It looked so much different in the daylight. Without the annoying buzzing of a broken light overhead, or the constant sound of sirens in the distant, my apartment seemed almost peaceful. The grimy windows were bathed in a soft yellow morning light, and even the torn and ages curtains had a certain life added to them with the glow. It seemed innocuous. Normal. Just one apartment on a floor of identical apartments, in a building of identical floors, in a city of identical buildings.
My right hand shot to my left arm, instinctively soothing marks I knew weren’t there any more.With it looking so normal now, it was hard to think about all that had happened inside.
It was the first time I'd left the Alliance training center since I began training. It was strange to realise that I had spent more than a week inside , not leaving once. Still, with the abundance of huge windows in the building, it was easy to forget that fact. It was a colossal structure, too, and even after all my time there, I'd still left about half the floors unexplored.
I stepped forward and leant down to pick up the welcome mat. I swept my hand under it for a moment, and was sort of surprised to find the extra key still there. In this part of the city, actually, I was shocked no-one had resorted to just breaking in the windows to get inside and take whatever was left.
I sifted through the keys for the one to the front door and, after a few misfires, slid the correct one into the slot. With a low click, the door unlocked. Set loose on it’s hinges, waiting for a push or a pull. I put my palm in the centre, and nudged it.
At least the smell was still the same.
All the time away hadn’t helped to evaporate the particularly potent cocktail I’d managed to create. The fact that the apartment only had four windows, all only slightly larger than my head, probably didn’t lend itself to a fresh, clean atmosphere.
It felt almost wrong to be here again. The sordid air, the vague rancid smell from a fridge left unattended, and another, deeper stench. Smoke layered with alcohol, a desperate medley that brought back memories I chose not to linger on. The door creaked gently beside me, pushed on by a tiny flick of my wrist, and clicked quietly into place on its hinges.
I stood in mostly darkness. A filthy light filtered from the door side windows, but it illuminated little more than the floor boards. I reached for the place where I knew the light switch would be, but pulled by hand back when I felt something sharp. I turned around to see what I was doing. and yanked my hand back. Broken plastic. Exposed circuitry. I remember it then, just a second of vivid imagery. My fist, balled up, swinging, with nowhere to land but the electrical panel. I felt a brief pulse of ache in my knuckles.
That had been a particularly hard night. It was three days since I’d ‘moved in’, and I was sifting through some boxes to search for a can opener, when I’d found it. The little blue box. I’d been hit with such a rage, such a deep type ofshredding, that striking out seemed to be the only thing to do. So I did. I swung wide, I swung hard, and I swung into a wall that shattered. Luckily, the place was cheap. No brick there, just plaster, so my hand didn’t shatter with it.
The little blue box. I remember, and a shudder of fear pulsed through me. I forgot about it completely the night I’d left with Alan and Patricia, but it had been lingering around my mind all through the past week. What if someone had taken it? What if they’d sold it already? Who know how far away it could be by now?
In some logical part of me, I knew that there were no signs of force at the door. The lock was still secure, and the windows whole, so it was more than likely that no-one had stepped foot inside but me, but that didn’t stop the knot of worry in my gut. Ignoring the salvage mission in the living room for the moment, I turned my attention towards the bedroom and walked to the entry.
It was even messier here than I’d remembered. I thought the living room looked bad, but clearly I had committed most of my debaucherous acts in here, judging by the bottles of varying colours, thickness, and fullness scattered across the floor. Some of them shattered, some of them overturned, some with long dry stains across the floor below them.
I stepped forward, carefully, navigating a haphazard path through the debris. Soon, I reached the closest, and pulled the double doors open. The motions knocked over several nearby bottles, and instigated a bit of a ‘domino effect’. I didn’t even pause at the noise, and I lowered my self and began feeling around. Hands running around the base of the cupboard, tracing shirts fallen from hangers and clothes thrown messily away. Sifting through layer of fabric, ignoring the subtle scent of something rotten, and I felt around for it.
Fuck, it's not here, I thought, as I kept coming up empty. Soon, I resorted to throwing out pieces of clothing behind me, trying to open up the floor so I could get a better look.
I dug deeper, more frantic. Shoving aside everything and clawing deep.
“Fuck.” I whispered. Who could’ve taken it?
My suspicions fired off, quick and ruthless. Alan and Patricia has been in here when I wasn’t. My landlord had a key to here too. Someone could’ve found the key under the mat and put it back there. I started to panic, standing up and lifting my hands to my heads. What am I going to do? What am I going to do? What am I going to-
Oh, I thought, there it is.
Tucked away in the corner, half hidden in shadows, half covered with cloth. I could just see a tiny, skyblue corner poking out, but that was enough. I scrambled to grab it, and flipped the top open to check for the contents.
I pushed it against my chest and breathed out, deep and steady. I took another look inside, just to make sure the ring was still inside. Yes, everything is fine.
Or rather, I thought, everything’s not fine. But at least this is.
Finally feeling safe that it wasn’t about to evaporate in my hand, I carefully reached inside and plucked the ring out between my thumb and pointer finger. It didn’t shine here nearly as much as it did in the story. I guess that's why they had all those bright lights. Still, even without the artificial gleam, it was pretty. I knew I’d made a good choice. Anneka’s would’ve loved it. Anneka would’ve said yes. I know she would’ve. Even without the ring, she would’ve said yes.
If we hadn’t gone to work that day. If they hadn’t been pushed into the tower. If she wasn’t too far into the building. If we made it home and went to bed and I’d woken her up the next morning with breakfast and a question, she would’ve said yes. Right? She would’ve married me. I think I know her well enough. Knew.
I was struck with the momentary urge to throw it across the room. To see the box crash into the wall and fall down, and not watch the ring to see where it landed. To lose it, to get rid of it, to put it out of my mind.
But my palm just curled in tight around it.
I straightened out and threw the box into the closest, keeping its contents and stuffing it into my pocket. I’d decide what to do with it later. A look around the room gave the impression that there wasn’t much here to salvage.
I’d come here intent on looting the place. Emptying my drawers, my cupboards. Grabbing all the clothes and niknaks I could carry and stuffing them into the duffel bag I’d brought with me, but that was seeming less and less like it was going to actually happen.
Most of the stuff was still in boxes, anyway. I’d moved out of the old apartment, mine and hers, in as much of a hurry as I could. This place was the first available and the easiest to get, soI signed the rental contract the day I found it. Most of my clothes were already old, and the ones that weren’t were wrinkled or dirty or a combination of both, and I had no patience to wash them. I could always buy more.
I’d probably have to clear out the fridge, so everything didn’t rot. That wouldn’t take to long. I probably only had some cold takeout and a bit of milk in there, anyways. The single most valuable thing I owned was probably the ring, and I’d taken that already. Aside from that there was...what? Some cutlery, some framed photos I had copies of on my phone, and what else? A toothbrush?
Nothing here mattered.
I turned and left the room, closing the door behind me. I stepped through the living room and reached the kitchen, opening the fridge to take everything else. I recoiled. Something had already gone off. I grabbed the bin and pulled it around to the front of the fridge, so I could scoop everything into it in the least time. When it was empty, I grabbed the bag and lifted it out, tying a knot with the black plastic. I lifted it out and carried it with me, grabbing the duffel bag on the way out. I walked to short distance to the trash drop for the floor, and threw them both inside.
“You passed.” she said. “On condition.”
Vincent flicked his eyes up from the InfoDex in his hand. He had been pouring over a message for a few minutes, subtly mouthing words until he summarised it for me.
“Condition?” I asked. This, I hadn’t expected. After my session with Naomi, I’d been over everything I remembered saying and come to conclusion that I’d given a less than stellar performance. When Victor came into my room and said he’d got the report, I had sunken immediately. Even more so when he said he hadn’t read it yet, and wanted to read it first with me there. And even more so when the expression playing over his face weren’t exactly ecstatic.
“Dr Latchman seems to think that ongoing sessions would be a good idea. I am inclined to agree with her.”
My first response was to let out a huff, but then I thought about it. I’d thought that I’d be denied flat out, and while this wasn’t ideal, it at least have me a chance back in. Not to mention, a chance to see a certain doctor again…
“How often?” I said.
Victor cast his eyes down again and scrolled with his finger, stopping at a certain pointing and scanning the text. “ She says weekly session to start off, dropping to fortnightly and then monthly when she feels it’s time.”
“Alright.” I said. It came out sounding too eager, even to my own ears, and I noticed the ghost of movement around Alan’s eyes.
“Alright.” He repeated, more slowly. “You’ll also have to chose which psych you’ll be seeing. The Alliance has quite a few qualified staff onboard, though it could be arranged through an outside psychologist if that’s what you’d prefer.”
“Wait.” I said,“It’s not gonna be with Naomi?”
He must’ve caught the whining tone to my voice, because he gave me a smug, knowing smile that almost made me blush. Almost.
“That might be possible.” He said, “If you’d strongly prefer to see her.” He finished with a closed mouth grin, running his tongue along the inside of his cheek.
“Shut up.” I said, turning subtly away from him as I caught the tail end of a soft chuckle. “But,” I didn’t look at him. “If it is possible, yes.” I added. “Please.”
He laughed, the shudders of movement shaking the mattress we were sitting on.
“Anything for you, K.”