It’s happening again.
It hadn’t been as bad the first time it happened, a few days ago, when Quentin had been in the living room with his two other roommates, each working on their own assignments.
He’d been so focused on what he was typing down on his computer that he barely noticed Julia until she was practically waving her hands in front of his face. And also because Josh had thrown a pillow his way.
Quentin had pulled out one of his earphones.
“What?” he replied somewhat strongly. They cut him off mid-sentence and it had taken him almost ten minutes to figure out the best way to put into words what had been going through his mind.
Josh made a shushing sound and Julia grabbed his other earphone and pulled it off.
“Listen,” she said.
Quentin paused and gave it some time. And some more. And more. And… nothing.
“Okay, guys, if this is about the rats you keep saying are hiding somewhere near the elevator shaft,” he started, going for his earphones again. “Then I’d like to finish this essay before I die of boredom and fail to meet the deadline.”
He was just about to finish that damn sentence when Julia leaped from the other couch and ripped him away from the soft sounds of music filling his ears. Before he could protest, she covered his mouth with her hand.
“Listen,” she repeated more forcefully.
He rolled his eyes at her, but then he finally heard it.
It started with low moans, started growing in intensity and then the mattress springs joined in.
He looked at his roommates. Julia had a ‘see what I mean?’ face, while Josh was nodding to himself.
“That’s impressive,” Josh said in awe. “They’ve been on and off for a while now. I mean kudos to the guy for knowing how to please his lady.”
“Oh god,” Quentin breathed and rubbed his face. When he opened his eyes again, Julia was on her knees, her head on the floor and holding her hair back so she could place her ear on the wooden tiles.
“What are you doing?” he hissed at her.
“Since we live on the top floor, I’m trying to figure out if the sounds are coming from downstairs or from somewhere next door,” she explained calmly.
“Wh- Are you insane? What…” Quentin closed his eyes and shook his head. With a deep sigh, he tried to be assertive. “Guys, let’s just get back to work.”
But he knew it was futile. He was living with two grown-up children. And, to be fair, he was distracted too, he realized as he looked at his abandoned laptop on the coffee table.
“Yeah, this apartment building has terrible acoustics. You can’t really tell for sure. I bet it’s the tall guy from the apartment behind ours and the beautiful Goddess who lives with him,” Josh continued as if Quentin hadn’t spoken.
Julia pulled back at that with a snort.
“You mean the woman who makes you trip over your feet like a baby giraffe learning to stand up for the first time in its life?”
“Oh, shut up!” Josh replied, throwing another pillow, this time aimed at a laughing Julia.
“But in all seriousness, wouldn’t Quentin know if it was coming from that apartment?” Julia asked and they both turned to look at him.
Quentin frowned, having completely missed how those dots connected at all. “What? How in the world would I know?”
“Well, isn’t his bedroom on the other side of the wall from yours? I thought our apartment mirrored theirs.”
“Uh. No. At least I’m pretty sure whatever’s behind the wall from my bedroom is a kitchen, because of all the plumbing and the--” He paused and then his shoulders dropped. “Oh, god, why am I even getting involved in all this?”
“Because, deep down, my nerdy little friend, you want to know as much as we do,” Josh replied.
Julia sat back on the couch and chuckled.
“What he means is that we’ve both seen the lingering looks between Tall Dark and Handsome and you in the hall whenever you guys get the mail at the same time. And he’s hoping you’ll pull him away from -- and I quote -- the beautiful Goddess he wants to bone.”
“Jules!” Josh yelled at her, but then joined in on the laughter.
Quentin, for his part, sat down, blushed all the way to the roots of his hair, grabbed his laptop and went back to his calm music and his never-ending essay.
He did not have a thing for Tall Dark and Handsome. And Tall Dark and Handsome definitely didn’t have a thing for him. He barely even looked Quentin’s way. Not that Quentin would be able to tell, because he always instinctively turns away when he sees his neighbor in the hallway or during the couple of times they’ve shared an elevator.
He could still hear his roommates laughing.
“Aw, we poked the big pink elephant,” Josh said.
Quentin turned the volume up. Time to drown his thoughts and emotions in his work.
It had happened a couple other times after that, but Quentin would always ignore it. Sometimes he’d get up in the middle of the night to go pee or have a glass of water and he’d hear distant moaning. Sometimes it’d grow in intensity, and that was the “nope” limit, where Quentin would quickly gulp down the water and run back to his room to bury his head underneath the pillow and hope exhaustion would beat secondhand embarrassment.
Quentin has a very important exam in the morning. It’s the one professor who seems to have it in for Quentin. She’s always waiting for him to cross a line so she’ll have an excuse to fail him, which is something he really can’t afford right now. His stress levels are through the roof and he’s barely hanging on.
He’s been studying for this exam for almost three weeks now and, admittedly, things keep getting more insane the closer he gets to the day of his exam. His desk is now filled with papers and post-it notes and random scribbles, and every once in a while Julia or Josh will open the door a few inches just so they can drop any highlighted notes he may have left behind in the living room.
Julia had to drag him to the kitchen table only a few hours ago.
“Q, I know this is important, but you need to eat,” she had said while pulling him away from the mountain of paper surrounding him.
Quentin squints at his phone screen, too bright for his tired eyes.
It’s 3 am. That’s somewhere between “middle of the night” and “3 hours left before having to get up” o’clock and all Quentin wanted was a quiet “all in one go” night of sleep.
He lets the phone drop back on his bedside table and grunts. He covers his head with the bedsheets and even goes for the pillow next, but nothing works against the noise this time.
Pulling the sheets away again, his gaze locks onto the ceiling and he gives it another 30 seconds.
Nope. Nothing changes. It only gets worse.
They’re still not sure from which apartment is the couple who was passionately trying to find new ways to test their building’s capacity to stand during an earthquake -- and, yes, he’s being dramatic, but he’s owning up to it -- but Quentin is now convinced that whoever is doing it now is not from that same apartment.
He’s actually quite certain that it’s coming from Tall Dark and Handsome and Beautiful Goddess’s apartment, if only because he can hear it much better than those other times. And since they are the ones keeping him awake right now, that’s all that really matters.
“One more moan and I’ll break,” he announces to the dark ceiling.
It lasts for about as long as he expected.
“Okay,” he says, getting up from the bed and marching out of his room.
He angrily walks past the open door to the lit up kitchen. He barely notices Julia sitting on her laptop, a mug of tea next to her.
“Q?” he hears her confused voice in the otherwise empty and quiet apartment.
“Quentin, wait!” she presses in a louder tone, chair scraping against the floor as she gets up in a hurry. “Don’t go there now!”
But Quentin is already opening the front door and taking the three steps that separate him from the other apartment’s door.
He knocks on it urgently as Julia runs after him. She grabs his arm and pulls him back. Well, too little much too late.
“Quentin!” she chastises him, pulling him even further back so they’re now standing on their own front door mat.
They both freeze and look up when they hear the door open.
And there he is, Tall Dark and Handsome in all his blazing glory, wrapping himself up in a dark red robe, an almost empty glass on his hand.
Quentin shivers. Must be the cold breeze coming from the stairs, he’s sure of it, because he’s definitely burning up with anger on the inside.
“Yes?” he asks casually.
Oh, Quentin’s gonna…
“No, no, Q!” Jules tries to stop him, but he evades her grabbing hands this time.
“I’m so done with this bullshit!” he yells at his neighbor, who squints at him for a moment before downing his drink and reaching behind him to put down the empty glass.
The neighbor steps onto his own mat and leaves the door slightly ajar behind him. He fixes his steady gaze on Quentin, giving him his utmost attention, almost as if he already knows from Quentin’s tone that this is heading somewhere worthy of it.
Julia groans behind Quentin and he looks back at her over his shoulder.
“You know what, you wanna be stubborn? Fine. I’ll let you deal with this on your own,” she tells him before going back inside and closing the door to the kitchen.
She didn’t close the front door, though, which tells Quentin she’s still somewhat invested in how this will all turn out.
“What’s this about, then?” his neighbor’s deep voice brings him back to the annoying situation at hand.
“Wh-- Are you kidding me right now?”
His neighbor crosses his arms. “I’m genuinely curious as to why there’s all this,” he gestures at Quentin, “boiling anger coming from such a sweet and quiet little thing such as yourself.”
What? Quentin’s brain hiccups a little there.
“And even more so to see it being turned against me,” his neighbor finishes, placing a hand over his heart and making Quentin want to grab him and… and what? Punch him? Kiss him senseless? He’s not really sure his tired brain should be taking the wheel right now.
Before Quentin can reply, the door behind his tall neighbor opens and the beautiful woman who also lives there steps outside. She’s also tying a knot on her soft-looking robe to keep it closed.
“What the hell is going on here?” she asks -- more like demands to know, if Quentin’s being honest here -- and places her hands on her hips, making Quentin instinctively take a step back from her heated aura.
“That’s what I’m trying to find out, Bambi. This young man is clearly exasperated about something, but we haven’t worked out what that something is just yet,” her companion tells her quietly.
Quentin feels like they’re mocking him. It only fuels his anger.
“How about all the fucking noises that won’t let me sleep?” Quentin yells, pointing a finger at both of them. “And I mean literally fucking noises .”
The other man’s eyebrows raise while the woman just frowns.
“Bambi, did he just imply we were having loud sex?”
She turns to look at Quentin, eyebrow raising questioningly.
“Yes! Just now! I was woken up from my sleep because of all your moaning.”
The tall man chuckled.
“Certainly not mine. Great sex doesn’t really have to be loud sex, in my opinion. Unless you’re into that sort of thing, I guess,” he says with a careless shrug and a wink in Quentin’s direction. Which… uh… okay? Confused? Brain’s off on a coffee break. Be right back.
“Ugh, El, why do you always go for the dumb ones?”
“Hey!” Quentin complains, because, hey, his brain may be running on fumes now and not up to decoding the rest of that sentence, but his dignity is still present, thank you very much. “I have an important exam tomorrow and I was trying to give my tired brain some well-deserved rest before you guys came and ruined it.”
“Now, now, Bambi,” Tall Dark and -- El?-- says, placing a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “He’s a quiet, studious super-nerd. You know we love those,” he adds in a soft affectionate tone. He winks at her and then tilts his head in the direction of their apartment.
She rolls her eyes, but opens the door further to go back inside.
And that’s when Quentin’s brain decides to pack its bags and move to a whole other planet instead of trying to deal with everything going on right now. Because, on the other side of the now open door is Josh, wrapped in a white bedsheet.
Their eyes meet and they both freeze.
“Uh… hey, Quentin,” Josh says, waving and accidentally dislodging the previously well-placed sheet. He fumbles to pull it back up to cover up more of his apparently naked body.
God, Quentin wishes he could go back in time and unsee (and undo) all of this. He’s sure Julia is doing her best not to burst out laughing in the kitchen.
His poor brain is still trying to keep up with all of this mess.
“See?” his neighbor says, gesturing at his barely clothed friend. “The moaning? Not me. Mystery solved.”
Oh. Right. That. He feels the tips of his ears growing redder and redder.
“Josh, I hate you so much right now,” Quentin moans miserably into his hands.
“Quentin, come on. I had a chance and seized it!”
Quentin drops his hands and looks up in time to see Josh getting closer to the door, almost tripping on the sheets, eliciting a collective groan from the other three. Josh steps past both their neighbors to loudly whisper his next words.
“Besides, this is great news for you too, right? It means Eliot’s free and you can stop pining from far away. Dude, just go for it.”
And then he just turns around, grabs the woman’s hand and they run back inside, giggling.
As if he didn’t just put Quentin in a really fucking awful spot right now.
“Oh my god,” he whispers, mortified. “Is it too late for me to turn around, get back into bed and pretend none of this happened?”
His neighbor -- Eliot -- laughs quietly. He takes a step forward, grabs the front of Quentin’s shirt and slowly pulls him in. Quentin still trips like the human disaster that he is and his hands find purchase on Eliot’s chest.
“So… tell me about all of this pining, because all I got was shy little nerd blushing every time we walked past each other. I mean, I didn’t even know if you were closeted or something, so I just kept waiting for you to do something about it.”
Quentin’s hands tremble and he uses them to push himself away from a chuckling Eliot. He takes a few more steps back and almost trips on the doormat.
“I have an important exam tomorrow and I really need to sleep. Sorrygoodnightandbye!”
He gets inside the apartment and slams the door shut.
He can hear both Julia’s and Eliot’s laughs from behind the two closed doors.
The following morning, Josh is in the kitchen, obviously still sleepy, but preparing breakfast.
He tells Quentin it’s his way of apologizing and wishes him good luck for his exam.
“Oh,” he quickly adds right before Quentin opens the front door to leave the apartment. “Eliot asked me to deliver this.”
He hands Quentin a letter with a big bold “Q” on it. He blushes all over again thinking about the trainwreck that was the previous night.
“Don’t worry,” Josh says, “if he wasn’t smitten before, he definitely is now. Apparently, fidgety nerd does it for him.”
Fumbling with the doorknob, he pockets the unopened letter. He can’t even deal with that right now.
It’s only hours later, once he’s done with his exam -- which, actually, he’s pretty confident he did very well on it -- that he decides to lean against a corner on the way home and open it.
I’m sorry our first conversation didn’t go the way any of us was hoping, I’m sure, but I look forward to taking you out to right that wrong.
What do you say to a dinner later tonight to celebrate you being done with that terrible exam?
You know where to find me,
P.S. It’s been brought to my attention that you guys don’t know who’s been moaning all this time. Their names are Penny and Kady and they live on the floor below us. And yes, we hear them too. And yes, it’s annoying, but the more you complain, the louder they get. Trust me, both Margo and I can speak from experience.
P.P.S. Just FYI, I’m still open to loud sex, if that’s your thing.
He crumbles the paper in his hands, immediately looking around and making sure no one was reading over his shoulder. Which is stupid, but… He can’t even bring himself to throw it away, afraid someone will pick it up and read it.
Quentin’s face feels warm all the way home, but he’ll blame it on the quick pace. He’s not much for exercise, so that’s totally his body’s metabolism working overtime, right?
He hesitates when he’s standing in front of his door, keys in hand. He turns around and knocks on the other door instead.
“Hello there,” is the beaming answer he gets from Eliot once the door opens.
And, okay. He grins back, fingers fidgeting with his keychain. Maybe getting less sleep isn’t so bad.