Stealing, Whoa Whoa Whoa Stealing

Hey, she is clipping through her edits at an amazing pace. We are hopeful she will finally turn her undivided attention to us very soon.

In the meantime, I swiped another Squatter 2 chapter for you…

Chapter 2

A caravan of white trucks pulled into Trinity’s driveway a few minutes before ten o’clock that Saturday morning. Again, her excitement overpowered her dread of the inevitable upheaval.

As though choreographed, each driver went different ways but ultimately ended up with the backs of the trucks fanned out directly in front of the house. Brakes squeaked, engines cut, and doors flung open.

With exuberant steps, Uncle Gene made his way onto the porch to greet her. They exchanged a long hug and a quick kiss before he teased her about taking over a year to decide to let him renovate. Back then, she had urged him to take all his ex-wife’s and son’s belongings, and this was how he sought to repay her for what he deemed a profit—both financial and emotional.

“Are you ready for these yokels to take over your upstairs?” he asked, and when she nodded, he warned, “Just remember that it will look like total destruction before it all begins to take shape. It will all come together in the end. I promise.”

Politely, she smiled and nodded; she had assumed as much. “Do you need me to do anything?” she asked. “Should I show you how we want everything?”

“If nothing’s changed in the past few days, the drawings and notes you emailed are all I need.”

“Nothing’s changed,” she assured.

“Good, because I think we have everything we need.” Then, he informed her that the house’s water would be shut off for at least the next hour.

She watched his crew of five assemble at the porch step, and he began barking orders. Twosomes were assigned to the sunporch, the bathroom, and the bedroom. He turned to her and said, “We will be giving you the higher and sturdier railings you wanted around the landing up there, but we’ll save that until the very end.”

For that, she’d be grateful. She hated them and the sensation of being a second from a nosedive into the foyer below.

She told them there was plenty of coffee, fruits, and bagels in the kitchen and that they could help themselves. “I’ll stay out of your way, but please let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

Uncle Gene then ordered two of them to get up on the roof to check the chimney. He needed to know whether it was worth knocking out the wall in search of the elusive fireplace. That outcome mattered to Trinity only because Maisie had such high hopes.

When they began their mission, she seized her coffee mug from the porch’s railing and hurried down the steps. Her intention was to spend the day working on her garden where peas, beans, radishes, and greens needed picking. Weeding would follow, and she figured she’d find at least ten times more weeds than the day before. She had more than enough to keep her busy.

Passing the garage on her way, she got the wagon and the cardboard flats she used for harvesting. Then, she completed the journey to the garden. She took a swig of her coffee, and after setting it down, she did her customary survey of the plot. It was hard for her to believe this was her second season and that the freezer and pantry shelves still held evidence of last year’s success. If Maisie’s mother, Jo, was correct in her prediction that this year would be even better, the enormous house would burst trying to contain it all.

She had picked nearly all the peas when she saw Uncle Gene headed in her direction. She hurried to meet him halfway.

“Somebody had that chimney completely sealed,” he loudly informed, several yards from her. When the distance between them was eliminated, he explained, “Beyond even busting the thing open, there’s no way of telling the true condition of it through the house without taking out the bedroom wall and the study’s. They could also open both ways, which I wouldn’t doubt since the other two do. So, it could also involve the dining room wall and the spare bedroom’s.”

Her eyes widened, although she wasn’t completely surprised. “That sounds like major renovation.”

“And, it could end up quite costly if the chimney’s not in good shape. It could have been sealed because there was something wrong, not just because central heating was installed. This is an old house.” He sighed before saying, “I probably should’ve learned all these things when I lived here, but I never got around to it, and, as you know, I didn’t live here that long.”

Despite knowing how disappointed Maisie would be, she said the only practical thing, “Let’s just drop the whole idea. Thanks for checking it out, though.”

“No problem,” he said with a nod. “If I don’t get a chance to myself, tell Maisie I’m sorry I couldn’t give her what she wanted.”

She laughed. “I think she’ll probably get over it. I mean there are two fireplaces already.”

“True,” he replied. “I’m sure she’ll have something to say about it, though. She’s a character.” He turned to walk away but stopped. He looked at her and said, “I like her. I’m glad you found each other.”

She thanked him and wholeheartedly agreed. She watched him walk away, and just before he reached the back door, she called, “Now, it’s your turn to find someone.”

He did not respond, other than to raise a wagging, dismissive hand high above his head.

She resumed her gardening, and at noon, she returned to the house with her harvest and prepared sandwiches for the crew. She ate with them on the front porch, and they seemed unusually quiet in her presence. From downstairs, she couldn’t help hearing their ruckus as they worked: constant chatter and jibes even louder than their radio belting out classic rock. The contrast was stark—and welcomed.

After cleaning up the kitchen, she headed back to the garden, and she worked there, uninterrupted, until Maisie showed up shortly after five.

She was disappointed to find out that Trinity had no idea of what progress had been made. “How about the fireplaces? Did they find them?”

“I’ll let Uncle Gene tell you,” she answered in a tone that let her know it would not be good news. She threaded her arm through hers and tugged her toward the house, asking how her workday had been.

Soon, they stood on the upstairs landing, and when a worker in the master suite saw them, he yelled for Uncle Gene.

A moment later, he appeared, greeting them both. Then, he apologized for the mess and reminded Trinity that it would look like demolition before construction. It was dusty and filled with tools and debris, but it did not look as bad as Trinity had envisioned.

He asked Trinity, “Did you tell her about the fireplace situation?”

Guiltily, she shook her head. “I’m afraid I dumped that one on you.”

“Gee, thanks.” He proceeded to give her the disappointing details. 

“Well, that sucks,” she responded. “There is no way I’m moving into a house with only two fireplaces.” When Trinity playfully swatted her arm, she started laughing. Then, she thanked him for trying.

He led them into the bedroom, and despite the mess, the changes were dramatic. The old, worn carpet had been removed to reveal hardwood floors that appeared to be in remarkably good condition. He said the wear layer was fine, that the floor simply needed a deep cleaning and a shine. Maisie said they sold restoration products at their hardware store and would love to give it a try.

There was new molding in the room, and the entire area around the bay window had been completely rebuilt. A coat of paint, drapes, and a few rugs would make the room quite nice. To Trinity, it neither looked nor felt like Aunt Ronnie’s old room, let alone a makeshift hospice where she had died. That was really all that mattered to her: that it could feel like theirs, not hers.

Next, he took them to the bathroom door, and the two workers in there went completely still with the boss in sight. Trinity and Maisie craned their heads inside. It not only didn’t resemble the old bathroom, it barely resembled a bathroom at all. The tub, sink, and counter were absent, leaving only bare plumbing. The light fixtures were gone, and harsh work lights made it blindingly bright.

“We’ll install the new stuff in the morning,” Uncle Gene said. “Looks like a bomb went off in there at the moment.”

The next entryway led to the sunporch that Trinity looked forward to most of all. Now with completely new floor-to-ceiling screens and storm windows, it looked out to the backyard and the wooded side of the house. She envisioned it as the place they’d go upon rising, to wake peacefully with the new day. She had even gone so far as to imagine a coffee pot in there, next to a small refrigerator for Maisie’s morning juice, and fruit to nibble on for breakfast. They’d find a cushy couch or maybe a futon or maybe just a huge floor pillow. It all seemed so decadent to her.

With the tour complete, Trinity and Maisie conveyed their praise and appreciation for everyone’s hard work. They offered to feed them, but Uncle Gene said they would be cleared out within half an hour and return at eight the next morning. He said he felt confident they could finish the job tomorrow, but if not, he’d come back by himself Monday to do so.

Trinity and Maisie stayed out of their way, taking to the front porch where they chatted about their day.

Soon, the last truck pulled out of the driveway, and immediately, they made a beeline upstairs to look at it all again by themselves. They talked colors for walls, curtains, rugs, and a comforter. They found the bathroom impossible to envision as anything other than the disaster area it currently was. In the sunroom, they realized they had both been imagining the same things about it: a morning room.

Heading to the hall, they were excited by the possibilities, even with the work involved. By the time they reached the bottom stair, they had planned a shopping trip to Dunbar, a large city with big-box stores about an hour away. They’d leave early enough on Wednesday, Maisie’s day off, so they’d be there when the stores opened to avoid crowds.

“They’re going to be incredible rooms,” Trinity said, wrapping her arms around Maisie. “I can’t wait.”

“It’ll be more like having an apartment up there or something. We won’t ever want to leave.”

They held each other for a long moment, and then, Trinity pulled back to give Maisie a kiss. “Things to look forward to.” She kissed her again before asking, “Hey, are you hungry? I’m famished.”

“Actually, I’m thinking about heading home.”

“Are you?” She made no effort to mask her disappointment.

“Well, I thought that after your day of home invasion, you could use some quiet time.”

“Very sweet of you,” she said with another kiss, “but you really need to get it through your head that I don’t consider you noise.”

“If I’m here all the time, you might.”

She paused to think before replying, “Maybe sometimes … on rare occasions, I suppose, and you’ll probably feel the same about me sometimes, too. But, I honestly feel the best when I’m with you.”

She smiled. “I like hearing that, and I’d rather stay and be with you tonight than go home.”

They quickly decided a fire in the pit out back would be the most relaxing way to end a chaotic day. Maisie agreed to get one going while Trinity assembled the items necessary to roast hotdogs and marshmallows. Dinner and dessert and only two dirty skewers.

They ate and then placed the final two roasted marshmallows into cups of hot chocolate. They slumped back, and Trinity smiled in agreement when she heard Maisie sigh. It had been a good day, and yet, it had been equally unsettling. She was glad to draw it to a close. One more day of it, this time with Maisie there, and hopefully, she could get back into the security of her quiet routine.

They sat there in silence for quite some time. Mostly, it was a comfortable silence, but Trinity began to sense that Maisie, who was completely lost in her thoughts, was upset about something. She thought to innocently ask her what she was thinking about, but this had happened several times in the past few weeks. She knew Maisie would smile at her and say it was nothing. But, it was something. Even without focusing on her, she could feel her sadness and fear. The sadness was deep, and yet, it seemed displaced somehow, as though it didn’t belong to her. And the fear seemed more like nervousness, a desperate kind of nervousness, but not from a threat. To Trinity, the strangeness of each emotion confused her, and together, they completely confounded her. Despite feeling as though she was emotionally eavesdropping, she could not help herself. She worried that it was Maisie’s reaction to their moving in together at the end of July. But, Maisie readily talked about her nervousness, so either she was minimizing tremendously or that wasn’t the matter. Maisie had given no indication that anything was wrong at work, with her family, friends, or with them. But, it was something, and yet, she knew Maisie had every right in the world to privacy and Trinity had every reason in that same world to respect it. Maybe for her, being clairsentient, she had a bigger responsibility than others had to respect it. 

Yet, it bothered her. It made her anxious.

She slunk back in her chair and wriggled her hand into the pocket of her jeans. Finding the clear acrylic cube that contained an Indian head penny, she clutched it tightly and pulled it out. For several reasons, it had become as important to her as her jade moon necklace: her mother’s name was Penny; it had belonged to her cousin Luke; and, she had used it as her focus when Joel helped her communicate with the spirits of Richard and her Aunt Ronnie. She needed focus at that moment: a focus different from worrying about what made Maisie sad and afraid.

For nearly five minutes, she discreetly fumbled the penny cube, but it gave her nothing but a temporary diversion from watching Maisie look so very faraway. She couldn’t stand it any longer.

“A penny for your thoughts,” she said. When she realized Maisie hadn’t even heard her, she increased her volume threefold, “Okay, five cents for your thoughts. Hell, make it a quarter.”

“A quarter?” She tilted her head to show Trinity her widened eyes. “Well, aren’t you the big spender.”

“All right, a dollar. Okay, five dollars!” She stretched her leg far enough to gently kick Maisie’s shin. “What’s on your mind, Maisie Beckett?” She tried to sound lighthearted, curious, genuinely interested—not desperate to know.

Obliterating all hopes, Maisie gave her the last thing she wanted and the first thing she expected. She smiled and said, “Nothing.”

She imagined thrusting her head backward and bellowing a “Nooooo!” that could be heard in town. “Nothing?” she challenged and then teased, “I’m glad I didn’t actually hand over the quarter.”

“‘The quarter’?” As she scooted her chair closer to Trinity’s, she said, “I thought you upped your bid to five dollars.”

I’ll give you a thousand if you’ll just tell me what’s bothering you! “Okay, yes, I did say five.”

She placed an open palm in front of Trinity.

“You’ll tell me for five dollars?” Her hopes soared. When Maisie nodded, she snaked her hand into her back pocket, finding it empty. “Damn, I don’t have any money on me. Take an IOU?”

She let her hand dramatically fall. “I suppose. I do, after all, know where you live.”

“I’m good for it,” she assured and then grabbed Maisie’s forearm. “So tell me. What were you thinking? What’s on your mind?”

“Actually, I was thinking about how much I love you.”

“You were not!” she blurted without thinking.

“You don’t know what I was thinking.” Forcefully, she cocked her head to look at her. “Do you?” She looked suspicious of her, and it made Trinity very uncomfortable.

“I cannot read your mind,” she swore. “Would I have offered money to know what I already knew?”

“Okay, good point.” She stared into the fire. “But, that is what I was thinking about. I don’t think there’s anything I wouldn’t do for you, and I’d bet my life you’d say the same.”

“I would say the same.” She wasn’t sure whether Maisie was leading her somewhere, prefacing a request, or simply stating a fact. Still, why would such a fact elicit sadness and fear? Maybe this did have to do with her moving in soon: sadness over surrendering the life she had built for herself, and fear—desperate nervousness—over beginning a new one.

Maisie reached for Trinity’s thigh, gave it a gentle squeeze, and left her hand there.

She waited for her to say something more, but several moments of silence made it clear that was not going to happen. Pushing the issue, though, seemed wrong. Saying, “Hey, I’m clairsentient, remember? I know what you’re feeling, and sadness and fear don’t match what you’re saying,” would have been a huge mistake. Maybe even so far as to force Maisie to develop defenses to keep Trinity out. She did not want to risk that; she wanted nothing between them. Therefore, she had no choice but to trust what Maisie was telling her—and to respect her privacy.

She put her hand over Maisie’s, still resting on her thigh.

Maisie flipped up her hand and held onto Trinity’s. “The fire’s starting to die out,” she said. “Should we call it a day?”

Sitting by a fire, Trinity knew, had a way of making one pensive. Maybe, abandoning the fire would cause Maisie to do the same with her thoughts. And Trinity with her worrying.

She brought Maisie’s hand to her mouth to kiss it. “Let’s do. Let’s call it a day.”