Elizabeth Forbes has a secret. She’s living next door to an alien.
How else could you explain those clothes?
A lithe, masculine figure sprints up the steps to the verandah next to hers. Red baseball cap, purple track pants, a sweat-soaked too-big T-shirt adorned with a skull and crossbones.
Elizabeth pretends to focus on her gin and tonic.
He waves to her and goes inside.
Elizabeth watches the sun set and stretches to let her aching muscles enjoy the day’s last warmth. At least it’s Friday and she has the weekend to get settled in.
She surveys the neat lawn lining the semi-private verandahs of the apartments. She has a good feeling about her apartment, a good feeling about living here, and a good feeling about life in general.
And an even better feeling about leaving James in her past.
Next door the screen door bangs and the man reappears. It’s all go in this complex. He waves again and sprints to his car. Elizabeth waves back.
Jeans, a Marilyn Monroe T-shirt with a grey cardigan, blue knitted beanie, canvas shoes.
She is living next door to an alien.
A feeling of well-being, as comfortable as an old pair of jeans, accompanies Elizabeth to the communal clothes line early Saturday morning. The line is already part filled with a cacophony of clothes. Elizabeth stills. A small frown dents her forehead.
Electric blue silk boxer shorts flap in the wind, beckoning her forward. A vivid orange football jumper wraps its wet arms around her as she pegs out her laundry. The ugly rainbow of clothes could belong to only one person.
“Hey, we haven’t actually met. I’m Luke.”
Elizabeth turns to reply. She looks up into beautiful brown eyes and smiles more widely than she intended to. He is gorgeous!
“You’ll enjoy living here. It’s like a small town. We look out for each other when we can.” He sounds great too. She lets the deep toffee voice wash over her. His eyes scan her with what she recognizes as an appreciative gleam.
After James being such a jerk, people looking out for each other sounds wonderful. Luke hangs an especially ugly mustard jumper on the line with his other clothes and leaves.
What is it with those clothes?
The next weekend all of the residents gather in the lawn area on Sunday morning for what Elizabeth has learned is the quarterly gardening bee. Just a few of hours work from everyone at the beginning of each season keeps the communal areas in good order and costs down.
Tom, a fellow resident and self-appointed ‘town sheriff’ arrives and assigns everyone their duties. Elizabeth has to tidy up her own garden area and help Tom and Luke with the shared herb garden.
She sits on her front step and puts on her sunhat, heavy shoes and gardening gloves. She hasn’t seen Luke all week and is curious to see his gardening attire. She turns to pick up her bottle of water and is momentarily blinded as sunlight glances off the lamée lightning bolt on his neon pink singlet. The purple track pants and the red baseball cap are getting a second outing. But his smile is just for her.
Elizabeth joins the other neighbours as they greet Luke. Is she the only one that can see anything odd?
Elizabeth works in her own garden. She has already decided on a neat lavender hedge, infill of vincas around a lime tree. The lime tree is for height and an architectural statement she tells herself – that the fruit are an essential part of her nightly gin and tonic is just a happy coincidence.
That completed, she joins Tom and Luke at the herb garden – well, it will be a herb garden when they have finished. Luke has already started on the heavy digging. She watches the steady tense and release of his muscles while pretending to take a drink of water. Those muscles are not for show. He finishes and puts the shovel down.
“Drink?” She offers a bottle of water and is rewarded by the flash of brilliant white teeth in a thankful smile.
Time stands still. Her answering smile establishes a momentary hot all-consuming connection. He tilts his head back and takes several quick deep swallows. His body is slick with sweat and grime. There is a smudge of dirt on his cheek that just begs to be wiped away. Involuntarily, Elizabeth steps forward and Luke hands her back the bottle.
Tom dumps a bag of fertiliser into the soil and Luke forks it in. Finished, he wipes the sweat from his forehead. He cleans his hands on his shirt and leans on the fork. Elizabeth places the herbs and they all finish the planting.
“We’re done,” Tom announces. “Not bad for a couple of hours work.”
“Gin and tonic, anyone?” Elizabeth offers.
“Gotta go.” Luke glances at his watch. He seems genuinely disappointed.
Elizabeth and Tom enjoy their drinks as they wander around the complex chatting with the other neighbours and admiring everyone’s work.
Back in her own apartment, Elizabeth has a leisurely shower and gets ready to meet Maureen at the pub. They were at school together and have been friends ever since. Forget James, Maureen has advised. And so they are meeting this afternoon to watch a football game that neither of them has any interest in, on television at a pub. No interest in the game but possibly an interest in the men watching it.
Elizabeth walks down the hill to the Riverside Hotel. A refreshing breeze lifts her hair away from her face. She inhales deeply and consciously relaxes her neck and shoulders. A surprising sense of optimism puts lightness in her step. She enters the pub and hesitates, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior.
“Hey, Elizabeth.” She is greeted by a Scotsman with a familiar deep voice. An alternate dimension?
Normality reestablishes itself. Not a Scotsman, just Luke. And wearing trousers of the loudest shortbread tartan that she has ever seen. What do you wear with tartan trousers? Surely not a beige paisley shirt?
Too stunned to answer, Elizabeth nods and tries to keep her gaze off the trousers.
“Join us,” he says, gesturing to a space next to him. “We can have that drink.”
“Another time maybe. I’m meeting someone.”
“Another time then.” He works that wonderful smile on her and then turns back to his friends.
Elizabeth sees Maureen and makes her way over to their table.
“Who’s the sartorially-challenged hunk?”
“Just my neighbour. My neighbour from another planet.”
Maureen casts an appraising glance in Luke’s direction.
“You have to look past the clothes.” They laugh.
TO BE CONTINUED…
© 2010 Lesley Ann Smith
About the Author
Lesley Ann Smith writes short and novel-length romantic fiction across a range of sub-genres, all with fresh character-driven plots. Most recently her romantic fantasy short story, Tempest, has been published in the Little Gems Anthology: 2009 Turquoise by the Romance Writers of Australia. Her romantic suspense novel has been requested by a New York publisher. For more information visit her website at http://www.lesleyannsmith.com