When Kayla told her parents that she had agreed to talk to Marcie’s landlord, they looked at each other with concerned expressions. They were eating supper and Dad carefully laid his fork on his plate. He had something on his mind and he would divulge it as soon as he had it organized. Finally, he placed his elbows on the table and folded his hands under his chin. His troubled gaze met hers.
“I know you have known Marcie since you were in grade school, and you are friends, but…what do you think of her asking you to do something that is clearly her responsibility? Doesn’t it give you second thoughts about renting to her?”
Kayla loved and respected both her parents, but sometimes they could be a little too conservative. It was natural for them to look out for her welfare. She was their daughter. But who was there to look out for Marcie? Her parents lived hundreds of miles away and rarely contacted her. Marcie had a daughter to look after as well.
“Well, I did assume a lot when I made plans to rent the house to her. She’s so busy and she says her landlord is a real dragon.”
Mom gave her a stern look. “Have you ever met him?”
Kayla shook her head. “No, but from all the things Marcie has told me, it sounds like he is a typical slumlord.”
Mom took a sip of her coffee. “In what way?”
“Well, her hot water heater was broken down for almost a month and she was the one who finally paid to have it fixed. She said he told her that, according to her rental contract, he wasn’t responsible for fixing things. She had to heat water on the stovetop. She even had to wash clothes in the bathroom and hang them over the tub to dry!”
Dad looked confused. “Why did she have to hang them over the tub? Didn’t she have a dryer?”
Mom shrugged. “Why couldn’t she wash them in cold water?”
Kayla stared at Mom. Why didn’t she think of those questions? “I don’t know. Maybe she likes to wash things in hot water and couldn’t wring them out enough to put it in the dryer. Maybe she doesn’t have a washer or dryer.
As usual, Dad was getting distracted by irrelevant details. “She says if she is a minute past the time he tells her to be there with the rent, it doesn’t matter if she has to work late or what; he charges her a late fee.”
Mom nodded. “I suppose that sounds greedy, but…couldn’t she pay it the night before and avoid that possibility?”
“Not if she doesn’t get paid until the next day.”
Dad frowned. “If he’s that bad, why doesn’t she find a different place?”
“Actually, she said she looked into that possibility. They all ask for two months’ rent and a cleaning deposit. It’s kind of hard to come up with that when your bank account is being sucked dry by late fees and repairs the landlord should have made.”
“Now don’t get worked up,” Mom said. “You only know one side of it. If you decided to talk to the landlord, keep that in mind.”
Dad nodded. “Make sure you have her sign a rental agreement that protects you.”
She didn’t need protection from Marcie, but to put their minds at ease, she told them she had found a standard rental agreement for Arkansas online. It wasn’t a lie. She simply didn’t tell them that she intended to alter it for Marcie’s sake. Marcie was having a difficult time and she intended to help her. It would be nice having Stephanie next door. She could take them to the park and do things for them, like she did for Mrs. Langley.
For the next two weeks, Kayla was so excited that she had trouble sleeping at night. She decided that she would move into Mrs. Langley's apartment and use her furniture. The idea of selling it or letting someone else destroy it was upsetting. Most of her own furniture had been picked up at used furniture stores. She would sell her furniture and Marcie could move her furniture into Kayla’s current apartment.
For the entire two weeks, the ordeal of talking to Marcie's landlord weighed on her mind. She had nightmares about talking to him and having him stare at her with eyes like burning coals, his face contorted into lines of rage. His gray hair was long and unkempt and a beard and mustache hid his mouth. Maybe he had no mouth. At least that was the way she pictured him in her nightmares. Mom was right. She shouldn’t get worked up about it. Maybe the landlord was disabled – or even had Alzheimer’s. He lived in a nice house, but maybe he was living on a fixed income or had a mortgage on his home. There were lots of possible reasons for the way he treated his tenants. It wasn’t her place to judge him.
When Thomas Langley arrived, he read all the papers and signed them without comment. He didn’t act upset, but it crossed her mind that Thomas might not be as okay with the sale as his mother had indicated. Kayla helped them pack Mrs. Langley's belongings into the box trailer that Thomas had rented. She hugged Mrs. Langley and asked her to stay in touch. She waved goodbye to them as they left. She was going to miss her elderly friend.
Turning, she looked at her first home through misty eyes. Mrs. Langley was riding away to the end of her life in a place that wasn’t familiar. It seemed unfair that she was starting a promising life in the home she loved.
She squared her shoulders. She had a lot of work to do. She needed to go through Mrs. Langley’s apartment and get rid of the things she didn’t intend to keep. She had decided to take those things to a non-profit store in town that benefited those in need. It felt disrespectful to take immediate possession of Mrs. Langley's home - or what had been her home for so many years.
Fortunately, she had a lot of things to pack in her apartment. The other matter of immediate concern was talking to Marcie's landlord. At this point she wished she had insisted on Marcie handling that chore herself. But she had promised, so she reached deep down inside for the courage to face the guy, and simply did it.
Marcie’s description of her landlord’s home didn’t match what Kayla found at that address. Drake L. Logan, alias Drake the Dragon Landlord, lived in an affluent part of town. As Kayla walked up the curving sidewalk through fall blooms and foliage, she wished she had that magical sword for protection. The majestic old house with its curved porch and gables made it look like a castle. A wide stone chimney only added to the medieval look. The lush landscaping surrounded it like a moat.
She paused at the door and tried to swallow a dry lump in her throat before pressing the doorbell. She was careful not to press it too long, and only once.
A long time passed with no sound from inside. She was beginning to think she was fortunate enough to catch him away from home when the heavy wooden door swung open. The tall lean man who stood behind the glass storm door was young, probably only a few years older than herself. Beside him stood the biggest dog she had ever seen.
"I'm looking for Drake Logan," she announced in a voice that wasn't as steady as she would have liked it to be. In fact, it had a tremor that sent blood racing to her face.
He gave her a curt nod. "You've found him."
She stared at him in mute silence. She had come prepared to talk to an older man, not an attractive young man whose steady gray gaze probed her mind. An uncomfortable silence fell between them as she tried to reorganize her spiel.
His blonde brows drew down in an expression of impatience. "If you're looking for a rental, I don't have any available right now."
She finally found her voice. "I'm not looking for a rental. As a matter of fact, I hope to make one available."
His steady gaze scoured her face as he waited impatiently for her to explain.
She sighed. "I came to plead for Marcie. I bought a duplex and I want to rent one half to her." It wasn't at all the speech she had prepared, but it seemed more appropriate at the moment.
He nodded comprehension. "So, she wants out of her lease without a penalty." His voice lifted at the end, as though it was a question, but his expression proclaimed it a statement.
"Basically," Kayla answered. Actually, she simply wanted to know how much it was going to cost to get out of it, but since he brought up the no-penalty idea, she was willing to explore that instead.
He pushed the storm door open. "Come on in." When Kayla hesitated, his gaze mocked her. "My office is inside."
Warmth invaded her face again as she stepped into the house. A fine impression she was making of a dragon slayer. At this pace she'd be lucky if she didn't wind up renting Marcie's apartment to placate him.
He held the door for her as she stepped inside, careful to keep between her and the dog.
Drake addressed the dog in a deep gentle voice. "Go lie down, Woolsey."
Woolsey turned obediently and walked away, his toenails clicking on the hardwood floor.
They were standing in a large foyer with a curved staircase sporting polished wood railing. The color of the walls was a soft mint green that contrasted attractively with the dark shiny floor. At the base of the staircase was an antique mahogany table with fresh flowers in a dark metal vase. A walnut book case covered most of one wall. In addition to books, there were dragons perched on shelves and hanging over the edges. It gave the room a feeling of mystery and intrigue.
Drake opened a door off the foyer and stopped, watching her with a faintly amused expression.
"It's beautiful," she said, and couldn’t completely conceal the tone of awe in her voice.
He waved a hand, directing her into the office. There he opened a wooden file cabinet and thumbed through the manila folders. "Marcie Cambridge, right?" His voice was no longer gentle. Apparently the gentle voice was for big shaggy dogs.
"Correct," she answered, glancing around the office. She was trying to think of something to lighten the mood when she spotted the book on his desk. "The Crown of Rafael," she read the title. “I just got through reading that. Ayden Scott is very good, isn't he?"
He glanced up as he pulled a file out of the cabinet and followed her gaze to the book. "You didn't find it a bit wordy?"
She met his gaze and smiled. She wasn't going to berate a good author for the purpose of soothing his ego. "I didn't think it was at all wordy. I thoroughly enjoyed every word."
For a moment she thought he was going to smile, but he shifted his attention to the file and pulled out a paper. Reaching across the desk and opening a long drawer, he extracted a pen and wrote something on the paper. He placed it on a scanner and made a copy. He handed the paper to her.
"There, she's out of her contract."
Kayla took the paper. "Thank you. Is there a fee?"
He shook his head. "Good riddance."
It was a mean thing to say and she had the feeling he said it to see how she would react. For that reason, she didn't react. She turned and walked from the room, acutely aware that he was still watching her. She glanced around the foyer. "It looks vintage."
"It is." My parents bought it 40 years ago. It was starting to go downhill then, so they began an authentic renovation that lasted over 20 years. I inherited it about a year ago when they died in a car wreck."
She glanced up at his face. "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. I can't imagine how difficult it was for you to lose both parents at once."
For a moment he studied her face. "Most people tell me how lucky I was to inherit the estate."
She winced at the rancor in his tone. "I'm sure they weren't thinking about the full implications of their words."
He nodded, still watching her. "Possibly… probably; but you did."
She didn't respond and he walked her to the door. There he paused with his hand on the handle. "I've been told that I don't have the personality for this job. I have to agree. My parents bought all these properties to rent for income. Things were different back then. The government wasn't as involved and there were fewer people who felt entitled."
She'd have to agree that he didn't have the personality for it, but his reasoning was probably an echo of his parent's perspective. People were no different now than they were back then and the government got involved to protect people from greedy landlords. Still, he had obviously inherited a responsibility that he didn't want.
"Why don't you just sell the properties?" she asked.
He shrugged. “That has crossed my mind many times, but it all belonged to my parents…" his voice trailed off and he ran fingers through the short hair on the top of his head, causing it to stand on end. It was all she could do to keep from laughing. He looked like a dragon.
It sounded like Drake felt emotionally trapped but was too proud to admit it. He was probably sorry he had brought it up. She turned and opened the storm door.
"Thank you very much for your help." She walked out the door before he responded.
"Good luck," he called after her.
She climbed into her car and breathed a deep sigh of relief. That wasn't as bad as she had expected. It was strange how two people could get an entirely different impression of one person. Marcie thought it was creepy the way he looked at her. Yet to Kayla, the way Drake looked at her merely caused her to wonder what was going on in his head - but not in a creepy way. Of course, their meeting had taken no more than ten minutes. Drake's "good riddance" comment indicated he didn't like Marcie. That much she was sure she had interpreted correctly. Maybe it was a personality conflict between them.