“Okay,” said Andy Button. “Looks like she’s home now. Car’s in the driveway. Say the word and Operation: Be the Better Other Man is a go.”
Andy and Kevin were standing at the mouth of a small cul-de-sac, ducked behind a beat-up white van with tinted windows.
“Wait,” said Kevin. “Don’t I get any input on the operation name?”
“But that one’s stupid.”
“It’s perfect,” retorted Andy. “And I’m in charge of this Op, so what I say goes. You’re sure she lives in the beige one, right?”
“Yeah, that’s where I picked her up on Saturday.” Kevin shivered and wiped his nose with his sleeve. “Urgh. It gets dark out so early this time of year. I think I’m coming down with a cold, too.”
Kevin glared, then sniffed. “Now that we’re here, I’m beginning to realize what a terrible idea this is.”
“Hey, don’t back out now,” urged Andy. “It’s gonna work. I’m taking all the risks, anyways, so you’ve got nothing to lose.”
“Uh huh.” Kevin sniffed again. “Sure.”
“Look,” said Andy sternly, standing and stepping out from behind the van. “I’m going through with my part, whether you do your thing or not. So you can win this girl’s heart, or you can leave me hanging. It’s your call.”
“Andy, wait,” Kevin protested, but Andy had already begun to stride along the sidewalk, then up Esther’s driveway.
Kevin watched nervously as Andy knocked on the door. For several seconds, nothing happened. Please don’t actually be home, he thought. There was some movement in a window beside the door, like someone was peeking through the blinds. Then Esther opened the door.
“…Hi,” she said.
“Hey, doll,” said Andy, running a hand through his hair. “Surprised to see me?”
Kevin facepalmed. Andy sounded like a bad parody of a 70s greaser.
“Yes,” replied Esther flatly. “Who are you?”
“Who am I?” grinned Andy. “I’m Randy Mutton. We met at the gym. You gave me your number, asked me to come over sometime!”
“No,” said Esther, “I didn’t. I’ve never seen you before.”
“Playin’ hard to get, eh?” swaggered Andy.
“Please go away,” said Esther, beginning to close the door.
Andy leaned forward and held the door open. Ah, thought Kevin, that’s my cue. He stepped out from behind the van and began strolling down the sidewalk as if he just happened to be walking by.
“Don’t be that way, darlin’,” Andy was saying. “I just wanna talk.”
Kevin stopped at the end of the driveway and looked up. “Oh, hey, Esther,” he said, sounding wooden even to himself. “I, uh… What’s going on?”
“Kevin,” said Esther, a note of relief in her voice, “what are you doing here?”
“Just passing by,” said Kevin. “I, um…” He struggled to remember the excuse he and Andy had worked out. “I… cut through to the park from here, sometimes, when I’m out running.” Nailed it. Wait, he was wearing a coat and jeans, not exactly running clothes. Whoops.
Andy, seeing Kevin flounder, jumped in. “Who’s this jerk, Esther? Some other guy? He thinks he’s got a play on my girl?” Andy bounded towards Kevin furiously, fists raised.
“Hey,” said Kevin, “I don’t want any trouble.”
“You’ve got it anyways, punk!” shouted Andy. He flung a fist towards Kevin’s head.
Kevin dodged awkwardly. “No, really, please.”
Andy shoved Kevin in the chest. “You better get lost, loser!”
“I’m not here to fight,” protested Kevin.
“Well I’m not giving you a choice!” Andy bellowed. “(Doing great!)” he whispered when his back was turned to Esther. “(Now hit me!)”
“Okay,” said Kevin, “you asked for it…” He cocked his fist, swung, and connected with Andy’s left shoulder, just as something crashed out of the sky onto the roof of the white van, crumpling it like it was made of paper.
Esther gasped. Kevin spun around in shock. Andy was so surprised his arm fell off.
Andy was the first to recover. “Uh… Ow!” he yelled. “You punched my arm off!”
“What was that!?” said Kevin, all pretenses dropped.
A silhouette stood up amid the wreckage of the van and stepped onto the sidewalk. The man was wearing wrinkled grey slacks and a white dress shirt with the sleeves torn off. The sleeves were tied around his upper right leg like bandages, and the fabric was stained a reddish brown.
“Caleb,” breathed Esther.