Chapter 1 - Move out, Move in, Move on
The moon seems sad today. A whole year has passed. I would have tied this day with a black ribbon. I’m sure the moon would agree with me...
A couple of boxes remained at the entrance. All my things, and I don’t have a lot, have already been taken to the fourth floor - to the loft. Autumn air chills my cheeks, but I like the feeling. The evening is sad, but pleasant.
Jenna’s car pulls up, and she flies out of it like a fairy. Beautiful, light, followed by a trail of perfume. She runs up to me.
“Hey, Gray! You have already moved in!”
“Yes. And I wanted to say thank you again for helping me out and telling me about this place,” I smile at her. “Should I treat you to dinner as a sign of my gratitude?”
“No need for that. I’m glad I could help,” she winks coquettishly. “And I’ll feel better knowing a good person lives in my former room. And that you are in a good place.” She gives me a charming smile. “I forgot something there. Let’s go up?”
I nod, grab the boxes, and we enter the elevator. Jenna presses the button for the 4th floor, and the elevator starts.
“I know this is against the rules, but still... as an exception,” she ogles at me. “Did Marcus say something about my last photo shoot?”
At first, I smile silently, as if I want to tease her a little.
“As you said, it’s against the rules, but if as an exception... the main contender for the spring underwear catalog is now here in this elevator,” and I press my finger to my lips, seeing that Jenna is ready to scream. “But all this is at the discussion stage, so... Shhh.”
“Oh my God... I always knew that in your hands the camera loves me.”
The elevator stops, and we get out. Jenna heads straight for the open door of the 4B loft. Before I walk in, she is already leaving the room, pecks me on my cheek, and says, “I have to go. I hope you will be happy here. And I hope to see you soon.” And she disappears into the hallway.
I’m tired. The day has been long, a lot has happened. So I leave all my boxes as they are until tomorrow and fall asleep completely exhausted and fully dressed on the mattress.
I hear a noise, and at first, I don’t even understand whether it is a dream or not. And when it dawns on me that I have woken up, I am seized with panic, especially when the noise is repeated.
I peer cautiously out of the room, a light is on in the hallway. And... suddenly I notice him. A silhouette crosses the room, awkwardly bypassing my boxes and hiding behind the door of the next room, not noticing me.
Numb, I stand in the doorway and try to figure out what to do now. Jenna didn’t mention she had a roommate. Is this a burglar? But my boxes look intact. I approach the door behind which the guy disappeared. And at that moment it swings open, and I even scream in surprise and step back.
“Heck! You scared me!” I breathe out. “I didn’t know there was anyone else here.”
But in return, I get a silent look. This guy, he must be older than me, is unshaven, with a rumpled face, sullen, with disheveled hair. He wears a stretched t-shirt that should convince me that rock’n’roll is alive and black jeans. I have a bad feeling about this.
“I’m Gray. I moved in instead of Jenna,” and I hold out my hand to him, hoping that he won’t cut it with a knife.
“Hart,” he finally answers in a hoarse voice, and I can smell the alcohol. He never shakes my hand, so I let it drop.
“So... we are roommates now,” I try to smile, but it doesn’t work, I’m too nervous.
In response, he nods almost imperceptibly and closes the door right in front of me.
What is his problem?...
Now sleep is out of the question, I’m too agitated. Moreover, now I’m not alone here. And I don’t like the possibility that my not-too-friendly and not-too-sober neighbor can check all my boxes. So I spent another hour moving all the boxes to my room and only then fall back to restless sleep.
In the morning I leave the room and see Hart sitting on the couch with a glass of coffee and a sandwich.
“Hi,” I say. I think his cold attitude yesterday was due to the fact he was drunk or surprised, so I make another attempt to strike up a conversation. But all I get is another indistinct nod in my direction.
“Yesterday was a bit awkward,” I continue. Silence. My politeness is running short. “Have you moved in recently?”
The pause drags on, but finally, I hear his hoarse voice.
“The day before yesterday.”
“Ah... Jenna just didn’t tell me anything,” I pour myself coffee into a mug and come up to the couch. I want to take a closer look at Hart. Work has taught me to be observant, and I like it.
I usually look at people through a camera lens, and I study their faces. It’s easy, because it’s like I’m looking at them under a microscope, and they don’t mind at all.
Yesterday I didn’t have time to look at Hart. I was nervous, the room was dark, but today it’s not so easy either. As soon as I sit in the armchair opposite Hart, he gets up, puts on a leather jacket, and leaves without saying goodbye.
Of course, I don’t want to think that Jenna set me up, and Hart was the reason she moved out. She wouldn’t do something like this to me. And I think it’s probably too early to draw conclusions. I leave the coffee on the table since I’m not in the mood to drink it anymore and go to work.
When I get back home, Hart is not there yet. I am cooking dinner. I’m used to living in a measured way. I have my own rules, and yes, I’m a bore in this. But routine helps. Especially when you’re overwhelmed with grief and don’t know how to approach your life anymore. Small steps, regular steps help you out of the darkness.
Hart arrives in the heat of my culinary hassle. He walks into his room, leaving behind a trail of the smell of machine oil or something. Then he goes to the shower.
The food is ready. And there’s more meal than I intended to make. And I hesitate if I should invite Hart to have dinner with me. Well... perhaps as another friendly gesture. Weren’t there too many of them already? He can’t even say hello properly. But what if I treat him to dinner, he will finally feel ashamed and warm up to me a little?
When Hart gets out of the shower, I make my voice sound welcoming, “Hey.”
I wait for him to look at me. The shower refreshed him, even the sullenness is washed away a little. His wet hair is slicked back, and his eyes glitter.
“Care for some dinner?” I ask. Then I think Hart shouldn’t take it as if it’s my job to cook dinner now. “I made more than I planned. So...”
“Okay,” he shrugs. I put the second plate on the table. He sits down opposite me and rubs his unshaven cheek, and I notice a long scar on his arm. It looks fresh.
“It’s pasta. Hope you like pasta,” I no longer wait for an answer, I just continue to be nice and scrutinize him. As Hart turns his head to the side to reach for the fork, I notice another scar on his neck that stretches from ear to shoulder. This one looks pretty scary.
“So... What do you do for a living?” I ask.
“I’m a car mechanic,” Hart replies surprisingly quickly but not particularly friendly. Apparently, dinner’s worked in a way. I must admit that Hart’s voice is surprisingly in tune with his appearance, even with his scars. Quite interesting this Hart is.
“And you?” He suddenly asks after a long silence.
Hart frowns a little but says nothing more.
Well, I guess I just have to get used to it... I don’t try to get Hart to talk anymore. I think I’ve done enough. I kind of believe that he is not a murderer, not a robber, not a ghost. He’s just a sullen, silent roommate. And in general, there is nothing wrong with it. I don’t have to make small talk, and I can just mind my own business. I also know how to be silent.
You didn’t like it.
Yes, it is almost impossible to get rid of some thoughts.
We dine in silence, each lost in his own thoughts. And it seems to me that this is our common topic, which does not even need to be discussed.
After dinner, I think I need to start unpacking my things, but for some reason, I have no desire to do it. So I’m lying on the mattress all evening with a book, but my thoughts are divided between Hart, you, and the plot.
I do not notice how I fall asleep. I am woken up by a phone call, not an alarm clock, and this is a bad sign. Not a single day in my life that started with a call has been particularly good. It sounds pessimistic, but it’s the truth.
I messed up the dates. And the clients are already waiting. I jump out of bed, rush to the bathroom, and nearly bump into Hart as he steps out of the shower. My eyes are riveted to his cut torso.
No, no, no, he doesn’t look like you at all.
“Sorry,” I throw on the go and get into the shower. Five minutes later, dressed, with a hastily packed bag, I run out of the loft. Hart calmly strides behind. We ride in the elevator together. For the first time, I notice a semblance of a smile on his face.
Without saying goodbye, I dash out of the elevator. I have to catch a taxi... But a motorcycle stops in front of me on the side of the road.
“Need a lift?” It’s Hart. I don’t have much choice, I’m already late, and I hate being late. So I’m even grateful to Hart. I sit down behind him, and he gets me to my office in a matter of minutes.
“Thank you,” I say quickly but sincerely and run into the studio, coming up with an apology as I go.
In the evening, I cook dinner again. And for Hart too. After all, he helped me out. So this is an exception.
Hart returns from work around the same time as yesterday, smelling of oil. We sit down to dinner.
“Thank you. You helped me out today,” I say without a shadow of embarrassment.
“Mm-hmm,” he nods indifferently.
Quite interesting this Hart is. Every time I see him, he changes. His sullenness is dropping gradually, his features acquire a daring sharpness, and his eyes begin to sparkle. Maybe he’s just getting used to me?
After dinner, he sits down at another table, where he unfolds some blueprints and opens a can of beer. His face becomes focused. I like this expression, I would like to capture it. I quietly pull my camera out and take a few pictures. Hart hears the clicks and looks at me.
“What are you doing?”
“Sorry, I... this is a habit... It’s just that you sit well, good light, I wanted to capture it,” I say, but it looks like Hart doesn’t like the idea. I put the camera away and remember that today I have a date. My work colleague, Emma, decided to introduce me to someone. Not that I mind. But this idea certainly does not cause much enthusiasm.
I haven’t dated anyone for a year and wasn’t going to. But... for some reason I couldn’t say no to my charming collegue. She was very persistent.
I think it’s fine if I don’t think about it as a real date. More like an attempt to get out of my solitude and meet new people. To see if I’m still capable of keeping the conversation going... or something like that. My heart is closed. But maybe I want to check the lock.
So I’m getting ready for the date. Not too thoroughly, but still. I haven’t done this for a long time. Hart glances at me sideways but doesn’t ask anything. I leave the apartment.
On the way to the bar, I have time to think about many things. And I force myself to think more because anxiety grows in me. I try to distract myself with thoughts, but it doesn’t work well. Thoughts return to the past and only increase my nervousness.
I walk around the bar for a long time in indecision. I try to scold myself, make fun of myself - all to no avail. I don’t know how I finally made myself step over the threshold. I’m awaited at a table at the end of the hall.
This guy seems quite cute.
Come on. I can handle this.
He doesn’t look like you at all.
I go to the table and portray a smile.
“Gray, right?” He asks and smiles.
“Yes, yes,” I nod back. “You Owen?”
Nothing will come of it.
“Yes, I’m glad to meet you. Emma has talked a lot about you.”
All right, let’s go. Play by the rules. Let’s talk about work, then about hobbies. Be nice and good. A goodbye kiss on the cheek or a hearty handshake and a promise to call “sometime” and a firm intention (at least on my part) never to call or meet. It will take an hour and a half.
But I sit still and follow the ritual. He’s not a bad guy, he just isn’t you. There was nothing “typical” with you. With you I was myself. There were no rituals, no cliche phrases, no stereotyped smiles. I hate any social date protocol. Stenciled love. No.
After an hour and a half of conversations and a hearty handshake, I wander back home.
Hart sleeps in front of the TV, sitting on the couch. I leave him as he is... take a couple of shots of his sleeping face... Sleep softens his harsh features, and Hart looks peaceful. And the scar on his neck turned red for some reason. I don’t know much about such things, but the scar looks torn, which means it’s not from the surgery. I wonder how he got it?
I go to bed. But instead of sleeping, I look at the still unpacked boxes, and thoughts are crowded in my head. It seems to me that they are like these boxes - unpacked and standing around at random.
I suddenly remember Hart’s face. I wish I took a picture of him when he was moody. It would be a great collection of emotions. “How I learn how to smile” in pictures. I don’t know if Hart can smile at all. But I’d like to see it... Just curious.