The Gardeners

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Glenside could be described as the perfect neighbourhood. It’s the kind of neat suburban community where everyone likes to fit in, and everyone knows what’s expected of them.

So, when a house becomes vacant, there’s always a feeling of trepidation about who the new occupants might be, and whether they’ll be ‘one of us’.

It’s particularly unsettling when newcomers will be moving in next door. That was the situation I found myself in six months ago when Mr and Mrs Evans, who had quietly lived there for over twenty years, decided that retirement would mean a move away to the coast.

Hopefully Mr and Mrs Evans aren’t planning to come back anytime soon to see their old place. From the front, they would still recognise it, the smart brick house and manicured lawn presenting a image of solid middle class conformity.

Around the back though, it’s a different story. The pitched tiled roof now boasts solar panels; quite what they will achieve in our dull northern latitude is hard to say. But the really drastic changes have been to the back garden that Mr Evans spent a couple of decades nurturing.

His prim flowerbeds, lovingly cultivated perennial shrubs and ornamental trees are gone, ripped up and replaced by something resembling the beginnings of a small scale market garden. A greenhouse to nurture seedlings before their transfer outside has been erected in the far corner. Opposite it, abutting the low trellis fence that divides our gardens, now stands a large wooden storage shed.

Richard and Pauline Gower, at a guess in their early fifties and so at least ten years older than me, began the transformation of their new garden soon after they moved in. They were first out in the chill of an early November Saturday, ‘preparing the ground’ as they called it. Since then, every weekend and on numerous days off in between, they could be seen out there working away.

Like a good Glenside resident, my first chat with them had been on the day after their arrival. It was polite and welcoming, but its real purpose to size them up and assess whether the Gowers would fit into our prim little neighbourhood.

They had given no clue then that they were into the whole self-sufficiency thing. In fact, thinking back, they had revealed very little information about themselves. All I had really got from them was that they had moved to be closer to Richard’s job in insurance, while Pauline worked part-time at a bookshop in the next town. Neither occupation suggested their green leanings.

It immediately struck me then, as it still does now, despite what has happened, that Pauline is an attractive woman. I didn’t talk to her much for a few weeks after that first chat, but I began to see rather a lot of her. Working mainly from home as a graphic designer, I could sit at my desk in the spare bedroom – or office as I pretentiously insist on calling it – and look out of the window directly down on next door’s garden.

Watching Pauline out there digging and planting provided a interesting distraction for me, not that I would regard myself as a voyeur. All that toil in her garden was obviously her secret for staying in shape. Standing at around five foot five tall, her body looked trim, and she was clearly winning the battle against middle age spread.

Even from my high vantage point, I could usually tell if she had bothered wearing a bra beneath the baggy cotton shirts she invariably wore when in the garden. It was the way her breasts, medium sized and perhaps losing some of their pertness, moved about as she worked.

As the weeks went by, I would increasingly find excuses to pop down for over-the-fence chats. Although too infrequent, I looked forward to our conversations, and Pauline seemed happy to pass the time with me.

Pauline was totally unselfconscious about her lack of underwear. She seemed unaware that there was a possibility – sadly never fulfilled – that her breasts might be revealed as she leant over to carry on working the earth as we talked.

Up close like that, it was also possible to take in what I consider her best feature, her eyes. Large and brown and almond-shaped, they seemed to widen and glisten when she smiled or laughed, an effect highlighted by her flirtatious habit of flicking her fringe out of her eyes.

Some of the other Glenside residents told me they thought the Gowers and their eco ways a little odd. I had to agree but, to my surprise, I found myself glad that they – or at least she – had moved in next door.

It was during one of our conversations a few weeks ago that Pauline casually mentioned her daughter would be coming home the next weekend. Quite how she had neglected to tell me that she had any children was a mystery, but then I suspected it wasn’t in her nature to divulge much about herself unless she chose to, or if the occasion necessitated it.

Certainly, I hadn’t raised the topic, but having just gone through my divorce, kids could still be a painful subject that only ever seemed çeşme escort to get discussed with lawyers present.

Taking the opportunity to delicately delve further into Pauline’s life, I managed to glean her daughter’s name: Amy. The reason for her return home was spring break, and she was a third-year at college, studying Environmental Conservation – whatever that entailed.

It had apparently been Amy’s enthusiasm and relentless cajoling of her parents that had resulted in a nice suburban garden being churned up in pursuit of self sufficiency. Pauline didn’t mention why Amy hadn’t been seen at Christmas, so I was left to figure out it must have been because the Gowers had spent it with some unspecified relatives.

I thought about Amy after my conversation with her mother. Not so much what she would be like, but the fact that she existed at all. Pauline hadn’t been keeping her a secret, it was just that the subject that hadn’t come up between us before, and she hadn’t thought to raise it. I wondered how many undeclared siblings Amy had, but that would have to be left for another day.

On the Saturday of Amy’s return I was upstairs in my spare bedroom office, catching up on some work. Looking out of the window, I wondered who the stranger was that Pauline was showing around her garden, Richard dutifully in tow behind them.

Quickly it registered who it must be. So that was Amy, or at least the back of Amy. She was facing away from me, engrossed in conversation with her parents, walking slowly along, crouching down every so often to pick at or prod something poking out of the soil.

Only slightly taller than her mother with slim, almost boyish hips, she was wearing the strange combination of a knee-length pale blue floral print dress and heavy black leather lace-up work boots. Her outfit skimmed against a small, gently-rounded bottom, and revealed only the backs of her pale calves.

After what seemed an age she finally turned around, but it was difficult to see the features of her face from that distance. Something inside told me I needed to go down there, to study her in more detail. But it would be awkward now, during the reunion with her parents. They wouldn’t want to be interrupted, I felt sure, so it was with reluctance I remained sat at the window, pretending to work, hoping I wouldn’t be noticed.

I awoke the next day already pondering how I could be introduced to her, without the meeting seeming odd or contrived. However, it felt inexplicably weird that I was so curious about her. Why should I be so keen to talk to her?

Perhaps it was wanting to compare her to her mother – not just in looks, but to see whether Amy would be as good company as Pauline. Or perhaps it was because Pauline was married and, therefore, almost certainly unobtainable, whereas Amy wasn’t.

But disappointment prevailed. Despite making frequent checks through whatever window I happened to be near, and even venturing outside a couple of times on the pretence of having to attend to something in my own garden, there was no sign of any of the Gower family.

With me having to visit a client’s office on the Monday, three days passed before I got to see Amy again. She was out there, with Pauline, working together in the weak spring sunshine. Amy was using a hoe to scrape out long furrows, into which her mother appeared to be depositing seeds.

Pauline was wearing one of her usual shirts, with a pair of tight jeans that emphasised the curve of her hips and showed off her thighs beautifully. I suspected, although it was hard to tell for certain, that she had decided on a bra today. It would have been nice to think that she only went without one when she knew the two of us would be alone, but that was probably wishful thinking.

Subconsciously, I felt I was betraying Pauline in some way, maybe because for the first time she was not the focus of my attention. She had been usurped by Amy who, even though it wasn’t particularly warm, was only wearing a black vest top with a purple cotton skirt that ended just above her knees. Her feet were once again shod in those solid black work boots, which made them seem out of proportion with the rest of her slender body.

Sitting at my desk, just staring at the two of them, my mind wandered to thoughts of what lay beneath those outfits… especially Amy’s. I was snapped out of the almost trance-like state into which I’d fallen by the realisation that Amy, now stood upright, was looking directly back at me. Oh shit, I thought, she’s going to think I’m some seedy old man gawping at her. I tried to duck down and look otherwise preoccupied as subtly as possible.

Knowing that the situation couldn’t be left like that, I decided that if Amy’s initial perception of me was bad, I had to fix it. So, after taking nearly an hour to consider my next move, I summoned the courage to go down.

I went out through the back door and walked into the garden. With a manisa escort mug of coffee in hand, I tried to act as relaxed as possible.

‘Hi, come over and meet Amy,’ Pauline called across to me.

Raising my head towards them, feigning surprise, I wandered over to the low fence that separated our properties.

‘Hello Amy, your mother’s told me a lot about you,’ I said, not sure why, because apart from her existence and the course she was studying, nothing whatsoever had been revealed about her.

‘You must be the nice neighbour mum’s always talking about,’ Amy replied, her voice somewhat quiet but confident nevertheless.

Extending my arm towards Amy for a quick, awkward handshake, I felt her small hand against mine. Her palm was soft, and I desperately wanted to warn her that labouring outside would spoil it, and her skin would become rough and hard. Thankfully, I managed to keep silence on the subject.

Looking directly at her, I noticed with a small rush of excitement that she had Pauline’s eyes. Except on Amy they managed to look even more alluring. It was nothing to do with her age, it was the rest of her face. Somehow her slightly higher cheekbones – her father’s contribution to her genetics – combined perfectly with the shape of those eyes. Her mouth, its lips verging on the thin but permanently hinting at a smile, also helped to give Amy’s face a kind, friendly look, all framed by her mousy-blonde hair with its pixie cut.

As she proceeded to explain what they were planting, I took the opportunity to take in the rest of her. The vest she wore revealed a slender neck and pronounced collarbones. Her narrow shoulders flowed into thin arms that were still holding the hoe she had been working with.

At a guess, I would have said her breasts were a C-cup, nicely rounded and slightly splayed. It was not hard to appreciate them beneath that top, as Amy clearly wasn’t wearing a bra today. Her nipples were poking against the thin cotton because of the effect my charm was having. Well, that was the reason in my fantasy world. In reality, it was most likely a consequence of the cool April breeze on her chest.

The contrast in behaviour between mother and daughter was obvious. Pauline only infrequently contributed to the conversation, whereas Amy appeared willing to impart information without prompting. We chatted effortlessly almost half an hour, Amy talking enthusiastically about her course and her ‘project’, as she described the cultivation that was taking place in front of me. Mercifully, she didn’t mention or question why I’d been staring at them from my upstairs window.

Reluctantly, with the excuse that I had lots of work for me to catch up on, I disappeared back into the house. But I hoped to see a lot more of Amy.

It was not until a couple of days later that our paths crossed again, when I was carrying out some rubbish to the bins by the side of my house. I was quite happy to chuck it all into the main bin and send it off to become landfill, as I couldn’t be bothered to separate it.

‘Shouldn’t you be recycling that?’ Amy yelled, startling me.

‘Oh, Amy…hello… I didn’t see you there. Yes, I suppose I should really, but it’s a bit too much effort to sort.’

That was probably the wrong thing to say to someone like Amy. Without waiting for an invitation, she walked up to the fence and leapt over it, galvanised into action by my comment.

Now stood beside me, I couldn’t help noticing how good she looked in her white t-shirt, its neck line deeply scalloped. It was tucked into dark green combats that appeared to be a couple of sizes too big for Amy. A thick black belt cinched them in at the waist, obviously holding them up, while the bottoms of the legs were tucked roughly into those ever-present boots. I wondered if she owned any other shoes.

‘Let me do it for you,’ she said. It was a statement, not a question, and she wasted no time in marshalling the various recycling containers around her. I watched as the various bits of paper, glass and plastics were distributed into them.

‘Thanks Amy,’ I said, smiling at her, but feeling totally pathetic for having her do such a basic task for me.

‘Well, there’s a favour you can do for me in return, if you want,’ she said, smiling and making a play of batting her eyelashes at me.

Amy explained that she was on her own, as both her parents were at work. She had to shovel a load of compost – nice and organic, of course – from the far corner of the garden to the area where she was working today. Amy did her best to convince me that it was a two-person job.

I was reluctant, not only because of a looming deadline, but also because I’d glanced across the fence and seen the massive pile that needed shifting. But her insistent pleading managed to make me feel that letting her do it alone would be mean. Anyway, spending some time with her in return for a little manual labour seemed a fair exchange.

After üçyol escort quickly returning indoors to change into some old jeans and a sweatshirt, I joined Amy in her garden. She handed me a spade, and we began to tackle the heap, both of us lumping it into a barrow before I got to push it across the rough ground to where it was needed.

Amy’s work rate was relentless, and it was good to watch her. I discreetly tried to time my shovelling so that as I straightened up, she would be bent down. That allowed me a glimpse straight down that t-shirt to her cleavage, her breasts jiggling in her bra each time her spade dug into the compost.

But I had to be very careful – there was no way I wanted her to catch me doing it. However, I was conscious that we were occasionally exchanging glances and smiles. Did that mean she liked me, or did it just mean that once again her charms had been used to get some fool to help her out?

After what seemed like hours – not the fifteen minutes Amy had promised our task would take – we finally finished. Unused to such effort, my entire body ached, and my shoulders, upper arms and back all felt as if they were about to seize. I tried to straighten up, attempting to stretch out my exhausted limbs. To my embarrassment, Amy noticed.

‘Are you OK?,’ she asked, clearly trying to stifle a giggle as her hand covered her mouth.

‘Yes, I’m fine, honestly… although wouldn’t it have been easier to move the vegetable patch over to the compost?’

‘You spend too much time sitting at that desk of yours, not making a move,’ she replied. What on earth did that mean? I hadn’t mentioned my home office to her. Had her mother spoken about it, or was Amy referring to when she’d caught me watching? And the part about not making a move – how many different ways could that be interpreted? Not making a move on Pauline? Or Amy? Or just being a sedentary slob? Confused by what she’d said, all I could do was force a half smile in response.

We stood there in silence for a moment. It was Amy that broke it.

‘I know what’ll sort you out,’ she said, as she twirled the handle of her spade around in her hands.

‘What’s that, Amy?’

‘You need a massage – I’m really good, honestly. A friend at college taught me. Just the thing for sore muscles.’

I pondered her offer. Did she mean a strictly therapeutic massage, or was she playing me with another vague meaning?

‘I think I’ll be fine, thanks Amy… a soak in a hot bath should see me right.’

‘Oh go on, I won’t hurt you, I promise,’ she whined, trying her best to look hurt at my refusal of her offer.

Amy once again set about convincing me to do something. This time, she used the killer combination of surly scowls, smiles and pleading. Against my better judgement, and still confused about the situation, moments later I found myself inside the hallway of the Gowers’ house.

It wasn’t having her hands on me that I was concerned about. It was how I would react to their touch, and the potential embarrassment of becoming aroused by her. Moreover, I didn’t even want to think about explaining the situation to Richard or Pauline if they came home mid-way through my therapy.

‘Right, come on up, we’ll do it in the spare bedroom,’ Amy said, already starting to ascend the stairs.

When we reached the landing, she opened a large cupboard, grabbing a blue towel from it which she thrust towards me.

‘There you are, wrap yourself in this. I’ll get ready while you, um, get out of your things,’ she said, opening the door to what must have been the spare bedroom and motioning me to go inside.

To my surprise it looked freshly decorated and was comfortably furnished with a double bed, built-in wardrobes and a dressing table that supported three large mirrors. I had presumed that this family lived frugally and without luxury. Clearly there was a clear demarcation between their inside and outside lives.

The late afternoon sun was streaming in through the window. It warmed the room nicely, and the heat was appreciated as I stripped off, piling my clothes onto the bed. Only then did I realised the towel Amy had provided wasn’t as substantial as I’d thought.

I stood there with it wrapped around my waist, looking like a tart in a miniskirt. Vertically it didn’t even cover a third of my thighs, and horizontally it barely met itself when I tried to secure it at my hip.

As Amy strode in a few minutes later – without even knocking – I felt a fool standing there, my hand gripping onto the towel to prevent it slipping. My feelings of ridiculousness were confirmed by Amy’s barely stifled snigger, her hand once again hurriedly trying to cover her mouth.

She’d gotten changed, and was now wearing a pair of loose white shorts and a clean pale pink t-shirt. Also, for the first time ever in my experience of her, those boots had gone. In fact, she was bare-foot, her feet small and delicate. I noticed that her hair was damp and she had the glow of someone who’d just stepped out of a hot shower in preparation for what was to follow.

Amy bent down, reaching under the bed. She retrieved a thick mat, dark blue and folded twice onto itself. She laid it out on the floor, directly on an area that had been warmed by the sunlight.

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