“Whoa, wait up there, woman.”
I look over my shoulder from the top of the stairs to see one of the down-the-hall neighbours whose company I actually enjoy. Jesse’s around my age and we know a few of the same people; he’s one of the rare breed of easily likeable people. He jogs effortlessly up the stairs as though he weighs nothing. Like a gentleman, I hold the door open for him so we can exit on our floor. He offers a hillbilly curtsy in exchange. Fuck you, gender stereotypes.
“Hey, pal. Haven’t seen you since spring thaw.” I take a quick surveillance of the hallway to make sure that the crazy dog lady and the awkwardly loud octogenarian humpers aren’t around to see my nice side. That would only invite conversation and that’s a bad idea – I’d be stopped for small chats all the time. No, no. Better they think I’m a bitch.
Jesse smiles; he has one of those genuine smiles that triggers an automatic grin on my face. He just exudes niceness. “Yeah, I’ve been busy. What’s going on with you? Haven’t seen your boyfriend in a long time too, is he…” Jesse watches my eyes widen and emphatic shake of the head, “Oh. Well, I’m sure it was for the best.”
This is one of the reasons I enjoy Jesse as a neighbour. He doesn’t pry; he just accepts things as they are.
We wander down the hall to my door. I’ve been here so long, the crooked apartment number doesn’t even register as annoying anymore. I start digging for my keys.
“How’s your game coming along?” I look at him through wisps of my hair as I rummage around the bottom of my bag. Several months back he showed me a phone app game he was building. It was pretty impressive then, and that was just a prototype.
“Stalled project, we’re waiting to get some more funding before we can push forward.”
I shake my purse and hear my keys jingle at the same time as a familiar voice demands attention.
“Boss, I’m so hungry, get in here.” Fat moans from the other side of the door.
I ignore the voice of the feline. “That’s too bad about your funding. I’m sure something will come along for you.” Finally, my hand fishes out my keychain. I clench it in my fist as if to say: success.
“Yeah, there are a few lines in the water right now. I’m not worried.” Jesse shrugs and casually puts his hands on his hips. “Hey, speaking of projects, how’s that book of yours coming along?”
“Progress is slow to non-existent at the moment. That’s because I’m getting in my own way and isn’t a result of lack of funding – unfortunately as a writer, I can’t use that as an excuse.”
An easy laugh falls out of his mouth and runs down the hallway.
“Who is that?” Fat’s voice draws out the words, filling them with innuendo. “Should I light some candles to set the mood?”
“Fat, shut up.” I gently kick the bottom of the door in hopes to scare her away.
“I didn’t know you had a cat.”
I exhale audibly. “I try not to talk about her. She’s…” I pause to come up with an appropriate word to describe my self-appointed therapist, “a character.”
“If you’re not going to bang him, come inside and feed me. Boss, do you hear me?” Her words are pointed. We hear a scratching sound as Fat claws the paint on the back of the door.
“Kind of a loudmouth, isn’t she?”
“You were wondering why I don’t mention her…” I point my thumb at the door in the direction of the pathetic scratching and mewing.
“Booooooooooss.” She knows whining drives me insane.
Christ. I quickly unlock the door and open it. Fat peers up at both of us. She glazes over me and looks directly at Jesse.
“Hi Kitty.” He bends and reaches a hand out toward her.
Fat stares at the palm in front of her and follows the arm to Jesse’s unshaven face. “I don’t know who the hell you think you are, sir, but I don’t respond to empty offerings. Once you’ve gotten your freak on, we’ll need you to leave immediately.”
I stare up to the ceiling, hoping to whatever is up there to strike me down. I really hope he doesn’t understand what Fat is saying.
“She doesn’t seem to like me much, does she?” His fingers fold back and he points at Fat’s face, “Looks like a sneer, doesn’t it?”
I try to contain a laugh because Fat is clearly not impressed by this neighbourly imposition. “Sure does.”
“Well,” Jesse stands, “I should get going. I have a ton of work to do at home before I leave for my other job. Ladies, it’s been a pleasure.” He pretends to tip an imaginary cap at Fat and then at myself before sauntering down the hall. “Oh hey, Kat?” He swivels on his feet like a dancer.
Fat pokes her head out the doorway to listen in.
Jesse points at me as if to hold me accountable, “Make time for that book. It’s important.”
“You’re not my mom. You don’t get to tell me what to do.” Again, I smile but get serious when I realize that he wasn’t searching for a flippant answer. “I’ll try.”
I scoot Fat back inside and shut the door behind us.
“I really needed to hear that.” I press my spine against the back of the door and feel my eyes dart back and forth with realization. So simple, but incredibly helpful.
Fat rolls her eyes dramatically. “Writing is important if you’re a writer? If you couldn’t come to that conclusion on your own, you’re a bigger idiot than I thought.”