My shoes make a small scoffing noise as I stop in the foyer of my apartment building. The beige of the walls is weak and unimposing, but the sound feels like it bounces around the space. As much as I could try to blame my self-consciousness on the awkwardness of waiting, the messy bun in my hair, or the ratty sweatpants I’m wearing, I think the prickling feeling has more to do with the fact I’m not alone.
A familiar-looking stranger is standing across the hall from me, on the other side of the doorway. But despite every nonchalant glance I make in his direction, I can’t place him. Something about him, whether it’s the way his brown hair swoops or the way he carries himself, feels like someone I’ve seen before. I’m not sure if he is someone I’ve met or just a face I’ve passed by in the hallway, but there is some indescribable quality I can’t put my finger on. I’m still trying to figure it out when he speaks.
“So, what are you waiting for?” he asks, but still, nothing comes to me.
“Pizza, how about you?” I reply in turn.
“Chinese food,” he answers, giving me a strange smile. “Are you new? I haven’t seen you around before.”
A sheepish smile graces my lips without my permission. “Oh, I just moved in.”
“Cool,” he says, giving me an encouraging smile. “What’s your name?”
“I’m April,” I tell him, giving him a small wave from my spot across the tiled floor. Yet, a creeping suspicion is still making inaudible whispers in the back on my mind.
“Nice to meet you, April,” he smiles at me again, stirring a bit of warmth in my soul. “I’m Nick.”
Just as I’m in the middle of giving him another smile, it clicks. This is the guy Monica told me about. He’s smooth, confident, likes to party, and lives on the fifth floor. She told me to be aware of his charm, of the way his smile can ingrain itself into your soul until you need it like a drug; when his head turns, coming down from the high is comparable to crashing a car. That kind of addiction is dangerous, and everything around you could go up in flames. Before just now, Monica was the only person I knew in the building. A year or two ago, Monica and Nick had a ‘thing’ as she calls it, where she fell much harder than he did. Suffice to say, Nick broke her heart and she doesn’t exactly have great things to say about him, even now.
“What just happened?” he asks, “I told you my name and your smile went funny.”
I’m quiet for a minute, one where I don’t doubt that expression remains. “I’m friends with Monica.” And that’s when I see it: the light of recognition igniting in his eyes.
“Oh,” he says, his voice dropping into an octave dripping with awkwardness. “Well, I hope you don’t judge me for the actions of my past self.”
As tempting as it is to remain quiet or start staring at my phone, I think either of those immature reactions would create an air full of suffocating awkwardness. So instead, an honest reply slips out of my mouth, “From what I’ve heard, it’s hard not to.”
Nick turns from his casual position on the wall to fully face me, almost a tired expression on his face. “No one is perfect, and no one should be saying that I’m the same person now as I was then.”
“Okay,” I say quietly, allowing his words to sit in the air for a moment as if the energy in his emotions could dissipate with some room to breathe. He gives me a small smile in response, but the air still feels tense in the otherwise uninteresting space. I can’t help but think I just applied pressure to a wound that’s still bleeding. “Does that mean you don’t still like to party?”
The hint of a smile grows on his face with the question. “I didn’t say that. The parties are just a little smaller now.”
The newfound easy flow of the conversation paints a smile on my face too. “Good to know.”
Headlights turn onto the pavement outside the door, and our attention turns away from each other. Instead, we’re both looking at our phones for an arrival text, before our gazes turn back to the car, which turns into a parking spot instead of pulling up to the curb. Next thing I know, a sigh has escaped both of our bodies.
“Just so you know, you’re welcome to my parties anytime,” he tells me, breaking the disappointed silence. “We usually have some pizza on hand.”
My stomach goes rogue, making a noise at the mere mention of the delectable food. “If only you had pizza right now,” I sigh again, my eyes wandering to the door where the pizza should be arriving any minute.
“But then maybe we wouldn’t have met, and you wouldn’t know that I usually have pizza.”
“That’s true,” I smile up at him, meeting his eyes. “That is very valuable information to have.”
Then, the thing we’ve both been waiting for happens; his phone dings and my phone buzzes with the welcoming texts that our food has arrived. Two cars pull up the curb, and their drivers both approach the door with insulated food-carrying bags. Nick gets his first, and then my pizza is handed to me. It smells amazing. The grease, cheese, and everything else unhealthy but delicious cue my stomach to rumble again in anticipation.
Nick lingers in the foyer, waiting for me and my pizza to join him. As we walk into the elevator, his hand pauses by the buttons. “Which floor?”
“Three.” I notice that he doesn’t push number five too. “So, are you not going to your own apartment or something?”
“Hmm? Oh, I figured I would help you with your door, pizza boxes can make things difficult.”
“Oh, thanks,” I say, feeling my cheeks warming at the thoughtful gesture. Monica’s warnings ring in my ears, but for better or worse, I can’t help but think there might be more to him than the charismatic jerk he was painted out to be.
When the elevator stops, I lead the way to my new apartment door, pausing to get the key out of my pocket. His free hand gestures to the box, which I reluctantly hand it over as he grins and says, “I promise not to eat any of it.” The gold key turns in the lock, making a clicking noise, and I walk into the apartment, dumping my keys on the newly placed table beside my door. He doesn’t follow me; instead, he waits at the threshold, holding my pizza out for me as if he’s a funny cartoon character.
“Thanks for your help,” I grin, taking back my pizza and holding it in front of me as I stand in the doorway, temporarily forgetting my hunger.
“Anytime, April,” he smiles, “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah, maybe you will.” I consider myself to be warned about his charms, but nothing about our interaction seems disingenuous. As he walks away, it feels like the start of something that can only be determined with time.