Chapter 2

Two weeks later

Austin, Texas

…next on All Things Considered, are Rent-a-pets the latest in pet trends?”

“Sorry, Scott.  This is not going to be a driveway moment.”

David Collins turned off the car and brought the garage door down.  It had been another long week at the office, but in a good way.  A long week where there were lots of new patients.  New patients are a good thing, especially in a growing dental practice.  Even better, they had few problems and were mostly interested in highly profitable cosmetic work.  Before long, he and his partner, who happened to be his brother Andrew, would have to consider bringing on another dentist.  Good times indeed.

His walk into the house took him through the laundry room, where there was, as usual, a load running.  With three kids, there was always a load running.  As he passed through there and into the kitchen, he noticed the distinct lack of smells which would imply dinner would be forthcoming.  Not that he expected dinner to be waiting for him on the table, but it was past 6:30 and it wasn’t like his wife, Liz,  to at least have something started when he got home.  Unless she wanted to go out of course.  But it was Friday, and she hated to go out on Fridays since everyone else went out on Fridays and restaurants were crowded.  He’d just have to wait and see what was going on.

“Liz?  You here?”

She responded from the upstairs bedroom.  “Yeah, I’m changing.  I’ll be there in a minute!  I’ve got some news!”

She bounded downstairs wearing her favorite jogging suit and a huge grin on her face.  Apparently they wouldn’t be going out that evening.  “Guess what?”

“Ok, what?”

“The people who bought the house next door are moving in tomorrow.”

“Cool.  Know anything about them?”

“Well, I talked to Lisa as she was getting her sign and she filled me in a bit.”

“Well, don’t keep me in suspense, spill it already!”

“It’s a single mom moving back here from New York.  She has a daughter who is Jamie’s age and she’s about our age.  I can’t wait to meet her!”

“Yeah, well don’t get your hopes up.  Remember the old neighbors?   You were all excited about meeting them, too.”

Liz snorted.  “Don’t remind me.  A childless couple who hates kids should not move into this neighborhood.  That was their fault.  And I did try to be nice.”

David kissed her on the forehead.  “Of course you did.  You are nice to everyone.  Even me sometimes.”

She laughed.  “So.  Good day?”

“Not bad.  It’s getting busy.”

“You and Andrew are going to have to break down and get another dentist soon.”

“Tell me about it.  I’m just worried about messing with the dynamic.  Andrew and I work really well together and I’m afraid bringing in someone else will make that difficult.”

“Kind of like violating the inner sanctum?”

“Something like that.”

“Well, maybe you can bring on some woman who is hot so Andrew can finally find a woman.”

“HA!  Oh that will be good for the working dynamic.  We’ll figure something out eventually.  But I think we’ve got some time before that decision has to be made.”

The doorbell rang.

“Oh good, that’ll be the pizza.  There’s some good stuff on pay-per-view so I thought we’d have a family night.”

Awesome, thought David.  A night at home with the three most beautiful women in the world.  Whoever would have thought he’d ever feel that way.

“Sounds good to me.  Oh, and Andrew wants to swing by tomorrow.  I mentioned that we might be grilling. ”

“That’s cool.  He knows the price of admission.”

***

Andrew arrived the next afternoon carrying the price of admission in a few brown paper bags.  He walked around to the back since he could hear that everyone was already out there.

“Uncle Andrew!”

Karin, his eleven year old niece, ran over to him and gave him a big hug.  She moved so fast that he almost dropped his price of admission.  Liz would not have liked that.  He managed to put it aside just in time.

“How’s my favorite niece?” he asked.

“Hey!  I thought I was your favorite!”

“Jamie!  I didn’t see you there.  Of course you’re my favorite, too.  You are my favorite nine year old niece.  Karin is my favorite eleven year old niece.”

Liz joined them just then.  “I bet you say that to all the women.  Just stringing them along.  What a cad.”

“Yes, but I’m a cad who brings you margarita makings.  See?”

“Well, in that case, get inside and get started.  You know where the blender is.”

“Will do.  Where’s David?”

“He went to the store.  He should be back any minute.”

The girls went back to playing and Liz and Andrew walked inside.  Liz was putting the finishing touches on some sort of potato dish, Andrew couldn’t tell what it was exactly, but since Liz was making it, it was bound to be pretty good.  There were all sorts of other things going on in the kitchen and, not for the first time, Andrew wished he had something like this of his own.  Not the kitchen, but the wife and family.

He decided not to go there just now and concentrated on getting on to the business at hand: margaritas.  He could make a mean margarita, which is why Liz never minded him showing up all the time.  That and the fact she was pretty cool, for a sister in law.  David had done well.  Much better than he had, in fact.

“Hewwo Andwew!”

His morose reverie was broken by the third Collins girl, four year old Drew.  She still had that preschool lisp thing going on, but it was getting less and less.  That didn’t make it any less cute though.  This niece really was his favorite, not that he would admit to having a favorite because that would be unfair.  When Liz was pregnant with Drew, the ultrasound said it would be a boy.  Liz and David would always tell him that they were going to name this child after him.  When Drew was finally born, it was a bit of a shock.  But it still didn’t stop them from naming Drew after him.  Yet another reason Liz was so cool.

He picked Drew up and gave her a big kiss on the forehead.

“Hello there, Drew!  What do you have there?”

“I have a new kitty.  Her name is Stwipes.”  She showed him a stuffed orange and white cat.  With stripes.

“That is an excellent name for your new kitty.  Is she getting along with the others?”  Drew had a veritable zoo in her room.  There must be at least fifty stuffed animals in there.

“Yes, but Mr. Snuggles isn’t being vewy nice to her.”

“Oh, I see.  And which one is Mr. Snuggles again?”

“He’s my purple bear.”

“Do you think it will all be ok?”

“Yes, Mr. Snuggles just gets a wittle jewous.”

Andrew laughed and put her down.  “Of course he does.  We all want to be your favorite.  More animals means more competition.”

She stared at him for a minute with her head cocked to the side.  It was pretty obvious she didn’t know what he was talking about.  Kind of like the girl he broke up with last night.

“Bye, Andwew!  I’m going to go outside and pway now.”

“Sure thing.  That’s what four year olds are supposed to do!  Have fun!”

Liz laughed.  “You do pretty well with the younger women.”

Andrew sighed.  “Not today Liz, ok?  Not today.”

“Sorry.  Talk about it later maybe?”

Andrew didn’t want to talk about it, but he knew he’d spill it to them eventually.  “Sure.”

This seemed like a good time to change the subject.  “So, what’s going on next door?  Lots of boxes and stuff all over the place.  New neighbor?”

Liz grinned.  “Yes.  The family has a daughter Jamie’s age.”

“Nice folk?”

“Don’t know yet.  Haven’t met them.”

After talking with David last night, Liz decided that she wouldn’t mention to Andrew that their new neighbor was single. At least not yet.  Not too long ago, they had made a decision not to even try to appear that they were trying to set him up anymore.  Andrew was 39 and would most likely be a bachelor forever at this point.  Any appearance of trying to set him up just caused tension now.  It was a little sad.  Andrew was such a great guy and deserved to find someone.

“Well,”  said Andrew, “I’m sure that you’ll be best friends with them in no time.”

Just then, David returned from the store.  He placed two bags on the counter and turned toward Andrew.  “Hey, bro!   Got those margaritas started?”

“Almost.  Hold on.”  Andrew turned on the blender to make the margaritas.  By the time they were done, David had brought three glasses over.

“Filler up!”

“Sure thing.  Always glad to contribute my fair share.”

David laughed.  “And what a great contribution it is.  Cheers!”

After a glass clink, David said, “Liz is working on the steaks outside.  Let’s go.”

The brothers walked outside and had a seat on the deck.  David and Liz’s house was pretty nice, but what made it amazing was the backyard.  There was a covered deck that connected to the house.  It was a split level deck, with a cooking area on one side, a table for eating in the middle, and a sitting area on the far side.  On that side, there was a brick wall that had a fireplace.  It was the perfect place to hang out and just be.

But that wasn’t all.  There was also a nice pool, a playfort for the kids, and a putting green for David, although Andrew was firmly convinced that Liz used it more than he did.  Her short game was excellent.

Andrew and David had a seat on the couch next to the fireplace.  It wasn’t cool enough today to fire that up, but it would be soon.  Liz was messing with something over by the grill.  As soon as she was done, she headed over join them.

“So, why the long face?”

“Geez, Liz, don’t start on him right away.  You’re worse than Mom!”

“Bite your tongue.  I’m just concerned because he doesn’t seem his chipper self today.”

Andrew sighed.  “Nothing major, just got rid of the latest girl.  And now I’m realizing that they are all girls out there.  It’s just getting a little old.”

Liz was staring intently into her margarita glass, trying to figure out what to say to her brother in law.  What do you say about something like this?  It was pretty obvious to her that Andrew needed to start dating women his own age, but Andrew didn’t see it that way.  Since he was pretty attractive and had money, he was able to attract the younger women.  Unfortunately, most of them had been pretty vapid.  There was the occasional one that wasn’t, but then she was usually some hyper-career type who hadn’t heard the ticking of her biological clock yet. When Andrew would bring up the idea of kids and family she would go running.  David saved her from having to say anything.

“Well, Bro, maybe it’s time to grow up.  You know, find the ladies who grew up in the eighties, not the ones who were born in them.”

“Maybe you’re right,” said Andrew, “but so many of them are really defective.  They’re either divorced, have kids, or are racing the biological clock.   I can’t deal with that kind of baggage.”

Liz joined in.  “Well, it’s not like you’re perfect, you know.  I seem to recall a divorce in your past.”

“That’s different.  Mine was a long time ago, there’s no kids involved, and I never have to deal with her.  I don’t even know where she is.”

Liar, thought Liz.   But this wasn’t the time to bring that up.

David continued “Either way, it’s time to move on, don’t you think?”

Andrew decided that this conversation was over.  “Liz, don’t you need to check on the steaks?”

“Yeah, they should be done about now.  But we’re not done talking about this, ya know.”

She was wrong about that.  Between eating and hanging out with the kids, the topic didn’t come up again until it was almost time for him to leave.

“Dave, pleasure as always.  See ya on Monday.”

“Later, man.  You gonna be ok?  Liz is right, you do seem a little out of it tonight.”

“Yeah, I’m good.  Being here has helped a bit.  I’ll be ok.  Always am.”

David sighed.  “If you say so.  Drive safe.”

Andrew walked out to his car.  As he got in, he noticed the new neighbor taking some trash out to the curb.  Even in sloppy clothes, he could tell she was his type, but since she lived out here in suburbia, she was definitely unattainable.  He sighed, cursed his fate, and drove home.

****

David woke up the next morning to find his wife wasn’t there.  Rather than panic – she couldn’t have gone far, right?- he simply listened to see if he could sense where she was.  After a moment he heard the banging of things in the kitchen and he could smell the results of that banging.  Realizing that he wasn’t going to get back to sleep, he went downstairs to the kitchen to see what was going on.

“Mornin’.”  He had sneaked up behind her and planted a small kiss on the back of her neck.

“Oh!  I hope I didn’t wake you.  I just wanted to make something to take over to our new neighbor.  I had all of those old bananas, so I thought I would whip up some banana bread.  I just put in the loaves about ten minutes ago and now I’m trying to get this cleaned up before the day really starts.  Coffee?  The second pot should be just about finished.”

“Of course.”  David grabbed Liz’s mug and got a clean one of his own.  He filled and fixed up both cups.  “So, are you checking her out for Andrew?”

“No.  We talked about that, remember?  No more matchmaker for us.  I’m going over to see what she’s like and if her daughter might want to make a new friend before school tomorrow.  And if the girls get along, maybe I could pull a string in the front office and get them in the same class.”

David put the coffees down on the counter next to her and slid an arm around her waist and turned her to face him.  “Well, that is right neighborly of you.  What time are you going to head over there?”

“Hmmm…well, it’s 8 now, I’m thinking anything earlier than 10:30 would not be right neighborly.  Besides, the girls won’t ready for being social until then.  So, yeah, probably 10:30 or 11.”

“And the bread has about 40 minutes left, right?”

“About.  Why do you ask?”

“I really don’t like waking up by myself.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You should be.  Now you’ll have to make it up to me.”  David had a mischevious glint in his eye.

“Oh, really?”  Liz purred.   “And just how should I do that?”  Liz slipped her arms around him and pulled him even closer.

“You’ll just have to come upstairs and find out.”

“I’d better come upstairs, or I don’t think it’s worth my time.”

“Ha!  Well, only one way to find out isn’t there?”  David grabbed her by the hand and led her upstairs to the bedroom.

A short while later, David and Liz were quietly snuggling and enjoying the moment.

“So, am I forgiven?”

David kissed the top of her head.  “It depends.  How much banana bread did you make?  Is there enough for all us too, or did we get left out?”

Liz sat up and stretched.  “Speaking of, I’d better get check on it or nobody’s getting nothing.  But yes, there is enough for you, too”

“Well, then I guess you are forgiven.”

Liz got out of bed, walked across the room, and got dressed.  She stopped at the doorway and blew David a kiss.  “Good.  I’d hate to have you so mad at me. See you downstairs.”

Katie opened her eyes and sat up in bed.

“Ow,” she said quietly.  It occurred to her that there wasn’t a muscle in her body that didn’t hurt right now.  Moving was very hard work, and she was a lot older now than the last time she did it.  Of course last time, she had movers and Michael to help her.  Well, this time she had movers as well, but she also had the “help” of a nine year old.  Her parents were supposed to have come and helped, but they somehow had “other plans.”  It’s not like they didn’t know she was moving that day as this move had only been in the works for a solid year.  She sighed.  So typical of her mother.  But her mother promised that she would help her out today with the rest.  Great, thought Katie, just the stuff I don’t want her help with.  I could do without the criticism about how I set my home up.

Katie got up and headed toward the kitchen.  Even though it was almost nine o’clock, Alyssa was still asleep.  It had been a late night for both of them getting set up, so a little extra sleep wouldn’t be a bad idea.  Besides, Alyssa would be starting school tomorrow and she needed to get some sleep.  Katie had arranged to do the handover at the shop on Thursday, the first, so she had a few more days to get situated and could afford a later start today.

Before anything could happen around here, she had to make coffee.  After that, she could consider getting cleaned up and start setting up the kitchen so she could go grocery shopping and get the house operational.

As she was pouring a cup of coffee, she heard a knock on the door.  Was it her mother already?  She wasn’t ready to deal with her just yet.  Maybe sometime next week?

No such luck.  Katie could see her parent’s outline in the leaded glass of her door.  At least they brought breakfast, thought Katie as she opened the door.

“Good morning, sweetie!  We brought some bagels!   I’m sure they aren’t as good as what you’ve gotten used to, but they’ll do for today, right?”  Katie’s mom gave her a peck on the cheek.

Katie smiled.  Her mom did try.  If only she wasn’t so trying.  “Thanks, mom.  Just put them over there.  I haven’t unpacked dishes and stuff yet, so we’ll have to use paper towels and stuff.  I do have coffee though.”

Katie’s dad piped in.  “Excellent.  I’m glad you have your priorities in order.  Margaret, shall I pour you some?”

“Please.”  Her mom took a large drag of coffee. “So Katie, where are we going to start?”

Katie took a sip of coffee.  “Well, we did the clothes yesterday so I’d like to concentrate on the kitchen today.  After that, it’s just books, toys, and knicknacks.  And my office, but I need to do that by myself so I’ll wait until Alyssa is at school and start that tomorrow or Tuesday.  We don’t do the formal hand off until Thursday, so I have a little time.  The cable guy doesn’t come in to set that stuff up until Wednesday, so as long as I’m set up by then, I’m good.”

“What does he need to do?” asked Katie’s Dad.  “Isn’t the house pre-wired?”

“Yes, for the most part.  But the room I want to set the office up in has no cable connection, so that needs to be done.”

“Are you getting a wireless network?”

“Yes, but I want all the hubs to be in there.  So the cable guys will set all of that up.”

“I could do that for you,” Katie’s dad offered.

Katie did her best to hide her shock and horror at that suggestion.  “No, I’ll just let them handle it.  It’s easier that way.”  Katie’s dad had an overly inflated opinion of his technical skills.  Since she would be running her business from here, she really didn’t want to risk it.

“Ok, but I could save you a service call,” he said through a mouthful of bagel.

“No, it’s good.”

Katie’s mom wiped the bagel crumbs from her mouth.  “Is Alyssa still asleep?”

“Yes, but don’t wake her.  I want her to be well rested for school tomorrow.  She’s really nervous and if she’s got the lack of sleep thing going, any little slight she gets for being the “new girl” will be magnified.”

“Well then.  Let’s get started.  This is such a great kitchen!  I can’t wait to get it all set up the way I like it.”

Katie and her dad shared a glance.  It was going to be a long morning.

Much to Katie’s surprise, her mother wasn’t all that bad.  She was actually helpful.  Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all, Katie thought.

Alyssa had come down about thirty minutes after her grandparents had gotten there, and she was already dressed and ready to face the day.  She and Katie’s dad concentrated on unwrapping glasses and dishes, while Katie and her mom concentrated on pots pans and utensils, and between the four of them, they were done with the kitchen pretty quickly.  For that reason alone, Katie decided to cut her mom a little slack.

As Katie was bagging up the last of the trash, the doorbell rang.

“Hey, maybe it’s the Welcome Wagon!”  said Katie’s dad.

“Oh, I wish.  Nobody does that anymore.”

Alyssa ran to the door.  “Hey!  It’s a mom and a kid!  Cool!”

That got Katie’s attention.  It would be nice if Alyssa could make a friend before tomorrow.

Alyssa had already opened the door before Katie got there.  Katie heard a voice, “Hey there!  Welcome to the ‘ol neighborhood!  Is your mom here?”

Katie finally made it to the door.  “Hi!  I’m Katie McDaniel.  Sorry for the mess.”

“Oh please, you’re moving.  Out here in Stepford we’ll give you at least 36 hours before we expect your house to be perfect.”  She laughed.  The woman handed her a loaf of what smelled like banana bread.  “I’m Liz Collins, we’re next door.  This is my daughter Jamie.  I got a little intel from the real estate agent and found out that your daughter is in fourth grade.  So’s Jamie.  I thought your daughter might like to know at least one face before starting school tomorrow.”

Katie was cheering inwardly.  Could she have lucked out anymore with a neighbor?  “Oh, Alyssa would love that!  Alyssa, this is Jamie.”

Alyssa gave her a look.  “Yeah mom, I heard that.  Can I show her my room?”

The moms laughed.  “Sure, go ahead.”  The girls ran to the back part of the house, already discussing the merits of the Cheetah Girls and Hannah Montana.

“Well, that looks like it might work,” said Liz.  “But let me know if it sticks.  I’m good friends with the registrar at school, so I can make sure they get into the same class.”

“Oh, that would be great if Alyssa could get a good start tomorrow.  Thank you so much!”

“No problem!”

While the women were talking, Katie’s parents had come up to the door.  “Oh, Liz, these are my parents, Margaret and Paul Sanders.”

“Great to meet you!  I bet you are so glad to have her back in town!”  When she noticed the odd looks on the parent’s faces, she added, “I’m friends with the real estate agent.  I got a little info on my new neighbor here.  My last neighbors were real jerks, so I’m pretty excited to have someone a little more like me.”

“Oh.”  Katie’s mom pursed her lips a little.  That’s not a good sign, thought Katie.  “Well, it is nice to have her back.  We saw Alyssa so little up in New York and we’re looking forward to our turn with her.”

Ok, thought Katie, time to change the subject.  Fast.

But Liz seemed pretty hip to the dynamic.  “Anyway, I’ll be up at the school in the morning working in the library.  Stop by after you get Alyssa settled and I’ll take you out for some coffee.”

“That sounds good.  Thank you so much.”

“I’ll get out of your hair now.  Send the girls over in a little bit so you can get some work done around here.  I know how “helpful” a nine year old can be.”

They all laughed again.  Liz was really nice and Katie could use nice right now.

“I’ll do that.  Thank you so much for everything.  See you tomorrow?”

“You bet!  Nice meeting you Margaret, Paul.”  She turned around and started back toward her house.  Ok, it’s the one to the left, Katie noted.

“Well, she seems really nice”, opined Katie’s dad.

“She’s up to something, “ said Katie’s mom.  Leave it to Katie’s mom to find the negative.

“Oh she’s just horrible!  She brought banana bread and introduced Alyssa to her daughter, and asked me out for coffee.  Next thing you know she’s going to ask me to join her book club or something.  You’re right, I better watch myself.”

Her mom sighed.  “She probably has a brother-in-law she wants to introduce you to.  Just you watch.  But other than that, she does seem nice.”

Katie’s dad laughed.  “Well, it’s been a pretty good day so far.  You’re mostly unpacked, you met your neighbors, you have banana bread, and your mother has only made one catty comment.  Not bad for a Sunday.”

Everyone laughed at that one, even Katie’s mom.  “Ok, I’ll be nice, but only if this bread is any good.”

Katie took out a plate and a knife and started to slice it.  Katie’s mom took a slice and began to eat.  After swallowing, she said, “Ok, you can be friends with her.  But only if she gives me this recipe.”

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One response to “Chapter 2

  1. OMG…you captured the chaos of moving…and the periodic parental awkwardness that can accompany ANY situation…so perfectly!! Been there and done both, more times than I can count. And I want a neighbor just like Liz!! (Well, I do now anyway. Who knows what plot twists you have up your sleeve. She COULD be a Stepford wife, just luring Katie in…*giggle*)I wanna see Chapter 3 before my imagination totally runs away with me 🙂 *jumping up and down*

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