30 is the New 20 Ch. 01

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One month before my thirtieth birthday I thought my life was over. As any other female who’s worn my shoes can tell you, being single, recently divorced, and childless is a recipe for clinical depression in any woman about to celebrate their third decade of life. I began thinking about terrifying concepts like biological clocks, online dating, and battery operated sex toys. My morale was in shambles.

When I heard a 1969 Chevelle Super Sport outside my rented house, with its loud exhaust pipes, I assumed things were about to get even worse.

I discreetly looked through the front window, pushing the curtain back subtly like my mother used to do when she would watch the neighbors. My mother was a constant window-monitor and I swore I’d never be like her, but there I was – spying like an old neighborhood gossip. A pick-up truck pulling a trailer loaded with furniture and boxes arrived shortly after the muscle car, parking at the curb. Watching two young men carry everything inside I began to have nightmarish visions of loud music and all-night keg parties.

You see, following my divorce, I had rented a house near the University of Arizona, just off-campus on the east side. Most of the houses in the neighborhood were rented by college students and it wasn’t uncommon to see a half dozen or more people all living in one so-called party house. The area wasn’t my first choice as a place to live, but it was the biggest house I could find offering affordable rent. An apartment would have been too depressing after living in a big suburban house the prior seven years. The fall semester was about to start and I had been wondering – with no small amount of apprehension – what my neighbors would be like.

Eventually the boy with the truck left. No other cars appeared that night and I took some comfort in the fact that an entire fraternity hadn’t moved in.

The following morning, a Saturday, I was surprised to find my new neighbor already raking his rock yard. Peeking out the kitchen window I saw he was wearing a pair of tan cargo shorts, a pair of sneakers, and nothing else. He had a physique of youthful athleticism, skinny at the waist and ankles but defined around the shoulders, chest, and abs. His hair was nearly shaved with a buzz cut and he had a fantastic tan that glistened with a coat of sweat. I admit to lingering at the window longer than appropriate.

Suddenly remembering a pitcher of fresh lemonade waiting in the fridge, I sensed an opportunity to discover more about my new neighbor. Hurrying to the bedroom I struggled to push my legs through a pair of faded skinny-jeans and selected a pink tank top that showed off my shoulders. I stopped by the bathroom mirror to fuss with my hair, which was cut at shoulder length and fell straight down the sides to frame my face. I was a natural brunette, which was obvious by my dark roots, though I started dying it blonde around the seventh grade and never looked back.

Even though I had no reason to impress a college student, it was important to me that I looked as young and hot as possible when I carried that glass of lemonade out to him. I didn’t want him to think he was living next door to an old hag, and if I’m being completely honest with myself I was attracted to my young, sexy neighbor. Divorce does that to women – we feel the irrepressible need to know if we have the ability to catch the eyes of younger men; we want to know if we still have ‘it’.

“Hello,” I waved while crossing my yard towards him. The glass of lemonade I was carrying was already wet with condensation from the hot Arizona sun, “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

He turned and smiled at me. My breath caught when I saw his brilliantly white teeth, adorable dimples, and gorgeous face. “Hey,” he greeted back.

“You looked warm out here working so hard,” I said, “I brought you something to drink.”

“Oh wow,” he took the glass, “That’s really nice of you. Thanks.”

“I’m Taylor, Taylor Nichols.” I used my maiden name to introduce myself even though I hadn’t legally changed it back yet following the divorce.

He offered a handshake while taking a swallow of the lemonade, “Nice to meet you, Taylor, my name is Johnny Black.”

“Are you a student at the University?” I asked, subtly steering the conversation to learn what I might be in for over the coming seven months.

“Yeah,” he lifted a wrist to wipe some sweat off his brow, “I’ll be a freshman.”

I’m sure I looked surprised, “You’re only eighteen? Nineteen?” He looked young in his face, but he had a leanly muscled frame that didn’t look like it belonged on a teenager.

“Almost twenty,” he replied, “I’ve been in the army for the past eighteen months. I got discharged early for a gunshot wound.”

That explained his toned frame. I had to remind myself to keep my eyes on his, which held an incredible shade of blue.

“Are you a student?” he asked.

I blushed at the fact that he would think so, “No, I graduated almost… nine years ago. UCLA.” Feigning a muted pose from my cheerleader days I added, “Go Bruins.” illegal bahis

If Johnny was at all surprised by my age he didn’t show it, “So do you have a husband? Kids?”

I’m sure my expression sunk a little at the reminder that I was alone and childless. I don’t know why it bothered me so much; I wasn’t even sure I wanted children. I do know I didn’t expect to be divorced and dateless at thirty, which I had been obsessing over. “No, I’m single,” I answered, trying to keep the remorse out of my voice.

Johnny did look surprised by that. He took a moment to swallow down the rest of the lemonade and offered the glass back, “In that case, would you like to come to come over for dinner tonight?”

Thinking that was awfully forward, my brows lifted halfway up my forehead.

“I grew up in Phoenix,” he explained casually, “And I’ve been in Afghanistan for the last year, so I don’t know anyone in Tucson. It would be nice to get to know one person.”

My expression softened and I told myself that it was completely normal for him to invite me over for dinner. Why shouldn’t two neighbors want to be friendly? It’s not like he was offering to impregnate me with his young.

He tried to sweeten the deal by adding, “I’m making a crockpot of my sister’s world famous chili.”

That made me smile, “It’s a little warm for chili, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, probably.” He lifted a carefree shrug, “But I’ve been craving it ever since I was discharged.”

“Okay,” I finally agreed, “But you have to let me bring the bread and wine.”

His dimples appeared, “It goes better with beer. How’s six o’clock sound?”

A warning alarm went off inside my brain reminding me he wasn’t old enough to legally buy liquor, but I ignored it. I didn’t want him to think I was a prude, “Beer it is. See you then.”


I abandoned all my other plans and the rest of my day was spent preparing for chili. My first task was to go to the grocery store and buy a loaf of cheesy garlic bread after realizing I didn’t have any in the freezer. I also bought a twelve-pack of expensive beer. I didn’t get anything imported – I didn’t want him to think I was waspy, but I also wanted him to see that I had good taste. I over-thought it way too much and probably stood in the beer aisle for fifteen minutes before making my choice.

That was nothing compared to the time I spent in the bathroom after returning home. I shaved my legs, armpits and pubic hair, took a thirty minute bath and exfoliated everything I could reach, tweezed the eyebrows, teased the eyelashes, brushed, flossed, and gargled. I painted my toenails pink, removed the pink polish after thinking the color was too ‘teeny-bopper’, and then re-painted my toenails red. I moisturized (again – everything I could reach), stared at my butt in a mirror for an unknown length of time, and brushed my hair over and over and over while running a hair dryer over it. The last step was applying a hint of make-up; not too much though, I didn’t want to look slutty or desperate.

After all that I still wasn’t finished. What remained was the dreaded ‘closet stare’. That’s where I stand in the door of my closet for a half hour, trying to produce the perfect thing to entice but ultimately deciding I have absolutely nothing to wear despite owning a closet filled with clothes.

Pledging to spend my tax returns the following year on a new wardrobe I eventually settled, choosing a one-piece blue sun dress that bared everything from the knee down as well as my shoulders and arms, which I felt were my body’s best features. To make sure I appeared casual I didn’t accessorize with anything other than a thin gold-chain necklace; no shoes either, because nothing screams ‘casual’ more than going barefoot.

Glancing at the clock I saw it was 5:30pm. Racing towards the kitchen I hurriedly prepared the bread loaf and shoved it into the oven, almost burning my hand on the rack because I was too pre-occupied to remember an oven mitt. That was right around the time I questioned my own sanity. I had spent nearly four hours obsessing over a harmless dinner invite from a teenager I had no romantic interest in. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself. The truth was I couldn’t stop thinking about his sweaty, shirtless body all day. Regardless, he was ten years younger than I was and couldn’t possibly have any interest in me. I was behaving like a lovesick teenager who desperately wanted a boy to like her, for no fathomable reason.

And that was the root cause of my insanity – I really wanted him to like me for no better reason than vanity. I wanted to know if I could even gain a man’s romantic attention at thirty years old, which is far from over-the-hill but I wasn’t emotionally rational following my divorce.

Wrapping the bread in a cloth towel I placed it into a small wicker basket and grabbed the beer from the fridge. I then stood in the middle of my kitchen for five minutes doing absolutely nothing because I didn’t want to be exactly on time and appear too eager.

As I crossed through our illegal bahis siteleri yards I saw Johnny waiting in his back patio sitting in a lawn chair and sipping on a bottle of something. He had on a different pair of cargo shorts, a plain white tee that was somehow both loose and tight on his torso, and a pair of small hoop earrings – one in each ear. He looked like something off the cover of a teen celebrity magazine. He was beautiful.

“Hey, Taylor.” He rose to help me with the beer, “Nice, Blue Moon. You have good taste.”

A smile filled my face.

My bare feet padded on the concrete floor of his patio, “Wow, it smells fabulous over here.” I could detect the cooking chili wafting through a screen door that led into his kitchen.

“I told you my sister’s recipe is world famous,” he said, entering the house. I followed him in and placed the bread basket on a counter. The house looked bare, which made sense given the fact he had moved in only a day prior. For some reason I noticed he didn’t even have a toaster. Once he finished putting the beer into a nearly empty fridge he told me, “You look great. I love that dress.”

“Thank you,” I was still smiling from when he told me I had good taste in beer, which totally validated the time I had spent agonizing over a brand. “So how long have you been out of the army?”

“About two weeks,” he opened the lid of a big stainless-steel crockpot and stirred its contents.

I remembered him saying he suffered a gunshot wound but I hadn’t seen any visible scars, “Where were you shot? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Oh,” he grinned, “Right in the ass.” To my surprise he lifted his tee shirt, pivoted his backside towards me, and pulled his shorts down just far enough for me to see the scar on the upper part of his right butt cheek. The wound was completely healed but the scar was still pink and looked fairly recent.

“Wow,” I stared at it, noting the firm shape of his butt, “Who shot you?”

He shrugged as though it didn’t matter at all and went back to stirring the chili, “I’m not sure. We were in this hostile village and bullets were flying everywhere. My adrenaline glands were working overtime and I didn’t even realize I was wounded until my C.O. told me my ass was bleeding.”

“That’s unbelievable,” I couldn’t imagine being in a situation like that at age nineteen, “Did you see a lot of combat?”

“Some,” he answered ambiguously, though it didn’t seem like he was being nebulous on purpose, “This chili’s ready to go. Are you hungry?”

I realized just then breakfast was my last prior meal; I had spent so much time obsessing all afternoon I had forgotten to eat lunch, “I’m famished.”

We ate on his back porch. The sun was low in the sky and the evening brought with it some cooler air. I was sitting in a gigantic wooden lawn chair that had a comfortable cushion, my bare legs folded beneath me. The chili was delicious and Johnny had been right – it tasted great with a bottle of beer.

“How long have you lived next door?” he asked as we ate.

“Only about three months,” I replied, “I needed a place to stay after my… um, divorce.”

He didn’t miss a beat, “How long were you married?”

“Almost seven years.”

“Wow, that’s a long time. What happened, did he cheat on you?”

I laughed at the blunt question, “You know, everyone always asks me that.”

“I’m sorry, am I prying?”

He didn’t look sorry, but I wasn’t mad. “Actually, I cheated on him.”

“No kidding,” he smiled, “Was it with someone you worked with?”

“No, it was someone I knew from college.”

“An ex-boyfriend,” he assumed.

“Ex-girlfriend,” I corrected.

I became scared of his reaction as soon as the words left my mouth. I don’t know why I felt compelled to be so honest with him. Maybe it was the fearlessness with which he asked questions, or the way he didn’t seem to judge my answers.

“Now this is getting interesting,” he rose to get another beer and asked if I wanted one, which I did. “Do you consider yourself bi-sexual?” he asked when he brought the beers out from the house.

“What else would I be?”

“I don’t know,” he answered my rhetorical question literally, “Either straight and curious, or gay and in denial.”

I laughed at the obviousness of his logic.

Johnny elaborated, “Some people just need to explore, I think, to find out who they really are. Just because you slept with a woman doesn’t mean you’re a lesbian or even bi-sexual.”

“That’s not what my ex-husband thought,” I swallowed some more beer; it tasted really good in the evening air.

“Why’d you cheat on him?”

I exhaled with thought, “That’s a really good question. It’s complicated, but we were really struggling. All the intimacy was gone between us and I guess I just needed someone to touch me.” I made an embarrassed laugh, “God, I can’t believe I’m telling you all this.”

“Are you kidding? We’re having a great conversation.”

“Right,” I placed a hand on the side of my face, a habit canlı bahis siteleri when I feel my cheeks fill with blush. I turned sarcastic, “I’m sure hearing all about your pathetically-divorced, sexually-confused neighbor is making for a terrific dinner.”

“Are you confused? Sexually?” he sounded doubtful.

I thought about it. “No,” I answered.

“Well,” he rose to get some more chili, “You’re definitely not pathetic.”

“Do you miss being in the military?” I asked when he returned, changing the subject away from myself.

“Not at all; I did Basic Training through a special program in the ROTC while I was still a senior in high school to shorten my service time. The only reason I enlisted was to get the government to pay for part of my college tuition.”

“How long were you in the Middle East?”

“Just over a year.”

“Did you ever…” the question started coming out but I stopped halfway when I realized how insensitive I was being.

There was an uncomfortable pause before he finished for me, “Did I kill anyone?”

“I’m sorry.” My head shook in embarrassment, “I barely know you; it’s none of my business.”

“It’s okay,” he smiled disarmingly, those damned dimples making me melt. “Everyone asks. And yeah, my unit saw a lot of combat. I lost track of how many people we killed.” He seemed without remorse, but not in a heartless way. It was more carefree, as if he wouldn’t allow the horrors of war to affect him. “They were all bad guys,” he added, “So I tell myself I was saving lives and try not to lose any sleep over it.”

I felt guilty about our morbid topic and changed the subject yet again, “You said you’re from Phoenix.” I thought I was being sly when I asked, “Anyone special back home?”

“Taylor,” he admonished me in jest by saying my name like a chastising parent would, “Are you asking me if I have a girlfriend?”

I felt my face burn with crimson and swallowed some beer to try and douse the flames, but he wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easily. He was staring at me, amused by my embarrassment, waiting for me to answer his question. I tried to turn it around on him, “Maybe I’m trying to find out if you have a boyfriend.”

He laughed and I loved the sound.

It was my turn to wait expectantly for an answer.

“I’m single,” he answered with a lot more self-confidence than I could have, “Otherwise I wouldn’t have invited you over for dinner.”

I felt my heart skip a beat, “I thought this was a friendly dinner between neighbors?”

He rose and walked over to where I was curled on his lawn chair. Taking the empty beer bottle from my hand, our fingers grazed more than they had to. “Do you want another one?”

My mind raced as the words Johnny spoke were not the words I heard. He asked me if I wanted another beer, but my mind twisted that into ‘do you want to have sex?’ and I hesitated. If I said no to his beer, I could’ve gone home and a friendly dinner would have remained just that. If I said yes, I felt as though I was inviting more flirtatious conversation and touches.

‘I should go home, it’s getting late,’ I said in my mind. But my mouth replied, “I’d love another.”

He returned with two more bottles while I finished my bowl of chili and picked at a piece of bread. A breeze flowed through his porch, I was fed, and the beer was giving me a pleasant buzz. Everything felt perfect.

“What do you do?” he asked, sitting in a different chair right next to the one I was in.

“Huh?” I asked, noticing as he took a bite from a fresh piece of bread.

“For a living,” he clarified, “What do you do for work?”

“Oh,” I got my head out of the clouds, “I actually work from home hosting internet cloud storage and server space. Mostly for local small businesses. I do some web design, too.”

“You’re a tech geek,” he grinned.

“Guilty,” I admitted before pulling from the new beer. I joked, “But I can hide it really well behind the veneer of an ex-cheerleader when I need to.”

He laughed at my bad humor, “Do you play video games?”

“I never used to, but I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands since the divorce. I’ve gotten hooked on those stupid Facebook games.”

“Those are terrible,” he was smiling.

“I know,” I chuckled, “I suppose you’re like every other guy and play Call of Duty on Xbox for hours on end?”

He shook his head, “I lived Call of Duty, so no…”

I felt like an idiot and pulled my foot out of my mouth, “I’m sorry, that was really insensitive of me.”

“Don’t apologize,” he put a hand on my wrist, which made my skin tingle, “You wouldn’t believe how many guys in the army sit in the barracks and play military shooters. But I like the driving games.”

“Show me,” I said, curious about his interests.

He grinned, “You want to go inside and play video games?”

I swallowed some more beer, “Why not?”

Johnny’s living room felt as empty as the kitchen. A couch rested in the middle of the room, on hardwood floors, in front of a small wooden coffee table that looked second-hand. The Xbox was on the floor, cords leading to an immense flat-screen television. The walls were bare of decorations and several unpacked boxes were stacked in a corner by the front door.

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