My Life Next Door

By: Huntley Fitzpatrick

He stretches out his legs, folding his arms behind his head, oh-so-comfortable in what is oh-so-not his territory. Despite this, I find myself telling him all about Clay Tucker. Maybe it’s because Tracy’s not home and Mom’s acting like a stranger. Maybe it’s because Tim is a waste and Nan is MIA. Maybe it’s something about Jase himself, the way he sits there calmly, waiting to hear the story, as though the hang-ups of some random girl are of interest to him. At any rate, I tell him.

After I finish, there’s a pause.

Finally, out of the half dark, his profile illuminated by the light from my window, he says, “Well, Samantha…you were introduced to this guy. It went downhill from there. That might make it justifiable homicide. From time to time, I’ve wanted to kill people I knew even less well…strangers in supermarkets.”

Am I on my roof with a psychopath? As I start to edge away, he continues. “Those people who walk up to my mom all the time, when she’s with our whole crowd, and say, ‘You know, there are ways to prevent this.’ As if having a big family was like, I don’t know, a forest fire, and they’re Smokey Bear. The ones who tell my dad about vasectomies and the high cost of college as if he has no clue about any of that. More than once I’ve wanted to punch them.”

Wow. I’ve never met a boy, at a school or anywhere, who cut through the small talk so quickly.

“It’s a good idea to keep your eye on the guys who think they know the one true path,” Jase says reflectively. “They might just mow you down if you’re in their way.”

I remember all my own mother’s vasectomy and college comments.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

Jase shifts, looking surprised. “Well, Mom says to pity them, feel sorry for anyone who thinks what they think is right should be some universal law.”

“What does your dad say?”

“He and I are on the same page there. So’s the rest of the family. Mom’s our pacifist.” He smiles.

A whoop of laughter sounds from the basketball court. I look over to see some boy grab some girl around the waist, whirling her around, then lowering her and clenching her to him.

“Why aren’t you down there?” I ask.

He looks at me a long time, again as though considering what to say. Finally: “You tell me, Samantha.”

Then he stands up, stretches, says good night, and climbs back down the trellis.

Chapter Four

In the morning light, brushing my teeth, doing my same old morning routine, looking at my same old face in the mirror—blond hair, blue eyes, freckles, nothing special—it’s easy to believe that it was a dream that I sat out in the darkness in my nightgown talking feelings with a stranger—a Garrett, no less.

During breakfast, I ask Mom where she met Clay Tucker, which gets me nowhere as she, preoccupied with vacuuming her way out the door, answers only, “At a political event.”

Since that’s pretty much all she goes to anymore, it hardly narrows things down.

I corner Tracy in the kitchen as she applies waterproof mascara in the mirror over our wet bar, prepping for a day at the beach with Flip, and tell her all about last night. Except the Jase-on-the-roof part.

“What’s the big deal?” she responds, leaning closer to her reflection. “Mom’s finally found someone who turns her on. If he can help the campaign, so much the better. You know how wiggy she already is about November.” She slides her mascara’ed eyes to mine. “Is this all about you and your fear of intimacy?”

I hate it when Tracy pulls that self-help, psychoanalytic garbage on me. Ever since her rebellious phase resulted in a year of therapy, she feels qualified to hang out her own shingle.

“No, it’s about Mom,” I insist. “She wasn’t herself. If you’d been here, you’d have seen.”

Tracy throws open her hands, the gesture taking in our completely updated kitchen, connected to our massive living room and the vast foyer. They’re all too big for three people, too grand, and make God knows what kind of statement. Our house is probably three times the size of the Garretts’. And there are ten of them. “Why would I be here?” she asks. “What is there for any of us here?”

I want to say “I’m here.” But I see her point. Our house contains all that’s high-end and high-tech and shiny clean. And three people who would rather be somewhere else.

Mom likes routines. This means we have certain meals on certain nights—soup and salad on Monday, pasta on Tuesday, steak on Wednesday—you get the idea. She keeps charts of our school activities on the wall, even if she doesn’t actually have time to attend them, and makes sure we don’t have too much unaccounted-for time during the summer. Some of her routines have fallen by the wayside since she got elected. Some have been amped up. Friday dinners at the Stony Bay Bath and Tennis Club remain sacrosanct.

The Stony Bay Bath and Tennis Club is the kind of building everyone in town would think was tacky if “everyone” didn’t want to belong to it. It was built fifteen years ago but looks like a Tudor castle. It’s in the hills above town, so there’s a great view of the river and the sound from both the Olympic and the Lagoon pools. Mom loves the B&T. She’s even on the board of directors. Which means that, thanks to swim team, I was roped into lifeguarding there last summer and am signed up again this year, twice a week starting next Monday. That’s two whole days at the B&T, plus Friday dinners.