Tagline: A boy investigates the troubling case of the girl in the apartment above him.
(Inspired by the song, Must Have Been the Wind by Alec Benjamin. Found, here.)
I startle awake, my heart thundering against my chest. What sounds like a shower of tiny particles sprinkles against wood, across the floor of the apartment above me. Rubbing my eyes, I stare at the ceiling. What in the world?
The sprinkling slows and echoes of shattering glass fade from my ears. Silence follows. Was I dreaming? The darkness of my own apartment pulls at me, tugs at my eyelids, as if pleading for me to go back to sleep. I yawn, closing my eyes . . .
And then a voice. A girl’s.
Timid. Muffled. Quavering.
The words are too quiet to make out, but the crippling emotion is clear.
Something’s wrong. Any sleepiness vanishes. I sit up, tugging the covers off and swinging my legs over the side of the bed. Is it ridiculous to go to a random person’s apartment at 5:00 in the morning? And what am I supposed to say? Sorry, but are you crying over a broken vase?
But the knot in my stomach remains. Maybe she cut herself. Maybe . . . maybe worse. Better safe, than sorry. Tugging on a jacket and shoes, I head out of my apartment and close the door behind me. It’s just one floor—technically I could walk. But I don’t trust my tired legs to carry me safely up there yet, and we don’t need two hurt people. The elevator it is.
Quiet blankets the halls as I make my way to the second floor and toward the apartment above mine. I clear my throat and flinch at how loud it seems in the stillness. Knocking might as well be dropping a bomb. But how else will she know I’m outside?
So I reach out and rap twice on the door, flinching again. Unless she really hurt herself, I know she’s awake. She had to have heard me. Probably the people in the rooms next door, too. I shove away embarrassment. Even if she’s just fine and everyone thinks I’m ridiculous, they can’t fault me for being a concerned neighbor, right?
Silence stretches on, taunting my raw nerves. Should I knock again? Does that mean she’s fine or she’s more hurt than I thought?
I raise a hesitant hand again—and a voice whispers on the other side of the door. Footsteps. Someone shifts, and the knob turns.
My gaze sweeps over her the moment she opens the door. Pale skin. Dark hair. A large navy sweatshirt zipped to her chin. She meets my eyes for a flickering moment before glancing down at my feet. But her gaze; the redness of recent tears remains in my mind’s eye.
Something is wrong.
“Can I help you?” Her voice is soft, hoarse. She holds the door shut close behind her, blocking my view into her apartment. “It’s a bit early.”
“I—” I swallow. “Yes, I know, I’m sorry. I was just wondering . . . See, I thought I heard something break, and just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Something in her stance changes. Her shoulders, maybe? She looks up, her gaze meeting mine again. Yes, still red, but there’s something else as well. Some flicker of emotion I can’t place.
“That’s nice of you, but I’m fine,” she says. The corner of her mouth upturns slightly, but the smile feels forced. Hollow. “Sorry you woke up.” She steps back, pushing the door shut—
“Wait!” I palm the door, holding it open just enough to see her eyes widen. “Are you sure nothing broke? I could have sworn I heard something—I just don’t know what it was.”
The girl shrugs, a frown creasing her brow. “I wish I could tell you, but I didn’t hear a thing. Your ears must be playing tricks. That happens this time of the morning.” She pushes on the door again.
I hold my hand in place, unmoving. “I know I heard something.”
She stares at me, her dark gaze boring into mine. “Must have been the wind.” The floor creaks behind her. Her gaze flickers to the side for one split second, and she lowers her head. “Thanks for caring.” She pushes the door again, and without a good reason to stop her, I let the door shut.
I stare at it, my mind reeling. The knot in my stomach tightens. She said she’s fine. She said she didn’t hear anything. And if she didn’t hear anything, how could I? Slowly, fighting every instinct urging me to stay, I turn and head back down the hallway, toward my room.
As I thumb the button for the elevator, my gaze travels to the window. I note the still tree outside. What wind?
The next hour passes in silence and I refuse to go back to sleep. Not that I probably could anyway. Instead, I plop down on the cold floor of my apartment to wait—and listen. But there’s nothing. Just minutes upon minutes of still, broad, stifling silence.
Why’s it bothering me so much? Why can’t I shake the feeling that something’s wrong? That I should do something?
But I don’t know what’s going on.I don’t have the facts. She does. If she wanted or needed my help, she would have told me.
Unless she couldn’t.
I revisit her behavior, studying the images, the sounds, her glances . . . . Her gaze flickering to the side, the creak of the floor behind her, her trembling hand holding the door shut . . .
She’s not alone.
I sit up, my lungs constricting. Of course. What kind of a fool am I? Of course she couldn’t say something. If there really is something going on and that other person is part of it, she’d have to turn me away. And I left her with them.
My heart races. But what to do about it? What if it’s something as simple as a family argument? What if I’m just getting carried away? I can’t do something drastic and risk humiliating her—and myself—for no good reason.
But what if it is more? Then, I can’t just do nothing. I can’t just leave her.
My gaze falls on my desk, littered with piles of notebooks, textbooks, post-its, and pens.
The trek back to her apartment feels far longer than before. Even the elevator rises slower, as if taunting me. As if trying to make me too late. Trying to keep me from giving her the note.
I brush my sweaty palm on my jacket and tug the folded note from my pocket. I let my gaze scan over the words one last time, wondering for the thousandth time if they’re the right ones.
My door’s open. Right beneath yours.
We don’t have to talk, but you’re welcome to come in.
No tricks, I promise. The music’s for you.
You’re going to be okay.
~ A friend
A breath shudders from me. The elevator dings and the door slides open. I fold the note again and close it inside my palm, setting off for her apartment for the second time this morning.
What if this is a horrible idea? What if she thinks I’m a creep? What if someone notices?
I pause outside her door, listening. Like a true creep. Still, silence. Swallowing hard, I reach out once more—and rap twice. The knocks echo down the hallway, familiar and still startling.
This time, the silent minutes stretch on. But I wait. They wouldn’t have left, would they?
A low, rough whisper. The creak of the floor.
I clench my sweaty hand.
The lock clicks, and the door opens just a crack. Familiar dark eyes widen as she spots me.
“I’m sorry for interrupting again.” I fight to steady my voice under the intensity of her gaze. “I just thought I should apologize from earlier. It was rude of me to intrude on your morning. I should have minded my own business.”
Her face glows even paler. “That’s . . . that’s why you’re here again?”
Wow, I’m dumb. “Yes, well . . . I’m sorry.”
“Okay.” Her voice trembles. “Thanks.”
“Yeah. I—I thought you should know.”
A creak. She flinches, then squeezes her eyes shut. “I have to go.”
“Wait!” I palm the door, and she flinches again, opening reddening eyes. “I’d be rude not to introduce myself.” I extend my hand, pinching the note between my pointer and middle finger. “Please. I’m Alec.”
Her mouth opens in a silent ‘O’. She glances at my hand, then my face, then back to my hand. Slowly, she reaches a trembling hand through the crack and takes mine. “Hi.”
Sweating, heart pounding, I shake her hand—and as she pulls it away again, I slip the note inside the sleeve of her sweatshirt, tucking it onto the cuff. Her burning gaze searches mine. She curls her wrist, holding the note inside her sleeve, and pulls her arm back behind the door.
I give a short nod, almost a bow. “Again, I’m very sorry for overreacting. You were absolutely right. It just must have been the wind.”
“Must have.” A tiny crease forms between her eyebrows. “Just the wind.”
I nod again. She nods back.
The door clicks shut.
Back inside my apartment, I hook my phone up to my speaker, scrolling through my lists of songs until I find one with the reassuring lyrics I’m searching for. After all, I do want her to know she can lean on me. Maybe she will. Maybe she won’t. But she can. And keeping that invitation open is the best—the only—thing I even know to do. The only way I might help.
And so I wait. Working on assignments, trying to focus on homework, struggling to keep from focusing on every sound, every scuffle, and every footstep in the rest of the building.
The sun creeps higher and higher, filtering through the still leaves on the trees outside my window and forming patterns on my floor. Doors open and shut as residents awaken, making me flinch every time, despite the soothing song playing on repeat.
Blowing out a breath, I give up on accomplishing anything and rest my head in my hands.
Something creaks outside my door.
I still. Raise my head. Listen.
Someone raps on the door—so quiet and hesitant I can hardly hear it.
But I do. I can hear it.
And it’s not the wind.