The Way of a Man with a Neighbor: Excerpt
After breakfast they took their coffee upstairs to Camilla’s bedroom veranda. Camilla sat on one of the two cushioned wicker chairs and placed her cup on the matching occasional table. She settled back and crossed her ankles on the table next to her cup, then gazed out at the ocean through half closed eyes.
Sam admired again how long her legs looked in his denim shirt, and how the shirt did a poor job of covering her up. Camilla seemed not to notice his admiring gaze, or if she did, not to care.
The beach seemed to be her more natural environment. She looked right at this place. Sam wondered again why she hadn’t settled in her second home here by the ocean rather than in the inland boonies.
“This is nice,” she said. “It’s just how I pictured it—us out here enjoying the view with not a care in the world. This is what I wanted.”
“So what do you want in the long term?” Sam said.
“How do you mean?”
“I mean we’ve talked about being neighbors with benefits. Is that your long-term goal, or are you looking at something else, like a long-term relationship?”
She frowned. “We’re already in a relationship so I’m not sure I understand your question.”
“I’m talking about the future. Permanence. What do you hope for, if you’re hoping for anything beyond what we’re doing?”
Camilla opened her eyes fully but kept her gaze on the ocean. When she spoke she seemed to be talking to the distant horizon. “I’ve come here a few times since I moved to Millville. When I’m here I sit right in this spot. When I came here before, oftentimes I used to imagine that as I sat here I would spot someone out there on the beach—this handsome man, walking by himself. He’d see me sitting up here. Maybe he’d wave, and I’d wave back. And one day when he waved I’d motion him to come to me. Or maybe he’d see me sitting here and come on his own. By the time he got to my door I’d be downstairs to let him in. And without a word we’d come up here to my bed, and that would be the beginning of us, forever.”
“Sounds like a fairy tale,” Sam said. “A nice one, I guess.”
Camilla smiled wistfully. “I guess a stranger walking on this romantic beach was asking for too much. Instead I saw him on a country road, jogging past my house.” She turned her head from the ocean to look at him. “I don’t need or want the fairy tale with the wedding and living happily ever after. I’m not opposed to marriage again one day, but I’ve been there. I know the positives and negatives, enough to know that for me it isn’t the be all and end all. I want something else.”
“I want to enjoy my life. I want to consume it; devour it like a ravenous beast and relish my feast right down to the marrow. And what I want from a man is for him to be strong enough to not get in my way, but to dine with me. I want to share my feast with him.” She sighed at the ocean. “But I don’t think most men are strong enough, or maybe just not willing to be with the kind of woman I want to be. No, let me correct that; the kind of woman I am. I’m claiming it because I’m not going to compromise.”
“Should I be worried?”
“Are you worried now?”
“Good. So I’m being practically hopeful about us, because I think you get me. That’s what I’ve seen this past week.”
“Yeah, I think I do get you,” Sam said. “I know you’re confident, aggressive…and beautiful. You definitely don’t have a problem saying what you mean and asking for what you want. You go after what you want. That’s why you knocked on my door last Friday.”
Camilla rolled her head on the seat cushion to look at him. “You think so?”
“Yeah. You looked nervous when I opened the door, but looking back, I think that’s because you weren’t sure how I was going to respond to you; you know, the black-white thing. But once you saw I was cool with you as long as you were cool with me you kept your intention moving forward. Am I right?”
She turned her gaze back toward the beach. “You’re right. And very perceptive, I might add.”
“So based on this past week, where do you see us in, say, six months; a year?”
“Realistically? Only time will tell. Hopefully? We’ll be together, enjoying each other. Our fantasies will be our bucket list, so anything we want, we’ll have. If it happens like that then I’m not opposed to all the rest, if you want it.”
Cautioning himself that it had only been a week, Sam said, “Like you said and like I think, time will tell.”
Suddenly Camilla sat up and leaned forward. “Oh, damn…”
“You see that woman out there?”
Sam followed Camilla’s gaze. There was a woman on the beach, walking just beyond the reach of the of the surf. She wore a floppy hat over a windbreaker and khaki pants. “Yeah. What about her?”
“I told you the Bartons were nosy,” Camilla said. “That’s Pen.”
“Penelope Barton-Schubert. She’s John’s cousin. Her father is the president and CEO of Barton Enterprises. Translated, that means he’s the king of the family empire.”
“You think she’s spying on you?”
“Well, I can’t swear to it, but I’d bet money she doesn’t usually walk this far down the beach from her mansion. I bet she doesn’t do any exercise that doesn’t involve her on-call personal trainer, who last I heard, since she became a widow she might only need to roll over in bed and wake him up to get him to work her out.”
“So you don’t like her.”
“They don’t like me so I don’t like them. And I guarantee you, even if she isn’t spying, if she saw us out here she’ll make sure her whole family knows I’m at the beach house with a man.”
“Do you care?”
“No. I just hate them knowing anything about me. I’m not one of the Barton second-class-citizen wives anymore.”
“You shouldn’t care what they think,” Sam said. “Caring gives them power over you, without them even trying.”
“I don’t care; honestly I don’t. I just hate them knowing. It’s not their business.”
Sam decided not to respond to that, because the emotion shading Camilla’s face told a story different than her words.
They sipped coffee for a few minutes while holding their own personal conversations with the ocean. When Camilla spoke again her mood had brightened.
“So handsome man, should we discuss the elephant in the room…or should I say the elephant on the veranda?”
“That you’re black and I’m white.”
“What about it?”
“Well, how you feel about it,” Camilla said. “And if you think it’ll be a problem.”
“A problem for us?”
“I don’t think for us. The only concern I had was what you said before—how you’d react to me. That’s not a thing anymore. What I mean is other people.”
“You care what other people think?”
“I care if you care. Okay, I don’t think you do. When your cousin came over unexpectedly you only seemed worried about what I was wearing—or not wearing, actually.”
“Because that was my only concern,” Sam said. “My feeling about you is you’re a beautiful woman, period. You just happen to be white. I don’t give a shit, because a beautiful woman is a beautiful woman. You just happen to be my beautiful woman.”
“Yes sir, I am. So you don’t care that some won’t see things the way we do?”
“One thing my mother always told me was that if I was doing the right thing, no one had a right to judge me, because they haven’t traveled my journey and they’re not going where I’m trying to go. So fuck ‘em. Okay, that last part she didn’t say, but it amounts to the same thing.”
“I wish I could’ve met your mom. I think I’d like her.”
“She’d like you too. You’re honest. She never liked fake people.”
“So if she asked me what I was doing with her son I’d have to be honest and say mostly sharing coffee and sleeping with him.”
“As of today you’d only be telling half the truth.”
Camilla uncrossed her legs, straightened up and retrieved her coffee from the table. She took a sip and grimaced. “Ugh, cold. If you want more I’ll run down and grab the carafe.”
“Sure. It’s nice out here.”
Camilla turned in her chair to face him, then stood up. “Be right back sir,” she said.
When she was gone, Sam sat looking out at the ocean without seeing it. His sight was turned inward, and was replaying what he’d seen as Camilla rose from her chair wearing just his shirt—what she hadn’t tried to hide.
He wanted in.