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SARAH McQUEARY winced when her glass patio door slid shut. Her husband, Ryan, had gone out to the backyard to grill some filets, and there she was, alone in her spacious living room with a sullen young football player slumped on her sofa. It had seemed like a good idea to the McQuearys--inviting their new neighbor, Larry Johnson, the Chiefs' rookie running back, to dinner on a September evening in 2003--but he had barely spoken a word since arriving. Now he sat stone-faced and silent.
Sarah asked how he liked Kansas City.
She asked how he was doing with the Chiefs.
Did he have a girlfriend?
Sarah's anxiety increased with every failed stab at conversation, and her discomfort didn't ease when Ryan rejoined them. The attempt to connect with Johnson so unnerved the outgoing couple that Ryan and Sarah, who normally enjoy a glass of wine apiece with dinner, put away nearly two bottles of cabernet. As the evening wound to an awkward close and Johnson prepared to leave, all the McQuearys could muster was an invitation that their door was always open if he needed anything.
Two weeks later they returned home from a shopping trip and heard a strange thumping in their basement. The noise grew louder as they hustled downstairs. When they glanced around a corner, there was their neighbor, Larry Johnson, jogging on their treadmill. He casually waved at Sarah and Ryan as though they were longtime pals.