Chapter Five

If you’re new, start here.

 

Dun dun dun dun dun dun…

Kevin entered the lobby, chest first (the chest in question unclothed and hairy). He wore dark mid-thigh corduroy shorts and mismatched tube socks with a roll of masking tape as a bracelet. He gave the floral armchair a look of disgust as he passed.

“What’s going on, Kevin?” Joyce asked, trying to sound casual.

Kevin placed a stack of papers, roll of tape, and elbows on the counter. “This place is ugly,” he said, as he usually did. He’d never been a fan of the lobby décor; said it was outdated, and Joyce should have gone with a cabana theme. “That’s not why I’m here though. I want to hang these reward flyers in the office.”

“Reward?”

“I’m offering twenty bucks for information on who had me arrested last night.”

Joyce took a breath. Damn.

The emergency line had rung multiple times the night before, all Kevin complaints.

At 1:00 a.m., he was playing his music too loudly.

Joyce called his cell, and he promised to turn it down.

At 3:00 a.m., he was on his patio singing along with the music.

Joyce called his cell, and he didn’t answer.

It was at 4:00 a.m., when Kevin took his performance to the community picnic table and added in choreography, sans clothes, that Joyce snapped. All the years of dealing with Kevin, the months of being ignored by Bob, and the unbearable misery of Josh’s death came to a head and erupted out of her like fiery lava.

All she saw was red.

Joyce groped for the phone on her nightstand, intending to leave a strongly worded voicemail for Kevin.

Except she didn’t.

Her finger dialed 9-1-1 robotically. She reported a “disturbance” in the third courtyard and gave no further information. She didn’t feel an ounce of guilt about it either. Until now.

Joyce genuinely believed the police would just talk to Kevin about respecting his neighbors and, if anything, he’d be scared into submission. His being arrested never crossed her mind.

“What were the charges?” she asked.

“I was charged with two counts of none-of-your-business. I’m so pissed off!” He pounded the counter with his fist.

Joyce jumped.

“I will find out who it was, Joyce. I will.”

This is bad.

When Kevin put his mind to something, he thought and spoke of nothing else. Lucky for him, he didn’t have any adult responsibilities to interfere.

“You know who I think it was?” Kevin asked, drumming his fingers along his jawline. “I think it was the lady next door, the one with the kid. I can’t stand parents. Especially mothers. They think because they have a baby suddenly everyone needs to cater to them. Oh, my baby’s asleep. Be quiet. Oh, don’t smoke around my baby. Oh, don’t walk around naked in front of my baby. I’m not the one who forced her to push out a kid, why should I be punished? I want her gone, today. Let’s make that happen. Give me the notice, and I’ll deliver it. Her kid can go cry on the streets for all I care.”

Joyce rubbed her temples. “I don’t think it was her. She’s never complained before.” A miracle.

“Let’s get the paperwork started,” he said, ignoring her. “You’ve been slipping, and there’s no excuse for it. You’ve let some serious deadbeats in here. Let’s start cleaning this place up. Starting with my neighbor.”

It happened again. The red. “Shut your mouth you entitled imbecile! I’m the one who called, not any of your neighbors!”

Silence.

A silence that stretched on for what felt like hours but was likely seconds.

Then Kevin’s face contorted into all-consuming anger. He looked around the room until his eyes landed on the crystal vase of flowers on the counter.

Red gone.

“Kevin, don’t. That was a Mother’s Day present from Josh.”

He picked up the vase and held it high in the air with an I’ll show you smirk.

“Put it down, carefully, please,” Joyce pleaded. “I kept getting calls. I told them your family owned the building, and I explained your situation. But people can only take so much. You’ve got to know this.”

He shook his head. “There is no situation, and you know this, Joyce.”

“I know.” If he weren’t holding her last Mother’s Day present hostage, then she may have felt sorry for Kevin. As she usually did. His situation, or lack thereof, was terrible. But as it stood, nothing but anger was pumping through her veins. So help me, if he breaks my vase…“Put it down!”

Kevin’s eyed darted around the room again, his head shaking, his chest rising and falling as if he’d just performed jumping jacks.

He looked at the counter.

Then at her.

Then at the counter.

Then at the floral armchair.

Without a word, he turned and darted out the door, taking the vase with him.

No!

Joyce followed, shuffling as fast as she could, coughing and wheezing the entire journey. Pushing her lungs past their natural capacity. Kevin’s apartment bridged over the back walkway, at the top of the stairwell. It was the only door painted black.

Joyce knocked. “Vase… please… give it… back,” she gasped, forcing the words.

For once Kevin listened—in his own “Kevin” kind of way.

The vase crashed through the window and into the railing, shattering into thousands of tiny pieces. Joyce pressed her back against the wall, not able to cry, not able to make any noise. She could only stare at the glass shards spewed across the walkway, unable to decipher which belonged to the window and which belonged to her heart.

She clutched the railing and eased herself down the stairs. She collapsed on the bottom step and dropped her face into her hands.

Josh.

Someone brushed against her arm as they zoomed by. “You’ve seen your last day, Kevin! You hear me?”

Bob?

Joyce looked up. Bob stood at the top of the stairwell, looking haggard and grubby with his fist beating on the black door. Kevin didn’t answer.

“You come near my wife again, and I’ll take you down!”

Joyce’s mouth dropped. She’d never heard Bob threaten anyone before. Must be all that court television.

Seething, Bob charged down the stairs and paced the walkway in front of Joyce, going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Mumbling indecipherable words. Wringing his hands. Pacing a mile’s worth of steps before he finally stopped.

He stood in front of Joyce, exhaled a deep breath, and extended a helping arm. She hesitated, then slowly wrapped her fingers around his bicep and stood. He pulled her into an embrace, placing his hand on the back of her head. His lips close to her ear. “I’ve got you, sweetie,” he whispered.

Sweetie.

With that, tears sprung to her eyes. Tears for her vase. Tears from Bob’s whiskers prickling her face. Tears for the endearing term she hadn’t heard since before. Tears for the familiar warmth of being tucked into the arms of the man she’d loved since she was twelve years old.

“Shh, I’ve got you,” he repeated. “Don’t worry. I’ll make this right.”

My name is Erin Huss. I’m a thirty-something mom of five, wife of one, author, and blogger. I enjoy long walks through Target, romance novels, chick-lit, cozy mysteries, historical fiction, See’s Candy, musicals, and I’ll pretty much buy anything the TV tells me to. I’m originally from the beautiful Central Coast of California and now reside in Southern California with my family, which also includes one bird, two dogs, and a lot of fish. I’m a PREVIVOR. Represented by Ella Marie Shupe & Sharon Belcastro

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