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Friends Don't
Author: Leah Dobrinska




The Downer






It’s my first day in a new town, and I’m naked.

I blink my eyes firmly shut before batting them back open and glancing around, hoping this is a dream. But I’m on the same rickety deck behind my half of the duplex I just moved into. The air conditioning unit I came outside to check is still coughing and wheezing as if it were limping to the end of a marathon with minimal training. It’s rattling, and the entire unit is shaking—which, subsequently, is causing my entire bathroom to vibrate, hence the naked check-up.

In other news, the birds are chirping. The sun is blinding. I can faintly hear the trickle of the creek that runs along the lot line of the backyard.

So no, I’m not dreaming.

I’m nightmaring in real life.

I should clarify that the only bright spot in my current circumstances—and I’m only seeing it because I’m mentally squinting really, really hard and cocking my head to one side to make it out—is that I’m not actually naked. Well, not fully naked.

I’m in a towel.

A skimpy, threadbare towel that’s barely covering my unmentionable regions and might be a bit see-through.

Like I said, I’m really working to see the silver lining here—or in the case of my towel, the lack of any lining whatsoever.

I blow out a breath, trying to quell the sweat that’s beading on every inch of my body. My shower was basically pointless at this point, and I wanted to look my best before I saw Holland off. It’s not even eight a.m. and already the day is a scorcher. I thought I was leaving these sorts of heat indexes behind when I moved away from Florida, but apparently Cashmere Cove, Wisconsin didn’t get the memo.

That, or the little peninsula town I now call home is immune to the climate norms of this part of the country.

Anyway, that’s not the point. I’ve got bigger fish to fry. I’m naked.

And afraid.

I roll my eyes. Sometimes my inner monologue is ridiculous. I’m not afraid afraid—at least not yet. But this situation has the potential to spiral into full-fledged terrifying in a fast hurry, so I need to think.

Good thing problem-solving mode is my thing. I can figure this out.

Let’s assess the facts.

One. The back door to my duplex seems to have locked automatically when it snapped shut behind me.

Two. I’m in my mostly private backyard. There’s a wooden wall that goes up to my chin separating my half of the deck from my neighbor’s.

Three. My sister is inside the duplex.

Four. I’ve got about thirty minutes before Holland gets here, which means I’ve got thirty minutes to get ready and make myself into something that he’ll miss while he’s out on tour.

The sassy side of my brain says I should stay like this, walk around to the front of the duplex, and wait for him on the porch in the towel. Should do the trick right quick.

The focused part of my brain just punched the sassy part of my brain in the face.

Holland and I do not have that type of a relationship—not yet, anyway. We’ve only been dating for two months.

A queasy feeling wells up in my stomach at the thought of my circumstances. And I’m not talking about my half-naked-and-locked-out predicament.

No. Every time I remember that I moved across the country to the hometown of a guy who I’ve been dating for less time than it takes Starbucks to cycle through a seasonal drink menu, I feel a little sick.

I blink again and go through my mental spiel. I didn’t move just for Holland. Sure, the fact that this is his home base and I’ll have the chance to see him when he’s off tour is a bonus. His roots here are a major perk. They’re the reason I was able to land my dream job.

That’s my main motivation—the job I was offered and gladly accepted.

There is nothing wrong with moving for an amazing career opportunity.

There, see. I’m a problem solver. I talked myself down from the metaphorical ledge like a boss.

If only I could mentally make myself into a locksmith.

I tug on my aforementioned towel, wedging the flimsy material firmly underneath one arm and clamping my opposite arm across my chest. When I survive this, I’m going to purchase plush linens. This’ll be the last go-round for this towel.

The final thread.


I roll my eyes at myself. “Focus, Poppy.”

Glancing over my shoulder, I confirm that the other half of the duplex is quiet. No signs of life. Maybe the person who lives there isn’t home. Or maybe he or she isn’t awake. Either way, I’m counting my lucky stars. But I need to work fast. Circumstances could change in a second. Best to stay on my toes.

I glance down at my bare feet and cringe at the layer of grime coating them. The deck has seen better days. There appears to be some sort of algae or fungi coating the worn planks, and now it’s coating the soles of my feet.

Never mind that. I’ve never been one to complain about getting my hands dirty—or feet, as it were. I need to focus on what’s in front of me. Namely, this self-locking door.

I jiggle the handle, and it turns. Thank goodness. My heart rises in my chest. I was panicking prematurely. I push against the door, expecting it to open, but instead, I get a bruised shoulder, and the resounding thud from my contact sends some birds squawking.

Then again, maybe the panicking was warranted.

But wait a minute. If the handle turns, then the door isn’t locked. It’s…stuck?

Stuck closed.

I grit my teeth. I wish I could say I’m surprised, but honestly, since last night when my sister, Rose, and I got to this place Holland set up for us, I’ve been having minor heart palpitations about the state of things. Sure, we’re getting to stay here for a steal. Two hundred bucks a month for rent? That’s unheard of. For that price, I can overlook almost anything. And I’m going to have to.

There’s a slow drip from the kitchen sink. The wallpaper in the bathroom has seen better days. Rose stepped through one of the front porch steps. We’ve already been over the air conditioner situation and the fungi deck. And now this. Some sort of trick door.

I prefer my tricks on Halloween and only Halloween, thankyouverymuch.

Holland warned me the place was a fixer-upper, but I still didn’t expect it to be such a downer. That’s what Rose and I have taken to calling our humble abode.

The Downer.

I think it has some gravitas, yeah?

We’re used to making the best of things, so it’ll be fine. Everything will be fine. I just need to get back inside.

I ram myself into the door again. “Come on. Come on. Open!”

It’s not listening to my whispered pleas. It’s not budging. I’m still sweating, and my half-wet, half-dry hair is plastered to my forehead and my bare back. Time is dwindling as the front-porch-in-a-towel rendezvous becomes less of a sassy, bad idea and more of a reality.

“Rose,” I hiss, pressing my full weight into the door and trying to get my sister’s attention. She was sound asleep while I was showering, and she doesn’t rise before the hour of ten, so I’m not holding out much hope here, but I’ve got to at least try to wake her up.

“Rose. Open the door.”

I’m walking a fine line here. I want to get Rose to wake up, but I certainly do not want to draw the attention of my new neighbor. Can you imagine what kind of first impression that would make?

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