Excerpt of The Start of Something Good:

“You’re such a jerk!”

The malicious tone and volume of a woman’s complaint caused my head to turn in the direction of the chaos a few doors down the hall of my apartment complex. After whipping her scarf around her neck in finality, the angered woman marched down the corridor. A man, who I assume was the jerk in question, pursued her. At this moment, I realized their argument was not meant for my eyes or ears. The guy showed up for the fight in nothing but a towel. His weapons of choice were bare hands, bare feet, and dripping-wet, wavy brown hair. His muscled chest and arms boasted the remnants of a golden summer tan, even in late November.

I rolled my eyes. How was it possible that men still looked divine in winter, while we women have to make an occasional visit to the tanning salon so we don’t appear pasty white? Sure, some of us tried rockin’ the pale skin look of the Twilight vampire craze, but it never seemed to catch on with the male population. They still preferred their women toned and tanned, or at least that was my conclusion given no man had yet to fall head over heels for me.

“How can I be a jerk for trying to help you forget about your horrible day?” he asked, grasping the woman’s arm and tugging her back. Thankfully, he was oblivious to me standing three doors down.

“No, you’re a jerk because you tried to forget about my horrible day by coming on to me,” the girl corrected.

The woman then looked past the man’s bare shoulder and suddenly took notice of my presence. The minute our eyes met, heat flushed my entire body. I quickly averted my attention and pretended not to notice their public tiff, fiddling with my keys to find the right one for locking up. I didn’t know what angered her more—the fact that I had taken an interest in their argument or that I had seen her boyfriend in a state of near nakedness.

I half expected her to call me out. Instead, she went back to berating the guy. From where I stood, I had established him as a normal, sexually-active, heterosexual male. It also bears mentioning that he looked very fine in his bathroom apparel.

“I came to you because I needed you, Joseph.”

Ah, the jerk in the towel had a name. Not sure why I made a mental note of it, but I did.

“And I’m still here,” he concluded, spreading his arms wide. “You’re the one who’s leaving.”

Clearly, the man was not in tune with the proverbial emotional needs of modern day women. If I were keeping score, he’d have lost a point for that little sarcastic remark. However, his choice of morning attire kept the tally in his favor.

“You just don’t get it, do you?” she barked back, slamming her hands upon her hips. “You think everything can be solved with a song or sex.”

A song? Now this just got a little more interesting.

“You didn’t like what I wrote?” he asked.

With my eyes still buried in the ring of keys clutched in my gloved hands, I couldn’t help but notice the slight hint of sadness in Joseph’s voice. My heart longed to sneak a peek at him, another potential point in his favor should I see a pitiful expression of pain in his face. But the girl’s harsh reaction forbade me to even try a nonchalant glance his way.

“Oh, don’t you dare! Don’t you dare turn this around and make me the bad guy.”

Okay, I was weak. I couldn’t help it. I had to catch a glimpse of what was to come. I inserted the correct key into the lock of my apartment door and peered out of the corner of my eye. She poked him in the chest. Repeatedly.

“Again, this is why you are a jerk. You think the world revolves around you and that you play no part in its destruction when it’s crumbling around you. You’re above it all, yet so far up its ass you can’t see the light of day.”

He didn’t budge or even stop her finger-poke punishment. He stared at her, stunned. “I can’t believe you didn’t like the song. I was up all night. I wrote that for you, Caroline.”

My eyes grew wide of their own volition. A songwriter? My sexy, half-dressed, James Tudor underwear model-like neighbor was a songwriter? My heart melted as I stood there. I imagined this man—yes…he was still sporting the towel—hunkered down over a well-worn set of piano keys, pounding out words of love and emotion with each lyrical stanza, every consecutive note inspired by the last. In my mind, I stood tall and proud, holding a white square sign with a bold, black, number ten on it above my head. Fireworks went off behind me in the distance, and a fluttering cloud of confetti fell around me.

This guy is a keeper!

I wanted to run up and give him a congratulatory hug on his big win, but the girlfriend—or soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend, if all of my assumptions were on the money—rolled her eyes and turned her back to him.

“You were never cut out to be a songwriter, Joseph. Just like you, your music lacks heart.”

She left him standing in the narrow hallway, injured and bleeding. The knife in his chest remained at such a vicious angle that I began to wonder if he’d ever live through it. If it were me, I would have been crushed to the core. Then again, I wouldn’t have settled for someone like her. I would have been smart enough to keep my standards raised and my heart better guarded.

Inwardly, I sighed. I supposed it was easier for me to say those things when I was outside looking in. I shouldn’t have been listening in the first place. That’s when my brain kicked into panic overdrive.

When he turned around, he’d see that I’d partaken in being a rude onlooker with a front row seat to his pathetic break-up. And I’d no longer be the cute, little neighbor who he—hypothetically speaking—might run into one day because he wasn’t watching where he was going as he walked down the hall. He wouldn’t suddenly feel compelled to ask me out on a date because he was a hopeless romantic and believed wholeheartedly in love at first sight. And fate. Surely fate had a part in all this.

My mind raced as I continued to stand there like a deer in headlights, freaking out over the moment when he’d give up staring down the hall and turn toward his door. Before I could stop myself, I glanced down at the tiny rump hidden behind the stark-white terrycloth draped around his waist. I had all kinds of excuses for being the one who always gives into temptation, but considering the perilous situation I was in, I decided to save redemption for another day.

My terrycloth-kilted neighbor ran frustrated fingers through his dark, nigh-in-need-of-a-cut hair and, just as I feared, turned around.