Henry steps across the threshold, not knowing what to expect, although their first meeting seemed promising. She certainly is cute, he thinks to himself, watching her sashay to the kitchen with the bottle of wine he picked up just for this evening.

“Make yourself comfortable, Henry,” she purrs demurely, raising up on tiptoes to reach the long-stemmed red wine glasses from the top cabinet. She tips forward so that he can see how high her girlish pink skirt climbs up the backs of her thighs. She knows he is watching from the aqua blue upholstered chair in her tastefully decorated studio.

Henry is watching, hopefully. Already tired of living alone, although he’s only just moved in to the little apartment down the hall.

“I should have been the one bringing you a bottle of wine, neighbor,” she says brightly, cupping the full globe of merlot in her delicate hand. Their fingers touch briefly as she passes it to him.

“Your visit was the best welcome I could have had,” he replies, setting the glass on the side table.  “Such a pleasant surprise. I see you’ve been hard at work.”

She sits across from Henry on the big blue sofa, legs crossed beneath her, skirt pushed up high on her open thighs. Giving him something to think about.

“Oh, this?” She gestures to the scattered boxes of paints and canvases stacked around small worktables spilling out from the corner of the room.

“It’s my passion.” She takes a sip of the wine and makes a face.

“It’s not good?” He asks sheepishly.

“It’s okay, maybe I can use it for cooking…” Or to clean my paint brushes, she thinks to herself.

“I’m sorry, I confess I don’t know much about wine.” Henry is off-balance. Damn, he thinks to himself. I should have spent a little more.

She brings over two glasses of water, setting them on the coffee table. She pulls a little wooden box out from under the sofa.

“Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What brings you to the neighborhood?”

She places the joint between her rose-colored lips and lights up.

“Me and my wife split up.” He shifts uncomfortably.

“Oh, shit.” Her voice cracks and she starts to cough, sputtering exhaled smoke across the narrow chasm between them.

“That’s messed up.” She flicks the ash and inhales again, loosening the top two buttons on her thin blouse. Henry can tell she’s not wearing a bra.

She casually drapes her arm across the back of the sofa and stares at him pointedly. Waits for the sordid details.

“Uh, yeah. We were married for twenty years. Yeah, tough times.” Henry doesn’t want to talk about it. Didn’t want the conversation to take this path.

“That’s a long fucking time with one woman, yeah?” she laughs heartily at her own joke.

“I guess you could say that,” Henry smiles awkwardly, noticing the soft laugh lines on her face. The green eyes, the ash-blonde hair. Hopeful. Still hopeful.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Valerie deposits the charred nub of paper in the ashtray and stands up.

Henry is unsure what to say. What to do.

“Well don’t just sit there. I’ve got shit to do,” she chides as she starts down the hallway, dropping her garments one by one.

To be continued…