My Life Next Door

By: Huntley Fitzpatrick

I glance back and forth between them.

Flip says, “So…I didn’t know you two knew each other.”

“We don’t,” I say, at the same time Jase answers, “Yup.”

“Okay. Whatever.” Flip waves his hands, clearly uninterested. “So where’s Trace?”

“I’m supposed to tell you she’s busy all day,” I admit. My sister: master of playing hard to get. Even when she’s already gotten.

“Cool. So where is she really?”

“Stony Bay Beach.”

“I’m there.” Flip turns to go.

“Bring her People magazine and a coconut FrozFruit,” I call after him. “Then you’re golden.”

When I turn back to Jase, he’s again beaming at me. “You’re nice.” He sounds pleased, as if he hadn’t expected this aspect of my personality.

“Not really. Better for me if she’s happy. Then she borrows fewer of my clothes. You know sisters.”

“Yup. But mine don’t borrow my clothes.”

Abruptly I hear a loud screaming, wailing, banshee-like sound. I jump, wide-eyed.

Jase points to the baby monitor plugged in by the garage door. “George.” He starts heading into the house, then turns back, gesturing me to follow.

Just like that, I’m going into the Garretts’, after all these years.

Thank God Mom works late.

The first thing that hits me is the color. Our kitchen’s white and silver-gray everywhere—the walls, the granite countertops, the Sub-Zero, the Bosch dishwasher. The Garretts’ walls are sunny yellow. The curtains are that same yellow with green leaves on them. But everything else is a riot of different colors. The fridge is covered with paintings and drawings, with more taped on the walls. Cans of Play-Doh and stuffed animals and boxes of cereal clutter the green Formica counters. Dishes teeter high in the sink. There’s a table big enough for all the Garretts to eat at, but not big enough to contain the piles of newspapers and magazines and socks and snack wrappers and swim goggles, half-eaten apples and banana peels.

George meets us before we’re halfway through the kitchen. He’s holding a large plastic triceratops, wearing nothing but a shirt that says Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. That’s to say, no pants, no underwear.

“Whoa, buddy.” Jase bends down, indicating the naked half of his brother with a wave of his hand. “What happened there?”

George, still tear-streaked but no longer screaming, takes a deep breath. He has wavy brown hair too, but the big eyes swimming with tears are blue. “I dreamed about black holes.”

“Gotcha.” Jase nods, straightening up. “Is the whole bed wet?”

George nods guiltily, then peeps under spiky damp eyelashes at me. “Who’s that?”

“The girl next door. Samantha. She probably knows all about black holes.”

George eyes me suspiciously. “Do you?”

“Well,” I say, “I, um, know that they’re stars that used up all their fuel and then collapsed inward, due to the pull of their own gravity, and, um, that once anything falls into them it disappears from the visible universe.”

George starts screaming again.

Jase scoops him up, bare bottom and all. “She also knows that there are none anywhere near Connecticut. Don’t you, Samantha?”

I feel horrible. “Not even in our universe,” I tell him hastily, although I’m pretty sure there’s one in the Milky Way.

“There’s one in the Milky Way,” sobs George.

“But that’s nowhere near Stony Bay.” Reaching out to pat him on the back, I inadvertently touch Jase’s hand, as he’s doing the same. I snatch mine away.

“So you’re completely safe, buddy.”

George’s cries descend into hiccups, then depart altogether under the influence of a lime Popsicle.

“I’m so, so sorry,” I whisper to Jase, declining the remaining Popsicle in the box, orange. Does anyone ever take the orange ones?

“How could you know?” he whispers back. “And how could I know you were an astrophysicist?”

“I went through a big stargazing phase.” My face heats, thinking of all the nights I sat on the roof, watching the stars…and the Garretts.

He raises an eyebrow at me, as though unclear why this would be embarrassing. The worst thing about being a blonde is that your entire body blushes—ears, throat, everything. Impossible to overlook.

There’s another wail from upstairs.

“That’ll be Patsy.” Jase starts for the stairs. “Wait here.”

“I’d better get home,” I say, although there’s really no reason to do that.

“No. Stay. I’ll just be a sec.”

I’m left with George. He sucks on his Popsicle meditatively for a few minutes, then asks, “Did you know that in space it’s very, very cold? And there’s no oxygen? And if an astronaut fell out of a shuttle without his suit he’d die right away?”

I’m a fast learner. “But that would never happen. Because astronauts are really, really careful.”

George gives me a smile, the same dazzling sweet smile as his big brother, although, at this point, with green teeth. “I might marry you,” he allows. “Do you want a big family?”