*Here’s part 1 of the serial story! I’ll tag them all so they’ll be easy to find. And in upcoming weeks, I’ll link back in case you need to catch up. So without further ado, meet Asher and Kyle. Enjoy!*
“Goddamn motherless son of a wonky titbasket!”
The curse was creative. I had to give him that. The questions was, though, why was it being shouted outside my house?
I’d just finished my workout, so I was sweaty and hot. But I put down the water bottle and headed outside to see what the commotion was about. The Uhaul parked next door explained part of it. The other half of the duplex had been empty for months–ever since the family with two screaming toddlers moved out–and I’d relished the silence. But apparently that was changing today.
He was standing on the ramp stretched from the back of the truck to the front porch. The broken box spilling half of its contents on the muddy ground explained the curse. I stood for a moment, just taking in the scene. The frustrated man had his hands in his dark hair, knuckles white, as he breathed deeply. Trying for calm? Probably. He was smaller than me, leaner and shorter, and it looked like he was alone. I felt bad for the dude.
I pushed my sweaty hair out of my eyes, then jogged closer.
“Hey, need some help?”
He squawked and turned quickly, nearly losing his balance and toppling off the ramp. I ran, but he righted himself before I made it across the yard to him. He pressed his hand to his chest, his brown eyes wide.
“Jesus Christ, you scared me.”
I tried for an apologetic grin. “Sorry.”
He flapped a hand at me. “It’s okay.” Then he looked down at the mess, sighed heavily, and dropped his hands. “Fuck.”
I had to check the grin. “Basically. Really, you need some help?”
He bit his lip, and looked into the truck. I was close enough now that I could see it was still pretty packed. Boxes and bags filled every available space, tucked in tightly around a couch, several dressers, and what looked like a dismantled table and matching chairs. He shook his head.
“I don’t want to impose.”
The way he said it, with a bit of hesitancy, made it known that he would really like the help but he didn’t want to ask. Since I offered, I figured he was off the hook. I started picking up the bedding that had fallen out of the box, wadding it around itself until I had a makeshift sack.
“No imposition. I’m not busy, and we are neighbors after all. Let me help.”
He eyed me for a long moment, before he heaved another sigh. “Thanks. I really appreciate it.”
“No problem. You can pay me in pizza and beer when we’re done.” I shot him a grin. “That’s the customary payment for helping someone move.”
He laughed, and I liked the sound. “You got it.”
I waited until he retrieved another box, then followed him into the house with my bundle. I knew where the bedroom was, since his house was the mirror opposite of mine, but I thought maybe he’d want to wash the sheets and blankets I held, considering they’d been on the ground. I took the whole thing into the laundry room off the kitchen, then met him back in the entryway.
“Thanks.” His voice was softer, and now that we were close, I could see how tired he was. His big, dark eye were lined, and had bags underneath big enough to be luggage. His T-shirt sported a faded rainbow, and hung off his frame. Put together, it gave him a careworn look.
“You’re welcome.” I took a step back, putting some distance between us, because I knew I probably stunk. But I held out a hand. “I’m Asher.”
“Nice to meet you. My name’s Kyle.”
We shook, and then I gestured for him to proceed me out the door. When we were both tromping up the ramp, I said, “So Kyle. Don’t you have any friends that were willing to help?”
He laughed a little, a short aborted sound, and shook his head. “Too busy. I didn’t give them enough notice. Once the house next door to me blew up, I decided to move fast. I didn’t have time to round up a moving posse.”
I froze. “Blew up?” I couldn’t keep the incredulity out of my tone.
Kyle waved his hand again. “Just a little explosion.”
I stared at him, automatically taking the box he handed me but not taking my gaze off him. He turned and retrieved a bag, but when he looked back at me and saw me staring, he cocked an eyebrow.
I shook my head. “You can’t just put that out there and not explain.”
“They were cooking meth.”
My expression must have shown my shock, because he laughed again. “Just a little batch. So only a little explosion. But no way was I staying around after that. So I gave notice, and found this place, and paid extra so I could move in right away. I think the landlord was happy to have someone reputable, because he said it had been vacant for a while, and he didn’t give me too much of a fuss when I asked.” He cocked his head to the side. “Are you going to earn your pizza and get moving?”
I chuckled and turned, heading back into the house. “And don’t forget the beer!”
It took us the better part of three hours, but we worked well together so the time flew. I went back to my house to shower and change, and by the time I knocked on Kyle’s door, he had hot pizza and cold beer waiting on his newly reassembled table. Boxes and bags were still stacked everywhere, but it would take him a while to settle in.
Kyle gave me a huge smile when he let me in, but neither of us said much until after we’d both sated ourselves with several slices and a long neck apiece. He sat back in his chair, and patted his stomach.
“The pizza alone is worth moving to the neighborhood.”
I grinned. “It’s good. I order from them at least once a week.”
He shot me a look as he stood up. Kyle threw out the garbage before he turned back to me, resting a hip against the counter. “Not much of a cook?”
I snorted. “Hell no. I burn water. If I ever find a woman to put up with me enough to live with me, I hope she’ll want to cook.”
Something flickered over his face, but it was gone before I could put a name to it. Then he smiled and shrugged, and crossed the floor to pick up the few remaining pieces and put them in the fridge.
“Tomorrow’s breakfast.” He laughed. “I love to cook. Maybe sometime I’ll make you a meal.”
“You any good?”
Kyle scoffed. “I should hope so. My mother is a gourmet chef, and she taught me everything she knew. I think she was determined to give me that skill, knowing that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
I saw it then, the little flinch, and it took me a second to work out why. He was gay, and he was worried about what I’d think or say. Or do. But he didn’t have to be.
“You won’t have any problem snagging a man then.” I paused, considering. “Unless you already have one.”
He breathed out a soft sigh, and his smile was sweet. “Not at the moment. Not for a while, actually.” He shooed the thought away, a quick flap of his hand. “But I’m not worried about it. Yet. I’m not even thirty, not for another year. I’ve got plenty of time.”
I studied him for a moment. I thought he was younger than that. I only had five years on him, but his skin was smooth and clear, showing none of the age mine did. Of course, I worked outside and the sun had done a number on me.
“Anyway, Asher, I really appreciate your help today. If there’s anything I can do to repay you, just let me know.”
“You already did.” I held up the beer in salute. “But if you want to be a good neighbor, then don’t throw any wild parties, and keep the noise down. That’s all it takes to make me happy.”
Kyle snorted out a laugh, and then tossed his empty bottle into the recycle bin. “You’re easy.”
I waggled my eyebrows. “You have no idea.”
We said goodbye a few minutes later. He thanked me again for the help, I thanked him for the pizza, and left him standing on his front porch. Our gazes caught when I looked back at him before opening my own door, and we stayed like that for a long moment. The wind picked up, and a lock of his hair blew across his forehead. Kyle really was a very pretty man. He was funny and kind. I had no doubt he’d find someone to love him someday.
I lifted my hand in a wave, and went into my house.