muse a is living in this nyc apartment complex, and the apartment across the hall from her has always been empty, until one day she finally sees someone moving in. she introduces herself to the guy moving in, muse b, and is immediately attracted to him. Before long, they end up going on a few dates, although muse b is hesitant at first, and at the end of the third date, muse a tries to invite muse b into her apartment for the night, but he declines. she’s confused and initially embarrassed, until he tells her that she should come into his apartment, because he has something to show her. They walk in and there’s a teenage girl on the couch. muse a is extremely confused now, especially when muse b introduces the girl as the babysitter. it isn’t until a tiny little two-year-old comes toddling around the corner that she realizes that muse b is a single father.
Autumn had been dancing in NYC since she got out of high school. She started dancing at age 2 and knew she wanted to be a dancer at a young age. She went to the Tisch School of Dance and has been professionally dancing ever since. Since she wasn’t able to get a big enough part in anything yet, she started teaching dance at a studio nearby, while taking smaller jobs here and there. Her dream was to be in the New York Ballet Company, but she had yet to get an audition. She knew eventually her dreams there would come true.
Because of her teaching, dancing, and auditions; she really hadn’t had the time to seriously date anybody. No one would give her the time she needed to and would constantly try to get her to get a ‘more serious’ job. She had gone on too many bad dates that she had stopped dating altogether, for the time being, she knew when she found someone, she would know.
As Autumn headed home from ballet rehearsal, she carried her duffle over her shoulder to see the hallway filled with boxes bags. Someone must have finally moved in across the hall, that apartment had been empty for months. Autumn loved meeting new people, and was hoping whoever it was, they could at least get along. She didn’t see anybody outside, so they must have been inside moving or outside bringing more things in. She wanted to freshen up before meeting her new neighbor, so she entered her apartment first.
Autumn took probably the fastest shower she had ever taken. She didn’t want to meet her new neighbor sweaty and gross. She got out, and brushed out her short hair, letting it air-dry as well. She pulled on a slim fitting t-shirt and a pair of jean shorts, sliding on a pair of small slippers. She grabbed her glasses, as she had already taken out her contacts already. She also put on a little bit of makeup, just to make a good impression. She left her apartment, making sure she had her key and phone. She stood against her door, trying to look natural as she looked for whoever moved in.
Autumn looked toward the left, seeing a gorgeous man walking toward her, a box in his hand. The woman basically fell against her doorframe at sight of him. [i Oh my gosh, he’s gorgeous.] she thought. As he put the box down, she decided to shoot her shot. [+purple “Oh hello. Did you just move in? Nice to meet you, my name’s Autumn. I live right across the hall. What’s your name?”] she asked. She couldn’t believe this was her new neighbor. All his features seemed to pop as the stood in the hallway together. She knew that she would try to spend as much time with him as she could if he’d allowed her to.
Why the hell had he decided a third floor walk-up was a good idea? Henry struggled under the weight of the box labelled 'KITCHEN', cursing the fact that while the new apartment had a great price, there was in fact no elevator to help him lug everything from the moving truck. Nor had he been smart enough to book actual movers to do all the heavy lifting for him.
The landlord hadn't even seemed willing to offer the slightest bit of help, choosing instead of disappear into his office after unlocking the front door so Henry could come and go as he needed. The last two hours had been nothing but back and forth of hauling boxes and furniture on his own, and his body was starting to feel the exhaustion. [i Thank god the day care could keep her for the day,] he mused to himself as he rounded the last flight of stairs to his floor.
Where a very [i gorgeous] stranger was standing across from the clutter of boxes and suitcases he'd left spilling into the hall. [i Be cool, Monaghan, be cool.] [b "I'm so sorry, I meant to get this cleaned up sooner,"] he stammered, putting the box down successfully without crushing a toe. [b "I'd say it's a miracle there's no shattered glass on the floor with everything I've dropped so far today,"] he fished in his pocket for the keys.
It took him a second to realise she was actually welcoming him and not actually scolding him for the mess. [b "Yes! I'm sorry, yes, I'm moving in. I'm Henry,"] he extended his hand.
As far as he could tell, he wasn't getting off on the wrong foot with his new neighbour. [b "This will all be cleaned up and inside soon, I just needed to get everything up here before I have to bring the moving truck back. It's not a bother, I hope,"] he forced himself to meet her eyes, hoping he wasn't looking as bashful as he was feeling. [b "I can move it all now if its in your way."]
Autumn couldn't help but let a giggle slid from her lips as he spoke of shattered glass on the floor. [+purple "Oh please. You are far from in my way."] she spoke, showing him the clear path her left her to slid into her own apartment. As he spoke his name and extended his hand, she smiled, taking his hand in hers. [+purple "Henry."] she smiled, letting go of his hand. [+purple "Autumn...I already told you that. Sorry."] she spoke, her face turning pink as she felt heat rise to it. Placing a hand to her cheek, she took a deep breath in and out, exasperated.
Autumn shook her head. She just met the man and she was already obsessed with him. The apartment mainly had elderly people or middle aged families with teen kids running around. No one that even was close to her age, and now there was a handsome stranger who seemed relate to her in some way. She was just happy Mr. Williams moved out of the apartment across from her, the man used to yell at her door thinking it was his apartment at least twice a week.
[+purple "Oh, Henry. Don't worry about it. You should have seen me when I moved in. Carrying in boxes bigger than me was no easy feat, especially with the stairs."] Autumn teased. She looked around, he seemed like he at least got everything up in peace. When their eyes connected, their was almost like the world around them went silent for a minute. Like they were in a dance together. Autumn shook her head, running a hand through her vaguely damp hair.
[+purple "I mean, I'm not busy. I can help you bring everything in, if you'd like. I really don't mind."] Autumn started. [+purple "I mean, I already worked out today but I could carry a couple of boxes to help you out."] she teased, lifting her arms up to show her arms, toned from years of dance. She let her lips pout lightly, hoping to get at least laugh out of her new neighbor. She decided if she was going to ask about him, might as well be now. [+purple "Unless you're girlfriend or wife or whoever is coming up behind you."] Autumn spoke, looking down the hallway to see if anyone else was coming to join him. Was this her very obvious way of asking if he was single, yes. Was it subtle, absolutely not. But Autumn wasn't subtle.
The look on her face said that offer was genuine, which wasn't at all what he was prepared for when the landlord said his neighbours were people who kept to themselves mostly. Then again, that very well could have just been a blatant lie to get Henry to sign the lease but it was beginning to look like an absolute win on his part. Unfortunately at that moment, Henry's thoughts flashed to the half-torn cardboard boxes inside with Maggie's toys spilling out onto the floor and her little toddler bed in pieces strewn about the living room. Not an ideal situation to be walking into for a first conversation.
[b "That's extremely kind of you but it's an absolute disaster in there,"] Henry smiled through his nerves. [b "That was actually the last box, so I really just have to slide all of these inside to unpack later. No woman coming to save me from my own mess, I'm afraid, and I'd hate to drag you into work when we just met."]
Lightbulb. [b "But,"] he interjected himself. [b "I do still have to bring the moving truck back. I was just to shower and bring it back, then walk back to the apartment and get a feel for the neighbourhood. Would you want to come with and maybe grab a coffee or something? My treat, for helping me not get lost on my way back."]
It was a harmless enough offer. Coffee was good. Neutral. Walking back would ensure she wouldn't see the car seat strapped in the backseat of his old Jeep Cherokee that Charlotte had been kind enough to follow him in while he drove the UHaul, before she took Maggie to daycare for the afternoon. His sister was a godsend some days. It was barely past three, and he wasn't due to pick Maggie up until at least five. Plenty of time to chat with his stunning neighbour across the hall.
[b "I'll only be twenty minutes or so to get these inside and shower,"] he picked up the kitchen box. [b "I'll come knocking when I'm good to go, if that's okay?"]
Autumn nodded as he explained he would just shove everything inside. She was happy no woman was following behind, which most likely explained he was single. Even if he was busy with packing and things, she could always casually bump into him in the hallway. She leaned against her door, trying to grab her door handle but froze when he started speaking again. Was he asking her out? She didn't care, she was 100% interested. [+purple "Uh, yeah! Coffees great."] she spoke, the words like they fell out of her mouth. She hoped he couldn't tell she was nervous, but she was. She tried to act cool on the outside, but inside she felt like she was shaking. She coughed, trying to compose herself.
Autumn had been in this town forever, growing up in New York basically her whole life. She only moved to this apartment building because it was closer to work, and to the Ballet Company she dreamed of joining. She knew an audition was coming up soon, and she could only hope she would make it this time. She knew that she could easily show him around the neighborhood. It was nice, as it was just outside the deep city. You could get in town just by walking, but could also go to a nice mom and pop shop if you wanted as well. [+purple "I'm sure this little local could show you around."] she teased, now fully taking hold of her door handle.
[+purple "Whenever you're ready. Just come on in, the door's usually open if I'm home."] she smiled, heading inside. That was true, Autumn usually had friends or partners for dance come over quite often, leaving the door open when she was home was just easier. She felt knocking was too formal for people she considered new friends, so she always told people to just come in. She had nothing to hide. She wasn't naïve or anything though, she always locked if she was sleeping or preoccupied.
Autumn decided on doing some training, even if she just came back from dance. She tied on her pointe shoes, realizing she would need to break in some new ones within the next day or so. She had a small ballet bar she was able to move in and out of her living area, and the open floor plan her apartment had worked well for having space for her to train. She did some bar warm-ups, it was good to keep practicing as much as she could. Even one fumble in an audition would cost her all the time and effort she was putting in. She did enough where she wouldn't break a sweat, just to strengthen her ankles and legs a bit more. She lowered herself down from her toes, and popped back up a few times. Her arms going up as well, her shirt slightly rising up a bit as she lifted her arms.
Autumn heard her door open, turning toward the door. She slowly lowered herself to the floor, and headed toward the couch. [+purple "Give me a moment, let me just change shoes."] she called out as she ran to her room, grabbing a pair of sneakers and putting her ballet slippers in her room. She ran back out to the couch, pulling on an ankle pair of socks and a pair of sneakers. [+purple "Okay, all set."] she hopped up, heading toward the door toward her new neighbor.
It took him a second to register that she'd actually said 'yes'. [b "Great!"] he blurted out. [b "Awesome. Okay, I'll just get these inside and I'll be over soon."]
A second wind hit him and one by one he toted everything inside. The exact coordination and unpacking would be done later. As long as he got Maggie's bed set up when he got home, he'd be fine sleeping on the couch until his own room was put together. All he really had was a bed and his dresser, anyway. Nothing he couldn't throw together during the day after he got Maggie settled with her toys in the living room.
It was as cramped as an apartment could be. Small kitchen and a smaller dining room to the right of the front door and the bedrooms and one bathroom to the left. He'd even given Maggie the larger of the two rooms to accommodate the sheer amount of toys and clothes gifted to them from friends and family when he'd announced they were moving to start over. He was just hoping it wouldn't be long before he could turn this into home for the two of them.
A quick shower and several outfits later, he emerged in what he considered casual enough to not spark any 'is this a date' red flags; dark jeans and a pale blue button down untucked, with sleeves rolled to the elbows. Functional with an effort made.
Even though she had told him to just waltz inside, he still knocked with a moment's hesitation before entering her much airier apartment. [b "No rush,"] he assured her, taking in the bright space. [b "You're a dancer?"] he spied the shoes she was changing out.
For a brief second he'd almost announced that his toddler was fascinated by all things ballet. The cardinal rule his parents had told him when he'd mentioned possibly getting back into the dating scene was to not give any details regarding Maggie, or introduce her to anyone until it became more serious. The last thing she needed was another adult walking out on her if things didn't work between them. Henry shook those thoughts from his head, remembering it was much too soon to even consider such scenarios.
[b "Have you been in the building long?"] he asked as they approached the UHaul truck, opening her door for her.
Not an ideal vehicle for a first sort-of date. The interior was dusty and the seats were ripped in several spaces but it had gotten them across several states in the last two days. [b "Sorry, it takes a second with this thing,"] Henry apologised, cursing the truck as it failed to turn over in a mess of sputtering, until it finally did as instructed.
Autumn smirked at him as he questioned her, she nodded her head. [i "Yeah, I've been dancing as long as I've been walking. Trying to get into New York Ballet Company and do the shows with them, but until then, I just teach and practice. And I do small scale shows too."] Autumn spoke as she finished getting her sneakers tied up. She made her way over to him, and followed him outside of their apartment building. As she looked over him as the made their way to the truck, he did clean up nice.
Thinking back to their awkward encounter in the hallway, she wondered if he was just looking for a friend, or if he was just as taken aback by her as she was with him. The two seemed to blurt out their words and stumble through sentences as they spoke. Of course, she was okay with either option, considering he was the only person close enough to her age in the entire apartment complex. She wanted to be befriend him, but if he was interested in her as well, she wouldn't be mad in the slightest.
Autumn smiled as he opened the door for her, and she pulled herself into the truck. She waited for him to get in the other side before answering his question. [i "I moved here after college, so about 4 or 5 years now."] Autumn said, looking down at her hands. She looked over to him, a smile as he tried to start the truck. It stalled out before he tried again, getting it started the second time. [i "Where are you coming from?"] she asked, noticing this truck was not a normal New York U-Haul. [i "Of course, if you don't mind me asking."] she spoke, holding her hands up low, in defense. She didn't want to push too far into his life, but she was interested in learning more about him. An attractive single man moving to New York isn't something to snuff at. Most of them were young, boyish singers trying to get noticed on the street, but he seemed different.
As he drove, she looked out the window, everything a familiar scene to her. Autumn had never not lived in New York, growing up in the city her whole life. She wondered what it was like to not be in a city, it seemed like it would be too quiet and she almost thought the silence would cause her to go crazy. She really never went on trips, so New York was what she knew. She knew it wasn't for everyone, but you really could find something for every kind of person.
Autumn was curious about him, and she really didn't want to sit in silence on the way to drop the truck off. She was happy he seemed to trust her right off the bat, and she agreed and trusted him right back. Something about him seemed trustworthy and kind, and she couldn't just let his kind offer go to waste. [i "So, what brought you here as well? Not everyone just moves to New York one day, must have some interesting reason."] she asked, her slim finger tapping against her jaw.
[b "My family has always been very big into the arts. I'd love to come and watch a production, if you have anything coming up,"] he grinned at her before turning back to the road in a panic, nearly rolling through a stop sign.
It was going to take ages to get used to the roads in New York. The streets were incredibly narrow and the oversized truck did little to help Henry's confidence. He gripped the wheel until his knuckles turned white as he answered her questions. [b "Michigan, actually. Close to Detroit. My sister lives in Queens and got me a job at the graphic design firm she manages. I'm more of a sketchbook artist but I needed a change of scenery and it's the first thing that popped up. I do the mock-designs and the digital artists put it all together."]
Her next question was trickier. Being it was a first meeting and all, Henry didn't think it was quite appropriate to just announce that his two year old daughter's mother walked out on him for her coworker, essentially signing away all parental rights and ceasing contact. Much too heavy of a topic. [b "I've heard the creative scene in New York is more welcoming for artists,"] he played it safe. [b "Thought I'd try my hand around here. It helped having family in the area."] Especially when his daughter needed stability.
The drive was mercifully quick, all things considered. He'd heard horror stories of traffic jams and getting lost but it was more painless than expected. [b "Okay, navigator. I'm relying on your expertise. Promise you won't get me lost?"] he smiled at her.
If she was beautiful in the dingy lighting of their apartment hallway, she was downright gorgeous with the sunlight brightening her eyes. Henry tucked his hands in his jean pockets, lest he be tempted to do something impulsive and stupid like take the hand of a girl he'd just met forty minutes ago. [b "So you've been about five years; you must know all the hidden gems around here. Any suggestions?"]
Autumn laughed softly as he almost missed the stop sign. He was adorable. [i "Well, you are in luck. I'm rehearsing for a small production of Cinderella. And I'll be playing Cinderella, I mean, if you don't get us in an accident first."] the woman teased, a smirk resting on her lips. She had been hoping this production would be a ticket into the Ballet Company, but the production was not big enough to get enough traction from such a prestigious company. She was part of a small ballet company, and she was currently getting decent roles in their shows. This was her first lead, and she was quite nervous to portray a princess, as she thought of herself as nothing close to a princess in any regard. She just hoped she could pull it off.
Watching Henry try and navigate the roads of New York was a bit comical. Autumn was used to it, as she learned to drive in New York. As he spoke of his family and his job, she listened. [i "So, we're both artists, hm? I mean, I can't draw to save my life, but I consider performing my art form. That's really awesome, I'd love to see some of your work as well, if that's okay."] she smiled. [i "New York is defiantly open to art. You may find something more sketchbook if you keep looking. They are always looking for new talent everywhere."] Autumn beamed, this man was becoming more and more her type they longer they spent together.
Once they dropped the truck off, he mentioned her getting them lost. She pouted, but her pout quickly turned into a smile. [i "You know, in New York, getting lost is half the fun. But because your a rookie, I'll make sure we get back safe and sound."] Autumn teased. As he mentioned hidden gems, her smile grew. [i "Oh, you don't know the half of it."] Autumn spoke. She took his hand, knowing otherwise she'd lose him. She knew how to get through the crowds of people, and knew he could get swept up in all of it.
Autumn knew exactly where to take him. Stage Source Co. was a very undervisited coffee shop, mostly because people didn't know it existed. They offered very good coffee and other variations of drinks, but the catch was that it was in an abandoned theater. The main coffee shop was on the stage, and there were small tables scattered around the stage, but you were also able to sit in the audience seating as well. Autumn loved performing so much, that it was very homey to be able to go to a theater for coffee. She slid through the people in the streets, Henry following behind, their hands laced together. As the came to the front of the building, he seemed confused. [i "Just wait."] she smiled, leaning in and whispering her words.
Autumn let go of his hand, knowing that she had been holding it for far to long for a few strangers. She opened the main door, showing the theater space with the coffee shop and people scattered around, talking and drinking coffee. Autumn smiled, looking over to Henry to see his reaction. [i "Isn't this awesome?"] she said. She almost wanted to reach out and take his hand again, but fought against the urge. [i "C'mon, let's get some coffee."] Autumn smiled, reaching her hand out for him to take it, not being able to help herself. As the walked side by side, she looked over to him, [i "So, what's your coffee order?"] she asked, running a hand through her hair, fluffing it as they walked toward the stage.
His brain didn't glitch out. Nope, not even in the slightest. Henry was entirely calm when she snatched his hand in hers, confidently striding up the street. There was nothing at all alarming about how soft and strong her hand felt in his, or in the way his heart stammered out of rhythm at the surprise contact. Autumn had purpose in her stride, and when they finally arrived at the destination, she certainly hadn't disappointed. The entire atmosphere was something any artist or writer or performer would appreciate just setting sights on.
The entire place screamed with New York arts energy. [b "This is incredible,"] his eyes were wide as he took it all in.
Henry didn't know where to look. Everything from the lights to the seating to the decor drew his attention as they got in line to order. Autumn had definitely won the hidden gem challenge. If Maggie was old enough to appreciate the history in the place, he'd have brought her back the next morning. The delicious smell of roasting coffee was the only thing to draw his focus back to the moment. [b "I'm a pretty easy guy. Caramel iced coffee, all the way."]
He was quick to pay for both of them, shrugging it off with a simple, [b "As a thank you for showing me around."]
Making sure to also bag up a fresh cinnamon bun to split with Maggie after dinner, he looked at her with excitement. [b "Can we sit up in the mezzanine? I've never been in one before. My parents always insisted we sat floor-level whenever we went to a show. Never got to appreciate the stage view from above."]
Autumn smiled. She was happy he was as interested in this place as she was, some people didn’t see the beauty and simplicity of it all. [i “You have pretty good taste, that’s my order too.”] she smiled, walking up onto the stage up to the counter. After they both ordered, she turned to grab her wallet, yet the male had paid for both of them. She raised her brow at him, but smiled when he said it was a thank you. She waved him away, [i “You don’t have to thank me. I really don’t mind.”] she said taking a sip of her coffee. She let her eyes sit on him for a moment, before his eyes met hers. [i “Sure, I love it up there.”] she agreed, leading him up the back staircase. The mezzanine was empty, they were the only two up here. [i “It’s really nice to come up here, it’s usually like this.”] she said, sliding into a seat and leaving one open for him.
Autumn looked over at him, the dim lighting over them highlights the highs and shadows in his masculine face. She was happy the lights were so dim, so he wasn't able to see her face heat up as it was. Looking down over the stage and the seats, she remembered why she loved sitting up here. She saw her first ballet at age 4 in the mezzanine, and that was when she knew she wanted to dance forever. Looking over at Henry, she smiled. He was full of excitement, and she knew it was the right choice to bring him here. [i “I see you like it?”] she smiled, [i “Whenever I have to plan choreography, I like to come here. It’s quiet, but it puts me in the right mindset.”] she smiled, looking out over to the stage, where the coffee line is dying down.
As she sipped on her coffee, she looked over at him. [i “So, you’re moving into your place alone? Does your girlfriend just stay over sometimes?”] she asked. She had asked him about a girlfriend or wife or partner before, but she wanted to get a solid read on if he was actually single or just lived alone. Sure, she was being obvious about the whole thing, but she wanted to know. With her busy lifestyle, she needed to know if this was going to go somewhere. She, of course, loved a new friend; but a single cute guy doesn’t fall into your lap all that often. She bit down on her bottom lip, her eyes meeting his. Before she got completely lost in his eyes, she shook her head, releasing her bottom lip.
[i “I didn’t mean to keep you here long, do you have anywhere you need to be?”]
Everything looked simultaneously smaller yet clearer from an elevated vantage point. Henry was as distracted as a puppy, grinning as he took in the stage view while just imagining Autumn at centre stage. [b "This is awesome,"] he turned back to her with his crooked smile, looking more boyish than the rugged manliness that he had wanted to portray.
The coffee was brewed to perfection and it took everything in him not to moan at the sweet deliciousness. [b "I think I found my new coffee spot. And considering this is the first coffee spot I've tried, I'd say that's both efficient and convenient."]
While he picked up on her subtle hinting around about a possible girlfriend in the picture, it only served to make him red. [b "If you see a blonde woman leaving my apartment, it's pretty safe to assume it's just my sister bringing me food. I'm notorious for forgetting to eat if I'm deep in a project, and she has zero faith in me to stay alive on my own."]
[i And she will occasionally babysit my two year old daughter, who actually is the lady of the house.] But with flirty hints being thrown left right and center, it was probably best not to broach that territory quite yet. [b "What about you?"] he challenged, settling in his chair and turning to face her completely. [b "Should I be worried about a boyfriend or girlfriend catching us having coffee and showing up on my doorstep to give me a black eye?"]
His eyes were playful over the rim of his drink as he took a sip. Truth be told, the black eye would be worth it to have spent the afternoon with her. They teased each other back and forth and the time was virtually gone when she'd checked the clock. Henry paled and checked his phone. [b "Shit yeah, I have to get going. We can walk back together? I have to get my car from the lot and meet up with Charlotte,"] who was absolutely going to kill him if he was late getting to the daycare to meet Maggie's new caretakers.
Autumn sipped her coffee with a smile, happy to know the only woman in his life was his sister. Which meant he [i was] single, and could continue to flirt with him. When he challenged her, her mouth was full of coffee, so she shook her head. She swallowed, a smile resting on her lips. [i "Oh no. The only people who I see are people I dance with, but I am 100% single."] she smiled. His eyes peaking over the cup of coffee would have made her knees weak if she was standing, but it did make her cheeks heat up a bit. She was becoming more and more interested in Henry as time passed.
As much as him saying he had to get home made her sad, she was happy that they still had a little time together to walk home. The walk from the coffee shop wasn't far, but it was easy to get lost if you didn't pay attention. The two of the left the theater, turning right out of the door. She was silent at first, trying to get her bearings to make sure she could get them home efficiently. Once she knew they were on the right track, she made her way next to him. She was tempted to take his hand once again, but held off.
Autumn had always had a bad luck with relationships. Either people wouldn't understand the amount of time she needed to be dancing and didn't want to wait around or they'd use it to [i their] advantage and cheat on her. She had tried to hold off from dating, which was easy considering she had no suitors anyway, and focus on dance. And it had been working, and she had been getting much better without having something taking her away from practice. But now that she knew he was interested in dance and even watching her dance, maybe this would be different than before.
Now that she knew he was single, she would have to meet him in the hallway as often as she could. Considering the lived so close, right across the hall, maybe they could get lunch or dinner together, as friends first obviously. Maybe she could [i casually] come to the door in PJs, or something cute than what she normally wore. She was notorious for wearing a pair of leggings and a chunky sweater, but she knew she'd try harder in case he happen to be around. She realized she had stayed quiet for a bit, and didn't want him to think she was uninterested. [i "So, what's your plans for the rest of the day? Or the weekend coming up? It's my first weekend off in a long time."] she said, lacing her own fingers together behind her. She hoped her subtle hit at her being free would spark a plan between the two.
God damn it, she was adorable. She mischievous smile and graceful stride made her both playful and dangerous. Definitely not good for his focus, to be sure. [b "Try not to be jealous, but my evening is actually going to be pretty exciting,"] he teased, sipping the refilled iced coffee he got on their way out. [b "Picture this: unpacking boxes and moving furniture."]
Once Henry met with the people who ran Maggie's daycare, he was going to treat the girl to a McDonald's dinner before he got her settled at home. Once she was entertained he could start putting her bed together. And if he helped himself to a couple of beers while quietly trying to arrange the living room, then that would be the extent of his exciting evening.
[b "I wouldn't mind some company this weekend,"] he tried to charm his way into answering her question. [b "It may be an absolute cliche but I'd like to check out Central Park or one of the museums. I'm still in stereotypical tourist mode and I've only ever seen them in pictures. And yes, I will absolutely request we get a carriage ride if we go through Central Park."]
He could see their apartment building not far up the road. It was kind of a downer to end the afternoon but he was looking forward to picking up his little girl after being away from her all day. Truth be told, he was probably more upset about her going to daycare than she was. Back home it was the two of them together while he worked from their house, and this was the longest he'd spent away from her in longer than he could remember. Maggie and Daddy time was much needed after the stress of a move.
[b "This has been an absolutely awesome first day,"] he smiled as they reached the building. [b "Easily the best tour guide I've ever had."]
[i Do something, moron!] His brain screamed at him. Henry stuck out an awkward hand. [b "See you this weekend?"]
As he spoke of his evening, she smirked. She could relate, she remembered moving in alone and it was hard. She knew though that helping someone unpack wasn't something people wanted, it was usually something people liked to do alone, so she didn't ask about helping. He also had mentioned that he had a lot of family, so he knew they'd be in and out to help him out. [i "I would love to see your place. Ya know, after the interior designer is done."] she teased, bumping into his arm slightly. She loved being able to have someone where they could just be adults; no talk of work or dance. They could just be friends, which was hard to come by in her world.
[i "I think I could definatly do some touristy stuff this weekend, I don't think I've done anything like that since I was a kid. And if we didn't get a carriage ride, I'd be offended."] Autumn teased, placing a hand on her chest. She was bummed that their time together was ending, but happy the had already solidified plans for the weekend. When they reached the building, she placed her hand back to her heart when he mentioned she was the best tour guide, [i "Well, I'm touched."] she smiled.
His hand stuck out to her confused her. She smiled, taking his hand in hers. [i "I'll see you this weekend. I'll most likely see you before, I live pretty close by. Oh, and here."] she spoke, taking a pen from her pocket and adding her number onto his hand. [i "Now, if you have any ideas and I'm not home, just text me."] she smiled, opening the front door, leaving him out front, [i "Bye Henry."] she sung, wiggling her fingers to him through the glass. A wink was sent to him before she headed up the stairs to her apartment, an extra spring in her step as she headed upstairs.
After she got in her place, she started dinner. Pasta wasn't the most exciting thing she could make, but it was easy. She sat on her couch, and began watching some trashy reality show, her guilty pleasure, as she ate her dinner. She made sure she stretched, broke in some new shoes and sewed some ribbons onto a new pair, before getting ready for bed. A long, full shower, making sure she to do all the things. She changed into her PJs, made a cup a tea and sat on her porch to watch the sunset. It was something she loved to end her days with, and kept her phone nearby.
Autumn hoped she'd hear from Henry, she couldn't deny she left him with some flirty moved, and she hoped he was not turned off. Thinking now, she should have just asked for his number.
Holy shit. Holy [i shit]. That's her number, right there in ink against his pasty hand. Henry Monaghan managed to not only succeed at a pseudo-date but she liked him enough to trust him with her number. [i Well done for not blowing it!]
The dumb smile didn't leave his face the entire way to the daycare. Charlotte was outside with her phone to her ear - was that why his phone was buzzing in his pocket? [i "Where have you been?"] she raised an eyebrow as he walked up the path to her.
[b "You try navigating New York City in a uHaul and see how well you do,"] he stuck his tongue out.
Charlotte - older by five minutes - was his twin sister who was every bit the adult he wasn't. Straight-laced and career focused, she was running her own graphics design firm by the time they hit twenty-three. Thankfully, she took mercy on him and let him catch up at his own speed. Looks-wise, they couldn't be more opposite. His dark hair and eyes clashed with her blonde curls and green stare. The mischievous smirk was the only thing they shared.
[i "You're lucky I love you, now get in there punk."]
As amazing as his sort-of date with Autumn had been, his heart jumped and his smile grew wider as he heard [i "Daddy!"] call from his little strawberry-blonde spitfire.
[b "Hi baby,"] he dropped to his knees to catch her as she threw her little arms around him. [b "I missed you. Did you have fun?"]
Maggie was always eager to talk, and he loved nothing more than hearing her excitement about the day. It didn't always make sense, but goddamn it was endearing. Her little ponytail brushed against his face as he held her while she pointed out the painting station she'd been at. She seemed as reluctant to let him go as he was to put her back down, when her teachers came over to introduce themselves. Thankfully Charlotte was on hand to distract her while they ran through the schedule and expectations for him.
She was passed right out by the time they pulled into the apartment's parking lot, entirely run down by the day's excitement. Henry got her upstairs as carefully as he could without jolting her awake on the walk up, thankful that the hallways were quiet though it was still early evening. She woke up for a quick dinner while he put her little toddler bed together, offering tidbits of advice like a little expert. [i "Teddy there,"] she pointed her finger towards her pillow when he attempted to put her stuffed bear beside her bed instead of on it.
[b "My mistake, Your Majesty,"] he rolled his eyes with a grin.
By seven o'clock she was out cold again, and he was able to get the living room in somewhat of a put together state before helping himself to the six pack of Heineken in the fridge. His phone was open in front of him, staring at Autumn's number that he'd inputted during dinner.
[i How does one adult have so much stuff? I don't remember buying this many things,] Henry texted, trying to play it safe.
Autumn smiled, sipping the tea in the small tea cup she had in her hands. She thought about tomorrow, her last day before her weekend off. The woman hadn't had a weekend off in she didn't know how long. Her class she taught got cancelled, as most of her kids were going on a trip through their school. And the rehearsal for Cinderella didn't need her this weekend, as they were doing scenes she wasn't on stage for. She didn't remember the last time she didn't have to dance, and knew she'd still have to practice, at least a little bit, so when she went back she didn't backtrack. Autumn was always really hard on herself; she wasn't tall enough, her legs not long enough, she wasn't pretty enough-- so she made sure she was always one step ahead in her training, so the things she lacked didn't get called out. She worked too hard to get where she was to let it all crumble away.
Autumn placed her cup down, watching the colors swirl across the sky, and saw her phone light up. She took hold of her phone, and the unsaved number was a tell tale sign of who it was. She smiled, holding the phone to her chest before opening the phone to read the message. She laughed, tapping her phone with her index finger as she thought of what to say back to him. Should she invite him over to watch the sunset? [i No Autumn, stop thinking crazy things. You just met the guy, don't smother him.] she thought. She thought of a message, and wrote it out before sending it to him.
[i [b I hear you. I still remember moving in and I felt the same way. Just know, you won't find half of them ever again after you get them away. How's the rest of your day been?]]
Pressing send, Autumn put her phone back down. She reentered her home, closing the sliding door behind her. She fluffed her hair, as she went to fill her teacup. The man she was texting was less than 6 feet away, and they could easily speak face to face. It was weird to think he was so close, yet felt like he was nowhere near her. She wondered how his apartment was coming along, and if she seemed rude not to offer to help. She ended up sending another message before he responded to the first.
God, what he wouldn't give to accept the invitation and enjoy her company some more. His eyes wandered to the short hallway that ended at Maggie's room, the bluish glow of her nightlight seeping through the cracked door. She was liable to wake up at any point, and it would be tricky trying to explain a stranger in the living room of their new home. He loved his daughter more than anything, but he would be the first to admit he missed the company of adults.
[i I appreciate the offer but I think I'm calling it quits on being productive tonight. I've made a good dent in the unpacking, and the couch is comfy enough to sleep on for one night.]
Henry sipped at his beer as he wandered out to his own balcony, keeping the door open to hear any rustling from Maggie. The city still seemed lively - go figure, in the City that Never Sleeps - but he felt more exhausted than anything. He almost envied the people still out and having fun in the streets when he felt like one throw blanket would doom him to an early night.
[i How about a game of 20 Questions? Seems less intimidating over the phone than face to face. And I'm two beers in, so I may spill juicy secrets.]
Autumn refilled her teacup, taking a sip as she noticed she got a response. She totally understood where he was coming from, she wouldn't want to be unpacking before going to bed. She knew he had a lot to do, and it was hard when you had to unpack around work and anything else you had to do in your life. She remembered she slept on an air mattress for like 4 weeks before she actually got her bed set up. [i [b I totally get it. Do you have to work tomorrow, or do you have the time to unpack tomorrow?]] she responded before taking a sip of her cup. She brought her tea back outside, before seeing her phone light up. This wasn't a response to her message, this was a game offer. Autumn smirked, loving the idea and the fact that he might be a little intoxicated and could possibly spill more.
Autumn tapped her slim fingers against the table, thinking of a good question. Did she want to start off juicy or start off tame. Even without drinking, she was a pretty open book and would answer whatever he asked, and truthfully. She smirked before texting him her first question. [i [b Oh, sounds like fun. You worried to see my expressions as you tell your secrets, lol. #1 What's the worst date you've ever been on?] she asked. She had hers stuck in her mind forever, and was curious if his was as bad as hers.
[+grey Autumn got to the bar early, but only a few minutes. The guy told her to be early, yet he wasn't hear yet. He came in completely hammered, and reeked of weed. Normally she wasn't one to judge stuff like that, but on a first date and late too. That was already her red flag. He attempted to slid his hand up her skirt all night, and tried to get the cab to only go to his place. She blocked his number as soon as she got home, even if he tried to message her on social media for weeks after.]
Autumn loved looking out at the city, and wondered if she'd ever get out of the city. Her dreams were here, but did she want to settle down here? Did she want to move out to the suburbs, and take the long ride into the city for work every day? She honestly didn't know, but knew she'd have to figure out soon. The lights in the suburbs were fainter than the city, and she did imagine it might be nice for a change of scenery. She wondered why a catch like Henry choose New York City, when he could probably go wherever and do well. Autumn felt tied to New York, and didn't know if she could actually ever leave, and didn't know if she wanted to.
He had to drop Maggie at daycare before nine, but the rest of his day would be wide open, so long as he got his bed set up at some point. [i I think I can make room in my schedule for lunch and a Central Park carriage ride, if you're up for it. It's responsible to take breaks from work, after all.]
Autumn seemed just as invested in the game as he was. Propping his feet up on the balcony rail, Henry settled into the collapsible camp chair that the previous tenant had left. [i Wow, you don't ease into it, do you?] Henry hoped his teasing tone translated through text.
It wasn't hard to pick, given that he'd only ever been on a handful of dates - the last of them involving Maggie's mother, which also happened to be a drunken hookup at the end of the night resulting in the pregnancy. That one seemed a little too over the line of sharing at this point, especially considering that one date turned into an eighteen month relationship where the only thing in common was the child they shared.
[i I agreed to a blind date with a friend's classmate. She showed up and was incredibly disappointed to see that it was me and not my twin sister. Apparently my friend told her he knew the Monaghan twins and could set her up on a date if she wanted only it was not me she was hoping to find. I was an epic wingman for her though; she dated Charlotte for two years.]
At this point he was feeling cosy and delightfully buzzed. [i What's the most reckless thing you ever did in high school? Anything on the permanent record? Or were you a goodie goodie like me?]
[b I’d like that.] Autumn smiled to herself, they were basically going on a date. She had the time, so she could actually dress up and look cute, nothing too fancy but she could at least put effort in instead of her usual leggings and sweater she just danced in.
Autumn laughed out loud to his answer of his worst date. Oh, to be mistaken for the other sibling. For the rest of the night, and game, Autumn felt like a drink was needed. She went into her kitchen, pouring herself a vodka lemonade, putting herself onto her couch. She grabbed a blanket and haphazardly wrapped it around her waist, taking a sip of her drink before replying. [b Needed a drink for this. Man, that sounds pretty rough. Is your sister as cute as her brother?] Autumn replied. As soon as she realized the message had been sent, she wanted to take it back. She didn’t want to seem like she was coming on strong, even if she was. She loved learning more information about him from one question, and now wanted nothing more than to meet his sister and get all the juicy details he refused to tell her.
As she took another sip of her drink, realizing she probably shouldn’t have made it as strong as she did. She tapped her own chin, did she really do anything rebellious? Well, yes, yes she did. She was in an arts school, but she more than once was caught smoking weed outside. She was also invited to a lot of after parties for shows where there was illegal jungle juice, so considering she did a lot before she was 18, let alone 21, she was pretty rebellious.
[b Well, I went to an arts school. So I was dancing most of the day, but I was pretty rebellious around and after school. Got caught smoking a couple of times by the dumpsters and drank quite a bit at parties. But what was high school if not for rebellion, part of growing up. Seems like you weren’t like that though?] Autumn responded. She could tell she was younger than Henry, and her actions made her feel like she was acting immature. She downed her drink, she hadn’t been able to drink much but with work, it was hard to be in tip top shape the next day. She made one more drink, swearing it would be her last, but who knew at this point. With one full drink in her, she knew she wanted to get a bit friskier with this game.
[b Biggest turn on? Can be bedroom related or not (; ] Autumn smirked, sending the message along and waiting for a reply, her cheek becoming slightly warm now.
She thought he was cute. [i Autumn] thought [i he] was cute. It took everything in him not to message back 'if you want cute, I suggest you look in the mirror' but that felt like it would sound both cheesy and pathetic. [i My sister is cooler than me in every way but I will gladly hold the title of cutest sibling.]
Her own answer had him smiling like an idiot, picturing teenage Autumn getting into mischief for the fun of it. She sounded brave and adventurous which was more than he'd been while growing up. [i I am wholeheartedly on board with shenanigans while you're young. That being said, I was president of the film studies club so invites to parties were not blowing up phone. I think if I'd have known you in school, I'd have been intimidated but in a good way. I'd probably get tongue tied more than anything if you looked my way.]
Autumn's next question made him choke on his drink. She certainly didn't pull punches, but it was far too endearing. [i Your goal is to make me blush enough to light up the building, isn't it? Fair is fair though, now that I know your illicit partying days ;)]
She pretty much ticked off all his boxes for what attracts him in a person. Smart? Definitely. Beautiful? Without question. Charismatic? Sign him up immediately. That might come across a little strong though. Best to play it safe, Monaghan, he reminded himself.
[i You know that look people have first thing in the morning? When they're still warm and cosy in their pyjamas with rumpled hair and total contentment on their face? That's the biggest turn on for me. You don't get to see many people in a personal state of relaxation like that. Makes me feel trusted. Oh god, does that make me boring?]
In a panic while waiting for her response, Henry fired off his next question.
[i What's your ideal date? And I cannot confirm or deny that this information will be remembered for future reference.]
Autumn smirked as he mentioned blushing. It wasn't her plan, but it was cute to think of nonetheless. She was curious to think of something that could turn Henry on. Would he go a safe route with something like, [i when someone is funny without trying] or would he go right into some raunchy stuff, which she totally wouldn't mind seeing that side of him. She was excited to see either way.
What he did say wasn't what she expected. But, it did warm her heart. The way he had written it was so endearing and pure, and he called it boring. Something so simple was a turn on to him, and him saying that made her face turn red really quick. [b No! You are not boring. I love that, that was so beautiful. It is true though, seeing someone like that is a very personal. I think it's sweet.]
His next came in, her ideal date. The blush defiantly stayed on her face when he mentioned saving the information. She did decide to make him blush along with her, so she'd at a bit of flirting of her own. [b Are you saying you want to take me on a date?] and sent it, not answering his question just yet. She wanted to let him sweat a little, and let him think she was not as on board for that as she was.
[b I think my ideal date would be seeing some type of show. A ballet, a musical, a play, anything. I love being able to experience art in the city. Then getting dinner at Marino's. It's this cute Italian place and they have the best homemade pasta! And then getting ice cream. Because it's ice cream. But, I also would love to get out of the city and see the stars. I never get to see the stars because of how bright it is here, and I've seen pictures. Truth be told, I've never really seen stars except for the few you can see at night.] she replied.
Autumn had curled herself more into a ball, leaning against the arm of couch. She yawned, realizing how tired she was. But, she pushed herself, she was having too much fun talking to Henry. [b Okay, hmm. What's something or things you look for in a partner?]. Autumn was keen on getting to know as much about the male as she could, she wanted to see how compatible they were. But, she did wish she could see eachother. [b I know you were worried about doing this face to face, but what if we video chatted?] she asked, curious of his answers.
Christ, it was hard to gauge tone over text message. Did she not want him to ask her out? Was he too pushy and assuming? Before he could apologise for overstepping boundaries, her next text came through to answer his question. All of it sounded just like her; exciting and different from the norm. Henry grinned down at his phone, screenshotting her answer to catalogue in the event he does get to ask her out.
[i I swear, once I know my way around the state I'm going to take you hiking to see the stars. It's unbelievable how bright they are when there's no light pollution blocking them.]
Henry ducked back inside while he waited for her next question to come through. Peaking in on Maggie, he smiled to see her sprawled across her bed with every bit of energy in her sleep as she had while awake. His phone buzzed twice in his pocket as he wandered back to the balcony. First he read the question, and then her video chat suggestion.
Hesitation a moment, he considered his options. Maggie was out cold and unlikely to wake up for at least a few hours. Plus he was on the balcony, so he wasn't in danger of waking her up. Biting the bullet, he pressed the little video call icon in the corner of the screen. A quick check of his wild hair and well-worn t-shirt were deemed satisfactory for a casual call.
[b "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that was two questions, Autumn. Are you trying to cheat the game?"] he sighed playfully when she answered.
Henry didn't know why he thought it would be hard to ask questions face to face. The second she popped up on the screen, he just felt warm and comfortable. [b "I'll let the double question slide since video chatting has answered that second question. But for your first question?"]
His nose scrunched as he thought about his answer. [b "I look for compassion and patience. Everyone has their own stories, some worse than others. And everyone moves at their own pace. Sometimes people have reasons for trust issues and need to know the other person will still be there for them. 'Mature' isn't the word I'm looking for, but someone who can appreciate that situations can be tricky to navigate."]
She was distracting to look at. In the glow of the camera she looked every bit as relaxed as he felt. His boyish grin was still firmly in place, only broken up by occasional sips of his beer. [b "My turn,"] he hummed, tapping fingers dramatically on his chin. [b "If you can perform on any stage in any production, which show and theatre would it be?"]
Autumn's heart was beating hard in her chest when he promised her to take her to see the stars. After telling so many people of her dream of seeing stars, they never took it upon themselves to rectify it themselves. But he did. He was doing so much more than she expected someone she just met to do, and she was enjoy every second of it. It was fate he moved in across from her.
As soon as her phone rang for a video chat, she fixed her hair a bit before accepting. Seeing him made all her worries wash away, as he was just such a calming presence to her. [i "Oh, come off it."] she relied teasingly. She listened to what he looked for in a person and she completely agreed wholeheartedly. [i "I totally agree. You need to make sure the relationship is moving in a way that compliments both people, but also be able to slow down if need be. As much as everyone lives look perfect outside, you never know what the inside holds."] she agreed with him, taking a sip of her second drink. She noticed in the video the red tint her cheeks had taken on, and she wasn't sure if it was because of the alcohol or if she was blushing at the sight of him. She'd blame the alcohol.
As she watched him in the tiny screen, she wished she could reach out and touch him. Asking him to come over during the night would be too much after they just met, but she really was relating to him so much. He seemed so charming with the faint light as he was outside, lit his face to show off his manly face shape. She bit down on her bottom lip, broken out of her daze when he asked his question. When he asked it, she couldn't help but sigh. [i "Oh man. If I could ever be Odette in Swan Lake, my life would be complete. The Koch theater is my dream, that's where the New York Ballet performs. I hope I can eventually be good enough to be accepted into the company."] she spoke, taking another sip of her drink. Autumn was ready to make dance her full time career, but she knew how time consuming it would be. She would be dancing for 12 hour days, multiple shows on the weekends with very few days off and very little time to do other things. She never had other things to worry about, but now that seemed to start to change.
[i "Alright. My turn."] Autumn had a cheeky smile on her lips. [i "What makes you nervous?"] she asked softly, a soft smirk now on her lips. She let the words roll off her tongue. Now that they were video chatting, she could use visual and vocal cues as well. She propped her phone up on a small table she had her drink resting on, something that was close to her eyes level. She backed up, now her whole upper half of her body now showing. She adjusted her tank top she was wearing, taking her cup into her hands to take more sip, letting it rest on her knee when she was done with her sips.
Note to self, Henry thought, potential date outing to The Koch Theatre. [b "I'll be the first in line to buy tickets on opening night when you perform with the New York Ballet,"] he grinned. [b "I'll have a #1 fan foam finger and everything."]
It was endearing to see the passion in her eyes as she spoke of her dream. Autumn's dedication was undeniable and Henry hoped against everything that she would make it to that stage. It wasn't often that he saw people who were that determined to achieve their goals in life, and it was motivating just listening to her.
[b "What makes me nervous?"] he took a sip of his beer.
Considering the question, there were a handful of things that came to mind. Being a single parent was nerve-wracking in and of itself, and moving to an entirely new city was an anxiety trip that he hadn't yet come down from. But in that moment, the only thing he could answer was, [b "You."]
The word came out before he had a chance to process that he was about to speak. Henry couldn't take it back even if he wanted to. It was the truth. She was painfully beautiful with her little smile shining on his phone screen, totally content in her own apartment thirty feet away. [b "I'm not usually good with women. I don't think I've ever even dropped a pick-up line on someone. I have a habit of stammering and getting tongue-tied, especially if I want someone to like me. And I definitely want you to like me, so hopefully first impressions have been promising."]
The air was starting to get chilly so he found his way back inside. [b "Check out the progress,"] he flipped the phone camera around to see a partially organized living room. [b "I have an entire walkway to my bathroom now. I'd call that a success,"] he dropped to the couch and spun the phone back to face him.
[b "Next question,"] he declared. [b "Most painful relationship faux pas that you've encountered? The more embarrassing the better."]
Autumn loved how he was so supportive was her dreams at this point. [i "Oh god, I hope I can get there eventually."] she mumbled against the cup as she brought it to her lips. He repeated her question to him, her nodding to him as to agree with him. She brought her lips to her cup and just about sip out her drink as he answered [b You.]. Autumn felt as her face became hot, knowing there was no way to hide the redness he had caused to her. She bit down on her bottom lip, listening as he explained what he meant. She couldn't feel any words coming to her lips, so she ended up nodding like an idiot. He wanted her to like him, and she did. And she hadn't even been trying to make any type of impression, as she was just trying to be friendly at the beginning.
As he made his way inside and turned his camera to his apartment, it allowed her to calm her nervousness down as the subject changed. She clapped lightly, smiling as he had made quite a dent. [i "You have made quite a dent! The hallway was full of boxes, I'm glad you're working hard."] she smiled. He smiled when the camera spun to his face, loving being able to see his facial reactions to everything she said. When he asked his next question, she rolled her eyes. She had had quite a few embarrassing moments, herself and done to her. She shook her head, a small laugh escaping her lips.
[i "Oh, you're mean."] Autumn chuckled, thinking actually how embarrassing she wanted to expose right now. Again, she wanted him to like her too. [i "I assume you're asking about I've done, as you want all the dirt on me. And I MAY have forgot a birthday of a relationship I was in, and he expected a huge party when I didn't do anything. I literally got dollar slices of pizza for dinner. I thought it was the next day, and had everything ready for the next day. He didn't even tell me until I told him happy birthday the next day, and told me I was a day late."] she said, putting her head in her hands. She laughed, leaning against her couch. [i "If you mean done to me, I had a guy write me a song and used the wrong name. He thought my name was Auden, or something. I don't date singers anymore."] she laughed.
Leaning back, she noticed her tank top starting to slide, and noticed in the camera, fixing it slightly. Her eyes were beginning to get blurry and her cheeks had pink hue to them. [i "Alright, hmm."] she asked, taking a piece of hair in her fingers, playing with it. [i "What is something someone wouldn't know about you just by looking at you?"] she smiled, taking her cup in her hand, tapping her finger against her glass, taking a small sip. [i "Man, this is hitting me harder than I expected."] she smirked, biting her bottom lip softly, her body softly swaying.
He laughed hard enough to snort out his drink. [b "Auden? Of all the names to pick, that's not even that common. Definitely no more singers. Maybe just artists though,"] he added cheekily.
Henry wasn't sure who was getting more red, him or Autumn. His face was always flushed when he drank, and it looked like she was having the same problem. How was she still so damn cute after the number of drinks they've had? He'd long since given in to the dopey smile and half-lidded eyes that came with a nice buzz.
[b "Something no one would know about me?"] he stumbled through the question. [b "I used to be in a punk band,"] he laughed, pressing his hands to cover his eyes. [b "We were so bad. We tried to do punk covers of country songs. It was as bad as you can imagine. We booked one official gig and nothing after that. I was the guitarist who knew exactly three chords."]
A memory of mohawks and hair dye with eyeliner and clothes baggier than they had any right to be. [b "I could probably find a picture that Charlotte kept for blackmail."]
Henry's head snapped up, eyeing the doorway. [i Dear god, please tell me she didn't hear that.] Maggie's muffled and groggy voice called out a lot earlier than he would have expected. Until, that is, he looked at the clock and saw 2:00am flashing back at him. [b "I'm so sorry, I think I have to go,"] he sat up and readied his finger over the end call button. [b "Can I call you tomorrow?"]
[i Please stay in your room,] he thought, keeping his eyes on the hallway where it didn't seem like Maggie was awake enough to come looking for him. [b "Thank you for a great first day,"] he glanced back at the screen with a shaky smile. [b "Sweet dreams."]
Autumn could have laughed out loud at the sight of Henry, this clean cut man, ever being in a punk band. As a teen, she would have been all over it, but it was funny to think of how he acted now. [i “Well, I think teen Autumn would have been all over it. And lucky you you weren’t a singer, I don’t date them remember.”] Autumn teased, biting her bottom lip. [i “I’d love to meet your sister sometime, let me know if she comes by.”] she smiled, pushing some hair behind her ear. The two had been awfully flirty, and she didn’t remember the last time she had ever felt like she did talking to Henry. She couldn’t believe she had managed a date with this man for the next day, and that he had been interested in her enough to stay awake well into the night just to talk to you.
After a small noise Autumn couldn’t fully make out, Henry seemed tense. And suddenly wanted to go. She sighed, and also realized what the time was as well, 2 am. She finished her drink, and smiled. [i “I get it, it is late. Call me tomorrow, and let me know what time you want to go out.”] she smiled. She nodded as he thanked her for a great day and she ended the call after giving him a, [i “And sweet dreams to you too, handsome.”]
Putting the phone down, a yawn escaped her lips. A wave of tiredness came over her, something she didn’t feel when she was on the phone. Hell, if he asked her to get pizza right now, she would have pulled on the first thing closest to her and headed out. But she knew she needed to get some sleep. Her first weekend off was something to relish in and she wanted to take full advantage of the ability to sleep past 6 am. And, sure enough, as soon as she head hit the pillow, she was out.
Sleeping in was nice, but it wasn’t as nice because her body woke her up at 7am, which was nice to get an extra hour at least. She woke up, her head pounding due to the amount she had drunk the night before. Autumn made her way to the kitchen, at least to take some advil and make a cup of tea. She might as well eat something, she usually never had time for breakfast and she never wanted to be bloated for dance. Autumn was always concerned with her weight, as a ballerina she had to be. She decided against something to eat, knowing she’d be splurging later on with Henry, no doubt. She took her medicine, taking it with just a cup of black tea.
Knowing Henry might not be awake, she still took the shot to text him this morning. [i Have a killer hangover this morning. You tempted me with drinking last night. (; ]. Even though she didn’t have a full day of class, she knew she still needed to at least do some warm-ups. Breaking in some new shoes would be perfect for this. Autumn grabbed a new set of shoes, setting them up and sewing on the new ribbons. Even with her pounding head and nausea, she still wanted to dance. She put the shoes on, going up and down onto her toes a couple of times. Using her phone for some music to follow, she’d easily be able to tell if she got any messages from anyone, and she hoped for Henry.
An hour of trying to soothe her back to sleep resulted in Henry awkwardly folded onto Maggie's toddler bed as she curled up beside him for the rest of the night. By morning, his body ached almost as much as his head. Maybe one whisky too many but well worth it, he thought when he caught a glimpse of their text conversation the night before. Definitely worth it.
Despite having to get her to daycare by seven o'clock, Henry couldn't help but let Maggie dig through her own box of clothes to pick an outfit for the day. After nightmares of the move, why not let her have some comfort? As such, he proudly walked into her daycare building with a little pigtailed Superman clutching his hand. For a second he thought her teacher was going to insist she change, but the woman - Dana, was it? He couldn't quite remember - beamed down at her and insisted she go show the others.
Henry was walking back to the apartment when his phone buzzed. A smile instantly flashed on his face. He was nothing, if not a problem solver. Destination punched into his phone GPS, he didn't respond until he had the goods and was striding down their hallway. Both hands full, he knocked with his foot. [b "I believe a hangover cure is required,"] he grinned when she opened the door, holding up the tray of iced coffees and breakfast sandwiches. [b "I find greasy breakfast food is the quickest pick-me-up."]
Spying her ballet shoes on her feet, his smile faltered. [b "I'm sorry, I'm not interrupting practice, am I?"]
Confused at the knock on her door, Autumn was pleasantly surprised with who it was. She took the tray from him, placing it on the counter. [i "Henry, you didn't have to do all this."] she smiled. With the shoes still on her feet, she opened the door all the way to let him in. Fully taking in her shoes from his comment, she smiled. [i "No, not at all. I just like to get a little in everyday. I'll take them off."] she spoke, heading to her room [i "Please make yourself comfortable."] she yelled, closing the door to her room. She was fully embarressed to still be in her pajamas. Just a tank top and a pair of short shorts in front of a man she was trying to impress wasn't her best plan.
Autumn quickly rummaged through her clothes, wanting something at least a little nice to impress him with. She found a black shirt and a burnt orange button down skirt. She pulled the outfit on, a pair of knee high socks for now as well. She fluffed her hair a bit, before carrying out her shoes in her hand. She placed them down next to the bar, taking the other coffee before taking a seat on one of the breakfast bar stools. [i "Please don't tell me you just up this early to get us breakfast. Oh, and let me give you something to cover some of this. Please."] Autumn said, heading to her bag. She took out a couple of bills, leaving them in front of him to take with him.
Autumn took a sip of her coffee, smiling as he had remembered her order from the other day. [i "So, I take it you're an early bird as well? I tried to sleep in, but my body didn't seem to want that very much."] Autumn laughed. She took at the bag of breakfast sandwiches, the smell intoxicating. She was worried about being perceived as something if she gave in to the desire to eat one, or rude if she didn't. Food had always been a weird spot for Autumn, so she ended up taking on, and picking on the edges to make it seem like she appreciated the gesture. She wanted to just take a bit, and forget everything, but growing up this way it was hard to change.
[b "Not so much an early bird as it is not needing much sleep to function,"] he leaned his forearms on the counter. [b "I don't remember the last time I slept more than five or six hours a night. Sleeping in for me is about eight o'clock these days."]
Once Maggie was born, any sleep schedule he had went entirely out the window. Late night feedings and diaper changes were his territory and working from home meant taking care of the baby alone all day as well. Despite that he could now afford daycare, power naps and caffeine were the flotation devices keeping him alive throughout the day.
[b "Do you have rehearsals later today?"] he asked between bites. At home he'd be stuffing his face with the egg and sausage biscuit but here he was going to be as dignified as he could manage. Being comfortable with each other didn't mean he'd lose his manners.
His own morning was going to be spent unpacking the rest of their stuff and getting his bedroom organised. After being crunched on Maggie's bed with her all night, he needed his own queen sized mattress desperately. His daughter's packed boxes had been moved to her bedroom the night before and pictures were yet to be set up, so he felt pretty safe about inviting her over. [b "If you're not busy, I was wondering if I could take you up on your offer to help me set up some stuff. I have most of the boxes taken care of but I might need an extra set of hands to put my bed frame together."]
It took a fraction of a second before he realised how that sounded. [b "That's not a pick-up line, I swear,"] he stammered. [b "If it was, that would be the most pathetic line anyone could ever use. I just meant you could hold things in place for me. Fuck! That sounded worse. And now I'm swearing in front of you,"] his head dropped into his hands.
Thirty seconds was all he needed to make himself look like an idiot. [b "I swear I'm not a creep,"] he groaned into his palms.
Autumn smiled as he asked about rehearsals later. [i "Nope, a few days off for me. Feel's like forever since I've had no work."] she replied, bringing the straw of the coffee to her lips. It was definitely helping her wake up, and tasted amazing. She usually didn't have the time to get coffee every morning, and she had still yet to get a coffee maker, so she appreciated his gesture. Giving in to her empty stomach, Autumn finally took a bite of her sandwich, relishing in the amazing taste. [i "Oh my god, where did you get this? I feel like I could eat this forever. I'm usually stuck eating salads or smoothies, so this is definitely cheating."] she laughed, taking another small bite.
When he mentioned his bed, she stopped chewing, her eyes widening a bit. She covered her mouth as she finished chewing, and watched as he spiraled a bit into a tizzy about his word choice. She giggled lightly, swallowing her food. [i "I understood you, you goof."] she teased, taking a sip of her coffee. [i "Yeah, I'd be up to help! From what you showed me anyway, you need my interior design help anyway."] she continued to tease, using her hands like a picture frame. [i "I'm not allowing you to have apartments like some of the guys I've seen. Beer boxes are not décor, neither are beer can towers."] she laughed, a deep sigh escaping her lips as well.
Autumn used her hand to pick his hands up out of his palms. [i "You are the farthest thing from a creep I've met in a long time."] she smiled. She moved her hand, leaning back in her bar stool. [i "I didn't assume you were asking me to get in bed with you."] she smiled, a small laugh coming out as well. Finishing off her sandwich, she was surprised with herself that she was so comfortable around Henry that she was able to eat so freely, something that she was scared to do even alone. He made her forget her worries and just made her enjoy herself. [i "When do you need me? I'm wide open!"] she spoke, her eyes widening. [i "See? Now I'm the one making awkward comments."] she smiled, her cheeks heating up.
[b "It's from this small diner a few blocks from here,"] he took another bite of his own sandwich. [b "They were the only place open this early in the morning but its safe to assume they'll be my go-to breakfast spot from now on."]
Mercifully he hadn't scared her away with the unintentional bed innuendo. Thank god because living across the hall from her would be tricky enough without her thinking he was a creepy pervert. [b "Believe it or not, I have real furniture,"] he rolled his eyes with a smirk. [b "That includes an actual coffee table and lamps that aren't neon beer advertisements."]
A quick memory check was necessary to confirm that nothing was out on display that would announce he had a child. Guilt gnawed at him for wanting to keep Maggie hidden, especially since it wasn't that he was ashamed to have a kid. He couldn't be more proud of her. Their family therapist back home had ingrained it in his head that Maggie shouldn't be exposed to any potential girlfriends he may have unless it was a serious commitment, and this definitely wasn't anywhere near that level. If he could keep the two of them separate for the time being, he'd have more time to figure out how he could broach the subject.
[b "We can head over once we're done with our little feast here. I wouldn't want to keep your interior decorating skills waiting,"] he teased.
The apartment was in the same state as the night before, couch pushed along the far wall and the TV still very much bubble-wrapped on the wooden entertainment unit. It wasn't what he'd call 'cosy' just yet, as the walls were empty of any artwork and there weren't even throw blankets or pillows set up on the couch or armchair. Generic rental unit was the appropriate term for what they were working with. The kitchen was the only thing remotely organised with everything put in its proper place.
[b "Don't judge me just yet,"] he teased. [b "I sold a lot of stuff before moving so I'm going to have to go shopping to fill this place back up."]
His bedroom was a dull grey colour with the disassembled bed frame propped against the wall with the mattress. [b "Be honest, were you expecting me to actually have a bed frame or were you picturing bachelor pad vibes with cinder blocks holding it up?']
As she made her way into his apartment, she could tell he was still in the process of being 'moved in'. A house only turns into a home once you have your own personal touches, photos and wall décor that show off your personality. The apartment was similar to one you would look at when looking to rent, but it would soon be full of personality, especially from Henry. And he was an artist himself, she hoped he'd display his own art as well. Autumn smiled, looking over to him as he mentioned getting things to fill the space. [i "You should go the the thrift stores around, they have some really cool pieces, and they are usually stuff no one else has, so it's unique."] she smiled. [i "I love going whenever I get a chance, I've redone my place over and over whenever I get some pieces!"] she beamed. The woman had a habit of rearranging her furniture ever so often, getting bored of her layouts often.
As she saw his bed in shambles, she laughed at his comment. [i "I was hoping you weren't doing the 'mattress on the floor' technique, so I'm happy you actually have a bed frame."] she laughed. Her face dropped as she noticed his mattress against the wall, looking around and back into the living room. He had no blankets or pillows out yet, so she was curious where he decided to sleep last night. Maybe the closed door she saw was a guest room, which she thought would be weird for him to have set that up first. Her brow furrowed, looking confused before looking to him. [i "Where did you sleep though?"] she asked.
Autumn could tell, there was something different about Henry. Not in a bad way, but just different. She could tell he was at least a few years older than her, and he seemed to have his life together more than she did. But, he was kind and down to earth, unlike most of the people she had met since living on her own in the city. Most people were only out to get themselves further in life, make connections and what not. He seemed genuinely curious to get to know her; and she wasn't sure if she was terrified of that, or not. But, it made her worry if he was hiding something from her, as everyone had skeletons in their closet. As her insecurities seemed to fade away around the kind man, she hoped she wasn't getting to comfortable around someone who would ultimately let her down. She had built walls for so long, but this new guy in her life seemed to turn them into glass, easily breakable and see-through.
He hadn't considered how it would look without any pillows or blankets lying around as proof of him sleeping anywhere last night. As far as he knew, his own bedding was somewhere buried in one of the boxes piled in the closet, and Maggie's Paw Patrol pillows were probably not the best choice to have thrown on the couch anyway. [b "I passed out on the couch not long after we hung up. Exhaustion just kind of hit me and I was out like a light,"] he crouched down to open his tool box.
The bed frame was fairly simple once it was laid out, though several screws and washer bits were missing from the baggie he was sure everything was safely stored away in. Henry scowled at the electric drill more than once when it wasn't cooperating with what he needed it to do, and successfully managed to put a screw directly through the dark wood where it wasn't supposed to be at all. [b "I think we need to switch out,"] he rustled his hair. [b "My hands are too big to angle the drill properly under that slat."]
Like a teenager with a crush, his traitorous hand burned when it brushed against her own smooth skin. Holding the two pieces of the frame in place, he let his eyes dance over her profile as she focused on the work. [b "So about that thrift shopping idea,"] he cleared his throat. [b "Would you be willing to take me? I believe a promise was made to be my interior decorator and I'd hate to somehow buy a cow print rug to go with a plaid throw blanket if I'm left on my own."]
Playful enough yet extending the invitation. [i Not bad, Monaghan.] Not that he was a stranger to thrift shopping - hell, half of his college apartment was furnished by thrift shopping. But he wasn't about to pass up the chance to hang out again. Even if they'd only known each other for a whopping twenty four hours, he was absolutely drawn to everything about her. Henry couldn't remember the last time he'd enjoyed being in someone's company so much.
Taking the drill from Henry, their hands briefly brushing against each other, Autumn smiled. Her dad worked in carpentry and always had her help out when she could, even if she’d rather be dancing. The drill in her hand felt natural but new, as her dad had equipment older than she was. Autumn took the hair tie that lived on her wrist, pulling her hair up into a wavy mess of a ponytail. Taking it, she started drilling the holes, her hands definitely working around the wood better than Henry’s. This was enjoyable, just doing mundane things together with another adult. Most people she knew would have just hired people to do this, but getting to do it together was actually fun, and allowed the two to get some laughs in as well.
Autumn could feel his eyes on her, and it didn’t bother her that he was [i looking] at her, it was that [i he] was looking at [i her] that made her nervous. But, hiding it, she kept her hands steady, not wanting to mess up while he watched her. When she finished, he began to speak, and she dropped to a sitting position, turning toward him. When he mentioned trifting, she smiled. She adored thrift stores and having an empty canvas to work with was almost like a dream. Yet, she would have to remember to push this taste towards Henry and his likes, which would mean getting to know him even more, which she didn’t mind at all.
[i “I think that could be arranged. As long as you can afford me.”] Autumn teased, but soon realized how bad that sounded and all but fell backwards, laying on her back. [i “I think I beat you now on the awkward comments.”] she laughed, sitting back up again. It was so easy to be around Henry, she never had to try or be someone interesting; she could always just be herself. [i “I mean, we make a pretty good team already.”] she spoke, motioning to their progress on his bed frame. A smiled for a moment, allowing herself to take him in. Realized that he would notice her just staring at him, she felt her cheeks heat up. [i “So, what’s our next step?”] she asked, trying to get over the fact that she was just looking at him. He was handsome, so she assumed he’d get it a lot.
Standing up and being thrown off a bit, she stumbled a bit, landing in his arms as she felt forward. She looked up at him with an embarrassed smile and soft eyes, before she bit down slightly on her bottom lip.
Why was she so damn adorable? Even her laugh was enough to make him smile like an idiot. [b "What a pair we make, accidental innuendos and all,"] he agreed with a nod.
They made quick work of attaching the headboard, even if the wall got scuffed in the process. Once the box spring and mattress were in place, Henry flopped face first on it and practically moaned. [b "Memory foam, I missed you,"] he dramatically kissed the pale blue material. [b "I didn't mean to cheat on you with the couch."]
He peaked an eye open. [b "Take a seat, in an entirely non-sexual or inappropriate way. We've earned a quick break."]
Henry propped himself on his elbows and pointed a finger at the closet. [b "Somewhere in there is my bedding, but I'll find all of that later. I'd rather you not accidentally open a box of my underwear in search of pillow cases. I'd never be able to show my face again in these halls if you caught sight of my flamingo themed boxers."]
The soft hum of the air conditioning and sunlight through the still bare window was more relaxing than it had any right to be. He could have dozed off right there and not even bat an eye. Rolling onto his back, he tilted his head to the side. [b "What's your favourite part about being in New York?"] he asked her.
Nerve-wracking was how he'd describe it. The idea of moving from a relatively small town to a bustling metropolis was daunting and it took months of convincing from Charlotte before he'd agreed to give it a go. Everything moved at a rapid-fire pace as opposed to the leisurely coasting of his hometown. The idea of raising Maggie - even if it might turn out to be temporary - in such a massive city away from everything he'd known was downright terrifying to him. Still, it would give him more opportunity to expose her to a more vibrant life than they would have had.
[b "If I'm honest, I have no idea what I'm doing here,"] he laughed softly. [b "I drove up with a truck full of stuff and absolutely no clue about what life in New York is like. I'm way out of my element. Thank you for taking the time to introduce me to the city,"] he reached out to lightly squeeze her hand.
Autumn made her way up on the bed. Listening to him talk on and on about his bedding, and that they would take care of it later. The room was so calming, she could understand why he would choose this apartment. It really was wasted on that old man who lived here before he was moved. She closed her eyes lightly, leaning her head against the head board and could have taken a nap, but her eyes opened slowly when he spoke. Asking her favorite part of New York.
Easy, the arts community. She had been deep in it since she was a kid. She had started going to shows at a young age, and once she saw her first ballet, she knew she wanted to be there too. So, ever since she had been dancing, working hard to get as far as she had. Sure, New York had so much to offer, but she had dedicated her whole life to dance, and didn't even take time really to appreciate it. Before she could speak her answer, he began to speak. She listened to him speak, smiling as he spoke his answer. [i "You're doing a decent job so far. Don't be so hard on yourself. You're all alone, not tied down or anything. Get out there, meet people. You have your whole life ahead of you."] Autumn smiled, taking his hand as he reached out, giving him a light squeeze back, but keeping a hold on his hand. Moving her fingers to lace them together with his.
Autumn hoped he didn't take her saying to meet people as that she wasn't interested. She was, a lot even. But she didn't want to make it seem like she was 'claiming' him or anything, so she hoped he understood what she meant. Just sitting in his room, fingers laced together, it was such a calm, peaceful setting. She ran a hand through her hair with her empty hand, feeling like she should say something to him. [i "I've really enjoyed getting to know you."] she smiled, her eyes focused on her hands and not on his face. [i "I think that fact that you are new in town is amazing. It's hard to make friends here, as New Yorkers have a bad habit of trying to use people for gain. But I can tell you have no motive, you just genuinely want to get to know me."] she said, her head lifting to lock eyes with him.
[i "And I have no intention of using you, just so you know."] Autumn teased, biting her bottom lip softly.
She was now firmly on the list of girls who were capable of making his heart melt. That list was now a whopping two. If she was this perfect, it was almost guaranteed that he was going to be the reason it ended badly, if he was even brave enough to get it started in the first place. [b "I have to come clean about something,"] he sighed, propping his head up as his face fell serious. [b "I do have ulterior motives, and I do plan to use you...because this apartment certainly isn't going to decorate itself. Up and at 'em!"]
Winking as his smile broke through, Henry took her hand and pulled her back to her feet. [b "You can boss me around while I move the couch around until it looks decent. I want this place to say 'I'm a functioning adult who knows what I'm doing' instead of 'I haven't furnished a room since my college dorm'."]
It was scary how easily they fell into a playful banter given how little they actually knew each other. It turned out that he had placed the living room in the entirely wrong set-up, easily remedied by her instructions until it resembled a cozy space with a proper flow. [b "Perfect for movie nights,"] he flopped on the couch that was now facing the television. [b "Which you will of course be invited to once I figure out how to work the stove. Pizza, popcorn, and I'll even supply the beers."]
He patted the couch cushion beside him. [b "I think we've earned a bit of time to put our feet up."]
They'd been working for a couple of hours now, and a rest was well deserved. As Henry settled into the cushions, he smiled at her with half-lidded sleepy eyes. [b "Don't judge me if I fall asleep on you,"] he warned.
Henry didn't even have time to fully let himself sink into the comfort. A box he'd stacked on the side table to get out of the way finally teetered over the ledge that it was poorly balancing on. The resulting shatter of glass jolted him to his feet. [b "I'm so sorry, that's my fault,"] he rattled off an apology, hurrying to the kitchen to get the broom.
It wasn't until he re-entered the living room and saw that the box that had fallen was full of the framed pictures he'd neglected to hang up just yet. [b "Stay there, I don't want you to get glass in your feet or anything,"] he tried to position himself to block the images scattered on the floor, grabbing the broken frames to drop back in the box.
Autumn smiled, letting him get her up, before playfully hitting his arm. [i "Don't scare me like that!"] she teased as the headed into the living room.
After at least twenty minutes of moving the living room things around until it looked perfect, Autumn smiled. She may have had him move the couch a few extra times, but that was for scaring her before. She plopped down next to him, as she spoke of movie nights. [i "That sounds amazing."] she smiled. As he started talking about fall asleep on her, she was almost going to do the same. She leaned back, her eyes closing as she leaned over, her head almost resting on his shoulder before the huge crash of glass perked her up. [i "Oh my god."]
Autumn was ready to get up, help him clean up before he told her to stay. She pulled her feet up onto the couch, thanking him in her head. Her feet were her everything, as a dancer, so he was kind to want to protect them. As she leaned over the side of the couch to help pick up some frames, she only had one in reach. She picked it up, flipping it around to where the picture was shown. It was three people, two adults and a child. Henry, a woman, and a small girl. The girl was in the arms of the woman, and the woman resembled Henry. Like a sibling or something.
Everything clicked just then, [i "You're twin and niece?"] she asked, turning the frame toward him. [i "You're niece is adorable. What is she, three?"] she asked, holding the frame in her hands again, staring at the photo through the broken glass. [i "I love kids, sorry!"] she replied, embarressed before holding it out to him. She handed it to him before feeling a sharp pain in her hand. Looking at her hand, a piece of glass had made it's way into her hand. She winced, pursing her lips together. She removed the glass, but her hand began bleeding a bit more. [i "I'm guessing you might not have Band-Aids or a first aid kit yet, huh?"] she asked, finding a tissue on the coffee table, pushing it to her wound on her palm.
[i Oh god oh god oh god,] he brain chanted as she picked up the broken frame. His heart hammered in his ears as Henry tried to come up with something that wouldn't sound as awful as [i 'I've neglected to tell you about my kid.'] Mercifully, Autumn drew her own conclusions. And even worse, he didn't correct her. [b "That's my sister Charlotte, and Maggie,"] he murmured.
It was almost too convenient for him to change the subject as she cut herself on a jagged piece of glass. [b "Yes! First aid kit, coming right up!"]
Thank whatever god had been watching over him that he'd decided to get a box of plain brown bandages instead of just the Paw Patrol band-aids for Maggie. [b "I'm sorry in advance, but this is going to suck,"] he held up a bottle of peroxide. Even though he wasn't the one being stung, the fizzing of the antiseptic made him wince.
Henry situated himself cross-legged in front of her, hand held delicately in his own as his right held the tweezers to get the smaller fragments that broke off when she pulled it out. It wasn't quite big enough to require stitches, but it still pulsed blood like a faucet. He'd gone through at least eight pieces of gauze trying to stem the flow between a few more squirts of peroxide. [b "I'm not hurting you too much, am I?"] he looked up at her as he was hunched over to inspect her hand more closely. [b "I'm so sorry about this, I hope it's not going to mess up your work rehearsals."]
She'd come over with good intentions and she'd be leaving with an injury. [i Well done, Monaghan.] He used two steri-strips to keep the cut closed, and then smoothed a larger band-aid over top for extra protection. And like the idiot who doesn't think, he lifted her hand to kiss the wound better, as he'd grown accustomed to with all of Maggie's ouchies.
Clearing his throat, Henry shuffled back a bit. [b "I should get this cleaned up. I don't want you to step on anything and really get put out of commission for work."]
It was easy enough to grab the broom and focus his attention on anything that wasn't his flaming red face. The photo was bad enough, but now he'd gone and actually kissed her - albeit on the hand - and they'd barely known each other for more than thirty hours. [b "I understand if you want to head out,"] he cast a glance at her. [b "You didn't sign up for broken glass clean up."]
Autumn winced as she pulled out the glass from her hand, his hands working to delicately to get all the glass from her palm. As much as it stung, the way he was being so gentle with her kept her calm. She could help but let a smile sit on her lips as she watched him. [i "It hurts, but it's not your fault. I shouldn't have snooped in your photos and picked up a frame."] she spoke, an embarressed smile resting on her face. [i "At least my work only requires my feet. I should be healed from my minor wound by Cinderella."] she teased, as he began to bandage her hand up. When he was done, he pressed a soft kiss to her wound, Autumn's eyes widening and a medium blush covering her cheeks. She pulled her hand slowly from where it was once he shuffled away. [i "T-thank you."] she took her hand, holding her hand against her torso.
Autumn watched silently as he made his way to grab the broom, and lifted a brow with a soft face. [i "What? No, I want to hang out with you."] she spoke, before realizing how needy she sounded. [i "I mean...I want to help with your decorating! Remember, I'm your key for your apartment looking like your are a functioning adult."] she teased to him. Their teasing had fallen in line so easily between the two, it had been like they had been friends for months, at least.
Autumn kept her feet up, but leaned over on the arm of the couch, watching him clean up. [i "Maybe we could go out and go to one of the thrift stores, you need frames anyway. Get away from the broken glass, and maybe grab some lunch?"] she asked. Was this obviously a date like she wanted it to be? Clearly he was interested in her, considering how kind he had been. Or was she taking his overt friendliness as flirting. But Autumn wanted to find a way to get closer to him, physically and in a personal sense as well. They had only met yesterday, and they had already spent so much time together, as well as talking late into the night together.
[i "I mean, if you'd like to."] Autumn smiled, her eyes finding his.
Still on an adrenaline rush from her inadvertently catching a glimpse of Maggie, Henry found himself nodding. [b "Yeah, I think I'd like that. You're right, this will all still be very much broken when we get back."]
It was very much possible that he'd hit the lottery with picking this building to move in to. Not only was his neighbour kind, but she genuinely seemed to enjoy spending time with him. Flirty banter in passing was one thing, but to stick around and develop it into flirty conversation was an entirely new frontier he had zero experience with. Autumn seemed as eager as he was to continue their time together, even though he'd put her to work that resulted in a nasty gash to her palm.
He was about eighty percent sure she wasn't real, but a figure of his imagination come to life.
With a quick sweep of the broom, the floor was clean and he was ready for a break. The box was most definitely full of broken glass but that was a problem for later. He could fish out the rest of the frames and dump the broken frames once Maggie was asleep. If today was like her first day at the nursery school, then she would be out cold shortly after dinner and he'd have the evening to keep working.
[b "Be warned,"] he locked the door behind him. [b "I tend to like things you'd typically find in a grandpa's house. Tacky throw blankets, ugly cardigans, and mid-century everything."]
Most of his belongings from his college days were the ugliest pieces of furniture he could find. One particular chair was an odd shade of sage velvet with mustard yellow peg legs, but it was the comfiest damn chair he'd ever sat in. He didn't care if his home looked out of date, so long as it was cosy and warm.
Since the cat was semi out of the bag, he held up the keys to his Jeep. [b "Do you want to drive? I want to see how a local handles these streets,"] he challenged.
She'd already seen Maggie, so he wasn't overly concerned about Autumn seeing the car seat in the back. It would probably just look like he was a dedicated uncle, prepared to take his niece anywhere at the drop of a hat. [b "Should I prepare myself for a true New York road rage experience?"] Henry grinned at her as he buckled into the passenger seat.
Autumn slipped on her shoes, and followed him out of his apartment. As he locked the door, he talked about his taste, grandpa chic. [i "Well, you can have grandpa style and still look like a functioning adult. We can get you a tacky throw or something, but I will fight you if you try and get me into a grandma sweater."] she teased, bumping into his side softly. She was astonished by how well this was going, as she had never given anyone this much of her time. She would usually hid in her apartment, and practice dance all day. But he made her want to leave her apartment, not want to be alone. How the hell did the universe give her such a godsend of a person?
When he held up his keys to her, she smirked. [i "You trust me too much."] she spoke, taking the Jeep keys out of his hand. Autumn tried to walk as much as possible, so she rarely used her car. She had a tiny commuter car to drive to long distance shows, but she walked everywhere else. It kept her active when she didn't want to work out, plus traffic in the city was terrible. She could tell he wasn't from here, recommending driving. When he mentioned her having road rage as she adjusted herself into his car, she scrunched her face toward him. [i "YOU wanted ME to drive. You can't complain if I'm an angry driver."] she spoke, a small laugh escaping her lips as well.
Seeing the car seat strapped in the back, she smiled. He must see his niece often, to have a car seat all set up for her. Well, if his twin had a daughter and he was an uncle, it makes sense they'd all be close. [i "Do you like being an uncle?"] she asked, as she continued to get down the street. At least having some conversation on the ride would be good, as she would grill him more when they got some lunch. But, a bit of shopping first. She knew the best thrift store to start at, they had everything from a whole floor of furniture and a whole floor of clothes. As the started getting to the rougher driver areas, her true New Yorker started to come out. Autumn tried to keep herself professional, but this is where you could tell where she was from.
[i "The fack are ya' doing bud?!"] Autumn yelled, her New York accent coming out strong, while laying on her horn. [i "Use your signal, asshole!"] she yelled, before passing someone on the left, making her way down the road. After her small tiff, she turned toward Henry, her face bright red. [i "Uh, sorry."] she said, biting down on her bottom lip. [i "You're gonna have to show me something that's just as embarrassing, to make it up to me."] she teased, but was completely serious. He had really seen something she didn't show to many people, driving was a safe space for her. Autumn allowed him in, it was so easy to allow Henry into her life. And that, was terrifying.
Her humor was even perfect. [b "I stand corrected,"] he held his hands up in surrender. [b "I will not question your driving ways. I'm eager to learn from a professional."]
As expected, she commented on the car seat. Unexpectedly, the question was about him and not the toddler from the picture. There's the nerves again. [b "Maggie's the best,"] he spoke honestly, avoiding clarification once more. [b "The littlest love of my life, honestly. Everything that was going wrong for me was instantly better when she was born. She's my best friend."]
Even if he wanted to keep his daughter private, he had no problem boasting about how proud he was of her when given the chance. [b "She'll be four soon, and I'm planning to get her a kitten as a present. Charlotte and my mom tried to talk me out of it but I think it's good for kids to grow up with a pet. And a cat will be much more independent than a dog so it can be home alone during the day."]
The conversation quickly derailed and he failed to hide his smirk when her road rage kicked in. [i How is she still so damn adorable when she's cussing like a trucker at equally angry drivers?] [b "No judgement here,"] he laughed. [b "I'm sure I'll be the same after a few months of living here. It's not New York unless I learn three new swear words within my first week."]
Still, fair is fair. [b "Alright, something embarrassing?"] he pulled back the sleeve of his t-shirt to show his bicep. [b "How about a tattoo of Shy Guy from the Mario games? Yes, I was drunk and no, I don't remember going to the shop let alone picking the tattoo."]
Sure enough the little red hooded character was painted across his pale bicep, white mask comically larger than normal. [b "I'm also not sure if the artist was sober either."]
Autumn smiled as she talked about the young girl she saw in the photo. He really loved his niece, which was nice to see and listen to. His eyes lit up talking about the girl, she could tell, he'd be a great father one day. When she mentioned a pet, she raised an eyebrow. [i "I think you mean Charlotte's getting a kitten. I bet Maggie is a very big girl, but her mom is going to be taking care of that cat!"] she laughed. [i "You know, I teach a ballet class for kids, starting age 4, Ask Charlotte if she wants her to get into dance!"] Autumn smiled, [i "They even do a little recital at the end, it's very cute."] she spoke. She loved the recital every year for where she taught, it was such an amazing time to watch all her students of different ages perform on stage. All ages, 4 to 18.
When he started to tell her his embarrassing story, and he mentioned his tattoo, she didn't believe him. [i "Oh yeah, sure you did."] she laughed, until she looked over at his bicep, and coughed. It turned into a hilarious laughter, covering her mouth with one hand. [i "Oh, no. I love Mario games, but that is pretty embarrassing."] she spoke, looking over was she was stuck in the NYC traffic. [i "I have a tattoo too."] she spoke, looking head to make sure they would be stopped for a moment. Autumn has wanted a tattoo forever, but she was worried about being a dancer and costumes where she'd be able to get it. But, her hips were hidden by almost every costume. She pulled her shirt up a bit, and pulling her shorts down slightly to show off her hip bone. There, tattooed, was a delicate bundle of lavender held by a thin bow, the purple color in a watercolor splash. She let herself fall back, letting her shirt and shorts settle, before looking over it him. [i "Only place I could get it and it was still hidden."] she smiled.
Autumn loved her tattoo, a simple minimal piece to remind herself to relax sometimes. She was a high strung girl, and it reminded her to stop and relax sometimes. As the traffic began to move, she turned down a street, pulling into a lot behind the building. It was a warehouse of a trift store, and it was huge. [i "Ready to thrift in New York?"] she asked, winking before hoping out of the car, meeting him in front.
As the entered the first floor, it was covered it everything to decorate a home. Artwork, large furniture pieces, and everything from small knick-knacks as well. [i "Well, Mister, where do you want to start? I probably should have asked what you actually need."] she teased, grabbing his forearm mindlessly. She knew the best way to connect was physical touch, and even if she was nervous, she did it anyway. She wanted to be closer to him, in every sense of the word.
He hoped to any god there was that his face didn't look as stunned as his thoughts seemed to be in that moment. Mouth instantly dry at the sight of her tattoo etched on a piece of skin he wasn't anticipating to have seen at all, Henry's brain stuttered to a standstill. [b "That's...that's,"] he cleared his throat. [b "I like it."]
[i Very eloquent, Monaghan.]
The thrift store was a welcomed distraction from the entirely inappropriate train of thought he was riding. Three times bigger than any other thrift shop he'd ever been in, Henry could have easily spent the rest of the day browsing every nook and cranny. [b "I think I'm in heaven."]
Autumn's hand on his arm was the perfect segue into taking her hand in his. Once again, he marvelled at how seamlessly his fingers laced with hers. The boy wasn't even going to pretend it was so they don't get separated while browsing. Henry Monaghan was one hundred percent invested in being as close to Autumn as he could physically get, whenever given the chance.
[b "Throw blankets and pillows for sure. Maybe some tacky art?"] he scanned the surrounding area. [b "I'm not much of a knickknack person and it's probably a bad idea to have small breakable stuff around Maggie."]
Was it asking for trouble to keep referring to his daughter without actually coming clean that she's his kid, not his niece? Probably.
The furniture was arranged in clusters and his eyes were like a kid on Christmas morning as he took in the variety. He didn't technically need an armchair, given that their couch was plenty large enough for seating. Still, that didn't mean he wasn't going to test them all. [b "Where has this been all my life,"] he practically melted into a burgundy abomination of a recliner. [b "Seriously, you have to try this."]
Credit cards were made for this exact reason. They could close their eyes, spin around, and point randomly and it would likely land on something he'd completely love. One item in particular caught his attention. [b "This is perfect,"] he ran his hands along the dark wood of a mid-century circular dining table. [b "The dining space isn't that big but this would fit. No chairs with it, but we can pick out four random dining chairs. I think if I'm going to cook for you and have you over for dinner, you should do the honours."]
Flirting was definitely still in play. They'd been smiling and laughing at each other like kids all afternoon, and picking furniture almost felt domestic. Might as well lean into the fun they'd been having. [b "I'll have you over for the first official dinner at the new table, and we can christen it with drinks and the best pancakes you'll ever have in your life."]
As they roamed the thrift store, you would have thought the two were a couple of kids in an arcade. The smiles never left their faces, as well as quite a bit of playfully flirting. Testing out different chairs, try to decipher odd art pieces, and placing some options of throw pillows into a cart. She enjoyed watching his eyes light up at the different furniture pieces, but did talk him out of getting things he really didn't need. But once he saw the circular dark wood table, she knew he wouldn't be able to be swayed out of it. [i "It is really nice."] she smiled, letting her hand slid across the table. It would look really nice in his apartment, so she was sold on it too.
When he began talking about cooking for her, she let a small smile appear on her lips. Autumn was prone to eat out a lot, as she barely knew how to cook as is. She could make a few things, but nothing incredibly fancy. She wasn't a huge foodie either, so she really wasn't concerned on what she ate, as well as not eating very much in general. But, being invited to dinner with Henry, she would never decline something like that. She held up her hands though, when he mentioned letting her pick chairs. [i "Oh, uh, okay. Maybe these?"] Autumn said, walking over a few feet away, some dark wood chairs. They matched the wood color perfectly, and each had a bit of a different look to them, but fit together enough. [i "I feel like you wouldn't want cookie cutter looking chairs, and these all have a fun feel to them."] she smiled.
Autumn was having a lot of fun, and being able to be so comfortable and so authentically herself around him was so relaxing. She was always trying so hard to be what people wanted, and she didn't feel that need with him. When he mentioned having her over for dinner, she smirked. She walked up to him, keeping the flirting in tact. [i "Breakfast for dinner? Then what are we going to eat the morning after?"] she teased, her voice low, before walking past him. She had no idea where her burst of confidence came from, but because she was sure he was flirting back, it was easier for it to come out.
Autumn decided to not dwell on her flirting, as it made them more poignant. [i "Let's tell the clerk you want the table. I don't think that's gonna fit in your car, so they might have to drop it off."] she smiled, letting a wink go in his direction. After informing the woman, they said they would hold it for him until he had something he could use to bring it home. [i "Do you want to poke around upstairs? That's where they keep the clothes."] she asked, as they had basically made their way around the entire bottom floor at this point. She walked close to him, letting her hand slid into his as effortlessly as they had before.
The clerk was nice enough to knock five bucks off the price of the dining set, both as a 'welcome to New York City' and because the table had apparently been sitting long enough that they were almost ready to give it away for free out of pure desperation to be rid of it. Henry filled out the delivery form talking animatedly about how perfect it was for his dining room, which by the look on her face, the clerk could not have cared less about.
With everything arranged to drop it off at his apartment the next day, Henry welcomed Autumn's hand sliding back into his. [b "If there is ever a time that I say 'no' to an invitation to try on absurd amounts of strangers clothing, assume I've been replaced with a robot clone. The answer will always be yes to that question,"] he laughed, pulling her towards the escalator.
Times like this he really wished life could move in montages like in movies. Racks and racks of clothes awaited them like buried treasure, and there wasn't going to be enough time to properly dig through everything. Still, they could certainly make a decent enough dent in it. Even if this wasn't an official date, it certainly felt more fun than most dates he'd ever been on in his adult life.
The men's section on the left and the women's clothes on the right were split evenly up the center of the floor. Henry headed towards the hats display diving the two sections, plucking up a pea soup green bucket hat to put on his head, while dropping a tie-dye floppy sun hat on Autumn's. If he wasn't careful, he could spend the rest of the day fooling around in his place.
[b "Alright, this is going to sound completely dorky but I've seen a few videos online of this game people play in thrift shops,"] he was already buzzing with excitement. [b "One of us walks along with our hand brushing along the row of clothes, eyes closed, and the other person says 'stop'. Whatever your hand lands on, you have to try on. We go through each section until we have an entire outfit picked out. What do you think?"]
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