Candace wasn't looking for love...and then love moved in next door...
I stopped with my hand hovering over the door handle, and peeked over my shoulder. My new neighbor stood at the end of my front walk. No shirt on. Just pajama pants and a sleepy smile. His dark hair was cropped close to his head, and a five o’clock shadow—maybe his first one, judging by his baby face—peppered his skin as he squinted at me in the morning sunlight.
Good gracious, he’s a tasty treat.
“Yes.” I averted my eyes from his bodacious chest. “Well, you know how mother-in-laws are.”
What a stupid thing to say. Of course he didn’t. He was barely old enough to buy beer, let alone marry someone.
He chuckled. “Uh, okay. So… you okay?”
My eyes rolled back up to his face. His mouth still held the polite smile, but his brows pinched together. Was this kid always such a boy scout?
“I’ll be fine.” I wrapped my arms around myself. Did I put on a bra before walking the kids to Mama Chang’s car? Feeling the telltale bumps under my arms, I sighed. I had. “After about an hour more sleep, and a pot off coffee, I will anyway.”
He nodded, and recognition flickered in my mind. Wait, had he delivered my newspaper last summer? No. That wasn’t it. Did he bag my groceries at the store yesterday? No. Not it, either.
“Don’t let her get you down.” His face split into a grin, wide and childlike. His hands went to his hips, accentuating the “v” of his pelvic muscles going down into the waistband of his pajamas. I wasn’t sure whether to walk over and ruffle his hair, or wrap myself around his leg like a dog in heat. “I think you have every right to date if you want to.”
“Oh, thank you.” I started to walk away, then stopped. “Wait. Uh, what?”
He gestured down the cul-de-sac. “Sounded like she was your husband’s mother. Right?”
When I nodded, he added, “And your husband is deceased, right?”
“Yes.” My voice cracked, so I cleared my throat. “Yes, he is.”
He nodded solemnly. “So then—”
“Wait.” I held up a hand and narrowed my eyes. “How did you know my husband died?”
A strange expression flashed across my neighbor’s face, and for a second it looked like he was going to say something. Then the garage of the house on the other side of mine creaked to life. Out waddled Mr. Hopper—who’d had a hip replacement three months earlier, and carried the pictures of his stitches on his cell phone to prove it—with his garbage can in tow.
“Morning, kids!” He scooted the can into place next to the curb. “Better turn your air conditioners on… it’s gonna be a hot one today!”
I waved. “Thanks for the tip, Mr. Hopper. Have a good day.”
We watched the old man meander back into the house, then faced each other again. I noticed the kid had the start of a good tan, his skin kissed with golden brown.
I averted my eyes.
“So…” I paused and bit the inside of my cheek. I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t even know this kid’s name.
“So my name’s Mason, by the way. Mason Ledger.” His eyes searched mine for a beat, before his face melted back into a grin. “I’m your new neighbor.”
“You sure are, aren’t you?” Laughing at my own awkwardness, I took a step backward towards my door. “I’m Candace Chang.”
“Yes, you are.”
Well, that was a weird thing to say. My heels hit the front steps and I stumbled backward. “So how’s that house treating you? Last time I was inside, it was stuck in a time warp.”
“It still is.” His eyes twinkled. They literally twinkled. How old was this kid? “I’ve got big plans for it. In fact, my realtor told me about some of the things you’ve done to your house. She said it was an impressive remodel.”
“It was mostly my husband.” I nodded at the front of my house. “He was really into restoring the whole mid-century modern thing, but managed to do it with a more up-to-date twist. He was very proud of it.”
“I’ll have to come see the inside sometime.”
I must have made a face, because Mason put his hands out. “I mean, purely for architectural reasons. And only if you, you know, want me to come in sometime, or whatever.”
“Of course.” I pressed my lips together and backed up onto my porch. “Maybe we’ll do that sometime.”
“Sounds good.” He released a laugh. Boy this Mason kid was a happy fellow. “Go on in, and get that sleep now.”
“Okay.” I felt for the handle behind me. “Nice to meet you.”
“You, too, Candace.”
I practically fell into the house, then shut and locked the door behind my back with a definitive click. Breathing hard, I pressed a hand against my chest to calm my heart. Why was I out of breath and my skin so clammy? What was wrong with me?
And by the way… had Mason winked at me as he was walking away?