A/N: Covid-19 didn't happen in this story's timeline.

Five Years A Fool

Five years later, Roxanne Gause still regretted the way she initially treated her new neighbor PJ Riccardi when she moved into her recently purchased condo at Willow Woods.

Roxanne was feeling raw and vulnerable regarding her depressing divorce and she didn't need some guy hitting on her as she tried to heal and recover from her painful life change, so she told PJ to back off and leave her alone when he first offered to help her out as a new neighbor.

In retrospect, it was presumptuous of her to assume that PJ had any intention, interest, or motive other than being a nice person and friendly neighbor and eventually they became pals but Roxanne knew that PJ never forgot being put on notice from the start which was why he never attempted any romantic overtures.

Their friendship was strictly platonic with an unspoken understanding that there were boundaries never to be crossed and while Roxanne admired PJ's discipline and respect, sometimes she couldn't help but feel just a little rejected by his lack of interest.

Still, they watched each other's backs (and condos), bringing in the other's mail and newspaper when one of them was out of town, cleaning off and moving their cars after a snowstorm if the other was sick or otherwise indisposed, and keeping an eye out for the UPS or Federal Express guy when a delivery was expected.

They had keys to each other's apartment. PJ watched after Roxanne's cat Frisky when Rox was away and Roxanne watered PJ's plants when he was gone. It was all good and neither read anything between the lines about their arrangement if they happened to share a pizza on a Saturday night, socialized during the various condo activities, or even took a dip together in the condo community pool on a hot summer afternoon.

PJ offered his dating advice when Roxanne was seeing someone new and he was pretty good at giving pointers on her work challenges in the often combative town hall environment where Roxanne was the assistant town clerk. PJ was a town employee as well - a firefighter on the fire department - so they shared many of the same issues when it came to salary disputes and other local political debates.

Both were pretty good at keeping the other informed of their comings and goings, plans, and activities so the other wouldn't worry if one was gone and so they could plan accordingly if they needed to help out the other.

So when Roxanne noticed that PJ's newspaper had stacked up on his porch for a few days and his mailbox hadn't been emptied, she became slightly concerned - only because it was unusual for him not to tell her he might be gone.

Roxanne had PJ's cell number but she didn't want to disturb him if it wasn't an emergency, so she brought in the paper and mail, checked his plants, and opened the shades. She figured she'd give it a few more days before she texted or called just to be sure everything was okay, knowing that it was Thanksgiving and maybe PJ had been invited to someone's house for the holiday.

Roxanne was glad she hadn't panicked or overreacted because she saw PJ's silver pick-up truck in its regular spot when she came home from work on the Monday following the four day Thanksgiving holiday period.

PJ waved to her from his sliding glass door window when he saw her coming up her front walk which was right next to his condo. Roxanne waved back and when PJ gestured for her to stop in, she cut across the small lawn and hopped up onto his front porch/deck combo.

PJ opened the door to his condo and Roxanne stepped inside. PJ was about ten years older than Roxanne and she had come to value that age difference, learning over the past five years that with age comes wisdom, maturity, and experience.

Roxanne was only thirty-seven when her marriage fell apart and the idea of starting over scared the hell out of her and spun her into a prolonged depression. But PJ had already been through the divorce wars and he was able to offer Rox his insight and lessons learned which helped her adjust in those early months.

Roxanne was close to her parents even though they lived on Cape Cod. She also had a sister in Boston and a brother in Maine so her family was a big part of her life.

PJ, on the other hand, had no family to speak of. From the bits and pieces of his life that had come up in conversations during the five years Roxanne had known him, PJ's childhood and adolescence was a horror story shit show of drunken parents, an abusive home life, chaos and violence, and early deaths.

His marriage didn't sound much better with affairs, fights, long absences, money issues and other soap operas leaving much to be desired in a healthy or happy marriage. It appeared PJ had neither in his.

PJ was remarkably strong in character despite his upbringing and burdens. He lived by a honorable code of conduct with morals and ethics that meant something to him and he was a terrific fireman, having worked his way up to Captain in the ranks, well known in the department and around town as an excellent representative of the fire department.

PJ was also in remarkably great shape for a man his age, focused on working out to be able to do his job well. Roxanne did her part by walking several miles a day to stay in shape but now at 43 it was becoming a little harder to keep the thighs and hips in the form she enjoyed in younger years.

On the few occasions she and PJ went out together in public - an office party or other social event - they were often complimented as 'a good looking couple' even though they weren't actually together. They took the compliments in stride and were flattered by the well wishes but sometimes Roxanne wondered if she had made a mistake by removing PJ from the eligible list so early in their friendship.

Roxanne was cautious in her dating life and it was only in the last year or so that she felt she had finally moved on from her hurtful divorce. PJ didn't talk about his romantic life much unless he was trying to make a point to Roxanne regarding whatever dating issue she happened to be going through, but she had met a few women PJ dated along the way so she knew the guy wasn't gay!

"Hey!" Roxanne said with a smile, greeting PJ. "I was getting worried about you."

"Sorry I didn't check in," PJ replied sheepishly. "How was your Thanksgiving?"

"Great," she said. "My parents came up. We had reservations at the Greenville Inn and Tavern. And my sister and her family came on Saturday. We had reservations at the Sun Rise Lake Inn.

"Always a lot of eating involved with Thanksgiving," PJ grinned.

"What happened to you?" Roxanne asked with interest, taking a seat in one of the swivel chairs near the window.

"Funny story," PJ replied, taking a seat in the matching chair next to hers.

"Let's hear it!" Roxanne said with genuine curiosity.

PJ gave Roxanne a look of amusement. He realized that she hadn't changed much in appearance since the first day she moved into Willow Woods. Her naturally curly blond hair gave her an adult Shirley Temple look.

"Did I ever mention Elsa Phillips before?" PJ asked.