It was four in the afternoon when Bishop arrived at Stephen’s. He carried his bag half-slung over his shoulder as he crossed the Abelson’s sloped front yard, which overlooked the rest of High County Point. Stephen and his family had moved here a few months ago when real estate prices bottomed during the recession. The developing company had gone bankrupt and abandoned the project, and High County Point was left in a state of permanent incompletion.
Bishop turned over his soldier to survey the neighborhood before climbing the steps. Several unfinished homes stood bare, their wooden frames being the only form visible to passersby. Spraypaint markings decorated the streets below; as most of it was in code, Bishop could barely make them out. And yet eerily enough, the streets looked to him to be perfect. The dark asphalt gave off a brilliant shine in the late-April sun. He thought to himself. At least I can come and go in style, Bishop was nineteen years old. He graduated near the top of his class, yet chose to stay home rather than pursue a degree. He’d found a job with a local landscaping company. Unlike the middle and older-aged men, Bishop’s body was strong and resilient, and the boss had chosen him to trim treetops.
The task required him climbing anywhere from forty to sixty vertical feet per tree, ten to twelve trees per day. His lumbering shoulders and tight forearms testified to the labor. Also influencing his choice to stay home and work was his girlfriend, Candice. Bishop had chased her for years, and it was in their sophomore year that they began dating. Together since, Bishop and Candice enjoyed a stable, predictable relationship. They knew they were each other’s only sexual partners, and while the first few months of lovemaking had been incredible, their physical relationship had since declined.
Bishop, hungry for something new, hoped that life would bless with an unexpected surprise. The door to Stephen’s house opened as Bishop reached the top step. Standing there with her arms crossed was Stephen’s mother, Carol. Since childhood, Bishop had found her attractive. She was smarter than the women and girls he knew, smarter even than his own mother was. To her son’s embarrassment, Carol would sit down and explain what she was reading to Bishop. She had taught him that it was okay to take interest in the world around him, that he should never betray his own curiosity. In addition, her jokes always made him think. He suspected that some of her humor had rubbed off on Stephen.
She eyed him up and down.
“He’s in the back, Bishop,” said Carol. She motioned with her head for him to sneak around the side of the house.
“Thanks Mrs. Abelson,” he said as retreated down the steps. He ran by a row of blossoming rhododendrons as he paced to the back of the house. The air was cool and crisp as it rushed against his face; he thought he could start to make out something floral.
The metal latch gave easily as he bounded through the new wooden fence. Before him, he found his best friend, Stephen Abelson, lying in the grass and tossing a baseball in the air.
“Steve,” he said in a gruff voice, “this is a lot of sports equipment for a lazy bastard like you.”
He snatched the ball midflight as Stephen began to roll over. Around them stood a recently constructed basketball half-court, a makeshift volleyball net, and a tether-ball pole for Stephen’s younger sister.
“Where are the kids?” asked Bishop, half-interested.
“Ah, shit, Stacy’s at Ashley’s tonight,” Stephen answered groggily. He’d brought himself to his feet and was dusting the grass off of his back.
“You mean us two lucky guys have this mansion to ourselves tonight?” said Bishop, a smirk growing on his face.
“That is, aside from the lovely Mr. and Mrs. Abelson, of course.”
“Well imagine this, lover boy,” said Stephen, as he slipped his left hand into an old, worn leather glove.
“Daddy’s gone for the night, so it looks like you’re going to have to keep Mrs. Abelson company.”
Bishop threw the ball to Stephen before dropping shaking his head in disbelief.
“You sick son of a bitch,” he said with a grin, “you’re the only guy I know who would push his own mother.”
Stephen laughed. “You know I’d kill you if you touched her,” he said, hurling the ball back to Bishop.
“Lucky for you, Steve,” he said after catching Stephen’s pass, “I’m a satisfied man.”
Bishop wondered how convincing he really sounded.
Stephen’s head rested in the palms of his hands, his elbows propped up along the kitchen table. Carol handed him an icepack wrapped in a dishtowel; he quickly brought it to his forehead. She rubbed his neck as he groaned aloud.
“Ughh…. These migraines are killing me.” Carol placed her hands on her son’s shoulders, affectionately rubbing him as he focused on reducing his pain. She looked across the table to Bishop, whose back was against the wall. He played with the keys to his work truck in his pocket.
“I don’t know what happened,” Bishop said, fondling the metal rings.
“We were at the basketball court when he started complaining about his head.” He empathized with his friend’s misery. Migraines of this severity – or worse – were nothing new for Stephen. Unexplainable by even the most highly recommended doctors, Stephen’s migraines seemed divinely ordained. He was condemned to an adolescence of spontaneous agony. Judging from the few migraines that Bishop had experienced himself, he concluded that Stephen’s affliction was of the worst sort.
“Bishop, ol’ pal,” croaked Stephen, “I’m guessing you wouldn’t be offended if I took to my room. I need a dark place to rest in.”
“I hear you Steve,” Bishop said sympathetically. “You let me know when you feel better.”
Carol ushered Stephen out of the kitchen and towards his room. Bishop watched her as she cared for her son. As much as he pitied Stephen for his migraines, he envied the attention his mother took with him. He noticed a tinge of jealousy reveal itself in his thoughts.
Bishop pushed himself away from the wall. Noticing the remote on the couch, he planted himself on the cushion closest to the kitchen. He flipped on the TV, hoping to catch something of the news.
Economists say that the economy is getting back on its knees, blared a well-dressed man on the news, but local shop owners claim otherwise. Bishop devoted half of his attention to the program; the story was the same: big business makes out with a killing while the rest of us fight for the scraps. He’d only felt the shock of the recession through stories shared by his coworkers. Landscaping was a tertiary concern for most families; it obviously held nothing near the purchase of food and rent. … and only time will tell if their predictions come true. The program transitioned to the weather.
“That poor boy,” Carol said as she came into the main room. “He was looking forward to tonight.”
“So was I,” Bishop responded automatically. He stared beyond the TV.
Carol picked up a stack of rented DVDs from the kitchen counter and turned back to Bishop. “You heard of Charlotte Brontë?”
He barely recognized the name. “What… Pride and Prejudice?” he said.
She raised her eyebrows. “Not bad, Bishop! Jane Eyre.” She started for the stairs as she raised her voice. “The DVD player’s broken down here. Come on up if you want a good story.”
“You gotta understand, Bishop, this was revolutionary stuff at the time.” Carol sat upright with two pillows between her back and the wall at the head of her and Mr. Abelson’s bed.