The house was about as big as the one I'd lived in before my dad got fired. It had a clean, suburban look to it, with a perfectly cut lawn and a bed of flowers out front. It was
pastel yellow, nicely outlined by an off-white that went around the windows and colored the door. The front porch was floored by concrete and extended to the bottom of the second floor, with
pillars of brick and wood holding it up. There were three second story windows, with the middle one jutting out in a way that made the house look like it had a nose and eyes. The gray shingles of
the roof gleamed in the light of the summer sun, and a few long dead leaves were moving around in the gutters, trying to escape without much success, seeing as there had been no wind all
A green hose lay like a dead snake among the tulips and hedges on the left side of the house. A garage, no doubt soon to be filled with old tools and forgotten possessions, sat just beyond it, with a gray, uncracked driveway extending to the street. I could smell mulch and the faint hint of barbeque smoke as I walked up this driveway, using my hand to shield my eyes from the sun.
Kumar walked behind me, taking in the scenery. We said nothing, for there was nothing to say. This was a beautiful house, one that would please even the most picky of home owners. I felt comfortable just standing under the porch, despite the knowledge that I was about to be forced to pretend to like Keith Dawson. Yeah, that's what his first name is.
I knocked lightly, wondering if the casual T-shirt I was wearing was good enough. Annie opened the door within a few seconds, not even bothering to hide her excitement.
"Hey guys!" She threw her arms around both of us in a bear hug. I could feel her new purple rimmed glasses on my cheek. "I'm so glad you're here!"
"Glad to be here." Kumar chuckled.
She let go, but there was no changing the smile on her face. "Come in! I wanna show you around."
The interior of the house was mostly made up of pieces of boxed and plastic wrapped furniture. The room to the left of me appeared to be the living room, while the one on the right had nothing in it. They were separated by a staircase that lead no doubt to a bedroom on the upper floor. The living room was connected to the kitchen by an arch-like doorway, and the dining room followed, making a complete circle of the house. My female friend wasted no time in showing us absolutely everything on the first floor, from a coo-coo clock that had been handed down in Dawson's family to a stain in the corner they weren't sure what to do with.
It was really happening; Annie and Keith were settling down with a house, and soon, boyfriend and girlfriend would turn into husband and wife. I was happy for them. Dawson hadn't done much more than glare at me since Paul's funeral, and I was beginning to be able to stand being in the same room with him. Anna was obviously overjoyed to have him, anyway.
July was nearly over. Talk about time flying. I hadn't done much other than meet a few more people and settle into my position as owner of The Lab. I'd given promotions, ordered things and watched employees do other things. I had even had a short conversation with a peculiar looking creature from a neighboring galaxy. At one point I'd made the mistake of offering Annie a raise after she stayed overnight for two full days. Let's just say she chewed me out and threatened to skin me alive if I ever tried to help her again.
She and her fiance purchased this yellow house with money they'd both saved after the official date for the wedding was scheduled. Of course, with things being the way they were with Dawson's family (I'll get to that later), the 'official date' had been placed all the way into next year. This did little to dampen the love birds' spirits.
They'd invited me, Kumar, two of Annie's girlfriends and a couple of Dawson's buddies over for dinner. Judging by his expression as Annie paraded us around the house, Keith wasn't too excited about us being there.
"The upstairs doesn't really have much yet." The long haired girl waved her hand as we stood next to the stairs. "Might as well stay down here."
"This is a hell of a house, Ann. How'd you manage to afford it?" Kumar asked, looking at her.
She put her finger to her lips, laughter twinkling in her pretty eyes. "Shh... it's a secret. Oh, hey Todd, you're not allergic to anything are you?"
I shrugged. "Just a few types of fish."
"Good. We're having chicken." The doorbell rang as she said it.
It turned out to be Annie's other friends. The first girl was one of my fellow blondes, but her hair wasn't what I was paying attention to. Holyshitboobs. Was actually my first thought.
Yeah, no kidding.
Wait. I thought you didn't have a gender.
That just means I get to be bi. You're awfully cute you know.
So, with this disturbing idea running through my head, I completely missed the blonde's name.
"And I'm Cheryl." The girl behind her, a ginger, said with a yawn.
"Nice to meet you. I'm Kumar." He grinned.
"I love your accent." The blonde girl giggled.
Cheryl rolled her eyes as they stepped inside. "You'll have to excuse Miss Stereotype over there." She said to me while the others wandered off towards the kitchen. "She can be a little dim at times. What's your name? No wait, let me guess, Tim right? Anna's new boss?"
"It's Todd actually. And yeah." I gave her a friendly smile, and she returned it, a little.
"I'm assuming we missed the tour." We walked into the empty room, and I noticed she was wearing clothes that might be found in a store for gothic teenagers. And you're not a stereotype? I wondered. "She was practically begging us to come. I'm not saying I wouldn't have, but dang. She's like a kid on Christmas."
I shrugged. "Well, she is about to get married."
Cheryl snorted. "Yeah, in like, six months." I wasn't entirely sure if I liked or disliked her yet. She looked back at me, and something in her eyes changed. I knew the question she wanted to ask, and, rather than allow myself to get caught up in an awkward conversation about whether or not Annie was cheating on her fiance with me, I started a different one.
"How long have you known her?"
"Awhile. We met sometime after high school." I found this strangely amusing, seeing as the two of them looked like they were still in high school. "I'm closer to her than Gloria is though." I assumed Gloria was the blonde.
"How come you never met Kumar?"
"She likes to keep her work and personal life separate. Or at least she used to. Now she talks about you two all the time." The look was back, but I didn't need to divert her attention on my own this time.
"Food's done!" Annie called.
There was an immediate migration to the dinning room. Kumar was on one side of the table, next to Gloria. I rolled my eyes as he grinned at me. Annie and Dawson sat on the other side, leaving me at the end of the table that had the two girls, and Cheryl to sit on the opposite end.
There was no prayer, seeing as the majority of us weren't religious, and for a little while there were no words either. I realized as I ate that none of Dawson's buddies had shown up.
"This is awesome." Kumar said, practically shoveling the stuff into his mouth. Everyone else nodded in agreement.
Annie put on an adorable modest face as Gloria spoke. "So I heard there was, like, something going on at that one science place."
"She means Pasteur Labs." Cheryl muttered, not really eating.
Kumar nodded. "They discovered another element. Third one this month." He looked at me, and before either of us could stop ourselves we were snickering quietly.
Suddenly, Dawson's eyes were on me. I returned his glare, but with a spark of humor and teasing in mine. I was aware of everyone except Gloria (who was now more interested in her nails) watching me and him, waiting for something to happen.
"I think it's a great accomplishment. Certainly more than Heisenberg's done in awhile." Annie's fiance kept his voice calm, carefully placing his words.
"Sure. If you're really interested in an element found in chicken shit." I saw Cheryl raise her eyebrow out of the corner of my eye. Annie looked back and forth between the two of us, not sure of what was going on or what to do.
"It was found in the intestine, not the feces. And it's better than nothing, which is what you've been doing ever since you got this new little position of yours."
"And you know this how? You're not stalking me, are you?"
"I don't need to. I work there, remember?"
"Oh yes, I forgot, you're one of the wood guys, aren't you? How many birdhouses have you made so far this year?"
"None, not that it's any concern of yours."
"Ah but it is. I hold your paycheck in my hand, buddy."
"And I hold your reputation. How would everyone feel if they found out you were a murderer?"
I shrugged. "If I were them, I wouldn't be surprised." All throughout this, I had continued eating, while Keith refused to touch anything on his plate. It was easy to see I was breaking him, and quite effortlessly at that.
"You think you're smart, blondie? I could ruin you in a day."
"I triple-dog dare you."
His eye twitched and he stood up suddenly, his hands clenched into fists. Annie got up as well and put a hand on his shoulder. "How about you help me clean up?" She asked nervously. He looked back at her, and for just an instant, something passed between them. Something that I found unsettling.
"Fine." He picked up his plate, with half of the meal still on it, and walked into the kitchen with her.
"Wow, you guys really hate each other." It took me a few seconds to realize it was Cheryl speaking.
"We just don't get along too well." I picked up my empty dish and was followed by Kumar.
"What was that all about?" I heard Gloria ask as we passed into the kitchen.
Dawson was leaning on one of the counters, watching as me and Kumar scrapped what remained of dinner into the trash. Annie was scrubbing the plate in the sink with a soapy sponge. She didn't turn as we stacked our own dishes next to her, and I began to feel guilty for ruining the mood. I was about to offer to take over for her when Keith began to speak again.
"I have to admit, though, you do more than Paul did. Lazy asshole hardly ever left his office."
I immediately tensed, barely noticing the fact that Annie had paused. Slowly, I turned to him, my breathing turning into a fast, steady rhythm. Dawson pretended not to care, flashing a crooked smile that made me grit my teeth and form fists with my hands. Kumar noticed immediately, no doubt remembering a few days ago when I had blown up at him in anger. I'd apologized afterwards, but it was obvious neither of us would be able to forget it.
"Oh, gee, would you look at the time." My Indian friend looked at a non-existing watch on his arm. 'Ding-dong!' Went the doorbell.
"I'll get it." Dawson said, cheerful now that he'd manage to piss me off.
Punch him! Do something! The Megaleioths demanded.
"I'm sorry." Annie whispered from behind me.
Almost automatically I calmed down. "No, I'm sorry." I turned around, wishing I knew what to say. Thankfully, we both seemed to reach an understanding just by looking at each other. Annie loved Dawson, and I disliked him, but I could get over it, and she would stay my friend regardless. This made me feel a little better.
Dawson stormed back into the room, jacket in hand. "I have to go."
"When will you be-" Slam! He was out the door before Anna even finished her sentence.
Cheryl and Gloria walked in, and all four of us were standing in the kitchen now, not speaking and barely moving. Finally, someone (I don't remember who) suggested a board game of some kind, and everyone readily agreed.
We played for a few hours, and things improved. We spoke, laughed and shared stories while Annie kicked everyone's ass at whatever game we were doing. It wasn't a grand moment, but it was enjoyable, and it certainly lifted our spirits. I left that yellow house that night with the idea that maybe Dawson and I just shouldn't talk to each other. Ever.
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