(First, stop right there! Did you read Chapter 8 of our South Boston romance novella yet? If not, read this first! )
MEET YOU out front – the text read.
Olivia looked out the window to see if she could see Billy. She couldn’t. Outside the sky was a clear and vibrant blue. The sun was bright and warm and a soft breeze entered through the open living room window moving the white curtain gently. She checked the weather app on the phone and the temperature read 72 degrees. It would be cooler out Castle Island with the wind coming in off of the ocean. She decided to wear a hoodie and pulled out a light blue Champion one from her drawer. One last look in the mirror in her hallway, next to the front door. Her dark hair was pulled up into a top knot casually – even though it took three tries to get it to look that way. She applied a thin layer of tinted lipgloss and grabbed her white sunglasses and headed down the three flights of stairs to meet him.
“HEY WOULD you like to go for a walk sometime?” Billy had asked her one night last week. She heard a knock on the door causing her to freeze in her tracks. The first knock was followed by a second. Opening the door slowly and hesitantly, Olivia was surprised to see her downstair neighbor Billy. His smile was wide and friendly and was met by – no doubt – a look of confusion and maybe even hostility on her part. She could feel it on her face.
“Hi?” she asked more as a question like “what are you doing here” and less of a greeting.
Then he asked her if she wanted to go for a walk sometime. It was strange but gentlemanly in an old fashioned way. He was holding a piece of white paper in his hand – the kind pulled from a spiral ringed notebook with thin blue lines. When Olivia glanced down at the folded sheet of paper and he began to laugh. “Just in case you didn’t answer,” he said handing her the note.
Do you want to go for a walk sometime? Circle one. Yes or No. Billy, your downstairs neighbor.
The note caused Olivia to blush.
“I heard you up here but I wasn’t sure if you would answer an unannounced knock at the door.”
They stood there in the dimly lit hallway for moment before Olivia realized that he was waiting for an answer. His eyes were large and green and looked eagerly back at her for her response.
“Sure,” Olivia blurted out before she had time to actually thinking about it. In hindsight, if she had time, she would have thought of 10 different reasons not to go.
“Great. Should we pick a day now? I’m off Tuesday and Wednesday next week. We could go when you get home from work?”
She nodded her head up and down.
“Do you wanna say Tuesday then?”
“Sure, sounds great.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you out front on Tuesday around 6ish.” He flashed her another warm smile took a few steps down the stairs and then turned back to look at her one last time, still smiling. “Looking forward to it, Olivia.” Then he disappeared down the stairs and Olivia could hear his apartment door close behind him.
BILLY IS standing out front facing the front door. His eyes are closed and his head is tilted back letting the late afternoon sun wash over him. His eyes open when he hears Olivia close the front door.
“Hey, Olivia!” he calls
The church bells from Gate of Heaven can be heard signaling the six o’clock hour. They are melodious and distant.
“Six o’clock on the nose,” says Billy. Olivia can’t help but smile. She walks down the five stairs and stands in front of him.
“Let’s go!” he says.
They start their walk down M Street heading towards the beach. It is quite at first. No conversation. Just their footsteps on the concrete sidewalk. Cars rushing by. They walk in step. Normally, she would feel like she needed to break the uncomfortable silence with conversation. But that’s the thing. It wasn’t uncomfortable.
“I’m glad you decided to join me,” says Billy.
“Sure, why not?”
Olivia tries to recall if Billy lived there when she moved in three years ago or did he move in recently.
“When did you move in to M Street?”
He pauses thinking of his response. Maybe trying to add up the months in his head. “About four years.”
“Do you like it?”
“Yeah, it’s awesome.” He tells her about he fact that Michelle – the landlord is his aunt.
He tells her that he is a Boston firefighter “for the past 9 years.” He is 34.
“I didn’t realize you are a firefighter.”
“Why would you?” He smiles.
“I don’t know. I guess I should have noticed your uniform.”
“We just wear regular clothes to the firehouse. We change there.”
He tells her that he works on Boylston Street on Ladder 15. “It’s a busy firehouse.”
She sneaks glances at him through the safety of her sunglasses. His face is youthful and friendly. He has a tiny sprinkling of freckles across his nose. His hair is golden brown and on the longish side. He is taller than Olivia with an athletic build. He wears a long-sleeved t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.
They are walking along the beach now. Because it’s one of the first really nice spring days of the season, the beach is bustling with activity. Kids on scooters. People running. Friends gathering on beach chairs in the sand eating a picnic dinner and drinking from plastic cups.
Olivia can feel the sun on her face and there is breeze coming off of the harbor. She can smell the salt and the ocean. They pass the first of the large historic yacht clubs. Dark green shingles and a sign that reads Boston Harbor Yacht Club. Next is a small canoe club – graying and weathered with large shrubs and flowering hydrangea bushes. Then, set back, the Columbia Yacht Club with a newly painted black wrought iron fence. Finally, gated and looming tall, the South Boston Yacht Club where large orange hibiscus flowers poke their heads through a chain linked fence.
Billy tells her that he is from Dorchester, the next neighborhood over. “When my aunt Michelle had an apartment available, she called me and asked me if I was interested. I was still living at home with my father, so I said yes.”
Billy doesn’t mention his mother and Olivia wondered if maybe she’s out of the picture. And makes a mental note to ask about his mother.
“I’m going to be moving out of M Street, though,” adds Billy.
Olivia feels her heart sink a little. A force of habit. It’s just a walk, she reminds herself.
“Where are you moving to?” she asks.
“I bought a two-family in Dorchester. Sort of near my dads but close enough,” he adds.
They head out on the causeway towards the Sugar Bowl. The wind is picking up and the kite surfers with colorful sails glide in the air and defy gravity. They stop for a moment to watch them briefly before continuing their walk.
He tells her he is a middle child. “One older sister, Diane and one younger sister, Amanda.”
Olivia shares her own family history – edited version and describes what she does for work. Billy asks questions about specifics and the conversation flows effortlessly – like old friends.
They round the Sugar Bowl and up a slight incline near the locks that let Boston Harbor flow into Pleasure Bay. Men are fishing and they briefly walk single file while others pass them heading the opposite direction.
She admits to Billy that she’s never actually walked around Castle Island before.
What? he exclaims in an exaggerated tone.
“I’ve run around here but never walked like this. It’s really nice. When I run I have my earbuds in and I guess I never really take in what’s around me.”
Olivia nods her head.
They stop at Sullivan’s – the legendary hot dog stand – and order up some hot dogs, french fries to share and two raspberry lime Rickeys. The sit on a large slab of granite next to the stand.
Billy tells her more about the job. How often he works – two 24 hour tours – his favorite part – helping people. His least favorite part – housework. “Cleaning toilets is just so terrible,” he says.
“You guys really do.. like chores?”
“Whatta ya think we have a cleaning lady?”
Oliva starts to laugh and realizes how ridiculous that sounds. She learns that Billy likes to cook. “I make a mean Chicken Marsala and played varsity baseball in high school and served four years in the Marines.
Olivia offers to buy the ice cream for dessert. Billy insists on paying.
“You paid for the hot dogs!”
“I can pay for the ice cream too.”
“Let a girl pay! I have a twenty in my pocket. I usually never have cash.”
She buys them twisty cones and they eat them on the walk back to M Street. The sky is pinkish red as the sun slowly sets. When Olivia ice cream cone begins to melts down her hand, Billy jokes that she needs to eat it faster and pulls napkins from his back pocket and wipes up the mess. She carefully watches him clean her hand with a few Kraft brown napkins pulled from a dispenser back at Sully’s. He was ready – just in case. Imagining that is how he would be on a call for work, his gentle kindness showing in every movement, she smiles and thanks him.
“No problem. Sorry I don’t have any wet naps,” he adds. “You’re hand is definitely sticky.”
When they reach the front of their home on M Street, they talk a little more until the sun completely sets and the sky changes from orange to deep blue. They walk inside and stop at his landing. They decide they will do it again soon. Billy watches her walk up the small flight to her apartment on the third floor. She looks down at him and he’s smiling.
“I’ll talk to later?” he asks.
She nods and heads inside to her apartment closing the door behind her.
Her face is warm and she can feel herself smiling. Inside her pocket, her phone vibrate. It’s a text from Billy.
I had fun
She thinks of texting him back and inviting him up for a beer or a glass of wine.
She texts back. Me too.
Okay, we need your help! Does Olivia text again asking Billy to come upstairs? Or does she wait for him to reach out another day? Go to our Instagram story to vote!