Chapter Two: Moving In
Back in those days escrow wasn’t some wham-bam, cooking-up of paperwork in a matter of fifteen days as was the norm during the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. In the 80’s, my mother was forced to wait the full ninety days, nearly three months before she was finally given the “Ok” and we were able to move into the grand (…money-pit of a…) house upon the hill.
My father and mother had gone to walk the property a few times, once he’d returned from his business trip.
The nature of his work took often took him from us for months at a time, which wasn’t really a bad, all things considered. Whenever he was away just about everything was better. There was no shouting, no throwing things about, no threats and, alas, no tears. When he was gone, we were almost a normal family. My mother didn’t cower, forever walking upon the egg-shells spread about the course of her life by the man who should’ve been taking care of her. She was witty, funny, played tricks on us kids all the time. She laughed her throaty laugh, told bawdy stories that made Valerie cringe, and me and Eli cackle until our sides hurt. My mother was completely different when my father was away.
I wish I’d been able to see more of that side of her when I was young. It would’ve been nice to have memories of her vivacity, her thirst for life, before everything happened and my father left us for good. It would’ve been pleasant to have fond recollections of her from the eyes of a much smaller me. Maybe some aspects of my life would’ve been easier. Maybe they wouldn’t. I don’t know. I just think seeing her contented when I was as little as a toddler would’ve been sublime.
Sometimes, I grow weary of those early remembrances. I’ve come to dislike witnessing the apprehension, the disquiet upon her face, the widening of her eyes, because of the fear behind them. Why did my father have to be so full of hate? Why did he have to vet his frustration upon the rest of us? All any of us wanted was to be loved. We would’ve given anything for that. Our love in return would’ve been a foregone conclusion.
Often, when I was younger, I’d look up at the ceiling of my bedroom, especially after a particularly good day, and ask God why it couldn’t always be this way. Why did my dad have to come back? Why couldn’t he stay abroad and just mail home the money we needed to survive? Why return to a family he didn’t care for, a wife he could never appreciate? To me, as a child, it was simple. Why couldn’t life be simple?
So, he’d gone to see the house at 1052 Lincoln Drive and was immediately pissed off at my mom for roping him into such a horrific ordeal. He had ranted and raved over every single detail that was wrong with the place, refusing to see any of the potential my mother could so easily imagine. After one such visit, he refused to speak to any of us for five days, including Eli, who was only first grader. It didn’t make any sense to me. I couldn’t fathom how it was mine or Val’s or Elijah’s fault we were moving into a big house requiring a great deal of maintenance. What the hell had we done? Shit, Valerie despised the place almost as much as he had. How was punishing us with his silence fair?
But, that was him. Good ole’ Leonard G. Favor, forever misappropriate, unfailingly inconsistent. I think that shit was written in stone somewhere. It had to be. It was his precise rule-of-thumb, as though he’d read it on some ancient cave drawing in the middle of the Pyrenees and took it for the Word of God.
It had come down to money, in the end. As I said before, it was the only thing he understood through and through. He had pulled us all into his study, six weeks before we were due to move, made us all sit down as he figured out the actual cost of renovating the house. This had been an agonizing ordeal, because when it came to dollars and cents, Leonard never missed a single penny.
He had grown up dirt poor, slightly malnourished and verbally abused by his mother’s many boyfriends. (I don’t call her my grandmother, because I never knew the woman. She died many years before I was born.) I think because he was often berated and downtrodden as a kid, he was obsessed with making something of himself in order to claw his way out of the barrio. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t particularly adept at learning and having the lesson stick. Though he tried hard, his lack of ability, and his temper, always got in the way.
He’d never admit it, but it was my mother who corrected his papers. It was my mother who stood up late with him combing through his curriculum, again and again, until he’d retained enough to pass his mid-terms or his final exams. While she stayed home and took care of us, he got his degrees, he got his certifications and now, all the hard work was paying off. Only it was paying off for him and only him. The rest of us were suddenly beneath him, because, by God, he had a degree!
It used to be a big deal to me until I realized just about everyone and their grandmother had a degree of some sort, so the super-smart man I envisioned turned out to be no more than a windbag, jam-packed with bullshit.
By the time we were looking to move and he was detailing the cost down to the very last cent, he was an Onsite Corporate Controller for one of the big Hollywood studios. In a nutshell, it meant he was the guy, during the production of any given film, who wrote the checks and made sure all of the day-to-day expenses were paid. That was why he was so often away on business.
Anyhow, I digress.
We sat in his study, all four us, fidgeting and hungry until he realized he could make a sizable profit off the house on the hill and then, and only then, did he stand and say, “Ok, we’ll move.”
Of course, he couldn’t say just it and still be the Leonard Favor we all knew. There was always one more stipulation to be mandated and on that day there was no exception to that unsaid rule.
“But,” he began, “no one gets attached to the house. We’re only going to stay there until the remodeling is completed. When it is done, were going to put it up for sale. We’ll be out of there faster than any of you can blink. Do you understand?” He looked directly at my mom. “Pillar?”
We kids shared uncaring glances, shrugging our shoulders. We could’ve cared less. We were hungry. Eating was all that mattered to us.
My mother thoug
h had a gleam in the corner of her eye, but stayed otherwise silent. I would’ve missed it, if she hadn’t let it slip into a squint, a slight pinching about the eyes. It could’ve been construed as innocuous, but coupled with that gleam, it was anything but. She had glared at him. It was the first time I had ever seen her do anything like it when the subject of her ire was my father. This wasn’t her. She was always so subdued and soft-spoken. Where had this newfound wellspring of backbone come from?
He had stayed quiet for a bit as well. Then seemed to realize we were all staring back at him. He waved his hands at us. “Get the hell out of here! You’re crowding me!”
Well, what the fuck, you were the one that held us hostage in the first place! Shit, make up your freakin’ mind, I thought as I rushed out of the room, feeling like I’d just been released from prison.
That was how things were with my dad – weird.
They were about to get even weirder.
About a week before the big move, my father got called to cover a movie being filmed in Central America and left my mother in charge with no more than a rising of a single eyebrow. I’m pretty sure he volunteered to go, because, if there was one thing Leonard Favor abhorred, it was manual labor. He’d run from it like a drunk girl from a gang of horny football players.
In all honesty, though, I don’t think my mom gave a damn. She was walking on air, flittering from one stack of boxes to the next, singing and chirping like some gigantic cockatiel. We all watched her with bemused expressions. We had never seen such optimism and happiness in her. She didn’t seem to have a care in the world, though the move was going to prove difficult. Not only did we have to scrub the rental house we were leaving spotless, we were going to have to do the same thing for our new home as well.
True to his nature, Freddie had left us a little house-warming gift that needed immediate attention or we were going to have a rat infestation within a few weeks. Three months’ worth of trash, used condoms and various disposable drug paraphernalia would probably attract vampires for all we knew. At least, he hadn’t peed on the walls or stuck boogers in the door locks. A thing we’d seen at one of my aunt’s rentals years before. So there was some solace to be had. Or maybe we were just lucky he wasn’t a very imaginative sort of guy.
By the second to last day at our old house, we had finished cleaning and packing, and were ready.
We had started early the following morning, taking a decent-sized load in my mother’s Chrysler LaBaron, consisting mostly of our personal belongings. They were the items we’d be using over the course of next week, which my mother had budgeted as our “move-in” time - clothes, underwear, socks, toiletries and towels – all the necessities to survive seven straight days of work. A solid week of slavery with only one day’s rest before us kids all went back to school. Yeah, we were cutting it close.
The rest of our “stuff” was coming with the movers who weren’t expected to arrive on Lincoln Drive until the early afternoon. This gave us around five hours to get the house on the hill in some semblance of order. And boy, did we ever need it.
As Jessie had told us, months before, the house was large.
On the ground floor was the formal dining room upon entry with the living room off to the left within which was the great hearth. To the right of the front door, opposite the living room, was the kitchen and beyond that was the enclosed back porch. The porch itself had doors leading to both the front and back yards, so it was technically on the side of the house, but my mother had termed it such and the name had stuck. The stairs to the second floor began there as well. They were a narrow and somewhat curved halfway up, because the passage had to circumvent a crawlspace that had been in place prior to the building of the second floor.
Further back into the first floor, relative to the front door from left to right, was the sunroom, which was the only way to reach the deck on the north side of the house. This was attained by going through a set of sliding glass doors leading outside. In the front room, there were only windows. The very ones we had gazed out when we’d first seen the property. Attached to the sunroom was the Master Bedroom, a small, squarish hallway leading to the bathroom and another bedroom, nestled in the far southeastern corner of the edifice.
The second floor was nearly as roomy as the one below it. It had a library/study, a rumpus room complete with game-board carpeting, a bathroom, a linen closet and two more bedrooms. There was also a mini- or secondary master suite with its’ own three-quarter bath and walk-in closet attached. All of it was accessed by an east/west hall branching from the top of the stairs, which turned due north at its’ eastern terminus. From there the hall led to another flight of stairs up to the attic.
The attic was probably the “coolest” attic I’d ever seen, not that I’ve seen many. Still, it was an incredibly organized affair, stocked with shelving, placed to maximize the space and was immaculate, especially when juxtaposed alongside the mess Freddie had left for us downstairs. It was easy to walk through, accessibility to the umpteenth degree, a perfect place for storage as well as a great room to play tag with its’ semi-darkness and meandering throughways.
It was also a nice private locale for some serious making out. Of which my girlfriend and I would later discover when our desire for privacy was at its’ peak and our urge to quench it was unrivaled. Its’ seclusion was unparalleled…
There was also a basement, finished with cinder-block, moisture-treated walls and a concrete floor. It was mostly empty with a few age-old odds and ends strewn here and there. There was really nothing noteworthy down there, except for a fully functional, pot-belly furnace, circa the 1920’s. This one though had been modernized with an analog pressure system and a complex electric, valve mechanism that kept everything running smoothly and the house sufficiently warm during the winter months by literally warming the walls, from the inside out.
A workshop-sized toolshed fronted the back house, where lived our tenant. The small apartment-like structure was a one-bedroom, one bath bungalow with a small living room and kitchen. It was a perfect bachelor pad and was currently occupied by one such man, Bruce Hastings, a thirty-something hippy who, at the time, owned and operated nearly five hundred beehives throughout northeastern Los Angeles. If there was an empty, unincorporated hill or patch of land about, there was a fairly good chance Bruce had one of his hives in residence.
He has since grown his business into somewhat of a honey empire, stretching across most of the Southeast.
He had come around from the back when we arrived that morning, all smiles and barefoot. The soles of his feet pounding hard upon the unforgiving concrete of the front yard patio, though he didn’t seem to notice. He wore a pair of old jeans without a belt, so they hung to his narrow hips. He had on an ancient flannel shirt, halfway unbuttoned and covered in sawdust. He had sandy-blonde hair. He wore it long, all the way down to his waist, pulled back in a classic ponytail. Upon his nose were a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, scratched and scuffed, dotted with sawdust as well.
“Hiya, Pillar!” he had called loudly, making sure he got my mother’s attention from afar, so he wouldn’t startle her.
My mom had looked up from the suitcases she was carrying, her eyes had been stuck fast to the ground from the exertion. Immediately, she brightened. “Bruce! How are you doing?” She was so enthusiastic, she was borderline bubbly.
He beamed back. “I’m doing quite well, thank you. I decided to get a jump on some repairs before you guys got here, so I could help if you needed an extra pair of hands.” He seemed to notice he was nearly covered in sawdust and began to swipe at his garments.
My mother sighed gratefully. “Oh gosh, would that be too much to ask of a tenant? I mean, I’ve only been your landlord for less than a week.”
Bruce seemed to mull over the situation, though his eyes sparkled the entire time. “How about we chalk it up to me offering my assistance, and forget the whole landlord slash tenant rigmarole.”
My mother laughed, probably too loudly, but none of us kids would begrudge her. Not on this day. This day belonged to her. She was just so happy.
From then on, we got serious about the tasks before us. My mother and Bruce got about the common areas of the ground floor, while I and my siblings went out in search of our bedrooms.
Valerie took the bedroom closest to the master suite on the first floor. For some reason she wouldn’t explain, she was still more than a little unnerved about living in the house. So, she chose to sleep as close to our parents as she possibly could, which placed her in the downstairs bedroom directly off the dining room. Since she’d always been a private sort of individual, I was somewhat surprised she’d chose to stay in a more “public” area of the house than the upstairs, which was the case for Eli and I.
Before anyone could even think to call dibs, I called-out that the second floor mini-suite was mine. Of course, Valerie didn’t care and Eli just wanted to have a room in the “big kids” portion of the house, so he took one adjacent to the one I’d chosen.
At first, there was reluctance in my mom’s eyes. I could see she wanted Eli to take the downstairs bedroom, closest to hers, but Eli would have nothing of it. He even beamed when Valerie balked at the idea of switching with our younger brother and sleeping upstairs. My mother hadn’t slept far from my baby brother since he’d been born; thus, the thought him being on another floor during the night must’ve made her leery.
So, I explained to her that we’d be sharing a walk-in closet, so if anything happened to Elijah – bad dream, had to get up to pee and couldn’t find his way, etc. – I would be there to help.
She smiled at me, grateful knowing I was a short walk and two doorways away. My comment had made her feel better. “I guess I can’t keep him from growing up, huh?” she had said, acquiescing.
I bobbed my head in agreement.
It was hours later and I heard Eli in our shared, walk-in closet. I was hopeful he was hanging his clothes on the hangars I provided for him and wasn’t playing around, which he was wont to do if a given task proved boring.
I had finished dusting, wiping-down and sweeping all of the Mini-suite, and my little brothers room as well. I was parched by then, so I went downstairs, grabbed a root beer out of the cooler we’d brought with us. I popped open the can as I walked about the first floor, curious to see the progress of the others.
My mother and Bruce had done an awesome job cleaning the front and dining rooms and were working on the kitchen, while Valerie was cleaning the downstairs bathroom. Her room wasn’t as large as mine, so she’d finished scrubbing it a while ago.
I made a few errant comments, happy at the prospect of a new life in the big house on the hill. For the most part, so was everyone else. I made my way back to my room and put my root beer on the only piece of furniture I’d been able to get up there - my four-drawer dresser. I was intent on organizing my personal items in my bathroom, so went in search of my toiletries and other like accoutrements that would keep me well groomed.
I was in the bathroom for no more than fifteen minutes and came out satisfied. Smiling to myself, I went for another swig of root beer.
I was astonished to see the can had disappeared from atop the dresser. My thoughts strayed toward Elijah immediately. I stalked over to the closet I shared with him.
“Eli, why did you take my soda?” I accused him, then felt bad an instant later.
Elijah had been so busy walking up and down a small, three-stepped stool hanging his clothes; he nearly toppled to the carpeted floor when I yelled at him.
“W-what?” he stammered, his shoulders bunched up to his ears, startled.
I switched gears, feeling like a jerk. “Did you swipe my root beer?”
His little face bunched. “What root beer?” Then a new thought dawned on him. “We have soda?” His entire face was aglow.
I smiled in spite of myself. Eli was just so darned cute. “Yeah, in the cooler by the front door,” I explained, knowing it hadn’t been him who’d stolen my drink.
“Can I get one?”
I was glad he hadn’t thought to bear the brunt of my frustration a few moments prior. He had enough false accusation in his young life. I didn’t need to add any more to it. “Of course, big guy, you’re working your butt off up here, so I’d say you deserve it.”
“Yippee!” he exclaimed.
“Do me a favor?” I asked.
“Sure, Jer! What?”
“Grab me another root beer, will ya?”
“Ok!” And, he was off.
I went back into my room, glancing about to see what I needed to do next. I saw the bathroom towels I was supposed to use, resting on the floor, atop a green, 50-gallon trash bag, remembering my mother had brought them up an hour ago. I strode across the room, scooped them up and made my way back toward my bathroom.
I saw it then. It was sitting on the edge of the sink, beside the cup holding my toothbrush.
It was my can of root beer.
I stood there, transfixed, trying to figure out how it had moved. Had I forgotten that I’d brought it from my bedroom? Had Val or Eli been playing a trick on me this entire time? I remained motionless, lost in thought.
Less than a minute later, my baby brother came into the room, a flurry of activity, thrusting a cold can into my palm. He was about to say something, then realized I was staring at something.
I hadn’t really noticed his presence.
His gaze followed mine.
“Jer, why would you ask for something to drink when you have something already?”
I didn’t answer.
“You know how much Dad hates for us to waste anything.”
Yeah, well, Dad’s a dick. The thought was automatic, the rest of my conscious was held fast to the notion that someone had moved the can of soda, and that someone had done so without making a sound. I could only guess, at the time, who it might’ve been.
Within a few months, I would know for certain.