For years, Pete Ralston’s backyard fence has provided a privacy screen to shield him from the neighbors. Then he meets Bill Carter, the new owner of the property behind him, and his thoughts concerning the benefits of barriers undergoes a major change. While good fences may make good neighbors, bad fences can sometimes be a heck of a lot more fun.
I heaved the last bag of cement into the bed of my 4X4, slid the fence posts in beside them and topped everything off with several dozen cedar fence boards. While I secured my load, I happened to notice a guy two vehicles to my right who was struggling with an oversized cardboard box. He managed to get it up almost level with the bed of his pick-up, then lost momentum and let it drop back onto the asphalt.
I called across to him. “Hey, buddy, do you need some help?”
“I guess I do.” He wiped sweat off his brow and smiled at me ruefully. “I managed to wrestle my new air conditioner off the shelf and onto this cart with no trouble. Unfortunately, it looks like lifting it into the back of my rig is a whole different story.”
“I’m happy to give you a hand.” I gripped the box by the straps that bound it together and lifted it into the truck. It wasn’t really all that heavy. Of course, I’ve worked construction all my life, so maybe I’m not the best judge of such things.
The guy looked from me to the box, a surprised expression on his face. “Uh...I really didn’t expect you to do that all by yourself. Now I feel like a complete wimp.”
“Hey, don’t give it another thought. I’m just glad I could help you out.”
“I really appreciate it.” He stuck out his right hand. I grasped it. His hand was a hell of a lot smaller than mine, but his grip was firm. “I’m Bill Carter.”
“Pete Ralston. Good to meet you.”
“Likewise.” He looked up at me intently, like maybe he was trying to decide whether he knew me from someplace. I was pretty sure he didn’t. I’ve got a good memory for faces and I would’ve remembered him. He was a good-looking young guy with an ingratiating smile. His eyes were a pale green and his unruly thatch of hair was chestnut brown. The only thing that saved him from looking like a teenager was his neatly clipped beard.
“Looks like you’re getting prepared for hot weather.” Like you’d buy an air conditioner for any other reason. Still, I felt a need to break the silence that had started to stretch out a little too long between us.
“I just bought a place over in the Maple Leaf neighborhood and my bedroom faces west. It was stuffy last night and summer has barely gotten started.”
“Maple Leaf? That’s my neighborhood.” I looked from him to the large box in the bed of his truck. “Tell you what, Bill. I’ll follow you back to your place and help you unload this sucker. I’d hate to be driving around the neighborhood a few days from now and see your tennis shoes sticking out from under a big box in some driveway.”
“You’re a funny guy, Pete. Your punishment for being such a smart-aleck is that I’m accepting your offer.” He secured the tailgate on his truck and stepped around to the driver’s side door. “Follow me.”
While we drove across town, I gave a little thought to why I’d offered to help Bill. I’m not normally a gregarious guy and, as a matter of course, I wouldn’t be offering to follow people around so I could help them unload unwieldy packages. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something seemed to draw me to this young man. Whatever it was, I didn’t have it figured out by the time he pulled into a driveway on Morningstar Drive.
“I’ve been wondering who bought the Frobisher place.”
“The Frobishers lived here for years.”
“If you say so. You must live right around here then.”
“You know that fence in your back yard that’s on the verge of falling down?” Bill nodded and the corners of his mouth started tugging up in a smile. “You’ll be happy to know that my rig is currently filled with replacement parts for that very fence. My plan is to repair it before it gives up the ghost entirely.”