Chapter 1 *Luna*
Disoriented, I fumble through my bag for my headphones, thinking of where I put them. It was noon, and I had yet to start my day on a good note. After letting in the construction workers at 5am, I fell right back to sleep with a pair of earbuds. It did not mute the pounding of hammers much.
They were still on my nightstand. Great, I groaned.
A little annoyed I left my headphones at home, I ordered a cup of hot apple cider with a dash of cinnamon to go when I got to the coffee shop.
“Whoever said renovations were easy, lied. It was a headache even with the help I had.” I grumbled under my breath.
Clarksville has been my home for a few months after purchasing an old farmhouse to flip as a retreat for myself. It had been one of my goals before thirty since my book sales have increased. As a romance and travel writer, it did not have much monetary gains at first, but it was paying off.
The general contractor I used was a high school classmate from my brief time at Ft Campbell as an Army brat, Neil Watkins. He knew better than to fuck me over on the renovation after I promised to help with his marketing. Now his younger brother, Timothy was acting weird, which was why I avoid being around when he showed up on my property. I never feel comfortable around that man, not even as a teen.
My mind wandered away from Timothy to how much I was spending on renovations versus how much revenue I was earning. It was a constant struggle to make sure I didn’t spend more than I could handle. Amid my thoughts, I didn’t hear my name called until a moment of distraction.
“Luna?” I stilled mid-sip of my hot apple cider at the call. It couldn’t be who I think it is. It couldn’t. I’m dreaming. The husky voice attached to the brief post-divorce affair I revisit when I’m lonely. It was also the voice I’ve only heard through Skype when I’m desperate to hear it aloud. I took a long sip, wincing as I burned my tongue. It was an unconscious scolding for ignoring Massimo because I was getting too attached to our conversations.
It can’t be Massimo, I thought. I didn’t think he show up in the middle of Clarksville, Tennessee. We talked on and off online when we could. He didn’t know where I lived, making it impossible for him to know. Massimo is foreign military and would not be station in Tennessee. He would more likely be in DC or Virginia. I shrugged the voice off as my imagination and kept walking.
“Luna?” The voice called out again, coming closer. I got irritated and felt my jaw tick. It was one of those moments where I struggled to not curse and be the ‘angry black woman.’ I was sure I wasn’t losing it either. There was an actual person calling my name. Massimo should be in Europe and not in the middle of the American South, not calling my name.
In a huff, I turned straight into the chest of my caller. The subtle cologne invoked visions of sweat covered bodies twisted and moaning in ecstasy, overlooking gold sandy beaches and a bright blue ocean. Hesitantly, I look up into the dark eyes of my vacation fling and online penpal.
“M... Massimo? What the hell are you doing here?” My heated cheeks to his crooked knowing smirk only created a disturbance in my peace.
“I knew it was you, Luna. You were just ignoring me.” Massimo quipped. I thanked the melanin gods for my dark skin because I was redder than the cherry red Mustang which zoomed by.
Why and how did I pick a fling who can call me of my BS quicker than my parents? My mind screeched, I have no clue.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked again as Massimo tucked his hands into his jean pockets. I tried my damn best to only focus on his face. Swimmer lean, dressed in a dark pea coat and jeans, Massimo was classical handsome as whatever Italian gods had created him. A year away from his physical presence did not cure me of the need to lean in and indulge myself in memory.
“Straightforward as always,” Massimo commented in a cheeky tone.
This unexpected situation was my fault. If I never met Massimo and kept in touch months later when he found me online, I wouldn’t be nursing my hot cider too embarrassed to talk. Why was he here? Why my heart beating like crazy?
Liquid courage and a step out of my comfort zone, I had approached Massimo at the hotel bar on my first night in Tenerife, one of the Canary islands of Spain over a year ago. I was a massive ball of nerves and tipsy, but I struck up a conversation. We had similar interests, meaning neither of us planned much for our vacation. Massimo was Italian and in Tenerife for two weeks as I was. He would fly back to Turin, Italy a day after I scheduled my flight home. It gave me hope and solidified the idea of a vacation fling in my mind with more liquid courage. Then I asked if he wanted company. The rest of the experience I revisit when I am lonely. To make matters worse, I accepted his friend’s request a few months later and been chatting with him ever since.
After a moment of silence and shivering under the early winter chill, Massimo frowned at me. He did not answer my question. The urge to move forward and write this off as a coincidence and leave, pried at me. I have an appointment to get to and appreciate any excuse to not embarrass myself further.
“It was nice to see you again,” I stated and had only made it a step when I became restricted by a hand.
“I’m at the Army base for an joint military training. I was exploring the shops and see you walking by.” Massimo mumbled. His cheeks flush from the cold or with a blush, I wasn’t sure. I knew I couldn’t swallow his word, embarrassed I could not mousy my way out of this. He always had a way of catching me off guard. I hope he never realizes it or is around long enough to even guess it.
Massimo’s gaze followed mine as I drop mine at where he had my wrist. It was a feather-light hold, but burned me all the same. I pulled my wrist free and he let go without resistant. The faint warmth of hand lingered. I fought back the images the gesture invoked, trying to stay neutral.
Massimo is a flame I couldn’t let myself get enthralled by. There were too many unforeseen variables that could ruin me with him Stateside or offline. The simplicity of our attraction and budding friendship was a danger combo, I’m not ready to face in person. This unexpected meeting was —
“Luna say something. ‘Hi, nice to see you other than online or something.’” Massimo interrupted my thoughts and licked his lips, looking uneasy. I wasn’t the only one surprised or maybe worried. My silent was off-putting, but he jump back from it and smiled like old times. “Do you want to freshen your cup and catch up at least?”
My response was sharp. “Sorry I have a standing appointment with the architect.”
Massimo’s coaxing smile turned into a frown steep in disappointment. I was being honest; I had to meet with the architect about the barn on my property. It was coincidental of us to meet unplanned in Clarksville of all places. It was an act of fate or something close. The pending engagement didn’t make this unexpected meeting feel any less haunting.
“Oh, can I call you then?” He smiled and my heart hitched as he stepped into my bubble.
My thoughts and libido were at odds because of Massimo. This man could break and burn me. In my current state, I would be too happy to burn if it was with his smile in mind. To be honest, he blindside me again; I don’t remember even saying yes or even giving him my phone number. Yet, I ran once my phone was back in my possession, a coward in the face of a man I liked as a ‘friend.’
A positive note was Massimo didn’t scramble my brain, and I made it to my appointment with a few minutes to spare. After approving the designs, I set up an appointment for the architect to come out to the property and to talk to the general contractor about it. I head for home and by past the farmhouse to a more secluded part of the property. I need solace only nature could provide.
My phone ping during my walk. In a glance, heat wash over my skin. Massimo had text me. I didn’t know if I should get angry or freak out. It isn’t every day your vacation fling shows up a year later of online chatting to want to ‘catch up’ in person.
Maybe I was overreacting, and he wants sex while he is here. If that was the case, I’ve overreacted the second half of my vacation. It was an experience I wrote off as culture difference and tried not to get attached to the comforts. I mean Massimo showed me sex aftercare was possible. Most of my previous sexual experiencesaftercare experiences were frigid and dismissive even in my marriage. I missed the comforts.
Luna, he may just want a friend in the area while he is here. Great sex wouldn’t hurt either, would it? Since I’ve only had three dates since the vacation. Only one of the dates led sex, which was bad sex I had to get myself off afterwards. I argued with myself and shivered at the thought.
After walking around for a few minutes I came up with a few rules of how to deal with Massimo. It is to preserve my sanity and maintain a working friendship, I told myself.
Today though a surprise, I fell under Massimo’s spell like before when he asked me to go with him to the other islands on our vacation. I terrified to leave my hotel to go on a trip with my vacation fling. It had only been a night since we slept together.
“No. Massimo, I’m not island jumping with you. Mi dispiace, ma non mi interessa.” I end my sentence in broken Italian, thinking his understanding of English lapse in the tiny window of morning after sex and breakfast.
“Mi cara, you worry too much. Why come to the Canary Islands and not visit each one?” Massimo points out while I bite into my toast, knowing he was right. “Didn’t you want to visit the museums and take an architectural tour?”
My big mouth, I must have rambled about my plans while tipsy. I know I do it when nervous, but add alcohol and I’m super chatty. He watched me with the same amused expression as now and coax me into a feeling comforted.
The only difference between last night and now is the faint dusting of hair spread across his chest and down into his swimming trunks, my awareness and minor hangover. The six months of celibacy before divorce and the year after. The celibacy created my current dry spell, which Massimo quench more than once last night.
“No. That is final Massimo.” I state trying to fight the shiver. “Maybe, go back to your room and do your own thing.”
His amused expression turn into a smirk and made me nervous. I did what I always did since my divorce and dealing with males in this type of situation. I got out of my recent dub ‘favorite’ seat overlooking the beach and ran away from the situation.
There was a knock on the bathroom door to my cringing delight. In the forty minutes of pretending to shower and shave my already shaved legs, Massimo hadn’t left.
“Luna? Are you ok?” I scoffed at his concern.
We’ve only known each other for less than 24 hours and three sex sessions. We weren’t at the point where he could ask that question and get a sincere answer from me.
“I’m fine. Go away.” There was a sigh to my attempt at being firm.
“I may have been too forward. Mi dispiace, I’ll be on the beach if you want to still spend time together other than in bed. I’m up for either. Ciao, cara.”
I felt guilty in the moment. Then I realized, I was allowing my fears to get the best of me. It was ok to feel apprehensive about going out with a stranger I had shared my body with. Yet, Massimo didn’t strike me as a serial killer, but neither did most killers. I was still in a new place; it allowed me to be cautious. I needed to create boundaries first than I would be ok. I took a deep breath and check myself in the mirror.
This was my first all about me type of vacation. If my best friend and soul sister, Alyssa was here she would curse me for not living a little. For heaven‘s sake, I wrote about these type of romantic adventures. Why not have one myself?
Returning to my house after my walk, a few of the workers greet me when I walk through the house. The first floor renovations was completed last week except for the kitchen. The second floor is being worked on. I found my old classmate’s dad, Mr. Watkins, is wrapping down the countertops that came in two weeks behind schedule.
“Good afternoon, Little Luna.” Mr. Watkins greet me as if I was middle schooler all over again. I smiled at the older man who dust off his jeans, discard his glovesand stretch out his worn cooper hand for a handshake. I shook my head and pulled him into a hug.
I may have lived here brief, but the Watkins family were my neighbors when my family being stationed at Ft Campbell. They helped my family through a scary time when my dad deployed for the second time to Iraq and my mom was still in the service.
“Good Afternoon, Mr. Watkins. Where is that trouble maker of a son of yours, Neil? I have a bone to pick with him.” I said in my best southern drawl, being a Yankee hybrid from the DC area had its advantages.
He laughs and shakes his head at me.“If only I knew where Neil was, I would tell you. The kitchen almost done, needs a bit of cleaning and paint.”
I nod, taking in the antique fixtures, white cabinets and gray and silver finishes. The great selling point was the island that could seat eight. Neil must be still at work, but I made a mental note to talk to both of them about Timothy.
“It’s perfect and I can’t wait to see the rest of the house when finished. A simple thank you isn‘t enough for taking on this project with me.” I kissed Mr. Watkins cheek before bouncing on my feet.
Another six months and it’ll be complete, my mind whispers in excitement. The joy in those words were unmeasurable. The farmhouse will be a place of my own. My own little world, new and ready for any memories I want to make here.
My phone ping again and I struggle to not let it affect my glow. I was still nervous about rekindling anything with Massimo in person. The text was maybe Massimo asking about meeting up for dinner. I hadn’t answered the first text; I was still debating on if it was a good idea to ignore it. I could play the ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda game’ about hearing Massimo out. Maybe show him around Clarksville. To be honest, I’m terrible at this friend business as my best friend Alyssa always teased me for it. I remind myself Massimo and I are friends as we agreed in Tenerife.
“No problem, Little Luna.” Mr. Watkins pat my shoulder. “It is always good to lend a helping hand to a family friend.”
“Dad? You finished the countertops. Oh hey, Luna.”
I look over to see Timothy in the doorway, I winced when our eyes met.
A younger crew cut version of his dad, Timothy is tall and lean, but quick to give me a headache. He was a shade lighter than me and discharged from the Army recently. My heart clench, knowing the trolling from high school only got worse with age. I was heavier set back than, but that wasn’t an excuse for Timothy’s cruelty. It forced me to tone up and stand up for myself more in hindsight. I did morning runs with my dad and brothers towards the end of high school and join Army ROTC in college for a confidence boost.
“Yeah.” Mr. Watkins squeeze my shoulder. “I’ll see you around, Little Luna.”
I smile and say my farewells. Once Mr. Watkins was out of earshot, I glower at Timothy, who flashed a white smile.
“Your dad should take it easy at his age. What is wrong with you?”
“He is in his late fifties almost sixies, Luna. He isn’t at the crypt keeper’s door yet.” Timothy shrugs his shoulders amuse and continue to look me over smiling. There wasn‘t a part of my body I didn’t feel his leery eyes touch. It felt wrong exactly like middle school and high school.
Timothy had moved back here to help his dad and brother’s company grow, which did not surprise me. The fact Timothy continues to hit on me is what creeps me out the most.
“Just be more mindful,” I breathe, remembering the many times my dad got hurt trying to fix something because of age.
He gave me the impression of giving up on the converstation, but surprise me. “I will, but hey do you have plans tonight? Nothing fancy just beer and some pizza down at Theo’s.”
“I already have plans to met a friend. I’m sorry.” The words were abrupt and without much thought. Yet, my heart jerk in my chest and lungs tighten.
Timothy gave me a soft smile at my rejection. It did not ease my suspicion of his attactions. Despite the ten years that passed, I still did not trust being alone with him. A minute was too long to be in the same room with Timothy.
“Ok, next time?” Timothy asked as I tried to pass him. His hands braced the door frame. I flinch back when he move his arms down to his sides. “Luna?”
Nervous at how close Timothy was and blocking the only exit, I stammered, “P-please move.”
I pull my phone out of my bag, unable to look at him as I waited for like forever. Out of the corner of my eye, Timothy frown for a second and let me pass. I ran to my bedroom; it was one of the few finished ones with an en suite on the first level. I shot Massimo a text accepting his invite to dinner. I need to get away from Timothy until I can work through my issues with him.
After a nap and freshening up, I weave my way through a skeleton crew of Tim and a few workers working on the second staircase. The workers were normally finish for the day around 4pm, but seem to stay a little later since it was five. My attempt to avoid Timothy was horrible plan and I end up passing him, anyway.
“Tim, can you guys wrap up by six and lock up, please?” I ask, trying to be civil though I want to run. He nods as I pass the men on the way to the front door. I took note he didn’t smile at me this time and shiver. Thanking Timothy and the guys, I bid everyone a good night and happy weekend.
I made the twenty-minute drive back into town. Atlas was a small bistro Massimo’s suggest. It was on my list to visit when I had a moment. Massimo accurate the trip.
I took a few breaths to center myself.
Here I go. Let’s not trip on air tonight. Remember, it’s a friends dinner. I coached myself before entering the bistro. At this rate, it will be a long night.
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