“Gyugh!” Kirstin shrieked, headless of the late night hour and the reverberating echo that followed her outburst as she instinctively squished the spider under the sole of her slipper. She stood, panting in recovery, for a moment before collecting a bit of tissue to address the small mess she had created.
Kristen, in by and large, did not mind spiders. In fact, she had a more generous outlook on the creatures than most, being more than willing to generally permit them free residence in her apartment. She would much rather play host to a large spider than whatever all it was that had made the spider what it was. In a country that had yet to discover the modern marvel of window screens, one had to make a choice between the two.
And so she had many scurrying little friends hiding in the corners of her rooms, quietly and merrily going about their spinning and hunting and being perfectly good house guests, with the exception of the small collections of dessicated husks left beneath wherever it was they had staked a claim for territory.
However, all good hospitality has it’s limits, and when a house guest scurries uninvited into the bathroom mid-shower, one must put one’s foot down. In this case, literally.
Examining the bit of dirt and slime that had recently been her method of pest control, Kristen felt a belated bit of remorse. She prided herself on her enlightened attitude toward the creatures, not that it had counted for much in this case. Despite her melancholy, a small giggle escaped her lips as she cleaned the bottom of her slipper, thinking back to the old saying she had heard so many times “Sure, the slipper hurts, but it won’t kill you.” At least of one wasn’t a spider.
Fueled by her not-quite dissipated rush of adrenaline, her giggle became a full blown cackle, amplified by the smooth tile walls of the bathroom.
Just as she began to bring herself under control, a series of urgent, banging knocks at her door elicited yet another startled yelp, which she quickly smothered with her hand. Who could possibly be calling at this hour? It had been well past midnight when she had returned from a rather lengthy dinner with the girls, and, accounting for the cup of tea and the shower, it must be nearly two, she reasoned. Hopefully it was a simple mistake, she thought to herself. Or perhaps in her excited state she had simply imagined the knocking.
As if to correct her musings, the knocking resumed, louder than it had before. Tip-toeing to the door and cautiously peering through the peephole, she was treated to a close-up view of a grumpy-looking Mr. Downstairs. She had not yet properly introduced herself to him, only recognising him from quick glimpses they had caught of each other in the courtyard parking lot as they went about their separate lives. She had been intrigued by the man, slightly her senior, quite handsome, and seemingly perpetually jovial- though the image now confronting her went a good way to shattering that particular impression. She had planned to take the time to get to know him at some point, though whenever she imagined the moment, she had pictured herself wearing something a bit more dignified than a bath towel.
Kristen briefly considered throwing on proper clothing, but as the banging resumed again, she winced and reached for the doorknob. No need to have him wake the entire neighbourhood. Opening the door just enough to poke her head out, she greeted her neighbour. “Can I help you?” she asked, doing her best to sound cheerful and hoping whatever it was he wanted would be quick.
“What on earth is going on up here? Do you have any idea what time it is?” her exasperated neighbour spat, albeit more calmly than his knocking had given her to expect.
“So sorry, it’s ok, really. It was just. . .um . . .” Kristen said, fumbling for words.
“Are you alright?” he asked, his frustration giving way to concern.
“Yes, of course, why do you ask?”
“I heard quite the racket coming from you flat, and was worried. Whatever is the matter? Do I need to call the police?” he asked quietly.
“Oh, no . . .” Kristen blushed, “there was a spider. It’s gone now.” She winced again at her silly excuse. “Sorry for the noise.”
“A spider?” he asked. “I could have sworn I heard laughing.”
“Oh, sorry, that was just me. Sorry to bother you, I promise it won’t happen again. Good night!” Kristen offered quickly before retreating back to the privacy of her apartment and closing the door quickly- but quietly- behind her before flopping less than gracefully onto her bed. ‘Definitely not the way I wanted our first conversation to go,’ she thought to herself as she donned her pajamas, wondering if there was any way she could salvage some sort of neighbourly relationship with the dreamy Mr. Downstairs. If there was, it wasn’t apparent to her 3am brain, and she eventually surrendering to sleep.
Kristen usually saw Mr. Downstairs only once a week or so, though given her luck she of course ran into him on her way out to lunch the very next day.
“Um, hi,” she stuttered as she brushed past him her gaze fixed firmly on the pavement.
“Hello,” he returned, and before she could breathe a sigh of relief that their encounter had not become awkward he gently grasped her arm and turned her to face him.
“I’m Shane, I don’t recall having the pleasure of introducing myself when last we spoke.”
“Kirsten,” she returned, risking a glance up at his face just long enough to register the twinkle in his eyes. Was he having a laugh at her? Of course he was, she thought, and why shouldn’t he. “Sorry about last night,” she said, returning her gaze to the ground.
“Don’t worry about it, though I would appreciate it if you would keep future late night laughter to an acceptable low volume,” he said as he stifled a yawn.
“Yes, sorry about that. I really must be going,” she said as she started to turn away.
“Going where?” he asked, genuine interest in his voice.
“Oh, just . . .lunch.”
“Are you meeting anyone? Otherwise, would you care to join me?” he asked her retreating back. “I’ve just picked up a lovely chicken from the market, and it really is better fresh. I’d be happy to share it with you.”
Despite her desire to minimise her embarrassment, her mouth watered at the prospect. The chickens the Tyrrell family roasted at the local market were nothing short of legendary.
“Sure, um, thanks,” Kristen said as she turned back to him, a smile coming unbidden to lighten her expression.
“Excellent, come along in. I’ll put on the kettle and you can help with the salad.”
Against all odds, Kirsten found herself in the kitchen of Mr. Downstairs, chatting amicably with the last night’s encounter all but forgotten. The chicken was just a wonderful as her friends’ recommendations and the scents wafting down the street from the weekly market had led her to believe, and she cursed herself for not availing herself of this sort of treat earlier. As they savoured the juicy morsels, they happily exchanged stories. Shane was a local, born and raised just a few miles from town, and was more than willing to share his lifelong love of the place with his new neighbour. Kristen hung on to his every word, eager to explore the shops and parks he spoke of.
They got on quite well, until halfway through the washing up when he mentioned The Incident.
“So, do you mind telling me what was so funny?” he asked casually.
“Come again?” she replied, hoping against hope that he was referring to some other more recent joke.
“Last night,” he clarified, “what was so funny that it justified waking the dead at that hour?”
“Oh, it was nothing,” Kristen replied, using the same evasion. She couldn’t possibly tell him the truth, not if she wanted him to respect her as an adult. Laughing about slipperings was something reserved for schoolgirls, not young professionals.
“I think you’re lying,” he said playfully, “that’s hardly a good way to repay hospitality. After all, your enjoyment of whatever it was severely impacted my sleep. I think it’s all but fair that you let me in on the joke.”
Kristen considered lying, but it had never been her strong point. Even if it was, she herself had not had nearly enough sleep to be able to concoct a convincing story quickly enough.
“It really was nothing. Just laughing about the slipper, you know, how it’s not supposed to kill you, though it kind of did in this case.”
“I’m assuming that it wasn’t the spider you were joking with previously?” Shane replied with a smirk.
“Of course not, just silly things we said when we were younger. It as just a fact of life back then, you do something impertinent, you get the slipper.”
“Impertinent? Like waking one’s neighbours in the middle of the night for no good reason?”
“Perhaps,” Kristen replied, turning away to hide her embarrassment at the sudden turn their otherwise pleasant conversation had taken.
“Perhaps we should get on with it then,” Shane said as he hung up the dish rag and pulled the plug in the drain before turning to face her.
Kristen only gaped, the “You wouldn’t dare,” she intended to hurl at him withering under the sudden but playful intensity of his gaze.”
Kirsten had also prided herself on being a rather logical person. As a logical person, the only logical reaction that came to mind as he approached her was to dash away. The fact that this dash lead her into a dead-end corner did not figure into her calculation.
“Oh no you don’t,” he scolded as he overcame her token resistance and gently dragged her over to the sofa and over his knee. Retrieving a bedroom slipper from beneath the seat, he set to work delivering a series of not-quite-gentle wallops to her behind. They stung, to be sure, but weren’t even approaching the excessive force she herself had used on the defenceless spider the previous night. Then again, he wasn’t trying to kill her, she thought with a giggle.
Perhaps it was the giggle that did it, but as Shane emitted a low sound somewhat reminiscent of a growl the swats suddenly became much harder, making her squirm and gasp over his lap, struggling just enough to keep of the appearance of her attempts to escape.
After a particularly hard swat and high pitched scream, he let her up, sitting back to enjoy the show as she bounced up and down rubbing her bottom.
“You. . you beast!” she said, blushing even more deeply at her inability to think of anything more intelligent to say under the circumstances.
“Beast? I’d better watch out then- I’ve heard what happens to little beasts that cross your path,” he said with a smirk, reaching out to pull her down beside him again. She managed the sitting with barely more grace than she’d managed to use when flopping herself over his lap, though judging by the passion in his kiss he didn’t seem to mind.
Several hours and cups of tea later, Kristen finally made her way to the door, plans for the day utterly forgotten in the wake of the burgeoning friendship.
“Thanks,” she said as he helped her into her jacket, utterly unable to find more appropriate words to sum up the afternoon.
“My pleasure,” he replied. “Oh, and please do let me know if you have any troubles with other late-night intruders,” he said as she stepped outside. “We wouldn’t want them getting you in trouble again. . .or maybe we would” he added with a wink before closing the door.