The Neighbor Wars
Author: K.M. Paxton

Chapter 1
Chapter 1

           "Why isn't Dad here?" Emily Greene asked, gray eyes rapidly blinking inquisitively.
            Ella, her mother, quickly cleared her throat and stared down at her homemade chicken pot pie. "He, um, had to stay late at the office today. He won't be home until after you've gone to bed."
            Emily frowned. "Again?"
            Her older brother, Owen, slammed his fork down. "Yes, Emily, again. We all know Dad has his priorities. His list goes a little like this: number one, work at the office. Number two, working at home. Number three, working from his Blackberry while we're stuck in traffic. Number four, working from his Blackberry in the middle of dinner-"
            "That's enough, Owen," his mother scolded softly. "You both know he loves you."
            Owen scoffed. "Right. That's why he's never home."
            "Daddy doesn't love us?" the twins, Adam and Aiden, cried out.
            "Of course your father loves you," Ella quickly reassured them, shooting a warning glare towards her unruly sixteen-year-old son. "He's just working a lot lately."
            "Lately?" Owen barked out a harsh laugh.
            Ella sighed with exasperation. "You may be excused."
            "Sweet. Xbox here I come," He laughed arrogantly. With that, he jogged upstairs and out of sight.
            "Why does Owen think Dad doesn't love us?" Questioned Emily, a soft tone of hurt ringing in her voice.
            "Oh, Owen's just a teenage boy. He's rebelling, I suppose. In three years you'll be the same age as him, maybe you'll understand then. But don't listen to him. He's just trying to start trouble," her mom explained quickly. "How about you take your little brothers out to the swing set while I clean up?"
            "Okay! Come on, boys!" Emily stood up from the table, grabbed the boy's hands, and led the four-year-olds out the screen porch door.
             Ella stared after them, a sad smile playing on her lips. With a sigh, she cleared the kid's dishes from the table and silently carried them over to the sink. As she gently wiped the sponge back and forth across the plates, Owen came bounding down the stairs.
             "I'm going to Jenny's, Mom, bye!" He called, and swung open the front door.
             "Wait! Who's Jenny?"
             "My girlfriend?"
             "I thought your girlfriend's name was Tara."
             Owen rolled his eyes. "That was yesterday."
             Ella sighed and bit her lip. "Alright, but don't stay out too late. Your dad and I worry about you, you know."
              "Don't. Later," he flashed a smile, grabbed a set of car keys from the side table, and jogged out the door.
              Ella stared at the floor for a few seconds, lost in thought. After several moments, her thinking was interrupted by a soft knock at the door. Confused, she swiftly swept over to the door and cracked it open, revealing the soft and friendly face of her neighbor, Sam Alderman.
              "Oh hey, Sam, what's up?"
               He quickly looked around and then back up at Ella. "Oh um, I was just grilling out back and I saw Owen run out the door and into his car...I wanted to make sure you knew he left, just 'cause of what happened last time."
               Ella smiled softly. "You're so nice, Sam. Yes, I know he left, but thanks for your concern about it. I really appreciate it...Owen's really taking it hard, you know, since Jason isn't here very much these days. "
               "Same with Victoria. It seems like they're spending more and more time at the office," he paused for a few moments before looking back up. "I should probably go. The kids are waiting for burgers, and I'm sure Jason and Victoria wouldn't be very happy if they saw us talking. That's what we get for having spouses that hate each other, I guess," he smiled and turned away.
                "Have a good night," she called after him.
                "You too."
               "And tomorrow, Kyle has play practice and Zachary has debate team. I have cheerleading from four to six, but I can drive myself home. You just need to be at their school at four thirty to pick them up," Ashley Alderman stated matter-of-factly, a satisfied grin beaming on her face.
                "Thanks, honey. I don't know what I would do without you. You're the best daughter ever," her father, Sam, smiled warmly back at her and turned back to his grill.
                 "Um, Dad?"
                 "Do you know when Mom's gonna stop working so much? I think it's really taking a toll on the boys. You gotta remember, Zach's only twelve. Kyle's fourteen, but he still needs a Mom in his life, you know?"
                 Sam frowned and silently thought of how he should approach the situation. "I think you've been kind of taking that job over a little bit. I mean, they're not deprived. I do the best I can."
                 "No, no, I didn't mean  you aren't doing a good job, but I'm still practically a kid too. Sixteen, really. I feel like I'm growing up so fast. That kid Owen across the street hardly has a care in the world," she mused, but snapped back into reality. "But I'm here for my family, so it's all good."
                 "Are you sure? I guess I could give you more free time, if you feel like you need it...."
                 "No, really, I'm good. I don't even know what I'm saying. I'm gonna go to bed, I think I'm just tired."
                 "Without dinner? I made burgers, your favorite!" Sam exclaimed, face looking slightly hurt.
                 Ashley swallowed hard. "Yeah. 'Night."
                 Just as she slid open the glass door and stepped inside, the boys came bounding through the side gate.
                 "Dude, would you stop worrying about your stupid homework for like two seconds?"
                 "No, man, no homework equals no college equals no job equals sleeping on the living room couch for the rest of my life. Like where you're gonna end up!"
                 "Hey guys, lay off. Grab a seat and I'll load you up with some burgers, yeah?"
                 "Sure, sure," they replied, giving each other a quick smack or punch.
                 "Mom's not here, again?"
                 Sam sighed. "No, guys, she's not."
                 Ella exhaled and snuggled into the couch, clutching a mug of tea and watching a soap opera while keeping an eye on the kids outside. Suddenly the phone rang, and Ella rolled her eyes as she got out of her comfortable position and reached over to it. Digging her finger into the answer button, she lifted the phone up to her ear.
                "Mrs. Greene? This is the county sheriff department calling from the Tri-County General Hospital. We're calling to inform you that your son Owen has been in an accident."


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