Alex regretted opening the door before he’d thought up an excuse about the noise. This slid under ‘spectacularly stupid’, seeing how his life depended on those lies. Neighbours were the second greatest threat he faced: crotchety, nosy, dickish, ‘I have work in the morning’, ‘I’ll get the landlord’ types who went out of their way to plan legal surprise parties. The right line got them to leave. Agents never left. It was his best trick for telling the two apart. Now he’d screwed himself, because instead of saying something convincing, he stared at her. Then he kept staring, waiting for his mouth to move.
“The fuck do you want?”
“Uh – hello, I mean,” Alex said. Sincere. He wanted sincere. “Can I help you?”
“… Yeah…” This was new. The girl looked more uncomfortable than he did. She stood with her hand holding her other shoulder like she was her own security blanket. Maybe it had to do with the staring. “I wanted to…”
Take your time. I could use the rest.
Alex’s hands twitched. Xander, don’t start.
Oh. Uh… Okay. He waited, but she didn’t elaborate. The normal written complaints and petitions weren’t anywhere he saw, either. This fell far from his element. Alex continued Operation: Cold, Dead Eyes until he clued in to echo her nervous, “‘Visit’?”
That broke the dam: “Ah – sure! You know, because – ah… you live here, and I live here – only I don’t – like – um… live here so… don’t try to come and find me or anything! You won’t! Ha-ha!”
Alex noted the forced giggle.
D’aww, she thinks you’re a mental patient, Xander cooed.
He probably was. He’d wandered in a walking coma for a month after their big Agent-land escape. Six years really flew by since then. And where he used ‘flew’, Alex meant ‘dragged with the agony of carrying an extra voice inside his head’.
“But yes, I –” Right. Her. “I came to visit. I – ah… wanted to say ‘hi’.” She paused. “So… hi, and I will simply be leaving now so – see ya later, gator!”
“Much later,” he swore the girl muttered.
That was weird. That handled itself. Were they done? Where’s my fucking latté?
“Hey, is that it?” She’d already started leaving. Fast. “You’re not here about the fight?”
“Oh, I – oh my God,” she shrieked. Alex leapt back. “Your face!”
That’s what I always tell him!
“You – you look…”
She’d been ten steps away when she turned to reply. From there, she freaked and waved her hands at his head, talking very loudly. Sure – his face, the mirror, the bruises… He figured she was saying he looked bad. She noticed, by the way, ‘cause he’d even more stupidly stepped out there to call to her. He got behind the door and shut it to a crack. Alex didn’t need her glancing inside if that’s how she felt over a swollen cheek. With his track record in catching breaks, the girl worked as a room inspector. Paying extra on his rent only bought so much ‘understanding’, and his deposit had long gone. Thanks, Xander.
This place sucks anyway.
“I’m alright,” Alex promised. “This is nothing.”
“That was your fight?” The girl squinted at him. She didn’t move closer. Neither of those made for good signs. “That was from today?”
“Uh…” What should he tell her? “Yes?”
“Oh my God. Oh my God – I had no idea! Who were you fighting?”
“My…” If he pulled himself together, Alex could spin this to get rid of her. “… roommate?” Yes, that sounded confident.
“What is he, a bear? Is he the one who throws everything? Do you need the hospital? Is he still there?” Suddenly she shot towards him and whispered, “Should I call the cops?” And bring more people? “My phone’s right here. I already had it set to dial 9-1-1.”
“No, it’s…” Wait. “You did? Why?”
“No reason!” She whipped the phone away. “Are you dying? How badly dying? Are you dizzy? You need a doctor. Is this what’s always happening?”
Ignoring the theft of his personal space, he tried to keep track of her questions. Dizzy? Yeah. Now.
“Could you excuse me?” He took the quarter-second silence as an answer. Alex closed his door, slamming the brakes on her interrogation. He flattened his shoulders against it to hold it shut in case… well, in case. “Great. What’s the plan?” Something better than ‘Nice job, genius’, please.
Alex. We have to kill her.
The sweat along his neck turned to ice. A vice caught within his throat.
“We have to kill her,” he croaked, “because she’s an Agent?”
Nah, she’s just gabby. ‘Sides, those shoes with those overalls? Guuurl…
“Thanks, Xander. I almost had a fucking heart attack.”
I know. It was funny. What do you want me to do?
“Get rid of her! Non-lethally,” he added. “I don’t want her here. She’s an Agent or she’ll get hurt by the actual Agents chasing me.”
All four of them.
“There’s been more than four,” Alex said.
Not that you’d know since I do all the damn work. And – oh look, guess who’s crawling to me again. He – Save it, Pop-Tart. Next time think before you shout ‘Is That It’. What do I say about gifts and horse mouths?
Yeah, but trust me, it would’ve been extremely relevant.
“Will you just –”
Sorry I can’t hear you I didn’t fucking go to Pequods.
Alex glared at the air.
“You’re the worst split-personality in the world.”
That’s uncalled for. Then from his mouth came a violent shriek of, “He’s eating me!” There you go. Now I’m the worst.
This type of crap was so typical, he nearly forgot other ears heard it, too. Xander’s voice had cut past the door. The walls of this building were like paper and – shit, she was gonna call the cops. He grabbed the door and ripped it back open.
“It was a joke,” he swore. “A really, really, really bad joke.”
If I knew ventriloquism, this’d be even funnier.
Shut up, Xander.
The girl gave him a stare similar to the one he’d launched at her first. She lowered her thumb from the green ‘Send’ button and tucked the phone into her pocket. With a weight attached to her tone somewhere between disturbed and personally slighted, she told him, “You said you’re alright.”
“Yes. But,” he answered, “thank you for the visit.” Don’t ever do it again. “So… uh… I have to get back to…”
“Yeah. I mean – renovating. I’ve gotta get to that… fun… stuff.”
Alex tacked on a tight smile. Please go?
“I suppose.” A glint lined her eyes. So her suspicion hadn’t left, and neither had she. The nosy type, he decided. “Renovating, huh? That’s what this was about?”
“We’ve got stylistic differences. I’m more into –” He drew a blank. “…ducks.”
“He’s more of a red guy,” Alex tried to finish.
“You can’t settle on red ducks?”
“Red ducks? Ha-ha! Ha-ha… Wow, uh…” Please leave. “I’ll run that by him. Thanks. Thank you.”
God, it’s like watching cows fall off a cliff with you.
“You’re welcome.” She inched farther away, teasing the intent to leave but not quite going because that would’ve been too easy. This leaned dangerously close to ‘Agent’ territory. In his mind, he felt a muted rush of excitement from Xander over the thought. “You’re alone here, aren’t you?” His fear deepened. “It’s only the two of you?” Oh. Oh man. Whew. “You should come out sometime. Things might be easier if you had nearby friends to offer support.”
Okay? She’d loaded ‘support’ with a creepy emphasis.
“I’m serious. Everyone deserves a caring place to live, no matter who you’re living with.” She seemed closer. “Friends put things into perspective or help you move on, even if you truly feel like you have to stay here for a reason.” Definitely closer. “People can be reasons. Sometimes, a certain person can be the wrong reason.”
I think she thinks you’re gay. What?! You shouldn’t’ve said you were renovating. What kind of a straight guy fights over that? No, because Xander said – Forget what I said. Red dicks it is. Dicks of every shade!
Gay ducks, too!
Alex ran a hand through his hair, pulling on the messy strands like that was going to yank him into sanity. With a second smile, tighter than the first – you know how I like it – shut the fuck up, Xander!
“Look – thanks for coming by to double-check I wasn’t dead,” Alex said. She blushed. “I’m fine. Sorry about the noise, sorry about the yelling, sorry about my roommate who I have nothing to do with past sharing this crappy apartment, but I have to finish renovating and that means I need to close the door. So for the last time I’m gonna ask: is that it?”
“Yes, but I –”
“Thank you.” Slam. “For shit’s sake…”
Amazing. Xander applauded. Like watching gay cows fall off a rainbow. Alex ignored him in favour of sliding to the floor. He stabbed his butt on the morning’s shrapnel but he wanted to sit. Neighbours were awful. You know what I’d’ve done five minutes ago?
“No, but you’re going to tell –”
Not talked to her. There, problem solved. What’s for supper?
Alex tensed as the shock wore off. Who was that? Why did she jump from prepping 9-1-1 to dishing domestic battery advice? It didn’t feel normal. But she left like an Agent wouldn’t, and what did he know about basic interaction anymore? Unless this formed a new angle… Get to him by pretending to not want to? Stupid. The question was whether it seemed stupid enough.
Hey. Pay attention to me. The guy slapped him. I want food.
Alex did, too. More than that though, he wanted this place clean.