"Ray, wake up."
"What is it?"
"The sun's rising." Neela sat at the side of his bed, gently shaking his body to wake.
He sighed and buried his face in a pillow. "It's your day off, and more importantly, it's my day off. Go back to bed."
"Get up. Honestly, who sleeps with their socks on?"
"I was," he pleaded, "I was sleeping with my socks on."
On the days that he woke before she would, she'd hear him fumble out of bed and scuffle around in preparation for an early shift. It had occurred to her that she was missing hearing that, the sound of his voice, that tone of his as he bid goodbye to a one-night-stand, or his swearing when he stubbed his toe on something because he had left the place in such a Goddamn disarray.
She had been too restless to fall asleep, and when the first rays of day hit the windows, she began to feel the niggling need to wake him.
"Just get up, will you? I'll let you get back to bed as soon as we're done."
"Done doing what?"
She pulled at the buttons of her grey cardigan with a nearly wild eagerness. "Standing at the top of the Empire State Building."
Neela left his bedroom and quickly moved toward the door of the apartment. He groaned as he shoved the covers off of his body. "You really need to get over your whiskey phase."
The piano from an old squeaky Kinks record lingeringly thumped in the living room. The words were being chanted in eerie tenderness: When I look up from my pillow I dream you are there with me. Though you are far away I know you'll always be near to me.
"Did you know we had a roof?" She spoke distantly, as if she were just thinking aloud. Ray wanted to answer back that roofs generally came with the whole structural package of a building, but he knew what she meant.
There was a stark emptiness up there, all concrete, some broken flower pots, an unkemptly kept plateau in the middle of a sleeping village. It reminded him of the top of every building he'd stood on. There was an old lawn chair close to the ledge overlooking West Town. Her fingers lightly touched his, indicating that he move closer with her to the ledge, to get a better view.
"Are we even supposed to be up here?" He wasn't sure why he was suddenly so concerned about that, considering he had briefly lived on top of County, throwing himself Fourth of July barbeques and everything.
Wicker Park was spread out before them, the downtown skyline peeking up imperially in the back. They were reminded of the messages written in graffiti by those feeling profound or other things on streets and alleys and brick walls. Their eyes travelled down streets of bushes and brownstones, and big old trees on the verge of sprouting their leaves. Every building had its own architectural heritage. Every building was intricately beautiful, radiating wisdom for being there in the middle of all things. Cars lined up against the sidewalks, one after another after another. Traffic lights changed from red to green to yellow, even if there was nobody to pay heed to them. And, there were the tall bowing lights on train platforms, glowing lonesome against the sky's feathery sea of pink and blue.
"Rooftops remind me of Michael." She reflexively nudged some slippery strands of hair behind her ear and then pulled the material of the cardigan closer to herself.
"They make you feel connected, like you can see everything everywhere, know everything. Be with the ones you can't be with. The good rooftops anyway."
There was always so much of the past drifting in the air in the early morning, as if the past existed in the clouds of daybreak. Faceless phantoms, none of the detail, but filled with the velocity of feelings. The way an amnesiac might remember things.
"I saw you cleaned the kitchen."
"I said I would." Neela grinned. She turned to look at him. "Thank you."
For a moment, he was sure she was going to say "Roomie" at the end, he would get her to say it, one day.
But, now he looked back at her, expectantly. "For what?"
"For trying one of my cookies again against your better judgment." He did a lot of things against his better judgment, including standing on this roof with her.
"Only because I expect you to reacquaint yourself with a certain film genre tonight."
Neela laughed softly and snaked her arm inside Ray's jacket and wrapped it around his waist. Her head moved so it touched his chin, the blackness of her hair slightly grazing against his beard. It was a friendly hug. It broke his heart a little that it wasn't meant to be anything more, though he wouldn't admit it to himself. He put his own arm around her. They both stood there as the sky slowly amended its colors.
She was warm, just exuding warmth. That was the thing about her, no matter what the temperature, just no matter what, she always felt warm. He imagined what it would be like to lie down with her, to have her smell with him as he drifted off to sleep, and for dawn to break with that still being there in the air.
This is it, the last part of the story. Not to sound weird, but keep this story in mind and then check out the scene on YouTube of Ray and Neela's first kiss. Just so you know…
I want to thank everyone who took time to read this story and everyone who sent me a comment as well. Helps preserve my vanity. I want to thank RayNeelaFan especially, since I couldn't PM you personally, and you've posted such nice reviews along the way! A big shout out to the folks at Save Reela—thanks for saving reela :-), having such, such great discussions and helping feed my obsession for this pairing. And, thanks for always leaving comments for this particular story and other stories as well!
Lastly, I want to say a big, fat, gigantic THANK YOU to K for reading the story over and being so absolutely amazing with the feedback. I can't even explain how much I appreciate it. I won't try. It could get creepy.