"En la escuela, actualmente estoy estudiando Español, Inglés, matemáticas, música, teatro y deporte. Disfruto de todas las asignaturas. Después termino la escuela, yo voy a ir a la universidad si recibo la marca que necesito. Me encantaria – "
I cut off Kat's speech, "I can't believe you expect me to help you with your speech while I'm driving," I said disbelievingly.
"Are you saying you can't?" she replied, arching a perfectly plucked eyebrow.
"No. your first sentence is fine, but I would say 'me gusta toda de mis asignaturas' instead of 'Disfruto de todas las asignaturas'. It sounds less like you just typed it into a translator," I told her, grinning.
"Right," she muttered, scribbling in her notebook, just as I turned into her driveway. "I'll call you tonight with the rest of it."
"Okay. Make sure you give me enough time to prepare mentally," I joked.
She rolled her eyes at me and pulled up at her driveway, "Whatever. Talk to you tonight."
"Yep," and she got out of my car.
Silence greeted me and I turned the radio on, turning it up when I heard a song I liked. I was almost to my house when We Dance To A Different Disco, Honey! came on. I turned it up loud, so the music was blaring out the speakers and sang along, loudly and off-key but enthusiastically, which made up for my not-so pitch perfect voice. Wind whipped past my open windows as I really got into the song, pounding on the steering wheel and practically dancing in my seat.
The song came to an end just as I reached my house and I mentally praised myself for the perfect timing. I could hear Bob's booming bark as I turned the key in the door. A burglar would stand no chance against Bob, his ears could pick up the sound of a pin dropping, so should anyone try to break in, they wouldn't get very far.
Bob jumped on me, nearly knocking me over, his long tongue hanging out his mouth as he tried to bark at the same time. I laughed at him, scratching him behind the ears, his leg going as I found the right spot. A moment later Beau came around the corner, obviously from my bedroom. Dad had tried to discourage the habit when she was younger, telling me to kick her out and close my door but I was a sucker for her big brown eyes and the sad whine she'd throw at me each night after locking her out. After we got Bob, there was no stopping them and he just followed Beau's example by sleeping on my bed every night. Right from the get go, Belle had slept on my bed, not even caring that there were two other, much larger animals that could swallow her in one go, that slept there every night. She was the bravest cat I'd ever seen at the time, so much so that I'd contemplated naming her 'Dauntless', because on her first night she'd jumped on my bed, padded over to my pillow on the left side of the bed where Bob usually slept and claimed it as her own.
Right now, that was exactly where she was as I entered my room and changed into a pair of jeans that weren't covered in paint spots and marks (which was limited to two pairs) and a grey tank top, pulling my hair into a messy bun. Belle purred as I walked towards her, loud like a vacuum, and languidly blinking her hazel eyes. The purring got louder as I stroked her fluffy fur.
"So, I was thinking of meeting the neighbours today, what do you think?" I asked her, rolling her onto her back and tickling her soft stomach. The purring increased and I laughed as her whole body vibrated. Bob and Beau jumped on the bed, eager for attention as well. "Okay, okay, I'm going to visit the new neighbours. I promise I'll be back," I backed out of the room and Bob and Beau followed while Belle remained on my pillow, lazy as ever.
Bob sat, his head drooping as I walked out the front door and I laughed at how easy it was for him to make me feel guilty. "I promise I'll be back." Beau just looked at me with her accusing, intelligent eyes.
The streets were clean and the grass was mowed as I walked towards the massive house – or was it more like a mansion – that belonged to my new neighbours. Tall hedges lined the front yard of the house and when I finally made it to the gap where the mailbox was I saw a whole lot of chaos. A neat bricked path led to the front porch steps, but that was the only neat part of the house. Bikes, soccer balls, footballs, Frisbees, tennis balls, a little car, a blow up pool, dog toys, tennis rackets and various other items were scattered around the large front yard and as I walked towards the front door I tried to avoid stepping on anything and breaking it.
I rang the doorbell but I doubted it would be heard over all the yelling and screaming coming from inside. A minute passed and I hesitated, wondering if I should come back at a better time when the door swung open and I was greeted with broad chest that was definitely familiar. My eyes travelled up and met light grey-blue eyes, though I was sure they wouldn't stay that colour for long.
"Charlie?" I asked in surprise.
"Grace?" He asked, equally surprised. He had a white shirt with grease marks smeared on it, faded blue jeans and his trademark baseball cap. As usual, he looked sexy as all hell. Vaguely I wondered if he knew he looked sexy as all hell. "What are you doing here?"
"Uh, I'm your neighbour. I was coming to introduce myself," I replied, smiling.
"No kidding," he said, smiling as well.
"Charlie, who is it?" An older, also familiar, male voice called out from somewhere in the house.
"It's our neighbour," Charlie shouted back, gesturing for me to come in and closing the door behind me. A man appeared around the corner, his hair white but with a welcoming smile.
"Hi there," he said, extending his hand, "I'm Tom."
"Grace," I replied, shaking his hand. "I live just behind you, down the street a bit. My dad's at work still, but he said to say hello," I lied. He never said to say hello but it was just what I did; I made up for his lack of tact and manners. I'm sure he would have wanted to meet them anyway, so it wasn't like I was making up stories, dad just had a lot on his mind, all the time. "Uh, I go to school with Charlie."
"Oh, that's great!" He smiled. And then I became aware of how much noise there was in the house. The screams and yells were much louder inside and I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed until just then. I blame Charlie; weird stuff happens when it comes to him. Like being late to class. Or getting told off for talking in class. Completely his fault.
Lightning fast, a large muscle-y blur of fur charged towards me and suddenly I was on the floor, being slobbered on by a giant of a dog. When it licked my ear it tickled and I burst into shrieking laughter, trying to push it off me.
"Gunner!" Charlie shouted, pulling the dog off me and restraining him as he tried to lunge at me again.
I laughed as I wiped at my face, "Ew!"
"I'm sorry!" Charlie said, gripping the collar.
"You don't have some sort of meat on you, do you?" Tom asked, offering me his hand.
"No, but he can probably smell my animals," I said, scrunching up my face when I realised that I now smelt like dog drool. Gross. Tom led me to a bathroom where I could wash my face and hands and I was glad for the soft scent of soap.
When I walked out, Charlie was still holding Gunner's collar, so I walked over and started patting his, scratching behind the ears, "Aw, who's a good boy?" the next second his leg was thumping on the floor and his tail was wagging. "He's so cute," I grinned at Charlie.
"And dumb," he replied.
"Aw, don't be so mean," I rubbed Gunner's head, "You're not stupid, are you?"
When I stopped petting him, Charlie tentatively let him go and he ran off. I looked around, trying to pinpoint the noise but it was coming from everywhere. Off to the left was a flight of stairs, and the ceiling was a long way up, so the noise seemed to echo and magnify in the cavernous space. It was like an army of kids…wait a second.
"Tom?" I repeated, my jaw slack as bits and pieces started coming together.
"Yes?" he asked, confused.
I looked at Charlie, wide eyed, "You have eleven brothers and sister?!" I knew my eyebrows were in my hairline and I was gaping at him.
He shifted a little before nodding. I turned to Tom, "You have twelve kids?" I was so shocked.
"Yes," he replied simply.
"Wow, it's just – that's just - wow. I'm an only child and it's kind of hard for me to picture what it would be like to have that many brothers and sisters."
"That's most people's reaction when they find out," Tom laughed as a boy with a shock of dark hair, not dissimilar to Charlie's passed on a skateboard, throwing me a "sup?" as he passed.
"Sup?" I replied. "It must get crazy hectic around here." As I said it, two little boys ran past, twins as they looked exactly the same, wrestling each other, trying to hold the other in a headlock. Tom quickly split them up, but as they ran down the corridor, they started up again.
"You have no idea," Charlie muttered dryly.
"Jesus. Twelve?" I asked faintly.
"Yep," then he frowned. "You sound…familiar. Have we met before?"
"Uh, not really. You called me and asked if I'd be interested in babysitting," I told him, remembering the phone call.
"Oh, yeah. Well, if you're interested – " Charlie cut off his father with a groan.
I grinned at him, "Actually, I kind of am." It was the truth. I was intrigued about Charlie and I wanted to know his family.
"Really?" Tom asked hopefully. I smiled and nodded just as a loud shout sounded above the rest of the noise.
"LORRAINE! GET OFF THE PHONE!"
"I'm not done yet," was the reply.
"Come on! You always do this! It's my turn!"
"Get over it, butch."
"Just give me the phone! You can talk about what colour you're going to paint your nails any other time," the voice said again right before a head and beanie appeared over the railing from the second story. "Dad, can you tell Lorraine to get off the phone!" She yelled. Her hair was dark and straight and short, the beanie covering most of it.
"I'm right here! There's no need to shout!" Tom yelled back before turning to me, "It was nice meeting you," and he went up the stairs to sort out the phone issue. I giggled, the whole thing absurd and completely foreign to me. I'd never had to fight with anyone for the phone.
"Come on," Charlie said, grabbing my hand and pulling me around back to the door quickly, like he wanted to get me away from his family as fast as possible. So fast, in fact, that we nearly ran over his little brother. "Mike," he said, exasperated.
Mike tilted his helmet-clad head at us before asking, "Who are you?"
"I'm Grace," I smiled. "Your neighbour."
"Oh. I'm Mike. Are you Charlie's girlfriend?" he frowned at me, thinking it over.
I blushed, "Uh, no, I'm not." Though, I was very conscious of his large hand in mine.
"Whatever," and then he was gone. I laughed at the short attention span of kids.
Charlie sighed as we walked out the door and he dropped my hand. I missed it already. "Where are we going?"
"I was going to work on my car before you arrived, and trust me, you want to be out of the house because it's about to get a whole heap worse," he told me grimly.
"Don't you help your dad?" I frowned at him.
Charlie levelled his gaze at me, "It's complicated." I took the hint.
"So, what are you doing on the car?" I said, unsubtly changing the subject.
"An air filter change," he walked back to the front of the house and down the street a bit to where his car was parked. It looked as old as ever, but I didn't doubt its capabilities.
"Ahhh," I said, nodding, like I knew what he was talking about, before frowning when I realised there was no way I would be able to keep up with what he said if I didn't even know there was an air filter to be changed in the first place. "There's an air filter in a car?"
Charlie looked at me in surprise, a crooked smile lighting his face, his eyes dancing with amusement, "Yes, there is."
"Right," I said, red colouring my cheeks again, though curious. I knew nothing about cars except how to drive one. "And, uh, why is there an air filter?"
Charlie popped the hood of his car and gestured me closer so I could see. I had no idea what I was looking at; I knew it was an engine (duh) but I didn't know how it all worked together. It wasn't so surprising when your dad did everything to do with the cars. He undid some clasp – looking things and some screws before lifting up a piece of plastic covering what I assumed was the filter. "An engine runs by internal combustion, so without oxygen the fuel can't burn to power the engine. But not just any air will do, you need clean air before it gets to the air intake plenum and combustion chambers."
"Oh," I nodded. "But why does the air need to be cleaned?"
"Because otherwise you'll end up with dust and dirt and debris mucking up the engine, and if that happens then the car doesn't perform properly. Foreign particles wear on the metal parts of an engine, like the cylinders and piston rings because they act as abrasives," as he talked, he also worked, taking out the old air filter and setting it on the ground. He walked around to the boot of his car and pulled out a long chord, some spiralling hose and a large metal object, "This is a compressor; it'll blow out all the dust particles from the housing."
He disappeared back towards the house to plug in the compressor, returning a moment later. The machine was loud as the hose forced air out but I resisted the temptation of covering my ears. He switched it off and put the new air filter into the housing, the rubber rim facing up, and covered it back up again. He looked completely at ease performing an air filter change when most people had no idea. His fingers were deft, seeming to fall into a familiar rhythm as he re-did the clasps. The afternoon sun shone an orange glow onto his back; the ends of his dark hair visible from under his cap looked lighter. His white shirt fit him snugly and I could see a ripple of lean muscle as he bent over the engine.
I cleared my throat, dragging my eyes away from his broad shoulders, "How did you know it needed to be changed?"
"It was about the right time, and the muffler end pipes were sooty," he told me, glancing at his watch and looking down the street.
"Am I holding you up?" The last thing I wanted was to be a nuisance.
"I just have to go see someone," he said vaguely, like he was thinking hard about something else, when another one of Charlie's brothers appeared around the corner, walking towards us with a pencil, calculator and piece of paper in his hands. In the orange afternoon light the boys red hair looked practically ablaze, his glasses sliding down his nose slightly.
"I don't get these math questions," he said to Charlie, though he was looking at me, more than likely wondering who I was.
Charlie sighed impatiently, "Look, Mark, I need to go now otherwise it'll be late before I get back. Can you get someone else to help?" he barely waited for a reply, packing away the cords and the compressor, shutting the boot and walking to the driver's side door.
"Um…okay," he sounded so completely dejected that I winced. "Sure."
"Thanks buddy," Charlie said.
"Are you going to see Beth?" Mark asked. It wouldn't have been a big deal if Charlie hadn't frozen in his spot, his eyes flicking over to me, his face a stony mask. The sudden change was bewildering.
"I'll see you later," he said Mark. "And I'll see you at school," he said to me, before jumping in the car.
"Okay," I couldn't stop the confusion and hurt at being brushed off so easily from colouring my tone. It was his turn to wince and he looked guilty.
"I'm sorry, but I really do have to go. It's a long drive," he said apologetically.
"No, it's okay. I'll see you at school," I told him, practically ordering him to go see this Beth person. The question "Who's Beth?" burned on my tongue but I ignored it, waving as he drove off. I turned back to Mark as he walked back to the house and I would have kept walking if he didn't look so small and sad in that moment.
"Hey, Mark, is it?" He turned back around, nodding, "I'm Grace, Charlie's friend. I could help you, if you like?"
"It's okay, you don't have to," he began, but I smiled, shaking my head.
'I don't mind."
"Okay," and he smiled at me. That was when I noticed, in the afternoon sun, that his eyes were the exact same as Charlie's; a collage of blue, green and hazel. He sat down on the grass.
"Don't you want to go inside?"
"Everyone's still yelling," he told me as I sat next to him. He handed me the piece of paper and I looked at the first question.
A machine fills 150 bottles of water every 8 minutes. How many minutes it takes this machine to fill 675 bottles?
"So, what's the first thing you do here?" To help him, I had to know where he was having difficulties.
"I don't know," he said quietly, the tips of his ears turning red.
"It's okay. So, for every 8 minutes, 150 bottles of water are filled. That's your starting point; whatever you need to work will come from this bit of information. You want to know how long it will take to fill 675 bottles. There are two ways of doing this, but the easiest would be with the bottles. If it take 8 minutes to fill 150 bottles, how long will it take to fill 300 bottles?"
He frowned at me, "I don't know."
"Okay, so 300 is twice the number of bottles, right?" He nodded. "Then if the number of bottles are doubled, then would the time double as well?"
And just like that, his stormy expression cleared up and he grinned, "Sixteen minutes?"
"Exactly!" I said and he beamed. "So, how many lots of 150 go into 675?"
He typed it into his calculator, "4.5?"
"Right, so if the number of bottles are multiplied by 4.5, how times do we need to multiply the 8 minutes?"
"4.5!" he exclaimed. He typed it into his calculator, "36, the answer is 36. I get it!"
I giggled at how happy he was, glad that I could help.
"What about this question?" he pointed to the next one and I read it over.
A car travels at a speed of 65 miles per hour. How far will it travel in 5 hours?
"It's almost exactly the same. A car travels 65 miles in just one hour. To find five hours, we multiply one hour by five, so what do we multiply 65 by?"
"You got it," I grinned.
"I get it. Thanks," he grinned at me and again I noticed how similar his eyes were to Charlie's.
"No problem. If you want help anytime, I live just in that house and you're completely welcome to come over, okay?" I pointed to the house with the red roof, so he knew which one I was talking about.
"Okay. Thanks," he looked marginally happier than he did before and it made me feel better. I was such a sucker for kids.
"Oh, Mark, can I ask you a question?" I waited patiently for his to nod his head but really I wasn't feeling so patient. "Who's Beth?"
"Charlie's girlfriend, from Midlan," and with that, he got up and walked towards the house, "Thanks."
"No problem," I repeated quietly, staring at the pavement, as it slowly sunk in.
Charlie had a girlfriend.
Then I really realised how much I liked Charlie, after knowing him only about two weeks. How much I wanted him to myself. More than I'd liked anyone else, even Jared who I'd stayed with for a year. I was so happy just assuming he had no one tied to him, but now I could feel that happiness burst. God, he had a girlfriend! My chest felt like it had caved in but I made myself get up and start to walk home. My eyes stung but I resisted the urge to cry, at least not out on the footpath in public. He'd never even said anything, all this time I was laughing and smiling at him, practically wearing a sign that said 'I like you' in flashing neon colours. What must he think of me? That I'm sad or pathetic. Or both. The whole time he'd probably been laughing about it with his girlfriend. No. I stopped the horrible thoughts. If this whole time I'd made a fool of myself, fine, but if there was one thing I'd learned about Charlie, it was that he wasn't mean like that.
Now I'd have to go to school tomorrow and face him, knowing he had a girlfriend and couldn't be mine. I was such an idiot. And god knew I wouldn't last. I loved the way his teeth showed when he smiled fully and how he got little crinkles around his eyes when he laughed properly. I loved how when he explained things, he did it simply, without showing off how much he knew or making me feel like an idiot for even asking; he just explained and moved on.
One look at him smiling at me in the school corridors and I'd melt, even if I didn't want to.
Clearly, avoidance was key.
Okay, so i'm sorry for taking so long. It's really not my fault. It's not. I swear. Blame my teachers, who think it's funny to give me so much work. All. The. Time.
Anyway, let me know what you think (If you haven't just given up waiting for the next chapter)
Thank you to all the sweethearts who reviewed! I love you so much!