I take a small sip of my hot chocolate before placing the cup on my nightstand. I turn my head, glancing back at my TV on the other side of my room.
"Breaking news this morning. The world death toll reaches record-breaking numbers. But there is hope on the horizon. There seems to be more improvement among the recovery numbers as well…"
"Alexa, turn off the TV." I command in a drab tone, huffing as my echo follows orders and the TV goes blank.
That's what they said yesterday. The day before that, and the day before that. It's been the same monotonous news coverage for the past six months. Yet things seemed to be getting worse before they got any better. 183 days. That's how long we've been stuck self-isolating since the outbreak. Some days are better than others. Some days I don't even want to get out of bed. As much as I hated it, this was the new normal. But one thing kept me going. Social media. Specifically, localschat.com. A chat room where I met him. M_Jay. Well that was his username anyway. Mine was Bgirl21. We had been online buddies for three months now. But only through chatting. Even though we lived in the same state, we both agreed to keep things anonymous. No video or phone calls. It was easier this way. So no one ever got too attached. The world was ending, and there was no point. I was shy, and I wasn't the most attractive girl around, so it was better if I saved him the trouble. I laid back in bed and clicked on my message notification at the bottom of my screen. A smile crept upon my lips.
M_Jay: Good afternoon beautiful. :) Bgirl21: Beautiful? That's a reach for a girl you've never seen. LOL. Good morning. M_Jay: I don't need to see you, to know you're beautiful.
Warmth flushed my cheeks. He always knew how to say the right things.
Bgirl21: You're sweet. I appreciate the compliment. M_Jay: You're welcome. So… what are you up to today? Bgirl21: Same as yesterday. Reading, shower, news, food. You? M_Jay: The usual. But today hasn't been the best. I got some bad news about my dad. Bgirl21: OMG! What happened? M_Jay: He's been having symptoms of the virus. He got tested two days ago and we should be getting the results back today. I'm worried.
A weight settled on my chest. If his dad was infected, then that meant he could be too.
Bgirl21: I'm so sorry. I hope he's okay...
Tears formed at my eyelids.
Bgirl21: …I hope you're okay too. M_Jay: Thanx. I've had a headache since yesterday. But it could just be my allergies. And my anxiety lol. Bgirl21: I hope so. :) M_Jay: Me too. :)
I smiled, holding back the sadness I felt for him. In the 9 weeks since we became friends, we chatted every day. For hours sometimes. We talked about music, politics, and all the things we couldn't wait to do when we were finally free again. We even shared personal things, that even our closest friends didn't know. We confided in each other when it seemed like there was no one else to talk to. I felt like I knew him. Which made the idea of losing him to this virus even more depressing. We were strangers, a world apart. Separated by more than just a screen.
Bgirl21: Hey… I'm really glad we met. M_Jay: Same. Maybe when the world is no longer on fire, we can talk. For real… Or even meet. In-person?
Anxiety swirled in the pit of my stomach. Even if I had a smidge of hope left for getting out of here, I was terrified of the idea of actually meeting him in person. Most girls my age had a kid by now, and I had never even talked to a boy for more than five minutes.
My room door opened, my mother stood with her arms crossed. "Girl, if you don't get off that phone and go do the laundry. Now." She demanded.
"Alright, I'm going." I let out a frustrated sigh.
I got out of bed, slipping on my house shoes and brushing past my mother to do as I was told. I grabbed our laundry basket and headed out to the laundry room on the first floor of our building. When I got inside, there were two other people already using machines. We had to maintain a social distance of seven feet, so I took the machine on the far left, at the end. I turned on my music playlist, put my headphones in and began to load the clothes into the washer. Midway through, I paused. Burying my face into my palm, I suddenly remembered that we were out of laundry pods. I forgot to order some last week. Now my mother was going to kill me.
"Shit. Fantastic." I mumbled under my breath. Or at least I thought I did. My shoulders slumped as I pulled the clothes from the washer to take back upstairs. Something bumped against my right foot. I looked down, and there was a detergent pod. My forehead creased, I looked over at one of the tenants who was finishing up his dry laundry. A boy from my school. I didn't know his name. But his unit was across from mine. But I was a social outcast, so I didn't know anyone's name really.
"Thanks." I said, even though I'm sure he didn't hear me. He also had on headphones, giving me a nod and a slight smile as he left the laundry room. I picked up the pod, letting out a sigh of relief as I put the clothes back inside the washer.
Once I got back to my apartment, I plopped back down on my bed and opened up the locals chat app.
Bgirl21: Hey you. :) M_Jay: Hey you too. :) I got good news! My dad's results came back negative.
I held my hand against my chest, a feeling of relief washed over me.
Bgirl21: Thank God! I'm so glad he's okay! …and that you're okay too.
I scratched the back of my neck as I contemplated telling him how I really felt. Truth is, I was falling for him. A boy that I had never seen, or even heard his voice. A part of me wanted to say forget it. But since we'd probably never meet anyway, did it really matter?
Bgirl21: I was so nervous that you were sick too. I don't know what I would do if I couldn't talk to you anymore… …I really like you.
My jaw clenched as I watched those three dots, waiting for his response.
M_Jay: I really like you too.
I grinned, resting my fist on my chin. He likes me.
M_Jay: I know we agreed that we'd keep things anonymous. But I'd love to hear your voice. Even if it's just one time.
My heart lurched, I hesitated.
Bgirl21: I'd love that… but… I don't know… M_Jay: It's alright. We have all the time in the world. Literally. LOL
I chuckled faintly.
Bgirl21: LOL. Yeah I guess we do. M_Jay: I've gotta help my mom with dinner. Chat later? Bgirl21: Yeah. TTYL. :) M_Jay: TTYL :) Oh… here's my number, if you change your mind. 555-8566
I sent a thumbs-up emoji and sat my phone down next to me. I picked it up again, opening the chat thread and staring at his phone number. I wanted to talk to him. I really did. But taking this step would be a point of no turning back. I wasn't sure if I was ready for that yet. The mystery of him kept things good between us. We could like each other without ever facing the reality of it.
The next morning, I awoke to my mother shaking me out of my sleep.
"Brandy! Wake up! You won't believe it!"
I rubbed my eyes, sitting up. "What? What's going on?"
"Stay at home orders have been lifted!"
My eyes grew wide. "Are you serious!?"
"Yes! Put something on! Let's go for a walk! Or to the park!" She jumped up, heading out of my room and out the front door to enjoy our newfound freedom. I grabbed my phone to text M_Jay But I saw that he already beat me to it.
M_Jay: Did you hear the news! We're free! Bgirl21: Yes! My mom just told me!
I pulled my covers away and got dressed. I even brushed my hair. I headed out, meeting my mother outside. Nearly all the apartment tenants were already out. Socializing and soaking up the morning sun while maintaining their seven feet distance. I pulled out my phone. He had replied to my message.
M_Jay: I guess the world isn't burning after all. :)
I smiled. The warmth of the rays pressed against my skin as I picked up one of the dandelions from the grass and blew the dried seeds away into the breeze. I felt like we were all getting a second chance at life. This was my chance to stop being afraid and call him. Here goes nothing. I took a seat on our yard bench and dialed his number. As it rang, my hands became clammy. Finally, he answered.
"Hey you." He said.
The corners of my mouth lifted. "Hey you too." I replied.
His voice. It was smooth and low-pitched. My brows slightly snapped together. It was also, vaguely familiar… and close. I turned to my left, and there at the opposite end of the bench, sat my neighbor. The boy from the laundry room. Who was staring back at me. With his phone pressed against his ear, he smiled. chardypublications.com