Notes: Inspired by a student in a classical music competition. Just so we all keep it straight, here's the order in which the foursome series appears: A Christmas wish, A new love, That's what friends are for, Popsicle toes, Twister, Tangled up in blue, The list, The jazz singer, Debut.
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Alex used to hate visiting. He considered it a tedious chore, especially when he was a young boy. He'd rather be out playing with his friends, throwing a ball around in the park or playing with those cheap, green plastic soldiers you bought by the bucket. He didn't want to go with his mother to visit his old relatives, who smelled of cabbage, wrapped in sweaters that stank of mothballs. He didn't want the old women who tinted their hair blue with the scent of perm solution not quite washed out, to pinch his cheeks. He didn't like the way the men patted his head condescendingly with their thick tobacco stained fingers.
He found ways around it though. Once when they went to visit the spinster sisters his mother simply called the Italian ladies, he politely inquired if Maria Theresa had birds nesting in the big fluff of armpit hair visible every time she lifted up her arm in her sleeveless dress.
His shocked mother scolded him soundly while her cheeks had flushed a rich pink, but when they got home, he could hear her giggling through the bedroom door. He didn't go there very often after that. He certainly missed those chocolate and plain biscuits they used to serve with the afternoon espresso but his mother sometimes snuck a couple into her clutch purse when she did visit on her own.
Now he went visiting with Walter, John and Fox. He didn't find it arduous after he got used to it. And most of those people needed getting used to.
Their next-door neighbor was a bit hyperactive. She was one of those super moms who baked enough goodies for every bake sale to feed the entire population of a third world nation and managed to attend every single sporting and school event that her two children were involved with. Hannah and her husband Richard were two of the nicest people in the world but they reminded him a bit of Maude and Ned Flanders from the Simpsons, with a little Ozzie and Harriet thrown in. Their sons, Jason and Jack were just as wholesome, with mops of blond hair cascading over their foreheads, teeth as white and even as Chiclets and milk-fed sturdy bodies. They were almost too good to be true. It certainly helped that Jack hero-worshipped Alex and that his dog was as loyal and trustworthy as the rest of them. Keisha was a beautiful golden lab, as blond as her owner.
On the other end of the spectrum and at the end of the block, was Mona and Dirk, absent-minded, rather loud parents, with two foul-mouthed, pierced, tattooed teenagers, who regularly trashed their parent's house and cars. They were from the Ozzie Osbourne end of the scale, but they were also the most brilliant rising abstract artists, with Mona making phallus shaped statues and mobiles out of found objects and Dirk creating paintings on the scale (both in size and quality) of Jackson Pollock. Alex had bought one small painting but hadn't been able to persuade Walter on Mona's innovative but scandalous work.
Then there was the recently moved in Jess and Stephen Harper, a handsome couple with two daughters. Jane was at that gawky stage of adolescence. She looked nothing like her parents, with their tanned skin, hazel eyes and dark blond hair. Jane was their opposite. She was thin and rangy and flat-chested, with frizzy brown hair and pale skin. She was shy and brainy with a love of long distance running. She would often go out at the same time as Fox did on his runs and Alex suspected that she had a big crush on him and timed her own runs to coincide with his.
On the other hand, Elizabeth was the sum of her parents' good genes, with long dark blond hair, skin that turned burnt almond in the summer, freckles sprinkled across her upturned nose and lithe limbs, except for her prosthetic leg. It had been amputated due to bone cancer that had luckily not spread. She was pretty nonchalant about her missing leg and went the whole summer long wearing shorts, showing off her athletic leg with the attached sneaker on it as she went for long walks around the neighborhood.
Down the road, there was Mrs. Kowalchuk, with thirteen cats, more or less, who lived in an impeccable house filled with china figurines with nary a strand of cat hair and a virtual shrine to her late war-hero husband. It was filled with black and white photos, the kind that lucky photographers take on V-day, his medals, letters and cards he'd mailed back home to his high school sweetheart, all proudly and creatively displayed.
One of his favorite homes to visit was Mr. Svetlov's. He always looked a bit frumpy, with his frowzy hair, sweater vests that were always pilling and pants pulled up halfway to his armpits. But he was a big talker, spinning tales of his life in communist Russia, his defection, the war years and everything that led up to his whirl wind life as a concert violinist. He often took out his cherished violin to play. Alex loved those times best, sipping hot tea (with a little whiskey dashed in, Mr. Svetlov's idea), munching on sugar cookies and listening to Prokofiev or Mozart or Bach.
He could make it sing joyously or bray mournfully, even seesaw like a drunken monkey on a tossing ship. Then he'd send Alex and his lovers on their way with a brown bag full of cookies. The little pieces of broken cookies would rustle as they walked home with full stomachs and their ears still humming with classical music.
Sunday morning was dawning with the promise of summer in the air. Birds disturbed Alex's sleep. He nestled closer to Fox, who was next to him. Fox gave a sleepy murmur and a sort of snore then curled his arm around John. Alex didn't want to get up to close the window. The breeze was welcome in the stuffy room. He pulled Walter's arms closer around his waist and snuggled deeper under the covers to try to block out the noise. He fell asleep again for a couple of hours before the alarm went off.
They had breakfast together quietly, all four trading sections of the newspaper back and forth. Walter did the dishes while Alex shook out the tablecloth. Sparrows looked at him expectantly as he shook the crumbs over the driveway.
"Looks like the new people are moving in today," he pointed across the street.
"Let's go meet the neighbors," Walter suggested.
This time he readily agreed.
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