Three a.m. isn’t unknown to her; she knows it as hiding under her bed at age seven, away from the shouting downstairs. She knows it as laying in the middle of a field with her boyfriend and his friends at age fourteen, drinking beer and smoking. Knows it as walking down cold, dimly lit streets at on her way home from a clients at 19.
So no, three a.m. isn’t unknown to her, and neither is the fire alarm’s tumultuous, incessant whooping through the apartment complex. This is the third time in four weeks she’s joined her neighbours, filing out of their units, wrapped up in their dressing gowns and pyjamas, grumbling amongst themselves. Except this time, she’s not as well prepared.
Apparently, tonight it’s a lot colder outside than it is in her apartment, where she can walk around in a tank and thin cotton shorts, and still be too hot, because the landlord still hasn’t bothered fixing her radiators since she moved in almost a year ago. Winter can be damn cold though, which is the only reason why she isn’t swarming the Asshole, alongside the other disgruntled tenants, as soon as he waddles onto the scene.
—It’s cold out tonight, Rachel overhears, as a young woman steps in beside her; arms crossed over herself, wrapped up in an overly large, grey sweatshirt and matching bottoms. Rachel immediately recognises her; the woman who lives in 3B, just down the hall from her door. Lisa.
They’re the two youngest renter’s in the complex, and from the brief conversations they’ve had together Rachel already knows that Lisa is smart, funny, and genuinely the kindest person she’s ever met before. And she knows she wouldn’t mind being friends with her; Lisa, who always smiles and says hello when she sees her in the hall, who goes out of her way to make conversation, who extends an invitation to her church group every now and again when Rachel says she has ‘no plans tonight’ (because she never has plans, anymore).
Rachel let’s out a breath of laughter, —You’re telling me, she says, holding up her forearm covered in goose pimples. And Lisa offers that warm smile at her again.
—Here, Lisa says, whilst peeling herself out of her sweatshirt without a wink of hesitation. There’s barely a moment to react before Rachel is holding the sweatshirt in both hands, looking at Lisa, slack jawed,
—What are you doing? she begins to protest,
—Trust me, Lisa interrupts, I don’t really feel the cold.
—Okay, you’re crazy, Rachel says, not unkindly, I can’t let you give me your sweatshirt,
Lisa blinks at her, —Okay, she simply shrugs, slipping it back over her head. Then, Lisa steps towards her (so close that Rachel can smell peppermint toothpaste on her breath), and wraps her arms around Rachel’s. Her arms pinned to her sides, both face to face. —How about this? Is this okay? Lisa adds tentatively, her voice barely above a whisper. Rachel nods,
—This is okay, she murmurs, taking her time to look at Lisa’s face, her rosy cheeks, her warm eyes, the softness of her lips. She can’t be sure who initiates the kiss, but she finds herself thinking that, she wouldn’t mind being more than Lisa’s friend.
Not at all.