Larissa has dreaded every first day of figure drawing since she took her first serious lessons at the community college during high school. She hates the way there is always at least one and often more than one idiot in the class who can't contain their expression. It's hard to concentrate on her work when she's worried about the model, who doesn't deserve to get leered at by some unprofessional asshole, no matter how much they’re paid.
This time though, as she finishes her set up and sits, waiting for the model to be instructed about his pose, it occurs to her that the gawker that she has to worry about today is her.
It’s not like she’s never seen someone naked before. She’s twenty-two years old and has taken so many art classes since she was sixteen that she’s probably seen more naked people that the average porn watcher. But she’s always been able to remain cool and unconcerned with the body in front of her, detaching it from emotion and instead looking at it in terms of lines and angles, the shape of a muscle, the curve of a jaw. She doesn’t have to know anything about the person to be able to draw them.
This guy, though. This guy, she wants to know. He’s standing up on the stage, perfectly still—he’s definitely one of the paid models, not just another kid from another class trying to get credit hours. (She can tell because this isn’t exactly an easy job. A new model is likely to faint if they’re up there for more than thirty minutes.) He’s calm, collected, standing angled slightly away from her, so that she can mostly see his right side. He’s a little under six feet tall, broad shoulders with the muscles of an athlete. He’s got a mustache but no beard, and short brunet hair. He must be in his mid twenties, maybe a little older, and Larissa tells herself that that’s the reason she’s at all interested. She can’t remember the last time she worked with a model that was remotely age appropriate for her. Or, if they were age appropriate, one that was attractive enough for her to care.
But this guy. This guy.
The guy’s expression is relaxed. That’s usually required of models, so the students can focus on the lines of their body, but the thing is—his face isn’t blank at all. Relaxed, but not blank. His eyes are bright and engaged, as if he’s listening to a story. She wonders if maybe he’s entertaining himself somehow, taking his mind off the fact that he’s naked in a room full of strangers.
He’s kind of amazing to draw. His muscles are perfectly visible and the shape of his hips lends her imagination to visual fucking poetry. She giggles to herself, quiet as she thinking about visual fucking poetry. Fucking.
“He’s fucking gorgeous,” the girl next to her mutters. “I don’t blame you.”
Larissa blinks at her. “I don’t—it’s not like that. I just thought of something funny.”
“Uh huh. Sure.”
She hopes she isn't blushing. She really does hate that person who ends up making the model uncomfortable and he can see her from where he's standing so she really, really hopes that person isn’t her. The thought that she might be making this man uncomfortable is mortifying…but not mortifying enough to keep her eyes away when she needs another glance for reference on the shape of his inner thigh.
When class ends, Larissa doesn’t stick around. She packs up her things and motors out of there, not bothering to look back.
The thing about going to graduate school for art is that it’s not actually as exciting as she thought it would be. MassArt is big and beautiful and she gets to work with undergrads to help them perfect their skill, but she’s still a student herself. She often doesn’t think that she’s at all worthy of calling the shots for anyone. But when she’s not in class or at work, she gets to paint for herself—she gets to put up plastic sheeting in her little apartment and throw things at canvases. She gets to do sculpture more at home than at school because her degree will be in 2D rather than 3D, and it allows her some more freedom than the rigorous demands of the class setting.
She likes where she’s at, likes what she’s doing. But she often feels like maybe she isn’t meant to be doing it at all. (When she thinks that, she reminds herself that it’s only been two months. Two months is nothing.) Besides, it’s better than sitting around at home with her mom, wishing that she had a creative outlet. Here, she has nothing but creative outlets.
Jack has been chirping him for a solid ten minutes when Shitty raises his hands up in defeat. "Why do you have to make it dirty, brah? I'm just trying to give some of my time to the pursuit of art."
"Yeah, sure, Shits," Jack says while rolling his eyes in HD over Skype. “It's nothing to do with not having an audience to be naked in front of since you left the Haus."
“My nakedness deserves some appreciation, Jack Zimmerman,” Shitty says. “Not all of us have big locker rooms anymore—not all of us get to shower with twenty other people on a daily basis.”
Jack huffs out a laugh, shaking his head. “Only you would think of locker room showers as a good thing.”
Shitty grins. “Yeah, dude. All alone in this fucking apartment—I can walk around naked all day and not scandalize a single person. What’s the point?”
"Aren't these upper level art students? I don't think you're scandalizing anyone there either," Jack says.
"And you'd be wrong," Shitty assures him. "I got some look. I've seen some eyebrows jump."
"Okay, Shitty, I'm sure you've shocked all of those innocent people who draw naked bodies every day," Jack sighs.
"Damn right," he says with a nod. “Now give me the play by play on Bitty and these concert tickets, since the entire Haus has failed so horribly in capturing extreme emotional breakdowns on video in my absence."
The truth is that Shitty likes Harvard. He doesn’t like the stuck up snobs that are inevitably in his classes; he doesn’t like their fucking loser hockey team; he doesn’t even like a lot of the professors. But he likes learning, and he likes law. He likes that the better he gets at all of this, the more he’ll be able to wind up making a difference.
There’s also another truth, though, and that’s that he’s sick of taking his parents’ money. He’s always hated it, hated needing it. He took the car they bought him, gratefully accepted their offer to pay tuition, and even lets him subsidize some of the rent on his Boston apartment. (He drives fifteen minutes to campus every morning, but it’s worth it to live in a more centralized area.) He’s not going to deny the comfort of their money, but it also makes him feel weird. So modeling for MassArt a few nights a week and interning for a law firm on some afternoons keeps him busy and makes it so that he doesn’t have to ask them for money.
He only just found the MassArt gig a few weeks ago, and since he’s been doing it, he’s never been happier. Ten dollars an hour to stand in place, naked, and let people admire him. It definitely doesn’t hurt that the class is full of people his own age, art people, who are probably going to make the world pretty colors and do TED talks on inspiration. He feels like he’s giving back to society when he poses for them, so it’s not as if he’s really losing anything in the process.
His instructions are to stay completely still and to keep his face relaxed so his expression doesn't distract the students. He isn't supposed to really look at any of them but he did take a subtle look around the room and he was glad he did once he sat into his pose for the next thirty minutes. The girl, that's all he knows to call her, she made an impression. The chop of her hair looked fresh, which could mean it really was brand new or she took awesome care of it. He was surprised by how much he'd taken in, everything from the color of her eyes to the dark smudge on the side of her hand. She didn’t even seem to notice that he was looking at her. Or, if she did, she was polite enough not to say anything about it.
They trade out models pretty often in the graduate classes—they don’t need as much time as the undergrads to grasp the lines of bodies, so after six sessions over two weeks, Shitty is handed a wad of cash and told that they’ll call him if they ever need him again.
“We almost always call models back for projects,” the instructor tells him as she’s counting out his pay. “We like to keep a roster on hand for the students, for reference and whatnot, so you can expect a call after the holidays.”
So Shitty leaves MassArt without even knowing who that girl is. And it’s not the end of the world because it would’ve been unprofessional to hit on her while he was a model and sometimes that’s the way the cookie crumbles, but maybe… Maybe in January, she’ll be around again, and that’ll be fate.
When Larissa wakes up on Monday morning, she’s a little bit bummed. The mustachioed model got traded for one with less muscle, one where the lines of his body are a little less defined, one where she has to really work to understand the way that he moves. And that’s good for her art. But it’s not good for how fucking fascinated she was with his green eyes and his slightly hairy chest. She chalks it up to poor timing, the irresponsible nature of her desire, and decides to push it out of her mind.
That’s the morning that the singing starts.
It's not like she has consistent habits about when she showers as long as she gets around to it at least once a day so she's not sure if this is something that is going on every morning. It's just when she's about to shampoo her hair that the small white noise that had been coming from the other side of the wall becomes a complete and total jam session. Maybe he'd been waiting on the chorus, but it seems like her neighbor has let caution go down the drain as he belts out the Bon Jovi at top volume. She giggles to herself, thinking the guy will get the chorus out and pipe down but he just keeps going, fully committed to singing this song like he's got an audience of fifty thousand fans.
She doesn’t mind, since it’s an appropriate hour of the morning. Most people in the building are college students or young professionals, and it’s nine o’clock, so if there’s anyone that can hear him, they’re going to be awake anyway. Beyond that, she even kind of enjoys it. She bounces a little bit to the beat, even humming along, as he cries out—whooaa, livin’ on a prayer!
The song is stuck in her head for the rest of the day, and she can’t pretend to be bothered by it.
Because of her schedule, she doesn’t wake up on Tuesday in time to see if the singing man is gonna be back around. She rolls out of bed at nine-thirty and is in class with the undergrads at ten—they’re sculpting today, so she lets herself get as dirty as possible with the knowledge that she can shower when she gets home.
Wednesday morning, though—Wednesday morning is a completely different beast. She sets an alarm and jumps into the shower promptly at nine, expecting to hear more dad rock, maybe some “Smoke on the Water” or “Sympathy for the Devil.” Instead, she hears the soft tones of a vocalized piano beat, followed by the proclamation: Back to the street where we began, feelin’ as good as lovers can, you know.
She lets him get through the entire first verse, just listening to how he changes the pitch to fit his deeper voice. He’s a good singer, and she thinks maybe that’s what he’s in Boston for—there’s bound to be a performing arts school around here somewhere.
She says to herself that if he stops soon, she won’t do anything about it. It’s totally understandable for him to express some musicality in the morning before he starts his day and she doesn’t need to intrude on it. But then—then he keeps going. And Larissa doesn’t stop herself from joining in.
"Your eyes are the size of the moon," she sings, trying to not think of someone listening. "You could 'cause you can so you do. We're feeling so good—”
She cuts herself off when she realizes that the other voice has stopped. She's made it weird now; she probably shouldn't have freaked out her neighbor and now—
"Back to the place where we used to say," the guy picks up again, singing maybe even louder than before. "Man it feels good to feel this way, now I know what I mean.”
Grinning to herself, Larissa joins him, even bouncing up on the balls of her feet as she sings. It’s a joyful moment, fun and silly, and the guy on the other side of the wall doesn’t seem to be competing with her—no, he’s encouraging her. Larissa can hear his laugh as he goes into the next verse, and it warms her right to her toes.
She’s still humming when she gets to campus, humming while she works. Her entire day is uplifted because of the song in her head. When she returns from her night class and opens her door, there’s a slip of paper underneath it, folded over. Written in chunky letters on the front, the note is addressed to singing shower girl.
The note reads I didn't realize the walls were so thin, I'm sorry if the singing is annoying!
There's a doodle of musical notes on the corner of the paper. The note makes her smile and gives her that little thrill of fun at meeting someone new, even though she's never met this person and has no real idea who they are. It's not a big deal by any means. It's kind of like making conversation with your barista and finding out they like the same TV show that you do, but it does make her feel a little guilty about not getting to know her neighbors.
She decides to write her own note. It’s too late at night to try to knock on the guy’s door, so she writes, It actually made my day. Don’t stop on my account! She slips it under her neighbor’s door and goes back inside her apartment, still grinning like a loon.
A week later, the song is slightly more obscure. She’s already washing her hair when he starts singing, a song that Larissa remembers from a mix tape one of her old college friends made her—“You Told the Drunks I Knew Karate.” It’s funky and silly, and the guy’s not so much singing it as shouting it in varying levels of volume, rough and fun, like he’s drunk himself. Larissa’s so surprised that she even knows the song that she doesn’t stop herself from singing along again.
When her voice joins in, belting out, “I almost broke my collar bone; I didn’t care, you were the most exciting thing I’d ever known,” the guy shouts, “Fuck yeah!” before continuing into the next verse.
They sing until her neighbor starts making up random words and then trying to sing the guitar solo, which makes her dissolve into a fit of laughter. She can hear when his shower shuts off and then she can hear the much more faint sound of clapping as he, she assumes, moves away from the wall. She leans back against the tiles and continues to giggle until her shower starts running a little cold.
Shitty might be in love. The girl next door is unabashedly willing to sing along with a stranger; she knows Zoey Van Goey; her handwriting is even kind of adorable. Even though he’s never seen her face or even spoken to her, Shitty might be in love.
He showers at the same time every day, and even though she’s not always there, there’s a little spark in his chest when she is. It makes him stupidly happy, and he walks around on a cloud for hours, wondering who she is.
He could knock on her door. He could ask her to dinner. But—but maybe she’s in a relationship. Or maybe she wouldn’t like him anyway. Or maybe she doesn’t want to date some guy who lives right beside her, for the fear that it would end in disaster. All of those are perfectly reasonable excuses, and maybe Shitty would be happier just letting their thing continue in anonymity.
He turns it over in his mind a bit, because he really would like to meet her but he can't think of any way to do that which wouldn't make things strange between neighbors. He's slurping at the end of his pumpkin spice frap with a freedom that he’s never before enjoyed when he decides to leave it up to fate. He decides that they live close enough to each other that it's possible enough for them to meet without him being purposeful about it. If the universe wants them to know each other it'll just happen. Until then he can be happy to wait for their duets.
He doesn’t actually have to wait long.
Every other day or so there’s a new song. Sometimes the girl starts it, sometimes he does. There’s The Mountain Goats, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, more Bon Jovi, even some Miley Cyrus. There’s songs from musicals, from super old albums, from hidden corners of the music world. Sometimes Shitty sings a song that she doesn’t know, and he can hear her humming along all the same. Sometimes she sings a song that he can’t quite recognize, but she’s brave and unassuming throughout the entire tune. And by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, Shitty is relishing their morning concerts.
He expects that she won’t be around for the holiday, and he’s not wrong. He sings in the shower anyway, but he won’t lie—it feels a little empty.
When he can hear her shower humming away on the Monday after Thanksgiving, he doesn’t hesitate. He launches into the song that’s been stuck in his head for a few days, singing with delight, “Fall is here, hear the yell. Back to school, right the bell. Brand new shoes, walking blues. Climb the fence, books and pens. I can tell that we are gonna be friends.” It takes no time at all. When he opens his mouth again, she’s singing along with him, “I can tell that we are gonna be friends.”
He wants to stop singing just a little bit so he can hear her. It's not that she's a fantastic singer, but her voice sounds so sweet today. His stupid romantic heart can hardly take it. They sing the song through but their showers are both still running afterwards. He's sure that she's not leaning against her shower wall like a total loser the way he is. He wonders if it'd be okay to say something, something like, Hope you had a nice holiday, or Can we get waffles together? but he doesn't say anything, wusses out every time he opens his mouth and ends up standing under the spray of water long after her shower shuts off.
He kind of wants a test—a question that he can sing, that will maybe give her some kind way to respond to his feelings. But it’s too much. It’s too much pressure to put on a girl he doesn’t even know.
There are more songs, casual, fun. Shitty enjoys all of them and does his best not to imagine what his neighbor looks like, what she would say if she saw what he looks like. He doesn’t need to dwell on something like that.
There’s a note sitting against his door the second week of December. It’s festive and bright, hand-written. It comes with a little bag of red and green M&Ms, and Shitty is opening the card as he walks in the door.
I’m heading home for the holidays, so my apartment will be watched by a friend. Don’t be startled if you see her around or hear her in the apartment. She’s not a burglar!
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Larissa. Her name is Larissa.
He concocts a plan. It's not a very complicated plan really. He's just going to wait until New Year's and then go over and be friendly and introduce himself. Shitty absolutely agonizes about this during break. He goes to his parent's for Christmas but they'll be out on a trip during New Year's so he ends up going up to spend it with Jack and his parents. There, Jack is quick to inform him that even if he does find it strange that Shitty has fallen in love with someone he's never seen, he doesn't find it particularly weird for Shitty.
"I mean to say, if anyone was going to end up in this situation," he says as he hands Shitty another mug of Alicia Zimmerman's world-class hot chocolate, "if anyone in the world was going to live some kind of romantic comedy it was going to be you."
“You say that as if it’s a bad thing,” Shitty protests. “I mean it, dude. This girl—I haven’t even seen her face and I think that I could seriously like her. Seriously.”
“That’s a good thing,” Jack says, patting him on the back. “I’m happy for you.”
Shitty grins. “Me too.”
Larissa barely drops by her apartment when she gets back from break. She showers when she gets off the plane, sleeps for ten hours, and then gets up and rushes to campus. She has a full day of classes, including acting as teaching assistant for an undergrad sculpture course, so she spends the first half of her day with her own work and, when she walks into the studio in the afternoon, takes a seat in the back.
The professor will be there for the first few minutes, introduce her and then instruct the students to begin practice with the model. Larissa will be their chaperone for the rest of the hour, so she’s sure that most of her time will be spent walking around, staring at pieces of clay.
She’s waiting for the professor to walk in when the guy—the guy—from her night class last semester walks in, barefoot, wearing a thin robe. Her jaw immediately drops, her cheeks going red. When he notices her, he gives her a polite smile and makes for the center of the room, the small stage that’s encircled by stands for the students.
He’s still got that mustache. He’s still just as handsome as before. And after the professor gives the students the rundown and leaves them to their business, he takes off his robe, and he’s just as gorgeous as he was months ago. Larissa has to distract herself by walking around to examine the students’ work, has to keep her eyes away from the picture he makes, standing up on that stage with one leg back, hands dangling freely at his side. She can’t look at him, because if she does, she’ll be totally overwhelmed.
There’s nothing with a bit of innocent fantasy, Larissa knows. But it’s not quite so innocent when the object of it is standing right in front of you. She tries to get herself to go up to him after class, to walk right up to him and introduce herself, make small talk about how he became a model, stuff like that. But she can’t, because she’s too busy cleaning up after everyone that he slips away, strolls right out the door and leaves her in an empty classroom, heart thumping in her ears.
When she wakes up the next morning, she lies in bed for another few minutes, just thinking. What are the odds that the model would walk right back into her life? (Realistically, pretty high actually. The school doesn’t exactly employ a wide range.) But—it’s not professional, and she knows that. And besides, there’s that guy, her neighbor. Her neighbor who sings when he showers and laughs like he’s thrilled to be alive, who makes her look forward to getting up in the morning. Maybe there’s something there. And who needs a model when you have happiness?
He’s singing an Ingrid Michaelson song when she walks into the bathroom. It’s quiet, but she can hear him clearly over the noise of his shower, singing, “Maybe I think you’re cute and funny. Maybe I wanna do what bunnies do with you, if you know what I mean.”
Larissa starts singing before she even turns on the water. “Oh, let’s get rich and buy our parents homes in the south of France. Let’s get rich and give everybody nice sweaters and teach them how to dance.”
She can hear his words falter, like he’s surprised to hear her, but he picks up, singing along with fervor. Her heart is loud in her own ears as she twists the faucet, climbs into the shower and starts to soap up her hair. It’s calm, a quiet performance, and she can feel the words swelling in her chest as they keep going.
When they’re done, the guy cuts off the shower and Larissa closes her eyes, humming quietly to herself. There’s no reason that this should be any different from all the other songs they’ve sung together, no reason that this situation means anything, but she can’t help it. She’s officially longing.
“Hey,” she says, before she can stop herself. “Do you want to come over?”
For a moment, there’s silence. She thinks he must’ve left the bathroom, wandered out into his apartment to finish getting ready. And that’s what she deserves, honestly, for waiting. But then—
“Yeah,” he says. “Ten minutes?”
“Ten minutes,” she agrees.
Ten minutes isn’t exactly a lot of time to get dressed, to get all of her things off the floor, to put her pyramid stands in the corner. She could make her bed or try to organize her bookshelves but it doesn’t matter because—he’s knocking on the door.
“There’s no reason to be nervous,” she mutters to herself, dragging a hand through her wet hair. “You’re good at talking to people—you’ve never had a problem talking to people.” She winces, wraps her fingers around the doorknob, and prepares herself because whatever is on the other side of the door, she won’t be able to turn back after.
She bites hard into her lip as she opens the door with a little more swing than she'd normally use. When she finally looks at the man standing outside her door, she jumps a bit—maybe makes a ridiculous noise.
"Holy shit," the model says, standing outside her door in rumpled jeans and a soft looking shirt and complete physical perfection.
Larissa blinks. “You—you’re—”
“You’re a student at MassArt,” he says, hands tucked into his pockets and mouth open in surprise. Then his mouth curves into a smirk, but it’s not cocky, just amused. It’s stupidly attractive. “You’ve seen me naked.”
She almost chokes on an inhale. “Yeah, that’s me. I’m Larissa. Duan.” She sticks out her hand and he takes it. His hand is calloused but comfortable, strong.
“I’m Shitty,” he says.
“I most definitely am not.”
"That's your name?"
"It's the only one I answer to.”
Larissa takes that in stride, deciding to roll with it. She’s definitely heard worse. "So you model full time? Or…do construction work?"
"I'm a first year," he says, like he doesn't really want to say it. "Law school."
Larissa blinks. “Harvard. You go to Harvard Law, you stand naked in front of classes of art students, and your name is…Shitty.”
“And I sing in the shower. Can’t forget that one.” He smiles now, soft and pleased. “Look, you can absolutely say no, but I’d really like to buy you dinner. Or, maybe if you’re not doing anything right now, I could take you to brunch and if we hit it off, I could buy you dinner at a later date.”
Larissa bites down on her smile, trying to keep it under control. “Brunch sounds great.”
There’s brunch—where they drink mimosas and talk about their college years. They talk about Larissa’s unbeatable beer pong record, her decision to cut her hair off, and her semester abroad in Kenya. They talk about how Shitty played hockey with a group of ridiculous people, one of whom is now a professional. (Hockey player, not ridiculous person.) He has rich parents who live in the city, a passion for gender studies and human rights law, and a great desire to grow his hair out. She gets to see pictures of his college hair, all the way down to his shoulders. Impossibly, it makes him look even more ridiculously attractive.
Then there’s dinner. He picks her up from the studio only a few hours after he’d dropped her off there and takes her to a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place where everything tastes like heaven and the margaritas have just the right amount of salt. They talk about Larissa’s family, her art, how she wound up in Boston of all places. At the end of the night, they get ice cream and go for a walk, and he gives her what he refers to as a hockey nickname.
“Lardo,” he says, beaming. “It super fuckin’ suits you. Funky and a little bit silly.”
“How do you know I’m silly?” she asks, one eyebrow arched.
“Call it a whim. But also, you were singing ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ in the shower the other day, so.”
They see each other for dinner again the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. They don’t stop singing in the shower, even when they’re under the spray together.