Sarah hurried through the bustling streets and dodged other people who were also eager to get home after a long day’s work. Her mind was numb from hours of filing and answering phone calls at her job as an administrative assistant, but the fog in her brain began to clear as she inhaled the cool autumn air, her breath coming out in wisps.
Her heart thumped in anticipation. Jay, her long-distance boyfriend, had arrived from Toronto that afternoon and let himself into her apartment with the key she’d given him on his last visit. She hadn’t seen him in a month, and her excitement made her anxious to get home. She hoped that this would be the weekend that he would propose.
Sarah was annoyed at having to stand on her tiptoes to see over people’s shoulders as she waited to cross the street. Instead, she looked up at the grey sky, the daylight already fading into dusk, and wondered if it would rain again. She brushed her blonde hair out of her eyes and tapped her toe as she waited for the light to change. When it finally did, Sarah strolled briskly with the crowd, anticipation quickening her steps. She walked twenty minutes, past monochrome office buildings only shades darker than the sky, making the world seem colourless, though she hardly noticed, and toward a cluster of squat apartment buildings. When her building came into view, a red-bricked two-storied cube, she pulled out her keys and jogged the last few steps. Her hands trembled, making it difficult to put the key in the lock. She threw the door open and hurried up a small, worn flight of stairs to apartment number eight. Her keys jangled loudly in the quiet hallway as she unlocked the door, and when she tried to push it open, the chain banged loudly, giving her a start and preventing her from getting in.
Sarah peeked through the crack into her apartment and called out, “Jay? Jay, why am I locked out?”
She caught a glimpse of him leaning out of the kitchen, which was directly adjacent to the entrance. He looked nervous. He pushed his glasses up with one finger and wiped sweat from his forehead as he examined her. He did not move to open the door. “Sarah?” he said, his voice low and shaky.
“Yes, it’s me. Can you please let me in, so we can say hello properly?” She felt her excitement fade as she watched him fidget with the hem of his shirt. Something was wrong.
Jay took one step, then another, and peered through the crack, looking into her eyes for a long moment before nodding, closing the door, and unhooking the chain.
Sarah did not rush in right away. All day, she’d imagined jumping into his arms and kissing him, and holding his face in her hands, while his arms wrapped around her. Now, she entered slowly, narrowing her eyes at him. She looked him up and down, tying to determine the cause of his unease. “What’s the matter?”
“Something weird happened,” Jay said. He hurried past Sarah, locked the deadbolt, and then put the chain back on. He looked out the peephole for a minute, tested the door handle to make sure it was locked, and then finally turned to face her. He looked pale, and his eyes darted in every direction.
He avoided her gaze, looking instead at his short, clean fingernails. His cheeks burned a bright red, contrasting strongly against his pale skin. “I-I don’t want to talk about it. I’m not even sure it happened.”
“For God’s sake, Jay! What is it?” Sarah dropped her bags to the floor and stood there with her hands on her hips, waiting. She looked around as she waited for an answer. The apartment was dim on the best of days, the light blocked by taller buildings, but today it was downright gloomy. Jay had drawn all the curtains. She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Please, can we just move on? I’m fine, but I want to talk about something else.” Jay finally put his arms around her and held her tightly, as though he’d wondered if he’d ever get to hold her again. She felt his heart pounding wildly in his chest.
“No! Something obviously happened, and I want to know what.” She pushed his shoulders back, so she could look into his wide, fearful eyes.