“Well, it’s about damn time.” She was more provocative than beautiful, though her piercing brown eyes, dark chestnut-colored hair, and burgundy-painted lips were definitely alluring. She was leaning over her tucked in legs, the skirt of her short, deep, Prussian blue dress hiked up, revealing ample, pale-skinned thighs and just a little more besides…and she was barefoot. Her expression was expectant with a dash of mischievousness.
Since my divorce, I’d been living in a flat on the third floor of a converted Victorian in Boise’s counter-culture North End. Having parked my car around back, I was walking up the front steps, a sack of groceries from the Co-Op balanced in my right arm, while thumbing through my keys with my left.
“I beg your pardon?” I paused on the ancient concrete steps, a cold January breeze blowing from the north chilling me. I thought I wouldn’t be out very long and so only put on a light jacket, and now I was shivering.
She was easily half my age or less, and I thought she must have taken me for one of the other tenants.
“I said you’ve taken a good long time of it. Best get upstairs and get to work.” She stood, whisked the keys out of my hand before I could stop her and trotted up the rest of the stairs to the door, the bouncing hem of her dress barely covering the luscious roundness of what lie beneath (hey, I’m old, I’m not dead).
“Give those back. I don’t know who you think you are, but you’ve obviously mistaken me for someone else.” By the time I had finished protesting, she was already inside and halfway to the stairs.
“Oh come on, then. Would you like help with your bag. Looks rather heavy for a geezer like you.”
In spite of myself, I was offended and hefted the paper sack up, getting a better grip.
If you must, here’s your key chain back.” She tossed it. Of course, I missed the one-handed catch. The young woman pranced back over to me, bent down (the dress had a high collar, and in contrast to the legs, her breasts seemed rather modest), picked it up, and using both hands, pressed the keys into my palm.
“Here.” She took the bag from me, promptly turned around and was off toward and up the staircase.
I followed her and was a bit winded when I got to the top. She was waiting impatiently again, but with that same whimsical expression, as if she knew a secret about me that I wasn’t aware of.
“Who are you?” I thought it must be a prank. I’d retired six-months ago, and had enough saved up so that I could finally indulge in my passion. I figured Mike or Martin or someone else from the plant must have put her up to this.
“Why William, I’m deeply hurt. You don’t recognize me?” She seemed more amused than offended.
I found myself unlocking my door and opening it, although I hadn’t intended to. Who lets a stranger carry their groceries upstairs and then into their home? Yet, now that she’d mentioned it, she did look…well not familiar, but there was something about her that didn’t say “stranger.”
The girl, who looked like she’d be more at home in a fantasy, glided inside, across the living room past the used sofa and mismatching chairs, and directly into the kitchen. She put away my brie and crackers, the two bottles of chardonnay, various organic vegetables, wheat pasta with accompanying jars of sauce, and my guilty pleasure of frozen tamales and two small turkey pepperoni pizzas, showing me she knew exactly where everything went.
“There you go. All done. Will you be needing a snack first?” She clamped her hands together, raising up on her toes and then back down, a precocious smile crossing ruby lips.
“Coffee, then. I’ll make a fresh pot.”
Oh, now I’d had it. She’d pulled out the coffee grinder and put it on the counter, but before she could get back into the pantry to get the sack of beans, I’d moved forward and gently but firmly (maybe a little too firmly) grabbed her upper arm. She looked up at me, not in fright, but surprise. Her eyes were deep chocolate with accompanying walnut lashes and brows. Her face wasn’t completely pale as I’d first thought, her skin being brushed a very light peach, or maybe she was blushing. Her skin felt warm and soft beneath the fabric of her sleeve. It had been a long time since I’d touched a woman.
“Who are you and why are you in my apartment.”
“William.” Her voice had lost all of its glee and became a pleading whisper. “I only want to help. Won’t you please let me? You need me.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but I didn’t have any idea what. I let go. She sighed, I think in relief, but I had never meant to hurt her. “Who are you?” I tried to sound as gentle as I could. There was something terribly vulnerable about her, which I hadn’t realized until now. Then again, she really hadn’t seemed anything but confident and brash up until that point.
“I need you, too.” She was still looking up at me, still with that same plea on her face and in her voice. She pressed both palms of her hands against my chest. I froze, not knowing how to interpret what she was doing. Her fingernails were only slightly longer than mine, but painted the same shade of red as her lips. Oddly, I found it strange her toenails weren’t painted as well.
“Um…for what?” I was afraid of the answer, but what was coursing through my imagination, and shamefully, through my loins, couldn’t possibly be in any way, shape, or form, reality.
“To use me.” She looked down at her hands, still on the front of my jacket, as if embarrassed. Her voice was soft, not quite a whisper now, but a tone that said she didn’t want anyone else to hear.
I took her wrists in my hands, very, very softly, and pulled. Her hands came away easily and I let go. “I don’t even know who you are and I really don’t know why you’re here.”
“Please, William.” She looked up but kept her hands clenched in front of her, though she was still standing too close. “Take your jacket off, go into your study, sit at your computer, and wait. I’ll be in promptly as soon as the coffee’s made.”
I figured it couldn’t hurt if she just wanted me to make coffee. “Okay, but after that, I want to know exactly what’s going on.” I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I should have booted her out and called the police. She’d all but hijacked my keys and forced her way into my home. And yet, it felt wrong to refuse her somehow. I had no explanation and was confused as hell.
“I promise to tell you what you need to know about me. Just do as I ask first.”
“Sure.” I stood there looking into her eyes, studying her face, her slender nose, her perky smile, much longer than I wanted to. Then I pulled myself away and walked down the short hallway, turning the first right. It was the smallest bedroom converted into an office. The window looked over the space between this and the house next door, but my neighbor, whoever they were, always kept that shade pulled down. I took off my jacket, realizing that I felt too hot, and draped it over the chair at my desk.
I wasn’t one for interior decorating, so all the walls were a standard off-white. The hardwood floors had been stained dark umber right before I moved in. My daughter helped me pick out some wall hangings, mainly Idaho wilderness scenes, and because she sculpted, I had a scrap metal Don Quixote sitting on my fireplace mantle on the living room’s west-facing wall beside the photos of my parents, my three children, and my two grand kids.
A waist-high piece she’d created just for me was against the far wall of my office next to the closet. It was something she called “man in space,” and made of flexible steel wire, with light sheets of copper and tin. It vibrated whenever the heat came on, or a truck passed by on the street, providing a comforting rhythm as I wrote.
Oh, yes. That’s my passion. I write. I also read a ridiculous amount. The walls to either side of the window and by the space next to the door were crammed-full bookcases. My ex never tolerated my pack rat ways and I could never keep more than a small collection, something I remedied after we separated. The window to my left, the door to my right, and “man in space” behind me, watching my back, I sat down, lifted the lid to my MacBook Air, a gift from my children on my 60th birthday, and the desktop came to life as well as the web browser. I’d forgotten that I hadn’t closed it before stepping out. Google Docs opened to the draft of my latest short story, a Science Fiction Horror piece I was writing for an anthology. I immediately returned to the puzzle that had stalled my progress over an hour ago and resulted in me taking a break by stepping out.
I smelled the rich aroma of coffee and heard her soft, bare footfalls before anything else. Turning, I watched her walk through the open doorway holding a large mug of steaming Sumatra in both hands as if she were warming herself. Her expression was expectant again, but just for a moment.
“Here you go.” She set the mug beside me, to the right of the mouse and it’s accompanying “Marvin the Martian” pad. The antique desk was small, my son who plays in a local band helped me pick it out, but there was another set of bookshelves, smaller than their floor-to-ceiling cousins, to the left and right of the laptop, containing references and fiction books relative to the current project, as well as everything from pamphlets to tomes testifying to projects past, abandoned and fulfilled.
She stood, hands in front of her, fingers intertwined, as if waiting for me to make the next move.
“You aren’t having a cup?”
“I don’t need to drink coffee, William.”
“Pull up a chair.”
I have a wheeled, high-backed cushioned chair at my desk, but I kept the wooden captain’s chair which came with it, next to “man in space” sitting under a signed sketch of Jack Kirby’s “Silver Surfer” (sue me, I’m a fan). She reached over and pulled the chair next to the door just a few feet away from me. I took a sip from my mug, enjoying the flavor and the heat.
“Thanks for the coffee. Are you ready to tell me who you are?”
“I’m whoever you need me to be.” She was sitting, this time back against the chair, skirt well above the knees, but not nearly as distracting as when I first saw her. Hands were placed on her lap, but I had a feeling they’d become more animated as the conversation progressed.
“That’s not an answer.” I was only mildly annoyed, hoping my tone would be enough to get more out of her.
She leaned forward again, keeping her feet on the throw rug I had near the desk, peeking at the MacBook’s screen. Reading for a moment, she frowned and said, “Right now, I think you need me to be Urania. You have a problem with your conversion from Astronomical Units to Light Years.”
“Wait! What?” I did the proverbial double-take between her and the screen.
“Here, let me.” She turned the laptop on the desk toward her and started tapping keys. After a few moments of Googling, she turned the computer back toward me. “You didn’t properly understand the exa decimal prefix in the conversion.”
“Urania.” The name was vaguely familiar, but where I’d heard it or what it meant was beyond my recall. Then I turned from her back to the screen. “You’re right.” I blushed and looked at her face, enjoying the way her hair framed it, her expression, , how she raised her eye brows, pursed her lips, everything, really. “I was never very good at math.”
She smiled kindly and put a hand on my shoulder the way women do in conversations. It’s a touch men who don’t know very much about how women communicate often misunderstand, the touch she’d given me in the kitchen. “It’s okay. That’s part of why I’m here. I want to help.” Then her expression became more serious. “I need to help. It’s what I was born to.”
I felt a longing as I continued to gaze at her face, a sort of need that we somehow shared, although I had no clue where that feeling came from. “Do you have another name?”
She pulled the MacBook onto her lap and tapped something. After pressing “Return,” she placed it in front of me again.
“The Muses: Nine Goddesses From Greek Mythology,” I read aloud from the top of the web page. Then I scrolled down and found the last name in the list. In the “Muse” column I found the name “Urania,” and under “Domain” it said “Astronomy.” “Urania’s emblems are a globe and compass.”
“That was a long time ago,” she added. “For man, the universe has become a wider place, so thus, my knowledge.”
“So should I just call you ‘Muse?'”
She smiled. “If you’d like.” Then she sat back, putting her hands on her lap again. “Now take another drink of your coffee before it gets cold. We have a lot of work to do.”
We spent the rest of the afternoon and into the evening writing, editing, discussing, and debating. She shared my gourmet pizzas with me when hunger finally drove me away from creating. And then later than night, she was an inspiration for a very lonely man. It had been a long time since I’d touched a woman.
Okay, the young woman in the photo is very attractive, but when I visited the Photo Challenge page, I also happened to glance at the word “muse,” part of the title to someone else’s work. From that moment on, the identity of the woman became fixed. All I had to do was write the story, but of course, I had to create a composite identity for her rather than have nine goddesses invade William’s flat.
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