“You’re a freak in bed, Kayla.”
Two weeks ago, that’s what my boyfriend Grant told me in an effort to justify why he’d cheated on me with Brittany, his former childhood friend turned adult friend with benefits. He hadn’t stopped there, however. Reason number two he’d strayed? I’d apparently “let myself go” even before I’d lost my job as a food and wine reporter at the New York e-zine I worked for.
It was all bullshit. He knew it. I knew it.
Let myself go? I’m sorry, but gaining ten pounds did not mean I wasn’t hot anymore. So what if I enjoyed baking and sampling what I cooked? I loved my body and felt sexy as hell, even if his words still stung.
And I wasn’t a freak in bed so much as Grant was lazy and unimaginative. I’d recently brought a couple of rather bland sex toys into our lovemaking, and when I’d presented them to him, thinking it would be fun to try, he’d crawled right out of bed and jumped in the shower as if the mere thought had been so dirty he had to get himself clean. It’s not like I was out to win a Kinky Couple of the Year Award or anything. I’d just wanted a little…a little spice. His freak out wasn’t my problem, it was his.
The truth was, I was better off without Grant and better off without the job that had started to bore me, but that didn’t mean my life hadn’t been going through a major case of suck ass, especially since before all this happened, my favorite relative, my great-aunt Tabitha—who’d never liked Grant, by the way—had died, leaving me heartbroken. Even worse, I’d been flattened by a bad case of pneumonia and hadn’t been able to make it to California in time for the funeral. I felt so guilty for missing it, and instead of being able to count on my job to keep me distracted or my boyfriend to comfort me, I suddenly found myself all alone and homeless, because I’d been living in Grant’s apartment. So yes, when we broke up, I’d been the one who had to move out. Since I’d been drifting away from my college girlfriends, who were all married and had children by then, I ended up checking into a cheap motel until I figured out what to do next.
It was enough to make me feel worthless.
But I’d never go that low. I was worthy, and knew someone—some hot, sexy soulful someone—would find me worthy, too. I just needed a change of pace.
And wouldn’t you know, a few days after I moved out of Grant’s apartment, the universe opened a window to make up for all the doors slamming in my face. Tabitha’s lawyer called me, telling me she left me her house in Fosterman, California, and as much as my heart ached missing my amazing aunt, I couldn’t believe my change of luck.
I’d always adored everything about Tabitha’s house, but hadn’t been back for over ten years. After I graduated high school, she came to visit me in New York where I’d attended college and found a job. She said she loved the energy of the city. When she visited, we’d watch a few Broadway shows, do the museum hop, and go cupcake-hunting in Tribeca. She always loved the red velvet from Mel’s the best and would roll her eyes when I said nothing was better than the carrot cake from Apple City Co.
No matter where we were, if I was with Tabitha, I was happy, and Tabitha had come through for me once again. Her house would be a place I could stay until I got back on my feet and made a new game plan. So I packed up what little stuff I had, shipped it to northern California, and caught a flight to the west coast. I arrived in San Francisco this morning, rented a car, drove the couple of hours east to Fosterman, and even got a little grocery shopping in before I pulled up to my destination.
So here I was, standing at the front door of Tabitha’s house—now my house—smiling hopefully as happier memories swam over me.
The whole trip to California, I pictured all the summers I spent here in my youth, with Tabitha running around the house, all non-stop chatty, wearing flowing pastel dresses and bright pink lipstick, regaling me with wild stories about the seventies. In the living room, we played board games. In the kitchen she taught me how to make her mother’s top secret molten chocolate lava cake recipe. In the sun room, we’d read for hours, discussing classic literature in a way that made the stories come alive.
I’d always meant to come back to Fosterman, of course, but it had never seemed to be the right time.
Now, Tabitha was gone.
I pressed back tears. Then I took a long, deep breath. It would be hard, being here without Tabitha, but the house had been her legacy to me. Her gift right when I needed it most.
“Thank you, Tabitha,” I murmured. Juggling my grocery bags, I unlocked the door and pushed it open.
Stagnant air rushed out to mingle in the hot summer’s sun, the scent hitting me and making me sneeze. I waved the smell away and peeked inside…oh, my God.
A knot tightened in my stomach and I swallowed hard.
The place was worse than I could’ve ever imagined. Much worse. An enormous hole in the tea parlor ceiling, paint peeling from the walls, broken floorboards… At first glance, it looked like the place had been hit by a tornado. But then I looked closer, and realized Tabitha must have been in the middle of renovating when she died.
I spotted new wood floors in the kitchen, even though the cabinets were still falling apart, but the lack of baseboard where the floor met the cabinets made it clear the work had been left unfinished. A hole in the wall had been “fixed,” but the plaster had cracked. Whoever she’d hired to do the work couldn’t have been a professional.
The adorable place I fondly remembered was definitely here, somewhere, but it’d take a fortune to restore it. There was absolutely no way I could afford to fix the house up enough to live in it on a permanent basis. Plus, the pain of being here, of experiencing this house without the beautiful soul who’d lived in it, was deep and elemental. The excitement buzzing inside me only moments ago when I’d walked up to the front steps had been replaced by the gnawing, empty realization that my aunt really was no longer here and that I could not stay.
My plans to reinvent my life here in Fosterman slid away through the open door along with drifting dust motes. As much as I’d loved spending time here with Tabitha, taking on the job of fixing it up was just not something I was capable of doing right now, mentally or financially.
I’d have to sell, use the profits to rent a small place, and somehow find a job at the same time. There wasn’t anything for me back east, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to find a position as a food and wine critic in Fosterman, population 4,561. I’d have to look for work in San Francisco, or one of the surrounding cities in the Bay Area.
It will be okay, I told myself. You don't have to leave tonight. You can at least stay until you sell the house. It was some comfort at least.
I flipped the light switch and warmth flooded the room from top to bottom. “Let there be light,” I said, forcing myself to smile, then frowning when something electrical crackled upstairs then fizzled out with a snap. “So much for that.”
When I looked around, however, I smiled again, this time without having to force it, because I was better able to see the strong bones of Tabitha’s house now that it wasn’t so dark.
The ceilings were high, the wooden crown molding that ran around the edges intricate and elegant. The furniture that remained was old but well-maintained and the wallpaper was peeling, but it was pretty in a vintage, shabby chic sort of way. Tall windows overlooked a messy garden springing with weeds, and not having noisy buses outside was a plus. In fact, I’d forgotten how quiet it was at Tabitha's house.
Uncertainty reared its head.
Did I really have to sell it?
Maybe I could make it work. Maybe I could find a way to stay. So what if the half-finished repairs seemed shoddy and there was a hole in the ceiling? The place was still habitable. As long as there was electricity, running water, and a roof over my head, I could survive.
I imagined Tabitha happy as a lark in heaven, looking down and seeing me living here, making it work, renovating her home to its former glory, one day at a time. The thought calmed me down.
I went into the kitchen with the groceries I’d carried in with me. Even though the kitchen was old, it was big. With some new granite countertops and the right lighting, I could see myself making dinners and desserts to make Tabitha proud.
I turned on the faucet, pleased with my new outlook. A loud hissing and groaning sound split the air. Suddenly the handle was in my hand, completely removed from the sink, and a fountain of water was spraying up in the air, strong enough to hit the ceiling. I couldn’t find a towel, and my boxes of belongings wouldn’t be arriving for a day or two. I got on my knees, opened the sink cabinet, and found the water valve. As water splashed all over me, I turned the valve until the fountain became more of a drizzle. Eventually, even the drizzle disappeared.
I crawled out from under the sink and plopped down hard on the soaking wet floor. Defeated, I leaned back against the rickety cabinet.
“Great,” I mumbled, hanging my head. “Welcome home, Kayla. Welcome home.”
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