Words about love from the outside.
“Ash is magnetic, isn’t he?” I said, looking on as a girl in a little black dress lit his smoke about thirty yards behind us, as we waited for him to catch up.
“He is,” she sighed. I turned and caught the look of heaviness in her eyes as I watched her watch him, for a brief moment. She turned to see me and quickly let out a chime of laughter. “It will take us ages to get home, with him lagging behind like this, won’t it?” Claire was magnetic too, though she didn’t know it. But I knew it, even though we had only just met.
After work, I microwaved some leftovers and sat down at the kitchen table alone. I ate in silence, but I could hear laughter and footsteps from upstairs. I could hear bottles clinking, and heels clicking on the hardwood. Music drifted down to settle over me as I sat alone. I wonder if I should go up and knock on the door, ask if I could join? But I didn’t. I had only met them a few times. The first time, Claire spotted me through the kitchen window and just walked in, hand outstretched to shake mine. “Hi,” she had said with a big smile. “I’m Claire, I live upstairs.” Her cheeks were all rosy, she was just back from a run, she had said.
After dinner I paced around my new apartment a little bit, thinking about Annie. Thinking about that night. Finally, when I couldn’t stand to be cooped up for a minute longer, I grabbed my pack of smokes and opened the door. Outside of the door was a little wooden chair, perched on the small landing of the stairs outside my door. The stairs were a huge wooden appendage, going up the left side of an old red brick Victorian style home, which had been split up into three apartments. The chair was there when I moved in, and I just decided to leave it, since it seemed like the perfect spot to park myself and enjoy a cigarette in the evening. I sat down, lit up, breathed the smoke and evening air in deep, and exhaled heavily. Just then, I heard the screen door upstairs open. Giggling and heavy footsteps coming down the stairs. Claire stopped in front of me, two friends behind her. “Hey neighbor,” she smiled. I briefly noticed her jean shorts and her sandals that made her a good six inches taller. Her coppery hair was tossed carelessly over her shoulder.
“Hey, Claire, how’s it going?”
“Pretty good,” she shuffled her feet, “How’s your weekend going? When does your girlfriend get home?”
“Holly isn’t my girlfriend. We’re just roommates.”
“Oh, I’m sorry! I just sort of assumed when you guys moved in together.” Again she shuffled her feet.
“What are you guys up to?”
“Oh, a few of us are going to Splice,” she brightened up a bit.
“What’s Splice?” I asked, taking a drag from my cigarette. She paused briefly, watching me exhale, then answered, “It’s a night club. A small one. It’s sort of, intimate. There are places to sit if you don’t like to dance. You should come.” I wondered briefly what Annie would think of this. More footsteps on the stairs. “Hey baby,” grinned Claire, looking up as Ash descended, her face flooded with admiration. “Our new neighbor is going to join us,” she said, looking back towards me. “Right?”
“Awesome, man, the more the merrier,” said Ash, slipping his arm around Claire’s waist, and kissing the top of her head.
I went inside and grabbed a jacket and sprayed some body spray under my arms, looked briefly in the mirror, then met them at the bottom of the stairs. Claire and her friends chattered and walked on ahead. Ash asked me about my job, about if I liked the city so far. I did. But it wasn’t home. The home I had with Annie just a few months ago.
After about a fifteen-minute walk to get to the heart of the city, Claire and her friends ducked into a doorway through which I could hear music pumping, heavy bass. The doorman asked the rest of us for ID’s, but he waved Claire and Ash in. I stopped and pulled mine out, though I’m twenty-nine. I stepped through the door and scanned the crowd for Ash and Claire, and spotted them hanging up her sweater on the coat rack. Once out of her sweater, she rushed to join her friends on the dance floor and began swaying and laughing. I made my way over to Ash, and we took a spot at the bar. He ordered a shot and a beer for each of us, looking me right in the eye as he said “cheers,” and tipped the shot back. “You know you have to make eye contact when you cheers, otherwise it’s seven years bad sex,” he said with a laugh. “And who can afford that?”.
“Hey man, thanks for inviting me out. It’s nice to get out. I haven’t really seen much of the city since I moved in.”
“No worries brother. Like I said, the more the merrier.” Claire caught his eye from the dance floor and flashed him a smile. She looked at him as if they were the only two people in the room. “God, she is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen,” he said. I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or to himself. “Isn’t she?” he asked, turning toward me with a grin.
“Oh,” I said, looking into my beer, “yes, she is very pretty.” He smiled a satisfied smile.
“Tell me about yourself,” he said, looking me right in the eyes once again and giving me an encouraging smile. I mumbled something about there not being much to tell, but he continued to look at me. “What do you love?” he asked, in a way that made me actually want to tell him. To tell him everything.
“Well,” I said, “I love music I guess.”
“What do you play?”
“Guitar, mostly. I sing a bit.”
“That’s awesome, man.” He continued chatting with me, ignoring the loud music and chattering around us. We drank, more than I had in a while. I really liked him, he was great to talk to, and he really listened. I was beginning to feel fuzzy, and comfortable. After some time, Claire came over and fell into his lap, sweating and laughing.
“Come dance with us, you two!” she pleaded, looking at us both in turn.
“Of course darling,” he said, kissing her on the cheek and taking her hand. I followed them awkwardly out to the dance floor where her friends were waiting. I watched the way the two of them moved together, mesmerized by how in sync their bodies were, as they swayed and laughed and moved to the music. I too let the music take me, my head feeling fuzzy but my feet feeling light. I closed my eyes and swayed, letting myself go. It felt good. Images of Annie dancing in our kitchen flashed through my head but I pushed them aside and danced faster, bigger.
“That’s it!” giggled Claire, taking my hand in hers and twirling. I smiled. I really liked them.
“I’ll be right back babe, I’m just going to the bathroom,” said Ash, kissing her on the cheek. “You keep an eye on her for me,” he winked at me as he made his way through the crowd. Claire watched him go for a minute, then continued dancing. But I noticed she kept scanning the crowd for him. When he came back into view she brightened slightly, and I followed her eyes to see him making his way back towards the dance floor. A girl with blonde curls stopped him and said something into his ear, both of them laughing as she threw her arms around him in a hug. I watched Claire’s shoulders slump slightly, but when she noticed me she smiled and said, “must be a coworker,” and shrugged, turning away. I watched him make his way back to us, stopping several times to chat with different people. He obviously knew a lot of people. And everyone seemed happy to see him. “Hey babe,” he said as he kissed her on the cheek, once again slipping his arm around her waist, his voice now noticeably slurred.
“Hi darling,” she said, taking his face in both her hands and kissing him softly. I looked away. “I want to do a shot,” she said all of a sudden, pushing her way forward towards the bar. “Who wants to do shots,” she shouted over her shoulder, barely audible above the music. I looked at Ash and he shrugged, following her. I followed him.
My head feeling more than fuzzy now, we danced and danced. I let my body go in ways I hadn’t in a while. It felt so wonderfully freeing to let loose.
“I’m tired now,” said Claire with a pout, tugging on Ash’s sleeve. When he paid her no mind, she looked to me with sad eyes.
“Hey man, should we call it a night?” I shouted towards Ash.
“Yah, okay,” he nodded, taking Claire by the hand and pulling her towards the coat rack. He wrapped her up in her sweater and we made our way towards the door, followed by Claire’s two friends. Outside, Ash stopped to chat with a group of three girls and a dark haired guy in front of the club. Claire’s friends said goodbye and walked in the other direction, talking and laughing loudly. Claire stooped to remove her sandals, then kept walking. I looked back at Ash, who was paying no attention to her or I at all, and then ran a few short steps to catch up with her.
“Are you cold?” I asked, glancing sideways at her. “Maybe you should put your shoes back on.”
“These things?” she said, holding them up, “no way, they hurt. I wish I had never worn them.” She kept walking. After a few minutes Ash caught up with us. We walked in silence then. As we were about to pass a crowd outside of some pub, Claire leaned close to me and said, “Oh there’s Grace, she’s so rude.” She then straightened up and said sweetly “Oh hi Grace!” and waved.
“Hey what’s up,” responded Grace, quickly turning back to her friends. A few minutes further and Claire noticed Ash was no longer beside us; she turned to see him standing a little too close to Grace, him smiling, her laughing, her head tossed back and hair flowing down her back carelessly. She then reached into her pocket, pulling out a lighter for the cigarette he had just placed between his lips.
“Ash is magnetic isn’t he?” I said, admiring the way that he engaged people so fully and completely; the way everyone wanted to be close to him.
“He is,” she sighed, watching sadly as he interacted with Grace. I wanted to tell her she was beautiful, and that he loved her. I know she knew, but I could see the heaviness in her eyes.
“Come on,” I said, and headed towards home. She followed. “Hey, when is your birthday, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“July,” she said, “why?”
“Ah, you’re a cancer. I could have guessed.” Annie was a cancer. “How long have you and Ash been together?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, looking down at her feet. “A few years I guess.”
“He’s a great guy, thanks for inviting me along.”
“You’re welcome any time,” she said, looking me in the eye and giving a small smile. “He is a wonderful man. I love him very much,” she sighed, looking away.
When we made it back to the house, I offered to walk her up. I didn’t know what else to do. She unlocked the door and stepped through, turning back to look at me expectantly. “Come in,” she said. I stepped through the door into the kitchen. “Ash has some beer in the fridge,” she said, “help yourself,” as she took a glass of water from the tap. I opened the fridge timidly and took out a beer, following her to the living room as she plopped down into a chair, pulling a throw blanket over her bare legs. I wanted to tell her about Annie; I wanted to tell her everything. Or maybe I just wanted to tell her that everything was alright. My head felt full of cotton. She was a beautiful creature, Ash was right. I studied her out of the corner of my eye. Her copper hair was now a mess, her eyes sad and sleepy. “I should go-” I started to say, but just then her mobile phone began to ring.
“Hello,” she said. “Hi baby. Where are you? Oh, well you’re almost home then. You’re okay. Yes the neighbor is here with me. Love you too babe. See you soon.” She put the phone down with a sigh. “He’s drunk,” she said. But when she saw me looking inquisitively at her, she laughed. “He is just so silly when he drinks!”
A few moments later, we could hear footsteps on the stairs, and Ash came in through the door. “Well hello there, my pretty lady and her neighbor.” She stood up and threw her arms around him, laughing as he twirled her in the air. I stood up to leave. “Calling it a night, eh neighbor?”
“Yah, I’ve got an early morning tomorrow,” I lied, heading for the door. I stopped and turned to look at them both. “Thank you, for bringing me along. It was wonderful.” They both smiled their beautiful, winning smiles, and I headed out the door and down the first flight of steps, letting myself into my own apartment. I threw off my coat and flopped down onto my bed. Though I still had my shoes on, I could feel myself drifting off to sleep.
I awoke with a start to the sound of sobbing from upstairs. I rolled over and laid there quietly, listening. Footsteps, a door slammed. Voices, loud. More sobbing. Yelling, a loud crack on the ceiling. Silence. I closed my eyes and tried not to. I tried ever so hard not to relive that night with Annie, not to hear those sounds.
In the morning, there was a knock on the door. I stumbled out of bed, unlocking the door and opening it to see Claire standing there in a floral sundress with yellow flowers on it. I noticed the makeup caked thick beneath her left eye. “We’re cooking breakfast upstairs,” she said with a smile. I could hear Ash whistling a tune, and the sounds of sizzling bacon. “Join us?”
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