Do not look back. It’s absurd! Nothing to see. Just empty streets. There’re no stalkers. There’re only shadows. No one lurks behind me.
I kept repeating the mantra in my head, wishing I believed it.
Forcing a deep breath, I told my heart to slow the hell down with as much authority as I could muster, but it didn’t work. My eyes kept darting to the shadows that pooled around the hazy light of the street bulbs, thick enough to hide someone. My ears prickled with the rustling of leaves, loud enough to cover the steps of someone.
I’m alone. What about the feeling I have of being observed? What about the fingers I feel creeping up my spine? It’s utter nonsense.
I quickened my strides, just in case.
No harm in being sensible, right?
The thought made me snort as soon as it formed in my head, loud like the crack of a whip in the silent night. Yeah, right. Sensibility. If I had any, I wouldn’t have turned down Dave’s offer to take me home. Any other girl with a working brain would have jumped at the chance, not just because of the lift, but also because he was the hotshot.
What had I done?
I smiled, told him I just had to walk ten minutes to get home, and set off.
That had happened fifteen minutes ago.
Still, I hadn’t lied to Dave. I could make the trip in about that time. I just didn’t mention my detour.
I lived in a residential area, all straight streets, mowed lawns, and two-story houses painted in white with little gnomes decorating every other garden. In my neighborhood, all lamps worked and the noise from families at dinner and their brats playing in backyards broke the silence. The cozy streets didn’t go on forever, though. As a matter of fact, they were quite short. And at some point, they faded into this. Like the beggar brother of a rich guy, you could tell they both had started off the same before one of them ran out of money.
The noise made me jump out of my skin. All my efforts to calm down went down the drain as I started to hyperventilate, frozen in place. It took two tries before I convinced myself to look around.
Nothing to see.
It was too dark, too eerie. Too many places to skulk around.
Perhaps indulging in my stupid whims hadn’t been such a cool idea tonight.
I tensed, ready to bolt as soon as I figured out in which direction. I had heard it, I hadn’t imagined…
I swiveled around to face the noise and… cursed, blinked, then laughed like a madwoman.
It had been a cat.
A stupid, mangy cat burrowing through a trashcan.
Great. One of these days, I’m going to jump in fright at my own reflection.
The thought gave me enough courage to keep walking.
I crossed another deserted street and frowned at the silence. It suffocated me. And it worried me because it shouldn’t be there. Was I too late? The guys and I had gone to get a coke after the movies, but still. I had been so sure that it could never be too late for my little escapades. I mean, I’d have hitched the ride otherwise.
I checked the time on my cell, swept the bangs out of my eyes to make sure I was seeing straight, and checked again.
Boy, it had gotten late.
Mom will have a field day with me.
After a moment’s consideration, I started off again, determined to get back to my own area of the neighborhood. Once I’d taken two steps toward safety, the quiet was broken with a single, keening note.
A long, trembling one followed like a lament and, just when I thought it was impossible to sustain anymore, a furious blur of sound exploded, choking out the sadness of the melody with its hopeful, upbeat rhythm.
I forgot about hurrying home and let out a long, pleased sigh.
Scary neighborhood? Impending shouting contest? Aching feet? Who cares? Who could care with this music floating in the air?
The answer to that one would be “everyone” if I asked my friends. They weren’t around, though, so I made sure, as always, to ignore their opinions on the matter.
I listened for a moment in total bliss. When the melody snapped out of its crescendo, I scrambled around the skeletal yard of the home the music emanated from, trying my best to be sneaky and to keep out of the light. Quite ridiculous, taking into account my skinny jeans, glittering top and stiletto heels, but way better than to admit my stalking habits.
While the music played loud enough to hear it from the street, I always felt like a voyeur when I crouched under his window.
Unseen. Unheard. Listening.
I closed my eyes. The sound was intimate—soft and beautiful and sad. I always imagined that the notes highlighted the contours of his soul for all to see. Since no one but me paid any attention, I imagined that meant that his innermost self lay bare before me and no one else. The thrill of that thought served me better than any visual image.
No need to try to peek in, get caught, and die from shame and embarrassment.
Far easier to lie in wait and imagine.
After a while, the song didn’t end as any other song would. It exhausted its emotions and died out, like a candle without air, and became flat and unresponsive before it shifted, swelling and starting over again. This time it broadcast a mixture of tenderness, loneliness, and pain.
I laid my head back against the brick wall and wished, as I did every night, that I comprehended the first thing about music, that I knew what he was doing, that I could unravel his secrets.
I had been wishing for years, ever since I started taking this detour and stopping in front of his house. From the very beginning, I wished I could know him as I believed I did.
I never tried to, though. Why bother? Way too complex for a few minutes of understanding every night. And that’s all we’d have, if there ever was such a thing as a “we.”
I never tried to fool myself. I knew that when he stopped, I’d stand up and go home, and tomorrow I’d forget all about him, about his music.
In the morning, I’d hang out with Dave and the girls and be ashamed of these moments. I’d vow never to return to his window. I’d laugh, joke, study, and go out and dance and forget.
But night would come, and I’d be back in the dark neighborhood, stuck to this brick wall.
I’d remember and go back to wishing.
Then, everything would start again. Rinse and repeat.
And I might not be proud of what I did, but I knew that I’d not give it up. Ever.