The Grey Girl

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Chapter 3: Summer job

The summer after Alex Holt’s senior year of high school could have been better. It was the first summer since his mother had passed away. She had died just as the family business was starting to take off. Between the medical bills and the need for help with the company, Alex had started working with his father and brother. They owned a restoration and general contracting business: Holt and Sons Construction and Restoration. Alex’s father, Arthur Holt, and Alex’s brother, Aaron, had been the company’s two employees since Aaron had graduated as an electrician from trade school. Together they had built up a nice reputation, a reputation that was finally overshadowing the old stories about the family. How the once proud Holt family had lost their fortune and standing in a community with hints at witchcraft and deals with the devil. Even after nearly a hundred years, there were still some older folks who whispered and pointed when his family appeared in town. Some even went so far as to blame the old rumors for his mother’s cancer. Alex never listened to what he called “superstitious old fools,” as there was another family name in town with an even worse reputation.

Even with his dislike for the small-mindedness and his desire to escape, he had to admit the town had undergone a renaissance lately. For reasons Alex couldn’t comprehend, people from the city were investing in the area. They found the commute was easy and the property inexpensive. Many people were buying up the larger old houses and returning them from apartments and rentals back to the stately grandeur they’d once had. This held a twofold effect for the Holt’s business. All the houses needed work, and no one cared about rumors from years ago. The only reputation they cared about was the current one of doing excellent and fast work.

Even though Alex’s desire was to get out and see what else life could have in store, as the summer drew to a close, he decided against college. There was so much work to do that he made the decision to stay home, for maybe another year, to continue helping his father and brother. This was nothing new. For as long as he could remember, he would make sacrifices to help with the family business. This included hanging out after school, sports, weekends, and most socializing. This was fine with Alex, as he didn’t really fit in at school or in town either. This was a huge departure from his father and brother, both well liked in the community. Their hard work brought more people to the town, and more people brought more business.

Today Alex spent the morning attempting to keep his anxiety to himself. They had been waiting all morning for news on a big project. If Aaron was as uptight, he wasn’t saying anything. As they loaded up the work van, they waited in silence for their father to return. Both men froze. Their eyes locked, hearing the bell over the door of the office.

“It’s Pops,” Aaron whispered.

Alex spun to look. “I can’t tell. What do you think?”

Aaron’s frown told Alex he couldn’t tell their father’s feelings either. He had gone out to the public auction early that morning. The auction was for the old mansion on the outskirts of town. The place had been empty for years. The previous owners had never been to it. People in town said it was tax write-off for them. Apparently, it hadn’t worked, as the place was foreclosed. The owners before them had left the place in the middle of the night after only a few months, putting it up for sale. Albert’s father had made an attempt to buy it then and a couple of times after but could never afford it.

Approaching the office, Alex and Aaron pushed and hissed at each other, pointing and threatening. At the door Alex cleared his throat. “Well, Dad? How did it go?” he asked in a would-be casual tone.

“Load up the gear, boys; we have work to do,” Arthur grumbled. Alex and Aaron exchanged disappointed looks. Aaron nodded. At the cue Alex adopted a positive tone.

“Ah, well, Pops, not a big deal. I’m sure the place will be back on the market in a couple of years.”

“Or months even,” Aaron added hopefully.

Arthur watched his boys for a few moments. “We take possession of the Sterben house at the end of the month.” The mood shifted instantly. The slapping of high-fives and the shouts forced Arthur’s voice to rise. “Until then we still have other projects to finish up. Get it in gear!”

“Oh man, if Gramps was still here, he would be so stoked!” Alex shouted.

“Yeah, Dad was obsessed with that place and not just because—” Arthur’s phone rang. “Yes, we are on our way, Mrs. Thayer.” Hanging up, he called out, “Thayer’s all mad about the mess you boys left. Let’s get over there and finish up.”

“Mess!” Alex cried. “We left a box of tools in the corner behind the flooring.” Alex felt his blood pressure rising. “Come on, Dad, we left the place cleaner than when we arrived.”

Arthur waved a hand over his shoulder. “Yeah, yeah, let’s just get this done.”

“Yeah, so we don’t have to deal with the old broad anymore,” Aaron whispered to his brother. Alex, frowning, nodded his agreement.

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