This all started as a joke.
Alice sat at the foot of my bed, the same place she sat every time she had visited for the past 6 years, and she had said. “What do you even use that thing for anyway, just to look cool?” I remember glancing at my telescope, laughing at her impromptu accusation. “It was a gift from Dad. I told him once that I liked the stars… I meant in magazines, of course, but he always overdoes it.”
She stood up suddenly. She stopped laughing, but her face was still wide in a smile, her hair flowing wildly behind her as she pushed past me to the window. “These things are expensive, you know. You should use it for something…” Her eyes lit up with mischief. “Or you could just give it to me.”
Her giggle was back, and infectious. I smacked her on the arm, and grabbed the front of the telescope in response, swinging it up from its resting position and aiming it out of the window. She smacked the lip of the sill on the way up. We paused a second and looked at each other, the look two siblings give each other when they know they’ve broken a rule. The silence lasted all but a few seconds when we realised nothing was broken and went back to laughter.
“Use it for what?” She put her eye to the glass end. “I’m not interested in stars!” I said as I watched, bemused.
She seemed to struggle for a moment, trying to align the scope, before huffing dramatically and leaning back.
“How’re you meant to see anything out of this stupid thing, anyway? All I can find are the neighbours’ roofs,” and I swear I saw the idea form in her head, then she gasped and said “Oh my God, you could totally use this thing to spy on your hot neighbour!!”
I let out an amused breath, nervous this time, and dismissed the idea. I told her that was terrible, even for gossips like us. That I had morals, and that I would never invade someone’s privacy like that.
But I remember lying awake that night in the dark, with the soft glow of the streetlights burning through my sheer curtains, wondering if I really was above it.
I remember glancing over toward the window and wondering just how bad a tiny peek could be.
I brushed it off that time, telling myself I had college tomorrow. I needed to sleep.
And then the weekend crept around.
My neighbour was a single mom. I didn’t know her name, but her life seemed perfect. I know you shouldn’t ever judge someone from the outside; I took journalism and all, but it really did look that way.
She had a beautiful blue suburban house, even with the stupid white picket fence; on the inside it was spacious with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a beautiful set of glass patio doors.
I know because I have the same house, being next door, of course, except in the opposite orientation.
In her living room she has a large front window, with cream and sheer curtains and a large white plush sofa. A large tv and a playpen for her son with his favourite blanket and truck.
I know this because I lied about my morals.
I should say I know a pretty house doesn’t equal a good life. I lived in the same house, but the opposite, remember. The circumstances felt pretty opposite to me, too. My parents divorced when I was five, my mom lived with me, my dad lived through me. He was always trying to direct my life as much as he could from the outside, using his money to get me wherever I wanted to go, provided it was in his plan.
Journalism wasn’t exactly his first choice for my life, but I reminded him that jobs in news usually have a decent salary and that it wasn’t his life.
That being said, I was still at the start. Struggling to get through college with a broken family life and a prayer for a successful future.
My neighbour, on the other hand, seemed to me to have everything I had wanted. She was conventionally beautiful, with long blond hair in soft curls. Beautiful soft set green eyes with long eyelashes that danced on her cheeks when she slept, and a dress sense that included nothing but flowy long skirts and soft pastels.
She worked a good job; I didn’t know what it was, although knowing the local rent and her hours (4 days a week, variable shift patterns) It must have been amazing, especially to also support a child.
You might think being a single mother would dampen my opinion of her, but on the contrary, perhaps her availability was another positive.
The first time I looked, it was just a quick glance. I felt sweat practically ring itself out of me as I tried for the first time to see. Nobody would even know, I reassured myself.
I mean, she would never look over at my window; why would she? And if my mom came in, it was night and I was using a telescope; the excuses weren’t too hard to imagine being honest.
I saw her bedroom window across from mine, and assumed the nursery would be opposite my mother’s room, although the curtains were drawn shut. I saw her living room window also across from mine and that was about all I could stand before running back under my covers like a schoolgirl writing her crush on a secret note.
I’d be lying if I said the thrill hadn’t been the most exciting part of my life that week, and it wasn’t long before I found myself doing it again… And again.
At first it was just at night, and then I’d check in every morning before going about my day.
She started seeing this guy about a week in. At first he’d drop her off back at her house late at night, usually about ten, and she’d dismiss her nanny and hug him goodnight on the step.
Their first kiss was in a restaurant on a nearby seaside pier.
To answer your unsaid question, I was getting bold. I invited my friends out on a spontaneous road trip that day and when I saw her going out; we followed her.
They thought it was all in good fun, a joke as I hopped into Alice’s pickup, excited and flustered. I pointed and shouted, “Follow that Mercedes.” She happily obliged, and we spent the day on the beach, eating ice creams and making sand castles.
I also spent a lot of it looking over my shoulder, watching her date and yearning to be closer. She got ice cream on her lip at one point, and he seemed to point it out jokingly behind the glass. She wiped it off and glanced down at her feet, smiling, before picking her head back up and resuming the conversation.
In my head, I imagined I would have wiped it off myself, running my finger across her lips and bringing it back to my own, sucking the ice cream off with a smile.
He wasn’t good for her. So imagine my surprise when she kissed him, suddenly and out of the blue as they stepped out of the big glass double doors. He looked as shocked as I felt, though his face fell into a relaxed smile after. Mine hardened into a line of anger and hurt.
After that, I did something I’m not proud of. I told my dad I was taking an interest in photography for a course, that I needed to film and photograph my own story for class and I needed a high end camera.
He obliged, of course, always the over achiever.
I set it up nearby to record her when I was out, so I could see everything, just to make sure she was ok, I told myself.
Though I knew why, I did it deep down.
He came over more frequently now, usually about 4pm every day, and he’d leave about 10pm. I needed to know everything they did.
My camera picked up that he usually arrived around 12 pm; even though I watched all night staring at her closed curtains, he never left.
I tried to go to class the next day, but ended up feigning sickness before lunch and lying to go home. I couldn’t stand the gnawing in my gut of not knowing.
When I came back, her bedroom curtains were open, and at first I couldn’t see anything through any window. She must have been in her kitchen or the bathroom… I can’t see those windows from my house. She could also have been in the entry hallway, but I doubted it. She never lingered there this long.
When she emerged, she stepped into the bedroom, and I felt my heart fall from my chest as she sauntered confidently into her bedroom wearing a pair of soft jeans and his shirt from the day before. She looked beautiful, of course, but I reeled from my perch, toppling into the bathroom as my stomach turned.
My mother came up, hovering around me in concern and saying soothing things, but my sickness had become anger and I snapped at her in a rage.
She stormed off downstairs; I heard every step down to the bottom. My world was spinning, my heart beating out of my chest and my stomach tied in knots.
I heard slamming around downstairs. What was her problem? She was the one who wouldn’t leave me alone; It’s not like she bothers any other time.
Dragging myself up off of the floor using the sink, my head spun a little, and I reached into the medicine cupboard for painkillers, catching myself in the mirrored door as it shut, my hair wild and dishevelled and dark shadows forming deep rings around my eyes.
That was just the start, though. The next few days went by in a blur. I called in sick and locked myself in my room, only coming out after my mom had gone to sleep when I remembered to eat. Our relationship had been frayed for a while, but right now it was nothing personal. I just had bigger concerns.
I spent nearly every waking moment at my window, blinds all the way up now. It’s not like she was looking for me. I’d not even had a close call in all the time I’d been here. Some days, I wished she’d catch me and I wondered what her reaction would be.
He basically didn’t leave now, his car a permanent fixture in her otherwise perfect driveway. Every second that he stayed, I felt my mind unravelling more and more, the anger threatening to swallow everything I was.
God, what on earth was so interesting about him? He was nothing special. I could be so much better for her if she just saw me. I found myself wondering if maybe that would change things, and the next thing I knew, I was hanging out of my window, unafraid. I kicked my telescope behind me as I swung my upper body out and I heard it clatter to the ground, but I didn’t care. As the wind brushed the grease of my hair; I didn’t even care because she would see me.
But from her perch sat on her bed she didn’t even look up, engrossed in her phone as she text the man only a floor away from her as she got dressed.
Wow, he wasn’t even in the room with her and she still wouldn’t take her eyes off of him!
And I fell back, collapsing back onto my floor and landing on the tripod holding my spyglass.
Hah, Spyglass. And now I was laughing and crying, snot running down into my mouth as I tried to breathe between pained, gasping sobs.
What was so special about him?
I stayed on the floor until my room fell dark; the curtains brushing my sides as the afternoon gave way to evening, and the breeze turned cold. My bed across from me dancing in shadows and the sun fell lower and lower away from me.
Then a bright beam of light crashed into the quiet inky black with the low distant grumbling of an engine. My first thoughts were hazy as I tried to snap out of my stupor and then, slowly, it clicked that car was across from me. Just over the road.
I stumbled up off of my smashed telescope to confirm my thoughts and saw the deep blue Mercedes trembling on in the driveway as he spoke to someone concealed on the inside from the step.
He was leaving.
I don’t know what drove me to do what I did next, but I stumbled out of my room, crashing into my bedpost and the door on the way and as I stepped out, I heard my mom yell at me but I was already halfway down the stairs. I hit the bottom landing and threw open the front door, slamming it behind me and tearing to the end of the drive to my bike propped up at the end.
As I mounted, I realised they probably witnessed the commotion, and I lifted my head to see… Nothing.
They were still saying goodbye as sweetly as ever, ignorant to the shouting that they must have heard, and oblivious to the wreck across the road. Why would she care? Her life was perfect. Except for him. I just don’t understand why it’s him.
I watched him get into the car and start pulling off slowly and I follow, staying slightly ahead of his car, only stopping ahead of turns to make sure I stay going the right way.
I wonder if I drove alongside him, if he’d even notice. He doesn’t seem to care at all.
I rode in slowly, building tension for about 20 minutes with him until he turned off into a dimly lit gas station near a quiet highway, getting out to use the pump and at first I just watched. As the ticker counted up and leaked a trail of inky liquid onto the stone, as he sighed and checked his watch and then walked inside.
It looked like there was only one other person inside, the cashier, and they were counting money before his entrance. They made an annoyed face through the glass, pursing their lips and rolling their eyes. I couldn’t see his response as he paid, only the back of his shirt and jeans. He was nothing special and as he left; I saw her leave the counter slow and lethargic and pull down the shutters.
And we were alone in the thick darkness if only for a moment, with no passing cars or lights.
It felt like I was in a dream, like none of this was real and I didn’t even realise I had started walking until I was in front of him, standing between him and his car door.
I remember I said, “Why you? What makes you so special?” and there was a pause as his face shifted from tired to uncomfortable. “I- Excuse me? You must have the wrong person. I don’t know you.” He reached for his car door handle past my side and I stopped his hand with more force than I probably should have. He winced but put on a strong face and seemed to stand taller, broadening his shoulders over me as a display of strength. “I don’t know you.” He repeated through gritted teeth, seeming to bore through me with his eyes.
“You’re not good enough for her. She deserves better.” It didn’t feel like I said it, it felt like it came from somewhere around me in the darkness as I stepped forward, matching his stance. His face turned from confusion to anger and he stepped forward too, now standing toe to toe. “You must be Emma’s shitty ex. I know all about you buddy and you best back off of her, got it? She wants nothing to do with you.”
I heard the other words, but only one mattered. Emma… So her name was Emma. What a pretty name for such a pretty woman. My thoughts drifted away, and I wasn’t there with him anymore, I was just so caught up that I knew her name until a harsh shove pushed me back into reality, the hood of the car catching me as I stumbled back with pain in my chest.
He was shouting, but the dark seemed to swallow his entire form and I didn’t hear it anymore, just white noise and I shoved him back. Hard.
There was a thud that broke the silence, broke my trance, and I stared blankly at the scene before me.
I must have pushed him harder than I realised and the back of his head had hit a lip in the pavement and there was blood.
I felt a small smile creep up on my face. It was still quiet, the occasional passing car lighting the pump, but no-one really to see and I pulled him still unconscious into the passenger seat and drove off down the freeway until there was nothing but deep empty fields on either side.
I found a pack of wipes in his car afterwards, getting back in and trying to pick dirt from under my nails. It wasn’t much, but it would do for the moment, until I came back.
I shut and locked the door, walking back the way I came, whistling quietly to myself.
Emma would need someone to pick up the pieces, of course, but I knew her better than anybody.
Better than she even knew herself, and I’d be there for her.
Every step of the way.