I knew something was up when Joan winked at me as I handed over my rent check.
My day at work had been long and stressful and I was just not in a mood to deal with her trying to set me up again. She was anti-soulmate, as evidenced the three-plus years left on her counter despite her so-called “blissful” marriage to a man who I wouldn’t give the time of day to.
I only had a few days left on mine, and I was getting antsy about it, but damn if I admitted that to her.
“You’ve got a new neighbor,” she announced. Well, that wasn’t as bad as turning down another blind date offer. “And he’s cuuuuuute.”
Seriously, my landlady had to be twelve years old on the inside.
I woke up to the sound of a deep male voice singing over the patter of the shower next door. Even though the next apartment had only been empty for two weeks–the Sanford brothers decided to move back home to help with their ailing mother–I’d gotten used to silence on that side.
My clock showed 6:58 am–two minutes before my alarm was set to go off anyway. There were worse ways to wake up. I wouldn’t need to go over there and pound on the door to get him to be quiet.
Not in the morning, anyway. I hoped he wasn’t a night owl, because I need my sleep.
The hall smelled strongly of beef and garlic as I passed New Neighbor’s. So he cooks, or knows a better place to get takeout than I do, because that aroma was making my mouth water. When I got inside, the smell was nearly as strong, so I opened the window in my bedroom to let in some fresh air.
After I wolfed down some reheated chicken chili–which was good, but not beef-and-garlic good–I curled up in bed to read for a while before tackling the dishes.
Two chapters in, I heard music. Not loud enough to disturb me, not really, but I found myself setting my book down and listening to the steady strum of the guitar.
Halfway through the song, a phone rang, and the song stopped abruptly on a fumbled chord. Neighbor wasn’t listening to music, he was playing it.
I shut the window quickly, before I could overhear his conversation. I picked up my book again, but found myself staring at the counter on my wrist. Tomorrow morning, around ten. I’d be at work. My soulmate could be anybody, a new coworker, a client, a tourist who will blunder into the lobby looking for some landmark and asking for directions. Receptionists can see hundreds of people a day. It could be anyone.
It was silly to think he was living next door, right now, and I could go over there and meet him. I couldn’t, if it was. My feet wouldn’t let me, because it wasn’t time yet. But tomorrow morning, on my way out, I’d bump into him, finally get his name and find out what he looked like. I always left at 7:45–I’d still have over two hours before I’d finally meet my soulmate.
I hate being sick over the weekend. Calling in on a Friday is only fun if you’re ditching, not if you’re actually ill.
After failing to keep my breakfast down, I made myself a huge mug of peppermint tea, swaddled my feverish bones in my fluffiest bathrobe, and sprawled on the couch for a morning of Netflix and self-pity.
I hadn’t realized I’d fallen asleep until I heard a knock on the door. I didn’t want to answer it, I didn’t care who it was, but when I shifted on the cushions, hunting for the remote I’d dropped, I saw the counter on my wrist.
Thirty seconds left.
I didn’t have time to change or comb my hair or do anything at all to make myself look presentable. I shuffled to the door, took a deep breath, and opened it.
“Hi,” he said, holding out a package. “Delivery guy left this at my door instead of yours.”
Joan was right, and wrong, at the same time. New Neighbor was cute, but he was also hot.
The last thing I remember before the floor rushed up to meet me was trying to take the box from him, and failing spectacularly.
Then I was on the couch again, my head propped up on pillows and a glass of water being pressed into my hands.
“Not the reaction I was hoping for.” He’d pulled my desk chair over from my computer to sit beside me.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I didn’t plan on having a hundred-and-two fever today.”
The concern on his face was tempered with a small smile. “I was just teasing,” he said as he leaned over to touch his fingers to my forehead. “You really are burning up, aren’t you too warm in that robe?”
“If I take it off, I’m too cold.”
He stared at me for a long moment, and I could only stare back. I had no idea what to say.
“I’m sorry I can’t stay,” he went on, his voice soft. “My brother’s helping me move in the rest of my stuff today, and I kind of need to be there for that.” Then he winced. “And it’s mostly furniture too, so it might get a bit loud. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. We were just supposed to meet today, right?” I asked, flashing my wrist at him. “Nothing in the rules about having to be glued to my side forever.”
Maybe it was early to be testing out my snark on him, but he laughed, and I loved the sound of it. “No, but you need looking after right now, and clearly, I’m the one who’s supposed to be doing that. I’ll come by when we’re finished and make you some soup.” The smile left over from his laughter faded. “If…if that’s okay with you.”
I nodded. Meeting him, finally, was so strange, and I felt weak and dizzy and I’m sure it wasn’t all from the fever. “But…what’s your name? I’ve just been thinking of you as New Neighbor, since I hadn’t met you yet.”
“Josh. Joshua Kagan.” He stuck out his hand, like he wanted me to shake it, but I shook my head instead.
“Don’t want to get you sick, too.”
“I don’t get sick easy,” he said, standing up, “which is good because if I did, you’ll have to take care of me, and you don’t seem up for that just now…” He trailed off, and I realized what he was waiting for.
“Becca,” I said with as much of a smile as I could manage. “Rebecca Meadows.”
“Very nice to meet you, Rebecca Meadows,” he said, turning for the door. “Try to get some sleep, and I’ll try to keep my brother from shouting at me all afternoon so that you can.” He paused just before he stepped out. “I’ll be back later.”
“Bye, Josh,” I answered simply, and he smiled at me again as he shut the door behind him.
He was sweet and he cooked and played guitar and I didn’t care anymore that I felt like my bones were trying to melt their way out of my body. This was the best fever I’d ever had in my life.