Excerpt from the forthcoming novel: THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A NEIGHBOR
Just like dreaming.
By early afternoon Sam had completed the first draft of his review of Tapestry. He rose from his desk, and stretching as he walked, made his way to the futon on the other side of his sunroom. He collapsed onto it on his back and draped his forearm over his eyes to shield them from the sun.
A lazy breeze wafted through the open window, caressing him like a whispered lullaby, and he started getting groggy immediately. As his brain threw switches to shut itself down he planned his next day’s work.
In the morning he’d do the first edit (the opening and closing needed major work) and fine-tune the paragraph-per-song reviews. He especially wanted to tighten up his commentary on “So Far Away,” his favorite song from Carole King’s album. That song, about wanting to be close to a certain person but travels keeping you separated had always spoken to him. It felt like the story of his life in the military, and not just regarding romantic relationships. In the military you got used to making and losing friends, too. A supervisor once told him that the good thing about the Air Force was that if your boss was an asshole, at least you knew sooner or later either you’d leave or he’d leave. But the same applied to friends and lovers in the military. You entered those associations knowing that eventually you two would end up someplace else in the world. King’s song asked if anyone stayed in the same place anymore.
Well, now I’m settled in one place.
Sleep pressed down on him, and he was about to give in to it when a faint sound pierced his awareness and pulled him back. Sam opened his eyes and lowered his arm. Frowning, he listened. The sound didn’t repeat, though he’d expected that it would.
It sounded like the crunch of dry underbrush. It came from somewhere in the trees beyond his back yard.
It sounded like a footstep.
Sam got up and eased the sunroom door open and stepped out onto his deck. He stopped just outside the door and listened.
He heard nothing but the rustling of branches stirred by the wind and birds calling from within their shadows. It occurred to him that the sound he’d heard had to be close for him to hear it from the sunroom. Ears tuned toward the woods, he stepped quietly to the edge of the deck.
The falling sun painted the sky above the tree line shades of crimson, orange and gold while spilling heavy shadows into the lower forest. The radiance above made Sam squint, and made the gloom in the woods impossible to penetrate. Someone or something could be right at the edge of his yard watching him and he wouldn’t know it.
He considered that maybe he’d been more than half asleep. Maybe he’d been on the edge of the beginning of a dream, and in that dream he’d heard a footstep. Maybe the sound of the footstep had crossed over into whatever was left of his conscious thought and he’d thought it was real. Sam decided that made as much sense as a single footstep in the woods, on his private property.
His phone ringing in the sunroom shattered his thoughts and made him jump, then curse himself for being so on edge. But as he turned his back to the woods and returned across the deck to the sunroom the hairs on his nape prickled, as if some primal instinct warned that something was back there in the woods, watching him. The apprehension rode his back until he closed the sunroom door behind him.
Seeing Camilla’s name on his caller ID pushed concerns about footsteps in the woods from his thoughts.
“Have you been to Poke’s Barbecue?” she asked.
“Never heard of it.”
“Good. This stuff will change your life.”
Sam recalled that when he had her on the phone earlier she’d said she had an idea for dinner. “Are we eating there?”
“Not there. I wanted you all to myself so I picked us up a couple of brisket hoagies. You’re going to love it. I hope you’re hungry.”
“I could eat.”
“Good, because I’m pulling into my driveway right now. Come over.”
When Sam stepped into Camilla’s carport she was slipping out of her Mini Cooper. This evening she wore a royal blue blouse tucked into belted checkered slacks. Because he’d spent time the day before checking out old school actresses and clothing styles he recognized that Camilla’s slacks were called cigarette pants.
“You look nice,” he said. “Definitely classic.”
“Thank you, but I feel totally grungy. When I left yesterday I hadn’t planned to be gone overnight so I didn’t pack a change of clothes. Come on in; I’m going to take a quick shower and then we can eat, okay?”
Camilla’s words brought back Sam’s dream from last night, about her crossing the road on a red carpet looking like Jayne Mansfield, then becoming herself wrapped in a bath towel and inviting him in while she went to take a shower—or maybe inviting him to shower with her.
Looking at him, Camilla cocked her head and said, “What’s the matter?”
“You have a look on your face.”
So now she knew him well enough to recognize when he had a look.
“Okay, this isn’t a hint or a come on, okay?” Sam said.
“What you just said, about taking a shower, it reminded me of my dream last night.”
“Hmm, do tell.” Smiling, she handed Sam the bag of food, and gazing up into his eyes, said, “Come on in handsome man, and tell me all about it.” She whirled away while he was wondering what her smile might taste like.
Sam checked out Camilla’s backside as she unlocked her carport door and stepped up into her kitchen. He followed her in, noting that she smiled over her shoulder at him as she toed off her flats. She knew he’d been checking her out. He thought she probably expected that he would.
“So was your dream juicy?” she asked. “Please say it was.”
Sam shrugged. Depends on what you call juicy.”
“Sit down. I’m listening.”
Sam sat at Camilla’s kitchen table. He told her about his dream of her looking like Jayne Mansfield and walking the red carpet to her carport while a crowd cheered, then becoming herself wrapped in a bath towel and inviting him in while she took a shower. He left out the part about Evelyn Blanchard.
“Was I asking you to take a shower with me?”
“I don’t know if you meant just come in or for us to shower together.”
“Did we?” she asked.
Camilla was still standing. She yanked her tucked blouse out of her slacks. Its hem fell to her crotch level. Sam imagined/hoped that she’d take off her pants and have dinner with him in just her blouse. Or less.
“I went in your house, but when I got inside I was in my mother’s kitchen and she was standing at the sink. You know how dreams are.”
“Oh. Buzz kill, huh?”
“You know, I have a dress similar to what you dreamed—a gold lame.”
“You should model it for me sometime. I was checking out some of those fashions online. I like them.”
“Then we’re going to have some fun. But right now I’m going to shower. I’ll be quick so the food doesn’t get cold.” She spun away, hands working under the front of her blouse, unbuckling her belt. When she reached the kitchen exit she stopped and turned back. “Hey, maybe your dream was prophetic. You dreamed about a dress like one I have, and you’re here while I’m going to take a shower.”
“Yeah, and you did invite me over. You’re just not in a bath towel.”
Camilla winked and said, “Guess you need to work on your powers of precognition. Be right back; don’t start without me.”
“Enjoy your shower,” Sam said, and decided then to take his biggest risk so far in their new friendship. ”If you’re so inclined, send pictures.”
Just before Camilla vanished through the door Sam caught the beginning of her new smile.
Sam sat at Camilla’s kitchen table, trying to ignore his stomach’s grumbling thanks to the aroma escaping the greasy bag of barbecue sandwiches. He also tried to ignore his imagination, because from the other end of the quiet house he could just make out Camilla singing softly in her bedroom as she got ready for her shower. If her bedroom door had been closed he couldn’t have heard her. And now, if her master bathroom door had been closed he wouldn’t have heard the patter of her shower when she turned it on, or the muted thump of the shower stall door when she closed it.
A few seconds passed, and Sam thought he could hear the shower more clearly, as if Camilla had opened the shower door with the spray going. He imagined her coming down the hall from her bedroom, then across her living room, then to the kitchen. She’d stop in the kitchen entry, naked and dripping wet, and say, “Well, are you coming or not?”
Sam’s cell phone vibrated in his pocket, a single buzz alerting him that he’d received a message.
The sender was Camilla. The message was a photograph of her in her shower. The frosted glass of the closed shower stall door provided just enough distortion to prevent him from seeing her clearly. If he hadn’t known it was her he wouldn’t know. What he could see was that she’d posed in profile with her back arched and her hands up in her hair, a pose that provided clothing-free confirmation of how blessed she was up top and in the rear. Her pose made Sam think she was a woman accustomed to being in front of a camera.
Sam was admiring the image when his phone buzzed again. It was another photo from Camilla, one that awakened an appetite that had nothing to do with barbecue. In the second photo Camilla was in the shower, holding the shower door partially open. Up high she was peeking around the door to reveal her face as she bit into her plump bottom lip and affected an Am I being a bad girl? smile. Down low she’d wrapped one shapely leg around the edge of the shower door, providing a glimpse of her loveliness from her toes to the curve of her hip.
Sam would have taken the second photo as an invitation, except that the image was accompanied by a message: Now think happy thoughts. I’ll be right out.
COMING SUMMER 2015