At 6 am the following morning, Beth was awake and dressed ready for a quick breakfast before going to open the apartment for the arrival of the furniture removal company.
By lunchtime, when she nipped out to pick up pizza for the crew, the furniture in bedroom, office and sitting room was assembled and the boxes in the kitchen were unpacked. The crew was amazingly fast and she realized that she was more of a hindrance than a help as she got in the way of their choreographed act.
She was jogging back up the stairs, several boxes of takeout pizza balanced atop each other when she caught sight of one of her new neighbours, exiting his apartment in cycling gear. Too late, she realized that he was listening to his iPod and did not hear her approach as he turned and careered into her, sending the pizzas flying.
“Â QueÂ pensez-vousÂ que vousÂ faites,Â se faufilerÂ surÂ moiÂ comme Ã§a?” he yelled.
“Pardon, monsieur..” she began before he rudely interrupted, switching to accented English upon hearing her speak, “Why did you sneak up on me?”
She stooped to pick up the pizza. One of them had tumbled out of the box landed cheese side down on the floor. “Sneak up on you? Hardly. You didn’t hear me because of your earphones.”
“I suppose you are the new tenant in the upstairs flat. I hope you are less noisy than the last one. You are in Switzerland now and we don’t like noisy neighbours here”.
Beth huffed, “I haven’t even moved in yet. Why don’t you wait and see?”
Her new neighbour sneered, “Well, you haven’t made a good start. Make sure you clean the pizza off the floor”, and with these parting words, he turned on his heel and went down the stairs.
“Oh, of all the rude, insufferable …”, words failed Beth as she watched him leave, trying not to notice how the clinging lycra cycling shorts showed off his legs and frankly fabulous behind.
What a shame that the most attractive man she had met in months was an uptight whinger. It would take more than a pair of stunning blue eyes and a chin dimple to make up for his horrible temperament. Shame, she was partial to a good chin dimple.
She scraped the pizza off the floor; that one was for the bin but the others were eatable even if they did not look pretty. Once she had handed them over to the guys in her apartment, she went back downstairs with a mop and bucket. Mr Grumpyâ€™s apartment was directly below hers and she hoped he was not going to complain about every little sound. Not that she was planning to throw big parties, but she did not want to have to turn her stereo down to a whisper to keep him happy. It was a solid old house though, so the soundproofing should be decent.
After putting the mop and bucket away, she had wandered into the dining room to find the workmen finishing their pizza.
They looked a bit shame faced, â€œOh, were you hungry? We havenâ€™t saved you any. Sorryâ€, the foreman admitted.
â€œDonâ€™t worry, I think there is some stale bread there that I was going to feed to the ducks, I will just have thatâ€, she replied straight-faced.
The foreman pulled some money out of his trousers and held it out to the most junior member of the team, â€œHere, go and get Miss Fraser a sandwichâ€, he instructed.
â€œNo, donâ€™t be daft. I was teasing. Sit back down, I had a bit of cake earlierâ€, Beth admitted, â€œwith creamâ€.
She accepted their good-natured ribbing about eating cake at 11am and throwing pizza at new neighbours while she made tea. As they sat around the table, Joe, the foreman told her that they would probably be finished that evening.
Elated that the move was going so well, Beth decided to go back to the hotel and check out. She would sleep in her new apartment that evening.
As she shut and locked the door behind the workmen, she breathed a sigh of relief. At last. She walked slowly through her apartment. There were no curtains on the windows, although she could use the shutters to block light and inquisitive gazes. The walls were bare, aside from the large mirror in the hall and the gilt edged one above the fireplace. Even though it was too warm, and she had no logs, she wished she could light a fire.
Her furniture looked good, she decided. There were a couple of spaces â€“ an armchair would look good next to the fireplace, the hall was a bit bare and she really needed a cabinet in the bathroom. She wondered where the nearest furniture store was, and maybe a DIY shop. What was DIY in French?
No time like the present, she decided and set up her laptop. She would sit out on the balcony do some research. She made a note to look for garden furniture as she dragged a dining chair outside. She would make lists. Lists were always good.
Two hours, a block of cheese, a good part of a crusty baguette and half a bottle of wine later she was much further forward. She now knew that DIY store wasÂ BricolageÂ and Furniture Store wasÂ Meubles. She had cross referenced shops, shopping centres, and industrial estates and planned a route, including car showrooms and supermarkets. She saved her word document, even as she admonished herself for being totally anal about planning, then opened Facebook.
There were dozens of messages from friends and family. Scrolling through, she smiled and laughed at the silly comments. She answered everyone, and promised to upload some photos the next day. Which reminded her to add â€œbuy mobile phoneâ€ to her list.
As she clicked her way through her friendsâ€™ lives, a wave of homesickness rolled over her. Alex was arranging to meet with mutual friends the following weekend. She would normally be part of that crowd instead of sitting alone in an echoing apartment so far from home. Beth wiped a tear from her eye and told herself sternly to â€œGet A Gripâ€.
Looking up over the top of her laptop, she gazed into the distance. She had to make the most of this assignment. It was an important career step and she could not believe that she had almost turned it down because she was concerned about Finlay.
AÂ pingÂ from her laptop told her that Alex was online and a moment later, she heard the familiarÂ bloopbloopbloop-ringÂ of an incoming Skype call. Checking that her makeup was not smeared from her self-pity fest, she clicked to answer the call.
â€œAlex! How lovely. Can you see where I am sitting?â€, she turned the laptop so that the inbuilt webcam showed the narrow balcony.
â€œThat wouldnâ€™t be a bottle of wine on the table there?â€ eagled-eyed Alex missed nothing.
â€œCan you believe it was in the fridge? The relocation agent stocked the kitchen with some basics like bread, cheese, wine, milk and tea bags. Oh, and he also bought a frozen pizza, which was handy because I threw one at my new neighbour todayâ€.
â€œWhat?â€ Alex shrieked, â€œYou threw a pizza? Is that some kind of quaint Swiss tradition?
Beth laughed, â€œMaybe I can start a trend. No, I bumped into him on the stairs. God, he was grumpy about it, shame too because heâ€™s a total…â€ she stopped talking abruptly as she heard a faint sound below her. Peering carefully over the balcony, she realized to her horror that MrGrumpy was sitting on his balcony. With a blonde woman.
â€œWhat? Hello? Beth, are you still there?â€
â€œWaitâ€ Beth whispered, â€œI think he is listening. I have to go insideâ€.
â€œBeth? Beth? Helllooooo. I canâ€™t hear you. Bloody Skype. It was just getting interestingâ€.
â€œShhhhhhhh, Alex. He is on the balconyâ€, Beth hissed as she struggled one handed to open the door, balancing the laptop in the other hand. Once inside the apartment, she slid the laptop onto a table then nipped back outside to rescue the wine.
Collapsing on the couch, she adjusted the laptop so that Alex could see her again. â€œAlex. He was on the balcony below me, with his girlfriend and I was just about to tell you that he is a total hunk. I bet they heard me. Now I will have both of them giving me the evil eyeâ€.
Her cheeks burning, Beth watched her best friend sourly. Alex screamed with laughter, snorting unattractively, Beth thought. Slowly Beth began to see the funny side. Her lips twitched, she struggled to control herself then gave in to the laughter that was bubbling up inside.
Later that evening, as she switched the light off, she realized that her homesickness was gone and she was looking forward to the coming days. Clicking the light back on, she made a note at the bottom of her list, â€œAVOID the neighboursâ€.