tagErotic CouplingsCracked Foundations

Cracked Foundations

byMSTarot©

Author's note: The story is part of Literotica's unofficial tag team competition. Twenty of Literotica's authors accepted the challenge of being randomly paired with a partner to co-author a story under the pen name "The_Odd_Couplings." The pairings have remained anonymous and the true authors of this story will be revealed in the comments section one week from today.

Disclaimer: Because part of the fun of this challenge is the secrecy of the partners I would like to ask that readers and fellow authors alike refrain from posting their guesses in the comments section as we would like the scoring to be as fair as possible.


- - Cracked Foundations - -



* * * * *


Stan

When the camel cricket jumped up and landed on my glasses, I knew I had officially been told to get out of his crawl space.

Knocking him away, I went back to probing the wood with my knife blade. Given the age of the house I was not surprised when it sank deep into the wood. That it didn't do it more often was the shock. Moving a few more feet towards the back of the house I saw where someone had been here before me and replaced a part of the floor. All the new black iron pipes gave me a good idea of why.

That and a filthy pile of broken porcelain that had once been a toilet.

Edging around this, I kept checking the floor joists. I knew from my walk through that several places had a lot of sag occurring. The almost total lack of supports under here was mostly to blame for that but all this spongy, wood didn't help.

"You all right under there?"

Shining my light towards the voice, I saw the homeowner standing in front of the small doorway, blocking most of the light. I grinned as an idea came to me. Having spent most of the morning with her I knew she had a good sense of humor. I pulled my dust mask out from my face.

"No. I think I've died, and you're going to have to crawl in here and drag me out," I called out in a feeble voice.

"Well, I'm sorry to hear that," she called to me after a moment. "I'll have to get about a thousand Glade Plugins to hide the smell of you rotting. Because I'm here to tell you, there is no way in hell I'm crawling in there after you."

"But—"

"No."

"But, Natalie—"

"Nope. You just get to rotting in there, Stan."

As I saw her move away I chuckled, put the mask back and shined my light around. When the black widow spider, sitting in her ragged, corpse-filled nest came into view, I thought Natalie might be on to something. With a sigh I went back to work.

If it was fun to do they wouldn't have to pay you so much, I thought to myself as I tried to keep my head out of the dusty tangle of cobwebs between the joists. The powdery ground under my hands kicked up moldy-smelling dust with every movement. I looked like the kid from the Peanuts who walked in his own dust cloud. What was his name?

Pigpen, I remembered. Great. I looked like Pigpen.

Over to one side I heard the floor joists creak as she walked back into the house. I listened as she crossed the kitchen, turned down the hall and walked toward the bathroom. Just as she was over my head I pounded on the floor under her feet with my fist.

Her shriek was clear even to me. She stomped her foot on the floor and sent down more dust.

"Damn you, Stan!" I heard her muffled yell from above.

"Stop dancing up there!" I gave the floor another hit then, chuckling, and went back to work. I heard her make her way back down the hall and figured she was coming back outside to give me the back of her tongue. When she stopped halfway to the backdoor I had to admit to being disappointed.

Then, in a few minutes, I heard the toilet flush.

I couldn't help the laugh as I realized that I must have scared her so badly she had to go pee. When the shaking laughter finally stopped I had made my way to nearly to the back of the house without finding better wood. Found a lot of strange things piled up in that back corner, but no better wood above.

Then the cricket was back. On my nose this time.

* * * * *


Wetting a rag from the cooler on the back of my truck, I washed the better part of the dust off the back of my neck and face, then my hands. I gave the bald top of my head a pass after wetting it again, then tried to get the dust out of my ears. Tossing the rag on the truck next to my shirt I tried to blow dust out my nose. Using a finger to close one nostril I gave it as hard a blow as I could, then repeated on the other side.

"What is that?"

I looked up to see Natalie studying me with her arms crossed over her breasts. It hit me that she was perhaps a little too thin, and she looked tired. Well, this was a big job. She studied me with her head tilted to the side and her dark brown hair was pulled back in a pony tail.

"Sorry, my nose is full of dust," I apologized.

"Not that. The tattoo." She sounded curious. "I'm a little scared of needles, but even if I wasn't, I can't imagine having that much work done."

Glancing over my shoulder, I could just make out the upper corner of my tattoo. It's been so long since I got the back-piece done that I tended to forget it was there unless I caught sight of it in a mirror. Given the reasons I have for it being there, that I ever forget is a shame.

"Got it so I wouldn't forget something," I explained vaguely, not wanting to talk about it. I picked up my clean extra shirt I had brought along and pulling it on hide the bit of old ink. I looked up seeing her looking at my chest as I buttoned it up. Her eyes snapped to my face, but she didn't look away. I smiled and picked up my notepad from the truck bed, then I sat down on the tailgate. I patted the area next to me, but she shook her head. "Okay, good news or bad news?" I asked.

"Most people want the bad news first. Let's do it the other way." Natalie's eyes darted to my shiny head, then back to my eyes. "I've had enough bad news dumped on me lately. I'll take a small change."

I had to resist the compulsive urge to run my hand across my head. It's been ten years since I shaved it all off, but I still feel like everyone's judging me by my thinning hair.

"I didn't find any sign of termites." I told her, making a check next to my talking point on the paper. The four more under those sat like coiled serpents waiting to strike. I felt like shit when she cheered up.

"Well, that is good news." She smiled, then closed her eyes and took a very deep breath. I had to strain to keep my eyes on her face as her breasts swelled. She opened her eyes. "Okay, I'm ready for it. What is the bad news?"

"You have four major structural issues with the house that have to be fixed." I nodded as she mouthed the number in disbelief. "Yep, four. I can only fix three of them."

"What's the one you can't fix?" she asked.

"The rock foundation is shot. There are places where the mortar around the sandstone they used is as soft as cornbread. That sag in your back bedroom corner? That is the foundation beginning to collapse."

Now she took the offer of a seat on the tailgate. Holding her elbow she used the fingers of her left hand to rub at her eyes. My eyes went to her glasses hanging from their tiny gold chain. They swung between her breasts, given them an occasional soft bump as she moved.

Never been envious of glasses before.

"Okay. Okay, I knew there were going to be major problems. So I need a mason to fix the foundation?" she asked after a moment of pinching the bridge of her nose.

"Bit more involved than that but, yeah." I hedged. I'd never felt so bad about telling a client about work that needed to be done.

"So, what are the other three?"

I looked at the notebook and pondered the order I had listen them in. She liked the good first, so I took the least worst.

"That sag in your roof? Someone took out a support wall when they opened up that living room. You have to have some kind of support column or beam put in to carry that weight." I ticked that off but left it only half-marked. "We will have to support the roof, cut out some of the warped wood, jack everything up till it's where it should be, then put in some new timbers." I finished that mark and moved my pen over to the next.

"Lovely. Next?" she asked.

"The bathtub in the upstairs bathroom leaks. From the looks of it, it's been going on for years. It's rotted out the two-by-fours in the wall under it. If you filled that tub up and got into it you could end up in your dinning room."

"Oh wonderful. Remind me to have guests over for that." She shook her head and gave a tired chuckle. "It has to be replaced, right?"

"Yes. The wall torn out, the floor around the tub replaced and that leak has to be stopped." I tapped the pad with the end of my pen. "I can recommend a plumber."

"I already know a good plumber, thank you, though." Her eyes went to my tablet. "That's two, what's the last one?"

Leaning back against the inside of my truck bed, I ran my hand over my goatee smoothing it out. I took a deep breath wishing I didn't have to tell her this. My eyes drifted over to the pink camellias on the side of her house. They were in bloom, despite the frosty mornings of the last month. When I looked back at her, I could see she was waiting for the answer I didn't want to give.

"Your ground floor is gone. Over eighty percent of the support beams holding it are dry rotted completely through. That's why the floors feel so spongy when you walk. The sub-flooring itself is okay, but those beams are shot."

She didn't respond at first. Instead she covered her face with her hands and took some deep breaths. "That's going to be expensive, I take it?"

Flipping to the next page, I pulled out the estimate and passed it to her. She put on her glasses, read it, and her jaw dropped.

"I also gave what I think is a best guess estimate for the foundation work. I may be off by a bit, so don't take that number as gospel. I'm not a mason."

She folded the estimate and fanned her face with it. She let her glasses drop to her chest.

"Jesus, Mary and Ralph," she said.

That took me back. "What?"

"Sorry." She gave a little smile. "Had a teacher in school who used to say that. Apparently 'Ralph' meant you weren't taking the Lord's name in vain. And I could get away with saying it in front of my grandmother."

I laughed, but then we both got serious.

"It's a very old house," I said. "This thing is what, a century at least?"

She nodded, folded the estimate in half again and tucked it through the front of her blouse's cleavage and under the edge of her bra.

"More than that; going on two centuries. My great-grandfather's grandfather built it with his two brothers just after the Civil War. They built that one across the street there." She pointed to a larger house opposite, and even a quick glance showed the extensive work done there. "There was a third one, next to that, but it burned down in the late fifties. I think my grandfather replaced the wiring in this place after that happened."

"Yeah, your wiring, well most of it, looks like what they did in the early sixties. Not my field but I would recommend having an electrician come give it a look. Do you trip breakers often?"

"I don't know. I had to replace a few of the fuses when I first got here." She shrugged.

"Fuses? Oh, great. Yeah, an electrician would be a good idea." I gave the old bald head a rub. "I take it you intend to live here?"

"For a while, at least. I'm partly moved in already." She pointed to a stack of empty cardboard boxes sitting by the backdoor. "I figured I'd at least stay while the work was done. It's not exactly a vacation, but I needed a change of scenery." She paused and I wondered what had happened, but then she continued, "I haven't been here in a while but the house has been in my family so long I can't imagine selling it, even if I don't live in it myself."

"That's a good thing." The idea of what a mortgage bond company would charge to place this house on the market sent a shudder through me. "Natalie, I'm going to be honest with you. Stop moving in. The house is just a step or two away from being condemned. The amount of work that has to be done is going to make living here all but impossible."

"I don't have a lot of options, Stan. I can't afford to rent a place, keep my stuff in storage, and get this work done." She looked at the old house, with its too many windows and sagging roof line. "I had kind of hoped this old place would be a fresh start for me. Uncle Jimmy left me a bit and I have some savings but . . . ." Her hand went to the corner of the paper that stuck out her cleavage. "I can't pay for half of this."

My eyes stayed stuck to the paper when she moved her hand away.

"There might be a way to work around some of that," I said after a moment.

She gave me a wry grin and raised one eyebrow. "Thanks for the compliment, Stan, but I'm not at the point of sleeping with someone to get work done on my house." She tapped the estimate. "Not even for this much."

I looked her straight in the eye. "That wasn't what I meant." Angry and not fully understanding why I hopped off the tailgate and started gathering up my tools.

"I'm sorry."

I turned to look at her when I heard the soft apology. The expression on her face drained the anger away.

"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to jump to conclusions, but you were staring at my chest and then you said that. I know you were kidding, but I've been in situations where the guy wasn't. So." She took a deep breath and toyed with a strand of hair that had escaped her pony tail. "I'm sorry. Please, I need your help. What can I do?"

After a second, I nodded to both accept her apology and make a silent one of my own, then looked at her. I noticed that her eyes were right on the edge of tears. I felt an almost overwhelming desire to take her in my arms and comfort her.

"Well, what I was going to say is that there is a lot of work here you could do yourself." I held my hands up to forestall questions. "I mean, not all of it, but the more you can do, the less you have to pay someone else."

"I'm not a carpenter. I know which end of the hammer to hit the nail with but that's about all I know." She shook her head, her dark brown hair swaying. "I couldn't begin to rebuild this house."

"I can teach you. It's hot, it's hard, it's dirty work, all true, but it's not all that complicated to do. Well, some of it takes a bit of experience to know what to do when and in what order but . . . I mean, it's not rocket science." I lifted my tool bag and set it down in the back of the truck. When she got up I closed the tailgate and turning, leaned my back into it, enjoying the cool feel of the metal hitting every aching curve.

"Why would you teach me to do work I would otherwise have to pay you for?" she asked after a moment. "That doesn't make a lot of sense."

"You're going to be paying me to teach you. I won't charge as much to just show you how to do something, and then check that you did it right, as I would if I had to do it. I can show you how to do a project, let you get it done then come back, look it over and leave you with a second one to do."

She stood there for a moment. I saw a dozen thoughts pass behind her eyes as she considered it. She let out a soft sigh. "How much will teaching cost me?"

"Well, all my other students let me sleep with them," I said, trying to keep a straight face.

After a second, with her eyes the size of saucers, and her mouth a perfect circle, I saw her catch on. Her lips pursed and she gave her head a shake. "Oh, they do, do they?"

"Only the beautiful ladies," I said, with a grin I hid, as I slicked down my goatee.

"What do you charge the non-beautiful ladies?" she asked with a laugh and an arch look.

"I don't know. I only teach the beautiful ones," I told her, letting the smile show. I let my eyes drop to her feet and trail back up to her face. I gave a silent whistle, then winked.

"Stan, you are something else," she said, laughing.

* * * * *


Natalie

I sat at the breakfast table the next morning after a night of almost no sleep. It was one of the times I wished I drank coffee, but I never could get past the bitter taste. Tea it was, despite my fear of blowing all the fuses while boiling the water.

The sunrise was beautiful, filling the skies with ribbons of pastel colors, but I couldn't enjoy it because I kept waiting for the floor to collapse under me.

It was hard to process everything Stan had told me the day before. The house was old, I knew that. I had expected it to take some work, several months at least, and even figured I could do some minor things myself. Nothing like what Stan had said; I hadn't seen myself doing much more than assembling some furniture, maybe putting up wallpaper and painting. Some books could have helped me with a few more complicated problems, I guessed, but I knew my limits.

I had not counted on needing to replace the freaking foundation, or all the goddamn wiring. I had not counted on so much dry rot. I had not counted on "a step or two away from being condemned."

I almost wished he'd found termites instead.

Stan was right; I couldn't stay in the house and I knew it. I was stubborn but not so much that I'd stay in a house that might fall down around me. I added "look for cheap apartment" to my list of things to do. First on the list was get a shower, which I did as quickly as I could.

I wondered where to begin looking for an apartment. Maybe I could ask Stan. I only needed a small place—a bed and a kitchen would be fine. Internet wouldn't hurt, but I could manage without it, at least for a while.

As I'd told Stan, I wasn't working right now. That had been a bad situation, and without the house, I don't know where I would have gone. When I found out about the inheritance, it was like the answer to a prayer. I'd been harassed at my job, made a scapegoat for problems I had nothing to do with, propositioned by my supervisor, and threatened with a lawsuit.

It took months to get out from under it, and although I could say I didn't lose, I hadn't exactly won, either. I was emotionally drained, physically ill, mentally exhausted, on the verge of losing my apartment, and in desperate need of a change.

Then I found out I'd inherited a house from my Uncle Jimmy, my mom's older brother. He and his wife, my Aunt Susan, had been like another set of grandparents, and were the only reason I would come back to this hot, humid place to visit.

God, I thought as I wiped my forehead with a towel, I'd forgotten how damn hot it gets down here.

After my shower, I grabbed a notebook and pen and went out to the porch, which seemed more stable than my floor, and started making a list. I liked making lists. I felt better—usually—when I could see what needed doing spelled out, and there was a certain feeling of relief and accomplishment when I crossed an item off.

The porch was my favorite feature of the house. When I was younger, I would sit on the swing or rocker and read books or listen to music for hours. Right now the swing was looking worn, but I didn't mind, so long as it didn't fall down with me in it.

Sitting there thinking I noticed the sweet smell of the flowers that were in bloom next to the porch. I didn't know what they were but their pink blossoms were beautiful. Looking up from my growing list, I noticed a deep violet color to a tree in the hedge between my house and the next.

A redbud tree? I have a redbud tree at my house.

My house.

How wonderful that sounded. My house! I smiled.

I looked up from my daydreaming when I heard a car approach, and was surprised to see Stan. I felt bad that I'd hurt his feelings, thinking he was propositioning me about the repairs, but it was a reflex from a lifetime of such things. Time to shake it off, I told myself.

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