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The Good Neighbor
By Jay Quinn
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2007 Jay Quinn
All rights reserved.
St. Marks Court at Venetian Vistas
A GREAT POET once wrote that good fences make good neighbors. Open gates can make the best of friends. But need often respects no boundary, even when lovers are drawn together harder than they come apart. For lovers, unlike good neighbors and best friends, love is sometimes never enough.
Rory Fallon had never really been to Venice. Back in college, he'd been in love with the idea of that city. He'd dreamed of spending time there, imagining himself washed in the unique light reflected off the broad waters of the sea and the narrower canals. His was a dream drawn from art history classes, colored by the paintings of Tiepolo and Caneletto. Rory would have fitted in there, back in the Renaissance and Baroque times, with his reddish-gold hair and lashes, and his cream skin highlighted with gold flecks of freckles across his nose and shoulders. He wouldn't have been out of place in one of the city's frescoes as a lithe angel or a grave doge's gilded favorite. But the real Venice remained far away as Rory walked his dog in another kind of favorable, early evening light, in another idea of Venice.
"Hold on, girl. We'll be home soon," Rory said to Bridget, his bullmastiff, as they rounded the corner off Grand Canal Drive onto St. Mark's Court, where Rory lived in one of Venetian Vistas' first houses. Rory had moved into the new neighborhood on the edge of the western Broward County suburbs when it was still recently claimed from the Everglades. The entire development was all flatland then; only the newly dynamited canals and lakes gave any interruption to the lunar landscape that would eventually become a lush gated community. There was no sign then of the promised luxury homes that sprang up within a year. Rory and Bridget had walked the recently paved streets when the houses going up around them looked bombed out and lonely as a view of Kabul, not the palazzos of Venice.
"Are you ready to see your daddy, then? Daddy Bruno?" Rory asked the dog, who glanced back at him and began to pull him along with greater determination. Rory sharply tugged her leash in response, and the heavy dog slackened her trot to a stately pace. Rory smiled as he looked around him. He could name the home models—the Raphael, da Vinci, Caneletto, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio—alternating on his street with predictable regularity. Nearly all the homes had SUVs and stray bikes and Big Wheels parked in front of their stately, blank facades. They presented little individual personality to anyone walking down the street, but this neighborhood didn't have many pedestrians. The homeowners came home, left their cars and bikes out front, and immediately went inside their trophy homes. Rory was living on this street as all its houses became finished and occupied, but he had never met more than a handful of his neighbors, certainly none that needed anything other than a nod or smile in the way of interaction.
Rory shook his head, bemused at the fact that he could not name a single neighbor. He allowed himself to be towed by the stout Bridget along the still blindingly white new sidewalks of Venetian Vistas, past the five variations of house styles, and he missed what had been the views of the waterways behind them until the houses had built up and filled in, lot by lot. Unlike the real Venice, its ersatz South Florida imitation hid the water behind its McMansions, all the better to view it from their large "family" rooms, with their screen-enclosed pool areas on their rear sides. It was a backward, inward-looking way to live, discouraging interaction with one's neighbors and community. Still, the large fantasy houses sold and sold dearly. It was a real financial achievement to be able to afford Venetian Vistas' design-enforced privacy.
Bridget stopped a drive away from the drive of the house next door to Rory's. Rory nearly walked past her, so absorbed he was in his own thoughts, cocooned by the familiarity and repetitiveness of his view. He looked up to see a man lift the hatch of a minivan and reach inside among the stacked boxes Rory saw through the car's windows. Bridget gave a low warning growl, and the man looked up at Rory and smiled.
Rory stopped, returned his smile, and bent slightly to rub the big dog's ears. "It's okay, girl. Be nice." Bridget looked up at him and gave him a reassuring panting grin. "C'mon Bridget," Rory encouraged her and deftly stepped into the street to put some space between them and the man standing at the back end of his car.
"She's a big girl," the man said easily as they neared him. "Does she bite?"
"No. She's a love pig. It's more likely she'd slobber you to death," Rory replied, giving the man a brief, friendly once-over. He was tall, taller than Rory by several inches, and had the look of an amenably aging basketball jock—all loose-limbed, long and easy. Dressed in cut-off gray sweatpants and an agreeably tight pink polo shirt, he had a high, round butt and no gut, but he did betray a certain slackening of what must have once been a lean, rangy younger man. Rory imagined him to be around forty, his own age, if not a bit older.
"Awww. Who's a big girl?" the man asked and turning from the back of his minivan, took two steps onto the sidewalk and squatted down with the back of his hand extended. "What kind of dog is she?" he asked, looking up for Rory's response.
Bridget, too, looked up at Rory, asking with her eyes for permission to approach the man and scent him. In response, Rory nodded at the dog and then said, "She's a bullmastiff. But she's an old girl, not mean at all."
The man nodded and allowed himself to be sniffed before he gently reached out his hands to rub the sides of Bridget's massive head. "How old is she?"
Rory watched as Bridget allowed herself to be rubbed and then unfurled her wide tongue and panted happily. "She's seven. Their life span is only about nine to ten years. Eleven at the outside."
The man gave Bridget another brief, vigorous rub behind the ears and stood extending his hand to Rory. "Name's Austin. Austin Harden. I just bought this house, tomorrow's moving day, but I'm getting enough stuff in to sleep here tonight."
Rory took his hand and shook it. "Rory. Rory Fallon. I'm next door at 5150. Nice to meet you."
Austin gave him a smile and gestured toward his house. "Your place is nice. Is it custom?"
"Excuse me?" Rory asked, confused.
"Is it a custom-built home? I mean, it doesn't look like any of the other models in the development," Austin elaborated.
"Oh! Okay ... no, it's not custom. It was a very early floor plan. It was called a Tintoretto, but they changed the design into the Caneletto. They're similar. Actually, because the builder changed the plan into one they weren't going to offer after it was already built, we were able to buy it and move in right after the models were finished. We've been here since day one," Rory explained.
Austin laughed. "And we're the last one sold. You must know this was a model too," he said, gesturing over his shoulder at his new home behind him. "You must have gotten a real deal. I understand the values have gone up over a hundred grand since the first units were built."
Rory smiled. "Oh yeah, we got a very good deal, considering the developer wanted to unload it quick before people started asking for it. Still, it was kind of a hassle living here while the sales were going on. If I left the front door unlocked, I'd hear people come in and start looking around. We finally had to put up a 'private home' sign." Rory smiled. "I know you got a lot of upgrades by buying the model of the da Vinci. Marble mosaic in the foyer, granite countertops, cherry-finished cabinets, hardwood floors ..."
"Yeah," Austin said with a wry smile, "they never let us forget it when we were looking to buy the place. Still, it appraised out so ..."
"So you got a really nice-looking place," Rory finished.
"You've seen it?"
"Right. We came over to look at it a few times. Pure curiosity. It's a great-looking home."
Austin grinned. "I can't quite believe it's ours."
"Ours?" Rory asked with calculated detachment.
"My wife, Meg, and my two boys, Noah and Josh," Austin explained. "You said we?"
"My partner, Bruno, and I," Rory responded with a note of challenge.
Austin gave him a brief once-over and quickly put on a studiedly casual look. "Oh ... you guys been together long?"
Rory had to fight to keep from sighing. It was the usual response he got when he told neighbors he and Bruno lived there. As far as he knew, he and Bruno were the only gay couple in all of Venetian Vistas. Everyone wanted to know how long they'd been together, as if the length of their partnership gave some insight into what kind of neighbors they'd make and how long they intended to stay. He covered by looking down for Bridget, who had sauntered to the end of her leash toward home. "Off and on since college. We've really lived together now for nearly seventeen years."
Austin gave him a polite nod. "Bruno ..." he began as something seemed to strike him, and he gazed down the street. Bridget started to bark, and both Rory and Austin heard and saw a GMC Yukon pull into Rory's drive with a fierce impatience, only to stop inches from the garage door with an angry snarl of its emergency brake before its engine cut off.
"Speak of the devil," Rory said and gave Austin an amused smile. Both watched as Bruno got out of his car, slammed the door, and strode toward them with an open grin.
"Whazzup, girl?" Bruno growled at the dog, who responded by leaping at the end of her leash in a display of eager athleticism that belied her age and thick, bulky build. Rory let go of her leash and she hurled herself at Bruno. He knelt and absorbed the shock of her head butting his chest without any apparent effect.
Austin looked at Rory and lifted his eyebrows, impressed. From the looks of both of them, the dog and the man were well matched.
Rory cocked his head at Austin. "They're two Mack trucks," he said dryly. "They cancel each other out."
"Whazzup, guys?" Bruno said as he roughly shook the dog's head, stood, and, thrusting it aside, strode over. Undaunted, Bridget happily trotted along by his side.
"Hey," Rory said, and Austin noted a degree of coy affection that couldn't be concealed. "Bruno, this is our new next-door neighbor, Austin Harden."
Austin took two steps to meet Bruno's outstretched hand. It closed around it with enough force to let him know there was more behind it. Austin returned the pressure with a corresponding pressure. It was visceral communication that managed to say much. "Pleased to meet you."
"Sure thing," Bruno responded heartily. "Welcome to the neighborhood." That said, Austin watched as Bruno looked fondly and possessively at Rory. Bruno's free hand rose with a degree of swiftness that made Austin flinch as if the bigger man were going to cuff Rory on the back of his head. Instead, the hard hand grasped at the scruff of Rory's neck and shook him gently. The brief gesture brought Austin a flash of memory, and an earlier place to hold the couple before him.
"Long day, beast?" Rory asked.
"It's over now," Bruno responded, and turning to Austin he asked, "So, how about a beer?"
Austin glanced back at the boxes waiting in his minivan. It had been a long day. Meg was due in with the boys any minute, but a beer sounded wonderful. "What the hell. Sure ..."
Bruno glanced at Rory significantly.
"Is Corona okay? Rory asked Austin. "I'm afraid it'll have to be no GDL,"
"No GDL?" Austin asked.
"No God Damn Lime," Bruno answered and smiled.
"Sure," Austin said to Bruno, taken aback by the man's proprietary forcefulness, even arrogance. "No problem," he said gently to Rory.
"I'll be right back." Rory said, and without a word he took Bruno's briefcase from his hand, picked up the leash and tugged Bridget's adoring attention from Bruno's side, then started for the house.
Austin watched as Bruno gave his partner a frankly appraising look as he walked away. He half expected him to swat the other man's ass before he returned his attention to him saying, "I'm sorry, I hate lime in my beer. I could have offered you a Coke or something as well. You're sure a beer is okay?"
"A cold beer sounds great, to tell you the truth." Without anything more said, Austin could tell how things went in his new next-door neighbor's house. Evidently, Bruno was used to getting what he wanted and only thought of what somebody else might have in mind after the fact—well after the fact.
"Did you do your closing today?" Bruno asked.
"Oh yeah." He gestured half turning to the house behind him. "Thirty years from today it'll be all mine."
Bruno laughed. "Are you moving in tonight?"
Austin jammed his hands in his sweatpants pockets and bounced a couple of times on the balls of his feet. "Yeah. Just sleeping bags though. The moving van will be here tomorrow. You know how it goes. You have to get out of one place before you can close on another."
"It's rough that way, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?" Bruno responded. "Nice place you bought, though. By tomorrow night, you'll be living the life."
Austin grinned. "You got that right. It's a hell of a long way from where the wife and I started out."
Bruno nodded. "Where's the wife? We'd love to meet her."
"Oh, she's due with the kids any minute," Austin said uncomfortably. He was aware that the big man next to him on the sidewalk was sizing him up, not sexually especially, but assessing him in a way that was discomfiting nonetheless. He felt Bruno looking at him as if he was reading his relative status in the world, to see if he measured up to a standard of some sort. He wanted to change the subject and deflect the scrutiny. His earlier flash provided a way to gain the upper hand. "By any chance did you play lacrosse in college?"
The question barely registered with a flicker in Bruno's eyes. "As a matter of fact, I did."
Austin nodded. "Bruno the Beast, they called you. But your real name is Will ... Will something?" Austin was pleased to detect a slight look in Bruno's eyes of being caught off balance before he regained his affable, albeit aggressive, assessment.
"Will Griffin. If you follow college lacrosse you're going back a long ways to put that together," Bruno responded off-handedly.
"Nearly twenty years," Austin said. He heard the front door of Bruno's house close and looked up to see Rory making his way toward them with one long-necked bottle of Corona in one hand and two knitted in the fingers of the other. "Eighteen to be exact," he said. "I know you guys."
Before Bruno could answer, Rory was offering Bruno the single beer before extending the beers between his fingers toward Austin. Bruno and Austin took their beers and Rory offered Austin a shy smile. "Know who?"
"Austin's got one on me. He says he knows us," Bruno said and took a long swig of his beer without his eyes leaving Austin's face.
Austin gestured his beer at Rory in thanks and said. "We went to the same school. I was Eddy Daniels' roommate one semester when you guys were in that cover band ... Bad Halen ..."
"No shit," Bruno exploded, and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He laughed and punched Austin on the arm. "Well fuck me harder, I bet you're the only person within five hundred miles that ever heard of Bad Halen. Goddamn, Rory can you believe this?"
Rory smiled and rolling his eyes looked away.
Austin laughed, unexpectedly delighted at their response. "Bruno, you played bass, as I recall. And Rory, you sounded like a younger, better Sammy Hagar. I heard you play twice. Once in a club, and once when you did that weird thing at your senior show, Rory."
"Oh god. You came to that? I almost didn't graduate because of that," Rory responded.
Bruno laughed and drained his bottle of beer.
"Why?" Austin asked. "I mean, I thought it was brilliant, mixing the band's performance with your art work. Do you still paint?"
"It's a long story," Rory answered noncommittally. "No. I don't paint anymore. I'm an electrician."
Bruno loosened his tie and freed his thick neck from the top button of his shirt before continuing to undo two more of his buttons. Austin caught a glimpse of the dark hair at his throat, stark against the crisp whiteness of his shirt. "He's more than an electrician," he said, brooking no argument. "Rory is a commercial lighting designer."
Rory smiled and shrugged. Bruno responded by cuffing him lightly on the back of his head. "He's soooo modest," he said to Austin. "He's still an artist. He just paints with light now," he concluded proudly.
Excerpted from The Good Neighbor by Jay Quinn. Copyright © 2007 Jay Quinn. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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