Recap: In the previous chapter, Lyle was having dinner with his grandparents and lamenting over his recent job loss. Now he’s not only unemployed, but homeless, too. After breaking up with his girlfriend, Annabelle, Lyle is forced to move out of her apartment and go to the only person who will take him: his cousin, Shep Colane.
Lyle struggled up the concrete steps, clutching a large, cardboard box. His cousin, Shep, held the apartment door open as he walked inside.
“Is that the last one?” Shep asked.
Lyle set the box atop a large pile. “That’s it. My whole life’s on your living-room floor.”
“Good thing I ran the vacuum, then,” Shep said. “My lunch ended up there last Saturday night. Me and Cassie went clubbing and got a little carried away.”
Lyle gently kicked at one of the boxes, casting his gaze to the floor. “This is only temporary, you know.”
Shep nodded. “I know.”
“I’ll be moving as soon as I find a job and get back on my feet.”
Shep nodded. “I know.”
“I appreciate your taking me in, even though you know I can’t help with the rent until my unemployment’s sorted out.”
Shep shook his head. “No, I didn’t know that.”
“I just want to assure you,” Lyle continued, “that I don’t take any of this for granted, and I have no intention of overstaying my welcome.”
“Well,” Shep said, “I’d never dreamed of welcoming you to stay, but I guess I trudged headfirst into that minefield.”
Lyle sighed, staring at the pile. “I guess I better unpack and get settled in, then.”
“Let’s take a break,” Shep said. “We’ve been working all morning. How about a beer?”
Lyle shrugged. “Sure. Sounds good.”
“What’ll you have?” Shep asked, walking into the kitchen. He wrenched open the refrigerator.
“You got Spaten?”
“Um … no.”
“St. Pauli Girl?”
“Let’s try this: What do you have?” Lyle asked.
“Looks like anything you want, as long as it’s Bud Light.”
“Well, that narrows it down,” Lyle said. “I’ll take a Bud Light.”
“Excellent choice.” Shep handed Lyle a can and took one for himself. “You know, not to be rude, but you’ve got a ritzy choice in beer. Now that you’re unemployed, you’re going to have to lower your standards a bit.”
Lyle nodded. “I know. You’re absolutely right. In fact, I was thinking of giving up beer until I find a job.”
Shep frowned. “I said ‘lower your standards’ — not ‘wither up and die.’”
“Well, I toyed with the idea after losing my job, but I’ll settle for lowering my standards.”
“Speaking of lowering your standards,” Shep said, “there’s a single woman a few doors down who might be perfect for you. She’s a little older, but I think she likes younger guys.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because she’s always asking me out. She’s seen me with Cassie, too, but she doesn’t care. Now that you’re living here, maybe she’ll get off my back.”
Lyle narrowed his eyes. “How old is ‘a little older’?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Shep shrugged. “I’d say she’s in her fifties. Maybe mid-fifties.”
“Not exactly child-bearing age.”
“Yeah, but you don’t like kids. It could be a match made in heaven. Plus, she’s experienced. Maybe she could teach you a little about life and relationships.”
Lyle snorted. “I know enough about life and relationships to know I like neither.”
Shep took a swig from his beer. “Annabelle really broke your heart, huh?”
“Well, I might have broken hers, first. She claims I changed over the course of our relationship, and that I’m no longer the guy she fell in love with.”
“That’s not fair. People are entitled to change. Change is a natural part of life.”
“Yeah, but she says I changed into a jerk because I hated my job. Which was true: I did hate my job. I just didn’t know I took it out on her.”
Shep grinned. “Look at you, defending her. Somebody’s still in love.”
“No.” Lyle shook his head. “That ship not only sailed — it highballed to the edge of the ocean and fell off the face of the earth.”
“So how did you two leave things?” Shep asked. “Did you and Annabelle agree to remain friends, or are you never going to speak to each other again?”
“Both,” Lyle said. “We agreed to be friends, and I’m sure we’ll never speak to each other again.”
Just then, a huge thud hit the wall behind them, followed by the sound of shattering glass. A man and woman started screaming in the apartment next door. The wall muffled their actual words, but the volume and rage were unmistakable.
“Holy crap!” Lyle said, jumping. His beer frothed and oozed onto his hand. “What was that?”
Shep waved dismissively. “Ah, don’t worry about them. That’s just the neighbors. They’re a young couple, and they do this every day. They get in a huge screaming match, a few pieces of furniture get broken, and then they make up. You’ll get used to them.”
“Wow,” Lyle said. “Even at our worst, Annabelle and I never sounded like that.”
“They didn’t either, until they got married. This has been going on for a couple of months now. But don’t worry about it: give them an hour, and they’ll be having make-up sex. As thin as these walls are, I’m sure we’ll hear that, too. Then we’ll be wishing they were still fighting.”
Shep motioned to the patio. “C’mon, let’s sit outside, where we can hear ourselves talk.”
Lyle followed Shep through the sliding-glass door and onto the wooden patio. Two cobwebbed chairs sat near the railing, overlooking the apartment complex’s tennis courts and central lawn.
Lyle brushed off his seat with a tissue before sitting down.
“You know,” he said, “that’s a good advertisement for never getting married.”
“What’s that?” Shep asked.
Lyle pointed inside. “Your neighbors. It sounds like they were happy before they got married.”
“Well,” Shep said, “they definitely didn’t fight as much.”
“That’s what I’m saying. Maybe the permanence of their situation is sinking in, and they’re starting to have doubts. Their mutual hostility could be a subconscious manifestation of their fear — specifically, their fear of forever.”
Shep looked at him. “You take a couple of psychology courses in college?”
“No,” Lyle said. “I watched a lot of Fraiser.”
“Hmm.” Shep shrugged. “You could be right, but it’s more likely they’re going through a phase. Sometimes people argue to feel each other out. They uncover the true essence of their love by coming to terms with their differences. It’s a way of molding two individual minds into one. If they keep it up, they’ll be finishing each other’s sentences in no time.”
“If the wife’s anything like Annabelle, she’ll not only be finishing his sentences — she’ll be starting them for him, too.”
Shep grinned. “Speaking of hostility….”
“I’m just kidding,” Lyle said. “Annabelle was never like that.”
“You know, it’s OK for you to show some anger toward her. It’d probably be healthy. After all, she did cheat on you.”
“I don’t hate Annabelle.”
“I know you don’t. That’s the problem. It’s clear you’re still very much in love with her.”
Lyle sighed and sipped his beer. “You don’t just throw away two years.”
“Why not? You threw away four getting a journalism degree.” Shep laughed.
“Hey, now.” Lyle smiled, pointing to himself. “Look where it’s gotten me.”
“Seriously, it’s OK for you to be angry at Annabelle,” Shep said. “I’m sure she expects it. A little anger’s always OK, as long as it’s not outright malice.”
“I could never bear malice against Annabelle.”
“Why? Because you still love her?”
“No. Because I’m saving it all for Brent.”
Shep laughed. “So I take it that bromance went down the tubes?”
“Down the tubes, to the edge of the ocean and off the face of the earth. Actually,” Lyle said, shrugging, “I haven’t spoken to him since the day I caught them — which is just as well. I can’t imagine what we’d say. It’s not the sort of thing you come to terms with over a couple of drinks and some small talk. Besides, that’s probably what got him and Annabelle into the whole mess to begin with.”
“I never liked the guy, myself,” Shep said. “I thought he was arrogant, uninformed and full of opinions. Where did you meet him, anyway?”
“In journalism school.”
“Oh, well there you go,” Shep said.
Lyle tilted his head back and drained his beer. “In any event,” he said, “I don’t hold bad feelings toward anybody. I don’t want to put that kind of energy into the world. It’s my choice how I feel, and I choose to feel happy for them.”
“Are they staying together?”
“No, they’ve broken up. Which is why I can feel happy for them.”
Shep laughed and finished his beer. “C’mon. I’ll help you unpack.”
As they stepped inside, the sound of throbbing bass pulsated from the next-door apartment.
“Ah, good.” Shep smiled.
“Good?” Lyle frowned, looking at Shep. “Why’s that good? They’re blasting music. Does that mean they’re still fighting?”
“No,” Shep said. “That means they’re having make-up sex. And trust me, you want the music.”