In the Neighbourhood

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Chapter 13: First Timer

Stan turned around the back corner of Darrell’s house and froze. Darrell and Keith lay in a couple of chaises longues by the pool, their eyes closed.

Maybe they hadn’t heard him. He could just slip out the gate again, close it quietly behind himself, and they’d ever know he’d been there. It’s not like it was some formal thing—Darrell had just called over that morning to come over for a beer sometime today, and Stan said sure, he would. He could just tell Darrell that Marie had needed him to do—something. What did it matter? What right did Darrell have to even ask?

And it wasn’t about Keith at all. There had been that stuff about Keith having Stan’s tape, but that was just water under the bridge at this point. He was a big enough man to put all that in the past. They lived two doors down from each other, after all—you just had to make it work, even if you couldn’t completely trust the other guy.

The problem, though, was the deception. If Darrell had said, hey, come have a beer with me and Keith, then fine, no problem. But Darrell had made it sound like it would be just the two of them. Completely unfair, and childish as well.

No. Forget it, Stan decided. I’m out of here.

“Stan!” a woman said—Sherrie. He hadn’t seen her there, in the pool. She was resting her arms on the deck’s edge and waving at him. The sun glinted in the pool water on her shoulders.

“C’mon in,” she said when Stan didn’t move. Then Darrell looked up and saw him, and then Keith, and Stan had no choice.

“Howdy,” Stan said, walking quickly to the others. “Better flip that one over,” he said to no one in particular, pointing at Darrell’s large tanned stomach. “I think it’s done.”

Keith and Darrell both chuckled appreciatively. There was a splash as Sherrie launched herself back from the pool wall, swimming on her back towards the other end. Stan glanced—glanced again—was she—

“Have a seat,” Darrell said, reaching over to the large blue cooler beside him. “Here, look what I got hold of.”

He pulled a can out, fragments of ice and droplets of water clinging attractively to it. Stan recognized the dark blue and red stripe immediately—Botherton’s Best Bitter, his usual.

“Thought you didn’t drink this kind of stuff,” Stan said. He tried to make it sound lighthearted, so Darrell could laugh it off if he wanted. In truth, Stan was still annoyed about the time a couple of summers ago, when Darrell had made fun of him for drinking English beer. Darrell still sometimes ribbed him about it, lifting his pinky when he took a sip.

But it was a peace offering, obviously, and Stan couldn’t seem to reject it out of hand. “Well since you’ve finally got something worth drinking,” he said, and stepped closer.

“You know Keith, right?” Darrell asked, leaning over to pass him the can.

He had been a little nervous about meeting Keith’s eye, until Darrell forced him to. In his mind, Keith was still the scowling, grunting machine, methodically pumping his wife as she writhed on the couch before him. The scene repeatedly flashed before Stan’s eyes in an instant—Keith hooking a large, strong hand under his wife’s knee and pulling her hips towards him, making her squeal slightly with surprise, or pleasure.

But this Keith, lounging in the sun by Darrell’s pool, turned out to be much less intimidating than Stan expected. He half-turned towards Stan, grinning sheepishly and bobbing his head. “Hey,” he was saying. “Of course, we’ve never really...”

Stan took another step closer and held out his hand. “’Bout time we ran into each other.” They shook hands solemnly.

“C’mon, siddown,” Darrell said, still holding the can up for him. Stan took it, relieved to let go of Keith’s hand. The guy’s hand was spongy and clammy. Unpleasant.

Stan opened the can and opened it. There was one more chaise, on the other side of Keith. Stan decided to walk around on the grass, behind him.

Sherrie had stopped swimming, was resting at the other end of the pool, her arms stretched out along the edge. The water lapped at the orange-brown skin of her chest, and under her armpits. Yes, she was topless. But she was staring back at him, and Stan was forced to look away.

“This humidity ever gonna break?” Darrell asked.

“No end in sight,” Keith said, having settled into his chaise again. Stan ignored the question, taking his first cold swallow of beer, his mouth tingling, first with the anticipation, then with the frigid shock.

“You’re right ’bout this beer, by the way,” Darrell said. “It’s real good stuff. Lots of taste.”

“Shouldn’t actually be served this cold,” Stan told him. “English bitters should be served just a little colder than room temperature.”

Darrell took a swig from his own can while he considered this. “Really?”

“Yes.”

“Sounds disgusting.”

Keith laughed, which pissed Stan off. Philistines. What did these yahoos know about good beer?

Before he replied, though, Keith piped up. “’Strue. German style beers, pilsners and lagers, are supposed to be cold. Ales and bitters, warm.”

Darrell put his empty can down beside him on the concrete deck. “Learn something every day.”

“Cold’s better on a day like today anyway,” Stan put in, not wanting to sound like a jerk to Darrell. “More to beer than taste anyhow.”

“Exactly,” Darrell said, satisfied.

“Anyway, even a room temperature beer’s cold on a day like today,” Keith said.

Stan laughed with Darrell, despite himself. He risked a quick look at Sherrie again, but she hadn’t moved, except to close her eyes and tip her bed back to better catch the sun’s rays. The sun was really hammering down today. Good day to sit back and enjoy a beer.

“Ticats’re playing today, aren’t they?” Darrell remarked.

“Tonight,” Keith answered before Stan did. “Ottawa. Should be a pretty good game.”

At least he had some good qualities, although maybe the guy was from Ottawa or something. “You a Cats fan?” Stan asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Keith said enthusiastically. “All my life. Started getting season tickets a couple of years ago.”

“You still getting those free tickets, Stan?” Darrell asked. It was probably an innocent question, Stan decided, though it really seemed to have some kind of criticism in it.

“Nah,” Stan said wearily. “Couldn’t be bothered after a while.”

“Stan here used to cover the games,” Darrell explained to Keith.

“What, you’re a reporter?” Keith asked, his eyes wide.

“Photographer,” Darrell said. “He used to shoot the cheerleaders every game.”

“No way!”

“They kicked in a pair of season tickets, too. Stan the man was good enough to treat me to a few games.”

“That’s really cool.”

It was kind of weird, the two of them talking like he was some sort of celebrity, but at least they weren’t being jerks about it. “It was fine for a while, but sometimes you just want to enjoy the game. I used to miss the first quarter and the last ten minutes of each half. It was annoying.”

“Still,” Darrell said, “you spent that time with young girls in short little skirts.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Stan said. It was true that it had been a real charge at the start, taking photos of these tall, young, athletic girls. And they fawned all over him, always trying to get his attention—his camera’s attention. Over time he had just gotten sick of them. It was like being cooped up with the kids all day while Marie was out. Nice once in a while, but draining.

But no one believed him when he told them that, so he just stopped saying it. Claiming the job was too annoying sounded better anyhow; what did it say about him, if he got tired of hanging out with cheerleaders who were all trying to impress him?

“So you ever work for the Spec?” Kevin asked.

“Just here and there. I do mostly commercial photography—not much journalism.”

“Like catalogues and stuff?”

“Sure. Ads, product shots, all that kinda thing.”

“Cool.”

“So where are your seats?” Stan asked. He didn’t like the feeling of the conversation landing on him like that.

“Section seventeen, second row.”

“End zone?”

“Yeah.”

Keith was obviously proud of his seats. End zone people always were. Stan never understood that; to him, they were the worst seats in the house.

“Me and a few guys from work split four seats over the season,” Keith was going on. “There’s always seats kicking around, though. If you’re ever interested.”

Stan hesitated. He really wanted to say no, he didn’t want any leftover tickets for shitty end zone seats. But who cared? He’d just never accept them if they were offered. Or he’d take them and scalp ’em, if it came to that.

“Sure,” he said at last. “I’d be up for that.”

“Cool,” Keith said. Then he sat up, draining the last of his can of beer, and crushed it in his hand.

“’Nother?” Darrell asked, lifting the lid of the cooler.

“Nah,” Keith said. “I gotta get going. I wanna go to Home Hardware before they close.”

“’Kay. Stan?”

“Sure.” Stan had been thinking of moving on himself, but if Keith was leaving he wanted a reason to stay for a bit. “Marie ’n’ the kids’ll be out till later.”

Sherrie swam over. “Nice to see you, Keith,” she said. “Don’t be a stranger.”

“Thanks,” he said. “And thanks for the beer, too.”

“Any time.”

Keith leaned over to Stan, his hand extended. His fingernails were terrible—not dirty or anything, but cut very unevenly.

“Nice to finally make your acquaintance,” Keith said to Stan, grinning.

What did that grin mean? Stan shook Keith’s hand firmly. Maybe a little too tightly. “You as well,” he said.

I’ve watched your wife fucking, Stan thought silently, hoping somehow the idea would pass from his mind to Keith’s, wipe that idiotic smile from his face.

“See you guys around.”

Once Keith was gone, Stan and Darrell sat back with fresh beers, pummelled again by the afternoon sun.

“He’s an okay guy,” Darrell said.

“Never said he wasn’t,” Stan replied.

Sherrie was swimming laps now, backstroking lazily from one end of the pool to the other. Watching carefully, Stan was now sure that she was completely nude, her nipples and pubic hair dancing tantalizingly, just below the surface of the water. Stan sipped his beer as slowly as he could, wondering how long it would be until she emerged from the water, naked and glistening for him.

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