This is his favourite time of the day – anticipating the moment the shutters of the neighbouring house open.
It’s always dark next door. Since he’s been back, he’s never seen her turn lights on. He wonders yet again how she gets around at night.
He rests his cup down and adjusts his chair. He’s in the dark as well.
Back in the day, she sat at the back of their class. She rarely spoke. Each day, on her desk, he counted ten pencils, lined up, all exactly the same length. Each pencil sharpened to a tip so fragile. Each expecting to splinter with the slightest pressure.
At two-thirty, she’d pick up her Cookie Monster pencil-case, run the zipper back and forth five times before picking up one pencil and placing it gingerly inside. Then, she’d pick up another and place it inside, repeating this motion eight more times. Finally gathering her things, she’d leave. Pretending to tie his shoes – the laces always knotted precisely so they sit in the middle of his Converse sneakers – he would wait until her ritual was over.
She’s never given any indication of knowing he’s there. Not once in all the years of sharing the same yard or sitting beside each other in school.
When his parents left him this house, he initially thought to sell it. But when he arrived back at the old place, and learnt she still lived next door, he knew he’d stay.
He works from home anyway.
It’s 6:35. Right on cue, two hands push open the turquoise shutters. The shutters swing all the way out. But the hands reach for them and shut them again.
Again, they open; again, they close.
Open – close.
Open – close.
Finally, open. He counts as he does every morning. Five.
As though inside her house, he can almost feel the crisp air on his skin.
Like he does each day, he counts to thirteen. He rotates the cup in his left hand using his right. Once – twice – thrice. Exactly. Then he takes three quick sips. His first sips of the day.
350-word Story Challenge – one-two-three is 347 words
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