The Boy Next Door

Submitted into Contest #132 in response to: Write a story about a teenager whose family is moving.... view prompt


Coming of Age Creative Nonfiction Friendship

Todd was literally the boy next door. But he was even closer than that. Our naval base housed us in a duplex, and Todd and I shared a common bedroom wall. Sometimes late at night while lying in my bed, reading with a flashlight under the covers, his music snuck into my room, the pulse of the bass guitar vibrating on my shoulders. If Todd knocked quietly three times, I knocked back. Then he giggled.

The Botts, Todd and his parents, already occupied the two-bedroom side of the attached house when our family of eight moved into the four-bedroom end. The three of them stood outside on the lawn counting the mattresses as the movers carried in our belongings.

 Todd yelled over “Hey, how many kids you got?” His father shushed him.

“There are six of us, plus my parents,” I yelled back.

“Whoo-eee,” he whooped. His eyes widened and brightened. I imagined he’d never seen a family so large.

Most of the military base kids on Guam knew each other. We rode the same bus, hung out at the swimming pool or the beach, and attended military family events together. But hardly anyone knew Todd. His mother home-schooled him, and he rarely left the house or yard. Nearly every time I stepped out onto our back patio, he was there, peering over the dividing hedge from his side.

He was a large boy, as big as a man. We were both sixteen, but he had a childlike demeanor: was easily excited, frequently angry, occasionally in tears. He often rocked from side to side and his eyes never looked directly into mine. Sometimes he blurted out whatever was on his mind. 

“What’s it like?” he asked one day.

“What’s what like?” I said.

“Having all those brothers and sisters?”

“Noisy. Yeah. Mostly noisy.”

“It’s too quiet at my house.”

“Well, I suspect you can hear my family through the walls.”

“Yea. Mom hates it,” he said. “But I don’t mind.”

I took refuge from the cold air conditioner, and my noisy siblings, in the outdoor patio off the back of the house. Most days after school, I spread my books across the picnic table for an hour or two. I worked on my tan and calculus at the same time. If I needed a moment of diversion, I watched the geckos scurry across the back of the house, or I talked to Todd. He seemed always nearby, respectfully quiet while I studied, but eager to chat.

“I can help you with those math problems if you want,” he said one day.

I very much doubted he could. We’d had enough conversations for me to know he had learning deficits and knowledge gaps. He’d once asked me why boys hold girls’ hands. “And don’t their hands get sweaty?”

“It’s high school calculus, Todd,” I said.

“Yeah. I know. I did that book two years ago.”

“Okay, hotshot,” I said. “Come over here and give it a try.”

My jaw dropped when he scribbled out the next answer on the chapter review. It seemed Todd was some sort of a math whiz.

I soon learned he knew more than math. In fact, he seemed to know more about everything, except the things you can’t study for: controlling emotions, taking turns, making decisions, reasoning. He also couldn’t swear or lie. I liked that about him.

So, Todd helped me with math several days a week, and I answered his questions, mostly about girls.

“What do girl’s breasts look like?” he blurted one day.

“Todd! Haven’t you ever seen a naked girl? Even a picture?” I responded.

“No. Of course not. Where would I?”

He had a point.

“In my family,” I explained, there are so many of us, we’ve all seen each other naked a time or two, by accident. Comes with sharing one bathroom.”

“So…?” he stammered.

“Well, I’m not going to show you mine if that’s what you’re asking.”

Todd’s face turned bright red, and he shook his head vehemently.

“No... I…Um…Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, Todd, they’re not all that special.”

Todd must have been watching through the windows in the evenings, because he always knew when my boyfriend picked me up for a date. The next day, he’d want to know all about it. Where did you go? Was he nice to you? Did he kiss you? Do you love him?

It was Todd who first thought of the knocking-on-the-wall-game. I’d mentioned I could hear his music through the walls at night.

“If I yell, you could probably hear me say goodnight,” he said.

“Well, don’t do that,” I countered. “I share a room with my two-year old sister. If she wakes up she’s likely to cry all night.”

“I’ll just knock. Quietly.”

And so he did. Most nights.

I became more involved with my friends in high school and bought my first car, a rusted out VW Bug. I was home less and less. I’d sometimes go weeks without time for Todd. Still, he knocked at night and waited patiently for those days I studied on the patio. He never met my friends, and we never went anywhere together; we only talked and knocked.

A year and a half after we moved in, Mr. Botts received orders for a transfer back to the mainland. Todd told me himself they were moving to Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island. It wasn’t surprising. Military families moved every two to three years. It’s all I’d ever known, and a move was no big deal. But Todd seemed upset over it.

“It’s the smallest state but still five times bigger than Guam,” he said.

I knew big things scared Todd. “You’ll be okay,” I said. “Your house won’t be too big.”

“It’ll be hard.”

“Everything is hard before it’s easy.”

“It’ll be cold.”

“Yeah, well everywhere is cold compared to Guam. Remember how hot it seemed here when we first came? I could barely breathe. After a while, I didn’t like air conditioning because it was too cold. You get used to things.”

“And people too,” he said.

“Yes, Todd. You do get used to people.”

“Then you miss them.” Todd’s eyes filled with tears.

A few days later, Mrs. Botts knocked on our door asking for me. The whole time we’d lived there I’d never had a conversation with Mrs. Botts. She seemed always inside her house. When I did see her, she usually greeted me with a half-raised hand and a grunt. Now she wanted to speak with me.

“Todd told you we’re moving?”

“Yeah. He seems upset over it.”

“He’s upset over leaving you,” she said.

“Ahh. That’s really sweet. He’s a good friend.”

“You’ve been good for him. Actually, I have something to ask you. For Todd. It’s okay if you don’t want to and you say no. I expect you will. But I promised him I’d ask anyway. He practiced asking you himself, but chickened out.”

“What is it?” I said.

“Todd wants to take you on a date before we move. He’s never been on one. He doesn’t drive, of course, so his dad and I could take you both. We thought the officer’s club on base would be ideal. They have nice meals, a live jazz band. You wouldn’t have to be alone with Todd; we’d stay. That is… if you are willing to go.”

“Of course I will,” I said. “And I don’t mind being alone with Todd. You don’t have to drive or stay.”

Three days before the movers were scheduled to arrive, I drove Todd and myself on his first date. He was over-dressed in trousers and a sports coat. I, under-dressed in a beachy bohemian skirt and sandals. He brought flowers but sneezed the whole way to the club so we tossed them out the window.

Todd was rigid and unusually quiet while waiting for our food, but when the jazz band played Moon River, he relaxed. Soon we were eating pasta and chatting as if we were on the patio with the hedge between us.

“Do you want to dance?” I asked him when the food was gone.

“I never have. I don’t know how,” he said.

“It’s easy,” I said. “I’ll show you.”

I grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the small wooden dance floor directly in front of the saxophone player.

“Here, like this,” I said. I put his hand on my waist and held the other in my hand. “Just sway with the music, back and forth. See…it’s super easy.”

Todd closed his eyes and moved tensely at first, then easily. A grin spread over his face.

We danced that number and a couple more.

“I like dancing,” said Todd.

“Me too, but we’d better get going. It’s late.”

“One more time? Pleeeease?” he begged.

The band played Someone to Watch over Me. The music seemed to go through my body, the vibrations of the drums coming through the floor. Todd leaned in and put his head on my shoulder. It didn’t feel strange or awkward. He was the sweet boy next door who was crazy good at calculus, and I was the girl who talked to him from over the hedge.

The music stopped. The quiet seemed to bring Todd out of a place he’d been while his head was on my shoulder.

“Sorry,” he said.

“I’m not. You’re a good friend, Todd.”

“You too, Kathy.”

Three days later, the moving van arrived, and within hours, the Botts were gone. Todd was right. You got used to people.

Then you missed them

February 04, 2022 17:25

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Cathy Shields
00:42 Mar 08, 2022

Kathy, you are on fire! What a well-written piece!


Show 0 replies
Dustin Gillham
19:49 Feb 19, 2022

Great setting. Great plot! Lovely characters. A gift box of a story! Well done.


Show 0 replies
Paula Young
15:32 Feb 18, 2022

Such a sweet story. As a military brat myself, I appreciate it. Love the characters and unique setting. Good job!


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.