Most people fear the dark. Some embrace it.
Blackened windows, a 400-square foot self-made prison, and a loyal Welsh corgi—that’s the extent of former soldier Matthew Ash’s world. Matt’s tasted hell’s battlefield. He wears the scars on his skin and soul to prove it. Matt’s agoraphobia keeps his demons out and that’s all that matters.
Burnt-out MMA fighter Will Grove is having the worst year of his life. His boyfriend broke up with him and he just lost the fight of the decade. He moves to a new town, seeking a fresh start. Everyone tells him to watch for the crazy recluse, but Will makes his own rules. One glimpse of Matt is all Will needs to recognize a man whose mind is fucked-up as his own.
Matt’s certain Will’s going to run. Will’s out to prove this is one fight he’s not going to lose.
I don’t like small talk, but that doesn’t mean I’m not good with it. After half an hour, I make up an excuse that I need to meet a friend. Before the Cumbers leave, Martha takes me aside and says five strange words.
“Watch for the crazy recluse.”
Stuart winces. “Unit 311, next to yours. No one has seen the tenant since he moved in six months ago.”
“Ever? Even to take the morning paper?” I ask, unable to hide the intrigue in my voice.
Martha shakes her head. “He trained his dog to fetch it for him. These days, everything can be ordered online, including groceries. I think he allows the delivery guy in.”
“Don’t tell me we’re all holed up with a serial killer?” I joke, but they don’t find it funny. They look dead serious.
“Once, Old Ted from 312 came knocking. Tried to invite him to a floor party, but the guy shoved the barrel of a shotgun at Ted’s face. Nearly gave the old guy another heart attack,” Stuart says.
“And no one’s reported this to the police?” I ask.
Martha shakes her head. “He hasn’t hurt anyone yet. We thought he was secretly growing weed in there, but the cops came out clean, shaking their heads.”
“Yeah, okay, thanks for the tip.”
I close the door and sit myself in my empty kitchen. Stuart’s right. The pie’s amazing. I finish it off in a forkful of generous bites and down it with two bottles of the town’s locally brewed beer. Something this sinful screws with my diet, but I think I can afford a break. Later, when I have things sorted out, I’ll head to the supermarket and buy my essentials in bulk.
“Damn,” I mutter, still tasting the cold and smooth amber liquid down my throat. “They never said they make good beers, too. Maybe self-exile won’t be such a bad thing after all.”
Fuck. I might even pick up some hobby. Gardening or some relaxing shit to pass the time. Get my stress levels way down. Maybe, if I feel a little wild, I’ll swing by the roadhouse I spotted on the way here. Time to strap on a pair of balls and see if there are some rugged cowboys or lost young men looking for a night out.
My stomach churns at the thought of being with another man other than Gary.
I’ve been out of the dating game for half a decade, five fucking years down the drain just like that. Sixty months of manufactured memories. In the end, Gary made it plain he only valued me for one thing—for being a winner. It only took one loss for Gary to sever the bonds and move on, not caring about the scars he left behind.
I only need to look at my boxes to see bits and pieces of Gary poking out the cartons. Shows what a pussy I am, keeping reminders of him without his knowledge. I flinch at them all—Gary’s favorite Seahawks sweatshirt and the pair of cheap sunglasses I bought him when we vacationed in Rio. The gun-shaped lighter he loved, along with the button he earned from Nicotine Anonymous for staying clean for six months.
It never stuck. Gary doesn’t like consistency. He got his kicks then moved on, same with people. Any therapist will tell me that all this is unhealthy behavior. Better to forget the past and move on. I can’t. Gary’s things are puzzle pieces I need. Someday, I’ll piece them all up and understand why he left me.
I’m hopeful they might even contain answers on how I can win him back. For now, I’ll remain in Oakville. Get lean and back in shape. Good enough to win fights in the rings, and Gary.
The sound of clanging pans startles me back to reality. I narrow my eyes. My body tenses, ready to spring into action. A curse comes from next door, from the thin walls separating me from the psycho living there. I stand and press my ear against the wall.
A dog barks, followed by a gruff voice. My mysterious neighbor begins coaxing his pet in soothing tones. I can’t make out the words yet, but the stranger on the other side sparks my interest. Is he an old grump, some misunderstood vet who wants to be left alone? Can he be a disturbed young man, plotting something sinister?
I snort. “Look at me. I’ve got nothing better to do than eavesdrop on my neighbor. Oh, and talking to myself. All I need is to get a cat.”
Disgusted, I pull away. A list. I need one to be organized and remain sane. It takes me an hour to find a notepad and a working pen from my boxes. I plan what I need to do for the next few hours, days, and weeks. Work’s good. It helps elevate the pain and rage. Makes it easier to lock them up in a box and forget them for a while. Sooner or later, I’ll need to take out that box. Confront my fears, but not today.
Still, I check my phone for messages or emails from Burt Green, my manager, or Gary. I hate myself after, for allowing myself to feel self-pity.
“Home Depot then grocery shopping,” I mutter, glancing at my list. I grab my jacket and car keys.
Time to take the first step forward.
“If I’m still feeling lonely, I’ll stop by the pet shop and get myself a fat tabby to share my misery with.”
About the Author:
Angelique Voisen is a bisexual, twenty-something, type-2 diabetic and multi-pubbed writer who favors LGBT and ménage pairings. She likes experimenting with different sub-genres and her stories may include cogs, fangs, space battles, kinky magic systems and happily-ever-afters. When Angel’s not writing, she’s gaming, watching B-rated action movies, or enjoying teatime with friends while enviously eyeing their cake.
For more information on other books by Angelique, visit her website:
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