Town House

Excerpt

Chapter 1
He Bangs

Jack Madigan squeezed his eyes shut. Hard. He wasn’t going to cry over this. There were exactly five events in his 36-year old memory that had brought him to tears, typically life cracking events; such as his father dying on him while he was away at a sleepover, his son Harlan bursting, squalling and bawling, out of the womb and into his heart, and his ex-wife sashaying out the front door of the old Boston town house and wishing Jack a good life.

She’d forgotten the tweezers.

Sucking back a fortifying breath, Jack trapped another hair between the steel pincers and yanked. Shit! Tears streamed down his cheeks. He wiped his face with his palm and peered into the mirror. His brows looked worse than before he started. The left brow ended way too early and the right one bulged in the middle like a python digesting a mole. The photo in the magazine sure didn’t look like this. Checking the instructions again, he ripped away at the right brow until the gastric-wrapped mole looked more like a supine gerbil.

Leaning on the huge porcelain bathroom sink, he pushed his face closer to the mirror. Eyebrow hairs probably grew back slowly. It would be his luck. If they grew back at all. He tugged at his dark hair until wet bangs carpeted his forehead, masking what was left of his brows. Looked a bit strange, but it would have to do. Eyebrows stinging, stomach grumbling, he reached down to tighten the towel tied around his narrow hips before hurling the tweezers and magazine at the metal trash can.

He hadn’t set out to pluck his brows this particular Wednesday evening in November. It was all Harlan’s fault.

Teenage hormones being what they are, Harlan’s eyes were foolishly affixed to a blonde on a passing bus when they should have been doing what eyes were designed for – scanning oncoming terrain for hazards, like open manhole covers and wolves. And while it wasn’t a manhole cover or a wolf that got him, the puddle was, apparently, sufficiently deep and murky as to necessitate a thorough clean up once Harlan finally found his way home.

And, teenage hormones being what they are, Harlan’s shower went on far too long. So long that his friends – Stevie, Kirk and three girls with wholly forgettable names, having stopped by to pick him up for a night of unintelligible conversation and untold attempts to sneak into local bars – were forced to choose between polite chat with Jack in the living room and a Glamourmagazine fortuitously pulled from someone’s purse.

The magazine won.

Jack never would have dreamed of flipping through it after Courtney or Brittany or whoever left it behind. For one thing, it was nearly 7:30 and he hadn’t yet had dinner. For another, a guy his age trolling through Glamour was just plain creepy. But it was just laying there on his favorite chair, folded open to an article titled, “Five Surefire Signs He’ll Suck in Bed.”
How could he not check…just to be sure?

And there it was. Surefire Sign number four. “Scraggle Brows. A guy who doesn’t clean his house upstairs won’t be keen on polishing your silver downstairs, so to speak.”

If there was one thing Jack wasn’t going to be accused of, it was having a complete and utter disregard for tending to the silver.

Peering into the old Frigidaire, head bopping to The Clash’s “London Calling” thundering from the living room, Jack smiled. One heaping helping of Monday’s tuna casserole had somehow escaped Harlan’s wolfish eye.

The sun had all but set now, leaving blackened, cut-out profiles of century town homes snuggled up to office towers against a sky smeared with navy, purple and red. Jack spun away from the fridge, chipped plate in hand, and kicked the door shut with his heel. Harlan would be out for hours. And by the time he returned, he’d have murdered a pizza, or several, and would have no interest in digging up two-day old leftovers.

By the time the sky had completely inked over, candlelight danced on the refrigerator door, Pinot breathed in a chipped scotch glass, Elvis Costello crooned from the front room and Jack’s perfectly heated leftovers begged to be devoured. He sampled the first bite and closed his eyes. Impossible. The casserole got more delectable by the day.

When he opened his eyes, another set of eyes stared back at him. Well, one eye, anyway. Mrs Brady, Harlan’s childhood pet – a morose, one-eared, one-eyed beast of a cat acquired during Harlan’s fifth year, sat on the opposite chair.

Like Jack’s date.

The cat stared at Jack’s forehead. Fully aware he was primping for a cat, Jack smoothed his bangs. “What are you looking at?”

Mrs. Brady blinked back what appeared to be a smirk.

“Like you’re so much better? Get down, phsst,” Jack hissed and tried to wave the cat away. Was it too much to want to eat a meal in peace? Mrs. Brady didn’t budge. Instead a low guttural moan emanated from somewhere between his throat and his feet.

“Go on now. You’ve been fed.” Jack had reminded Harlan six or seven times before he’d left.
The cat blinked again and glanced down at the tuna.

“You heard me.”

Mrs. Brady licked his lips and groaned.

The animal hadn’t paid this much attention to Jack since he’d had his stitches removed after the great snowplow incident of ’98. And even then, only to rake apart Jack’s flesh as he held the beast still for the vet. Jack let out a long breath. Clearly, the cat hadn’t been fed. Pushing back his chair, Jack crossed the room and opened the cupboard, hunting for a can of Pretty Kitty cat food.

Nothing.

He checked the fridge. No cat food and, worse, no reasonable substitutions. The cat wasn’t going to appreciate raw broccoli, hummus or strawberry flavored applesauce with no artificial sweeteners. Jack closed the door and paused. Harlan. He could pick up some cat food from the variety store. It wouldn’t be Pretty Kitty, but Mrs. Brady would just have to deal.

He dialed Harlan’s cell phone number and waited. After what must have been twenty or thirty rings, a robotic voice informed Jack that Harlan’s message box was full. Terrific. No cat food. No hope of cat food. And by now his tuna must be cold.

Mrs. Brady cocked his head and batted his eye. “Mew.” Damn thing was so hungry he was trying coquettish persuasion now.

“All right,” Jack crossed the room, picked up his plate and scraped half his dinner into the stainless steel cat dish before setting it down beside the back door. The cat bolted from the chair and perched himself over the bowl as Jack returned to his seat and picked up his wineglass, tipping it towards the cat’s twitching tail. “Salut, old man.”

He lifted a forkful of casserole to his mouth. It was cold. Ravenous as he was, he couldn’t stomach cold fishy noodles. Sighing, Jack placed his dinner back into the oven. At least it would reheat quickly. There wasn’t much left.

Casserole finally re-reheated, he sat himself down again and laid his napkin on his lap. The music had turned itself off in the other room, but Jack wasn’t willing to leave his dinner one more time.

After one delectable bite, the back door flew open and Harlan stumbled into the kitchen.

“It’s freezing outside.” He folded his six foot frame down to tickle Mrs. Brady under the chin, before standing up and tossing his coat onto an iron hook. His burgundy flares didn’t come close to covering his white vinyl loafers, though; they matched the puffed daisy on his knitted vest perfectly. Obsessed with the 70’s, Harlan spent much of his spare time rooting through thrift stores for clothing too un-cool to be called vintage. Which was Harlan’s statement. Cool is not cool. He prided himself on his extra long skateboard, his extra long sideburns and his cereal bowl haircut.

The kids at school called him “Haustin Powers” and begged to see his room, rumored to have lilac shag carpeting on the ceiling – which it did, only Harlan rarely brought anyone upstairs to show it off.

“Whoa.” Harlan picked up the cat and nodded towards Jack’s forehead. He laughed. “What’s with the fancy fringe?”

Jack swallowed irritation. He happened to know bangs were back in style. He’d just read it inGlamour. “How was your evening?”

Harlan shrugged. “Dull. Depressing. You shoulda come.”

“Apparently.”

“You could have scored with Ginnie’s cousin from Seattle. She’s, like, ancient. Twenty-nine. She talked about you all night. Said you look like that guy from High Fidelity.”

Dear God. “Not Jack Black?”

“No. The main guy. The one that keeps being dumped by hot girls.”
“Cusack?”

“Yeah. That’s the one. Though I’m not sure he decorates his forehead quite the same as you.”

Jack leaned sideways to peer at himself in the reflection of the darkened window. John Cusack? He turned his head to the left. To the right. He rubbed his jaw between his finger and his thumb and narrowed his dark eyes. Maybe if he kept his eyebrows covered. “Will this Ginnie’s cousin be coming around again?”

Harlan slumped into a chair and adjusted his enormous brown glasses. He ignored Jack’s question. “We waited for, like, an hour at a Chinese place and figured we could get something at Burger Bay quicker, and when we got there, they had a closed sign on the door and stacks of wood and tools and shit inside on the floor. I thought I was gonna hurl from hunger. So then we went to Oliver’s for pasta ‘cause the bartender was supposed to score us a good table. But Mark’s ex was lurching around in the doorway, she’s their new hostess, and by that time Ginnie’s cousin had to catch a train—”

“Train? She’s not from around here?”

“New Jersey.”

Didn’t that just figure.

Harlan continued. “By then I realized I had no money anyway, so I came back home. I’m starving. I think I’m gonna die if I don’t eat soon.” He shot a hungry look at Jack’s plate.
Jack took hold of his plate with his free hand. “I think there’s some applesauce. Strawberry, I believe. And crackers in the cupboard.”

“I’m going through a hu-uge growth spurt.”

“Mm. Again?”

“Yeah. I can feel my bones stretching. Hurts like hell.” Harlan rubbed his legs.

In the interest of steering the conversation firmly away from his dinner plate, Jack wiped his mouth with his napkin and said, “You know, when I was your age, we were sneaking into bars, not Italian bistros. Not that I condone that sort of thing.”

“You? Sneaking into bars?”

“It’s so hard to imagine?”

Harlan laughed and dropped Mrs. Brady to the floor. Cat hair covered his pants and he set about picking it off, hair by hair. “Well, kinda. Considering.”

‘FYI, I used to do all sorts of crazy things.”

“Like go to the store?”

Resting his fork on the edge of his plate, Jack stared into his noodles. “Yes,” he said, his head suddenly feeling heavy. “Like go to the store.”

Harlan chewed on his cheek while he processed this information. “Cool.” He picked up Jack’s wine glass and sniffed it. “Are you going to eat all that tuna?”

With a silent sigh, Jack slid his plate across the table and got up to get himself some applesauce.