Look for A Different Kind of Beauty, coming soon from Fiction Lake.
When I reach the top of the stairs, a dog down the hall starts to bark. I call his name as I knock on the door. “Jesse?” I try to be quiet, because I know that Mrs. Kelly, in the apartment next to his, likes to sleep late. Even in the midst of my concern, I wonder why I bother; the yapping of the mutt reverberating through her walls has surely already roused her. I knock again, but he doesn’t answer.
My first thought is that he’s ignoring me, like he has done so many times before.
My second thought is that he is dead; he died in the night and I wasn’t here. I can already see him in my mind, pale and still on the floor, dark blood dried around his mouth like sick red lipstick.
I rearrange the grocery bags in my arms, and dig in my purse with one hand for the key he gave me. I push aside lip balm, spare change, a stick of gum, but I can’t find it. I hug the groceries tight, feeling the cold press of a milk carton against my chest.
“Jesse!” My voice is like a cry as I knock harder, faster.
I hear his clumsy steps, coming closer, moving very slowly, and knowing he is there sends relief coursing through me, so potent that my hands begin to shake. I drag in a deep breath and sigh heavily. I work to slow my racing heart as I wait, and when he finally opens the door, I am struck by his shattered beauty the way that I have been countless times before.