“I can’t leave the house unattended.” The female shook her head, her eyes worried and sad. “This is all I have in the world. What if they—”
“I could stay here,” he offered. “If you’re worried about the property, it would be my pleasure to stay in a guest room, or even sleep here on this sofa, so that you are assured all is well in your absence.”
Minnie looked at Ahna, and the granddaughter was right on it. “Granhmen, be sensible. Come downtown. It is a most generous offer by Saxton. Most generous.”
Miniahna refocused on Saxton. “I cannot ask you to do that.”
“Madam, you did not. And if it will give you peace of mind, that is all the repayment I shall ever need.”
Besides, it wasn’t like he was leaving his own home behind. More like a hotel suite with an elevation.
Ahna went over and dropped down to her knees by her granhmen. “Please. This has gone on long enough. I’m so exhausted losing sleep, and with everything that is coming up in the next few weeks, please. I’m begging you.”
Minnie’s fallen shoulders were answer enough. “All right. If I must.”
“Well done.” Saxton got to his feet. “Now, perhaps there are some things you’d like to gather? If there is much to be transported, I shall summon a car.”
Fritz might have his hands full running the Brotherhood’s lives, but there was nothing that doggen liked better than a problem to solve.
“Come, Granhmen, let’s get you packed.”
“But I could come back. Shower and change here each night and—”
Minnie rose from the sofa and looked around. With her white hair and another version of the same loose dress she’d had on the other night, she seemed every one of her years, not just old, but worn out and discouraged.
“I’m worried that if I leave…I won’t ever come back.”
“That is not true,” Ahna said. “This will always be your home.”
“You want me to move in with you.”
“Of course I do. But I’m not going to make you leave here for good. This is about safety, not because you’re frail and can’t live independently. You will absolutely come back if that’s what you want.”
It took some more cajoling, but then the females were heading for the second floor. In their absence, he took out his phone to call for the butler to send a car. And then he cursed. He had to work all night, yet he’d promised to babysit the house.
As if on cue, his phone rang and he answered it without checking to see who it was. “Hello?”
There was a pause. And then Ruhn said, “I’m so sorry.”
Saxton closed his eyes. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. I am uninjured.”
Are you who I thought you were, Saxton amended in his own head.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m in the truck, going back to the Brotherhood’s compound.”
“I’m sorry I left without saying anything, but I was concerned about a retaliation against Minnie—I’m at her house now. She’s leaving with her granddaughter as soon as she has some things gathered.”
“Good. That’s good.”
There was a pause. And just as Saxton was trying to re-form the “are you okay?” thing, Ruhn spoke up. “Listen…I want to explain things to you. I know that you are shocked, and I just…I’m not that person. I mean, a part of me is. But…” The male took a deep breath. “I am very good at something I hate, and I used that skill for a number of years for my family. That is not me anymore, however—and I don’t want it to be. That is my past. It stays…in the past.”
Saxton thought about the male who had sat across from him at that little table. The one who had been so careful as he had eaten things he could not pronounce, but had loved. The one who had sheepishly tried to tackle escargots à la Bourguignonne and ended up with one shooting off onto the floor. The one who had sipped white wine and held the delicate glass as if he were afraid he would break the stem.
Then he thought of the lover who had bent him over in the kitchen.
Passion. But not rage.
That could be a thin line to walk, however.
In the end, he had to go with his gut. “Could you do me a favor?”
“Can you come to Minnie’s? We need to transport her stuff downtown. She and her granddaughter can dematerialize to the address, but if you could bring her things to them, that would be great.”
“I’m on my way.”
“See you in a bit.”
“Thank you. Yes.”
As the call was ended, Saxton took the phone from his ear and stared at it.
“Everything okay?” Ahna asked as she came down the stairs.
“Yes, indeed. Is that suitcase all?”
“She has a carry bag, toiletries, and some pictures of my grandfather she would like to bring.”
He got up and walked around the little parlor, coming to stand in front of the fireplace with its blue and white tiles. As he thought of the love that had brought the pieces of art across a vast, dangerous ocean, he wanted that force of grace and warmth and stability in his own life.
But it was hard to find the courage to open oneself again. There was such risk involved, and though the reward was great, the chances were slim.
Funny…that this was occurring to him as he considered Ruhn.
Clearing his throat, he said, “Can you please tell me how to operate the security alarm? I work nights, but if it goes off, I can be here, with reinforcements, in an instant.”
“But of course. There’s a pad over here in the kitchen.”
As they went in, and she wrote various codes and cell phone numbers and her address down, he looked around and noticed that there was a light out in the recessed fixtures in the ceiling. And the faucet was dripping over at the sink. A whistling by the back door onto what he assumed was a porch suggested some weather stripping had to be replaced.
It had been two years since Minnie’s hellren went unto the Fade, if he remembered correctly.
If he were handy with these things, he would help her.
“Let me go check everything is in order downstairs in the guest quarters.” Ahna headed for what had to be the cellar door. “She’s going to need to make sure everything is in order as she wants you to feel like the honored guest you are. But I don’t want to waste time or backslide.”
“I will be fine.”
“I’ll be right back.”
After a minute, Minnie came around the corner, pulling on a coat the color of mulberry wine. When she saw the basement door open, she became flustered. “Oh, I must go down and—”
Ahna appeared at the head of the stairs. “Everything is in order, Granhmen. Come now, let’s go.”
Minnie looked around as if she were saying a good-bye that tore at her heart. “I, ah…” She glanced at Saxton. “Your friend is more than welcome to stay here as well?”
Saxton covered his own awkwardness as he bowed. “You are most kind.”
It took another ten minutes to get the older female out of the house, but then she and her granddaughter left her things by the front door and dematerialized from the closed garage. Left by himself, Saxton returned to the kitchen, took off his coat, and started up the Mr. Coffee machine. As the unit burped and hissed, he got out one mug. Added a second. And then sat down at the circular table in the alcove.
Funny how each and every home had its own smell, its own accent of creaks and groans, its singular impression. And as he looked around, he saw the Old Ways preserved…and old love enshrined. It was a sad commentary on the relentless progress of life that there was visible decay and aging happening, one half of the happy couple trying desperately to sustain that which had been a two-handed carry.
He thought of Blay and his time with the male.
And was still locked in his memories when he heard a truck pull up to the front of the house.
Ruhn, he thought, as he got up and headed for the front door.
Or perhaps the shady developer had sent reinforcements.