I sat at the small table in the kitchen doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper I usually swiped when it ended up in our yard courtesy of our neighbor's disobedient dog in hopes of catching Dara before I headed to work. She stumbled into the kitchen right on time, in search of the remaining coffee in the pot I made every morning. That morning I'd woken up feeling refreshed, having slept more than usual, and had forgone the coffee in order to make a point to Dara -- a point that I was nevertheless going to skew to my advantage.
"Where's the coffee?" she asked as she blinked her liner-smudged eyes at me.
I lowered my purple pen to the newspaper on the table. "The new guy is a musician."
"What does that have to do with the missing coffee?"
"He stayed up all night playing a piano. What sounded like a real piano with one volume – loud."
Dara began searching through the cabinets as she scrunched up her face at me. "Okay, Ana, you really shouldn't skip coffee. It's making you a grouch."
"I'm not being a grouch, I just don't think he's the best tenant. At least when we could hear Brad and Kim through the ceiling it was entertaining."
I picked up my pen again and clicked it a few times. Dara groaned and fought with the coffee maker, pushing the buttons frantically as if that would make the coffee dispense faster.
"Maybe it was just a hasty decision. But he's still in that thirty day period thing, right? You could kick him out."
"I don't want to kick him out," she sighed. "Is this because I teased you about him yesterday?"
"Dara, how old am I?"
"Okay, okay." She threw up her hands defensively.
"It's just, I can't sleep when he's making all that noise."
"You don't sleep anyway."
"That's not the point, Dara. He's inconsiderate. He has to know that usually people sleep at night. Can't you talk to him?"
She grabbed a cup out of the cabinet and added her cream and sugar in preparation for the coffee to be done. If it wouldn't have scalded her tongue I think she would actually have just held her mouth under the machine in place of the pot. Not that I could entirely blame her. Usually we were in the same lack-of-sleep state in the mornings.
"I have talked to him, Ana, and he sounds nice and sane and like someone who will pay his rent on time." She sighed. "Give him a chance. Ya know, I did mention to him that I work nights. Maybe he just took that to mean that no one would mind if he played the… piano at night – why are you looking at me like that?"
"You're not listening to me."
The spoon clinked as Dara stirred her coffee blend and brought the cup to her mouth with a loud mmmm. I went back to my puzzle, not wanting to give her the satisfaction of me watching her display of ignoring my request. After a few moments of silence she added, "Why didn't you just go up and knock on his door if it bothered you so much?"
My pen hovered motionless above one of the tiny boxes, and I concentrated hard on the page in front of me. She didn't wait for my calculated response but floated back to her bedroom as she usually did once she had her coffee in hand. I remained at the table, staring at the light coming through the window above the sink and holding my pen as if I might actually write something, but my mind remained preoccupied with her question. Why hadn't I gone upstairs? It seemed so simple, and yet, some part of me wanted to avoid the Memphian, and it was likely a part I had left behind a long time ago.
I spent the next few nights listening to Zeke's music, and I couldn't get it out of my head. My collage had been coming along, but I still couldn't lie in bed and look up without wondering about him. Had he grown up in Memphis? Where had he lived? Gone to school? Who were his friends? Had he ever heard of the past me? Did he know my old friends? The mystery of Zeke fitch was clouding up my mind almost all the time. I'd even counted back incorrect change a couple of times at the store where I worked. I forgot I'd taken my bike to work and walked all the way home before I realized it.
It wasn't so much that I was scared he would recognize me but more that I had a morbid curiosity about how things had transpired after I'd been presumed dead. I only knew as much as the papers had reported. I checked the websites of the major newspapers from a cyber café in Portland, once I was far enough away that my fear of being found out had dulled. 17-year-old girl presumed dead in Harbor Town flood. Authorities had searched for me, assumed I'd been swept off into the river and would never be discovered. It had been two months since the flood, and my parents scheduled a memorial service. I wondered if they'd placed a memorial stone in the cemetery, like a kind of tombstone, but without a real coffin in the ground. I wondered at times how my parents handled the news, and though I knew I should've felt guilty, the overwhelming fear that my failure to do anything significant with my life would have crushed them, possibly more, made me feel justified. It felt selfish on the surface, but deep down I had always lived to please my parents just as they had lived to expect the most of me, and somewhere under their well-intentioned pushing I had started to suffocate with fear. Better to die young and remain untouchable than utterly fail, right? I had given my parents a daughter they could never be disappointed in.
The thing is, I wasn't sure I was right, but I'd made my decision and stood by it, day-by-day convincing myself to believe the new past I'd created for myself as Anastasia Allan. I was from east Tennessee, mountain country, and had led an uneventful existence there until my parents died in a tragic car accident when I was seventeen and I'd run away to avoid being placed into foster care for a year. It was tragically standard enough to be believable, and no one ever questioned me. All I needed to do was give a downward glance and say my parents were dead; out of either quiet respect or embarrassment for having brought it up, people never pressed further.
Zeke made me nervous, though, with his late-night, incongruent piano melodies. It's as if suddenly my insomnia had developed a sound, or that my past had developed one, but I had to admit that it was both comforting and maddening.
I'd seen him a couple of times since the night he moved in, mostly from my second-story window. Once I had been glancing out to check the weather before getting dressed for work and had seen him strutting out to hop in his 4-runner. I tried not to wonder where he was going. The second time had occurred as I was leaning out my window to check on the daisies I'd planted in the flowerbox outside, hoping they hadn't succumbed to the summer heat, and spotted Zeke standing on the sidewalk chatting with a middle-aged neighbor. He'd waved to me, and after awkwardly waving back, I ducked inside. I wasn't inexperienced with guys. Normally I was not a total spaz when I saw them. I was the girl who confidently toyed with them. I never got too emotionally involved. I liked to keep a safe distance. Zeke and his piano were fighting everything I knew about myself night after night.
By the end of the week I decided that I had to either face my fear or be driven insane by it. Zeke had just started pounding out a rhythm that made me want to punch things, and I trekked out the door and up the stairs that ran alongside the house. The colorful bracelets on my arm shook as I pounded against his door with my chest filled victoriously.
Then he opened the door.
As he stood there, with his hair awry, wearing an unbuttoned shirt the same deep blue of his piercing eyes, my aforementioned internal victory dance faded into a well-contained panic. Somehow I hadn't thought past banging on the door.
"Hey." I managed to sound more casual than expected.
"Hi," Zeke offered with a curious gaze. Though his eyes remained on mine, I folded my arms over my chest as if self-conscious he'd been checking me out. "What's up?"
"Um, your music is…" I trailed off and expected him to pick up the conversation but was met with the same confident stare. "It's just, it's midnight and…"
"Of course, of course," he finally admitted. "I didn't realize anyone was home. I thought you worked nights."
"Dara works nights." I regained some of my confidence under his apologetic smile.
"Right," he said as he ran a hand through his mass of blonde hair. He leaned on the doorframe. "I didn't mean to keep you up all night."
I shrugged one of my shoulders and waved off his apologetic statement. "No, it's okay. Really. I don't sleep much anyway."
"Something we have in common," Zeke added with a chuckle. "I promise to keep it down."
We settled into another of our quiet pauses, this one more comfortable than the first. We lingered, exchanged smiles, and for the first time Zeke didn't totally freak me out. In a way, he was kind of nice. A little cocky at times, but genuine. I could respect that.
"Well, I guess I'd better get back to my book."
Zeke nodded and sank back into his apartment. "Good night, Ana."
"'Night," I offered as I slipped back down the stairs.
Once in my room, lying on my bed, I stared at the ceiling and listened to the quiet. Though I was pleased that I'd conquered my fears about encountering Zeke, I was disappointed that I'd gone upstairs. I didn't hear another sound from upstairs the entire night, and sunrise found me still awake and succumbing to a dewy walk up and down the not-yet-busy streets of New Orleans, which after all those years had failed to feel to me like home.