Part One is here.
Aliss needed orange juice. Another evening was about to end with the feeling of awareness very near, but nothing recalled. She’d be damned if it would pass without orange juice.
She slipped a knee length dress on over her skinny jeans and long sleeved t-shirt, then Miller’s jeans jacket, pausing as usual to catch his scent in the dark blue denim before going on. Deciding against a scarf, she pulled on the tall boots because they were flats with good traction — good for running if she had to.
The shop two blocks over was open until ten, plenty of time to get juice then walk for a while on Clark street without worrying about anything but strangers and the possibility of rain. The folding umbrella, heavy for its size, seemed necessary on both counts. She dropped it into her satchel before she headed out.
Elaine, from across the hall, was coming up the stairs, her return home Aliss supposed; she had heard the sounds of her leaving during the movie. They nodded polite smiles to each other, Elaine’s puckering as she made a slight turn away from Aliss toward the center of the stairwell. “Someone’s in the doghouse, huh?” she said.
If she and Aliss had been more than neighbors who happened to see and hear things about each other from across the hall, Aliss would’ve asked what she meant. Because they weren’t, her lips parted, she let out an audible puff of air, and her shoulders went up in the universal, noncommittal language of ‘I don’t know.’ Aliss was glad Elaine accepted it with a bigger smile, abandoning whatever subject she’d attempted to bring up.
The sounds of keys echoing down the stairs as Aliss descended, followed by the long low squeal of Elaine’s old apartment door as it opened, then the heavy clank as it closed, made Aliss think how obvious it must be every time she came home or left out, too, making her wince. It was important to her to be nondescript, and as she made her way down the two floors, she became aware of not knowing why that was.
The moment she opened the front door, she saw Miller’s black sneaker with its silver laces on the top step, his seated figure leaning back against the wrought iron railing, shadowed here, lit by lamps that hung on either side of the doorway there, wisps of his hair caught and shining red gold around the edges like a less than innocent halo.
As the door shut and locked behind her, she thrust her hands into his pockets and wished she’d known he would be there. She would’ve worn something else.
She said, “I thought you left.”
“I did.” Her face was between his and one of the lamps. He squinted up. “That was a mean thing you did.”
“I’m not a mean person.” She shifted her weight, shoving her pocketed fists together inside the jacket. “I told you I wanted to watch the movie. It was important … I didn’t need you trying to make conversation through it.”
“You know that doesn’t make sense. You could’ve just said so.”
“How would I know you’d be quiet?” Her expression softened. “I’m sorry then.” Caring that she might’ve hurt his feelings surprised her. “How long have you been down here?”
Miller took his foot off the first step, turned and looked out into the street. “I wanted to hear the movie,” he said. “Don’t your neighbors complain about all that volume?”
Aliss sat next to him. “Now you don’t make sense. Why would you still be here then?”
“You’re out of orange juice and the store closes at ten. I hoped you’d let me walk you over.”