It wasn’t really a party: ten or fifteen people exploring the secret passageways, a pretty girl with candy-colored hair and a flower crown lounging on a tire swing, a pair of beautiful boys kissing on a slide.
“Who the fuck did you say lives here?” Ally asked. “Outside, you think you’re going to be mugged by a West Side Story gang. Inside, it’s a terrarium for people.”
Before Hugo could answer, he had his arms wrapped around one of the tallest men Ally could ever remember seeing. He was so tall that all she could comfortably focus on were his red Converse sneakers, as big as boats.
“Ally, this is Dan. Dan, Ana Alvarez. We work together.”
“You can call me Ally,” she said, looking up at his face — long and lean, with big, distinct and immutable features.
“But can I call you Alvy?” he asked. Usually, when men are pushy about renaming you, it feels cloying, invasive. But Dan was sweet. “I like to give everyone a nickname. Something private, between us.”
“Don’t ask —“ Hugo protested.
“Well, out of respect to Hugo I will keep that to myself. Just kidding, it’s Scrote,” said Dan, matter of factly. “Hey, I’m going to have a cigarette if anyone wants to see what I did with the fire escape.”
“I’m going to get a drink —“ Hugo said, looking in the direction of candy-floss girl (in all fairness to him, she was doing downward dog in front of the sink where the booze was.)
“I’d love to” Ally offered, making unclear eye contact with Hugo. Did he want her to stay? Did he want her to go? Did he not care, just so long as he could attempt to motor-boat that age-appropriate Rainbow Brite over there?
Ally followed Dan, who was impossible not to follow — he was so large that when he walked he seemed to part not just the people but the air, molecules bowing to his authority. He crawled out the window onto the fire escape, then turned to grab her Ally’s hand.
“I’m okay,” she assured him, before her foot slipped onto the balcony, so that she was straddling the window-sill. “Like a rock,” she laughed.
“Well, just in case. It would make me feel better,” he said. And so she took his hand, or rather he took hers and enveloped it in his. She felt like a tiny kitten with a tiny paw, and was genuinely moved that someone so large could be so quietly tender, so totally without guile. It was a contradiction. And Ally loved contradictions.
When she finally made her way out onto the fire escape, with the aid of his oar of an arm, it took her a moment to take in what he had made: a trellis, like one in an English garden, but instead of roses it was dotted with lights. Found lights — normal bulbs, tiny bulbs, star-shaped bulbs, red bulbs, orange bulbs. It arced overhead, creating a peaceful womb-like space. Through the slats in the trellis she could see more lights, the lights of downtown.
“Pretty trippy, right?” Dan asked, pulling out a cigarette.
“I mean, beyond.” Ally was still gawking. When he offered her a cigarette, she took it, despite the fact that she hadn’t smoked since Paris. It didn’t matter. She looked inside, at Hugo and the pink baby girl, laughing over beers. Hugo peered around the room as the girl nattered on. Was he looking for her? If he was, he couldn’t seem to find her. Which made it feel safe to say what she said next.
“Dan?” she asked.
“I want to know you.”
New chapters of Lena Dunham’s “Verified Strangers” appear daily, Monday through Friday, on Vogue.com. If you missed Chapters One and Two, You can read them here.