Alfred kept checking the time all day.
He should have been focused on the mammoth task of unpacking his boxes now that the movers have left. He had had spent the whole day trying to get them to move all his furniture into just the right places, only to realise it still felt all wrong.
But then again, everything pretty much felt all wrong. That was why he had to move and start again.
It didn’t help that he picked the hottest day of the year to move into his new flat. It was in a nice enough place, in fact he was really proud of himself for having done very well considering the increasingly bonkers real estate world of London. And that was just the house. When he signed the lease, he had not expected that the place came with a cute albeit terribly (and adorably) clumsy neighbour just across the cobbled Mews…
…who had promised to come over for dinner.
They didn’t actually agree on an exact time, though.
Funny, that – he came here to leave his boy troubles behind and he lasted about 2 minutes before he noticed him, Edward, staring at him from his own flat.
No, he wasn’t staring… Maybe Alfred wanted him to? Well, it was hardly a surprise, on top of his clearly to-die-for personality, there was only one way to describe Edward: insanely fit.
And if there was one way to describe Alfred at the moment, it was single and not pleased about it.
Diver came up to nuzzle against his leg, waking him from his thoughts. Aptly named, after a long ride in the lorry, the dog really couldn’t help lounging at poor Edward that morning, resulting in the whole coffee incident, and it was all Alfred could do to save the situation before he scared Edward away forever.
But he couldn’t be mad at his pup.
‘Just us again, eh, D?’ he said, giving his dog a good petting and more scratches behind the ear than the little minx deserved after such an appalling first impression on the cute neighbour.
Catching sight of his reflection in the oven door, and realising he probably reeked of sweat and dog, he decided it was time for that good shower.
Why hadn’t he learned to cook? Now would have been the perfect time to remedy the awful embarrassment of Edward’s first encounter with his new neighbour by impressing him with a homemade pizza splashed with extra-virgin olive oil and a good wine to go with it. Alas, he was a busy lawyer and he had no time to do any of that. In fact, he was glad of the mountain of work he had had to do all day even if he only got about half of it done for being distracted by glimpses of Alfred, who was so painfully gorgeous it really was no surprise Edward had been reduced to a stuttering mess earlier.
After a cold shower, fretting for about twenty minutes about which shirt to change into, and giving up on taming his curls with any product in this heat and humidity, he decided that seven pm was the appropriate time to make his appearance as promised. He remembered to get Alfred’s freshly washed shirt that he was supposed to be returning, grabbed a perfectly chilled summery red wine from his pantry and stepped outside, ignoring the ridiculous pace at which his heart was beating.
Stop it, Edward, this is nothing like that, you’re only meeting your new neighbour. Maybe he’s straight anyway. Maybe he’s taken. Why wouldn’t he be?
‘Ugh,’ he mentally slapped himself and tried to focus on not dropping the glass on Alfred’s doorstep.
Edward waited, balancing on the balls of his feet in a funny mix of excitement and nervousness.
He could hear barking from inside. And he could see the lights were on. However, Alfred wasn’t coming to the door.
He rang the bell again.
‘Coming! Coming! One moment!’ Alfred called, and Edward smiled. ‘Coming right away--- Diver, down, honestly, what’s up with you today? Just a sec!’
And Edward, thinking he had cooled down from his earlier ridiculous state, was reduced to a speechless, wide-eyed, jaws-on-the-floor idiot when the door opened, revealing a dripping wet Alfred Paget wearing nothing but a towel around his waist.
‘Sorry,’ Alfred laughed, panting from his having hurried straight out of the shower and down the stairs, apparently. ‘I didn’t know when—’
‘I c-can come back l-later…’ Edward uttered, wanting to do the exact opposite.
‘Rubbish, come in, come in!’ Alfred ushered, allowing Edward inside the house. ‘Sorry about the mess. I think it will be some time before I sort out all my stuff. And there is pretty much nowhere to sit – I want to paint the walls tomorrow, so I thought I’d leave the furniture covered. The only horizontal surfaces I can offer are the floor, the kitchen table, or my bed. Soooo…’
‘PIZZA,’ Edward blurted, possessed by God-knows-what. Really, he was the least smooth person on Earth, he cursed himself. ‘I mean… uhh… I didn’t know what you liked, I haven’t ordered or anything, I mean, are you gluten free or allergic to something, maybe you’re a vegetarian—’
‘I’m not allergic to anything and I’m not a vegetarian. But I wouldn’t mind going easy on onions, and by easy I mean having none at all.’
‘Good. Then uhhh…’
Alfred had to smile at the effect he was clearly having on Edward. ‘How about you order while I get dressed? I’ll be back in a sec.’
Edward nodded and tried not to stare like a creep throughout the interaction and while Alfred left to go upstairs.
‘Ffffff…’ he began but, feeling ashamed as he made eye-contact with Alfred’s dog, he finished ‘…fudge.’
He ordered from his usual place he knew didn’t have the fastest delivery time in the city but the quality was well worth the wait.
And wait he did. Alfred was gone for no more than five minutes but it felt like an eternity, seeing as every time Edward closed his eyes he would see Alfred’s nearly naked body in front of him. To busy himself, he walked around the place, settling by the window that faced his own house. He could see a lot more of his own place than he thought – perhaps he should invest in some thick curtains…
‘Penny for them?’ Alfred asked when he returned, making Edward jump. He was now wearing a blue pair of shorts that made his bum look fabulous and a thin white shirt that he didn’t bother buttoning all the way up. Edward had already seen him shirtless – twice. This was progress, even.
‘Dinner is on its way,’ Edward replied, happy to see his stutter was gone, despite being floored for the third time that day by Alfred’s appearance. ‘And—here’s your shirt.’
Edward handed it to Alfred, who took it with the most charming smile Edward had ever seen.
‘Thank you. And the wine?’
‘On the kitchen counter. I didn’t want to risk dropping it, as I’m so prone to dropping and smashing everything today.’
Alfred laughed. ‘Just as long as you’re not breaking any hearts… Though I suspect you do.’
‘What kind of wine is it?’ Alfred asked, walking away from the bomb he had no idea why he dropped, hoping to keep the conversation casual.
‘Planeta Ceresuolo di Vittoria,’ Edward said with perfect diction. ‘From Sicily. Goes well with pizza and pasta and anything Italian.’
‘I’m impressed,’ Alfred said, secretly making Edward’s heart skip a beat. ‘Do you speak Italian?’
‘I have to. Well, Latin. I’m a lawyer.’
Alfred was intrigued. ‘Are you?’
‘Guilty as charged!’ Edward tried to joke and instantly cursed himself for sounding like the unfunniest arsehole in the whole wide world. But Alfred sniggered, whether genuinely or to make him feel better, he didn’t know.
‘Well, there is only one task we must do: find my wine glasses in one of these boxes.’
They took to ad hoc opening likely carton boxes but so far only found plates, shoes, books, and an unlabelled box that Alfred grabbed from Edward at the last moment before he could open it and took it promptly upstairs returning as if nothing had happened, some more books, a battered old typewriter, a vinyl record player, and finally—
‘YES! The glasses!’ Alfred rejoiced, just in time for the pizza to arrive. He washed up the kitchenware they would need for dinner and set a makeshift table for two on a larger carton box labelled “winter clothes and gym stuff”, while Edward paid the delivery guy.
They settled on the floor, poured wine and got a slice each for starters.
Edward raised his glass. ‘Welcome to your new home!’
Alfred clinked his glass against his. ‘To a new home!’ They drank, alternatingly stealing glances from each other and blushing completely when their eyes accidentally met. ‘This is… very good. The wine. And I’m starving so…’
If Edward was honest, the last thing he could think about was eating when he watched Alfred take a bite and lick his finger with lips that looked like heaven. He quickly pretended to be incredibly interested in the rim of his wine glass and desperately searched for something to talk about.
‘So… how come you’re here? I mean, where are you from?’
‘I’m from north Wales, originally, but I’ve lived in London for as long as I can remember. Never had the accent or anything but my parents still live there. I miss them terribly, of course, but… London was calling.’
‘What is it that you do?’
‘Like, my job?’ Alfred asked. ‘I’m a writer.’
Edward had to laugh. ‘I’m sorry,’ he fumbled to apologise. ‘It’s just… aren’t writers supposed to be, you know… like… shabby and weird and have their beard grown down to their knees?’
Alfred almost choked on his dinner for laughing. He took another sip of wine.
‘Well, sorry to disappoint you,’ he said. ‘And… thank you? I think? I have my bad days, believe it or not, but I haven’t quite got the whole G. R. R. Martin look down yet.’
‘What do you write?’
‘Well, theoretically, I’m a novelist. But while that is in the works, the day job has been publishing stuff that actually pays the bills – articles, opinion pieces, show reviews, book reviews, relationship advice columns, that sort of thing.’
‘I’ve always wondered who write those things. Do you have to be qualified to hand out advice to strangers in magazines?’
‘Not as a requirement, no. As long as you can be amusing and seemingly insightful, you’re good to go. It’s all just entertainment… so sue me!’
Edward laughed at the lawyer joke – okay, maybe it was out of pity but Alfred did make him feel better. Much better. He could hardly tear his eyes away from him, his exposed chest, his half-wet blond hair, his long eyelashes… of his suddenly sad blue eyes.
‘In fact, I’m probably the last person I would ask for relationship advice,’ Alfred added.
‘You’re probably still far ahead of me.’
‘I doubt that. In fact, that’s part of why I moved here. Bad break up.’
‘Crikey. I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be. I’m not. Well, anyway, now that I finally managed to convince a publisher to put a little faith in me, I get to spend the next four months finishing my novel. It has to be in bookstores by Christmas.’
‘What is it about?’
‘It’s…’ Alfred thought how to describe it and how much he wanted to give away.
‘What – at least give me the genre. Come on, I got you wine and pizza! Is it a crime story? Fantasy? Adult fiction…?’
‘No! It’s… it’s a romance story, okay? It follows in the tradition of Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’s a whole Richard Curtis rom com, in the form of a book. There. Now laugh.’
Edward bit his lip to stifle a stupid grin. He really didn’t think he could be truly head-over-heels with anyone until that day. He may never have been in love but… maybe that wasn’t so impossible after all.
‘Well I’ll be the first to read it,’ Edward said in encouragement and Alfred found he had to look away because there was something too overpowering about maintaining too long an eye-contact with Edward. ‘And until then, I’ll be the number one fan of your columns. Where would I find you, which magazine?’
‘Uuuh, you probably don’t read it.’
Alfred considered Edward for a moment. ‘I mostly freelance but at the moment I’m working for QX,’ he chanced.
‘Cool!’ Edward said, pretending very transparently to know it.
Alfred smiled, seeing though him. ‘You don’t seem like the type to read it on the tube.’
Edward was found out. ‘I’m sorry. I literally have no time for anything but my work.’
‘I doubt that,’ Alfred said, not being able to help feasting his eyes on Edward’s obviously modelesque physique. His abs were visible through his shirt, for crying out loud. And his curls… Alfred wanted to just reach out and grab them.
Oh, he was just a hopeless romantic. How many heartbreaks until would he learn???
‘No, it’s really just the rat race from dawn till dusk. I’m never home, only to sleep, really. Well, not now – there’s maintenance in the office so we’re working from home for a few weeks, it’s all just a huge mess, and it’s my fault, well it’s not strictly speaking my fault, it’s because of the bats and--- nevermind.’
Saved from further embarrassment of his own making, Edward shut up when Diver got bored and demanded attention in the form of loud barking and climbing onto Alfred’s lap.
‘Ohh who’s a good boy…’ Alfred cooed to him, rubbing the dog’s tummy. ‘I’m sorry about earlier – he’s usually a well-behaved puppy. It’s probably the excitement of the new house. And he’s getting rather cranky – aren’t you, Diver?’
A grumpy bark was his response.
‘Maybe I should go,’ said Edward, not wanting to outstay his welcome. ‘I’m sure you had a long day.’
Alfred was hardly able to hide his disappointment but he managed a friendly smile up at Edward, who was already standing.
‘And another long day awaits tomorrow.’
‘Oh right,’ Edward said, getting an idea. ‘Do you… need a hand? To paint the walls.’
Alfred cheered back up very quickly. ‘Only if you can spare the time…’
‘I can. I’ll make time.’
Alfred beamed. ‘Then… Yes. Thank you! That would be brilliant! I’ll make sure to be properly dressed this time.’
Edward went crimson in the blink of an eye, awkwardly muttered something like a farewell, and scarpered back home.
Great, now he had to work all night to catch up on the new client he was supposed to be taking on because he was certain he would not be missing a chance to use painting his walls as an excuse to spend more time with the dashing guy next door, Alfred Paget.