Ellie only realised she had a new neighbour, when she returned home from her night shift as a physio at the local hospital in South London, and saw a pile of cardboard boxes on the adjacent landing. Tired, after a long shift, she decided against being a good neighbour, and went straight to bed.
By mid-morning she was jerked awake by the sound of banging through the wall. She lay with a pillow over her face, reminding herself she was on a weekend break, and once the noise stopped, she’d catch up on sleep. It continued. Ellie grunted, then flung back the covers, swung her feet out of the bed, dressed quickly and walked into her kitchen. She was tempted to hammer on the wall, but decided to work off her emotions in other ways.
She was a meticulous list keeper. Attached to colourful magnets on her fridge door, were a number of reminders. The last list was the one she tackled. With a ferocious glance at the adjacent wall, Ellie started spring cleaning her cupboards, banging tins around, cleaning surfaces, before bagging up household waste for the communal dustbins on the ground floor.
She’d simply put the front door lock on the catch, and in seconds run down the stairs, then return back to her flat. As she re-entered, and dropped the snib she had an immediate uneasy feeling. Her bedroom door off the passageway, was ajar. Ellie slowly pushed it fully open. A stranger was sitting on the edge of her bed looking at her. Simultaneously her front door bell rang.
Closing the bedroom door, another stranger stood outside her front door. Around six feet tall, closed cropped hair, which appeared blond in origin, his face was quite tanned, and displayed the greenest eyes she had ever seen in a man. He wore a tight fitting khaki T shirt, which emphasised a muscular build. Above his right elbow, she noticed a pronounced scar.
The newcomer held out his hand, which Ellie instinctively shook.
“I’m Milo. Just moved in next door. Sorry to bother you, but have you seen Macey?”
“My cat. Saw her walking onto my balcony, but when I checked, she wasn’t there. Thought I saw a black tail disappearing through your balcony doors.”
Ellie paused, “You’d better come in.” As her new neighbour brushed past, she noticed the distinct smell of a familiar aftershave. She opened her bedroom door. The stranger was still sitting on the bed, but jumped down, and ran towards Milo, when he called her name.
As he leaned forwards, the cat jumped up into his arms, and began to purr. Milo buried his face in her nape for a few seconds, then turned to Ellie and smiled. His teeth, whilst slightly irregular, were very white, although she noticed a slight gap to one side of his lower jaw, and another scar.
“Sorry, I didn’t get your name?” he said.
“Probably because I didn’t give it” replied Ellie, and immediately felt awkward. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound facetious. I’m Ellie. I’ve lived here for two years, and, just like the advert I grew up with as a kid, – hi neighbour, would you like a cup of coffee?” He nodded.
Ellie was glad the kitchen was looking good. Milo followed, and pulled out a stool from under her breakfast bar with one hand, and sat down, holding Macey close to his chest. The purring continued.
“Do you like cats?”
Ellie turned and pointed to an adjacent shelf, where a photograph of a rather elderly ginger cat, was displayed. “That was Garfie, she died about 9 months ago. Still miss her.” Milo nodded.
“Brought Macey her up from Devon with me. She’s still getting used to life in a flat. No garden, however, enticing balconies; even neighbours.” He looked directly at her as he spoke, and Ellie could feel herself blushing. She reached gratefully for two mugs and quickly made the coffee.
“What are you doing in London Milo?”
“I’m on secondment to the MOD”
“Ministry of Defence. I’m a Royal Marine officer. Every so often, they send us to serve in MOD, working with civil servants.”
“Physio at the local hospital. Specialising in rehab. Thought I recognised that scar on your arm.” She reached out and touched him. “Am I right?”
Milo nodded. “Bullet tore through the muscle, hit the bone, then ricocheted up and knocked my tooth out. Couldn’t do it again in a hundred years.”
Her coffee was cold by the time, they’d finished talking. Ellie realised that nearly an hour had flown by, as sensing her reaction, Milo quickly emptied his mug, then stood up. “Ellie, I don’t particularly want to keep my balcony doors closed, and I’m sure you don’t either. Could we give it a couple of days, and see if Macey stops wandering and settles down? Really glad you’ve had a cat before.”
He nuzzled his face into Macey then looked up. “Besides, this one likes lots of attention, especially of the female kind.” Ellie sensed a deeper meaning but found his tactile approach to Macey very appealing.
“OK Milo. I have two new neighbours, however, only one is allowed to jump the balcony. Even if you are a Royal Marine!”
“Me? Five floors up? No chance!!” Ellie followed him to the door, then stood with her back against it for a few seconds. It’d been a long time since she felt so at ease with a man.
The next weeks followed a similar pattern. On an early shift, with decent weather, she’d breakfast on her balcony. Looking down she often saw Milo running swiftly towards the local park. He occasionally looked up, but didn’t appear to sense her presence, so once or twice, Ellie timed her run to the dustbin area to coincide with him coming back in.
Mentally, she remonstrated with herself, yet it was pointless to deny, she was finding herself increasingly attracted to him. Life was definitely on the up and up.
A week later, early on a Friday evening, Milo knocked on her door.
“Can I ask you a favour?”.
Ellie smiled. “Depends.”
“Well, when I went into MOD today, a mate was in a bit of a fix. Bought tickets for a show, and then learnt he was away – urgent assignment.”
“I bought them, and wondered if you’d like to go. Miss Saigon, tomorrow night. How are you fixed?” She paused.
“Ellie, as a thank you for helping me out with Macey. Yes?”.
“As a good neighbour? No strings?”
Milo smiled “Of course.”
The show was very dramatic and emotional, and on several occasions, she’d slipped a tissue out of her purse and wiped away a tear. As his hand touched hers, and he whispered “Can I have one?” Ellie realised her battle hardened escort, was also having a quiet blub. His openness made him even more attractive.
When they’d got back to her flat, she turned.
“Now tell me the truth.”
“What?” Milo looked confused.
“You didn’t just happen across those tickets did you Milo?”.
He hesitated, then shook his head.
“Saw the CD on your shelf. Thought it might have some meaning for you.”
Ellie looked at him quizzically. “So was it just about helping with Macey?”
As Milo began to reply, his mobile phone activated.
“I’ll be back in a few moments,” he said and walked back to his flat. A few minutes later the doorbell rang. As she stood back to invite him in, he shook his head. “I won’t thanks. Look I’ve got a problem; need to shoot back to Devon tonight. I’ll be away for a day or two. One of my kids has been whipped into hospital. Can you look after Macey?”
“Kids?” asked Ellie. “I didn’t realise you were..”
“My ex-wife phoned.” he continued before she finished her sentence. “The boys are at boarding school, so I mainly see them in the holidays. I’ve got two sons, nine and eleven. It’s the older one Dean; could be appendicitis. Need to be there. Can you help?”
Ellie’s mind was racing. “Two children and an ex-wife? Trust me.” Her stomach was churning, yet, she found herself blurting out “Of course. Get off to Devon. Give me a key and don’t worry about Macey. Just leave me a mobile number.” She was about to say “and I hope Dean is OK” when she realised he’d already gone. Once again, she stood with her back to the door, wondering just what was going on in her life.
Two days later, as she finished her shift, and opened her front door, Milo appeared out of his flat. He looked sheepish. Ellie nodded a greeting.
“How’s your son?”
“Fine. False alarm. Hospital kept him in for an extra day. He’s with his Mum, then back to boarding school. Ellie. Thanks for getting me out of a hole. Can I offer you a coffee? Good neighbour and all that? Anyway I think we need to talk.”
“Let me get these work clothes off, and I’ll be in.”
Ten minutes, and a quick shower later, Ellie was sitting at a similar breakfast bar to her own. Milo smiled. “I can see you’ve been busy, apart from looking after Macey. My kitchen has never looked so clean.”
“I realised you’d left in a hurry and hadn’t been able to tidy up. So I just got on with it. Few dishes, couple of pots, and a quick wipe down. Didn’t take long.”.
“Nearest thing to a major spring clean I’ve ever seen.” There was a long pause.
Ellie reached out, touched, then gently held his arm.
“When were you going to tell me Milo?”
He looked relieved. “That night. After the theatre. Honest. Then she rang, and off I went.” He put his warm hand onto hers. “Ellie, look, she really is my ex.”
Ellie reached out and touched his lips briefly with her fingers. “Time will tell.” She smiled. “But she’d better be, or else a special mutual friend will have problems.”
“Special mutual friend?”
Then Milo roared with laughter, as Macey strolled in through the balcony door.