Sometimes I pretend I’m a disinterested third party, and when I’m in that mood I walk through my rooms looking for a bead on the person who lives in them. I’ve been doing this more often than not since Abigail died but with little insight. Now that I’m prepared to move, yet again and in record time, I pretended nothing. After all, I liked moving, am comfortable packing and, unlike the flight from New York to Atlanta, can anticipate a new life in Midtown where I might own a small dog like Hazel and find better friends than I had here. Or perhaps be a better friend.
The afternoon had morphed into an oddly warm evening smelling of earthworms. One open window led to another and another until I’d spread them all wide, even the sliding screen door. I stacked box after box in the unused dining room, listening with pleasure to the sounds of residents, I guess I could call them neighbors now, arriving home from their holidays.
When the doorbell rang, I answered it to find Mrs. Mason ordering me to dinner, a bottle of wine in one hand, metaphoric gun held to my head in the other. She and Mr. Lowe had news to share. Of course, I joined her and ate with them the slow-cooked pot roast, green beans and mashed potatoes, she’d been cooking all day.
“We wanted you to be the first to know,” said Mr. Lowe when the last of the roast had been divided into foil-wrapped doggie bags. One for him and the other for me. He poured three glasses of champagne. Mrs. Mason sliced into a chocolate cheesecake. I withdrew an eager smile from my purse and slapped it on.
“Almost the first,” she said. “We had to let Judith know immediately and didn’t want to interrupt your time with Susan. By the way, I hope she paid you. Cleaning out an apartment is not easy.”
“She did,” I said. “The Aaron Rent people are coming tomorrow.”
“Are you keeping that little desk? You should.”
“I think so. I’ll be moving into an apartment Abigail’s husband helped me find so I’m not sure. It might remind him of her.”
“You could always keep it in the bedroom. He’s unlikely to find it there.”
“Well, I don’t know. He might decide he’d like to marry again.”
They exchanged wise and worried looks over this. I grinned.
“It may be a moot point, my dear,” said Mr. Invalid. “We have a little proposition for you.” He held his glass up for a toast. “How would you like to stay right here and keep on managing this complex?”
“What do you mean?” I wasn’t actually sure I would, having moved into the future already.
“We’ve managed to cut Ken Eberhard out of the sale,” he said. “Arborgate is mine again.”
“And mine,” said Mrs. Mason, taking in a hefty swig of champagne.
“I couldn’t let it happen,” said Richard. “Not after what he did to that poor girl.”
“How did you cut him out?” I asked.
He winked. “Let’s just say I’ve known George Truesdale since he was a little boy.”
“Isn’t he chivalrous?” laughed Mrs. Mason. “A little land in Buckhead will not be a bad thing.” She was right. In three years, she would flip the property, turning it into condos.
“Not me,” said Mr. Long. “I just know the people. It’s your money.”
“You own Arborgate?”
“I’m your new boss, Honey.”
My smile fell. “Judith fired me.”
“She fired you because Eberhard couldn’t,” said Mr. Lowe.
“And,” said Mrs. Mason, “I happen to know she hasn’t decided what she wants to do yet. Eberhard has offered her a job managing his latest property but it’s in Birmingham.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “I thought he’d already bought Arborgate.”
“Not quite,” said Mr. Invalid. “I’ll admit it was close and if I hadn’t know little George Truesdale all his life and his daddy before him–“
“And his mamma,” said Mrs. Mason.
“And his whole family, I probably wouldn’t have managed it. George couldn’t have just stopped a sale because of that scoundrel, but he did have a buyer and we sent that–
“Back where he came from.”
“Back to the drawing board, dear. Don’t be so literal. He’s not going to mess around with any more Atlanta girls for awhile. I took the liberty of telling him so just this afternoon,” said Mrs. Mason. “He knows how he lost this property and why.”
“It was the least we could do,” said Mr. Lowe.
“It was the most we could do,” she said. “The SOB didn’t break any laws but he broke that girl’s heart and her spirit too. She’ll never get a chance to smarten up and find her own way. Like you and Judith.”
Like me and Judith. But was I any smarter or just one step further into the unknown. I didn’t know what I wanted beyond a little desk set against an upstairs window. A small dog. A sidewalk leading to Peachtree Street. The list would grow.
After dinner we took a walk in the last stray warmth to find Tim bent purposefully over the open hood of Abigail’s MG. Susan had practically given it away, whispered Mrs. Mason. Obviously, I should have spent more time this week with her.
To my surprise, Judith and Michael were sauntering around the pool deck, following Nicholas on his Christmas bike. They were laughing and though not holding hands, appeared closer than I’d ever seen them.
“There’s all kinds of love,” said Mrs. Mason, her arm linked through Mr. Lowe’s.
“And all of it real,” he said.