I Still Dream About You: A Novel, page 22
AT AROUND TEN ON CHRISTMAS MORNING, MAGGIE HAD JUST FINISHED eating two pop-up waffles off a flimsy paper plate and was now sitting in the kitchen going over figures. She hated to do it, but she had no choice. After the holidays, she was going to have to approach Mrs. Dalton about lowering the asking price. The phone rang.
“Hey, Maggie, it’s David Lee. Merry Christmas!”
“Well, hello, David. How are you?”
“Listen … I hate to bug you at home on Christmas, but do you have any offers on Crestview yet?”
Maggie winced. She hoped she wasn’t getting fired. She said as cheerfully as possible, “No, we had a few people interested, but nothing solid as yet.”
“Well, Mitzi and I have been talking about it, and we think we’re just going to go ahead and buy it ourselves, if that’s okay with you. It would be an all-cash offer. Full price, of course. Both of us grew up right down the street, so it will be like coming home, moving back into the old neighborhood.”
Then Mitzi jumped on the line: “Hey, Maggie … how are you, darling? Isn’t this just wonderful? I’m thrilled to pieces! We’ve got to run, but I can’t wait to see you.”
David came back on the phone. “We won’t keep you, but I’ll call you at the office on Monday, and we can work out all the details.”
This was the best Christmas present she could have received; Maggie couldn’t think of two better people to buy Crestview. Now she could leave, knowing she had saved Crestview from the wrecking ball. She wanted to jump for joy; it was a perfect ending, except for one thing: she had been so excited when they had called, she had totally forgotten about the little problem in the attic.
Oh, no. Should she tell them or not? If she did tell them, she might lose the sale, and if she didn’t, could she live with herself? Selling it to a stranger without disclosing what had been found in the attic was bad enough, but David and Mitzi were friends; she would be just horrified if they were to somehow find out about it later and think she had been trying to deceive them.
MAGGIE SPENT THE rest of the day going back and forth about what to do. She thought long and hard about how she would feel if the shoe were on the other foot. She didn’t think she would mind about the skeleton, but it was the deception that was the issue. She went to bed in turmoil and agonized all night.
THE NEXT MORNING, she sat down and made the dreaded phone call.
“David, it’s Maggie.”
“Listen, David, before we go any further with Crestview, there’s something you and Mitzi should know.”
“Uh-oh. Is someone else bidding on it?”
“No. It’s not that … It’s, well, when we first got the listing, my partner, Brenda, and I were up in the attic, and we found a little something.”
“Termites? Oh, I expected that.”
“No. Not termites. We had a termite inspection, and it’s really in good shape as far as termites go. It was uh … something else …”
“No, no mold or structural problems. It’s just that, when we went up to the attic, we found two big steamer trunks that hadn’t been opened since 1946, and so we opened them. At first, we thought it was a bunch of old clothes, but … when we started looking through them, we … well, we unfortunately found a few old bones.”
“Yes. Well, more than a few really, uh … It was a man’s skeleton. Hanging on a hanger. Of course, we got it out of the house right away, and nobody else knows about it, but I felt that I had to disclose that information, and if you want to withdraw your offer, I will certainly understand.” She closed her eyes and held her breath and waited to hear his response.
“A real skeleton?”
“Yes. Of an unknown man. Found upstairs in the attic. In a trunk.” Maggie held her breath again.
After a long moment, David said, “Oh, hell, Maggie, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m not superstitious about those things.”
“No. I don’t see it as a problem.”
“Well, I think you better talk it over with Mitzi and call me back.”
“All right. I’ll call you back.”
AN AGONIZING HOUR later, the phone rang. “Maggie, it’s Mitzi! Listen, I just walked in the door, and David told me about your finding a skeleton up in the attic, and I think it’s the most exciting thing I ever heard, don’t you? A real mystery. Just like Nancy Drew.”
“That’s exactly what I thought,” said Maggie. “Then you don’t mind?”
“Mind? Oh, honey, you’re so cute to worry, but as I said to David, with so many skeletons in both our families’ closets, what’s one more or less? And it will make perfectly wonderful cocktail conversations, don’t you think? I’m just dying to find out who it is … aren’t you? Grandmother said Mr. Crocker was kind of eccentric; maybe he collected skeletons. It could be somebody famous for all we know.”
“Well … I hadn’t thought about that, but yes, I guess so.”
“Oh, Maggie, I just can’t wait to get back home to Birmingham. I’m so happy about Crestview; I always loved it, and it’s perfect for us until we go on out to St. Martin’s and a wonderful house for David Jr. and his family when they come back. I know you probably think I’m silly, but I’ve already started dreaming about all the parties I’m going to throw.”
No, Maggie did not think she was silly at all. She had done the same thing for years.
After Maggie hung up with Mitzi, she immediately picked up the phone again and dialed Brenda.
“Brenda? We just sold Crestview. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!”
“David and Mitzi Lee called, and they want to buy it. All cash. Full price.”
“No, and Brenda, guess what else?”
“They want the skeleton!”
“In fact, Mitzi was just delighted about it; she thought it would make great cocktail conversation.”
“Oh, hooray!” Brenda said again.
There were some things about white people she would never understand, but the main thing was, they had a sale at last.
THREE DAYS LATER, after all the papers had been FedEx’d to and from New York, and the deposit check had arrived, Maggie could hardly believe it. She had sold Crestview to a member of a good old Birmingham family, one she could trust would keep it intact, and the office had a nice commission. They had a thirty-day escrow, and if all went well, it meant that she could leave the day after the house closed, knowing that Crestview had been snatched out of the jaws of the Beast and was safe forever. Maggie had forgotten how wonderful it felt to feel so good, and just when she was getting ready to leave, too.
Monday, December 29, 2008
ON MONDAY, BABS BINGINGTON WAS BACK AT HER OFFICE ON HER computer scrolling through the Multiple Listings and saw that as of this morning, Crestview had a “sale pending” on it. Goddamn it to hell. The bimbo has-been beauty queen had somehow managed to get an offer. She knew they were probably sitting over in the office right now, gloating and laughing at her, but she consoled herself. They might be laughing now, but they wouldn’t be laughing for long.
For the past few years, she had been secretly negotiating with Hazel’s widower’s lawyers in Milwaukee and was just waiting for the day when Harry the dwarf finally kicked off or was deemed incompetent, whatever came first. Then she was going to buy Red Mountain Realty right out from under them and throw Miss Alabama out on her ear, along with the other two. A lot of real estate business owners were hurting, but not Babs. She had been very smart about her investments. About ten years ago, Babs had heard from one of her wealthy buyers about a money manager who only handled a few exclusive clients and was doing very well for them. At first, he had politely declined to take her as a client. But
BABS WAS RIGHT. Ethel and Brenda were delighted that Maggie had sold Crestview out from under her. But despite all Maggie’s efforts, she began to feel guilty about stealing the listing. Yes, Babs was not a nice person, but still, what she had done had not been exactly ethical. When her part of the commission came in, after she paid off her loan and the rest of her bills, she would send what was left to Babs. It wouldn’t be the full commission, but it was at least something, and then she could go with a clear conscience.
Blast from the Past
Monday, January 19, 2009
ALTHOUGH CRESTVIEW WAS SOLD, MAGGIE STILL HAD TO HOLD open houses until escrow officially closed, to try to get a backup offer. Today, as Maggie was about to lock up the house and go home, she heard a man’s voice in the hall.
“Hello. Anybody here? Maggie?”
The minute he said her name, she knew who it was, and her heart began to pound. She walked into the hall, and there he stood. When he saw her, he smiled and said, “It’s your old decrepit boyfriend, come to say hello. How are you, Maggie?”
“Charles … I can’t believe it’s you.”
“Oh, yes, it’s me. Only with gray hair.”
They hugged, and Maggie said, “Well. I’m just stunned, but what are you doing here? Oh, not here, but in Birmingham?”
“We had to put Dad out at St. Martin’s, and I had to sign some things.”
“Oh, I see …”
“I’m sorry to drop in on you unannounced like this, but I ran into Mrs. Dalton, and she said you’d be here today, so I thought I’d take a chance.”
Maggie was so thrown at seeing Charles that she was at a loss for words. “Well, I’m just stunned,” she repeated.
“Me, too,” he said. “What happened, Maggie? Seems like I just left home a couple of years ago … but it’s been over forty years, and I have a grown granddaughter. Do you believe it? But I swear to God, Maggie, you don’t look a day older than the last time I saw you.”
“You’re sweet to say so, Charles, even if it isn’t true, and you look just the same yourself. Can you come in and sit down?”
“I can’t, I’m on my way to catch a plane; I just wanted to say hello …”
“Will you be coming back?”
“Oh sure, we all do eventually; I just don’t know when. Mrs. Dalton told me that David and Mitzi are buying the place. I’m glad.”
They stood and chatted a little about old friends and how much Birmingham had changed over the years, both avoiding the obvious two elephants in the living room: the subject of his wife and why Maggie had wound up unmarried and selling real estate.
As she stood there looking at him today, she was struck by something. With his blue eyes and sandy hair, Charles looked exactly like an older version of Tab Hunter, one of her all-time favorite movie stars. Why hadn’t she noticed it before?
After a few more minutes of small talk, there was an awkward silence. Then Charles suddenly looked at her and said, “Oh, Maggie … you broke my heart, you know.”
Tears immediately came to her eyes. “I know I did. I broke my own heart, too. I’m so sorry.”
“I’ve always loved you, you know.”
“Yes, I do. I do know.”
They stood for a moment, not knowing what else there was to say. Then Charles finally said, “Well, I guess I’d better go.”
Just then, a beautiful blond woman cracked open the door and stuck her head in. “Hello? May I come in?”
Charles looked embarrassed. “Sure, darling, I’m sorry.”
Maggie had heard that he had married a beautiful blonde, but this woman was much younger than she’d expected (they always are). But Maggie was gracious and said, “Oh, please, come in.” Charles put his arm around the woman and said, “Honey, this is Margaret; Maggie, this is Christine.” Christine put her arm around his waist and smiled at her. “Are you the famous Margaret I’ve been hearing about all my life?”
Maggie was a bit flustered. “Well, I don’t know.”
“Daddy always told us he had dated Miss Alabama, but we never believed him. But I guess it’s true. I’m so happy to meet you.”
Then Maggie said, “Oh. Oh! You too, Christine.”
“Daddy was a nervous wreck all the way up here, and now I know why. You are just as beautiful as he said you were.”
Charles looked very uneasy, then glanced at his watch and said, “Well, come on, sweetie, we have to leave or we’ll miss our plane.”
Christine shook Maggie’s hand. “It was wonderful to meet you. If you’re ever anywhere near Lake Lugano, Switzerland, come and see us,” she said as Charles pulled her out the door. “Promise?” she added.
“Yes, I promise,” said Maggie.
“Bye, Maggie,” Charles said.
Of course, she should have known Christine was his daughter when she smiled. As she watched them drive away, a wave of sadness flooded over her. If she hadn’t been such a complete fool, that beautiful girl might have been her daughter.
AS THEY DROVE away, Christine said, “What a beautiful lady. Was she as pretty as you remembered?”
She looked over at her father. “Dad, why are you blushing?”
“I’m not blushing.”
“Yes, you are. I think you still like her. Did you ask her?”
“Did she have a wedding ring on?”
“Then why didn’t you just ask her? If she’s not married, and you’re not married, why didn’t you?”
“It’s much more complicated than that. I’m sure she’s probably seeing someone.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to ask, would it?”
“Well, we’ll see. Maybe the next time I come back, I’ll give her a call.”
“All right. But I just hope you don’t wait too long.”
Ready to Leave (Again)
Saturday, January 31, 2009
ESCROW ON CRESTVIEW CLOSED RIGHT ON TIME. AND A FEW DAYS later when Babs received the check from Maggie for her half of the commission, Babs looked at it and thought what a complete idiot Maggie was. But she kept the check anyway.
Friday Maggie had taken Ethel and Brenda out to dinner at the Highlands Grill for a big celebration dinner. Now she was free of all obligations and could get on with her plan.
This morning, she was headed back down to the river to hide her things (again) and be ready for her departure in the morning. She had saved Crestview, so even though there had been a slight delay, just like Hazel said, everything happens for a reason. She reached over and turned on the radio to the easy listening station. She was in the mood for something with violins, but then she was always in the mood for something with violins. It reminded her of old movies. Rosemary Clooney had just started singing “Tenderly,” one of her favorites, when the mattress truck entered the highway. Maggie didn’t see him, and he obviously didn’t see her, because he plowed right into the side of her car.
It was such a shock; one second, Rosemary Clooney was singing, then a loud, sickening crash, and the next thing she knew, her car had flipped up in the air and had come down with another loud noise, then flipped up in the air again, and hit the side of the road and started rolling over and over down a steep embankment, until it finally landed on its roof with a thud.
She must have passed out along the way, because when she came to, she was hanging upside down in the front seat, with a strange terrible-smelling creature right beside her. It was staring at her with odd gold-and-green eyes and slanted pupils, but she couldn’t tell what it was. She fel
“Lady, are you all right?”
“I’m a little dizzy.”
“Try not to move; you might have broken something.” She heard another person run up, and a woman’s voice said frantically, “Oh, my God. Is she all right?”
The man said, “I think so; she’s talking.” Then a woman’s upside-down face appeared in the window and shouted at Maggie as if she were deaf, “Honey, I’ve called the paramedics, and they’re on their way; the fire department is just a half mile down the road, so don’t you worry; you just stay calm, okay? Does anything hurt?”
She was looking up at the woman’s spinning nostrils and answered, “I don’t think so; I’m just dizzy.”
Then the woman clapped her hands loudly and shouted at the terrible-smelling black creature inside the car, “Leroy … get out of there!” But whatever or whoever Leroy was, he didn’t move. The woman turned to the man. “Gary, go get Leroy out of the car.” The man ran around to the other side and pulled Leroy out of the car and then said to his wife, “Stay here; I’m going to see if the guy in the truck needs anything.”
The woman leaned back in and said to Maggie, “Dear, I’m Marian Conway, and that’s my husband, Gary.”
Maggie tried to nod, but it was almost impossible to nod hanging upside down, though she did manage a “How do you do?”
“They told us not to move you until they get here … Excuse me a minute,” she said, and stood up and yelled at her husband again. “Gary. Get the goats! They’re running out on the road!”
Maggie finally figured out that Leroy must be a goat. But Leroy was not out on the road. When he had been pulled out of one side of the car, he had promptly come around to the other side and stuck his face in next to Maggie’s. The woman pushed him away with her leg. “Get out of here, Leroy, and leave her alone!”