Aimee Beasley held the door open to their apartment building’s lobby for her beloved and bespectacled Gram as the older woman listed the many wonderful qualities possessed by her pharmacist, starting with his full head of hair and ending with his detailed knowledge of the common side effects of every medication known to humankind. It was a surprisingly long list, so either Gram had spent a great deal of time compiling it, or she had simply made half of it up. Either way, her dedication to her cause was admirable.
“So?” said Gram, expectant and finally pausing to draw breath as she peered at her granddaughter through tortoiseshell glasses that seemed to dwarf her face.
Aimee shook her head.
“But he’s such a nice young man—“ her grandmother protested.
“I’m sure the two of you would have a lovely time getting to know each other.”
“Nope.” This was becoming an all too familiar conversation between them, and it was usually sparked by whatever “suitable” prospect had happened to catch Aimee’s matchmaking grandmother’s eye most recently. Today, of course, it had been her pharmacist, a man who Aimee was quite sure had as little interest in dating her as she did in going out with him.
Gram held a quivering hand to her heart and sighed dramatically.
“Nice try, Gram,” Aimee said patiently, unperturbed and shifting the bag of groceries she carried to one hand so she could dig in her pocket for her keys with the other. “You know that won’t work on me.”
The older woman scowled, but the quiver in her hand abruptly disappeared.
“I don’t know why you insist upon turning down every young man I find for you. I’d appreciate it if you’d keep an open mind about this sort of thing, Aimee.”
“And I’d appreciate it if you’d stop trying to pimp me out.” Aimee finally
found her keys and pulled them out to shove the right one into their mailbox.
Pulling out the handful of envelopes and flyers inside, she closed it again and led the way to the elevator.
“But, dear, my pharmacist is really very charming.”
“Then you go out with him.”
Gram frowned at Aimee again and took the mail from her so Aimee could better balance the groceries. “He’s barely thirty.”
Aimee let out a wolf whistle. “My Gram, the cougar!”
The elevator opened, and both women stepped inside. “It’s an older woman who likes to play with young boy-toys, Gram. But if you do decide to bring your pharmacist home with you one day, do me a favor and put a sock on the door or something so I know not to go barging in, okay?”
“Young lady—“ Gram began, sputtering at her granddaughter as the elevator carried them up to the fourth floor.
Aimee gave her a cheeky grin.
The older woman’s eyes narrowed, and she recovered her composure. “Don’t think I’ll give up that easily. I’ve got plenty of time on my hands and little else to do besides think about these kinds of things, you know.”
“Bring it, lady,” Aimee returned, and then planted an affectionate kiss on top of the other woman’s headful of white curls as the elevator doors opened. “So, turkey or tuna today?” she asked as they reached their apartment door and she juggled keys and groceries again.
“Melt or mayo?”
“Melt, I think,” Gram decided, following Aimee into the apartment. “With the cheddar, if you don’t mind.”
“Cheddar it is. Give me five minutes to put this stuff away, and I’ll fix it.”
“Okay, three minutes.” Aimee pulled open the refrigerator door and began stuffing groceries inside. “Are you really that hungry?”
“What? Oh no, it’s not that.” Gram waved an envelope. “It appears we’ve gotten another piece of Mr. Berkley’s mail mixed in with ours again. Fifth time this month, I think.”
Aimee twitched at the sound of his name. Actually, it was the sixth time this month. Not all that shocking considering D. Berkley lived in apartment three-twelve and D. Beasley lived in four-twelve, but it was unfortunate all the same, because each time it meant Aimee had to go downstairs, knock on Doyle Berkley’s door, and then—she grimaced—speak to the man. Judging by the expression on his face every time he opened the door and saw her standing there, he enjoyed these little mail exchanges about as much as she did.
But this particular piece of mail didn’t look all that thick. Maybe she could shove it under the door and make a break for it. Sort of like pulling the pin from a grenade and then running.
“Dear, would you mind…?” Gram held the letter out to her.
“Sure, Gram,” Aimee agreed, forcing a smile as she took it and turned to go.
“Wait—here, take some scones,” her grandma said, hastily reaching into the
grocery bag for the pastries they’d picked up at the bakery minutes earlier and arranging some on a small plate. “It’s the polite thing to do when calling on a neighbor.”
So much for shoving the mail under the door. “I’m not ‘calling’ on him—“
“Manners, Aimee. You can’t go empty-handed.”
“I’m not empty-handed. I’ve got his mail.”
But her grandma thrust the plate of scones at her anyway. “Good neighbors are hard to come by, and Mr. Berkley is a good neighbor.”
“He is! He’s been very helpful to me in the past. I don’t know why you dislike him so.”
“Because he walks around like he’s got a stick up his—“
“Aimee Elizabeth Beasley!”
“I was going to say backside,” Aimee returned piously.
“No, you were not.”
No, she wasn’t, but all Aimee said in response was, “Be back in a minute,” and then she slipped back out the door.
* * *
The third floor was virtually identical to the fourth, and both showed their
age. The pinstripe wallpaper must have been an update from whatever had covered the walls originally, but it was well-faded now itself, and the plain brown carpet in the hallways was worn so thin that it hardly looked like carpet anymore. No, the Belmont was not exactly the most cutting edge when it came to apartment complexes, although it might have been fifty years ago when it was first built. It was, however, the place where Ms. Delia Beasley had lived quite happily for the past three decades, and she had made it quite clear that she had no intention of moving.
Naturally, her son—Aimee’s father—was less than thrilled about his elderly and widowed mother living on her own, and the difference of opinion had caused no small amount of tension between the two. Tensions had continued to rise until one day Aimee had taken matters into her own hands and simply suggested she move in with her grandmother, split the expenses down the middle, and voilà—everybody’s problems had been solved.
Well, except for the mail delivery, she thought as she approached apartment three-twelve.
Aimee raised her hand that held the envelope in order to rap on the door, and then the plate of scones wobbled in her other hand. Reacting on impulse, she shoved the piece of mail between her teeth so she could rescue falling scones and grab the plate with both hands—which was, of course, precisely the moment when Doyle opened his front door.
Doyle Berkley always seemed to have an aura of grimness about him, and today was no exception. True, he lightened up somewhat when speaking with Gram if they happened to pass each other in the lobby, but even then Aimee didn’t think she could exactly call him cheerful. Only less grim. Dark hair and shadows under his eyes did nothing to combat the somberness of his overall aspect, and he gave the impression of a man who did not care much for the company of others.
Likely as not it came from spending all his time with history books instead of
living, breathing people. Memorizing dates and details about wars throughout the centuries—and then forcing university students to regurgitate them—couldn’t be healthy for anyone. Which was probably why Aimee had flunked history in high school; it was on principle.
They stared at each other for a moment, Doyle’s grey eyes cool as they narrowed and took in the young woman standing on his doorstep with the envelope between her teeth.
“We got some more of your mail,” Aimee said matter-of-factly around the
edges of the item in question, the words slightly garbled because of the obstruction.
“So I see,” Doyle returned, reaching for the envelope and eyeing the faint teeth marks on it with obvious displeasure. “And you decided to eat it?”
“In my defense,” said Aimee. “It is lunchtime.”
She got no response, not even a twitch of an eyelid.
Had this guy ever been fun? He couldn’t be past his mid-thirties, and yet more often than not it seemed like he was channeling his inner curmudgeon. “Oh, come on. Lighten up. It wouldn’t kill you, would it?”
He said nothing, but she could have sworn his eyes narrowed even further, if that was possible.
“Brr. Did you feel that?” She made an exaggerated shiver. “I think the temperature in this hallway just dropped by about thirty degrees. Happens every time I come by here. How do you do that?”
“Thank you for my mail. Are we done here?”
“Almost.” Aimee thrust the plate of scones at him. “These are from Gram. She insisted.”
For a moment she thought his cool exterior thawed. “Please thank her for me.”
“Okay, now we’re done here.”
Without another word, Doyle closed his door, leaving Aimee alone in the
“Ah, there we go,” Aimee said aloud as she turned to go. “Warmer in here