When I get home from the library, it’s already nearly three in the morning. I’m dead on my feet with a brain stuffed so full of information on human anatomy that it feels like my skull might split open. The coffee buzz that’s starting to crash isn’t helping my mood. Since my luck is total shit, my key isn’t working. I try to jiggle the lock at the same time as I shove my shoulder against the door, since that sometimes works, but to no prevail.
I throw my head back, squeeze my eyes shut, and silently count to ten. I’m too tired for this shit.
Pulling my phone out, I call my landlord. The asshole that owns this shitty prewar apartment building almost never answers his phone, always making you leave a message, and it’s rare that he responds to anything - even things like the heat breaking in the middle of winter - within the first 24 hours.
Still, I hope.
Then I get his voicemail.
Through gritted teeth, I tell him that the door is jammed - for the fourth time this month - and that I’m going to end up breaking a damn window if he doesn’t show up soon, because it’s the week of final exams and I need sleep.
Just as I’m stuffing my phone in my pocket and about to start working on this door again, a loud engine revs behind me. It’s combined with music so loud it thrums inside my chest and a chorus of guys laughing like children. I don’t even have to turn around to know who it is.
Sure enough, “Heeeyy!! Cat guy!” is shouted at me from above the rest of the noise. I tense up and begin to frantically throw myself against the door. The car leaves and the music and laughter fades, leaving me with a silence that I know won't last long.
“Cat Guy! Wha’s happenin’ man?” he slurs, shouting even though he's right next to me now.
I turn around to look at him, completely unimpressed. The thing that bothers me the most about my neighbor is how unfairly attractive he is. He's one of those men who literally take your breath away, which pisses me off because I'm a control freak and don't get flustered easily, so my body's response to his bright green eyes and thick eye lashes and tall, muscular body and freckles and worn leather jacket and big hands that cradle his cigarettes so gently that I sometimes wonder what it would feel like if it were me he- anyway - point is, I hate how much my body wants him when I, in fact, do not.
I don’t even know the man’s name, but I know that he lives in apartment 8, he smokes an awful lot, drinks heavily but only on the weekends and special occasions, and the first day I moved into apartment 7, he caught me in my boxers chasing my cat down the hall. Somehow Mr. Fluffers had figured out how to open the goddamn door. Hence him calling me ‘Cat Guy’ even though it's been four months since that terribly embarrassing day.
“What's up?” he asks again, either not noticing that I'm not in the mood to talk, or not caring.
“The lock is jammed.”
“Ah man. That sucks.” He slumps down on the staircase and takes out a cigarette. I watch him as he lights it, takes a drag, releases the smoke, then smiles up at the night sky. I get the feeling he doesn't think this sucks. Not as much as I do at least.
I stare at him, watching as he casually flicks the ashes off the end of his cigarette. My annoyance gets the best of me and I snap, “How are you so huge and muscular and in shape when you smoke like a fucking chimney?”
He raises one eyebrow, his lips tilting into a smirk. He puts the cigarette out and stands up so that he’s towering over me. I immediately regret saying anything at all. “Well, I’m huge because I was born that way. You think this is bad? I’m only 6’2. My brother’s 6’6. And I’m in shape and muscular because I work out. And I don’t smoke like a fuckin’ chimney. In fact, I don’t smoke very often at all.”
“Almost every time I see you, you’re outside smoking.”
“You ever think that maybe it’s just an excuse to be sitting here when the cute nerd just happens to come home? Usually at the same time every day because he sticks to a routine and is a control freak?”
I open my mouth in shock, then quickly slam it shut. Not knowing what to say, I just turn back to the door, slamming myself against it again. He chuckles under his breath and sits back down in his spot, pulling out a new cigarette. He lights it, takes a drag, puffs out the smoke, and smiles again. It's endearing and I hate him even more because of it.
I squint out into the dark parking lot of our complex. It’s a small building, just ten units inside, and it’s quiet this late at night. No one around to help. And it doesn't look like apartment 8 wants to help, either.
With a new wave of determination, I start back on the door. I get down on eye level with the lock and try to wiggle my key slowly inside it, hoping to jostle something free. I don't even know if that's how it works, but it sounds right.
As if we're friends, he asks, “So, what are you up to on this fine evening?”
I look over my shoulder at him like he's insane. “Trying to get into my fucking apartment.”
“Right. Yes. Of course. I suppose I meant, what were you doing on this fine evening before coming home to find the door jammed.”
“Studying,” I grunt, getting pissed off enough to pull my hand back and slap the door a few times. It does absolutely nothing, but it's a nice release of anger.
He whistles low and says, “Damn. Do that again.”
“Why? It didn't help anything.”
“No, but I enjoyed it.” When I just roll my eyes and go back to pressing my shoulder against the door, trying to push against it, he asks, “Studying for what?”
“Jesus Christ,” I whisper under my breath, both at the door and at him.
“You were studyin’ Jesus Christ? Huh. Funny. I didn't peg ya for one of those. Not that there's anything wrong with bible bangers. It's just, like, when I pictured Cat Guy's life, it was never like oh yeah I bet that guy bangs bibles.”
“I am not a bible banger. I was studying Anatomy and Physiology for my final exam tomorrow.” I growl and slap the door again. “And my name is Castiel. Not Cat Guy.”
“Castiel,” he says slowly, testing it on his tongue. Or, at least, trying to. He's slurring too much and butchers it. With a huff, he states, “‘M jus’ gonna call ya Cas.”
“Hi.” When I don't continue the conversation, he chuckles. “So, Cas, how’s Mr. Fluffers?”
My face heats up and I know it must be beat red. I deflect, trying to embarrass him instead. “What kind of person finds out their neighbor’s cat's name before their actual neighbor’s name?”
“The kind who witnessed said neighbor sprinting after a white puff of fur in nothin’ but Star Wars boxers screaming, ‘Mr. Fluffers! Get back here this instant!’ Mr. Fluffers wasn't exactly calling your name back, so it was a lopsided informational session.”
I just stare at him. He talks fast, especially for a drunk guy, and he’s funny. I have to fight myself so I don’t smile at him because smiling will only encourage his behavior. After clearing my throat twice to make sure it comes out normal, I say, “They weren't Star Wars.”
“Oh yes they were.” He winks at me and shifts so he can pull his shirt up and a corner of his jeans down. “Don't worry. See? Batman. No judgement here.”
“Oh, lord. Please don’t show me your underwear.”
He laughs. “I like you, Cas.”
“You barely know me.”
“I should know you, though. I think knowing you is a great idea.”
Feeling my face flush, I focus back on the door. I slam my shoulder against it a few times, grabbing the knob and giving it shaken-knob-syndrome from how hard I twist and jiggle it.
He spreads his arms out, gesturing to the space around us. “This is fun. Being locked out together. We should hang out more.”
With a laugh, I slump down against the door and look at him. “Your definition of fun and mine are very different.”
“What’s your definition of fun?”
“I mean, we've already discussed our underwear. Might as well.”
This makes me smile. A real, genuine smile. I'm not sure the last time I've done that. So, I tell him the truth. Because, like he said, he's seen me running down a hall in Stars Wars underwear, yelling at a kitten named Mr. Fluffers. It can't get much worse.
“I like going to museums and the art gallery. Book stores. Coffee. Bingeing Netflix. Kayaking. Um,” I pause, trying to think. He waits patiently with his head tilted slightly, like he's genuinely interested. That makes me blush again, so I stare at my hands and continue. “So I'm not a writer or very creative or anything but I love going to like poetry readings and slam poem contests and open mics. I’m a logical thinker, not an artist, but it fascinates me to see people who are.”
“Hmm.” His smile is full of secrets and amusement as he turns his chin to look out at the parking lot. It makes me nervous, my belly doing flips, so I hurry back to my feet and start in on the door again. He watches with his head tilted like he’s studying me, the smile on his face growing.
“Try a kick. Try… kicking it,” he suggests, waving his hand in the general direction of the door.
He’s still grinning like he knows something I don’t, and between that and my embarrassment that I actually told him the truth about the things I enjoy and he pretty much ignored them, I’m angry enough to actually listen. I take two steps back and donkey kick the door.
It does absolutely nothing.
Other than impress him.
“Wow.” He clears his throat, his smile slipping into a look of amazement and confusion. “More torque… than I expected. You’ve got a surprising, uh, torque to size ratio.”
“Thanks,” I mumble, falling back down beside him and burying my face in my hands.
“No, Cas, I mean it. Like… you gotta tell me where ya learned that. That was badass, man.”
I snort. “It didn’t open.”
“Well, no,” he stands up, crushing a cigarette beneath his boot and wiping his hands on his jeans. “That’s because you didn’t kick in the right spot.”
Before I can ask him what he means, he’s taking two steps back and lifting his leg, kicking it out. His boot slams against the wood near the doorknob and the thing breaks apart. I stand there staring in amazement while he nudges the bottom of the door with his toe, making it swing the rest of the way open.
He crosses his arms over his chest, resting a shoulder on the doorframe and leaning against it. The smirk on his face, combined with how turned on I am by watching him actually kick down a door, makes me want to lunge forward and kiss him silly.
“How the hell?” I ask when my voice finally returns.
I roll my eyes. “Look at me. I’m a twink. My dad put me in kickboxing when he realized I wasn’t going to grow much more than this.”
The way his eyes flash makes me blush, the realization that I just used gay slang to describe my body type making me want to disappear.
“Funny,” he says in a low voice, pushing off the doorframe so he’s no longer blocking the entrance.
Shoving my hands in my pockets to hide that they’re shaking, I walk past him and into the apartment building with my eyes focused on the floor. “What’s funny?” I ask, attempting to sound nonchalant and miserably failing.
Two hands settle on my waist, heavy and warm, as his front presses into my back. I shiver when he whispers against the shell of my right ear, “Twinks are just my type. Especially nerdy ones who like open mics and have mischievous cats and wear Star Wars boxers.”
I sink into his hold, thankful he’s behind me so he can’t see the stupid grin glued to my face. “Funny.”
“What’s funny?” he asks in a teasing voice, playing along.
“I fit that description perfectly.”
“No way!” he gasps, then turns me around so he can look in my eyes. “You know what this means, right?”
Honestly having no idea, I shake my head at him and shrug. “What?”
He licks his lips slowly, giving me time to track his tongue as it travels. When he pulls his tongue in, his upper teeth ever so slightly pull at his full bottom lip before letting go. Then his mouth turns into the most amazing smile I think I’ve ever seen. “When we fall madly in love with each other and decide to move in, we’re getting the fuck out of this shitty apartment building.”
The words surprise me, making me throw my head back from the force of my laughter. When I finally calm down, wiping my face clean of a few stray tears, I nod and say breathlessly, “Sounds like a deal.”
“Cool.” He grabs my hand and pulls me along, heading toward our adjacent doors. “First date is tomorrow. I’m playing the open mic at Blue’s Cafe. 9 o’clock.”
My heart lurches and I nearly swoon. “What do you play?”
“Guitar. And I sing.” He looks over his shoulder, shooting me a wink. “You have no chance, Cat Guy. Prepare to fall hard.”
For the first, and probably only, time, I’m thankful for my shitty landlord and his apartment’s jammed lock.