Authors: Viola Grace
Copyright ©2009 by Viola Grace
First published in Devine Destinies, 2009
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To Mortimer who watches my back yard and to Splitz, who guards my sleep. I love my gnomes. Silent guardians of our begonias.
Her hands shook as she pried open the letter and with a squeal of delight and ripped the documents from their enclosure. She flipped through the pages, detailing her sales and gaped at the final figure on the cheque.
It was everything that she had ever wanted. Annabeth Hanover clutched at the precious document that would lead her to the next step in her life and let out another squeal that had the neighbours pounding the walls in irritation.
"I have it! I actually have enough to buy my house.” Her giggles and happy dance took her through her tiny apartment and onto the balcony-fire escape. Who could have imagined that selling a book with photos of her own sculptures would be the means by which she got her freedom?
Gnomes of Suburbia
was that very book. A pictorial record based on the rather modern take of garden gnomes in an urban setting.
It was not a best seller, but this third royalty cheque was now enough for her to put a down payment on the house that had haunted her dreams since she first set eyes on it.
Number Thirteen Oak Point Way would be hers, provided that no one had purchased it in the three months since she first turned down the street and laid eyes upon it.
The instant that she had stepped out of her clapped out station wagon and walked up the overgrown drive to meet the realtor, she had known a feeling like none before.
She was finally home.
Annabeth Hanover hung up and then stared at the phone in her hands. Her super had just told her that if she could leave her apartment by the fifteenth that he would refund her complete deposit and an additional month's rent. The money would pay for three months of her mortgage at her new home. She would be a fool to miss out on it, wouldn't she?
With a deeply felt sigh, she called her real estate agent and asked her about the possibility of her getting in earlier. “Miranda! Hi. How are you today?"
"Fine, and how are you Annabeth? Getting ready for the big move?"
"Yeah, about that. Is there anyway I can get into the house before the fifteenth? I mean when you showed it to me, it was ready for me to move in. So would it be possible?"
Silence reigned on the other end of the line. “I had a call from the water department, they need to come in to change out the meters and investigate a leak so I am afraid that it won't be habitable for another few weeks. I am very sorry."
"No, no problem. I will let my super know that I am staying until the thirty-first. Thanks for considering it."
"No problem, this is why you should always call your real estate agent before doing anything rash.” Miranda's warm tone relaxed Abby as it always did. “No surprises this way."
"Exactly. Well, have a great day and see you on the thirty-first. I can hardly wait. Bye.” Her mind was already whirling with possibilities. One kept floating to the surface and she repeatedly shoved it down. Finally, she was alone in the coffee shop with one other patron and still staring at her phone and running the options. When a latte arrived in front of her and Tina nodded to the guy in the back of the shop reading the paper, she sighed, then smiled. “Tell him thank you, he may have just saved my life."
"Yeah you had that look about you. He's a nice guy. No strings attached.” Tina shifted off and she was left with a steaming cup of coffee and the same problem that she had had since speaking to Miranda. Abby needed to get out of her apartment early, and God help her, there was only one way. With a shaking hand, she punched in the number and took a long draught of her latte. She winced as the end of the line was picked up. “Hi, Mom? Do you still have an empty garage?"
While she listened to her mother agree to the use of her property, Abby's gaze wandered over to the man who had sent her the latte. When he dropped the paper enough for her to meet his eyes, she sighed in disappointment. Sure he was gorgeous, but he was brunette and brunettes creeped her out, that dark hair and those dark eyes hiding something. The instant that she thought it, he looked up at her, startled. In a flash that left her rubbing her eyes, he vanished.
Seriously, he just disappeared. His paper was crumpled and his coffee still steaming, but he was gone. Just like magic.
It had been two weeks at her mother's before the woman finally snapped. “How did you manage to fit all of this stuff in your tiny apartment?” Betsy Hanover had as much contempt for her daughter's collection as she did for bits of foil trash on the street. They were pretty and shiny, but she wanted them away from her pristine home. Abby just sighed.
"It's a talent for collection, Mom. I came by it honestly.” She simply shrugged and went back inside the house, leaving her mother to take a mental inventory of her pile of stuff. Abby was going to get some breakfast.
Her mother's house was pristine and clean, and cluttered with about five thousand pieces of china from a variety of eye bleeding patterns. Despite the clutter, there was not a speck of dust to be seen, Elizabeth Hanover pursued it as her arch enemy.
This was the main reason that she disdained her daughter's
hobbies. The fact that sculpting often used real dirt distressed her to no end. Abby simply shrugged it off and kept up her hobbies.
She fixed herself some eggs and toast, settling to read the daily paper. She skimmed over the movie releases, the book releases, got a chuckle out of the personal ads and then moved on to serious stuff. Local crime caught her eye when she saw an eerily familiar room photographed on the page in front of her.
Her old apartment had been ransacked.
The picture showed the new couple's boxes slashed in what the paper was calling one of the worst acts of vandalism they had ever seen. The new couple was quoted as being shocked beyond belief that their property had been destroyed within weeks of their moving in.
Especially brutal was the destruction of the new bride's collection of dolls and stuffed animals. Not one had been left intact. Abby winced as she imagined the amount of stuffing strewn about the apartment. Her heart went out to the new occupants.
"Hey, Mom! Did you see this?"
Betsy bustled into the kitchen, sweeping away the minute crumbs of Abby's breakfast with a frightening attention to detail. “What, a new toy?"
"No. My old apartment was broken into. They trashed everything that the new couple had. Even the stuffed animals.” She shivered as she spoke. Someone was walking over her grave. If she had moved out even two weeks later, those would have been her belongings being trashed. Her precious gnomes would have been at the mercy of the vandal and she wouldn't even have had a chance to show them their new home.
"Too bad it wasn't your stuff. You could have claimed on your insurance and replaced everything.” She gave the paper a cursory glance. “It would have been like a home makeover show."
"Are you saying that having a violent stranger trash all of my critters would have been a good thing?” Outrage filled her voice, she could hear it.
"Don't raise your voice to me while you are in my home.” Her mother played the victim well. “After I opened my home to you in your hour of need."
"For a tidy profit, Mom. You are charging me to be here, remember?"
Her mother looked shocked. “Only in some of your crafts for Christmas presents."
"My time and effort aren't valuable? The list of stuff you gave me could earn me close to three thousand, Mom. They aren't just
Betsy sniffed in disdain. “Whatever. You still owe me.” She cruised from the room under full sail, as regal in her demands as any queen.
Alone again, Abby muttered to herself, “Fine. But I am leaving my fingerprints on everything.” That tiny bit of rebellion would make her feel smug.
Ah well, she only had one more night in this place and then she was off to her new adventure. And she could leave her crumbs wherever she wanted.
It was a damned shame about the new tenants of her apartment though. They had seemed like a nice couple. She hoped they had insurance.
Her room hadn't really changed much. It was still far too neat, all blue chintz and white oak. Betsy hadn't wanted to encourage her creative daughter any more than necessary. Her room had been kept sparse and utilitarian at all times. The only decorative thing that she had owned was her big book. Abby had found it in the woods and had kept it close to her ever since. It soothed her like nothing else and here it was waiting for her on the desk. Her one steady friend. She surveyed her room and came to the inescapable conclusion that nothing had changed. The window overlooked a spacious backyard and it was sparse but well kept, only one garden shed at the back of the property.
Abby had taken over one of the backyard sheds that used to be there and made it her own. She could see the spot where it had squatted when she looked through the window. Her mother had wasted no time in removing it from the premises the instant that her daughter had moved out. That was sixteen years ago.