By: Elodie Chase


It had been a long day.

I couldn't pretend that wasn't the case. I'd spent the afternoon fighting traffic on freeways slick with dangerous black ice, driving to what felt like every obscure corner of Detroit in an effort to source the paint I was going to need for my latest commission.

It may not be glamorous, Rachel, I told myself for the hundredth time, but it's going to pay the rent and keep the apartment heated and the phone in your pocket connected for another month, so just suck it up and paint their terrible logo across the bland, cheery sunset they've requested. As long as their check doesn't bounce, you can't complain.

Beggars can't be choosers, and all of that.

I was write, but just because something’s technically correct doesn’t mean you have to like it…

By the time I was done for the day, my decades old Corolla had a backseat full of various paints and I'd come to terms yet again with shaving to sell out in order to keep a roof over my head. Painting the backdrop for billboard ads and movie posters wasn't exactly one of the lofty goals I'd set for myself when I'd graduated from the School of Design six years ago, but getting paid for the opportunity to create art certainly was.

Like everything, there was some good along with the bad.

The snow was coming down harder now, and I was more than a little glad when I took the last left off of the highway that brought my apartment into sight. Pretty soon the flurries would turn into a fully-fledged storm, and when that happened I wanted to be home in front of the heater, sipping hot chocolate and going over my sketches one final time before I got to work.

The painting itself would take a week or so, and the sooner I handed in her work, the sooner the money would be in my bank account.

I parked the car and got out, hurrying around to the other side's back door. The thing was falling apart, and of course the handle that had chosen to drop off the car had been the one on my side of the car, but I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been the driver's door that was busted, after all.

I scooped up paint buckets and bags of brushes and hauled my ass out awkwardly of the car just in time to bump into Mr. Hillsman.

“Oh!” I said, surprised. Probably not the best thing to say to the landlord you've been trying to dodge for the past couple of weeks because you were woefully behind on rent, but he'd snuck up on me and caught me unprepared. “Mr. Hillsman, I didn't see you there...”

He nodded, the sharp look he was wearing making it clear that him coming up on me so silently had been exactly his intent. “I saw you pulling up and thought you might need some help unloading your car, Rachel.”

I smiled, though inwardly I didn't believe a single word of it. His apartment was on the other side of the building, so it wasn't as if he'd been serenely gazing out his window at the winter wonderland when my shitty car had coughed and sputtered into his view. And was I really supposed to believe that he'd somehow seen that I had a bunch of gear in the backseat?

Still, no point in calling him on any of that. There was little to be gained and a lot to lose if I got on his bad side, especially now. “Thanks for the thought, but I've got it all taken care of now.”

He nodded and frowned at the same time. I was sure he was going to ask where my rent money was, which would mean I'd have to tell him that the paint currently weighing me down was part of the process of reimbursing him, but he surprised me by leaning forward and whispering conspiratorially, “Might as well tell you. Police are here.”

I looked around, doing a quick scan for cop cars and flashing lights. Finding nothing, I simply shrugged. “Yeah?”

“Yes. Well, detectives, at least. They're up at number one sixty-eight right now. Somebody broke in to Mrs. Brown's apartment while she was out.”

I nearly dropped the paint on my feet. “But she lives right across the way from me!”

Hillsman nodded again, and I resisted the urge to just push past him and go see if I’d been robbed too. He must have sensed that he was in danger of getting bowled over, because he held up a hand and shook his head at me in a manner I'm sure he thought was reassuring. “Don't worry. They did kick down your door, but the police have already been all through your apartment. I gave them permission,” he said, even though he didn’t have the right to do that. “You'll have to check for yourself, of course, but they’re fairly certain that nothing was taken. It seems that the thieves were of the opinion that you didn’t have anything worth the trouble of taking.”

I frowned, wanting to argue. There wasn't really anything I could say in my defense, though. I'd traded wealth for some level of happiness when I'd decided to be an artist, and I could certainly see how an outside observer wouldn't see anything of value in my apartment.

“Thanks for letting me know, I guess,” I told him softly.

“No problem.” He licked his lips nervously, and I could tell that, no matter how much I wanted it to, this conversation wasn't quite over. “Listen, Rachel, I suppose this as good a time as any to let you know...”

“Yes?” I asked, cocking my eyebrow at him. Inwardly, I could feel my heart pounding and my stomach twist into an agonizing knot. He's going to ask you out! I practically heard myself scream inside my own head. He's going to ask you out and you’re going to not know how to say no and so you’ll say yes and you’ll be stuck at some awkward dinner or some terrible movie and he'll think it's going somewhere it isn't and things will go from bad to worse!

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