What do you gift a woman who already has everything?
Or, the ability – and desire – to get it all for herself?
That dilemma bounced around in my head, plaguing me for the better part of my day after starting a morning with a text from my mother to her kids – “Don’t bring me no more perfume, appliances, bags, none of that shit. Get creative or something, damn.”
Other people might get a little offended at the language choices, but I wasn’t sweating that – none of us were. If they knew like we did, that aging had actually calmed my mother, they’d understand that text was nothing but love.
Love that didn’t make her any less deadass serious.
And so, with her birthday fast approaching, and Christmas right behind it… I was at a loss. My recent move to the Heights was supposed to be working in my favor – small, Black-owned businesses were abundant around here, and everybody was gearing up for the winter – gift-giving – season, with window displays and sales, all that.
Lots of options.
Exactly the problem.
I shook my head, muttering to myself about just hiring a personal shopper or something to do this for me.
Would my siblings swear I’d cheated the system?
Did I care?
As long as my favorite girl- my mother – was happy?
I looked up as I passed by a shop I’d never stopped inside before – I didn’t really have a sweet tooth. But… I knew Guilty Pleasures specialized in gourmet confectionaries… which could make a bomb ass gift. One I hadn’t really considered before – I wasn’t the target audience, so a chocolate shop didn’t really hold much appeal for me.
Something I saw through the window though… that definitely did.
She definitely did.
All I knew was her first name, and really I only knew that in passing, even though she was my next-door neighbor. Our schedules rarely overlapped in a way that caused us to bump into each other often when there was time for conversation, but damn if I didn’t always spot her when she was anywhere in range.
And… there she was now, behind the glass, polishing the glass display case. I’d never run into her around the neighborhood before – a singularity I’d sworn to myself would be the impetus I needed to approach and actually talk to her.
“Stop being a bitch,” I could practically hear my brother’s voice in my head, encouraging me to say something.
Not that I was on any introvert shit – that really wasn’t my personality. There was just… something about this damn girl that hit me a little different.
I wasn’t a bitch though.
Or at least, that’s what I told myself to force my steps to the door of the shop. After a deep breath and a quick five-second mental pep talk – You is a gentleman, you is smart, you is gainfully employed, and you is a handsome nigga – I grabbed the handle and pulled.
And… nothing happened.
Well… not nothing.
The damn door didn’t budge, is what happened, because it was locked, and I was so focused that my dumb ass had already started moving, and almost walked into it, and… yeah.
Especially when I realized my awkwardness at the door had gotten Olivia’s attention, and those big, immersive brown eyes of her were on me.
So… I smiled.
What else was I supposed to do?
Luckily, she must not have clocked me as some creep, because she smiled back, coming around the counter to the door. She unlocked it, pushing it open to speak to me without having to raise her voice.
“Neighbor or not… we’re actually closed, Landon.”
My eyebrows went up. “You know my name?”
A smirk spread across her full, pretty ass lips. “You live next door to me dude, I know a lot about you.”
“And here I was, thinking I don’t know nearly enough about you,” I countered, turning her smirk into a full-blown smile as she playfully rolled her eyes.
“Don’t think flattery is going to get you any after-hours service from me.”
I grinned. “Not here or not anywhere?”
Not the right thing to say to a damn near stranger.
I knew that as soon as it left my mouth, and was already on the verge of a cringe waiting for her rightfully offended response.
“You’re a flirt – I knew it,” she laughed, shaking her head. “Make yourself useful – walk me home?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Not a problem.”
“Thanks. Give me like… five minutes. I need to finish up.”
With that said, she breezed off, locking the door behind her again.
And I stood there in the cold, waiting… maybe looking stupid, because what even was this?
Was I just walking her home, or…?
Nigga why would you even think it was more than that?
Maybe it was.
Maybe it wasn’t.
The point was, I didn’t know.
More like ten minutes later, she came back to the door, this time with a fluffy orange knit hat covering her wild curls, and a matching coat.
It was very… her.
That hint of quirkiness was part of what had caught my attention – aside from the fact that she was bad as fuck. She’d worn a lot of this same orange all year – halters in the summer, oversized cropped sweaters in the fall, always blessing the neighborhood with some vivid contrast against her pecan-toned skin.
“You ready?” she asked, once she’d set the alarm and then stepped out, locking the exterior door.
“Shit, you tell me,” I countered, maintaining the flirtatious energy from before on the chance I’d read this situation correctly.
She raised an eyebrow at me. “Probably not. But… I think you’ll do fine.”
Instead of letting her know she’d staggered me a little with that one, I offered my arm, and once she’d taken it, I replied, “Don’t underestimate me, neighbor.”
“I’m not. I’ve heard your… company.”
“Like… through the walls?” I asked. I didn’t know if I was proud of myself or embarrassed.
“Mmmhmm,” she answered. “It sounded like you sent that last one to the moon and back.”
I shook my head, chuckling. “My bad?”
“No, don’t apologize – I was happy for her. For both of you, I guess,” she laughed. “Although, you do make my toy feel a little inadequate sometimes.”
My eyes went wide. “Do you… want an apology for that?” I asked, helping her up the stairs as we approached our building.
“Nope,” she shook her head. “I’m just trying to see what it’s like.”