“Thank you for your consideration, sir,” said Tony with a huge smile.
Richard Cole watched the smart young man leave his home down the front path. He didn’t take his eyes off the kid until he’d driven away in his older gray pickup truck. Richard was too excited by what he’d just been offered. It was only a blind adherence to standard business protocols that kept him from agreeing to hire the guy right on the spot. Instead, he promised to let the young man know once he’d had time to think his proposal over.
But there was nothing more to consider.
Richard had lived in his Cambia home for five years now. He and his wife, Margaret, had moved here from San Diego, bent on retiring in their favorite sleepy town on the Central California coast. With their only daughter at last finished with graduate school, nothing was left to keep him from cashing in and entering retirement.
And he’d done it!
Moving here had brought him the most excellent feeling of accomplishment in his life, on par only with raising his beautiful daughter to adulthood and seeing her flourish.
Though Margaret had talked him into buying a larger retirement house than they needed, some four bedrooms in total, Richard had managed to make it work. They wouldn’t be able to travel as much as their friends would like, but both he and his wife were homebodies and perfectly fine with it. The house would need updating one day, but that too meant very little to them. Living among the soaring pine trees, only a five-minute walk to the pristine surf, was everything they had dreamed of. Who cared if the kitchen didn’t have granite slap countertops people were after these days?
But their dream soon became a nightmare when Margaret was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. It wasn’t merely that Richard’s medical insurance was three times higher in retirement than it had been when he was employed - the type of treatment Margret required was more expensive than they had ever considered preparing for.
Richard’s first inclination was to sell the house. He would need to update parts of the home to get a good price, but what of it? Margaret, however, would not agree to leave. And as she became weaker, and the pain of the tumors grew, Richard hadn’t the heart to make her suffer through even one more moment of grief.
He’d taken money out of the house to cover the final expenses, just enough to cover the last hospital payment after Margaret had finally been freed from her agony. In his despair, finding himself in this large, empty house with only the most painful memories, Richard knew he couldn’t stand it much more. When he applied for a part-time professorship at the local university, it had been to fill his days with noise more than anything. Richard sought any reason to be away from the silence and memory of her pain. But he also knew it was the only way to pay off the equity mortgage and afford the updates needed to sell the home.
Richard knew it would take time to accomplish, but that was all he had left to him now.
And then this morning, something completely unexpected had happened. A bright, young man named Tony had visited the house to ask about renovating it all by himself. He wanted to be more than a carpenter, Tony explained, a strong passion in his voice - he wanted to be an artisan. Making Richard’s home shine, as it never had, would be the type of break Tony craved. With this house, he could create a photo portfolio that would open the kind of doors that could ensure his career and dream.
Tony would do the work in his own time, and it would very well take a few years. He would take the house down, room by room, and replace almost everything with the most exquisite craftsmanship imaginable. But he would charge Richard next to nothing, little more than the price of materials. In any other scenario, Richard would first have to save for years before the work could be contracted, and it would never come close to the quality Tony promised. As Richard would continue to lecture at the college, his home would be restored around him. By the time he had cleared the note, Richard could sell the house at a phenomenal price and start his retirement again.
The idea set his mind alight, and he practically danced up the stairs to his bedroom to draw a bath. He carried with him a large glass of Tobin James Zinfandel, his absolute favorite red. Today’s news called for the perfect glass of wine and a fun espionage novel on his e-reader to celebrate.
Richard had only recently moved back into the master bedroom. Just weeks after him and his wife had moved into the house, Richard had taken another bedroom to give Margaret space as she suffered in her illness. After her death, Richard had avoided the room for nearly a year. But in time, after grieving heavily, Richard made peace with her death and reestablished himself in the master bedroom. Being in the room had, in the end, served to keep her memory close to Richard.
Opening the tap, Richard allowed the water to run warm before he closed the drain. He poured some bath salt in the tub, a remedy that worked best on the arthritis that had recently flared in his right hip.
Turning to undress, Richard was confronted by a man standing in the bathroom doorway. This man was taller than him, solidly built, with dark, wavy black hair and steel blue eyes set under a sharply furrowed brow. He was dressed in a heavy crewneck sweater made of dark wool and brown corduroy pants, lightly worn at the knees. He wore no shoes and stared silently at Richard for many moments before the elderly man gathered the wherewithal to speak.
“What are you doing here, son?” Richard asked the man, calmly. “This is my home.”
There was something familiar about the man’s face, Richard thought, but he couldn’t remember why he’d seen it before.
“You should leave, now,” said Richard, again calmly, “there’s nothing for you here. Do you need assistance?”
The silent man moved his chest as if he were about to speak, but no sound came.
With one fine blow, Richard felt himself push down back onto the bathroom floor. His head hit the edge of the bathroom tub with a hard punch, and the lights in the room went dark.
Richard couldn’t see, nor hear, nor move.
And finally, there was nothing at all.