why is the morning sky blue
and the night sky black
when stars can only be seen with the moon
which all sunny days lack?
The moment I stepped into the apartment, its AI read my biometrics and turned on the lights before I could reach for the switch. I prayed he didn’t notice. It was only now that I realized how high-end and expensive my mother’s upgrades to our living space were. It made me thankful that it hadn’t been Arleen who had come home with me today. If she did, she might have started to look at me and treat me differently.
We lived in the same half of the city where the upper middle class thrived and went to the same cost-effective highschool so the thought that my family was better off than hers must have never crossed her mind. Now I was glad that I’d never had the guts to ask her if she wanted to come over to my place. I didn’t need her thinking I was a rich snob on top everything else I tried not to be.
I turned to the stranger still standing in the hallway and pointed towards the living room. “You can come in.”
He nodded, his right hand gripping the strap of a backpack I hadn’t noticed. His fingers flexed and his knuckles whitened. “You don’t have to do this.”
“It’s an obligation to my conscience,” I said to assure both him and myself. Deep down I knew that there was something innately wrong about what I was doing and if I could feel it maybe he could too. He could be a thief or a rapist or a murderer. And I could be a kidnapper, psychopath or serial killer. But what were the chances of those odds? All I knew was that in a few minutes there’d be a blizzard and I wouldn’t want to wake up tomorrow to find a frozen corpse lying in a dark alley two blocks away.
“I’m not a serial killer, if that’s what you’re afraid of.” I locked the door behind him. “And as long as there isn’t a bloody axe in that rucksack of yours, we’re all good.”
That got me a smile from him, and that made me freeze. It was an expression comparable to Arleen’s in terms of authenticity and warmth. It was a pleasant surprise to see it on such a stern face; I had expected something more professional.
“Only a serial killer would say that they weren’t a serial killer,” he said.
“Then you’ll just have to sleep with your eyes open tonight,” I told him, hurriedly swiping up the half empty bottle of Bourbon his gaze had been attracted to deposit it on the kitchen counter. On the way, I cleared up as much of the messy room as I could.
This wasn’t how I had left the house in the morning. Mom must have invited someone over, I thought as I rearranged a stack of magazines in chronological order versus the random pile it had been degraded to. My mother wasn’t the cleanest person on the planet but she hated disorder with a passion, that left me in an awkward position where I always rushed to clean up after her before she noticed that things were out of place and took her anger out on me. Without my existence, in a matter of days there would be no walking space in the entire apartment.
It had happened before.
“Kayden,” I heard the man’s voice say from behind me the moment I stepped foot into the kitchen.
“What?” I slowly set the bottle down on the counter, glad that I had somehow managed not to drop it. If you hadn’t noticed already, I get startled easily by sudden noises.
“That’s my name,” he elaborated.
I know, I wanted to say but bit my tongue. Even if he had lived two blocks away, on and off for two years, knowing his name without ever having talked to him would have been strange even for me. But I did know his name. On the first day I noticed him lingering around the apartment complex, I had asked for it. Different people gave me different answers—I think most just lied for the sake of the money I had offered—but Kayden had been one of them.
“Are you telling me now because you’re ready to kill me?” I joked. It wasn’t even a very good joke, just morbid seeing that I wouldn’t even mind if he did. On seeing that the kitchen had remained relatively untarnished in my absence, I cleared my throat and turned to face him.
“You don’t have to do this,” he repeated.
“You’re not really a serial killer. . . are you?” I laughed weakly but the thread was running dry of the humor it once had. This situation could easily turn into one from a horror movie where a naive protagonist unknowingly led his killer into his home out of ‘good will’. In the brief seconds of silence that I waited for Kayden’s reply, I contemplated death. What did it feel like? Would the act itself be painless, like simply disappearing? Or would it be agonizing having to watch all your memories shatter into nothingness until you were nothingness?
He shook his head, a frown now decorating his chapped lips. “No. I just didn’t want you to feel forced to help me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, not knowing whether the lie was for me or him. “I’m the one forcing you to let me help you.”
“Okay,” he replied, but I had a hunch he didn’t believe me.
“I don’t care if you’re a serial killer, by the way,” I copied one of Arleen’s I-Do-Not-Discriminate shrugs. “Do you.”
For some reason, I felt my heart swell with happiness when a new smile graced his lips, one wider than the one from before. No matter how wrong it was or how much trouble I would get into after, in that moment I decided that it was all worth it for that smile.
It made me feel better about what I now needed to do because I knew the memory alone would be enough to dull the pain.