The attraction on my part was immediate. I 'fancied' Carol from the very first time I clapped eyes on her. No matter that she was my new neighbour and we had yet to speak my initial impression of her was “cute”, immediately followed by “very cute”. That was all it took for me to fancy her.
Cute had always done it for me: yes, of course I enjoyed looking at beautiful women. I was a red-blooded male in my physical prime after all. But classically beautiful women were, to my mind, fantasy figures and well beyond the reach and aspirations of a relatively plain and average-looking guy like me. Cute girls, though... Well they were a more realistic proposition and my new neighbour fitted the bill to a tee.
Carol stood about five feet five or six. She was slim with a small waist, small breasts and a to-die-for ass wrapped in form-fitting denims. Her white top was loose-fitting and low-cut in deference to the warm early-summer mid-morning. She removed her oversize sunglasses to reveal a pretty, if unremarkable, face that bore no signs of cosmetic enhancement. Her eyes were fairly large and dark brown, her nose slim and aquiline and her mouth ready to smile and reveal perfectly white even teeth at the earliest opportunity, which it did as I clambered out of the sticky-heat of the moving van's interior.
“Hi, you must be the new neighbour moving into number five.” she said brightly, her voice carrying the slightest hint of the local accent.
I knew immediately that she was not born in the town. The accent was very distinct on local tongues. Carol didn't have the full 'twang' in her intonation. I learned later that she, like me, had transplanted herself with her guy, Paul, away from home turf to find employment. I had relocated because my job role had changed. It was our first point of connection.
Carol made herself as helpful as she could while me and the removals guys moved my possessions into the new place, a one-bedroom rental property that just about accommodated my gear. My previous place had been measurably bigger and I had filled the space with 'stuff'. Even allowing for the merciless clear-out I had forced myself to undertake, which had rid me of a considerable amount of 'excess baggage', I had still transported across the country a large amount of detritus that would probably be put into storage for the foreseeable future – just like it had at my last place!
Like a pretty butterfly Carol flitted around us bringing mugs of tea and sandwiches as well as numerous glasses of ice cold soft drinks that were more than welcome as the day heated up. She also, unasked, carried the odd small portable item: a couple of brooms, my laundry basket, boxes of knickknacks, boxes and bags of food, cleaning materials. She worked up a sweat as impressive as that worked-up by me and the two guys whom I had hired to move me. And that smile stayed on her face the whole time. I already liked my new neighbour a great deal and I'd only known her for a few hours.
Eventually the last boxes and bags were stacked haphazardly in the middle of the lounge of my new home. I paid the removal guys and they departed, leaving just me and Carol.
“Thanks very much for all of your help.” I said as I wiped rivulets of sweat off my brow. “The drinks were especially welcome and appreciated.” I added, smiling at her as she used a sodden tissue to wipe her own brow. I didn't mean to notice the way her blouse had become almost translucent with her perspiration and how the damp fabric clung to her breasts. I didn't mean to, no, but notice I did and I liked what I saw – a lot.
But I had no time for going off on tangents. I had been allowed just two days by my employer to get myself settled into my new home before reporting back for work. The best part of one of those days had already been eaten-into with the move. After escorting Carol to the door and thanking her once again and assuring her that, thank you, she had done enough and I could manage, I consciously closed the door quickly behind her and thus resisted the temptation to watch her cute ass as she took the dozen or so steps from my doorstep to her own.
I threw myself into as much new-home organisation as I could manage before fading light, hunger and tiredness forced me to stop for the day. I took a quick shower, dressed and treated myself to some of 'Mr Cheung's finest authentic home-cooked Chinese food to take away' before collapsing fully dressed onto my unmade bed. I slept like a baby.
I met Paul the next day.
He was a physically unimpressive individual. He stood at last two inches shorter than Carol and was prematurely balding. His mousy-blonde hair clung lifelessly to his pink scalp in thin wisps around an extensive bald patch centred at the crown of his head. His watery blue eyes looked at me suspiciously from under hooded lids and thick eyebrows. He had that sort of physique that was generously described as 'wiry', although skinny-bordering-on-emaciated might have been more accurate: thin arms with bony hands, sunken chest and concave stomach, peg-legs around which skinny-fit denims hung loosely off jutting hips. A ratty-looking rock band concert tee shirt hung on his torso, looking much like a funeral shroud.
He sucked hungrily on an inexpertly roll-your-own cigarette and inhaled the smoke deeply into his lungs before expelling it again through his open mouth and nostrils. His teeth, in contrast to Carol's, were nicotine-stained, cracked and broken. Extensive dental repair work was evident: he had enough amalgam in his mouth to set off a security metal detector.
He stuck out a hand and introduced himself. His grip was weak, like grabbing hold of a soggy rolled-up newspaper. I relinquished my hold as quickly as possible after introducing myself. My first, uncharitable thought was “what the hell did Carol see in a little scrote like this guy?” I kept my expression bland so that my uncharitable thoughts did not show on my face. I had already decided that I didn't like the guy and probably never would. There was something about him that rubbed me up the wrong way and made me itch mentally. Call it instinct or intuition, but I just did not trust him. I'd met his type before.
“Carol says to come round later, have some dinner with us” he said with more than a hint of a North Yorkshire accent about his voice. “She's made us a shepherd's pie, she has.” he added, I assumed, by way of hoping the information would be the deal clincher.
“Thank Carol very much for me.” I heard myself saying. I could have sworn that when I opened my mouth to speak it was to decline the invitation. I was less surprised to hear myself saying that I looked forward to seeing her later. That much was true.
Paul nodded, then sucked another unhealthy dose of nicotine-flavoured smoke into his lungs.
“Six o'clock we usually have tea.” he informed me before turning smartly on his heels and walking away without uttering another word, his errand run. Smoke trailed out behind him as he walked away. I closed my street door quickly before the smoke polluted me with its lethal mixture of toxins and additives.
I managed to get my home office set up and my desk organised. I had pre-arranged to have my Internet connection on when I moved in so I was able to check in with various persons I needed to contact before shutting the system down again and setting-to the more onerous task of putting several quarts worth of kitchenalia onto just a couple of pints worth of storage space.
In the end a lot of stuff ended up staying either in the boxes I'd shipped them in or un-artistically arranged on the limited worktop space with a vague notion of being properly dealt with 'later'.
The house designer had screwed-up with the kitchen design by making it little more than a closet. However, he or she had marginally redeemed theirself by incorporating an understairs cupboard into the house design. After my labours in the kitchen my attention was next directed towards the small mountain of boxes that still made traversing my lounge problematic. To my inexpert eye, the volume of the boxes and the available space in the cupboard appeared to be compatible. There was only one way to find out.
I have two great passions in life: reading and music. I have an extensive music collection and had an even more extensive collection of books, which was what filled the majority of the boxes I shifted one at a time. Gradually the space in the cupboard was filled with my assortment of irregular sized and shaped of boxes. It turned into an exercise in geometry, fitting one box here, another there, moving this one to ease that one in and moving another two so that the minimum of the limited available space was wasted. By-and-bye the pile in the lounge disappeared in direct relation to the space in the understairs storage space. I closed the door on the whole lot with something approaching elation when the very last box was carefully placed in position.
Elation almost turned to panic when I looked at the clock. Shit! I had less than forty minutes to make myself presentable and fulfill my promise to take tea with Carol and Paul. There was no way I could not clean myself up: apart from sweating profusely through my labours I had encountered many years worth of dusty cobwebs in both the under stairs cupboard and the kitchen as well as a covering of thick household dust everywhere else. A shower was definitely on the agenda, but not a shave. That was asking too much of me after the past couple of days of intensive labour. My bristly two-day growth would have to wait until the morning before being shaved off.
It has to be said that cooking was not Carol's forte. Rarely had I eaten such uninspiring and insipid fare. Not that Paul was complaining: he set-to the tasteless shepherd's pie, watery carrots, over-cooked Brussels sprouts and undercooked sweetcorn with gusto, as though he was dining on the finest of haute cuisine. I poured piss-weak gravy over the bland offering in the vain hope it might introduce a little flavour – any flavour – but all it did was make the mashed potato atop the meat in the pie disintegrate into a gloopy mush. I closed my eyes, offered up a prayer to the gods of gourmands and diners, if such deities existed, and took my first mouthful.
I swallowed without chewing. It was easier that way. Not that there was much of any substance to chew on, anyway. At least I didn't have to take much notice of what I was ingesting. Luckily, the conversation was a pleasant enough distraction.
Carol was thirty-two years of age, but looked ten years older. In contrast to yesterday where the sunlight and physical activity had brought vitality to her features tonight she looked careworn and drained, as though life was sapping her very essence.
She was also, I noted, less outgoing and chatty than she had previously been. I watched her as she constantly deferred to Paul, two years her senior. He had the extremely ill-mannered habit of interrupting Carol when she was speaking. It didn't matter a jot what she was saying, he would butt-in with some comment or other that usually had sweet-FA to do with the topic of conversation. He tried several times to get me on-side with his chauvinistic behaviour – a sort-of 'us guys together' thing, but I was having none of it. The guy was an utter prick, that much was obvious.
It became very clear that Paul was poorly educated. Although I would not have enrolled Carol in MENSA, there was no doubt in my mind as to who was the brains of the operation. I also got the skin-crawling sensation that Paul was one of those brain-dead scum who spoke with his fists when verbal communication failed. He just gave off that vibe to me. I had no evidence to support my suspicion other than years of dealing with all types of guys through my work on top of several years spent in a boy's home as an adolescent. Paul fit the profile like a hand in a glove.
In spite of his boorish behaviour I did learn a lot about my hosts. They had been together some nine years or more when I met them and, as I suspected, they were both, like me, 'incomers' to town. Paul had lost his job some nine months previously after, he boasted, “decking the fuck-wit of a supervisor who didn't know shit about nuffing and tried to tell me I was doing it wrong!” With his reputation as an arsehole assured in their home town Paul had persuaded Carol to give up her job in a florists and move away with him to a new town to make a new start and this was were they had ended up.
Paul was having no more luck finding work in the new place than he had in the town they had left. Even so the pair had no plans to return to where they had come from as they liked the house and the area, which I could not disagree with. My impressions of the place had been favourable based on the little of the area I had seen thus far. I had plans as summer progressed to travel the area and take in as many of the local sights as possible. I was much looking forward to it.
I also learned from Carol that she had miscarried a child about four years ago. Something had happened to her body that had left her infertile as a result of the tragedy. Her eyes shone wetly when she said that she would never be a mother. As the father of two daughters with whom I had little contact since my divorce from their mother more than fifteen years previously I could have mentioned that being a parent wasn't always the joy or be-all and end-all it was cracked-up to be. Prudence dictated that I ought to keep my mouth shut and just offer the usual patronising platituides instead, which is what I did.
Pleading near-exhaustion and an early start in the morning I took my leave of my hosts as soon as could be considered decently possible. It wasn't even fully dark when I fell into my still-unmade bed and fell into a pleasant dream-filled slumber. I awoke the following morning energised and ready to face work again.
Over the course of the next six months or so I got to know Carol and Paul very well; Carol not as well as I would have liked and Paul better than I really wanted to. The guy was, to not put too fine a point on it, an unadulterated twat. He had no discernible practical skills, no discernible conversational skills, no useful social skills, no noticeable intelligence and some of the most annoying habits that would cause a saint to lose patience with him.
Aside from the aforementioned habit of butting-in, Paul tapped his feet constantly when he was sitting down. He also tapped his fingernails against any hard surface to create a tapping sound that grated on my nerves. But worst of all, he referred to me all the bloody time as 'mate'. No matter how many times I politely – and impolitely when I got to know him better – reminded him that my name was Andy, he would still call me mate. How I kept my hands off him I will never know!
Carol, was a different proposition. Although she would never win a series of TVs 'Mastermind' she was bright and had a lot of interests, notably anything that involved making things with her hands. She derived great enjoyment from making greetings cards for instance. She also shared a passion with me, that of completing word puzzle magazines, a pastime that was a million miles away from Paul's comprehension. It gave me puerile delight to talk to Carol about stuff the fuckwit had no clue about.
Over the months something that became very obvious was the mutual attraction between me and Carol. It was there in the way we looked at one another, the subtle flirting and the 'unintentional' touches. I was not the sort of guy who would normally consider messing with another bloke's lady, but the signals were not easy to ignore. Yet, they were mixed signals.
It seemed that Carol wanted what I wanted, but she was afraid to take it to the next level. Okay, I understood that: we lived in a small cul-de-sac of just six properties. Carol and Paul lived at one end of the row of houses, I lived at the other and there were two more properties that overlooked the row. At any given time anybody could be looking out of a window and to bear witness anything untoward. It was great as a security measure in a Neighbourhood Watch sort of way, but a real hindrance for any hope of illicit liaisons.
Never mind that our neighbours worked full time: Maggie was a nurse at the local hospital and Frankie was a trucker who spent half the week traipsing around Europe before taking a couple of days r and r at home before going off again. Judy and Sam – my next door neighbours – worked full time, but I never got to know them well enough to learn exactly what they did for a living and Terry, the guy who lived next door to Carol and Paul, was an antisocial git who never spoke. He at least had the good manners to piss off to pastures new a couple of months after I moved in. The property stood empty for months after he moved out.
I was in a position in my job that allowed me a great deal of flexibility in my working hours. That meant if a fancied going into work a little later than normal, or even taking the day off, I was able to do so without making waves. I explained all this to Carol under the guise of enjoying a relaxing beer with her and Paul one Sunday afternoon. The look she gave me told me that she had received and understood the message, but it made no difference.
The biggest problem was not the fear of being seen by a curious neighbour, as the chances of that happening were very slim. No, it was Paul. The guy was like an insecure puppy. He followed Carol around like she had him on a leash! Honestly, apart from allowing her to use the bathroom on her own he was at her side or had her in his eyeline all the time. I had never seen anything like it. It was rather creepy and a little bit sick to my mind. It served to reinforce my earlier impression that, to Paul, Carol was a possession, not an equal. It made my loathing of him – and his type – all the more intense. Carol had very little 'Carol-time' and she was as frustrated by her situation as I was.
The only compensation, minimal though it was, were those infrequent occasions where Carol and I were able to come together naturally, such as a kiss for a birthday or under the mistletoe at Christmas. As lovely as those brief moments were they served to stoke the fires of want even further.
A calendar year rolled by and economically things were not going well for the country as a whole nor for my employer. When the writing on the wall became reality in the form of my redundancy notice in my hand I was gutted. I was unemployed for the first time in many years. I was, though, optimistic that my talents and experience would prove irresistible to a new employer in next to no time. Three months after losing my job I was still seeking that new role. Another three months after that and my optimism had turned into medically diagnosed depression.
I was unhappy with my lot: I had moved to a new town to be closer to the work and job I loved. I knew very few people other than my work colleagues, who had lives and families of their own, and my neighbours, one of whom drove me insane with his inanity and the other who was driving me crazy with want and desire. I decided that I needed to go back 'home' to the town I had moved away from. To that end I began to apply for work in that area. Within weeks I had secured a promising interview. I found myself short-listed after an initial assessment and was offered the job three weeks later with a start date at the end of the month of June.
I broke the news to Carol and Paul the next day. Paul was all idiotic and invasive personal questions– questions that I ignored. Carol tried to look pleased for me, but it was obvious that she was disappointed that I would be moving away so soon. I could not deny that, although getting my nose back to the grindstone appealed to me, leaving Carol did not. I was more than a little in love with her, I was convinced. Even so I knew that she and I would never work as a couple even if I asked Carol to come with me and even if she agreed to join me. Besides, I didn't believe that Paul would let her go placidly. I just didn't want the trouble that was likely to follow and I was not in the least confident that Carol would leave him. She and Paul had history and whatever it was that they had, however much I disliked it, it worked for them. I was not about to cause ructions in their relationship.
I made all my preparations: I repacked all the stuff that I had unpacked only fifteen months previously, engaged the same guys who had originally moved me to move me back again and set the date, three days hence. Then Paul received a phone call.
His mother, I knew, was not a well woman. Paul spoke of her often and his fears for her. The phone-call was the one he had been dreading. His mother was dying. He needed to go home; to go 'up North'. There was a problem, though.
Money was tight, for all of us. Carol and Paul lived on benefits. They could scrape together enough cash for Paul to travel by train to his home town, but they could not raise enough cash for Carol to accompany him. If I could have helped I would have ,but I had been living on my own money since losing my job and the last of my redundancy package and payout was now tied up in my impending move. I had no spare cash to loan out, in spite of the circumstances.
Paul initially said that he would not go on his own, but it was Carol who persuaded him that he would regret it for the rest of his life if he didn't say his final goodbye to his mother, if that was what was going to happen. He eventually saw sense and the arrangements were made. I drove him to the train station the next morning and watched with Carol as the train drew away from the platform.
We drove back to my house in expectant silence. There air in my car fairly crackled with sexual tension as we both mulled over the possibilities open to us with Paul out of the way for a day or two. Although the circumstances were tragic it was the opportunity we had both wished for and waited for for so long. Even so, I was not convinced that Carol would be willing to take advantage of it.
I set mugs of tea on the coffee table and opened a packet of biscuits. My hands shook so violently with nerves that I almost spilled them on the floor. I put them on the table unopened and sat down beside Carol.
Like a scene out of a romance movie we didn't say a word. Our faces moved towards one another and we kissed, tentatively at first, then more urgently until, breathless, we parted again. Any doubts I had entertained that Carol would not grab with both hands the good fortune that had been handed to us were banished with that one, passion-fuelled kiss.
We were both smiling, Carol perhaps a little less expansively than me, but smiling nonetheless. I wanted her badly, there and then, but Carol said no. Although I tried to reassure her that we were probably the only people at home in the cul-de-sac she wanted to wait until it was dark. Reluctantly I agreed, but did not let her leave my house until we had exchanged several more long and heated kisses. This time before I closed my street door it was only after my eyes had enjoyed the sight of Carols' ass sashaying down the footpath to her door.
Like a young child waiting for Christmas day to arrive I willed to clock to tick off those long, tortuous hours. I cleaned the kitchen, although it was not really necessary as I'd made sure it was in good order just yesterday. I soaked myself in the bath-tub until the water went cold and I had to take a hot shower to stop myself shivering. I shaved carefully, making sure I didn't knick myself. After all that it was still only late afternoon. I decided that the best thing for me to do would be to take a nap. I laid myself on my sofa, closed my eyes and hoped to find sleep. For what felt like the longest time I could not relax... then I awoke with a panicked jerk in twilight.
I had slept for about four hours. Even so I felt thick-headed so I threw myself under a cool shower to wash away the last of the sleep-induced grogginess . I dressed in a fresh tee shirt, loose-fitting shorts and nothing else. I poured myself a small whiskey and downed it in one swallow. The second one I sipped at.
Carol arrived as agreed, after darkness had fully fallen, around eleven o'clock. I welcomed her into my home not as a friend but as a potential lover. As soon as I had closed and bolted the door behind her she was in my arms and our lips were locked together, our kisses hungry, desperate and needy. I had planned a slow seduction, but the heat between us made that idea unworkable. Taking Carol by the hand I led her to my bedroom.
Our lovemaking was by turns, frantic, tender and passionate. All those months of wanting and waiting, of longing and denying, of hunger and desire were swept aside in those first few minutes. Once that initial urgency was sated the night took on the romantic seductive atmosphere I had envisioned. It was everything I had hoped for and dreamt-of and fantasied about.
It was perfect.
Carol left my bed in the grey of dawn's first light. I kissed her for the last time, but said not another word to her. She dressed in silence and made her way down my stairs. I heard the rattle of the security chain and the click of the latch as she opened the door. There was a dull-sounding 'boom' in the empty passageway as she pulled the door firmly closed behind her.
I have never seen or spoken to either Paul or Carol from that day to this. That was the difficult decision that Carol and I reached after the last time we made love that beautiful illicit night: to not prolong the pain by maintaining a long-distance and ultimately hopeless love affair. A clean break was the most sensible outcome and that is what we did. Sure, more than ten years down the line I think of Carol every now and then and miss her. But do I regret not continuing the relationship? Not a bit of it. I have memories of that night that are irreplaceable and, more to the point, can never be sullied by later problems or issues. That is the way I intend to keep them.