Beth returned to her apartment late on Saturday afternoon, her trolley filled, her purse emptied, but her mood lighter than it had been that morning. Her first purchase had been a shopping trolley. Not a tartan one, beloved of elderly British grannies, but a stripy French one, full of colour and sass. She pulled it behind her, through the market, buying vegetables both familiar and unfamiliar. Her schoolgirl French was strained as she tried to ask what the vegetables were. She bought leafy greens called bette which she understood to be similar to spinach, and a salad that looked like dandelion leaves, to be eaten either hot or cold according to the market saleswoman. Chou mizuna, she mouthed the unfamiliar words, and reminded herself to google recipes when she got home.
The market surprised her. She had assumed that it would be similar to farmers markets in UK, where many people went to have a look but few bought there, preferring to drive to the large supermarkets outside the town. Here, it seems that the market was used by locals to buy their produce. Old and young, they queued to purchase vegetables, cheese, meat and even fish and mussels. She stopped for lunch, choosing a thick vegetable soup with lardons and rustic bread. Sitting on a simple bench to eat, she watched a group of elderly men eat plates of ham and cheese; one of them went to a wine merchant and bought a bottle of red wine, settling back down to discuss politics and the state of the country.
After lunch she walked back towards her apartment, stopping to browse a bookstore. Pleasantly surprised to find a decent selection of English books, albeit at a high price, she deliberated for some time before choosing several books. One romantic suspense thriller, one modern chicklit and a Georgette Heyer, that would keep her going for some time, she decided.
When she walked past a chocolatier, she decided to treat herself to a mug of hot chocolate and a croissant with chocolate filling. The cafe was not busy so she sat for some time, reading one of her new books. So engrossed was she in the brutal murder and the subsequent investigation, that it was over an hour before she realised that she was in danger of seriously overstaying her welcome. Leaving a larger than usual tip, she left the cafe and headed for home.
The streets of Geneva were busy, chic young mothers herded children as map clutching tourists stopped to admire the buildings and point at the mountains playing peek-a-boo between them. Beth noted that she was not the only one pulling a shopping trolley, she looked like a local rather than a tourist, she thought smugly.
Hauling her heavy trolley up the stairs, she felt rather less pleased with herself but she finally reached the third floor. Her shopping put away, she nipped into the bathroom to check her hair and make-up before grabbing a bottle of wine and heading downstairs to ring her neighbourâ€™s doorbell.
As the door opened, she smiled. â€œHi. I am sorry, we got off to a bad start when I moved in, so I wanted to come down and introduce myself properlyâ€.
Her neighbour smiled and she felt the force of that smile down to her toes. She gazed at him, temporarily struck dumb as she took in his light blonde hair, his green eyes, and that fabulous chin dimple. It was strange to feel a spark of attraction, and she worked at dampening it immediately. He was attached, she was off men for a while, there was no point in even going there. But she could at least enjoy the view.
“Hello, thanks for coming down. Sorry for being a bit rude the first time we met, I was having a bad day”, he apologised straight of the bat, giving her no option but to do the same.
“I was not exactly friendly when you carried the bags up for me the other day, so I think we are quit”, she replied, concious of his gaze on her face. There was a short silence as they stared at each other, the air between them electric. Or it was for Beth. She could not tell what he was thinking.
Beth looked down as a small shaggy dog appeared at her neighbourâ€™s heels. â€œOh, arenâ€™t you adorableâ€, she said, grateful for theÂ interruptionÂ . Leaning down, she held out a hand to the dog then scratched behind its ears.
Yogibear (she had to stop calling him that in her head) smiled down at her. â€œShe is friendly all right. Not exactly a watchdog. Come on in. We were just about to have a glass of champagne, would you like to join us?â€
Brushing away her reservations about not wanting to intrude, he took her through his apartment to the balcony. She looked around her, interested to see what he had done with his apartment. Where Beth had soft drapes and comfortable wicker chairs, he had metal blinds and designer furniture. In the corner of the room, where she had a large overstuffed armchair, her neighbour had placed a retro bubble chair in bright orange. It was a manâ€™s place all right. She wondered how his girlfriend felt about living in such a masculine environment.
â€œHere you areâ€, Yogibear handed her a glass of champagne. â€œMy name is Gerard, and this is my girlfriend, Irisâ€. He pointed to the dog, who was standing at her feet, wagging and panting, a huge doggy grin on her face, â€œAnd this is Winnieâ€.
â€œItâ€™s nice to meet you. My name is Elisabeth, but everyone calls me Bethâ€.
Iris smiled, but her smile did not reach her mouth. Her cool eyes swiftly took in Bethâ€™s tanned legs and wild red mane. â€œGood to meet you tooâ€, she replied stiffly.
Running a hand over her hair, Beth felt self-conscious next to Irisâ€™s sophisticated beauty. She was truly stunning, ice blonde hair that fell in a sheet to her waist, her face sculptured, her cheekbones razor sharp.
The shorts and blouse that she had found attractive that morning now felt dowdy in comparison to Irisâ€™s outfit, a tiny pair of denim hot pants and a vest top that showcased her long legs and shapely arms.
Gerard glanced between the two women, belatedly realising that the spontaneous invitation was a bad idea. Gamely, he attempted conversation, â€œCome and sit downâ€, he motioned to a low black leather sofa. â€œSo, how are you settling in, Beth?â€
â€œI love my apartment, the city is great and I am slowly finding my way around. What about you, have you guys been here long?â€
â€œI am from Genevaâ€, Gerard replied. â€œMy mother is American and my father Swiss. I grew up in a village just outside the town. Iris is here for the summer, she goes back to college in a couple of weeksâ€.
Hmm, that put paid to the bitchy thoughts she had about Iris. College. Not a blonde bimbo then, â€œWhere are you studying, Iris?â€
â€œNew York. Berkeley, Interior Designâ€, Iris reply was short to the point of rudeness.
â€œInteresting. And you, Gerard? Do you work in Geneva?â€ Urgh. Polite small-talk was excruciating.
â€œI am a freelance journalist, for business newsâ€, he replied. â€œI work mainly from homeâ€.
â€œDo you write in English or in French?â€
â€œBoth, but mainly English, for Financial Times, Economist and the occasional piece for the Wall Street Journalâ€.
â€œSo, I will know where to come for investment adviceâ€, Beth said with a smile. Changing the subject, as she caught sight of Irisâ€™s scowling face, â€œWhat kind of dog is Winnie?â€
â€œShe is a Border Terrier. Do you have pets?â€ Gerard enquired.
Shaking her head, Beth answered, â€œNo, sadly not. I work long hours and it would not be fair to leave a dog in the apartment all day. I would love one but at present it is not possible.â€
They chatted about dogs for some time, before Beth excused herself. â€œIt was lovely meeting you both properly, thank you so much for the champagne. I will get out of your hair now and go and cook dinnerâ€.
As she made her way up the stairs, she reflected that Gerard was a lot nicer than she had thought he was. Shows how first impressions are not always right, she told herself. Not that there was much chance that her neighbours would become close friends with her, not with the unwelcoming Iris around.
She wondered what Gerard saw in her, other than the obvious. Perhaps she was different when they were alone, but from what she had seen that afternoon, Beth found her unfriendly and boorish. She had constantly pawed at Gerard, laying her hand on his knee or stroking his arm in a clear warning, â€œStay away, this guy is mineâ€.
Shame, it would have been great to have a girl friend in the same building. The thought reminded Beth how much she missed Alex. She picked up the phone, went into the kitchen, took ingredients for a stir fry out of the fridge and reached for her wok. Propping the phone up next to the chopping board, she dialled Alexâ€™s number and put the phone on loudspeaker.
â€œAlex? Itâ€™s me. Guess what? I just had champagne with Yogibear…â€