Marcie’s expression was clearly concerned as she watched Drake go out the door. “I hope he doesn’t start anything with Daniel. He’s little, but he’s strong – and mean.” She turned her attention back to Kayla. “Are you going to marry him?”
Kayla stood. “He hasn’t asked me yet.” She pulled the rental agreement and a pen out of the drawer.
Marcie’s laugh was more a snort. “Why do I get the feeling that he just did?”
Kayla put the contract on the table and sat in her chair. She took a sip of her coffee. It was getting cold. Marcie might be right, but she had no intention of discussing it with her.
She read the contract out loud to Marcie, stopping now and then to clarify something and circling things she needed to keep in mind with the new contract.
“I didn’t charge you two months’ rent in advance because you were my friend and you needed help. I didn’t ask for a deposit, because it never occurred to me that you wouldn’t treat my property respectfully.”
Marcie had started to hang her head, but she lifted it quickly. “I didn’t put those holes in the wall. That was Daniel. I told you he had a temper.”
Kayla gave her a level look. “First; if you let someone destroy the property of someone else and say nothing – you are an accomplice. Second; didn’t it ever occur to you that if you were that afraid of him, that you were putting your daughter at risk?”
Marcie stared at her for a moment, as though it was all occurring to her for the first time. “He wouldn’t hurt Stephanie. He likes her.”
Kayla met her gaze. “He must like you too. You’re willing to bet your daughter’s life on that?”
Marcie looked down. “I don’t think he would.”
“What about all the others?”
“I didn’t invite them to stay.”
Tough love was the only approach if this was going to work. “So you said. Who’s the parent here, and what are you teaching Stephanie by example? Surely you don’t want her to grow up and live like you’ve lived the last few months.”
Marcie’s head dropped lower. “I think we’ve already established that I’ve been a poor mother.”
“Yes, we have. What we haven’t established is if you’re willing to put forth the effort to change – not for my sake, but for Stephanie.”
Marcie lifted her head and looked at Kayla. “That’s why you’re doing all of this – for Stephanie.”
She didn’t say ‘and not me’ but it was implied. Kayla sighed.
“Yes Marcie, Stephanie – and you. That’s what friends do for each other. They help them when they’re down. When I was letting you be late on rent and let other people move into your apartment, I wasn’t being a friend. I was enabling you. You talked to me disrespectfully and I said nothing. Do you think either of us was treating the other like a friend?”
Marcie shrugged in submission and hung her head.
“Marcie, I forgive you, but I’m not going to let this go on anymore. You have lied to me and used me. You have a choice to make here. You don’t have to sign a new lease. I won’t turn you in if you don’t. I’ll let you walk out that door and I’ll fix the apartment and rent it to someone else. I never meant to make you feel trapped into renting from me. I may have pushed you into it, and I’m sorry about that.
Marcie’s expression went from remorseful to desperate. “I could walk out of here, but where would I go?
“I’ve been looking into that. There is a women’s shelter. You could stay there until you can get assistance.”
“And Stephanie? That’s no way for her to live.”
Kayla wanted to remind her that the way they had been living recently was even worse, but Marcie knew that. In fact, fear was probably the reason Marcie had been so angry with her. “If you make that choice, you can let Stephanie stay with me until you get a job and another place.”
Friends helped friends, but they set boundaries. No matter how compassionate she felt for Marcie, she was doing her no favors by letting her break all the rules. She wasn’t being a friend, or a good example, to Stephanie.
“But if you decide to stay here with a new contract, it will be with conditions.”
Marcie looked suspicious. “What conditions?”
“One condition is that you will have to help me clean and repair your apartment.”
Marcie relaxed a little. “That’s fair enough. What about the rest?”
“This is your only chance. If you don’t honor the contract, I will never rent to you again.”
“I told you I didn’t have the money and I….”
“It doesn’t matter, Marcie. It was your responsibility. If you had come to me and said you needed help, I would have helped you, but you lied to me. You lied to me all along. No more lies. You can regain my trust, but it won’t be by signing a contract. It will be by honoring it, and by being honest with me.”
Marcie shrugged one shoulder and looked at her nails. “I don’t have a job or the money for rent.” She lifted her gaze to Marcie. “Or a babysitter.”
Kayla shoved the document aside, placed the pen on top of it and stood. “You’ve told me what you can’t do. I want to hear what you’re going to try to do. It isn’t my responsibility to fix everything for you so it will be easy.”
She picked her mug up and poured the cold coffee into the sink. This wasn’t going to work. She was stretching her neck out there so that Marcie could chop her head off. Everything was always going to be the fault of everyone but Marcie.
She looked up as Drake came through the door. He smiled at her. “Done.”
“How in the world did you achieve that so fast? Did you threaten him?”
He shrugged. “In a way. I told him that if he wasn’t out of there in 20 minutes, I was going to call the police and tell them that they were doing drugs in an apartment where a child lived.” He looked at Marcie. “He had his things and was out of there in about ten minutes.” His gaze shifted to Kayla. “A few minutes later the others came by and got their stuff.” He gave her a wry smile. “I guess bad news does travel fast.”
His gaze went back to Marcie. “If you want, you and Stephanie are welcome to stay at my house tonight. I’ll change the lock on the door and fix the window tomorrow.” He looked at Kayla. “You too.”
Kayla frowned. “Do you expect them to come back tonight and start mischief?”
He shook his head, his eyes gaining amusement. “No, but I don’t fancy being alone in the house with Marcie and Stephanie, either.” He sobered. “Besides, I have something I want to talk to you about.”
“Really? Are you sure you wouldn’t rather tell Marcie so she can tell me?”
He ran a hand through his hair. “I guess I had that coming.”
“Yes, you did. In any case, I need to stay here tonight. Marcie can stay here with me if she wants, but I’m expected to be at work tomorrow.”
Marcie stood. “You two have your little talk. Stephanie and I are going back to my apartment to get some clothes and straighten up a little. I need to talk to Stephanie. I don’t think any of them will be back.”
When she went into the study, they could hear Stephanie squeal to her Mama in delight. Marcie talked to her quietly and then they left the house together.
Drake took the other two mugs from the table and dumped the coffee into the sink. Kayla reached for the coffee, but he shook his head.
“I know the traditional way to do this is to buy the ring and then get down on one knee, but…I want to be with you when you select the ring. I don’t want to start this relationship with a ring I selected. I don’t want to dominate you.”
She stared at him for a minute. Well, he was a novelist. She might as well get used to him doing things in an imaginative way. She sighed. “Thank you for the ring idea, because I don’t want anything fancy – just a wedding band, but…” She stopped and rolled her eyes. “Here I am assuming that you’re proposing to me.”
He dropped to one knee. “Kayla, will you marry me?”
“Will you get up off the floor?”
He stood, a touch of humor in his eyes. “Yes m’Lady.”
“I don’t want to dominate you either but doing things for each other is hardly dominating. I mean, you’ll be over here changing the lock on my door and fixing the window. Are you trying to work off a debt, or what?”
He folded his arms across his chest and gave her a stern look. “If you want more time to think about it, just say so.”
She started to mimic him, folding her arms across her chest, but found her breasts in the way. Warmth crawled up her neck as she tried to go higher and lower.
Drake burst out laughing. “It doesn’t fit, does it?”
She put her hands on her hips and scowled at him. That was when she thought of the knife sharpener in the butcher block beside her. She drew it out of the block as if drawing a sword from its sheath. She gave it a few whips before placing the blunt end of it to his throat. “I am Kayla, the Landlord Slayer, and I say yes to your proposal.”
He chuckled. “And in doing so, you just slew yourself.”
She sighed as she slid the sharpener into its place. “I don’t know if I’ll be Marcie’s Landlord.”
His expression turned serious. “She turned down your new contract?” He glanced at the contract on the table.
“No, but she didn’t accept it, either. I’m afraid I made a mistake with her. Maybe she’ll never accept responsibility for her actions. Everything may always be everyone else’s fault in her mind.”
He drew her into his arms. “You can’t slay every dragon, Kayla. You’ve been more than generous, and a good friend. If she doesn’t know how to be a good friend in return, then it isn’t really a friendship, is it?”
She sighed and leaned against him. “I guess I was wrong about her. I really hoped she would change. I thought that if I gave her the opportunity….” She lifted her head and looked up at him. “You’ve been so supportive. I’ve dragged you into this and now here I am whining on your shoulder. I’m not being a good friend to you.”
“Partner,” He said softly and kissed her. “The best of friends, and partners for life. Friends help friends. Isn’t that what you said?”
She slid her arms around his neck. “I love you, Drake.” She kissed him passionately and he held her close.
Finally, she stepped away from him. “I never told her I loved her.”
“Mrs. Langley. She told me she loved me like a daughter and I didn’t even say I loved her.”
“I’m sure she knew. How could she not know? I did. It’s nice to tell people, but it’s more important to show our love. If we don’t show our love, they are only words.”
He was right, of course. She knew that – down deep inside where she had it hidden. Friendship and love were two different things. You could have one, both or none. She could still be Marcie’s friend. It wasn’t necessary to approve of everything she did.
With Drake, she would have love and friendship. She didn’t merely love him. She truly liked and respected him. She had learned a valuable lesson from this experience. Never accept things a friend says as fact without doing some investigating on her own.
After Drake left, Marcie came back. Her eyes were swollen and red. She sent Stephanie back to the computer and shut the door. She came into the kitchen and sat at the table.
“Thank you for inviting me to stay here tonight. Most people wouldn’t do that after what I’ve done to you.”
“Would you like some coffee?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know where to begin. When I went back to the apartment, I think I saw it for the first time – what I was doing to Stephanie. I kept telling myself that I didn’t have a choice, but I did. I lost my job because I didn’t stand up to Daniel and Lindsey the way you stood up to me.”
Kayla sank into a chair, stunned to silence. She had thought nothing she was saying had sunk into Marcie’s head, but obviously it had. She only needed time to think about it.
Marcie pulled the contract to where she could read it. “If I don’t come up with the money for the rent, I’d be losing more than an apartment. I’d be losing the best friend I ever had – maybe even my daughter too. That scares me. I’m not sure I’m up to the task.” She finally looked up at Kayla. “I’ll try, Kayla, and if it doesn’t work out, I swear I’ll pay you back every penny I cost you – if I have to work a dozen jobs at once. I don’t want to lose your friendship.”
Kayla swallowed a lump in her throat. “I don’t want to lose your friendship either, and I don’t expect you to be perfect. I just want you to try – and be honest with me.”
“I will. Write up the contract and I’ll sign it. I was thinking – maybe I could get someone to loan me the money so you can make the mortgage payment. I could get another job – not at a salon, but somewhere I could get a dependable wage. I don’t like the person I have been for the last year. You’re right. Only I can change that.”
Kayla finally found her tongue. “Drake offered to loan me the money. You could pay it back in monthly payments.”
Marcie looked at her in surprise. “Drake?” She thought about it a minute. “Are you going to marry him?”
Kayla smiled. “Yes.”
“I don’t know. We haven’t set a date.”
Marcie gave her a shy smile. “At least you got something out of it. You wouldn’t have met him if it hadn’t been for me.”
Kayla gave her a stern look. “Or developed a relationship with him if I had believed everything you said about him.”
Marcie nodded. “That’s true.”
Kayla relaxed. “I don’t know how long it takes to get assistance, but there are a lot of programs out there that help single mothers. I’m sure you would qualify.”
Marcie nodded again. “I’ll look into that and get it done this week.”