If you find grammatical or spelling errors, they are not the fault of my editor who did try to fix my work. I’m very thankful to blackrandi for her tireless efforts.
Like previous efforts, I wrote this to hone my skills. Any feedback is welcome and the more specific the better. I hope you enjoy the story.
I could hear my cellphone ringing as I fumbled with the keys. My hands were still wet, and I’d gotten sand on them from brushing off my paddleboard. For some reason, that was making it even more difficult. I finally fumbled the key into the lock and got the door open, just as the ringing stopped. I didn’t recognize the tone, which meant that whoever it was, they hadn’t called in a while. I dripped my way across the tile floor to the kitchen counter and looked at the caller ID. Amanda. I hadn’t talked to my cousin in over a year. No wonder I didn’t recognize the number. School would be out in a week, and she probably wanted to come and spend a week at the beach, which was fine by me.
I was about to return the call, but my freezing fingers had a hard time with the phone. A hot shower first, and then I’d call. Early May was too soon and too cool for rational people to be out in the ocean. If I were a rational person, I wouldn’t be a middle school teacher, either.
After using most of the hot water and steaming the bathroom windows and mirror thoroughly, I slipped on some dry shorts, picked up my phone and dropped into my recliner. I hit redial.
“Hey, Danny. Thanks for calling back.”
“Hey. Sorry I didn’t get it sooner. I was out for a paddle. What’s up?”
“I could use a bit of help.” I thought she sounded a bit embarrassed.
“Okay. What can I help you with?”
“I want to jump right in, but let me back up a bit. This would have been easier if I hadn’t divorced Tony, but he was such a jerk. I can’t even believe I said that. Nothing was easier with him. Anyway, when Dad died and left me this place, I thought I had it made, but I had no idea what the upkeep would be.”
“I thought he owned it free and clear.”
“I wish. I still owe almost three hundred thousand on it.”
“That’s a lot but when you consider how much that place is worth, it’s not that bad.”
“I had it appraised. Danny, this place is worth nearly eight million. The stocks and bonds he left have been enough to make the payments, but not enough to pay it off.”
“So, you either need cash or an income stream. How short are you?”
“My budget shows I’ve got enough to last almost two years, but then the well goes dry.”
“And you don’t want to sell it.”
“I love this old place.”
“So, what do you want to do?”
“You remember the guest house down the hill, right?”
“I remember. It was like servants quarters or something, wasn’t it?”
“That’s it. It hasn’t had anyone in it for years and I was thinking I could rent it out, but then I thought I could do better if I turned it into a bed and breakfast. I talked with an agent, and she said I could make enough not just to make the payments, but to double or even triple them.”
“That sounds great. What’s stopping you,” I asked.
“This is where I ask for help.”
“I kinda figured. What can I do?”
“It needs a lot of work. Not just paint and dusting; I’m talking about a major renovation. I talked to the guy at Lowe’s, and he recommended a couple of contractors. I had them price it out. Danny, if they do all the work it needs, that two years of cash will be gone in three months.”
“I’ve got a chunk of change in the bank. Stocks actually. I’d be glad to help.”
“I knew you would if you could, but I actually had something more in mind. What do you have planned for the summer?”
“Up until recently, I planned to work toward my brown belt and enter a few races, but it’s been a couple of years since I did any remodeling and I wouldn’t want to get rusty.”
“Really? You don’t mind? I can pay you, just not now. I could pay you as soon as I open for business.”
“Let’s not worry about that. I need to figure out what I’m going to do with this place while I’m up there. School has a couple more weeks, and I’ll need to figure out what to do with this place. How soon would you be ready for me to start working?”
“You do what you need to, but I’m anxious to get started.”
We caught up on family matters for a while, I got a few details on what she thought needed to be done and that was it. I hadn’t seen her since shortly after her dad died. I’d promised to help her any way I could. Her grandmother was my great-grandmother and she’s older than me, but not by much. The important thing is that she’s my closest relative, geography wise. Everyone else is on the West coast, but Amanda lives just outside Asheville, only about four hours away.
My feet were still cold, so I grabbed the heating pad from the bedroom and put it on the floor in front of my chair so I could warm me feet. I worked through a few scenarios and came up with what I thought was a great plan. I live just a couple of blocks from the beach. I’d fix up the house, get a small storage unit for my personal things and rent the place out for the summer. I checked the market rate for beach homes within walking distance but not on the beach. It looked like I’d clear over $10,000 for the summer and be able to help Amanda at the same time.
Before I called her back, I talked to my friend, Franco, and he agreed it was a great idea. Living a block closer to the beach but on the same street, he would help keep watch on my house. I’d miss the beach for the summer, but I liked the idea and called her back the same day. Needless to say, she was thrilled.
After painting my front porch, re-caulking the bathroom tub and enlisting Franco’s help and his truck to put a few personal things in storage, my home was ready for renters. The price was right and with the help of an agent friend, I booked it through the summer in less than a week. Franco’s son would be home from college for the summer and agreed to clean between renters. A week later, when the end of school year faculty lunch was over, I was on the road, my small car filled with luggage and clothes. The three best things about being a teacher are June, July and August, and the best thing about living at the beach is, well, the beach. I was on my way to work the summer away in the mountains, but I was smiling about it and I didn’t quite know why. The extra cash from renting my place helped, but it wasn’t that. Something about helping family, I guess. My dysfunctional family was never really there for me, and Amanda’s wasn’t there for her either, so perhaps that was it.
I had let my mind wander as I drove, sort of drifting with the music until I made it to Spartanburg, where I stopped for gas. Watching a lady come out of the little Speedway store reminded me of my mom, then family, then Amanda. When my mom walked out on my dad, I was 14. Amanda was only a couple of years older, but she had called to talk with me. I was pretty messed up and we talked for an hour, and then again a week later. We saw each other at the odd wedding or funeral, and we’d talked off and on over the years. Then, when my dad died a couple of years ago, we talked at length. Since then, we’d talked a couple of times, mostly about her daughter and her schooling. I gave her some tips on goal setting and motivation that she said worked pretty well. Her family was dysfunctional. My family was dysfunctional. I guess this was the two of us trying to break that chain. Whatever it was, I liked it and felt good about being able to help.
I found her driveway up a winding mountain road, almost hidden behind overgrown bushes. Those would have to be cleared and she’d need a sign at the street if she expected anyone to find the place. I pulled up the long equally winding driveway at the dinner hour. Flowers around the front of the house were blooming early, and the scent of honeysuckle was strong. I stepped out and stretched, looking up at the majestic old house. It was a European sort of home with a stone first floor and a lot of exposed timbers on the second. It looked like it would last forever. I remembered from years ago that the guesthouse was down the hill to my right, and the stable and a couple of other buildings were in back. With a bottle of Pinot Grigio in hand, I walked up the steps to an oversized oak front door and knocked.
Suddenly, this whole idea seemed strange. I hoped I wasn’t wasting my time or that what they needed wasn’t beyond my ability. Why I hadn’t asked more questions before I agreed to come up? The door opened and it was too late for any of that, and none of that mattered. Amanda opened the door in that frantic sort of way you get in when everything is coming at you at once. She realized who it was, breathed a heavy sign, smiled and wrapped me up in a bear hug. It was worth the trip just for that. I felt like her knight in shining armor, and I hadn’t even seen the dragon yet. So, I stood there getting hugged and hoped the dragon wasn’t too big.
.... There is more of this story ...