There is something about unlocking the door to your first apartment that is both satisfying and overwhelmingly scary. The keys rattling in your hand as you fumble for the right one while simultaneously trying not to drop the cello that is balancing against your side.
Most people find it difficult to leave the comfort of the town they grew up in. I'd be the first to admit that in this case, I was “most people”. The thought of a dramatic change in my routine friendly life terrified me. But the moment I got on that plane to Boston, that was it. There would be no turning back. The change was necessary for personal growth, but that really didn't make it any easier. At least I wouldn’t be alone. I’d be sharing an apartment with my brother Khal. That made the idea of moving across the country just a little bit less intimidating and decreased the chances of me completely losing my shit, locking the front door and never the leaving the apartment for anything but work and food.
Displacement, the disorientated feeling of uncertainty and lack of belonging after relocating to a new place. The sense of loss and nostalgia for a place that had once been called home.
I would not let anxiety overcome me. I wouldn't embody a hermit.
Khal had been living in Boston for the last ten years with our Dad. Honestly, I was not looking forward to the inevitable social calls with the man who left my mother for a younger version of her. But, unfortunately, came with the territory. Such is life. I would just have to grind my teeth through the family lunches during Easter and Christmas.
Finally, I managed to find the correct key and fit it into the keyhole without dropping anything. I hesitated as it turned and stood in the hallway for a good few seconds staring at the glossy red front door before letting it swing open. The curtains were still drawn, Khal must have overslept and left in a hurry this morning. I hauled my luggage through the door. With the help of Daddy Dearest, we were lucky enough to secure a three bedroom apartment in walking distance from the University where I'd be completing my Masters in Music Composition and tutoring.
It was more a loft than an apartment. The first floor was really just a big room divided into a kitchen and lounge by nothing more than a high breakfast table and bar-stools. To the far right was a staircase that led to the two main bedrooms and next to the staircase was another door that led to a fairly sized bedroom that we haven’t decided what to do with just yet. I was thinking something along the lines of a creative studio that both Khal and I could use for our respective projects.
I smiled to myself as I took in the place. At least Khal decorated. The place was filled with quirky paintings and sculptures, no doubt some of them his own creations, and I suddenly felt a deep appreciation that my brother was an Art Curator.
I wanted to unpack before Khal got home so we’d get a chance to chill and catch up. I hadn't seen the idiot since Christmas. So I began the excruciating task of getting my luggage up the staircase and to my bedroom.
Khal had hung some of the photographs he’d taken of various musicians along the stairway. I noticed that I was featured a number of times, some photos I’d never seen and didn't remember Khal taking. I studied a landscape photo of a shaggy-haired musician in front of a microphone, caressing a burgundy guitar. Next to it was a picture of me as smiling at the camera, cello between my legs and the bow resting on my knee. I actually remembered Khal taking that one sometime last year when I performed with the Philharmonic Orchestra. It was the performance that secured me a chair in the Orchestra, the scholarship at the university and the reason I made this move. My chest swelled up and I blinked back the tears that were threatening to fall. It suddenly hit me that I was no longer in living under my mother's roof. I'd made it to Boston without having an emotional breakdown.
I was relieved to find that all my belongings had arrived safely. I;d sent the majority of my stuff with the movers a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't much though, some clothes to get me by until I felt the need to restock my closet, the entirety of my books collection and all of my instruments. I couldn't well leave my bass and my keyboard back in Seattle. This move was supposed to be a permanent one, that is if everything went well with my seat in the Orchestra and my studies. God, it had to go well. I didn't know whether I would have it in me to move again. Too much time and money had been invested into this. There was still the agreement between myself, Khal and our father. We'd be paying him for the rest of forever for covering the deposit on this place. And just fuck, it had to work out.
I'd just finished packing my closet and began unpacking books from boxes, sorting them into appropriate piles when the doorbell rang. I wasn't expecting anyone and Khal had his own key, so it definitely wasn't him. Unless he left his keys somewhere. Yeah, that seemed plausible enough, my brother was always a bit erratic. I reluctantly pried myself from the wooden floor and hurried down the stairs.
I picked up the receiver and mumbled an uncertain "Hello," and was met with silence. I shrugged, someone probably rang the wrong apartment number. I headed over to the fridge in search of something to drink, grabbed a carton of orange juice and downed the last bit. The doorbell rang again but I decided to ignore it assuming it must be the wrong apartment again.
But when it didn’t stop ringing I picked up the receiver reluctantly. This time my hello was more firm and assured. I was taken by surprise when whoever was on the other end actually replied with bassy yet clearly annoyed, "Ah, fuck."
"Well, fuck you too," I blurted out before I even realised what I was saying. It happens sometimes when you don't come with a built in filter. Before I could put the receiver down again the voice on the other end said, "Wait, I'll probably buzz you again in a minute anyway."
"Look," the voice snapped on the other end. "Either you're in my apartment or I have forgotten my own address. But I need to get in there, I have soundcheck in about a half-hour and I would like to take a shower before I leave."
What the actual fuck? "Khalil, is that you? Please don't tell me you've been day drinking?" It was the only possible explanation for him to forget that I was moving in today.
A throaty laugh boomed through the tiny speaker of the receiver. "Ah shit, you must be Allie." He paused before adding, "Khal mentioned something about you moving in this week. I'm Brody, I've been rooming with Khal for the past few months, isn't he home?"
Khal had a roommate and failed to let me know about this so-called roommate? My anxiety said that he was more likely a psychopath serial killer waiting for the perfect opportunity to strangle me in my newly acquired loft. Hells-to-the-no. I was not letting him. The buzzer was ringing again. I had ceremoniously slammed the receiver moments before. What if this dude never gave up and continued to ring my apartment for the next few hours? Was there a way for me to turn off the damn buzzer? What if he really was Khal's roommate? He did have a tendency to forget things, but having a tenant in our apartment was not something you forget to tell your sister. Maybe he thought I'd have issues with it. I mean I obviously would now for finding out this way. It's he could have at least warned me. I would have totally been chilled about it if he’d told me before I got here. At least then I'd have the time to mentally prepare to share my space with a stranger. I needed to call him. The is still ringing, so I pick up the receiver if only to stop the annoying sound.
"Allie," said the serial killer named Brody on the other end. "Khal was supposed to be home to let me in. I have him on the line, he wants to know you're not answering your phone."
I checked my pockets and realised I left my phone upstairs.
"I'm putting him on speaker." He sighed and then I heard a muffled yet familiar voice that surely belonged to my dear big brother. "Alina, let the poor man in or he's gonna be late."
I momentarily considered calling him a fucking asshole before sighing in defeat and pushing the button to open the gate.
It took Brody less than two minutes to get from the main gate to the front door of the third-floor apartment, but in those two minutes, I managed to run up to my box-filled bedroom, inspect myself in the full-length mirror to make sure I look like a presentable human. I was still wearing the same sweats I’d put on for the flight to Boston, but it would have to do. I had no idea who this Brody guy was but I sure as hell was going to try and make a good second impression if it wasn't too late. I mean did kind of swear at this stranger a couple of minutes ago. I didn't want him to think I had a giant stick up my ass. But under the circumstance, he couldn't really blame me. I am a firm believer that first new person you meet in a new town could potentially set the tone for any other prospective persons you meet. Good vibes are important. And besides, if this Brody guy was going to be rooming with us for an indefinite period of time then getting along would make this situation so much easier.
There was a light knock on the door, and I hesitated momentarily before opening it. When the door swung open it was the shaggy-haired, burgundy guitar caressing dude from the photo standing in my doorway looking flustered and annoyed. He handed me a phone and merely said, "Khal," before heading past me and bee-lining for the guest room. Well, there goes genius plan of turning that space into a creative studio.
"Thanks, ass-twat," I said to my brother on the other end of the line. "I just love coming home to my apartment to find strangers living in it."
"Our apartment," he corrected me. "And I must have mentioned it at some point."
"You did no such thing." I closed the front door and made sure it was locked properly. I didn't want any other surprise visitors today.
"I figured since we have an extra room we might as well lease it to him. Plus, it covers a good portion of the rent. So really, we score."
I couldn't argue with that logic, it made the burden on both of our pockets lighter. "Fine, he can stay. But next time you planning on bringing a stray home at least warn me. You’ll save me anxiety attack."
"You had an anxiety attack?" It's not Khal who asked, but rather Brody as he exited his room and paused in front of the bathroom door.
"No," I said quickly. "I... Well... I thought you were some kind of stalker or serial killer. You never know what kind of weirdos are lurking."
He eyed me quizzically, shook his head and mumbled something inaudible under his breath before the bathroom door shut abruptly and I heard the shower being turned on.
"Well at least he's all rainbows and sunshine," I grunted to Khal who is still on the line.
Khal burst out laughing. "Just wait until he warms up to you. Before you know it he'll randomly burst out into song and douse you in fairy-dust."
I smiled, glad that the sarcastic banter between us still came so naturally despite the fact that we've barely spent time together in the last few year.
"Listen," Khal began. "I'm running late at work and I am doing the sound for Brody's band tonight. I won't be home until the early hours of the morning. Unless you'd prefer to stay in you should probably get ready and come through with him."
I rolled my eyes, not at all surprised that he already had plans for the night. "I don't know the guy, I can't just jump in his car."
"I've already run it by him."
I haven't seen this idiot since Christmas and was hoping we'd be able to chill tonight. Weighing my options, I could either stay here, settle in properly and get an early night's rest or I could go out with my big brother, watch him do his thing, meet new people and check out the underground music scene. I'm not much of a social butterfly but I wasn't completely socially handicapped either. Khal would be there, I told myself. That's better than having to socialize on my own.
Compromise, the act of meeting someone halfway.
"Okay," I told him. "But only because the music sparks my curiosity."
"Are you sure Allie? Things get rough out there, it's not exactly the Opera House."
"Gee, thanks for the encouragement asshole."
"Allie, roughing it out with the locals. What would the classical snobs have to say about that?"
"I'm putting down the phone before I change my mind."
Khal was right, I didn't know whether I could handle it. I was completely out of my depth when it came to the alternative scene. Yeah, sure I'd been to a gig or two back home but that was always to watch a friend's band and then leave almost immediately after. What was I supposed to wear? A glance in the full-length mirror hanging on the wall of the newly acquired bedroom told me that my current attire wouldn't cut it. Leggings and a t-shirt that read "Straight Outta Azkaban" would stick out like a sore thumb in a club. The usual wouldn't do either. I didn't think I had a shitty sense of style but for the most part, my dress-code screamed orchestral-chic, if such a thing existed. So I found myself rummaging through the closet I had just packed until I found something that I could dress down in order not to look like I was headed to the symphony. A door shut somewhere downstairs. That probably left me with maximum ten minutes to get ready. I don't think I've ever dressed that quickly before. There was even a moment for me to put on some mascara and lipstick. Inspecting myself in the mirror I decided that the braid didn't work so I undid it and shook out my hair so it fell in waves down my back. Not too bad considering, I thought taking one last look in the mirror before heading downstairs to jump in a complete stranger's car.
Brody wasn't one to say much, and neither was I, but that didn't make the silent drive to Cambridge any less awkward. So I took to staring out of the window, trying to take in this city that I would now become accustomed to calling home. It was weird thinking of Boston as home. The last time I'd been in the city was I was fourteen, that was ten years ago. It was also the last summer I spent with my dad and Khal before I convinced my mom that I needed to stay in Seattle in order to be closer to my music teacher so I could optimise my practice time. Since then, my relationship with my father had dwindled to short phone calls on birthdays, Christmas and the occasional like or comment on Facebook mostly on my dad's part. Khal usually flew to Seattle every chance he could but it soon became clear that Boston was his home. Even though we technically grew up here, I didn't have much attachment to the place. When my parents finalised their divorce and my mom whisked us away across the country I couldn't be happier to get far away from my father who had ruined our perfect family. Despite the fact that my mom would never speak ill of my father, even as an eight-year-old I had known that he was the one who fucked up tremendously. Khal however, had always had a greater attached to our father. I think my mom knew that somehow Khal would find his way back here, so when he received a scholarship at some private school she'd agreed to let him live with my father with the condition that he spent every vacation with us.
We pulled up and parked in front of a dodgy looking building just as dusk fell. As Brody began to haul his guitar and amp from the back of his truck I asked whether there was anything I could help him carry. He simply motioned with his head at the backpack on the back seat of his twin cab. I picked up the bag, deducing that it was probably his effect pedals, and slung the straps over my shoulders before following him up the stairs and into a smoky room where the rest of the band had already set up for sound check.
The blue-haired vocalist rolled her eyes at the sight of Brody, "And His Majesty finally decided to grace us with his presence."
Brody merely glared at her and grumbled something under his breath that sounded a lot like "Piss off."
It was useless trying to hide my smirk at her jesting as I carefully laid his backpack on the stage next to his guitar. I was about to turn away and to go and look for Khal when the blue-hair girl jumped off the stage and went in for an energetic hug.
"You must be the infamous Alina that Khal hasn't been able to shut up about since you told him you were moving in," she laughed heartily as she stepped back from the embrace and looked me over. "You two could be fucking twins," she remarked. "Same face, same black hair. But those stormy eyes..." That was the one thing I inherited from my father, the blue-grey eyes.
"Ella," she said holding out her hand. "His Majesty's vocalist and babysitter. These idiots need someone to keep them in line." She beamed at the three guys on stage, like a proud mama bear.
"Allie." I shook the hand she's offered me.
Bulky arms wrapped roughly around my shoulders from behind and Khal boomed "Allie-Cat," as he tried to jump on to my back. Thankfully I was used to his boisterous greetings and I didn't topple right over under his bulky weight. My brother, in his twenty-six years never stopped acting like an annoying little kid. "You're alive! I told you the Captain wouldn't kill you!" He gave me little peck on the cheek and ruffled my hair.
"Who? Brody?" Ella glanced at him wearily. "He wouldn't hurt a fly unless it was absolutely necessary." I watched her jump back on stage and flick Brody on the ear. He scowled at her and started playing, forcing the rest of the band right into soundcheck.
Khal gave me a playful nudge. "That's my cue to go and do my job. You'll be okay right?"
I rolled my eyes. "I'll live Cow-Bell." The use of my pet name for him was met with a look that said he didn't miss the endearment.
He headed to the sound desk leaving me to tug on the hem of my of my burgundy lace dress that hung mid-thigh. I'd paired it with a black stockings, Doc Martins and Deathly Hallows choker. I stood in the middle of the dance floor, fumbling in my bag for a cigarette and feeling completely self-conscious. I had no idea what to do with myself while Khal did his thing. I took a deep breath trying to ease my anxiety. You've got this, I told myself and repeated those words until it became a mantra and the knots in my stomach began to settle. While I usually enjoyed social activities I was an introvert at heart. I just needed to find my place in this new environment before I could be at ease. Despite the fact that the club was technically not open yet, there was quite a crowd inside, most of them hanging out at the bar. A part of me was paranoid that they could somehow sense that I was an outsider, a classical music geek trying to pass off as this edgy alternative tough chick.
And then all those worries and paranoia disappeared as the band begin to play. I edged closer to the stage, captivated by the hypnotic droning of the guitar, the pulsating bassline that synced perfectly with the kick drum. It had its own kind of beauty, so perfectly raw, the notes bleeding and merging as the sound waves converged to form a melody. It was both overwhelming and yet not too much. An intricately composed piece, layered and filled with complexities. A nurtured art, not all that different to playing in an orchestra. I found myself composing accompanying melodies as I bobbed my head to the sultry sounds of His Majesty. I'd never thought of the cello as an instrument that could be played across varying genres and yet I could hear cello accompanying and complementing this post-rock band. I was nodding along to the melody as it slipped into a 5/4 signature and then returned to ¾ when my eyes fell to Brody as he neared the microphone. Crisp vocals filled the room, cutting through the distorted guitars and complementing Ella's smooth operatic vocals. I was so absorbed by the way these two completely different vocal styles worked together that I didn't notice that Khal had stepped away from the sound desk to stand next to me.
"I'd never thought I'd ever see you gawk like that at music that didn't feature a cello or something," he teased, nudging me playfully. "She's classically trained too," he added referring to Ella. "But likes roughing it out with us hooligans. Says she gets a kick out of the adrenaline rush of performing for a moshing crowd. But we know she's here partly because Brody won't let her leave."
When the song ended Brody gave Khal a nod, setting down his guitar before following Ella off stage.
"Not too bad," I smirked, trying to play down just how impressed I was.
"Easy now, don't get too excited." Khal rolled his eyes. He could see right my facade. I was practically glowing from the eargasm I'd just had and he knew I couldn't wait to see the rest of the set. I ignored his comment, humming instead to a Placebo song that started playing when the band was done was their check.
"You want anything from the bar?" I asked, barely hearing his response as I missioned to get something to wet my palette.
I was freezing my butt off as the band huddled in a circle in the alley next to the club. We'd just packed all the equipment into Chase's car and Brody's truck. Two joints were being passed around while the band discussed the set, pointing out the little mistakes and fumbles that nobody besides themselves would have ever noticed. The moshpit had gotten rather wild and they were examining the bruise on Khal's arm which he was wearing like a badge of honor. "It's a fucking moshpit Al, it happens," he sighed earlier when I told him that I didn't see the appeal of shoving each other aggressively, risking injury while watching a band.
When one of the joints made it my way I didn't hesitate to take a deep drag. It calmed my racing mind almost immediately. Khal, however, stopped mid-conversation with Ella and stared at me. I took another puff and his jaw dropped.
"Like you don't?" I threw back at him.
He narrowed his eyes as I took one more puff and passed it to Brody.
"What?" I asked when he wouldn't stop glaring at me. "It's not like mom locked me up in the basement and only let me out for cello practice"
"I just assumed..."
"Yeah, you assumed that all I ever do is play cello and read Austen novels in my down time? Don't be dick Khalil." Ella passed me the second joint, completely ignoring Khal.
"The protective big brother act," she sighed. "Brody used be the same way when I first started gigging."
"I didn't know guys you were related?" I eyed Brody; they didn't look like each other but it would explain sibling-like dynamic they had going. Their banter kind of reminded me of Khal and I, except Brody was the moody, unapproachable one while Ella's enthusiasm made up for the lack of his. It made me wonder whether that was what people saw when Khal and I were in the same room. Was Khal the bubbly one and me the glowering, scowling one in our little duo?
"We're not," Brody answered, addressing me for the first time since we left the apartment. "We've known each other most of our lives though, our parents were close." A look passed between the two of them.
I took a puff from the joint and then passed the roach to Brody. He took it from me but averted his eyes as though he was annoyed with the fact that he'd shared something about himself willing, even if it wasn't exactly groundbreaking information about his personal life. I took a moment to take in this hulk of man. In all his rigidness he was extremely attractive and that realisation made me feel a little uncomfortable looking at him. He was a head taller than my 5.8 ft and Khal's 6 ft. With those broad shoulders and messy dark hair that was pulled into a bun resting in his neck, no wonder there was always a gawking female in his general vicinity glancing furtively in his direction. Together with the tattoos that peeked out from under the neckline of his shirt and covered his forearms, I could totally understand the adoration practically seeping from the fans. But Brody seemed oblivious to the attention; either that or he just didn't care for it.
"C'mon Al," Khal poked my in the ribs. "Are you ready for the 2am playlist and the mandatory round of dirt cheap shots?" He wiggled his eyebrows and laughed as my face contorted in disgust.
"Its tradition," Ella chimed in. "Think of it as an initiation."
A breath hitched in my throat.
Initiation, the action of admitting someone into a secret or obscure society or group, typically with a ritual.
Just the thought of what these idiots might be planning made my stomach turn. What did I get myself into?
I woke up with a throbbing headache and the taste of bile on my tongue, wanting nothing more than to go back to sleep, but I knew that the only thing that could cure this hangover was either another drink or a strong cup of coffee.
Khal and Ella were not joking about the cheap alcohol. They went straight to the bar, lined up six shots and somehow convinced me that downing them all in one go was a good idea. I blame Khal for my moment of insanity. He'd implied that I was too stuck up to do anything spontaneous and even though I knew he was baiting me, I couldn't resist the need to prove him wrong. I hated it when someone told me I couldn't something. When Brody snorted behind Khal it only egged on my pride even more. I shouldered pass my brother and downed each and every one of those damn liquorice flavoured shots. At least they were yummy. Everything after that was hazy, as though someone had dropped an Instagram filter over my reality. It was a blur of sweaty bodies swaying and jumping to eighties and nineties alternative anthems. I am almost sure that at some point Brody was honestly worried for my safety and had to talk me out of dancing on one of the tables while Khal practically rolled on the ground unable to control his laughter.
I climbed out of bed, having to steady myself by putting a hand on the wall next to me. I wasn't usually one to drink much, last night was definitely an exception. I'd enjoyed myself enough that I was willing to deal with the aftermath that was this painstaking hangover. I mentally patted myself on the back for deciding against locking myself in my room last night. When I felt like I at least had some bearing on my current state I started to make my way to the door, only to realise that I was wearing nothing more than a bra and stockings. I had no idea how I'd even made it to my bed, so the mere fact that I hadn't fallen asleep fully clothed was a win. I pulled on the first oversized hoodie and gym shorts I could find in my closet and took the slow descent of forever down the stairs, the scent of coffee brewing in the kitchen my only motivation. His back was facing me as I entered the kitchen and grumbled to my brother, "Don't ever let me drink again, I feel like a muggle who tried really hard to get onto Platform 9/4."
It was not my brother who looked up at me over his shoulder, sleepy-eyed and a smirking. It was a shirtless Brody, his intricate tattoos on full display, who studied my face quizzically before it slipped and lingered for a moment on my bare legs. Eyebrows raised and tugging the hem of my Yoda hoodie, I returned his smirk and shuffled in his direction, settling against the counter, my hands in the hoodie's pockets.
Brody took the hint and turned his attention back to the coffee. "You made it down the stairs without breaking anything.
I groaned. "Was I that drunk?"
A deep rumble escaped him. It sounded like the God of Thunder himself had gifted Brody the ability to make that hearty sound. "I don't think 'drunk' conveys just how incapacitated you were last night."
"I'm sorry." I stared at my bare feet awkwardly before risking a glance in his direction.
He pushed a mug of coffee towards me, the corner of his mouth turning up in a amusement. "Drink up," he said before taking a sip from his own mug.
"Thanks." My fingers hugged the warm mug as I lifted it to my lips and caught Brody watching me carefully. His chest rumbled lightly when I finally met his gaze.
"How'd I get to my room last night?"
He scratched the back of his head. "You were carried from the car."
I narrowed my eyes. "By Khalil?"
"Khal and Ella abandoned us long before you decided you were ready to leave. I had to drag you out of that place."
My eyes widened at the realisation that Khal had basically abandoned me in a dingy bar with some guy I'd only known for a couple of hours. Nevermind that Khal and Brody were close or that Brody was now officially our roommate.
"You stayed with me?"
He shrugged. "You were enjoying yourself."
"We didn't... You know..." I blushed nervously, unable to say the words out loud but the way his posture straightened and left eyebrow arched, he knew exactly where my mind had strayed. He crossed his arms, his defenses going up.
"Seriously Allie," he scowled. "Do you honestly think I'm the type to take advantage of a drunk woman?" He took a step away from me and shook his head, clearly offended.
"Shit like that happens." I chewed my lip, it was a bad habit I'd picked up at a young age when my mom had told that biting my finger nails was highly unhygienic.
He sighed. "Never under my watch," he said firmly before turning and retreating to his room.
Well done Allie. Instead of thanking the man for having my back and looking after me, I implied that he was capable of taking advantage of a highly intoxicated woman. I always knew just how to turn and simple gesture of kindness into something awkward.