Authors: Tracey H. Kitts
Tracey H. Kitts
My next-door neighbor was the hottest thing on two legs. No, really. You should see him. There is no way to accurately describe a man like this, but I can give you the basics. He’s around six foot four with short, shaggy brown hair and a body that could cause heart failure. I didn’t know anything about him except the way watching him each morning made me feel.
Our small, sleepy little community was what I’d always categorized as “dead”. That is, until three weeks ago when he moved into town. The house next door to me had been vacant for two years. No one was murdered there or anything sensational. The real estate market was poor and no one had been interested. Most people didn’t want to live in the middle of nowhere. There were two kinds of people here—the kind who were born here and the kind looking to escape from something somewhere else. I was born here.
I’d seen plenty of others come and go, but nothing like him. The privacy fence still allowed me a fairly good view. Early each morning I’d found him working. While I enjoyed my cup of coffee on the front porch he toiled away. Digging something from the look of it. I could clearly see he had a shovel, but that was about it. Three weeks of digging. What the hell was he planting? A jungle?
I had never been shy. So why was I just watching him? I couldn’t say except that maybe I was just enjoying the view. He worked in jeans, without a shirt. The muscles of his back flexed and rippled beneath the skin as he bent to his task once more. I could only see from his chest up above the fence. But that was more than enough. Surely he knew I was watching? Then again, he never looked up.
At first I thought he was working on his garden. You know, new house, new start. Maybe he just wanted to freshen up the old place? But he hadn’t bothered to repaint the chipping shutters and I had yet to see him bring any pots, fertilizer or plants into his yard.
He had, however, brought the most amazing body I’d ever seen. And he brought it outside every morning. I wanted to speak to him even though I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say. “Hey there, I’ve been watching you for three weeks. Nice abs.” I laughed at the very idea, then quickly put a hand over my mouth. He must have heard me.
But he never looked up and I took another sip of my coffee. Hmm. It needed more sugar. And from the way I was reacting to the sight of a little male flesh, so did I. Just as I was making a mental note to buy some more batteries, an old beat-up red truck came pulling into my yard.
“Aren’t you ready yet?”
Justina crawled from the vehicle like her feet were made of lead. She was not a morning person. For that matter, neither was I. Her long black hair was pinned back in a ponytail that looked tight enough to give her an eye lift as a bonus for wearing it. Justina was not born here.
She’d moved here two years ago after a final confrontation with her violent boyfriend. He hit her for what she said was “the last time”. When I asked what happened to him she only gave me a dark look in reply. I’d never asked again. It was her secret and if she didn’t want to tell me, that was fine. I trusted her like I didn’t trust even my family. I’d already decided at this point that even if she’d killed him it wouldn’t have mattered. From what I knew, the bastard had it coming.
Her knee-high combat boots creaked as she walked toward the front steps and one of the straps on her magenta tank top slipped down her shoulder.
“Lucy! Are you even listening to me? What the fuck could be so…interesting?”
By the end of the question her tone had obviously changed. I looked to find her watching my new neighbor with visible interest.
“Nice, huh?” I asked. “That’s my new neighbor.”
“What’s his name?”
“How long has he been here?”
She crossed her arms in irritation and her ponytail shook. “Three weeks and you don’t even know his name?”
I took another sip of coffee. “Nope.”
“What have you been doing? Sitting out here and watching him?”
“Every morning, yes.”
She laughed. “You’re unbelievable.” Justina shivered and ran her hands up and down her arms. “I haven’t gotten used to the weather here yet. One day it’s hot, the next cold. And how long does the goddamned summer last?”
“Welcome to the South, Stina.”
Her smirk might strike some as rude, but I had come to understand that was about as close as she ever came to a smile.
“You want some coffee?”
She took one look at my purple bathrobe and put her hands on her hips, clearly impatient to get started.
“What? I’m dressed under here. I had a chill.”
“Fine. Coffee, for the road. Get a move on, beyotch, we’ve got supplies to look for.”
Justina and I own a decorating business. We sell all sorts of things, candles, and flower arrangements both fresh and artificial. We’ve got paintings from local artists, plus we even make our own soap. Oh, and I almost forgot, we do weddings. Stina isn’t too fond of that part of the venture, but it is highly profitable in springtime. Our shop, Passionate Petals, has been up and running for a year and a half now.
The old floorboards in the foyer creaked beneath our feet as we made our way back into the house. The hardwood floors were one of the few things I had not remodeled after purchasing the house. Sure they were a bit scuffed up, but I considered that “character”. I liked character, whether I was looking at a home or someone’s face. It needed a few flaws in order to be perfect. A contradiction by most standards, I know. But it made sense to me.
Justina followed me into the kitchen and flung herself down at the breakfast table as if she were bone-tired.
I took off my robe and tossed it onto the back of one of the chairs. I was wearing a pair of faded jeans and a tight green t-shirt that said, “I love cheese.” Stina had gotten it for me as a joke. I’m lactose intolerant.
I got out some of my “to go” cups from the cabinet and started by putting a heaping scoop of sugar in Justina’s cup.
“You could probably get a better look at your neighbor from here,” Justina said, nodding toward the french doors that opened onto my patio.
“Probably, but I’m not going to. It’s bad enough that I watch him like some kind of pervert every morning.”
She laughed. “Oh, so now you’re a pervert?”
“I always take my coffee on the porch when the weather is nice. I went out one morning and he just happened to be there.” I snickered. “And I happened to enjoy the view enough that I went out early the next day.”
I handed her the coffee and she took a sip, waving her hand as she burned her tongue. Stina never changed. Every time she drank something hot she couldn’t wait for it to cool. And every time she’d say, “Burnt my fucking tongue.”
I picked up my own travel mug and headed toward the door. “Come on then. You’re the one who wanted to get an early start.” As I pulled on my black leather jacket I asked, “Did you bring the list?”
Justina slapped her back pocket. “Yep.”
While I locked the front door behind us I caught her taking in the view again.
“Does he always work without a shirt?”
I couldn’t hide the grin as I turned and took her by the arm. “Yep.” I led Justina down the steps while she kept glancing back over her shoulder at the hunk next door.
“I thought you switched sides,” I teased.
She sighed. “I tried. Hell, I’m sick of men, it sounded like a good idea at the time.” We both laughed. “I’m just not attracted to other women. I can appreciate whether or not someone is beautiful, but that doesn’t mean I want to get with them, you know?”
“Yeah, I understand. I’m an artist, remember? I appreciate the human body the way people around here think is just pre-verted.” She laughed at the way I deliberately mispronounced the word.
We stopped for Justina to get her wallet out of her truck. She hated to carry a purse. Instead she had a colorful wallet to match almost every outfit. If she ever carried a bag it was because she was traveling or needed somewhere to put tampons.
My SUV was much more suited to what we had to do today. I’d been thinking of repainting the plain white vehicle for a while now, but couldn’t decide what I wanted. I didn’t want an ordinary paint job. I wanted something decorative.
Justina fidgeted on the lawn while I backed out. I don’t think I’d ever seen her stand completely still. She checked her pocket three times to be sure she had cigarettes before I could get the garage door closed. Her pale blue eyes always looked haunted, but some days were worse than others. It looked as if today was going to be one of those days. I knew she’d been through a lot, but she never elaborated. Justina just wasn’t that sort of person. Every now and then she’d say something about her past, but it was rare. She knew I was here for her if she ever decided to talk. However for the moment she seemed content to roll down her window and chain smoke.
“Good luck with the hole digging, hot stuff!” she yelled as we drove past my neighbor’s house.
“You bitch!” I laughed. “I can’t believe you just did that.”
We continued to suffer from bouts of laughter until we were out of town. Peace, Mississippi, is a good ways from what most people would consider “civilization”. But it’s still within driving distance of some of the larger cities like Biloxi and Gulfport. I enjoy the isolation just as much as I enjoy an occasional trip to the city.
We were just outside of Biloxi at a little shop called Mama’s. We could have had all our supplies shipped directly to the shop, but both of us enjoyed the trip once a month. Of course there were lots of things we did order online, but we got all our soap and candle making supplies from Mama’s.
Edward, whose mother actually started the shop, met us at the door.
“Good morning, ladies. Is it that time already?”
His blond hair and blue eyes were enough to make anyone swoon. And the way his ass filled out those jeans wasn’t bad either.
“Yeah, it’s that time of the month,” Justina blurted out.
Edward and I exchanged a funny look and she turned dark enough to almost match her magenta top.
“I’m just gonna go look at some oil. I mean um, pick out some essential oils for the sap, um, soap. Fuck, I’m going over there.”
Edward smiled and turned his attention back to me.
“And how are things with you, little red?”
His nickname for me always made me smile. I’m five foot three with what Justina describes as “glow-in-the-dark” red hair. It reaches to the middle of my back and I prefer to wear it down.
“I’m not little, Edward. I’m fun size.”
He laughed. “I’ve got your stuff ready. You want to have a look around first?”
“Yeah. I’m going to make sure Justina found the oils.”
At the mention of my friend his smile grew wider. I had to resist the urge to try to play matchmaker. Justina was still so distrustful of men I wasn’t sure she could handle a relationship. I’m pretty sure she could handle Edward though. Needed to handle him, in fact. But sex and a relationship are not the same thing. He seemed like a nice guy. He deserved better than being treated like an object.
“You could just talk to him.”
Justina jumped at the sound of my voice.
“Shit, I didn’t know you were behind me.”
“Lavender essence is fascinating,” I teased.
“Don’t be a cunt.”
“Too late,” I replied without missing a beat.
“Cunt” was one of Justina’s favorite words to describe other women. Even though it is offensive to some, it had quickly worked its way into my vocabulary as well. There were some people that no other word quite did justice. And right now I was being one on purpose.
“You know, every man is not your enemy. Besides, I can see that you like him.”
She snorted and picked up the bottle of lavender oil.
“Everything with a dick is my enemy.”
“Like your vibrator?” I was certain that my smirk matched hers this time.
“You really are a cunt sometimes.” Her comment sounded harsh, but a smile was quickly spreading across her face.
“Fine. I’ll talk to Edward when you talk to your neighbor.”
I pretended like I’d been stung. “Bitch.”
“That’s the deal.”
I had another smartass comeback ready. But instead images of someone I’d tried to forget came unbidden to my mind. Justina noticed and put her hand on my shoulder.
“What’s wrong? Was it something I said?”
I shook my head. “No. I saw James the other day.”
James was my ex-boyfriend. But that was putting it mildly, giving him a title like “ex” was so inadequate. He was the love of my life and now he was with someone else.
“Nothing really. I saw him coming out of the grocery store. We made eye contact, I smiled and then he turned away.”
The tears that burned my eyes could not be helped. It hurt.
“He turned away from you?” I could tell she was outraged. It was nice to know she cared…to know that someone did.
I wiped my eyes and turned back to the oils.
“I don’t know what I would have said if he hadn’t.”