LIKE YOU WANT IT: CHAPTER ONE
The steady beep of the alarm forces me to swat blindly at my nightstand for my cell phone, hoping to turn off the sound of death before it shatters the inside of my brain.
I’m too tired for this shit.
When my hand finally makes contact, I crack my eyes open the tiniest bit to boop the screen a few times, relieving my mind of Apple’s obnoxious Radar ringtone.
And then I roll over onto my back and let out a huge sigh.
I am just too tired for this shit.
That’s the thing about being a morning person. You get into a routine. On a schedule. And your damn body will wake up regardless of how many hours of sleep you got the night before. Or in my case, regardless of how many hours you didn’t get.
On a normal day, my routine begins when I wake up before my alarm has a chance to bother the world. I pop out of bed with a smile on my face, take a quick shower, then eat breakfast with my morning playlist jamming in my headphones, my phone tucked into my bra. There might even be some incredibly suave dance moves in my tiny kitchen.
I live in a fairly small, one-bedroom, townhousey slash apartmentey thing, so there isn’t a lot of room in my kitchenette to shake my ass. But I manage well enough. I mean, nothing has broken, so I consider that a success. A wide range of Spotify playlists are always ready to go on rotation based on mood. Typically of the upbeat variety. One’s called ‘Good Morning.’ Another is called ‘Have a Great Day.’ My favorite, which I listened to yesterday, is called ‘You are My Sunshine.’
Today is not that day.
Today, I am just too damn tired for this shit.
I scowl at my ceiling for a good ten minutes before I reluctantly roll off the side of my bed, my limbs dragging behind me in silent protest of my mind’s decision to get a move on.
I slap on the light in my bathroom with all kinds of ferocity, the noise of my hand hitting the plastic switch echoing loudly against the tile walls.
Glaring at my bedraggled appearance, I strongly consider shaving my head instead of putting in the normal amount of effort I give to the wild mane of hair gifted to me by my mother. But instead of going Demi Moore in GI Jane, I say fuck it and throw my hair into a messy top knot, turn off the light, and stomp out to my living room.
Today’s music choice is pointed and most definitely not played in my headphones. It’s also a song I heard once on the radio when I was in high school and thought to myself, well that’s just about the most negative thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.
And it fits today.
I Hate Everything About You by Three Days Grace.
At full capacity.
At six o’clock in the morning on a Sunday.
The first smile of the day finally makes an appearance as the lead singer’s gravely vocals overtake my living room. Overtake my kitchen. Overtake my bedroom, the space outside my door, reverberating through the walls and hopefully shaking the entire building. The evil slant to my eyes is a dead giveaway that my happiness stems from a foul place in my soul that doesn’t typically get any attention.
Let’s just put it this way: If I were a cartoon villain, I’d be stroking my beard.
I set the song on repeat and crank up the bass, then head into the kitchen and do my dishes.
Which apparently need to be deep cleaned by swatting at the bottom of a large pot with a wooden spoon.
Over and over again.
I’m on smack number ten when there’s a knock on my door.
There’s a pounding on my door.
A fierce wallop that shakes the hinges and has the devil on my shoulder rubbing her hands together and giggling like Yzma in Emperor’s New Groove. “Ha ha ha ha ha!” I laugh loudly, quoting my favorite line. “I win.”
I drop the pan and wooden spoon into my sink with an aggressive clank, and storm over to where my door is still getting the abuse of its life. I throw the heavy thing open with the strength of a mother lifting a car to get her child, prepared to go to battle.
I’m expecting a woman, since the only person I’ve seen upstairs over the past few days has been female. But maybe that was an assistant. Or a sibling. Or a wife.
Because the man standing on the other side of the door is someone I don’t recognize. Although that’s not what catches the majority of my attention.
Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your opinion – I’m a bit distracted by his shirtlessness, low hanging jeans, and the hands resting on hips that have my gaze focusing on that ‘V’ fit men have at the waist. What does Dina call that area? Sex muscles? Dick lines?
I drag my eyes away and come back to his face, which is gritted in an expression that has that same little devil on my shoulder jumping up and down with glee and giving me a round of fucking applause.
It really is quite a handsome face, with a chiseled jaw clenched tight, narrowed brown eyes, and adorable little wrinkles between his brows as he glares daggers at me.
Any other day, I might have taken a moment to blush and swoon. He has that broody male thing going on that seems to hit all of my good buttons.
I mean, who doesn’t get a little turned on at the sight of a delicious alpha male? My body was literally designed to spring into action to procure him for reproductive purposes. It’s why I follow all those Norwegian Viking guys on Instagram.
But just like everything else going on this morning?
Today is not that day.
So, instead of taking any more time to further appreciate the view in front of me, I give him a confused expression and shout “Can I help you!?,” my voice barely traveling with the force of the music behind me.
“It’s six o’clock in the morning,” is what I think he says.
But I don’t know for absolute certainty because he isn’t shouting to be heard. He just speaks at me, allowing the rigid glare of his eyes to communicate his disdain, the annoyed wrinkles on his forehead becoming aggressively more pronounced.
I furrow my brows and shake my head. “What!?”
“I said,” he repeats, taking a step forward, his voice rising only slightly, “it’s six. O clock. In the morning.”
I shrug and put a hand up to my ear. “I can’t hear you!” I shout, schooling my expression to keep from smiling.
God, I feel fucking evil right now. I almost laugh at my own absurdity. Is this really the most atrocious thing I’ve ever done to someone? I try to think back to whether or not I’ve ever really been a dick to another human being in my life.
But before I can complete that thought, he does something I do not expect. He steps past me into my apartment, stalks over to the wall of bookshelves where my stereo rests, and hits the power button.
The noise ceases instantly.
As much as I’m enjoying that look of I’ve-just-been-startled-the-fuck-awake that covers his face, it is a much appreciated break on my abused eardrums, and I fight the urge to let out a sigh of relief.
Holy goodness that was loud.
“Oh, I am so sorry,” I feign concern, my hand coming up to my chest and resting daintily at the base of my throat. If only I had a pair of pearls to clutch. “Could you hear my music?”
“Could I hear it?” he repeats back to me, his voice dripping with disbelief, though the deep timber surprises me. “Are you serious? It sounded like someone set up an amp next to my face and started playing at max volume. At six in the fucking morning.”
A part of me knows that I might be pushing this a little bit too far. I’m now a half-step past let’s piss off the new dickweed neighbor, and firmly entrenched in maybe this situation isn’t entirely safe.
The situation being something every women’s magazine and website and police officer encourages you not to get into. I’m alone, in my apartment, without a phone in my hand or any real way to protect myself, and a stranger glaring at me in anger.
Gratifying anger? Sure. One hundred percent. But still, very real.
And while the door might still be open, creating the illusion that I can get away whenever I so choose, this guy looks like he could leap across the room to grab me in half the time it would take me to get to the door.
Well, those magazines with their safety tips can fuck right the hell off, because this chicka has had it up to here and isn’t going to take it sitting down.
“Ohhhhhhh,” I say, allowing the faux light of understanding to cross my expression. “So you’re saying it’s ridiculously easy to hear through your floor and my ceiling when someone’s being really loud?” I rest my hands on my hips and give him my best well golly gee. “I didn’t know that at all. I mean, I’ve never heard a peep coming from the incredibly quiet apartment upstairs.”
There’s a lull of silence between us where I anticipate that he’ll spring right into action. There will be an apology. Some groveling maybe. Or an offer of a bottle of wine for my troubles.
I like that version best, because my wine holder is looking a little bare as I wait for my next paycheck.
But that’s not at all what happens. Instead, I glare. He glares. I glare some more.
There is entirely too much glaring going on. It’s like the sun in a city with glass buildings. There’s no escaping it as it blasts into your eyes and gives you a surprise sunburn.
And to make the situation even more irritating, he continues to stand there silently. Not a single word. He just stands there as I clench my fists and grind my jaw, willing him to say something. Anything.
When I can’t take it any longer, I launch my well thought out frustration at his perfect, stupid face.
“This is when you’re supposed to infer that I was kept up until nearly four o’clock in the morning by your raging party, and your loud guests stomping up and down the stairs, and someone’s bed frame banging against the wall, over and over and over again, so loudly that I could hear it thumping through the floor. Louder thanthe music.”
I step a few steps closer to him and point a finger at my incredibly tired and disheveled appearance.
“Do you see these bags under my eyes? Do you? These are going to be nearly impossible to cover, even though my concealer provides excellent coverage. It took me years to find a concealer that works so well, and your little antics are going to prove it ineffective today. I work at a coffee shop and I’m supposed to be perky and upbeat and happy. And I normally am!” I add on a shout, my arms flinging out to my sides in exasperation.
“I am the most positive, optimistic, annoyingly happy person that I know. Just ask about every person I’ve ever met, and they’ll probably agree with me. But you have managed to ruin my persistent state of cheer and bliss with one undeniably loud and incredibly inconsiderate party.” I huff and put my hands on my hips, trying to look much more forbidding than my five-foot frame typically allows. “I know you just moved in, and I don’t want you to think you live above a crazy lady, but seriously! In what world is something like that acceptable? Ever? Besides at a frat house.” I cross my arms. “At least, that’s my guess based on Neighbors. And Old School.”
There’s another pause.
And my continued expectation that he’s going to finally reply to what I’ve said is – again – left flapping in the wind.
Is this guy seriously not going to say anything? Like, what kind of person just barges into someone else’s apartment after yelling at them and then says nothing?
I drop my arms and this time, show him legitimate confusion. “Are you seriously just going to stand there mute? The least you can do is respond after you barge into my apartment and yell at me.”
“First of all,” he finally says, his deep voice rolling softly through the room on a wave. “The only reason I barged in here is because you had your music set so loud, I’m surprised I didn’t pop an eardrum.”
I roll my eyes. “Well that’s a little dramatic don’t you thi…”
“Second of all,” he adds, interrupting me, “never in my life have I seen someone so irritating unconvincingly declare that they are normally a perky, happy, likeable person.”
“Heyyyyy.” My brow dips down and my hands return to my hips. “I never said I was likeable. I just assume it’s heavily implied. And that was rude for you to…”
“I also think,” he interrupts again, and I grind my teeth together, “it’s important to remember that just because you live here, alone, with your cat, doesn’t mean other people aren’t allowed to actually have a fun night.”
My mouth drops open. “Are you implying that I’m some sort of crazy cat lady? Because I will have you know…”
“Nope!” I shout out, my hands flying up and forming a T. “Nope, nope, nope. I call timeout. You’ve interrupted me twice already. I absolutely refuse to let you do it again.”
There’s a lull of silence, and he just looks at me with a flat, completely disinterested expression.
“Lastly,” he repeats, and I take a deep breath to calm myself, though I’m almost certain that my flaring nostrils give away the fact that I am the exact opposite of calm. “I am not your neighbor.”
I blink, my whole body freezing over for a minute.
My deep inhale leaves my body in a surprised rush.
Did he just say…?
This is not how I saw this going.
My assumption was that there would be remorse. And embarrassment. Maybe a little groveling.
On his part. Definitely not on mine.
And don’t forget about the apology wine.
Now I’m wishing I’d stocked up on some Merlot when I went to the grocery store yesterday because it doesn’t look like Mr. Dick Lines is going to be giving me any.
“I’m in the process of moving my sister in upstairs,” he continues when I remain silent. “You’ve probably seen her coming and going, but she hasn’t officially moved in yet. She’ll be here within the next few days.”
I feel like I’ve swallowed one of those stickers that get lodged in your socks when you go hiking. The super sharp, spiky balls that are hard to get out of your clothes. Yeah, there’s like, five of them in my throat right now.
“I’m sorry,” I say, my whole body deflating. “When you showed up at the door I just assumed that you were going to be the one living above me. If you don’t live here, why were you the one to come down and point out that I’m a crazy lady?”
“Susie is really quiet and introverted.” His eyes flit around my apartment, the judgment clear on his face. “She won’t be bothering you. So it will probably be best if you don’t bother her either.”
I’m not a fan of the look he’s giving me right now, but I know it all too well.
I live in a small one-bedroom on the bottom floor of a two-story duplex. While I get the Harry Potter cabinet under the stairs and next to the carport, the upstairs unit is a two-bedroom, two-bath with a patio. I knew the old upstairs neighbors, Harriet and Leo, and used to be their cat sitter when they went out of town, up until they left a few weeks ago to move to a retirement community in Las Vegas. The difference between the two units in this building is stark.
But it isn’t the size of my apartment that likely has my new neighbor’s brother deciding he doesn’t want me to talk to his sister.
It’s how I’ve chosen to decorate and furnish the place.
I’ve been living here for just over five years. The minute I turned eighteen, my boyfriend, Theo, rented this spot for us even though I was still in high school. While I hadn’t really been interested in moving in with a boyfriend at such a young age and when we’d only been dating for a few months, I wanted to get out of the suffocating environment at the house I grew up in. Theo felt like my only path to freedom.
Just six months later, I came home to him getting a beejer from one of the girls I worked with at The Steam Room. He apologized the entire time he was packing his stuff, though I’m certain he was only sorry he got caught. When the apologizing transitioned into making excuses for himself – he’d been high on drugs at the time, which I told him was not an excuse that would get him any sympathy from me – he was promptly shown the door. And then I was on my own.
Honestly, looking back on it, him cheating was probably the best thing to happen to us. It drew a clear line in the sand. Theo had been struggling with some financial problems, which isn’t a big deal. We could have made it work. But when I heard through a friend that he had been dealing drugs from our apartment when I wasn’t home, I felt exactly zero remorse about how things ended.
After he was gone and all of the toxic energy he took with him had been cleared away with some white sage smudge sticks gifted to me by a friend in my yoga class – not really my thing, but sometimes you have to use every tool at your disposal – I decided I was going to make this place into the most amazing, me apartment ever. No more stupid boy crap and weird bong vases and black out curtains.
It became my official mission to brighten up the apartment as much as possible. And I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished in creating a space that represents my personality in as many shades as there are in a rainbow.
The walls in the living room are a bright turquoise that darkens nicely into a deep blue as it transitions into the kitchen. The massive built-in bookshelf has been branded with a hot pink to rival any Barbie product ever created, which is offset by a massive, oversized light pink, round shag area rug with funky black designs.
It’s bright and colorful and cheery in the best possible ways, with accents abundant, like lemon curtains and fuchsia throw pillows covered in hipster Star Wars characters.
I say that my apartment is influenced by the brilliant Lisa Frank. But my friend Dina likes to say that you can only make one assumption of the person who lives here. And that’s simply that they do a lot of acid.
So Mr. Straightlaced here probably thinks I’m a druggie living in the hovel below his precious sister. And as much as I’d love to set him straight, I’m too tired on my two hours of sleep to correct an opinion of me that I’m only assuming he has.
Instead of responding, I mimic his stance, crossing my arms and spreading my legs wider.
Honestly, this guy seems like a prick, coming in here and telling me I should stay away from his sister. I mean, how am I supposed to respond to that without just giving him the middle finger and showing him to the door?
“I’m sure your sister is capable of deciding who is allowed to bother her,” is what I finally say in response.
I watch him lift an eyebrow. Just one. He doesn’t look angry anymore, his face having remained in a neutral, flat look once he started speaking. That one eyebrow is the only indicator now that I’m speaking to a human and not a wax figurine.
We both stand in more silence and just watch each other. Though his eyes do dip just slightly down over my frame before popping back up and remaining firmly on my face.
And it’s in this exact moment that I take mental stock of what I’m wearing.
Did I put on pants when I got out of bed and decided to cause a raucous?
I step as inconspicuously as possible to the right, hoping to shield my lower half with the couch. Although that doesn’t help the up-top situation, because I know I am definitely not wearing a bra.
I cross my arms.
I’ve been wearing the same shirt to bed every night since I was in elementary school. A large white cotton tee that says “My PenIs Huge.”
The ‘I’ is a pen.
My brother got it in high school and my dad, who is both incredibly conservative and a man who dislikes what he calls ‘inappropriate attention,’ promptly chucked it into the trash. My mother pulled it out, gave it a wash, and handed it over to me.
“Why does she get to wear it and I don’t?” Caleb had demanded in his teenage irritation with anything and anyone.
“Because when she wears it, it’s ironic,” my mom had said, the word going over my head at the time. “And she won’t wear it outside of the house, whereas you’ll wear it proudly at the mall, and I have no intention of the church hotline blowing up with yet another reason why I’m a horrible mother.”
Caleb likely forgot all about the shirt once he left for college that August. But I’m still wearing it in a regular rotation of sleep shirts almost fourteen years later.
Admittedly, the thing should go back into the trash at some point. It’s got holes along the seams and is slightly shrunken and rudely stretched, making it both tight and loose, if that’s possible. But it’s the most comfortable shirt I’ve ever had, and I’ll give it up on the day it falls to shreds in my hands.
But now, with this upstairs neighbor’s brother in my apartment, watching me in silence, I’m hyper aware of the fact that I’m pantsless in some bikini briefs, and wearing basically a see-through shirt, without a bra. And I know from my own observation that my stupid genetics gifted me with small boobs and large, dark nipples that are most certainly at least somewhat visible through the thinning fabric.
Why didn’t I go with my E.T. shirt last night instead?
I lean a hip against the couch, and let out a long and dramatic sigh. Obviously, we’re going to need to resolve whatever this is. And Señor Silencio over there doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to do so.
So, I buck up and decide to just be the bigger person and start the conversation.
“Look, I want to apologize for playing the music so loud this morning. Even though there’s no way it was as loud as the music I heard last night,” I say, giving him a pointed look, “I know it was an immature way to handle my frustration. Usually I’m really nice, but this morning got a bit away from me. The walls here are incredibly thin. Like, paper, which I think you gathered with my morning concert. I work at a coffee shop and I’m usually up pretty early. Stuff like last night can’t happen again. I slept for less than two hours.”
He watches me and still doesn’t say anything.
“So if you could just let your sister know? About the thin walls? I’d really appreciate it.”
He shakes his head. “You won’t have to worry about that happening again. Susie works from home. But, like I said, she’s pretty introverted and really quiet.”
I scrunch up my brows. “Then who threw the party last night.”
Mr. Talkative goes mute again, but I feel like his eyes are saying…
“Wait… so it was you that had the party upstairs. Even though you just said it wasn’t you.”
“I never said it wasn’t me. I said I’m not your new neighbor. I can’t help it if you weren’t quick enough to tell the difference.”
I tighten my arms around my chest and clench my jaw. It’s a nasty habit I have, and I’m pretty sure it has permanently fucked with my teeth. But I’m cranky. And I got no sleep. And this guy is to blame.
“Listen, mister… neighbor’s brother. You are not allowed to nearly break down my door, barge into my apartment, interrupt me, and talk to me like I’m too stupid to breathe,” I fume, counting each point off on my right hand. “This apartment is an aggression free zone, and you are absolutely ruining the vibe.”
He rolls his eyes, and it is the most emotion I’ve seen out of him since the minute I opened the door and he looked like he wanted to light me on fire.
“You have been incredibly rude and unfriendly since the minute you showed up at my door…”
“I only showed up at your door because you were playing your music at a freakishly high volume at six in the morning.”
“And stop interrupting me!” I shout, feeling like I’m finally losing my cool.
I place a palm flat on my face and let out a breath that is supposed to be calming. It’s definitely not. I take one more and then look at this guy. It’s clear that being all broody and irritated is his thing, and that positivity isn’t a mental state he’s familiar with. He’s flat, bored, disinterested. It’s just his way, and as much as it frustrates me, it isn’t my problem to fix. I need to just let go of any idea I have of him realizing he’s being a dick and just try to get him to leave.
“Look…” I wrack my brain, coming up blank. “What’s your name?”
There’s a pause.
“I’m going to be living next door to your sister, and I can’t even know your name?”
His jaw ticks. “Fin.”
“Fin? Is that short for something?”
“Alright. Look, Fin, I am very sorry for fucking with your morning.” I uncross and recross my arms. “Next time I’ll, I don’t know, go knock and ask for a pipe down like a normal human being instead of my absolute train wreck of an attempt at vengefulness this morning.”
His shoulders drop slightly, and I feel like I just saw a fight leave his body in a rush. But he continues to stand there without saying anything.
“So… thanks for coming by, then,” I tack on, hinting that he should head out the door.
The invitation to leave seems to resonate because he moves quickly, making it through my tiny living room and to the front door in just a few long strides. He pauses in the open doorway and looks back at me.
“I’d say it was nice to meet you, but I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that it’s actually true.”
My mouth drops open, incredulous, and the tiny olive branch of apology that I handed to him a moment ago snaps in my mind like a fucking twig.
“Keep to yourself and Susie will keep to herself, and I’m sure everything will be fine.”
He turns and walks out, not even bothering to close the door behind him.
My nostrils flare as I glare at the spot where he just stood like I wish he would come back so I could light him on fucking fire.
What a prick.
I don’t think I’ve ever had someone be so rude to me in my entire life.
Well, okay, that’s not true. I work at a coffee shop. People can be dicks. But I can almost always win them over with a well-phrased apology, or a smile, or a willingness to be wrong even when I know I’m not.
But this guy?
What a fucking prick.
Mr. Fucking Prick.
Yeah, that’s what I’ll call him.
In my head though. Not to his face. I mean, I don’t wanna be a total asshole.
I finally walk over and close my front door so I’m no longer showcasing my naked legs to everyone on Green Street, then head over to my couch and plop down with a dramatic flourish.
I have to be at work in – I glance at the neon yellow clock that hangs on the wall near the front door – a little under two hours. I can’t believe that conversation only took fifteen minutes. It felt like he was here for a year.
I let my head fall back on the couch cushion and take a deep breath through my nose, then let it out through my mouth. I usually do a round of yoga in the mornings if I’m feeling stressed or frustrated, following one of my own routines or watching a free channel on YouTube.
But this morning, I feel like the only thing that could possibly help is a big fat glass of wine and a trip to that place Dina’s always telling me about where people throw axes at a wooden block.
Yeah. Axe throwing.
I slap a palm over my face.
If my inclination after my first conversation with him is that I want to throw weapons at a wall, I hope I never have to see that Fin guy again.
Did you enjoy chapter one? Like You Want It releases on March 25th!