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Good Neighbors

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Who was at your door?

You hopped up off your chaise, and tip-toed around the scattered records on the floor. It was a Saturday, and you didn’t have any classes or other responsibilities to worry about today- a complete rarity in your life. Which would explain why you were in the position you were; lounging sleepily around in a simple little emerald sundress, nursing your second glass of white wine, and tapping out a joint that one of your friends from school had gifted you for helping her with a paper.

Up to your toes, and you took a peek through the hole in the door. A handsome brunette boy about your age was rocking from foot to foot, holding a little brown box in his arms. He didn’t look familiar, you thought absently, but didn’t think he looked particularly dangerous either. Kinda cute, not that it mattered much. Handsome strangers were rare, and rarely interested in you.

“Hello, how may I help you?” You lay against the edge of the door after opening it, and peered down curiously at his arms. “Whatchya got there?”

He jumped, mostly surprised you had introduced the conversation with questions instead of… well, an introduction. “Oh, uh, this got delivered to my apartment, I’m new here-” The box was held out towards you, and he tapped at the name in the delivery field. “That’s not me,” he pointed out further, which you could have assumed- it was your name there, not his.

“Oh aren’t you sweet?” You happily retrieved the parcel, and bundled it under one arm so you could prop it against your hip. “You’re better than UPS, aren’t you?”

“Uh,” he laughed nervously, and ran a hand along the back of his neck. “I guess I can just read better than them…” His nose crunched, was that supposed to be a joke? It was a bad one, but he seemed well aware, so you chose not to tease him about it.

“I’m (Your Name),” you finally broke the silence, and held out your free hand for him to shake. He did, and you could tell he was trying not to be nosy as your music poured out of the open door.

“Rafael,” he offered gently, and smiled sweetly when you beamed right back at him. “Rafael Barba.”

“Wellll, new-around-here Rafael Barba;” since there really wasn’t anything more interesting to do, you kicked the door you had been lazily lying against open, and grandiosely motioned towards the inside of the threshold. “You have time for a drink, or some tea?”

His eyes went wide, but he happily wandered in at the offer. “That definitely depends,” he saw the bottle on the counter, and jumped a bit when the door went shut behind him- “What’re you drinking?”

Your nose crunched; did you really want your new neighbor to know you spent your free Saturdays day drinking? Hell, why not? “Moscatoooo~” you sang while rocking your head side to side. While still awaiting his answer, you went to the cabinets, and moved aside a couple cook books to pull an extra glass out from hiding. It had been awhile since you had company.

“I’d love a glass,” Rafael conceded cheerily, and took no shame as he went through the literature you had set aside. “You have three books dedicated to cupcakes?”

Your bobbed your shoulders, and poured him a glass of wine while topping off your own. “Cupcakes are really underrated,” it was a topic of conversation you had tried to argue at a bar before, but nobody really cared about the complications of baked goods. Except for you, that is. “Creating a perfect cupcake isn’t easy, Mr. Barba,” you slid the glass his way, and noticed he was actually watching and listening as you went on. “My goal is to perfect mine.”

“So you’re a baker?” He took a hefty sip of your cheap wine, and tipped the glass your way in thanks. Eagerly, you clinked your own drink against his, and giggled before swallowing to finalize your ‘cheers’. 

“Will be one day.” After taking a seat at the little table you had set up between the kitchen and living area, you pointed across at the spare chair for him. “What about you, what’re you gonna be when you grow up?”

Rafael obliged you by taking the seat, and took a moment to soak in his surroundings. You had been there a couple years now; the signs of living were obvious, but so were the personalized touches. He’d never admit it, (at least not until a year or two later while trading shots with you after a particularly difficult day at school) but it was surprisingly reassuring to know you lived alone. “A lawyer is goal one. Judge when I grow up.”

You sassily sashayed your shoulders, and he chuckled at your taunt. “Mister hot shot law student, eh?” He only nodded, and watched you carefully in anticipation of further commentary. “Guess that means you’ll be too buried in your books to ever visit a friendly neighbor?”

He shrugged, and sat his glass down atop a little vanity tray you had placed as a centerpiece. “I have a feeling I’ll be able to make time for someone like you… if you enjoy drinking on Saturdays as much as you seem to,” his point aimed towards the empty bottles you had lining the top of your cabinets, the nicer types of wine you had been able to get your hands on in the past. 

Well this appeared to be the start of quite a lovely friendship. 

You tapped out a show tune on his door, and it only took a couple seconds for him to answer; “You got sugar?”

“Are you serious?” Why did he sound like he thought you were lying? His eyebrow perked, and he opened the entrance wider to reveal he was only wearing a pair of pajama pants.

Maybe that meant he was waking up and making coffee- so what you needed should be readily available. You held up the measuring cup, and plumped out your lip in a pout. “Yessir, I’m makin’ something.”

While chuckling, he held open his door, and you slipped right in without awaiting any further permission. “What are you so busy making?”

“Cookies,” nosily, you sauntered through the small apartment- it wasn’t much larger than your own at all. Mostly the same layout, too, but he had less places to sit. Actually, most notable was the large bookshelf against the far wall where you kept your music collection in your own replica of the room. It was filled to the brim, and you bent at the waist to get a better look at the carefully organized spines. “Chocolate chip aaaaand snickerdoodle-”

The conversation was interrupted by a young woman wandering into the living room. Your eyes went wide, and a hot blush rose to your cheeks before you twist to take a peek at your neighbor, who had already made his way to the kitchen to retrieve the requested ingredient. She was fully dressed, in a nice cerulean skirt and jacket set that looked like something the ladies who ate at the restaurant you worked at wore, and was busy plucking pearl earrings in her lobes. Maybe you did prefer men, but it was undeniable- the woman was gorgeous.

Without acknowledging you, or saying anything to the now-absent apartment owner, she helped herself out. You watched the door as it shut, and bit on your bottom lip. She was really, really pretty: is that the kind of women Rafael managed to reel in?

Upon coming back from the kitchen, he shook the bag of sugar in front of his face, apparently unconcerned with having missed the leaving of his guest. “Here you go, but-” you had gone to reach for it, yet just before you could take the sack, he held it up high above your head. The shift had been a surprise, and you nearly tumbled against his chest in pursuit- you had to stop yourself from falling by putting your hand against his sternum.

“Buuuuuuuut,” you prompted for a continuation, suspiciously cocking your head to the side as he wriggled his eyebrows while smirking down at you.

Rafael bowed forward, so your noses nearly touched; “I want some when they’re done… if you’re gonna be a famous baker one day, I get to be the test subject.”

Oh fine, that would work. Your eyes rolled and you jumped up to steal the sugar from his grip. “Okay, okay, okay.” It wouldn’t be a problem, there would be plenty of leftovers. “Should I bring some extra for your ’caliente’-” he had just recently taught you that one about a week ago; he had been doing his homework and complaining about the weather while sitting on your chaise since the breeze was nicer in your apartment than his, so he claimed- “lil lady who just walked through?”

His green eyes immediately rolled to the ceiling as he sighed dramatically, and dropped his hands to your shoulders so he could spin you around and guide you back towards the door. “Don’t worry ‘bout her, she ain’t no one important,” he leaned his cheek against the back of your head, and happily sauntered along behind you until he reached past your waist to twist the doorknob for you. “Look at you speaking Spanish, miss know-it-all. Eres tan bonita como ella (You’re as pretty as she is).”

Your turn to sigh, and you fluttered your fingers by his face to dismiss him and his apparent need to be smarter than you are. “Alright, alright fine. I’ll bring cookies and your sugar back later today.” While your hand was so close, you pat at his cheek, and he grinned cheesily while watching you walk back to your place.

Per the usual, he waited until you made it in to your apartment before closing his door.

You opened the door after hearing someone practically fall against it, it was more a demanding thud than a knock. The moment you opened the entrance, none other than Rafael Barba tumbled through and landed on your floor.

“What’re you doin’ down there?” You giggled and poked at his shoulder with your toes. “Happy to see ya, take a load off…”

“I went out-” he held his hand up into the air, a finger boldly pointing up towards the ceiling. “I learned I should not drink Tequila,” well that was a good lesson, they should really teach that at his fancy school. “And I am an irresponsible bum.”

“Oh are ya?” thoughtfully, you kicked at the bottom of his shoes, so he’d be convinced to pull his legs up and allow you to shut your door. Wasted Rafael was a lot more interesting when you didn’t have to worry about bothering neighbors. “Tequila only makes you irresponsible if you revisit it after learning this lesson.”

He rolled to his side, and laughed loudly. It was precious and innocent, he had a voice made to roar. Apparently that was funny, you wished he always found you so hilarious. “But I-” he tried to catch his breath, to stammer an explanation through his laughter, “I-”.

Oh this was gold, you suddenly didn’t mind the late night interruption. Crouching beside him, you grabbed a fistful of his hair, and rocked his head side to side. “You’re fuckin’ sloshed.” How you wished you had a camera.

“I forgot my keys!” His arms went up, so he could coil fingers around your wrist, and he pulled you down with him onto the floor so he could gather you into a hug. “And you were home, how perfect is that!?” At least he was a happy-Tequila-drinker.

The hardwood made your knees sore when it met your fall. “Perfect, apparently,” you pat hard at his back, hoping to solidify the end of your hug, and made a genuine effort to pull away. “So are you asking for a phone or do you just wanna crash?”

“I have a little secret,” he didn’t let you go. Instead, he forced you downwards so he could press his nose against your temple and speak directly into your ear- without allowing you to get up. No, you had to squirm against the floor, but it was worth it, “I can sneak in my apartment through the fire escape.”

Why was that a secret? “Soooo you wanna crash on the couch?”

Rafael nodded, which bobbed your head right along with it since he still had his nose against you. “You smell pretty,” he added randomly while landing a hand over the opposite side of your face so he could keep you close as he further examined the discovery, and inhaled whilst snuggling shamelessly closer. “Huele a flores (smells like flowers).”

You had no clue what that meant, but for some reason the foreign language sent an odd shiver down your spine. Time to end this before you got any silly ideas. “Ooookay, Rico Suave, let’s get off the damn floor.” With two fingers, you pushed his face away from yours, and giggled when he groaned in disapproval.

Rico Suave my ass,” He rose to sitting, at least that was an improvement, and went to use your counter for leverage as you scrambled away to collect pillows and blankets.

You would have sworn you were only gone for a few minutes, but by the time you returned to your living room- you had lost him. How? “Rafael?” Slowly, on tip toes as if you’d accidentally tumble over him if you weren’t cautious, you took a peek around. There weren’t many places to hide, sincerely, so you glanced under your coffee table. Your chaise was bare, and he didn’t appear to be curled up anywhere on the floors. “Raffiiii-” You called for him louder, and added a dog-whistle for effect. “C'mere boy, where’d the Tequila take ya?”

A grunt, coming from the hallway. You rushed towards the sound until you could hear him singing; your name, very loudly, in a tune that you thought was vaguely familiar. Was that from an old movie you had seen before, or had he made it up? Whatever it was, you’d be damned, but you did kinda like it.

Rafael was in your bed, happily lounged atop the comforter and on your pillows.

“Get outta’ there, dogs get the couch,” you hollered while jumping atop the mattress and trying to give him a good shove. He was drunk, dead weight and would not even justify your attempts with a shift. “C'mon, Rafi, I don’t wanna sleep on the couch and this is my bed.”

“Staaaaahp,” he tugged on your wrists, causing you to fall- he seemed to be doing that an awful lot to you lately.  "Deja de lloriquear e irse a dormir.“

"What the fuck did you just say to me?” For emphasis, you elbowed his gut, and he let out a sharp ‘oomf’ before defiantly curling arms around your waist to keep you from being able to hit at him anymore. Lucky for him, you were tired, and it was just a little bit comforting to have someone to melt against in the middle of the night. 

Sleeping was easier with company, wasn’t it?
And you could sleep with a friend without it being inappropriate… right?

“Stop whining,” he buried his face in your hair after settling into being the ‘big spoon’, and happily shut his eyes to let the hum of your fan and the smell of your shampoo lull him, “and go to sleep.”

You thought of arguing more, mostly to (try and) prove that you were only accepting the situation as is because there were so few other options. Not because maybe you didn’t mind feeling the rise and fall of his chest against your spine, not because just perhaps you did like the way he held you while you fell back asleep. But his breathing had settled, and his grip around you had loosened just slightly- he splayed his fingers over your stomach to keep you near and you finally decided he could stay, undisturbed. 

Just tonight would be fine, you decided through your comfort and reverie.
Just tonight.


The next morning, you woke up alone, but could feel the breeze from your opened window ruffling your sheets. He must have shimmied up the fire escape, his little secret. You smiled to yourself, and wrapped your arms around a nearby pillow. After burying your face into the fluffy comfort, you realized the silliest thing- it smelled like Rafael. And for some sweet reason, you enjoyed it.

Your lease was up.

After five long years, your apartment was no longer your apartment.
At least, it wouldn’t be after today.

The boxes had been packed, he had even helped between finishing up finals and his work shifts. Being prepared didn’t seem to help matters, though, and you couldn’t help but notice how increasingly slow he had gotten at stacking the lighter ones together.

“You alright?” You asked finally, unable to ignore the downtrodden look on his face. “You can stop if you wanna, I appreciate all the help-”

“No, no,” Rafael plumped his lips to exhale, and shook his head side to side. “No I don’t mind, not at all. It’s just…”

Your brow perked, and you tightened the bandanna you had tied up to keep your hair out of your eyes. “Just what, Rafael?”

And while you moved- he watched you, drank you in, had no qualms in standing still and staring while you stretched your arms high above your head or when you slumped forward to prop your elbows up on the counter top near the kitchen. He bit the inside of his cheek, and bobbed his shoulders aloofly, just to try and keep from smiling when you theatrically repeated the move.

“I’ll miss ya,” he mumbled finally, and shifted his gaze away from you so he could gather the final armful of boxes. “You’re kinda cool, but it’s not like you don’t know that.”

You pout out your bottom lip; truth be told, you knew you’d miss him too. It was pleasant having someone right next door, especially someone as kind and useful as he was. Whether you needed someone to walk you around the corner at night, or just wanted to sit and talk instead of wasting away in your solitude after a long day- Rafael was always there for you. The two of you had become close, closer than you had ever been with a neighbor before. He was simple, sweet, and easy to keep company. You found yourself being thankful for the day he brought the wrongly-delivered package to your door.

“I’ll miss you too, Rafael,” you admitted coolly (or, as coolly as you could manage) as you lifted a load of boxes up in your arms. “We don’t have to disappear, though, we can keep in touch. That’s why they make phones and stuff-”

He didn’t appear relieved. Like a pup, he followed close behind you, balancing his own sets of your parcels much like he had been doing the first day he met you. “Yea but you’re gonna go be a big wig culinary expert,” his voice was low, it nearly broke your heart- you kept your eyes set ahead of you so you wouldn’t have to look at him. “You’ll forget all about me.”

“You’re awful,” you protested while helping him shove the last of your luggage into the back of the truck. “You’re talking like I’m dying, but I’m only moving.” 

Rafael was staring at his feet, and had his hand on the back of his neck in the exact same way he had done the first day he found himself at your doorstep. Hoping to leave on a better note, you pressed the toes of your shoes against his, and rocked up to lean your forehead against his. 

“You’re the best neighbor I could’a ever asked for, Rafael.” It felt like he was looking at your nose, or your cheeks- he wouldn’t catch your stare despite the easy availability. “I appreciate you, you’re the best guy I’ve ever met.”

In a surprise, swift motion; he cupped your face up in his hands, and ran his thumbs sweetly along your jaw line. “You’re the best little lady I’ve ever known.” 

The keys in your pocket felt heavy, like a death sentence. You didn’t want to go. Of course you didn’t, but what were your other options? Re-lease out that stupid, awful apartment with crummy air conditioning and a sink that required your not-very-handy neighbor to come knock at the pipes with one of his heavier legal text books- just because you didn’t want to lose contact with him?

Rapidly, before he could even think how to react, you rocked up and found his lips with your own. It was seconds, nothing crazy, you were half worried he’d shove you away and you’d be left mortified. With that fear in mind, you bounced off of him with careful palms against his chest, and thankfully he was stuck statuesque as you literally ran away to the front of the box truck. 

The driver didn’t say a word, he’d likely seen plenty of these ordeals before, but obediently revved the engine and pulled away from the curb.

Your cheeks were hot, you had to be blushing, and you lay your face against the window to relish in the cool glass. What were you thinking? Thank God you had done that quick, before he could have refused you- was that wrong?

Your guilt was momentarily assuaged, however, when you noticed him in the mirror; trying unsuccessfully to run after the truck that was hauling you away.

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Oh, how you wished that was true…

Twelve Years Later~

It was a quiet little cafe, on a Thursday afternoon; and that was precisely why you liked it.

“(Your Name)?”

Curiously, you tore your gaze from your book, and squint your eyes against the sun. That voice- you knew it sounded familiar, but it was impossible to tell who it was by only the silhouette. “Huh?”

Eagerly, and happily taking your question as permission, he stole the seat across from you. It took a split second, but those eyes- you couldn’t have forgotten them no matter how hard you tried to over the years. 

And oh, how you tried.

“Raf-” stammering, you had to make it through your shock: he really was right here, in front of you- you dropped your book mindlessly. Unblushingly, he snatched up your hands off the metal table top, and pressed your knuckles to his lips while you struggled to find your voice. God, he grew up handsome. “Rafael, I can’t believe it- what are you doing on this side of town?”

He laughed, and smiled- that boy you had thought about so often from that shitty little apartment complex in your past shone right through the mature man who sat before you. “I had a meeting, and to be honest- I’m usually absolutely oblivious,” since he had taken the bravado to show the subtle affection, you tugged the hopelessly tangled bundle of fists back your way and leaned your cheek against the back of his hands. “But I saw you and I literally had to come back around the corner to be sure, I couldn’t believe it was actually you.”

He had passed you, then back tracked? You were silently reading before he had interrupted your peaceful day- how had you managed to catch his attention so efficiently? It didn’t matter, all you could consider was how thankful you were that he did indeed recognize you.

“I’ve seen you on TV, Mister Hot Shot ADA-” his eyes rolled, and you giggled at the feigned annoyance; nobody who was able to grab a crowd like he did would honestly be uncomfortable with his pseudo-fame being mentioned. “Really, though, you’ve been doing so much lately- I’m impressed. Nothing could ever keep you down though….” your brows wriggled, and he leaned forward to try and decipher what you could be leading towards, “except Tequila.”

He went doe-eyed, and that silly smirk you missed so much slid across his lips. “Yea, well, I learned my lesson there; I’ve never touched that junk since. Like you said- it’s only irresponsible if you go back.”

“So no more impromptu sleepovers with your neighbors?” It was an easy jab, so you took it, but he appeared unaffected. Honestly, you weren’t surprised- if he could handle the awful stories and cases you saw flash across the news, he could probably manage through an embarrassing memory unscathed.

But, he did wag his head side to side, “You’re the only neighbor who’s ever been fun enough for slumber parties.” Hesitantly, he pulled the tangled hands back towards him, so he could take a look at his watch without letting go. “Damn,” his smile fell, and you couldn’t help yourself from mirroring his frown.

“You gotta go? Already?” Unashamed, you pouted, and he groaned dramatically just as he had done long ago: it was as if there had been no time lost since the last time you two had seen each other. 

Reconnecting was easy, seamless, dare you say- enchanting.

He nodded, and again placed his lips against your fingers while staring into your eyes. “I do,” he spoke against your skin, but leaned over the table so he was nearer than before. “I have a business card in my suit pocket, behind the square, grab it. Will you call me?”

That was an odd way to propose giving out a phone number. “You gotta let go of my hands to do that, though… you get it.” 

You gotta let go to get it.” He was still so damn stubborn, he really hadn’t changed much at all despite all those years.

Finally, you obliged, and squirmed one of your hands free so you could reach over and pull a little sturdy card from behind the pocket accessory. “ADA Rafael Barba.” Your head rocked side to side as you read the text out loud, and his joyful expression never faltered. “Should I call your office number or send you a fax?”

Rafael snatched it back from you, and took a pen from his pocket to jot down an additional ten numbers. “This one, it’s my cell-” you nosily leaned forward just as he had done, and read as he wrote it down as promised. “I’ll always answer, swear, or I’ll call right back.”

“You sure you’ll have time for me?” You ran your fingertips along the edges of the business card as he stood back up, thoughtfully considering if you’d actually be brave enough to reach out to him like he was requesting. Was he just being nice? Or did he really want to hear from you? 

Just as he had done twelve years ago, though he had to bend down in order to reach you as you sat, he cupped your face in his hands and ran his thumbs over your jaw. It was deja-vu, a sort of Nirvana, and you shamelessly nuzzled your cheek against his palm. A sweet, innocent kiss was left on your forehead before he rose back to standing. The illustrious ADA straightened his suit jacket, and kept eyes locked on your blush as he nodded: 

“I will always have time for you, (Your Name). 
And this go around, I’m not going to lose you again.”