A Protective Step

  “Where’s the troll at?” I look up from my phone to my mom who’s ‘slaving’ over dinner.

“If your referring to you little sister…she’s at the Jumper’s.”

I chuckle. We refer to our neighbors as if all of their names are ‘jumper’. Jumper is the name of my one eyed, slightly attractive, ex-convict neighbor (his all white pit-bull just happens to have the same name).

“Ah,” I reply to my mom. “Can I go up there?” 

My mom gives me a look of suspicion. I’ve never had any interest in going up there.   “I don’t care… but why?” 

“Andy was telling me about Jumper’s nephew.”

“Oh? And how old is he?” she asks just being nosy.

I roll my eyes and slip on my shoes. I check my makeup and fix my signature messy bun. I open the front door and cringe as it does the high pitched screech of rust. 

“ I love you. Be back by 9:00” My mom calls from the kitchen. I look at my phone 5:36pm. 

“I love you too. I’ll see you at 9:30.” I shut the door real fast and run up my driveway to the Jumper’s. I always try to see how far I can test my boundaries. Mainly just to frustrate my mom…and it works. I walk past the garage and peek in. I can’t see anyone, so I continue my journey to their house. I knock and Violet, their young daughter appears. 

“ I’m a cat. MEOW!” Violet screams and runs up the stairs leading to the kitchen. I follow her and my little sister, Andy. She screams and runs. I roll my eyes and walk into the kitchen. It smells like stale cigarettes and yummy food. 

“Hey Coochie.” Jumper greets me. 

“ Hey Asshole. Whatcha doing?”  I say looking into the oven to see what’s cooking. 

“Just working on the Cobra a little with Max.” he says lighting a cigarette. My ears perk but I try to look uninterested. Jumper starts walking down the stairs, and I follow. He opens the door and jolts back. 

“What’s up trouble?” Jumpers says to someone. I peek around Jumper’s shoulder to see who it is. I notice his eyes first,  dark green and sparkling with mischief. I stare for a moment too long, then I notice the tattoos on his forearm and wrist.  I notice he’s staring at me and grinning. 

I look away and clear the lust out of my voice with a little cough. “Who the hell are you?” I ask. Jumper chuckles and goes around the stranger towards the garage.  I start after him. 

“I’m Max.” a deep voice says behind me. I glance behind me and grin. I’m guessing this handsome stranger is the nephew. 

“You look like a wanna be greaser… and a prick.” I say just being the kind of person I am. 

“ Well you look like a prissy tomboy which I didn’t know was possible.” he shoots back at me. I grin but keep walking towards the garage. 

Jumpers under the car fiddling with something and Max walks over to see what he’s doing.  

“Fuck!” Jumper shouts and gets out from under the car. 

“What’s wrong?” Max says squatting to get a better look. Jumper says a bunch of mechanic stuff that sounds like another language to me, but I’m just creepily staring at Max. The trouble radiates off him like the smell of rotten milk. He’s wearing an ‘endsman’ shirt, which I know, from listening to Jumper, that it’s another biker gang. Jumper is in the Heathens. I know it worries my parents that my neighbors are in a gang, but as long as we remain on their good side… there’s no reason to worry. 

“Hey Coochie, can you hand me that wrench?” Jumper asks, breaking me out of my day dream. 

“Which one?” 

“The only one there dummy.” Jumper replies. I look at the table, where the tools are messily placed, and I am genuinely confused because I know nothing about cars or tools. I glance at Max and he rolls his eyes. I pick up the thing that I believe is useful to the cause and give it to Jumper. 

“Thanks” he says while winking. I smile. I never really have talked to him, but I tend to gravitate towards men because of growing up without a father. 

“Max, go check with Puddin’ to see if supper is ready.” Jumper says while going back under the all black Cobra. Max grumbles but does what he’s told. He walks out and starts back up to the house. I watch him walk up and decide to follow him. He reaches for the door handle, glances back, and sees me. 

“Are you going to open the damn door pal?” I ask rudely

“You’re a feisty one arent you,” he says grinning 

“I’ve been told.” I reach beside him and open the door. 

“Impatient too I see,” he mumbles. I walk up the steps and see violet. She meows at me then hisses. 

“Where’s your mama?” I ask 

“MEOWWWWW” Violet responds and points to their bedroom. Max comes up the stairs behind me. Violet runs to him, he scoops her up and starts tickling her. I smile and walk towards the bedroom door. Puddin’ is sprawled out on the bed with a lit cigarette dangling out of her mouth and an ashtray strategically placed on her lap. 

“ ‘Sup Coochie?” she asks.

“Why does everyone call me that?” I ask with a little frustration in my voice. I’m not even sure what it means but I’m pretty sure it’s degrading. 

“Because you’re a coochie.” Puddin’ replies with an eye roll. I roll my eyes back at her as dramatically as I can muster.  

“Anyways… Jumper wanted to know when din-din will be completed.” I say. Suddenly she jumps up, knocking the ashtray off her lap and runs towards the kitchen. 

“Well shit, I guess that answers the question.” I mumble following her. I walk in the kitchen and Max is already cutting into the lasagna. 

“ Oh my goodness thank you so much!” Puddin’ says praising Max.

“Not a problem.” Max replies in his deep voice. We make eye contact and I grin. 

“Well aren’t you the little hero,” I say. He just winks at me and continues. My stomach fills with butterflies. Get ahold of yourself Glory. We’re not doing this little “ I love bad boys” phase again. I nod at the wise words in my head. 

“I’m going to go gather up the rascals.” Puddin’ says, putting out her short cigarette in one of the millions of ashtrays that are scattered around their house. It’s just me and Max now. 

“I’m Glory, by the way.” He continues placing the cheesy lasagna on paper plates. 

“Not that you care or anything.” No response or nothing. “I live down that driveway..” I trail off. 

He glances at me. He puts the spatula he was using in the sink and walks past me. I guess I don’t have to worry about him talking my ear off. He reaches behind me, a little too close, to grab something. I tense up and deeply inhale. Wow, he smells incredible. Don’t be a weirdo. My inner normal person says. He grabs a pack of cigarettes and lights one. I scrunch my nose.

“Ya know those are called ‘cancer sticks’ for a reason…right?” he looks at me and chuckles. 

“You’re kinda funny…Glory.” he says looking at me with his forest eyes. My name sounds so much better coming out of his mouth. 

“I am actually a very hilarious.. Uh funny… uh cool person.” Suddenly I’m nervous. He takes a drag off his cigarette and looks me up and down. He comes closer to me and leans in close. I tense up. My heart starts beating faster and my stomach feels like a jail break of emotions. 

“Tell me a joke.” He says in a deep voice. 

“ Oh, um.” I stutter. He puts out his cigarette behind me and starts walking towards the door. 

“Good joke, Glory.” He heads out the door and my heads still trying to comprehend why he can do that. How can he make me nervous but relaxed at the same time. I sigh. I don’t know why but I’m so drawn to this guy. Puddin’ walks back into the kitchen with Andy, Violet and their oldest son, who’s 8, Monster. I don’t really know his real name because everyone just calls him by his nickname. 

“Are you going to eat with us?” Violet asks. 

“That’s up to your mommy.” I reply. Puddin’ looks over to me.

“I don’t care if you stay.” Puddin’ replies. I nod. Max and Jumper come walking in the door. Max grabs a plate goes back out the door. I grab a plate as well and head towards the door.

“Keep it in your pants kid.” Puddin’ calls after me.

“Yeah, I see a little something protruding there.” Jumper adds. I roll my eyes and flip them off. I open the door and look for Max. I spot him sitting on the swingset and I go and join him.  He grins at me with his perfect smile and I look down at my lasagna wishing I could keep the butterflies out of my stomach.

“So… do you live in Berkeley?” I ask him as I take a bite.

“No.” he replies

“Oh… so where do you live?”

“ Why does it matter?” he responds turning to me.

“ I’m just curious. Geez.” I say as my face flushes. 

“ Hancock. I live in Hancock.” he responds softly. Maybe he noticed my apple red face or just momentarily came out of his tough guy act.

“Noice.” I say as I finish the rest of my lasagna. I grab my plate and reach my hand out indicating for Max to give me his empty plate. He hands me it and nods his thanks. I ran inside and throw it in the garbage can. 

“Glory! Can you come back here real quick?” Jumper calls to me from his room. I sigh and back to his room.

“What’s up?” I say when I find him digging in his closet for something. 

“What are you and Max talking about?”  he asks still looking for something.

“Nothing too interesting, he barely talks.” I say not even bothering to hide the disappointment out of my voice. 

“Yeah, he’s pretty shy and a little awkward.” Jumper says as he pulls out an all black pistol. 

“What the hell Jumper!” I say as I take a protective step back. He rolls his eye and tucks his gun in his waistband. 

“Don’t be dramatic.” he says rolling his eye once again.

“Me? Dramatic? Bloody hell, Jumper you just pulled a mother fucking gun out of your closet.” I say getting a little loud. He steps towards me suddenly and I flinch. 

“My kids and your little sister is down that hall.” he says in a harsh whisper. I nod. He walks out of his room and I follow him. He says goodbye to Puddin’ and the kids and gives them each a peck on the forehead. He heads to the front door and motions for me to follow when he notices I’m lingering. 

“Keep quiet about this.” Jumper says as he pulls the front door closed behind him. I quickly nod. 

“Let’s go Max!”Jumper shouts to him. Max gets up and follows jumper to the passenger side of the all black SUV. Max faces me and smiles lightly. 

“Please be careful.” I whisper. Somehow Max hears me and nods. I wish I would’ve known that this moment would be the beginning of the end.

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