I grumbled as I pulled into my driveway, noticing someone had moved into the house next door. I’d grown used to the privacy of not having anyone live there for almost a year. And knowing this neighborhood, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were an elderly couple who’d complain that my power tools were too loud.
That was the last thing I needed.
I finished typing out a text to my dad, letting him know I’d made it home, and got out of the car. A week at my mom’s with her arrogant husband had left me exhausted and craving the privacy of my dad’s house. But before I made it inside, the crash of falling metal and a muted curse stopped me.
A woman stood in the driveway next door with a large box in her arms, struggling to keep it from falling. She was young, not grey-haired like I had imagined. Then again, that didn’t mean she lived there. It was possible she was helping her parents relocate—or grandparents.
I walked over to lend a hand, finding her more attractive the closer I got. And when I rounded the front of the car, discovering the broken box and array of personal effects scattered around her feet, I became hypnotized by her wide, surprised eyes. The color was unlike anything I’d ever seen before—a marriage of royal blue and gold, the end product being a vibrant teal.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.” I reached for the box in her hands before she dropped that, too.
“Oh, you’re fine. I just didn’t see you come from…” She glanced around, clearly not having a clue where I had come from.
I nudged my head to the right without looking away from her eyes. “I live next door.” Shifting the box to hold it with one arm, I held out my free hand and said, “Ash.”
“Uh, yeah. That’s my name—Asher Jenkins.”
Embarrassment colored her cheeks a light pink and darkened her eyes to a deeper green. I’d heard of people wearing their emotions on their sleeve, but I never understood it until now. And I began to wonder what else I could learn about her just by studying her face.
She shook out of it and slipped her warm, soft hand into mine. “Please, don’t mind me. I’ve been unpacking an entire house by myself this week. It seems the isolation has affected my ability to be social. I’m Kristy.”
“You live here alone?”
“No. Well, right now, yes. But that’s because my daughter is at her father’s house. But I didn’t want to wait until she got here to get this done. Scouring through towers of cardboard just to find a mixing bowl is not fun.”
“I can’t imagine it would be.” I glanced into her car through the open door, noticing only a few more items remained. “Looks like you’re almost done, so that’s good news.”
“Yes, almost there. I only have this left and then my daughter’s room. But I’m leaving that for her to do. Heaven forbid I put something in the wrong place.” She rolled her eyes and laughed.
Since I didn’t have a kid—or even know one—I couldn’t relate, so instead, I smiled like I had a clue how mad a little girl would be. “Too bad I wasn’t here, or I could’ve kept you from doing it all by yourself. I went to visit my mom and literally just got back.”
“I’m used to doing everything by myself, so it’s no big deal. At least you came over and spoke to me. No one else has. In the five days I’ve been here, you’re the first neighbor I’ve met.”
“Don’t worry, they’ll introduce themselves when they have a complaint.”
Her eyes widened and brows arched high. “Do they do that a lot?”
“Not really, but they’re all old…er.” I hoped I hadn’t offended her, considering I didn’t know her age. If I had to guess, I would’ve said thirty, thirty-five tops. Yet coming from someone younger, there was no way to know how she’d take it. “The sign at the entrance used to say, ‘retirement community,’ but I think someone took it down.”
“Did it really?”
I laughed under my breath and shook my head. “No. I’m just kidding. It feels like that, though. You’re probably the only woman here who doesn’t have white hair.”
She toyed with the errant strands of strawberry-blond that framed her face, a small grin tugging at the corners of her naturally pink lips. I had to shift the box again to keep from reaching out and tucking the hair behind her ear.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry. Here…give me that.” She practically lunged forward and reached for the box, as though she’d forgotten I had taken it from her to begin with. However, I didn’t let it go, and eventually, she gave up.
“Just tell me where to put it.”
She huffed and dropped her shoulders, yet she didn’t argue. “Anywhere in the living room is fine. It’s right through there, just past the laundry room.”
I followed her directions and set it against the wall, next to the TV cabinet. On my way out, I passed her in the garage, the rest of what I’d seen in her car now piled in her arms. Although, the scattered effects still lay on the driveway where she’d dropped them. So, I kneeled on the pavement and began to help pick them up.
A noticed a picture frame and turned it over, hoping it hadn’t shattered. Just then, Kristy returned, saying something while she walked toward me, but I couldn’t hear her words. I was too busy staring at the image behind the glass—a photo of Kristy and a girl I recognized.
“That’s my daughter, Emma.” She squatted in front of me and began to help pick up everything. “She’s sixteen—just got her license and a car. I have no idea where the time goes.”
I was about to interject, tell her that I knew Emma, that we went to the same school, only she was a year younger than me. But I never got it out, because her next words were a game changer.
“She’s going to start looking for colleges this year. Do you attend one of the local universities?”
“I, um…I don’t go to college.”
The striations of gold brightened as she blinked at me. “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t know why that’s always my first assumption—I never went, either. I guess since it’s a common topic in my house, I think everyone your age is a student.”
Technically, I was a student; I just hadn’t graduated…high school. I should’ve corrected her, yet I didn’t. Instead, I smiled and nodded, and then continued to pick up her stuff off the driveway.
I’d correct her later.
Either that or she’d realize the mistake when Emma recognized me.