The Voyeur Next Door(10)

By: Airicka Phoenix

“Why don’t we go for dinner?” she offered instead. “I brought my car.”

“Dinner?” Earl perked. “Dinner sounds wonderful. Gabriel, go clean up.”

It was a tossup who was more stunned by the command. Ali and I both exchanged semi horrified glances that went completely ignored by Earl.

“Grandpa, I have work—”

“It’s closing time anyway in half an hour,” the older man stated sharply. “And when a pretty lady asks you to dinner, you don’t say no!”

I glanced at Ali, not because I wanted to see this pretty he was talking about, but because I was more certain than ever that she was the antichrist. I’d barely known her for twenty-four hours and she had managed to push every one of my buttons, and I wasn’t the type of guy who got easily ruffled. But everything about her had my senses going on high alert. And it wasn’t because she was some unbearably beautiful creature that just radiated sexual appeal and magnetism. She was fairly ordinary and possessed the type of features that were mostly hidden behind an array of unkempt hair and bug-eye glasses. However, she did radiate something. I just wasn’t sure what the hell that was. All I knew was that she was colossal pain in the ass and I was better off keeping her away from me.

“She asked you out to dinner,” I said, already turning away.

“And I’m telling you to go clean up!” Earl barked, hobbling his way down the steps.

Grandpa had been a Master Sergeant back in the day, before friendly fire accidentally blew out his leg. The wound had healed and he’d continued on with his duties until retirement. But every year, that leg kept getting worse and worse, and he was too stubborn to use a cane. He claimed it wrecked his street cred with the ladies, but I knew it was pride. I threatened to superglue the thing to his hand while he was sleeping, but he knew I wouldn’t; my mother would kill me. Thirty-five years did not give me the confidence to piss that woman off. Besides, Earl might have been old, but I wasn’t going to intentionally put a blunt weapon in his hand to beat me over the head with.

He reached the bottom landing and straightened all six feet of himself to glower up at me with the confidence of a man who knew he could beat my ass no matter how old he was.

“Do I have to repeat myself?”

Had Earl not raised me after my dad rammed his car into a pole when I was six, I would have told him to forget it. But he was the only father figure I had and I respected the man too much to disobey.

“No,” I muttered.

“Good. Take these with you.”

The carton of eggs were shoved into my hands. My gaze shot over Earl’s head to where Ali stood, watching the exchange with about as much joy as I felt. And in that moment, I realized something; she made me feel young and not in a good way. She made me feel childish and petty. I wanted to stick my tongue out at her and that was just mortifying.

Eggs in hand, I stalked past the two and marched my way upstairs. The eggs were placed in the fridge and I went to wash up and change clothes.

The loft had been my apartment before I moved and I only moved because I got tired of sharing my space with everyone at the garage. As a control freak, I would never dream of leaving my underwear lying about, but what if I did? What if I wanted that option? I couldn’t. But aside from that, I had plans to renovate the place and that involved me not being there when it began. So I had found a place close by and started a life that didn’t involve the shop for the first time in five years. A part of me was ready to move on and start forgetting. But a very large part of me needed to return to what had once given me peace and joy. I wasn’t sure how, but one thing at a time.

Ali and Earl were standing where I’d left them when I made my way back downstairs, freshly showered and dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt. Earl was telling her something that had Ali clutching her stomach and laughing with enough force to make her entire body quiver. She wasn’t even trying to be quiet, or delicate about it. I felt a twitch in my lips as the sound rolled over the garage in waves of delirious delight. Something about her laughter was irrationally contagious and it momentarily charmed me, before I caught myself and sanity prevailed.

“Ah, Gabriel, you’re here.” Earl caught sight of me first. “I was just telling Ali about the time you let Tamara dress you up as a girl for Halloween.”

I hated that story. I hated that no one ever seemed to forget it. You try to do the brotherly thing once and no one ever let you live it down.

“I was a kid,” I muttered in self-defense.

“You were twenty-seven,” Earl corrected without missing a beat.