I stood in front of a poster board while I waited outside. A cherry slushy in a clear cup with the words Big Gulp printed in bubble font staring back at me. I tilted my head wondering about the red dyed crunched ice. With one big gulp you’d get that piercing headache at the top of your head. Teeth freezing, eyes shut so tight, and you wish for the sensation to melt away. Randy had the same effect. He was pleasantly sweet but the more you took in, you realized that as refreshing as ice could be, there was an inevitable end of numbing pain. But I should give him more credit. He was the kind of bittersweet crushing flavor your mouth would water for. The sensation lingering from the tips of your fingers to the ends of your toes.
The sun started to heat the back of my head, reminding me that summer loved to be memorable, whether it was good or bad. New Jersey heat was fatal, you could boil an egg or boil alive. The hot weather made sweat trickle down my back, the heat causing my skin to stick like a fly trap. I wanted to pull my hair up and out of my face, but I rushed out of my apartment before I could grab a hair tie. I hated making people wait, especially in this kind of weather.
“Nettie,” a voice called to me. I looked at Randy, suddenly met with his towering frame. His hair looked out of control or like it was handled by someone that had lost theirs. “You’re gonna love this.” He smiled. With the rise of temperature, Randy cut off all the wild strands and was left with a buzz cut. It worked to his advantage with his many admirers, the list only grew. Seeing his hair this way reminded me of our first encounter. Randy had been the first to introduce himself when I had moved into our building.
It had been about six in the afternoon on a Friday. I’d been in the building for about two weeks and hadn’t had the time to make friends with anyone yet. I moved after my lease at my old place had ended and my roommates had found themselves new living arrangements. I thought that since I was a twenty-two-year-old who should take on more responsibilities, I had decided that I wanted to move on my own. My parents were supportive of me and even tried to offer to pay my first month’s rent, but I was hell bent on doing everything myself.
When I didn’t work like I hadn’t that night, I spent my afternoon in my pajamas, sitting on my kitchen countertop with my laptop balancing on my thighs and watched YouTube videos to pass time. There had been a video of a ‘how to create the perfect feng shui for a small space.’ I clicked on it and started to map out where I could place my standing lamp and imagined where my couch could go. My mind was completely absorbed in the video until a sound had come from outside my door. I tapped the spacebar of my laptop to pause the video, but everything was silent like the sound disappeared into thin air. I clicked the video back on and a few seconds later a woman’s laugh had erupted out of nowhere. I muted the video this time and listened to the click clack of a pair of heels just outside and placed my laptop to the side of me.
Little did I know, who I’d come to meet.
I had slid off the counter and approached my door, my bare feet stepping one after the other. My mind started to imagine all kinds of things. Would I see something completely obscene and be scarred for life? Or was it just a woman with an obnoxious laugh? I stepped closer to the door and put my hand on my lock and turned it counterclockwise, the metal shifting to unlock the bolt. Am I ready for this? I thought. Pulling the door open, I popped my head out and looked to my left and saw no one, then to the right and saw a girl with her phone to her ear, leaning against the wall a few feet away. She wore a thigh high dress that stuck to her body like spandex. She looked glamorous with hair curling in beautiful ringlets. Again, she laughed and rolled her eyes at whoever she spoke to. She looked as if she was waiting for someone by their door. Before she could notice me, I stood back, ready to shut my door.
Then, he walked by.
Randy passed my door, but before he continued walking further, he stood in place and walked backwards. He smiled and turned to face me, his teeth white and out for the new girl.
I raised my brows, “Can I help you?” I asked. My tone coming out ruder than I intended.
He spoke up, “You live in 4E?” His eyes looked me over then behind me to peer inside my apartment. I pulled the door closer to my side, only allowing for me to be seen.
“Yes.” I said. He nodded his head and stepped a bit closer to me.
He shrugged, “Didn’t you move like weeks ago?” He had been full of curiosity for a stranger. Randy’s eyes peered down to my chest causing me to cross my arms in front of it realizing since I was in pajamas, I wasn’t wearing a bra.
“Two, why?” I shifted from one foot to the other, leaning against the threshold.
“Plenty of unopened boxes decorating your place, huh?”
“I haven’t had the time to unpack. I have a job to go to. You know the occupation that can help you provide money to pay rent.” I said. He bit his bottom lip and laughed at my response.
“Oh my god, do tell me more. I bet you’re really good at your job, honey.” He put his hand onto the wall beside me to hold himself still, his body towered over me, making me feel small under his stare.
“Are we leaving or not?” A voice called out. We both turned to see the girl I had saw moments before, standing with a hand on her hip and her phone in the other. “Come on, Randy.” She shouted.
“Go on, Randy. Show her a good time.” I said. He looked back at me, his eyes going from my eyes to my lips.
“I don’t even know your name.” He tilted his head, treating me like I was worth the time. “4E?” He hummed.
I stood straight up and started to slowly shut the door before saying, “Annette, but for friends, Nettie.” He put his hand onto the door, holding it still so I couldn’t fully close it.
Poking his head through the opening, he said, “Goodnight, 4E.” I had rolled my eyes and shooed him away, shutting my door. I believed the friendly introduction to be kind on his behalf, but he was a flirt by nature; he was just interested in me being the new girl.
After that day I’d find him at my door on Fridays, ready with more questions and casual flirting. We hung out on our days off ever since. I tried to make friends with other people in our building, but they either lived through the sixties or had children of their own. I was friendly with someone else in the building, a mother of two, but I was practically an on-call babysitter.
Randy was my “real” friend. Underneath him was an obnoxious charm. I never had the last word. He’d hear me out just to say something else after. He had a slight giggle when he knew he’d win an argument, never allowing me to win out of pity. Randy thought it’d make me stronger to stand on my own two feet, no hand holding. I appreciated that from him, I’d told him about my move alone and he became my rock.
“I was trying to fill it enough that it wouldn’t turn watery too quickly,” he said. I grabbed the cup from his hand and saw the perfect swirl reaching the dome-like cover. “Gotta get the sugary water and ice to equal.”
“How are you four years older than me?” I laughed. He rolled his eyes and mocked my laugh.
“Alright, so do you know the birds and the bees?”
“Oh, shut up.” I shoved his arm and shook my head.
He chuckled, “I’m pretty funny, you can admit it.”
“And let your head get bigger? What if it gets hard to walk?” I smiled, feeling proud at my comeback.
“I don’t think you want me to reply to that.” He slurped his drink and winked at me. I froze, feeling embarrassed at my words, having realized he had won, yet again.
Randy walked to the bench in front of 7/11 and left space for me to sit. He wore black cargo shorts because he found them to be convenient. Each pocket had a purpose; be it his keys, phone, wallet, or even a water bottle. There was always something he might need in them. I wouldn’t be surprised if a forgotten condom wrapper was tucked in one.
“Did you see how annoyed Albert got last night?” He asked. I scrunched my nose and shook my head no. “Old man kept pacing the hallway because someone let their cat out again. He was trying to chase the damn thing, but the cat was lapping him over and over again.” Randy laughed. Albert lived in our building, an old and grumpy man, who loved snooping but blamed people for spying on him. His mind was stuck in the sixties, and everyone was a Soviet.
“He tried chasing me once,” I chuckled. Randy looked at me in disbelief, “he thought I was stealing his paper, but I was giving him an extra of mine.” I laughed remembering the old man’s scowl and how ramped up he got about something so easily replaceable.
“I still don’t get why he doesn’t just go into assisted living. It’s sad seeing him on his own.” He said.
“His family visits,” I said.
“Yeah, maybe once every two or three years.” Randy removed the cover of his cup and drank the slushy as much as he could.
I’ve lived in the building for almost a year. I started to realize I’d only seen Albert’s daughter visit once, and she’d been in and out, barely staying an hour.
“Shit.” I said. I took a drink from my straw and felt the artificial cherry slush cover my tongue. I wanted to chug the whole damn thing, but I couldn’t risk the brain freeze.
We waited on the bench for a few more minutes. I wanted to stay for a bit longer despite the hot air blowing around but sitting with him was nice. He got up as soon as cars started to pull up with teenagers blasting music like no one was around. Randy got irritated and asked me to walk with him. I slurped more of my drink and watched as he looked tense. Following behind him, I saw him make his way out of the mini parking lot. He reached the corner of the sidewalk and checked to cross the street. He had a white tee on when we left the building, but while we talked, he decided to take it off.
“Don’t get any ideas.” He smirked.
“Me?” I said with a coy smile. “I’m not trying to get a sunburn. I’ll risk the farmer’s tan.” I still had half of my slushy remaining in my cup and slowly drank the icy concoction.
“Shut up,” he chuckled. He swung the shirt over his shoulder, his torso bare for the sun to kiss. I rolled my eyes whenever a car would slow down by us. They sure loved the show he put on, and boy, did he love performing. Randy would smile at waving girls and playfully fluttered his lashes at them. I couldn’t help but laugh, he was entertaining for sure.
When we became actual friends, he had admitted he thought he’d get me to sleep with him. Randy then confessed, “I don’t see you that way anymore. Now, it’d just be kinda fucked up.”
I didn’t know whether to be glad or offended.
As we walked, wherever he was leading me to, I took the chance to see what those girls fawned over. Randy was fit, he only ate out of his diet with me. It was easier for him to, so he’d have someone to blame he says. I watched as his shoulder blades contracted when he wiped some sweat from his forehead. He had freckles delicately sprinkled around his back. His arms were bare of any ink, no crazy night to commemorate, no name he’d later regret.
I was surprised he didn’t have any, especially seeing I had a few of my own. Some were tucked and hidden around my arms facing my sides. Since I worked at a hotel at the front desk, we always had to look professional. The few days we started to hang out, he would ask about them, pointing at one like a child asking what things were and meant, why they’re there and when they came to be. One was a rose for my mom’s name, Rosa, and a music note because my dad loved to play me albums he heard at my age. Every tattoo had a background to them.
He spoke up, taking me out of my thoughts, “We’ll just go back to the building. It’s getting hotter out.” I nodded and followed him down the next few blocks.
The building was old and brown but from the growing vines on its front, it looked like nature was taking back what was rightfully theirs. It was one of the reasons I was drawn to moving in. When I took a tour before moving, the landlord had shown me up to the apartment, told me about the laundry room and where the garbage was put out. Randy never noticed me that day, but I saw how busy he was talking up some girl. She was googly-eyed over him. His voice was low and raspy, a twinkle in his eye and a smile that could make you forget time. He didn’t know, but that was when I knew I would have a crush on him. Our first actual meeting had proved to me that I was silently falling for him.
I pulled my keys from my pocket and heard him unlock the entrance door. Propping the door open with his arm, he motioned for me to go in first. I took the steps two at a time and walked inside. When we stepped into the lobby, my body appreciated the change of temperature due to the building’s AC system had kept the air flow fresh. My body began to acclimate to the environment.
“Wanna order some pizza?” I asked, then continued to drink my slushy. He rolled his eyes at me, “Yeah?”
“Why fucking ask? You know it’s yes.” He sighed. Randy pointed at my cup in my hand, “Can’t believe you’re not done with that.” I shrugged in response and drank away.
I walked over to the security’s front desk and asked for a menu. He always had a ton. He handed me one and said the chicken and veggie was amazing. I decided to take his recommendation and tapped my pockets for my phone. I checked my back ones and felt nothing. I looked at Randy and pouted, hoping he’d let me use his phone.
“What?” He furrowed his brows.
“I forgot my phone. Can I pleaseee use yours to order?” I asked. I fluttered my lashes and pouted more. He eyed my lips and looked like he was thinking over his decision. “Just one call to the pizzeria. If you want, you can do it.” I smiled. He hated talking over the phone, so I hoped it’d make him give in.
“Here,” he planted his phone unlocked onto my hand and walked towards the elevator. I smiled in victory, passed him my cup, and tapped the number into the keypad. As I dialed the number his phone vibrated, his ringer had been muted. I peeked at the notification and saw a girl’s name, Andrea, but no preview of what the message said.
Part of me was stuck on the name, wondering if I’d heard it before. Andrea? Is she Andi from a month ago? I thought back to the raven-haired girl and her pale blue eyes. She was Randy’s month-long fling. They had met at the bank he’s a teller for. That’s where most of his pick-ups came from. It was agony considering she was sex in heels, but at least she wasn’t Screaming Scarlet. Man did that girl have the capacity to vibrate the walls with her moaning and groaning. I swore she was being unnecessarily loud to make him feel like he was some sex god.
But Andi, she was a good one. I hated her because of her sweet manner and insanely fit body.
One evening she knocked on my door with just her underwear and Randy’s tee shirt on. My eyes had nearly popped out of my head from how surprised I was. He had to be playing some prank on me.
“I’m so sorry to bother you, but Randall says you would give him an extra bottle of wine.” She said. Her plush pink lips curved into a soft smile, basically a Victoria’s Secret angel stood before me. Meanwhile, I had on a shirt with a coffee stain at the chest and my cookie monster pants. I looked down and saw that Andi’s tan legs were free from any hair and my eyes could not help but notice that her breasts were barely concealed under the white fabric of the shirt. Knowing Randy, he gave her the tee shirt because of that very reason.
“My wine?” I asked. “Who the fuck is Randall?”
“Oh, right. Randy, sorry. He likes when I saw his full name.” She admitted. I nodded and scoffed; he was a pain in my ass.
“Well, tell Randall,” I smiled, “that he can get his grown ass up and get the way himself. Okay?”
And she did just that. Before I knew it, he was at my door, knocking at my door incessantly and once I opened it, he walked right in and into my kitchen. Seeing him in my kitchen wearing nothing but his boxers had taken me aback.
“Nettie, give me the wine. I know you have one to spare.” He said. I stared at him, not knowing what to say, wishing the circumstances were different. “Well.”
The only word I could muster was, “Wine?” He then searched through my cabinets and stayed silent. “It’s in the freezer,” I finally spoke.
“I forgot you liked it chilled.” He said more to himself. Looking at me he stepped in front of me and cupped my cheeks, squishing them and said, “Lifesaver.” He then planted a quick kiss on my forehead. Randy pulled the door of the fridge open and grabbed the bottle of pinot.
“Thank you, Nettie.”
When he left, I couldn’t move from where I stood. My mind couldn’t help but replay the moment over and over again to the point that tears started to pool my eyes. Knowing that he’d gone through all of that searching for a girl he’d only spoken to a handful a times but knew her body more than her was gnawing at my mind. I’d known her better than him and I would indirectly make their date better because of my wine.
The sound of the call ringing pulled me back from my thoughts as I listened to the line until someone picked up.
Randy kept the elevator doors open and asked me to hurry inside. He didn’t like other people to be inside, he found them nosey even if they didn’t mean to be. Just human nature he’d say. I slipped inside and told the employee our order and waited for the total. I said I’d pay cash and told them the building’s address. After I finished the call, we remained in silence. The only sound we heard was the elevator pulling up to the fourth floor. No light jazz in the back, just a pulley and metal cables doing its same old routine.
A ding rang at the arrival of our floor. He walked out first and stopped at my door. Usually, we’d agree to where, but he had it all figured out.
There was something different with him today.
“Eating at mine, I guess,” I said.
Walking towards him I heard a door creak open from a few feet in front of me, revealing Mr. Albert walking backwards and pulling his door shut. His hunched over shoulders and gray hair made him look disheveled. He had a newspaper tucked under his arm and a pack of
Marlboro tucked inside his chest pocket.
“Good evening, Mr. Albert.” I said, waving at the old man with a smile on my face.
“I thought you left.” He said as if he was annoyed I returned.
“I just got back, sir.” I answered. He shuffled down the hall and clicked the elevator button to call it open.
He nodded, completely ignoring Randy by my door and said, “Goodbye then.” The elevator doors opened, and he walked inside and leaned his head down to see the button he aimed to click. I turned to look at Randy and saw that he was trying to refrain from bursting into a fit of laughter. Right when the doors had shut, his lips dribbled into a hearty laugh. I shushed him and covered his mouth. He licked my hand causing me to remove my hand quickly.
“Seriously, how are you twenty-six and act like your six!” I wiped my hand onto my shorts and thumped his arm.
“You love it,” he joked.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” I folded my hands together and decided to ask, “So, are you hiding something at your place?” He looked at me like I knew something but looked away before I could dare to ask.
“No, just not put together. I didn’t have time this week. The bank’s been hell.” He said. “Let’s just get inside, Nettie.” I squinted my eyes at him and clicked my tongue. I unlocked my door and pushed it open. Luckily, I had cleaned my apartment last night since I had an early shift at the hotel. The kitchen took me the longest, the old black and white tiles on the wall started to grease up from when I’d cook dinner.
Before I moved in, a new sink and dishwasher was installed, so I always found doing the dished the easiest part.
Randy walked inside, setting my slushy onto the counter then continued towards my little living room across from the kitchen and slumped down onto my couch and in doing so, his tee shirt fell to the floor without him noticing. Funny enough, this couch used to be his. I was looking to buy, but he offered me his since he bought one and needed the old one gone. At first, I was apprehensive in taking it considering I knew and unfortunately heard his visitors, but he assured me despite my desires to not know the details, that they’d barely even make it to the bed.
He said it was comfortable but hated how yellow it was. I hit the jack pot with both. Yellow was a favorite color of mine and I always passed out on a couch rather than my bed. He sat up and searched my coffee table for the T.V. remote.
“Food should be here in a bit.” I said. He gave me a thumbs up and gave up on searching.
“So, what’s your summer looking like?” He asked. I hadn’t thought much of planning. I never liked planning ahead, plans could be broken.
“Just playing by ear.” I said, “What about you?” I sat down across from him on the couch with my knees bent, hugging them close to my chest. A few strands of my hair stuck to my forehead from my sweat. I combed my fingers through my hair and fanned my face. I then looked to Randy’s face, my eyes falling to his nose, to the little crooked curve at the bridge, then down to his lips.
“Why don’t we plan something? We can plan a little trip. Just you and me?” He asked. I looked at his eyes, taken aback by his words.
“What are you on about?” I chuckled. I got up and went to my fridge and removed my pitcher for some water. I grabbed two cups from the hanging cabinet and poured some water inside.
He continued talking, “We can drive to Connecticut or Pennsylvania, anywhere.”
“Yeah, let’s go to South Jersey while we’re at it.” I said. He scoffed, sounding annoyed at what I suggested.
“Fuck, Annette, I’m trying.” He said. Randy got up and walked into the kitchen. “I’m leaving.” He said in a frustrated tone. I sat the cup down and turned to face him. Was he really going to leave my apartment over something so silly?
I said, “I was joking, jeez. Where do you wanna go?”
“No, I’m moving, Annette.”
I felt myself step back from him. His words processed in my mind; they became real and cold, numbing me up. The room fell silent. We stared one at the other waiting for a slight sound to be heard. He tore his eyes away from me, his hand smoothed the back of his neck, and a small exhale escaped his lips. I put my hands at my side and tried to muster a smile, as bright and warm as the sun was outside.
“You’re moving? That’s…” My voice feigned excitement. “You’re going to a new place and meet new people. That’s exciting.” I bit my bottom lip to stop myself from talking any further. A forced smile formed onto my lips, but they wanted to drop from the uncomfortable nature.
“You’re happy for me?” He asked. Randy looked at me with suspicion. “Excited?” His eyes wandered my face as if he saw more than I let on.
“Extremely.” I crossed my arms in front of my chest. “New place, new people.” I emphasized once more. Dropping my arms, I reached for his cup and handed it to him, “here.” He lifted his hand out and opened his hand to receive it. I wanted to throw the water in his face, maybe even scream and stomp into my room. Instead, I placed the cup onto his palm and remained calm.
Before I could even formulate a thought, my mouth opened, “You know what? No…I’m glad you’re leaving. Fucking ecstatic!” In one fell swoop, I picked up my slush and dumped it onto his head, the red liquid dripping from his head down to his face and neck. “You can walk around and fuck everyone. Only now, I won’t have to see them parading down the hallway.” I said. He clicked his tongue, a slight chuckle falling from his lips. Wiping the dye from his eyes, he grabbed a napkin from the counter and cleaned his face and hands.
Nodding his head, “Parading down the hallway,” he echoed. Randy didn’t like his business thrown around, but the way he stared at me proved otherwise. A surprised smile and that damn twinkle in his eyes like he’d heard angels sing from the heavens. He seemed to thrive off my honesty and enjoy the way I expressed myself without hesitation. I felt the heat return into the room. Beads of sweat made their way down my forehead; a flush of warmth had risen to my cheeks. My palms clammed at my sides and my eyes focused on the wall, trying to keep my mind from speaking any further. The shirt I wore started to weigh on me, I became aware of the fabric and how it clung to my skin.
I looked to the ceiling and felt a finger trace up along my spine.
“Can I say goodbye?” He whispered. As if by instinct, I leaned my back to his chest, his heart slow and steady, softly beating. My eyes shut at his touch, his hands went down along my arms to my hands, his fingers intertwined with mine. I exhaled and felt my heart start to match his, each beat blending into the other.
“I can’t,” I said. I opened my eyes and shook my head. He dropped his head to my shoulder, his prickly hair tickling the side of my neck. Our hands remained intertwined, I wanted to remove my hand from his knowing how sweaty they had become. Randy lifted his head a bit, his nose grazed my neck and his lips only mere inches away. His lips hovered close as if waiting for me to give permission, but I knew the moment I did, him leaving would hurt even more. How could he do this to me?
“You should—” I tried to speak, but he leaned away before I could finish my sentence.
“I should go.” He said. I wanted to see his face, look him in the eyes and try to understand where this was all coming from.
“You’re leaving.” I looked into his eyes, “You want to sleep with me because you won’t have to deal with the aftermath.” I said. I stepped closer to him, seeing a flicker of light go off in his eyes. “Tell Andrea that you’re ready to move and happier than ever.”
Randy’s eyes widened at the sound of her name. “Have a good fucking day, Annette.” He stepped towards me to which I leaned out of the way only to realize he would lean down to retrieve his shirt from the ground.
“Why can’t you just talk to me like an adult, Randall?” I crossed my arms. I started to feel like a mother waiting for answers.
He shoved his shirt on while explaining, “Andrea, is not Andi. Andrea helped me find my new apartment. She sends me updates. Had you asked me I would’ve told you.” Randy rubbed his head and smoothed his face with his hands, annoyed at the conversation.
I stared at him wishing that Andrea was Andi and not a realtor. Why couldn’t he have fallen in love with someone? It started to dawn on me that I loved him and although we wouldn’t be in the same building, I knew he would move on like I was distant memory. He waited until now to be with me because he was leaving. How could he think it’d happen so easily when I saw girls waltz into his apartment like they’d been offered a tour?
“Do you love me?” I asked. Randy stood motionless before me; his eyes studied my existence. He remained silent as the words hung in the air like day old laundry. The big gulp of reality was cold and numb and bruised my body without a second thought. I felt like the biggest idiot in the room. My cheeks reddened at the disaster those four damn words caused. As the air tightened and it felt like no noise could cut through, his phone rang and vibrated, causing the room to awaken with a thick jolt of shock.
“Pizza’s here.” He finally said.
Fernanda Franco is a full-time undergraduate student at Marymount Manhattan College. She is in her senior year of college and aspires of becoming a fiction writer. Fernanda’s coming of age and romance themed stories stem from the love she has of romantic comedies and even the life lessons she comes to experience day by day. She hopes her stories give readers the same escape she looks for in her favorite books.