This is why you don't get an apartment on the fourth floor: someday, sometime, you will have to walk up all of those steps carrying 50-pound boxes of books and clothing.
Luckily, I wasn't the only one moving boxes. My entire family had decided to show up to help. Plus Leandra and Jeremiah and Phoebe. And each and every one of us had a lovely, salty wet swath of nasty sweatness down the middle of our backs. Whenever possible we would walk around with our arms up in the air, trying to dry out our underarms. It almost worked. Almost.
When the last piece of furniture was in place and the living room and bedroom were full of boxes and loaded laundry baskets and just plain random stuff, everyone else suddenly found something else to do. Leandra was having dinner with Jeremiah, Phoebe had a Skype date with William, and my sisters had "cool things" to do, whatever that means. Suddenly everyone was gone, and I was left alone in the apartment, reveling in the air conditioning and trying to slow my breathing.
It was so quiet. I lifted my damp hair off of my neck and turned slowly, taking in the damage. Not bad. This was do-able. I decided to take a shower before tackling any other projects.
With wet hair hanging in my eyes and making drip marks on my old t-shirt, I first made sure that the fridge was in order. Then I pulled all of my kitchen-y stuff onto the tile and set to work loading up the cabinets. But the first door I opened, the one furthest to the left, already had things in it. I put down the shoebox of spices I'd been about to organize inside and stared at the contents of the cabinet with my hands on my hips. Spices, all in cute tin boxes labeled by hand with what had probably been a Sharpie. I smiled, thinking that my sister must have done that. Reorganizing that stuff wasn't sounding so good, so I moved on to the next cabinet.
Glasses. They were plain, simple, and completely random. Pom juice glasses, plastic Disney cups, jelly jars... I was significantly confused at this point. If my sister had filled my cabinets, everything would have matched perfectly and been ridiculously cute and awesome. This was the work of someone else. On a whim, I opened every other cabinet in the row, and all I could do was laugh when I saw that every single space was already occupied with pasta, canned foods, and cereal etc. Sweet. Thank you, previous owner, for leaving me all of your crap.
It was too much to handle; I left everything on the kitchen tiles and went into my bedroom. There were boxes everywhere, and I hoisted them all up onto my bed. It was only after I did all that lifting that I caught site of the dressers in my peripherals and froze. Two dressers. I pushed my hair out of my face and faced the dressers. One was mine, I knew that. The other one was black, probably spray painted, with square black drawer pulls. I spun and looked around the room. The dresser had a little brother -- a bedside bureau -- and there was also a desk in the corner. I was slack jawed, of course. Why hadn't anyone bothered to mention everything that was still there? They just dropped it in and walked away? Come on!
I walked up to the dresser and tapped it with my fingernails. It smelled like cologne. Wait. I mentally checked myself after that thought. Cologne? The top drawer was open in a second and I was staring at the extremely organized contents of a man's junk drawer. I understand that "junk" connotes, well, junk. Mess. Craziness. But this was...wow. I thought I was OCD. This guy had built little ridges into the bottom of the drawer so that things would stay in their compartments.
The cologne was in the middle, laying down. I picked it up and sniffed it. Who knows what it was made of, but that stuff was yummy. I looked at the bottle curiously, and jumped. Prada's snazzy suave seal was on the front of the glass, topped with the coat of arms, all emblazoned in silver. The bottle went back into its little area, and I opened the next drawer, and then next.
What followed could only be described as a flurry. I went through the dresser, the desk, the closet, the bathroom. And everything was filled with organized, clean possessions. I even found a collection of cool beer bottles in the top of the front closet. There were clean extra sheets with the linens and vacuum, and it wasn't until I went back to the bedroom to decide what to do that I realized that my family had simply dropped my mattress on top of the old mattress, which still had its black comforter on.
Suddenly it occurred to me that maybe the apartment I was moving into was already occupied; as in, the previous owner wasn't actually previous at all.
"Oh shi-oooooot," I said out loud. I scrabbled for my phone, found the landlord's phone number on the emergency instruction sheet on the front door, and waited while it rang.
"Hullo," a tired woman's voice said.
"Hi, are you the person I talk to about problems with my apartment?"
"Sure," she said.
"Oh. OK. Well this is Meli Lyons, in 407, and I just wanted to know when the previous renter was going to pick up his stuff?"
"What stuff, hon?"
"Well, there's still a bunch of kitchen things, and the bedroom set in particular," I said as I sat in a recliner I suddenly recognized as not being my own. It was super comfy.
"What 'partment you in?"
"Uh-huh. Jus' a sec'," she said. Faint sounds of keyboard tapping made me confident that she was at least pretending to help me. Then she sighed, and it was not a good sigh.
"What?" I asked.
"Nahthin'. Jus' someone was s'posed tuh pick it up. Guess they di'n't. Poor Mr. Cassidy," she said, like she wanted me to inquire further. The leather of the chair squeaked a little as I leaned into it, groaning to myself, not believing my day.
"Cassidy?" I asked.
"Oh, last guy in 407. Poor guy," she said again.
"What happened?" I was starting to feel curious.
"He died," she said.
"Died," I repeated after her.
"Terrible accident," she said. "Girlfriend walked in tuh find 'im with a bullet in his head."
"Gaa," I said. A horrible mental image flashed in my brain: a girl walks in the apartment door holding a bottle of wine. She's stylish and short, and she reaches out to flick on the lights. And then she screams because the love of her life is in the chair with a single bullet hole between the eyes. Shaking the image out of my mind proves just a tad impossible.
"Right between thuh eyes, i' was," the woman says, like she's enjoying the story. This random confirmation of my rampant brain creativity makes it even harder not to think about. And then I think, "This is his chair. I'll bet he was...oh. Oh no. Oh man." I launch myself out of the chair, almost dropping my phone in the process.
Mr. Cassidy had died in the chair I had just been sitting in; I know this because there's a large block of duct tape covering the headrest of the black leather. It's hard to see because the leather and the tape are so similar in color and sheen. But there's no doubt about it, he died there. I know it.
"Um, thanks," I say into the phone after I notice that I'm still holding it up to my ear. I punch the red phone button and absentmindedly stick the phone in my front pocket. I'm staring at Mr. Cassidy's chair and feeling significantly creeped out.
And that's when the hall bathroom door opened and closed with the tiniest of clicks.