Kismet or Happenstance? Ch. 10byAugust_Bouvier©
Many thanks to Evanslily for the fresh pair of eyes.
Ana's arms banded tighter around Sean's middle as the Harley tilted left into a wide arc. The stuttered drr carried down the dusty driveway before stopping in front of the two storey building. She yanked off her helmet and bounded to the massive front door with coltish energy. "Remember, it looks a little rough but try to look past it."
"Lead the way."
She tugged on his arm like a little girl and introduced him to Marty Lewis, the realtor for the property. With his mushroom haircut Marty looked like the fifth Beatle but barely old enough to drive, let alone sell real estate.
"So what do you think? Isn't it a great space?"
Sean took in the battered floors and the boarded up windows covered in dust. Layers and layers of dust. Had his Little Miss Practical had taken leave of her senses? Or was this an elaborate prank? The way Ana's exuberance brightened the light-deprived space made it impossible to tease her. Whatever it was she saw in here that made her this excited warranted a closer look so he offered her a non-committal nod.
"Look at these floors!" Ana enthused as though her gaze pierced through the piles of paint and grime covering the wide planks beneath her neat Keds. "I love the industrial vibe. Check out the doors and moldings—you just don't see this kind of craftsmanship anymore."
Marty grinned as if he too had Ana's special eyesight. "This place just needs someone special to come in and see it for the gem that it is."
Ana laid her hand on Sean's arm. "So what do you think?" The note in her voice called for one type of response.
"This is going to need a lot of work—a lot of work," Sean stressed for Marty's sake, hoping to counteract Ana's unbridled enthusiasm.
"I know," she conceded reluctantly, "but I think if I budgeted, I could make it work." But her conviction had dwindled as she spoke.
Sean saw her light dim as the weight of reality sank on to her shoulders. Even at its bargain price, renovating the property was a risky financial proposition. Yet if there was one person who could make this a home, it was Ana. And if there was a way to help make it happen for her, he'd find it. "Getting a roommate would help with the mortgage."
"Yeah," Ana agreed half-heartedly. "But it could take months before this place is even halfway close to being move-in ready."
"What if it wasn't just any roommate?"
Marty shoved his hands in his pockets and stepped backwards. "Why don't you guys take a look around and talk. I'll wait outside."
Sean knew the instant the meaning behind his words dawned on her. The confused expression was gone. Little Miss Practical had arrived, twenty minutes late with her suitcase full of questions and hypotheticals. He wondered how long it would take before he heard "let's think about it".
"You mean...you want us to live together?"
"But what about your house?"
"I could rent it or sell it and put the equity into this place. A bigger down payment means we'd have to borrow less money."
"Sean...Living together—that's a big step. And selling your home—that's huge. We haven't been together that long. You should think this over."
"A year is long enough and we practically live together already."
He knew her well enough now to notice the slight shift of her brows. Ana was spooked and trying not to panic. Maybe he should've just kept his damned mouth shut and played the role she'd wanted him to play when she asked him to see this property with her. But if this was too much for her he'd rather know right now. Ana's nature veered to the cautious side while he made his decisions then dove right in. But he couldn't help feeling a stab of disappointment over her hesitation.
He walked over to one of the floor-to-ceiling windows and studied the overgrown lot bordered by a forest of trees. His niece Grace would love to stamp her green thumb all over this mini-jungle. "It was just an idea."
Ana caught the hurt buried in his too even voice. The floorboards squeaked in protest as she crossed the expansive room. It sure was a lot of house for one person. Alternating where they spent half their week wasn't the same as living together full time, twenty-four seven. With no three day timeouts to miss each other while they reconnected with their separate worlds. And while Sean had done this before, she hadn't. He was asking them to change their lives but he was being too laid back about it. "Babe, you have to admit living together and buying a house is a huge step for us."
Sean looped an arm around her shoulders and drew her closer. The tension between them ebbed. "It's okay if you're not ready."
"You're not saying all this because you think buying this place would make me happy, are you? I can walk away from this," she said, gesturing to the empty room, "if the numbers don't add up."
"Believe me, I have my own selfish reasons for wanting to live with you. I'm not that much of a saint."
Ana crunched the inside of her lower lip, unsure how to put her questions to words. Sasha had been down this road with Alex—or had tried to—and ended up being ditched. "So...do you just see us living together?"
Sean's gaze narrowed in on her and he dropped his arm. He faced her straight on, his subtle body language asking her to be direct with him. "What's on your mind?"
"Don't you think we should figure out what our plans are first before we consider buying a house?"
"You mean marriage?"
Ana's heart sputtered. "Yes—or not. I didn't mean—"
"I see us doing that and having kids too."
Part of Ana's brain couldn't believe they were having The Talk. In detail. They'd jokingly mapped out their dreams for the future a few times during the past months. But most of the time they'd been busy living, working and exploring that shared space of being in love, being in a relationship. She'd tucked the images of their life together safely in the back of her mind, reserving them for the future. But maybe the future was closer than she thought. Or not.
"Are you thinking...maybe in a few years?" Then realizing she'd all but ambushed him, she touched his arm. "It's okay if you haven't thought that far ahead—all this is kind of sudden." Her attempt at levity ended with a nervous laugh.
"How long do you think it'll take to fix this place up?"
Ana looked around and focused on the reality of what she saw instead of its potential. "Gosh, that depends on so many things. The inspection, any surprises we find during construction, the budget. I'd guess it would take about six months to get this place inhabitable. And maybe a year to complete?
"How about we tackle that first before getting married? The kids—I haven't thought that far ahead but we can practice for a while."
Oh. My. God. He meant it, despite his slow smile and the joke. She once envisioned dating two or three years before a standard year long engagement to her nameless, faceless partner-lover-friend. The timeline had given her some measure of comfort she'd ease into a future guaranteed to be secure, one without too many ripples. But Sean had rewritten the script she had for a partner-lover-friend. Her life-map had changed its course faster than she'd planned. Ana realized she'd already made her choice This should feel fast and reckless but she didn't find those feelings even as she dug around for them.
"You really want to marry me."
Sean folded his arms and gave her a stern look. "You didn't think we were just going to shack up so you could get your fill of good food and great sex, did you?"
Ana took his hand in hers. "Well...you are a good cook."
* * * * *
They came back on a Wednesday afternoon after days of number crunching, meetings with real estate attorneys, and sifting through piles of paperwork. Ana's excitement infected him the second they walked into the shed back at the lot's south-east end.
"This could be your recording studio," she said, her voice full of dreams. "You'd be far enough that you wouldn't have to worry about being too loud."
Sean took in the hills peeking out behind the cluster of trees bordering the property. The vista could've been imported from a European town or, he smiled, Ireland. "And once we get the landscaping done you'll have a gorgeous view outside—you could watch the sunrise," she added to sweeten the proposal, knowing how much he treasured that time of day.
They plotted their ideas for the yard as they strolled along the narrow pathway back to the main building. The blades of grass whispered and danced under the afternoon sun.
The sharp clicks of Ana's heels bounced around while she perused the would-be kitchen. "We can have an informal dining area right here. And this nook can hold a built-in desk—something small for mail or working on a laptop and shelves for all your cookbooks." She waved her arms, creating designs in the air. The run down interior clashed with the refinement of her sunshine yellow blouse and denim wide-leg trousers. Ana was all subtle power and feminine grace.
"Let's check out upstairs." She paused in the middle of a light stream when he lagged behind and frowned. "What's wrong?"
"Why are you looking at me that way?"
"You're sexy when you're in command."
Ana ducked her head then tilted it up again. The motion caused the light to play in her hair. Countless small gestures like that had become songs in the past year. He still hadn't gotten used to all the little ways Ana caught him off guard.
She held out her hand; the one he'd put a ring on. "I like the sound of that," she quipped after she rebounded from that split second of endearing shyness.
Sean's gaze floated up to the mezzanine. "Those'll be a lot of steps for you to climb when you're pregnant. You think the kids would be safe up there when they start crawling and walking around?"
Ana's head whipped around. Reality popped out like a Jack-in-the-box. This man in the sharp charcoal suit was going to be her children's father.
"Um...we could childproof the area or we could stay down here until the kids are old enough." The kids. She imagined chasing after them and playing outside. The spirit of the future already lived in these bricks walls.
"So what do you think?"
"You had me at recording studio."
"So you want to do this?"
"Yeah. Let's make an offer."
* * * * *
Saturday November 4th, 2007.
Ana sagged against the brick wall and squeezed her eyes shut. But she still saw how far they were from what she'd hoped for this house and for them. What if this was a huge and costly mistake? Breathe. What if this was all too much too soon? She willed her composure to return with every inhale and tried to expel the wild stampede of emotions inside her with every exhale.
There'd been an odd mix of angst and perverse delight as Sean presented his review of their plumber's job performance—well, lack thereof over the last two weeks. He listed every no-show, every late arrival and every early departure right down to the minute. And every excuse Troy offered was quietly annihilated in that cool, steely voice that meant one thing: Sean was pissed off. But Troy pressed on with his "so-what" attitude and a hand on his belt. It was like watching a precious cub toy with a grown lion and wondering when he'd go too far.
Ana's attempts to mediate were silenced with a determined blue glare. Instead of getting angry, he stayed so cool, it was disturbing. An eerie calm fell over the kitchen. She looked on in horror as Sean tugged the check Ana had signed from under Troy's tool box. It was already too late by the time the hollow, uh-oh feeling twisting her gut turned into red flags and alarms bells. The rip of paper tore through the silence.
Troy's casual mien vanished. "I'm not coming back here until I'm paid!"
Sean cocked his head to the side as if Troy's threat was the funniest thing he'd heard all day. As if they had their pick of plumbers who could update their sixty-year-old water supply system this time of year.
"That won't be much of a departure, now will it?" Sean volleyed in a sardonic tone. Troy had no comeback; his bluff had been useless. "Since you've already collected half your fee, I expect you to finish the bathrooms. Today."
Troy picked up his toolbox from the sheet of plywood that substituted for the bar top and stomped out the kitchen. The thin sheet of wood reminded Ana of yet another project on the list of things to complete; a list that had stopped shrinking. She rubbed her nape as an arrow darted from the back of her head to her brow. The white paneled cabinetry without its black honed granite countertops and the boxes of stainless steel appliances were a testament to the fact that there'd be no Thanksgiving dinner coming out of this kitchen. The throb above her brow thumped in time with her pulse. A gentle hand passed between her shoulder blades.
Oh, now he wanted her opinion on something?
"Why would I be okay? We won't have a plumber after today. It would've been nice if you'd discussed it with me first before you decided to go off and fire him. I guess since I'm just a half-owner my opinion doesn't matter much." She pinched her nose, willing her frustration to not dissolve into tears.
Sean dropped his hand.
"We've been talking about this for days. I told you we should've fired this guy two weeks ago. What he's doing is nothing more than extortion; playing into it has only set us back even more."
His cool Monday morning quarterbacking lit her fuse.
"So is this my fault now?" she shouted quietly as she stalked the length of the topless island. "Were you on the phone everyday trying to get other estimates?" He shoved his hands in his pockets. At least he had the decency to look sheepish. "What? No answer?" she snarled before slapping a palm to her forehead. "Oh, right. You were too busy shooting a music video! See, while you've been talking about this, I've been trying to find a solution. On my own."
Sean parked his hands above the waistband of his jeans. Good. He wasn't going to let her bulldozer him.
"It's not like I'm out partying all night, Ana. I've been working my ass off and you know it. If this is anybody's fault, it's his. Do you honestly think we should've just handed over more money and trust him to show up for a change?"
Ana didn't want to listen to reason. She was hungry for a fight—something, anything to let her to blast her pent up emotions all over this fucking kitchen. Only Sean wasn't playing along. His newfound patience irritated the hell out of her. You could never win an argument with a lawyer.
You're losing control. Do you want Troy to hear? The observation came as if a part of her had detached itself and had watched this scene unfold. Ana ran as fast as her battered Keds allowed before her next missile did irrevocable harm.
She shivered and hugged her middle but it had little to do with the cool November breezes whipping around her. Now that her wild spark of anger had fizzled its origins were frighteningly clear. In less than two weeks he would be moving in with her. Permanently. After four months and two offers that didn't pan out, Duncan had bought Sean's house after his separation from Jess had become permanent.
The house that held so many precious memories, where it all began for Sean and her, had been sold. That it remained in the family offered a measure of comfort. Sean no longer carried the burden of two mortgages. She no longer shouldered the guilt that he'd done so to help make their dream home a reality. But the good news also sent her mind down several unwanted avenues.
The two weeks she'd spent recuperating at Sean's place last December had been nice. So nice that it had been easy to gloss over what it meant to be together day in day out to focus on the bigger picture with romantic enthusiasm. She'd been too busy these last four months dealing with work, building permits, inspections and a phantom plumber to have these questions.
What if things changed once Sean moved into her apartment? What if his boundless energy jangle her nerves? Would her need for quiet wear on his patience? What if hidden eccentricities come tumbling out with no place to hide in her cramped quarters?
How did Sean remain so confident, so unwavering on days like this when it felt like the world had become a giant obstacle course? When it felt like restoring this house would ruin their relationship? They were stepping into a future as unpredictable as the sky above. The part of her that craved order and constancy rebelled, made her scared.
Chill out. You're just having a bad day. Renovating a house is stressful but it'll pass. You'll feel a million times worse if you chicken out now. Breathe. Chill.
Ana hugged herself tighter and tapped her head against the brick wall. The merry-go-round of subversive thoughts spinning in her brain wouldn't stop.
Ana's head snapped back into upright position. Shit. Sean was mere steps away. I must look like a mess. It wouldn't have made much difference if she'd heard him anyway. Her head dropped against the brick again. She was too drained to move or think about tucking the errant curls fluttering across her face.
The gentleness in his voice almost undid her but Ana refused to cry. They were in this together and he needed her to be strong. She turned to face him with the side of her head still stuck to the wall. He leaned against the wall's edge, his arms folded across his chest. His body language was expectant yet patient.
"I'm sorry I was such a royal bi—"
His fingers touched her mouth before they hooked the flailing tendrils behind her ear.
Ana worried her lower lip. A part of her wished he hadn't let her off the hook so graciously because now she felt guilty. Maybe that was the penance she deserved.
She reached out her hand but let it fall to her side before she touched his forearm. While she trusted him to listen, trusting herself not to hurt him if she voiced her worries was another thing. His warm fingers looped over hers, offering comfort and strength.
"What's going on? Tell me."
Her hand grew restless under his as her eyes clashed with his knowing stare. "Do you ever get worried...about us living together? Be honest."
The ball of his thumb swept over her knuckles. That flicker of uncertainty made her feel less alien for having doubts of her own. "Sometimes."
His quiet admission came without panic. Ana held on to his hand to let him know it was okay while he continued. An easy silence fell between them before he spoke again.
"You're grouchy in the morning. And the way you toss and turn all night—it's like sleeping in a blender."
His playful words were so at odds with the seriousness in those serious blue eyes. He was trying to lighten the mood for her sake. He was trying to be strong for her when all of this couldn't be easy for him; he must be feeling under pressure too.. The love reserved just for Sean burrowed its roots deeper, surged and expanded at once.
"What about you?"
"I worry about how we'll adjust. You know, you're used to living in a house and all." She dropped her head, and felt a bit foolish because they'd talked about this before. But she met no censure when she looked up at him again. "It just hit me that we're really doing this. I mean, I know we've been planning this...but it's finally here."
The to-do list flashed in front of her again. She squeezed the back of her neck, trying to release the tension there. "The way things are going, we might be in my apartment a while. And I started thinking about small stuff like clothes on the floor or us fighting because you left the seat down or crumbs in the bed. It's stupid stuff, really." Ana shrugged her shoulders, not sure if she was merely trying to convince Sean. He smiled at her then.