Today we’re bringing you the first of four extracts of What Happens to Men When They Move to Manhattan, Jill Knapp’s wonderful first book for HarperImpulse!
There I was, in the heart of it all. I had finally made it to my dream city.
Living on my own, in my first apartment, had accelerated my formerly conventional social life. Sure, going away to college and living in a dorm had its advantages; first time living away from my overly strict parents, no curfew with the car, and of course the ability to invite a guy over without a twenty minute long inquisition from my family.
My father had even composed a “test” to give to all of my dates upon first meeting them. The assessment consisted of around fifty questions, ranging from small queries like name and date of birth, to more invasive interrogation like yearly income, to topical polling such as political and religious ideologies. There was even a separate form to fill out your driver’s license, and social security numbers. I’ll never forget how he handed a freshly printed version to my boyfriend Nicholas the first time he came over my house. Nick had turned to me and said, “Is this for real?” I just shook my head and walked out of the room.
Needless to say, I needed my independence.
Even with all of the freedom college provided, I still lived within the strict and unforgiving guidelines I had always compressed myself into. For as long as I could remember, I believed if you didn’t cheat, lie, or steal, and if you ate all of your veggies and took your vitamins, the world somehow owed you something.
After only three months of living in New York City, to pursue a Master’s Degree at NYU, I learned that was in fact, not the case.
I considered myself lucky, being able to live in an apartment this nice. The deep mahogany floors, paired with the brand new appliances in the kitchen were the envy of every young New Yorker south of 23rd Street. This is not how a newcomer is supposed to live. A newly appointed Manhattan-ite should live in a dingy studio apartment up on East 105th street, or share a confined two-bedroom place with four or five roommates down in Chinatown. No, a new to the town, twenty-two year old girl, would not normally have the privilege of a washer and dryer in the building, and perish the thought – enough closet space to fit nearly all of her clothing.
Nick’s apartment on the other hand was anything but pristine. His apartment was located further downtown on the lower east side. Sandwiched in between a bodega and beat-up old park, Nick’s apartment building was old, bleak, and proverbially falling apart. I felt a pang of guilt over how difficult it must be to live somewhere like that, and how he hadn’t had the option of taking out extra students loans to put toward rent like I did. He never seemed to mind though; said it built “character”.
My new life however, in this very spacious and immaculate West Village apartment had made me into a caricature of myself. Being that I was twenty-two, and living in the greatest city on earth, I took every chance I could get to go out and improve my social life, which unfortunately included improving my alcohol tolerance.
Today, on this blurry autumn morning, I awoke with not only the usual Monday morning hangover, but also an intense burning feeling in my throat. It got worse every time I swallowed, and finished itself off with a dry and uncontrollable cough.
“Damn,” I said aloud, to no one in particular. I let out a yawn and then allowed myself a wide stretch in my tiny, twin-sized bed. I squinted at the clock on my bedside table, and uttered out a low groan.
I considered going back to sleep, but after hitting the snooze twice already, I knew I had to get out of bed. Even though my time window for showering today had passed, I still had to make myself look presentable, and walk to class.
I slowly walked out of my bedroom, passed my roommates’ room (the two of them shared the larger, master bedroom), and stumbled feverishly into my kitchen. Exhausted from my journey, I put my head in my hands and leaned over the counter top. The flawless sparkle in the grain of the brand new, deep green granite made a mockery of me. The stone was so shiny, that if I stared hard enough, I could make out a blurred reflected version of my face. I knew I couldn’t afford this apartment. I had justified this relocation from my parent’s suburban home by telling myself that when I was finished with school, I would be making so much money that my student loans would be a thing of the past in no time. I pushed myself off of the granite and figured it was about time to make good on that promise.
My self-loathing was interrupted by the unmistakable clanking of my roommate’s heels.
“Good morning,” Christina beamed, as she reached right over me and grabbed the last apple.
Christina was one of those girls who were naturally gorgeous, even when she’d just woken up. In my hung-over, and quickly accelerating sick state I was extra aware, and disgusted, by how bright-eyed and effortless she looked. Not to mention she had already showered and was heading out the door while I was running twenty minutes late. We usually woke up around the same time to get ready to go to class and I couldn’t find the energy to fight her for the first shower today.
“Is there coffee?” was all I could muster up, as I fumbled around the fridge for bottled water. I yawned again and rubbed my eyes, leaning on the counter for support.
Before she could answer me, I noticed the time and frantically ran into my bedroom to get dressed for class, nearly taking Christina out in the process. I had realized early in the semester that this was not the class to be late to. The professor was a notorious hard ass and had actually called out my friend Olivia for checking the time on her cell phone last week, embarrassing her in front of the entire cohort. Scarred by the memory, I quickly ran a brush through my hair while simultaneously applying my foundation. A few minutes later, I was good to go (well, good enough).
I grabbed my purse and yelled “Bye!” to no one in particular, slamming the door behind me. As soon as I got into the elevator, my phone vibrated. I grabbed it from my purse, desperately hoping it was one of my friends telling me class was cancelled, but instead it was a text message from my boyfriend Nicholas.
It read, “Can’t wait 2 C U tomorrow honey, I’m counting down hrs!”
I dropped the phone back into my bag and exited the elevator on the ground floor. I started feeling a quick pang of guilt for ignoring the text, but Nicholas would understand how busy I was and I would re-cap my day with him, in full detail tonight on the phone. It was comforting to know I could go about my day without having to check in with anyone twenty times, and that he had his own life too. Not to mention we had an undeniably chemistry between us that seemed to have stood the test of time. Or at least the past couple of years. I smiled to myself as I pictured his wide, soulful eyes, his ever-present second day stubble (which I always referred to as, Oops! I didn’t realize I’m so sexy, stubble) and his strong, well-toned arms that just always managed to keep their firmness, no matter how many times he missed the gym. Combine all of that with my favorite thing he did, the way he traced my lips with his finger right before he was about to kiss me, and I was convinced I was in a perfect relationship. I let out a breathy sigh and let the warmth wash over me as I thought about how was lucky I was to have such a great guy in my life. Sexy, caring, and smart. What more could you ask for?
Thunder cracking above my head interrupted this solitary pleasant thought. When I got outside I was greeted by a blanket of humid rain and I had, of course, left my umbrella upstairs. I glanced back at the elevator doors that were not quickly closing. Since I lived on 18th floor of my apartment building, I rationalized that I had already gone too far to turn around and made my way to 6th Avenue in the pouring rain.
My sneakers did nothing to protect me against the river-sized potholes littering the streets of New York. Each passing minute was more disgusting as the next as I told myself I was going to be sitting with wet socks for the next two hours.
By the time I got to the school, I was drenched and feeling even more morose than when I had woken up. I darted into the ladies’ room to use the hand dryer to dry off at least to a comfortable level. When I opened the door, I sighed. There was a line of two girls in front of me, ignoring my soaked state, and gabbing on about having drinks at Crocodile Lounge later tonight. I started to shiver and one of them gave me an uncomfortable side-look. They finally decided to leave and I bent down to fit under the small, inefficient dryer. Feeling a little homeless, I flipped my head over, figuring my hair was the most important thing to get try. Then I reached down, pulled off my sneakers, and let the hot air run over my argyle socks. It was pointless, those babies were done for. I tossed them in the trash, deciding I’d be more comfortable without them.
Two more girls walked into the bathroom, heading straight to the mirrors. I recognized them, but not enough to say hi and start small talk. Definitely not while I was looking like a drowned rat. After a few more minutes under the hand dryer, I ran my fingers through my puffed up curls to help smooth them down. Reaching into my purse, I opted for a quick refreshing of clear lip-gloss, and a smudge of black eye liner for good measure, I thought I looked normal enough to start my day.
While I was in the process of giving myself a mini make-over, I overheard the two girls talking about how difficult they were finding this classes’ semester. They were conversing in a loud whisper, but with rapid speech. The brunette with the secretary glasses looked as if she was going to burst into tears at any moment, the red-head with the expensive shoes sympathetically rubbing her back. They both let out a sigh, and then made each other swear they wouldn’t tell anyone else, out of fear of seeming weak. I shrugged and collecting my belongings off the sink basin. The girls seemed normal enough, but maybe that was the problem. Maybe you had to be cold and overly-determined to survive here. I shivered both at the thought, and from my clinging wet clothes.
They exited the bathroom, and finally I was alone. I grimaced while silently sympathizing with their pain, making a mental note that I wasn’t the only one suffering this year. Turning to the mirror, I allowed myself to stare a few seconds longer, then shook my head and made my way out into the hall.
As I walked down the long, tiled hallway toward my classroom, I felt a memory hit me out of nowhere. I remembered Nick and I, hands intertwined, walking across campus at Rutgers. The sun was shining as we lightly strolled across the pavement. He was anxious for me to meet his friends for the first time; he kept apologizing for how they would inevitably embarrass him. I could still hear the birds chirping on that unusually warm April day. I had stopped walking for a moment, waiting for a gaggle of sorority girls to pass us, and then brushed a strand of brown hair from his face.
“Stop being so nervous,” I said, rubbing his hand in mine. “Everything’s going to go great. We’ll eat, we’ll bond, we’ll crack jokes at your expense. How bad could it be?”
Nick offered me a laugh and sheepishly looked at the floor. I thought it was sweet, how much he cared about his friends and me getting along. That was the moment I knew I was in love with him.
The sound of a guy cursing at his cellphone broke me out of my daydream, and I quickly remembered where I was. I took a deep breath and opened the large brown door to my lecture hall.
I gingerly walked into the classroom hoping no one would notice my disheveled appearance, and took a quick glance around the room. Not only was class already going on, thankfully my friend Michael had saved a seat for me. I breathed a sigh of relief and tried to smooth a deep wrinkle out of my shirt. He turned around slightly and gave me a subtle nod. I nodded back, and then quickly ran my fingers through my hair, attempting to further tame the nest of rain-soaked curls. It was no use, I’d have to sport this Bette Midler from the 80’s look for the rest of this class.
I had met Michael only two or three months ago when school started; it was getting harder to keep track. He and I were in every single class together, which wasn’t unusual given that our program in Biology and Behavioral Science only had forty students in it. This meant quick bonding but also steep competition. It kind of reminded me of how you’d make close friendships in summer camp, but then completely forget to call the person come October.
Michael and I had become fast friends after he referenced an old B movie, which just so happened to be one of my favorite films, during the third day of classes. I felt an instant connection that moment, which was a little out of character for me. I usually had a hard time opening up to people. After a good laugh, he composed himself and formally stuck out his hand.
“Michael Rathbourne,” he said with a warm smile and perfectly straight teeth. “And you are?”
His confidence had left me a little intimidated. Apart from going on a job interview, I had never formally introduced myself with a handshake before. I studied Michael as he held his warm smile. I couldn’t help but notice his full lips and dark brown eyes, with tiny specs of gold if you looked closely enough. He was dressed well, wearing what looked like an expensive button down and designer jeans.
“Amalia Hastings,” I said, trying my best to sound as confident as he had. I could feel my voice crack as I uttered the last syllable of my name. I squared my shoulders a bit and smiled.
“Well, Amalia Hastings,” he repeated my name, still holding my hand in his. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” His hand was soft, but still masculine. When he pulled away, I remember feeling slightly confused by the experience.
Michael was the same age as me, but that first encounter, among others, made him seem much more refined than any guy in their early twenties. If we had met in a bar, I would have pegged him for at least twenty-seven. He carried himself in a way that suggested confidence and pride, but I still found him warm and approachable. He was clearly well known at NYU. Most of the girls in the cohort noticed him for more than his good grades; their eyes following his every move whenever he made his way into class.
As I made my way to my seat, I could have sworn I saw one girl actually slowly scan him with her eyes as he reached over to a retrieve a pen he had dropped on the floor. I caught eyes with her, and she quickly turned away, but not before giving me a nasty side-look first.
I laughed to myself and claimed the empty seat next to Michael.
“What’s so funny?” he raised an eyebrow.
“Nothing worth mentioning,” I smirked.
I pulled out a large notebook from my over-sized purse, and realized I didn’t have any pens on me. They must have fallen out while I was dashing through the rain like a crazy person. I rummaged through my bag for another minute until Michael presented me with a pen.
“Thanks,” I murmured.
He just nodded and returned his eye to the front of the room. I scanned the lecture hall, and quickly noticed our other friends weren’t in class today. As if to read my mind, Michael leaned over and said, “Olivia and Alex aren’t here. I’m assuming the rain kept them away.” He leaned over close enough for me to smell his cologne. He smelled like sandalwood, and something else. As his arm accidentally brushed against mine from leaning a little too close, I quickly pulled it back and smiled. I felt my heart rate pick up a little bit when he touched me, but I shook it off. I had obviously noticed he was a good looking guy, but I had never thought about him as anything more than just a friend.
Neither Olivia nor Alex lived in Manhattan, so it made sense that they would use the bad weather as an excuse to ditch. I looked around noticing a lot more empty seats than usual. As I scanned the room, I watched one girl stare at Michael while simultaneously chewing her bottom lip. I raised an eyebrow at her, but she was too busy drooling to notice. Apart from the drooler, most of the class had definitely opted out of today’s lecture.
I turned to Michael and whispered, “I’m guessing that’s a common theme today.”
He smiled and said in a near whisper, “I’m glad you made it.” I felt a small shudder go through me as his voice dropped into a smooth, lower octave.
I smiled back at Michael and caught his eyes. I felt my stomach drop, the way it does when you’re on the top of a really high roller coaster. I could feel heat rise from my chest, into my cheeks, undoubtedly making them flush, and wondered if this cold was turning into fever. As I took a deep breath to get my ever rapidly climbing heart rate until control, I immediately felt a tickle in my throat. Before I knew it, I began uncontrollably coughing again. Perfect, I thought. I put my hand over my mouth to muffle the sound as much as possible. I was petrified Dr. Van der Stein would kick me out for interrupting his lecture on the myth of phrenology. Just as I was about to get up and run into the hallway, Michael tapped my shoulder and without saying a word reached into his pocket, pulled out a handful of cough drops, and placed them on the desk in front of me. We made eye contact but I couldn’t speak to thank him, fearing any use of my voice would trigger another coughing fit. He turned back to face the front of the class but I continued to stare at him. I then stared at the cough drops.
Why was this affecting me so much? I felt a strong sense of panic come over me, followed by a moment of clarity.
I was in love with Michael.