Summary: Painfully shy due to a speech condition, Cole Heath has always had a hard time connecting to people outside of his family. So when he meets Anderson Bester for the first time, he doesn’t really think anything of it. He certainly doesn’t imagine that he’ll end up falling in love.
After work he went home to his lonely apartment where he changed into jeans, a tee shirt, and comfortable sneakers. Then he heated himself up a bowl of canned chili in the microwave and settled in front of the TV.
Later he might go on the Internet and indulge in the only kind of human interaction that didn’t leave him sounding like an idiot.
There had been a low-level murmur of noise coming from the apartment next door, but it suddenly started getting very loud. They were playing music, but all he was getting was the pounding bass.
He sighed and turned up the volume on the TV, figuring he would ignore the noise. Except it was getting louder too, and louder, and louder.
When it reached the point that photos were vibrating on the walls, he figured enough was enough.
Mary Paterson was his neighbor’s name and she was a very understanding lady. She was always incredibly patient with his speech problems.
The man that answered the door to Cole’s knock was no one he knew. He could feel his courage curdling away. Especially when he realized just how good-looking the guy was–tall and lean with fair skin and even features. He could have been a model or something.
The opening of the door released a cacophony of sound and the sight of dozens of people dancing and milling around. It seemed Mary was having a party.
“Can I help you?” the brown haired guy asked, cocking his head.
“Can I help you?” Cole echoed. He really hated talking to new people. “Yeah, can you maybe turn down the bass? It’s vibrating through my wall.”
The man blinked. He was holding a sweating beer bottle in one hand and looked as though he’d just run his fingers through his hair. “Oh, yeah, okay. I’ll have it turned down.”
“I’ll have it turned down,” Cole echoed. “Thank you. I’d really appreciate that.”
“Dude, what’s up with repeating what I say?” the man asked.
Cole sighed, but felt like he had to answer. “Dude, what’s up with repeating what I say? Sorry about that, I have a speech condition called echolalia. I can’t help repeating the last thing a person says before I speak.”
“So it’s a kind of OCD?” the guy looked interested in the idea. “It’s like Echo from Greek mythology.”
“It’s like Echo from Greek mythology,” Cole said, nodding. “That’s actually where the name came from. Anyways, if you’ll just turn down the bass — I can’t really hear the music, so that’s not a problem — that would be much appreciated.”
Cole nodded once at the guy, then turned to go back to his own place. He had to wipe sweaty palms on the sides of his jeans.
* * *
Watching the cute guy go, Anderson kind of wanted to call him back. But he had looked so uncomfortable standing there. It was obvious he suffered from major shyness.
But he’d really been very cute.
Anderson closed the door, then walked over to the stereo himself and lowered the bass. Then he went to find Mary.
She was in the kitchen pouring liquor into a punch bowl with some ruby red grapefruit juice, pineapple juice, and about a dozen freshly mashed strawberries.
“Why didn’t you tell me your neighbor was so cute?” he demanded. The strawberries were taunting him, so he snagged one from the punch with his fingers.
Mary slapped at his hand, but didn’t really try to stop him. “Are you talking about Cole?”
“If that’s his name, then yes,” Anderson agreed, sucking his fingers clean. “He’s the one that repeats what you say.”
“Yeah, Cole. He’s a real doll, but completely shy.” Mary crossed to the freezer for half a bag of crushed ice. “I would have invited him if I didn’t think he would totally freak out. He doesn’t do well around large groups of people.”
Anderson couldn’t help a feeling of regret. “He was incredibly cute. Too bad he’s so young.”
Mary snorted. “Please, he’s like twenty-seven.”
“Really? I thought he was like eighteen or nineteen.” Anderson really was shocked. The guy looked like a teenager, but was actually a year older than him. “He looked like a kid.”
Mary laughed. “Yeah, he fooled me too the first time I saw him. I nearly asked him if his parents were home.”
“Wow, twenty-seven,” Anderson mused. He’d mentally put the guy on the “Do Not Touch” list because he thought he was a kid. Now he wished he’d invited him to stay for Mary’s party. It would have given him a chance to flirt.
“Oh God, you’ve got that look on your face,” Mary groaned.
“I have no idea what you mean,” Anderson said virtuously.
“Yeah right. And I’m suddenly getting the feeling that you’re going to be hanging around my house a whole lot more. And you eat like a pig, by the way.” Mary shook her head and went to break out another set of plastic cups.
Anderson couldn’t help smiling as he watched her bustle around her small kitchen.
Mary had been unfortunately cursed with orangey-red hair and a fat ass from her mother. She had a sprinkling of freckles over her entire face, but had extremely lovely green eyes. She was the stereotypical buxom Scottish lass. She looked like she could whip up a mean haggis.
Her accent was pure California.
The first time he met her, Anderson was expecting a heavy burr. He got Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead. It had been one of the funniest moments of his life and pretty much sealed her fate as his best friend forever.
Whether she liked it or not.
“Stop looking at me like that,” she ordered. “It’s creepy. Here,” she pointed to the punch bowl, “take that out to the masses.”
He gave her a snappy salute before hurrying to obey. He could hear the natives getting restless as they realized the only thing left was light beer. He didn’t want to be murdered for not appeasing the gods of alcohol fast enough.
He knew practically everyone here, since he and Mary shared the same group of friends. Despite her rather boho off hours appearance, Mary Paterson was an up-and-coming corporate lawyer. Which is how they met.
Anderson had been repping Bester International and Mary had been assigned to handle the legal end of things. They’d just kind of clicked on first meeting and that was that.
It made him laugh.