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Love on the Ledge, Page 2

Zoraida Cordova

  “Really, I’m okay.” he says. His voice is brighter than I thought. You know when you look at a guy and you expect this gruff, brooding voice to come out of his mouth? This guy is the opposite. His voice is light if that’s possible. Not high-pitched or anything. Just bright. Light. Carefree. “Thanks for your concern, everyone.”

  He looks at his dad, who has already turned around and is in a huddle with Uncle Tony, probably about turning the small job into a bigger one. Pepe screams when he sees my bridal gown in the heap. He pulls it out of the rubble.

  The Fallen Roofer winces. “Sorry about that.”

  Pepe looks him up and down. He wants to say, “It’s okay.” But he just shakes his head and carries the gown out of the room.

  “Okay, party’s over, people,” I say.

  When River, Leti, and Las Viejas don’t move, I snap. “Get out of my room!”

  They all hold their hands up at my vitriol and turn away.

  “Not you,” I tell the Fallen Roofer.

  He turns around, massaging his neck. He quirks an eyebrow and points to his chest in a “who me?” kind of way.

  “If you’re not going to get that hard head of yours checked out, then at least let me help with the bleeding.”

  He’s backing away slowly, twisting and turning his torso. I know he’s trying to stretch out the kinks, but all it does is make the muscles in his abdomen ripple. Why are muscles so delicious to look at? Underneath the skin it’s just soft tissue and cells and…what was I talking about again?

  In this light, with those big blue eyes, golden skin, and lush blond hair, he’s almost angelic. The kind of angel that falls out of heaven for being too beautiful. Or falls through a roof. Same diff. All I know is looking at his six-pack, I’m thinking I’m going to need an extra ice pack. One to put on his neck, and one to smack myself with. Am I blushing?

  “Sure thing, Doc.” His periwinkle eyes are the kind of eyes that are always smiling.

  I go to the bathroom and pull the first aid kit out from under the sink. “I’m not a doctor. Nurse. Sit.”

  “Are you sure?” He points to the white couch. “I’m dirty.”

  “Just sit down, okay?” I say in the voice I use on my patients who don’t want me to change their lines and don’t want to stay still.

  “Yes, Nurse.” He says nurse in a way that makes my belly tingle.

  Then I realize something. “Hold this.”

  I run into the bathroom and pull on the pajama pants discarded on the floor. When I come back out he looks a tad disappointed.

  “Harvard girl,” he says, looking at my oversized pajamas.

  This time the blush comes with a dull pain and a familiar headache. I shake my head. How can I say these are not my pajamas without seeming like a crazy ex-girlfriend who still sleeps in her ex-boyfriend’s old college rags?

  “I went to Stony Brook, actually,” I say.

  “Local girl.” He watches every step I take from the bathroom and back to him.

  My room is huge. Bigger than the studio I had in Boston. But the way he looks at me makes it feel teeny tiny. It’s like he takes up all of it with his bare chest and golden hair.

  Without another word I clean the back of his shoulder where a nail got a good dig. I take a pair of tweezers and pluck out tiny bits of plaster and wood. When I rip open an antiseptic wipe he jumps up.

  “I’m good. Great, actually. I’ll be fine. I have to go back out and help the guys load up the truck.”

  “Don’t be a baby.”

  He groans, making him look all of twelve. “I’m a twenty-five year old baby, thank you very much.”

  But he sits, and before he can jump away again I press the wipe on the cut. I can’t help but laugh.

  “I’m glad my pain is funny to you,” he says.

  “I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at the fact that you’re this big guy who fell through a roof, but this you have a problem with.”

  “It’s a certain kind of pain that I don’t like. I can take punches. It’s just those little pains, like pouring chemicals on an open wound or lemon in a paper cut or stubbing your toe when you’re fumbling around in the dark on the way to the bathroom. Those little pains are the worst.”

  I make a face I’m glad he can’t see. I take a square bandage and tape it on the back of his shoulder. “Then I’m glad you’ve never had necrotizing fasciitis.”

  “Me too,” he says, rolling his eyes like he totally understands me. “Sounds terrible.”

  “Well,” I say, walking back around him, “do you have bandages at home? Put another on after you shower. If it gets infected your whole shoulder is going to come off.”

  “You’re the meanest nurse in Nurse Town,” he tells me.

  I bite the smile from my lips and turn away from him. “You’re dismissed.”

  He stands and walks backward toward the door. “That’s it? I don’t get a lollipop or a kiss or something?”

  Kiss. The word makes my stomach flutter in a way River saying “laid” never could. I busy myself with putting the first aid kit back together. He stands at the door waiting for me to say something. Flirt. He’s flirting. Why can’t I, even if I kind of want to?

  “You can have someone clean up the mess you made,” I say.

  He scratches the back of his head and winces at the pain he discovers there. “Sure thing. I just need your name so I can fill out a cleaning order.”

  I give him The Eye. “Nurse.”

  “Nurse,” he says. “Is that a family name?”

  I don’t laugh. I mean, I’m laughing, but I don’t let the laugh leave my lips. My inner self is kicking my outer self. He’s gorgeous. He’s dirty and will probably be blooming with black and blues tomorrow, but he’s absolutely gorgeous. It radiates from inside of him.

  “I’m Tripp,” he says. “In case you were wondering.”

  “That’s not a real name. I refuse to call you that.”

  He looks affronted and stands a little taller. “Hayden Robertson the Third. Tripp? Like triple?”

  Now I can’t help but let the laugh out. “I thought it might be Tripp like in triple shot of espresso. You have enough energy.”

  He smirks. It’s a lovely smirk. “It’s kind of my superpower.”

  “Mine’s wedding planning.”

  He takes a step closer, away from the door. My senses are on alarm. He should stop being charming. Stop doing what he’s doing because it makes the hairs on my arms stand on end. Makes my stomach do jumping jacks. Makes me want to take these stupid Harvard pajamas off, and not just because it’s about time, but because he is the most beautiful creature I’ve seen in a long time, or maybe ever.

  But then his dad stands at the doorway, and he stops mid-step. “Tripp, let’s go. Hill and Sanders are going to clean up. Get your sorry ass packing up the truck.”

  The old man nods at me and storms out of the house.

  “See you tomorrow, Nurse,” Tripp says, lingering.

  I swallow the nervous laughter bubbling up in me and wave, hoping he doesn’t see how much he’s rattled me.

  Chapter 3

  Because my room has permanently become a construction site, I get to upgrade to the balcony room upstairs. Pepe was going to use it on the eve of the wedding so the groom wouldn’t see the groom before the ceremony, but now he’s relocated to the pool house.

  The upside to my new digs is that I have a direct view of the lawn and pool. The downside is that’s where my cousins inevitably take over, and their loud mouths will ruin my peace and quiet.

  When Uncle Tony bought this house in his twenties, this part of the neighborhood wasn’t as ritzy as it is now. The Hamptons are, of course, the summer getaway for celebrities and for New York’s richest. The house might be a wing short of a mansion, but when he bought it, it was abandoned, and over time he renovated it himself to his liking. Thirty years later, he met the man of his dreams—my Uncle Pepe, the only openly gay member of our immigrant, Catholic, Ecuadorian f

  Tony worked in stocks and retired early. Pepe is a fashion designer who has every starlet wearing his gowns on red carpets. They’re the American dream, and they treat me like the daughter they never had.

  Pepe even named me. I owe him a huge one. If it wasn’t for him, I’d be Guadalupe Lopez, and I got enough shit in middle school ranging from “Are you J.Lo’s cousin?” to “She thinks she’s too good for us because she’s light-skinned,” to my favorite, “Her ass ain’t even all that.”

  The downside of being named Sky is that in college the people asked, “Wow, where is that from?”

  “It’s English, you idiot,” I wanted to say. But it was their polite way of asking my race without seeming rude. Tan skin and light eyes really seem to confuse people.

  My eyes, the bipolar green-hazel, and my last name are the only things I inherited from my father before he left us high and dry. In solitary moments like this, standing at my balcony sipping a cold cup of milk and coffee, I briefly wonder where he is.

  The morning after the famous roof accident the workers are right back at it. I crane my neck to see the guys working on the roof. Three of them, and none of them are Hayden Robertson III. There’s no way in hell I’d ever call him Tripp, even to myself.

  Bradley was Bradley Edward Thorton IV. Before I let myself go down that spiral, I run back inside where the air conditioning is a sweet respite from the heat.

  “Sky!” Leti yells from downstairs. “Breakfast!”

  Before everyone started arriving for the wedding, I could sit by the pool without having to listen to the chitter chatter of Las Viejas discussing my break up in Spanish. It’s a good thing I don’t speak it, and only just understand it. They’re worse than a high school cafeteria gossip squad, because after they discuss my failure to maintain a man, they cross themselves and pray for my soul.

  “I’m coming!” I shout down the stairs.

  I kiss my dreams of a few laps in the pool goodbye. Missing breakfast would require an explanation. They’d think I was skipping meals. They’d think I was in my room crying (again). I throw on a pair of plaid shorts and a surf-green polo. I tie my hair back in a ponytail and skip my contacts for glasses. I’ll make it to a body of water eventually.

  Down in the dining room, Las Viejas, Uncle Pepe and Tony, Leti, and cousin Maria are already eating.

  “Good morning,” I say as cheerily as I can.

  Maria is a teacher at a Catholic high school in the Bronx. She dresses like she’s a middle-aged real estate agent, and acts like she’s one of Las Viejas instead of twenty-five and single.

  Only when she waves at me, she makes sure I see the rock on her finger. Make that twenty-five and engaged.

  “So,” Maria says, “I hear you’re taking time off?”

  My mom makes a face. She touches the gold necklace she always wears—a gold stamp of the Virgin Mary.

  “Yeah,” I say with a smile on my face. I take the orange juice and pour myself a glass. “There wasn’t really room for me to grow in the unit. I’m thinking of going into social work.”

  “Wouldn’t you have to go back to school?” Maria asks.

  There are people in your life who are secretly rooting for you to fail. They disguise themselves with smiling faces and fake wishes of success. Maria is this person in my life. Ever since she was little she was right beside me competing for grades, Uncle Pepe’s attention, Abuela Gloria’s favor.

  “Only for a year or two,” I say. “I was going to get my master’s no matter what. At least I would be doing something I actually want this time.”

  Uncle Pepe holds out his glass. “Whatever you need, love. I’ll be there for you if you want ten master’s.”

  I smile sheepishly, and Maria’s lips pinch like she ate a lemon.

  “Isn’t it scary?” Maria asks. “Starting over?”

  “I’m not starting over,” I say, adding extra cream cheese to my bagel.

  She shrugs and takes sliced cheese and ham onto her plate. She butters her bread with the thinnest layer. “New school, new career. You’d hardly have time to have a life.”

  My left eye twitches. It’s the Maria twitch. Every time she finds a good dig, my eye does an irritated cha-cha. “I like to think of it as a continuation of the path I was on.”

  Leti yawns loudly. “You could also come with me to Amsterdam. They have medical schools there. Way better than here, FYI.”

  I give Leti a look that I hope will calm her. The two of them have hated each other since Maria told on Leti about Leti’s belly button piercing in high school. There was nothing we could do to get back at Maria. She’s saint-like, in addition to being a judgmental, nosy biatch.

  “Leti!” my mom groans. “Don’t put ideas in her head.”

  Yes, God forbid I get ideas of traveling the world.

  Aunt Salomé nods. “Just because you abandoned your mother doesn’t mean Sky has to do the same.”

  “Ma,” Leti says, giving her mom a smothering hug. “I didn’t abandon you.”

  “What’s in Amsterdam?” Maria asks.

  “Hookers and ganja,” Leti says, winking her long lashes at Maria.

  Aunt Salomé slaps Leti’s arm playfully. Pepe giggles to himself. My mom purses her lips and cuts her breakfast sandwich in half. Sometimes it’s hard to believe they’re siblings.

  Maria grumbles deeply. “Sky doesn’t need that in her life on top of everything.”

  My ears burn. My mom says that your ears burn when someone is talking about you behind your back. It’s some superstitious crap—Maria’s not doing it behind my back.

  “What’s that supposed to mean?” I drop my fork and it clatters against my plate. I feel someone place a hand on top of mine, but I pull my hand away.

  “I mean your life is kind of a mess,” she says. “I’m sorry, but someone has to say it. You had a good job, a relationship. Now you’re living at home again. Running around a city like Amsterdam isn’t exactly going to do you any favors.”

  I stand so quickly that my chair falls backward onto the floor and echoes in the quiet of the dining room.

  “Sky,” they call after me. “Come back.”

  All except Maria.

  I walk out back where the ruckus of hammers and wood provides a barrier between my family and me. I go past the crystal blue pool and the lawn that’s going to be the stage for the wedding in a few weeks, until I reach the line of trees that leads to a small patch of woods.

  In the shade of a tree, I sit on the grass and lean my head back against the trunk. I wonder whether, if I sit here long enough, a deer will come out from the woods. I’ll be like the Snow White of West Hampton Beach. When we were in high school, Leti and I would sit really still and wait for deer to sneak into the backyard to eat the leaves on Uncle’s Tony’s fancy bushes.

  The rustle behind me makes me jump up. I’m expecting to see an animal, but instead there’s him.

  Hayden Robertson the Third.


  Don’t call him that, Sky, I tell myself. That’s not a real name.

  He’s wearing a t-shirt that covers that glorious torso, and that charming smile. There’s a toolbelt around his waist. He’s like a blue-collar Batman.

  “Nurse,” he says, “I’m so glad you’re here. I have this pain I want you to take a look at.”

  I glance at the house. They’re all still at breakfast. No one’s going to come for me.

  His eyes are so blue. Bluer than the summer sky. Bluer than the pool. So blue I want to jump into them and swim as many laps as it would take to get lost.

  “Yeah?” I ask, laughing. Usually when guys say this to me it sounds smarmy. When Hayden says it, I know he’s just being cute. “Where?”

  I love the way he looks at me. It’s like he takes in every part of my body. My face, my neck, my breasts, my thighs. He lingers everywhere.

  He takes the pencil tucked behind his ear and taps it once, twice, over his heart.

  I laugh. “That’s terrib
le. How did that happen?”

  He shrugs. “You wouldn’t tell me your name.”

  And just like that all the ugliness I was feeling vaporizes with a turn of his smile.

  “It’s pretty easy to guess,” I say. “All you have to do is look up.”

  His brow furrows. He parts his lips to say something. I could just tell him. It’s not that big of a deal. But there’s something about him that makes me want to be playful. Something I haven’t felt in such a long time. It’s wonderful and ridiculous.

  “Tripp!” Mr. Robertson walks towards the tree line and stops when he sees me. “Sorry to bother you.”

  I shake my head. “No bother. I was just taking a walk.”

  Hayden taps his toolbelt. I forgot he’s working and didn’t just appear to brighten my day because I keep thinking about him.

  “I have the measurements, Dad.”

  “Then get to it. Stop bothering the young lady.”

  “He’s not bothering me,” I say.

  The old man furrows his brow and turns around as if I didn’t say anything. “Get back to work. You’ve got a lot of free labor to do.”

  Hayden follows after his dad, but not before he winks at me and digs the end of his pencil into his chest one more time.

  I roll my eyes and pretend he doesn’t make my insides flutter like petals in a sweet breeze. He doesn’t take his gaze off me as we walk parallel to each other across the lawn. So to hide from the blazing sun, the sear of his blue eyes, and the gossiping tongues of my family, I do the one thing I’ve wanted to do since I woke up—I dive headfirst into the pool, clothes and all.

  Chapter 4

  I hold a white lily up to my mother’s nose. “I like this one.”

  “Too funeral,” my mom says, batting it away. We’re picking out flowers for the wedding, and my mom insisted on coming along.

  “Didn’t you hear?” I tell her. “That’s what my generation calls getting married. Sorry Pepe.”

  “You don’t have to tell me, nena.” He faux pushes me away. “I’m the last person I thought would ever get hitched.”

  “Because all your ex-boyfriends could populate Texas?”