Lily had worried that, overnight, Harte would come up with some excuse to keep her involved. But he drove her back down to Connecticut as promised, without objection or attempts to persuade her.
As on the ride up, they didn’t talk much. Lily had plenty of time to castigate herself for abandoning Matthew. But, she told herself, there was no way that she should be the one going after him; it was insane to have tried. She wondered much of her decision to take the Visulex, and for that matter how much of her loyalty to Harte, was just displaced anxiety over her avoidance of her responsibilities to her own parents. Her mother heaped guilt on her, so Lily responded by avoiding the negative stimulus, while simultaneously trying to prove herself more than responsible in other situations. It was so obvious.
And on top of that, Matthew, all troubled and artistic and vulnerable, had been a perfect storm after her failed relationship with Ian. Of course those long sessions sharing his innermost thoughts and fears led to a sense of intimacy.
She felt herself blushing, thinking about his portrait of her. When she discovered the page missing from Matthew’s sketchbook, she suspected that something on that page must have involved the closeness that was developing between them, the things that Matt clearly wanted to say to her but would not. He had respected her desire for a professional distance, and Lily appreciated that, but she also realized that what she told Matthew -- that she needed the page for his treatment -- was a pretense. Some part of her wanted him to speak out loud and cross that line. But Lily had in no way been prepared for the portrait, the sheer emotion it conveyed.
It wouldn’t have been good for Matthew, she told herself sharply. It wasn’t right, she was practically his doctor. Well, sort of. There were rules against that sort of thing. Best thing she could have done for him was to get out of the situation, get out of the way. It wouldn’t have lasted once he was out of the hospital, anyway.
Get a hold of yourself, girl. No more starving artists for you. Your whole life is ahead of you, your real life. Time to get on with it.
* * *
It was around eleven a.m. when she finally got home. Lily turned her key in the lock, and then stopped before turning the knob. There was a noise from inside her apartment.
Breathing softly, she listened. Petty thefts, even the occasional burglary, were nothing out of the ordinary near campus, and her place was only a couple of blocks away. Harkness also had a perennial problem with sexual assaults on women, which, like many universities, it tried to deemphasize. Lily had avoided roommates – she could afford an apartment to herself, and she rarely got along well with other people in her space – but living alone had its risks.
She slid her phone out of her pocket, checked the time, and waited for five minutes; there was only silence. If someone inside had heard her unlock the door, the intruder was probably doing exactly the same thing that she was, waiting and listening. But had she really heard something, or was it just in her head? It could easily have been an after-effect of the Visulex, a minor auditory hallucination. Besides, they were on the third floor. Someone breaking in would have had to use the front door or the fire escape; the front door looked fine, and in the morning the fire escape was plainly visible from the street.
Her instincts still bothered her, though. She knocked on the door across the hall; Fran did Internet marketing from his living room, and was usually around during the day.
“Fran? It’s Lily from 3-E.”
“Hold on, be right there,” a voice responded inside.
Fran opened his door. Lily couldn’t remember ever seeing her neighbor when he wasn’t wearing a terrycloth robe over a t-shirt and sweatpants, or when he was wearing anything on his feet. Today was no exception.
“Hey, Lily,” he said. “What’s up?”
“I feel ridiculous for asking you this, but would you mind coming into my apartment with me? I thought I heard a noise inside.”
He blinked. “Uh, yeah. Sure. Should I get my bat or something?”
She nearly said yes, but then had visions of Fran flailing away at her plants. “That’s okay. I think you’ll be enough to scare them away as you are.”
“Whatever you say.”
Lily removed her key from the lock, and opened the door slowly. Fran loomed over her shoulder, peering into the apartment. She flipped the light switch; it took a moment for them to flicker on.
The apartment was only three rooms, bedroom, bath and a living area with the kitchen separated by a counter. It took Lily all of two heart-thumping minutes to be certain that no one was there, even checking the closets and under the bed. The window in the living room that led to the fire escape was shut and latched, and nothing had been disturbed.
Fran was standing in the middle of her sparely furnished living room and craning his head, looking around in that way people do when they’re in a new place and aren’t sure where they’re allowed to go.
Feeling like an idiot, she said to him, “I’m sorry about this. I must have been imagined it.”
“Oh, uh, no problem.” He smiled awkwardly, his head bobbing. “Glad to help, right? I guess I’ll just, um, go back across...”
“Do you want a cup of tea or something?” Lily interjected, realizing that she didn’t want to be alone in the apartment.
Fran’s expression froze in panic. “Ah, thanks, but, I, um, should really be checking on my...yeah.” He practically ran out of the room.
Lily closed the door behind him, and made tea for herself instead. She had that effect on some guys. Irritated, she wondered what he thought she was going to offer him besides a cup of Bewley’s finest.
She settled down in the overstuffed chair she bought in place of a couch, and sipped. Lily knew she was attractive, but sometimes it seemed like her appearance scared off everyone except rich guys who thought that money made them interesting or would-be male models who were too stupid to realize how shallow they were.
The few normal guys whom she had managed to date didn’t last long, either. It wasn’t Lily’s fault that her IQ was off the far end of the bell curve. She didn’t think less of them because of it. Remembering the story of what happened when Gertrude Stein met Charlie Chaplin, she went out of her way to make mistakes so that they’d feel at ease. But when Ian, her last serious boyfriend, had dumped her, he had accused her of never letting him do anything and making him feel useless.
Something flitted across the floor, breaking Lily’s concentration; the shadow of a bird outside, probably.
Enough daydreaming. A run, a shower, and a change of clothes, she thought, and then we figure out how to transfer to another program.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 10.3]