My fingers tapped away furiously at my keyboard, none of it making any sense. It was like my sleep deprivation caused me to forget every single coding language I had learnt over the past twenty-four years.
"Take a walk, Frewlan. You're starting to piss me off." My colleague and closest friend, Jasper, said from over his shoulder when I smacked my palms down on my desk for what was probably the tenth time in the past hour. "Or find a different task. I can hear you grinding your teeth."
I flipped him off over my shoulder and pushed myself away from the desk before heading towards the kitchen where I fixed myself my third cup of coffee for the day. Clara, our receptionist, followed me in like clockwork and I couldn't help but notice that she had unbuttoned the top four buttons of her shirt since I walked past her thirty seconds ago.
Oh great, what now?
"Hi Benny," I bit my tongue at her greeting. "That's a lot of coffee for one day, more than you usually have.?"
"Can't sleep. Noisy neighbour." I replied simply.
Clara stepped closer and with sympathetic eyes placed a hand on my arm. "Aw, I'm sorry to hear. My neighbours are super quiet. If you ever want a good nights' sleep, I have a spare bedroom you could-"
"I'll be fine. Thanks." I hightailed out of the kitchen and back into the office I shared with Jasper, who was laughing uncontrollably at his computer.
"She's real sweet on you."
I took a stack of papers from his desk and wacked him over the head with it. "Shut up." I tried to act pissed, but I couldn't help but laugh along with him anyway.
"Sorry, Benny." He spun around in his desk chair to face me, his hands unbuttoning the top of his shirt to reveal a jungle of chest hair as he pushed his skin together to create a fake cleavage.
I slammed our office door shut so nobody else was subjected to our roaring laughter.
Don't get me wrong, Clara was nice enough, but she was also freshly eighteen, nosy, and being discreet wasn't her strongest quality. I learned that on her first day when she followed me around like a lost puppy despite her job description stating that her duties solely included front desk work. Not to mention that she loved to corner me in the kitchen or at the printer every chance she got.
"She's just a kid." Jasper teased. "It's puppy love."
"I know, I know." I waved him off. "Still, I don't want her to get the wrong idea."
"Wouldn't want Karen from HR on your back."
We both shivered in unison.
The rest of my working day involved an increasing amount of frustration and zero relief whatsoever until the clock ticked over to five. That was when I hightailed out of the office towards my car without looking back.
I reached the eighth floor to my apartment building and I prematurely unbuttoned my collar as I exited the elevator. When I rounded the corner, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of my neighbour, sitting cross legged in front of her door in what appeared to be a meditation position.
I approached with caution with the intention of not startling her, but also not getting myself trapped in a conversation I didn't want to be in. That proved to be unsuccessful when I pulled my keys out of my pocket and the sound jolted her. The weirdest part of that was that she didn't even open her eyes.
"Blossom." I acknowledged her with a curt nod, not that she saw it. Pushing my door open, something caused me to stop and look at her. "Any reason you're meditating out in the hallway?"
"I locked myself out." She took a deep breath. "Front office said that maintenance won't be out for at least another hour, so what better time?"
"Most people would go out for a walk."
She uncrossed her legs out from underneath her, stretching them out and wiggling her bare toes. "A walk would be lovely, but as you can see my shoes are locked on the other side. Don't suppose you know how to pick a lock?" She finally opened her eyes and peered up at me were I stood, halfway through my own front door.
"You're on your own there." I stated simply before fully disappearing into my apartment and shutting the door behind me.
A whole hour until maintenance arrived? Even if I did know how to pick a lock, I still would have left her out in the hallway. That was a whole hour (at least) of quiet that I was about to use to catch up on some sleep.
And that's exactly what I did.
"Someone's looking fresh this morning." Clara chirped excitedly as I walked into the office.
"Finally managed to catch some sleep." I grumbled, speeding past her as to not be caught yet again.
It was like Corey the maintenance man had heard my prayers and took his sweet time unlocking my neighbour's door, because I was dead to the world up until 7am this morning. I couldn't remember the last time I woke up this energized.
I sat myself at my desk and booted up the computer, waiting not so patiently as it ticked over. The irony of working as a web developer with a barely functioning computer was almost too much to handle sometimes and I bit back a groan. I needed to redeem myself after yesterday's coding disaster.
"Benny, you old bastard. Thought I'd beaten you here for once. Where's the Merc?" Jasper clapped me on the shoulder as he dumped his bag onto his desk.
"I walked." I ground my teeth, feeling my mood dip as my computer screen displayed an error.
"That's not good." He said from over my shoulder.
I pinched the bridge of my nose in frustration and smacked the screen with my free hand. "You think?"
"Get Paul to take a look at it."
"That'll be the fourth time this month. Not to mention I don't have the time; I'm supposed to send off the Edmont contract today." I groaned.
"What are we getting Paul to take a look at?" Michael, my supervisor, poked his head in the door and took one look at my screen before hissing. "That's not good." He repeated Jasper's words.
"We need new computers, Michael." I said through grit teeth. "I've told you five times."
"Alright, alright, I hear you." He held his palms out in surrender. "You've got everything backed up at home, right? Why don't you finish off the Edmont contract there?"
"Yeah? With what peace and quiet? My neighbour is a God damn nightmare." I bit back.
"I thought you'd be a bit more chipper with all that sleep you caught up on last night." A feminine voice said from the doorway. Clara leaned against the frame, twirling her long auburn hair in her fingers.
"Clara, now isn't the time." Michael warned, earning a giggle from our receptionist who bounced away in the direction of the kitchen. He turned back to me. "If I send you home, your only task will be this contract. I don't give a shit what you do for the rest of the day, got it? Just get this contract done."
I watched him leave mine and Jasper's shared office and blew out a sigh of frustration in his direction.
"Jas, I don't know what I'm going to do if my neighbour's home." I pinched the bridge of my nose for the second time that day, feeling a headache coming on.
"You'll work it out, buddy. You always do."
I sighed and picked a stack of papers off my desk carelessly. A flash of black matter caught my eye as it slid out from between two sheets and landed on the corner of my desk before plummeting towards the floor. "God fucking damn it." I swore under my breath and bent down to pick up my phone which had landed screen down. Turning it over, I saw that it was cracked into oblivion and the screen was glitching no matter how many times I hit the power button.
"Yikes." Jasper repeated himself.
I shoved the phone into my pant pocket before collecting the rest of my papers into a tidy pile and scooping them up. Jasper echoed encouragements of how my day would get better while I gathered my things, but his reassurances fell on deaf ears.
The first thing I saw as I stepped out of my office building were thick, grey, looming clouds that threatened to make my day even worse. I clutched the papers in my arms closer to my body and said a prayer, regretting ever walking to work that morning and wishing that I had the forethought to bring my briefcase.
My apartment building was in my line of sight when I felt rain pelt down on my face, lightly at first. It gradually picked up and I had no choice but to duck underneath the patio of a nearby café to wait for it to pass.
"Howdy, neighbour." A voice from behind startled me and I spun around. "Fancy seeing you here."
I looked Blossom up and down, noting that her attire was in no way appropriate for the weather. A pair of slouchy, paint covered overalls hung off her shoulders that were barely covered by short sleeves attached to a crop top. Her feet donned a pair of sandals that were bound to fail her on her trek back to her apartment – if that's where she was going. Her hair blew in all different directions as the wind picked up and I noticed goose bumps form on her arms.
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
"Just dropped off a painting." She gestured towards the entrance of the café. "You look a little stuck."
"Just trying to keep dry." I mumbled.
"Huh." She shrugged off her backpack and pulled out a compact umbrella that was so small it looked like it wouldn't provide any protection from the wind or rain. She extended it, holding it above her head and stepping out to the sidewalk. She took a few steps before turning back around to face me and adjusting her grip on the handle. "Coming?"
How badly did I need to get home and start on this contract? Was it bad enough that I was willing to be stuck underneath an umbrella with my weird hippy neighbour? On the other hand, it wasn't exactly clear as to when the rain would clear up and I couldn't exactly check the weather application on my phone after it had been smashed to pieces.
She watched me expectantly as I contemplated my options. Ultimately, I decided to follow her and ducked underneath the umbrella. It wasn't comfortable by any stretch of the imagination. The vast differences in our heights meant that I was hunched underneath the umbrella, while she was able to stand up straight.
"Important papers, huh?" She gestured to the papers I had haphazardly stuffed underneath my jacket.
"It's from work." I mumbled, wincing as I felt the rain pelt at me.
"Well we don't want those to get ruined. Here you go." She stopped to face me; her arm outstretched offering the handle of the umbrella. I looked at her as if she were nuts and she laughed. "You've got more to lose. Take it."
I sceptically took it from her and offered a thanks.
We walked alongside each other in silence, me hunched underneath the umbrella, protecting those papers as if my life depended on it, and her walking in the rain, as if she were embracing it.
As we entered the lobby to our building, she took the umbrella off my hands and shook out the water. She was absolutely drenched from head to toe, dripping all over the floor of the lobby. "Hey, I never said thanks for letting your little sister hang out on the weekend. She's an amazing painter."
Ava could paint?
"No worries." I grunted in response. "Thanks for the umbrella."
"Any time, neighbour." She grinned.
We rode the elevator up to the eighth floor and she followed me out into the hallway where we both stood in front of our respective apartments. She pulled her keys out of her bag while I stuck my hand inside my pocket, expecting my fingers to brush against the key chain. When I found my pocket empty, I checked the other. Also empty.
"Fuck. Fuck, fuck, FUCK!" I muttered, causing Blossom to look over at me with raised eyebrows. As if my day couldn't get any worse.
"Everything okay?" She asked, striding over towards me.
"My keys." I rested my head on my door. "I don't have my God damn keys."
"Funny how the tables have turned." She laughed, but quickly stopped when she saw my expression. "It's okay," she offered, as if that made me situation any better. "Did you have them at work?"
I thought back to my morning and I couldn't recall what I did with them. In my energised rush to get out of the apartment and to work, my morning passed like a blur. I shrugged in response to her question.
"Maybe call them?"
"Sure, let me just wave my magic wand and fix my phone that I smashed into smithereens this morning." I snapped, as if I expected her to know.
She didn't even blink at my outburst. "Sounds like a tough morning. Here." She pulled her own cell phone out from her pocket and thrust it towards me. "Call them, see if you left your keys there. If nobody can find them, then they'll be in your apartment. Unless you could have left them anywhere on your way to work?"
I cautiously accepted the device and called the office where Clara picked up on the second ring. "Webster's Developers, you're speaking to Clara, how can I transfer your call today?"
It took far too much convincing to get Clara to transfer my call to Jasper. She was convinced that she was going to be the one to help find my keys, but I knew that if she did, she'd hold them hostage and only return them in favour for a date.
"Not here, buddy." Jasper said. "Damn, it's really not your morning."
"Tell me about it." I grumbled. "Gotta go, see you tomorrow."
I pushed the hang up button and handed Blossom's phone back with a thank you. "What are you going to do now?"
"God knows." I ran my hands over my face. "Maintenance will take hours and I need to draw up a contract before the end of the business day."
She chewed on her lip thoughtfully until her eyes lit up and she pulled something from her hair and held it up like a trophy. "A-ha!"
"A hair pin?"
"Today, it's a key." She pushed me out of the way, and I watched as she bent the small piece of metal in her hands and stuck it in the keyhole. After a couple of minutes of jiggling it around, we heard an audible click and she turned the doorknob, opening the door to my apartment with a grin on her face.
"Fantastic, I feel so safe and secure now knowing how easy it is to break into my apartment."
She laughed and stepped out of the way. "You're welcome."
I watched as she bounced over to her own apartment and pushed the door open.
"Blossom?" I asked before she could disappear.
"I've got this contract to draw up. Keep the noise down."
"You got it, boss." She saluted with a wide smile.
Once inside my apartment I stopped dead in my tracks at the taunting sight of my keys on the kitchen counter.
"Never again." I muttered to myself. "Never, ever walking to work again."