Miranda made it as far as her laundry room, located just off the garage that was a mirror image of the man next door’s–she hadn’t even gotten his name, before the panic attack came. She slumped down in front of the washer and focused on breathing in and out, even as her vision closed and her heart raced in her chest.
She wasn’t sure how long she sat there pushing air in and out of her lungs before she could reliably move her limbs again. She hadn’t had one in months; almost long enough to forget how weak they left her.
Before Mike left, she’d thought panic attacks were people being melodramatic. Her first one landed her in the ER thinking she was having a heart attack.
Not daring to look at her reflection, lest she lose what nerve remained to her, Miranda fished through the dryer for clean yoga pants and her softest sweatshirt. She slipped her feet into the sheepskin boots she kept by the garage door and grabbed her phone from her purse. Who knows what the pajama-clad cat whisperer next door was thinking, she’d been gone so long.
A tiny voice in her heart whispered that she ought to be thinking about how cute he was under the layer of bachelor neglect that clung to him like the lichen on the north side of her new house. The face under the scruff was handsome and kind. He wasn’t so tall as to be intimidating, and in possession of a very huggable, reasonably-fit-at-first-glance dad-bod.
Which was irrelevant, because dating––like so many other things––gave her panic attacks. Thanks, Mike.
She took the shoveled path to save her boots and returned to the scene of Marvin’s crime to find her neighbor had already righted the wire shelving and replaced the Rubbermaid bin.
“You didn’t wait for me.”
He shrugged. “Really it’s no big thing. I should get rid of the lights anyway.” A shadow crossed his features. “And the paint is no good anymore. Once you take Marvin home, I’ll close the garage and crack the cans open so they dry out.”
When had she gotten so old that a man who treated his refuse responsibly was a turn on? And where was Elliot’s demon familiar?
“Where is the cat?”
He pried the lid off a pain can’t with a screwdriver from the nearby workbench. “Batting a prawn around what passes for my den.”
He might care about the planet–or following the rules?–but what kind of man let a cat play with seafood in a furnished room? “If he retches that up in the night, I’ll bag it up and leave it on your doorstep.”
He laughed out loud. “I’d have no right to complain. Do you want to come in for a glass of wine or something? If you stay a bit, maybe he’ll barf it up here and save you the trip.”
In front of her friends, or Mike, she’d have pretended to be grossed out, but all bets were off with her strange neighbor who drank wine in his pajamas and shared his leftovers with destructive house cats. She giggled; the lightness was welcome.
He fidgeted with with a can handle. “I’m sorry. That’s probably weird.”
His anxiety was as appealing as his recycling; it spoke to hers in a language she understood. “Not if we introduce ourselves before we drink to my pet’s digestive abilities.”
He stopped prying open cans long enough to give her a baffled––and embarrassed––half-smile. “Justin. Pearson.”
“Miranda McC––“ She stopped. That hadn’t happened in a while. “Brewer. Miranda Brewer.”
He scrubbed a hand across his five o’clock shadow. “Come on in, Miranda Brewer. I just cracked a box of Cabernet with our names on it.”
She waited a beat for the wave of cold sweat and racing pulse, but it didn’t come. “Okay, Justin. I will.”