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  • Melissa McTernan

Socially Distant: Part 1

This story was published here as well: https://coffeehousewriters.com/socially-distant-part-1/


Kat rolled off the couch with a groan and stumbled toward the door to her tiny apartment. It was her first day off in a week and a half, and whoever was knocking and disrupting her Netflix bingeing was about to feel her wrath. She had spent the past week working the COVID tent at the hospital in the freezing spring rain. The fact that the tent didn’t actually have walls and was nothing more than a glorified tarp over some stakes in the ground did nothing to help matters. So today, she only wanted to be curled up in her sweats, watching mindless TV for hours.


Another knock.


“What?” she growled, ripping open the door and coming face to face—well, it was more like face to chest— with the tall, dark, and handsome man of her dreams. Clearly this was a joke.


“Hey. Sorry to bother you, but I think I blew a fuse. Any chance you know how to fix it?” he asked with a lopsided grin. Sweet lord, what in holy hell was happening.


“I...uh…” Kat struggled to find words. She had been ready to tear apart the person disrupting her day, but now she was having different thoughts entirely. She wrapped her arms around herself, suddenly very aware of the fact that she hadn’t bothered to put on a bra this morning and was now remembering that she stood in her rattiest sweats, with her hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun, and her old glasses that always seemed to tip slightly to the right on her face.


“I should probably introduce myself,” the dream man said, holding out a hand but then remembering the current state of the world and self-consciously pulling it back in. “I’m Owen. Just moved in next door.”


“Kat,” she managed to spit out and then led the way to the basement to flip the breaker back on. She was very aware of him as he followed her down the damp stairwell and hoped it was too dim for him to notice in any more detail how she looked today.


“It’s over here.” She led him to the ancient circuit breaker, and he flipped his phone’s flashlight toward it. “The fuses blow all the time. Never try to toast a waffle and blow-dry your hair at the same time.”


He laughed. “I’ll remember that, thanks.”


Owen quickly found the switch for his apartment and flipped it back on. Kat backed up, giving him more space in the small basement. She suddenly felt anxious that she wasn’t wearing a mask. This was as close as she’d been to another person without her full protective gear on in close to a month. She should go. She’d spent all week testing patients for the virus and felt like a walking petri dish.


“I should go.”


“Yeah, okay,” Owen said. “Thanks for the help,” he added, following her back up the stairs. “I guess I will see you around.” Again, the lopsided smile. God help her with that damn smile.


“I guess so. Bye.” She slipped quickly back into the safety of her apartment, breathing a sigh of relief while simultaneously cursing herself for not getting dressed today. She could have at least brushed her hair. Kat sank back onto the couch and grabbed her phone. This humiliation needed to be shared.


Met the new neighbor today. He’s gorgeous. And of course, this is what I was wearing…


Kat took a quick selfie and sent it along with the text to her sister. The response was a quick laughing emoji face.


It’s not funny! He was literally beautiful, and I look like I slept in an alley.


You look adorable. I’m sure he didn’t notice.


Whatever. It doesn’t matter anyway. I’m sure there’s something wrong with him.


Kat had no interest in finding the next guy that would break her heart and mess up her life. Not after the last batch of assholes, including the lumberjack that wasn't really a lumberjack but dressed like one and ran away at the first sign of ‘feelings.’ No, Kat was not interested in getting attached to anyone right now. Which worked out quite well, considering no one was allowed within six feet of one another anyway.


Don’t be so negative. Maybe he’ll be the one.


You need to stop reading romance novels and watching Hallmark movies. I’m not looking for the one.


One of these days I’m going to be right. You’ll see. I gotta go, the kids are swinging from the rafters. Love you xoxo


Love you too


Kat tossed her phone aside and pressed play on the remote, but her mind kept going back to that damn smile. Shit. This was going to be very inconvenient.


……


Owen returned to his apartment and sighed at the sight of all the unpacked boxes. At least the lights were back on. He went to the fridge and grabbed out a beer, deciding now was a good as time as any to take a break. At least he had waited until afternoon. He sat on the couch he had rescued from his brother’s house before he could donate it to Goodwill and propped his feet up on one of the many boxes littering the living room.


Owen was supposed to be starting the spring semester of his senior year next week and then starting his new life after that. New job, new apartment. But then the world turned upside down, and everything was on hold. His last semester would be entirely online, and that new job probably would be too. He was lucky that graphic designers could work from home, but it felt very anti-climatic.


He pulled out his phone and mindlessly scrolled, but his thoughts kept returning to his new neighbor, Kat. She was cute. Really cute, distractingly cute. He ran a hand through his dark hair, thinking about how she had looked when she opened the door. She had looked like she wanted to kick his ass, and as small as she was, he believed she could have done it. He smiled to himself at the thought.


Kat. He liked that too. He figured it was probably short for something, maybe Katherine or Katrina. He wanted to know. Owen found himself wanting to know all manner of things about her and suddenly found it very unsettling to think that she was just on the other side of the wall. He wondered what she was doing.


It must be her day off, he thought as he wandered through the boxes trying to figure out what to unpack next. He thought about her hair piled up on top of her head and wondered if she always wore glasses. It was all so casual. Seeing her like that made him feel like he had skipped ahead and was seeing her as she would be if they were together, like a sneak peek of a future he was already starting to feel like he wanted. And only a dead man wouldn’t have noticed her ass in those sweatpants. And he was not a dead man. He noticed.


He ran his hand through his hair again and set down his beer, trying to concentrate. He ripped open the closest box and started grabbing out plates and glasses. That seemed like as good a place as any to start. He tried to push the lovely Kat out of his thoughts. What good would it do him to get caught up on a girl now? How do you pursue someone when you’re not allowed to be near them?


No, there was no point in getting hung up on the thought of the beautiful Kat. And yet, it seemed it was already too late.



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