The trash smells disgusting. “God, did something crawl in there and die?” my friend Clara says beside me as I wheel the trashcan out to the curb. She’s stayed over for horror movie night, a monthly tradition we’ve held since we were twelve.
I hold my breath, face scrunched up tight. “Yeah, whatever that thing was my mom tried to feed us last night.”
“What was that?” Clara says.
“Is that some kind of bird, because if it is, it should be hunted until it’s extinct.”
I laugh. Poor Clara. Her family is strictly meat and potatoes. She never even saw a Brussel sprout until we met. She thought it was the cutest little baby cabbage until she actually tried it. Now she calls them devil warts.
“It’s made from soy beans, I think.”
The sun has just risen. There’s a mist curling off the cement as the day warms up. The sky, with its layers of vibrant orange and yellow, looks like candy corn. A beautiful fall day.
The sprinklers come on with a hiss that startles me at first before I realize what made that sound. We have to sprint across the lawn in bare feet to get to the newspaper before it’s ruined. No matter how many times my mom complains, the guy who delivers our newspaper always tosses it onto the lawn instead of the front porch.
I’m shaking off the water droplets when I hear the deep rumble of a pickup truck. I watch as it pulls into Sam’s—my neighbor’s—driveway. But my neighbor drives a Toyota Prius, so I know it’s not him, unless he got a new car. With his office geek appearance, he doesn’t really seem like a truck kind of guy, so I doubt it.
The engine turns off and it takes a minute for the driver to exit the vehicle. Then Deacon steps out of the driver’s side and my heart explodes in my chest.
“Oh my god,” I say, standing there, dumbfounded.
Clara turns toward my neighbor’s house. “Holy shit, is that—”
“Yes, it is. Don’t stare!” I grab her by the shoulders and twist her body to face me.
“Pretend we’re talking,” I say.
“We are talking.”
“Just stand there so I can stare without being obvious I’m staring,” I say as I watch him over her shoulder.
She grumbles. “Fine. But hurry up. It’s freezing out here.”
Deacon is Sam’s brother. He used to own the house, then sold it to Sam after he married. I remember sitting in my old tree house, watching as he loaded his boxes into the U-Haul, half tempted to go next door and put each box back in the house so he couldn’t leave. That was a couple years ago. I haven’t seen him since. Until now.
He still looks just as amazing as he did back then. A little more mature, maybe, and thicker with muscle than I remember. Clearly that confident swagger never went away. That’s easy to tell even at this distance as he goes to the back door of the truck.
What’s not easy to see is what’s in the back seat of the truck. I squint to see better. Is that the top of a car seat I see in the back window?
“Is that …” I start to say, but get distracted and don’t finish the thought.
“Is that what?” Clara says, starting to turn around, but I stop her.
“Don’t look,” I say. “He’ll see us watching him.”
“Then tell me what’s going on!”
I keep watching, holding my breath. Does he have a baby? My heart is thumping so hard I can feel it in my teeth. I stand on the tips of my toes, looking through the mist of sprinkler spray. When I take a step closer, a stream of water hits me dead on in the face. I yelp, and Clara screams as we try to get out of way. Deacon looks over at us, and I pretend I wasn’t looking.
When we’re out of the way of the sprinkler stream, I glance at him again. That’s when Deacon pulls a baby from a car seat.
“Oh my god, he has a baby now,” I say.
Clara gets this irritated antsy look on her face. “Can I please look now.”
Deacon was twenty-five years old when I first started noticing him as something more than just my neighbor like all the rest. I was thirteen. I had the biggest crush on him. It was his smile that first attracted me to him. Some neighbor kids and I were on skateboards out in front of my house. One of the boys I hung out with at the time—my first crush—had built a quarter pipe for us to skate on, and we’d drag it out into the street during the summer while most people were at work and we didn’t have to worry about traffic. I was too embarrassed to wear a helmet because I though it made me look stupid, and I wanted to look good for my crush, so I’d taken it off. Well, like a dumbass, I fell. Not in some big, epic way while doing a trick either. I was skating on a flat surface when my wheel caught a rock and I went face first into the cement.