Three weeks ago, a stranger moved in next door. But he was unlike the previous people to rent the three-story home. It’s not like I’d paid much attention to him; he was a tall, fit man with narrow green eyes and thick black hair that styled in place. I mean, it’s not like I was looking for anyone. After James Abrams broke my heart, I’d decided to take a breather from men. But that was five years ago. Maybe my bitterness towards men was getting the best of me. Maybe this guy was normal. The Conner’s rented out the house, mostly stuck up, snobby families lived there. I’d inherited my house when my parents died because of the coronavirus last year. What can I say? They didn’t believe in vaccines. I had no idea Dad had a house, especially not a house as beautiful as this house. We’d lived in modest size apartments, but this house was nothing like I’d expected. Growing up, I always thought we were poor. Come to find out, Dad was a millionaire, saving his cash for me. Dad always told me he wanted me to have a better life than he did. I didn’t know what he meant then, but I know it now. And Mom was happy as long as she was with Dad. Before she died, Mom taught me how to shoot a Smith & Wesson. She wanted me to know how to pull the trigger if I had to. I was a liberal, but I wasn’t afraid to use a gun if I had to. I’d only had to pull the trigger one time. I thought someone broke in the house, but it was a fucking raccoon. It scared the shit out of me.
I’d been working from home for about a year now. I write opinion pieces for USA TODAY. I’d be pecking away at the keyboard and notice the man leave and come home from work. It’s not like I positioned myself in the window with a low-cut top and brown framed secretary glasses on the edge of my nose. I’d get pissed because I never saw the bastard took a glance through the window. Was something wrong with me? Have I lost my sex appeal? Isn’t that the first to go? I’d go upstairs and watch him take an evening skinny dip. I used to wonder what he’d feel like inside of me. Too much information? Well, can you blame me? I’ve been single for five years. I tried the whole dating app shit. I met a few guys who mostly lied about their lives. Look, I take responsibility for my situation, but it doesn’t hurt any less. And no, I wasn’t still into James. I couldn’t care less about the bastard. What I wanted is true love. Real love. I’d wanted to love someone with all of my heart. I finally told myself, I said, Hannah, I said, if you don’t go and talk to this stranger, you’ll never know what he thinks about you. Maybe this could be your fresh start.
I knew what I had to do. I had to go and talk to the stranger. Just go right up to him and ask him his name or some stupid shit. I’d skimmed through conversation starters on various websites. They all had one thing in common: Nothing works the same for everyone. These articles had little advice and more to say about what the article wasn’t saying. I slammed my laptop shut and removed my glasses. I saw him make his way to his car. I scrambled to my feet and flung the door open.
“Howdy, neighbor,” I said. Where the fuck did howdy come from? That’s so not like me. I didn’t say howdy. I hated country music. I’d never watched a fucking Western movie. I’m nervous as hell.
“Well. Howdy back,” the man said with a giggle.
Fuck my life. He’s laughing at me. I screwed it up before I’d even gotten the man’s name. Leave it to me to fuck up a conversation starter. Most of the time, guys were intimidated by me, but I was intimidated by this gorgeous man this time.
I motioned–as sensual as possible–back into the house. “Would you like some coffee or wine?” I said. Wine. I’d like to down a bottle of wine, and make love by the… Hey, wait a minute. Let’s take this one step, and a time, I thought.
The man glanced to his house then his eyes returned to me. “Sure, I don’t see why not. I was just going to watch the game but–“
“Games? I love games,” I said. “We can watch whatever you want to.” Who the fuck was I kidding? I hated sports. I couldn’t tell the difference between a goal and a fumble. I wouldn’t even know what a football was unless I’d been a cheerleader.
The man traveled the short distance through a brick road with roses and autumn leaves pushed to either side. His tight jeans and figure-fitting white t-shirt warmed my skin.
“Welcome.” I waved him in, biting my lower lip. “Please, have a seat.”
The man lowered his body to my maroon leather chair. Think. Think of something to say.
“Nice place,” the man said, observing the art on my wall.
“Got a name?” Please, don’t tell me your name is James. Please don’t, I thought.
“Matthew,” he said with his piano white teeth. “And you are?”
“Me?” I shook my head. “Right. Me. I’m Hannah.”
“About that glass of wine, Hannah–“
“Do you want ice?”
“Never tried ice with my wine,” Matthew said. Oh, shit. He probably thinks I’m a total weirdo. Maybe he’s only staying to be polite. Maybe. Maybe I’m fucking going insane.
“I see you.”
“Excuse me?” I stopped pouring the wine, and my eyes bulged like Bugs Bunny.
“Watching me. I see you watching me.”
My mouth hung open, not closing. “Look, it’s not what you–“
“We both know it’s exactly what I think it is.”
I blushed hard. “You saw me in my room, watching you skinny dip?” How embarrassing? I’m screwed. Now, he’s going to call the cops, and I’m going to be placed on the sex offender registry! “You mean.” I swallowed hard. “You saw me. You know–“
I felt my stomach drop. “Look, I’m not a creep.”
“Not a creep?”
“No, of course not.” I waved my arms in defense.
“That’s a shame,” Matthew said.
Fuck. I said the wrong thing again. How am I fucking this up already? “Why is that?”
“Because I knew you’d get off to me naked in the pool,” he said, raising a haughty brow.
“Hear”–I handed him a glass of wine–“I may or may not have been doing, you know, that word you used–“
I slammed my eyes shut. “Yes, that word.”
I felt Matthew inch closer to me. He gripped my shoulder. I shivered. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Look, you don’t have to rub this in my face.”
Matthew laughed. “I’ve been watching you, too.”
“You have?” I raised a brow and took a long drink of red wine, then set the half-empty glass on the table.
“You should learn how to close your bedroom blinds, Dear.”
Did Matthew just call me Dear? I fucking crossed the finish line. A guy only calls you Dear if he’s interested. Right? If he thinks you’re sweet. And did he say he watches me? I had no idea I’d left the blinds open when I stripped. I wonder if he’d, you know, masturbated to me, too.
“Masturbate?” Matthew raised a brow.
I blushed. “Yes, that.”
“What do you think?”
“I’m hoping yes?” I raised a brow. “I’m hoping that you did.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Matthew’s green eyes fixed on mine made me swallow hard.
I felt my stomach swirl like water going down a drain. There go the cheesy plans I made for us. Why would a guy like Matthew fall for a girl like me? I mean, yes, I’m rich now, but I grew up poor. Maybe he thinks I’m white trash.
“Well, half wrong.”
I lifted my gaze. “So you did?”
“Let’s just say you wouldn’t be disappointed.” Matthew gave me a cocky wink and a confident smile.
I lifted my chin, finishing the rest of my glass. “Would you like more?”
Matthew gave me a neutral glare, then laughed. “Sure, why not?”
“Good, because my nerves are killing me.”
“How about, before we drink too much, you show me your bedroom.”
“Good idea. Wouldn’t want to have sex and then forget about it, right?” Where the fuck did that come from? What makes me think a guy wanting to visit my bedroom in the middle of the night screams sex? Oh, I covered my mouth. “I mean–“
“Relax,” Matthew said, firmly gripping my shoulders. I closed my eyes and let out a sigh I didn’t know existed. It was like I melted in his arms. His body took control, and I followed his every move.
Instead of having sex, we talked through the night about how he was a lawyer and helped abused women. With each piece of information I’d received about Matthew, I wanted him even more. I told him about how my parents died because of the coronavirus, and Matthew told me he grew up in foster homes, but he made something of himself. I was even more insecure than when I’d first laid eyes on him. It’s not like I have a great story. I’m a writer with a rich dead father. I couldn’t afford to pay for a two-bedroom apartment in Seattle. So this house was a lifesaver.
One year later, Matthew asked me to marry him. I couldn’t believe my luck. I couldn’t believe someone was looking out for my happiness. Maybe it was God or the universe or something. Between you and me, I think it was God. But whatever it was, I was indebted to. One night, we saw James at an Olive Garden with some sad, pathetic low self-esteem-looking gal. I couldn’t help but think things happened for a reason and to thank God that I wasn’t still with James.