The Voyeur Next Door(9)

By: Airicka Phoenix

“Ali,” was Earl’s response.

I walked away.

Nope. No patience at all.

Fuck Tuesdays.

“Want me to call Lloyd in?”

Across the garage, wiping the grease off a lug nut, Mac stared back at me with squinty, brown eyes.

I shook my head. “No, it’s only three cars. We can do it. How are you coming along on that jeep?”

Mac shrugged bony shoulders. “All right. Just finished rotating the tires. Going to check the fuel and I’ll be done.”

“Then you take rat lady’s Porsche,” I decided, jerking a thumb over my shoulder to where the shiny, red convertible sat roasting in the sun. “I’ll finish the truck.”

Mac gave me the thumbs up and went back to screwing the bolts into the jeep.

The truck needed more work. It was a full day job and those were the kind I liked. Minor fixes throughout the day got exhausting. But I thrived on single minded focus. It made the day go by quicker. At one point, I was conscious of Mac pulling the Porsche onto the lift in the trench next to mine, but didn’t glance over. I couldn’t even be certain how much time had passed until the clip of hurried feet interrupted my quiet.

If it was that damn woman and her yippy dog, I was going to hit something.

Nevertheless, I hauled myself out of the hole and rose to greet the intruder.

“You!”

Ali blinked behind square, black framed glasses. “I’m pretty sure I introduced myself yesterday,” she stated brazenly. “I’m also pretty sure I didn’t say my name was you.”

What the hell was she doing back? I was certain I had successfully run her off and yet, there she was in her flowy, floral printed dress and sandals. There was a grocery bag hanging from her fingertips and an enormous purse strapped across her chest. What was worse was her hair. I couldn’t tell exactly what color it was, but it was a chaotic mess of brown, dark brown, even darker brown, some strips of possibly red and even hints of gold. I wasn’t sure if it was a dye job gone wrong, or if it was her natural color, but I would have put my money on natural, simply because it made more sense considering how unusual she was.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

She held up the bag. “I’m looking for Earl. I came to bring him these.”

I took the bag because she just kept standing there, holding it out like that was what she expected me to do.

“Eggs?”

“Yup.” She shot a glance around the shop. “Is he here?”

I lowered my arm and the bag. “You brought him eggs?”

Those unwavering eyes found mine. “That and a pet squirrel, but he’s invisible so you can’t see him.”

She said it with such a straight face that, while I knew she was bullshitting, there was a tiny moment of uncertainty.

“Why did you bring him eggs?”

I decided the sane thing to do was ignore the squirrel comment.

“Because he dropped his yesterday,” she stated with a hint of accusation that I wasn’t sure I liked. “Did you know his leg bothers him?”

I scowled at her. “I’ve known the man my entire life. Of course I know.”

“Uh huh.” She folded her arms. “And why doesn’t he have a cane? And why don’t you go to the store? Do you realize how hot it was yesterday? What’s the matter with you?”

Wow. I wasn’t even sure which of those things to address first.

“What?”

“Yesterday,” she said very slowly, like I was an absolute idiot. “Earl walked all the way to the store, with his leg hurting, in one of the hottest days we’ve had in years and you just stayed here, in a nice, air conditioned building. You’re a real asshole, you know that?”

That was the second time she’d called me an asshole and I liked it even less than the first time.

“Okay, you listen here, you—”

My not so nice and colorful series of names I’d invented for her in my head was stalled by Earl’s appearance at the office door and his exclamation of absolute delight at the sight of Ali.

“I knew you would come back!”

Ali snatched the bag out of my hand, shot me a venomous sneer, and then hurried to meet Earl before he started down the steps.

“I brought you eggs,” she told him, holding out the bag. “I wasn’t sure if you still needed them.”

Earl looked absolutely delighted. “Thank you, sweetheart. That was real nice of you. Why don’t you help me make tea and you can tell me why you didn’t come in today.”

I expected her to do the decent thing, to make an apology and an excuse and leave. But if I had learned anything about the odd flurry of crazy that was Ali Eckrich, it was that she was not normal.