In the first floor flat above the deli, Tom and Jennifer, married for only seven days, lay in bed cuddling. This was their last day before going back to work, Tom to his job as general manager of the hypermarket on the outskirts of town and Jennifer to the hospital where she was a nurse.
“I don’t want this feeling to end, ever,” said Tom, squeezing his wife a little tighter.
“Oh, what feeling is that then?” Jennifer started to giggle.
“Not that, well that as well, but I mean the feeling of being totally in love and at peace with the world.”
Jennifer squeezed back. “I know. It’s been perfect. Us, the flat and the start of our new life together, what more can we ask for?”
“Come Monday morning, I’ll be back in the supermarket soap opera with whinging customers, moaning staff, bolshie bosses and all kinds of shift patterns.” Tom breathed a long sigh.
“Think of the money, darling. We both have stressful jobs, but we’re young, we can take the hassle. As long as we keep understanding why we get grumpy and tired sometimes, as long as we are there for each other when one of us needs a lift, we’ll survive. We’re not flying solo anymore, we’re in this together, and I love it. I couldn’t be happier.” Jennifer kissed Tom on the cheek.
“Have you met any of the neighbours yet?” asked Tom.
“The woman in the deli introduced herself the other day and welcomed us to the community, as she called it. It sounded like a cult thing when she said it but I know what she meant. Her shop is nice. She’s called Dot and she said if we ever needed any help or information about the area, we only had to ask. Apart from her, I’ve not met anybody.”
Tom shifted a little in the bed. “Maybe we should have a flat warming party to get to know people, just the Maple Court lot. It might help to break the ice a bit.”
“Oooh, I’m never sure about things like that,” said Jennifer. “What if there are any creepy people living here? I’m quite selective about choosing my friends?”
Tom sat up. “Jen, it would only be for a couple of hours. We could get a few bits and pieces from the deli, a couple of bottles of wine and just make the effort to say hello. Come on, what do you say?”
“You are very persuasive, my brand new husband. How about Saturday night? That would give us a couple of days to invite people and prepare. You’re on. Now, in what other ways can you be persuasive, sir?” Jennifer was fluttering her eyes.
“Join me under the duvet,” said Tom in a very bad Leslie Phillips impression, “and I’ll show you.”
In a classic case of bad timing, the doorbell rang. Tom and Jennifer didn’t hear it at first, but eventually Tom answered the door.
“Hi, I’m Sophie Montague from up stairs, third floor, and we seem to have received some mail for this flat. I thought I’d hand it in on my way to work.”
Tom adjusted his dressing gown. “That’s very kind of you. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Yes, me too. Anyway, I must go,” said Sophie, moving away.
“Actually, I’m glad we’ve met because my wife and I, sorry if that sounds a bit royal, we’re planning a get together here on Saturday night to meet the neighbours. Can you come and can you help us with the names of the others in the building, so that we can drop them an invitation?”
“Yes I can come,” answered Sophie, “and I’ll make a list and let you have it this evening, if that’s okay.” Sophie gave Tom a little wave and a big smile. She wanted to look and sound nice and welcoming.
“Great,” gushed Tom, “looking forward to it. See you.” Tom waved back.
Tom returned to the bedroom. “She’s a nice girl. Sophie. Third floor. She’s letting us have a list of the Maple Courtiers for the party.”
Jennifer had not heard any of that because she was fast asleep. Tom stared at her for a few minutes, taking in his wonderful fortune to have met and married such a beautiful woman. He headed for the kitchen to make some coffee. As the kettle boiled, he looked of the window and saw Sophie crossing the road. “What a nice girl,” he thought. Then he moved over to the toaster to start making a tray of breakfast to eat in bed.
When Sophie reached the other side of the road, she glanced back at Maple Court. She thought she saw someone looking out of the first floor window. If that very handsome man she had just met, standing barefoot in his dressing gown, chatting away at the door was eyeing her up, she would have felt quite flattered. She knew that he was just married and was, therefore, out of bounds. But she was allowed to have her fantasies. The only trouble was that the person she saw was in the window of the other first floor flat. Was the devil woman Dot spying on her, waiting to see Sophie leave for work before heading upstairs to seduce her Dad? Dot seemed to be waving something yellow but if she was trying to communicate with Sophie, it was wasted energy. Sophie thought she should not be waving a yellow rag but a white flag of surrender accepting that the gods in heaven had condemned this old witch to a lonely, miserable existence. Sophie knew she was thinking cruel thoughts but she couldn’t help it in this case. Maybe the spying thing was paranoia on Sophie’s part or maybe there was something to it. She had to be on her guard, to change the times of her comings and goings.
Dot saw Sophie looking up and pretended not to be looking out of the window. She had a yellow duster in her hand and made it look as if she was cleaning cobwebs. As Sophie disappeared round the corner, Dot picked up a pencil and wrote down the time that Jonathan’s daughter had left for work. She noted that a definite time pattern was forming.