Excerpt from Cookies for My Orc Neighbor, by Michele Mills
The big green Orc living next door to me is so very mysterious.He works from home and rarely goes outside. And when he does go out, he never wears a shirt buttoned over his massive chest, no matter the weather. Small children and senior citizens run screaming when he stomps to his truck, so I guess I understand his reticence?But today is Valentine’s Day and I’m worried the big guy is sad and lonely. My neighbor is more angry-looking and growly than usual, despite that darling puppy he recently adopted.And since I happen to be alone this Valentine’s Day too, I decide to bring him a plate of my famous sugar cookies.Everyone warns me not to disturb him because Orcs always claim their Brides in the dark of winter.But for some reason, this doesn’t worry me at all.
Another winter storm recently slammed into our part of the state, leaving behind six inches
of snow and many disgruntled townsfolk. Luckily the sun shines bright this morning, and the
skies are fair. Water drips everywhere. Walkways, cars and streets are clearing at a rapid pace.
Snowplows recently scoured our street and people are out and busy today, trying to dig out and
get stuff done.
After all, next week is Valentine’s Day.
I stare out my window as my mysterious neighbor, Alden Overlook, stomps over to his big
red truck. He looks angry again. I’m not sure why. But then my Orc neighbor always looks
disgruntled. This is part of his charm.
My kitchen window is positioned at the corner of my house, with the sink right below,
directly facing Alden’s front yard and driveway. I’m busy washing dishes, not checking him out,
or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. Six months ago, I moved in next door to this grumpy
Orc with muscles for days and abs that won’t quit. Soon afterwards my preoccupation for all
things Alden began.
A deep sigh escapes my lips.
I start soaking some pots and pans. Alden is probably just going out today, trying to get
some groceries, like the rest of us. And I daydream for a moment… What it would be like, going
grocery shopping with him?
A fluffy black puppy squirms underneath his massive green arms. A wide smile spreads
across my face. That dog is so darn cute. It’s a mini schnauzer and I know what breeder he got
her from and what he paid for that darling puppy. Yes, this is my level of obsession.
Is he going to take his puppy inside the store with him? I’d think he’d have to, considering
how cold it is today. I smile, imagining that energetic dog in the cart. I guess the staff at the
grocery store would make an exception due to the weather, especially if he went to the smaller
local store on Main Street—they’re always nice about stuff like that.
My neighbor’s perennially unbuttoned flannel shirt flutters in the breeze as he makes his
way down his front walk. It’s amazing how he never seems cold in this type of weather. The man
has no need of gloves, scarves or coats. He just stomps through the snow with heavy work boots
and jeans and he’s perfectly warm. In the summer he doesn’t even bother with shirts unless he’s
He’s already shoveled the snow off his driveway and the roof and bed of his truck and
scraped all the ice off the windshields. The truck is warming up. Oh, how I loved watching that
display of manly snow-shoveling earlier this morning. The moment I heard that scraping sound I
was pressed against the window. Alden Overlook can swing a snow shovel better than anyone
I’ve ever met. I might’ve taken a few secret pictures of his epic bulging muscles and that perfect
chest. Shh, don’t tell anyone. He even shoveled the snow off the sidewalk in front of my house
too, as well as the neighbor’s on the other side, because he’s helpful like that. He’s done this
many times since I moved in, always leaving behind white calcium chloride pellets. Never
expecting a thank you.
Meanwhile, Alden’s a notorious recluse. He doesn’t seem to have any friends or family,
which is sad. I’ve never once seen anyone visit. Whenever he steps out of his home, I’m on high
alert for a rare sighting. No one seems to know much about him. I assume he’s either self-
employed or able to work remotely. He only exits his front door for yard work or to go to his car,
to maybe run errands. I can’t blame him for staying inside most of the time since simply
stomping to his truck in his own damn driveway often causes small children and senior citizens
to cry out in fear.
If anyone happens to be walking down the sidewalk at the same time he steps out of his
home, the chances are high that someone will scream. I’ve seen it myself many times. I suspect
it’s the deadly horns that burst out on either side of his forehead, and the fangs that recently
started jutting up from his lower lip, along with that harsh expression. It’s true he looks angry
most of the time. He’s not the chatty, charming and smiling type.
And yet he purchased that puppy.
Acres of dark green skin startle some people, especially if they’ve never met an Orc. Lots
of people are scared of Orcs, thinking they’re barely restrained beasts from olden times. But for
some reason I’m not afraid like the others. Never have been. There are quite a few modern Orcs
who live amicably in our small community, so this isn’t new. But I’ve never seen a male with
horns quite so large and curved. His dark hair is long with a bit of wave and he’s got a thick
beard that looks so good. It’s always neatly trimmed. How does he eat, or kiss for that matter,
with those thick fangs in the way?
He doesn’t seem to have any friends or family, which is sad. I’ve never once seen anyone
Alden opens his truck and lets the puppy inside. He straps her into a raised car seat he’s
bought for the dog. Darling. I wish I knew the name of his puppy. Well, it’s not really a puppy
anymore, is it? The dog arrived in the early fall and now it’s a big puppy? I remember what she
looked like when she first arrived so I can’t help but always think of her as a puppy.
He pulls out of his driveway and then drives off down the street.
I have a soft spot for this Orc everyone else fears. I’d love to get to know him better, but he
doesn’t seem to want anything to do with me, or anyone else for that matter. Once I tried to wave
at him when we both walked out to our cars and he studiously ignored me. A few weeks ago we
were both pumping gas at the same time and yet again, he acted like I was part of the scenery.
This harsh Orc that others run screaming from—I want to run toward him and ask him out
to coffee. But I would never get up the nerve to do that.
Friends try to set me up on dates, which I always decline. They want me to ask guys out,
but I’m way too shy for any of that. In high school I once asked out the guy I was crushing hard
for, who happened to be the quarterback of the football team and class president. He told me,
right in the hallway for everyone to hear, that he couldn’t go to prom “with someone like you,”
whatever that meant. I wasn’t pretty enough, or my boobs weren’t big enough? Maybe my
clothes weren’t trendy? Probably I wasn’t popular enough.
His instant rejection wasn’t the end of the world, but it does makes me think twice before
initiating anything. Maybe this is the real reason why I don’t talk with Alden and only lurk in the
periphery. He’s fascinating. I feel like I know him even though we’ve never spoken. I should be
bold and say something to him, but I can’t, which is silly considering I talk to people all day at
my banking job. I’m good at talking to people.
Today is Sunday and I’m at home lounging around, taking a break from my job as a teller
at a local bank. I started there right out of high school and I’ve worked my way up. I greet people
all day long and help them with their transactions. At first I was shy, wanting any position that
didn’t require being face to face with people. But now I feel different, bolder and more grown
up. I don’t even rent this place next door either; I have a mortgage. Grandma helped me with a
substantial down payment and cosigned, so I could have a mortgage with a monthly payment I
could afford. The point is I’m twenty-five years old, with a good job and my own home. Why am
I still single? It would be different if I enjoyed being single and wanted to live without having to
think of anyone else’s wants and needs and no desire for children. But I really do want a husband
and children—a family of my own. I wish this house wasn’t so empty. I’ve lived here for the last
six months and it’s the first time in my life without either my grandma or at least a roommate
nearby and I must admit I’m often sad and lonely.
I bake cookies and there’s no one to give them to. I take plates of cookies to work and
leave them in the employee break room. Everyone loves my sugar cookies and asks me to make
more for basically any occasion, some even offer to pay, which is a nice validation. But it’s not
the same as having a boyfriend or husband right there to enjoy them with me, warm right out of
the oven. I can’t make dinner and plate anyone’s food and watch another person’s enjoyment at
the first bite. I binge-watch shows by myself, wishing I had a partner to experience them with. I
invite friends over for dinner and Grandma comes by regularly on Sundays and we have lunch
together, sometimes with her group of church friends.
My life is good, it is. I should be more grateful. It’s just…
My cell phone rings. I glance at the screen and see it’s my best friend, Margie, who always
wants to talk instead of text. I shake my head and put her on speakerphone while I keep busy
with the laundry. “Good morning,” I chirp.
“Morning,” she replies and then proceeds to give me a litany of updates on her spring
wedding plans. I listen patiently to all the details of the dress fittings, the price, and how she
wishes the wedding was over already. There’s an update on our bridesmaid dresses and the
flavor of cake she and her fiancé, Alex, chose. Finally, she takes a deep breath. “And what about
you? How are you this morning?”
“Me? There’s nothing new.” I start loading clothes into the washer. “You know I’m
basically boring. Well, I did see that puppy that Alden bought this morning. I think he took it
with him to the grocery store, isn’t that darling? And he shoveled snow off my sidewalk early
this morning without my even asking.”
“That was nice of him. Have you gone over to thank him?”
“Oh no. I don’t think he wants any thanks. That wasn’t the point for him.”
“Why haven’t you ever spoken to that Orc that lives next door?” Margie prods. Both of us
work at the bank, although now she’s moved to a different department. She was my roommate,
but now she lives with her fiancé and I have to admit I’m jealous she’s already found someone
she loves and who loves her back, so quickly. Also, Alex is a great guy. But now that she’s
settled down, she’s even more determined for me to have someone too. “Now that I think about
it, he’s the only man you ever speak of. You need to get to know him.”
I bite a nail. “I can’t talk to him.”
“Why? Are you afraid of Orcs?”
“No,” I answer as I add fabric softener to my wash. “I’m not afraid of Orcs. Modern, urban
Orcs don’t hurt anyone. The problem is he doesn’t talk to anyone, so I’ve been trying to respect
that boundary and keep my distance.”
“I suspect he’d make an exception when it comes to you.”
I snort. “Guys never ask me out.”
“It’s just because you don’t put out ‘available’ signals. You act as if you don’t want a
boyfriend. As if you’re already taken. You seem incapable of flirting. This would be fine if you
wanted to remain single and happy, except we all know you want a husband and children. It’s all
you talk about when we go out to happy hour and get a few shots in you. If you’re going to get
what you want, Grace, you have to start smiling seductively at guys. Or, I don’t know, maybe
even get on one of those online dating sites.”
I gasp with horror. “Never. You know I hate that stuff. I don’t even have social media
She chuckles. “I know. It’s weird and yet charming. Why don’t you let me set you up with
Alex’s best man, Jonah? You remember him? He’s been asking about you ever since you two
met at that barbeque last month.”
It takes a minute for me to remember who she’s even talking about. “Oh yeah, he’s nice
but I think he’s too handsome.”
“Too handsome? Girl, how can a man be too handsome?”
I wave a hand. “I’m not after that type of guy. The ones who leave behind a trail of broken
hearts. I don’t want to fight for a man’s attention or warn other girls away. He’ll get incessantly
hit on by other women and one day he’ll crack from all the interest and cheat on me. Handsome
guys are risky.”
“Um, Grace that sounds like stereotyping to me and unfair to all honorable yet beautiful
people in the world, male or female. Also, I’m not sure if you’re ever going to meet a guy who
you can be one hundred percent certain won’t ever cheat on you. Are you sure you want this to
be your criteria for a relationship?”
I pretend to listen but suddenly I’m thinking about Alden Overlook, the Orc next door,
because Orcs mate for life and are physically incapable of cheating.
“As far as I know, Jonah isn’t a player” she continues. “He recently broke up with his high
school girlfriend and he’s got a really good job. At the very least you should go on one date with
him. Maybe there will be something there.”
“No…no. That’s not a good idea.” And then I glance out the kitchen window because I see
that red truck in the distance. “Oh,” I gasp. “Alden is coming back home.”
“He is? Good. Are you dressed?”
“Dressed? Well, I’m in sweats. Why? Do you want to meet somewhere today? Please say
it isn’t so. Don’t make me scrape ice off my car on a Sunday.”
“No, I want you to pull on your coat and snow boots and get your ass outside and go meet
this Alden you speak of so much.”
I place a palm against my chest, like I’m having a heart attack and sputter. “But…he…”
“Put on those big girl panties, Grace, and go get what you want. You want a man who
doesn’t cheat. Well, Orcs don’t cheat, do they? In fact, they are notorious for being overly
obsessed with their mates. Most women would consider this problematic, but I think for you it’s
a gold star. And there’s the fact that you’ve been watching him for months and have never seen
him with another woman. You know he’s as single as you are. And most importantly he’s
obviously the only man you’re interested in. Go talk to him. Just thank him for cleaning up your
sidewalk. That’s easy to do.”
“Good stuff doesn’t fall into your lap, Grace, you have to work for it.”
I take a deep breath. “You’re right. I need to be bold.”
“Yes, I am right. And I just want the best for you. You’re a wonderful person and some
guy would be lucky to have you as his life partner, even an Orc.”
“Aww, Margie that’s sweet of you to say, you’re the best. But I’m not going to ask him
out. I’m just going to be friends with this guy who has a darling puppy.”
“Uh huh, whatever, now get out there and at least say hi.”
We end the call and I rush into the mudroom to shove on boots and my coat. Despite living
my whole life in freezing winter conditions, I continue to have an irrational fear of slipping and
falling in the snow and ice. Maybe because it’s happened at least three different times in my life,
resulting in various injuries. My newest snow boots are highly rated. I throw open the front door
and crunch my way over, trying my best to stay on the edge of grass for more traction.
The sunshine glinting off the snow feels great and suddenly I’m happy to be out. My aunt
and cousin live in California and sent pictures this morning of daffodils blooming in their front
yard. Meanwhile I sent back pictures of more sparkling snow drifts. California sounds nice but
there’s something to be said for a glittering winter wonderland.
Alden is only barely opening his driver side door. Perfect, I’m not too late. He starts to step
out of the truck, and there’s a sudden rush of dog and man. He’s trying to hold a bag of
groceries, but the dog jumps over him. In a moment there’s a litany of curse words and a tumble
of cans and boxes of frozen dinners into the nearby snow.
The puppy starts barking in the driveway.
I get there just in time to grab the dog’s red leash. But she proves stronger than I realize,
and I’m caught off guard by the push and pull of the energetic dog and next thing I know she’s
running right at me and hitting my knees and I’m teetering.
I gasp with dismay. No, not again.
Then I fall on my ass in the snow.
A fluffy black dog squirming in my lap.
Alden fully steps out of the truck, holding a now empty brown bag and frowns down at me.
I pick up a can of soup and hand it up to him, along with the leash. “Good morning. I was
just out to get…well, I came over to say…but then I saw that you needed some help, so I ran
over here and then the puppy caught me off balance,” I finish in a rush.
He looks around as if he’s wondering where the hell I came from.
From my vantage point on the ground, he appears tall as a skyscraper. His horns are curved
and proud. The dark beard is amazing and his lips, between those fangs are so lush and kissable.
And I’m a mess because all I can do is stare far too long at his muscled green chest, exposed
under that unbuttoned red flannel shirt. It really is amazing how Orcs don’t seem to mind the
cold as much as the rest of us humans. Their bodies run much hotter.
He reaches a huge hand down to help me up.
I gingerly accept and then I’m swiftly pulled to standing. He’s so much taller, wider and
more manly up close. My cheeks heat and my stomach flutters as I imagine snuggling with him.
Well, shoot, who am I kidding? Guess I want way more than friendship with Alden Overlook.
“Hi, my name is Grace Anderson…”
He studies me like he’s never seen me in his entire life.