Two days later, Lucy bid her morning guests good bye, then stepped out into the hall to glance up and down. The corridor jogged this way and that, with each studio entrance indented like a little porch. Many of her neighbours decorated and furnished these tiny spaces to personalize them. There were benches, artworks, plants, signs. That’s how she knew what many of them did. Light flooded in columns down into the space, helping the plants grow, showing the weather and the changing time of day, contributing to the feeling that it was a little street lined with tiny houses.
Anna paused. “Hey, Lucy? I miss you already. Why don’t you join a few of us from the department for drinks this evening, down at down at the Frog and Firkin. Everyone would love to see you.”
Lucy turned to answer her and noticed someone peeking through a cracked open door across the hall. She pretended not to notice.
“I don’t know, Anna. I’d love to catch up with you. But I feel…” Lucy cast a glance toward the hidden eavesdropper, hesitant to air her dirty laundry. “I don’t want to put a damper on your Friday night cheer. I’d better not.”
Anna shook her head and hugged her. “You wouldn’t. Just ignore those creeps. They’re just jealous of your famous grandfather.”
Lucy watched Anna shrink away down the long corridor and turn a corner at the far stairwell. No. They weren’t jealous. Anna was okay, but she knew a few of her work colleagues thought she was nuts. She hadn’t been out of grad school long enough to risk her prestigious research position on some crazy, half-baked project to redeem the reputation of an old man who was long forgotten, and dead, to boot. It would do nothing to advance her own career, though she’d been accused of exactly that.
Lucy bent to poke a finger into the soil of her bamboo plant, feeling for moisture and addressed the peeping Tom, who was still watching her, or at least was afraid to close the door and draw attention to themselves. Maybe it was a nosy older person.
“Hello? Can I help you?”
She was met with silence. Staring at the almost closed door, she could feel them still there, holding their breath.
“I know you’re there. You might as well come out and introduce yourself.” She turned to face the neighbours door, smiling “I’m Lucy.”
After another long, awkward silence, the door slowly opened a few inches.
Oh, hello neighbour!
Lucy was shocked to see a tall, incredibly good looking, shirtless man with black bedhead and short beard. Not the nosy granny she’d expected. Though he was wearing plaid flannel pyjama bottoms, from which she tore her curious gaze. Her mouth went dry.
“Oh! Hi.” Why did she suddenly feel like she was the one on the spot?
The man was slow to speak, but as he opened the door and hesitantly stepped through it, she watched his lovely toned chest rise and fall with a deep sigh, and then watched his throat move as he swallowed.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to spy on you.” He rubbed his beard-shadowed face with the back of his hand and then raked his fingers through his messy hair, grimacing, as though checking himself in an imaginary mirror and finding his reflection lacking.
“Yes, you did. That’s exactly what you meant to do.” She laughed. “But it’s okay. Hi, again. I’m Lucy.” She put out her hand.
Awkwardly, he huffed, glanced over his shoulder, then stepped forward and took her hand, shaking it briefly, with a flash of teeth that instantly disappeared. “Nice to meet you Lucy. I’m, ah… Jean Philippe. JP to my friends.” He spoke softly, almost a whisper.
“Hello, JP.” Lucy brought a hand to cover her mouth, unable to restrain the grin of amusement that pulled at her face. His embarrassment and shyness was so endearing. And weird, because he was a super handsome hunk that she would normally be too shy to even talk to. She had a hard time tearing her eyes from his beautiful pecs to meet his warm blue gaze, feeling more than her own share of embarrassment that she was ogling him.
“Is there something I can do for you?”
Then he pulled himself together, shaking his head and chuckling. He pulled his shoulders back, ran his hand over his bare chest, self-conscious, yet drawing her gaze even more to his bare skin. “I apologize. You’ve caught me at a disadvantage.” He drew a breath. “I was spying, I admit. But only because of the mystery sound.”
“Yes. All week I’ve been awakened by a mysterious, uh…” He imitated the noise, squeak, squeak, squeak and she found herself smiling in response to the funny face he pulled, and the crazy, curious brightness that shone in his bright blue eyes. “I thought perhaps if I peeked out before the noise at seven thirty, I would get a clue as to its origin.”
She processed that. “You set an alarm before the…”
He nodded, his dark brows lifting in apology.
“Ah. I see.” She cleared her throat. “Well, that I can easily explain. I’m so sorry I’ve been waking you up. I have to deal with it. I have to get some… something to fix it, but I haven’t yet.”
He stood, eyes wide, waiting for the information he so eagerly sought.
Just then a little face popped around the door jamb and mashed itself against his thigh, startling her. She flinched and squealed before realizing it was a little boy, about five, his full round cheeks pink and creased, his eyes still sleepy. He was absolutely adorable and she smiled, her chest filling like bread rising in a warm kitchen.
JP glanced down. “Ah, good morning Christian.” He ruffled the boy’s messy auburn hair, smiling at him. He took him by the shoulders and positioned him in front of his knees like a chess pawn. “This is Lucy. Our new neighbour. Say hello, please.”
The boy gazed up at her with cautious curiosity. “Hello, Lucy.”
“Is Fifi up?”
Christian turned to look behind him, and sure enough, a second tiny face shone in the shadow behind them. “Ah, Fifi, darling.” JP twisted, bent and straightened with a tiny dark-haired girl in a onesy covered in butterflies and bumble bees. “And this is Fifi. My daughter.”
“Hello Fifi,” Lucy smiled at the girl, but got only a wide-eyed blue stare and a serious cupie-doll mouth for her efforts. Oh, my God she was cute. Lucy briefly met JP’s gaze, grinning. She looked down. “Nice to meet you, Christian.” Lucy crossed her arms in front of her. Here she was ogling this man’s naked chest and handsome face when his wife was lying in bed somewhere behind that door. “I didn’t realize their were families living in any of the studios,” she said to the floor, then glanced along the hallway.
JP nodded. “A few, yes. Special circumstances. I am a web designer and work from home, and it’s just us so I have to live somewhere I can… “ He shrugged, as though that made everything clear. “Work.”
“Okay. Did you want to see what makes the mystery noise?”
“The squeak?” Christian said.
“Oh, so you’ve heard it too, have you?” Lucy said and turned to her door. “Come and see then.” She led them inside, standing by the open door as JP, carrying Fifi, and Christian, stepped carefully into her dim space, looking around as though entering a haunted house. Collectively they gave off a lovely, warm, domestic aroma of warm skin, fresh laundry and sour milk that had her hormones swooning and fanning their faces like little groupies at a rock concert.
“What’s this?” Christian said, and promptly sat on a stack of yoga blocks.
“I teach yoga classes twice a day, early, before my students go to their workplaces, and again in the evening.” The floor was still littered with yoga gear, but she stepped across the strewn blocks and blankets toward her screen. “This is the culprit. I have to move it back and forth twice each day, between yoga and my other work.” She waved her arm back and forth, indicating its diurnal path, like the sun across the sky.
JP squinted, tilting his head to see behind the screen, blinking at her paper-strewn work table. Then looked down at its blocky wooden feet. “So these legs squeak? That’s it?” He chuckled, shaking his head. He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand, drawing Lucy’s gaze to his flexing biceps and beautiful stretching pec and lats. Her mouth went dry. He must work out to keep in such amazing shape. The computer-geeky types she’d dated before were usually skinny, enervated, like sprouts run up in a dark cupboard.
“You have no idea how many fanciful explanations I’ve come up with this week, imagining.” He waved his arm above his head, displaying yet more pretty muscles. “Elaborate machinery. Some Steampunk inventor’s lair. Or a torture chamber.”
It was Lucy’s turn to laugh. What an imagination! “Sorry to disappoint. Just plain old friction.” The moment the words were out of her mouth she felt her face heat. Jeez. Why did the word friction conjure images of skin on skin, limbs tangling, heavy breathing. He’s married, married, married. Stop it Lucy. “Um. Yeah, so it’s really heavy. And I have to push it an inch at a time, from here…” she pointed. “To here. So I can, um, pull out my work table.”
JP set Fifi down beside her brother and walked to the screen, grabbing the edge and moving it a tiny bit. Squeak! “I see.” He squatted to examine the feet, then stood up. “Industrial casters would be best, eh? Not only silent, but much easier for you. It’s incredibly heavy.”
“Yes. I guess.”
“Do you want a hand with it?”
“Oh, that’s not–”
“I have a friend coming to work with me around ten, ten thirty. If you buy the casters, we can help you tip it over and screw them on the bottom.”
She thought about it. How would she have done it herself? She’d never be able to. Ever since the thing had been delivered, she’d been struggling with it. “Thank you. If you have time, and it’s not a bother?”
“No bother. I’m handy with tools. And I’m just across the hall.” He really smiled then, with straight white teeth set off against his dark beard, and she felt another wave of wooziness. Gosh he was handsome.
“Your…wife… won’t mind?”
His smile and his gaze instantly dropped, and he stared at his children. “I no longer have… but she wouldn’t have minded, no. I’m happy to help a neighbour.” He flashed a tight smile at her. “I’ll see you later.”
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