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Huh, Jay thought blankly. Guess I found the woods guy.
Under normal circumstances, meeting a man in a mask who had crept around outside his house as night fell would absolutely be cause for panic. But the absurdity of the entire situation—sunlight, flannel, tight jeans and all—made it almost impossible to panic.
“…Good morning,” he said. He held out a hand. “I’m your new neighbor, Jay Park.”
That masked head tilted, and then his neighbor took it, shaking, his hand slightly chill to the touch. “Louis Castaigne,” he said, his voice odd and soft. Maybe just muffled a little behind his mask. “You moved into Miss Evans’ house.”
As Camden had implied, then, Aunt Grace was well known among the neighbors. “Yes—she was my great-aunt.” Louis gave him a slow look over, as if trying to compare him to Grace and the results not being what he expected. “On my mother’s side.”
“I see,” Louis said. “You’ve large shoes to fill.” The handshake, which had lingered a moment too long, was dropped.
“I’ve heard she was popular in the community,” Jay agreed. He shifted, tucking his hand back into his pocket, his knuckles bumping his pocket knife. “I thought I saw you outside last night—taking a walk?”
“Ah, something like that,” Louis said. “I was curious. I’d known Miss Evans, you see.”
“It was a bit alarming,” Jay admitted. With his other hand, he gestured at his own face, as if to mime a mask there as well. “I’m sorry if this is rude, but looking into the woods at night and seeing…”
Louis tilted his head, as if waiting to see if Jay would finish what he was saying, then chuckled. The sound was warm, his body language slowly relaxing. “Ah. Yes. I do wear this. Everyone around here is used to it.”
“Should I ask…?”
“Only if you want to know the answer,” Louis said, head tilting again. Jay watched him blink languidly through the eye-holes.
Jay laughed awkwardly. “Well, now I’m not sure I do,” he said, still prompting.
Louis nodded. “Don’t ask questions around here unless you want answers,” he advised. “But do ask questions if you do want to dig into people’s business. Secrets don’t get volunteered on their own.”
His voice had warmed considerably through the conversation, and although the words themselves seemed oddly threatening in isolation, his tone was not, more conspiratorial, two people sharing a joke that Jay only wished he got.
“I’m from Seattle,” Jay said. “It’s a pretty different environment.”
“It would be,” Louis said. He stepped aside, holding the door open. “Have you eaten? If you just moved in, you might not have much in the house. Can I offer you anything?”
Through the door, Jay could see that the interior of Louis’ house had a look of luxury—if a faded luxury. Slightly threadbare rugs lay over scuffed hardwood; the kitchen had faux-marble counters and floors, and he could see somewhat scratched and peeled gold gilt on the banisters in the stairway leading up. Perhaps the interior had been opulent in Louis’ parents time, or even his grandparents’, but whatever he’d inherited was less so.
“Oh, I couldn’t put you out,” Jay said. “Besides, I was hoping to meet all the neighbors this morning—I really want to go around and make some friends around here.”
“It’s no trouble,” Louis said. “I don’t get company often, not since I began to live here alone. And I could tell you about the neighbors, if you wish.” His gaze passed over Jay, eyes intent, and Jay had the sudden distinct impression of getting checked out. Louis’s expression warmed again, heavy lids lowering again. There was a hint of smile in his voice when he spoke again. “I’d like to know more about you, Jay. Or if you’d rather not come in, perhaps you I could come help you with your house, later? I recall Miss Evans being something of a hoarder, and it must be a lot for you to deal with alone. I’d love if I could take some of the burden away, help you sort her things.”
Jay hesitated on answering. He hadn’t eaten yet today, and while he could eat some of his cold pizza later, it might not hurt to get to know this handsome—if mysterious—neighbor a bit better, and see what information he could get from him.
On the other hand, he did want to meet the other neighbors for himself, and delaying here might mean missing them, since they’d probably go out as the day went on. Learning about them secondhand might be helpful, but could also bias him, especially if it was as cliquey here as Camden had said.
And he could use the help with the house, certainly; a second pair of hands would make things go faster. Still, he wasn’t sure if he should; he didn’t know how Grace and Louis had got along, after all, and there was still the question of whoever had slid the note under his door, let alone the vagueness of Louis’ answer about what he’d been doing in the woods.
But if he refused all offers entirely, might Louis take that badly? Louis might be a little weird, but that didn’t necessarily mean he was a bad person. Fitting in here was going to be hard enough already. Refusing both offers might close some doors, at least if he wasn’t careful in how he went about it.
[Please suggest an action in the Comments.
Sorry about the delay on this part—I had visitors myself today.
To make it fair, turn-in cutoff will be an hour later, at 5 pm PST Oct 8.]