She honestly doesn’t know who I am. I can see it in her gigantic green eyes. I didn’t get the oh-my-gosh-you’re-Johnny-Nickel eyes or the swoony here-are-my-underpants look. She’s standing at the end of the counter, brown hair in one of those cattywampus buns, in an oversized white tee hanging off one shoulder and ripped jeans. Looking hella sexy as she tried to stab me with a key.
Paul walks in, rubbing his eyes. “It’s early, man. What’s with the commotion?”
“This here is Jac, and she claims she lives here.” I point to the room we’re standing in.
“I do live here! I’m not just saying I live here! Well, I mean. I used to live here. I grew up here. My parents live here now. Who are you?” She stares right at Paul.
“Paul Brown, and there must be some mistake. We rented a house from a couple who’s away for the summer. Clearly, you’re not away. I hope you’ll be able to find another place to stay,” says Paul.
Her cheeks are red, and her green eyes look teary. She sniffles. Please don’t cry. She bites her lip and picks at her nails.
“Yeah. You’re right. I probably should find a place to stay. I’m the idiot who thought a surprise visit was a good idea. But I have nowhere to go because my husband left me six months ago, and I had to give up my apartment. And I just really needed to sleep in my bed with the comforter my mom made from all my t-shirts.” She takes a breath. “I can call my brothers. They’ll take me in, but I didn’t want to have to ask them for anything. I wanted to do this on my own. Which doesn’t even make sense because I ran home to the house I grew up in, but I at least wanted to do most of this without anyone’s help. I wanted to prove to them, to myself, that I am ok.” She takes a big sniff and wipes her nose with the back of her hand. “Oh my gosh, I’m sorry. I’ve only just met you and I’ve already jumped up on my emotional soapbox.”
Her speech grabs at my heart, and I want to help this adorable creature.
“Hold on a minute,” I say, turning toward Paul. “Let’s talk about this. It’s her house. She doesn’t have to go anywhere yet.”
“It’s not her house,” he says, with quotes around her. “It’s her parents and we have an agreement with them.”
“Surely we can be gracious until this gets figured out,” I plead.
“Regardless, we’ll need you to sign an NDA,” says Paul and walks out of the room.
“An NDA?” Jac’s eyes get even bigger when she looks at me.
“Sorry about this. He’s kind of a stickler for procedure.” I shrug my shoulders because the actual answer is way more complicated.
“Why is there an NDA and a procedure for me staying in my house?” she asks as Paul returns with papers and a pen before I have to answer.
“Ok. So, these are legally binding. Once you sign, you agree you will not share any information you overhear or anything you see with anyone or discuss it in the future. Any mention of anything you see or hear will result in a penalty and a date in court.”
Her eyebrows arch up her forehead. “Who are you guys? Mafia? Drug lords turning the house into a meth lab?”
“I told you. We’re in tech. No need to worry about your safety.” I glance at Paul, who looks at me and mouths, really?
Greensea is my home. My safe haven. As soon as I see the clapboard shingles, I relax. I want to sit and listen to the waves lapping on the rocks. Go out in the kayaks and look for bioluminescence. Hang out at the bar at The Old Owl and eat peanuts while I have a Greensea IPA. Hike in the Grand Green Forest. And read every romance novel Mom has on the shelf. I want to feel like I did before Nick left.
The taxi lets me out at the top of the driveway, and I walk down my favorite brick path. There’s a keypad above the door handle, but my trusty old Hello Kitty key still works in the door. I drop my bags in the foyer and walk into the kitchen. It’s only been six months since my last visit home, but Mom’s taken cottage core to the next level. Jute rugs layered on top of each other. White slip covers and beige throw pillows covering up the old couches. Rattan chairs facing the bay. Jars of sea glass and shells. Wooden beads draped over driftwood. Straw sun hats displayed on the walls. Topped off with the light scent of sage and salt water. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good look; it’s just like Coastal Living magazine threw up in the family room.
I walk out onto the deck and look out at the bay. The morning sun warms me just enough. The fir trees pop against the blue sky. A heron clucks. The salty air carries notes of low tide. The paddle boards and kayaks are in their designated spots next to the boathouse. Dad has the yard in tip-top shape and Mom’s flower containers look better than I remembered in their red, white, and blue holiday spirit. This is just what I need.
Yesterday I closed up my first-grade classroom for the summer. At the beginning of June, I packed up my apartment and put everything into storage and I’ve been staying with my best friend, Daisy. Daisy and I are better friends when we’re in our own apartments. She meditates, does a sound bath each morning, and loves Phish. I like glitter, Pinterest boards, and Neil Diamond. Sharing an apartment with someone reaffirmed my need to make enough money so I can have my own place.
I figured Mom and Dad would still be enjoying their coffee on the deck, but no sight of them. I can’t wait to surprise them and start this trip on a happy note instead of a defeated one.
“Hello?” I yell into the kitchen. “Suuuurrrprise! I’m home!” I announce, but there’s no response. Mom probably has Dad out on the pickleball court early this morning. I give her a quick call, but it goes to voicemail.
The garage door closes. They’re home. I turn around with my arms up. “Surprise!”
“Ehhhh!” I scream. Not Mom. Not Dad. A guy with headphones on. Shuffling his feet in some sort of dance move. I grab my keys out of my pocket and thrust my Hello Kitty key in his direction.
“Whoooa! What the bloody hell!” He puts his hands up. “Who are you?”
“Who are you?” I ask back.
He’s smiling and laughing at me. “Were you going to attack me with a pink key?” he asks with a thick British accent.
“If I needed to. Who are you and what are you doing in my parents’ house?” I ask.
He must be a new friend of one of my brothers. My heart is pounding. He removes his headphones, puts his hands down, and ties his long black curls into a small ponytail on top of his head. He rubs his heavy five o’clock shadow.
“Parents’ house? I think you must be mistaken. This is my rental house,” says the stranger.
“Rental house? Not quite! I’ll ask again, who are you?”
“I’m er—John. John Penny. Who are you? And why are you in my rental house?”
His house? I look around. I haven’t been here since Christmas, but it’s definitely still our house. Our family picture taken at Oliver’s graduation is on the counter next to the fruit bowl. The fridge door handle is still duct taped from hours of the boys hanging on it, complaining there was nothing to eat. Even though Mom’s been giving things a glow up, I still belong here. Not him.
“I’m Jac Brock—I mean, Sherman. And my parents live here!”