The sun shines brightly as I step off the bus. Summer vacation started barely a week ago and it was already beautiful out.
I begin walking the several blocks to my house, tired but upbeat after my first day of work. I found out that I had gotten my very first job the afternoon of my graduation. Mr. Gottlieb, who owned a small ice cream parlor across town, was looking for an assistant. My interview was only a few days prior to graduation and honestly, I thought I had screwed it up. I stammered my way through, barely able to meet old Mr. Gottlieb’s scowling eyes. But he must have sensed my can-do attitude and believed me when I told him I had a good work ethic because he called during my graduation lunch to offer me the job.
Mr. Gottlieb was hard to impress, but I’m sure he noticed how much effort I put in on my first day, despite never ceasing to scowl.
I turned the corner onto my street, lost in happy thoughts of my impressive first day of work, and noticed a moving truck outside the house next door to mine. Old Mr. Reed has been trying to find a new tenant for a couple months. Guess he finally found someone to rent it to.
Walking up my driveway, I tried to get a glimpse into the house next door to see what the new neighbors were like. The houses in my neighborhood were long and skinny. They sat close together on narrow lots. Our driveway ran perpendicular to the driveway next door, separated only by a chain link fence.
Slowing down, I attempt to peer into the open front door when a voice calls out to me; one that makes me freeze with pure dread.
“Kyle Finnegan, the bitch himself!”
Turning toward the voice, I see Stanley Pachis striding toward me from around the back of the house. The sneer on his face brings back a flood of bad memories from my first three years of high school: constant mocking, being tripped in the halls, smacks to the back of the head, quick punches to the groin and stomach in P.E.; all delivered with the same sneer he wore now.
“The fuck are you doing here, fag?” He asks, approaching the fence.
“I- I live here,” I stammer back, still not quite believing he’s standing in front of me. Looking up at him, I remember how much he used to intimidate me just by his size alone. My 5’6 skinny frame is dwarfed by his 6’2 muscular one.
“No fucking way! Looks like we’re neighbors now.” His sneer slowly shifts into a sadistic grin.
My body begins to feel like it’s shutting down. There’s no way God could be so cruel as to allow the asshole that tormented me throughout most of high school to move in next door.
He snorts, looking at my clothes. “You haven’t changed a bit, fairy. What the fuck are you wearing?”
My face reddens with embarrassment.
“It’s my work uniform,” I tell him and look away.
I had liked my striped polo shirt with its bright, cotton candy colors and matching paper hat when it had been given to me. It was a festive outfit. But now, with Stanley mocking me to my face, I feel self-conscious wearing it.
“Oh my bad, I thought you just decided to advertise how gay you are,” he says and begins to laugh.
“I’m not fucking gay, asshole,” I shout furiously. He holds his hands up in fake surrender, grinning at my denial.
“Whatever you have to tell yourself man.”
I frown at him, about to cut the conversation off so I can escape inside when my mom’s car pulls into the driveway. Our heads turn as she parks the car and exits. Sauntering toward us, I hear Stanley mutter, “Holy shit,” under his breath in wonder.
I glance toward him as he takes in the sight of my mom, clearly impressed with what he sees, and a scowl crosses my face. I’m used to men checking out my mom. She’s a very attractive woman, possessing a curvaceous figure and large breasts. I once overheard a couple of kids who live down the street refer to her as a MILF as they biked by our house. But seeing this jerk ogling her turns my stomach sour.
“Hello, sweetheart,” mom greets me when she reaches us. She leans over to quickly peck my cheek, then tilts her head towards Stanley.
“Who’s this now?”
Stanley interjects before I can answer. “An old friend of Kyle’s and your new neighbor.” He flashes her a charming, boyish smile. The same one he used to use on all the teachers when trying to get out of trouble.
“Well, it’s very nice to meet you then. I’m Julie, Kyle’s mom.”
She sticks her hand out over the fence and he grasps it, delivering a quick shake. “Stanley Pachis, it’s a pleasure meeting you.”
“Pachis, hmm? That’s an interesting last name.”
“It’s Greek,” he tells her. “Means ‘big’ and ‘thick’.” His smile grows just a bit more.
“Clearly not very apt though,” she laughs, gesturing toward his lean muscular body.
“Oh it is, but only where it counts.”
A beat passes as what he said hangs in the air before he raises his arms and gives a mock show of flexing his muscles.
They start laughing, breaking the tension caused by his potentially lewd comment. Watching them causes anger and jealousy to well up kaçak iddaa inside me.
“So, you and Kyle know each other then?” she asks him, laughter still in her voice.
“Oh, Kyle and I go way back,” he answers with fake enthusiasm. “We went to high school together. Good times, right bud?” He reaches over and thumps me a little too hard on the back. A surprised grunt slips from my mouth and I see him smirk at me.
“How nice! You didn’t graduate this year, did you?”
“No, I graduated just last year.”
“Oh,” she says, taken aback. “Wouldn’t have thought you were only 19.”
“Actually, I’ll be 21 at the end of the summer. I had so much fun in school that I decided to stick around a couple of extra years,” he jokes.
In reality, he’s just so fucking stupid that he got held back. Twice.
“That makes more sense. Didn’t think you looked the right age to be that recent of a high school graduate.”
“I could say the same about you,” he replies, giving her a smile.
He places his hands on the fence, locking his elbows as he leans closer to her. “You look too young to be the mom of a recent high school graduate. I almost mistook you for his sister at first.”
I snort and mom casts me a dirty look.
“I just turned 36 not too long ago. I was just about Kyle’s age when I had him.”
“Well, you’re definitely the best looking mom I’ve seen.” Again, he gives her that charming smile that makes me want to punch him in his smug face.
She smiles back bashfully, tucking a strand of blond hair behind her ear. “You’re too much.”
I roll my eyes before looking a bit closer at Stanley. Is he flexing his muscles? The snug, white tank top already shows off his toned arms and chest. Not to mention the color contrasts sharply with his olive skin tone, making them stand out even more. But of course he’d try and show off as much as possible. Douche bags are just like that.
As Stanley continues chatting with mom, an uneasy feeling settles into my stomach, watching how well they seem to get along.
Suddenly a voice rings out from inside the house. “Stanley, get in here and help me with the mattresses!”
“Shit, I should go help him. It was nice meeting you though. Hopefully I’ll see you around?” He flashes her his smile one last time.
“Absolutely, it was nice meeting you too, Stanley,” mom returns a warm smile of her own before heading toward our house.
I follow her to the back door, glancing behind me when I don’t hear Stanley walking away and see him still standing by the fence. He has his hands in his pockets and his eyes roam over mom’s body in admiration. We make eye contact and he gives me a smirk before flipping me off. Mom unlocks the back door and pushes her way inside. I quickly follow, but Stanley continues to stand there smirking, until I shut the door behind me.
It’s late in the morning a few days later when I climb out of bed and stretch. This was my first day off since beginning my new job and I’d chosen to sleep in, my own personal reward for all the hard work I was doing. But the noises my empty stomach is making finally forces me out of bed.
Opening the door, the smell of chocolate hits me immediately and I follow it down to the kitchen where I find mom washing dishes in the sink. A big plate of fudge brownies sit on the counter next to her. Mom’s an excellent cook, but she’s an even better baker. My mouth begins to water. They still look warm.
“Morning,” I mumble, maneuvering toward the counter.
“Good morning, sweetheart.”
I reach to pluck a brown off the plate when her voice stops me. “Uh-uh, those aren’t for you!”
“Then who are they for?”
“Stanley and his family.”
“What? Why?” I ask in disbelief. “They only just moved in.”
“That’s exactly why, Kyle. I thought we could bring them over as sort of a ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ gesture.”
“You didn’t make anything for the Dobson’s when they moved in a couple years ago.”
“That’s because Annette Dobson is a cow. Stanley was very lovely when I met him the other day and I’m sure his parents are too.”
It bothers me that she referred to Stanley as “lovely”. That asshole is anything but lovely.
Mom notices my frown and lets out an exasperated sigh. “Don’t be like this Kyle. Can you please just go get changed so we can bring these over to them soon?”
“Am I allowed to at least have something to eat first?”
“Fine, there’s stuff for a sandwich in the fridge. Just don’t take too long.”
After eating and changing clothes, we leave out the back to head next door. Mom is dressed casually but I can see that she’s done her hair and make-up. She didn’t do all that just for the Pachis, did she?
In the yard, both of us could see the detached garage at the end of the Pachis’ driveway was open. It had been turned into a workout room and Stanley was in there now, doing bench presses while music blared from a speaker. Walking down the driveway, I notice mom glancing back into the open garage. Her gaze lingers on the figure inside kaçak bahis a little too long, which leaves me feeling anxious.
We approach the Pachis’ front door and ring the bell. About a minute passes before we rang it again, but no one answers.
“Well, guess no one’s home,” I say, turning to go back to our house.
“Don’t be silly, Kyle. We just saw Stanley in the garage. Maybe his parents are preoccupied with something.”
“So, let’s just come back another time. Or better yet, let’s not come back at all and keep the brownies for us to enjoy.”
“That’s not very nice, sweetheart,” she scolds. “Let’s just pop around back and give these to Stanley. I don’t want them going stale.”
She climbs down the stairs and starts up their driveway. I reluctantly follow, grumbling to myself but she ignores me.
The music from inside the garage gets louder the closer we approach. Stanley has moved on from bench presses and now sits shirtless doing bicep curls. Concentrating on counting each rep, he doesn’t notice us until we stop at the entrance.
He glances up and smiles wide.
“Well, look who it is!”
Placing the dumbbell down, he taps his phone, cutting off the music. My ears ring in the silence.
“Sorry about that, I like loud music when I’m working out,” he says, standing up. A sheen of sweat coats his upper body and his dark shoulder length hair is tied back in a low knot.
“Oh, that’s ok,” mom replies. “You have good taste in music. I used to listen to Wu-Tang Clan all the time in high school.”
“No shit?” Stanley raises his eyebrows in surprise.
“Oh yeah, I went to see them in concert my senior year. It was a wild night but a lot of fun.”
“Damn, never would have pegged you as a fan of theirs.”
“Well don’t be so quick to make assumptions. People will surprise you.”
“I wonder how else you’ll surprise me.” He gives her a cocky grin and she smiles back.
They hold eye contact for a moment before mom looks down at the brownies, as if suddenly remembering why we’re over here.
“Anyway, I wanted to bring you these,” she steps forward to hand him the plate. “Well, you and your family.” I resent the use of the word “I”, as if she were by herself.
“Thank you so much, Julie.” Stanley reaches out to grab the plate, his hand brushing hers as he takes it. “These look amazing!”
“They’re just a little welcome to the neighborhood present.”
With the brownies handed off, I think we can finally leave when Stanley invites us inside.
“Would either of you like a drink while I put these away?”
“I’d love something to drink,” mom answers before I can reject his offer.
We follow Stanley up the back porch and into his kitchen. There’s still some boxes stacked around, and scattered utensils litter the table.
“Excuse the mess,” he apologizes. “We haven’t had a chance to completely unpack yet. I was more focused on setting up the equipment in the garage than anything else.” He places the plate onto the counter. “Didn’t want to miss out on the pump any longer than I had to.”
I could only roll my eyes at how obnoxious he sounded.
“It’s fine, and I can understand why someone so in shape as you wouldn’t want to miss out on ‘the pump’,” she laughs, and he shoots her a grin as he moves to grab some glasses.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch mom discreetly checking Stanley out as he pours them both some lemonade he snags from the fridge. Her eyes quickly traverse his muscular body before looking back up to his face when he turns toward her.
He hands mom her glass then holds up his own. “To new neighbors,” he toasts.
“To new neighbors,” she repeats, clinking his glass with hers before they both take a drink.
“So are your parents home?” Mom asks him. “I’d love to meet them.”
“Actually it’s just me and my dad, and he’s at work right now.”
“Wow, on a Sunday?”
“Yeah, he owns a butcher shop & deli. I’ve been working there with him since high school.”
“That must be a gruesome job, all that blood.”
“Eh, it’s not that bad. You get used to it.”
A sly grin crosses his face. “Besides, I got really good at handling tender meat.”
I could have gagged. I wanted to. But mom offers him a mischievous smile before placing her thumb and index finger on her chin in phony consideration.
“Hm, I don’t know,” she says, faux doubt heavy in her voice. She quickly scans him up and down. “You just seem too big to adequately handle something delicate like that.”
His smile grows, clearly pleased at her teasing nature.
“Oh you have no idea what I can do with these hands. They do excellent work and no one leaves unsatisfied with what I’ve given them.”
Panic fills my chest as their conversation begins to cross into flirting and I interject before mom has a chance to respond.
“Hey, when is Tim supposed to be coming home again?”
Mom reluctantly turns toward me. “I told you, his flight gets in tomorrow night at 8.”
I open my mouth to ask another question but she continues illegal bahis speaking. “And before you ask, he’ll be home three days before he has to fly out to Phoenix.”
“My fiancé,” she offers in explanation, turning back to Stanley. “He travels often for work.”
He begins taking the plastic wrap off the plate of brownies. “When’s the big day?”
“It hasn’t been set, we’ve been engaged for about a month but Tim travels so much we haven’t had a chance to sit down and make any plans.”
“You must get lonely with him being away so often.”
“It can be frustrating sometimes but, honestly, I’m kind of used to it. I do administrative work from home, so I’m by myself most days.”
“Really?” Stanley takes a bite of a brownie as he appears to consider this bit of information carefully, making my stomach clench in apprehension.
“Yeah, but Tim promises he won’t be traveling as much when we’re married.”
“And he’ll keep his promise,” I add. “Because Tim’s a really good guy.”
“Yeah, I guess he is.” Mom nods her head in agreement.
That was the truth too. Mom had a long history of dating shitty men, going back to my dad who took off the moment he found out she was pregnant. Tim was the first guy in a long time who I actually liked. The only reason I’m even going to college in the fall is because Tim offered to help pay for it.
“Well, I’m sure once you guys get hitched he’ll make good on his promise,” Stanley says as he finishes chewing. “Can’t imagine he’d want to be away so often once he’s got you locked down. I know I wouldn’t.” A slow smile spreads across his face.
What the hell is with him? How can he keep flirting with her? We’re literally talking about her fiancé.
“Guess I’ll find out,” she smiles back. “You like the brownies?”
“They’re perfect! Would you like one?”
“No thank you, I’m watching my figure. I’m glad you’re enjoying them though.”
“What do you mean you’re watching your figure? You look pretty damn good to me.”
“Stop,” she says, blushing. “I’m not nearly as in shape as you are.”
“You’re telling me you don’t work out at all?”
“I take a spin class, but that’s it. I don’t hit the gym intensely like you do.”
“I could train you if you want?” he offers.
“Oh no,” mom says, holding up her hands. “That’d be way too much for me. I could never keep up with you.”
“Ok then, we’ll just have to figure out another way to burn some calories together.” He winks at her and anger floods through me. I’ve had it with this fucking guy.
“Mom, can we go already? You said you’d drive me to the mall.” I meant to sound forceful but it comes out as more of a whine.
“Kyle, don’t be rude. I said I’d take you today and I will.”
“But they close soon!”
“If you had your license you could drive yourself, couldn’t you?”
I make a face at her. She knows how scared of driving I am.
“It’s cool, I should go finish my sets anyway. I have to be down at the shop in a few hours.”
“Alright, well I hope you and your dad enjoy the brownies.” She almost sounds disappointed. “And again, welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Thanks, we’re really happy to be here.” He gives her a final smile as she walks out the door. As I’m following her, a sharp blow catches me in the side.
I falter, making a gruff noise as I try to balance myself. Mom looks back at me and I feel Stanley clamp a hand on my shoulder.
“Whoa, steady there pal.”
“Careful sweety,” she says, looking forward again.
Stanley squeezes my shoulder tightly, using as much pressure as his large arm will allow. For a brief second, my shoulder screams in intense agony before he releases me with a shove. I stumble forward in shock, my shoulder throbbing. The pain, while extreme, was so brief that I hadn’t even had a chance to scream. I nervously look back and Stanley stands in the doorway, arms crossed against his sculpted chest as a dark scowl marres his face. I turn away and feel my still aching shoulder, a reminder of what he’s capable of.
Tim came home the following day and we all returned to our normal routine. Mom didn’t even mention going over to Stanley’s. I took that as a sign she didn’t think of it as anything important until the day after Tim left for Phoenix on another work trip.
Mom and I were in the kitchen. She was watching a YouTube video, trying to learn how to replace the hinge on one of the cabinets. It had broken this morning, leaving the door hanging ajar. She stood at the counter, glancing between her phone and the supplies splayed out before her. I registered a knock at the front door but was too busy on my Switch to get up and answer it.
After a few seconds, I hear mom sigh. “Guess I’ll get it.”
She leaves the kitchen to go open the door. I’m so immersed in the game, it takes me a few seconds to process the animated voices at the front of the house. Setting down the Switch, I look up from my seat at the table as mom leads Stanley into the kitchen, a covered tray in his hands.
“This is really great, thank you,” mom was saying.
“Of course, I had to return the gesture.”
I scramble to move the Switch as he thunks the tray down in front of me. “What’s all this?” I ask, peering at it.