Natalie

My next place, she muses, will have hardwood floors, shining in their newness. It will have high ceilings and many, many windows, so that the sun can beam through. Perhaps she’ll have a cat, and her cat will nap in the pools of sunshine pouring into the apartment, heating those hardwood floors.

She walks over to her old kitchen counter as the tea kettle finishes boiling. She pours herself a steaming cup of earl grey in the mug that her sister bought her, and lets it steep for a minute before taking the tea bag out and placing it on a small, paint-flecked dish. It’s too hot to drink for the moment, she’ll save it for later. She walks back into her bedroom, opens her creaking closet doors and sits on her bed, staring at the neat little shelves. “Nothing to wear,” she grumbles, because jeans would be too hot in this weather, and shorts make her feel self-conscious. She decides on a mid-length black skirt with a black crop top. It’ll leave an inch of skin on her toned stomach, she’ll feel subtly sexy and sophisticated.

She considers getting up to check on her tea. Which shoes should she wear? She remembers seeing a fashion blogger post something on Pinterest, with almost the same outfit that she has on. Of course the woman had worn all white, had bleached blonde hair to her waist that contrasted sharply with her spray-tanned skin – the blogger had paired the outfit with simple sneakers. So she puts on her light grey vans, pleased with her fashion prowess.

Oh! The tea. She walks back into the kitchen, and takes a sip to test the temperature. No, still too hot, and her upper lip admonishes her for her boldness. She walks over to her half-packed suitcase on her living room couch (inherited from her grandmother), and tries to think if she’s missed anything. She opens her laptop, checks the meticulous list she made, and remembers she forgot to write down “socks.” You always forget something!, she scolds herself.

She goes back for the tea, and now it’s perfect. Warm, but starting to cool quickly; she takes a big gulp and sighs with relief. A cup of tea, she once wrote on a dating profile, is like a hug in liquid form. She chuckles to herself, and crosses her legs. Her eyes flick to the clock – 9:15 – and she grants herself the gift of finishing her tea in peace.

My next place, she muses, will have a modern kitchen with a lot of counter space, maybe marble or granite. It will have a guest room with a comfortable bed (and a cute little table lamp) where she can host people from out of town. A cozy haven for friends who can’t fathom driving a minute farther to their own homes after a long night out. Her next place will have a washer and dryer in her unit, so she doesn’t have to bring her laundry to her parents’ house. It will be closer to the city, if not in the city, so she can live near her friends and go out without needing to factor in the extra hour to get home. Her next place… she starts to make a list of what it will look like, and how it will make her feel.

She finishes her tea and looks down, disappointed. Should she make another? While she thinks about getting up from her uncomfortable couch – yes, her new place will have couches that make getting up regrettable – she receives a text from one of her friends, an early riser like she. He tells her that he is going to have an amazing day, and hopes that her day will be just as amazing, if not more. Exclamation points and all. She smiles and shakes her head at his peppiness. “Someone had their coffee,” she types back. She includes the little coffee emoji (even though she knows that it’s really a tea).

She thinks back to what made her move into this place. She remembers feeling a sense of desperation to leave her parents’ house, to have her own space. At one point, at the height of her anxiety, anything would have sufficed. She thought about moving in with strangers just to have a room to herself, where her whereabouts weren’t questioned. She wanted to FaceTime at 2am with her friends overseas, and not worry about waking anyone up. She wanted to leave the house with just a minute to spare and not have someone reminding her how she’s about to miss her bus. She wants to intentionally miss her bus and then sit for an extra half hour with a second cup of tea. So she does. This is why she got this place, though the carpet is worn and the windows aren’t new. For this second cup of tea.

She thinks about a date she went on, where an older man talked about himself for hours, after showing up late without so much as an apology, how he said anything he wanted and she could tell he didn’t want to be there, his eyes meeting hers only briefly, and even then, with calculation. He would say outrageous things, mock her culture, and wait for a response. She just smiled and shook her head, politely biting into a chocolate cannoli, and waited for him to entertain himself. As he yammered on, she found herself wondering what she would do that evening. Visit a friend, go to the gym, perhaps she would read and make another cup of tea. How many cups is too many?

Her next place, she thinks, she will have a love seat by an open window. The autumn breeze will roll in (shaking the red and orange leaves outside), and she’ll cozy up in a big cable-knit sweater and leggings, and maybe some hilarious knee-high socks. She’ll grab a book and read it, but space out every other chapter and gaze out of her window. Maybe she’ll live near a park, and she can watch people take their dogs for walks, or see a family with a toddler, coaxing him to brave the slide on his own. Maybe she would take her tea and book and go sit on a bench in that park until her fingers got numb from the chill. She wonders if she’ll be by herself, realizes that it’s a distinct possibility, and she…she is okay with it.

This thought surprises her and jolts her out of her reverie. She glances at the clock – 9:26 – and gets up to grab her purse and head out the door. She looks around once, twice, to make sure that she hasn’t left anything behind, and steps out, locking the door behind her and heading outside. The stairway smells musty, and faintly of spices. It’s cool at the moment, when she steps outside, but she knows the humidity will return this afternoon; her mother’s car is covered in condensation. She tosses her purse onto the passenger seat, turns the windshield wipers on to clear her view, and starts the engine. After checking the mirrors (her mother is much shorter than she), she begins her commute to work.

She thinks about that bench in her park some more. What would she be wearing, on this bench? The bench that makes being alone perfectly fine. She pictures a lovely cream sweater, and two layers of scarves. She pictures her dark grey jeans, the ones that make her legs look long, and some tall boots, where some leg warmers peek out. Next to her, on her right side, is her thermos of tea – it’s a fruit tea, because she’d already had her two cups of caffeine that morning. She’s holding a book in her lap, but she isn’t reading it. A woman and her dog have stopped to say hello (well, the dog is saying hello and the woman is exasperated but tolerating the greeting for a minute). She takes off her glove to let the dog sniff her hand, and she gets a kiss and a vigorous tail wag for her thoughtfulness. She smiles, the woman leads the pup away, but she doesn’t put her glove back on. She leans her head back and lets the sun’s weak rays play on her face, mirroring how it flows into her living room. Her gloveless hand gets cold, and she puts it back on, but it doesn’t match her other hand now and it’s difficult to turn the pages. She warms it on her tea, looks around, and decides to go back into her apartment. Her place, her safe space, with her shining hardwood floors and her loveseat by the window.

A car beeps behind her, and she nudges forward, thinking of that loveseat. Would it be soft? Yes, absolutely, and she wants it to be a dove grey. Or a deep maroon. Two of her favorite colors. The bench in her park is also grey. Maybe she wants to recapture that feeling in her home, that feeling that alone does not mean lonely. She read somewhere – or maybe someone once lectured her on this – that if you tell the universe what you want, just ask for it, it will give it to you. Most people do not ask. She asks for that feeling, that wholeness. She asks, again, for the universe to bring and keep great people in her life. She wants more books, her new place will be filled with books, and she wants a record player where she will spin jazz and blues and indie rock bands that her friends have introduced her to. She drives to work and thinks hard about this dream, she pictures her bench in exquisite detail, and her sweater and scarves, and her wholeness while being alone, while the car gently hums the AC to banish the summer humidity.

Today, she says, will be a good day. A great one, just like her friend’s, if not better.

Image is not mine.

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