The door to the house on the corner of the lot was unlocked. A young man stepped out of his car and walked to the thirty-sixth unit, sweeping a lock of hair out of his eyes. He pushed the door open with one hand and stepped inside, pausing on the doorstep. Perhaps he should use his voice in case some living thing remained. No coats hung on their rack; the cramped closet two feet from him held nothing but a matted towel that had once been white. The visitor had reached down to remove his shoe, but stopped when he saw the dirt and bits of rock sprinkling the linoleum.
It was silent inside, and yet once the intruder came into the living room, he felt he was being watched. This wasn't entirely unfounded. The previous owner of the house had committed suicide within its walls. There was a faint, stale sort of smell that grew thicker in the living room and kitchen, but it was probably mold, or just air that had been sealed inside for eight months. It wasn't enough to distract the boy from investigating the rooms for signs of life. There were no footprints in the fifty-year-old carpet, and the walls had nothing but pinholes and scraps of tape to relieve their monotony.
Upstairs was no louder. Stifling summer air seeped in through the northernmost bedroom's window. It was cracked open and a thimble-sized hole in the bug screen was covered by tape. A dark patch on the glass showed where a waxwing had met a sudden demise from a crash. The man coughed; this bedroom was easily the largest, but airless. The summer heat seemed more like some eerie being's breath than moving, inanimate air.
In the entire room, there was only a stack of books. They had unfamiliar titles, like What to Expect When You're Expecting and Awake and Dreaming. If she wasn't in one of the nearby rooms, he would probably look at one of them, he decided, frowning when he saw there wasn't anything softer than a floor to sit on.
The last bedroom was different. The door was shut loosely and the man hesitated a second before nudging it open. In front of him, against another bare wall, was a desk made of glass and metal. On top of the glass was a piece of paper. He picked it up and squinted to read the words, surprised that his girlfriend had such lackluster handwriting skills.
I left at seven in the morning with everyone. They're all staying on the other side of town so it will be a long walk for me. Please don't come looking, you'll more than likely get lost. It's safe here and I'm a fast walker, and I have to carry a backpack and suitcase of stuff for us. If you really need to get a hold of me I'll have my phone but don't expect a fast reply.
Nowhere in the paragraph could he find a mention of how long she would be. He sighed, half of worry and half of annoyance. Was this really the only way for things to work?
The interior of the house was bearable, but once the man stepped into the basement he shivered. This unheated area was cool even in summertime. On top of one battered wooden cabinet were a few DVD cases and a layer of eight-year-old dust. To his relief, there were two mattresses close to the wall, although no blankets accompanied them. At least they were small enough to drag upstairs.
Once he was done, the guest threw one of the windows open wide. He was sweating as he sat down. It was six minutes after three in the afternoon by now, according to his phone. She would be back by four, he guessed, but there was a knot of worry in his stomach that didn't abate when he sighed several times.
Around him, the house remained soundless. Only outside noises broke it from time to time. this side of town, it was quiet and less lively than the densely-populated Centennial and its nearby lake, crowded with people and dogs enjoying the sun. Cars rolled by on the nearby roads and in the lot, some loud and some quieter. A few small children played in the tiny backyards and in the lot, unbothered by the heat and bugs. Slowly, the sun sank lower in the cloudless sky.
The guest's eyes flickered open. His faint snores halted and he yawned deeply, barely aware that he'd slept at all. Drowsiness kept him lying on his back, but he slid his phone out of its pocket and checked the time. He'd been asleep for nearly two hours. There was no message from his partner yet and he felt a sinking in his stomach. What was keeping her?
He'd memorized her number half a year ago. The dial tone sounded four times before the voicemail prompt and he had to hang up. Either she had her phone turned off or its battery had died, neither of which seemed likely. Trying to stifle the knot of worry in his stomach with his free hand, he instead texted her where she was and if he could come find her.
Maybe he should just do the latter. The town wasn't very big or confusing and he could circle it easily by car. Unfortunately, he had no idea exactly where his girlfriend or anyone from her family could be- he still had yet to meet any of them. "The other side of town" was his only direction and the glimpse he'd seen of it showed too many houses to investigate. He would at least wait until she texted him back to go anywhere, though that didn't alleviate the fear growing in him.
He returned to her own bedroom and reread the note a few more times, trying to search for any specifics he might have missed. There were none. His chest started to tighten a little, worry overriding his confidence that she would be safe in this town. It didn't matter- he needed to know.. Back downstairs, he sat back on the makeshift bed, beginning to shiver even though it was still warm out. Was her family causing her trouble? Was she on her way home or had something befallen her?
His car had virtually no gas remaining. He'd have to find a station somewhere or walk, neither of which was feasible from the approaching evening. It wasn’t possible to push the worry out of his mind once it materialized. Panic was winning.
Rubbing away tears, he collapsed once more on the bed. Five o' clock wasn't that late, he tried to reason, realizing his hands were sweating when he tried to grip his phone. But she'd said yesterday they would be spending their first night together today. Once more he sent the same text, just in case the first hadn’t sent or she hadn’t received it.
The minutes dragged past as if slowed, the silence between the man and his mate unbroken. Worry drove the lingering boredom and hunger from his list of desires. Each possibility he wondered that was keeping her was worse than the last and he hoped his rational side that insisted she was unharmed was correct. Once again, he surrendered to a shallow doze.
His uneasy rest was short-lived. Someone had placed a blanket over him. A dim light was on in the kitchen and his sweater was hanging neatly on the coat rack. And he knew who had done these things as soon as he saw the girl curled up a few feet away. Her light hair was splayed over a pillow as she lay in an exhausted sleep.
Very gently the boy slid his arms underneath her and carried her to his own bed, the smile stretching across his face. Once the pair were situated, he kissed her cheek once, feeling a warmth fill up his chest. It was like nothing he had felt before in his eighteen years of existence. She was so warm and beautiful next to him that a few tears slid down his cheeks at the sight and feeling. Now, he could sleep well.
Holding the girl as if she were an infant, he closed his eyes once more and lightly rocked his arms, knowing it was her favorite method of contact. Since she was an infant almost nineteen years ago, apart from the girl's own parents, he was the first to do this again. His voice was just louder than her heartbeats.
"Thank you for giving me all this time, kochanie. You'll never have to sleep alone again. In my arms, you'll always be welcome."
Written by Grizzly Bear