A love story
Dani Peterson stared at the big screen TV. She hoped someone would offer her a decent price for it at the Estate Sale. After two days, the sale left the house almost empty except for high ticket items and her personal belongings.
Her son’s bedroom was empty of all his personal items. She'd kept a few mementos, the rest repurposed. Her husband's clothes had slowly disappeared in the sale. She'd cleaned her closet and pared it down at the same time.
She felt numb. Barely three months passed since she had been talking to her son on his cell phone. He and her husband had been on their way home from a meeting. She heard his play by play of the truck sliding on the ice behind them, then the crash as it slammed into their pickup sending them off the side of the mountain. She felt her hand shake as a replay of the events following the crash filled her memory. The call to her cousin, an EMT in the area, his return call with a less than detailed version of what he was seeing.
The memorial service was over, official papers signed and it was time to get on with her life. She needed to move from the larger home to a smaller apartment. Again, after three years, she was downsizing her life. Cutting away the fluff of the nest she had carefully constructed when they had moved into a townhouse.
“Hello? Are you the owner here?” Dani turned to see a young man and woman standing at the door.
“Yes, I guess so. I don’t own the house, but all the stuff in it. What are you looking for?” She forced a smile to lift the corners of her mouth.
“I’m not sure.” He looked around and frowned. “I was led here for some reason.” He continued.
“Maybe you need a large TV or a Thomas Kincaid painting? I have a lovely set of china, barely used.” Dani asked hopefully.
The woman spoke, " A TV?" She looked at the one in the corner. "We've been volunteering at a halfway house and they just put on an addition. They have no TV, Jacob; don’t you think your father would donate this one to them?”
Jacob moved to the TV and looked around it. “Do you have a tape measure?”
Dani picked one off the table behind her. Surprised, she wondered, When had I put it there? After he measured the TV and its stand he turned to her. “What are you asking?”
Dani took a deep breath and gave the price that came to her head, hoping it wasn’t too high. Jacob nodded, “It is worth all of that. Sold.” he moved to shake her trembling hand. She could hardly breathe.
“Thank you.” She squeezed his hand between her two. “Thank you so much.”
His gaze locked on hers. “I saw the Estate Sale sign when we drove by your street. You said this was your stuff.”
The woman asked."Are you selling everything? It doesn't look old. Who's estate is it?"
"Mine. Well my husband and son were killed in a car wreck. If you say garage sale everyone under cuts. If you advertise Estate sale you can hold your price a little higher. I have to move to a smaller house, or at least one that's cheaper.” She looked around the room and shrugged. “I have to sell most of my treasures because they'll never fit into those small closets they call storage rooms.” She gave a little laugh.
Jacob held out the check then paused, “What kind of a place are you looking for?”
“If I could afford it, I would rent an old Victorian home or one of those cut Arts & Craft bungalows. What I can afford is a 1 bedroom apartment.” She gently pulled the check from Jacob’s grasp, but he just smiled.
“I think I can help you. I have to make a telephone call and I'll get back to you. Have you rented a place already?”
"No I have this place for another month of the lease."
The two nodded and left. Dani tucked the check into her bra to be put into the cash box downstairs.
A few minutes later as she pushed a box containing her books into the dining room when she heard a knock on the front door. She opened it, to find Jacob and his wife waited outside.
“Sara and I just talked to my father. Can we come in?”
“Sure,” Dani held the door open. “I’m sorry, we never really introduced ourselves. I’m Dani Reid.”
“Jacob and Sara Thompson." Jacob answered for the both of them. "I think we can solve your housing problem. My great aunt died a year ago and we remodeled her house. My father loves the house and won’t sell it. He doesn't want to rent it to just anyone because he's afraid they'll wreck it. It can’t sit empty because he's sure vandals will destroy it. I told my father about you and he said I was to trust my judgment. Mrs. Reid, you might think this is odd, but I feel was led here today. Not to buy your TV, but I think you are the answer to our prayers. Would you be willing to go and see the house?” Their expressions were hopeful.
“I wouldn’t mind going to take a look.” She felt good about the offer. It seemed genuine.
Downstairs she told her sister about the offer. "Are you sure you can trust them?" Darla demanded.
"Look at them, do they look like they're going to kill me? Don't answer that." She sighed. "Look, I know you're concerned, I have a feeling about this. This couple were led to come here. They bought the TV for a halfway house they volunteer at."
"Keep your cell with you at all times." Donna admonished. Dani waved as she got into her car to follow the couple.
Jacob pulled to a stop in the driveway and she parked behind him. It was her dream home, a wrap around front porch, dormers and leaded glass windows. “I'm afraid to ask what he wants for rent.” She whispered.
“Come in and look around.” Jacob opened her car door. "I think you're going to love the place." They walked up the steps to the porch. Inside, she toured the rooms with their hardwood floors and wide moldings.
The colors were light against the darker, restored woodwork. The kitchen had a new range and a pot filler attached. The solid surface counter tops gleamed in the light. She could see herself fixing dinners and brunches for her Red Hat group and the single ladies group from her church.
"There is the upstairs. Would you like to see that?" Jacob interrupted her thoughts.
Embarrassed she faced the two and nodded. "I guess I got caught up a little in my thoughts."
"That's okay," Sara smiled, "I can tell you like the house as much as we do."
The master bedroom took the whole back of the house. A gas fireplace with two wing backed chairs facing each other took up a corner. A four poster bed draped with a jewel tone coverlet and a brace of pillows in matching colors took Dani's breath away. This was like a dream come true. The air seemed thick and hard to breathe.
"This is the walk-in closet. It has an automatic light, but you can turn it off if you want." Jacob moved to another door. "Here's the bathroom." He opened the door and she stepped inside. Her eyes filled and she brushed at the tears. The walls had painted bead board wainscoting. Flowered wallpaper filled in the rest of the space to the crown molding at the ceiling. There on a raised platform sat a large, claw-footed tub with a high back. She looked inside to see the jets for the whirlpool. A separate shower filled a corner. Stained glass windows let in the sunlight.
"I've seen enough." It was so beautiful she hated to leave, but places like this were not cheap. To buy or to rent. "Thank you for bringing me to see this. You have a lovely home." She moved passed the two to the stairs and made her way back to the foyer. "I'm sure the rent is way more than I can afford, she called over her shoulder.
“Mrs. Reid, here is the deal. We don’t want to sell the house. Sara and I are still at the University in Corvallis, this is too far for us to commute. My dad wants a caretaker, someone who loves this house as much as we do. I think you are the one who fits that bill. If you will move in and pay the utilities and such, it would benefit both of us.” He named a price that was so low she blinked a couple of times and swallowed before she spoke hoarsely. “Is that a week, every two weeks?”
“No, that's a month.” Jacob grinned. "For the utilities."
Dani covered her mouth with her hand and tears spilled over. “ Are you joking? When can I move in?”
“Whenever you want.” Sara smiled and took Dani’s hand. “We'll help you, don’t worry about anything. Don't worry about the yard work, we have someone come and do it.”
Dani moved during the weeks that followed. Her sisters were amazed at what transpired. They all loved her house. She didn't have to twist any arms to get them to come and help her move. She didn't have to sell her beloved pictures and found a place for The Thomas Kincaid.
Weeks later she stood in her robe with a cup of coffee waiting for muffins to pop out of the toaster. A man walked across the yard to the garage. She leaned over the sink and watched him press the combination to open the garage door. He was tall, over six feet according to the garage door opening. His hair graying, but it was thick, a wide back narrowed to the hips. His blue jeans were worn at the butt, and what a nice butt it was. He turned and Dani ducked, banging her elbow on the edge of the sink. She clamped her lips shut so she wouldn't cry from the pain and slid to the floor holding her elbow.
Who was he? the gardener? Mmm, I may enjoy staying home on Saturdays this summer. Jacob said she wouldn’t have to worry about mowing the yard or trimming it. She made sure the timer on the sprinkler was set and a few times she sat on the edge of the grass and pulled weeds. She stood and watched him as he went about mowing the small lawn and trimming the edges. As the sun beat down on him, Dani made some iced tea and took a glass out to him.
“Hi. My name is Dani and I live here. Well, I am renting here. I brought you some tea. It's pretty hot out here.” She spoke all in one breath.
“I’m Trent. Thanks for the tea.” He leaned his head back as he chugged the whole glass. Some of the tea spilled out the sides of this mouth and ran down his tanned neck. Dani was mesmerized by the bobbing of his Adam's apple. He grinned and handed her the empty glass. “Thanks again ma’am.” He pulled the goggles back into place and turned on the edger.
Dani scurried back into the house. When she peeked out again he had taken off his shirt and turned on the hose. The water was running in rivulets down his tanned muscular chest as he cooled his body with the water.
Dani leaned against the wall and watched as he dried himself with his shirt. She slid to the cool floor and leaned against the wall. How was she going to make it through the day? He was so good looking. She was ashamed of herself staring at this man. He was probably married with kids and grand kids. She hadn't even looked to see if he wore a wedding band. When she looked out again, he was getting into his truck. It was a clean truck, but not brand new. He took care of his truck. What else would he take care of? To ease the antsy feeling she baked a berry pie.
The same routine went on for three Saturdays. Dani scraped up enough nerve to offer him more than just tea. She took lunch out the next Saturday, sitting it on the picnic table as she left to run some errands. The following Saturday Trent had insisted she eat lunch with him under the umbrella on the patio. She noticed he wasn't wearing a wedding band, but that didn't help the matter, some guys just didn't.
“You're here every Saturday, what do you do during the week?” she asked trying to avoid looking into his warm brown eyes. He pulled off the bandanna that was usually tied around his forehead.
“Construction, I work for my father’s company. I won't be here every Saturday. Some jobs are out of the country. What do you do?”
She told him about her job with a local company where she worked in customer service. When he asked about her life, she told him about her husband and son’s death in a low voice but brightened as she talked about her love for the new house.
He looked at his watch and abruptly told her he had to leave. Dani watched as hurried off, tucking he shirt into his waistband. She chided herself for being so forward. He probably didn't have any interest in hearing about her past life. She picked up the lunch refuse and went into the house. It wasn't like she was pushing herself onto him. She wasn't interested in good looking men.
"He's probably married with a half a dozen kids," she reminded herself as she rinsed out the glassware and stacked the dishes in the washer.
For the next month or so she made sure she was away from the house or she didn’t come out when he worked.
“Mrs. Reid? This is Sara. I was wondering how you were doing?” Dani smiled as she heard the voice on the phone.
“Just fine. I love the house.” She went on to tell Sara about a tea she had for her Red Hat group and they loved it too.
“What do you think of Trent?”
“He is doing a great job. He has been out here almost every Saturday except when it rains.” Dani kept her voice as even as she could.
“He told us he talked to you. He has to go out of town this week, so he won’t be there for a while. He wanted me to call so you wouldn't be worried if he wasn't there.”
“I am sure that the lawn will be fine. If he cut it any shorter it'd die.” Dani chuckled. "I told him so.”
“You told him about mowing?” Sara burst out laughing. “What did he say?”
“Not a lot. He listened and asked me why I thought that. I told him my husband prided himself on having a green lawn when other's had brown. He'd drive by and shake his head at those who mowed their lawns so short and the grass died.”
“Trent loves his lawn and is just like that. He doesn't mow the grass very short at our house. He fertilizes it and baby’s it. We have the greenest lawn in the area.”
“Trent is your landscaper too?” Dani asked.
There was a long silence. “You talked to him right?”
“Yes. We had a conversation when he first came. I've been busy so I haven’t spoken to him for a while.”
“Dani, Trent is my father-in-law. He owns your house. Trent's wife died from cancer four years ago, Jacob and I were dating then and after we got married, I just moved in. We have a small apartment at the back of his property.”
The words assimilated in Dani's brain then melded. “He didn’t say a thing about being my landlord. He never once said a thing!” Dani's voice rose a little at the end. "Why did he keep that a secret? What was he thinking?"
Sara tried to calm her down, but gave up and told Dani she'd call later.
Dani stamped around the living room and the kitchen. Why didn’t he tell her? What kind of dirty trick was he playing? Was he spying on her to see if she was wrecking his house?
She called Sara later and apologized for her outburst. "I was so surprised I reacted badly, please forgive me."
"There's nothing to forgive. I'd be put out if I'd been nice to some guy I thought was the gardener and found out he owned my place."
"Just don't tell him about this. I feel bad enough." Dani asked.
"Sure, we'll just let it play out when he gets back. Two, or three, can play this game." Sara laughed."Dani, can I ask you something personal?"
"I guess." Dani wondered at the question.
"Jacob and I met at a grief support meeting when my mother and his mother died. We found out we had a lot in common. We dated for a few years and then got married. What do you think of Trent? Not counting what he just did."
Dani didn't know how to answer. She hadn't been a widow for a year yet. She shouldn't be even looking at other men. She'd been telling herself he was like a picture in an art gallery. Nice to look at but you didn't take them home, or wish they were yours.
"Ah, well, I guess you could say I think he is a very good looking man. I don't know him well enough to say-" she trailed off. Anything more would be a lie.
"You like him." Sara giggled over the phone.
It was a good thing Sara couldn't see the blush on her cheeks.
A couple of weeks later, Trent was back at the house early on a Saturday morning, mowing and trimming. She waved at him as she went to her car. He stopped and turned off the lawn mower, but Dani didn't stop. She backed her car into the street and with another wave, she was gone, but not long.
Grocery bags in hand she struggled to the back door, Trent was there to help. She still felt giddy when he was close. "Here let me hold these, you open the door." She unlocked the door and Trent followed her into the kitchen setting the bags on the counter. "Is that all?"
"Oh no, there's more in the trunk." She smiled at him and handed him her keys. He carried in the other bags and set them down.
"Would you like a cold drink?" She pasted a smile on her face.
"If it isn't any trouble."
"No trouble. Wait out on the patio and I'll bring it to you." She held the door open so he would have to do as she asked. He frowned, but obeyed. She smiled as she watched him walk to the patio.
Dani sat a pitcher of ice tea and some chips and dip on the table. She poured tea into two chilled glasses and asked, "Do you like coming over here every Saturday? I would think you'd have a lot to do at your own place."
"I don't have a lot of garden area. It is mostly rock, wild grasses and some trees. I love the desert so I put a little of it in my backyard."
"You didn't do that here."
"No, this was Aunt Mabel's house and she loved color and plants and green grass. I wanted this in honor of her." He turned to her when he realized the mistake.
"You did a good job." Dani stood, "I don't understand why you didn't just tell me in the first place. I don't know why you had to spy on me every week."
He stood too, facing her across the table, "I wasn't spying on you."
"No? Then why didn't you just tell me who you were?"
"I thought you knew. Jacob and Sara told me they told you, I was out of town."
"Yes, they did say that," Dani had her hands on her hips, "They said you'd be back in a week or so. I was surprised the owner never came by and introduced himself. I thought he was too busy and left it all in Jacob and Sara's hands.I thought you were the gardener."
"That's true, but they described you and I wanted to see you. I didn't want to intrude and when you didn't say anything about my being your landlord, I thought you just didn't want to talk about it."
With minimal movements she put the items from the table on to the tray and picked it up. He looked at her with his hands out, but let them drop to his side, when she turned away. She would not let him know her insides melted under his gaze like warm, dark, chocolate. "I'll let you get back to your work." She didn't even recognize her own voice. She balanced the tray, opened the back door then closed it with her hip. It slammed into place and she cringed. He probably thought she was furious with him instead of hot and bothered, and put out.
When the sun hung like an orange ball in the sky, Dani took her iced tea and a book out to the front porch to enjoy the sunset. She had a clear view as the sun set over the mountains. The quiet neighborhood was disturbed by the low rumbling of a sports car. It slowed and turned into her driveway. She waited for it to back up and turn around, but the engine turned off and the door opened. Cowboy boots stepped out onto the pavement then a cowboy hat appeared. The tall muscular body of Trent Monroe stepped away from the car and shut the door. He walked up the steps to the porch, partially hidden behind a large bouquet of beautiful summer flowers.
“Peace offering?” she queried, when he reached the bottom of the steps.
“Yes and no.” He climbed the steps and held them to her. She took them and motioned for him to sit in the rattan chair. In the house she found a vase for the flowers and set it on the table between them. They sat in silence for a few moments.
“I'm sorry." Trent started, "I meant to tell you, but the moment passed. You didn’t come out to talk to me any more. I didn’t feel right calling you up and announcing; “Hey, by the way, I'm your landlord.” He took off his hat with a flourish and set it on his knee and leaned back in the chair. “I saw you once when I drove by and you were moving in. You, and I guess it must have been your sisters, were sitting on the steps resting. There were boxes on the lawn. I was going to stop and help, but I saw you walk down the driveway. I had stopped across the street a couple of houses down.” He pointed to the spot. “You were laughing and from Jacob and Sara’s description, I knew you were the one that was moving in. I watched you off and on for a week or so.”
“Why didn’t you just come over and introduce yourself?”
He smiled and looked at her. “I couldn’t get out of the car. I would have been showing my attraction.”
Dani blushed at his words.
“I'd like to start all over if I could.” his voice deepened and the sound played like a bow across cello strings vibrating her body. She nodded, not trusting her voice.
“Hello, I am Trent Monroe, your landlord.” He held out his hand.
“I’m Dani Reid, your tenant. I’m glad to meet you.” She extended her hand to shake his.
Trent stood, still holding her hand. “Now that that is over, and I have waited too long for this." He pulled her to her feet and slid his other hand around her waist. She stepped forward and when his head dipped, she raised her lips to meet his. The melding of mouths and body probably caused the lights to shimmer on the porch.
Across the street and just a few houses up, two people inside a car grinned and held hands. “Honey, I knew they were meant for each other.” Jacob leaned over and kissed his wife.