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Neighbors

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"He's my childhood hero, he's the town legend. He was the one that stood up to Kitts Woerman, who was the meanest teacher in Shigashina Highschool, the teacher who wouldn't let kids get up until class was over no matter what. You couldn't sharpen your pencil or go to the bathroom, he said that you could take care of all that before class, to ' not waste his time.' Legend says that a girl peed herself at her desk she had to go to the bathroom so bad, Mr. Woerman refused to let her go to the bathroom beforehand. Levi, who was sitting next to the girl, stood up and glared directly at the teacher and apparently said to him,   

' I'm going to make sure that the next person who pisses themselves is you Mr.Woerman.' And he went over to the girl, picked her up bridal style, and carried her all the way to the administration office and then to the nurse's room. By the time school ended and Levi had finished speaking to the Principal, so had Mr. Woerman's job as a teacher. Levi was only a freshman.   

He was also the greatest quarterback football player Shigashina ever had. He' s only 5'3 but 143 pounds of muscle and wicked fast on his feet. Shigashina's team The Hunters were beat by the neighbor highschool's team The Titans every year, but not when Levi was there. Some say he was as strong as the entire team altogether. He didn't even like football, but Coach Smith convinced him because he  needed the scholarship. Levi ended up getting a full ride into Trost University, one of the best schools in the country, and coincidentally only a 15 minute drive from here.   

I mean Christ, he was the one who would beat up the bullies who bullied the weak, the one who took Petra Ral to senior Prom. She was the captain of the soccer team and the nicest and prettiest girl at school. I remember she used to babysit me when I was younger, she'd always make chocolate chip cookies. She goes to Trost University too nowAnyways, Levi would ride a motorcycle to school, this sweet black ride that thundered everywhere it went. You always know when he's arriving or leaving. He wears this black leather jacket with overlapping wings on the back, never goes anywhere without it.  

So, that's who Mikasa's older brother is, that's why I'm telling you to make a good first impression. I mean when we were kids we hung out more often, since I've always been here hanging out with  Mikasa, but now he's more busy with school and work so I don't see much of him now. He works at the tea store 'Sina' and he's majoring in business. Man, I have no idea what to do with my life and I'm already a senior. I've done nothing special except probably getting the most detentions at Shigashina without getting expelled. Yeah um, so don't be a dork in front of him okay?"  

My bestfriend and also the guy that just transferred into our highschool a month ago, Armin Arlert, stares at me with wide blue doe eyes. He peeps,  

"Crap."  

I give his blonde long bowl-cut hair a gentle noogie and laugh, "Crap indeed."  

We are standing outside the Ackerman household, Ackerman is Mikasa's and Levi's lastnamestaring up the stone path up to the red door of their fancy white two-story house. They have the white picket fence and the pretty pale trees out front thing going on, classic home look. The only reason why they live so nice still is because of their crazy uncle Kenny, who visits once a month for a weekend then vanishes till the next month. Mikasa's dad owned a popular grocery store chain or had a lot of stock in a famous website or I don't know, something like that, so they've always had a lot  of cash. Their parents died because of a nasty home invasion that went completely sideways. I was the one who called the cops, I had walked across the street to Mikasa's like always and then heard screams.  

 I looked up at Mikasa's window and saw her crying and mouthing the words "help me" over and over again. I had to climb up the birch tree in their front yard and sneak in through her window, there  was blood all over her pink dress, I remember that, and helped her escape before the thieving murderous assholes found her. It was so surreal, all I knew was that I had to protect her from that scum, and I felt fearless.    

Levi wasn't home that night, he was sleeping over at his friend Auruo's house and so I was the only one who could comfort her before the cops came. I took off my maroon scarf I'd been wearing, the winters can be really cold here, and awkwardly tied it around her neck. I was a dumb kid okay, I didn't know how to comfort someone after something so fucking horrible happened to them.  

It's the only time I've ever seen her cry.  

I knock on the door with Armin, trying not to think of memories that easily put me into 'rage mode', that's what my therapist and I call it when I lose control of my temper, and wait for Mikasa to open the door. The great red oak door creaks open and Mikasa stands there with a tiny grin, she's in yoga pants and a sports bra, with my scarf around her neck as always (even though it's summer time.)  

"Hey. You're Armin right? I just made pasta. Want to watch a movie ? I haven't found anything to watch on Netflix yet. You can put your shoes on that mat over there. " She turns around, assuming we will follow her. After we pull our shoes off and set them on the mat, we walk to the right of the house into the kitchen. Her house has a grand staircase in the middle that leads up into the bedrooms,  then the right hallway leads into the kitchen, and the left hallway leads into the living room. The kitchen and living room are connected as one giant room with a skinny corridor between them. The kitchen has marble floors, countertops, kitchen island, and a steel sleek refrigerator. Fancy stuff.  

"Wow your house is really nice, thanks for making pasta, it looks really good!" Armin bounces around the house, checking out the intricate vases and paintings around the home , then pausing at the two giant book cases in the living room against a wall. He pulls a book out like a kid holds their first Christmas present and begins to read at the speed of light. Armin and I met because he's my lab partner in Physics, he's the only reason why I don't have an F in the classI'm more of a sports guy, I just can't sit down and stare at pages of paper when I could be outside doing something instead.    

I smirk then pull myself up onto the kitchen island and watch Mikasa put red sauce into the pot of noodles. I pinch my "What are you looking at?" sassy white T-shirt and wiggle it forward and back to alleviate the warmth of a country side sunny day, feeling glad I chose to wear baggy air-flow-friendly green basketball shorts instead of crotch-cooking pants today.   

Mikasa brushes some of her jet black bangs behind an ear, all the Ackermans have black hair and eyes a deep enough blue that make most people think they're brown from a distance. She glances up at me and warns apathetically,  

"You know Levi hates when you sit on the counters..."  

It's true, but Levi doesn't usually come home until 5pm and its 4pm right now so I throw caution into the wind. I swing my legs idly and roll my eyes,  

"He doesn't come home till 5p.m."  

Mikasa is about to open her mouth when we both perk our heads up to the sounds of a growling engine that huffs to a halt and then the front door creaking to a shut. Oh fuck. I leap off the counter then slip like a giant jackass because of the lack of traction of my socks and the pristine marble floors . Which means I end up landing on my tailbone and shouting-  

" SPAGHETTI-FUCK!"

Mikasa abandons the pasta and bends down and pulls me up by my right hand, asking worriedly if I'm okay, but I just brush her off with a quick nod and look up to find Levi leaning against the refrigerator with a raised eyebrow. He gives me a serious ridiculing stare, one that makes my face sizzle like bacon, and then turns to Mikasa casually.  

" Hey sis, make sure to wash the dishes and pot after, I don't want to find a dung-pile in the sink again."  

God damnit, why can't I ever look cool in front of him. I lean against the kitchen island and take peeks at Levi, he slips off his famous leather-jacket and neatly folds it under his arm. He brushes his sharp black bangs behind his ear, then runs his fingers through his undercut, a sphere of sweat traveling down his neck like a pinball in a pinball machine. First it rolls down his throat , then swerves along the ridge of his collarbone into his sternum, then between his pecs underneath his black tank-top. How the hell do you get that much muscle on such a tiny frame anyhow ? I look down at myself self-consciously, I'm fit but can't seem to get rid of my lanky-tall-kid physique.

It's my last year on the football team and I'm struggling to stay on varsity. Coach Smith says I'm too impulsive and have a bad tendency to make rookie mistakes because of that trait , I need to focus on technique rather than sheer confidence.   

Levi opens the refrigerator and grabs a water-bottle, gulping down half of it, he complains softly,  

"I hate summer. It's always hotter than Satan's left testicle in this infernal town, especially in September. I'm going to go turn the air conditioner on before I drown in my own sweat." Levi tilts his head back to finish the rest of his drink when Armin walks in and exclaims,  

"You have a movie projector? I only have a T.V. that looks like a cardboard box! And could your couch be any bigger? Anyways, I'm feeling like watching a romcom, lots of drama and crying, great stuff. I was thinking 'Closer'? It's on Netflix and everything. Oh!-" He notices Levi and literally hops up in surprise, then politely and nervously babbles, "My-name-is-Armin-nice-to-meet-you!"   

Levi nods, giving Armin an elevator-look, starting from his cherub face down to his baby-blue short-sleeve collared shirt, to his khaki shorts, to his nerdy math-socks that have different equations on them. He snorts so subtly it almost sounds like a sniff, then he replies,  

"That movie's pretty good." Then he retreats upstairs to probably adjust the air-conditioning and shower, he has this cleanliness issue ever since he moved in with Mikasa. Technically they are cousins, but they are basically siblings so they refer to each other as such. Sometimes I even forget that Levi isn't her actual brother, but Levi has never talked about his own parents to anyone, so it still remains a mystery. He's like a secret super hero I swear to God.

 

   


 

 

 

Armin and I flop down on the big red leather couch, the one where 5 people can sit on no problem, and I rest my heels on the lengthy sleek black-wood lift-top table, waiting for Mikasa to bring our meals out as I leisurely scratch my belly under my T-shirt. I practically live here ever since my Mom passed away, my Dad is a surgeon so he never comes home, so I sleep over all the time. I don't like being alone.  

Armin plays Candy Crush on his cellphone as we wait for the Ackermans to join us, the T.V. projector already has the movie ready to be played on the great wall in front of us. The remote rests on my chest, I watch it rise and fall with my breaths, my eyes start to feel heavy and get harder to open with each blink. Practice was really hard today, Coach Smith isn't afraid to make us exercise till we literally vomit so I'm happy to finally be able to kick-back and relax.  

I hadn't realized I'd fallen asleep until my head was being clacked by the remote that had previously been innocently laying on my chest. I yelp and rub my scalp in pain, staring and wincing at the source of my pain walking over to sit beside me.   

"If you want me to bruise your legs put your feet down for piss-sakes, fucking disgusting. Now I have to get wipes to clean your sock-juice off the table." Levi certainly doesn't try to hide the sneer on his face, he hurries to the kitchen and back, wiping the table effectively. He brings a stack of napkins with him as well, taking a seat besides me.   

"M'sorry Levi..." I yawn and sit up, watching Mikasa walk in with two bowls of spaghetti in each hand, she sets the two down then returns with another two, cutlery included. Armin clicks the movie to play and we all get started on the tasty messy food in front of us. Damien Rice starts to sing to the beginning of the movie, our forks begin to clink against our porcelain containers, and we all hum under our breath at how delicious the food is.  

  "This 'spaghetti fuck' isn't bad Mikasa." Levi mutters nonchalantly at my expense, dabbing at his lips with a napkin every now and then. I glance over at Levi and pout, untangling my eternally unkempt bangs on my forehead with my right hand in a failing  attempt to cover my embarrassment.   

When we finish eating its about halfway through the movie, Mikasa grabs the plates and then sits back down next to me. Armin is on the far left, Mikasa is on my left, and Levi is on my right. Mikasa rests her head on my shoulder, she must be tired from ballet, she's studying to be a prima ballerina one day. She's pretty masculine in personality and in looks but when she dances, it's really weird, she looks like a swan and girly n' stuff. She just sent her application to Julliard for chrissakes.   

As the movie goes on Mikasa asks me about my day in thoughtful whispers,  

"How did practice go?"  

I sigh through the nose and scratch at my head, pursing my lips in frustration.  

"Coach Smith was riding my ass all day. Damnit, I just wish I could do things right. I arrive the earliest and leave the latest, I try harder than anyone there, and I still feel like I'm barely hanging onto Varsity. He says that if I thought my actions through more carefully, I could have the potential to be quarterback. Jean still calls me suicidal bastard for always trying to catch the ball no matter how hopeless it is. But I can't help it, those lazy asses don't even have the guts to try." I grit my teeth, the film in front of me starting to blur as my anger starts to haze into all my senses.  

"Hey Eren -" Mikasa tries to soothe me but Levi interrupts her,  

"There's a difference between trying for the team and then trying for yourself." Levi looks at me from the corner of his eye, his thin eyebrows pinched in annoyance. Mikasa puts her hand over a fist I didn't even know I was making, but then I shrug her head off my shoulder and sit up, I can't let Levi think that I'm some selfish idiot that is only in it for myself. Staring him straight in the eyes, I make sure my eyes don't waver to show my conviction.    

"I've saved our quarterback Reiner from being tackled many times, and if there are linebackers who need help I join them in defending immediately. I always try to do what I think is best, always!" Mikasa rubs my shoulder to try calming me down, which consequently makes me almost angrier. Levi pauses the movie and then turns completely in his seat to stare me down, his slant eyes are intimidating and powerful and sure of themselves like a wolf's or wild cat's. My big green eyes can't help but give in and waver as I gaze into them. I hate myself for feeling like prey.  

"You can't just act on impulses and hope for the best because of a single moment. You need to think more ahead, to not flick at the domino but see where the dominoes will fall. Or else it will all fall to shit, and that's on you." I feel Mikasa glaring at Levi behind me, she hates when Levi is this blunt with me. I prefer the honesty though, you can't change your faults if you don't know what they are. I nod slowly, tranquility and reason starting to flow back into my brain.  

"Maybe I'll train you. Give ol ' Blondie a call. I'm sure Smith will say yes, he knows I was never easy on myself, let alone others." Levi's eyes go dull as he sinks back into recollection, meanwhile determination and excitement surges through me like lightning. A wide grin from ear to ear grows on my cheeks, I'll show Levi just how dedicated I am to winning. I'll defeat all the Titans, I'll fucking kill them. I can't wait until I get to train with my childhood hero, I can't believe this is freaking happening.  

"Eren...?" A hint of fear on Armin's face at my devilish  enthusiasm to crush my future opponents. I don't mind his cautious curiousity, instead I begin to pump myself up and begin to think of ways I can impress Levi.

I then hear my familiar rock n' roll ringtone that came with my dinosaur flip-phone's list of musical options begin to play in the kitchen. (I used to have smart-phones but I have a problem with throwing my phone at walls and slam dunking them into the ground when I'm angry so...) I get up and hurry over to the counter by the sink in the other room, and my over- palpitating heart  begins to flutter to a sad normal beat as I see my father's name on the screen. I call to the others over my shoulder with a very deflated tone,  

 

"Dad's home."  

 

 


 

 

 

Dad and I have never really known how to talk to each other. He finds safety in reason and formulas made out of a fabric of numbers and logic. Whereas I enjoy the freedom to do whatever I want uncaged by rules, to fight and change what is expected of me. I think I scare him. He's nice though, he asks me the standard questions in the parent playbook:  

 "How was your day? How is school? Did you do your home work?" As he waits on his microwavable bowl of chicken and rice. I just stand awkwardly and tap my foot to a random rhythm on the white linoleum kitchen floor, going through his questions with easy answers.  

"Good. Practice was fun today, Coach is still giving me a hard time but its okay. I'll start homework right now."  

Dad nods as he clearly thinks of something else, probably about the patients he saw today or making a new medical breakthrough. He's so damn smart, I guess that intelligence gene decided to skip me or something. Now I try to come up with something to ask him, I lamely recycle one of his usuals:  

"Was your day good?" I swish my lips to the right and left of my face uncomfortably, Dad smiles at me with tired grey eyes as he removes his steaming plate from the microwave. He pulls his shoulder length hair into a ponytail, taking his glasses off and placing them in his shirt pocket. Then he sets his plate down on the living room round table,rubbing his nose bridge with a pinched index finger and thumb as he replies.

"There were a lot of patients today, I found some interesting cases so I was happy about that. I'm just looking forward to watching some online lectures and getting some sleep. It's getting late Eren, I don't want you procrastinating on your homework, okay?" And with the cherry-on-top nag, I make a grunt of acceptance and run up our old wooden spiral staircase to my room on the left.   

Our house is a nice size but very old, what some house-seller would call "antique." All of our decorations are dusty and sort of tattered, mom liked to do renovations and decorating, cleaning in general, that was her thing. She's gone now though. It hurts if I think about her for too long.  

I let myself fall into bed face first into my bed, my pillow cases are still rocket-ships because I can't make myself get rid of any memory my mom left in this place. She bought me those in some store, back then I was 100% sure I was going to be an astronaut. She'd laugh at that and ruffle my hair, saying 'I could do whatever I wanted to do, as long as I tried my best.' My dad is the same way when it comes to mom, so we live in a physical past , though ironically we never speak of it. It's painful enough seeing his eyes getting watery sometimes when he sees her portrait in the big gold frame in the livingroom. I don't want to see him actually cry, so I don't bring her up in conversations or when old memories drift into my mind every now and then.

I don't know why I didn't tell him about Levi training me. God knows how much I would rant to him and mom about how cool the 'big kid' from across the street was, but now he just seems so unreachable.   

I dryly chuckle as I turn onto my back and look at the old glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling, grumbling outloud,  

"I'm such a damn teenager."  

Then I do my evening tradition of nudging my curtain to the side and looking at Mikasa's house from the window pane. I watch Armin walking back home with his messenger bag swinging, he seems to be talking on the phone , probably talking to his grandpa. I see Mikasa in her room practicing her pirouettes in front of her body-length mirror, she does that about 50 times before stretching and doing other dance exercises before going to bed.   

Then I finally look over at Levi's bedroom, he always wears this white flowy shirt when he's by himself there. I think it's a girls shirt but I don't know, he wears black boxers though and sits on his bed with a cup of tea. He watches some T.V. as he simultaneously works on college -work on his laptop I think, which reminds me, I need to finish my own. I sit at my desk that faces the window, so I work on my English essay about that "1984" George Orwell book that Armin told me about at lunch, and also keep an eye on Levi. I'm waiting for midnight for his 'goodnight' ritual.  

It's midnight and he gets himself settled in bed, and pulls a photograph from under his white pillow, stares at it for what feels like forever, and then falls asleep with it on his chest. I've never known what the photograph is, because I've never had the guts to sneak into his room. Since we were little kids Levi has had a "Do Not Disturb" sign hanging on his bedroom door. Black background with scary red text, I've seen Levi get angry over spilt milk, and that was enough to make me want to get on my knees and ask for forgiveness. Sneaking into his room would be guaranteed homicide on his end  

 

 

As his lights go off and I can no longer see into his room, I look back at my essay, wondering if it would be so bad if I just let my forehead rest on the sheet of paper. Man, practice was so brutal today... If I just let myself sleep for an hour maybe... that'd be okay...