Hartbrooke had always been the city I wanted. The busy streets always gave me the sense of maturity. Here, you don’t have time to procrastinate. If you do, you might as well live on the streets.
It was cloudy and windy when I got to the District. The District is the heart of the city where most of the activity happens. Since my work was around here, I will also be living here.
All I had with me was one luggage bag full of clothes because the landlord of the apartment said it was already furnished. Fully. I could already picture out the kitchen filled with what I needed for any cooking I will be doing. I was walking along the pavements, constantly checking on the notes I’ve taken about the directions to the apartment and looking around for landmarks. At last, I arrived in front of a really clean white-painted building on the corner of the block. This was the place. I looked around. The entrance to the subway is just a few paces away. There is also a mini-park across the block. Perfect. Just perfect.
I was about to push the doorbell when a plump man with white hair all over his face came out the door. He is old and he is like a big ball of hair with a face growing in it. I had to bite my lower lip to stop myself from laughing. I’m so bad.
“Uhm, I’m looking for Mr. Flischer, Mandrick Flischer?” I asked.
“Are you Chris? I’m the man you’re looking for. Just Mandy, please,” he replied. He gestured me inside the building and I followed.
Inside, it was also painted white. I don’t know if there is something whiter than white but it was whiter than white inside. I was actually thinking it looked like the usual brown wooden exterior with classic Venetian-crafted windows and hardwood flooring. Instead, it looked more modern and elegant. Everything was in black and white. I felt like I’ve entered a 50’s colorless movie. The walls were white and the doors were black. The floor was neatly tiled with black and white ceramic like a chess board. The staircase was made up of cleanly cut glass that it almost seemed invisible. It should have a sign that prohibits the wearing of skirts when climbing the stairs. The image is disturbing.
It looked boring but I liked it.
“You’re apartment is on the 4th floor. Come, you first,” he told me and gestured me to the elevator. We waited for exactly forty-five seconds before it opened to the right floor. Yes, I have an obsession for counting. We walked through the hallway. I already lost track on which side of the building it was.
“Here we are,” Mandy stopped at the far end of the hall. There it was, situated at the edge. Like the others, the door was black and it had a shiny silver-plated “4B” on it. Right from the outside, I could already sense that the inside was so much better. Mandy reached into his pocket and out came two cards the size of an ATM card.
“Here’s your key,” he handed me one of the two cards while he swiped his at the slit beside the door knob. It was just then that I noticed it didn’t have something where you’d stick a traditional key into. I don’t know what’s that called, don’t judge me.
We entered, of course, and my jaw dropped. Like the parts of the building I have already seen, the inside was also in black and white. The walls were all white while the furniture were black. The living room was the first thing you’d see when you enter the apartment. It had three black sofas that were all leather, a center table with black legs and glass plane. In front of the set was a big black TV rack with an LCD TV that I could almost accurately say was 50 inches. At the right of the TV rack was a short hallway with four doors. Mandy said they were the bedrooms. I will have to check on that later. To the left of the living room was the kitchen. It was already filled with the necessary kitchen gadgets. I couldn’t name all of them because I really don’t know what they’re called. I just know how to use them.
But, the thing I loved the most with this room is the really wide glass wall that displays the urban horizon of Hartbrooke. Actually, the entire wall was glass which gave full access to the city view. I could just sit by here all day and read a book with a cup of coffee.
“So?” Mandy broke my reverie just even before I could get lost in it.
“Well, it does look more expensive than I thought. Are you sure it’s only ten grands?” I asked.
“It’s actually forty grands but remember I told you that you’d be sharing this apartment with three other people? You can actually choose to live alone and pay the forty,” he chuckled.
“I really don’t like that idea. I can’t afford that and it is way much better to have people to talk to when I get home,” I chuckled too. I hope that was enough to make him feel I was able to ride his joke.
He laughed that old-man-laugh. “Alright, I’ll leave you here so you can get settled in. I’ll just let you know when your roommates arrive, ‘kay?”
I nodded and he left. The perk of being the first one to arrive is that you get to choose the best bedroom. On my first look, the four bedrooms were almost the same size and had similar designs (if you can call four walls with dull white paint a design). I was almost disappointed about that when I took a second round and noticed that one room had a queen-sized bed. P-E-R-F-E-C-T.
I wheeled my luggage inside and started to analyze the room. It was also in black and white. The walls were white and the bed was draped with a black sheet and a black blanket. It had black pillows and a black-painted wooden headboard. On top of the headboard was a shelf. Whatever the landlord was thinking about its use, because this is my room, the shelf will be for my books. Across the bed was the closet. It was a walk-in closet but it was smaller than the usual walk-in closet. Other walk-ins could fit four people comfortable but this one could only have two people. I got a squirmy feeling when I thought of stuffs two people could do inside aside from picking clothes.
And shoot. It was just then that I noticed the bedroom did not have its own bathroom. You know the horror of realizing the bathroom would be a common place for me and my other three roommates? It’s an awful feeling.
Amidst all these things in my head, I was still feeling relaxed. At last, I have a home. A second home. It’s very relaxing to know that after a busy day, you’ll be looking forward to sleeping comfortably in this state-of-the-art apartment. I smiled and for the first time in a long time, I drifted to sleep.
I woke up at the sound of tinkling utensils. I’m a light sleeper so it doesn’t take a bomb for me to be awake. A small sound could wake me up. Sometimes I think I may really be a dog disguised as a person. A large part of me was already getting nervous. On my first day in my new apartment, I was already being robbed. Yeah, like that would be the most awesome thing to happen to me. I slowly got up from my bed and stared at the door knob. Thank God it was locked. I listened closely to the continuing sound of what seemed to be kitchen utensils. It did not come from the kitchen. Someone was watching a cooking show on TV. My bedroom was the first one in the hallway just behind the wall where the TV was so it explains why I can perfectly hear it. Could it be my roommate? Or could it be a robber already done with his deed and decided to chill since no one’s home and maybe he knows no one will ever come home? Well, he’s damn wrong. I’ve been training self-defense martial arts and he is so going to regret ever entering this place.
I slowly turned the door knob, putting pressure at the lock so it doesn’t click. I opened the door a little and the sound from the TV was already going louder. It was either I slowly go out and hide or quickly attack him. I decided for the second one. With a speed that is the son of Flash, I slid myself to the living room.
“Who are—“ I shouted but was cut off. It was a guy sitting on the sofa. Or rather, he was sitting on the sofa with his legs on top of the center table and his hands at the back of his head. My heart skipped a beat at the sight. That is the sexiest position a man could do. Until, my conscious mind brought me back to my senses and told me I knew this man.
“Tom?” I said softly. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Watching Hell’s Kitchen if in case you are an alien and you don’t know things people on Earth do,” he replied without leaving his sight at the television.
I cocked my head to one side and crossed my arms. He knew what this meant and he finally met my eyes.
“Fine. I’m moving in,” he said.
“What?” I exclaimed.
“I’m starting to believe that you’re an alien. I said I’m moving in here,” he dully answered.
My arms moved swiftly to the sides and they were pinned there. “You can’t! I moved here… minutes ago!”
“Oh what?” I asked irritably.
“So, you’re one of my roommates Mandy told me. I didn’t think you were around. It was silent when I came in.”
The horror of realization washed through me. Right. I almost forgot Mandy had four people rent this room. But of all, should it really be my ex-boyfriend? Well played, destiny. Well played.
“Why are you standing there? Come here. Sit beside me. I know you know we both love this show. Isn’t Gordon Ramsey just—“
“Tom Dooral, we aren’t together anymore. Stop that,” I said, irritation still not leaving my tone.
“Fine. I was just trying to make it light. I don’t have a problem with a little physical contact because I knew it was over. I don’t know with you.”
I immediately wanted to strangle him to death. Seriously, I was about to when a knock on the door corrupted it. Because Tom had no chance of getting up and since I was already standing near the door, I swallowed my pride and opened the door.
It was all I could say when I saw Richmond Madstark in front of me, still looking as adorable as ever when I broke up with him.
“No, you won’t. I just got here,” he beamed. Oh god, will you make me stop staring at his adorable smile. IT makes me want to regret I broke it with him.
“Are you… renting this apartment, too?” I asked softly. Of all my past boyfriends, Rich was the only one who could always make my knees weak and bring out the innocent little sheep in me.
“Me too!” another voice behind Rich shouted. “Oh, sorry. It’s not you,” he was on the phone. He hung up and stood beside Rich.
Matthew “The Douchebag” Gustly. Every time the thought of me having a relationship with him cross my mind, I wanted to take a shower. I didn’t even remember how I ended up going out with him. He must have been working for the devil and applied some black magic to me.
“This is not happening,” I muttered under my breath.
Apparently, I’d be spending my home time with three of my estranged ex-boyfriends. One is hot, like really hot that you’d take off your clothes just by the mere sight of him (that’s Tom). One is the lord of obsessive-compulsive disorder (Rich). And, one is the international leader of the Douchebag Cult (Matt).
“Well, it is,” Matt smiled widely and sat. He opened his mallet.
“You have a room. We each have rooms. The first one in the hallway is mine,” I said. I scanned my eyes at the three of them. Rich was doing the same.
“Why does it seem that you have a problem with me around here? Are you—“ he started.
“You two know each other?” Tom asked. He was now sitting straight.
And, the stupid person he was, Matt added, “Dude, this is fucking awesome. I know Chris too. He was my—“
“Okay! Let me help you get settled in your rooms now,” I cut Matt.
“He was your what?” Tom asked, making me and my voice vanish into thin air. Now, I was sweating. Shit.
Matt casually answered, “He was my ex. A past lover.”
Both Tom and Rich stared at me. Then, Rich must have seen it in his peripheral vision that Tom was looking at me too. “You too?”
“Is he the reason why you broke up with me?” Tom asked me. Now, he was standing.
“Hey, when did you two had it?” Rich asked Matt.
“We were on last year. Don’t tell me you were two-timing me,” Matt said to me.
And the apartment burst into a chaos of questions and statements. It went on and on until I got dizzy.
Everything fell silent. All of us looked at each other at the same time, if that was even possible. We were all panting. I didn’t know why I was panting when all I did was to shout once.
“Yes, I had relationships with you all. But, I wasn’t overlapping. Now, get it over with and settle down because I want to fucking sleep,” I said and stormed to my room. I wasn’t planning to stay inside actually. I was getting dressed to go out tonight. Dude, it’s my first night at Hartbrooke and I couldn’t just let it slip away with these idiots. I would have to deal with them later.
I wore my The Smiths shirt with a pair of jeans and black Chucks. My hair was a faux-hawk cut so it stood at the top with a major volume in the center. I sprayed my favourite scent and got out of my room.
They were all at the couch watching something. I guessed they got my point. They turned their heads to me all at the same time.
“What?” I blunted.
“That shirt,” Tom said.
“Your hair,” Rich followed.
“Your smell,” Matt concluded.
“Oh, shut up and stop with the awkwardness,” I grunted. I knew it all meant something to them. My Smiths shirt was what I wore when I tied it with Tom. Rich was the one who told me to have this haircut. I tried this scent when Matt and I were at the mall and since then, he loved this smell on me. “I’m going out… alone.”
They were still staring at me. It must have been forever when Rich opened his mouth to speak. Just then, a loud bang followed by several softer colliding sounds and a muffled shout of a man in pain cut him before he could say anything.
“What was that?” Rich looked up, as if he could see through the cement.
“Wasn’t it Mandy?” Tom said.
We looked at each other with crossed eyebrows. “Matt, will you go check him out?” I asked.
“Who? Mandy? Fuck no! I’m not for daddy bear fetishes,” he paused then continued, “Just kidding.”
He stood up and he disappeared behind the door.
“I suddenly am nervous,” I confessed.
It was Matt’s voice that shot us up from our seats and made a run up the stairs. He shouted so loud that it sounded like a little girl who just had a frog leap on her nose. We were calling his name until he answered.
“I’m here! Hurry up!”
We were at the fifth floor and we headed to the room at the end of the hallway. It was where Matt’s voice came from. The room was directly above our apartment.
“What’s the matter—“ I couldn’t even put a tone at the end of my question when I saw Mandy lying on the floor. He looked horrible. There was a pool of blood under his head and his eyes were widely opened. I scanned the room for what might be the cause of the injury. There was an A-frame ladder to his right and shards of broken incandescent bulb. He must have fallen from the ladder while trying to change the bulb.
“He’s still alive,” Rich said, bringing be back to my senses. “Call an ambulance, babe.”
He called me babe. If I were to choose one ex that I could get back to, it was Rich. He was simply the most amazing person I’ve ever met. Everything felt so smooth when he had a relationship. The problem was with me. I was a real party guy and he wasn’t. He came to a point that he couldn’t take my lifestyle anymore and that’s when he broke it. Now, he was calling me by the endearment we used to have. My heart wanted to jump out of me. If he asked me right then and there for another shot, I’d say yes.
“I mean, Chris.”
“What are you standing there, dude? Help us out of here. We need to stop his blood. He’s losing a lot of it,” Matt called out. He wasn’t talking to me. He was directing it to Tom who stood frozen by the door.
Oh, how could I forget? The buff and handsome Tom was always afraid of blood. I remembered when we had this date one night and he gave me a gift. It was wrapped in paper and while I was unwrapping it, I got a paper cut and blood found its way out the wound. His eyes were wide and he quickly stood up to go to the bathroom. IT was then that I found out he didn’t fancy blood too much. It was actually hard for me to convince him to watch slasher movies because of this and we always ended up with some stupid romantic comedy. Not that I have a problem with it but I just don’t think I’d spend money watching romantic comedy movies in a theatre.
“Don’t mind him. I’ll call an ambulance. You two help Mandy up. Tom, come with me,” I said.
We hurried down to our room to get my phone and dialled 911. Ten minutes, they said. I thought that was a reasonable response time. Tom and I sat at the foot of my bed.
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” I started.
“Don’t be stupid, it’s not your fault. It’s just I haven’t seen that much blood in person,” he replied.
We stayed there awkwardly. We couldn’t come back upstairs because he might just pass out. I couldn’t leave him here alone either. Who knows what he might be doing after such a traumatic sight?
“So… babe, huh?” he broke the silence.
I shook my head and lay on my bed. “Shut up. That was over.”
He followed. “How come we didn’t have something like that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we just didn’t need it or we just didn’t care about those things,” I answered.
“How are you? We haven’t talked since… since, we broke up,” he asked again.
“Not much has changed actually. Except that I’ve already got a job here. How about you? What brought you here?”
“Modelling. Some agency saw me at the gym I was working for before and offered me a stint at ramp modelling,” he answered.
“That’s good. You’ve always wanted to be famous, haven’t you? That will be your stepping stone.”
“Yeah. I might try my luck at acting as well. Maybe theatre.”
“That is awesome, Tom. Just make it happen. I will be one of the people who’ll be so proud of you.”
He moved his body and lay sideways with his hand serving as a stand for his head. “You will be proud of me?”
“Of course. I mean, who wouldn’t? You’re handsome. You’ve got a good body. And, you’re good at acting?” I meant the last statement a mocking question.
He chuckled. “I think I better sleep. I’m sorry I couldn’t go with you.”
“I understand. Just rest. You’re tired,” I said.
And then, he kissed my forehead and walked fast out the door.
It was good that my work was still two weeks away when it happened. This means, we all were there to help Mandy. Because Tom couldn’t go to the hospital due to his apprehensions that he might see blood, Matt, Rich and I took turns watching over Mandy who was still in a coma state. Tom took responsibility in contacting relatives to let them know of what happened. To no avail, there seemed to be none.
“How’s it?” I asked him on Saturday night when I went home.
He shook his head. “It’s so odd. He seemed to have no relatives. I’ve already tried calling some past renters, his doctors, therapists and all the telephone numbers I could find. Nobody knew a single relative. Not even a son or a daughter. There was no wife. I tried my luck at the registers. His parents are both dead years ago. He was an only son.”
Tom was still busy going through papers while explaining to me. He stopped his tracks at one document. “Well, hello there, Mr. Attorney.”
“Cool. His lawyer might know of his last will and testament,” I assured.
Tom dialled the number. It was long before the other party answered. Tom told the person at the other line about what happened. After that, he was all nods and affirmations. Then, the call ended.
“What did he say?” I asked.
“Nothing useful for now. He said he’d be here tomorrow morning.”
It was already late in the evening and Tom yawned. He told me he’d sleep and I told him the same.
I was staring out the window of Mandy’s room. The incessant beating of the machine was already a rhythm I’ve gotten used to. My phone rang. It was Tom.
“Hey, you need to come here. Now. All of you,” he said.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing is wrong. There’s something—just come here and let the lawyer explain it.”
When I arrived at the apartment, they were all there. I immediately slid myself at the couch beside Rich who was at the edge.
“I’d like to show you a video Mandy has recorded. This is his last will and testament. This was taken here before he drastically decided to renovate it,” the lawyer started. He was young. He didn’t look exactly like others in his profession. I thought he was kind of hot.
“Wait. We are watching this?” Rich asked.
“Just watch,” the hot lawyer ordered.
The video started to play and it showed Mandy. He was still plump and hairy but he looked healthier. It was more listening for me than watching. When it ended, there was deafening silence in the air until I broke it.
“He’d give this apartment to… us?”
“And he wants to pull the plug if he stays in a coma for five days?” Matt added.
“He’s the weirdest person ever,” Tom said.
“Mandy was alone. He was the only son of his parents who died when he was still in college. He worked hard to live until he became a successful man and put up this building. He would have shared it with someone but he was gay. He didn’t like girls. The boys, they all were just after his money. So, he decided to grow old alone. It was sad,” the lawyer explained.
His words sent shivers all over my body. Mandy’s story was really sad. But it wasn’t that that made me shiver. It was the thought that I instantly owned an apartment.
“You’re all lucky. If someone else had rented the apartment first when it was newly renovated, it would have been theirs,” the lawyer said.
All four of us exchanged looks. I don’t know how it happened but we seemed to be communicating with our looks.
“Where do we go from here?” we asked in unison.