THE BOYS IN AMERICA: “NEIGHBOURS”

Summer, 2014

Cameron was a writer, and no one could really tell him if he was a good one. Anyone he knew at university studied finance or sports science, like he planned to as well. But he liked difficult, trying new paths, pushing buttons and scratching heads. No one seemed to notice that, too. In being too caught up in their own concerns Cameron got away with actually doing things he liked without commotion– up until now, obviously.

As much as he wished to be instant Wilde or Dickens after h e graduated the only thing that was certain was debt and paying them off as fast as it grew. So Cameron became a soccer coach, one in many for a league of wild, bright-eyed Scots and English boys scattered across America to teach their sacred sport to ignorant fat brats. Cameron was rather surprised on two things when he got hired by European Youth Soccer International: playing football all up until his last year at Nottingham he still passed their physical; and his parents gave no objection with the uncertainty they showed like when he expressed pursuing writing. Well, they always justified in his actions by their standards; an English degree would be practical for insurance content writing, and coaching abroad would make fine accreditation.

For those reasons he was glad to have left EYSI, to be shacked up now in the back room of the house he shared with Nick. Nick was Cameron’s savior, or the cold, weeded sidewalks would have been home. Or perhaps Craigslist was to credit; Cameron applied to all potential ads and Nick happened to reply straight away.

Friday night in. Nick was sprawled on a dingy blue couch oddly angled in front of the dark fireplace where a large TV and X Box console was set. Cameron was drinking tea in the kitchen, not too close to intrude on his roommate’s space and not too close to ask about having a go on his video games. The only thing that kept Cameron here really was being broke.

But Nick was right, too. “You know, it’s not like they’re gonna cuff you on the spot once you step out on the street,” he told Cameron, not looking up from the East Asian history textbook he was reading.

“I’m not afraid,” was Cameron’s reply. But even he was afraid of Nick. Who knows, if they didn’t get along Nick could be a nob and report him.

” Didn’t say you were, man. Unless you are, I was gonna see if you’d go out and buy me more hazelnut creamer. But seriously, I’ve gotta outline this chapter by eleven tonight.”

“Aren’t you on summer holiday?” Cameron’s phone, an old Blackberry, said it was nearing nine.

“No, told you I don’t and I’ve been in two extra classes this summer to catch up.”

“You really behind on your units, eh?”

“Just what, twelve credits? But want to pace myself, you know?” In the little that Nick and Cameron did share in common, it was fairly easy to dismiss their past, especially for Nick, whose dull years at Duke caused a drop out of college– but it was the Bay Area that brought him back in.

“Well, I don’t have money,” Cameron replied, laying his head in his arms that were folded onto the table.

“I’ll pay you, of course, for my creamer. And anything else we might need in the fridge.”

“Nah, fine I’ll just go get that. Get out for a little bit.”

“That’s the spirit. I feel like a dick honestly to send you out but hey, it’s better than being here on a weekend.”

It wasn’t a bad place to be actually, Cameron decided as he looked behind him at the house. Like the others, the house he lived at was craftsman, quaint little Americana captured on a quiet street in a cool evening. Cameron liked its imperfection though: the line four shingles missing on the gray roof, the wood panel on the walls and how they contrasted the pop peacock blues that bordered the windows and colored the shutters of the windows. The best thing that was a great bonus was the Dutch door– it actually was divided into two!

As he looked back Cameron did have a pang at just stepping out beyond its white Pickett fence, but he was ready for the new world right there. He’d have to get used to it, anyhow, should he really be here forever.

It still sounded like an amazing scheme. Berkeley was a college town, so there was plenty of bars and random things to do, yet not rural into deep America where he’d be dealing with more of the same and go mad. He’d been working out in LA earlier this summer and last year, but Cameron felt like he had enough of that. Somewhere quiet enough was good to get started, and no pressure around to write as soon as possible. That’s truly what meant to Cameron.

Amber Avenue was tucked away amidst trees and bungalows accented well by flowers in the front lawn, and it was only blocks away from the busy intersection where Ashby met College Avenue, where a little liquor store set up shop and Cameron could only walk so far, since neither he or Nick had a car.

The air was cold, no one was out except for stars finally shining through the breaking clouds that gave the sky a slate look. And their bright light looked filtered to Cameron, coming through the branches that lined the sidewalk
. The small and bunched businesses along college came to view, most closed except for the corner Cafe Roma with their grand brick clock reading half past nine now. He was almost at the little market when his cheap go-phone broke the silence of the night, and Cameron hated it. He pressed the red rejection button to silence the ring, to hang up Nick. If he was stepping out into this new place, he just wanted to be alone at the moment.

Creamer. It wasn’t even true milk or dairy-based, but then to flavor it? Ungodly business, these Americans. Cameron was slowly getting used to coffee with his stay, but milk in place of cream for every beverage remained standard. He quietly grabbed a quarter pint from the back fridge and waited in line. A girl, a tiny one, was in front and tapping her foot on the green laminate. From the back of her head Cameron liked the way her hair was cropped above her shoulders and sort of wavy. He wouldn’t mind the wait. When the girl finished buying her things– a big bag of pita chips and a bag of Seattle’s Best Coffee– she stayed behind to slowly put them into a burlap grocery bag. This little detail stopped Cameron from realizing he was short $1.45 for the creamer.

“What?” He said to the clerk, an old Asian man with furrowed brows, probably because of Cameron’s lack of attention.

“You gave me two dolla.”

Oh shit. Cameron had left the house without Nick giving him the money.

“I–I got it here somewhere, Sir,” Cameron tried to delay, patting his back pockets. No luck. He only came across a nickel when the girl– who was still there– reached out and gave two dollars to the clerk. “Keep the change, she demanded, smiling to the clerk, then to Cameron.

“He smiled back, but he wanted to get out of there. Grabbing the carton of creamer he quickly walked out and passed her. He forgot to thank her.

He was about to turn back around when there she was, just leaving the market.

“Thanks!” He blurted out. And laughed. How stupid, he thought.

“Some gratitude,” she replied, laughing. Casually onward, she asked, ” You must be visiting?”

“The accent.”

“English?”

“Right you are.”

“Right you are,” she slightly mocked. She still smiled. It just registered to Cameron that she wore thin metal-rimmed glasses, shaping almond hazel eyes that hinted to Cameron her background was half-Asian. Her laughs didn’t sound funny in a way that pissed him off either. What a pleasant soul to have encountered for being criminal.

“I’m just staying at a mate’s for a bit,” he continued, cautious not to reveal his master plan. “It’s nice here, right pretty.”

“Haha it’s crazy here– but yes, a beautiful little city. I think I’ve seen you around already. On Amber?”

“Oh? Yes.”

She nodded. “I live on Amber Avenue.” He felt more alive all of a sudden.

“Imagine that! What is your house number?”

“787 Amber. I’ve seen you near 790.”

“Stalker.”

Now she was laughing. “You were the one watching me pack my shit away in there.”

Feeling alive became clammy and flustered in the cheeks. “Uh, let me please walk you back, if you’re alright with that.”

“It’s perfectly fine. We’ve already been sort of walking–”

“Oh we have!” They’d probably gone a block from the market. “Yeah,” she began again, “but it’s a nice summer evening finally. Good things happen.” The trust she had in Cameron was reassuring, a nice breath of air for being so tense about everyone around him. If he was going to live amongst them, he had to trust them, and trust himself to feel like there was nothing to distrust. Crazy, but simple.

And as he figured, this neighbor of his was a student at UC Berkeley, in her second year and living with her aunt whose house was on Amber. The rest of her family lived south near LA. The thing that didn’t really sit well with Cameron was the superficial misfortune to her name: Veronica. Certainly didn’t look like a Veronica.

Despite that, the night walk turned out perfect, and too fast. They had actually come up to 790 first, where she bid Cameron farewell.

“See you around, Cameron.”

“And definitely shall hope to see you around. And meet your aunt as well?”

Her smile grew and she shrugged. “She does love hosting. And new faces.”

Cameron would surely come to appreciate the minor incident of any new face now.

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