“Bye Sam, bye Julie,” Bill said.
“Thanks Bill,” Julie said, “great party.”
Bill waved, closed the door and slouched down on the couch. It was a rare night when people were chatty and a bit reckless - ready to have fun. He loved speaking with Sam about his life in Australia, and loved the story about how Sam met Julie in a bar in Brisbane. It’s small world. He was happy that Renate had come. She had such a cool look with her retro dress and hair. He wanted to get to know her better. He closed his eyes, and was telling himself to sleep in his bed. He had learned the hard way that the couch gave a mean sore neck, yet he was done with doing. The couch was here, and the bed was far away.
This was the first party he had since Suzy moved back home. It was a success, yet he missed her some of the time. At Suzy’s job, it hurt her when she kept working hard at the same tasks while people with less experience were promoted. She didn’t like living in place where you could hear your neighbor in the shower, or hear him yelling at their barking dog. And although she didn’t spell it out for Bill in the steamed bathroom mirror, she wanted something more than a relationship that lasted because things could be worse.
“I’m twenty-eight,” she said to Bill, “and contemplating moving in back to my parents house. Things are not going well.” When Bill didn’t fight for her, he sensed that she was relieved, that relationships end, and better to move on than get stuck in a job, in a town, in a flat, in a relationship where you didn’t feel special. Suzy was right, and he accepted that, but it was taking him longer to find someone on the rebound.
He remembered he was volunteering tomorrow at Loaves & Fishes, the food pantry. Suzy and he would volunteer there every other weekend. After Suzy left, he told them to call if they needed help. They call regularly. He set his cell for 8:30. If he slept that late he had enough time to get dressed and comb his hair before heading out. His eyes closed, and his head dropped against the couch pillow.
That was a ting, like a wine glass tapped against something. Bill opened his eyes. There it was again. He thought everybody left. His body told him to stay on the couch, but his mind said there’s no way you’re sleeping until you identify that sound. The bedroom was on the other side of the kitchen, so he walked over, and stood in the doorway.
There was a woman at the sink washing wine glasses. She had straight auburn hair, below her shoulders, and was wearing a flower-print dress.
“Excuse me,” Bill said as he walked towards her.
She jumped, and turned around. “You scared me. I thought you had gone to bed.”
“It’s Cassie, right? You’re Renate’s friend from work?” Bill said.
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m waiting for my boyfriend, so I decided to wash glasses to stay awake. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, that’s great. I should help,” Bill said as he took two wine glasses. “You probably don’t know where these go.”
“I don’t. That was a great party.”
“It’s been so long, it was great to see people. I was happy to see Renate. How long have you known her?”
“Not long. I moved here in September, from Jackson.”
“Welcome. Is your boyfriend from here?”
“Well no, kind of. He’s working late this week.” Cassie said as she turned back to the sink to wash more glasses, Bill dried them and put them away. Although Bill needed to sleep, this help made the morning after easier. When she finished the last wine glass, she turned around, and bumped into Bill by accident.
“I’m going to wash some of those serving bowls,” she said as she sidestepped Bill.
“Where does your boyfriend work?” Bill asked he stepped back and leaned against the counter.
“He works at Dumas, that factory south of town,” she said.
“Did you meet Hank? He works there.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Do your parents live in the area?”
She shook her head. “No, they divorced. I have an older sister in Atlanta, with kids, so my Mom moved down there. My Dad is probably back in New Jersey.”
Bill reached around Cassie to grab a small bowl, and Cassie jumped again.
“Sorry, you know, you don’t have to keep washing,” Bill said. The feeling that he was making her uncomfortable was making him uncomfortable. He tried to make himself small and out of the way, so she could relax. He felt bad for her. He wondered if she was in a stagnant relationship, wanted a commitment, or missed a place where she felt at home.
“I need to do something to stay awake. Why don’t you go to sleep? I can let myself out when my boyfriend comes.”
“Are you sure? I might do that.” Bill felt bad she was cleaning, but she would feel better if he wasn’t around, and he would feel better if he was sleeping. He hesitated, because this was his flat, and he had met her tonight. She acted normal, and was a friend of Renate, so he decided to trust her.
“Please do,” she continued. “I’ll be gone before you know it.”
“Okay, I’ll show you how to lock up.”
At the front door, Bill showed Cassie how to work the lock, and let her lock it herself.
“Easy Peasy,” she said.
That was a saying that Suzy used.
“You know, you look familiar.” Bill said. He was trying to place her face. “Do you live over in Linden Hills?”
Bill scanned the living room and the foyer, making sure things were back in place, and the blinds were closed.
“Somebody left a bag?” Bill pointed next to the couch at a blue duffel.
“Yeah, it’s my sleep over bag. Going to the boyfriend’s.”
“You come prepared. I need to go camping with you.”
Cassie laughed, and then stood away. It was now official that John was making Cassie nervous. Once again, he felt bad for her, and he felt uncomfortable. There are times when a guy is being friendly, and he understood that women always have to be on guard, but this was one of those times where intentions were misconstrued and things got awkward. He looked at her dress, and wondered if it was the dress that looked familiar. He wanted to ask her where she was living now, hesitated, and decided to wait until they met again.
“You can watch TV if you want,” Bill said. “You don’t have to wash dishes.”
“Thank you, but I like washing dishes.”
They said good night, and Bill got in bed wondering where he had seen Cassie before.
Bill woke up earlier than he would’ve liked. He rolled over and pulled the blind back. It wasn’t sunrise yet, but there was enough light outside to see the shape of the trees and the birds were chirpy. He loved to listen to them chat back and forth, and he felt good because it reminded him of his parents and his neighbors chatting by the mailbox when he was a kid.
He lay on his back, listening. There was a sound like water, but it didn’t sound like his neighbor’s shower. He opened his bedroom door, and the shower sound was coming from his bathroom. There was light seeping under the bathroom door, so he crept closer, standing next to the door. He bent his head down to listen.
The shower was turned off, the shower curtain hooks scrapped along the metal rod, and a woman sighed. He stood up straight and looked around. It was dark in the living room. There was a dark coat lying across the chair in the foyer. He didn’t want to scare the woman in the bathroom, but what to do? He crept back into his room, and closed the door so quietly that he couldn’t hear the faint click on the bolt latching, he only felt it. He put on his clothes from last night except for a fresh t-shirt. It had to be Cassie. Why is she showering? Why is she still here? And why am I hiding in my own flat? He couldn’t bring himself to knock on the door, or to sit in the living room, waiting for her to come out. Still, he wanted to know who it was. His next idea was to wait until he heard the front door open and close, and after that, he’d peak out the front window.
The bathroom door opened. He could hear the slight creak in its hinges, followed by soft foot falls on the oak floor. Whoever it was, they were being quiet. He heard a bag set down on the floor, and the front door lock was released. He grabbed his hooded sweatshirt, and listened for the door to close. There were some soft sounds of movement, and he imagined it was the bag. The dead bolt clicked, clicked again, and the door was closed. He opened is bedroom door enough to peer out. He opened it wider, and could see the chair in the foyer. The coat was gone. He ran to the front window, and looked around the curtain to the left. No one was on the street, he moved to look to the right, and he could see a woman crossing the street, heading towards the corner. She was carrying a blue duffel, wearing jeans and a green sweater.
He opened his front door, and then opened the outside door in the shared entry. The woman was reaching the corner and turning right. The hair color and length was like Cassie. Was her dress in the duffel? Once the woman was out of sight, Bill pulled his hood tight around his face, and ran down the steps to the corner. At the last house on the right, he peered around the house so he wouldn’t be obvious to the woman while standing on the sidewalk. If any neighbors were watching, they were either laughing or calling the police. The woman opened the passenger door to an old Honda Civic, tossed her bag into the front seat, and threw her coat on top of the bag. She turned back around. He saw it was Cassie. She walked around the front of the Civic, opened the driver side door, sat down inside, and closed the door.
The car started up with a rough sound. Bill began backing away, using the edge of the house to limit the field of view from the car. When the car sped up, Bill turned and walked back to his flat. He heard the car idle at the traffic light, heard it accelerate away before the quiet and the bird song returned to the morning. Where had he seen her before? It was like on the tip of his tongue. Loaves & Fishes, that’s where. She was in line at Loaves & Fishes with her box of canned food when he was stocking shelves. He remembered because he usually made deliveries to churches, but that day he was on shelves, and he was surprised by how many people that looked like him, dressed neatly, showered, were on line at the food pantry. She was wearing a flower-print dress.