When Lowell moves back to his hometown to take care of his ailing mother, the last person he expects to see living in the house next door is his childhood friend Jase, grown up now and more attractive than ever. Jase had starred in many of Lowell’s teenage fantasies, but Lowell is convinced Jase is straight. And yet, as they rekindle their friendship, it begins to look like Jase might not be so straight after all.
Jase has problems of his own: his troubled ex-wife has allowed him full custody of their daughter on one condition: he never exposes her to his affairs with other men. The arrangement works just fine until he starts falling for Lowell and a whole new world of possibilities opens up for him. But how can he have a relationship with a man and still keep his daughter?
“This is the kind of story I enjoy … I love how “down-to-earth” it is.” — Three Dollar Bill Reviews
“I can highly recommend this beautifully moving story. Enjoy!” — TJ, Reviews at Jessewave
“The Boy Next Door is a story based on childhood fantasy. Those love stories or wishful thoughts we have either heard about or felt towards that special someone, but never had the guts to do anything about. It’s about acknowledging and facing the past that we may have left behind but could never quite outrun, and finally facing truth.” — Queer Magazine Online
“The Boy Next Door is a sweet, enjoyable story of two men finding themselves and each other.” — Joyfully Reviewed
When they got back to the house, Lowell saw a car in his neighbor’s driveway, a little silver compact something or other. He tried not to acknowledge that his neighbor was home, and Joanie didn’t seem to notice either. She helped him carry the bags back into his house. His house, Lowell kept reminding himself, though it felt like a stranger’s still. He relented and told Joanie she could drive him to see Russ the next day, and then he walked her to her car.
Lowell stood on the sidewalk out front and watched Joanie’s car disappear down the street. When he turned to walk back to the house, he noticed a little girl standing in his yard. She looked maybe six or seven years old.
“Hi,” Lowell said.
“Hi,” said the girl. “Are you my new neighbor?”
“Which house do you live in?”
Lowell expected her to point to the Emerson’s Practically Perfect Palace. Instead, she pointed to the yellow Midland residence. He took a closer look at the girl. He thought maybe he recognized Jase’s eyes on the girl, and maybe there was something familiar about her face, though she had a riot of blonde curls on top of her head instead of Jase’s much darker hair. “I live there,” she said.
“Then, yes, I’m your new neighbor. Can you tell me your name?” When she hesitated, he said, “My name is Lowell Fisher.”
“I’m Layla Midland.”
“That’s a very pretty name.” Very likely Jase’s daughter, then. And wasn’t that a kick in the teeth? “Is your father at home?”
“Yes. We’re going to go bike riding, so I came outside. That’s mine.” She pointed to the bike he’d seen when he’d closed on the house. It was propped up in the driveway.
Jase himself came out of the garage then, wheeling an adult-sized bike. He looked around for Layla and saw her. He looked surprised, but Lowell could tell by the expression on his face that he recognized who his daughter was talking to.
Jase didn’t look that different than he had in high school. Older, sure, and a bit more substantial. He’d filled out, maybe even grown an inch or two, but he still had a baseball player’s physique, strong and athletic without being too muscled. He had on jeans and a yellow polo shirt, and his hair had been cut into what Lowell could only think of as a Dad Cut, longish on top, parted to the left. He looked, in other words, like Jase in a Suburban Dad costume. And he was still, in Lowell’s estimation, smoking hot. Lowell felt a little embarrassed just looking at him, like it might be obvious from his face that Jase had starred in some of Lowell’s better fantasies.
Jase walked up to them. He and Lowell just looked at each other for a long time. He looked so very familiar, and yet there was something missing there. A light in Jase’s eyes that had gone dim. Lowell worried about that, wondered what Jase could have gone through in the years since they last saw each other. He extended a hand.
“Hi, Jase,” he said. “It’s been a while.”
“Yeah. Lowell. Hi.” His handshake was warm and powerful. Then their hands parted as if nothing had happened.
Layla looked between the two men. “Did you meet already?”
Jase looked down at the girl. Seeing them next to each other made the similarities between them even more noticeable. “Mr. Fisher and I went to school together.” He looked up at Lowell. “This is my daughter, Layla.”
“Yes, we’ve met,” said Lowell.
“Wow, you really went to school together? And now he’s our neighbor?”
“Yes, it looks that way.”
“I found out that you lived here after I closed on the house,” Lowell said. “Of course, I should have recognized the block. I don’t know why I didn’t.”
“It’s been more than twenty years since you’ve been to my house,” Jase said.
Jase wore an intense expression, his eyebrows drawn close together. “Um. So. Maybe we should have dinner together sometime? We could, I don’t know, catch up or whatever.”
Right, thought Lowell. “Yes, that would be great. Will you be around tomorrow?”
“Yeah, tomorrow. I could do tomorrow. If the weather’s nice, you should come over. I could fire up the grill.”
“A cookout, Daddy?” Layla asked. “Can we have a cookout?”
“Sure, sweetheart.” He ruffled her hair and smiled, some light coming into his eyes. “How does that seem to you, Lowell? Any dietary restrictions I should know about?”
“I stay away from red meat, but anything else is fair game.”
“Turkey burgers it is,” Jase said.
He smiled again. Oh Lord, Lowell had forgotten how charming that smile was, how perfect Jase’s teeth were. It was going to be interesting times, living next to this man.
“Great, tomorrow night, then. Say around seven?”
“Okay, well. I should go in and finish unpacking. Have a good time on your bike ride.”
“Thanks,” said Jase.
“Bye, Mr. Fisher!” Layla said with a big wave.
Lowell went back into the house. Before he closed the door, he heard Jase admonishing Layla to remember to wear her helmet.
* * * * *
Jase’s head spun as he watched Layla bound back into the house. He’d spent the entire bike ride feeling dizzy and not quite in control. Seeing Lowell again had been more of a shock than he had expected.
He sent Layla upstairs to get washed up for dinner. Then he sat on the couch and proceeded to freak out. Lowell had looked good. He had obviously grown and matured since high school. He was still tall and thin, as he’d been then, but he was no longer skinny. His hair was a few shades darker, less the light blond it had been when they were kids and now more the color of wet sand. It had been unsettling to see him again, to see everything in him that he’d been all those years ago, to instantly recognize him.
His attraction to Lowell had hit him like a punch in the gut too. He’d watched from afar in high school, attributing his interest to the fact that Lowell had come out as gay and was therefore different. He knew better now and was surprised to find himself drawn so strongly. This man, his neighbor, had once been the kid he’d played and run and caught frogs with.
Jase couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to talk to him now, if they’d be friends again, if there was even a possibility of more. This thought was interrupted by the phone ringing. He picked it up and got a stark reminder of why he had to let this daydream go.
“How are you, Jason?” Karen said.