Home > The Hideaway(15)

The Hideaway(15)
Author: Lauren K. Denton

I started to speak but he continued, confident again and grinning. “And anyway, seeing as you’re the one writing press releases and shopping for inventory, you’re going to need some help. Who’s going to make coffee runs? Get the air conditioner fixed? Open up in the morning when you have a late night?” he said with a smirk.

“First off, I’ve already called the repairman. He’s just late. And second, I don’t have many late nights, except now that I’m trying to get this place up and running. I would have opened quicker, but it’s been a chore getting people to show up on time and do the work. Like this AC.” I fanned my gauzy top away from my body in an effort to stir up a breeze. It was June, and the heat was already intense.

“You must be a transplant. We natives know how to get things done. Just give me a shot.”

For the first time I took him in from top to bottom. Movie star sunglasses perched on his head. Acid-green hair with blond roots showing. Red tank top tucked into black skinny jeans. Black Chuck Taylors.

“You look like a Christmas nightmare,” I said.

“I can get the AC fixed in an hour.”

I hired him on the spot, and it was the best decision I could have made. I discovered early on that he was being truthful when he said he’d lived in the house. A decade before, when he was young, scared, and desperate to figure out who he was, he’d run with a slew of other kids from the dirtier parts of the city. Without welcoming homes to return to, they’d lived in the empty house on Magazine Street for months. It became their refuge, and Allyn still felt welcome in the space—hence his attitude of ownership the first day he’d strutted into my shop. I never would have thought we’d still be together four years later. He may have been flamboyant, keeping odd hours and even odder company, but he was a true friend to me.

Backed into a corner, I did the only thing I knew to do. I picked up my phone from the nightstand and called him. I had to shout so he could hear me over the pounding house music.

“Just a minute,” Allyn said. “Let me go outside.”

“Where are you? That music is terrible.”

“No, it’s great. You should see the people here. It’s Margaritaville meets Marilyn Manson.”

I told him about the will, the house, and what Mags had done. He wasn’t as shocked as I’d been.

“Who else would she have left it to? The old folks? You’re her family. You obviously care about the place, or you’d have stuck a For Sale sign in the yard the minute you got there.”

“I guess so. I just wasn’t prepared to come here and start the biggest house-rehabbing project of my career. Especially not in Sweet Bay.”

“It doesn’t have to be that big, does it? Make a few tasteful changes and bring it up to date. Why the drama?”

“A few tasteful changes wouldn’t even scratch the surface of what’s necessary to turn this place around. Plus, it is Mags’s home and she loved the place. I wouldn’t feel right doing it halfway. She said it deserved to be beautiful again, and I have to honor that.”

“Then there’s your answer.”

“But I don’t live here,” I said. “My life—my job—is in New Orleans. I can’t stay here and direct a renovation. Dot, Bert, and the Greggs would all be under my feet, trying to micromanage everything. Plus, I miss you.”

“Are you done? First, your life here in the city isn’t going anywhere. Just because you stay there a little longer than you originally intended—”

“A little longer? This could take months. Lots of them.”

“—that doesn’t mean you can’t pick right back up when you get back,” he continued, undeterred by my outburst. “I can manage the shop and Rick can help when things get busy. Plus, it’s not like you’ll be across the country. Sweet Bay is, what, three hours away? You can come back for an afternoon or a whole day if necessary. It’s not a long drive.

“Second, you always talk about how you set people up with beautiful houses and things, then you leave and never get to enjoy the beauty of what you created. The house is yours now. You won’t have to hand the keys over and never come back, unless that’s what you want to do. Regardless, you’ll own the results and you won’t have to bow to what anyone else wants. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.”

“What am I going to do with a bed-and-breakfast in Sweet Bay even if it is beautiful again? If I keep it, I’ll have to hire people to run it, and if I sell it, I’ll have my head on a plate carried by Major Gregg.” Even I could hear the petulance in my voice.

“I don’t know who Major Gregg is, but Mags left the place to you, no one else. Remember, you called for my advice, so listen to it. You have to do this. This is your project, and I think you know it. Yes, it’s happening somewhere other than here, but you’re good at what you do. And anyway, you need to make peace with Sweet Bay. We’ll all be here when you get done.”

I was quiet, digesting, listening to the muffled bass and manic voices in the background. I gripped the phone in my hand.

“Third,” he said, “I miss you too. If you do this, don’t think I won’t drive over to check things out. I think I need a little Sweet Bay in my life too.”

I laughed. “This town wouldn’t know what to do with you. You’d stop people cold.”

“Darling, I’d be offended if I didn’t.”

After the call, I didn’t feel total relief, but I did allow that tingle of excitement and anticipation to bubble back up to the surface. I wanted to pull out my computer and notebooks where I’d sketched and mapped out ideas, but my eyelids were heavy. I pulled the blue quilt up to my chin and surrendered.

10

SARA

APRIL

The funeral was a quiet affair, almost an afterthought—no real ceremony, no tearful eulogies, not even a funeral parlor. The five of us just met the funeral director at the cemetery. He shared a few words about the meaning of life and loved ones who had passed on, then pushed a discreet button and the coffin slowly descended into the ground. It was simple, just as Mags wanted it. I found out later that Mags gave Dot clear instructions for her last hurrah.

“You don’t have to put me in a pine box, but you get my drift,” she’d said. “And don’t anyone go crying over me. We’ve all had enough years together to be happy we knew each other at all. Just skip the hoopla and take me straight to the grave.”

Dot couldn’t resist adding a couple of extra details. She laid an armload of cheery sunflowers on top of the casket and propped an eight-by-ten framed photo of a smiling Mags on an easel next to our chairs.

I’d never noticed the resemblance between us. In this old photo, it was unmistakable. I had the same dark, unruly curls, although I tamed mine with a flat iron and extra-hold spray. But I saw something else, something in the shape of her light-blue eyes or the slope of her nose. I saw me in there. Even more than I resembled either of my parents.

Mags was young in the photo, early twenties at most. Her curls tumbled out of a messy ponytail and one shirttail hung free. Her eyes crinkled into barely visible laugh lines. I recognized pieces of the Mags I had known, but I’d never seen her smile like that. She was holding her arm up, trying to get the camera away from whoever was taking the photo, but that smile—no one had ever made me feel that way.

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