by Dan Stout
Over the course of a single summer Egan Kulwicki turned fifteen, fell in love, and got
his ass kicked, roughly in that order.
Falling in love came suddenly, when the Patels' daughter came home from college. Egan
saw her when he came home from the games store. He brought his bike to a screeching stop and
stared at the Patels' driveway, where Cynthia was unpacking her beaten-up Toyota. She waved
and he stood slack-jawed by his bike before fleeing inside to peek back through the window. At
least twenty, she was an older woman, worldly and intimidating. Even from behind the curtain,
Egan couldn't look at her directly for fear that she might look back. And then what would he
do? At some point Cynthia had transformed from his neighbor, a slightly older kid who was nice
to him, who'd let him play her video games and told him about new bands, into someone
So he didn't approach her.
But she danced through his thoughts that summer, while he hung out with his friends,
while he collected and painted miniature armies in his bedroom, and especially as he did the
Cynthia was often outside, reading a book or tending to an herb garden, and Egan caught
glimpses of her as she walked along the fence separating their yards. She only appeared in the
cracks between slats, a teasing vision more absent than not. It was exactly the kind of
relationship he could handle.
He was trimming the grass along the fence and running through hypothetical
conversations with Cynthia when he realized someone was talking to him.
Turning off the string trimmer, he looked up and froze. Cynthia's head was above the
fence, framed by her hands. A tiny metal stud in her nose twinkled in the sunlight, and Egan got
his first good look at her since her return.
Her gray eyes had brown flecks which made them look like polished rocks, their size
reduced just slightly by the lenses of her glasses. The eyeglass frames were tortoise shell,
complimenting both the brown flecks of her eyes and the black sheen of her hair, which was
meticulously tussled. Like all of her, the hair was slovenly perfection.
She wore a half smile that brought out a dimple as she asked, "Do you have any
"Batteries?" He'd never prepared himself for a battery conversation.