Unexpected Trouble by Lauren Wood



“Don't give me that look, Ashley. You knew when you came that this was only going to be a little bit of fun. I have a lot to do in the morning, and I don't need you hanging around here. I’ll see you later.”

I went into the bathroom, and I shut the door. I was hoping that Ashley wouldn't be here when I got back. It was starting to feel like this little bit of fun we were having was something more. I knew that she wanted more. She had said as much. She tried to show me every time that we got together, that she was the perfect one for me. What she didn't realize though, was I wasn't looking for perfect. Hell, I wasn’t looking for anything.

I could hear her talking from the other side of the door, but I didn't open it to see what she was saying. It was probably the same thing that she always said. How I was being mean, and we never spent any time together outside of the bedroom.

I didn't feel that way at all. I think that we spent just the right amount of time together, and the bedroom was the only place that I wanted her. Our setup worked just fine for me. She needed to get with the program or this really wasn’t going to work out for me. It already felt like it really wasn’t.

When I got out, thankfully, she was gone, but Ashley had left a little note that I wanted to ignore. I knew what it was going to say. It was going to tell me that she’d had a great time, and she couldn't wait to see me again. Even when I was an asshole to her, it didn't seem to matter. I really needed to stop calling Ashley. She took care of my needs well, but there was a lot of extra drama involved with her. I couldn't say that I wanted it all that much.

I threw the note away without even looking at it. I told myself again that I wasn't going to call her in my moment of need. I would just take care of it myself. It wouldn't be the first time that I’d tried and failed to do that.

I got out, got dressed, and was relieved to see that my bed was empty. My house was empty, and I locked it, making sure that she didn't try to come back. She had before, and I didn’t want her to try it again.

I did have a few things to do in the morning, so I didn't stay up too late. I was in the middle of filing taxes and instead of finishing like I should have, I procrastinated and went to bed instead. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I did not want to deal with it. It was much like Ashley. It was something I had to deal with but didn't want to.

* * *

The next morning,I had to meet with a new renter. The bottom half of my cabin was up for grabs, and I had finally found the right tenant on paper. I didn't need near as much room as I had, and it seemed a waste to just let it go empty. It was my deceased wife’s art studio. At least it used to be. Before...

I pulled the thought from my mind. I didn't even know why I was thinking about it to begin with. I hadn't thought about Anna in a very long time. It had been years since she and her unborn baby had died in the car accident. I think that was when I had lost whatever humanity I had left. It made me cold inside. I knew that. There was nothing I could do about it though. It’s just the way it was.

So, I was finally working up to renting it out. It had taken me a lot to do it. However, it had taken a couple of years to part with or even disturb any of Anna’s things in her studio. It needed a bit of work to make it an apartment, but now I was feeling a little better about it. I was going to get the first renter and then all of it was going to be worth it.

I ran a shop in town that fixed large machinery. That was my main source of income and job, but I also did real estate on the side. It all started when my brother wanted to sell my mother's house after she died. We were supposed to split it, and it was in pretty bad shape. She was always pretty secluded and didn't want anybody messing with anything. We put a little bit of work into it and doubled the profit in just a couple of months. That was my first taste of real estate, and I had been going full tilt ever since. Including the one I lived in, I had ten other small houses and cabins in Jefferson, Maryland. It was a small town, but it had big heart, and there was enough tourism to keep it going. It was a great place to live, beating out every other city I looked into. Jefferson always won.

I was supposed to meet the renter outside. I was running a little late and I wasn't quite dressed, but I saw a woman standing with her back to the door, looking out into the yard. It must have been the renter, Tracy Tipton. She ran her own business and didn't need to find a job or anything. That was a lot of the trouble with the people who came to Jefferson, because it is so small and jobs are scarce. I worried if one of my renters would be able to pay their rent, so I liked to rent to people that had good jobs. Tracy had been running her business for years and seemed to be a good fit. She said she was moving away from Chicago, just to get away from everything. I didn't really exactly know what that meant, but she was willing to pay several months ahead, plus security deposit.

Because I wanted to keep her as a renter, I went out and stuck my head through the door so she didn’t leave before I was present.

“Sorry I am running late. If you want to come in, you’re more than welcome to.”

Her view was on my hard chest, and I think she liked that it was bare. She rolled around and stared at my bare chest. I didn't really even know what to say, but I was struck by her beauty. I didn't know that Tracy Tipton would be such a vivacious blonde, with bright blue eyes and a congenial smile. My heart lurched in my chest for a moment, probably because she looked like somebody that I’d known very well in the past. It wasn't her though. It wasn’t Anna.

Any little thing made me think of her and gave me reactions that I couldn’t stop. I shouldn't have to deal with feeling this way. Anna's been gone for almost four years now, and it had been a long time since I’d felt that way. It used to be every time that I saw a blonde from behind that was about her size, I would think about her. For a minute, sometimes I would forget that she was dead, and I would call out her name. The welcome would never be heard though. They would turn around and look at me quizzically like I had lost my mind. Sometimes I wondered if that was true or not.

“Come on in.”

Tracy followed me in and shut the door behind her. She was still standing by the door when I came back out and this time, I had a shirt on. That seemed to make her a little calmer. I didn't know what was going through her mind at the moment, but she had this weird look on her face and in her eyes. They were so bright and then she looked away like she was shy. Nothing that she had done before that moment made me think she was shy though.

“Nice to meet you, Tracy. My name is Steven. I'm just going to take you downstairs to the bottom rental where you would be staying. Right this way and watch your step going out.”

I was brisk, but that was only because I had learned that that was the best way to deal with people. As soon as I started to show any part of myself, I ended up getting tangled up with their problems as well. I didn't want that. I just kind of wanted to be left alone. I was hoping that Tracy would fit in well. As long as she didn't ask too many questions and she didn’t try to get into my business, we would be just fine.

I showed her the place and she did ask a lot of questions. She wanted to know if it had a trash compactor. I told her that she didn't need one. There were other things that she wanted as well, but the trash compactor seemed to be a hold up for her.

“You just use the trash.”

“And what about a dishwasher?”

I sighed and told her that there wasn’t a dishwasher, because that wasn’t needed either.

“It's kind of just one of those things that you do by hand. I don’t know why they had to make a machine to do it too.”

“So, there is not a lot of modern conveniences here, I take it?”

I shook my head and told her that there wasn’t. “Is that going to be a problem?”

She told me that it wasn't and that she was looking for a little peace and quiet anyways.

“Maybe a step back from all the conveniences will help.”

“Good, I don't like a lot of noise. I'm the one that lives above you, so are you comfortable living that close to your landlord? Me?”

Tracy shrugged and said that it didn't matter either way. She was very nonchalant about it, and she kept smiling ridiculously. What the hell was she smiling about?

“Yeah, I think I can live with that. I’ll take it.”

“You'll take it? You haven't even seen it really. Don’t you want to look around some more first?”

She shrugged her shoulders again, like she really didn’t care and said that she had seen enough to make her decision.

“It's a good price and I like all the open space. I feel like it will be nice and quiet here and that I will be able to get a lot of work done.”

I agreed that it would be, at least as far as when it came to me. I didn't have anything to say to the woman. She seemed to have her own worries and all it seemed to be about was lighting and modern conveniences. She asked me if I would mind if she put in a dishwasher, and I told her that I wouldn't.

“Do you even know how to do that?”

“No, but I'm sure I'll find somebody to help me. Most people are helpful. They want to be anyways.”

She had a smile on her face that looked almost secretive. Why did I get the feeling that I was going to be the one to do it?