When I locked the deadbolt on my way out the door, my neighbor sprang out of her apartment like a cat hearing a can opener.
“Em,” I said.
“Where have you been?”
“Around,” I replied.
“Where are you headed?”
“I mean where specifically,” she badgered.
“Houston Street,” I sighed.
“The Angelika’s running a film I’ve been dying to see.”
“I’ll get my purse,” she said.
When she emerged and bounded down the stairs, I followed and told her, “You know, nothing blows up in this movie.”
“I figured as much. You don’t have the stomach for that. With you, it’s probably one of those gay, French films.”
She made it out the door, leaving me wondering how I’d lost control of the situation.
“Just because there’s no kung fu doesn’t necessarily mean this a gay, French film.”
“Fine,” she conceded. “What’s it called then?”
She laughed in my face and charged toward the train station. I took a moment to compose myself.
“Hurry it up, dude,” she called after me, “foreign, homosexual cinema awaits!”
During the trip downtown, I reminded her, “You hate movies like this.”
“And you’re going to be miserable the whole time.”
“Then why the hell are you forcing yourself on me like this?”
She whispered in my ear, “You used to like it when I forced myself on you.”
Feeling my pants constricting, I growled, “Don’t.”
“I’m sorry,” she replied sincerely. With a look, we agreed to change the subject, so she answered my original question: “I get a kick out of making fun of you because you’re a girl.”
“And Tyler is out of town this weekend.”
An hour later, we sat ourselves comfortably in the movie theater with popcorn and beverages, and she asked, “What’s this called again?”
I handed her my beer, and she took a swig while I told her, “Discotheque.”
“Is it a gay discotheque?”
I grabbed a fistful of popcorn. “Is there another kind?”
“Excuse me,” someone said as she pushed past Emma and me.
A quick glimpse revealed that she was a delightfully plump academic with frumpy glasses and a brainy scarf. She smiled shyly at me, and I smiled right back. Just as the lights started to dim, I snapped my wrist and produced a business card. “Hi, I’m Max.”
She blushed and took it. “Hi,” she told me, “I’m Kara.”
“I’m with the movie-theater inspection agency, and I wanted to ask you a few questions.”
She read my card. “It says here you’re a reporter at a trashy paper.”
“Okay,” I conceded, “I’m a journalist, and I wanted to ask you a few questions.”
I pulled out a pen and my reporter’s notebook. “What is your phone number?”
“Why would a reporter want my phone number?”
“So he can ask you out.”
“What would your girlfriend think of that?”
“Her? She’s my sister.”
She studied Emma carefully. “You guys don’t look related.”
Kara grinned, and then she answered my question. When I returned my attention to Emma, she was staring at me, slack-jawed.
“What?” I asked.
“Nope,” I replied.
“How do you do that?”
“You just saw me.”
“You just told her what your name is,” she said.
“And don’t forget the card. Chicks dig the card.”
“What if you run out of cards?”
“Then I just tell her what my name is,” I said. “You’d be amazed at how far that goes.”
“Is that right?” She turned to the skinny hipster next to her and said, “Hi, I’m Emma.”
I’ll be honest: the movie wasn’t very good. I wouldn’t admit to Emma, though. Agreeing with her was something I tried to avoid. But thanks to the whispering and snickering between us, hours passed easily enough.
After the movie finished dragging, and after the subway finished dragging just as badly, we made it to our building and dug the keys out of our respective pockets. I grinned and said, “Thanks for putting up with that.”
“It was a gay old time,” she replied and gave me a friendly kiss on the cheek.
The casualness of the gesture shocked the both of us, so we started into each other’s eyes for a long, startled second.
“So,” I said.
“So,” she replied.
“See you around?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Around.”
We both snapped out of the trance and unlocked our doors. Before we stepped into our apartments, we both turned back to look, surprising each other by doing so.
She blushed. “Bye.”
A hoarse whisper was all I could muster. “Around.”
I closed the door and leaned on it to keep from collapsing. “What the fuck was that?”
“What the fuck was what, roomie?” my flatmate Cameron yelled from the kitchen.
His boyfriend Mitchell, sitting cross-legged on the couch and devouring a pint of ice cream, asked, “Was it a mysterious chill? Because that’s the first sign of a haunting, and this building is old enough to pack a few a few ghosts.”
“That’s what it was,” I said. “Ghosts. Cold ghosts. Goose bumps. I’m going to go get baked.”
I climbed onto the fire escape, only to find myself a few feet from Emma again.
“Hi?” she squeaked.
“Hi,” I squeaked back.
“Getting some fresh air.”
“Marijuana,” I told her. You can’t have any.”
“Okay, bye,” she said and went back inside.
My hand shook too hard to light up.