“Oh, please . . .”
Patience Phillips groaned and yanked the pillow from her head—not for the first time that night, either. She blinked, bleary eyed, and reached for the clock radio at her bedside.
“It can’t be,” she moaned softly, and sat up. “It was four a.m. the last time I looked. . . .”
Outside, night was giving way to the faintest gray-blue glimmer of dawn, glinting at Patience’s window.
Inside, though, it might as well have been midday, certainly by the sound of things. From the apartment next door, the throb of electronic music rose and fell, barely muffled by the brick walls that separated Patience from her neighbor’s duplex. Raucous laughter echoed through Patience’s spartan studio, followed by the sound of breaking glass and a gleeful whoop.
“That’s it,” Patience muttered. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed, freeing her nightgown from the mound of blankets, then stood. “Ouch!”
Her foot caught in the sheets and she stumbled, catching herself on the nightstand, then crossed to the window. She drew aside the gauzy curtain and gazed out at her neighbor’s window. Garish light streamed from it, so that she could clearly see the writhing figures of people dancing, heads thrown back as they shrieked in time with the throbbing music. Patience watched them for a moment, her expression annoyed, mostly; but also slightly wistful, even envious.
Finally, she sighed and turned. She made her way past her drafting table, where portfolios holding her most recent work were stacked neatly alongside brushes, Rapidograph pens, carefully aligned bot- tles of ink. Beside the drafting table, an easel held sketches for Hedare Beauty’s most recent advertising campaign. Patience ignored all of these and made a beeline for her closet, its contents as neat and spare as the rest of her apartment. She pulled on her coat, opened the front door, and stepped into the hall.
Here the music was even louder. Patience winced. Clutching her coat tightly, she stepped across the hall to her neighbor’s door, hand raised, then knocked gently. The music blared on.
The door swung open to reveal a hulking young man her own age, thirty or so. Long hair hung lank to his shoulders, and his sleeveless shirt exposed heavily muscled arms covered with elaborate tattoos: a serpent devouring its own tail, a grinning skull. He looked at her blankly, squinting as though trying to see through heavy mist.
“Um, hi.” Patience smiled timidly. “I’m sorry to bother you. Patience . . .”
The young man blinked at the figure in front of him. A shy, slender young woman, long dark curls mussed from her sleepless night. Her almond-shaped eyes gazed at him imploringly from a piquant face: high cheekbones, full-lipped mouth, small pointed chin. “Excuse me?”
“I mean I’m Patience,” she went on, and shifted uneasily beneath his stare. “Patience Phillips?”
He continued to stare at her, his gaze cold and empty. Behind him, music roiled and drunken laughter echoed loudly through his apartment. Patience swallowed. She hated imposing on people, especially people she didn’t know; especially people like this guy. . . .
“Um,” she said. She smiled ingratiatingly, as her words came out in a rush. “See, I live across the way and I have a really big day at work tomorrow, so I was already having trouble sleeping since I’m turning in an important project and, well, I’m kinda nervous about it, you know?”
Her voice trailed off. In front of her, the tattooed young man was looking her up and down. His blank gaze grew openly lascivious.
“Patience, huh?” His mouth widened in a leer. “Hey, I’m pretty impatient myself. . . .”
Patience froze. For a moment her eyes locked with his. Then she quickly looked away, pulling her coat more tightly about her.
“I just . . . it’s just that it’s kind of late, and I do have to get up early. I mean, I always do,” she went on, her voice cracking. “But tomorrow especially, because of the, the . . .”
She hesitated, then looked up at him desperately. “I was just hoping, um, that you could—well, maybe you could just turn the music down a little?”
The young man stared down at her. Abruptly his expression grew sympathetic. “Yeah? Oh, man—that’s all you’re hoping? For real?”
He smiled, then held up a finger, signaling her to wait. He turned and ducked back into the apartment. Patience let her breath out in a grateful sigh, just as the music suddenly roared out, twice as loud as before.
Her neighbor’s head loomed above her as he shouted, “Hey—how’s THAT?”
Hoarse laughter rang out counterpoint to the deafening music. Patience stood, motionless and defeated, as the door slammed in her face. She shoved her hands into her pockets and turned toward her own apartment. A small movement caught her eye, and she looked sadly at the leopard-spotted cat watching her from the hallway.
“Guess I told him, huh, kitty?” she said, chagrined, and went back inside.
And found comfort where she always did: in her painting. A few yards away, the music from the adjoining apartment continued to pound and throb.
But Patience no longer heard it. She’d dressed, for the most part, thrown an oversized, paint-spattered shirt atop her work clothes, then settled in front of her easel. The canvas in front of her was like a psychic reflection, all violent slashes of purple and black and crimson, sparked here and there with jots of gold or brilliant white. Patience lost herself in her art, so intent upon her paints that it was a full minute before she registered that the music, at last, had stopped.
“Thank God,” she murmured, sighing with relief. She wiped a blob of deep violet from her brush, turned to dip it into a paler lavender when a sound halted her.
“Mrrroooorroowwww. . . .”
Patience frowned. The sound grew into a louder, mournful yowl. She set down her brush and hurried to the window, yanked it open, and stuck her head outside.
Cool morning air washed across her face and she blinked gratefully, then turned as another meow sounded—quieter, sad even, but insistent.
“What? Where did you come from?”
Patience craned her neck and saw a cat with a dark-spotted coat and luminous green-gold eyes staring beseechingly at her from atop a cornice where it stood, frozen, afraid to move.
“Are you stuck?” Patience shook her head, marveling. “How’d you get there, anyway? Come on down, cat.”
She stretched her hand out tentatively, mindful of keeping her own balance, but the cat only yowled piteously and retreated farther on its precarious perch.
“Hey, it’s okay, don’t be scared.”
Patience drew a breath and tried again, but it was no good. She couldn’t reach it. As if sensing the danger it was in, the cat gave a single, faint, pitiful mew, gazing at Patience with wide frightened eyes. The young woman sighed, then glanced several stories down to the street. She took a deeper breath, then scrambled out onto the window sill on her knees, clutching at the sill.
“Oh!” Patience cried out, startled. She looked down to see a late-model Harley roaring out into the street. A long-haired, leather-clad figure crouched over the controls as it zoomed out of sight—her neighbor.
“I thought ‘party all night’ was a figure of speech,” Patience said, exasperated; then shouted after the bike, “Have a nice day!”
She turned her attention back to the cat. “Come on,” she said soothingly, reaching for it. “I’m sleep-deprived. Work with me . . .”
It didn’t budge.
Patience’s exasperation grew. She stuck her head out farther, until she could peer at the window next to hers. It held an air conditioner—a very big air conditioner. For a moment, Patience sat there, brooding. The cat gave another pathetic cry.
“Oh, all right, I’m coming. Keep your shirt—er, your fur—on.”
Very carefully, she crawled out onto the ledge. It was wide enough for her to stand on, but just barely. Gingerly she sidestepped toward the adjoining window, then, bracing herself against the wall, stepped onto the air conditioner.
From here she could reach the cat—she hoped. Tentatively, she began to extend her hand, when suddenly beneath her the air conditioner wobbled. Patience screamed, grabbing the cornice and trying desperately to steady herself. The air conditioner straightened, seeming to catch more firmly in the window; Patience let her breath out in a gasp, eyeing the cat just inches away.
“Okay, you,” she muttered as she reached for it. “On the count of three—one, two—”
“HEY! Hold on! Don’t you move!”
Patience started, nearly falling as the voice shouted up at her. She grabbed the cornice and looked down to see a tall figure in the street below, shading his eyes as he stared up at her.
“Whatever you’re thinking, whatever you’re feeling—it’s not worth it,” he called, his voice at once calm and commanding. He took a step forward; Patience saw his car parked haphazardly on the sidewalk behind him. “Understand? I’m a cop. Maybe I can help.”
Patience looked at him in puzzled disbelief. She shook her head. “No, thank you. I’m fine. It’s just—”
“What’s your name?”