The first day she heard the noises in her new apartment, Victoria didn't think much of them. They weren't threatening, or even particularly mysterious in her mind. They were simply annoying.
She had not heard them while she was in the living room/kitchen area, attempting to read and edit her latest paper on the her couch. It wasn't the best place to get anything involving concentration done, not any time her roommate Alessandra was in the vicinity, but it was more comfortable than her narrow twin bed with its slightly saggy mattress, and Victoria had been hopeful that she would be able to block her out, whatever she was up to.
Fat chance. Alessandra Hamilton was not a person who made it easy to ignore her enough so she would fade into the background of her awareness in the best of times. And currently, she was on the phone, and from the tone of her voice and the topic of conversation- if you could call it that- she was on the phone with her boyfriend, Chase. This meant that not only would it be harder than usual to block her out, but also, the conversation could last for hours. Alessandra might be 26, 3 years older than Victoria herself, but if a person listened in on her conversations with her boyfriend they would probably guess a decade younger.
Victoria sighed, just loud enough for a discerning person to be able to hear and perhaps pay attention, but of course, Alessandra was not that sort of person. Four months of living with her had long ago taught Victoria that much- if she wanted to inform Alessandra of something, subtlety was not the way to go. It could be something of a problem for her, because direct speaking and confrontation was not Victoria's preferred method of communication, and thus, she often hoped she could get away with saying nothing about the things Alessandra sometimes said or did that bothered her or got on her nerves. Talking or having TV up loudly when Victoria was trying to study, having her boyfriend over late into the night- and occasionally, even letting him stay over- and even being the half-hearted housekeeper that she was, always leaving out her dishes or her dirty clothes or not cleaning the bathroom when it was her week to do so, often occurred, and it could drive Victoria to distraction. But it was difficult for her to be able to look Alessandra in the eye and ask her to do anything, even reasonable requests that she should know already were expected of her, without feeling uncomfortable, awkward, or as if she were being a bitch. She might have felt that way with anyone, but with Alessandra, it was particularly intense.
It wasn't because Alessandra would be angry with her, or even that she wouldn't listen to her if Victoria did request for her to change whatever was bothering her at the time. On the contrary, Alessandra was almost always in a bright, friendly mood, and she would almost surely respond to anything Victoria might ask of her with a cheerful nod and apology. They were simply different, and they had not known each other long enough yet for Victoria to feel comfortable making requests of any kind, even if she hadn't felt somewhat intimidated and small in Alessandra's presence.
She knew, just as she knew logically that she should be able to ask Alessandra to do things without worrying, that this was something in her own mind and not something that Alessandra herself was projecting or wanting her to feel. Alessandra, a friend of a friend of Victoria's, recommended to her as a roommate when Victoria had finally decided to move out of her parents' somewhat suffocating home and get an apartment of her own, had been friendly to her from day one, and never seemed to mind the fact that her roommate was so different in her tastes and demeanor. It was Victoria who felt uncomfortable sometimes, and though this was not unusual for her, to take a long time to grow used to new people and new situations, she had a feeling that with someone other than Alessandra, it wouldn't be as bad.
Alessandra was a 26 year old very social and extroverted cosmetologist, more interested in movement and people and constant activity than in ideas and theories and facts. Victoria was a 23 year old sociology major starting her final year of grad school, and she was not only an introvert, with few people she really thought of as friends, but also an academically inclined Type A personality who only felt awkward and strange when continually around others she didn't really know. Whereas Alessandra never met a stranger and was comfortable touching and embracing anyone who might be anywhere near her, Victoria often stiffened or even recoiled from people who were too presumptuous in their touch, and sometimes her heart pounded when even Alessandra gave her a hug. Alessandra was often dressed in funky, hippie-inspired, but clearly stylish clothing, her long hair pulled up with feathers or chopsticks or else in wild waves down her back, and no one could deny that she was attractive. Victoria supposed her looks were all right, and Alessandra herself had often told her she was "cute," but she knew that she was short and wore glasses, that her hair was a nondescript color somewhere between brown and blonde.
Victoria knew that Alessandra liked her now, and considered her to be a friend; she was always urging her to hang out with her, go out with her, and sometimes, though not as often as Alessandra though she should, Victoria did. It shouldn't matter that they were different, that in high school, Alessandra probably wouldn't have noticed she existed. They were adults now, and these sort of things shouldn't matter. But all of these differences, clearly small and inconsequential in Alessandra's mind, were large enough to Victoria's that when she thought about confronting Alessandra about anything, she couldn't bring herself to go through with it.
So often enough, whatever incident was occurring, Victoria ended up resolving it through not even involving Alessandra in it at all. Cleaning up after her, leaving the room, going for a walk…whatever it took to get the irritation out of her mind and focus. Maybe it wasn't what was recommended as a way to maintain honest relationships, but then, when had Victoria ever been able to be truly honest with anyone for more than a week or two at a time?
On that first night, as Alessandra paced between the kitchen and dining room area aimlessly, cradling her cell phone to her ear almost as though it were an extension of her lover, she giggled and spoke back to him in a voice heavy with suggestion, absently twirling a wavy strand of dark brown hair around one finger, her eyes almost disappearing with her smile. She never was one to stay still for long, and that made it all the more impossible for Victoria to ignore her when every few moments, she was crossing her line of vision again. Alessandra was one of those sort of people whose energy seemed to fill any room she entered, and Victoria often felt bland, boring, plain, and rather lethargic in comparison. But then again, who wasn't when standing next to Alessandra?
"You going to come over tonight, baby?" she was saying into the receiver, and Victoria froze, her eyes again darting up from the laptop in her lap to regard her roommate closely.
She hoped with fervor that Chase would say no. It would not be an exaggeration for her to say that Victoria would not be sad if Chase were to get over with what she was sure he would do some time down the road anyway, and dump Alessandra to go after someone newer and in his eyes, more interesting. Sure, Aless, as Victoria often called her, would be hurt initially, but soon she would realize that she was better off for it, that there were plenty of people who would appreciate her much more than Chase ever would. And Victoria herself would be much happier for it.
It wasn't that Chase was cruel to Alessandra, or controlling of her, or anything of that sort. No, if anything, he was over far too often, much too attendant to her in his kissing and caressing and sprawling out with her on the couch in a manner that made Victoria want to disinfect it the second he finally made his way out their door. He was a mechanic, colorful yet faded tattoos littering his arms, and though this alone would have caused Victoria to judge him, it was his crude humor and his way of looking at Alice, like she wasn't quite a person but rather his toy, that made Victoria strongly dislike him. And the way he looked at Victoria sometimes, with a raised eyebrow, or even a sly wink as he ogled her somewhat generous chest when Alessandra wasn't paying attention, was what made her despise him.
So when Alessandra suggested he come over, Victoria didn't' wait to hear his response. She simply took her computer into her room and shut the door behind her.
With the door closed, and Alessandra safely out of her view and her general range of hearing, Victoria thought that she would be able to concentrate, to actually get something done. Not to mention that whenever Chase came around, it would be better for her level of irritation if she could remain out of his sight.
Victoria could still faintly hear the muffled sound of Alessandra's voice through the door, however, and occasionally what sounded like her laughter. She attempted to focus in on what she was reading, but the more she tried to ignore the one-sided conversation in the foreroom, the harder it was for her to have any interest at all in what she was reading. She could feel her ears start to heat slightly with her annoyance. Couldn't Aless talk a little more softly, or hang up the phone all together? Could she not go to her own room, or go outside?
Sometimes Victoria wished she could bring herself to tell her things like that…sometimes she wished she could tell her exactly what she was thinking. And sometimes, she wished she could have the nerve to simply walk up to her, take the phone from her hand, and hang it up.
But that would never happen. Victoria Carpenter was not the sort of person who could do that, at least, not to Alessandra…with Alessandra, at least, she would never really be heard. She couldn't even speak.
It was soon after this thought had entered her mind that a soft thudding noise sounded, to her right. Victoria looked up, somewhat startled, and already easily distracted from her reading. It sounded like something had fallen in Alessandra's bedroom next door. Maybe a picture off the wall?
Shrugging to herself, she resumed her attempt to edit yet again, but her eyes had barely returned to the page before she heard the noise again, slightly louder, and seemingly closer. No, she was pretty sure now, it wasn't something falling; it sounded more like a knock, as though something were hitting the wall. And this time it was coming from a different area, more to the left of where it had been before.
Victoria looked up again, this time watching the wall with her eyes squinted slightly behind her black-rimmed glasses. She couldn't imagine what in Alessandra's room would make that sort of noise. Unless she had something on the wall stirred by a fan or something…did she have a window open, a breeze drifting into the room? But then, if it were strong and heavy enough to make that sort of knock, yet not so heavy that the wind couldn't stir it, wouldn't it have fallen to the floor?
Telling herself again to forget it, Victoria looked back to her computer screen, though she knew very well that her motivation was now nearly nonexistent. She had only read over one sentence before the knocking noise returned, just slightly louder, and somehow, it appeared closer too. This time, the knocking was slow, but insistent…as though someone were on the other side of the wall.
The thought sent a chill up Victoria's spine, and she sat up straight, quickly closing her laptop as she stood with slow caution. What if there WAS someone there? They lived on the first floor of their apartment complex, and Aless was not the most reliable person in the world when it came to performing basic security measures, such as locking the front door or keeping her window closed. What if someone had come in through her open window, and was now in her bedroom, knocking on the wall?
Slowly, Victoria stepped forward, approaching the wall with some trepidation. Coming to stand beside it, she knelt, very close, her ear turned towards it, but not actually touching it. For a few moments she listened, aware of the sudden shallowness of her breath. And then, as though in reply to her approach, two more knocks sounded, much softer and more deliberate than before.
Jerking back, swallowing, Victoria moved quickly to the door of her bedroom, cracking it open just enough for her body to squeeze through it. Alessandra had just hung up the phone, at last, and seeing Victoria emerge from her room, she shot her a smile, her voice so loud in volume that Victoria cringed, her eyes darting to her roommate's closed bedroom door.
"Hey Tori, taking a break? You should, all you ever do is study, study, study!"
"Aless," Victoria said in a low voice, drawing closer to the other woman, and Alessandra's open smile faded, her brow beginning to furrow as she took in Victoria's serious expression, her tensed features. "Did you leave your window open?"
"Uh…I don't know. I don't think so…why?" she asked, frowning as she looked at Victoria more closely, even reaching to take hold of her arm. "Tori, are you okay?"
Tori…only Alessandra had ever called her Tori, and she was the only person who made the nickname seem natural to Victoria, even desirable. Usually when Victoria heard her refer to her as Tori, she could barely repress a faint smile. But she barely heard her then, or felt her hand on her skin. Her eyes remained on Alessandra's door as she lowered her voice to a near whisper.
"I think there might be someone in there…I heard knocking. Like someone's hitting the wall."
Alessandra's eyes widened, and her grip on Victoria's arm tightened as her eyes too moved to stare at her closed door. She was silent for a moment, perhaps listening, before she said in a slightly lowered tone, "Are you sure, Tori? Should we get out…wait until Chase is here to see?"
Wait until Chase is here…leave it to CHASE to figure out what was going on? Perhaps it was a more logical suggestion than confronting the possible intruder themselves, but to Victoria, it was a suggestion that wasn't going to happen. She could just imagine it all- Chase, bursting in on this wall-knocking psycho, and whether he single-handedly took it down or else got his wrist slit for his trouble, it would quickly be all about Chase for the next month or so. As usual…and she wasn't going to let that go down, if she could help it.
"No, it's…I'll just go see what's going on," Victoria said quickly, and before she could lose the nerve, she pulled her arm from Alessandra's grasp and began to walk with careful, quiet steps towards her bedroom door. She heard Aless gasp softly, whispering, "Tori!" behind her back, but Victoria continued on, her cheeks flushing slightly, as much because the other woman was showing concern as because she could feel her chest tightening with dread. She could hear Alessandra hesitantly stepping closer behind her as she grasped the doorknob, and when Victoria threw it open in one jerky motion, she nearly held her breath, fully expecting something, or someone, to jump out at her.
But as her hand moved to flip on the light, and her eyes darted about Alessandra's room, taking in every somewhat disorganized inch, she saw no one. No one in the corners, no one crouched on the floor, no one standing beside the wall, and no one in the open closet. Alessandra's window was closed, and Alessandra's bed was too low to the ground for even a toddler to fit beneath, so there was no one there either.
As Alessandra came up behind Victoria, craning her neck to look over her shoulder, Victoria shivered slightly, not from continued fear, but because she could feel her breath against her cheek, her long hair just brushing her. She pulled back quickly, giving a partly genuinely, partly forced laugh aloud.
"I guess it was just my imagination."
And it must have been, because clearly, there was no one in the room.
Alessandra laughed too, then slipped an arm around Victoria's shoulders, shaking her playfully. "Tori, you just need to lift your head out of studying sometime, start to get out a little…all that work and no play is making you hear things."
Victoria smiled, letting Aless keep her arm around her just a few more moments than was necessary before she pulled away, and verbally agreed. But she remembered the sound of the knocking, the strange weight and deliberation behind it, and somehow, though she knew it must have been, she couldn't quite believe that it had all been just imagination.