The night was gentle and warm, the kind of night that you can feel on your skin and that feels soft. The smell of petunias hung in that air, almost sickly sweet, but somehow pleasant. I crept with my friends up to the door of your apartment building. The first of two doors remained unlocked and opened onto the small vestibule. We crowded in between the Grecian Neoclassical vases. I didn’t know your apartment number. I’d only seen you come and go through this door. I hadn’t meant to. I lived across the street, and you’d walked down the sidewalk one night with that swing in your step, the one that speaks of confidence, though you’d been wearing, for all that I could tell in the glow beneath the streetlights, a t-shirt, khakis, and Keds.
The old hopper window was tilted open above the locked door onto the stairs and the atrium.
“Hello?” I called through the open window.
There was no answer. I hadn’t really expected one.
“All right,” I said, turning to my friends, “we’ll have to play loud.”
Justin shifted his guitar and strummed a few quick notes to show that he was ready. Rick answered with a chord on his banjo. Sanders pulled his bow across the fiddle.
“All right. Now, I’ve heard her listening to country, so I’ve learned a few songs. Just—”
“We know,” Sanders reminded me. “We’ve practiced.”
Sanders started with a slide, and Justin and Rick answered. I picked up the backbeat with the tambourine that I’d bought and started to belt out as loud as I could the lyrics to a popular country tune that I’d listened to again and again after examining Top 40 charts for the genre.
Our music rattled the vases in the vestibule. I hoped it would echo down the corridors off the atrium. I hoped she was not high above us or below us. I hoped she wasn’t past those closed, metal doors that must divide the building.
Slowly people began to trickle into the atrium to stare, though no one let us in. One man came huffing out of his apartment to tell us to quit it, spewing profanities against the whole of the music genre.
“I’m looking for someone,” I called to the man, while my friends took up the bridge.
“Well, look for them quietly!”
“I don’t know her name.”
One of the women near the front sighed. “What’s she look like, honey?”
“I’ve seen her under the streetlights. She’s small. She wears her hair in a ponytail. Works a lot of night shifts, it seems, or is frequently coming home late from somewhere.” It wasn’t a lot to go on, especially in an apartment building of this size.
“You know she’s unattached?” one of the teen girls jeered.
I shook my head. “Gotta ask.”
A man pushed a protesting girl forward. “This her?” he asked. She kept her head down, but her forehead was a hot, embarrassed red.
“One time,” I said, “you came home late. You went inside and came back out and you sat in the grass for a long while. You kept holding out your hand. I think you were trying to feed the tomcat.”
She glanced up and her face got if possible redder. She stammered, “How—”
I almost dropped the tambourine. “I fell in love,” I hurried to say, “with that girl feeding the tomcat. She seemed like she wanted a friend. I want to be that friend.”
The woman who’d asked for the girl’s description turned to her. “Well, honey,” she said, “you gonna tell this fella your name?”
She shook her head.
“Mine’s Lou,” I called to encourage her.
“Lou, I’m leaving,” the girl said.
“Leaving,” I repeated. Behind me the notes of my impromptu band wavered and then stopped.
“Leaving the state,” she confirmed.
A big state. “Well, can I leave you my number? Can we still talk? Or an email? A Skype name? Anything?”
She walked slowly up to the door. A few of the onlookers gave a cheer. She opened it. I was in the same cramped vestibule with her (and several of my friends). She pulled a pen from her ponytail and took my hand in hers. She wrote her name and number on my name, then handed me the pen so that I could give her mine.
“Can I take you for coffee?” I asked.
“Not tonight. I work in the morning. Tomorrow afternoon?”
I nodded. “I’ll call you.”