About Apartment 255
Sarah and Ginny have been best friends since school. Then Sarah meets Tom. Her career takes off. She and Tom move into a stunning inner-city apartment.
But Ginny has not been so lucky. She wanted Tom, but she didn’t get him. She wants . . . what Sarah has.
Ginny moves into an apartment overlooking Sarah and Tom’s. She starts watching them. Then she does something more than just watch . . .
About Apartment 255
TWO YEARS ON
About Bunty Avieson
Also by Bunty Avieson
For my best friend Anna
They say I am mad. I’m not. I’m just very, very smart. Too smart for them. I scored so well on their silly little tests they want to publish my results in a journal. Huh! Don’t I get a say in that? Don’t I own the copy right on my own madness? They were particularly impressed with my problem-solving abilities, they said. Ironic, really, considering that’s what got me in here.
They remind me of laboratory mice, scuttling around in their white coats. Why can’t they wear red coats or overalls? That’s what I want to know. I asked that the other day but they wouldn’t answer me. Just smiled. They don’t answer questions, they ask them and then they don’t listen to your answers. They write them down, but they don’t listen. They should. They might learn something.
The front door was heavy frosted glass with a rusty lock that made it hard to open. Ginny Hawthorne watched patiently as the Grey Suit struggled with the key, jiggling it this way then that. His smooth, steady patter continued uninterrupted.
‘… built in the 1960s … a landmark in Elizabeth Bay. Boats on the harbour still use the beacon on the roof for navigation.’
One final click and he had it. He chortled, a thin insincere sound that barely left his mouth. He held open the door. Ginny ducked under his outstretched arm, wincing at his aftershave.
Once she was inside it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. The foyer was dimly lit and rather dingy, with grey-fleck carpet and beige walls. It may have been an architectural trendsetter in its day, but that was thirty-five years ago.
The Suit still hadn’t drawn breath as he continued his sales pitch, extolling the virtues of the building. He spoke carefully and precisely, enunciating each syllable and looking sideways at Ginny to gauge the effect.
‘… most of the fifty-six apartments have been renovated and re-renovated, on average every seven years …’
Clearly no-one had bothered with the foyer. It was grey on grey. One forlorn potted palm struggled in a corner. A bank of letterboxes lined a wall, junk mail collecting on the floor beneath them in a messy puddle. A noticeboard hung next to them with memos about garbage days pinned next to a Neighbourhood Watch notice about car thefts in the area. Ginny took it all in with one withering glance. This really wasn’t suitable. Not at all. She followed Suit past the lift and up the narrow stairs to the second floor. His socks were the same shade of dark grey as his highly polished brogues. She watched as the cuff of each leg rode up a little with each step, then bounced back onto the heel of his shoe.
They walked along an open-air corridor with a magnificent view of the Harbour Bridge. Ginny could just make out the top of a couple of the Opera House’s distinctive white sails, peeking through high-rise apartment buildings. Suit stopped at Apartment 255 and sorted through his bunch of keys.
‘From your kitchen you can see the Harbour Bridge and your lounge room looks out across Rushcutters Bay. It’s a million-dollar view,’ he said with a flourish.
He stood back dramatically with a smile so smug and triumphant Ginny wanted to turn and flee, just out of spite. She willed herself to hate whatever she saw.
As she stepped inside her first impression was of baby blue. The walls were baby blue, the carpet faded blue, even the doors and cupboards were painted glossy baby blue. It made her feel nauseous. A corridor led into a vast empty lounge room with floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening onto a small balcony. The bay sparkled in the sunlight. Dozens of yachts were moored in neat rows, their halyards tinkling on their masts. It was breathtaking.
Ginny stepped out onto the balcony. The harbour was bustling with traffic – water taxis, ferries, sailing boats all going about their Saturday morning business. In front was Rushcutters Bay, home to some of Sydney’s most expensive boats. Surrounding the pretty little bay were dozens of apartment blocks, built at different times in different colours and styles. Suit pointed out the Cruising Yacht Club, asking if she was interested in sailing.
Ginny was hearing but not listening. It took her a moment to realise his tone had changed. She knew he was expecting some sort of response from her. She had said almost nothing since Suit had introduced himself outside as the real estate agent, as if he could have been anything else. Everything about him irritated Ginny.
‘I’m sorry?’ she asked politely, wishing he would fall backwards over the balcony.
He repeated the question.
‘No, I don’t sail,’ she said flatly, trying to get her tone just right – rude enough to silence him but not so rude as to make further business uncomfortable. In spite of herself she liked what she saw.
‘Is that Toft Monks?’ she asked, pointing to a huge building with rows and rows of balconies facing her.
‘Yes, one of Sydney’s most expensive properties,’ he replied, studying her from beneath his heavy-lidded eyes. She had small neat features with beautiful almond-shaped, grey-blue eyes. Her face was pretty but in profile there was little softness. It was angular and stern. His eyes darted furtively down from her face. They took in the small swell of her breasts under the crisp white shirt then darted back to her face. Ginny continued to stare at the buildings. She seemed oblivious of him so he quickly glanced at her breasts again. He liked breasts. He imagined what Ginny’s would look like naked, small and deliriously pert. Ginny ignored him even though she was aware of his eyes roaming over her body, sizing her up.
He moved down her body, taking in her jeans, firm around her bottom, her navy blue cardigan skimming her waist. She turned quickly to him, smiling innocently as his eyes travelled back to her face. He looked stricken, caught out.
‘Gotcha,’ she thought. She smiled thinly and turned back to the block of apartments facing her. Her eyes roamed over the twelve storeys. Each floor had three balconies facing her and long expanses of glass windows. They were just forty metres away, close enough to throw a ball.
‘It’s a very exclusive block but their view is not as good as yours. You block the bridge from them but they see directly north. I manage a couple of apartments in there, too.’
Ginny’s eyes narrowed as she counted up to the second floor. She followed the line of windows and balconies. Outside the corner apartment a man sat at a table, reading a newspaper in the morning sun. She dismissed him, moving along the windows to the middle apartment. The balcony was empty, the doors closed and the huge windows on either side were solid blocks of impenetrable darkness. The next balcony’s doors were open. A surfboard leaned against a chair. She could see children moving abo
Suit moved inside, explaining about the two double bedrooms, but Ginny didn’t hear him. She continued to stare at the closed balcony doors and the shuttered windows. She felt a delicious tremor work its way up her body.
‘I’ll take it,’ she said, breaking into a delighted giggle that started as a squeak, then swelled and rose, becoming shriller and louder. Suit was startled. The unrestrained laughter seemed so out of keeping with this slim, mousy, snooty woman. There was something unnerving about that laughter that caused a ripple of unease to run along the hairs of his scalp. But even more shocking, he hadn’t shown her any of the other rooms. She hadn’t seen the built-in robes in both the bedrooms or the Miele appliances in the kitchen, with its cleverly hidden combination washing machine and dryer. She hadn’t even seen the spa.
Suit looked at her gently heaving shoulders and neat buttocks. She had a tiny waist he was sure he could circle with his hands. He thought how much he would like to try.
‘Do you have a … domestic partner?’ he inquired.
What on earth was he talking about, thought Ginny. ‘A what?’
He cleared his throat nervously. ‘Will you be sharing the apartment with someone else? A boyfriend?’ he asked, flashing what he hoped was his most winning smile.
Ginny looked at his brown wavy hair slicked back behind his ears, his heavy-lidded eyes and his baby-soft skin that looked like it would bruise if she touched it. Visions of his flabby white bottom and fat paunch running through the apartment flashed before her and she suppressed a shudder. She returned his winning smile.
‘I’m sure Isabel and I will be very happy here,’ she said sweetly.
Suit looked crestfallen.
Ginny turned back to the view. A shadow crossed her blue-grey eyes, her expression was inscrutable. She stared intently at the closed balcony doors on the second floor of Toft Monks, enjoying little electric shocks of excitement and anticipation. The beginning of a plan was coming into focus. It was vague and unformed at the moment but she could feel it, tugging at her, rising up inside her, empowering her.
A few days later Ginny heaved her shopping bags up the stairs to her new apartment. She felt a thrill of happiness as she took in the view. It was breathtaking on sunny days with the sun sparkling on the water. Days like today were equally beautiful. The sky was dark purple, angry with the coming storm. She put down her bags and opened the balcony doors wide to let in the fresh salty air. She breathed it in deeply. She unpacked her shopping – a window mop, three boxes of reflective, copper-tinted window tint, a Stanley knife, a plastic bucket and Windex.
While the storm raged about her, she scrubbed and wiped the windows and balcony doors of the lounge room and her bedroom, which all looked directly across to the apartments of Toft Monks. When every skerrick of dirt was gone she wet the windows and applied the window tint, slicing around the edges with the Stanley knife. Using the window mop she pressed out the air bubbles, leaving a smooth transparent film across the glass.
Ginny stood on the balcony buffeted by wind and rain and tried to look back into her windows. Instead of seeing into her bedroom, the apartment lights from Toft Monks twinkled back at her. She looked into her balcony doors and saw her own reflection smiling triumphantly.
‘Well, Isabel, what do you think of that?’ she said aloud to the cat perched on top of an unopened crate. Isabel stared back glassily. Isabel had been dead for nearly three years.
Sarah Cowley inhaled deeply, held her breath and blew out the candles. The others at the table clapped and cheered, adding to the noise in the rowdy Thai restaurant. Sarah picked up the knife and hesitated, thinking about her wish, then plunged the knife deep into the rich chocolate. Before she hit the bottom her friend Kate took the knife from her and sliced the cake into generous pieces.
The rest of the table thought this was what they were there for, an early celebration of Sarah’s twenty-eighth birthday. Only Sarah and her boyfriend Tom knew otherwise. Sarah looked happily about the table at the people she loved most in the world. Kate, a cabaret singer, had arrived dressed head-to-toe in leopard skin, bearing a huge stuffed, boldly printed Versace cushion. It was so expensive, so decadent and just so Kate, thought Sarah. She was a diva in the making, flamboyant and gregarious, with enough energy and charisma to turn any room into a stage with herself firmly – and loudly – in the spotlight. And underneath it all she had a heart the size of Texas.
Sarah’s oldest friend Ginny was there, smiling tightly. Sarah felt a rush of sympathy. Ginny had just returned from a week in Perth where she had been sorting out her late aunt’s estate. Even though Ginny hadn’t been close to her aunt, she had been Ginny’s last living relative and Sarah worried for her friend. How lonely she must feel, thought Sarah. And to make matters worse she was sitting next to Tom’s best mate, Marty. Sarah could see by Ginny’s thin-lipped smile and tense shoulders that she was not enjoying their conversation. Sarah assumed he would be making various ill-informed comments about the slaughter of rabbits. It was a topic they could never agree on. Ginny was a vet and Marty came from a long line of farmers. They should have had so much in common, but they didn’t. Or at least Ginny didn’t. She endured Marty, whom she dismissed as a redneck country bumpkin while he assumed they got on famously. If anyone had asked him, he would have said he and Ginny were great friends, but Sarah knew Ginny didn’t share the sentiment.
Sarah’s workmate Anne was there with her husband John. They had hired their first babysitter to look after their two-month-old baby and were enjoying themselves enormously. Sarah noticed that Anne had removed her dainty black sandal during the first course and propped her foot in John’s lap. She obviously thought that the tablecloth covered them both but Sarah had seen the wandering foot when she dropped her napkin and had kept a bemused eye on the lusty looks that continued to pass between them. She wished she was sitting opposite Tom. She missed his big beefy presence, but he was at the other end of the table laughing along with Thelma, his gregarious mother. No party would be complete without Thel. She was an artist in her late forties, who looked like she was in her thirties, wore her jet black hair in two loose braids and told the most outrageous stories about her hippie days. She was completely devoted to Tom, having brought him up as a single mum since he was a young child, carting him around artist colonies and hippie communes, wherever she could find work and cheap accommodation. Sarah adored her.
Sarah’s own parents lived in Singapore and had little to do with their only daughter. Thel had immediately recognised the loneliness of the 20-year-old girl and happily adopted her since the day Tom, then a struggling university student, had brought her home nearly eight years ago. Sarah had virtually moved into Thel’s home, in the New South Wales coastal town of Kiama, during the university holidays.
Tom looked at Sarah and she gave him what he called ‘the look’. It could mean an assortment of things. Can we go home now? Who’s the blonde you’re talking to? I miss you. Tonight it meant ‘I’m ready’. Tom finished up his conversation with Thel and gestured to the restaurant owner, who had been hovering nearby waiting for the sign. The owner appeared beside Sarah with a tray of glasses and bottles of champagne.
Tom moved to the end of the table and stood by Sarah’s chair, placing an arm over her shoulder. Sarah looked up at him, smiling happily. The rest of the people at the table gradually stopped their conversations and looked at Tom.
He stood still and cleared his throat.
‘I know you all think you are here to celebrate Sarah’s birthday … well you’re not. That’s not until next week. Tonight is special for another reason.’
Tom grinned around the table while the waiter handed each guest a glass of champagne. Marty gallantly handed his on to Ginny. He had been irritating her so much she couldn’t bear to lo
Tom squeezed Sarah’s shoulder.
‘We have an announcement! We thought about writing it in the sky, taking a full page advertisement in the newspaper but finally agreed that what is most important to us is sharing it with you guys. So, here you are.’
Tom paused for effect.
‘Sarah and I have decided to get married.’
There were gasps of surprise and delight around the table. Anne burst into tears. Marty thumped the table. Thel laughed with joy, leaping to her feet.
‘Sarah, I am so pleased,’ she said, squeezing both of Sarah’s hands between her own. ‘I’ve looked forward to this day for a long, long time. You are already part of my little family. This just makes it official for the rest of the world.’
It was what Sarah needed to hear. Deep inside, beneath the confident, capable face that she showed to the world, she yearned for a place in a loving family.
The group raised their glasses and toasted Tom and Sarah. It wasn’t really a surprise. They were so right together. They matched each other in so many ways. Only Ginny’s enthusiasm was a little reserved. She clapped and smiled along with everyone else but her smile was stretched and her face started to ache with the strain.
Ginny watched Tom who was grinning foolishly at Sarah, looking as if he had just discovered her all over again. Ginny felt her heart ache. Sarah had charisma. There was no doubt about it. She had a special quality that made you watch her. She wasn’t classically beautiful. Her hair was a mass of unruly curls. Her mouth was overwide, dominating her face. But it was an animated face, constantly changing and rearranging itself into a myriad of expressions. Her voice, like her very presence, bubbled. It caught your attention and echoed in your head long after she had stopped speaking.
There was an invisible thread between Sarah and Tom. Ginny felt it whenever she was around them. She was aware of it even when they were in a crowded room. They were like a pair of birds, flying together, mirroring each other’s movements, then flying apart, sweeping and dipping and gliding in the air currents. Individual entities but tied together with an invisible thread. The bitterness welled inside Ginny.