Mason let himself into his dark apartment and shrugged out of his jacket, hanging it over the back of the kitchen stool before flicking on a lamp. He sat down in his leather chair and picked up his game controller, flicking the television on with the remote that sat on the arm of the chair. It was late, but he wasn’t tired. Seeing Hunter and Bailey so happy at their engagement party and Harper and Brooks all lovey dovey and newly engaged made him restless. It’s not like he wanted what they had, not really, he just… God, he didn’t know what he wanted.
He liked his solitary life. He worked better on his own, being around people drained him. Even tonight, being surrounded by his friends, there was only so much he could take before he needed to escape to his own space and recharge. But there was something else about tonight that made him want to escape. It wasn’t jealousy, he didn’t think, but it was something…
There was a loud thump from the apartment next door. There were only two apartments on this floor, both penthouses. The one next to his had been vacant for a long time but his new neighbour had moved in recently, not that he had seen them. He didn’t even know if they were male or female and he’d barely heard a peep out of them. Not that that was saying much. He spent most of his time in his apartment with his noise-cancelling headphones on while he tested games or wrote code.
He was a nocturnal beast, sleeping most of the day and working in the dark of night. He didn’t particularly like the sunlight, Declan liked to joke that he was a vampire, but that was just him giving Mason shit. The truth was he liked the anonymity of nighttime. The dark hid a lot and he always felt way too exposed in the light of day. He was a private guy and didn’t like to open himself up to anyone, the four other members of Alpha Pi Tau were an exception. They had seen him at his lowest, his darkest, and it was only their friendship that had pulled him out of it.
He worried that one day the darkness would just absorb him completely and he would become part of the night. He tried to keep those thoughts to a minimum, but on a night like tonight when he was surrounded by a happiness that seemed out of his reach, they crowded in on him. He wasn’t worried about the monsters in the closet or under the bed, he was worried about the monster that lurked inside him, the monster that he had so far managed to keep caged, except for that one night…
He jumped up from his chair and went to his fridge for a bottle of water. He’d had too much bourbon tonight, it always made him maudlin. He twisted the cap off the bottle and chugged the cold beverage, concentrating on the cool liquid as it slid down his throat, chasing away the unsettling thoughts.
Another loud bang from next door had him standing up straight and staring at the common wall they shared. What the hell was going on next door? He heard some rattling around and then the door of the apartment open and close with a slam. He loped across his apartment to his door and looked through the spy hole, watching as a woman dragged a large garbage bag behind her. It looked heavy and before he knew what he was doing he had the door open.
“Do you need help with that?”
She jumped and turned to face him. Her dark hair was pulled into a clip at the back of her head, but wisps had come free in her effort to move the bag. Her cheeks were flushed with exertion and his cock jumped to attention in his pants. Interesting. Her eyes were dark and behind large, black framed glasses and her blush-coloured lips were open in surprise. Blood rushed to his groin and he swallowed, trying to keep his cool. He didn’t get affected by women, not like his friends. He’d had liaisons, but they were very controlled and he had never had an immediate response to anyone before.
“The bag,” he said, clearing his throat, “It looks heavy. Do you need any help?” He leant against the door jam and surveyed her.
She closed her mouth and blinked a couple of times before swallowing and looking down at her hands that were clasped around said bag.
“Ah,” she said, looking back up at him, her glasses slipping down her nose. She took one hand and used the back of it to push her glasses back up and brush a stray wisp of hair out of her face. He noticed that her fingers were stained with something dark and red and he wondered just what the hell she had been doing next door. “No,” she managed to say, her voice soft, “It’s fine, I’ve got it.”
He straightened and took a step forward. “Are you sure? I don’t mind.” What the hell was he saying? He had no interest in helping her, he didn’t want to get to know his neighbour, he didn’t want to know her name. “I’m Mason,” he said all the while telling himself to shut the fuck up and walk away.
She backed away from him, dragging the bag with her. Whatever was encased in the black bag made squishy wet sounds as she moved and he noticed more red stains on her clothes. Not that her clothes were all that inspiring. She wore a floral dress that hung on her like a sack and reached below her knees and an old grey cardigan that looked like something a grandmother would wear.
“Abby,” she said, “I just moved in.”
“I know,” he said, taking another step towards her and causing her to take another step back. If she wasn’t careful she was going to fall down the stairs. The elevator in the building only went to the floor below and the only access to the top floor was via the stairs. It was an old building and had kept most of it’s period features, which was why he’d bought it. But the stairs were a bitch, especially for someone like her with bag that heavy.
She huffed out a breath and seemed to straighten her shoulders. “Look,” she said, “It’s late and I’m sure you need to get to sleep. I’m just taking this bag down to the dumpster. It’s nice to meet you.” Then she turned and started lugging the heavy garbage bag down the stairs behind her. He had been dismissed.