Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Outstanding (04/21/11)
TITLE: The Neighbor Two Doors Down
By Kimberly Russell
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The aroma of dead worms and fresh-cut grass invades my nostrils and I'm spouting poetry. Anything to avoid yard work.
But I can only delay so long and begin a snail-like dance across the lawn. Until I'm interrupted by the backfire of a truck. Recognition of the vehicle has me quickly returning to the rake, suddenly fascinated as if it were a Picasso.
It wouldn't do for the driver to notice my gaze. He lives two houses down and I've avoided him for years. His name is Doug.
My mind wanders back to the job I had as a receptionist in the factory where he worked. I was surrounded by members of the opposite sex, and soon perfected the fine art of flirting. Of course, they were more than happy to accommodate my game play. My marriage eventually imploded and free at last, I determined to make the most out of my newly found singleness.
Doug was one of many that I used on my journey to "find myself." I zeroed in on him while he was taking a time-out from a serious relationship. Our fling was short-lived, the initial excitement quickly subsiding. He returned to the relationship with his future wife. She lives two doors down too.
It's been twenty years, but vivid snapshots still haunt me. My cheeks flame with shame at my former self: didn't exactly qualify as an outstanding citizen. But I can also argue that I changed. I grew up, matured, became a Christian.
When I found out Doug and Trish were my neighbors, I did my best to avoid contact. So far, it has worked but someday he may notice. How will he react to a constant reminder of old history living a few hundred yards from his doorstep?
I've confessed my failures to God and received forgiveness. He's transformed me into a respectable woman, striving for integrity. Gone is the young girl with the morals of an alley cat. She's been replaced by one trying to forget the past.
Kind of hard when it roars by my house in an old rattletrap truck.
I return to my raking when I hear footsteps behind me. Fairly certain who it is, I dread the inevitable. And wonder if I remembered to put deodorant on before I came outside. The answer escapes me. The odor does not...
"Katie? Is that you?"
I clutch the rake like a life preserver. Appropriate, since I feel like I'm drowning. "Hey, Doug. How are you?"
He peers as if trying to decide whether I'm an apparition or the real thing. "I'm good, thanks. How long have we been neighbors?"
I squeak out a nervous laugh. "Well, actually, about nine years."
"You're kidding! You've lived right here all this time?"
"Yeah, strange, isn't it?" I grind the toe of my tennis shoe into the grass, unwilling to meet his gaze. "So, is life treating you okay?"
We converse, stilted and uncomfortable, catching up.
"Well, I guess I better get going," he says softly. "Glad I got a chance to see you and do the whole 'good neighbor' bit."
I finally look at him full on. "Thanks. Appreciate it. I guess I'll see you around, huh?"
Suddenly finding myself lacking any semblance of communication skills, I blurt, "I never got a chance to tell you...I'm sorry."
He frowns, appearing perplexed. "What for?"
"Well...for some of the stuff I did..." My cheeks betray me and flush bright red while Doug studies me like a bug.
"Katie, what're you sorry for? It's not like you twisted my arm...I was there too, ya know?"
"Yeah, but I kind of forced myself on you. And I've always felt bad..." I nod towards his house. "About Trish and all..."
"Well, if anyone needs to apologize, it's me. I took advantage of the fact that you were vulnerable, just coming off a divorce. Besides that, I knew Trish and I would get back together eventually. I had no business seeing anyone else and it was wrong." He stares at the ground, shifting his ball cap. "Seems we both have some regrets. But at least this gives me the chance to tell you: I am truly sorry."
He turns away and heads home, hesitating when I call out. "Hey, Doug? Just so you know: I've changed. I mean, well, I'm not that person anymore."
With a glance over his shoulder, he flashes me a smile and quips,
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