Watch for her from across the street, making sure to steal glances from underneath the rim of your baseball cap. You don’t want to stand out, so you wear a Red Sox one, just like your dad used to have. Wait beside the pretzel kiosk and look casual. If you buy a pretzel, it will look more authentic. As you rip open the mustard packet with your teeth and spit the hard plastic corner onto the sidewalk, smirk at all the people rushing home, trying to avoid the rain, failing miserably. Become a backdrop to the human traffic, scurrying across the pavement like roaches.
She finally steps out into the rain, wrapped in a smart wool coat, fumbling with her red umbrella, jerking the handle until it blooms out in front of her. You notice her hair, not really blonde, the loose strands worming their way out of the ponytail and dangling just under her chin. The roots sprouting from her head divide her skull in half, right down the middle. She wears lipstick two shades darker than a good girl would. You decide to call her Tiffany.
Her shoes clop down the sidewalk, the heels making her calf muscles ball into little apples. Follow her shoes in rhythm, your steps in time with hers, keeping at least ten body lengths between. When the excitement makes you surge forward, remind yourself that patience is a virtue.
You know the way without looking. On the right, the boats creak and moan in the harbor, the sharp pings of ocean slapping against the hulls. On the left, the echo of your breath, your steps ricochet off the cement barrier that muffles the engines crawling down Commercial Street. You close your eyes and let the echoes guide you.
The clopping slows down, and you open your eyes. She pauses, with a slight turn of her head, sensing a ghost’s breath on her shoulder. The hesitation sends shivers up your spine: equal parts exhilaration and fear of being discovered. You shorten your strides, not obviously, increasing the distance to twelve bodies.
As Tiffany climbs the front stoop of her apartment building, her keys jangle. Her hands shake, possibly from the cold, the clanking keys louder than usual. She jumps when you appear behind her and say: “Oh, you live in this building, too. I’ve seen you around.” Laughing at herself for her fright, she smiles, not wanting to be rude.
“Yes,” she says and waits with an inquisitive look before prompting, “Did you just move in?”
Her shoulders relax when you tell her, “In fact, I just moved in last week. I keep forgetting my key. It’s so lucky that I ran into you, or I would have had to sleep on the stoop…again.” She laughs. She believes you. “My name’s Sam,” you say, even though it’s really Albert, and extend your hand. You’ve always hated the name Albert, especially in grade school. The other kids chanted Fat Albert as you carried your lunch tray to the only empty table in the cafeteria. You hated your mother for picking that name because she loved Albert Brooks and for making you watch Broadcast News with her every time she was sad. She would say, “I’ll meet you at the place near the thing where we went that time,” every day she dropped you off at school, as her little in-joke. You never laughed.
She takes your hand and says, “I’m Geannie…with a ‘G’.” You smile, wondering why she feels that the spelling is important, and say nice to meet you as she unlocks the front door. The glass panes reflect the chaos of water dancing under the street lamps and, in the mirrored, dreamy collage of colors, you think you see wild-eyed mannequins with no arms, your face distorted, stretched putty. She lets you hold the door open for her as she glides through. You take off your cap, take one last glance at the cockroaches behind you, and follow her in.
Shake off the rain, casual, practiced charm in your movement. Make small talk. Keep her engaged as she checks her mail: Box 305. When she asks you where you live, say nonchalantly “on the fifth floor,” because neighbors separated by a floor could just as easily be strangers.
Geannie points to your cap and says, “I’m a Red Sox fan, too.” Immediately regurgitate all the facts and player’s names that you can remember and then quickly change the subject. Ask her what she does, and when she replies that she’s an administrative assistant, try not to look at her with condescension. Tell her, “That’s cool,” even though now you think less of her.
She asks you what you do. Reply: “Meet beautiful women in my apartment building.” When she dips her head with a humble laugh, tossing the strands of hair in clumsy flirtation, notice her ring-less hand, stroking her delicate collar bone, the contours of her elongated neck, the teary gratitude that shines from her eyes. You feel the burden of being the only man who has noticed her in some time. Her face flushes. She turns away to hide her embarrassment and pushes the UP button. You smile kindly, lovingly and think of how easy this will be.
The elevator arrives and parts its doors. You motion, like a gentleman, for the lady to board and ride the ancient elevator up to the third floor. When the bell dings, she tucks her hair behind her ear, garnished with tiny pearl studs, and steps out of the elevator. You smile at her, offer a hand, and tell her that, once again, it was so nice to meet her. She bashfully holds the door, unable to hold eye contact for more than two seconds, and asks, “Would you like to come in for a drink?”
Tell her, “I would love to.”