor said as he walked into his apartment, leaving the door open.
Ella stepped forward and stopped at the doorway of his apartment. She leaned up against the door jam.
“What do you do at the hospital?”
“I only have green tea, is that Okay,” Ella nodded it was, “I’m an anesthesiologist at Metro.”
“That must be very rewarding.”
“It is most of the time.” He said, ducking below the counter.
Ella heard the rumble of pots and pans.
“What are you looking for?” She asked, craning inside.
“Sorry, I’m looking for my tea kettle.”
“I have on my stove. Why don’t I boil the water, and we’ll drink your tea?”
“Um…” She heard the pans spill out of the cabinet and hit the floor. Trevor stood up, “okay, thanks.”
Ella crossed the hallway back into her apartment, and Trevor came and stood in her doorway. She put the kettle on the stove and turned on. She set out two mugs and grabbed two green tea bags from her cupboard without thinking and dropped them into the empty mugs. Trevor was supposed to contribute the tea, but he didn’t say anything about it.
“So you were saying that you’re an anesthesiologist. I am sure you’ve been very busy. I’ve been reading about how people are sedated before being put on a ventilator. Have you been working with virus patients?”
“I have. Normally I am the most welcome guy in the room. The doctor with the “good drugs,” everyone usually jokes. I won’t lie; my job isn’t always easy. Sometimes is sad. This virus, man, seeing what it does to the body. It’s been tough.”
“Is that what you were upset about earlier tonight when you got home?”
There was something about the way he looked at her after she asked that caused her to regret her choice of question. Perhaps it was too personal of a question.
“I guess I didn’t hide it as well as I thought.”
“It’s okay. You’re saving lives, that takes an emotional toll.”
“It does. None of us have ever been through something like this. I see patients that I know that I am sedating that well never breathe on their own again. That’s rough. I’m sorry I shouldn’t be talking about this.”
“I don’t mind. We all need someone to talk to,” she said as she pulled the kettle that had begun to whistle off of the stove and poured the hot water into each cup.
“I have my family, but they’re in Colorado. I’m the only one out here. Three of my sisters are nurses. I know they’d get it, but we’re all keeping such crazy hours right now.”
“So, you’re one of three siblings?”
“I am actually one of eight.”
“Eight? Okay, I have to ask, Mormon? Catholic?”
“Nope,” he laughed, “hippie. My parents are very free spirits.”
“That’s pretty cool. I would have loved siblings,” she said as she put his cup of tea near him on the entry table and gestured for him to take it as she backed away. “I’m an only child. I think it is why I’ve done so all right so far during this. I’m used to being alone; it reminds me of my childhood.”
“You weren’t locked away, were you?’
Ella laughed, “no, I had a happy childhood. So, back to your work and tonight? I mean, we don’t have to discuss it if you don’t want to.”
“Ah, you remind me of my older sister Sparrow.”
“Is that good?”
“Yes,” he said before he sipped the tea.
He pulled away from his lips and looked down at the tea in the mug. “A colleague died today. I’ve worked with her for almost two years. She was alone; her husband and kids couldn’t be there to say goodbye. It was so fast too. She did everything right and still got sick. I hate this virus; it’s cruel; it’s a killer.”
“I’m so sorry that is heartbreaking. Were you there with her?”
Ella could see him welling up again, and it tugged at her heartstrings.
“Then she wasn’t alone; she had a friend with her. I am sure your presence brought comfort to her, and I know it must have brought comfort to her family to know you were there.”
Trevor nodded as he wiped the corner of his eye with the back of his hand. Ella brought a box of tissue from the table in the living room and set it where she had put his tea.
“I know it doesn’t feel like it, but there will come a time when all of this will be in the past. You are doing such important work Trevor, thank you. It warms my heart to know there are good people like you out there helping other. You were a good friend to your colleague until the end.”
Trevor nodded, and Ella sipped her tea.
“Can I ask you a question?” He said after he regained his composure.
Ella nodded that he could as she took another sip of tea.
“Why did it take so long for us to meet? It’s odd, isn’t it? I keep hearing of stories like this.”
“We’re busy people normally with busy lives. I’m glad we met, though.”
“Me too. Thank you again for the dinners. They really have been the highpoint in my days. I find myself wondering all day what you’re making for dinner. I must confess, I love your cooking.”
Ella laughed. “I’m glad to do it.”
“What inspired you?”
“I don’t know exactly. I just wanted to help out in some way. I heard you come home one night and thought you must have had a really long day. I knew you worked at the hospital as a doctor, your mail says M.D., but I didn’t know exactly what you did.”
Trevor finished the last of the tea in his mug as he leaned up against the doorway.
“Well, thank you. I’d hug you if I could to say thank you.”
Ella instantly wondered what it would be like to be in his arms and so much more. She bit her bottom lip to hold back an embarrassed smile from leaking out.
“I should let you get to bed,” he said as he still held on to the mug.
“You don’t have too if you don’t want to.”
“No, I should I’ve kept you up late enough. Thank you for this, and for the dinners. If you don’t mind, I’ll take this home and wash it; it will be safer. I can return it to you in the morning in one piece.”
Ella laughed softly, “Sure. Sleep well.”
Ella walked towards the door to close it behind Trevor. She could still smell his scent, and it made her tingle in all of the best ways. The next day she could not concentrate on anything other than thinking about dinner and talking to Trevor. She agonized over what to cook and eventually decided to roast a chicken. She purposely cooked it late, not starting it until eight pm. She didn’t expect Trevor until well after midnight but, she’d eat before then.
The chicken finished cooking just before ten, and she pulled it out to let it rest and mashed potatoes to go with. She had roasted root vegetables alongside the chicken, and the apartment smelled delicious. She had just finished the potatoes when she heard a knock at her door. She dried her hands and went to answer it. Trevor stood in the hallway with two boxes of dishes from Crate and Barrel. Ella couldn’t help but laugh.
“Hi, I wanted to replace the dishes I broke.” He said from behind the boxes.
“Here,” she said, moving out of the way, “set them on the dining room table. You didn’t have to do that.”
“I did. I broke your coffee mug this morning on my way out the door.”
Ella couldn’t help but laugh, “how?”
“Being stupid. My hands were too full and I dropped it. I couldn’t return another broken dish to you.”
“Where did you find an open Crate and Barrel?”
“I have a confession; these are not brand new. I wouldn’t have bought new ones had I been able to.”
“They’re still in the shrink wrap; I’m confused.”
“I mean they’re new. My sisters sent me a ton of stuff to set up house. These are from my storage unit. I’m sorry this sounds terrible. I’m normally a really good gift-giver.”
Ella laughed harder.
“What’s so funny?” Trevor stood with a confused look on his face.
“This is funny. I so appreciate the gesture. Have you eaten? I roasted a chicken with all of the trimmings.”
“That’s what that heavenly smell is.”
“Would you like to join me?”
“We shouldn’t be this close.”
“Well, you’re already here now. I can set us at different ends of the table. Or you can take it home with you if you prefer to eat alone?”
“No, it’s not that at all, I just don’t want to put you at risk.”
“Well, you just keep your distance, and I’ll keep mine, and thank you for the new dishes. I really like them. Dinner literally just finished.”
“Do you normally eat so late?”
“No, but I didn’t want the chicken to be dried out, so I started it later.”
“I hope you didn’t do it on my account?”
Ella smiled as she pulled two plates out of the cupboard.
“Do you prefer white meat or dark meat?” She asked
“I don’t have a preference.”
Ella smiled and put a chicken breast and leg on his plate along with veggies and a heaping mountain of mashed potatoes. She put the plate on the far side, nearest to the door on the table, and set the cutlery alongside it, before turning around to grab hers.
“Wow, this looks incredible,” he said as he stood behind his chair, waiting for her to join him.
“Would you like a glass of white wine to go with?”
“Sure, as long as you’re having one.”
“I am,” she said.
They ate the roasted chicken practically to the bone, and laughed, genuinely enjoying each other’s company. Ella found herself really liking Trevor, in more than a friendly way. The more she got to know him, the more there was to love. They talked well into the night and when it was time for Trevor to go, Ella walked over towards his plate to pick it up. She noticed the hesitation in his movement to move away.
“Ella, I’ve had the best time tonight.”
“I wish I could touch you. Wait that came out wrong.”
Ella smiled, “I knew what you meant.”
“Thank you. Good night Ella,” he said as he walked towards the door.
“Good night. Thank you for joining me for dinner.”
That night as Ella washed up, she had wish life was different at the moment; she would have loved to have Trevor touch her, even if it was just a hug. To be honest, she wanted more than a hug from him, and her mind carried on with that thought as she scrubbed the roasting pan for the chicken.
The next night she couldn’t wait to see him. She made a pot of veggie chili and baked cornbread to go alongside. She had a small bowl around six and would have a larger bowl with him when he came in, if he was up for company. Ella waited up, and eventually fell asleep on the couch. Oscar pounced on her waking her and Ella was shocked to see that it was morning. She had slept through Trevor coming home. She jumped up from the couch and ran to the kitchen remembering she had left the chili cooking on the stove on low. The kitchen smelled of burnt chili. She pulled the lid from the top of the pot and looked at the black sludge at the bottom. Angry that she had wasted so much food she turned on the garbage disposal and tipped the pot down. Once it was empty, she filled it with hot soapy water and baking soda to soak. Leaving the pan, she crossed the hallway and knocked on Trevor’s door. She felt terrible that she had slept through him coming home and hoped that he didn’t get the wrong idea that she had not enjoyed their dinner together.
She knocked, but Trevor didn’t answer. She was mad at herself all day that she had missed him. That night she cooked pasta, and made a chocolate cake to say sorry. She knew she didn’t owe him an apology, but she felt like she did. She waited up again, this time until 3:30 am. When he didn’t show, she finally went to bed, defeated, taking a slice of the decadent chocolate cake with her. She ate it in bed, keeping an ear out for Trevor’s footsteps down the hall, but she didn’t hear him.
The next day, she had a nagging feeling that something was wrong, and no matter what she tried, she could not shake it. She reheated the pasta from the night before and waited up again. Trevor did not come home again. The next morning she woke early and knocked on his door, but he did not answer. In her gut, she knew something wasn’t right. That night she made dinner for herself and ate a more normal hour for herself. She set some dinner aside for him, and put the plate in the fridge not wanting to repeat the chili incident. She fell asleep on the couch again and was awoken by the sound of his door closing across the hall. She jumped up off of the couch as Oscar let out a sharp meow, showing his displeasure. She stopped just outside his door, as she had doubts, what if he had been purposely giving her the slip, she wondered. As she stood in front of his door she heard his footsteps approach and she backed away as silently and quickly as she could. She just reached the inside of her doorway and had not yet pulled the door closed when she heard his door open. She cringed with her back to him, she had been caught. Slowly she turned around and saw Trevor standing there. His cheeks were tear-stained, and his eyes were red and swollen. He wore more than a day’s worth of stubble. The sight of him caused Ella to gasp.
“Trevor, are you okay? What happened?”
“My dad died,” he said as he put his hands over his face.
The virus be damned, Ella crossed the hallway and wrapped Trevor in her arms. He hugged her back tightly until he pushed out of her embrace.
“We shouldn’t be this close.”
“Trevor, I don’t care.”
“I do. If something happened to you because I was careless, I’d never forgive myself.”
“It’s my choice,” she said as she pulled him closer again.
She wrapped her arm around his neck, and he brought his lips to hers. She kissed him gently.
“We shouldn’t do this,” he whispered.
“I know but, you can’t be alone tonight. I couldn’t bear it.”
He bent down and kissed her again as he pulled her tighter to his body. She could feel his build, with her body pressed so closely to his. She wanted to sleep with him more than she wanted her next breath, but she knew like this; it wasn’t right. She pulled her lips away from him, the disconnection almost pain-inducing. He looked down at her.
“Come on,” she said and grabbed his hand, leading him into her apartment.
Once inside, she shut the door behind him, and she pulled him towards the bedroom. Once inside, she leaned up and kissed him gently, removing his shirt over his head, and he reached for hers.
“Not yet,” she whispered.
She kissed him again softly as she unbuttoned his pants and pushed them down his legs. He reached for her top again gently, and she took his hands into hers to stop him.
“Pants first,” she said softly.
He understood and kicked his pants off as he stood in her apartment in only his boxer and socks. She pulled away from him and pulled the covers back. He climbed into her bed, and she climbed in next to him still fully clothed. He pulled her body closer to his as he kissed her neck. She reached down and cupped each side of his face.
“Trevor,” she said softly.
He stopped and looked up at her.
“I want this, I really want this, but I also know you are hurting. I’m not a prude, but I don’t just jump into the sack either. I want this if you do. I just want to make sure..”
He kissed her again and pulled his head next to her chest. She wrapped her arms around his head and cradled him close as he cried. They fell asleep in each other’s arms, both knowing that this was something more, than a casual fling. Ella woke to soft kisses being planed on her neck and collarbone. Trevor had spooned up behind her and held her tightly. He smelled wonderful and she ran her hand over the dark hair on his arm as she turned to look at him.
“Hello,” she said softly.
“You are beautiful in the morning light.”
She turned further and kissed him, as the rest of her body rolled towards him. He pulled her in closer.
“How are you this morning?”
“I’m happy to be here in your bed with you. Thank you for last night.”
He said as he continued to kiss down her neck.
“Did you go to Colorado? You haven’t been home. I was worried.”
He pulled his lips from her neck.
“I did. I got the call after out dinner together. I couldn’t be there with him. I couldn’t stay out there either; I was needed back here.”
“The hospital didn’t give you the time off?”
“They couldn’t. But it wasn’t that. I wanted to you there. It was the strangest thing, part of me felt like I had left you behind, here. I know that sounds crazy. I can’t explain it.”
Ella kissed Trevor, pouring all of the feelings she had for him into it.
“Wow,” he said, “I’ve wondered what kissing you would be like for so long.”
“And? Was it everything you’d hoped it would be?”
“It was better.”