Find a Christian store Find a Christian store

<< Go Back

River Town (Running Forward) (Volume 2)

By Lynn Hobbs

Order Now!

Chapter One
August 1, 2011
9:15 AM

Susan Penleigh pushed hard on the antique doorbell button. Amid the long, shrill announcement of her arrival, the shuffle of footsteps noisily approached the door. It was difficult to be patient. Sweat trickled down her back like ribbons of wetness, and her short mop of blond hair hung damp and lifeless. Today all energy was zapped, by the sticky, high humidity. Occasionally, a small gust of hot air gushed by reminding her of a blazing pizza oven.
Will this Northeast Texas drought ever end? Can you please hurry and answer the door? It is 112 degrees out here…
Air conditioned coolness blasted over her when the door jerked open.
A deep male voice lashed, “What do you want?”
She gasped, stepped back, and stared into the sneering face of a bearded, unkempt man. Long and neglected, the mass of hair surrounded a tight, drawn mouth. His rough demeanor caught her off guard. Undeterred, she coughed against her hand and held up a folded newspaper with the other.
“I read your ad about a furnished apartment. Is it still for rent?”
“Sure, come on in.” A sly grin spread across his face.
Offensive order overwhelmed her. Filth covered the room, open boxes of who-knows-what, dirty clothing, molded food on paper plates―she gagged. He reached out and grasped her arm, pulled her to his side, while awful, foul breath pierced her nostrils.
Susan’s eyes widened in shock and the urge to gag subsided. A loud, blood-curdling scream erupted from her throat as she twisted away. She nearly tripped going through the doorway. Fear pounding in her chest, she reached for the brick exterior wall to catch her balance. “Get away from me!”
He looked annoyed. “You have the wrong address. This is my home.” A guttural laugh spewed from his throat.
“Do not ever try to touch me again.” Susan gritted her teeth and clenched her fists. This is supposed to be 11010 Bentley Drive.”
“Must be a misprint in the paper, lady, go and talk to them.” He grabbed the knob and slammed the door with such violent force the hinges rattled on the wooden frame.
Susan scanned the neighborhood, but no one appeared to offer any help. Trembling, she frowned, pivoted on the sidewalk, and hurried to the car. She slid inside and turned on the ignition, adjusting all A.C. vents toward her. The blower pushed out ice cold air, and Susan savored the moment. Thank you Lord for my Chevy Equinox and for getting me safely away from that house. Susan looked back at the potential apartment, locked her doors, and shuddered. The nerve of that man.
To calm down, she studied the surroundings and noticed large cracks in the dry, red dirt. Wilted trees, unfortunate plants and shrubbery had burnt to a crisp; long dead under the extreme heat. Lawns were beige and brittle.
A movement caught her eye. Susan, still parked, raised her head in time to notice a young woman, clad in cut-off blue jeans and a halter top, darting out the side entrance of the unruly man’s house. The girl jumped into an older, white car, backed out of the driveway, and sped off down the street.
Hmm, what is she doing with him? Guess she sees something I don’t. Susan briefly pondered the situation, placed her vehicle into drive, and headed out of the neighborhood.
She drove around searching for the route back to downtown, came across the town’s population sign of 25,000 and laughed. “Okay, Mrs. Divorced Lady, aka Teacher’s Aide; how can you start your new job in this new town if you leave the city limits? She laughed and her spunky attitude returned. Susan arrived within minutes, circling the town square by the courthouse. Traffic on the streets was light. In fact, except for three parked vehicles, the entire area appeared deserted.
Spotting a Realtor sign, she pulled into the slanted parking space. Powerful heat engulfed her during the sprint from the car to the building. A draining weakness overcame her, and threatened her heart rate. Inside, the smell of candles seemed out of place, but the mingling scents soothed her. Unfortunately, the air conditioner had seen better days. It labored noisily, almost in vain. Three ceiling fans spun on high speed, circulating the air, and promised relief.
A middle age man approached wiping beaded moisture from his forehead with a paper towel. His sandy-brown hair hung down in wet ringlets. “Rick Yeager.” He extended his free hand toward Susan, and smiled.
And you, sir, had better behave.
“Susan Penleigh, and I am so glad you are open, “she said, shaking his hand. “It’s like a refreshing, cool, oasis in here.”
“Ha, I don’t know who’s happier about the cool part―you, me, or the electric company. We’ve had over 60 days in a row of at least 100 degree weather or higher. Sure can be dangerous. Please sit down.” He motioned to the wrought iron chairs and a small, matching round table centered in front of a huge window, overlooking the town square. “What can I help you with?”
“Rental property, quick. My job starts in a week, and I’m running out of time. Thought I had a place lined up, but turned out to be someone’s home.”
“Whoa, what happened, where did you go?”
“11010 Bentley Drive, “Susan replied, glancing out the window.
“I know the owner, guy with a beard?”
“Yes.” She gave the Realtor her full attention.
“He’s Wes Harper, local carpenter. Does great work, too.”
“A high level of testosterone is all I noticed and a filthy house. Needs to keep his hands to himself.” Susan frowned and gripped the side of her shoulder strap purse.
“He can be bold, but he’s harmless. Wouldn’t hurt him to consider a wife.”
“And why am I not surprised by your statement?” Susan looked up into Rick’s blue eyes and raised an eyebrow, “So, he’s not married?”
“No, ma’am. Could I get you something to drink?”
“Thanks, but I really need to start looking at other rentals. Do you have anything available?”
“Several, furnished and unfurnished. What do you have in mind and what kind of price range?”
“I’d prefer furnished. I’ll be working at River Town High School and need something nearby, if it’s affordable.”
“Ma’am, excuse me for meddling, but how tall are you…what, about five foot three?”
“Close, why?”
“Discipline is horrible here. Those older kids will chew you up and spit you out. You won’t stand a chance. They don’t want to be taught anything, and you’ll end up being the scapegoat. The school board will insist you are an incompetent teacher. Seen it happen too many times.”
“Mr. Yeager, I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the lives of students. I left Seattle, Washington and relocated to this small town in Texas to help teach. I am even more determined after talking to you. Thanks for the warning, though.”
“Fair enough. Follow me and we’ll drive a few miles through the forest to the river. Housing there should be within your price range.” He grabbed a black, Stetson hat from the wall rack and held the door open for Susan. Outside, he stopped to lock the office. She was quick to shove dark shades over her eyes, as the blinding sun bore down upon them.
True to his word, Susan found herself in a thickly, wooden region. His massive black, Toyota Tundra truck zipped along, and she drove behind him in hot pursuit. He eventually braked and reduced speed. She quickly viewed the hilly East Texas terrain from her side car window.
Over thirty cabins and bungalows hugged the banks of the winding river. Paved roads were a relief. At least I will not be isolated or have to deal with a muddy road this winter. She pictured herself fitting into the neighborhood with total ease. Empty tennis courts loomed ahead at a local park surrounded by a tall cyclone fence. Susan slowed the car as she noticed shimmering sand caught up in swirls of hot wind under a volleyball net. I can almost visualize a game. Almost hear shrieks of laughter explode as young adults run toward the net, and kick sand under their feet attempting to clobber an out of bounds ball. Looks inviting…maybe in the fall of the year.
Trees were scattered around the park providing shade, and at the entrance a huge sign displayed the map of a bicycle trail. Susan chuckled as she read the words ‘For your enjoyment. Enter at your own risk.’ Ahh, liability, still sounds like fun. Have not been on a bike in years.
Rick turned into a long, circle drive about a mile past the recreation area. Susan parked her car behind him and walked briskly to his idling truck.
“Excuse my restless driving. My mind was miles away.” He cocked his head to the side and motioned toward the house. “Care to check it out? I think you will approve.”
“Yes, let’s go, and I hope we haven’t gotten off to a wrong start. I am thankful for your help.” Susan gave him a brief smile. Rick returned the gesture, climbed down from the Toyota, and grabbed a folder from the seat. Now a perfect example of a professional Realtor, he escorted Susan to the bungalow. She surveyed the area as they approached the front door. Round, white, glass bulbs of a six foot tall hobo light sat majestically in the middle of rambling brown ivy. Landscaped timbers on all four sides, formed two levels containing dry stalks of something indistinguishable, obviously planted long before the drought took hold. Rick unlocked the door, and Susan stepped inside the house while a strong, fresh, paint smell engulfed her.
“Clean.” She muttered, while ambling into the open area. Modest furnishings appeared to be in satisfactory condition. She examined the couch and matching love seat and made her way to the kitchen. Taking note of the sparkling stove and refrigerator with labels still stuck to their fronts, she saw the information packages on the counter. “Brand new warranties?”
Rick nodded and pointed toward the rest of the house. “Two bedrooms, two baths, on the left.” He paused as she cast a glance inside the rooms. “Kitchen and dining on the right, you have seen that, and laundry room near the pantry―is just past the kitchen. At the end of the living room, you can go through the sliding glass doors and walk out to the covered patio.” They meandered to the rear of the house as he talked. “It has a grill, and near the river is a fire pit, and seating for twenty. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend having friends over now. Folks get cranky and short tempered in these overheated days.”
“I agree, and we all try to avoid stress, Mr. Yeager.” Susan leaned out the back door and peeped outside. “I am impressed. It is exactly the right size for me…how about the price?”
“Trash pick-up included…six hundred a month plus lights, gas and water.”
“Not bad, and the deposit?”
“Four hundred on the house, none on utilities―they are in the owner’s name. So the utility bills will be mailed to you, and no pets allowed.”
Susan did a double take at the Realtor. “A rare bonus on the deposits, but a shame not allowing a pet.”
Rick shrugged his shoulders. “Damage is not worth it.”
“Well, I still want this place. You have got a deal.”
He opened his folder and handed her several stapled pages. Susan retrieved the document and signed each designated line. “Looks like a pretty standard contract,” she remarked, and wrote a check.
“Yes, it is.” Rick detached a copy from each original page, gave the copies to her along with a set of keys, and took her check. “I’m glad you like the house.” He shook her hand again.
“I’ll contact the moving company in Seattle to bring my belongings. Should only take one trip, and I will be settled here in a few days. Until then, the motel I saw in town will be perfect for me.” Susan retrieved car keys from her purse while she and Rick sauntered out the entrance.
Susan kept going.
Rick chuckled. “Mrs. Susan, aren’t you going to lock your door?” He stood near the hobo light while she turned and came back.
“Oh, I am too excited.” Susan sensed her face heat up and imagined she must be blushing.
“Here, I will do it.” His key clicked in the lock.
“Thank you, and I cannot wait to get moved in.”
“Here is my card. If you ever need help with anything, let me know.”
“I do appreciate your kindness.” Susan stuck his card into her purse as they ambled down the driveway, in no hurry despite the heat.
“Hey, you have a new neighbor. A moving van is unloading around the corner.”
“Where? I don’t see it.” Susan squinted against the sun and raised a hand over her eyes.
He nodded toward the grove of tall, pine trees further down the road.
“Hmm…good eyesight, I can barely see the end of the van.”
An abrupt noise of squealing tires ended the conversation. Startled, Susan quickly looked in all directions. Rick gasped and raised his head toward the road. Wide-eyed, they watched two police squad cars race by without sirens. Lights flashing, the vehicles speed increased, and the roaring sound of engines changing gears penetrated the air.
Susan, clutching a purse and car keys, managed to cover her hands over both ears until the rumble grew less intense with distance.
Rick stared at the cars departure and appeared lost in thought. He grimaced at Susan and climbed into his truck.
She entered her car and lowered the window.
“Busy neighborhood,” she yelled, as they drove off in the opposite direction.
Wonder if I have dead bolts…

Order Now!

<< Go Back


Developed by Camna, LLC

This is a service provided by ACFW, but does not in any way endorse any publisher, author, or work herein.