I finally found my sleep number. It’s six. As in, six bottles of beer.
—Things to live by
1 year ago
“Will you please, please, please mow the lawn, Andrew? Please,” my next-door neighbor begged.
She was begging her husband…brother…lover…roommate? Hell, I didn’t know what he was. They didn’t look anything alike, so I was inclined to think that they weren’t brother and sister. I had only heard him call her Channing. But they sure as hell didn’t act like lovers…or even husband and wife. Their relationship wasn’t a normal one. It was as if they only tolerated one another, which was why I leaned towards roommate, more than anything.
They worked opposite shifts.
She was a nurse or something at the hospital at nights; based on the black scrubs she left the house in every night. He worked in an office during the day, as a manager or something.
She worked outside a lot, making their home the best looking on the block, while all I ever saw him do was play video games from his chair in the living room.
She was always the one who bought the groceries. She was always the one who washed the car. She was also the one who mowed the lawn. She got the mail. The list goes on and on.
Except this day. She looked…rough. Like she hadn’t slept in days. Her red/brown hair was in a messy bun on the top of her head, tendrils falling out all around her face. She was wearing a pair of sweatpants that said, Destin, FL. on them, and a white tank top that showed off a slight pudge that was adorably cute on her.
She was on the heavier side than what I normally went for, but there was something about my little neighbor that made me want her. Hell, even right now she was hot.
I was on a creeper under my truck, changing out the oil. No, not a creeper as in a creepy person, but a flat board-like device on wheels that let me lay on my back and move around under the car.
Our houses were small, and our yards were even smaller. Which meant I was about fifteen feet away from her and I could hear every word.
Especially when Andrew, the douchebag, told her, “Fuck off, I had to work all day.”
“I know, Andrew, but I have someone coming to quote how much it’ll be to fix the foundation, and I can’t have them look at the foundation if they can’t see it. So we have to mow the lawn. Please, I feel really awful today,” she pleaded.
She did sound awful, that was for sure. Her voice was nasally, and she coughed every couple of seconds. My guess would be the flu.
“Sorry, sister dearest, but I really am tired. Reschedule the appointment,” he told her. “Maybe next week when you can mow the lawn yourself.”
So…he was her brother. Good to know. I’d been wondering about that for nearly five months of living next to them. I could’ve, of course, found out. But I was supposed to act like I didn’t know anything about anybody. Which would’ve been hard to do with her. She had this…magnetism that made me want to know every little detail.
With that he took his ‘tired self’ inside. It was only minutes later that I saw him sit down on the chair I could see through the living room window. He slipped on a pair of headphones, took a sip of his beer, and started playing.
Going back to my work to distract me on how irate it made me feel that he wouldn’t help his own sister out when she was sick, I was surprised to hear the sound of the lawn mower going.
Scooting out from under the car completely, I found the stubborn woman mowing the lawn. She made two passes right across the part of the yard that was closest to the foundation before she physically had to stop.
I was on my feet without conscious thought, watching her to make sure she was okay. When she finally called it quits and stopped the lawn mower in the middle of the yard, my alarm became warranted.
She bent over, coughing and wheezing, and it was then that I walked over to her, scared shitless.
“Hey, are you okay?” I asked her from a far enough distance back, as not to scare her.
She looked up, giving me only her light green eyes, and nodded. “Yes, I just have asthma. And I’m pretty sure I have a cold. Normally, I wear a face mask, but I forgot.”
I remembered the facemask. She looked ridiculous with it on, and I’d always wondered why she wore it. Asthma was a good explanation, though.
“Do you need something?” I asked in concern when she dropped to her knees.
“In-inhaler,” she wheezed. “P-purse on table.”
I left her there, on her knees, and walked straight into their house. The little fucker playing Call of Duty didn’t even look up as I walked straight through the living room to the kitchen table. Grabbing the pink polka dotted purse, I dumped its contents on the table.
Fishing through the sheer amount of shit, I finally found two inhalers, one brown and one red.
Fisting them both in my hand, I walked out of the house, directly between the TV and the man playing his war game. He snarled, but didn’t say anything as I hurried back outside, finding the woman on her hands and knees, trying her hardest to take a deep breath.
“Red or brown?” I asked as I dropped down to my knees beside her.
Her answer was to grab the brown one, uncap it, and take two puffs.
Long moments later, her breathing began to slow, and she pulled a long, deep pull of air into her lungs. She repeated this two more times as she looked at the grass. On her third deep inhale, her head finally lifted, and her eyes locked on my own. Then she froze.
Yeah, that was normally the reaction I got out of people. At least lately.
I was undercover for the Benton Police Department trying to take down Varian Strong. Strong was a ‘suspected’ rapist, and dealer in the area. I said ‘suspected’ very loosely. We all knew he did it, we just couldn’t prove it. The BPD had six women come forward with their suspicions, yet not one single shred of evidence could point towards him. He’d been questioned, warrants had been served, and wiretaps were put on his phone. Which had been monitored nearly 24/7 for three months before they made the decision to put someone undercover in his construction business.
What better way to do that than making someone look like a druggie wanting his next hit of Meth? Someone desperate. Someone who’d look the other way when their boss did something shady.
Yeah, that’s what I looked like. Long, shaggy hair down to my shoulders. Bruises and needle sticks from sterilized needles at the bends of my elbows and in the webbing of my fingers. Shitty clothes that hung off my form. I was big though, no doubt about it. I couldn’t hide the muscle with anything else but baggy clothes.
I looked like a vagrant.
Then her eyes locked on the scar on my neck. The one I’d gotten when I was sixteen, when a gang member from my hometown slit my throat for his initiation into a gang. A gang that I was trying to get out of. A gang that didn’t let people just leave.
I’d survived having my throat sliced open because of a police officer. The local gang officer that’d cruised the gang’s territory trying to keep gang activity to a minimum. He’d saved me with his quick thinking, and kept an eye on me for the duration of my high school years.
Oh, and married my single mother.
He was also now my stepfather.
Trying to do him proud, I’d joined the Coast Guard, and went to school to get my paramedic degree. After six years in the coast guard, I got out when my mom got sick, and got triple certified as a firefighter, paramedic, and police officer.
I moved to Benton because of its nearly nonexistent gang activity. I didn’t want to deal with gangs. But I did want to make the town, and the surrounding area, better.
Going undercover wasn’t my original goal; but, overtime, it was certainly a bonus. I became good at being a different person. Or maybe I was just that person, trying not to be me. I mean I was in a gang for five years. I lived on the streets while my mother worked her ass off at a diner, working the night shift. I was most definitely not supervised, which is what led to my destruction at the ripe old age of eleven.
“T-thank you,” She said after a while, finally finding her voice.
“No problem,” I said and walked away, leaving her there in the grass.
Her eyes were terror filled, and I knew she wouldn’t be able to walk with me that close.
She was in a vulnerable position: sick and scared. I gave her the only reassurance I could. My back.