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The one with the new neighbor

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The basket full of homemade candies Sidney left attached to his apartment door is empty when he gets home from the bakery. He smiles to himself and pulls the basket off the door to bring inside so he can get another batch together to refill it.

He grabs the chocolate from the cabinet above the stove, working diligently in his tiny kitchen. His hands are already worn down from kneading countless doughs and hand-mixing all day but he keeps them moving, grabbing the fruit from the fridge and leaving it on the counter to warm. Once the chocolate has melted down, he adds a drop of peppermint extract and stirs so it mixes together. He gives the fruit a few more minutes to sit but he soon gets the filling going and it winds up being an hour before all the candies are setting in the refrigerator and he can finally climb into his bed, exhausted.

Sidney wakes up at five am every morning out of habit. It's leftover from his high school days of constant hockey training and early morning practices. It's nice though, allowing him to get in a long run before he heads into the bakery to get things ready for the morning rush. He loves his internal clock everyday except for those few days he has off each month.

Today's one of those days and he lets himself lounge around in bed for a couple of hours, reading a book he's been trying to finish for the past week. His mind keeps drifting back to his candies though, and it's not long before he's rolling himself out of bed to check on them.

Sidney makes his way to the kitchen with a yawn. He's exhausted but he knows it'll be hours before his body will allow him to sneak in a nap. He grabs the molds from the fridge and lays them out methodically on the kitchen table. Each mold is a different shape, old and worn with use from the bakery before he retired them to his little kitchen at home. He grabs the wrappers next and washes his hands before he sits down at the table. He cracks the center mold first, rectangles, and turns it over so the candies fall out unbroken. He pops one candy in his mouth — for a quality check — before he takes the first wrapper from beside his left hand and places the candy in the center. He crinkles the paper so it folds around the candy three times and twists the ends so it closes tight. He pops it into the basket on his right and starts on the next one.

An hour later the basket is full of the wrapped candies, each shape a different color but all perfectly his own creation. Sidney smiles down at his work and cleans off the table before heading to his bedroom to change into shorts and a t-shirt for his usual run. He slips on his sneakers and connects his headphones to his phone and slings the cord around his neck so it'll be easy to grab. The world is usually quiet all around him, birds only just starting their morning song, when he steps out for his run but today already has voices in the hall and the sun is shining brightly through his windows.

He grabs the basket on his way out and pulls open the front door to see a mattress whizzing past. He startles, almost having walked right into it. The mattress stops, and abruptly pushes back in the direction it came from before a – wow, gorgeous- guy pops his head around the door jam.

"Sorry. Not get you, right?" The guy smiles sheepishly. He has warm, heavy-lidded brown eyes and full, plush lips. Sidney needs to swallow a few times to get rid of his sudden cotton-mouth.

"No, uh. No. You didn't get me," Sidney says, trying to smile back.

The guy shifts the mattress into one hand and rests it against his knee and okay, the guy's hands are huge. He extends the one hand he freed into Sidney's apartment and when Sidney shakes it, his hand looks like it's been swallowed. Butterflies flutter to life in his stomach. "I'm Geno. I just move in today."

"Sidney." He says, still smiling up at Geno.

There's a cough and a shove of the mattress that makes them both jump and quickly separate their hands. Sidney blushes and looks down at the floor. "Heavy mattress, guys. You can eye-fuck more later, okay?"

Geno grumbles something at the other guy in a language Sidney doesn't understand — he thinks it's Russian but he really doesn't care because Geno's accent makes the fluttering feeling in Sidney's stomach kick up a notch. "Sorry. Nice to meet." He smiles at Sidney again, one side of his mouth twisting up and his tongue poking out between his teeth, before he starts walking backwards again.

The guy holding the other side of the mattress gives Sidney a judging once-over as he passes, an amused smirk blatant on his crooked face, blue eyes dancing. Sidney blushes again and turns so he can put the basket on the door.

He affixes the "Take One" sign back on the handle before he steps into the hall and pulls his door shut behind him. The door two apartments down from his is ajar and he can hear that same language Geno spoke pouring out, so at least he gets a great new neighbor to ogle.

Sidney locks his door and turns the opposite way to take the stairs down to the first floor. He sees the moving truck once he's outside, with another guy sitting guard, before he starts his run and lets the world fade away.

The basket's half empty when Sidney gets back to his apartment only an hour later. He has sweat pouring off his face, his hair slicked back with it, and a sinking feeling in his stomach when he notices.

His neighbors are usually great people and tend to respect the "Take One" sign whenever he puts it out. It's not like the candies are Sidney's job. He can only make so many in his spare time and on his budget. He sighs and digs through his pocket for his key so he can head inside, taking the basket in with him.

Sidney leaves the basket inside his apartment, still half-full with candies, for the next week. He's been busy at the bakery and doesn't have the time, nor patience, to figure out which of his neighbors is taking more then their fair share. He thinks it might be petty of him to care this much but he can't help himself. Each time he makes something it takes a part of him with it; he feels spread far too thin when his feelings are so blatantly disregarded.

Sidney's sorting through his mail at the counter when his new neighbor sidles up to him. Sidney hasn't seen him since the mattress encounter and geez, he's just as beautiful as Sidney remembered. He thought he was maybe dreaming him, or building him up in his head, but no.

"Sidney, yes?" New neighbor is reaching over Sidney's shoulder to put his mail-key in his box. So close, so close, so close.

"Uh," he coughs, "yes. I'm Sidney." He's half turned towards his neighbor, who towers over him so wonderfully. He feels almost tucked into the wall, hidden behind this man. "Geno, you said, right?"

He pulls back with his mail in hand, key still in the box behind Sidney. "Yeah. Evgeni but bad on English tongue."

Sidney smiles, hoping Geno thinks he was able to understand what he said, speaking far too fast for Sidney's ears to decipher.

"How long you live here?"

"Hm? Oh, I've been here about five years now. It's a great building."

"Yeah. Close to work for me. I'm just move to city." Geno takes a step back and cocks his hip to lean into the counter next to them.

"What do you do?"

"I'm professor of geology at University of Pittsburgh. I'm work long time at museum in Washington but I'm need a change and teaching sound fun." He smiles. "What you do?"

"I own the bakery around the corner. Croz's Crisps." He points in the general direction of his bakery.

Geno's eyes light up and his mouth falls open. "I go there yesterday. Very good!" He says excitedly. "Definitely go back knowing it's yours."

Sidney can feel his cheeks flush, "Thank you. I've been in business for three years now, I was an apprentice at another place for a couple of years before that."

"Candies on door, you make?" Geno asks.

"Um, yeah, I did. It's just a little something I like to do for the building when I have the time."

"They were very good. You make again soon? I go back for more after meet you but they gone already."

"Yeah, I had to take them down." He feels sheepish saying it, "One of the neighbors must've been grabbing handfuls of them. When I came back from my run half the basket was gone."

"That's not right." Geno says. "Sign say 'Take One.'"

"I know."

"I bet if you put up again no one take too much." Geno says urgently, "You have down for week now, right? Punishment for whoever take."

"You think so?" Sidney sighs. "I hate just leaving them on my counter and I've been wanting to make more…"

"Yeah," Geno nods. "I think week with no chocolate make whoever take know they do wrong."

"I'll think about it." Sidney smiles. He taps his left hand with the mail he's still holding with his right and gestures over his shoulder with it. "It was great meeting you, properly this time."

Geno smiles back. "See you around hall sometime? Or at bakery?"

"Definitely." Sidney makes sure he has his key and all his mail before he turns to walk up the stairs, glancing back at Geno over his shoulder once.

When he gets to his apartment, he puts the basket back up. He uses a sharpie to add an exclamation point at the end of his sign and attaches it to the handle. He heads back inside with a smile on his face.

The basket is a little more than a third of the way full when he checks it in the morning before he gets ready for work.

Maybe Geno was right.

Or maybe Geno was wrong.

When Sidney gets home from work there's a note tucked under his door. It's from his nosy upstairs neighbor, Mrs. Gettlemen. Sidney sighs, grabbing the note from the floor and pulling the empty basket off the door. He shuts it behind himself and puts the basket with the letter on his kitchen table and drops his backpack on the chair next to it. He grabs the note and flips it open to read.

Sidney,

Came by for a candy around noon but the basket was empty. Thought you'd like to know.

Ida

Sidney scrubs a hand over his face and yawns. He's too tired to deal with shitty neighbors he thinks. He drops the note into the basket and leaves them on the table to forget about and goes about his evening.

He waits another two days, until his next day off, to refill the basket. His plan is to sit watch at the door, looking through the peephole every time he hears commotion in the hallway.

It's a good plan, Sidney thinks, until his stomach gurgles from having eaten too many candies while wrapping them and he has to spend an hour in the bathroom. Not watching the door.

When he's done, the first thing he does is open his door to check the basket. It's almost completely empty. His shoulders drop and he hangs his head, just a little bit defeated with missing his thief.

Sidney hears a door open from somewhere behind him but he doesn't bother to look. He just stands there with one hand on his hip and the other scrubbing at the sudden headache just above his eyes.

"Sidney?"

He glances over his shoulder to see Geno making his way towards him, holding a bowl in front of himself. "Hi, Geno. I think you were wrong about the candy thief." Sidney gestures at the basket.

Geno stops in front of Sidney's open door, a sheepish smile on his face. "Think we both little bit wrong, Sidney."

"What do you mean?"

Geno tips the bowl in his hands towards Sidney and Sidney can't stop the harsh laugh that comes out of his mouth.

"You've been taking them?" He asks angrily.

"Me? No!" Geno shoves the bowl into Sidney's chest, not letting go until Sidney grabs it. "Dumb cat. Let explore new building and she steal all your candies. I'm find in her kitty house."

"What?" Sidney asks in disbelief. He's shaking his head but backs into his apartment. Geno follows him into his kitchen.

"Lily, my cat. I'm catch her when I'm come home from work. She's take them to hide. When you first say about missing candies I'm think my friends and I take too many first day. Is why I tell you nothing to worry about no more. Think, okay, I just take one each day and nothing to worry but Lily," he grumbles something in his native tongue. "She not care."

Sidney feels incredulous but puts the bowl down on his kitchen table and bends over it to inspect the wrappers. He feels a laugh starting to bubble in his stomach with Geno's explanation when he sees tiny bite marks on the edges of some of the wrappers. Suddenly the laugh comes pouring out. Sidney laughs so hard that he needs to sit down, before he falls down, and looking up at Geno's earnest face does nothing to stop him. He can't believe he was so frustrated with his neighbors and the whole time it turned out to be a cat.

There's a soft meow at the door, and an orange and white cat slinks into the room to rub against Geno's legs. He bends down and picks her up and Sidney's laughter slowly dies off.

"Lily, this Sidney." Geno says. Very seriously, he adds, "You steal his candy."

Sidney's still smiling when he pushes himself to stand up again. "It's okay. Can I?" He reaches out with a hand and Geno nods a yes. Sidney scratches softly behind her ear. "You can't eat these, Lily. They're not good for you."

"I'm not find any open, think she just keep. Must like the baker."

Sidney looks up from Lily's adorable face and sees that Geno's blushing. "Yeah?"

"She," Geno licks his lips, "not only one who like the baker."

Sidney feels his cheeks heat up, watching Geno's tongue snake out and hearing his words. "Yeah?" He asks again, smiling up at Geno.

Geno nods, still flushed, and Sidney hopes his smile is encouraging. "Would you like to go on date sometime? No candy thief?"

Sidney laughs softly and reaches out to rub Lily's head again, his knuckles brushing with Geno's. "I'd really like that."

Geno's answer is a beaming smiling that seems to light up the entire room. "How's tonight?"

Sidney makes a face, "I have an early day at the bakery tomorrow. Friday?"

"Friday. Pick you up at eight?"

"Perfect."

Geno only spends a few more minutes in the apartment with him but when he leaves, Sidney feels like he's floating. His nerves are jumbled and his heart is still beating fast and, oh. Oh, no… what is he going to wear?

The new, kitty-proof basket is still a third of the way full when Geno walks Sidney to his door after their date. It was a perfect evening, a nice Italian restaurant within walking distance and a movie after. Sidney doesn't think he's ever had a better first date.

He slips his hand under the basket cover and pulls out one of the candies, unwrapping it slowly. "I had a really great time. Thank you." Sidney hopes his eyes are showing what he wants them to, an earnest playfulness as Geno hovers in his space.

"Me, too. Take you out again soon?"

"I'd love that." Sidney smiles. Geno smiles back at him, lifting his arm to rest his forearm against the door behind Sidney, slowly leaning his face towards Sidney's.

Sidney tilts his chin up, smiling coyly. He slips his hand up between their faces and presses the candy against Geno's lips. Geno tenses for a moment before opening his mouth to take it and makes sure — Sidney's certain — that his tongue runs across Sidney's finger tips. Sidney's mouth drops open in breathless, slow pants, when Geno moans low in his throats in appreciation.

He gives Geno just enough time to finish the candy before he's winding his fingers through Geno's hair and pulling him down towards his mouth. Geno grabs him right back, cupping Sidney's cheek in his giant hand and angling his head so his tongue can brush, just right, against Sidney's, sharing the taste of mint.

The basket of candies ends up being knocked to the floor.

Sidney doesn't care.