"Good morning, Alice," Neighbor said to the girl lying in his bed with her back turned to him, facing the window that looked out onto the New York traffic below. He swung his legs over the side and sat on the edge of the bed and yawned. "I'm gonna put some coffee on, you hungry?"
. . .
"Come on, Alice," Neighbor groaned, looking at Alice over his shoulder. "Don't be like that. I've apologized enough, what more do you want?"
. . .
He stood up and sighed and said while stretching: "Well, I'm done saying sorry. If you want something to eat, I'm gonna make breakfast."
Neighbor took a few steps through his tiny micro-apartment and entered the kitchen, a four-foot wide space that could barely fit one person. The faux-wood cabinets peeled off in chunks any time they were opened, the stove leaked gas if the valve wasn't turned as tight as it possibly could be, and the tile flooring was coming apart in shards. Any time the tile broke off, Neighbor would just set it back in its place. The floor now resembled a jagged jigsaw puzzle, its pieces increasing each day.
Neighbor retrieved a frying pan from the cabinet below the stove and set it on the upper-left burner and turned on the flame. A spark clicked a few times before the flame came to life. The stove only had two settings: extremely low or extremely high. He set it to the latter and very quickly, and impressively, fried five strips of bacon and two eggs. The aroma that floated through the room was a magnificent blend of rich, sweet maple and the perfect amount of smoky char. Neighbor opened a cupboard and reached for a plate.
"Didn't burn it this time," he said to Alice jovially. "And I only broke one yolk. You can have the other one."
. . .
He stopped and set down the plate, his hands flat on the counter, looking down at the small crack in the dish. She was being unreal, this silent game was absolutely childish. Nothing he would say or do would make her understand. He did it for her, for Christ's sakes! He did it because he loved her and thought she would understand that. But of course she didn't, and she never would. She was stiff that way, always stubborn and unrelenting. He didn't know what to do.
Still looking at the crack in the plate, he asked: "Do you love me, Alice?" He took a breath.
He met her at a club in the city. She was sitting at the bar with a martini in front of her. He was sitting at a table across the other side of the bar, a glass of whiskey set on top of a napkin next to him. Next to her was a guy wearing a bright blue polo that looked to be a couple sizes too small, offering to buy her a drink. It was obvious even from where Neighbor was sitting that she wasn't interested and that she was becoming irritated but the guy wouldn't take no for an answer. He saw the guy grab Alice's arm harshly and could guess he made a rude remark to her, but still he kept at it, trying to buy her a drink. Neighbor finished his whiskey and stood up from the table and made his way towards the bar.
"Excuse me," Neighbor said to the guy, but the music was too loud and he didn't hear. "Excuse me!" he yelled. The guy glanced over his shoulder and noticed Neighbor standing there and, thinking he was just trying to get to the bar, stepped to the other side of Alice and gestured to Neighbor that he could go ahead.
"She doesn't want your drink!" Neighbor shouted.
"Listen, buddy, I think that's for her to decide!"
Alice looked over her shoulder at Neighbor and then back in front of her.
"I think she's already decided!" Neighbor said, putting his hand on the guy's shoulder.
The guy turned and pushed Neighbor into a waitress carrying drinks on a platter. Martinis flew everywhere and glasses smashed on the floor.
"Hey!" Alice yelled. The guy turned to her to apologize and she threw her drink in his face.
Neighbor scrambled to his feet and twisted the guy around to face him and drove his fist into the center of his face. He felt the bridge of the guy's nose shatter beneath his knuckles and the bone that poked through cut his finger.
Blood sprayed from the guy's face, speckling Neighbor's. He held his nose with his hands as he fell back onto the bar, knocking over a couple of stools and falling to the floor. The bouncer was making his way towards Neighbor and he looked at Alice, her strawberry blond hair reflecting the bar light magnificently, and smiled and darted away, circling the club until he made it to the door.
Outside, he hailed a taxi, but it sped past him and turned its "On Duty" light off. He looked down the street for another and saw one, still lit up, a ways down. He glanced back at the club entrance and saw the bouncer standing in the doorway with his arms crossed. He looked back to the cab and it was getting closer. Back to the club and Alice had squeezed between the door and the bouncer and was standing there, looking at Neighbor.
Looking at the crack in the dish, he exhaled.
. . .
"Fuck, Alice!" he barked, slamming his fist down onto the plate and shattering it, cutting the side of his hand. "You just can't be satisfied, can you?"
. . .
"I'm sorry, but I wouldn't take it back. Not that. If I hadn't done it, you wouldn't have entered my life, you wouldn't have become my life. The moment I saw you, nothing else mattered. I saw that guy harassing you and I just lost it."
. . .
"But I did it for you!"
"Neighbor, everything okay?" Mr. Heinemann next door asked through the wall.
"Yeah, everything's fine, Rich," Neighbor said.
"Well keep it down," Rich said.
Neighbor sat down on the edge of the bed, his elbows on his legs and his head in his hands. The apartment creaked and a pipe in the bathroom started to leak.
"Alice, I-" he began. He started sobbing, his shoulders lunging up and down. "I just can't imagine living without you."
. . .
"SAY SOMETHING!" he shouted with as much force as he could muster. He thought he could taste blood.
Mr. Heinemann banged on the wall.
Neighbor stood up and walked out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him so hard that it rattled in its frame and splintered at the knob.
That fucking bitch, he thought as he walked down the corridor. She's playing some kind of sick joke on me and it's not funny anymore. I'll show her, the bitch.
With his hands in his pockets, no shoes on his bare feet, and a scowl on his face, Neighbor walked down 19th Street and made a right turn at the crosswalk. He had no idea where he was going, but he felt that he needed to get out of the apartment. He had thought about hitting her. He pushed that thought aside and tried to put his mind elsewhere.
She walked casually over to him as the taxi pulled up, wearing a green blouse and tight-fitting blue jeans with brown flats on her feet. She didn't say anything. She just stood there next to him, looking down the street. He stared at her.
"You gonna get in or not?" the cabbie asked rudely.
Neighbor, who had forgotten about the taxi, was startled by the sudden voice that broke his concentration on Alice. He glanced at the cabbie and then back at Alice, now looking at him.
"You gonna get in or not?" she asked.
Neighbor clumsily reached and opened the door for her. She let out a single, breathy laugh and stepped into the taxi. He closed the door and walked briskly to the other side and got in, mentally cursing himself the whole way.
"1435, 19th Street," Neighbor said to the cabbie. He hadn't realized that he said this, it was purely instinctual, but he looked at Alice and saw she was looking at him as well, smiling, her long, golden hair flowing like water over her left shoulder. She let out another small chuckle and looked out her window. The taxi pulled up to the curb outside Neighbor's apartment and Alice stepped out.
"Keep the change," Neighbor said to the cabbie, throwing two twenty-dollar bills into the passenger seat. The taxi drove off and Neighbor looked at Alice and she smiled at him.
A car horn brought Neighbor back to the living and he found himself in the middle of a crosswalk, holding up traffic.
"Get outta the road you damn lowlife!" one of the drivers yelled.
He walked to the other side of the street and into a deli shop. The bell above the door rang as he opened it and the smell of fresh deli meats and cheeses engulfed his nostrils. There was a bowl of sharp cheddar samples that he stuck his hand into, plucking out a few cubes and popping each one into his mouth.
"What can I get you, sir?" the butcher asked.
Neighbor was looking around at the shop when the butcher called to him and he jumped slightly. He looked around at the empty shop and then back to the butcher.
"Me?" he asked.
"Who else?" the butcher asked, laughing.
"Oh no, nothing for me. I'm just getting out of the street, need a place to collect my thoughts."
"Well have a seat anywhere you like, give me a shout if there's anything I can do for you."
He sat down at the table in the back corner of the shop and swallowed the last of the cheese cubes. He felt a headache in the back of his skull and put his head down and closed his eyes.
Outside Neighbor's apartment, Alice asked: "Well are we going inside or not?"
He walked up the steps and opened the door, letting Alice in first and then following her into the small lobby of the apartment building. There was a door that led to a custodial closet and a staircase next to it that led up to the three stories of the building.
"It's just this way," Neighbor said sheepishly, "up these stairs."
Alice followed him up the stairs until they reached the third floor. In the apartment, Alice laid her purse on the counter in the kitchen and looked around, noticing the torn wallpaper, the moldy stains on the floor, the cracked kitchen tile, the grease-stained mattress that was sinking on one side. To say the place was dilapidated would be a compliment.
"Would you like anything to drink?" Neighbor asked. He rapidly rummaged through the kitchen and rambled like a madman. "I may have some beer in the fridge or there's water from the faucet, let me check the fridge for beer, nope, no beer, is water fine? It might be a little dirty but that never hurt anyone, right?" He laughed nervously and paused. Alice was looking at him, smiling. "Y'know, I never got your name."
"Alice," she said, still grinning. She walked slowly and gracefully to him and put her hand on his cheek. "You're cute, you know that?"
"R-really?" he asked. His hand started to shake.
"M-hm. I bet all the girls wanna talk to you, don't they?"
Neighbor had felt certain ways about women all his life. Some he thought were cute, others he thought were beautiful, some he wanted to sleep with. Alice was all and none of those things to him. She was cute, adorable, sexy, and beautiful all at once. He wanted to sleep with her but would be just as satisfied with holding her hand. He had only met her tonight and he already loved her. He wanted to impress her, but he couldn't help but stumble on his words and talk too fast. He wanted her to like him. She was perfect.
But at the same time there was something about her that didn't sit right with him. Sure, she was everything he could hope for and more, and hell, she was in his apartment so why should he complain? But she just seemed too good to be true.
She moved closer.
Neighbor opened his eyes and snapped his head up. The butcher was standing beside him.
"I can't have you falling asleep in here. You either let me get you something to eat or get back out on the streets."
"I didn't bring any money with me," Neighbor said groggily. The headache had erupted and he could feel his temples pulsating.
"Then I suggest you leave," the butcher said.
Neighbor stood up from the table, his hands shaking, his neck sweating. The butcher saw him wobbling and put an arm around him to help him to the door. Once there, the butcher opened it and everything became blurry and red. The light from the sun pierced his eyes and sent pains through his entire body.
"Whoa there, buddy," the butcher said when Neighbor nearly collapsed at the door. "You need me to get help?"
"Just," Neighbor said. "Just set me down, please. And leave."
The butcher put Neighbor down on the sidewalk outside the deli. "You sure you don't need anything, sir?"
He didn't respond and the butcher looked at him for a moment and then took a few steps back into his shop.
Neighbor sat against the deli, his legs splayed out in front of him, and closed his eyes.
Alice was stroking his cheek, smiling at him. "Don't they?" she repeated.
He stared into her hazel eyes, butterflies fluttering in his stomach, and pulled her face to his, locking lips with her. He felt her hand tense up on his cheek but it relaxed after a moment as she embraced the kiss. His hands caressed her neck and they moved towards the bed.
Neighbor started to take off his shirt and Alice unbuttoned her blouse. He paused and watched her for a moment, awe struck. He got out of his shirt and pushed her back onto the bed aggressively. The broken springs did nothing to cushion her fall and she let out a small cry.
"Hey!" she yelled.
He stopped and for a moment felt ashamed. His joyous smile faded into a thin grimace of worry.
Please don't leave please don't leave please don't leave
"Be gentle," she said softly, taking him by the arm and pulling him down.
She kissed him tenderly and pressed her hands against his chest. He moved his hands up her arms and onto her shoulders and squeezed them.
"Mm!" she cried out, pulling away from his face. "I said be gentle!"
He kissed her again, more violently this time.
"What are you doing? Stop!" she yelled.
He moved his hand down to her waist before a dry smack broke the relative silence as Alice punched him in the jaw. He reacted the next second by picking up the coffee mug on the bedside table and drove it into the side of her head. As soon as it hit her, her head tilted stiffly to the side and a trickle of blood ran down the side of her head and into her hair, pooling on the bed and soaking into the sheet, getting bigger and bigger.
Neighbor shot upright outside the deli. It was nighttime.
He ran back to the apartment building and looked up at his window in shock. He unlocked the door to the lobby, ran up the stairs two steps at a time, and swung open the unlocked door to his apartment.
He stood in the hall for a second and then took a step inside. It was deathly quiet.
. . .
. . .
He ran to the bedside, ripped off the covers, and turned away, covering his face with his hands, and collapsed on the floor, closed his eyes, and screamed.
Lying on the bed, straddled by Neighbor, she twitched and he hit her again and paused, the mug, stained with blood and hair, raised above his head. She twitched again and he brought it down where it smashed, pieces of ceramic erupting into the air and falling around the apartment.
Oh God. What have I done?
"Neighbor?" Mr. Heinemann. "Everything okay?"
He stared at the cadaver lying still in his bed, at his hand holding the handle of the broken mug, back at the cadaver.
"Yeah," Neighbor said. "Everything's fine, Rich."
A/N: I tried downplaying what this story was about by calling it a romance (even though, in a morbid way, it is). Did I do good? Or were you hoping for a typical romance story? Either way, I love it, had a shit-ton of fun writing it. To me, it's the best thing I've written in a while, or at least the concept is. Gotta give credit where credit is due: co-created by my bud Keith, I can't take all the blame. Thank you for reading.