Joanna Torrance wasn’t a stalker. On the contrary, she was a sane, attractive, heartbroken twenty-eight-year-old with a whopping new mortgage and all the responsibilities of her job as an emergency care nurse. It wasn’t Joanna’s fault that Hugh Campbell’s house was across the road from hers, and that she could see his every move.
It was how they had met. They had backed out of their driveways and Hugh’s red Mercedes had clipped Joanna’s yellow runabout. They had exchanged insurance details, tentative smiles and coffee invitations. One thing had lead to another, and Joanna had begun to dream of weddings and happily ever after.
Joanna sighed and sipped her tea. She had thought she’d finally found Mr Right. Hugh was a dentist, single, respectable and almost handsome. They had dined and danced and gone to the movies together. And then had come Hugh’s mother.
Mrs Campbell was coming down from Edinburgh to spend some time with her only son and, not so incidentally, to inspect the new woman in his life.
“But Hugh, that’s the week I’m in London,” Joanna had said. She had been waiting for over a year to attend a month long course on emergency care for children.
“It’s only a course,” said Hugh. “You’ll just have to cancel. Go some other time.”
Joanna blinked. She had told Hugh how important the course was to her. Joanna was a dedicated nurse. “Couldn’t your mum come some other time?”
But Mrs Campbell, although independently wealthy and without commitments, couldn’t be expected to rearrange her schedule to suit Joanna.
The discussion had ended in a fight, and Joanna and Hugh had broken up. Joanna had gone to London and the medical training course, and left Hugh to entertain his mother.
However, now that Joanna was back home, she couldn’t stop thinking of Hugh and what might have been. Whenever she sat in her lounge, Joanna could see Hugh’s house. Since Joanna was working extra shifts at the hospital, she never actually saw Hugh, but she did see the lit windows of his house, his red Mercedes and the small white car that had taken to visiting.
Joanna gasped and dropped the biscuit she was dunking into her mug of tea. The driver of the white car had just emerged from Hugh’s house, and she was young and blonde and laughing.
“Bye, darling,” she called before driving away.
“Oh my goodness,” said Joanna. She took a large gulp of tea and spluttered on a mouthful of disintegrating biscuit. Hugh had certainly wasted no time in replacing her in his life.
After that, it seemed Joanna was always seeing the blonde girl, or evidence of her presence. No matter how late at night Joanna returned from the hospital, there was the white car in Hugh’s driveway.
“And I wonder what Mrs Campbell thinks of her?” muttered Joanna. But work was too busy for Joanna to dwell for long on Hugh and her heartbreak. “Although I wish the blonde wasn’t always laughing. I was never that happy with Hugh.”
However, the last time Joanna saw the blonde, the girl wasn’t laughing.
“I trusted you,” the blonde shouted at Hugh’s front door. “You’re nothing but a liar.” She slammed her car door and roared away.
Joanna peeped through her curtains. “Trouble in paradise?”
The police cars the next day answered that question; as did the wild-eyed Hugh who knocked at Joanna’s door.
“You wouldn’t believe it,” said Hugh, wasting no time on good morning. “I’ve only been away a month, visiting Mum, and some squatter–a patient of mine!–set up home in my house. He entertained his girlfriend and used my car.”
Joanna stared. “You mean, the blonde wasn’t your girlfriend?”
“No,” said Hugh explosively. Then his expression softened. “How could she be, when it’s you I love?”
“Oh dear,” said Joanna.
“Hi, Jo,” said a cheerful voice from behind Hugh. A tall man, casually dressed in jeans and a rugby shirt, smiled at Joanna. “Ready to go?”
Joanna smiled weakly and made introductions. “Hugh, this is Alan Woods, Dr Alan Woods. We work together. Alan, this is my neighbour, Hugh Campbell.”
Hugh didn’t shake hands. He stared at Joanna.
“I thought you’d moved on,” said Joanna. “So I did, too.” She felt sorry for Hugh, but then she thought of how easily he had dismissed her dreams and her career, of how he hadn’t let her know where he was. Joanna slipped her arm through Alan’s. “Bye, Hugh.”
Jenny Schwartz is an Australian writer. Double Dragon eBooks published her first fantasy novel, The Walk Alones. Her short stories have appeared in From the Asylum, Alienskin, and Coyote Wild.