Author's Note: This is a short work of a bigger story/possible novel I've been working on since forever. I may not add onto it. I'm just trying something out.

Apartment 5E

I drove through the semi-quiet streets of Omaha, Nebraska in my rundown Cadillac, passed bare, autumn trees and trash-littered yards as I yawned a million times. The night sky accompanied me on my journey, one of many I had made in the past four months. My heart was beating a little faster than usual, almost to the upbeat rhythm of the OutKast song playing on the radio. I exhaled as I pulled into the parking lot of a familiar apartment building and turned off the ignition. I flipped my visor down and looked in the mirror to make sure I looked okay. Then I shook my head, flipped the visor back up, and laughed to myself, as if my black sweatpants and matching hoodie could be made glamorous in a few minutes. I grabbed my purse and stepped out of my car, shivering slightly as the harsh wind slapped me in the face. After walking to the front of the building and up two flights of stairs, I came to apartment 5E, and I smiled.

I knocked first, and then opened the door. I flipped on the light switch, and then looked around the cluttered living room. A T-shirt was slung over the blue couch, shoes were everywhere, a dirty plate, and a cup were sitting on the glass coffee table. The TV screen was dusty, and when I looked to my right, I could see more dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, along with a half empty bottle of Seagram's gin and an empty pizza box on the table. I shook my head and called out, "Nick?" as I shut the door behind me.

I heard soft music coming from the bedroom, so stepped around the array of Nikes and other male junk and followed the sound. I smiled as I looked at the pictures in the hallway, most of them pictures of him, his brother, Matt, our friend, Crystal, and me, the four musketeers. They started with me, Matt, and him when Matt and I were in junior high and he was a sophomore, then led all the way up to Nick's high school graduation last year and then his nineteenth birthday party five months ago, about a four-year span of memories.

When I reached the bedroom door, I realized the song he was playing was "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)?" by the Delfonics, a song that was nearly twice his age, and I smiled to myself. I started to knock on the door, but he told me to come inside before I got a chance to.

I walked in and saw Nick sitting up in his bed, a joint in his hand, the smoke surrounding him like an eerie scene in a horror movie. His bed was a mess of rumpled sheets and blankets, letting me know he probably hadn't slept much, if at all. The only light in the room was a single candle on the nightstand next to him, casting an orange glow to his brown skin. His shadow flickered behind him on his posters of Superfly and Scarface, his ghetto was wearing grey sweatpants and no shirt, his rock hard abs making him look delicious, like a Hershey bar. His hair, which was normally in cornrows, was down, looking like a wavy afro.

I sat on the bed next to him, took off my hoodie, and straightened my white T-shirt, listening to him sing along with the song. He offered me the joint and I almost declined, but Nick had a way of convincing me of things I never even thought about before. So I grabbed it, took a quick puff, then laid my head on his shoulder, letting the smoke escape my body through a soft sigh. He smelled like weed and cologne, a weird combination that made me feel dizzy. Wonderfully dizzy. I tried to swallow away my lust, play the role of friendly therapist, and ignore the intoxication I felt as his sensual, powerful singing voice lifted me up and tickled all of my senses. But it was like getting men and women to understand each other. Hopeless.

The song ended and Nick turned off his CD player with a remote control, then let silence fill the room. He sighed and then put out the joint in an ashtray.

"So, what's up, Nick?" I asked. "Why'd you have me come all the way over here at three in the morning?"

He didn't say anything right away. He never did. I didn't push it, just let him speak when he was ready. He reached for my hand and I gave it to him, lightly squeezing it. In response, he rubbed his thumb over mine, and my whole body felt warm and cold at the same time.

"It's just the same old shit," he said, finally, sounding exhausted and frustrated.

"The nightmares?"

"Yeah. The nightmares."

I squeezed his hand again and said, "You want to talk about it this time?" I knew he wouldn't; he never spoke about them in detail. But I always encouraged him to. I wanted to let him know I cared.

He paused for a long time, then said, "I would tell you… I want to tell you, Josie. But I can't."

I nodded. "It's okay, Nick. I'm always here to listen if you ever want to talk about it."

He smiled and let go of my hand so he could put his arm around me and pull me closer. He said, "I know, JoJo. I know."

For a moment, I got lost in his embrace, in the sweet smell of his cologne, and the sexy sound of his voice. For a moment, I allowed myself to think that things were different between us, that I wasn't the short, chubby, shy girl I was, and he saw me as more than just the girl who listened to his problems and gave him advice. For a moment, I was tall and thin, like a model, and he was mine, and only mine. But only for a moment. Then I opened my eyes and I realized that that wasn't true. That it could never be true. And my heart sank a little deeper than before.

Nick pulled away from me and sank down onto the pillows, sighing again. I looked down at him, pulled my knees up to my chest and rested my head on them. I admired his chocolate brown skin, his beautiful lips, his dark brown eyes I'd spend hours staring into. I must've stared at him for a full five minutes, but he kept his eyes straight ahead at the ceiling fan above, its twirling blades apparently hypnotizing him. Then he slowly turned his head and stared at me. I looked away quickly, slightly uncomfortable.

He laughed lightly and said, "You can do it to me, but I can't do it to you?"

"Do what?" I tried to play dumb, focusing my attention on anything but him.

"Stare at me. You do it all the time, but when I look at you, you look away."

"I was waiting on you to say something," I said, which wasn't entirely a lie. "Besides, I don't like eye contact. You know that."

He grinned. "Yeah, whatever."

My heart was beating so fast I was sure he could see it hitting my chest, like in one of those Looney Toons cartoons. I looked down at my raggedy, jagged fingernails, trying to look less awkward than I felt as silence fell upon us once again. I studied the chipped, red polish on my nails, made a mental note to put some lotion on my ashy, brown-skinned knuckles. Nick startled me when he suddenly reached up and touched my face, pushing my hair out of the way. That soft touch sent tingles up and down my spine.

"Tell me something, JoJo," he said, softly, almost sensually. "Tell me something so the focus isn't on me anymore."

"Something like what?" I asked, very aware that his hand was still touching my face in slow caresses.

"Anything. Just say anything."

I paused, tried to think of something to say, but all I could come up with was, "Well, I was sleeping kind of good before you called and woke me up."

He laughed, and I smiled, feeling the weight of the moment pass. He said, "I'm sorry, baby. I know how you are about your sleep. It is the most pleasurable thing you do in bed."

I rolled my eyes at him. "Aren't you getting tired of the virgin jokes?"

He shook his head and grinned. "Nope. You're going to get teased until somebody pops that cherry."

"You act like I'm about to turn forty next week instead of seventeen. I've got time to lose my virginity."

"Not the way you act around anybody that shows you any interest. You always have an attitude when a nigga approaches you and asks for your number."

"The few guys that do approach me are nothing but dumb ass niggas I don't need to waste my time on."

"Quit being so picky."

I shook my head. "Not everybody wants to be a ho like you."

"I ain't a ho, baby. I'm a player."

"Same thing."

He pushed me teasingly and said, "Whatever, bitch."

I laughed at him and hit him back. "You'll see when you catch something that has your dick looking like a Crunch bar."

"Don't hate 'cause your pussy is collecting dust."

I laughed and said, "Fuck you."

After we finished laughing some more, he turned to me and said, "So what's the plan for your birthday, anyway?"

I shrugged and sighed. "You know me. I don't really like birthdays. They're for kids."

"Bitch, you are a kid."

I laughed. "I am not a kid anymore. I'm too old for birthday cakes and parties and all the crap that comes with them."

"So what? It doesn't mean you aren't entitled to have some fun." He grabbed a pack of cigarettes sitting on his nightstand and lit one. After he took a long drag, he said, "Believe me, I wish I was still a kid."

I laughed. "Nigga, you're only nineteen. You act like you're fifty or something."

"Shit changes when you move out and struggle to pay bills every month on minimum wage, JoJo. That shit'll make you grow up quick. Especially when all your friends are still in high school." He stopped and blew a few smoke circles, and I felt more warmth run through my body as I watched his lips curve each time a ring escaped. "I would kill to be seventeen again and be able to fuck up some more. Not have any real responsibilities. Live like there ain't gonna be a tomorrow."

I mumbled a low, "Yeah."

He put out his cigarette after smoking half of it, and then sat up next to me. He turned my face toward his, his lips damn near touching mine. My eyebrows furrowed in confusion, but I didn't get a chance to speak. He said, "You need to stop acting like you're dead and start living."

"What do you mean by that?"

"You know what I mean. All you do is sit at your house and write half the time. You go out with Matt, Crystal, and I, but you never want to do anything. What's up with that?"

I tried to pull away from him so we wouldn't be so close, but his grip was too strong. I said, "First of all, you're hardly around these days 'cause you're always fuckin' somebody. And Crystal is always with her bitch ass boyfriend. And Matt is always depressed 'cause Crystal doesn't notice him, so that's why I spend most of my time at home. And second of all, didn't I come over here to help you with your problems? Since when is this about me?"

"Since I made it that way." He said it so deliberately, almost like an order. Normally, I would challenge anyone who came at me like that, especially a man. But like I said before, Nick had a way of making me do things I never thought I'd do. Not to mention, a small part of me got excited by his forcefulness. But only a small part.

"We are going out on your birthday," he said, totally ignoring everything I had said and gripping my face even tighter for emphasis, making my lips scrunch up like a fish. "And you're going to have fun. And you're going to thank me."

I nodded dumbly, looking like a fool, my eyes wide and my face so warm I was sure it was red.

He grinned and said, "Okay then," then gave me a quick kiss on the forehead. He let go of my face and turned away from me, then almost as an afterthought, turned back around and kissed my lips. It was a quick, friendly peck, but I always had a meltdown each time our lips touched.

After I had cooled down a little, I asked, "So what are we doing on my birthday?"

"What do you want to do?"

I wanted to do nothing at first, but as I looked at Nick, at his bare abs and thick, sexy lips, I wanted to just stay with him, wrapped up in his arms, enveloped in sweet kisses and happiness to destroy the loneliness that corroded my soul. But I shrugged and turned away from him when I realized that my fantasy was just that. A fantasy.

"I don't know." Then I added, "You decide."

He shook his head and gently grabbed my chin and turned my face toward his again. "Why do you always act so sad, JoJo? What's the matter?"

"I could ask you the same question. Why do you always have nightmares?"

He didn't say anything. He slowly let go of my chin and said, "I guess we both have our little demons, huh?"

I nodded. "Guess so."

"You just make me so…" he paused, visibly struggling with his words. "I just hate to see you like that. It… it fucks with me." I smirked slightly, knowing that was man talk for, "It makes me sad to see you sad."

"How do you think I feel when I come over here and these nightmares have you so distressed?" I said, looking up at him for a second, then looking back down.

"Like shit?"

I nodded. "Like shit."

More awkward silence filled the room. I stretched my legs out in front of me, leaned my head against the headboard. Nick did the same. He reached over and grabbed my hand, then cleared his throat as if he were going to deliver an important speech. I turned my head and looked at him, but he kept his attention ahead of him, at his bedroom door.

"They're about… something that happened in the past," he said.

"What?" I asked, my eyes narrow in confusion.

"The nightmares. They're about some painful shit I don't want to remember. That's why I don't feel comfortable discussing them in detail." I squeezed his hand, moved that he would even say that much about them. He went on, "I will someday. Believe me, I will." He turned his head and smiled at me. "Besides Matt, you know more about me than anybody else. I would never share half of this shit with anybody, especially a female."

"I know," I smiled, feeling privileged to see this side of him. "And you know more about me than anyone else."

"You ever tell anybody that you come over here late at night sometimes? You know, that we have these talks?"

I shook my head. "Hell no. It's nobody's business but ours. What we say to each other…" I looked into his brown eyes and temporarily lost my train of thought. "…It's… it's sacred, you know?"

He nodded in agreement. "I guess you wouldn't want Matt and Crystal to know you're a punk, huh?" He grinned.

I rolled my eyes, but I was smiling, too. "Please. You're the one who calls me in the middle of the night crying about the boogie man."

"Oh, so it's like that, huh?"

"Yep. It's like that."

Nick playfully punched my arm, and I slapped him across the face. He looked at me wide-eyed, shocked, but still smiling from ear to ear.

"All right, now," he said. "Don't get your ass beat."

"Nigga, please," I crossed my arms over my chest and looked him up and down. "I ain't scared of you."

He smirked at me, then suddenly put me in a headlock. I laughed as he messed up my hair and said, "Ah ha! Take that, bitch!"

I managed to get away from him and then I pushed him so hard he almost fell off the bed. He raised his arm as if he was going to hit me, so I threw my arms up to shield myself and said, "Okay! Okay! I give up!"

Nick drew his arm back, smiling, looking cocky. Again, I felt that warmth, that corny ass feeling that could only be described as butterflies. He said, "That's what I thought," then pulled me into a warm embrace, once again kissing me on the forehead.

I smiled and looked up at him. He smiled back. I felt like I was on a roller coaster, adrenaline pumping, heart racing, palms sweaty, feeling scared and excited at the same time. He leaned down and kissed me on the lips, not once, not twice, but three times, lingering a little longer than usual. Then he pulled away slowly. I glanced at the alarm clock behind him on the nightstand.

"Shit," I said. "It's almost four o'clock. I need to get home and get some sleep. I've got to go to school tomorrow."

I moved away from him reluctantly and grabbed my hoodie and purse off the floor next to the bed. I was about to stand up, but he grabbed my arm and said, "Wait."

"What's up?"

"Stay here," he said, looking slightly scared, vulnerable. I had never seen that side of him before. My heart jumped. I felt wanted. Needed.

"Stay here?" I repeated, looking at the clock, then back at him.

He nodded. "I'll make sure you're up in time for school."

I kept looking at him and the clock. "If my mom wakes up and sees that I'm not there, I'm gonna get my ass kicked."

"You'll get home before she wakes up," he reassured me, then patted the pillows behind me. "Come on, baby. Just lay here with me for a few hours."

I looked down at the hoodie in my lap and said a nervous, "Why do you want me to stay so badly?"

He looked puzzled, his arrogance clearly showing, as if it was absurd for a female to question an invitation like that. Maybe it was.

"You really need a reason?" I looked at him and nodded. He exhaled, looked away from me for a minute, trying to gather the right words. Then he grinned, showing his perfect white teeth, making my heart melt and flow down into my stomach. "I'm hoping you can keep the boogie man away."

I tried not to smile, my face feeling warmer than a thousand suns as I said, "All right. Whatever. But I better not get in trouble, or I'm kicking your ass."

Nick smirked as we lay down and pulled the blankets up to our chins. "Yeah, right."

I smiled as he pulled me close to him, his face in my hair. Within minutes, I heard his shallow breathing and turned to look at his sleeping face. Butterflies flew all around in my body as I began to relax in his arms. My imagination started running full-time again, and this became a different scenario, one filled with kissing and touching and all the lovey-dovey crap I usually made fun of when I saw other people doing it. But it made me feel good, like I was human. Like I wasn't so insecure, so unhappy with my boring life, so dissatisfied with everything around me, including myself.

The hickey on his neck, the condom wrapper on the floor next to my purse, and the three phone calls he received in the next twenty minutes almost ruined my fantasy, but I pushed them away, and fell into a peaceful sleep.