The tenants on the topmost floor enjoyed a wider range of the cityscape in this pristine, middle class complex. Not to mention a lot more privacy. The sequence of dust-matted vehicles, allotted in orderly succession with accordance to their matching apartment numbers, appeared to glare at Mel.
She envisioned the backlights of each vehicle as luminous, livid eyes. Always watching her when she emerged on the balcony to smoke, stealing her privacy with their judging eyes. Mel glared back at the inanimate objects for a single, withering minute before redirecting her attention to him.
He was on the highest floor, the fourth floor.
From her position, she could only make out his silhouette beyond a drawn lace in the living room of his apartment. She squinted into his private domain - across the driveway from her first-floor balcony - as best as she could, ignoring the insipid view directly before her.
Mel had seen him around. Even exchanged a few casual greetings with him at interjecting points, rare as they were.
He was a nerdy-looking man of thirty, give or take. Not tall, but taller than she was. Upon his daily return from where Mel reasoned was work, he settled into what she assumed to be his bachelor tenement, where, within a thirty-minute interim, he would strip off his formal attire in favor of loose, casual clothes, open the sliding door to his overhanging veranda, and step out into the open air.
Today was no different. Mel causally glanced away as the silhouette drew closer to the beige-hued barrier and came to light.
She made a quick mental check: Her black, loose curls hung evenly just above her shoulders. Her lips were deliberately matted with a shade of light cinnamon, and the skin of her shoulders was exposed, courtesy of the strapless t-shirt she was wearing.
Always remember to show a little skin, her old roommate’s voice slithered into her consciousness as her awareness ran down the rest of her bearing: She made sure that she never slouched while she was within his periphery. She pulled her reasonably flat tummy a tad bit inwards – a habit which, upon rearing its head, had become problematic to discontinue.
After the swift cerebral check, taking note of the wind as it lightly brushed past her locks and olive skin, Mel gathered some courage and followed the sinuous breeze towards the man’s direction. She landed her gaze upon him as it whispered past his long, brown hair, sending stray strands into an animated disarray.
Mel had wanted to compliment this man’s hair from the moment she saw him. It flowed with such fluid and perfect swirls down his shoulders and back. Glossy and immaculately trimmed, his mane of dark brown hair stood out in a way that made Mel feel appreciative. If she were ever to talk to him somewhere in the near future – a probability which she intended to make a reality – then it would be in reference to his hair. She had to provide a compliment where it was due.
She had an opportunity to do so almost daily. She had it every time that he parked his car a mere three slots away from her balcony. Every time that he walked past her with that bulging laptop bag he always carried around with him. Every weekday for the past month since he popped into her reality. This new tenant, for a reason that Mel could not figure out – yet – had caught and kept her interest.
A blunt she had rolled for herself, for this particular sitting, sat next to her like a silent companion. She picked up the cone-shaped joint from the tiled floor and flicked the black, BIC lighter that she had bought at the local gas station for a price that she had been particularly unimpressed with. The fact that it was not refillable made her mad, but it was her only option at that point.
Mel smoked weed for a couple of reasons. Today, her reason for smoking was so she could attempt to stifle a feeling of emptiness within her. It was not like she was a stranger to it; she’d gotten quite used to it, this abyss, and under pressing circumstances, she could live with it almost comfortably. Weed, however, offered a much sweeter alternative of being.
As she took that first pull, the man walked towards the balustrade and placed a hand there, looking out below, beyond the barrier of metal, brick and mortar. She watched him intently as he did, trying to zoom in on his features.
As though he could sense her staring, the man turned his head and looked directly at her. Caught unawares, Mel winced in mild embarrassment, but maintained her composure. He was looking at her, and since she was intent on not looking away, their gazes locked.
Weeks of sitting out here and spying on him, and he had never once deliberately looked at her until now. Feeling sheepish, blunt still burning in hand, she waved. That seemed like the most appropriate reaction.
The man raised a hand and waved back, seeming completely nonchalant about the exchange. He flashed a friendly smile as he did so, giving Mel a nice boost of confidence. Or was that the weed?
She took another pull of the cannabis. She didn’t have to wait long for the shift to occur, for everything to seem colorful and vibrant again, for the hole inside to be filled with a sense of worth. Just like that, Mel stopped focusing on her stance, or face, or hair, or how good her lips looked in brown lipstick. Her focus zoomed in on a tiny wisp of that good feeling inside of her, which she could hardly locate in sobriety, and exposed the iceberg of artificial joy which hardly ever reared its head prior to her smoking sessions.
If the pineal gland had cannabis receptors which - upon being activated by the inhalation of the THC component of the herb - connected one to infinite intelligence, then shouldn’t smoking weed be considered part of a spiritual practice? Somehow, there seemed to be more variables than that, but Mel would not go into that train of thought right now. Her nameless, new crush looked more appealing than ever behind her new, temporary lens untainted by projections of her own insecurities.
She stopped focusing on how she thought he would perceive her and simply enjoyed the state of finding happy feelings within herself. There were obviously unhealthy habits of thought which she needed to remedy, among which did not exclude her tendency of perceiving things as “greener on the other side.” Her first floor balcony did, after all, provide an excellent view of a significant section of this complex. Sure, it was more brick and mortar and less trees and distant horizons, but it was a peaceful and clean and she didn’t have to climb a flight of stairs every day.
Plus, to top it off, she got to enjoy the feeling of having caught the attention of the long-haired gent who lived just across from her, now turning away and stepping right back into his apartment. He could have stayed out for a couple of minutes, but where Mel, in her sober state, would have cynically assumed that he was bothered by her stare and had to shy away into the seclusion of his abode, she happily drifted into the sensation of how good life was. Of how she had shelter in a secure environment, and how she couldn’t wait to communicate, up-close this time, with her new man of interest.
Where she would have internally dismissed the communal hand wave and seemingly genuine smile as deceptively friendly, she acknowledged and even used that to solidify her commitment to gather more velour to talk to him the next time the opportunity arose.
Daylight had just fallen when Mel spotted the long-haired man just returning from his Saturday errands.
Mel’s day had been filled with silent stretches of engaging brain activities. She had almost completed the 200-piece puzzle set upon the round, glass table in the lounge. She’d smoked a blunt, then danced. Then listened to some instrumental death metal. Then read. Then smoked a blunt.
It was while she was engaging in the learning of the skill of drawing, making silly doodles upon a canvass atop her bedroom desk while engaging in maladaptive daydreaming, that she felt that enough was enough.
She was bored with being alone. It was obvious that allowing herself to get lost in her head was not going to get her anywhere, so she got up, grabbed a joint from a reusable Vaseline container she had washed clean for that very purpose, and stormed out of the stuffy apartment. The air which met her nostrils made her feel glad about her extemporaneous decision.
She flicked her lighter as she started walking, took a hit. She could still see the remnant light of the sun which had already dipped beneath the horizon. It was a bit sad that on another day, she would go outside just as she did now, and she would not consciously notice such a spectacle.
Mel walked hastily, eager to go far. An hour’s walk would do her good.
She took another pull of her joint and, just as she was about to nip it beneath one of her sneakers, a voice spoke.
“Care to share?”
Mel doubled back. The sight of the long-haired man made her cough out the smoke as opposed to blowing it out. Her throat throbbed as her hand rubbed her throat in a vain attempt to soothe it.
Of all the timing in the world.
By the time the coughing subsided, jay still in hand, Mel slowly stretched out her arm and tried not to glare at the four-eyed man. “You indulge,” she commented noncommittally.
“Been a while.”
His face wore a smirk of amusement. He took off his specs, hung them about his back shirt, emblazoned in white the words “Dare me” in sleek letters, and took her offering. He was about a foot taller than she was. Without his glasses, he looked a lot less nerdy and a lot more, well, perfect.
“Specs don’t suit you,” she heard herself say. Internally, she smacked her face flat with her hand.
It was his turn to get caught unawares. The unexpected chuckle left his throat in a chocked chortle as the smoke left his throat. “Bold remark,” he said, handing the joint back to her. “I can respect that.”
“Thank you,” Mel smiled.
“Bold to be out here in public with some of that stuff as well.”
Mel shrugged. “Hardly anyone sharing these pavements with me at this hour. Everybody is busy getting cooked up in their little brick boxes, staring into screens for hours on end.”
“I’m here. I could have been a cop out sniffing for naughty stoners to cuff or accept bribes from.”
“Come to think of it, you did just pop up from out of nowhere,” she shot lightly. "Are you following me?"
“Truth be told," he returned. "I was on my way back to my brick box from a rather refreshing walk when I spotted you storming out of yours. And I thought, ‘Hey, here’s my chance.’”
Mel’s heart raced. “Chance for what?”
“To approach the pretty girl who likes spying on me and ask her for her number.”
This was unexpected. He had noticed her the entire time? “Guess I’m not as invisible as I thought.”
She turned and began walking, smiled when he rushed after her. They fell into a unanimous stride as the wind began to gain momentum. Mel nipped her joint with the lighter’s butt and held the two objects enclosed within her right hand.
“You’d be surprised how aware I am of my surroundings,” he said. “Just never was able to summon the guts, or a reason, to talk to you before. But I’ve wanted to from the first time I saw you. I thought you were really pretty, and I wanted to let you know.”
Mel could not help but laugh. For some absurd, unidentifiable reason, this was hilarious.
“What? Hasn’t anyone ever told you how pretty you are?”
“Oh, they have. I just never believe them.”
“Do you believe me?”
She didn’t want this to stretch any further. “I’ve always wanted to compliment your hair. I think it’s gorgeous.”
He smirked and nodded. “Thank you.”
“Now,” he reached into his denim pocket and produced a cellular phone. “What did you say your number is?”
Hello, miss Melissa.
Mel sat cross-legged at the edge of her bed, the smile upon her face almost splitting her face in two. The message from the long-haired man flashed on her screen under the name Zander. She tapped the ‘reply’ tab and typed.
I dare you.
I prefer truth, he responded.
Works for me. Why do you smoke cannabis?
I don’t anymore. I just did it earlier to break the ice. It worked.
It did. But you haven’t answered my question.
I used it to feel happy and carefree back then. I don’t need it for that now. Why do you?
Same reason that you used to. She mused. How did you find your happiness?
By letting life happen instead of questioning it.
Mel was not sure why that struck a nerve. Perhaps because the statement resonated with her standing?
Her discomfort caused her to change direction: William Shakespeare allegedly smoked weed. Probably the source of inspiration for most of his work. A joint was among the things That Bob Marley was buried with. Two very great artists.
I like how it enhances what already is. Or how it helps in shifting one's perception.
I like how you indulge me with this theme.
There’s a lot more that I’d like to indulge you with… Conversation wise. And otherwise.
You know what I mean.
Indulge me, anyway.
I’d like to do it in person. Show you what I mean.
Mel did not know why, but she was completely taken by this man. Their initial contact had sent immediate sparks flying. She had felt it just as well as she was sure he had. It had been an effortless encounter. An immediate feeling not only of kinship, but of lustful desire. There was undeniable chemistry between the two of them, but Mel still had skeptical thoughts.
I’m nobody’s booty call.
Hi, I’m Nobody (:
Haha. I’m serious.
And I’m joking. Do you see me as that kind of guy?
Looks can be deceiving.
So can electronic messages.
Mel put her phone down. This was probably not a good idea. Pessimism gripped her mind like vice, stiffening it to rigid ideas about men and their putrid tendencies to see women as nothing but live objects with whom to engage in the act of copulation and then either discard or further use as nothing more than baby incubators. She picked up her phone.
I’ve had my fair share of assholes in my life. So if you’re one of them, please lose my number right now.
Five minutes passed without a response. Then, I dare you.
Curiosity killed the cat, they say. Shoot.
Apartment 109. Come over now.
You know how the game works, Melissa.
Call me Mel.
I like Melissa.
Call me Mel.
I’ll give you twenty minutes. If you don’t take the dare, I’ll assume you’re not as interested in me as I am in you, and I will leave you alone.
Don’t bother with the stipulations. I’m out. Goodnight.
He did not bother with a response. The twenty minutes which ambled by afterwards were filled with cascading waves of internal conflict. The fragile organ within her chest was not only thrumming with excitable anticipation, but her body was alive with want. Her senses went into a frenzy of longing when she imagined his mouth scouring her skin.
She sat there for a full twenty minutes, fully convinced within her mind that she wouldn’t take the dare.
Her body, however, won the fight, and as she snatched her jacket and threw it on, she said a quick prayer of apology, threw open the door, and burst into the night’s crisp air.
He didn’t take long to open the door.
He grabbed her upper arm, pulled her inside, and shut the door behind her. He pinned her to the door, locking the knob as he did, and crushed his lips to hers. Her jacket fell upon the floor as they engaged in a ravenous and primal kiss, as his hands urgently explored her body, as hers clawed roughly at his hair.
No words were exchanged. None were needed. Mel allowed herself to get carried into bed by a man she barely knew. She did it despite the noise of doubt in her head. She did it despite the critical voice within that cautioned the need to exercise sense. But there was no sense here. Sense was out of the window and all that Mel could process was the series of overwhelming physical sensations elicited upon her body by this passionate man.
She had had sexual partners before, none of whom she had felt connected to in this way. There was a subtle closeness that Mel felt, an electrical familiarity, from the moment the oddly rough skin of his palm touched the soft skin of her arm.
It amused her to think about how he popped up from out of nowhere and into her life just as she’d decided that she was done with men for good.
They lay facing each other beneath shriveled blankets.
“Do you doubt me now?” He asked her.
“I doubt myself," she admitted, staring into deep, brown eyes.
A slight frown from him, but no comment, which worked just fine for her. “You feel it, too, don’t you?” he said instead.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything like it before.”
“Then trust what you feel.” He removed a strand from her face before leaning in to kiss her again, effectively shutting down all conversation for the remainder of the night.