I picked Nat up for our hair appointments early. I wanted to give her time to fuss and complain in front of Bill so he’d believe that this trip really was my idea (not entirely a lie) and that Nat had little interest in going (definitely a lie). I know she’ll explain the whole situation to him after the important moment, so in case you’re thinking that it is not very responsible of me to encourage my best friend to lie to the man she wants to marry, just remember: This one doesn’t count. This is completely in the category of white lies, like the one he told her about next weekend, when I am coming over to help them clean out all their closets. Because that is what every young, goofily-in-love couple wants to spend their Saturday afternoons doing. Not barbecuing...or house hunting.
I pulled into their apartment complex and parked in a numbered spot, as usual, since I do not share Nat's paranoia about the parking lot tow truck. Nat and Bill live on the third floor of the building, and because the back door leads right to the stairs, they never take the elevator. Nat once slid a tailgating tent down the stairs rather than drag it down the hallway to the elevator. She distrusts the elevator--apparently it sounds as though it's being lifted by rubber bands that have reached their point of maximum stretch.
The building is quite pretty from the front, with green grass and a nicely landscaped walkway, but its really only on walking trips back from the grocery store that they ever see this nice space. The back of the building features a beat-up dumpster and a spectacular view of the next-door law office's dumpster and crumbling parking lot. To be honest, the stairways and hallways inside aren't much to look at either. Although the decorative crown molding shows that the building was constructed with care, it is really showing its age. The hallway carpeting, once a regal red, has a two-foot-wide black smudge running down the center, where years of tenants have trudged through with muddy shoes and dragged their leaky trash bags down the hall to the chute. Each door on the floor has elegant silver apartment numbers, but the doors themselves need repainting. The building would look drastically different with just a small makeover.
Nat and Bill's apartment is at the end of the hallway, across from the home of another couple who none of us have seen more than once. We're not sure if this is because they spend all their time indoors, or because they are actually never home. As I walked around the corner to their place, I noticed that the eviction notice and police calling cards are gone from apartment 306. Things like this spark my inner snoop: I really want to know whether that means the tenants have returned, or if new people are living there and the landlord gave up hope of ever getting his rent money from the first set. When I finally got around to knocking on their door, I could hear the two of them laughing inside. I've never heard of any couple that really, truly enjoys each others' company every moment that they spend together.
"Hey Lis!" Nat was still grinning as she tried to wiggle away from Bill and look like a dignified adult, rather than the love-sick teenager she felt like. "Come on in, I'll be ready in a minute."
I walked in and made small talk with Bill while Nat changed out of her work clothes and put in her contacts--I had to remind her that she can't get her hair cut with her glasses on. Bill offered me a drink for the car ride and asked me what book I was currently reading. One of my favorite things about Bill is that he was just as voracious a reader as Nat and I. We're the kind of people that don't join book clubs because we haven't met one that doesn't spend more time talking about life in general than the books. He had just discovered a copy of a short pamphlet called Wear and Tear: Or, Hints for the Overworked, which waswritten in the 1870s by S. Weir Mitchell, the man famous for enforcing the "rest cure," which could do as much psychological harm as physical good.
"I love things like this, artifacts from a different time. It's like reading about another culture entirely. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm reading about Philadelphia, and that the people he's talking to are like us. He talks about ways to improve your health through odd behaviors, like dressing better, but also what to eat and what not to eat, and personal hygiene tips. Wild."
Nat walked out as he was talking, and began nodding excitedly. "It's so interesting. I mean, not a page-turner, of course, but I love having a glimpse at the way people used to live. I'm so nosy. Speaking of hygiene, I'm about to reenter the world of women who get their hair professionally styled. Next thing you know, I'll actually be doing my makeup every day for work."
"Psh, you don't need makeup!" Bill chimed in.
Nat rolled her eyes, smiling though, and said, "Aw, thanks babe. You don't need any either! Welp, we're on our way out. Get a good look at me now, cause the next time ya see me, I'll be a brand new woman!"
And we were off!