by Jacqueline Vick
The answer did not surprise us, as the homeowner had by now developed a reputation. Jock Anderson had refused to assist us with the closing costs and had declined our request to repair the rotted picket fence that lined the sidewalk in front of the faded home. Each counter offer we presented met with the same flat response—take it or leave it.
We were disappointed anyway.
Our real estate agent sniffed and shrugged. She was an unpleasant woman with Coke-bottle glasses and the personality of a schoolmarm. Every time our offer came back, we felt as if we’d failed a test, but she handled our questions efficiently. That was all that concerned us.
She was not sure how long she could continue the volley of offers and reminded us that there were other buyers. Serious buyers, she seemed to say. With a twinge of guilt, we told her we would think about it. She gave us twenty-four hours.
This was the only Victorian home currently on the market in all of Pasadena. It wasn’t the Bissell House by any means, but we saw potential charm and beauty and hoped for the chance to make this our first residence in California.
My husband and I, fans of the late eighteenth century, couldn’t think of a lovelier example of Victorian architecture. Flowing cornices edged the roof, though sections of rot exposed the timber underneath. The side bay windows would provide a spectacular view of the pond, once cleaned. After years of neglect, the bright yellow paint had chipped and faded, giving the once stately structure the appearance of a homeless person, huddled under a ragged blanket.
We had already searched for and found a matching shade at the local hardware store.
My husband had to get back to work, and on a whim, I drove to High Street alone to take another look at the property. I hoped my current anger would help me see the place objectively. Was it worth the trouble?
I was peering through the living room window when a soft voice made me jump.
“It’s a beautiful home.” Behind me stood a soft, plump woman with teased hair and a ready smile.
“I’m Bunny,” she said. She nodded at the ranch home next door.
With her pink slacks and paisley print shirt, she did resemble an Easter Bunny, and after Jock Anderson, it was a relief to find someone friendly in the neighborhood.
“How can you stand living near this guy?” I asked.
“Have you met him?”
“No,” I had to admit, “but from my experience, he can’t be a nice man.”
“Jock is quite the character,” she agreed. “Are you interested in buying?”
I explained our difficulties and she listened with sympathy. “He’s having trouble letting go, I expect,” she said. “When you get older, dear, you’ll understand. Jock raised a family in this home. He’s been here for forty years. That’s a lot of memories.”
Her description was of a lonely old man, and I felt guilty for playing him up as a ghoul. I changed the subject.
“Your roses are gorgeous.” I moved to her front yard and reached out to touch one particularly plump specimen clinging to a wooden trellis.
“Don’t touch,” she said, panicked. When I stepped back in surprise, she pointed to the front window where a pinched face peered out at us. “My sister is sensitive about her babies.” She rolled her eyes to show she disagreed. I waved to the face which promptly disappeared behind lace curtains.
“Are you in the mood for coffee?”
A welcome offer. We decided to go to Andy’s Coffee Shop rather than intrude on Bunny’s sister. Over lattes, she described a neighborhood ambiance that surpassed my hopes. The property now had another advantage. How many people have the luck to move into a new place with a friend already installed next door? I returned home determined to make Jock Anderson an offer he couldn’t refuse.
We would have to make sacrifices. Late that night we crunched the numbers. Did we need cable? Could we live without a phone? How much food did we really consume in a month? In the end, our agent told us our offer was accepted.
We met Mr. Anderson at the inspection. His stooped shoulders and wide belly drooped along with his personality. He remained in the kitchen and left us to wait on the threadbare couch in the living room. We passed the time imagining how a fresh coat of white paint would turn the dingy brick fireplace into the room’s centerpiece.
After inking the last of many signatures, the house was ours. We decided to celebrate at the Arroyo Chop House, a final splurge before we jumped into a more frugal diet.
Bunny’s appearance in the foyer surprised me at first. She passed through the crowded restaurant to the far corner of the room where an older-looking man with a wide belly waited for her. The succulent beef soured in my mouth as I watched her lean over and kiss Jock Anderson on the cheek, rub his stooped shoulders, and join him in a private celebration.
I had never bothered to get her last name.
© Copyright 2010 Jacqueline Vick. All rights reserved.
Jacqueline Vick is a freelance writer. Her mystery novel “Family Matters” was a semifinalist (top 100 out of 10,000) in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition. Some of her short fiction can be found in Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, Orchard Press Mysteries, and Cantaraville II, and her short story “The Membership Drive” will appear in the Everyday Fiction Anthology.