Everyone on the street was out on their porches on Saturday morning when the U-Haul pulled up to 2352 Elizabeth Avenue. The unfortunate few who hadn’t depleted their savings accounts constructing fancy verandas peeked out of their windows or pretended to mow their already-manicured lawns. Mrs. Woods, the nosiest of them all, wheedled Mrs. Smith out of her poodle and paraded up and down Elizabeth Avenue with the borrowed poodle until the U-Haul was unpacked and driven away.
Mr. Harking, the recently late owner of 2352 Elizabeth Avenue and a resident of 54 years, had left his son to sell the house. By hassling the real estate agent, Mrs. Woods figured out that the house had been sold a week ago to a man named Arthur Wilde. Mrs. Woods even got her daughter to look up Arthur Wilde on Facebook and discovered that he was a 33-year-old freelance writer from New York City. She then proceeded to tell every resident of Elizabeth Avenue the facts–and wild speculations–about Arthur Wilde.
Even Susan Duval of 2351 Elizabeth Avenue came out to sit on her patio when the little U-Haul trundled down the street. She told herself it was to enjoy the lovely fall weather. The denizens of Elizabeth Avenue were getting a bit bored, for the U-Haul had stopped, but no one had gotten out. Susan was just about to take a sip of her coffee and flip open her book when Mrs. Woods sauntered up the street for the twentieth time, poodle in tow.
“Oh, Susan!” she exclaimed in her nasal voice. “I didn’t expect you to be out this fine morning.” The poodle began pulling on his leash, and Mrs. Woods gave him a good kick, ignoring the poor dog’s subsequent whimpering.
“And why is that, Mrs. Woods?” Susan asked, trying to rein in her annoyance. Everyone on the street leaned a little closer, straining to catch the conversation.
“Well!” Mrs. Woods huffed. “You never deign to sit out and chat, although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s quite the day today. The new neighbor is moving in.” Her lip curled in distaste as she glanced toward the parked U-Haul.
“Maybe I just wanted to enjoy the nice weather, Mrs. Woods. And perhaps you should too, instead of poking your nose into other people’s business!” Susan snapped and pushed up her glasses. A collective gasp arose from the residents of Elizabeth Avenue. Someone toppled out of their rocking chair.
“Humph! I knew the second you moved in here you were going to ruin the dynamic of Elizabeth Avenue with your uppity millennial lifestyle.”
“Excuse me for not wanting to gossip all the time!”
“And then you broke my vase–”
“I did not–”
“The one that had been passed down in my family for generations–”
“I repeat, I did not break your vase, Mrs. Woods! I’m telling you, it was Mr. George’s cat!”
Mr. George glared at Susan from across the street while Mrs. Woods harrumphed and flounced onwards. Susan stared down the neighbors and went back to her book and coffee, only to be distracted by the slam of a door. She sighed and glanced up to see Arthur Wilde stepping out of the U-Haul, looking straight at her.
Susan went woozy. Never in the thirty years of her life had she seen a man as handsome as Arthur. Dark, wavy hair, tall build, high cheekbones. The man of every woman’s dreams. At least, what Susan assumed were every woman’s dreams. She lowered her head to hide the heat in her cheeks. There was no way he was single. But no one got out of the U-Haul except for him.
The neighbors started chattering as Arthur walked to the back of the truck to unload. Eyes glinting, Mrs. Woods approached Arthur like a lion about to pounce on its prey.
“You must be Arthur Wilde,” Mrs. Woods said, startling Arthur as she thrust out her hand. “I’m Mrs. Woods. I live two blocks down.”
Arthur tentatively shook her hand. “Uh, yes, hello, I’m, ah, Arthur. Nice to, uh, meet you.”
“The entire street has been dying to meet you and find out who you are. We haven’t had a new arrival in ages. Well, unless you count young Susan over there. She’s a librarian at the public library,” Mrs. Woods threw a haughty smile to Susan, who just sat frozen, blinking rapidly.
Arthur squinted at Susan while Mrs. Woods continued. “Now, I hope you don’t turn into a recluse, like Susan. You’ve got big shoes to fill. Mr. Harking, the previous owner of this house, may he rest in peace, was always inviting us over for little get-togethers and such.” Mrs. Woods pretended to wipe away a tear. “I sure hope you’ll do the same.”
“Or at least come out on your porch once in a while. Mr. Harking always liked to sit out and greet pedestrians.”
“Anyways, if you ever need anything, or want the latest news, just stop by. It was a pleasure meeting you, Arthur. Goodbye!” Mrs. Woods gave a saccharine smile and strolled away, leaving behind an utterly bewildered Arthur.
The nerve! Susan shook her head in indignation and ducked into her house. It was all too much for one day as Susan was not in the habit of fighting with neighbors or being swept off her feet by handsome gentlemen. She needed to calm down. Writing would help.
Susan opened her laptop and logged into her Reedsy Prompts account. A little yellow circle hovered over the notification bell. Yes! A new comment! From A.J. Weir, her favorite Reedsy writer:
This story is so insightful, Book Owl! I love the relatable characters and the gossipy small town. Very authentic! It almost seems like this is a personal experience.
Thank you, A.J., Susan replied, I see you took some of my suggestions on your story from this week. It’s definitely coming together!
Susan clicked over to the prompts page. The week’s theme was “The Blame Game.” Hmm. Perhaps a creative nonfiction story about Mrs. Woods’ vase would work. Susan created a new document and began typing.
But after a few minutes, she got stuck. All she could think about was Arthur’s confused expression after Mrs. Woods left. Susan sighed. She was planning to make apple pie, anyway. Maybe she would take some over to Arthur.
Two hours and two burnt fingers later, Susan rapped on Arthur’s door, warm apple pie in hand. It was poorly crimped, and the lattice was all crooked, but it was bound to taste good.
Susan smoothed her copper hair and was about to knock again when she heard scuffling from inside. Arthur had barely cracked open the door before a golden labrador burst out and slobbered all over Susan’s leggings.
“Ace!” Arthur reprimanded and tried to rein in his dog. “Hi, I’m so sorry!”
“It’s fine, no problem!” Susan chirped. Since when do I chirp? “I saw you moving in today and heard your conversation with Mrs. Woods. You better be careful around her. She’s been harassing me since I moved in three years ago. I’m Susan, the one Mrs. Woods was talking about. Anyways, I was making apple pie, and I thought you might like some, seeing as you just moved in and all…” Susan rambled on. Since when do I ramble?
“Oh, wow, thank you! I was, uh, just about to make tea. Would you, ah, like to come in?” asked Arthur, blushing slightly while trying to keep Ace from bounding into the yard.
“Yeah,” Susan replied, smiling back.
Arthur brewed tea, and they chatted well into the evening. Susan told him about her work in the library and the crazy antics kids got into.
“They started brawling? Right there in the library?” Arthur asked, laughing.
“Yep. Right there as I was reading James and the Giant Peach. Apparently, they were arguing over whether it was possible to grow a giant peach,” Susan said through a fit of giggles.
She found out that Arthur had self-published a few novels but had hit a wall for the past couple of months. He moved from New York to get a fresh start, hoping to improve his writing.
“Same!” Susan exclaimed when Arthur said he wrote short stories. “I submit them to the Reedsy Prompts contest.”
Arthur’s eyes lit up. “No way! I write on Reedsy too!”
Heart beating faster, Susan asked, “What’s your name on Reedsy? Mine’s Book Owl. We can follow each other!” She'd never actually met a Reedsy writer in person, even though she felt connected to every writer on the site.
Arthur pulled out his phone and chuckled. “Well hello, Book Owl. I’m A.J. Weir.”
Susan’s eyes widened in realization, and they both grinned, each taking comfort in the fact that they’d each found a kindred soul in the other.
Arthur and Susan became fast friends. They read each other’s stories more attentively, enjoying it when they found bits of truth woven into them. Arthur stopped by the library more often, where he and Susan searched for books and gave each other recommendations.
Susan could feel the eyes of the neighbors bore into her whenever she went over to Arthur’s or he came over to her place. But she didn’t care. For three years she’d lived alone on Elizabeth Avenue, rarely bothering to meet up with her scant handful of so-called friends. Now she’d finally found someone who understood her.
But one Monday morning, when Susan was getting ready for work, a red Lexus pulled into Arthur’s driveway, and a beautiful blonde stepped out. Susan peered through the window as Arthur stepped outside and pulled the woman into a long, passionate kiss.
Dazed, Susan watched Arthur unload the woman’s massive suitcase and cart it inside. A single tear slipped down her cheek.
Work was awful. The heating had stopped working and it was freezing. Susan kept her gloves on as she aggressively shelved books and quietly directed visitors to the locations of their requested books.
And it didn’t get any better. That evening, Susan was about to watch Love Actually when she heard her doorbell ring. Susan knew without having to check that it was Arthur and his girl. She plastered a smile on her face and opened the door.
Arthur cleared his throat. “Hi, Susan. I wanted to introduce you to my, ah, girlfriend Elaine. She’s umm…visiting from New York.”
“Well,” Elaine smiled serenely at Susan, “I don’t know if visiting would be the right word.”
“Oh! Well! I’m so happy for you guys,” Susan said, even though she was withering inside. Her face started to hurt from smiling.
Walking her slender fingers up Arthur’s arm, Elaine continued, “I just couldn’t stay away from my baby. I don’t know why he moved away in the first place, I’m sure he could have churned out any old novel in New York, but as long as we’re together, it’s all good. Isn’t that right pumpkin?”
“As long as we’re together,” Arthur echoed and scuffed the ground with his sneaker.
They all lapsed into silence. Trying to break it, Susan mumbled, “Well, is there anything you guys need, or…”
“Yes. We, ah, were wondering if we could, uh, borrow some champagne flutes.”
Susan nodded and returned a minute later with the glasses, holding them so tightly she thought they might shatter.
Voice syrupy, Elaine thanked Susan and slipped the flutes out of her fingers. She hooked her arm through Arthur’s and steered him away, hips swaying.
Once the door swung closed, Susan couldn't take it anymore. She sank into her couch and started sobbing. If only she’d never brought Arthur that apple pie. If only.
After that, Susan began avoiding Arthur, leaving for work earlier and returning later. Every time Susan saw Arthur and Elaine strolling down Elizabeth Avenue, she burned with jealousy and hateful thoughts about Elaine. She drowned her sorrows in feel-good rom-coms and cup after cup of herbal tea.
More and more of Arthur’s Reedsy stories were tagged under ‘Romance’ while more and more of Susan’s stories were tagged under ‘Sad’. She stopped leaving him comments, and so did he.
Mrs. Woods complained about all her free time, now that Arthur’s girlfriend was no longer a novelty and nothing transpired between Susan and Arthur. Nevertheless, she kept her eyes peeled whenever she walked by 2351 and 2352 Elizabeth Avenue with Mrs. Smith’s poodle. And one day, Mrs. Woods was rewarded for her diligence.
It was early spring, and Susan was running late. She was sneezing every few seconds from allergies, and she’d just learned from Mrs. Woods that Elaine was moving in with Arthur permanently. Thinking about this, Susan burned her eggs, and the smoke detector had gone off. Not a promising start. So she was feeling irate. And bound to start a fight.
Because she was running late, Susan ended up leaving the house at the same time as Arthur did for his walk with Ace. Mrs. Woods watched with beady eyes as Susan stomped to her dented Corolla. Suddenly, Ace broke free from his leash and rammed into Susan.
Susan let out an embarrassing, high-pitched scream as she struggled to get away from Ace, who hadn’t seen her in months and just wanted to play. Arthur quickly ran over and restrained Ace.
“Susan, I’m so sorry! I don’t know what’s gotten into him. I should really get a fence…”
“Yes, Arthur! You should get a fence!” Susan regretted the words as soon as she blurted them. But it was too late now.
Arthur gave Susan a surprised look but nodded. Susan got into her Corolla and slammed the door, blinking away tears. Mrs. Woods grinned gleefully as Susan drove off and Arthur trudged down the street to the dog park.
When Susan got home, a white picket fence surrounded the yard of 2352 Elizabeth Avenue. She angrily wiped at her eyes and shut the front door so hard that her entire house rattled.
The next Sunday, Susan was getting ready to mow the lawn when she noticed a big yellow stain on her front lawn and frowned. Since when do I care about stains on my lawn? She marched over to Arthur’s house and pounded on the door. Since when do I pound on doors? When Arthur came out, she wordlessly pointed to the stain. Arthur apologized profusely for Ace’s behavior and promised it would never happen again. He even said he’d take Ace to be retrained. Susan thanked him stiffly, trudged home, and collapsed on her bed, not bothering to mow the lawn.
Why did Arthur have to be so kind? Why wouldn't he yell at Susan and freeze her out as she had? It would make things so much easier. Why did he have to be so perfect? And most important of all, why did Susan have to love Arthur? Why?
The cherry blossoms along Elizabeth Avenue were blooming when shouts rang out from 2352 Elizabeth Avenue. Mrs. Woods didn’t even borrow Mrs. Smith’s poodle; she just strolled over and sat on Mr. George’s patio.
Every inhabitant of Elizabeth Avenue, including Susan, watched as Elaine yanked her suitcase out of the house, yelled something at Arthur, and sped off in her red Lexus. Arthur stood on the doorstep for a long time, arms hanging limply, before he shuffled inside.
Susan couldn't bring herself to be happy, even though her nemesis was gone. Poor Arthur. The desolation he must feel. Maybe some commiseration and apple pie would do him good.
Two hours later, Susan knocked on Arthur’s door. She hadn’t burnt any fingers, and the pie looked like the ones featured in cookbooks. She was very proud of herself.
The warm feeling dissipated when the door opened to reveal Arthur’s sorrowful face.
“Are you OK, Arthur? No, that’s a stupid question. I saw Elaine leave. I’m sorry. I… hope you two work it out. I thought some pie would help. Anyway… I just wanted to apologize for being an awful friend. I didn’t mean to be so cold to you. I was, uh, dealing with a lot, but that’s beside the point. You don’t have to forgive me or invite me in, but please eat the pie.” There she was, rambling again.
Arthur took the pie out of Susan’s hands and wrapped her in a tight hug.
“Thank you,” he whispered, and Susan felt her heart thaw.
The talk among the residents of Elizabeth Avenue was that Arthur Wilde and Susan Duval were getting married. It had been two years since Arthur moved to Elizabeth Avenue, and more people had broken the bank by upgrading their patios or building new ones. To enjoy the wonderful weather, they told themselves. Mrs. Woods brought her own chihuahua, so she wouldn't keep having to borrow Mrs. Smith’s poodle as an excuse.
Arthur moved in with Susan since her house was bigger, which meant that 2352 Elizabeth Avenue was up for sale. Again.
So everyone watched from their porches and windows as a huge moving truck rumbled down the street and stopped in front of 2352 Elizabeth Avenue. But this time, Susan didn’t sit out on her porch. She snuggled with Arthur on the living room couch, grateful for the two times she’d decided to bring Arthur apple pie.
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I love the part about Mrs. Woods borrowing Mrs. Smith's poodle! Keep up the great work.
Thank you for your encouraging words!
I really thought Susan jumped off the (digital) page. I could feel that you were totally at home writing for her. Arthur felt like he could have been explored a bit more--I'd just love to know what makes him tick. You have a great command of language here and overall the story reminded me of a series of even smaller stories weaved together expertly.
Thank you for your kind words and time in reading my story, Kevin! I definitely felt at home writing Susan because she derives some of her traits from me, but Arthur could have been developed more.
I really liked this story, mainly because of Mrs. Woods. What a great supporting character! Also, writing about how the people on the street were depleting their savings by adding on to their houses was a master stroke! I could FEEL the street! I also liked how you explicitly made Reedsy a part of your story. And you use words like 'wheedled' and 'denizens.' My heart warms at reading such words! If I may off a small critique: Arthur Wilde seemed very plain and two-dimensional. He showed no personality other than mild awkwardness when spea...
Gosh, you are so right! Arthur is definitely very 2D. I think I was focusing on Susan too much and kind of forgot about Arthur. Next time I write a story I will try to focus on characterization. You keep writing too, Delbert!