True life-changing events only happen when you don't expect them. That's by definition. When you know what's coming, you're at least mentally prepared to make decisions. You can war-game out what you can do. The real deal, now -- that's when you go on instinct.
I was minding my own business on that fall day. And when I say "minding my own business" I'm using the English language in precise terms. When you have to build from scratch a second time, you're a little more careful, a little more meticulous, than you were the first time. When you've lost it all and then some, you know already how much it hurts and avoiding that pain becomes central in your life.
So there I was at Johnson Realty (Texas version), getting ready to head out to lunch, when one of the secretaries walked into my office. "Hugh, there's someone here who wants to look at a rental property. Sorry to bother you, but there isn't anyone available to work with her because Irene called out with the flu."
"Don't worry, Janice," I said, "I'll handle it. Thanks." She bustled out and I headed to the lobby of the office. Yeah, I'm the boss, but showing properties and stuff is what I do best. It's how we stay in business, and after what happened first time around, I don't like leaving things to chance. I'm happy to do it myself.
It was when I got to the lobby and saw who the prospective renter was that the whole world came to a stop. It took me back five years, and to another state, and a business that I lost, not because of a bad market or lack of effort, but from trusting the wrong person.
After going to college for a business degree in North Carolina, I stuck around and built a booming realty business thanks to a decade of hard work. I'd sunk all of my time and energy into my career, leaving nothing much in the way of time for a personal life, but by the time I reached my mid-30's it had paid off in a big way.
Then Lucy Neils joined the staff. She had just gotten her real estate license and seemed hungry to make good. Lucy had an 8-year old daughter she was raising by herself after two ugly divorces. I liked her attitude and determination to close sales. And I have to admit, she was smoking hot.
Lucy was 5-foot-2 with red hair, a voluptuous figure, and an outgoing personality. She was honest about her lack of experience, telling me that she knew she could sell but that she needed a mentor to teach her the ropes. She said she wanted to pick my brain because I had the top agency in town and she wanted to learn from the best.
Single, 35, unattached, and rather naïve about women -- I was flattered, then hooked, and then things progressed rapidly and naturally from there. She was an apt pupil at real estate, and a pretty good teacher at things horizontal. I wasn't inexperienced, but she took me places that I never dreamed even existed. It took just six months before we were married.
And I reveled in a new-found family. Her daughter was vivacious , smart as a whip, and just plain sweet. Randi and I bonded almost instantly. Her sperm donor of a father, then her mother's second husband never gave the girl any attention. When I came along, it was like a door had opened for her. She got involved in soccer and brought home good grades in school, especially in math and the sciences. Life couldn't be better.
Then it got ugly. After a couple of years, Lucy's insatiability in bed had been sated a bit. I figured it was just how things went in a marriage. You know, after the honeymoon period, things would slack off a bit and settle into a more normal routine.
Well, yes and no. She was getting sated not just by me, but being a trusting soul, I never had a clue. When I discovered she had been cheating, I was devastated. The breakup and divorce with Lucy was nasty. The ex got zero in alimony thanks to her cheating. North Carolina divorce law rocks. I ended up selling the business.
Usually, I would have fought tooth and nail to keep the house. After all, it came thanks to all my hard work. But I was worried about Randi. After five years, I realized that Lucy was a shitty mom. She really didn't care all that much about her daughter -- it was all about her, first last and always. I figured leaving that bitch Lucy with the house would at least insure her daughter would have a roof over her head. I also made a deal on the QT with my attorney and set up a trust fund Randi could tap to help her go to college. I wanted it kept secret until she turned 18, and her mother was never to be told of it, no matter what.
Leaving Randi was hard, but I explained to her that I had to get out of there and go clear my head and make a new start. With all that had happened, there was no way I was sticking around. The memories were just too vivid and nasty. Randi was mature for her years, and said she understood, though she looked crushed that I was leaving. It hurt me too, but I had to go for my own sanity.
I had done what I could. So, I packed my bags, went halfway across the country, and never looked back. I returned to my home state of Texas and started over. Good habits bring good results, and in the intervening five years I was almost back to where I'd been before the world came crashing down around my ears.
There she was -- Randi, but all grown up. And oh brother, had she grown up. She had shown the promise of great beauty when I left, but she was so good-looking it almost hurt my eyes. In a way it did hurt my eyes because she looked so much like her bitch of a mother.
She saw me, and her face lit up in a smile. "Hugh!" she said, and ran over to me to give me a hug. I was stunned, but I hugged her right back. It was good to see she hadn't changed that much. She seemed happy and upbeat. Deep down, I'd been worried about how all the turmoil in her life would affect her. I had tried not to think about her for the past five years because I had that feeling of guilt that I'd abandoned her. But her smile was infectious, and any self-reproach I'd felt melted away.
"Randi, it's good to see you. What in the world are you doing out here?" I asked.
The smile melted off of her face. "I'm in the middle of transferring to the school here in town. I had to get away from Carolina, and the engineering program here is good."
"What's wrong? What happened?"
"Hugh, it's a long story. Not worth telling right now. I'm trying to find a new apartment. I've been out here for about seven months, and my roommate just bailed on me. I'm trying to establish in-state residency to cut down on the tuition costs."
"Smart move. That should save you about $3500 a semester -- maybe more."
"Multiply that by five, since I'm halfway done with my sophomore year." She smiled. "I can do the math, you know."
I smiled back. "Engineering, eh? I'm not surprised. You always got good grades in math and science."
"You bet. Anyway, I'm looking for an apartment that's not too far from campus. Probably on the south side of town is what I can afford."
"I usually don't handle the rentals, but let me get the paperwork on what we've got. Tell you what -- it's almost noon. Why don't I take you to lunch and we can figure out where to go and what to see?"
She agreed, so I went back to the main sales room, grabbed the rental list and we got in my car and headed out. Randi suggested a sub sandwich, since it was quick and cheap, quick being more important. We went inside, got our order and sat down at a big table to give me room to spread out the papers.
I hadn't paid much attention to the rental properties that we were managing, so I was starting from scratch. But it sure didn't take long to get familiar with things, since pretty much everything was taken. Late September in a college town means a lot of rental properties that are already taken. What was left was pretty crappy stuff in less than ideal parts of town.
That's when I asked her the most important question. "Randi, how long do you have to find a new place, and do you have a roommate lined up yet?"
"No roomie yet, and I have two weeks to be out of my current apartment."
I was shocked. "Two weeks? What happened, and what have you been doing?"
She sighed. "Hugh, nothing's been going right. My current roommate has to go home to take care of her mom. She was diagnosed with cancer two weeks ago. Lois is 45 and divorced and her kids are long gone. She's the only one that can take over up in Oklahoma. Almost all the furniture in the apartment is hers. I have almost nothing. I'm going to have to dip into my college fund to get some minimal furniture, regardless. Where I'm waitressing, no one is looking to move, so I'm out of luck there.
"It boils down to this. I have to find something cheap and fast, or I'm going to have to borrow couches soon. I'm not real picky here. I'm just looking for someplace halfway livable."
"You said you have a college fund. How much do you have in it right now?"
She looked down at the table, and then looked me straight in the eye. "I've spent $10,000 of it so far. Hugh, you do the math. I bet you know exactly how much I have left. After all, you're the one that set up the anonymous trust account."
I tried to look confused. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, please. Cut it out. I don't have anyone else who gives enough of a rip about me to do something like that. You know I don't have any family except my mother. Well, that and whoever she might be shacking up with at the moment. Nobody worth a damn since you." She let out an exasperated sigh. "Nobody before you, either. And I don't blame you for leaving. I totally get why you hauled ass out of Carolina. But you did something noble before you left, and I don't have the words to thank you for it.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Then I smiled. "But I figure that leaves you $20,000. If you're talking $3,000 per semester in tuition and fees, that leaves you on the ragged edge in paying for school. The inflated cost of school is amazing. Five years ago, $30,000 would have covered four years somewhere."
"That's why I've been waitressing since I got to Texas. Now, what the hell choices do I have?"
And that's when instinct took over for me. The solution was blindingly obvious, as I sat at the table, mopping up the oil that dribbled from the Italian sub I'd just finished.
"Randi, I have a 3-bedroom house north of town. I'm living by myself. I'm bored out of my mind when I'm there. Tell you what -- this is when family is supposed to help out. Why don't you move in with me? We won't worry about the rent. All you have to do is help out with housework and chores around the house. We'll split that 50-50. You can claim me as stepfather if it'll help with getting you Texas residency. Plus, you'll have your own room, your own bathroom, and you can have peace and quiet for studying. And if you're going to be engineering major, there's going to be a lot of studying going on."
"Hugh, are you serious? Really? Really?" She looked like she might break down in tears. "Oh my God, thank you, thank you."
"Randi, you've been dealt a shit hand all your life. Your father is worthless, your mom is a waste of space, and you've been on your own practically since birth. With all that, you've managed to be an A-student, become a beautiful young woman, and you're a good person. A really, really good person. You deserve to have something good happen."
I gave her a smile. "Now, when do you want to move in?"
"Yesterday," she laughed. "But how about Friday morning?"
"That's fine. I'll arrange with the boss to take the day off. Will you need a truck or anything to get your stuff moved?"
"I wish. I don't have that much. I can cram it all in my car." She paused. "I can't believe this is happening!"
"Believe it baby," I said. "Time for some good things in your life." I gave her the address, and we agreed to meet up at 10 am two days later.
Of course, that meant a lot of work for me. I'd kinda let the place go to hell a little bit, so I actually took Thursday off as well, and spent the time cleaning out both bedrooms and de-crustifying the kitchen and everywhere else. And believe me, there was a lot of crust. We're talking bachelor living at its finest here.
Friday morning rolled around and right on schedule I heard a car turn into the driveway and make its way through the trees to the house. Her car wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but it certainly wasn't a Cadillac.
When Randi got out of the car I was stunned. She was an absolute vision, wearing a Henley shirt and tight shorts. Her tits seemed huge on her small frame, showing a good bit of cleavage thanks to the half-buttoned shirt. Her ass was in proportion, round and for lack of a better word, ripe. I suddenly realized what thoughts I was having about this quasi-daughter of mine, and I was ashamed.
She broke through to my befuddled brain when she gave me a big smile and yelled out "Hi, Hugh. Ready to carry a lot of stuff, I hope!"
"Absolutely," I replied, walking to her and doing my best to give her a daddy-style hug. "Let's get started."
We each took a handful of the clothes on top of the pile and walked into the house. The master bedroom was at the end of a hallway and took up the whole right side of that part of the house. The other two bedrooms were on the left side of the hallway. The one furthest back had my computer in it and served as my office. We turned into what was going to be her bedroom.
The room had basic furniture -- a bed, a dresser, a nightstand with a lamp, and a desk. It also had a good-sized walk-in closet. She looked around after we set the first trip's worth of clothes on the bed, and she seemed happy. "This is perfect," she said happily. "It's actually bigger than what I had before."
"Good, glad you like it," I replied. "Let's get the rest of the stuff." It took about six more trips, but we finally got all of her stuff out of her car and into the house. As he started sorting through all the stuff that was dumped into the room, I headed out to give her time get things put away. Then my phone rang. There was a problem at the office, and they needed me in immediately.
I headed to the back of the house to apologize to Randi. She assured me she didn't mind, and told me that she had to go to work later in the afternoon, so she probably wouldn't be around when I got back. I headed into the office to put out the fire, and found out that I would have to deal with more issues on Saturday, and that it would take a full day to take care of business.
The way it worked out, I didn't even get a chance to see Randi again until Sunday, because she was scheduled to work on Saturday night as well. With all that was going on, I didn't have time to worry a whole lot about it. I just did what I had to do, and headed on home Saturday evening after 7:00. When you own the business, sometime it just owns you, and you learn to live with that fact.
When I got back that night, the house had a different feel to it. She might not have been there at the moment, but the place seemed different. The living room looked more organized and the kitchen had been straightened up even further. When I opened the refrigerator, there was a lot more food in there -- healthier type food, to be totally honest, and it just seemed more, well, homey than it had been before.
Call it a subtle feminine touch that I hadn't seen in at least five years. But I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. It'd been a rough two days, and I crashed long before she came home.
When I rolled out of bed, it wasn't because an alarm woke me up at 10 am. Instead, it was the aroma of bacon cooking. Seriously, what guy doesn't love bacon? I threw on a pair of gym shorts and headed out to the kitchen. Randi was there, scrambling up some eggs, wearing a somewhat ratty looking t-shirt and shorts.
She looked up from her culinary labors. "Good morning," she said with a smile. "I hope you like your eggs scrambled."
"Yep. Prefer 'em that way. Besides, who am I to complain? You've been busy around here. Sorry I haven't been around."
"You've been busy. You have a business to run, and all. Besides, I've been working a lot, too. It's not like our schedules have matched."
She finished the eggs, got the plates out and dished everything up. We didn't talk for a little while. It would have been an insult to the food. Everything was excellent. I'd kind of forgotten about home cooking lately.
I complimented her on the breakfast when we were finishing up. She gave me a thanks with a sunny smile. Then I told her that the place looked cleaner than it ever had been, given my sloppy bachelor ways.
"That's a pet peeve of mine, Hugh," she said. "I had a perfect example in my mother -- an example of how NOT to do it. She was lazy as hell, and after you left it got worse. I got sick of the mess and vowed that I wasn't going to be like her."
"You've certainly succeeded, and thank you very much for all you've been doing." I stood up, and started clearing the table. "And now it's my turn to take care of things. These dishes are mine, okay? You go relax or whatever, Randi."
"Actually, I'm going to go to the gym and do some cardio before I have to go to work. I'll see you a little later."
After she left, I got the paper and sat down on the couch and started reading. After about an hour, I dozed off. It must have been a couple hours later when I opened my eyes and saw Randi walking through the living room, all sweaty after her workout. I gave a little start before I remembered that she was living there now.
"Have a nice nap, Hugh?" she laughed.
"Yeah. Guess I was more tired than I thought."
"Happens when you work for a living." She headed back toward her room. She came out a few seconds later and headed to her bathroom, apparently to take a shower. I went into my office and began dealing with some paperwork from the office, getting things ready for the next week.
I wandered out of the office a couple of hours later just as she emerged from her room. I had never asked her what restaurant she worked at. I found out then. She was wearing tight orange shorts and a white Hooter's shirt with cleavage for days. I must have stood there with my mouth open because she started laughing.
"Yes, Hugh, I work at Hooter's." She looked down at her chest. "I think these qualify me to work there, don't you think? 36DD is good advertising for the restaurant."
"Uh, uh, uh, yeah," I stammered. I shook my head. "Sorry, you just caught me off-guard."
"The look on your face was priceless. If I ever write a Visa commercial, I'll have to remember that look."
"You're a real comedienne, missy."
"I try. I'll see you later, Hugh." She laughed again and headed out the door.
All I could do was laugh and shake my head. "Hooters," I muttered. "I should have known."
For the next week, we didn't see much of each other, except in passing. A couple of times we had dinner together, but for the most part our schedules remained opposite -- me during regular business hours, her doing the nighttime bar/restaurant thing.
I had a pretty good week. We closed on a few houses, which meant I got a cut. I managed to close three of them myself and that meant a nice chunk of change. Friday night was a night to relax. I came home, turned the TV on to catch the Rangers game, and drank a Saint Arnold or four. Hey, I was back home in Texas. Gotta live the dream.
After the game was over (they lost), I picked up one of the old Travis McGee novels and put my feet on the coffee table and read. At about midnight, Randi's car pulled into the driveway and she came into the house. She looked just a little bit tired.
"Rough day?" I asked.
"Long, that's all," she responded.
"Tell you what. You sit down on the couch right there, put up your feet, and I'll get you a beer. How does that sound?"
"Like heaven, that's what." She sighed, kicked off her shoes, and put her feet up on the table. I did as promised, and came back with a cold beer. She took a big swig, and let out a contented sigh. "Oh, my. That tastes so good." Then she took another gulp.