It was Spring after a long, cold, dark winter, so I never noticed when the apartment across the hall from me was filled. January and February had been particularly cruel and I spent most of it inside, alone. I’m not entirely sure how it was that I missed something as noisy and drawn out as someone moving in. I guess I was asleep that day. Or hung over. Or drunk. Or something. It didn’t matter. The point I’m trying to convey is that it was March (or was it April?) before I discovered that the apartment across from me, long vacant since the old woman who previously lived there disappeared, she must have died, was filled by someone new. New blood in my apartment building was refreshing. A nice change from the old ladies who live here on pitifully tiny rents their sons pay for them. They were nice, but quiet and shy. A little fire never hurt.
I was coming up the stairs from somewhere, the liquor store around the corner probably, cradling a fifth of Turkey in my jacket pocket. I like Jim Beam, but when a man is faced with the prospect of nothing to drink versus something to drink of maybe not the exact preferred brand, then he has an easy decision to make. I was going up the stairs with my Turkey, when beside me I noticed a tall, soft Asian boy, maybe 21, dressed nicely I guessed. He smelled like a woman without a doubt. I never trusted a man who smelled like anything other than a man, but this kid looked harmless enough. He looked at me like I was the boogie man. It’s not good to be scared of neighbors.
“You live here long?” I asked him.
“Oh, no, we just, uh, moved in, like, maybe two months ago?” he said. Light in the loafers, this kid for sure. Definitely light in the loafers.
“Yeah? I didn’t noticed anybody moving in.”
There was a silence, awkward but not insurmountable.
“Right across from mine. Hey, what do you know, we’re neighbors,” I said.
“Yeah, uh, like, great.”
I don’t know what at this moment propelled me forward, maybe it was the bottle of red earlier, or maybe it was the bottle of brandy after that, but I got in my head that I wanted to be friends with this little fairy. Not the usual type of guy I hang around with, but if we were going to be neighbors, why not, right? I didn’t want to fuck him, not enough vagina for me, but I don’t want to fuck a lot of my buddies. There are plenty of ladies around for this guy.
I turned to Mr. Tight Pants and held out my hand, “Jacob Donner.”
“Yu Lee,” he said.
“How’s the apartment, Yu Lee? I haven’t been over since old Esmerelda vanished. Did they redo it?”
“It’s fine, I guess.”
“Can I see it?”
“Yeah, right now.”
“Well, I don’t know if it’s….”
“Oh come on,” I said and held out the Turkey. “This bottle won’t drink itself.”
He thought about it for a moment, decided I probably wasn’t that dangerous (how wrong he was, hah!) and said, “Ok, yeah, sure.”
He unlocked his door, directed me inside and flipped the light switch. Wow. And I mean, wow. This place looked amazing. My landlord doesn’t like to fix up the apartments that the rent controlled folks, like old Esme, live in since they can’t really make any money when some old bat is paying a measly 100 bucks a month for her apartment the landlord could be getting 15, 16, 17 times that for. They sure did a nice job on that place though. All new floors. New walls. They put a closet in one of the rooms that didn’t have one before. New appliances. This place had really been turned into a fancy living space, a lot fancier than mine at least. And bright!
“Is it a lot different?” he asked.
“Oh yeah, it’s real nice now. Real nice.”
“Have they fixed your apartment?”
I looked at this kid like he was crazy. “Oh hell no. They’d kill to get old Jacob out, but they’re going to have to remove me in a hearse,” I said and slapped his back, laughing. He didn’t offer as much resistance as I expected and I nearly threw him into the wall with the slap. He must have weighed about 100 pounds, and I’m not exaggerating. 120 tops. And easily 6 feet tall, if not taller. This boy was out of proportion.
After he regained his balance he looked a little flustered, like he’d made a mistake inviting me over.
“Sorry there, pal. Hey, you got some glasses and stuff?” I said quickly to distract him from my ham fisted attempt to bond.
“Yeah, the kitchen is over there. There’s glasses and ice and anything you might need. I’m going to change out of my work clothes. Help yourself.”
He slipped past me through the entry hall and went into a room at the far end of the apartment. He shut the door and I took the hint.
I wandered over to the kitchen, it was in the same place as it had been when Esme lived here, and put the fifth of Turkey down on the counter. I rummaged through the cabinets to find a couple of rocks glasses, but all he had was juice glasses which were perfectly fine. I threw a couple of ice cubes in each, poured a little water in from the sink, and filled the each glass the rest of the way with the Turkey. A whiff of the bourbon caught my sinuses and burned a pleasant little burn between my eyes. I drained one of the glasses and filled it again.
I placed Yu Lee’s drink on the coffee table in the living room and looked around. He sure had a lot of photos on the walls. There were a few themes. First, there were pictures of the kid with a group of equally femmey looking guys or some muscly guys or guys in glitter or drag or some crazy shit. I figured these were his party friends. Not that it was my thing, but these boys all looked decent enough. They had some outfits I couldn’t imagine wearing in a million years, but to each their own. Second was photos of bunches of girls. I didn’t know what to make of them. Each photo had maybe 4 to 9 girls in it comprised of what I estimated to be a larger group of maybe 15 girls. I definitely saw faces in there over and over, but no clear strand to connect all of them. There were some really pretty ones, that’s for sure. Third, there were photos of Yu Lee and some beautiful brunette. There were a lot of these. Then I started to recognize the brunette in the group photos too. My heart started to beat real fast. This girl was something special. Maybe it was his girlfriend? Maybe pegging him as a queer was wrong? Could be. Could be.
He came out of the bedroom wearing something less fancy than before but still nicer than anything I owned. “Is this one mine?”
“Yeah. Cheers.” I raised my glass to him and then drained my drink. I made myself another. The bottle wasn’t going to drink itself. “Who’s this little brunette fox in these photos? Your girlfriend?”
He nearly spit bourbon on “girlfriend”. “Uh, no. Not exactly.”
“She’s something else. Foxy.”
“She actually lives here too. She’s my roommate. We’ve been super close since college.” He took a sip and made a face that told me he didn’t drink a lot of whiskey.
“She have a name?”
“Sam’s a man’s name.”
“Samantha. She goes by Sam.”
“Ah. Where’s she at right now?”
“Work, I think. She should be home any time.”
“Great great. Do I have anything in my teeth?” and bared my teeth at him.
Ignoring me, he said, “So, you said the lady that lived here before vanished?”
“Yeah! Yeah, crazy story,” I said and took another sip. “So Esmerelda, her friends called her Esme, used to live here. The apartment wasn’t so nice then and she was a widow. Sometimes she’d knock on my door and ask me for help, you know, stuff around the house, fixing things, replacing lightbulbs, taking out her trash, reaching high things, moving heavy stuff, you know, man’s work. Well, she came to rely on me a lot since I’m always here on account of I can’t work right now since my injury. Real nice lady. And not bad of a looker for an older lady. She gets lonely you know, so she starts asking me to come over a lot, making me dinner, which was great. Sometimes she’d knock on my door just to have some company. Who am I to turn down the attentions of a willing woman? One thing leads to another and I find myself sticking it to old Esme three, four, sometimes five times a week. It was great. It’s funny, you think you want one thing with your eyes, but you want a totally different thing when it’s dark and you got your pecker buried in a senior citizen. She loved it. I don’t think she’d had a man since well before her husband died years before. He died of some lingering illness, I can’t remember what, but he definitely wasn’t meeting her feminine needs anywhere near the end, if you get me.
“So one afternoon, I’m riding Esme over the back over her old plastic covered sofa she has when the doorbell rings. I slow down a little bit and look down at her and ask her what she wants me to do. ‘Go get it,’ she says. ‘Like this?’ I ask. And that crazy old bitch says to me, ‘I don’t care who sees. Just go answer the door.’ So I pull out and walk to the door with just the shirt I’ve got on and my pecker sticking straight out and to the right the way it does and I open the door. Standing there is a young black fellow. I ask him can I help him, and he asks me is this the house of Esmerelda Ramirez. I say yeah it is is there something I can help you with? He asks me is she home it’s very important and I tell him he can trust me with whatever it is. Just then, old Esme comes up, decent and classy as ever, and touches my arm and says, ‘Thank you, Jacob. I can take it from here. Why don’t you go home and wait for me. I need to talk to this man in private.’
“Well, I wasn’t one to deny a woman’s wishes, and certainly not hers so I gathered up my pants and went back across the hall to my place. I pop open a bottle of wine, sit on the sofa watching TV, and fall asleep. I wake up the next day with blue balls like crazy. I throw on my robe and go knock on her door, just to make sure everything is ok. She doesn’t answer for a while, so I tried the handle and it’s open so I go on in. It’s the damnedest thing, you know, because the whole apartment was empty. How do you move an old lady out of an apartment she’s been living in for 40 years in less than half a day? And I don’t mean it was empty. I mean it was empty. Like it was when you and what’s-her-name…”
“Right Sam. Like when you and Sam moved in here. Completely totally empty. Pretty crazy, right? I never heard from her again and that was about three years ago now. Sometimes I wonder where she went, but then I think I’m probably not meant to know.”
“Just disappeared? Just like that?”
“Vanished, my friend, like a ghost. Never seen or experienced anything like it. Damn shame too. She was a hell of a lay.”
We stood in silence for a moment and I knocked back the rest of my drink. I like the ice to keep it cool, but I don’t like to give it too much time to melt. Got to drink it fast. I think that probably a lot of blackouts have happened because of that preference. But then, hell if I remember.
“That’s, uh, some story, man,” Yu Lee said.
“True fact. You can ask the other tenants.”
“Maybe I will….Well, it’s getting late now and…”
“Don’t say a word, bud. I got you. Working man’s got to get some rest, am I right? Good meeting you and if you need anything, I’m just across the hall.”
“Yeah, I appreciate that, Jacob.”
“Really, anything. And bring your roommate around sometime. I’ll take you kids on a tour of my favorite bars in the neighborhood.” I said goodbye and turned to the front door, and opened it. Standing there outside in the hall, even more beautiful than in the pictures, was the brunette, Sam. Green eyes. Wow. I was going to have to give it to this one at some point. Get the business done.
“Oh, hi…” she said.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Jacob, I live just across the hall.”