The first time he noticed the apartment across from his was finally occupied, it was one o’clock in the morning and he’d just gotten home after a long and tiresome day, wanting nothing more than to fall onto his bed and go to sleep. He hadn’t even bothered to flick on his light, just stumbled into the dark bedroom, pulled the fabric of his shirt over his head, and tossed it somewhere close to the hamper. It probably only landed on the floor, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He’d resolve to put it away properly after a good night’s rest.
His pants came next, shimmying out of them until the fabric pooled awkwardly around his ankles, realizing a little too late that he hadn’t bothered to remove his boots, which meant he’d never slip the tight jeans around the things. Heaving a sigh, he perched on the edge of the mattress, yanking the fabric back to work quickly and angrily at the double knotted laces. Never before in his life did he question his fashion choices, but at the moment, he would kill to be the kind of guy to wear cargo shorts and flip-flops.
With the shoes successfully thrown somewhere near the door, he didn’t exactly attempt to aim and couldn’t be bothered to actually watch where they landed, he kicked the constricting material from each foot, grinning like an idiot once he was finally free of all clothing save his boxer briefs. The cool air felt wonderful on his burning flesh, taking a moment to enjoy the feeling as his skin returned to a less stifling temperature, a little groan of pleasure leaving his lips.
Turning toward the queen-sized bed, he had meant to immediately dive beneath the satin sheets, honest he did; but a sudden stream of light flowing from the place he swore was vacant only a week ago caught his attention, and he peered through the curtain-less window, who needed privacy when the place was empty, catching a sight he would not soon forget.
Golden skin, a lean muscular form, and a really nice ass greeted him. His mouth went slack, eyes staring hard at the chiseled body standing skyclad in the bedroom across from his own, face obscured by a towel as arms rubbed it back and forth over wet hair. If you had asked him what color it was, at that moment, he couldn’t have told you. Probably couldn’t form coherent sentences at all, and probably would have just opened and closed his mouth like a fish.
He told himself it was rude to stare, especially at someone’s naked form; without their permission, no less. But at the same time, he had to wonder why someone would also stand right in front of their window, completely and utterly nude, if they really cared that badly that someone might see.
His frazzled brain reminded him they were three stories up, so the likelihood of someone happening by was quite slim. The window across from his sat close enough that you could probably jump between the rooms if you were that desperate to do so, so it wasn’t as if anyone but him had access to the lovely view. The guy hadn’t bothered to put his own curtains up, though neither had Nico, so it wasn’t all that odd, especially since he’d probably only recently moved in. Plus, Nico was also standing in front of his window, only slightly less provocative in appearance, so it really, really wasn’t all that odd of a situation.
No, in the end he knew what he was doing wasn’t right, but he couldn’t look away, gaping at the figure as the towel lowered from his face to reveal some form of light eyes, pale golden locks, and a jawline so angular and sexy he was pretty sure the groaning sound coming from his mouth was real, not imaginary.
The person, who he was loath to admit was officially Mr. Chiseled Sex God in his own mind, Mr. C.S.G. for short, walked out of sight for a moment before returning with a loose pair of green flannel pajama bottoms. Sliding them on, in full view of the window with his ass perfectly pivoted the other’s way, he climbed onto his own bed and the light went out.
Nico stood for a good five minutes, brain slowly working to catch up in his overly tired, officially short-circuited state. When it finally dawned on him that his entire purpose for standing there had been to actually get under the blankets, not gawk rudely at a completely naked, not to mention obnoxiously sexy, guy he’d never met before; he threw himself against his own mattress, cocooning himself halfheartedly in the sheet before closing his eyes and falling asleep.
“I’m telling you, it’s an utter nightmare. I don’t know what to do about it, though,” he admitted, leaning back against the counter, rubbing small circles into his temples in an attempt to ease some of the pressure steadily pounding behind his eyeballs. It had been there all day, since his poor sleep the night before; not to mention the past entire week, following his new neighbor's naked escapades. Which, in the end, had entirely been his own fault, but of course he wasn’t going to admit that small detail aloud.
Piper pursed her lips, tapping a finger to her chin, all the while her hazel eyes twinkled at him with barely controlled amusement. “So, you have a problem with your neighbor,” she said slowly, waiting for his confirmation.
“Yes,” Nico hissed, shooting the girl a withering look, which did absolutely nothing other than possibly amusing her even more.
“And your problem is… that he’s too hot,” she finished, tilting her head to the side and grinning wickedly.
“My problem,” he grumbled, brow creasing at the overly pleased look on her face. She was far too unsympathetic considering he was sleep deprived and cranky. “Is that every night when I come home, he’s standing in front of the window, completely naked! I don’t know what to do. It’s like his ass is a magnet for my eyes, and it’s always there, without fail, waiting for me to come view it.”
“You could try putting up curtains,” she snickered, hiding the action behind her hand. “Or you could just enjoy the show and stop complaining about having a hot dude live across from you. My only visible neighbor is seventy years old and on the hefty side. Anytime I have to see him naked, which is far more often than you’d think considering, I want to stab my poor eyes out. Be thankful, not all of us are so blessed.”
“You have an equally attractive boyfriend that lives with you,” he pointed out dryly.
Rolling his eyes, he heaved a sigh. “I don’t have time to go and buy the curtains, let alone install the hardware to put them up. You know we’re swamped, and I’m here practically twenty-four seven. Perhaps if I had more competent employees and friends, I would actually have a little free time to go and do just that.” He shot her a pointed look, but she waved it away dismissively with her hand.
“Look, I don’t see why you’re complaining. You get free access to a great show. And practically every night, to boot.”
“But I don’t want to-“ his voice was whiny and she cut him off with a terse look.
“Then look away, practice a little self-control, move out if you need to. In the end, your problem really isn’t much of a problem, and the solutions are vast. Hell, leave an anonymous note in his box, let him know you can see him and that it’s indecent.”
“But then he’ll know who sent it,” he huffed.
She rolled her eyes, patting him affectionately on the shoulder. “My point being, the only person to blame in the end, is you. I doubt it’ll stop on its own, you said he showers every single night at the exact same time?”
Frowning again, his lip pouted outward childishly. “Like freaking clockwork, except the clock is set to whenever I get home. I’m pretty sure he just likes to be completely naked.”
“Hot,” she quipped, then laughed when his look soured significantly. “Okay, okay, it’s a serious problem. I’m taking it seriously.” She sighed as if to emphasize the point. “If you don’t like it, something on your end needs to change. That’s all there is to it, my friend.”
Grumbling, he averted his gaze to the ceiling. “A lot of help you are,” he muttered, a little more bitterly than he’d meant it to sound.
“I know,” she chirped, completely unfazed by his moodiness. After seven years of friendship, she was probably more than used to it.
“Can’t you just… go and buy the curtains and put them up for me? Jason can help. Make him take his shirt off, or something. Watch it like it’s a sexual fantasy, I don’t care. Help me.”
Patting him once more, she drew his gaze down to her face. “And ruin the fun? Sorry, buddy, but I don’t tamper with art.” Her cheeky grin was more obnoxious than her terrible joke.
“You sell art all day,” he reminded her, pushing off the counter in the break room as he realized that no one was manning the front of the gallery if the two of them were both there. “Speaking of which, get back to work. You know we’re always busiest at this time of day.”
A smirk pulled her lips and she sashayed out of the room. “Whatever you say, boss,” she drawled, shooting him a coy smile and a wink before disappearing around the corner.
Pouring himself another heaping cup of barely warm coffee, he sipped it with a frown, wondering how hard it would be to ignore something so utterly captivating.
It turned out it was much harder than he expected, having gone home that night with the intent to avoid at all costs. He even flicked on the light switch, making it all the harder to notice when the other’s light also flicked on, and turned his back to the window, undressing hurriedly before quickly shutting off the light and diving into his bed.
Safe underneath the thin blankets, he let out a contented sigh, staring up at the ceiling as he awaited the stress of the day to lessen, the caffeine in his system to crash, and his eyes to finally fall closed. He’d barely made it out of the gallery by midnight after having to clean the place thoroughly, contact a few of the artists about their newer pieces, and run some quick stock, typing up all the numbers before calling it quits for the evening. It was probably somewhere close to one in the morning, and he had to be up at eight am just to repeat the process over again.
A light flicked on across the way and his eyes traveled to the small sliver of window he could still make out from his place in the bed. A flash of bronze skin caught his attention, pressing itself right up against the glass for a moment before the sound of a window opening pierced the silence, causing him to flinch.
An embarrassed flush warmed his cheeks and he was suddenly quite thankful he’d already made it inside the bed before he got a full frontal of his neighbor, which would have definitely blown his cover as there was no way that view would have resulted in anything but an open-mouthed gawk, and possibly a little drool.
Pulling the sheet up and over his face, he fell into another fitful sleep, wondering if it was worth it to take a day off to buy some curtains.
By the time his alarm screeched loudly and startled him back into wakefulness, the resounding answer was definitely, yes, immediately, without another moment’s hesitation. Even if it was a lovely view to have, the resulting crappy sleep that followed turned it into the nightmare he’d come to view it as.
It wasn’t just the images that he couldn’t seem to remove from his brain, and oh, there were many; but the overall guilt he felt over the situation of betraying a stranger’s trust before he’d even uttered a single word to them, of thinking improper things and lusting after an image without getting to know the human attached. It made him feel disgusting, especially when he thought of how he might feel to have someone treat him the exact same way, like an object and not a flesh and blood person.
He called up his sister on the way out the door, deciding to take the opportunity to catch up while also seeking a little sisterly advice and a second eye for a decent set of light impenetrable curtains. She answered on the third ring.
“Nico, I was just thinking about you. What’s up?” Her voice was a little thick, so he figured he’d probably actually woken her up.
“Hey, Hazel. I was just wondering if you wanted to help me out today with a project I have to do. Maybe we can get some lunch at that Indian place down the street from you beforehand and then you can spend the day shopping for curtains with me.”
The walk to work was a short two block trek from his apartments, so he reserved his car for things that actually warranted one, like picking up his sister or shopping to regain a small semblance of his former dignity. The early morning air felt good on his tired face, kickstarting the day before he had the chance to grab a cup of coffee.
“Curtains? As in, for your windows? I thought you enjoyed the bright white ambiance curtain-less rooms gave off and that you’d sleep til noon if it wasn’t for the blinding light?” Her voice sounded far too amused already, and he groaned inwardly at the thought of admitting why he needed a set. Perhaps leaving her a little in the dark wouldn’t hurt.
“Ah, I do, and you’re correct, but I got a new neighbor, so I’d appreciate the privacy.” It was more or less the truth, though the privacy he wanted was more for the other than for himself. At least he seemed to be aware that someone across the building was able to see everything he was doing. He could choose to refrain out of modesty.
“Alright, when do you want to head out? Lunch is still a little ways away, but I’m free until six, so just text me a time and I’ll be ready.”
“Thanks, Hazel, I appreciate it. I’ll let you know after I talk to Piper. See you.”
Well, that was one less stress to worry about. Now to convince his friend to take on the extra workload out of pity for his plight.
It only took a mountain of groveling and the agreement that Jason could swing by to help out if necessary before Piper shooed him from the gallery around ten am. He showered and changed, then called his sister up to allow her ample time to be ready before swinging by, getting some lunch down the road and heading out for the afternoon.
It was an unusually warm spring afternoon, so they kept the windows down while he drove, enjoying the soft breeze that kicked up and the scent of lilacs and hyacinth that wafted through the air each and every time he paused for a red light. Hazel talked to him about the classes she was finishing up for her degree, the recent visits with their father, and random things about Frank that he barely listened to; all the while browsing through stacks of ugly colors of cloth before finally settling on a set of burgundy ones made from a thick corduroy like material.
Hazel thought the color would look great with his bedspread, which was much the same deep color of red; but his interest in the things lay with their impossibly thick fabric. Hopefully, they’d be thick enough to prevent the light from shining through from the opposite window, allowing him to see the, in truth, less offensive and more so agonizingly tempting sight.
He dropped her back at home, said a quick goodbye with the promise of catching up again soon, and headed back to his place to hurriedly put the curtains up. Installing the rod was probably the hardest part, he hadn’t thought about borrowing the electric drill from the gallery, so he had to settle for a regular screwdriver and a bit of elbow grease. It took the better part of fifteen minutes, compared to the two he knew it should have taken him, but it was worth it.
Threading the curtains through the rod, a flash of silver light caught his attention and he halted his progress, glancing up through the window and nearly throwing the thing from himself in shock. Sitting just in view of the window, back turned and completely naked, was his neighbor. He wanted to be surprised, he really did; but with the level of ease the guy seemed to exhibit even just standing around after his showers, something told him being naked was probably second nature at that point, if not a little enjoyable.
In fact, the oddest part about it all, the thing that had him staring a little wide-eyed, unable to look away, was not that he was naked but that he was painting something upon a large canvas while in the nude. It was too hard to get a good look around the broad slant of his back to see whether or not he was doing a good job of it, but good or not, why anyone painted naked was downright bizarre. And even a little intriguing, though he’d never admit that out loud.
Forcing himself to pull his gaze back from Mr. C.S.G., he hurriedly finished with his curtains, snapped the pole into place above the windowsill, tightened the screws to keep it from falling, and raced out the door as fast as he could, desperate to tell Piper of this new discovery.
Only he’d forgotten about agreeing to allow Jason to be there in his absence, and he couldn’t bring himself to explain away his shortness of breath other than with a lie that he was worried they’d leave the front unattended in favor of a make-out session in the back.
Piper yelped in surprise while Jason snickered. “That was one time, and you were here, to begin with. I would never be so irresponsible while you were gone for an unknown amount of time. Ye of little faith.” Her pout looked more forced than sincere, so he rolled his eyes and shook his head.
Jason bit his lip to further stifle his laughter. “Yeah, Neeks, I’d never let Pipes be so irresponsible in your place of business.” Nico shot him a pointed look, and he grinned sheepishly. “Uh, I mean, ever since the first time you threatened to never let me come back.”
Sighing heavily, he leaned back against the front desk. “Yes, well, perhaps I was a little quick to assume. I’m back now, though, so wrap it up and go enjoy the rest of your day off. This is still a place of business, and my workers are workers first, friends second.”
Piper beamed at him, grabbing Jason by the wrist and pulling him toward the break room. “Alright, boss. I’ll just say goodbye and send him on his way. Fifteen minutes tops.”
“See you, Nico,” Jason chirped, grinning like an idiot as the two rounded the corner out of sight.
The only sounds that floated up were the occasional giggle, he really didn’t want to think about who was doing the giggling; and a scrape of chair leg against linoleum, which really made him glad that was all he heard.
Fifteen minutes on the dot, Jason wandered out the door, looking slightly dazed but thoroughly pleased.
“You’re cleaning the breakroom tonight. And spare me the details, I don’t need to know if you’ve ever had sex in my gallery before.”
Piper quirked a brow, trying her best not to laugh outright. “Alright, I’ll be sure to sanitize everything, then.”
Groaning, Nico covered his ears with a wince. “I can’t tell if you’re serious or not, and now I’m going to have to burn the furniture just to be safe.”
Coming up beside him, she propelled herself up onto the desk, swinging her legs and cocking her head to the side. “So, why’d you really run back here so fast? I assume you have a bit more faith in me to keep your place safe without adult supervision.”
“I’m going to pretend that’s a joke about how Jason only looks like an adult. And the amount of faith is only a fraction more than I let on.” She swatted at him with a stack of papers, narrowly missing his arm as he danced out of reach with a laugh. “Okay, I kid, I kid. I have total faith in you. I came to tell you sexy neighbor paints in the nude.”
“What,” she gasped, eyes wide, mouth drawn up into a comically absurd gleeful smile. “Spill. Right now. How do you know this? Oh god, was Hazel with you? I sure hope not, she would insist upon you moving.”
Laughing, he ran a hand through his hair before shrugging. “I was putting up my curtains and got a nice view of bare backside. I didn’t stick around very long, just put them up and came straight over to tell you. And no, Hazel didn’t come with, thank god. I would have been so mortified if she knew why I needed the curtains. Only I would get a neighbor that enjoys being a nudist.”
“Only you would be so lucky,” she corrected, eyes twinkling happily.
Nico scoffed. “You call it luck, I call it misfortune. If I ever meet him in person all I’ll be able to see is his naked ass, and then he’ll think I’m some perv or something.”
“If he figures it out. That’s a big if. I mean, what are the odds you keep happening upon him in the nude? Surely he wears clothes at some point.” She squealed with delight, bouncing up and down in her seat. “Or maybe he’s really just an actual nudist. You should introduce yourself. Already know he’s got a nice… package.” She winked, and he groaned.
“Piper, please refrain from making lewd comments in the workplace. What if a customer heard you and we got a bad rep?”
She mimed zipping her mouth, eyes scanning the room before she unzipped it again. “Remind me what this hunk looks like again? I want a good mental visual. For… scientific reasons.”
Rolling his eyes, he ticked off the things on his fingers. “Well, he’s pretty tan, kind of like Jason. I’d say average height, probably close to six feet. Golden hair, light eyes, nice face. Uh, I don’t really know much about his style, but probably pretty laid back. He wears flannel pajama bottoms to bed?”
“So, like, flip-flops and cargo shorts with tee shirts and long-sleeved flannel tops over them, sleeves rolled up to the elbow,” she asked with an air of nonchalance, staring at a point somewhere behind him.
Frowning, he shrugged again. “That was oddly specific, but sure, maybe something like that.”
A huge grin spread across her face, hazel eyes shining brightly as she hopped off the counter with a laugh. “Oh good. I think he just walked in, then.”
Spinning around, Nico had the misfortune to watch as the walking nightmare, also known as his nudist neighbor, approached them slowly; smiling brighter than the sun, blue eyes crinkled slightly. All he could do was stare like a deer trapped in blinding headlights as the guy sauntered up to the counter, running a hand through his hair and tilting his head in question.
“I’m looking for the owner,” he asked with a voice like calm waves lapping the shoreline; soft and sensual, with just the hint of a something deeper and gravely.
“This is him,” Piper so very unhelpfully pointed out, digging an elbow into his side so hard he actually winced.
Offering out a hand, the guy gave another horribly blinding smile. “Hi, I’m Will. I’m an artist new to the area, so I thought I’d introduce myself.”
How in the fuck is he even better looking with clothes on, Nico thought, swallowing hard against the sudden lump threatening to block his airway.
What he said was, “Nice to meet you, I’m Nico.”