I asked, you delivered. 🙂 When Will met Lake.
If you haven’t read the first chapter, read it here first, then come back to this one.
September 23rd, 2010
I hold the phone to my ear with my shoulder and finish buttoning my shirt. “I promise, Grandma,” I say into the phone. “I’m leaving straight from work on Friday. We’re running late, I gotta go. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
She says her goodbyes and I hang up the phone. Caulder walks through the living room with his backpack slung across his shoulder and a green, plastic army helmet on his head. He’s always trying to sneak random accessories to school. Last week when I dropped him off, he was out of the car before I even noticed he was wearing a holster. I reach out and snatch the helmet off his head and toss it onto the couch. “Caulder, go get in the car. I’ve got to grab my stuff.”
Caulder heads outside and I scramble to gather all the papers scattered across the bar. I was up past midnight grading. I’ve only been teaching eight weeks now, but I’m beginning to understand why there’s a teacher shortage. I shove the stack of papers inside my binder, then shove it into my satchel and head outside.
“Great,” I mutter, as soon as I see the U-Haul backing up across the street. This is the third family to move into that house in less than a year. I’m not in the mood to help people move again, especially after only four hours of sleep. Hopefully they’ll be finished unloading by the time I get home today, or else I’ll feel obligated to help. I turn around and lock the door behind me, then quickly head for the car. When I open the car door, Caulder isn’t inside. I groan and throw my stuff in the seat. He always picks the worst times to play hide-and-seek. We’re already ten minutes late.
I glance in the backseat, hoping he’s in the floorboard, when I catch sight of him in the street. He’s laughing and playing with another little boy that looks about his age. This is a plus. Maybe having a neighbor to play with will get him out of my hair more often.
I start to call his name so he’ll come back to the car when the U-Haul catches my eye again. The girl driving can’t be any older than me, yet she’s confidently backing up the U-Haul without any help. I lean against my car door and decide to watch. This should be interesting. How she’ll navigate that thing around those gnomes is beyond me.
I’m quickly proven wrong and she’s parked in the driveway in no time flat, gnomes untouched. Rather than hop out to inspect her parking job, she kills the engine and rolls down her windows, then props her leg up on the dash.
I don’t know why these simple actions strike me as odd. Intriguing, even. She drums her fingers on the steering wheel, then reaches up and tugs at her hair, letting down her ponytail. She runs her hands through her hair and massages her scalp, shaking her hair out until it spills down around her shoulders and frames her face.
Holy hell. The fact that it’s less than sixty degrees outside and I feel like ripping off my jacket is not a good sign.
Her gaze falls on the boys playing in the street between us. Is she his sister? His mom? She doesn’t look old enough to have a child that age, but I’m also at a disadvantage being all the way across the street. And why is she just sitting in the U-Haul? I realize I’ve been staring for several minutes when someone pulls up beside her in a loaded down Jeep.
“Please don’t be a guy,” I whisper to myself, hoping it’s not a boyfriend. Or worse, a husband. My own thoughts surprise me. Why would I even care? The last thing I need right now is a distraction. Especially someone who lives across the street from me.
The door to the Jeep opens and when the woman steps out, I breathe a sigh of relief. Before I can talk myself out of it, I’m walking toward their house. I suddenly have the urge to help people move today, after all. I cross the street, unable to take my eyes off of her. She’s watching Caulder and the other little boy play, and hasn’t once glanced in my direction. I don’t know what it is about her that’s pulling me in. That look on her face….I can’t tell if she’s sad or pissed off or…unhappy.
She still hasn’t noticed me. I’m standing on the passenger side of the U-Haul, staring at her through the window, practically in a trance. It’s not because of the fact that she’s attractive, which she is. It’s that look in her eyes. The depth. I need to know what she’s thinking.
She says something to the boys, then opens the door to get out. I suddenly realize how awkward it’s about to get if she catches me standing in her driveway, staring. I glance across the street and contemplate how I can get back over there without her seeing me. Before I have a chance to make a move, Caulder and the other little boy run around the U-haul and smash into me, laughing.
“She’s a zombie!” Caulder yells. I grab both of them by their shirts, a good way to use Caulder as an excuse for being in their driveway. The girl rounds the U-Haul and I can’t help but laugh. She’s got her head cocked to the side and she’s walking stiff-legged after them like a zombie.
“Get ‘em!” I yell to her. They’re trying to fight to get away so I strengthen my grip. I look back up at her and we lock eyes.
Wow. Those eyes. They’re the most incredible shade of deep green I’ve ever seen. I try to compare the color to something, but nothing comes to mind. The color is so unique it’s like her eyes have just invented their own hue.
Studying her features, I conclude she can’t be the boy’s mom. She looks my age. At the least, maybe nineteen or twenty. I wonder if she’s single.
Christ. This is the last thing I need in my life right now. A crush.
I feel like she knows what I’m thinking, so I force myself to break our gaze. The boy takes my moment of distraction and uses it to his advantage. He breaks free and slices at me with an imaginary sword, so I look back up at the girl and mouth, “help.”
She yells “brains” again and lunges forward, pretending to bite Caulder on top of the head. She tickles them until they melt onto the concrete driveway, then she stands back up. Her cheeks flush when she meets my gaze again and she contorts her mouth into an uncomfortable pout, like she’s suddenly embarrassed. Her uneasiness disappears just as fast as it appeared and is replaced by a smile that suddenly makes me want to know every single detail about her. I take a step forward to introduce myself.
“Hey, I’m Will,” I say, extending my hand out to her. “We live across the street.” She places her hand in mind. It’s soft and cold and the moment I wrap my fingers around hers, the physical contact sends a shockwave straight through me. I don’t remember the last time a girl has had this kind of immediate effect on me.
It must be my lack of sleep.
“I’m Layken,” she says, her uneasiness once again masking her smile. “I guess I live here.” She glances at the house behind her, then back to me.
She doesn’t look too pleased about the fact that she lives “here.” That same look she had while sitting in the U-Haul consumes her features again and her eyes suddenly grow sadder.
“Well, welcome to Ypsilanti,” I say, wanting desperately to make that look go away. She looks down and it occurs to me that I’m still awkwardly shaking her hand, so I quickly pull it away from hers and shove my hands in my jacket pockets. “Where are you guys moving here from?”
“Texas?” she says, looking back up at me.
Why does she say it like a question? Did I just ask a stupid question? I did. I’m making stupid small-talk.
“Texas, huh?” I say. She nods her head, but doesn’t come back with a response. I suddenly feel like an intrusive neighbor. I don’t know what else to say without making it even more awkward, so I figure my best move at this point is to retreat. I bend over and grab Caulder by the feet, throwing him over my shoulder, then tell her I’ve got to get him to school. “There’s a cold front coming through tonight. You should try to get as much unloaded today as you can. It’s supposed to last a few days so if you guys need help unloading this afternoon, let me know. We’ll be home around four.”
She smiles. “Sure, thanks.”
Her words are laced with the slightest hint of a southern drawl. I didn’t know how much I liked southern accents until now. I continue across the street and help Caulder into the car. While he’s climbing inside, I glance back across the street. The little boy is stabbing her in the back and she grabs her stomach and falls to her knees. Her playful interaction with him is just one more thing that intrigues me about her. After he jumps on her back, she glances up and catches me staring at her. I shut Caulder’s door and walk to my side. Before I get in, I muster a smile and wave, then climb inside the car with an overwhelming urge to punch myself.
As soon as the bell for third period rings, I open the lid to my coffee and pour two extra packets of sugar in it. I’m about to need it. There’s something about some of the students in third period that just rub me the wrong way. Especially Javier. That dude is such a jackass.
“Morning, Mr. Cooper,” Eddie says, as cheerful as ever.
She turns and kisses Gavin on the cheek, then settles into her desk. They’ve been dating since right after I graduated. They’re probably the only two people that don’t annoy the hell out of me in here. Well, them and maybe Nick. Nick seems okay.
After the students are all seated, I instruct them to get out their books. The entire time I’m giving my lecture over the elements of poetry, my mind keeps reverting back to this morning.
I really like that name.