Chapter 1: The New Neighbor Wednesday, 31 July 2019
In the shadowy forest of Summerland Townsville, Apollo was running faster than a speeding bullet. Like Usain Bolt, he was breaking the record of 37.58 kilometers per hour in the 2009 World Championships. It wasn't an exaggeration. This level of willpower can miraculously possess anyone after seeing an old hag with long silver hair. And hearing an eerie screeching sound come out of that woman's wrinkled mouth could break the world record. It was the most unfathomable fear. If Apollo had foreseen this experience, he would've chosen to faint or play dead.
He settled in a treehouse with high hopes of a protection spell surrounding it. "How did I climb up to this self-proclaimed hiding place?" He thought momentarily but couldn't remember. He wouldn't dare peep into a tiny hole one inch apart from his clammy face, but the moon decided to focus its brightness into that very space. "Traitor!" He thought. Apollo sat awkwardly with both arms squeezing his knees, making sure he didn't move a muscle, but knew he had to move away from that freaking hole. Imagining the old hag's glaring eyes suddenly popping from it, he cautiously did a backward crabwalk and stopped when mist started to get through the tiny hole.
"Apollo." His eyeballs almost exploded. It sounded like the angel of death coming to get him.
He closed his eyes and prayed silently with all sincerity. "Dear God, I'm only twenty-one and hadn't had sex in a year. I know your bible says procreate. Please allow me to reinforce your command by letting me live. Please. I'm begging you and if this isn't enough, I will donate my mother's books to the sexually oppressed women."
As if God heard him, he opened his eyes to realize he was back in the real world. It was just a bad dream. He thought.
The cellphone resting right beside his pillow showed 3am, an hour earlier than the alarm he set for his daily routine. He didn't feel any hint of sluggishness despite waking up too early so he got up, washed his face and took a shower like any neat and handsome guy would do.
Three steps before reaching downstairs, he saw a face of a woman illuminated by the laptop's brightness. He slipped but quickly recovered. "What are you doing so early in the living room, mom?" He asked, breathing heavily with his right hand holding his chest as if to safeguard it from a heart attack.
Mrs. Rodriguez giggled, closed her laptop and walked to the kitchen behind her. "You're so edgy, baby. Why? Is there a girl hiding behind you? Are you sneaking out with her early in the morning?" She opened the fridge and pulled out some tomato and lettuce.
Apollo's face transformed into a revolted grinch. "Good morning, mom." He uttered in a sarcastic tone. "I'm not having my breakfast yet. Don't make me a sandwich."
"I'm not. This is just for me." She sounded defensive while opening a bottle of mayonnaise.
He knew that sandwich was for him because she always made them the minute she saw his presence. "Right. Right." He gave her a skeptic look. "I'll be back in an hour."
"You sure you're not hiding a girl in here?" She teased.
"No, mom!" He rolled his eyes and took off.
Apollo's daily routine to jog until he finished his playlist of late 90's alternative and rock music provided tranquility. He had an hour of peace of mind and a good view of the sun rising slowly to irradiate the sanitary streets of Summerland. Every house was almost identical, with gabled rooftop varying in shades of blue: azure, cerulean, sapphire, and indigo. The windows had no variation; always a set of double-hung type that slid up and down, and the borders were white with blue. The doors were fiberglass with two wide doorsteps. The exteriors were all white masonry. Only the presence or absence of a garage separated one quiet household from another.
Apollo and his mom were lucky to have a decent life in a lovely neighborhood; even though Mr. Rodriguez left them in complete debt. When Apollo finished Arts and Design, her mom finally steered clear from the abusive interest of loan sharks. Her writing career also started paying off. Every time Apollo thought about his life, the realization of not having anything to worry about felt so serene. He never worried about anything, but he wasn't sure if there was a disadvantage to it. He felt that somehow, there was that feeling of wanting some excitement in his life.
Drenched in sweat and panting, Apollo was about seven to eight houses before reaching home, but his breathless state didn't stop him from singing to New Radical's You Get What You Give. "Health insurance rip off flying FDA big bankers buying fake computer crashes dining cloning while they're multiplying fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson, Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson. You're all fakes run to your mansions. Come around. We'll kick your ass in!" He got so caught in the moment that he stumbled into a small box but quickly got his equilibrium back. The house in front of his place had been vacant for maybe three months and now, someone has moved in.
He walked at the side of what seemed to be a box or cube truck, so the cargo area was blocking him from the view of the house. As he nonchalantly peeped through the truck's open door-window, there was no one in sight. Before taking his steps towards his own place, the front door opened and a tall guy with medium build stepped out. He stood by the doorstep, blocking a person that he was talking to. Apollo couldn't quite hear much because he was on earphone but when he took them off, he heard the loveliest voice saying, "No problem. They're all just old toys that I won't use anymore but they're in good condition. Your daughter would love them. It's that box left right there." She pointed at the box responsible for Apollo's clumsiness earlier.
The tall guy took a glimpse of the box and responded. "Again, thank you. I appreciate that you always think about my daughter. She's going to miss you. Just call me when you need anything."
"I will. Thanks!"
When the guy finally stepped out of the doorstep, Apollo saw the girl behind the lovely voice. His eyes widened to the point where his eyebrows could almost reach the boundary between his hair and his forehead. For some reason his jaw got locked because his mouth had been half open for a few seconds until he snapped out of it before anyone could see him. He plugged his earphones back to his blushing ears, walked straight to his house and turned the doorknob, wishing the new neighbor wouldn't see him because he wasn't ready to be seen. He looked like shit. He thought, next time that beautiful face saw him, he will be fresh and handsome.
He was about to run upstairs to peek through his room's window, but his mom greeted him from the dining room next to the kitchen saying "Baby, we have a new neighbor. Did you see her?"
Her timing is scary. He thought. What every 21-year old guy dreads is a mom who's unaware that she's clairvoyant. "I'm not a baby mom and nope, I didn't notice."
Mrs. Rodriguez threw an inquisitive look. "That's the first time you've complained about me calling you a baby."
Apollo took a deep breath as his face transformed into a pleading Tom Holland. "Help me seem like a man, mom. Even if I'm too adorable to be let go as a baby." It was his attempt to be cute which always worked because his mom adored him and he did look a lot like Tom Holland, only more handsome, manly and certainly not a teenager.
He wanted so desperately to go upstairs but the smell of breakfast put him in a trance. Bacon, sausage and egg. His entire body got summoned by the spell-binding aroma of the three best sources of protein. Apollo instantly joined his lovely mom as she smiled ever so sweetly while she set her laptop aside to welcome him.