Everyday at about 5:40 I get the same text message.
‘I’m home, love.’
It’s sweet. It’s not meant for me, though. I’m single. I live alone. It’s got to be a wrong number. I tried to text back the first few times, ‘You sent that to the wrong person.’
I felt bad for whoever was sending the texts. I felt bad for whoever wasn’t getting them.
I imagined they laughed it off at first. Must be a signal problem or the phones going haywire.
Then I imagined the sender and the love would fight about it.
“I sent a text.”
“Well, I never got it.”
“Again? This many times?”
I worried for them.
It was still sweet for about a week. But the texts kept coming. I stopped trying to reply to let them know about the mistake. Half my replies failed to go, anyway. It was mildly annoying, but I resolved to simply ignore it.
“Hey, your phone’s going off.”
I look down and see the time on the face of my phone and the little green light by the phone’s camera blinking to let me know I have a new message. “It’s not for me.”
My coworker looks surprised and laughs. She thinks I’m joking. “How do you know it’s not for you? You haven’t even looked at it.”
“It’s really close to five forty. I get the same text every day about this time. It’s a wrong number.” I shrug.
My coworker purses her lips like she doesn’t believe me. “Are you avoiding your sister again?”
I roll my eyes and nod my head toward my phone. “No, for your information, I’m not. Go ahead and look. It says, ‘I’m home, love,’ just like it always does.” She picks up my phone.
“Huh, you’re right,” she says. She starts scrolling back through the texts. “Jeez, there’s so many! You get these every day?”
I shrug again and take my phone back. “It’s not hurting me. I tried to tell them, but they keep sending the same message.”
My coworker starts to look worried. “That’s the only thing they send? How long–?” I don’t want to talk about it suddenly. I tell her I just remembered an errand I have to run and I have to leave early. There are ninety one texts. I decide to go home.
I usually hang around work for a while or go to the gym or out with friends after five o’clock. I’ve hardly ever gone straight home before.
It’s not like I don’t want to go home. At the end of the day, I’m tired, like anyone else, but I’ve been cooped up all day. I have my new, cozy apartment all to myself where I could go relax, but I always want to be out in the world for a little bit. I want to feel like I’m part of the world, even if it’s just going grocery shopping or chatting more with my coworkers off hours.
I want to feel like other people know I’m real and alive.
It always smells really good when I get to my building. Whatever the neighbors are cooking, it always smells amazing. I guess the vents are all connected, because it even smells like the cooking is going on right in my own kitchen. I’m okay with that, though. It makes it feel more homey, like I have someone to beat me home and start dinner that we’ll eat together.
My neighbors apparently like all the same things I do. Today it smells like meatloaf, spinach casserole and fresh dinner rolls. Sometimes I think I should try to make friends with them just so they’ll invite me over to eat. I make a mental note to head back out later for dinner.
As I climb the steps to my door my phone chimes in my pocket. I pull it out to look at it.
Six fifteen. New text. ‘Will you be home soon, love?’
The next step is higher than I remember it being this morning and I trip. My phone clatters down the stairs as I drop it to catch myself.
My knee stings and my palm is bleeding, but otherwise I’m okay. I get up and go back down to get my phone. I’m trying to look at my palm to see if I should put a bandaid on it, but it’s starting to get dark out and the porch lights haven’t come on yet.
And then it’s very bright. I look up automatically looking for the source. The lights in my living room are shining through the blinds. Someone is in my apartment.
Oh, but my sister has a key in case of emergency. Maybe she dropped in to surprise me. She usually calls first, but sometimes she forgets. She hasn’t seen my new apartment yet, anyway. I think I should call her just in case.
I look at my phone screen to find my favorite contacts. The screen is cracked and still shows that text. I want to delete it. I hit the home icon.
I hit it again. My screen stays the same. I press the buttons on the sides of the phone trying to get a response, any response.
The green light is still blinking like I have a new message. I can’t even respond to let that person know I’m getting more of their text messages. Not that it’s made a difference to tell them in the last three months.
I try to power off my phone. It stays the same.
“Great,” I mutter to myself.
I wonder if I shouldn’t go knock on the downstairs neighbors door instead of going straight into my apartment when I don’t even know for sure it’s my sister in there. I’ve seen them a couple of times in passing. They seem nice. If I ever bothered to memorize anyone’s phone numbers I could borrow their phone.
The light in the window seems to dim for a second like someone is moving around in my apartment.
I could be imagining it.
I could call the police. I’m not expecting company. It could be an intruder.
Which would be a lot of fuss for nothing if it’s just my sister.
I don’t know my neighbors that much more than I would know an intruder, and my hand is bleeding, and I’m kind of freaked out by the text message even though there’s no logical reason to be–
Marching up the stairs the rest of the way, I’m taking deep breaths and thinking about what’s by the door that I can use as a weapon if I need to.
I get to the top, pull out my key.
One more deep breath in.
I hear a door open and for a moment my heart stops, because I think it’s mine.
“Hey,” someone says behind me. The door that faces mine shuts as I leap about a mile in the air, spinning on my toes. My phone nearly tumbles down the stairs again. I’m pretty sure hummingbird hearts don’t hammer as fast as mine is.
I haven’t met the neighbor from across before. He’s stepping out and locking his door as I stammer, “H– hey.”
I’m holding on to my phone for dear life. I’m pretty sure I’ve bled on it now. He looks me up and down for a moment and I feel ridiculous.
“Aren’t you going in?” he asks. He looks from me to my door.
I look back at my door and then at my window where the light is still on. “Yeah, it’s just– I wasn’t expecting company.” I must look nuts. He frowns.
“What about the girl? What’s her name?”
I frown. “What girl?”
My phone chimes.
His brow furrows. “I’ve helped her take in groceries a couple of times. She’s usually coming back same time I do a little before six– about five forty-ish.”
My phone chimes again. I don’t want to look at it.
“But I live alone,” I say.
The light in my living room starts to flicker on and off. My phone starts chiming quickly over and over again, and we can hear furniture suddenly moving quickly inside my apartment. My neighbor’s eyes get big and I can see sweat start to shimmer on his face.
My door creaks open behind me.
The neighbor yells and bolts past me down the stairs.
There’s only my shadow in front of me cast long by my living room light, now steady, but someone from my doorway says, “Welcome home, love. I made your favorite.”