- Published: 20 February 2024
- ISBN: 9780241997567
- Imprint: Penguin General UK
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 416
- RRP: $22.99
If I were a character in a classic slasher film, I'd be the first to die. That sounds morbid, but hear me out.
First, I lack the necessary endurance to run long distances without being caught. I have no sense of direction, to the point where I regularly get lost in my own condo parking garage. On any given day, I’m usually alone, leaving the killer ample time to strike when I’m vulnerable. And when placed in high-pressure situations, I tend to make rash, ill-advised decisions.
Case in point: when being pursued, my first instinct is to trap myself inside the tight confines of the condo elevator. Rookie mistake.
“Melanie! Meeelanieee, wait for me!” calls an all-too-familiar, ear-piercing voice.
I frantically press the Close button no less than eleven times, heart hammering against my chest wall. Picture the slasher scene where the woman hides in a closet as the killer ponders his next move, mouth- reathing heavily on the other side of the door.
As the click-clack of footsteps on marbled tiles grows dangerously near, the elevator doors begin to close. Bless.
Just one more inch.
Half an inch.
And then they stop.
A sliver shy of sealing shut, the doors abruptly reopen like a record scratch. My whole body folds inward, desperate to seek refuge like a turtle avoiding all reality in its protective shell. On second thought, turtles do not have the gift of speed. And in the face of my pursuer’s demented smile, one needs to run, or at least power walk.
One could say I’m being a touch dramatic. See, he isn’t really a crazed, axe-wielding serial killer who wants to hack me into tiny pieces. He’s my prepubescent neighbor—Ian Montgomery.
“Melanie. You look ravishing.”
“Hi, Ian.” I summon a sweet smile, taking stock of his short- sleeved button- own. It hangs off his lithe frame, juxtaposed with his creased khakis, which are two inches too short since his winter growth spurt.
A man in tapered joggers takes advantage of the holdup, rushing in behind Ian before the door closes, sealing us in together.
“The color of your top brings out your suntan,” Ian tells me, his gaze hovering dangerously close to my cleavage. To be fair, it’s at his eye level since he’s approximately four feet nine.
I respond to Ian with a low “Thank you,” shifting a thick lock of hair over my chest like a protective blanket before shuffling to the right, my Greek take-out bag tucked snugly under my arm.
Ian wastes zero time reclaiming the dead space. “I also liked your bikini photo from the other day.”
My cheeks burst into flame when Joggers shoots me an accusatory look over his meaty shoulder. Ian is referring to my latest post—beach photo shoot wherein I attempted to channel the raw sex appeal of Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. Particularly that slo‑mo scene where he emerges seductively from the water, beads of moisture shimmering over his taut, suspiciously hairless bod. As it turns out, I have the charisma of a potato compared to James Bond.
“For the record, I did not send this child a bikini photo,” I clarify to the back of Jogger’s shiny scalp. And it’s the truth. The kid keeps close tabs on my social media.
Ian pouts. “I’m not a child. I’m basically a teenager.”
“You just turned eleven,” I remind him.
Trust, I’m not normally this dismissive of children. But in case it isn’t obvious, Ian has been nurturing an unhealthy crush on me since last year when he and his silver fox of a dad moved in next door. Instead of spending his days playing first-person-shooter video games and eating cheese puffs by the bag like most boys his age, he prefers to dream up new and disturbing ways to confess his love for me (including ambushing me in the hallways and writing haikus in my honor).
Of course, I’ve firmly yet politely explained that I’m way too old for him (practically prehistoric) and that his advances are inappropriate. Ian still hasn’t taken the hint. Either that or the power of agonizing unrequited love has clouded his judgment. I can’t help but feel sorry for him. I’ve never seen him with another kid his age, which is why I try to be pleasant to him despite his overt creepiness. Unfortunately, the nicer I am, the more emboldened he becomes.
Ian leans in to take a dramatic whiff of my Greek food. “Smells good. Is it just for you?”
“Yup, dinner for one,” I say proudly, giving the take-out bag a gentle, loving rock, stroking it like it’s a newborn baby.
“Greek on Wheels is my favorite,” Ian informs me, thick brows bouncing as Joggers exits the elevator on floor six. “And dinner for one sounds like rock bottom.”
Damn. This kid went for the jugular. I tighten my grip on my food, hitching my shoulders in defense. “Jeez. Drag me, Ian. And it’s really not.”
Dinner for one has its perks. There’s no one interrupting my Zen by chewing their meat loudly in my ear. Or swooping in to steal the best bite I was saving for last.
Ian swings me a knowing side-eye. “No one likes being alone. And you’ve been alone every night since you broke up with Ronan—the one who was obsessed with cryptocurrency.”
Ronan was the last guy I dated. He always pressured me to split my meal because he couldn’t choose only one item off the menu. I know what you’re thinking: splitting food isn’t that bad. It’s romantic, even. But after a childhood of going to bed on an empty stomach, sharing doesn’t exactly evoke the warm and fuzzies.
And if lectures about crypto and meal splitting weren’t shriveling my libido enough, I had no choice but to end things immediately when he suggested we take things to the next level and move in together after four months of dating.
I bristle at Ian, unable to suppress the creeping urge to justify my life choices. “I’m not alone. I have friends.” I fix my defensive stare on the button panel. Just a few more floors until sweet freedom. “Two friends. Crystal and Tara,” I specify. When I say it out loud, having exactly two friends sounds rather tragic for someone with half a million social media followers.
Ian moves on, wholly uninterested in my pitiful social calendar. “I’m going to a poetry reading tonight if you want to join.”
“Ian, you’re being inappropriate again,” I warn, bouncing on the balls of my feet when we finally arrive at our floor.
“Sorry. My dad says I need to dial it back.” He jogs to keep up with me as we head down the hallway toward our respective condo units.
“Your dad is right,” I say, digging my keys out of my pocket. “Aren’t there cute girls or boys your own age you could yearn for instead?”
He averts his eyes to his sockless ankles. “None who will talk to me. Kenna Palmer says I’m a weirdo freak.”
“First, Kenna Palmer sounds like a miserable brat. She’ll regret that in twenty years when you’re a megarich tech entrepreneur with an all-black-interior private jet. And second, you’re not . . .” I bite my lip, summoning the most delicate way to get my point across. “Okay, you’re a little weird. Maybe a little . . . intense. Overzealous.”
He fiddles with the collar of his dress shirt. “Isn’t intense and overzealous good?”
“Let me put it this way: You’re at high risk of getting your heart skewered over a flaming barbecue if you keep up this type of behavior into middle school. And, if you ask me, love is a burden to be avoided at all costs,” I warn. “See you later, Ian.”
For the briefest moment, he dips his chin in consideration. “ ‘Hearts are made to be broken,’ said the great Oscar Wilde.”
“I like being alone. With my heart intact,” I call through the crack in the door before closing it completely.
I repeat those words as I face my empty condo.
I like being alone.
The more I say it, the more it will be true.
MAYBE IAN WAS right. My Greek dinner for one looks depressing at my dining table for twelve.
I was convinced this gargantuan table was necessary for all the wine-and-charcuterie nights I’d host. I never imagined it would be empty ninety percent of the time.
After eating dinner on the couch instead, I commence my sacred nighttime ritual:
- Send daily check‑in text to little brother, Julian
- Do five- tep skin care routine
- Guzzle three mugs of lemon- inger detox tea
- Send another email to my accountant to clarify whether the low-five-digit number in my savings account is a typo
- Drown out the stifling silence with an old rerun, a faux-chinchilla throw hoisted to my chin
- Root through notifications on my @melanieinthecity account until my eyelids grow too heavy for consciousness
Tonight proves to be another quiet night for DMs, aside from a new demand for my used socks, worn for an entire week, please and thank you (yes, my DMs are a terrifying place).
But among some spam emails advertising Viagra and hot-air balloon rides, there’s an email from an address I don’t recognize.
SUBJECT: Collaboration Opportunity with Seaside Resorts Dear Melanie in the City,
I hope this email finds you well! My name is Shawna and I’m reaching out on behalf of Seaside Resorts in Nova Scotia, on the East Coast of Canada.
I’d love to tell you more about a potential collaboration opportunity I think you would be perfect for. We’d like to offer you an all-expenses-paid getaway experience in exchange for an agreed-upon posting schedule, in addition to video content on your socials.
I’d love to chat further if you’re interested, and we can arrange a week for your stay next month, in August.
The photos on the resort’s website boast a boxy white cedar exterior, comprised of a variety of reclaimed wood planks cut into clean lines. The interior is also sleek, the floors a soft seashell porcelain. The modern architecture contrasts with the jagged rocks surrounding the resort like a fortress, protecting it from the frothy sea below.
I reread the email multiple times, shocked I’ve been offered this opportunity at all.
Your content is stale and a little too curated for our evolving brand. That’s what one collaboration partner said when they dumped me after five years. And they were among the many companies moving on to greener pastures, with fresh-faced teens in sweatpants and no makeup crying on live video sans filter. See, at the ripe age of twenty-nine, I’m basically the Crypt Keeper in internet years, teetering on the brink of irrelevance. Without new, exciting partnerships, I’m losing followers (aka my sole revenue stream) at a frightening rate.
This opportunity has to be a sign. A sign that I’m not destined for failure and on track to being broke within a year. That I won’t have to find some random job in order to make ends meet and live paycheck to paycheck ever again. With enough new content, I can use the opportunity to revitalize my brand.
Maybe a jaunt in rustic nature (with a luxurious twist) is exactly what I need.
‘Eighteen starlit nights with you.’ Joshua Bouvier’s big brown eyes were determined.
It wasn’t the happiest of beginnings. Tilly tried to pretend it would be okay . . .
Six twangy notes of guitar were all it took for every man in a hundred-metre radius to unbuckle his belt, drop his pants and do a dumb dance in his undies.
My fifteenth birthday is stinging with a blistering heatwave. Balloons and streamers are dangling off the clothesline, motionless.
There aren’t many rules of singlehood, but I have made a few for myself in the two (if anyone asks, but really it’s four) years in which I’ve been single.
The October wind twirled coffee-coloured willy-willies south across the Queensland border.
Carra Finlay stood under the clothesline and watched in dismay as all her dreams blew away in the wind.
Madison Locke’s heart lifted like the birdsong that woke her that morning – joyous, clamouring, excited.