Black and Blue

The property management lady looks at the signature on the lease. “We rent mainly to young urban professionals like yourself, but we have some older tenants like me who have been with us for years. You should really enjoy living here.” The last is said with a stern stare that says, If you don’t enjoy living here, something is seriously wrong with you.

“I’m sure I’ll like it just fine.” John glances at the keys she holds to his new apartment. He’s signed the lease and given her a check, but she makes no move to give him the keys. Instead, she just makes him uncomfortable by staring at his hairline. “Is there anything else?” he asks.

She pulls her gaze from his hair and smiles at his face. “No, nothing at all. You’ll fit in fine.” She hands him the keys, then rises to shake his hand. “Welcome to the Portland Towers.”

He takes her hand. It is soft and dry and frail. “Thank you.”

When John leaves to inspect his new apartment, she sits back down and looks over her list of tenants. She’s very pleased. Her new tenant is a nice purple, and she’s been trying to get more purple auras into Tower Three but so many of them fail the credit check. Greens and reds do fine, but not purple. She wonders what it is about purple auras and bad credit. A building should be a kaleidoscope of auras, and she looks forward to the annual Christmas party where they will all outshine the lights on the twenty-foot tree. It doesn’t matter to her that not a single dark-skinned person lives in the Towers. She sees beyond the skin to their true colors.

Upstairs on the fifteenth floor, John lets himself into the apartment and locks the door. He goes to the living room window, sets down his briefcase and takes from it a camera with a long telephoto lens. He steadies it against the frame of the window and looks through it across downtown at the Pearl District. He smiles and would pat himself on his back if he could. There is a clear line of sight to his fiancée’s apartment and he can see right into her living room bay windows.

That evening John has dinner with his fiancée, Cindy, downtown at El Gaucho to celebrate his new apartment. Afterward when they walk out together, holding hands, she asks, “Are you sure you don’t want help packing?” Her breath makes a cloud in the cold air.

He shakes his head. “I wouldn’t subject even my enemies to that. No, go on home.” He kisses her.

She lets go of his hand. “I’ll call you when I go to bed.”

“I’ll be on my cell. I’m going to take a load of stuff over there tonight.”

They kiss again, this time on the lips, and go their separate ways. Cindy is excited about his new apartment. She hasn’t seen it yet, but from what he’s told her it is bigger than both of theirs and will serve well for them once they’re married and looking for a house to buy.

When she gets to her apartment and lets herself in, she looks at it with fresh thoughts. It’s small, but nice, sitting on the tenth floor with a big view of downtown. She sits on her couch and gazes out at the city. It’s a clear night. She can even see a few stars through the light pollution. She’s going to miss her apartment, she thinks, and sighs.

The doorbell rings and her girlfriend lets herself in. “Honey, I’m home,” she calls out, then spots Cindy on the couch and hugs her from behind. Nuzzling her neck along the hairline, she smells steak and restaurant food mixed with her perfume. She remembers Cindy said she was going to dinner with people from her office.

“I wish I could’ve come,” she says petulantly, like a spoiled princess.

“You would’ve been bored. Nothing but office gossip. Besides, they’re not ready for you.”

The girlfriend steps over the back of the couch and leans against her. She has short cropped hair and dresses like she’s on a Little League baseball team. “That’s what you always say. It’s you who’s not ready.” She looks up into her face from where she has slid into her lap. “Don’t you feel trapped being someone you’re not? Stop worrying about what they’ll think.”

“We’re not having this conversation again.” She pets her girlfriend’s spiky hair. “I’m tired, it’s been a long day.”

“Not too tired, I hope.”

*   *   *

Looking through his camera lens, John is in shock. Another man he can deal with, but a schoolboy? What if she’s pregnant? It might be the boy’s. What if he’s a minor? He pulls away from the camera’s eyepiece and tightly closes his eyes. That would mean possible prison time for Cindy. He’s not going to marry an inmate. His thoughts are spiraling. He looks into the camera again. They’re still on the couch, but the boy now has Cindy’s shirt open and is working his way downward. John clicks away with his camera, but feels dirty and nauseous, so he stops. He sits down on the floor of his empty apartment, experiencing emotions he doesn’t want to experience, nor thought he ever would.

*   *   *

“I have to make a call,” Cindy says as she pulls her blouse together. “I’m sorry, I forgot. It has to do with work and I should call before it gets too late.”

Her girlfriend gets up from her knees and sits back on the couch. She’s seen the patterns before. She likes straight women and knows when “office” means “guy.” “You should leave him, you know. It won’t work, you and him.” She puts her hands on Cindy’s cheeks. “You were meant for me.” But she has said that to other women and they didn’t stay, and even she doesn’t feel any truth in the words anymore. It’s just another line.

Cindy smiles at her. Is she really that transparent? “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s just work.”

*   *   *

John’s cell phone rings in his new apartment. He lets it vibrate on the floor next to the camera. He doesn’t know what to say to her. There is no way he can live here now with such a view. He can imagine having a telescope and obsessing on who she’s with three years from now. He’ll invite friends over and offer them a peep of his ex. He shakes his head and pinches the bridge of his nose. Maybe the management lady will tear up the lease since he hasn’t actually moved in. He can always tell her what happened and how his fiancée left his heart black and blue.

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