December 1, 2019
Cover art: L.C. Chase
Genre: Contemporary romance
Barnes & Noble
Love in 24 Frames
2019 Advent Calendar Anthology
Homemade for the Holidays
There he was.
The evening front-desk receptionist of Wandering Artist Studios and man I was madly in love with.
He was the most perfect human east of the Hudson River, with deep brown eyes, matching hair, and thick, expressive brows. He had a brilliant smile too, and the most kissable lips, beautifully shaped by a peaked cupid’s bow. The angel had no idea he moonlighted as my muse.
The front door clanged shut behind me, and Shota raised his head. “Good evening, Mr. Groves,” he said over the low hum of Scrooged playing on the flat-screen television mounted to the far wall.
I’d been renting a shared studio at the company’s Lower East Side location for the last six months. And for six months, I’d been wondering what the W stood for on Shota’s name tag. But I’d never been able to work up the nerve to ask. Now the window of opportunity had long since passed, so it was going to have to resign itself to being one of life’s great mysteries. I did not possess the social graces required to bring up the topic six months later without making it supremely awkward.
I was also considerably older than most of the clients who utilized the art space. When one thinks of a “New York City artist,” they don’t envision a forty-eight-year-old man in a three-piece suit, strolling through the door at seven o’clock after a long day of being an accountant. Yes, Shota W. was maybe in his forties too, but I still didn’t want to be the graying old guy he had to report to management for being a total creep.
As my niece would say.
“How are you?” Shota asked, his voice a pleasant tenor.
Of course, my social graces were about on par with that of a screaming opossum, so I think I came off strange no matter what I did to prevent it. There was a reason I pursued book balancing for a living. Numerical equations were much easier to handle than the human condition.
I nodded in response. “Yes. You?” I winced. Yes. You?
But Shota smiled. “I’m okay.” He stood and raised a tangled strand of twinkling Christmas lights. “I’ve been trying to deck the halls, but this is how the decorations were put away last year.” He was still grinning as he lowered the mess onto the desktop. “Some people’s children.”
Against better judgment, Shota appeared to be waiting for my next response. A sweat broke out under my arms, and I hastily unbuttoned my wool coat with my free hand. I needed to say something. Something smart. Something witty. I’d even be okay with lukewarm funny. I needed something, because, oh God, he was staring at me and I was staring back and neither of us were talking and this was so painful.
The phone on the desk rang. Shota broke eye contact and looked down. He frowned a smidgen and picked up the receiver. “Wandering Artist Studios, this is Shota.” He took a seat. “Yes, we do have a dance studio. It’s rented by the hour.”
So much for that.
I walked to the elevator, jabbed the button with my thumb, and entered as the doors slid open. I chose the fourth floor and looked toward the front desk one more time. Shota was still talking on the phone. He glanced up, met my eyes, and the doors closed.
I just couldn’t talk to him.