Alyn Walker took in a shaky, excited breath. She had been waiting for this moment for a long time. Her mother and father had described the “perfect house” and living in it would be like “walking around in a storybook.” Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Walker had brought their daughter along with them to see their new home.
The realtor, dressed in a tight gray suit, unlatched the wooden gate embedded between two towering stone walls. Alyn clasped her hands together, calloused from hours upon hours of writing over the years. Her excitement was manifested as the prim realtor opened the passageway. Alyn’s mouth fell open. The house was at least a hundred times better than how her mother and father had described it.
The cottage, fashioned with hand-cut stone, was quaint, charming, and very charismatic. Surrounding it was a magnificent garden, abundant with foliage and greenery of every kind. Every bush had been planted with loving care, every flower placed with such tenderness, that the garden had amounted to a gorgeous, glorious whole. A brick path wove its way around the garden like a little snake slithering along the soil.
“It’s beautiful,” Alyn breathed. She couldn’t quite wrap her mind around the fact that she was going to live in this exquisite house.
“Did I mention that we will be sharing this property with a neighbor? She lives in that little shack there,” Mrs. Walker said brightly, always in a positive mood.
Alyn hadn’t noticed the small stone abode before, for it was concealed behind the tall nectarine tree and abundant shrubs. Now she saw the rundown home, with the door falling off its hinges and a single, dirty window. Alyn felt a tiny poke of disappointment in her happy heart. She wasn’t a greedy person, in fact, far from it, but she really didn’t feel exhilarated about sharing her new estate with someone who didn’t have the decency to keep up their own house. She gave a slightly injured sigh.
Mr. Walker took notice of his daughter’s crestfallen reaction and quickly comforted, “Don’t worry; the realtor said this neighbor is extremely introverted. She won’t be any bother to us.” Alyn nodded and shook it off. This moment was too special to be spoiled with a minor inconvenience.
“If you like it, honey, we can move in next week,” Mr. Walker said. Alyn grinned. There was no house that ever was, nor ever could be, more perfect than this one. How her friends back in New York would envy the little Californian beachside cottage with a yard full of plants as green as her eyes, all tucked behind real stone walls like gold buried in a treasure chest!
As the four exited the property, Alyn felt a stony gaze upon her back. She glanced up at the window on the hidden shack, and was frightened to observe two glaring eyes, golden as a ferocious tiger’s, staring at her.
* * *
A young woman peered out of the solitary window in her rundown house, watching the realtor and the family of three stroll through the garden and inspect the cottage on the property. This woman had decidedly lived in an isolated state for five years and hoped that these newcomers would not be a nuisance. She glanced over at a picture frame on the dirty windowsill that held a photograph of her husband and son. She had loved them dearly, for her husband had a kind and understanding spirit, and her red-haired son was a huggable teddy bear with a charming smile. Pain pricked her heart like a sewing needle would prick one’s finger, and she reached for a piece of paper and a pen.
* * *
It had been a week since she had first been at the cottage, and Alyn was unpacking and attempting to air out the musty smell that had settled upon the old house. The two shining, yellowish eyes had been brushed to the farthest corner of Alyn’s brain, for there was so much to do! She stood up from her bent-over position on the wooden floor and wiped sweat from her brow. She didn’t remember having quite so much stuff, but here it all was, waiting for her to unpack it and place it in the cheery sunroom that had been converted by the Walkers into Alyn’s bedroom. Alyn pinned her swooping bangs behind her ear and surveyed the area. Boxes were piled in every corner, and she could barely find what little furniture she had set up amongst the monstrous tower of moving supplies. Deciding it was time for a short interlude, she opened the door, its glass panes reflecting the sunlight, and entered her outdoor haven.
The scene painted before Alyn was a sight to behold. The salty ocean air breezed past her nose, and it was so delightfully overwhelming that she felt like she could taste it. The seagulls cawed overhead, dancing in wild, unrehearsed formations in the clear blue sky. The heavenly scent of flowers tickled Alyn’s senses, for the blossoms were plentiful, scattered amongst the bushes. Blue jays and robins twittered in the shrubs, gossiping about who knows what. Walking along the pathway, she approached the nectarine tree, standing firmly like a soldier amidst the other plants. The sweet smell was so tempting that Alyn plucked a fruit and took a large bite. The juice dribbled down her chin, but she didn’t wipe it away. She didn’t care. There wasn’t anyone here to criticize her, or anyone to give her a reproachful glance… in fact, there wasn’t anyone here even to see her!
Then Alyn remembered the introverted neighbor who lived in the tiny house behind the nectarine tree and bushes. Her hand quivered slightly and her heart began beating faster. Had the strange person with the awful eyes seen her? She didn’t want to find out. As Alyn hurried back to her house, she heard an eerie creaking noise coming from behind the shack. Curiosity sneakily wormed its way into Alyn’s veins.
Growling at herself like an angry dog, Alyn moaned, “Oh, why do I have to be so inquisitive?” and she silently followed the pathway toward the noise. As the creaking sound grew louder, Alyn became so quiet she could have transformed into a mouse. That’s when she saw her.
Alyn drank in the details of the young woman rocking on the ancient swing. Her messy, rusty-red hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Her lips were sealed tightly together like an envelope. The woman’s golden eyes gazed straight ahead, seemingly not realizing that Alyn was there. But Alyn knew that somehow her neighbor knew she was spying. The teenage girl uncomfortably shifted her position and her expressive eyes showed concern. She had been brought up to be kind, welcoming, and polite. Spying didn’t involve any of those good characteristics, so Alyn suddenly felt obligated to do something nice for this eccentric young adult.
“Hello,” Alyn said, approaching the woman and bestowing a sweet smile upon her. “I’m Alyn, your new neighbor. Who might you be?”
The woman muttered something inaudibly. “Pardon?” Alyn asked politely. The woman said slightly louder, “What a beautiful day it is today, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” Alyn replied, trying hard not to grow too prideful for making a breakthrough.
Then the auburn-haired lady whirled around as quickly as a cheetah runs and snapped, “It was a rhetorical question.” Then she stood up and hastily hurried away.
“Wait a minute, please!” Alyn said. “What’s your name?” The antisocial woman said nothing, although Alyn knew she heard. The gentle teenager very rarely became angry, so it was one of those infrequent moments when she began to fume. How rude, Alyn thought. That uncivilized, odd, eccentric, impolite, introverted woman…!
It was at that very moment that Alyn’s inquiring nature took control and decided she would find out her neighbor’s name, and her background. Alyn was a very determined and decisive girl, so once she set her mind to something, she wouldn’t rest until the goal was reached.
* * *
That nosy, bratty, inquisitive teenager! the golden-eyed lady thought. How rude of her to be poking her nose into other people’s business! Slamming the door of the shack behind her, the young woman collapsed on a beat-up couch.
I remember purchasing this sofa with Bryan, she reminisced, her mind tracing over every detail of that seemingly unimportant, yet immensely precious memory. I miss him so much; no one could ever understand me as well as he did. The young woman’s face suddenly turned dark with anger. And I doubt anyone ever will try… not that I care, of course.
* * *
It was two weeks since the Walker family had moved in, and the little cottage was starting to feel like home. On a particularly warm day, the humidity hung in the air like a canvas blanketing the earth, and laziness crept into the Walker house and everyone was soon in a relaxed and somewhat idle mood.
Alyn was lying on the fuzzy pink carpet in her bedroom, deeply involved in reading Pride and Prejudice. Her cotton-candy-pink glasses rested upon the bridge of her defined nose, magnifying each higher level word that she soaked in, hoping to use them in her own story that she was penning. The glass doors were open, allowing the stuffy room to air out a bit and for Alyn to glance outside whenever her eyes grew weary. As Alyn gazed out, giving her eyes a well-deserved rest, she saw the neighbor picking flowers and having a conversation with herself.
These eccentric acts made Alyn quiver, and she cautiously closed the doors and drew the curtain. Walking into the living room, where her parents were conversing, Alyn asked, “What’s our neighbor’s name?”
“I believe it’s Tanya… no, Tammy. Oh dear, I don’t remember,” Mrs. Walker said, fanning herself with a magazine. “This heat is too overpowering.”
“It’s Tara,” Mr. Walker answered.
“She’s quite an interesting character,” Alyn admitted, using carefully chosen words so as not to insult Tara, for she had been brought up with the saying “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
“Of course she is, dear,” Mrs. Walker said. “I wouldn’t doubt that you would be at least a bit reserved if your son and husband both died in a car accident.”
“They both died? Where did you find this out?”
“We have spoken with her on occasion, and we’ve pieced together snippets of information,” Mrs. Walker replied.
Alyn suddenly felt very poorly of what she had thought of Tara. Countless words, which now didn’t seem to accurately describe the young woman, played through her head like a movie. Alyn felt miserable. How could she have thought that Tara was eccentric, uncivil, rude, and introverted without even knowing her full story? Much better words came to mind now: desolate, discouraged, companionless, and lonely. Tara probably needed a friend, or at least understanding.
“Mother, do you still have some of that banana bread you made?” Alyn asked.
“Yes, dear. Why?”
“I have an apology to make, and banana bread always causes the recipient to be in a more forgiving mood.”
* * *
Alyn’s front door creaked as she opened it. Carefully balancing the plate of banana bread in one hand, Alyn closed the door and stood up straighter.
“Be brave, be brave,” she murmured to herself and walked steadily towards her neighbor’s house before she could lose her courage. The fresh scent of the flowers wafted through the air, and the mossy fern brushed against her free hand, but Alyn was in no mood to enjoy a stroll through the garden. She was on an important mission, and she had made an indomitable decision to ask for forgiveness. There was no turning back now.
Alyn reached the broken door of the shack and politely knocked upon it. There was no answer, so she tried again, to no avail. Somebody stirred inside. Tara had most definitely heard Alyn; why didn’t she answer the door?
Summoning up all of her courage like a shot-putter would gather up strength preparing to hurl the ball, she said, “Tara? It’s me, Alyn. I know you probably don’t want to talk to me, and you have a good reason not to. I’ve been really awful, and I assumed some things about you without getting to know you first. I see that I’m wrong now, and I’m really sorry.” Alyn stared at the door, waiting for it to open, but it didn’t. “Please, Tara. Can we be friends?”
There was a faint sniffling heard from inside the cottage. “Tara?” Alyn set down the banana bread and opened the door, too concerned about the young woman to consider manners. Tara was curled up in a dark corner, crying, her golden eyes glimmering with tears.
“Did I say something?” Alyn asked, preparing to apologize for something else she apparently did wrong.
“Yes; you asked to be my friend,” Tara whispered hoarsely.
“I’m sorry,” Alyn atoned. “I didn’t want to bother you. I’ll just leave you…”
“No, wait!” Tara beckoned. “No one has ever cared that much about me since my husband and son died. No one has taken the time to want to get to know and understand me. I truly want to thank you, Alyn. Your kindness is refreshing, like a glass of cold lemonade on a hot summer day.”
Alyn smiled, both at the compliment and at the simile used. “Do you always talk like that?”
“Yes, I am a poet. Poetry is my escape from the pain I’ve been shouldering for the past five years.”
“There is no need to carry that burden alone, Tara,” Alyn evangelized. “There are plenty who will assist you, including me.”
Tara’s golden eyes, once so fierce and now so gentle, gazed at Alyn. “I appreciate your understanding more than you will ever know. You are truly an angel in teenage clothes.”
Alyn smiled humbly. Compassion and determination filled her soul. She would help her neighbor… no, she would help her friend.