…and possibly passing the halfway point as well.
The above photograph is entitled New Apartment Panorama and is by Kevin O’Mara. It is used in compliance with its Creative Commons license.
The Night Girl is coming together, though I think the question now is how to pace it (I fear it drags in the early-to-mid sections) and how to sustain the comedy as well as Perpetua’s edge, but the main characters seem to know what they want.
This scene is a redo and expansion of this scene, which firmly establishes the love interest between Perpetua and Fergus. Writing this, it’s hard to believe that I hadn’t really envisioned Fergus when I first started this story, much less the love interest. I hope you like it!
Dressed in sweat pants and a stained t-shirt, Perpetua shelved the last of her books and broke down the last cardboard box into a flat panel which she cast to the floor. She stepped back and looked around her new apartment.
Her futon sat pressed up against the wall beneath the window. Her low bookshelves stood opposite. There was her desk, her new rainbow-coloured laptop sitting on top of it. Her clothes were out of sight in the closet. In the next room, her kitchen stove gleamed. The bathroom was dark. In between everything was an expanse of parquet flooring. Pixel stood in the middle of the interlocking squares of wood, looking lost. Perpetua’s mouth twitched into a smile.
She frowned as she heard a low thump, and tinny singing in a strangely familiar melody.
Perpetua knelt down and felt the floor. It vibrated beneath her fingers. She lay down and pressed her ear to the wood. She wasn’t imagining it. Her neighbour downstairs was playing U2’s Beautiful Day. It wasn’t a bad song. Better yet, she could hear no kitchen noises. If a stereo played at eleven could only barely make it through her walls, she was never, ever, going to hear constant wok clanging again.
She lay on the floor arms spread out, staring up at the stucco ceiling. She’d made it. Job. Apartment. Food in fridge. Adulthood! Happiness welled up in her, making her giggle, then laugh. I can do anything. I can eat popcorn for dinner and poptarts for breakfast. I can stay up late on Friday night and stroll the neighbourhood at whatever hour without having to tell anybody where I’d gone. I can go clubbing, book shopping, even dating. Because I can. It’s my choice now, because I can.
She stumbled up and twirled around her big, empty apartment, whooping, arms upstretched, bare feet dancing on Bono’s head. She swept Pixel into her arms. The cat squawked and struggled, but Perpetua hung on tight. Until she danced into the kitchen and stumbled to a stop beside the papers on the countertop.
Pixel squirted out of her arms and ran off to hide under her bed.
Perpetua picked up a pile of cards half the size of postcards. These had been sitting on top of her lease. The change of address cards.
She was almost finished. She had ones out to her credit card company, best friend Betsy from high school, now shacked up half the world away; her subscription to Alternatives Journal, and various government agencies that were interested either in giving her money or taking it away. She hated to leave these jobs unfinished.
And she hadn’t filled out one for her mother.
She bit her lip, picked up her pen and a blank card, and bit her lip again. Her eyes tracked to her phone and its answering machine, currently not blinking at her.
She peered at the card dubiously.
A knock at the door made her jump. She set the card and pen down and ran into the living room. Peering through the peep-hole, she saw nothing but the other wall, and a mat of shaggy hair.
“Who is it?” she called out.
“Um, hi!” She knew that voice. “It’s me. Fergus?”
Leaving the chain on, she unlocked the door and peered through the crack. She found him staring back, a brown bag under his arm, wrapped in white ribbon. He saw her staring and smiled.
She closed the door, unlatched the chain, and opened it again. “What are you doing here?”
He blinked at her. “Uh—”
“Come in,” she said.
“Okay.” He stepped past the threshold.
She slammed the door behind him. “What are you doing here?”
“Just thought I’d drop by,” he said. “I brought a housewarming present.” He handed her the brown bag, then he hesitated. “Why does this upset you.”
Perpetua blinked. Why was she so upset? Then she realized. Her arms instinctively crossed her chest. “I wasn’t ready,” she said. “This place is a mess. It’s embarrassing.”
“It’s not,” said Fergus. “Besides, you’re just moving in.”
“I’m a mess!” And the realization that she was embarrassed about her appearance made her blush even more. She snatched the brown bag and opened it. It was a package of coffee beans. Of course.
“Thanks,” she said. “And, sorry. I wasn’t organizing a housewarming party.”
“Consider it a surprise housewarming party,” said Fergus.
“A surprise party in my own apartment,” said Perpetua. “Great. For full effect I should put curlers in my hair.”
“Should I go?”
“No.” She stepped between him and the door. “Just… wait here!”
She thrust the bag of coffee beans into his hands, left him standing in the middle of the living room and dove into the pile of clothes at the bottom of her closet. Fabric flew out behind her, covering the pristine floor. She pulled out a long stretch of black fabric, and two smaller pieces that she hoped were underwear. She sniffed these quickly - they passed — then ran from the closet to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. A moment later, she emerged in her black dress with the long skirts, rumpled, but presentable. More calmly, she returned to the closet, selected socks and put on sneakers.
She looked for Fergus and found him sitting on the Futon. “There,” she said. “That’s better.”
“You looked fine before,” he said, smiling. “But… thanks.”
To her alarm, she found herself blushing again. She couldn’t help the nervous tension boiling inside her. Then she realized: she was embarrassed because of how he’d seen her in sweat pants and a t-shirt. Why should she care about that?
She frowned at the answer: because she liked him and a part of him wanted him to like her. Then she frowned at her frown: what was wrong with that?
“So, it’s a nice place you’ve got here,” said Fergus. “Nice area too.”
She knew everything her mother would say. You hardly know this man. They’re all alike anyway. There’s one thing they want and one thing only, and it’s shameless hussies that give it to them.
Fergus swallowed at the silence. “Did you have to look hard for this place?”
But her mother was in Grand Bend. Her father was who knew where. I’m not a kid anymore. There used to be a hundred things I couldn’t do, but now I can. Because I have money in my pocket, a roof over my head and a stocked refrigerator. And mother doesn’t even have my phone number to tell me what I’m doing wrong.
Fergus took a deep breath. “Um…” He levered himself to his feet. “Do you have a coffee maker?” he stumbled towards the kitchen. As he passed him, she grabbed him by the collar, pushed him against the wall, and pushed herself into him. His squawk of protest was cut off when she kissed him so hard, his teeth rattled. His lips were cooler than she’d expected, but he kissed back. Perpetua decided that she liked it.
She let him go, and he stumbled away from the wall, breathless. “What was that for?”
“Because I can,” said Perpetua, sly and nervous.
“But if I did that to you, I’d be in a lot of trouble,” said Fergus.
“And pain,” said Perpetua.
“Yeah,” said Fergus. “How come?”
“It’s different,” said Perpetua.
She smiled. “Just is.”
“I’ll never understand women.” Fergus grinned ruefully. “It’s hard enough trying to understand the men.”
She looked at him more seriously. “You object?”
He paused. “No…?”
She smiled. “I hate you seeing my apartment like this,” she said. “Take me out tonight; my treat. I know a club. If I can’t book a reservation, I can get a favour from the bouncer.”
He smiled nervously. “What does one do at a club, anyway?”
“Shout over the loud music, mostly; buy overpriced drinks and dance however you want on the dancefloor.”
“Sounds pointless,” said Fergus.
“Yeah,” said Perpetua. “That’s why I like it.”
He thought a moment. “Okay,” he said at last. He plucked the crushed bag of coffee beans from her hand and offered her his arm. She took it, and they stepped to the door.
As they passed the kitchen counter, Perpetua halted. Her hand slipped from Fergus’ arm. A flash of disappointment crossed his face. “You go on,” she said. “I’ll just be a moment, okay?”
He nodded and stepped out of the apartment. Perpetua turned back to the change of address cards, and picked up the one for her mother. She sucked her lip.
After careful consideration, she filled out the card, making certain to accidentally leave off her phone number. She shoved this in the stack of outgoing mail beside the door, and walked away.