A Visitor in the Night

      The doorbell rang, and to my utter surprise upon opening it, I found Megan standing before me.

      "Megan!" I exclaimed hesitantly, welcoming her with open arms. "How are you?"

      "I'm fine, Doug." She smiled sweetly, but didn't come forward to meet my hug. "And you?"

      As we exchanged formalities, my brain worked furiously to try and make sense of what was going on. It was getting late into a Saturday night, and here I was hanging out with my old roommates in college. My weekends at my own apartment had been getting stale, so I had called them up. Dobbs, who I knew best out of the three, said that he, Schick, and Soap hadn't seen me in a long time and missed hanging out. He told me to just come on over. So I did.

      The four of us took in a Pirates game that afternoon, but we left after it became 12-2 in the 6th inning. We went down to South Oakland for dinner and a drink, and then headed back to the apartment. A lot had changed since the four of us had been roommates. Dobbs had recently quit his first job after graduation, and now simply loafs about. Schick works about 8 hours every day, then has classes after that. And Soap…well, it seemed to me that he was pulling more and more away from us. In situations where I can feel such tension, I often feel awkward and overly cordial.

      So anyway, Dobbs, Schick, and I were hanging out in their living room, while Soap was busy in his own room with his Playstation. Dobbs had suggested that we watch his copy of "Friday" again, so we did. Schick broke out the animal crackers, I flipped out the lights, and thus our movie watching experience was complete. Yeah, pathetic I know, but this was a typical college weekend afternoon in Pittsburgh. For us, anyway.

      Right in the middle of the movie we heard the door and, since I was the closest, I jumped up to answer it. I felt very surprised to see that it was Megan, one of my good friends that I had made here at college. She was short but well curved and trim. Her hair, long and jet-black, hung loose as she always let it. Megan had deep brown almond eyes that could just melt you, if you looked at them hard enough. She never used to wear glasses, but the last few months we spent together she had.

      I say the last few months because Megan had left Pittsburgh right before our senior year. She had transferred abruptly to a pharmacy school in Philly. We exchanged a few short emails after that, but I knew we would grow apart. Thusly and rightfully so, I was totally surprised when I saw her standing here. And at my buddies' apartment, no less!

      Megan gazed at me, asking again, "How are you, Doug?"

      I shook my head. "Sorry about that, Meg. I kinda spaced out there for a second." I glanced her over, seeing her healthy. "I'm fine, fine. How did you find me?"

      "Oh," she laughed nervously, "I have my ways. I know a lot more people than you think."

      I shrugged, then welcomed her in. I introduced her to Dobbs, whom she had met before, and then to Schick. Out of Soap's room I heard him scream in frustration and decided that now would not be a good time for introductions. We all bantered for a bit before Megan and I went out to the front porch. She had wanted to talk to me, alone.

      "What are you doing back in Pittsburgh?" I asked as politely as possible. "Last I heard from you, things were going great in Philly. So I guess this is a social call of sorts, huh?"

      Megan sat down on the steps, wrapping her arms around herself as if she were cold. I found it odd, since it about eighty degrees that night in the middle of July.

      "I came by to see you," she replied softly. I watched as the wind played with her hair, the strands whipping around her as if they were alive. "I broke up with my boyfriend."

      "With Kevin?" I went over and sat down beside her, knowing that I've heard this story before. In the moonlight, I saw that she was crying.

      "Yeah, again," she sort of laughed.

      I immediately tried to put an arm around her, but decided not to. I didn't dare risk anything that seemed too forward or uncalled for, especially in this situation. She had broken up with this Kevin before, during our junior year. When she had left for Philly, she told me that they had gotten back together again. But knowing what I did about this guy, I couldn't be too surprised.

      "I need a place to stay tonight," Megan blurted suddenly. "Can we go back to your apartment? There's so many things I want to tell you, but I can't say them here."

      I nodded. "Of course. You want to go right now?"

      "No, we can go in a little bit. Stay here with your friends and pretend I'm not here, and we'll go whenever you're ready."

      "Meg, I'm ready right now, we can go—"

      "Please, Doug!" she exclaimed, which startled me. There was an urgency in her voice that I never knew of her. She smiled at me then, and added, "If you leave your friends on account of me, I'll feel bad."

      "Ok. I'll stay and finish the movie, I was gonna leave after that anyway. But let's get you inside at least, it looks like you're freezing."

      We went back inside and I asked Dobbs if Megan could lie down in his room. He got up quickly, and being the gentleman he is around girls, deftly made the bed and tidied up his room. We left her alone in the dark, hearing her sobbing quietly to herself, and closed the door.

      "What happened?" Dobbs asked me.

      "She broke up with her man," I told him, more calm and indifferent than I wanted to be. "It's happened before. We'll have to leave soon, though."

      "No problem, man."

      The two of us went back to watch the rest of "Friday" with Schick, but I was in no mood to laugh at anything. Each minute that passed was torture. I wanted to go in there with Megan, to let her know that she wasn't alone and didn't have to be. I was there for her, always had been. There was a time when I thought I had fallen in love with her freshman year, but it had passed. I attributed it to my immature hormones. After all, what does a college freshman really know about love and hate, life and death? It was enough that we had become friends, and I was still grateful that we had, although I wondered why she came to me tonight. Megan had girl friends all over Oakland campus that she could be talking to.

      The movie finally ended, and I went to take Megan home. Without turning on the light, I tiptoed in and peered at her. She looked fast asleep under the covers. My hand involuntarily reached out to her shoulder, but I retracted it again. No unnecessary touching, I reaffirmed to myself.

      "Meg," I whispered, "it's time to go."

      Megan was up in an instant, as if she weren't asleep at all. I said my goodbyes to the boys, then left. It was about a mile's walk from their apartment to mine in North Oakland. She followed me home in silence, still wrapping herself with her arms, like she was going to fall apart any minute.

      We got to my place around one in the morning. I felt exhausted from the events of the day, but I knew I had to remain upbeat and alert, for Meg's sake. I was relieved when she did not comment on the shady condition I had left the room. It was an efficiency, a one-room deal that was supposed to be a bedroom/dining room/kitchen all in one. There weren't much better places I could afford on my research technician's salary; but of course, I had bigger plans for the future.

      Megan sat down on my bed, her face still bowed toward the floor. I offered her something to drink, but she passed. I sat down beside her.

      "Are you sure you don't want to talk in the morning?" I asked gently. "You look really tired, Meg."

      "I'm fine," she replied hesitantly. Megan then turned to me, her eyes no longer stained with tears. She smiled. "Doug, I'm really glad you're here with me right now. I never feel bad when I'm with you."

      "Same here," I said with a goofy face, trying to cheer her up. I never know how to behave in these sentimental moments. Hopefully she didn't want me to take the lead. I wanted her to push the conversation to the direction she wanted, not the other way around. I waited.

      Megan took in a deep breath. "Doug, the reason I came to see you tonight was…"

      I watched as she broke off and looked away. What was so important that she had to see me in the middle of the night? I suddenly wondered.

      "Meg, what's wrong?"

      "Oh God, this is so hard," she started sobbing again. "Why, why couldn't I have done this sooner!"

      My nerves started to rattle. I had never known Megan to be so emotional. Even with the room fully lit, it was getting creepy there in the silence.

      "Doug," she started again, "I came here to tell you that…I'm sorry."

      I blinked. What? "Sorry for what?"

      Megan breathed deeply again. "Doug, we've been friends since freshman year, and in all the time I've known you you've never said an unkind word to me. I don't deserve to know someone like you, I really don't."

      "No, you don't. You deserve someone better. What's there to not like about you, Meg? You're pretty, funny, you've got goals and dreams, and you've got determination on where you want to go in life."

      She laughed suddenly, and I was startled again. "Remember the last time we saw each other?" she asked. "It was the end of junior year."

      "Yeah," I said, reminiscing. "That damned physics final."

      Megan nodded. "I told you then that we would spend so much time together that summer, before I left Pittsburgh."

      I nodded in silence, now aware of what she was going to tell me.

      "We didn't spend a lot of time together, Doug. In fact, we didn't see each other at all. I left Pittsburgh, without even telling you." Megan started to cry again. I reached out to her, determined this time, but she edged away. "You must have hated me for that, Doug! I'm so sorry!"

      "I didn't hate you then, and I don't hate you now." I wondered why it was such a big deal to her. We did keep in touch a few times by email, didn't we?

      Megan looked up at me, her pretty face seemingly unblemished by her tears. "Doug, you're so nice. I just thought that you must have hated me for what I did. How could I treat my friend like that?"

      "You don't have to explain anything, Meg. You were too busy, too caught up in the excitement about moving to my hometown, that's all."

      She smiled again, and I felt relieved. "I just had to apologize, to know how you felt about me. I couldn't go on being sane if I didn't, it's been eating away at me for so long."

      I wavered for a moment, then said, "You don't know how I've always felt about you, Meg." When she didn't respond, I went on. "When I first met you, I thought I fell in love with you. I mean, you were pretty good-looking…" Megan's face softened and she laughed again. "I never told you any of this later, you know, 'cause it would be too weird when we looked at each other afterwards. But now, I don't know, I feel like I can tell you anything…"

      Before I could say another word, Megan leaned over and kissed me passionately on the lips. It was the first time we had touched that night. What went through my head at that moment? My desire for her rekindled, my love for her broke from its sealed place in the recesses of my being. Though it lasted only for a moment, that kiss felt like it had rippled through the ages.

      We parted, with Megan looking at me with embarrassment, and I completely out of breath. My arms shot out, intending to draw her closer, but she gracefully stood up and away from me.

      "I'm sorry, Doug, I should never have done that." There was a hint of sadness and longing in her voice at the same time. "I'm so relieved that I could say those things to you tonight. No hard feelings?"

      Still breathless, I nodded. "None. Apology accepted."

      Megan smiled sweetly. "That's what I've been waiting to hear. I'm going to take a shower now, and then we can go to bed."

      I nearly jumped when she said that, but I quickly assumed she didn't mean what it sounded like. I showed her the bathroom and in doing so, I realized that she hadn't brought any sort of luggage with her. Strange, since I was supposedly the first person she went to visit here in Pittsburgh. I got her some clean towels, a T-shirt, and a pair of boxers to wear. Megan met my eyes one last time, melting me over with her beauty again, then closed the door behind her.

      Alone in my room, I tried to sort out everything. First and foremost, I had made a complete idiot of myself. Why did have to tell her how I wanted to screw her the first time I saw her? Good job, genius, what does she think of me now? Oh well, what's done was done, I thought. Besides, it seemed that she wasn't really repulsed or anything. Second, Megan's sudden mood swings totally caught me off-guard…even freaked me out a little bit. Crying one moment, laughing the next? It seemed unbelievable, like a dream.

      The one thing I couldn't escape was how she had found me at my friends' apartment. She couldn't know anyone they knew.

      I heard the water turn on. A loud thudding sound in the wall started, and I knew it to be a problem with the pipes. Damn, I had forgotten to tell her—there was a trick to turning the faucets so as to keep down the noise. I went to the door and knocked, but there was no answer. I reached for the doorknob, but to my dread found it locked.

      "Megan?" I called out, and waited. When I didn't hear a response, I knocked on the door. Still no answer.

      I called out her name again, pounding the door again with my fist. Nothing but the sound of running water.

      "Megan!" I kicked in the door, gripped by an icy terror. A rush of steam hit my face, and for a moment I couldn't see anything. I waved my arms to clear my vision, and I saw the shower curtain had been drawn.

      Oh my God, I thought in a split-second. I should never have left her alone!

      Fearing the absolute worst, I stormed in and pulled the curtain aside to see……nothing.

      The bathtub was empty. Megan simply wasn't there. On the floor lay the towel and clothes I had given her. For that first second, relief washed over me. From her mental condition that night, there was a possibility that she might have…no, I wouldn't think it.

      But where was she now?

      "Megan!" I called out again. I searched the tiny bathroom. No sign of her. I then stepped into the tub, scalding my leg with the hot running water, and checked the window. It was too small to climb through…she couldn't have, could she? The apartment was three floors up, but I opened it and looked out anyway. Down below, I saw nothing.

      I ran back into the room, scanned it, and then opened the door to the hallway. I ran up and down, calling her name all the while. My mind kept telling me that there was absolutely no way she could have left the room without me seeing her. Even the elevator had remained on the floor.

      I dashed back into the room to an unnerving silence. I picked up the phone and called up Dobbs. A sleepy voice told me that she wasn't there. I hung up, not responding to his questions. I couldn't make any sense of it. One minute she had been in the bathroom, the next she was gone. I called the police to file a missing person's report. But what good did that do? Megan had just simply vanished.

      I didn't sleep well that night. First thing in the morning, I looked up her number back in Philly and called. Another girl's voice answered, apparently her roommate. She told me that Megan had left without telling her where she had gone. I got her parents' number and called it.

      No answer. I dialed again after a few moments, and finally someone picked up. It was Megan's mother. I explained to her who I was, what had happened last night. All the while, she had asked no questions. When I told her Megan had disappeared, she started to cry.

      I assured her that I would try to find her again that day, but Megan's mother told me that it wasn't necessary. When I asked why, she didn't answer for a time. When she finally did, I felt my body go numb.

      Megan had been on her way to Pittsburgh to see me. A serious car accident had happened, and Megan had died the night before.

      The phone dropped from my hand. I stood there, suddenly icy and feverish at the same time, and wondered if I wasn't really going insane…