I wrote this short story based on an idea that a friend sent me. The story was supposed to have the lines, “I’ve known you for five years and I don’t even know your name!”
This is my take. Let me know what you think!
I’ve known you for five years!
I know you’re afraid, Mel. I know your sisters don’t understand you and that’s hard. But life is hard. You need to take risks. You need to talk to people, to find happiness that is more than sitting around with your characters all day. I need you to be happy. I need you to love.
I love you,
Those words were in the last letter my mother had sent me. Before my mother died I hadn’t seen her in years. I hadn’t even left my house.
It started out small. I would be driving and I’d think about how things could go wrong. Like seeing a man walking towards the car and my thoughts would go to a dark place. Or when I was walking past a white van, I was petrified. Walking into a store, my mind conjured up images of men coming in with guns.
Slowly, the fear grew and grew until I couldn’t leave my apartment.
My sister couldn’t understand. She lived with her husband and kids in a nice cushy home and never once thought of the evil in the world showing up on her doorstep.
The only person who understood my fear was my mother. She tried to get me out of the house, coercing me, and sometimes it would work. Until it didn’t. Until she got sick and ended up in a nursing home.
When my sister called to tell me that she had passed, I couldn’t make it out the door. I couldn’t make it to my car that’s rusting in its parking spot under the building.
That was Monday.
I’ve spent the past two days, pacing back and forth in my apartment, berating myself for not being able to take a foot outside this damned building. Why? I would ask myself out loud. Why are you like this? Why can’t you just leave? My mother’s letter that she sent a few days before her death – I got in the mail yesterday – now sits on the coffee table in the center of the room, no doubt with tear marks on it. It’s probably also wrinkled. I… sort of fell asleep with it in my hands last night.
With my mother’s, help I was able to make it down to the lobby to check my mail. That’s the accomplishment I’ve celebrated over the years, but I haven’t moved past it.
I glance at the letter on the table, focusing on the perfect swirls of my mother’s handwriting. With a glance at the stove in the kitchen, I see the time is three o’clock in the morning.
Taking a deep breath, I go to my front door, grab my keys, and take tentative steps into the hallway, down into the lobby. When my feet hit the ground floor, I take a look around the dark lobby. There’s only one light on by the mailboxes, a warm light that creates shadows around me. I inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth. I can do this.
Slowly, I walk over to the lobby doors, preparing myself for what I’m about to do. When I reach the door, I place my shaking hand on the handle.
You need to take risks.
I push open the door and step out onto the discolored pavement before the building. The door slams shut behind me, making me jump.
It’s a hot summer night, and even though the sun is long gone, the heat remains, strong and suffocating. A breeze sweeps through, ruffling my hair and the loose tank top that I’m dressed in and I take another deep breath, this time a sense of calmness filling me.
See? Nothing to be scared off. Nothing at all.
Of course, then something like a gunshot sounds through the air, making me jump.
Yup, time to go back inside now. I’m not up for guessing if that was a firework or a gun going off, so I turn around and open the door with my key.
Once I’m safe back inside the building, I go over to the mailboxes to grab the mail.
At that moment, the front doors open behind me and I freeze. Footsteps sound on the linoleum as they walk past me to the stairs.
Slowly, I cast a glance over my shoulder. It’s 3B. He’s lived down the hallway from me for years now. I wish I knew his name, knew his life. He’s handsome in a nerdy kind of way, with a black leather jacket on, and ripped jeans. He has brown hair and black thick glasses over his eyes. And his eyes are a warm brown that matches his hair. I remember the day he had moved in. His boxes of books being heaved up the stairs late at night. I didn’t think anyone would be out at two in the morning but he was. It was an odd time to be moving in but he did it anyway. He was coming up the stairs while I was going down. His eyes met mine and he smiled at me. I smiled back and I tried to speak but no words came out. My feet kept moving while my mouth wouldn’t move at all and soon I was around the staircase and he was out of sight.
I see him sometimes coming in late at night and he sees me but we don’t talk. We’ve never talked. And we probably never will.
Resigned, I put my mail under my arm and closed my mailbox before taking back to the stairs. I make it to the landing of my floor just as 3B’s door closes. I stare at it for a moment. What would happen if I marched over and knocked on his door? Would he invite me in for a drink? Or look at me like I’m the crazy person he probably thinks I am?
I scoff to myself. Let’s be honest, it’ll be the ladder. Plus I wouldn’t do that, those are the kinds of things I write about. I don’t actually do them. The characters in my books are people I wish I could be. They do things I wouldn’t dare, things I’m too afraid to do.
Once again, the words from my mother’s letter echoes through my mind.
You need to talk to people, to find happiness that is more than sitting around with your characters all day.
Dammit. I just want to be a hermit that no one bothers.
I glance at 3B’s door. It would… be nice to talk to someone in person for once.
With a newfound determination, I march to 3B’s door and raise my closed fist. I hesitate. Do I really want to do this?
Like someone did it for me, my hand pounds against the door. I jerk back shocked.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
For a moment, there’s no sound and I think about running to my room. Can I make it before he opens the door? But, he saw me in the lobby, he’ll assume it’s me and think I’m crazier than he already does. Dammit.
Suddenly, the door is opening and I don’t have any more time to thing.
3B looks at me, his eyes wide in shock, then down at his watch and I realize how late it is and that I still have my mail in my hand. He probably thinks I followed him up here. Stupid girl.
“Uh, hi,” he says, and scratches his head. “Can I help you?”
I blink. Shit, what do I say?
“Sugar,” I say, my voice cracking. I clear my throat. “I was wondering if you had sugar… I started making banana bread and realized I don’t have any sugar.”
Proud of myself for the lie, I smile at him. A faint smile tugs at his lips.
“You’re baking this late?” He quirks an eyebrow and I know he doesn’t believe me.
“Yeah, uh, sometimes I can’t sleep. Idle hands and all that,” I say, doing spirit fingers with my hands. I realize I must look like an idiot, so I stop putting my hands at my sides. “Anyway, I went to get my mail, saw you come in, and wondered if maybe you had some. I figure everyone else is probably asleep,” I say, gesturing to the other closed doors down the hall.
“Sure,” he says, sounding a little more convinced.“Come on in.”
He motions for me to come inside, and I take a small step into his apartment, my eyes going wide as I take a look around. It’s plain, with a couch and chair in the center of the room, facing a tv along a wall, a few photos lined next to it.
3B comes back holding a baggy full of granulated sugar.
“Thanks,” I say, taking it from him.
“So, I’ve known you for about five years,” he says, running a hand through his hair.
“And?” I ask, not sure what he’s getting at.
“I still don’t know your name!” He chuckles. “To be honest I’ve been calling you 3D in my head.”
I let out a small chuckle and feel my cheeks heat. It doesn’t go unnoticed that, you know, he thinks about me.
“I’m Amelia,” I tell him.
“Nick,” he answers.
I smile up at him and then look around not sure what to do.
“Nick, what’s going on?” A feminine voice calls out.
Now, Nick’s cheeks heat as he turns to look behind him.
“Just a neighbor,” he replies. He glances back at me, looking sheepish as a girl walks around the corner wearing sweats and a baggy t-shirt. Probably his t-shirt, I note.
“Amelia, this is my girlfriend, Carly,” Nick introduces.
I nod and force a smile at her.
“Nice to meet you. How long have you been dating?”
“Just a few months,” Nick answers, while Carly watches me cautiously.
“Well, I should get going. Thanks for the sugar,” I say, holding up the bag.
Nick smiles. “Anytime.”
I step out of the still-open door, closing it behind me.
A sense of sadness creeps up in my chest. I waited too long. If only I had done this a few months before. Hell, if only I had done this years before when he first moved in.
No, I tell myself as I walk to my room. I can’t squash the effort that I made just walking over there. I don’t talk to many people and especially not cute men that live on my floor. This was progress.
I go back into my apartment, setting the unneeded sugar on the counter of my kitchen, and go find my cell phone.
I text my eldest sister who Is most likely asleep.
How about a visit? I come to you this time. I took a step outside today and I talked to a man I don’t know. I think I can do it. No, I definitely can do this.
I smile at the thought and then shudder. I haven’t left the building in years. I haven’t seen my sisters or my nieces or nephews in a long time. Fear fills my belly but I don’t let it take hold of me.
It’s time for a change.