HHFC#12: "There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin." ~ Linus in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Jason Morgan was a simple man. He lived a simple life, had simple interests, and enjoyed simple things – an ice cold beer when it was hot, a strong, pure cup of coffee every morning, and as many information rich travel books that he could get his hands on. He was up early every morning, went to work, and then returned home in the evening. Nothing more; nothing less.
Some said that his life was boring, but, to him, it was exactly how he wanted it. He didn't need expensive things to make him feel worthwhile, and he certainly didn't need hordes of people surrounding him at all hours of the day to tell him that he mattered. In fact, Jason preferred being alone. After all, things were much quieter that way.
And it wasn't as though he didn't know how to kick back. He had his hobbies, just like everyone else, but they were solitary endeavors that required thought instead of company or noise. He worked on his motorcycle, enjoying the hours spent on the bike to keep it running in the best possible condition, he went for jogs in the woods with his dog, and he gardened. While his life was undoubtedly a departure from what it had been while he was in the mob, that's why he liked it. For the past three years, he had been living a completely different lifestyle, and he found that the straightforward minimalism of it suited him much better than what he had previously been used to.
Well, that was until she moved in next door.
Elizabeth Webber had become his neighbor four months prior, and, ever since she had purchased the property next to his own, his once plain life had been turned upside down. She showed up on his doorstep at random hours of the day… and night… unannounced. She didn't call beforehand, didn't ask whether or not her presence was actually wanted, but, rather, she just forced her presence upon him, and Jason was just fed up.
The first straw had been when she insisted upon baking him brownies. Daily. What the hell was he supposed to do with sweets? He didn't like them, and his dog couldn't eat chocolate, so the food went to waste, getting tossed out every night seconds after the bubbly brunette deposited them into his hands.
Then she had moved on to wanting to spend time with him. It was like his bike was a beacon, and its light shined a path directly to her twinkling, mischievous blue eyes. He would rev the Harley up at night, and his neighbor would come running, bouncing on the balls of her feet as she exuberantly requested he take her for a ride. Of course, the mechanic turned her down flat – always, but his quite apparent lack of interest seemed to do nothing from dissuading the nurse from bugging the hell out of him.
And, then, just two weeks ago, she had started following him on his runs. As soon as he would speed up to race ahead of her, she would somehow find the energy to do so as well, and no matter how much Jason pushed himself physically to get away from her, the pesky woman always seemed to find a way to keep up. And he hated her for it.
The bottom line was that she was disturbing his routine, and he allowed no one to do that and get away with it. Was it too much for a guy to ask for to have some privacy, some alone time? Apparently, in Elizabeth Webber land, it was, but he was determined to change that. If nothing else, he knew that his new neighbor hated to be outdoors… unless her presence in nature somehow led to her annoying him, so he was positive that she wouldn't want to join him in his yearly endeavor of planting a garden.
It was an old fashioned pastime, growing things, but the mechanic found a sense of pride in his garden every fall when he would reap the benefits of what he sowed. Not only did his hobby provide him with fresh vegetables year round, but he had also found out that he was rather good at growing things, really good, in fact, and that skill had led him to entering produce in the local fair every year. He did well in every category, but he was known in all the surrounding counties for his pumpkins. No one, since he had started his garden three years before, had even come close to beating him in the great pumpkin contest, and Jason was secure in his belief that the brunette next door wouldn't be challenging him in that department any time soon.
So, gardening and pumpkins would remain solely his, and that was something he was grateful for. With that thought in mind and the sky above him a gorgeous canvas of crisp blue and soft white, he set to work with his rototiller, turning up the earth and sod of his back yard in order to begin the yearly process of planting a garden. He had the entire Saturday off, and he was determined to have everything seeded by sundown. Undoubtedly, he would be exhausted by the time he finished, but it would be a good fatigue, one born from hard work and a sense of accomplishment.
Switching off the motorized hand plow, the muscular blonde stood up straight in the very spot he had paused and lifted a perpetually tanned arm to wipe the sweat from his dripping brow. There was nothing like manual labor, and Jason enjoyed every physically draining, sometimes agonizing moment of it.
"Looking good, Morgan."
Freezing at the sound of the voice behind him, the mechanic ground his perfectly straight, white teeth together. He would, unfortunately, know that voice anywhere, and it was the very last voice he had hoped to hear that day. "Webber," he greeted his neighbor without even gracing her with a single backwards glance.
"So, what are you doing? You know, despite what rumors would have you think, it really is impossible to dig your way to China. I mean, I know you would like to get away from me, but surely there are much simpler ways to do that. You could go on a vacation, put to use all those travel guides I see you reading."
He furrowed his brow in frustrated contemplation. "Have you been spying on me?"
But the blasted woman simply ignored his inquiry. "Or, better yet, you could quit being such a damned recluse and actually get to know me. You know," Elizabeth suggested, "if you would just get over your whole hermit approach to life, you might find that we have some things in common. You could actually grow to like me; we could become friends..."
"I'm planting a garden," he finally told her, revving the engine of his rototiller once again and yelling over it. "As for you and me ever becoming friends, I'll take my chances on China."
Jason Morgan was not a man to hold a grudge. Maybe once upon a time he had been someone who struggled with forgiveness, but, since he had changed his life, he had also attempted to change his outlook upon it, hence his live and let live motto, his ability to allow disagreements to roll off his back. However, there were just some things that not even he could get past, and, for some reason, Elizabeth Webber seemed to be attempting to target those things all during her first year of residence next door to him.
A week after he had put in his own garden, he had come home from a long day of work to find that she had started one as well. While not as organized and certainly not as big as his, the infuriating woman had, nonetheless, planted one anyway, and, that same night, when she oh-so-accidentally sat down next to him at his favorite bar, she had informed him that she knew all about his reigning great pumpkin title, and she planned on stripping it from him.
So, that had started their little rivalry, and, as the days of summer slowly slipped by and turned into fall, the sense of competition between them seemed to grow exponentially. Whenever he went out to water his garden, she followed, choosing to give her pumpkins cucumber flavored water and lemon flavored water, informing him that, if she preferred the little extra zing to her H2O, surely her pumpkins did as well. And whenever he went out to weed his garden, she would sit in her own and talk to him the entire time, bragging about how much better her own pumpkins were compared to his.
However, tonight, on the very first chilly evening of September, Jason knew that the obnoxious brunette would be safely tucked inside her home while he went out to cover his pumpkin in order to insure that it didn't get frosted. Except, when he approached his back yard, he found the nurse from next door already set up out in her own lawn, electric heaters positioned strategically around her biggest pumpkin while she played it music and read to it from some ridiculously large book.
In that moment, he realized it was official: Elizabeth Webber was insane. The marbles had fled, there were no more knives left in the drawer, and electricity had not even been invented yet for her light bulbs.
"Howdy, neighbor," she called out to him, enthusiastically waving in the mechanic's direction. "Cold night, isn't it?"
"Freezing," Jason commented acerbically, refusing to meet her laughing gaze.
"Well, I made some hot chocolate if you would like some," she offered, actually holding up the very thermos that he supposed housed the disgusting, sugary concoction. "We could share," she pressed, waiting for him to respond. "Maybe actually have a conversation with each other, or, if you'd prefer, you could just listen to me read."
Mumbling under his breath, he mocked, "and here I was wondering if you even possessed that ability."
"Are you a Poe fan? I am," Elizabeth expressed. As if he even cared… "And I felt that, with Halloween nearing, his stories were an appropriate choice. Gilbert seems to enjoy them."
"My pumpkin for the contest," his neighbor replied smoothly. "Why? Don't you name your pumpkins?"
He hadn't even named his own dog, let alone his pumpkins. He just referred to his pet as 'dog' or 'girl.' As for his produce, he didn't refer to it at all, and he certainly didn't talk to it or read to it either. Shaking his head part in astonishment and part in pure bafflement, Jason finished with his task of covering his prized pumpkin before walking back to his house, never once answering the aggravating woman's question. Scratch that. He never answered her questions, her constantly forthcoming, always prying, maddening as hell list of inane questions.
Jason Morgan had lost.
He wasn't sure how, and he certainly didn't think it was right, but, somehow or another, Elizabeth Webber had managed to grow a pumpkin larger than his. His streak had been broken by his irritating neighbor who only decided to enter the contest in the first place to harass him, and, to make matters worse, she had thanked him in her acceptance speech, claiming that she couldn't have done it without him.
What the hell that meant, the mechanic wasn't sure, and he wasn't about to ask her, for he knew that would only set her motor of a mouth off. Again. Instead, he remained silent, walking by her side as they rambled through the midway of the local fair together. It was the very last place he wanted to be. He didn't like the noise, and he certainly didn't like the bright lights. And don't even get him started on the crazy carnies, but, because of some part of him that he just could not ignore, he felt as though he owed the nurse some kind of apology, and this – finally spending a couple hours with her – was his way of doing it. While she went around playing all the games and riding all the rides, he held onto her stuffed animals and her cotton candy and her taffy and her dozen new pet goldfish. Essentially, he had become a slave to her every whim and self-indulgent desire.
It was either a new form of self torture, or he was slowly yet surely turning into a masochist.
"Oh, I want to play this one," Elizabeth squealed excitedly, clapping her tiny hands together like a five year old as she ran ahead of him. By the time Jason cleared the crowd that was blocking his immediate path, he found her standing in front of the strong man game, a hammer too heavy for her to even lift sagging in her petite arms. Laughing, she nodded for him to come closer. "On second thought, maybe you should play this one for me."
"I really don't want to," he insisted, but she shooed his complaints off, quickly clearing his arms of all her things.
"Oh, don't be a spoil sport, Jason," his wretched neighbor teased, rolling her wide, sapphire eyes at him. "And, just to let you know, I want the giant stuffed camel, so make like you're the Incredible Hulk and bring the humpback home to mama."
"Just get really mad," she told him, sounding playfully exasperated.
"I just can't get mad," he protested, leaning against the hammer. "If you want me to hit this thing hard enough to win you that hideous piece of crap, I'm going to have actually get mad."
"Well, in that case," the brunette drawled, refusing to meet his gaze. "Hypothetically speaking, what if I were to tell you that I switched our entries, that it was really your pumpkin that won, but I took credit for it, and that's why I thanked you in my acceptance speech? Would that make you mad… theoretically?"
Emitting a feral growl, Jason lifted the mallet, swung as forcefully as he could, dropped it, and stomped away from both the game and the woman who had insisted he play it, uncaring that he had destroyed the carnival pastime with just one attempt to ring the bell.
In that moment, he realized that he didn't just hate Elizabeth Webber; he loathed her. Detested her. Abhorred her. And the worst part was that he knew she wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.