It seemed more abandoned than ever, and I couldn’t help but wonder about the mindset of my neighbor.

Behind all the houses on our block was the beginning of Meadows Creek’s forest. The area was surrounded with trees. I knew deep within those trees there was a narrow river hidden in the darkened woods that ran for miles and miles. Most people didn’t know it actually existed, but when I was in college, I’d discovered it with Steven. In the narrow river was a tiny rock. On the tiny rock were the initials ST and EB. Those initials had been carved into the tiny rock resting in the narrow river in the darkened woods when Steven had asked me to marry him. Without much thought, I found myself walking into the woods and before long I sat within the trees, staring down at my reflection in the water.

One breath.

The small fish swam downstream peacefully, until the water began to ripple after a big splash was heard. I turned my head to my left to see what the commotion was, and my cheeks blushed as I saw Tristan standing in the river wearing no shirt and a pair of running shorts. He bent down to the water and began washing his face, scrubbing his fingers against his rough, wild beard. My eyes danced across his tanned chest, which was covered with hair, and he began tossing water against his body, cleaning himself. Tattoos covered his left arm and wrapped across his pec. I studied the markings on his body, unable to look away. There were more than I could count, yet my eyes tried to take in each one. I know those tattoos. Each a different masterpiece from classic children novels. Aslan from Narnia. A monster from Where the Wild Things Are. The boxcar from The Boxcar Children. Across his chest were the words ‘We’re all mad here’ from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

My insides exploded from the brilliance of it all. There was nothing more stunning than a man who not only knew the most classic stories of all time, but also found a way to make his body his own personal bookshelf.

Water from his wet hair dripped down his forehead and fell to his chest. All of a sudden I was frozen in place. I wondered if he knew how handsome yet frightening he was. My thoughts very much matched those old Tootsie Roll Pop commercials as I gazed at his body. ‘Mister Owl, how long can I stare at this man before it becomes socially inappropriate?’ ‘I don’t know, Liz. Let’s find out. One…Two…Three…’

He hadn’t taken notice of me, and my heart was pounding against my ribcage as I stepped away from the river, hoping to not be seen.

Zeus was tied up to a tree, and when he saw me, he instantly started barking my way.


Tristan looked up toward me, his eyes as untamed as before. His body froze, water dripping from his chest down to the edge of his shorts. I stared for a moment too long, then realized I was staring straight at his package. My eyes shifted back up to his wild stare. He hadn’t moved an inch. Zeus kept barking and wagging his tail, trying to break away from the tree.

“Following me?” he asked. His words were short, not leaving much room for a conversation, very straight to the point.

“What? No.”

He arched an eyebrow.

I kept staring at his tattoos. Oh, Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. He noticed my staring.

Crap. Stop, Liz.

“Sorry,” I muttered, my face heating up from nerves. What was he doing out there?

He arched his other brow and didn’t blink once as he looked my way. Even though he could speak, it seemed he found it much more fun to make me uncomfortable and anxious. He was hard to look at, because he was so broken, but every scarred part of his existence seemed to draw me in.

I watched his every move as he untangled Zeus’ leash from the tree and headed in the direction I’d just come from. I started behind him, to get back to my house.

He paused.

A slow turn in my direction.

“Stop following me,” he hissed.

“I’m not.”

“You are.”



“Not not not!”

He cocked his brow again. “You’re like a five-year-old.” He turned back around and kept walking. I started my steps up too. Every now and then he would glance back and grunt, but we didn’t speak another word. When we reached the edge of the woods, he and Zeus walked up to the wild yard beside my house.

“I guess we’re neighbors,” I said with a chuckle.

The way he glared at me made my stomach flip. There was a high level of discomfort in my chest, yet behind it was still that familiar ting in my gut that arrived when he looked me in the eyes.

We both walked into our houses without a goodbye.

I ate dinner alone at the dining room table. When I looked across the room, through my dining room windows, I saw Tristan sitting at his table eating too. His house seemed so dark and empty. Lonely. When he looked across and saw me, I straightened up. I gave him a simple smile and a small wave. He stood from his chair, walked over to his windows, and closed his blinds.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that our bedroom windows were also right across from one another, and he was quick to shut those curtains too.

I called to check in on Emma, who from the sound of it was hyped up on candy and grandparents time. Around eight o’clock I was sitting on the living room sofa, staring into space, trying not to cry when Faye texted me.

Faye: You okay?

Me: I’m fine.

Faye: Interested in company?

Me: Not tonight. Tired.

Faye: Interested in company?

Me: Sleeping…

Faye: Interested in company?

Me: Tomorrow.

Faye: Love you, tits.

Me: Love you, boobs.

The pounding on the front door that followed after our last message wasn’t that surprising. I figured there was no way Faye wouldn’t stop by, because she knew when I said I was okay, I was normally far from being okay. What was surprising was when I opened the front door to see a slew of people. Friends. The leader of the pack was Faye, holding the biggest bottle of tequila known to mankind.