"Don’t accept rides from strange men, and remember that all men are strange."
“Are you sure this is the right way?” I had to ask.
“Trust me,” was Sebastian’s reply.
And I did. He led me through a narrow utility closet into a small room with pipes and water heaters. In the back was a rusty door, which he wretched open with practiced ease. “Ladies first?” he offered.
I looked up the decrepit stairs. Only a few trails of footsteps broke the thick layers of dust and mouse droppings that coated each step. Sebastian raised a brow at me in silent challenge. I knew he would go first if I asked, but I wasn’t about to ask. I put one foot on the first step, and it seemed to hold my weight. Once I had gone far enough that Sebastian could step in behind me, we were plunged into abrupt darkness.
“Relax, Hana, I’ve got-“
I flicked on the flashlight on my phone so he could see just how unamused I was. “You could’ve given me some warning.”
The teasing grin dying away, Sebastian’s expression turned contemplative. He assessed me, eyes flickering towards the flashlight. “I keep forgetting who I’m dealing with. Sorry.” He flashed another smile, but this one was different.
Without giving me time to reply, Sebastian brushed past me in the narrow stairwell to lead the way. His hair smelled good, like vanilla and coconut, I noted with a certain degree of reluctance. With my light still on, I followed him the rest of the way up the staircase to another rusty door, where he stopped to fool with the lock. Light burst into the stairwell when he pushed it open, illuminating things in the dusty cobwebs by my feet that I would have rather not seen. I tried not to show it, but I was relieved to step out into open air.
“Welcome to the roof of the fourth highest building in town,” Sebastian announced with a grand arm gesture. “AKA the fourth best view around.”
“Wow,” I said, a generous hint of sarcasm in my voice, “fourth best? Man, am I lucky.”
Sebastian rolled his eyes. “Let’s see if you’re so unimpressed when you come look over the edge.”
“Why would I look over the edge?”
“You have to,” Sebastian replied. “You can’t illegally be on the roof of a fifty story building and not look over the edge.”
“Isn’t that cliche? I thought you didn’t like cliches.”
Sebastian looked over at me, the picture of innocence. “What’s cliche about appreciating your surroundings?”
I shrugged and slowly walked to the edge, my sandals crunching on the gravelly pebbles. I stopped a good foot and a half back from the lip and peered over. I caught a glimpse of a red car on the street below and then I was falling and then I was being pulled back and then Sebastian was grinning at me. “Made you flinch.”
I punched him as hard as I could on the arm. “You asshole.”
Sebastian spread his arms in a placating gesture. “Come on, I thought you trusted me.”
“Last time I make that mistake,” I muttered. I was glaring, but he was laughing, and I couldn’t help the twitch of smile that betrayed me. “Boys,” I mourned as Sebastian strode towards a large metal appliance towards the center of the roof. “Such wasted potential.”
When Sebastian came back, he was carrying a garbage bag. “Hang on, I have a blanket so you don’t have to sit on the hot roof.”
“What a gentleman,” I deadpanned, glancing around at the open space. “So, you bring people up here often?”
“What makes you think I don’t just come up here alone?” he asked, pulling a large green blanket from the garbage bag. From the folds of material fell some small, flat foil packets. I raised a brow, and he stuffed them back into the garbage bag. “Okay, yeah, you got me.”
I eyed the blanket as he spread it flat on the roof. “How often do you wash this? Do I even want to touch it?”
A hint of red crept into Sebastian’s cheeks. “It was an emergency preparedness thing. Nothing ever happened. The blanket is fine.”
I grinned as I sat down, teasing, “Well aren’t you the little boy scout.”
“Shut up,” Sebastian muttered, not meeting my eyes as he took the seat next to me.
I had to push it. That’s what I did. “So, all that nonsense with turning the lights out and pretending to push me off the roof - let me guess, that was to scare the unsuspecting girls right into your arms?” He shrugged. I was a little impressed. “Did it actually work?” I asked, incredulous.
“Usually,” he admitted, finally looking up. “But to be clear, you weren’t- I didn’t mea-“
“Good,” I cut him off. “Cause it didn’t work on me. How stupid are the girls you find?”
Sebastian looked out over the city. “Not stupid. Just romantics.”
Ha. One mystery solved.
I had no reply to that, so I followed Sebastian’s gaze. It was a nice view, with the buildings casting patterns of long shadows through the city streets. Little people roamed the sidewalks, got into cars, drove places - each of their lives as complex as my own. It was a daunting and vast idea, one I wasn’t sure I could comprehend.
I looked back at Sebastian, who paled in comparison to the incomprehensibility of the masses. He was just a guy, and how complex were the motivations of men?
“So how’d you figure out how to get up here?” I asked, distracting myself from the thoughts that would come next.
“My dad worked here when I was little.”
I perked up; this was the first time I’d heard Sebastian speak of his parents.
“Our babysitter couldn’t start until six on the weekdays, so we’d come here for a few hours after school,” Sebastian’s voice was distant. He was in another time as he sat here with me on that roof. There was a smile on his face, but it wasn’t associated with any of the emotions smiles normally held. “I know every inch of this place. Well, except one room that I was never allowed in.”
“The ladies’ room?” I suggested.
Sebastian laughed, genuine and full-bodied. “No. My dad’s office.”
I felt the sudden heaviness of the air crash down on me like a pile of iron rods. “Shit,” I breathed. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Sebastian replied. “I’d much rather laugh about it.”
In the following pause, I felt like I needed to be the one to move the conversation forward into lighter ground. Grasping about for something to say, I blurted, “So, you have siblings, then?” There was a half second of hesitation and confusion on Sebastian’s face, so I backtracked, saying, “You said ‘our’ babysitter, so I thought…” I didn’t need to be looking to see his walls come up.
Sebastian gave a forced half laugh, ducking his head and rubbing a hand across his face. “You really have a talent for sniffing out the heavy stuff, don’t you?”
“It’s a gift and a curse,” I muttered, wondering if he’d explain why siblings were such a forbidden topic.
“What’s your favorite color?”
I blinked. “Wow. Talk about a non sequitur.”
“There’s no way you can make your favorite color dark,” Sebastian reasoned. “We’re moving into lighter conversation. What’s your favorite color?”
“Black,” I told him, mostly to spite him, but half because it was true. If it hadn’t been for the accents of white and green on my tank top, my entire outfit would have been black. Smiling, I added, “My talents are making things heavy and keeping them dark.”
Sebastian gave me a look, then laughed. “I like you.”
I like you too. It went unsaid. I wasn’t sure if we meant in the same way.
“And I’ll explain someday,” Sebastian added in a lower voice. “There are daytime conversations, but some things…” He shrugged. “Some things belong to the night.”
We didn’t talk for a long time as we basked in the afternoon sun, but I wouldn’t call it a waste.