Excerpt from THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A NEIGHBOR
Coming soon: A story inspired by the 1908 novel The Way of a Man with a Maid by Anonymous:
The Way of a Man with a Neighbor
The den of the lioness.
Camilla’s lower level den was furnished with another sectional sofa. Like the one upstairs it was big enough to sleep three adults without them touching. This one was a dark leather; under the muted glow of her Tiffany lamps Sam couldn’t tell if it was black, brown, or dark blue. There were more heavy glass tables, these on thick wooden legs. A 60-inch flat screen hung over the gas fireplace, and a gleaming ebony Baby Grand stood majestically in one corner. But what impressed Sam most was Camilla’s shelved collection of media: vinyl records, compact discs and DVDs. She had to have a hundreds of each.
“Nice,” he said as he stood before the shelves, scanning the music titles. “Seriously nice.”
“I love music,” Camilla said, and Sam heard the leather sigh as she settled onto her sofa. “While I was married I gained an appreciation for what I consider the classics—mostly popular music from the fifties and sixties, with a little Big Band thrown in.”
“You’re a woman after my own heart. I’m an unapologetic music fanatic.” Sam tilted his chin toward the Baby Grand. “Do you play?”
“I took lessons from six to sixteen, one of my mother’s attempts to inject me with class.”
Sam turned from the music shelves to face the sofa. Camilla was sitting in repose on the fat part of the sectional with her wine glass in her hand and her legs up on the cushion and her ankles crossed. Did she know the hem of her dress had crept a few inches above her knees?
“Did it work?” he asked.
“I don’t think you can inject class into anyone. Class is learned behavior, I think, but it’s also a choice you make about how you’ll present yourself. It has nothing to do with who you really are, or what you do in private.”
“So behind closed doors one can be classless…”
“Not classless, but in the privacy of your own home you’re free to take off the shackles of social acceptability. You can be who you really are.”
With her eyes on him Camilla took a sip of wine, then said, “Well, in the privacy of my home, if I want to dance or play piano au natural then I can, and there’s no one to judge or criticize.”
She was fucking with him again, but this time she’d left a crack in the door for him to try to squeeze through, if he wanted to try. “Do you do that?”
“Maybe the wine has me sharing too much information too soon. This is really our first day as neighbors, since it’s our first day talking. Am I being classless?”
“Tactful honesty isn’t classless.”
Camilla lifted her glass as if in toast. “I like that. It should be a meme. And I think I’m officially buzzed.”
“I’ll get out of your hair so you can rest.”
“Don’t you dare. Come sit down, dear neighbor.”
Camilla’s eyes followed him as he moved to the far end of the sofa, a respectful distance away. He thought she might be smiling behind the rim of her wine glass.
“So Sam, when you moved in I thought I saw a guitar case. Do you play?”
“I’m teaching myself the bass. I wouldn’t call it playing yet.”
“I haven’t heard you.”
“I keep the volume low or use headphones.”
“You’re a good neighbor. You have class.”
“I have respect for other people. Speaking of neighbors, do you know the people on your other side?”
“Drew and Lori. We’ve met. The day after I moved in they dropped by to welcome me to the neighborhood. Since then, nothing. He might wave if he sees me, if she’s not with him. Other than that…” Camilla shrugged and let that gesture speak for whatever she was going to say.
“Did something happen?”
“He complimented me in her presence. Twice, actually.”
“Uh-oh. What did he say?”
“Well, first he said it was nice to have an attractive neighbor. Then he asked if I’d ever thought about being in the movies.”
“In front of his wife.”
“Yes. So now I guess she hates me and he’s been ordered not to speak to me.”
“He’s stupid for complimenting another woman in front of his wife, even if he was right.”
“What was he right about?”
“You’re ridiculously attractive.”
“I might say the same about you, Sam. All right, I am saying it. This wine has loosened my lips but it hasn’t made me blind.”
“Then we’ll have fun hanging out together,” he said, pushing at and widening the crack she’d left open.
“Mutually enjoying the view.”
Camilla drained her glass and said, “I love this wine but I’m going to be no good in the morning. I might sleep until noon.”
Sam took that as his cue that the game was over and she wanted to wrap up the evening. He figured it was better to not push too hard; to leave some room for her to meet him halfway, if she wanted to meet him at all. She sure seemed to be waving the flirt flag.
He stood up. “I’m going to let you get some rest, Camilla. Today’s been nice, and thank you for dinner.”
“Aw, you’re leaving me?” she said, sounding as disappointed as a lover being jilted. Sam figured her exaggerated emoting was due to the alcohol.
“I’m right next door,” he said, playing along the way one does with the concerns of the inebriated.
“Oh, boo,” Camilla pouted.
“Hey, if you want my take my number you can call me in the morning when you wake, then I’ll make brunch.”
“You’re so sweet, Sam.” Camilla retrieved her cell phone from the end table and held it out to him without rising.
Sam stepped to the sofa and stood over her. As he took the phone their hands touched and their eyes met. In the soft glow of the Tiffany lamps he thought he detected the sharp glint of examination in her hooded eyes. Was she not as buzzed as she seemed to be? Was she pretending?
As he punched his home and cell numbers into Camilla’s contact list he said, “Call to let me know when you’re up and I’ll get chow started. Then pop over whenever you’re ready.”
“From my bed to your door, hmm?”
Sam let that one pass. “Yep, almost as good as room service.”
“Keep talking like that and you just might spoil me.”
“I won’t judge or criticize. Just be yourself.”
“Be careful what you ask for Sam.”
“And I’m not scared.”
Camilla bit into her plump bottom lip. “I’m going to remember you said that.”
Sam backed away from the sofa to the steps. As he ascended toward the front door he took a last look back.
Camilla was watching him. Her eyes captured the soft glow of the Tiffany lamps and radiated the light, cat-like. She fisted her hands over her head and stretched, undulating on the sofa with feline suppleness.
She came out of her stretch smiling lazily at him.
Her smile looked like a promise.
THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A NEIGHBOR