Aaron’s house was surprisingly clean, but not surprisingly simple. He was neat and organized even though there was little to organize. He had all the furnishings one could want, but there were no family photos or painting hanging on the walls. Obviously he wasn’t a very sentimental kind of guy.
“Um, you can sleep on the couch I guess,” he said awkwardly, “It wasn’t really in my blueprint to add a guestroom. I have some extra blankets in the closet.”
“That’s okay,” I answered, “Thank you for letting me stay.”
I was worried that any minute now he’d change his mind. I wouldn’t rest easy until it was morning and the sun rose.
He took off into a corridor, mumbling something. I think it was along the lines of, “Why are you doing this? Have you lost your mind?”
It did little to ease my anxiety.
I wasn’t one for being obsequious, but the circumstances would make most a bit passive. I just had to be polite enough to stay, and then I would be able to be just as hard headed and argumentative as ever. Nights in the city changed everything.
Aaron came back, some blankets folded over one arm and a feather pillow under the other.
He helped me arrange them on the couch and then stood uncertainly next to it. I think he didn’t know why he was letting me stay either. Maybe he thought I was going to be a serial killer.
“So,” he said at last, his hands in his pockets, “The, uh, bathroom’s over there to the left, the kitchen is through that hallway. Is there, um, anything else you needed?”
Interesting how different he could be in a situation like this. There weren’t any smooth, snarky remarks being made.
“No, I’m all good. Thanks,” I replied, just as awkward.
He lingered for a moment longer, unsure of the etiquette in our strange situation. But then he just nodded and wished a goodnight, scurrying off to what I assumed was his bedroom.
All right, Lucy, just lie down and go to sleep. Soon it’ll be morning and everything will return to normal. Or at least, the normal I was used to. I would have to see Klaus tomorrow, and he would be pretentious as always, but at least I knew how to handle him.
I snuggled into the blankets, wincing at the sound they made against the couch. I didn’t want to make a whole lot of noise in someone else’s house while they were trying to sleep.
I put my head on the pillow, almost sighing as I sunk into it. It was soft and squishy, the pillow case cover chilled to perfection.
I reluctantly set a vibrate alarm on my phone for 6:30 a.m. I wanted to be out of Aaron’s house like he had said. It would be cool to see what he looked like with a bed head, but I knew his hospitality was limited. Who knows? Maybe we’d meet again someday. The world was small apparently.
My eyes started to grow heavy, and I could feel them slowly closing. It had been a long day, and I was tired. I fell asleep, welcoming the rushing river of darkness as it swept over me.
I woke up later that night, perhaps closer to the morning, jolting out of sleep in fear. Covered in sweat with my hair plastered to my face, I panicked for a moment, confused by my unfamiliar surroundings. I calmed down as I remembered the events of the day, leading up to sleeping in Aaron’s house.
I had that dream again, the one of my mother. The night had always scared me, but never as much until that fateful evening.
“No! Please, you got what you wanted!”
I shivered as I remembered her words. I haven’t ever understood the events of that night, but I never ceased to have the nightmares.
Pull it together, Lucy. Think about something else. Think about Abby, or Klaus, or Aaron. Anything else. God, my throat was so dry!
I got up shakily, heading towards where Aaron had said the kitchen was, hoping for a glass of water. I searched the cabinets for a cup, filling it with water from the sink. I downed it in several sizable gulps, stopping only to breathe. That was better. I refilled it, heading back to my temporary sleeping area.
Looking on my phone, the fluorescent neon numbers read 5:30. An hour to go before sunrise. Should I try to go back to sleep? I wasn’t sure I could without having the same nightmare again. I would just have to entertain myself until the sun rose. After attempting to focus on puzzle game on my phone, I closed it in frustration. This wasn’t any good.
I didn’t have anything else to do, so I wandered the house quietly, making sure not to make noise. Unfortunately, Aaron didn’t have anything particularly interesting hanging about. As I slunk back to the kitchen to get some more water, as I was thirsty for no reason, I noticed something I hadn’t before in my half asleep state.
On top of a bookshelf was a box. It was sizable, one of those boxes that people use to file away documents. The label read “old stuff. Private.” What was this? Did Aaron have a secret life he didn’t like to look at? I bet whatever was in that box was interesting.
But if I rummaged through his stuff, I would feel like a terrible person. I was too curious, but I wasn’t nosy, in most cases at least. And what if he found out? He’d been really nice to let me stay the night, but I was sure that would change if he found me rifling through his belongings.
I peered around the corner, to where he had gone last night. There were no lights peeping out from under the door. I took a few tentative steps and leaned forward, straining my ears for noise. There was none. I’d wandered the house for almost a half hour and hadn’t seen him up and about, which only meant he was sleeping.
If I was going to do it, I would have to do it soon. But was I really going to sink down to this level? An inner conflict was happening in my mind, honesty over curiosity. Unfortunately, I was never known for my self-control. Curiosity won.
I would just take a quick look and put it back before I even knew it. I pulled it down from the shelf, careful to make sure nothing dropped. I opened the lid, expecting some papers or some old trinkets. What I found was so much more.
The box was filled with old photographs and frames, entire books that I assumed had even more. Pictures of Aaron when he was younger, playing with what looked to be his parents. The amount of photos was overwhelming. I had been wrong about Aaron’s sentimentality. Pictures of picnics and family trips were littered about, a reflection of his earlier life captured in photos.
Wait, what was this? I glimpsed a sparkle from under the mess. I brushed aside the top layers of pictures, finding the source of the twinkle. It was a photo of an achingly beautiful woman, wearing what I could only assume was a wedding dress. It was long and flowing, covered in crystals on the bodice with a smooth silk bottom. Her hair was a mesmerizing red, similar to mine but even deeper in color and more vibrant. Her complexion was flawless, her skin an entire wave of satin without any imperfections. And on her face was the most brilliant smile I had ever seen, the picture taken in mid laugh. A man stood next to her.
Was that Aaron? It was! Aaron was standing by her side, her hand in his. He was in a handsome suit, all dressed up. His smile was similar to his. It was unusual to see his expression, no such trace of it in his face today. But if she was in a wedding dress and he was in a suit that could only mean… Aaron was married?
But he only had one room in his apartment, and he had just moved. I wondered what happened. They looked too happy for a divorce…
What was I doing? Here I was, looking through a man’s private photographs that I hardly knew, in the middle of the night, after he gave me a place to stay. It was so wrong! There was doing what you needed to survive, and then there was this. I was being a despicable human being.
Mad at myself, I hastily put the lid back on and lifted it up, ready to put it on the shelf. Quite possibly the iciest voice I had ever heard interrupted me.
“Would you mind telling me in the hell you think you’re doing?” came Aaron’s voice, slowly, a rage boiling underneath.
I whipped around, the box still in my hands, not expecting him to be there. How had he snuck up on me in such a quiet house? And hadn’t he been sleeping? I don’t understand how I didn’t drop the box in surprise.
Man oh man, was he angry. Even in the dark, I could tell he was visibly shaking. His breathing was becoming mildly erratic.
He wasn’t supposed to catch me, especially as I was putting the box back. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together. What was I supposed to say? Hey, I just wanted to look at your stuff? No.
“I, um, I,” I stammered, trying to think of what to say, “I was just trying to get some water.”
Great excuse Lucy, great.
I had barely finished the sentence before he erupted, his face absolutely livid.
“I don’t care what you were trying to do!” he said angrily, his voice rising, “I care that you’re holding a box in which the contents are none of your business! Do the words ‘don’t touch anything’ not mean the same thing to you as they do to me? Is this normal to you?”
I had nothing to say, not that I would have gotten a word in anyway. He was pissed about this, and rightfully so. I knew this was a bad idea. I’m such an idiot.
“I’m serious, what made you think this was okay?” he asked sharply, his words stinging, “You don’t see me going into your house and digging through your belongings! You have even fewer brains than I thought! I mean, I know this is the city but this is just too much!”
When I didn’t respond, he stepped towards me. His response was startling, and I flinched on accident. Was he more violent than I had thought? This situation was too heated.
Aaron looked at my face for a moment, still breathing heavily, and then turned away. He made an odd noise in the back on his throat, and then slammed his hand against the wall, making me jump. He stayed like that for a couple minutes, speaking to himself in a low voice.
“Ah, this is just great,” he mumbled, “well, this is my fault. I knew that letting a stranger stay in my house was a bad idea. This whole day was a bad idea. Great job, Aaron, real smart.”
God, I felt awful. This night could have gone so much better, so much happier. He might have even let me stay for breakfast or something. Why did I have to be so anxious to know everything?
He kept mumbling, but the rest was inaudible. He was calming himself down, which only made me feel worse. I was used to the violence people always turned to when they were upset. I could react to that, brush people off and leave. It was human nature, and it was what I knew. I never feel bad for doing things to these people, because they deserved it anyway. I only wished for Aaron to threaten me, if only so that I wouldn’t feel this awful, gut wrenching guilt.
And then he turned around, surveying me with cold eyes. I think I almost preferred his anger than that face.
“I can’t honestly believe you. But I guess this is my fault for thinking this would be all right in the first place. How stupid of me to offer, right?” he asked bitterly, disappointment seeping in through his voice.
Ouch. If I hadn’t felt bad before, I definitely would now.
He strolled over to me slowly enough that I wasn’t spooked, and then snatched the box from my hands. He didn’t put it back on the shelf, merely giving me another cold glare and stepping back. I didn’t say anything, but I was glad for the darkness. I could feel my face burn with embarrassment.
Why was I so upset about this conversation? Klaus yelled at me all the time with little effect. It must have had to do with the look on his face and the fact that he hadn’t done anything wrong, to me or during the day.
He seemed to understand I wouldn’t say anything. He tsked angrily, looking down at the box. Without looking up, he spoke to me again.
“Get your things,” he said coolly, “The sun is starting to rise. You’ll leave now. That was our deal, or at least my part. If you’re not gone when I come back in thirty minutes, I swear to god that I’ll throw you out myself. Am I clear?”
What was I supposed to do? Should I apologize? Would he even let me? Should I just leave quietly and not cause him any more grief?
He was staring at me expectantly, so I just nodded, my face purposely hidden in the shadows.
He paused a moment longer, and then walked back to his room, slamming the door. I was such a genius. Stupid, Lucy. Why are you so stupid?
I trudged back to the couch, defeated, and gathered my things. I guessed it was time to go, before I managed to screw something else up.
As I prepared to leave, I noticed a little notepad on the table by the couch. It must be for writing down phone numbers and messages. Maybe I could leave Aaron an apology or something.
I sat down and picked up the pen beside the pad, thinking of what to say. Sorry I looked at your stuff? I didn’t think so. Maybe I couldn’t really apologize. But I wanted to leave something…
After a moment of thought, I put down what I could think of.
My message read, “Aaron, thank you so much for letting me stay here overnight. I know things didn’t…end well. I realize just how awful that was. I don’t expect you to forgive the incident, or me, but I wanted to leave this for you. I know you think it was a mistake to let me stay, but it wasn’t on your part. Only mine. Not everyone in this city is like me. Please don’t let this change your perceptions of people here. Your act of kindness wasn’t stupid, just me. Keep that in mind. Thank you.
That was all I could say.