Excerpt from the forthcoming novel THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A NEIGHBOR
Sam was at the edge of his front yard near the road with his garden hose, misting his sickly lawn when the F-150 pickup truck belonging to the neighbors on Camilla’s other side pulled into their driveway. Sam didn’t pay them much attention until he realized the dude (what did Camilla say his name was?) was walking along the shoulder of the road, coming his way. The dude’s wife stayed by their truck with their baby crooked in one arm. At first Sam thought she was watching her husband, perhaps curious, or perhaps worried about how her man’s encounter with their new black neighbor would go down. Then he realized the woman’s face was angled toward the front of Camilla’s house. From her vantage point she couldn’t see that Camilla’s Mini Cooper wasn’t in her carport. When the dude crossed the midway point between Sam’s driveway and Camilla’s Sam thought he saw the woman’s shoulders sag in relief. She carried her baby into the house.
“Hey, how’s it going there?” the dude smiled as he sloshed through the damp grass.
Sam quit watering his lawn and said, “Not bad. You?”
“Not bad either, man. I’m Drew Wallace from down the road right there.” He hooked his left thumb over his shoulder in the direction of his truck while he stepped forward with his right hand extended.
Sam shook the offered hand. “I’m Sam.”
The dude—Drew—wore a short-sleeved polo style shirt with a covered wagon logo stitched over the left breast pocket and khakis slacks, now with wet cuffs. He was on the skinny side and looked to be in his late twenties or a youthful thirty-something. His eyes were the color of ice.
“Hey Sam, nice to meet you. We’ve been meaning to drop over and say hey but we’ve been kinda busy lately. Well, I’ve been busy. Just started managing my second store and they’re about to run me ragged.”
“What kind of store?” Sam asked, though he didn’t care.
“The Chuck Wagon Grill. Ever been there?”
“Can’t say I have.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing, man. We’re better than ground beef, every day of the week. That’s our motto. We got stores all over the Carolinas and in Tennessee. My two are over in Ahoskie and Winton.”
“So what do you do, my man?”
“I write for a couple of web magazines.”
“Well hey man, that’s all right. You work from home?”
“Yep.” Sam figured that was the question Drew wanted to get to. Probably he and his wife had seen his Jeep at home on most weekdays and had been taking bets on whether he was a drug dealer or a pimp. Sam looked over his shoulder at the dry section of his lawn, hoping Drew would catch the hint.
Drew said, “Well man, I see you’re busy and all so I’ll let you get to it. Might be easier though if you got yourself a sprinkler.”
“I’ve got one. It’s a nice day so I figured I’d stay out and enjoy it.”
“Well that’s all right then. I don’t blame you one bit. For me, fast food doesn’t take a day off, and being manager I never know when I’ll need to go in to handle something. But maybe we’ll get together sometime and crack open a couple of Buds.”
“Cool, Drew,” Sam said, hoping like hell that day would never come.
Drew didn’t turn around and go back home to his wife and kid. Instead he said, “So it looks like the residents of these three houses here have all met now.” Before Sam could respond Drew said, “Lori and me saw you and Camilla out yesterday doing yard work together.”
The glint in Drew’s pale eyes suggested he wanted to say more, maybe something like, “And we saw you go into her house last evening, and her go to your place this morning.”
“We’ve met,” Sam said.
A wicked grin split Drew’s face. “So what do you think, my man? She’s something else, isn’t she?”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean that face, that body—Jesus Christ, man—I’d help her with yard work too if I didn’t think Lori’d slit my throat in my sleep.”
Playing dumb, Sam said, “Lori doesn’t like her?”
“Lori’s jealous enough to piss green over her. But it’s my fault, I guess.”
For the first time since Drew set foot on his property Sam was interested in what he had to say. “How so?”
“Well, when she moved next door we went over to say hello, just like I’m doing with you now. I think Lori was jealous right off the bat because Camilla’s loaded, you know? I mean Lori’s got a nice rack, especially with the baby, but Camilla…Jesus Christ man, she’s got some headlights.”
“You said it’s your fault. So your wife…Lori…is mad at you because Camilla’s attractive, or more well endowed?”
“Not for that, no…” Drew looked over his shoulder toward his house as if he thought Lori might be watching and could somehow hear him. Satisfied that the coast was clear he looked back at Sam. Smiling, he lowered voice and said, “Man, let me tell you: the night after we met Camilla I put it on Lori like I hadn’t done since we was in high school. But the thing is Sam, women know. It’s their nature to be suspicious like that. So Lori knew exactly why I went bull on her. After that she wouldn’t speak to me for two days, and when she finally did, the first thing she told me was I’d better keep my distance from that man-baiting slut. That’s exactly what she said. So you’re a lucky man, because you’re single. You get to play in Camilla’s grass all you want to—if she lets you, I mean.” With that Drew gave him a go get ‘em tiger slap on the arm. Sam pushed away thoughts of a return right cross.
To get off a subject that was none of this dude’s business Sam said, “How long have you lived in your house?”
“Almost two years now. Man, time flies. Feels like we just closed on the place. Well hey, I got to go for real now,” Drew said. “The dinner bell will be ringing in a minute. Nice meeting you, Sam.”
“You too,” Sam lied.
Drew took three steps and stopped and turned back. “Oh hey, have you met Childs?”
“Barton Childs. He’s your neighbor on your other side. A wanna-be farmer and king-sized asshole. We tried to be neighborly with him but he wasn’t interested. From what I heard in Millville his family used to own all the land on this road and a couple other spots in the county too. Now all that’s left is the piece he’s hanging onto. He’s a straight asshole, so don’t waste your time.”
Drew turned and walked away again, this time for real. Sam went back to watering his lawn. As he sprayed he considered Drew’s explanation for why his wife didn’t want him associating with Camilla. Drew’s story didn’t match Camilla’s, but that could be because Drew didn’t want to admit he’d been stupid enough to verbally drool over Camilla in front of his wife. Or maybe he’d forgotten that part, considering what happened later, if what Drew said was true about Camilla inspiring him to put it to his wife with more gusto. And of course Camilla wouldn’t know what happened later between her neighbors in their bedroom.
By the time Sam finished watering his lawn long shadows had cooled the day. He took a shower, and as he made another sandwich for dinner, kept his eye on Camilla’s carport.
After dinner he sat down at the laptop in his sunroom and Goggled Jayne Mansfield. He found dozens of photos of the actress and a few video clips on YouTube. Most of the photos and videos were in black and white. Other than Mansfield’s voluptuous chest, he didn’t see much physical similarity between her and Camilla. However, he thought they did have a similar vibe about them—that feminine self-awareness of their sex appeal, and the knowledge of how to use it to advantage.
At just past midnight Sam decided to turn in. He shut off his computer, and before going to bed checked Camilla’s carport again. It was still empty.
COMING THIS SUMMER