“Stop peeking, he’s going to see you.” Drew said.
“So what, he’s just so weird.” Anna replied, “Leave it to you, my sister, to rent the loft to the weirdest guy on the planet during a pandemic.”
“Seriously, get away from the window, it’s rude. Besides, I think I remember my beloved sister telling me that this massive mortgage on this beautiful house would be a breeze as long as I rented out the loft.”
“Yeah, not to a massive weirdo though.”
“Well I didn’t know he was,” Drew said thinking of the right word, “quiet, he’s quiet.”
“Yeah, okay, if that’s the adjective we’re using today. Drew, he’s odd.”
Drew walked to the window at the back of the kitchen and look out across the driveway to the small apartment above the garage. She had invited her little sister Anna to come to stay for the duration of the quarantine. Anna tugged playfully at Drew’s long red locks.
Drew had inherited the old house on the shore of Lake Michigan, from her great uncle. It was a grand old cedar-shingled house with vines growing up the front, original fittings and fixtures and a mountain of debt. The house was due to be sold at auction, but Drew couldn’t bear to see the house leave the family, her great-great-grandfather had built it. Anna loved the house too but not enough to buy it.
“What do you think he does up there all day,” Anna asked?
“I don’t know, as long as he isn’t breaking anything I don’t care. Come on, let’s go make a pitcher of mimosas and binge watch that new documentary on Netflix.”
“Throw in facemarks, and pedicures, and I’m in,” Anna suggested.
The two passed much of the day having an impromptu spa day at home as they sipped their mimosas and ate a homemade pizza that Anna had made. As the last episode of the documentary came to a close they laid on the couches in the massive living room lethargic from sitting around all day.
“All right, this strenuous day had really taken it out of me, all this day drinking and pampering. I’m going to take a nap. Don’t let me sleep past dinner okay?”
Drew watched Anna leave the living room and glanced to the large French doors behind them. The beach looked so inviting. She grabbed a sweater and decided to go for a walk. As she walked North along the shore, she thought about how odd it been, the man above the garage, Nathan, had not been seen much. She had done a background check and credit check before he moved in and he had passed. She knew he worked at the local college in the art department but other than that, he was a mystery. He never had company, not that he could now in the middle of quarantine.
As she walked, her thoughts turned to Anna. She was grateful that her sister had come to stay. Sometimes living in the large house alone creeped Drew out. When Anna’s job furloughed her, Drew invited her to come to stay. The whole world seemed to have flipped upside down Drew, and Anna’s parents lived in Europe, so the sisters knew they only had each other. Drew thought about what it would be like to have something more, more precisely someone more to go through this with. Sure she was grateful for Anna’s company but Drew craved something more. A relationship, a life, kids.
Drew walked and thought as the frigid surf lapped at her feet. After a mile or so, she turned back. She watched the dune grass blow in the breeze. The beach was empty, with just the noise of the waves. The state had closed the beaches due to the quarantine, not that it would have been busy on a chilly April day anyway. As she got closer back towards the house, she noticed a figure hidden between a few of the smaller dunes. At first, it alarmed her, there had not been another soul out on the beach for weeks. As she approached, she kept her distance, but it became clear that it was a man. He looked dirty and unkempt. Drew walked into the surf to give the man a wide berth. The beach had shrunk considerably due to erosion leaving only thirty feet of sand between the tree line and the shore. She watched the man, who looked to be setting up camp from the corner of her eye. Occasionally they’d get vagrants on the beach, which didn’t bother Drew so much. She felt they had a right to the beach too, as long it didn’t become a problem. They usually ran off within a day or two when other locals got wind of the newest town resident.
The man seemed not to notice Drew as she walked past, and that put her at ease as she moved further down the beach. The wind had turned off the water, and the temperature had dropped considerably, it was going to rain for sure, she only hoped she’d beat it by the time she got back to the house. She picked up her pace but had the unmistakable feeling that she was being watched. She looked behind her, wondering if the homeless man had followed her, but saw no one. She continued on and picked up her pace a little more.
Without warning, she felt a tug on the back of her sweater. Startled she turned around and was hit in the head with something hard. She couldn’t register what it was, as her vision went blurry. The world went black.
Drew shivered, it was the cold she felt first as she slowly opened her eyes. It was dark. She laid on the freezing, soft sand as she felt the raindrops hit her body hard and the noise of the surf in the background. She looked around without sitting up. She wasn’t sure who had attacked her and if they were still around. She laid there shivering, too afraid to move. She heard something large move in the dune grass above and was terrified it was whoever had attacked her. She shut her eyes and tried to listen for their movement. Her head ached so intensely that she felt like she was going to vomit.
“Drew?” She thought she heard being called out.
Something rustled in the grass and came closer to her. Terrified, Drew laid there, paralyzed by fear when she thought she heard her name called again. She didn’t recognize the voice and that made her wonder if she was hallucinating. The voice grew closer calling out her name. The man who had hit her came around over the dune and started to drag Drew towards the tree line.
“Drew?” She heard a man’s voice call out.
She didn’t know who was calling out for her, but she knew if she didn’t fight now, that she was done for in the woods. She tried to scream out as a voice cracked. She took a deeper breath, wetted her mouth and screamed. A hand came down hard over her mouth, and Drew began to thrash around, to kick, clawing, to fight with all she had in her.
She felt the light of the flashlight on her face, as the man trying that was trying to quiet her took off on foot.
“Help! I’m here! Help, me please!”
She looked towards the flashlight, the beam of it searing through her head. A man came up alongside her. She didn’t recognize his voice and couldn’t see his face.
“Oh my God,” he said, as he set the flashlight on her chest and scooped her up into his arms.
She shined the light on the good samaritan and recognized him as the man who rented the apartment above the garage. The rain pelted them as he carried her down the beach. Her entire body hurt, and she nuzzled her head against his chest. She came too as they approached the house.
“What the hell did you do to my sister you son of a bitch!”
“I didn’t. I found her.”
“Oh my God, Drew, sweetie wake up.”
Drew felt the warmth of her own home as the man set her on the couch. It wasn’t until her body made contact with the warm, soft couch that she realized how much pain she was in.
“You son of a bitch! I’m going to fucking kill you! What the hell did you do to my sister, you fucking creep!”
“I swear I didn’t touch her, I found her like this.”
“Yeah right you weirdo, I’m calling the cops.”
Drew tried to sit up to set the record straight. Anna was a pit bull and fiercely loyal, Drew knew had to say something before Anna pulled a gun on the man.
“No, Anna, it wasn’t him. Please call the police.”
“Ill call,” he said.
“Prove it wasn’t you,” Anna said.
“Anna it wasn’t, will you help me up? I’d like to wash up.”
“No, stay here. I’ll go get a washrag to help clean you up.”
Drew heard Anna leave the room, and Nathan, on the phone with the police. Drew’s whole body hurt, and she tried not to cry. Nathan walked over to her and knelt down next to her.
“They’re on their way. You’ll be alright.”
“How did you find me?” How did you know I was out there?”
“I’ll explain it to you later.”
Two hours later, after the police had left, and Drew was tucked up safely in bed. She had declined to go to the hospital with a virus raging. An EMT cleaned the cut on her head where she had been hit, and put in a stitch. She had been robbed of her jewellery and had a gash in her head where she had been knocked out, but other than some minor cuts and scrapes she’d be okay. Anna checked on her sister every twenty minutes. Drew begged Anna to got to bed, and around 3 am she finally did. The police said they’d comb the beach for the vagrant, but would probably not find him. The force had been cut by half with officers down with the virus.
Unable to sleep, Drew got out of bed. She used the ladies room and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror on the back of the bathroom door. She curled up into a large chair in her room, she usually read in. The chair faced out to the beach and overlooked the garage. She noticed a light switch on in the apartment and saw the door open to the balcony. She watched Nathan step out.
His words from earlier ran through her mind, “I’ll explain later.” Explain what, she wondered. Whatever he had told the police they bought the story, and so did Anna. She knew Nathan had not attacked her on the beach. Nathan looked troubled by the events earlier in the night, just as she was. He returned inside and Drew sat there watching. Her stomach grumbled as she realized the last thing she had eaten was lunch the day before.
She crept down to the kitchen and made two slices of toast as the sky was just beginning to lighten from black to indigo, the sun would be up soon. She spread butter and strawberry jam onto the slices and put them on a plate. She took her meal over to the breakfast nook in the large kitchen and noticed Nathan’s light was still on. Curiosity got the better of her; she needed to know how he had found her on the beach. It was not a night for a nice walk; she knew he had to have been out there looking for her.
She set down the slice of toast on her plate and walked out of the kitchen, across the driveway, and stopped at Nathan’s door. It was early, what if he wasn’t awake she wondered. Impulsively she knocked anyway, instantly regretting her decisions. She heard his footsteps come down to the door as she stepped away slightly. He opened the door in his boxers and t-shirt.
“Drew, are you alright?” He asked.
“I’m sorry I shouldn’t have knocked. I’ll come back later. I’m sorry.”
“I wasn’t asleep. Do you want to come up?”
“Or we can talk out here?”
Drew took a deep breath, “No, I’ll come up.”
Nathan opened the screen door and Drew walked in and up the stairs to the apartment above the garage. She had not been in the apartment since Nathan had moved in. He had made the space cozy. The main living space had been divided into a living room and eating area. She instantly noticed the photographs of the beach on the walls.
“Did you take these?” Drew asked as she stepped closer to look at them.
“I did. Would you like some coffee? I just brewed a pot.”
“Sure,” Drew said as she admired Nathan’s work. “These are beautiful. I never see you on the beach though.”
“I’m out there. I just usually keep to myself,” he said as he handed Drew her cup and crossed over into the living room area. He gestured for her to sit. She took a seat on the couch.
“Thank you for the coffee. I wanted to ask you about what you said earlier tonight.”
“Ah, I thought you would.”
“I know you didn’t attack me. I’m certain of it, but what I don’t understand is how you knew where to find me, or that I was even missing. It doesn’t make sense.”
“I know. Um, I saw you leave and I saw you walking down the beach.”
“Okay but that still doesn’t explain it.”
“No, I know. Um this is going to come out wrong and I don’t want to scare you.”
Drew set her coffee down on the coffee table. Noticing Drew’s change in posture, Nathan put his down too.
“Oh no, it’s nothing bad. At least I don’t think so.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ve been photographing you.”
“No, it’s not like it sounds. I’ve been photographing you as you walk down the beach. Shit, this is coming out wrong. Not like a creepy stalker. You’re so beautiful, and I’ve done a series. The first time I saw you walking out not the beach, you took my breath away. I snapped your photo, and it was gorgeous.” Nathan stopped as the expression on Drew’s face cautioned him to tread lightly. “Hold on.”
Nathan got up from the couch and walked over to the desk at the far corner of the room. He reached between the wall and the desk and brought out a portfolio case. He brought it back over to Drew and handed her the case.
“Here, you can have them. I didn’t mean any harm by it. I knew you were out on the beach because I photographed you leaving. I usually wait for you to come back. When it got dark, and you didn’t, I was concerned. I came looking for you to make sure you were okay. “
Drew took the case from Nathan.
“Please just look at them, you’ll see.”
Drew turned around with the case in hand and walked out of Nathan’s apartment. She crossed the driveway and entered her kitchen, locking the door behind her.
“What’s that?” Anna asked, sitting on a stool at the kitchen island, with her hair wrapped up in a towel.
“Pictures of me apparently.”
“What? From where? Oh don’t tell me, the creeper from upstairs.”
“He told me I could have them,” Drew said as she set the portfolio case on the kitchen island.
“Did you look at them?”
“No. It’s how he knew I was down on the beach last night. He photographs me when I walk.”
“Did you know he was taking your picture?”
“Of course not. It’s creepy.”
“Uh yeah! Let’s look at them.”
“No way, I’ve been creeped out enough over the past twenty-four hours.”
“Well I want to see them,” Anna said as she pulled the case closer and unzipped it.
Drew walked over to the coffee pot and pretended not to care, but peeked at them from the corner of her eye.
“Drew these are gorgeous,” Anna said as she flipped through them.
Drew walked over and sat down as Anna flipped through the prints. They were beautiful. Most of them were of Drew way off in the distance down the shore. There were a few that were framed through her beautiful red hair, with the beach in the background. As the two sisters went through them, both were in awe. Nathan had been right; they weren’t creepy. They were stunning art.
“He’s in love with you,” Anna said as she looked at the last photo, the only one of Drew’s face. He had snapped a picture of her looking out over the lake.
“That’s ridiculous.” Drew said as she stood up.
“No, it makes sense now. I thought he looked afraid when he brought you in last night. That’s why I thought he was the one who had hit you. He was afraid for you.”
“You’re nuts, no more Women’s network afternoon movies for you,” Drew said trying to brush off the comment.
“Why were you at his apartment before dawn?”
“I saw that he was awake.”
“Uh huh. And?”
“He said he, never mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Anna stood up and walked over to her sister. “Look I know last night was terrifying but there was something about the way he held you like you were precious, almost fragile. I read it wrong. After seeing the pictures, I get it.”
“How are you not creeped out by this?”
“I don’t know, a little. He never asked for my consent.”
“If you knew you were being photographed, it would change the picture. If he had not told you, that it was you in most of those, would have known you were the subject. Except for the last one of your face, it could’ve been any redhead.”
“Wait, are you saying he’s suddenly not creepy?”
“No, I’m just saying we don’t really know him.”
Over the next few weeks, the quarantine carried on. Nathan kept to himself and Drew felt conflicted. She knew her sister was right, Nathan had feelings for her. His affection and longing for her oozed from the photographs. She didn’t remember a whole lot from the attack but she often woke thinking about the feeling of being safe in Nathan’s arms, his strength, his scent. She wanted to ask him about all of it but couldn’t, she couldn’t bring herself to ask him.
Laying awake on another sleepless night since the attack, she saw the light in Nathan’s apartment come on. The soft yellow glow of his lamp light lit the ceiling of her room by the windows. She got out of bed and walked over to see him sitting out on the balcony. She found herself wondering what he was thinking about, and that memory of being in his arms surfaced again. Without thinking, she grabbed the portfolio of pictures, he had given her and walked out of the house with them. She crossed the driveway and knocked on his door. Butterflies dance around in her stomach as she heard him descend the stairs to his front door. He opened the door, once again in his boxers and his t-shirt, this time Drew noticed his body. He was muscular, but not like he worked at it.
“Hi, um. I wanted to bring these back to you.” She said feeling stupid for returning the photos at 2am. “I saw your light on.”
“Oh, they’re yours to keep. I wanted to..” he shifted on his feet, “do you want to come up? I’ve wanted to talk to you but I wanted to give you space too. I…”
“Alright,” Drew interrupted.
He opened the screen door and Drew walked up into the apartment again. She noticed the photos had been taken down and it looked like he was packing up.
“Are you moving out?”
“Yes, when the quarantine is over. My lease is up and I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable,” he said as he walked into the living room behind Drew.
“You don’t have to leave.”
“I think I do. I’m sorry about the photographs. I should have asked you. I deleted the originals. Those are the only copies,” he said pointing to the case in her hand.
“Why? They’re gorgeous. I think they’re the most beautiful pictures that have ever been taken of me. They’re artistic and,” Drew paused searching for the right words. “They convey so much emotion. I love them.”
“Please don’t leave on my account. I like having you here. I keep thinking of the night of the attack. I am so grateful you found me. I don’t want to think about what would’ve happened had you not.”
“Can I ask you something,” Drew said, setting the case on the couch.
“My sister says that these photographs depict affection, admiration, longing. I know that sounds nuts, but I wanted to ask.”
Nathan looked down at the floor as he rubbed the back of his neck.
“I feel like an idiot, up here at two in the morning, asking you this but if I don’t ask it now, I’ll never have the nerve.”
“You’re sister is a smart woman.”
“But you don’t even know me.”
“I know you are kind, you see the beauty in nature,” he said as he took a step closer towards her.
“I keep thinking about that night. The look in your eyes when we got back here, so much concern, care. Am I off base here?”
Nathan stepped close enough that Drew could smell his body, that same calm, strong, manly smell that had brought her so much comfort. She could almost feel his breath on her. He reached up and lightly touched her cheek as he brought his lips to hers. His kiss was gentle as it brushed her lips softly, but it packed a punch, as Drew’s knees felt wobbly from it.
“Guess not,” Drew whispered before kissing Nathan again, this time like she meant it.
He pulled her in close to him, and she was once again wrapped in his strong arms. They kissed as they stumbled their way around boxes to the bedroom. He backed her up to his bed as she laid down and he came over her, his body heavy, but wonderful.
“Please don’t leave,” she said softly. “I don’t want this to be over before it’s begun.”
He lent down and kissed her again, with a kiss that set her entire body aflame.
“You are so beautiful. I have wondered for so long what it would be like to hold you. If you want me to stay I will.”
Nathan made love to Drew, and it was love. They laid in his bed arm in arm as they watched the sunrise. Drew smiled as she looked out over the lake from his bed, wrapped in his arms, happy and at the beginning of the greatest love story of her life.