Anthony Dirk Ray

Here’s to New Friends

Harold was planning on making homemade bread, which he loved to do, but was about a cup short of flour. He used a recipe that he found online with 298 reviews, with an average of 4.9 stars. The loaves had always turned out well for him, so there was no need to deviate from this tried, tested and true recipe.

Harold would normally ask his neighbor Molly, but he knew that she was out of town at her mother’s for the weekend. His only other option was the new neighbor Gary. Everyone in the neighborhood knew that Gary was on the sex offender’s list, because they were notified when he moved in, but no one knew exactly why he was on said list. 

Harold wasn’t one to judge, and believed that everyone needed a second chance. He wasn’t going to pass judgment on someone that made a mistake in the past. Harold thought to himself that it was more than likely a huge misunderstanding between an old girlfriend or something, with only their word of events taken into account. 

Harold locked the door behind him and walked over to Gary’s. As he approached the porch, he recognized the colorful day lilies and camellias in the front flower bed. Harold thought to himself that Gary had extremely good taste and was a master of color coordination. The swing on the porch, beside an elephant ear plant in a large pot, gave it a homey feel. Harold thought that Gary just might be his new friend. 

He opened the screen door and knocked. 

“Just a second. I’m coming,” Harold heard from inside. 

He then heard footsteps approaching, and the door opened. 

“Well, Hello. Can I help you?”

“Hi, I’m your neighbor Harold. I live in the blue ranch style house right next door.”

“Oh, yes. I’ve seen you out in your front yard weeding your flower beds. My name is Gary, but you probably already know that.”

“Nice to meet you Gary. I see you have some beautiful flowers yourself there.”

“Thank you very much. I have a young Latino man at the market that has been a total godsend. He has taught me so much.”

“Well, the way you have them arranged is just brilliant. I may get your assistance someday if that’s okay.”

“Of course. I’ll do what I can. Lord knows, I need all the friends I can get. It’s been really trying lately, but thankfully, all of that legal stuff is behind me.”

“Well, that’s good. I can’t imagine how hard it must be.”

“Believe me, you just don’t know. What brings you over?”

“Goodness, my apologies. I am about to make some bread, and unfortunately, I am a hair short on flour. Would you happen to have a little to spare?”

“Of course. I believe I can scrounge some up. Come on in.”

Harold followed Gary into his living room. It was so pristine and organized. The tidiness almost made Harold jealous. There was absolutely no clutter, with seemingly everything in its place.

“Wow, you keep a spotless home,” Harold said, as he marveled at the immaculate neatness that surrounded him. 

“Thanks. It’s mainly just me in here for the most part. I’ll have guests in here on occasion, but it’s extremely rare. Let me get that flour. Make yourself at home. Would you like something to drink?”

“That would be nice. What do you have?”

“I have water and a few sodas, but I also have some imported beer and a great wine selection.”

“Well, if you’ll have a glass too, I’d love some wine.”

“I couldn’t think of a better time to open a bottle than right now with my new friend. Which do you prefer, red or white? I have a luxurious Malbec from Argentina that’s a must if you like reds.”

“That sounds tremendous. I love reds.”

“Excellent. I’ll be right back. I keep the wine in my basement.”

Gary took out a set of keys and unlocked a padlock on a door near the hallway. Harold thought that it was a little strange to have the door locked with a padlock, but he just assumed that he had an expensive wine collection, and possibly other valuables down there. Harold just sat on the couch and looked around, still in awe of the uniformity of everything. 

Gary was gone for about 5 minutes when Harold stood and walked near the door. He thought he heard Gary talking, mixed with other muffled noises. He couldn’t make out the sounds clearly, but they closely resembled a rustling mixed with whispers. This sparked his curiosity.

Harold took a few steps down and called for Gary. There was no answer, and the mysterious sounds suddenly stopped. He descended a few more steps down and noticed what looked like cage material. Only the bottom portion of the cage-like structure could be seen, but Harold swore that he saw what appeared to be feet. 

“Gary. Are you okay?” Harold inquired in a slightly cracked tone.

“Yes, I’m here. I decided to grab two bottles instead. I have them right here.” Gary said, as he came around the corner and swiftly up the stairs, as if to usher Harold back up. 

Once both were out of the stairwell, Gary shut the door and went to the kitchen to open the wine. Harold could hear Gary opening the bottles and getting down glasses. He was confused, yet intrigued by the previous events. Harold wondered what the strange sounds were, why Gary was talking, and what exactly that was that he had seen. 

“You are going to absolutely love this Malbec,” Gary said, as he entered the room and handed Harold a glass.

Harold swirled, sniffed, and sipped the red.

“Wow, you weren’t kidding. This is spectacular.”

Gary put on some light jazz, and the two sat enjoying their drinks. They made small talk about the neighbors that lived close by, the local farmer’s market, and the different cafes in town. Both realized that each were vegans, and the conversation flowed effortlessly between the two. 

Halfway through the second bottle, Harold got up the nerve to ask about what he had heard and seen earlier. 

“Gary, what were those sounds that I heard from your basement? I swore that I saw what looked to be feet behind cages. What was that?”

Gary shrugged, shook his head from side to side, grinned, and in a nonchalant tone said,

“Oh, don’t mind them. That’s just my suffering suckboy stash.”

Harold took a long pull from his wine glass, placed it on the table, and casually made his way down the stairs to the basement. 

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