My Life Next Door

By: Huntley Fitzpatrick


“Hi there,” I say. Brilliant opener, Samantha.

Jase props himself up on an elbow, looking at me for a minute without saying anything. His face gets an unreadable expression, and I wish I could take back walking over.

Then he observes, “I’m guessing that’s a uniform.”

Crap. I’d forgotten I was still wearing it. I look down at myself, in my short blue skirt, puffy white sailor blouse, and jaunty red neck scarf.

“Bingo.” I’m completely embarrassed.

He nods, then smiles broadly at me. “It didn’t quite say Samantha Reed to me somehow. Where on earth do you work?” He clears his throat. “And why there?”

“Breakfast Ahoy. Near the dock. I like to keep busy.”

“The uniform?”

“My boss designed it.”

Jase scrutinizes me in silence for a minute or two, then says, “He must have a rich fantasy life.”

I don’t know how to respond to this, so I pull one of Tracy’s nonchalant moves and shrug.

“It pays well?” Jase asks, reaching for a wrench.

“Best tips in town.”

“I’ll bet.”

I have no clue why I’m having this conversation. And no idea how to continue it. He’s concentrating on unscrewing something or unwrenching something or whatever you call it. So I ask, “Is this your motorcycle?”

“My brother Joel’s.” He stops working and sits up, as though it would be impolite to continue if we’re actually carrying on a conversation. “He likes to cultivate that whole ‘born to be wild’ outlaw image. Prefers it to the jock one, although he is, in fact, a jock. Says he winds up with smarter girls that way.”

I nod, as if I’d know. “Does he?”

“I’m not sure.” Jase’s forehead creases. “The image-cultivation thing has always seemed kind of fake-o and manipulative to me.”

“So, you don’t have some persona?” I sit down in the grass next to the driveway.

“Nope. What you see is what you get.” He grins at me again.

What I see, frankly, up close and in daylight, is pretty nice. In addition to the sun-streaked, wavy chestnut hair and even white teeth, Jase Garrett has green eyes, and one of those quirky mouths that look like they are always about to smile. Plus this steady-on, I-have-no-problem-looking-you-in-the-eye gaze. Oh my.

I glance around, try to think of something to say. Finally: “Pretty quiet around here today.”

“I’m babysitting.”

I look around again. “Where’s the baby? In the toolbox?”

He tips his head at me, acknowledging the joke. “Naptime,” he explains. “George and Patsy. Mom’s grocery shopping. It takes her hours.”

“I’ll bet.” Prying my eyes from his face, I notice his T-shirt is sticky with sweat at the collar and under the arms.

“Are you thirsty?” I ask.

Broad smile. “I am. But I’m not about to take my life in my hands and ask you to get me something to drink. I know your mom’s new boyfriend is a marked man for ordering you to serve.”

“I’m thirsty too. And hot. My mom makes good lemonade.” I stand up and start backing away.

“Samantha.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Come back, okay?”

I look at him a second, nod, then go into the house, shower, thereby discovering that Tracy’s perfidiously used up all my conditioner again, change into shorts and a tank top, and come back with two huge plastic cups full of lemonade and clinking ice.

When I walk up the driveway, Jase has his back to me, doing something to one of the wheels, but he turns as my flip-flops slap close.

I hand him the lemonade. He looks at it the way I’m realizing Jase Garrett looks at everything—carefully, noticing.

“Wow. She even freezes little pieces of lemon peel and mint in the ice cubes. And makes them out of lemonade.”

“She’s kind of a perfectionist. Watching her make this is like science lab.”

He drains the entire thing in one gulp, then reaches for the other cup.

“That’s mine,” I say.

“Oh, jeez. Of course. Sorry. I am thirsty.”

I extend my arm with the lemonade. “You can have it. There’s always more.”

He shakes his head. “I would never deprive you.”

I feel my stomach do that weird little flip-flop thing you hear about. Not good. This is our second conversation. Not good at all, Samantha.

Just then I hear the roar of a car pulling into our driveway. “Yo, Samantha!”

It’s Flip. He cuts the engine, then strides over to us.

“Hey, Flip,” Jase calls.

“You know him?”

“He dated my sister Alice last year.”

Flip immediately says to me, “Don’t tell Tracy.”

Jase glances at me for clarification.

“My sister’s very possessive,” I explain.

“Hugely,” Flip adds.

“Resents her boyfriends’ past girlfriends,” I say.

“Big-time,” agrees Flip.

“Niiice,” Jase says.

Flip looks defensive. “But she is loyal. No sleeping with my tennis partner.”

Jase winces. “You knew what you were getting into with Alice, man.”