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Authors: Sandra Antonelli

Next To You

BOOK: Next To You
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Next To You

Sandra Antonelli

www.escapepublishing.com.au

Next to You
Sandra Antonelli

A witty, quirky and unexpectedly moving story about cinema, secrets and a complicated love affair.

A love of ‘70s bubblegum pop music isn’t the only unusual thing about William Murphy—being a six-foot-three albino also makes a guy stand out. Will’s life is simple and he likes it that way. But when he meets his new next-door neighbor, complicated begins to look rather attractive.

Caroline’s trying to put her past behind her and grab life by the balls, which means finding new friends besides her dog, Batman. Will offers her neighborly friendship, and as they bond over old movies, Caroline regains her confidence and unexpected love blooms. But real life’s not like the movies, and their cute romantic comedy goes all
Fatal Attraction
when her vengeful ex shows up. Will learns that nothing about Caroline is quite the way it looks, and his simple life turns more complicated than he could ever imagine.

About the Author

I have deep abiding love for coffee, Rat Terriers, peanut butter, and cookies. I am a strong advocate for Eating Breakfast, the
most
important meal of the day. I come from the Land Down Under, but I do not eat Vegemite or drink beer. I drive a little Italian car, live in a little house with a big, bearded Sicilian, who is the moon and stars above my head and earth beneath my feet.

Acknowledgments

I am indebted to Bianca Knowlton-Johnson and her father, Mike Knowlton, for answering all my questions about albinism over a decade ago. I hope I have been respectful, positive, and accurate in portraying albinism. Any errors in descriptions and technical language about albinism are very unintended.

A number of people are responsible for this book finally making its way out from under my bed after twelve years. Megan Whalen Turner read it in its original form, sorta liked it, and encouraged me to keep on writing. Thanks Megan, and thanks for being excited for me when I told you it was being published. Years later, Rachel Bailey found merit in William Murphy and thought that the story could be salvaged. Rhyll Biest, Annette Christianson, Anna Cleary, Kate Cuthbert, Vassiliki Veros-Elliot, Lily Malone, Ms Ainslie Paton, Jennifer St George, Dana Mitchell, and Gabrielle Wade-Steiner were all responsible for pushing Will Murphy out of his box. I am most grateful to Elle Gardner and Lisa Barry for believing in my writing no matter what. Thank you, Jim Stryker, for wearing an eye patch when you were a kid and letting me use that bit of your life. I am so very grateful to Belinda Holmes, my editor, for being in my corner and getting me here at last. HAIL BELINDA! As always, I must thank my big bearded Sicilian husband for his unwavering love and support, but I also have to mention the other family member who was at my side when I wrote this: my little Rat Terrier, my little peanut butter-loving friend and companion, my Buddy. No dog was ever truer and I miss you.

Dogs don’t read, but this is for my little Buddy who liked to watch me write.

Contents

About the Author

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Bestselling Titles by Escape Publishing…

Chapter 1

William Murphy never saw it coming.

The old-fashioned brass bell tinkled above the doorframe. Will looked up from his French toast and watched a woman step inside the diner. Honey-blonde hair skimmed her shoulders and dipped over her face, obscuring her features like a mysterious dame in a forties noir film. The modern day Veronica Lake leaned between the stools at the bar and asked Ray, the chubby owner behind the counter, if there were any cinnamon twists today. He nodded, and she turned to look about for an empty table. Will smiled at her when her gaze skimmed over him and settled on the booth beside his.
Well
,
happy birthday to me!

The man tending to his running nose had looked at her too. Dressed in a black-trimmed chef’s tunic, his disheveled, dark red hair matched the bushy beard poking around the edges of the white handkerchief swabbing his nose. His slender fingers stopped moving. Frozen in an awkward nose-picking pose, he stared at the woman. The handkerchief dropped as the redhead shot to his feet. His thigh joggled the square table, pitching it to the left then right, tipping his mocha. Creamy chocolate slopped onto a slice of pie and a cannon shot of cocoa-laced coffee vaulted across a sea of linoleum tiles. Milky brown starbursts splattered Will’s black shoes.

In three strides, the scruffy man had gripped the woman’s elbows. Tufts of her red sweater welled like blood between his fingers. He jerked her onto her toes and drove her against the counter hard, bending her backwards, snarling fraught, incomprehensible, words into her face.


Alex
!’ she screamed.

Alex let her go and backed away, shaking, gasping, as Will—and the other café patrons—watched her run from the diner. Shuffling, sniffling, Alex sat back at his table, leaned his elbows into the dripping pale brown mess on top, and dropped his head into his hands.

The moment of WTF shock wore off and Will hurried after the woman. By the time he’d made it outside she’d disappeared. With an irritated huff, he went back into the diner. He wiped chocolate milk from his shoes and dropped the soggy napkin on top of his half-eaten cinnamon French toast. He folded his newspaper, gathered his umbrella, and put on his raincoat with the torn sleeve. The tear was new and had happened during his the walk to the café. His umbrella had been turned inside out by a ferocious gust of Chicago wind, spidery spokes poked through the blue waterproof fabric, snagged the left sleeve of his raincoat, and ripped it on an exposed metal arachnid leg.

The hole in his sleeve should have been a clue that his birthday wasn’t going to turn out very happily. It was barely past ten and events had already spoiled his day: his raincoat, witnessing a public display of near domestic violence, and sitting there gaping as the train wreck played out, doing … nothing.

When did I become a man of inaction?

He glanced back at his napkin-covered breakfast. Did his inertia have anything to do with his French toast? Could he place the culpability for his inaction on the French toast? Was it really fair to hold sugar-dusted, egg-dipped fried bread accountable when his motivation this morning had been all about the French toast? He
loved
French toast. French toast and coffee were the highlight of his weekend breakfast, and he’d been eager to enjoy himself, and …

You hedonist
.

Hedonism had been his downfall. The French toast, the first cup of coffee, the woman and her Veronica Lake hair, he’d enjoyed all of them—until the sniffling nose-picker had entered with the gladiatorial spectacle of woman versus red-maned lion.

William Murphy, hedonist, examined the rip in his coat sleeve and wondered if his birthday had turned him into something sluggish and lame. He wondered if a deeply hidden part of his mind was telling him to slow down, that this birthday meant he wasn’t far off being like his octogenarian neighbor, who’d just moved out and into a gated retirement community.

The thought of retirement living made Will shudder like Homer Simpson. No, it made him shudder like
Abe
Simpson, Homer’s elderly, crotchety father. Only Will wasn’t old. Old was hunched over, unable to feed himself or wipe his own butt. Old was something like one hundred and seven.

Great. You’ve reached this amazing conclusion that you can’t blame French toast and you’re not an old fart or old coot. Hooray for you. So now tell me again, why did you just sit there and watch?

His mind did the equivalent of a shoulder shrug and, no closer to an answer for his lack of action, he paused at the coffee shop’s door to look again at the man and the sloppy mess the diner staff was mopping up. Will watched the redhead, who still sat with his elbows in a pool of chocolate milk. Alex scowled at the menu above the coffee counter, rubbing the left side of his jaw. Abruptly, his eyes changed direction.

Will was used to being stared at. Given his appearance, it happened frequently. This particular time, instead of patiently bearing the gaze, a different idea sparked in his brain, urging him to take action, to retaliate, to shove Alex as brutally as he’d shoved the woman. Yet the preposterous notion of getting into a fistfight, which would have been the first since the numerous he’d had in high school, shut down whatever synapse had fired and told him to
be caveman
.

With a discontented sigh, he exited the diner, put on blue-tinted sunglasses, his wide-brimmed fedora, and walked home. He dumped his broken umbrella in a trashcan half-full of rainwater along the way, and began splashing in puddles in a Gene Kelly ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ fashion on purpose.

Will started to laugh. The funky idea of a birthday irritating him had nothing to do with the grunting noise he made when he bent over to tie his shoes, or the upset stomach he got when he ate deep-fried fatty foods, or the fact he found it hard to stay up past eleven. It wasn’t about the rain, a broken umbrella tearing his coat, or how his neighbor Reg had moved out. It wasn’t even about failing to come to the defense of an attractive woman.

He reached this not so startling conclusion upon arriving at the front of his toast-colored six-flat apartment building, the same moment as a white and blue Schildkraut’s furniture van. This delivery van replaced the bigger moving truck that had been there when he’d left for breakfast.

And there it was, the core of all his anxiety and dissatisfaction. His sluggish crankiness was
completely
due to the fact he hadn’t had enough sleep. If Reg hadn’t moved, this morning would have begun quietly, but instead of waking to the lingering scent of Reg’s morning Montecristo, Will had been jarred awake by the insensitive jackass who’d started moving into the vacant apartment at the crack of dawn, on a Saturday morning.

The men in the delivery vehicle were obvious as they stared, pointing at him through the front windscreen. Will was close enough to see their lips move. As he unlocked the entry into the foyer, the van driver rolled down the window and called out to him.

‘Hey, excuse me, do you live in dis building?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you know what floor apartment E is on? I just want to know how many flights me and Doug are lookin’ at to carry dis couch up.’

Will wondered what else was in the truck for the apartment across the hall from his. ‘Sorry fellas, E’s on the top floor.’

‘Ah, shit.’

‘You owe me ten bucks, Carlo,’ pug-nosed Doug said from the truck’s passenger seat.

‘You owe me ten bucks,’ double-chinned Carlo mimicked in a nasal, high-pitched voice. ‘Would you know if the lady in E’s home?’

So, his Saturday morning sleep-disrupting new neighbor was a woman. ‘Sorry,’ Will said. ‘Don’t have a clue. You’ll have to ring the bell. E’s the apartment at the top left of the building, but the bell’s the last button to the left on the bottom row. Have fun.’

‘Thanks. You wouldn’t want to give us a hand, would you?’ Doug called out.

‘I may be a big strapping lad, but my real strength’s up here.’ Will tapped his head, waved and went inside the building.

***

So much for grabbing life by the balls.

Batman stretched his legs and yawned. Mouth open wide, his pink tongue curled out and up. Dogs often yawned when they were stressed. Caroline yawned and wondered if human beings did too. She rummaged around in a cardboard moving box and watched Batman turn in a few circles. He scratched at his pillow and little red flannel blanket, and plopped down, snuggling into his bed to sleep again. Dogs slept a lot.

BOOK: Next To You
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