“I’m an introvert. I don’t like being the center of the attention. Wallflowers for life.”
“You make a very pretty wallflower. But wallflowers don’t mope. You look like you don’t really want to be here.”
Fuck, is it that obvious? A wave of shame and despair washes over me. I had gone through so much trouble to act like my cheerful self. My thoughts shift to my friends and the hostess of the party. Have they noticed? I hope they don’t think I’m unappreciative of their company. Sometimes I truly act like a moody teen, so irreparably self-absorbed as to not think how my behavior might be interpreted by those who care about me.
“We could go somewhere else if you like,” the guy suggests innocently.
I take a deep breath. For some reason my mind just goes blank and I hear my heartbeat pump ideas into my head. What’s the point in pretending to be alright if no one’s buying it? Everyone’s better off if I’m not there to pull them down with my misery.
Perhaps all I need is a good distraction.
“Sure, why not.”
The words come out of my mouth like automated. I’m not sure I even mean them.
“Seriously?” he laughs. “Shit, I really didn’t think that would work.”
“Seriously. Let’s get out of here.”
Is it even me talking? I’ve gone on autopilot. The ship is sailing in a storm without its captain.
“You don’t even know my name!” he exclaims in disbelief.
“What is it then?” I ask with disinterest.
“And I’m Fiona. How do you do? Let’s go.”
– – –
He follows me down to the taxi stand in silence. Maybe he is having second thoughts, perhaps he assumes this is some kind of a trap. I almost expect him to backpaddle. But no, he saunters behind me with his hands in his pockets.
“So, where to?” the taxi driver asks.
“Uhm,” Matt looks at me uncertainly. I simply nod in response.
“Manila Drive,” he tells the driver.
I quickly send Maria a text, telling her that I’m heading home. I don’t want her to worry. I don’t want her to tell me what I’m doing is incredibly foolish, possibly dangerous. Somehow, I just don’t care whether what I’m doing is a good idea. But for some silly reason, I want my friends to think I’m safe.
Manila Drive turns out to be in the industrial area of the city. Not the best neighborhood, not the worst. The cab parks in front of the number 67. It was exactly the kind of crap building you as a millennial might live in, grey and functional. Assuming, of course, that you can even afford to live on your own.
“Any roommates I should know about?” I ask while he is unlocking the door into the building.
It’s weirdly quiet on the street. Snowflakes were soundlessly falling off the sky, creating a thin white film on the asphalt. As the taxi drives off, its tires leave black stripes on the its white canvas. Otherwise Manila Drive is hauntingly deserted, which I thought was eerily unusual for a Saturday night. Maybe the lack of shops and restaurants is the cause. Everybody has a better place to be. Everybody but us.
“Nope,” Matt replies to my question. “I live alone.”
“Well, except for my cat.”
Do murderers keep cats? I’m sure if a murderer kept a pet, it would be a cat.
His flat is a simple loft studio with iron beams, concrete walls and ceilings. It doesn’t look as cold as it feels. Matt had chosen some colorful yet tasteful furniture, presumably from Ikea. Striped carpets decorate the bleak floor and the stylish rectangular sofa had oriental-inspired pillows on it. He may not have been the most inventive of home decorators but still he displays basic knowledge on how to live comfortably.