By the time April rolled around and the house next door put blinds in its windows, Tara and her roommates had decided they wouldn’t be renewing their lease. It was one thing for your neighbors to have a lot of parties—this was a college town, after all—but, well, Tara wasn’t sure what she saw through the basement window that night. It wasn’t exactly a party.
In November, when Tara first mentioned the neighbors to her roommates, she had been watching the dull glow off their white living room walls since August. She slept on her side, and with her bed pushed against her window, she often opened her eyes in the morning looking into their living room just three feet away. She could only see a bare coffee table, pushed against the wall as if to make more space for dancing, which hadn’t moved in the time she’d watched.
She never saw them in passing, and thought at first that they must just be unlike her—night owls with crowded social calendars. But as time crept on…
“I seriously suspect no one lives there, even though I know they do,” Tara told Tyler and Dylan, whose rooms were both opposite Tara’s, facing an apartment building’s parking lot.
“Maybe no one does,” Tyler said, not moving from the couch. After spending long hours in the lab, she parked herself under three blankets for the whole weekend, not talking to anyone if she could help it.
Dylan raised his hand, pretending to ask an in-class question. Tara motioned to him, trying not to roll her eyes.
“Why do you think anyone does live there?”
Tara found Dylan’s constant enthusiasm a little irritating. He never seemed to sleep later than 9 a.m., even after he’d been student teaching all day and working night shifts at the grocery store. Still, she appreciated him in times like these, knowing he’d listen to her story and get as wrapped up in the mystery as she had.
Tara led Dylan into her room, climbing onto her bed. Dylan stood behind her, leaning forward with his elbows on the mattress.
“That does look a little sad,” Dylan agreed. “But you’ve never seen them?”
Tara explained that at night, she heard the bass of songs just on the tip of her tongue and sounds like a crowd of people talking all at once. She didn’t say that when she squinted out, the window was just a black void. When she couldn’t sleep, she watched for a light to go on or a figure to move across the room, but the darkness never changed, not for hours.
Dylan straightened up, shaking Tara’s shoulder. “Parties? We should go over next time and see what they’re up to!”
Thinking about meeting the neighbors, Tara wondered for the first time what they saw of her. A girl who dressed herself up in glamorous clothes and danced around alone but prepared to leave her room by taking off her makeup and putting on sweatpants. She only liked attention in her imagination, didn’t like compliments even from her roommates because it meant someone was looking.
She shook her head. “I don’t know. Don’t you think something could be off about them?”
“Well, now I have to know.” He clapped his hands. “We’re going. Come on, I’m sure if we saw the other rooms, we’d learn more.”
Tara kept watching the window, stomach swirling. “That doesn’t answer why this room tells us nothing,” she mumbled.
The semester got busy, everyone went home for break, and Dylan didn’t pull through on his declaration until February. At that point, the window across the way was starting to get grimy from dirty, melted snow, and Tara couldn’t see the room as clearly.
She, Dylan, and Tyler had been getting ready for a friend’s birthday a few blocks over—the very friend who had introduced them freshman year at a college-sponsored bingo night. Senior year was creeping up on them, and they were feeling sentimental about how they shut people out in their own ways but had somehow still found each other.
So when they started skipping down their driveway together, Tara thought she needed to make the most of their remaining time and felt clichéd for thinking it. And then she said that all out loud and Tyler nodded solemnly and Dylan slapped his thigh to let out some of his laughter, and they reached the end of their driveway, poised to turn to their friend’s house.
Dylan paused. “Oh my god, the neighbors!”
Tara heard a catch of music and something like singing. It was the soundtrack to her dreams now, so she knew Dylan had to be right about where it was coming from.
Tyler wrinkled up her nose. “The non-existent frat boys?”
“We said so, Tara!” Dylan was hugging both of them now. “Tara, we have to go.”
Tara found that, as her glimpse into that sole room was fading, she was more and more curious. “Okay. Let’s see.”
The house was like theirs but brown and one story. They walked the five steps to the driveway, then froze between the shut front door and shadowed backyard. The windows were all dark, giving no indication of where people were entering. Tara could hear them now, so many voices, though the music—louder, but not any more clear—masked specific words.
They paced around the side, looking into the blank windows, giggles gone. Tara stretched her arms between the two houses as she walked, her fingertips just almost grazing each. They drifted into the overgrown backyard, eyeing its darkest corners, where they found the window and bulkhead entrance to the basement. The party guests must have been entering there, but it was closed now. She squatted by the window.
“Do you think they’ll let us in?” Dylan asked, coming to peer beside her.
Foggy glass concealed the details, and Tara could only see flashing blue lights and a square room with smooth edges.
Tara shook her head. “There’s no one there.”
“Then where’s everyone talking?”
There was sound echoing from inside but nothing to grasp onto to explain it. It was so storybook, the temptation to see what was hidden. The neighbors were captivating without revealing themselves.
Tyler hung back, turning cold and serious. “Does anyone want to go home and watch a movie?”
Dylan blinked hard and jumped up. “Okay, yeah. Yes.”
As she was standing to join them, Tara saw for a second the light turn solid blue on the empty room. Tara knew the neighbors weren’t invisible, had to be somewhere within. But there was no way for her to judge more from the outside, and she wanted nothing more than to be somewhere deep inside the walls with them, unseen but interesting.
The next week, Tyler texted links to apartments around town. Tara didn’t stop looking out the window, though—imagining the bulkhead swinging open, imagining herself under the blue lights—not until the blinds appeared a few months later, in the space of the few hours she’d been asleep.