If Nancy had any sense, she would have ducked the moment she was seen. As far as the man next door knew, she could have been a shadow, or some trick of his eye. If she had only done that, her life would have gone on completely uninterrupted. The man next door would have figured that he had just caught some shadow, and returned to his smoking, and Nancy would have slunk off to bed, anxious and shaken but safe, at the very least. The next day, she would have woken up late, spent the day outside, and returned back to sleep again having learned a valuable lesson about snooping.
But she didn't duck. And the man knew full well that he had not seen some shadow. With her light on, it was quite obvious that he had seen Nancy, in her bedclothes, watching him from the window. She was curled up on the sill, nearly pressed against the glass, and as soon as he turned their eyes locked. At that moment, there was no turning back.
The man, looking Nancy over from afar, flashed a wide grin and turned in his seat. Putting his odd-smelling cigarette down on an end table, he turned the chair to face her, politely crossed his leg over the other, acting like he was waiting for her something. He was wearing khakis, and a short sleeve button down shirt, his brown hair combed neatly back. He seemed to be awfully dressed up for so late at night, Nancy thought. Daring to break her gaze away, she glanced at the clock. It was past midnight.
Unsure of what to do, Nancy drew her legs up to her chest, the frilly hem of her nightgown rising slightly, showing off the lower part of her legs. She waved awkwardly. She and the gentleman were not exactly strangers, for they had exchanged waves many times before. But she didn't know his name, nor did he know hers, as far as she knew. And the few seconds of interaction the two had in the past were not nearly this... intimate. He waved back, still smiling, and Nancy felt herself begin to blush. She brushed her long brown hair behind her ear and tried to smile, but she felt an odd numbness and nervousness she didn't recognize nearly eclipse all else.
For a few minutes their interaction was like a pantomime, occurring in silence through the window. The man looked at his watch, and then looked at Nancy, and then pointed to his wrist, as if to say you're up late.
Nancy blushed again and nodded, shrugging her shoulders. Yeah, I guess so.
The neighbor pointed to her and then pretended to put his head on a pillow. Can't sleep?
Nancy shook her head quickly. No. Her heart began to flutter. Being up late felt bad enough. Something about this felt... naughty. Like she was crossing some line. She tried telling herself that it was perfectly innocent, and nothing like those other girls who hung out with boys late at night. But some part of her knew that she was playing with fire.
The man pointed around the bottom floor of Nancy's house. Anyone else up right now?
Nancy shook her head, biting her lip.
The man peeked around the side of his house, into the street. All else was quiet. Every house was completely lights out, and not even an animal wandered beneath the streetlights. He gazed up at Nancy and beckoned. Come on down here.
Nancy stifled laughter, and shook her head even harder. The neighbor insisted, waving again. Nancy waved her hands no, I can't do that.
Okay, the man shrugged. I'll just come over there. He began to stroll across his lawn, towards the small path that separated their two houses.
No, no! Nancy waved. Stop it! She realized she basically didn't have a choice. She couldn't have that guy come to the window. Her parents would wake up, and literally freak out. Her heart pounded. She would have to go down. Gosh it was so bad. Is this a sin? She wondered. Or could it lead to one? She thought of Lucy McEnnis, getting felt up in her car. No, she would never do that. Never, ever. She was better than that. She was just satisfying her curiousity, that's all. Just going to go make a new friend, next door. After all, she couldn't spend the rest of the summer all by herself.
She held up her fingers - Hold on, a second - then tugged at the neckline of her nightgown. I have to change. But, afraid that the man might change his mind, she simply threw a dark colored coat over her bed clothes. It's not a big deal, she thought. It's not like I'm showing anything off.
Her next problem was how to get downstairs without waking anyone. Maybe, she thought, I can go down and sneak out the back door. The back door always locks, but I can leave it propped open. But what if someone were to wake up and see? At the very least, they'd unprop it and I'd be trapped. At the worst, I'm discovered next door with an older man. Not that we're doing anything. Just, um... meeting, I suppose.
She was startled back into focus by a sharp clatter beneath the window. Quickly tying her long brown hair into a ponytail, she rushed across the room to see what had made the sound. Beneath the windowsill she found a wooden ladder, and at the bottom of it stood the mysterious man, still grinning happily and beckoning for her to come down.
Holding her breath, and trying to ignore her anxiety, Nancy carefully slid the window open, crawled out onto the ladder, and closed it again, leaving a tiny bit of space open so she might get back in. Trembling as she approached the ground, her bare feet landed in soft, cool grass. She turned to face the stranger, her eyes rising high to meet his. He towered over her by nearly a foot.
"You, young lady, have some explaining to do."
Quietly, Nancy followed the man back across his yard and onto his porch. She gazed anxiously up at the porch light, knowing that anyone going downstairs for a midnight snack at her house would see her next door. The man seemed to read her mind, beckoning her through the back door, into his living room. "Come on inside," he said.
He had not given her any explanation why he made her come by. She had no idea what kind of trouble she may be in, either. Had she broken some voyeur-type law, watching a stranger at night? Maybe he was a police officer, and was about to arrest her. She shuddered at the thought of being handcuffed, arms tight behind her back. Or maybe he really was a spy, and thought that Nancy was a secret agent keeping tabs on him. It didn't seem that far fetched. It was actually the plot of a book she had read recently. The agent caught a woman snooping on him, pretended to seduce her, and then turned her into the authorities. Well, Nancy thought. Good thing I'm smart enough to avoid that. Besides, I'm not going to fall for some man like that. Still, she bit her lip nervously.
The man sat back in a red leather armchair, directing her to do the same on the couch across from him. Nancy did so, looking around the living room with some interest. It was painted yellow, and had been furnished with a much more modern sense of style than her family had. While her house was identical to his on the outside, hers was filled with family heirlooms and antiques. This man's house looked like a space station. Her eyes widened, passing over colorful paintings and furnishings, and she squirmed a little, feeling out of place.
"So," the man said. "We've seen each other before, but haven't been properly introduced. You can call me Robert."
"Hi, Robert," Nancy squeaked.
Robert leaned forward, clasping his hands together. "And what can I call you, sweetie?"
"Um... Nancy," she said.
"Nancy," he repeated. "Okay, Nancy. I want you to know that you're not actually in trouble. At least, not with me. I was just joking around, you know."
"Oh," Nancy said, unable to meet his eyes.
"Did you see what I was doing down there, on the patio?"
"No," Nancy lied.
"Nancy, I told you. You're not in trouble. Although I don't love to be spied on, I don't mind it in this case. However, I need to make sure that you don't tell your parents what you saw me doing."
"I didn't see anything," she said shyly, folding her arms across her chest.
"I'm sure you saw me smoking, right?"
"I guess so," she said.
"You're not going to tell your parents that, are you?"
"What's the big deal?" Nancy asked. "My daddy smokes. Plenty of people smoke."
"Sure," Robert said, sitting back in his chair. For a moment, neither of them spoke. Nancy looked at her bare feet with embarrassment, while Robert thought of something to say.
Finally, Robert said, "do you think your Dad smokes marijuana?"
"Most certainly not," Nancy said indignantly. "What kind of a question is -" but she stopped, realizing exactly what he was saying. The odd smell, the futuristic furniture. The strange working hours. Her eyes widened, and she finally looked directly at the man across from her. "Are you... are you a drug dealer?"
"Oh my God, no," he laughed.
"But all this stuff, and you... you were smoking marijuana," Nancy said accusingly.
"I'm a consultant," Robert said. "Not a drug dealer, don't worry. But you know, there's nothing wrong with marijuana. It's medicinal, it's good for you. Now, everyone else might not think so, but people around here are just uptight. That's the suburbs, for you."
"They told us in school that it kills," Nancy said. "Turns people into perverts, and stuff like that." She stared at Robert, admitting to herself that he was not exactly the type of person she imagined a drug user would look like. She always thought if she even saw one, they'd be young, or maybe a biker of some kind. "How old are you?" she asked.
"Thirty-five," Robert said. "And you?"
"Eighteen," Nancy said.
"That seems old enough to try it, and see for yourself. Would you like to try some?"
"Goodness, no," Nancy said. Robert was nothing like she had expected. But what had she expected. This was all so strange. She wanted to go back to her bedroom.
"Come on, now," he said, rising to his feet.
"Is that all you took me here for?" Nancy pouted. "To try and sell me some drugs?"
Robert laughed, strolling to the porch, where he picked up his marijuana cigarette. "No, not at all. I wanted to make sure you wouldn't run and tell someone what you saw me doing. Little did I know just how naiive you are."
"I'm not naiive," Nancy said. "But I will be telling the police that a drug addict lives next door to me, smoking marijuana cigarettes."
Robert came back into the living room, this time joining Nancy on the couch. "Not before I call your parents house, or simply go knock on the door and tell them that you've snuck downstairs to see me. And call it a joint."
"They know I would never do that," she said.
"But you did," Robert grinned. He placed one end of the joint in his mouth, lit it, and inhaled.
"That's it," Nancy said. "I'm going to go right now and -"
Before she could finish, Robert placed his face near hers, and blew the marijuana smoke across her nose and mouth. Overtaken by the smoke and odor, she began to cough.
"Why, how... why would you do that?" she said between breaths.
"I can't have you go around telling lies about me," Robert said. "Besides, I was only trying to be polite. If I'm not going to make a new friend tonight, I may as well introduce you to one of life's pleasures. God knows you need it." He stood up, strolled over to his record player, and put on a jazz record. "Do you like jazz?"
Nancy frowned and said nothing. She did like jazz. It was one of her guilty pleasures, guilty because that kind of music was so frowned upon in her town. Jazz music was definitely not seen as suitable for a nice, church girl like herself.
"Perfect for a nice high. You should be feeling it any moment now."
"What?" Nancy asked. "How could I? I didn't smoke any."
"Sweetheart, you just breathed in a full dose."
Nancy clutched her chest. "But... but that's wrong. It has to be." Even as she said it, a feeling of lightness crept over her.
"Relax," Robert said, turning the music up.
Nancy laid back a little, trying to stay calm. "It's a sin," she said flatly. "It's wrong... I know all about it. I do, I swear."
Robert only held his finger up to his lips. Unable to say any more, Nancy laid back on the couch. The initial moment of fear quickly passed, and she was just as soon taken by a feeling of total euphoria. Robert joined her, picking up her head gingerly and laying it on his lap.
"Not so bad, right?" he asked.
In spite of herself, Nancy shook her head, a huge smile crossing her face. She couldn't help it. She couldn't admit it, either, but... it felt good. Really good. And she hadn't gotten high on purpose, so she really didn't do anything wrong. I might as well enjoy it, then, she thought. The music pulsated, she could feel in all over her numb body. It was almost as if she could feel it touching her, slithering through her hair, melting over her arms and belly. She giggled, then laughed, squirming on the couch as she glided through every sensation. Soon the feeling of the music was replaced by something firmer, warmer. Robert's hands were resting on her shoulders, gently massaging her, creeping beneath the collar of her nightgown. "Oh..." she said, trailing off.
"Does that feel good?" Robert asked.
"Yes," she laughed. "Yeah it really does." She burst into full, euphoric laughter. "Gosh, don't tell anyone."
"I won't," Robert said. "Not if you don't."
A few hours later, Nancy climbed back up the ladder, sliding back into her bedroom. She peeked her head out, grinning at Robert, who stood below.
"You'll keep my secret safe, then?" he whispered.
Nancy, still glowing from the high, nodded to him. "You, too?"
"Sure," he said. "But if you don't come see me again, soon, it just might slip my mind."
Her head swimming, she slipped into bed, nearly forgetting to take her coat off. As she drifted away to sleep, one of her hands, almost by accident, slipped quietly in between her legs.