Ashley threw the branch again and watched her Scottish terrier run to get it. He returned, excited with his retrieved object. She sighed and threw it again, unable to summon any excitement. The dog ran off and ran back.
“I’m sorry, Timmy. I’m not in the mood today,” she said. The dog barked once, and used his nose to push the branch her way. She scowled at him. “Dumb dog, you just don’t understand.”
She heard a door slam and she stood. It was next door. She saw no one through the glass walls so she assumed they were on the other side. Again she wondered, just like her father had, why someone who did not want to be seen chose to live in a glass house.
She looked into her house. Maggie, her eighty year old baby sitter was asleep in front of the television. Ashley stood from where she sat on her porch, and wandered across the grass leisurely. Timmy followed, keeping behind her and allowing her to take the lead. She heard the creak of a door so she became more careful. She knew her father would be unhappy. She knew she was intruding, but she was just so bored and it was such a long day. He had gone into town to get some supplies for the house but a friend in need had roped him into helping out with repairs at a construction site. As usual, he had found it difficult to refuse and had called Mrs Emmerson to the rescue.
Ashley walked along the side of the building, fascinated to be so close to all that glass. It really was large when so close to it. At the back porch she moved even more carefully.
“Shhh!” she said to her whining dog. She picked him up when he wouldn’t be quiet. This gesture relaxed him and he became still. Nervously, she advanced, until she could see the boardwalk that led to the edge of the lake.
There was a canvas set up, and an empty stool. Someone had been painting. It was the lake, reeds and all. Forgetting all precaution, she made her way to the display. It really was so life like.
“Who are you?” someone asked. Ashley turned with a squeak, her heart in her throat. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry, maam. I’m Ashley, Ashley Gardiner. I live next door. I’m so sorry if i’m disturbing you,” she said, still frozen.
The woman did not speak for a while. She seemed to consider them. Ashley noticed that she was about to have a meal. There was a small table set up with food and drinks.
“What’s your dog’s name?” she asked.
“Is he friendly?”
“Yeah. Would you like to play with him?” Ashley asked. The woman considered.
“You really should learn how to knock, young lady.”
“I tried, but you wouldn’t see me,” Ashley said. This made the woman consider. Then she sighed.
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
“I only have sandwiches.”
“I love sandwiches,” Ashley said eagerly.
“Come up then.” The woman waved her up and Ashley hurried up the steps to take a seat on a foldable metal chair. Where the woman sat was padded and cushioned, a seat built into the walls and looked like one could also comfortably sleep on it. “Would you like some tea?” she asked. Ashley had never had tea in her life but she dared not admit it.
“I’d love some,” she said. The woman smiled.
“My name is Diana. It’s nice to meet you Ashley,” she said.
It was dark in no time. The lessening of the light brought a slight chill from the lake. Diana brought out large blankets from inside the house and draped it over her little friend. They sat quietly, listening to classical music drift out from the stereos in the house, holding oversized mugs with honeyed fruit tea. They hadn’t spoken in a while. Ashley was less nervous now. She did not know she had it in herself to not speak for for more than five minutes, let alone a half an hour. She was comfortable with Diana. Her new neighbor was quiet and did not speak much, but she was so pretty and Ashley found herself staring at her face when the other was not looking. It was the strangest night she had ever had in her young life, and she was glad for it.
“I have a daughter close to your age,” Diana said. Ashley Looked up. “I mean step daughter. She’s sixteen.”
“Is she living here too?” Diana asked.
“No. She’s with her grand parents for the summer.”
“Will she come here after the summer?”
“Maybe. I don’t know really.” She looked up at her guest. “Thank you for coming. I have enjoyed your company,” she said. Ashley beamed.
“Can I come back soon?” she asked, knowing she would probably cry if she couldn’t.
“Of course you can. And you may knock on the front door. I will let you in.”
“Really? I won’t be any trouble, Mrs Reiss, I promise!” she said. Diana laughed softly.
“I know you won’t.”
There was a call from next door. Ashley sat up.
“That’s my dad. He’s home. I have to go.”
“Thank you for the tea. Come on Timmy!” She bolted from the chair and ran off. Diana heard raised voices, then the sound of boots on grass. Diana unconsciously shrank into her blanket. She watched Rowan Gardiner come up her porch purposefully. He was not smiling. She couldn’t either.
“Was she bothering you?” he asked. Diana could not speak. “Because next time she shows up like that, send her home. She should learn not to be so impulsive,” he said. She looked down, then away. Anywhere but at him.
Rowan wondered what he did to make her so nervous. He could tell from her body language that his presence was not welcome at all.
“Thank you, for looking after her. I really appreciate it,” he said. She nodded hurriedly and stood. “She’s a handful but she’s a good girl. Ever since her mum left she’s been…” She entered the house and slammed the door audibly. He stood there in disbelief. Then he heard the lock turn. He looked at where she’d sat. The blankets were still out, and the plates still sitting there. He looked at the closed door and wondered again where she had come from.
He wondered who made her afraid. Who had hurt her.