"Mom, please, I need to go."
My mother sighs on the other end of the phone. I struggle to hold back a groan. Here it comes.
"Oh, I know you're busy, I just wish you weren't alone in that apartment, baby. You should really try to find someone to stay with you," she says, her voice woven with tones of sorrow and worry. "You need to be able to grow up, ya know?"
I don't hold the groan back this time. "I'm twenty-five, mom. I am grown up. And I don't need someone to stay with me, alright? I gotta go. Love you, bye."
I hang up the phone before she has a chance to reply, sighing as I set it down on my bedside table. I glance over at Lola, my white, Japanese Bobtail cat. Her brown eyes stare back, filled with amusement. "She just won't leave it alone, Lola. What am I gonna do with her?"
Lola replies with a meow, standing and making her way over to me. She butts her head against my hand and I pet her in compliance. I sit that way for a few minutes as I think, her quiet purring almost lulling me back to sleep. I glance at the clock. 8:46 A.M. Why did mom always have to call so early? She could at least wait until 10 or something. And of all the days to call early, she had to make it my day off.
I groan and sit up, deciding that I might as well get up and start the day. Lola voices a complaint and jumps off the bed, glaring at me. I smile at her. "Sorry, Lola, but we can't just sit in bed all day," I say, to which she replies with a stare that says, 'Oh, yes we could.'
I walk past her and leave my bedroom to enter the rest of my apartment. Though it might have been small compared to other apartments, it was sufficient for one girl and her cat. There was a small living room when you entered through the front door, and a kitchen off to the side. Right down the hall was a bathroom, and my bedroom lay at the end of that same hall. There was also a small closet that stand opposite to the bathroom. The whole apartment was decked out in pale blues and dark browns, my favorite color combination.
I stop by the bathroom to empty my bladder after a long night of sleep, and then head to the kitchen. I open one of my few cabinets and grab a bowl, also taking a spoon from a drawer below it. I set both of them down and then open the fridge, the cold sending a small shiver through my body. It was already freezing enough due to the winter winds blowing through Chicago. I grab the milk and am surprised when it comes up lighter than I expected. I hold it up to inspect it, only to find that there's almost none left. I glare at the almost empty gallon, then turn to glare at Lola, who had followed me into the kitchen.
"This is your fault, you know," I mutter at her, to which she only blinks. "If you didn't always beg for milk, I wouldn't go through it so fast. Now, I'm gonna have to go to the store."
Lola stretches and then jumps up onto the counter next to me, butting her head on my arm. My mean demeanor melts away and I pet her head gently. I sigh."Man, I am such a push-over. Even my cat takes advantage of me," I mumble.
I leave Lola alone on the counter, much to her dismay, and head back to my room to get dressed. I throw on some jeans and a t-shirt, adding a jacket to make sure I don't freeze while I'm out there. I brush my hair out and put it up to make sure I don't look like a total mess, deciding I better put on some earmuffs as well. I grab some gloves and my house key and then head back to the living room. Lola is laying on the couch and I give her one more pet before heading to the door. "I'll be back in a bit," I say to her as I open the door. "Don't wreck the place while I'm gone."
I exit my apartment and lock the door behind me, turning to come face to face with my neighbor. I jump back and gasp in surprise, holding my hand to my heart. "Jesus, Mae, you tryin' to kill me?" I pant, trying to catch my breath. "You scared the shit out of me!"
Mae, a small, Asian girl who's been eighteen for a couple years or so, smiles at me, her green eyes glinting with amusement. She's about an inch or two shorter than me, so I kind of have to look down on her. Today she has her long, chocolate brown hair straightened, and makeup touching her face in a subtle fashion. "Sorry, Beth, I didn't mean to scare you," she laughs, stepping back to give me at least some personal space back.
"As if!" I shout, but I laugh along with her. It wasn't her fault I was so easy to scare. And, honestly, it had been a little funny. Our laughter dies out slowly until the hall is quiet once more. "So, what's up?" I ask her.
"Not much," she replies with a shrug. "Where're you going?"
"I just gotta run to the store for some milk. You would think that because I live on my own I wouldn't run out so quickly," I sigh, thinking of Lola. "You would be wrong."
Mae giggles. "You mind if I come with? I'm so bored."
I start down the hall and she walks along with me to the elevator. "Well, it won't be much of an adventure, but if you want you're welcome to."
"Great!" she says, starting to slow down as we passed another apartment. She stopped in front of it and I stared at her in confusion. Her voice was quiet as she stared at the door. "Have you ever seen the person that lives here? I don't think I ever have."
I stare at the door along with her. Now that I think about it, I don't think I have. "Didn't they move in a little while ago? Do you think anyone else has seen them?"
"Someone's had to," Mae mutters. Then she shrugs and we continue on our way. "What do you think they're like?"
"It's a mystery," I say as I wiggle my fingers at her playfully. She laughs and I continue. "I dunno, though. They probably just like their privacy."
Mae's eyes sparkle as she begins to theorize about the mystery tenant. "Or maybe they can't be seen because they're undercover for the FBI!"
I laugh at her, but decide to play along. I think up my own theory as we step into the elevator and I press the button for the first floor. "Maybe they're hiding something in their apartment, so in order to keep it secret they never leave."
"But then how would they get food and stuff?"
"Hire someone to get things for them. Lots of people do it."
We're still laughing when the elevator stops at the third floor. A man walks in and we try our best to stifle our giggling. Finally, the elevator stops at the first floor and we all get off. Mae runs ahead of me to get outside and I follow her at my own pace. When I catch up with her she shouts, "Maybe he's an alien!"
We both break into more hysterical laughter and earn some glances from passerby. We make our way down the busy, Chicago street and continue to make up crazy theories, the winter air doing nothing to dampen our moods. The sky is gray and cloudy, and the city smells like fresh snow. Christmas lights decorate some of the smaller shops that line the street, and cars with antlers fly by in the traffic. Our breath fogs as we speak, moving on from the mystery tenant.
"So, you excited for Christmas?" Mae asks, eyes glued to every Christmas decoration she sees.
I chuckle at her utter fascination. "Yeah, of course. Who wouldn't be excited about Christmas?"
I snort at the joke and shake my head. "Well, whatever. They're still excited about Hanukkah," I say matter-of-factly.
"Well, what about atheists, or whatever?" she says quickly. I glare at her and she grins. "What? Just sayin'."
I shake my head and smile. "Yeah, well I-"
Apparently, I hadn't been paying enough attention to where I was walking. Or maybe it had been his fault. I guess in the end it didn't really matter, but I was suddenly met with a wall of flesh. I stumbled and fell onto the ground, surrounded by the tall figures of people continuing to walk around me. In front of me stood a boy who looked my age. I silently found myself wondering how long he had been that age.
"Oops. Are you okay?" he asks, extending a hand. His skin is tan, and I can't help but notice the pale scar that cuts vertically across his left eye. I wonder how that happened. His blonde hair is cut short on the sides and longer down the middle, blowing in all directions thanks to the wind. His blue eyes hold hints of confusion and worry, and I stare into them blankly. He frowns and leans down closer to me. "Hello? Are you alright? Did you hit your head?"
I open my mouth, words spilling out quick and jumbled. "Ah, yes... I mean no! I mean..." I pause, trying to fit the words together correctly. "No, I didn't hit my head. Yes, I'm okay. I'm fine. Sorry, I guess I wasn't paying attention to where I was going," I reassure him with a small smile. I grab his hand and he pulls me up easily, returning the smile with his own.
"Oh, no, I wasn't pay much attention either," he says, his voice quiet. His other hand holds a phone and I hear a voice speaking through it. He puts it to his ear. "Ah, yes, just a second." He pulls the phone away, giving me another small smile. "Sorry again."
And then he leaves, holding the phone up to his ear as he walks away.
Mae steps up next to me and stares at the boy's back along with me. Then, she looks at me with a grin. "He was kinda cute."
"Oh, shut up."