Blessing in Disguise

Scene 3

"You are not going to believe this," Molly whispered into the phone, while keeping an eye on her passed out kids in the rear view mirror. Even the dog was zonked, belly-up, in the passenger seat next to her.

"Where are you today?" Ama asked. In the background, a forklift beeped in reverse, so Molly pictured her friend standing in the warehouse, surrounded by boxes of bananas and lettuces.

"At the house," Molly whispered, looking around the impeccably manicured yet deserted streets. "We just pulled up, and are waiting for the property manager."

"So? Is it like a said? A creepy old Victorian that's probably haunted? You should just go ahead and come home now."

Molly giggled, and then covered her mouth, looking back at the still sleeping kids. "Actually, it looks more like something the Brady Bunch would get if they won the lottery." She slowly and quietly popped her door open.

Laz woke immediately, flipping over and looking at her with a cocked head. She scratched his coal black ear and told him, "Shhhh" as she slipped out of the minivan.

With an anxious Scotty dog watching, Molly stepped onto the sidewalk and looked up at the house, her phone still pressed up against the side of her head. "It's all glass and stone and angles."

"It could still be haunted," Ama laughed.

"By ghosts of dinner parties past?" Her chuckle sounded a little strained to her own ear; she just hoped Ama didn't catch it. "Seriously, I feel like I should look for the servants' entrance. It's not just a house, but it's way too sophisticated to be called an estate. I'm not white enough to live here, I think. It's in a gated community with a wrought iron security gate. And actual security guards."

"Feeling out of your element?" Ama asked, her tone soothing and understanding and laughing with Molly all at the same time.

"I'm not even in my element's orbit, at the moment," Molly barked with tear-filled laughter bordering on hysteria. In her mind, she could see her cute little brick colonial as it looked when they drove away. Her heart ached for it. She wanted to run back, hug all the trees, and throw herself face-first onto the living room floor, begging forgiveness. "I just want to go home."

Ama sighed into the phone. "I should be selfish and agree with you. But you decided to try this for some very grown up reasons. So, I think you should give it a shot."

Molly's mouth twitched. She looked in her car. Laz sat in the front seat, patiently watching her. Kenny stirred a little. He'd wake up soon.

"So, here's what we're going to do. We're going to give it a try. Just a little one. A couple of weeks. Say, Thanksgiving?" Ama paused, waiting for an answer.

Molly wiped a hot tear off her cheek, wondering if she'd ever get through a day without crying again.

"Molls? Thanksgiving? You can make it that far, right?" Her big, encouraging smile shined through the phone. "And if it isn't working out by then, you'll come home. And we'll figure something out."

"Someday," Molly laughed, a little bitter and a lot grateful, "I'll be able to get through a day without needing you to provide a safety net."

"You get through a lot of days without that net--don't sell yourself short, girlie."

Just then, a glittering new SUV pulled in behind Molly's minivan. Molly loved her ride, a Toyota Sierra that Bill bought for her just after Gracey's birth and lovingly cared for ever since. But next to the wine-colored Benz, it might as well have duct tape hub caps and a rocking chair on the top. When the door opened, Molly half expected money to spill out onto the road.

"I gotta go," Molly whispered into the phone. "The manager is here. It is not an improvement." She tapped the phone off and slid it into her jacket pocket just as the brassy blonde marched up to her with a militant fashionista strut.

"Well, hell," the woman said, popping a hip-out pose while fluttering heavily made-up eyes. "Of course you're adorable. Curly red hair and freckles? I can't win!" She threw her hands up in a glittering gesture of surrender.

"Um…" Molly blinked. "Thank you?" she smiled hesitantly. She'd heard California people were odd, but she was not prepared for this.

"And dimples? Oh, killing me!" She gave a braying laugh. "That's how you catch a rich guy, I guess. Dimples!"

Molly blinked. Rich? Bill did well, sure; but rich?

The woman thrust out a hand spangled with gold. "Linda Bolton, Bolton Realty and Properties. You must be Mindy."


"Sure." Linda fluttered a hand, and then swung a giant leather handbag out in front of her and began digging in it. "Let's get the keys and get started."

"Great idea." Molly moved toward the minivan.

Linda paused in her search, giving Molly a weird, pouty expression that pooled her too-red lipstick into a sickly-sweet puddle. "What a brave move, popping out a kid like that. I mean, I don't think I could risk my figure. And 18 years of my life! But you got the big paycheck, didn't you? Have a baby, get a house!" She brayed laughter, and then dug about in her bag some more.

"Wow." Molly sort of deflated. "That's not offensive at all." Trying to control a building huff, Molly turned to get her kids out of the car. There were just different social rules than in the Midwest, she supposed.

"Oh, you brought your children?" The distaste on Linda's face practically cracked her makeup.

"Of course," Molly shoed a blinking and sleep-rumpled boy out, whispering at him to get Laz. Then she picked up Gracey's snoring, dead weight.

"And a dog!" the realtor squealed in a trembling falsetto. "You have kids. And a dog. In the house. Where there's *name?* carpet and Italian travertine floors." She flashed a pleading smile at Kenny. "Is it at least potty trained?"

Kenny glared at the insult to his friend. "Are you?" he snapped.

Molly tried really hard not to snicker. It was not appropriate for him to speak to an adult that way; assuming she was an adult. Finally, with her smirk mostly hidden, she said, "Could we just do this? Gracey gets heavy quick."

Linda did a disgruntled shiver that adjusted all of her plastic-coated scales back into place, and then flashed a brilliant plastic smile. "This is why I prefer to work with rich people. They have the good sense to send their children to a proper boarding school."

Molly couldn't take it anymore. She looked at her son and said, "This is why I prefer to be poor. It annoys sycophants."

As they followed the stomping woman up to their new home, the professional in the woman took over. "This really is the most fabulous house. The centerpiece of the community, the back yard features two viewing patios set specifically for their ocean views."

She marched up the stairs to a big glass set of double doors. Molly followed with her trail of goslings. "The house was a miracle design by *make up a name* in the late 60s. Of course, when Ms Eddings bought it, she had it modernized to taste and technology."

Linda swung open both doors with a grand gesture to a room gleaming with hardwood and expensive-looking papered walls. A staircase to the right circled overhead, and a long formal dining table waited in linen-draped patience for guests.

"Now, hands off the walls, kiddies. That's real water-stained silk."

Molly flashed a strained grin, and boosted Gracey a little higher on her shoulder.

"Perhaps," Linda drawled, staring at Kenny’s cheap TMNT tennis shoes, "we should get some rugs in here. So the children don't scuff the floors."

"Great idea," Molly mumbled, certain in her own mind that she wasn't staying long enough to buy any damn rugs.

Pursing her lips and nodding, Linda pulled out a huge phone in a sparkly case, tapped pink manicured fingernails on its face and then dictated a note to order rugs. "To the right there is a powder room and a guest suite. Ms Eddings asks that you leave that for her use, in case she visits. She won't, of course. Who would leave the Riviera for this? But at her age, she doesn't prefer stairs. Anyway, it's an office and bedroom with one of the viewing terraces and access to the pool."

"There's a pool?" Kenny perked up, grinning and so happy that Laz gave a little woof.

"It's Malibu," Linda answered with a good bit of snark. "Of course there's a pool."

Molly shifted Gracey onto her other shoulder and ruffled Kenny’s head with her newly freed hand. "We'll talk rules later, fish boy."

Linda rolled her eyes and turned back into a tour guide again. "Through the left here you'll find a pantry, laundry room, the garage entrance--there's a two car garage--and then, of course, the gourmet kitchen."

They breezed through the kitchen, just long enough for Molly to gape and decide they could stay long enough to make a batch of chili, at least. What an amazing kitchen!

"This is a little brunch nook. You'll probably want the children to eat in here. It's more casual." Linda waved her hand like a Price Is Right girl.

Casual or not, it was still nicer than her old dining room, which she'd rather liked. But this sunny room with smudged white Country French furniture and doors out onto the landscaped pool was amazing.

"You've got the pool through there. That door leads to the barbeque and grill, with the outdoor fireplace. Those are big in California, right now. Great for house parties. Past that is the second viewing terrace."

Out of the nook, two carpet steps lead into a huge living room filled with a plush sectional sofa and a solid dark wood coffee table big enough for giants. In spite of the beautiful pool view, the room faced a large river rock fireplace framed by two floor-to-ceiling bookcases.

"Don't worry about the plants. The housekeeper comes twice a week and takes care of them. Mondays and Fridays, I think. Try not to be overly messy," Linda glared at Kenny. "It's not free for all of us." She fashion-marched up to the fireplace and snatched a remote off the mantel. "The mirror here is actually a television; the latest thing from Japan. This is the remote. It's hooked up to a satellite. If you change the programming package, you'll be responsible for the extra charges, of course. And the books should be adults only. There's a lot of first editions, here."

"The kids have their own books," Molly said, throwing a shielding arm around her son's shoulders. She wanted to feel really insulted, but the running thought in her mind was Yay! Free TV! "So, um, that satellite package. Does it include internet? Or should I contact someone to...?"

"Of course," Linda sighed and rolled her eyes as though she'd never heard such a crass question. "All utilities are included. There's a packet on the kitchen counter with all the codes and phone numbers and everything." She made much out of glancing at the weighty gold bauble on her limp wrist. "Now, if we could just power through the upstairs, I have an actual client meeting at two."

Molly frowned. "An actual client?"

Linda turned a blank face to her. "Well, I mean, you're just the help, right? House-sitters? You help keep the insurance rates down, so we don't pay an unoccupied premium. And I didn't even hire you. Frankly, I wouldn't have even interviewed you. I mean, kids? A dog? You're just likely to cause more damage and trouble than it's worth." She shrugged. "But that's nepotism, for you."

Molly clapped her mouth shut, and made a show of adjusting the still out Gracey again. She couldn't fault the cold perspective, but it sure as hell hurt.

"So," Linda did her catwalk strut back into the front room and the curving staircase.

The carpeting on the stairs cushioned all sound, so padded each step seemed to cup the foot. They rose over the front door, with floor to ceiling glass windows that looked over the gated community almost as plush as the stairs.

"The first bedroom is in here," Linda marched straight forward from the stairs. One whole section of wall shared the same tall window views as the stairs. "The bathroom and a small closet is in here."

"There's a bathroom?"

"Well, this one just has a shower. You might want to have the boy in here."

A nice-sized room, with a queen bed tucked in one corner and a huge dark dresser in the other, it had plenty of room for Kenny's stuff. But the powder blue and white wallpaper and flowery spread might seem a little girly for someone so strongly devoted to his boy-ness. Molly raised a questioning brow to Kenny.

He nodded enthusiastically. "We can put Laz's bed right there. And my car track over there. And my Ninja Turtle blanket on the bed."

"Why do you need another bed? Are there more people moving in?" Linda's face folded around an ugly frown. "The lease is very specific on the residents. This isn't some flophouse."

"Laz is the dog," Kenny answered, kneeling over the Scotty protectively.

"Lazarus Long. From Heinlein?" Molly waited, got only a blank stare. "Never mind. Moving on? You have actual clients at two."

An impatient sigh slipped past the realtor's lips, and she flounced out of the room. Back into the hall, they went around the stairs to the right.

"This room here," she swung open double doors, "Ms Eddings insisted we have redone for the children. We hardly had time to do much more than paint and furnish. But instead of darling English sitting room, it's a white-washed, chunky leather furniture playroom. We put in a piano. We even bought crayons."

She sounded terribly demoralized at this, and Molly opened her mouth to thank her.

"I like crayons," Gracey mumbled, picking her sweaty head up from Molly's shoulder. The child wriggled her body, one fist rubbing in her eyes, and slid down her mother to the floor. Her steps unsteady and sleepy, she toddled directly over to the short art table and reached out for paper and crayon, standing in between the two little chairs.

Laz gave a happy yip of greeting, and Gracey responded with a distracted giggle. But she didn't move from her spot.

Linda gave an impatient sigh worthy of a teenager. "Any way, through here is the bathroom for the girl's room."

"Do you get your own bathroom, too, Momma?" Kenny asked, following wide-eyed into the mint and pink room, and then briskly back out into the hall.

"Probably." Molly answered with a wink, stretching her exhausted arms. That kid was getting heavy.

"If not, you can share mine," he said magnanimously.

"Gracey," Molly asked, giving Kenny's shoulder a squeeze. "Do you want to come see your room?"

"No," she answered simply.

Back out in the hall, Linda rushed along. Molly paused to peek into the play room. Gracey had edged out one of the chairs enough to half-sit, and had a spray of crayons on the table around her. She looked like Bill, when he was focused on grading papers. "Do you want to come see Momma's room?"

"Later," Gracey answered with a shrug.

Molly chuckled as Kenny took her hand.

"I'll go with you, Momma." They followed the impatient realtor, but then Kenny paused to stand on tip toes and peek over the half wall. "Look, Momma! You can see our living room!"

"There's just this one suite left, really," Linda flashed her heavily gilded wrist at them, then abruptly flung open the double doors.

Done up in a cream and mauve, it managed to not be overly feminine because of the dark furniture with an Asian flair. A huge king four-poster dominated the room, facing the fireplace. A cushy wing chair with ottoman sat at a jaunty angle to the hearth, and looked like a fabulous reading spot.

"There's the patio," Linda flung a hand. French doors lead to dark wicker furniture and a small forest of bamboo. "That's the bathroom, and the closet through there."

Molly frowned, dropping Kenny's hand. It seemed an annoyance to have to go through the bathroom to get to the closet. Sure, they'd be out of there in a couple of weeks, but still. She walked through the bathroom, almost prepared for the beauty of it.

And it was a tile and marble testament to clean lines and chrome sparkles. The shower was almost as big as her first apartment. Whoever had designed the mirror placement wanted to be kind to a grown woman who'd been visited by gravity. Her reflection danced around her, but only at the best angles. She had not, however, been prepared for the closet.

It was the mother of all closets, an orgasm of organization. Shoe racks, sweater shelves, even a jewelry box built into the folding counter in the middle of the room. If she did nothing but shop for the rest of her days, she might fill up the space. Might. "Sweet heavens," Molly muttered under her breath.

"Yes. It's a nice closet." Linda snapped out impatiently, handing over a leather fob with three color-coded keys. "I really have to go, now. There's an info packet on the kitchen counter, like I said. Be sure to put the community sticker in your car. And call me if you need anything."

A haunting tinkle rippled through the house.

"What the--" Linda barked.

The tinkle turned into a discordant pounding.

Molly laughed. "Sounds like Gracey found the piano."

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