Chapter 1: A Little Mix-Up
The place was fairly nice, if I was deciphering Jonah's scribbles correctly and was standing before the right house. It had to be, since the lawn was overgrown and unkempt, with broken lawn chairs and a warped table. A few random divots were upturned on the grass, probably from hard cleats practicing football. The driveway was a steep hill, with cracked, gravel-heavy asphalt, leading up to the Cyprus trees crowding the cement path to the doorway. I rang the doorbell, which was a classic lighthearted ding-dong. A few thumps were heard beyond the door, and footsteps coming closer, until the lock was undone and a short, thin red-haired boy was standing before me in a knit cap, tight jeans and nice plaid shirt. He held a box of Cracker Jacks in his hand, which he stuffed into his mouth by the fistful.
"Yeah?" he said sharply. "Who you looking for?"
He then noticed my packed bags and my mop in the dog crate and quirked an eyebrow at me.
"Uhh," I said nervously, scooting some of my dark hair out of my face. "I'm looking for Jonah."
"He's still at work," the boy replied, stuffing some more Cracker Jacks through his words. "Who're you?"
I began to second-guess that this was a good idea… but one thought about the desert prison with my parents made anything look like a better option.
"I'm Jonnie. Surely Jonah mentioned I was coming?"
Another boy appeared, taller, extremely handsome with long brown hair that hung in his eyes. It was hard to look anywhere else but those eyes.
"Who's this?" he asked with a flirtatious smile. When he winked at me, I knew immediately he was trouble.
"This girl says she's Jonnie," the redhead told the other boy, who burst out laughing.
"She's Jonnie?!" he hollered. "Oh, my God, this is too much. Hey, Ryder, get a loada this!"
"Huh," replied a voice from beyond sight, not sounding too interested.
"Okay, very funny," Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome chuckled to me. "You had me going for a second there, very nice. Now, where's Jonah with the candid camera?"
I bit my lip and shifted uncomfortably.
"Dude," the redhead said with fear in his voice. "I think she's serious…"
Finally, the third, uninterested boy, whom they had dubbed 'Ryder', showed his face, peeking out his blonde head to see.
"Yo," he greeted as if bored, or maybe even stoned. "Well, com'on in."
I decided then that I liked Ryder. Ryder was good people.
Not one of the boys decided that they were going to help the girl among them get her bags and dog crate through the door, so I took a good few minutes in their small tile foyer dragging it up and into the house. It gave me a moment to admire the sights.
Immediately to my left there was a long twine tacked to the wall, with clothespins clipped in random spacing along it. On these large clothespins were envelopes and magazines of mail attached. Surprising me that they would be that organized, I was shocked to see they had put names above each of the mail pins to tell them apart. The first was Jonah's, of course, and then there was Trent, Daniel, Ryder, Sean, and Matthew.
A few tacked up black and white photos of random people and objects lined the wall ahead of me. They were beautiful photos, of various lightings and developments, which made me assume that one of these men was taking photography classes.
"Jonah, yeah, hi…" I heard the redhead talking on his phone from the open kitchen. I dragged the dog crate onto the dingy brown living room rug, leaned my bags up next to it, and collapsed on the couch, which creaked and complained under my weight and caved in a bit where I sat. The blonde one named Ryder escaped down the hall into one of the bedrooms, while Tall, Dark, and Handsome cleared a few chips off the old couch and plopped down next to me.
"Nice dog," he said, leaning down to peer into the crate. My mop dog got fidgety and excited, probably under the impression he was going to be let out. "What's his name?"
"Vincent," I replied nervously. "We call him Vinny."
And we call me 'bumbling idiot'. Did I mention I get ditzy around pretty boys?
"Dude, Jonnie is a guy's name," the redhead went on, pacing in the kitchen. "We all assumed you were talking about a GUY…"
"What kind of dog is he?" Tall, Dark, and Handsome went on, slipping his fingers through the holes in the crate for Vincent to lick.
My father's scripted reply to this question came out of my mouth:
He laughed at this, and sat back in his seat.
"Trent," he introduced himself. "Is Jonnie short for anything or were your parents just in denial?"
"Actually my parents were hoping for a girl. They tried three times before they finally got me."
"Ah, so you're used to a house full of boys," Trent gathered.
"No, not really," I said, glancing at a moldy sandwich forgotten on the living room floor. "I've been an only child for about six years now. Since they all enlisted."
Everyone always assumes the Marines because they are the popularized branch of the military. My brothers talk for hours about the super secret operations that they give the Marines credit for. Thus, their instilled information haunts me at times like this. I tried my best not to call Pretty Boy out on a deep discussion of politics just yet. It was only day one, after all.
Trent said almost everything with the utmost of confidence, and finished his ever-bold words with an understanding nod. I can't say much about him in looks, since I still was unable to look anywhere else but his golden eyes and the floor. He did have great feet, though.
Yes, this was definitely a bad idea. Suddenly sleeping in the street began to have its appeal.
After about fifteen minutes of listening to the redhead argue with Jonah on the cell phone, Jonah himself walked in the front door, still arguing on the phone with him even as they faced each other.
"It's just for little while, Danny!" Jonah said to him firmly.
"That's what you said about Sean!"
"Who called me?" said another boy, an Asian with spiky hair, who had just walked in the door too. His eyes found me and his brow shot up. "Ooo, it's a lady!"
I politely shook his hand and introduced myself. Danny and Jonah finally realized they didn't need their cell phones to communicate anymore.
"We need to pow wow, pronto," Danny said, taking off down the hall to get the last of the tribe. I could hear him pounding on the blonde's door and calling his name.
"Ryder, get your butt out here!"
"Geez!" Ryder exclaimed as he whipped open his door again. "What'd my door ever do to you?"
"Jonnie," Jonah asked me politely. "Would you mind stepping outside for a minute while I knock some sense into these cats?"
"Not a problem," I replied, opening the crate for my mop and clipping a leash on his collar. "Vinny needs to free the pee anyway."
"Don't worry," Jonah assured me as he opened the door to see me out. "There's just been a little mix-up."
"A little mix-up?" Danny sputtered as the door closed behind me. "No offense to the woman, but this is strictly a female-free living zone. We're in bachelor heaven and we do not need her girling up the place. Did it ever occur to you to mention Jonnie was a girl?!"
"That girl's Jonnie?" Sean's squeaky voice piped up. "Wait, I thought Jonnie was a guy!"
"My point exactly!" Danny reiterated.
"Way to stay on top of things, Sean," Jonah snickered.
I guessed they didn't realize all of their living room windows were open and I could hear them as clearly as if I was standing next to them. As Vinny lifted his leg to one of their untrimmed Cyprus trees, I listened in some more.
"I'm taking Dan's side on this one," Sean declared. "She comes bearing trouble. Ryder, open your stapled mouth and get in on this!"
"I don't care," Ryder replied in passing as his voice traveled into the kitchen. Yeah, Ryder was good people.
"Guys," Jonah sighed frustratedly, and I felt guilty for putting him through this. "Her best friend just kicked her out on the street, and she just needs to crash here until she can find another roommate."
"No crashing, no way!" Danny seemed to be the voice of the male species.
"I don't see the problem." That one was Trent talking. Tall, Dark, and Handsome had chivalry going for him too, how nice…
"Trent, shut up. You're only saying that because you want to get in her pants."
Trent laughed heartily.
"And what's wrong with that?"
Scratch the 'chivalrous' bit. Replace with 'perverted'. Again, I considered sleeping on a park bench.
"Okay, let's put it to a vote," Jonah decided. "All in favor of Jonnie staying, say aye."
"Aye," several voices said together.
"Guess that decides it."
I smiled at poor Danny's pain. I had been voted on the island. Good ol' Jonah. I owed him one. He was a saint. He was Gandhi. He was Superman. He was a god. He was…
"-Completely insane if you think anyone could actually live in this bacterial playground."
Jonah put a sympathetic hand on my shoulder as we basked in the glory that was the extra room. My mouth was gaping open, my eyes wide in shock. It was almost too horrific to gaze upon with the naked eye.
This room was the reason for the hole in the Ozone Layer. It smelled like urine, sawdust, sweat and something rotting. The walls were brown and the wallpaper was peeling. The fake wooden ceiling had water stains and a bucket where a leak was still dripping. The rug was crusty with old food, charred fire burns, and unidentified blotches. The bed was without a frame or coverings of any kind, just a holey mattress on the floor, with stains that I didn't even want to imagine where they must have come from.
It almost burned out my eyeballs from their sockets. I thought I would never see again.
Jonah tried to relieve some of the horror with encouraging lies.
"It's… got its charms…"
"Where?" I demanded.
It was a good thing I had all my shots. Even still, I imagined I could feel a case of Typhoid coming on…
"So, Matt wasn't most hygienic of specimens…" Jonah admitted. "But I had to wrestle these boys to the ground to make them agree to let you stay here."
He reminded me of it firmly, in case I was thinking of high-tailing it out of Grossville. I nodded, assuring him I wouldn't. As if I had a choice anyway.
"It is way Stephen King's 1408 in here, and I'm not going to live an hour without disinfecting something," I looked to Jonah hopefully. "Do you happen to own Lysol? Or even just soap?"
He looked at me as if I had just spoken Klingon.
"Soap? Soap? What is this 'soap' you speak of?"
He chuckled at his own joke, and motioned for me to follow him.
"Com'on, I'll take you to buy some ammunition. I gotta have this room presentable for the next roomie to survive in anyway."
I stepped out and closed the door to the room, thanking the Lord above I had made it out alive.
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