Evening was falling in the quiet street and Kate smiled at her efforts as she looked around her home. Everything was unpacked, in its place and tidy. She didn’t have much so it hadn’t been too much of an effort for her to get to this point. Nevertheless it was time for a wine and a pizza order, and possibly a pet she thought to herself. Kate had never owned a pet before and had always had a connection with animals. She thought now that she was finally able to settle in one place it would be a good time for her to find a companion animal that would be happy with the limited amount of time she would be able to devote to it.
Grabbing her phone, the half empty packet of cigarettes that she had been holding onto for some time now, a bottle of Shiraz and a wine glass Kate walked out the front and sat on the veranda steps. Mentally she made a note to invest in a table and chairs for a sitting area in front of her lounge room window. She fished a cigarette out of the packet and lit the end, inhaling deeply she tucked the packet behind the balustrade post and promised it would be the last one for a long time.
With her fingers working quickly she searched for a nearby store that delivers to her area. Kate took another deep drag and smiled at the head spin that came with it. Closing her eyes and enjoying the moment she smiled knowing she was finally able to live in her own home, where she would be able to return to every night and enjoy her time off. The last 10 years had been a stunning adventure of travel, third world countries, making a difference and sheer exhaustion. It was time to breathe, and she realized that she was content in her decision to finally slow down.
Kate found a pizza place that had good reviews and delivered to her area so she ordered her favourite as she finished the sneaky cigarette and paid using her debit card that was tucked into the back of her phone.
A mechanical click in the quiet of the evening neighbourhood made Kate look up from the Thank You screen on her phone just in time to see the lady in the house opposite her walking to her car that was still parked on the street. Kate smiled and gave a friendly wave; she had always been good at making friends, which she knew had made her last 10 years a lot easier. She found that she was able to pick up on different languages quickly and she had an affinity with people which had opened up a whole different world of possibilities to her. It made people do as she asked without question, it made them trust her quicker, and it gave her an edge that the others in her field didn’t particularly have.
The woman stopped in her tracks, her long black hair kicked about her in the slight breeze and her dark eyes settled on the woman sitting on her front porch steps directly opposite. Again Joan forced a smile and a small wave. She had never been good at making friends, and she found most social situations to be awkward to the point of painful most of the time. She knew she was far better equipped as a boss, rather than a friend. She didn’t negotiate terms as well when people were on the same level as her, as friends should be, and neighbours were people you simply waved to occasionally, nothing more. She wondered what this woman across the road could possibly want from her.
Kate held up the bottle of wine as in invite to join as she sat comfortably on her front steps, her bum resting on the veranda decking and her naked feet resting on the middle step, her elbows sitting on her knees casually. Her cigarette had been finished only a moment before and she had flicked the butt into the garden bed, promising that she would pick it up later.
Joan looked back at her house, at her car, and back at the woman across the street again, desperately trying to make a decision that to any other person would have been simple, but to her was awkward to the point of being mentally crippling. It was a simple decision, yes or no. All she had to do was work out whether she had the time and inclination to have a wine and a conversation with this pretty new woman that she would be living across the street from for who knows how long. She looked down at the car keys in her hand and steeled herself as she clicked the lock button and continued walking across the road. She could move the car later.
“Welcome to the neighbourhood.” Kate brushed her hand against her jeans and offered it with a friendly smile as she stood to welcome her new neighbour to her home.
“Yes, same to you I suppose.” Joan’s voice was even and deep as she surveyed the situation and took in the small flecks of dirt and dust on the shorter woman’s outstretched hand. “I’m Joan.” Tentatively she reached out and shook the offered hand, applying just enough pressure for Kate to know there was strength there, and the corner of her left lip turned up just slightly in an uncomfortable smile. She wondered if maybe she was feeling an emotion of some kind in the awkward meeting of this new woman, and what the emotion might actually be.
“I’m Kate, nice to meet you. Would you like a wine?”
“Oh, um...” Joan quickly glanced at the bottle and the glass offered, she liked Shiraz and the glass looked clean enough for her own standards. “Sure, that would be nice.” Mentally Joan concluded that a friendly interaction with a neighbour was fairly standard among most neighbourhoods and so she should make nice. She also found herself curious about the pretty young woman she found herself living across from, perhaps that was the emotion she was feeling; curiosity. It was possible that this woman could be a welcome distraction on occasion. But still there was something tickling in the back of her mind that she couldn’t quite put her finger on, it almost definitely felt like an emotion, a feeling of some sort, curiosity wasn’t the correct word for the particular twinge that was happening, but she just couldn’t identify what it actually was.
“I’ll just grab another glass, go ahead and pour yourself one and I’ll be back in a sec.” Kate dashed inside making loud thuds on the floorboards with her bare feet as she went.
Joan quickly wiped her palm on her own slacks in case any of those dirt and dust spores had stuck to her own hand then she picked up the glass and quickly wiped the rim on her shirt to make sure it was clean before unscrewing the bottle and pouring herself a small amount. It was a rule of hers to be extremely cautious drinking around others, she didn’t like to be anything less than in complete control of herself at all times when in company.
Kate was back within a few seconds holding out her own glass to be topped up, Joan obliged willingly as she took in the closer details of her new neighbour. She had the slightest lines starting to form around her eyes and lips; perhaps she wasn’t as young as Joan had originally estimated. With the absence of the bright floral bandana she could see a darker colour of regrowth was starting to show through her brown trusses of hair with the golden highlights and tips that curled around her face, she had a scar above her left eyebrow which stood out white against her coloured skin, and her eyes shone the brightest green almost as though they were glowing.
“Cheers,” Kate raised her glass as Joan deposited the bottle back on the top step of the veranda.
“To new neighbours,” Joan offered; her voice low and controlled as she felt the rising sting of anxiety coursing through her veins and she attempted to push it away.
“To new friends,” Kate countered with a cheeky smile and a wink.
Again Joan had to hold back a rising blush as she felt a tickle of butterflies in her stomach and a smile suddenly crept onto her face that she couldn’t suppress. She took a quick sip in an attempt to hide it and was immediately impressed at the flavour cascade in her mouth. It was a well defined and full bodied wine full of fire, just how she liked it.
“Come. Sit.” Kate practically demanded as she plopped herself down on the veranda deck and patted the space next to her. “Tell me about yourself Joan.”
“Oh, um...” Joan wasn’t used to being put on the spot in such a fashion, she was usually the one putting others on the spot and watching them squirm. Nevertheless she enjoyed a challenge so she took a moment to sit and get herself comfortable before responding. “I work in corrections, I moved here from Queensland.” Her voice was low and deep, more masculine than feminine in the way it sounded and giving nothing away. She had learnt how to control her voice as much as she controlled what she allowed others to see of her, her actions and reactions in different situations. “And how about yourself?” She wasn’t about to get caught in a conversation where she answers all the questions instead of asking them.
“How much time have you got?” Kate laughed happily. “I’m just glad to finally be settling down. Nice easy going local job, beautiful old house in a nice suburb, might need to upgrade the car soon though.”
Without warning Joan’s insides suddenly went cold as she wondered if the conversation was about to turn in the direction she thought it might.
“The Hyundai is a bit rough but it did what I needed it to for the last few months. Time for something a bit nicer, more reliable.”
The conversation didn’t turn so Joan decided to prompt the response she was waiting for, if it was going to come out she would rather it was now while the cold chill was still gripping her. “You’d need something suitable for a family wouldn’t you?” A smile was forced onto her face as she created the opening for what she suddenly expected would be next. “Husband has the ute, wife has the SUV for the kids and the weekends away kind of thing?”
Kate took a sip of wine to hide the smug grin that was threatening to give her away and she tucked a loose lock of hair behind her ear on the side Joan was sitting on. “No, no. No husband or children here. I was far too in love with my job to find anyone else and I’m not planning on having any children. What about you?” Kate was more than willing to play this game in reverse as once again she stuck Joan on the spot. “No wedding ring, no children in sight, have they grown up and moved out already?”
Joan actually found that her normal discomfort for such conversations was almost non-existent in Kate’s presence especially since the cold grip had eased regarding the family situation. Things seemed to flow quite freely which made for a nice change for Joan, but she was not ready to show her cards just yet. “Unfortunately I’ve been unlucky in love all of my life. There was someone I loved once, but that was a long time ago and things changed dramatically. Much like you I was married to the job. There hasn’t been many evening’s where I’ve actually sat and watched the sun set like this, unless it was through my office window, and even then I’ve rarely had the opportunity to actually enjoy it.”
“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Kate asked as she turned her head towards her neighbour, taking in the curves of her face and how the waning sunlight reflected on her features making her look softer, or perhaps it was just the wine. The creaminess of her skin seemed to be accentuated, the streaks of grey reflected the sun’s rays in tinges of orange and red, and the colour of her lips mixed with the golden twilight accentuated the fullness of her mouth. Kate felt a tingle in her stomach as her eyes traced the intimate curves she doubted many other people saw. Joan definitely wasn’t the ‘traditional’ pretty that most of society had come to expect, but Kate saw a rare beauty in her new neighbour that she had never crossed paths with before.
“Yes.”It took a moment but Joan reciprocated the movement and met Kate’s eyes, her black ones staring deep into Kate’s green irises. “Indeed it is pretty.”
Without thinking Kate reached out with her fingertips and ever so gently grazed them against Joan’s forehead, almost barely touching the skin at all as she hooked some stray strands of hair and tucked them back behind her ear, much as she had just done with her own hair. Joan’s long hair felt thick, almost heavy to the touch but soft as rose petals.
Joan’s entire body exploded in tingles and goose bumps and she was touched so tenderly, so intimately, by a complete stranger nonetheless, and she couldn’t help but smile and almost shy away from the encounter. It had been a long, long time since someone had touched her so gracefully. She hoped that the colour change of the sunlight as it curved over the horizon was hiding the red hot rush she was feeling all over. “Shame about that big ugly house in the way,” she joked to deflect the attention from herself in that moment.
They both laughed sitting side by side watching the sun set over Joan’s long and tall house as they finished their wine, and they both kept their cards close.