Backwater florida, p.1
Backwater, Florida, page 1part #1 of Florida Books Series
Copyright © 2017 by Kay Dew Shostak.
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2017901099
FICTION: Women’s Fiction / Small Town / Florida / Beach / Contemporary Women / Georgia
Text Layout and Cover Design by Roseanna White Designs
Cover Images from www.Shutterstock.com
Published by August South Publishing. You may contact the publisher at:
To Louisa May Alcott
Strips of sunlight try to pierce the darkness, but the little damage they do isn't what stirred me awake. Voices. Men's voices right outside the window. Pulling the covers around me to make sure I'm covered doesn't help me figure out where I am. I never sleep with my room this dark. My room at Momma's and Daddy's doesn't even have curtains, and Caleb hates a dark room so we—
And it all comes back. There in the strip of sunlight are puddles of black clothes. A pair of hose, scuffed black heels, the stiff blazer I had dry cleaned just last week, and my borrowed black dress. Through scrunched, puffy eyes, I look around to make sure no one can see me. I drop the covers and pick up the dress from the floor. My underwear and bra are here somewhere, but for now this is good enough, and I tiptoe into the bathroom to get dressed, or at least covered.
The voices aren't clear enough for me to hear what they are saying, but they don't seem to mind me knowing they are right there. Right outside the window. Intense Florida sunshine shocks me when I open the bathroom blinds. It's like a spotlight trained on the window, so I quickly turn away and make my way to the bedroom door.
“Oh my word, this place is huge!” rings in my head, and out my mouth. In last night’s dark at 3 a.m., I just stumbled from the car after my five-hour drive and, without turning on a light, found the bathroom and a bed. Now I see that I own a mansion. More of that sunshine floods the living room, and the glossy expanse of—is that marble?—spreads out, reflecting the light around the empty room.
“Hey, there she is!” a woman yells as she begins to bang on the glass doors to my right. My cousin's dress isn't thin, but I hold it close to my body so the woman, and now her crowd of friends, can't see I'm naked underneath it.
“I'm coming.” Dirty glass doors are hung with cobwebs, which I brush away before I unlock and then turn the door knob. Four women with visors or hats pulled low against the sunlight wait on the outside, and all of them have their arms crossed. My head is the only part of me I allow to cross the threshold.
“Who are you? How did you get in there?” a lady wearing turquoise Capri pants and holding a little dog demands. Her visor is white and has gold writing on it I can't make out. Too sparkly.
Ms. Orange Floppy Hat steps closer to me and pushes on the door. “Come out here, right now, young lady.”
So, I step out. Some because she called me a “young” lady, but mostly because somehow a clone of my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Montgomery, is wearing an orange hat and standing at my door. A clone in both looks and bossy attitude.
Barefooted and arms clasped around me, I stand in the middle of the hat-wearing ladies and see where the men's voices were coming from. Gathered around a table between the house and the pool (oh my lord, I have a pool) are six old men playing cards.
One of the men unfolds himself from his chair and shields his eyes with his hand. “Your car tags are from Georgia. Are you from Georgia?”
“What's your name?” demands the lady in the orange hat, which flops dramatically as she practically shouts at me.
Again, conditioned to respond to teachers, I answer. “Rebecca Sue Mason.”
Another man rears back from the table to look at me. “Like Caleb Mason? Are you saying you are related to Caleb Mason?”
Groans, mumbled curse words, and maybe even some spitting from the one dark-haired lady, accompanies Caleb's name.
Stubbornness I get from Daddy's side makes me stick out my chin. “I might be. Why?”
The tall man walks toward me and then holds out his hand. “Dr. Eason King. Rebecca, are you here to help us?”
Quickly I shake his hand, and then tuck my hand back where it came from. “Help you do what? And, can I ask why y’all are here?”
“It's our club house,” another man at the table answers. “Mason Developments promised us a club house, and now that you're here with a key, we can use the house and not just the pool.”
“This pool? This house?” My head begins to throb a bit. I shake it to loosen the throbs and summon up some of that disappearing stubbornness. “But this is my house.”
The short, dark-haired lady pushes in front of her friends. Her hair is black and in a long braid. She has on all white, bright red lipstick, a small straw hat, and big sunglasses. “So you are related to Caleb Mason.” She grabs her sunglasses and points them at me. “Is he in there? Right now, is that rat in there?” She reaches for the door, but Dr. King stops her.
“Esmerelda, stop right there. Let's let Rebecca tell us what she's doing here and why she thinks this is her house.”
“I think it's my house because I signed papers on it before the funeral yesterday. Because I have a key to it and because, well, that's what the lawyer said.”
“Funeral? Who died?” the Mrs. Montgomery clone asks through clenched teeth.
My hands drop to my side, and my head lifts. “The rat.”
“Caleb is dead?” Now all the men are standing, and the women have taken a step back from me. The lady with the dog shifts her arms to place a hand on my shoulder. “Did he commit suicide?”
I jerk away from her hand. “Suicide? No! It was a car wreck. Why do you think he'd commit suicide?” Looking at them, I see sideways loo
The bald man lifts a hat off the table and jams it onto his head. “Well, folks, we are totally and royally screwed now. I'm going home for a drink.”
The tall Mrs. Montgomery clone is sniffling, and one of the men comes up and pats her arm as they head off to the side of the house. Soon there's only three of us left: Dr. King, the lady in turquoise holding the little dog, and me.
The woman holds her hand out to me. “Ruth King.” I touch her fingers with mine, but quickly so she can't feel how cold my hands are. The sunlight I'm standing in must be warm, but it doesn't feel warm. I'm freezing.
“Ladies, let's sit down. Rebecca, here, sit in the sun and relax. It's all going to be fine.”
I can see from the way the doctor keeps looking at his wife he knows I'm not doing so good, and they just sit quietly for a minute and wait for me to stop shaking. Mrs. King gets up and goes into the house. When she comes back, she has a paper cup of water.
“No dishes, but I did find a stack of these cups in the kitchen. Must've been for the sales staff. I guess there's no need for dishes in a model home.”
After a sip of water and another deep breath, I feel better. “Model home?”
Dr. King shakes his head. “You don't know anything about this situation, do you?”
My tiny head shake causes him to sigh. “Okay. How are you related to Caleb?”
“We were married.” A part of me wants to close my eyes, so I don't see what I've watched happen for the past ten years. First a smile, not an “Oh, that's nice” smile, but a “You're joking, right?” smile. Then a shake of the head followed by a shot of sympathy for the poor delusional girl. And finally, as the person truly remembers what they know about Caleb, a look of “Wait, really?”
“The rat,” slips out of Mrs. King's mouth, and the doctor gets those thin lips good men get when they can't say what they want to say.
Now, my part, rehearsed for a decade. “It's not like that. We really are in love. He is, I mean. . . ” Tears choke me for a minute. “He was the love of my life. I don't care what you say or what you think or . . .” anger and grief raise my voice “. . . or what he did.”
Dr. King leans forward on the table. “So you know what he did?”
“Of course I know. She's having his baby, for crying out loud.”
Both of them sit back at that, and after a moment, Mrs. King reaches out to touch my arm. “Rebecca. What do you know about this house?” She lifts her hand off my arm to wave at our surroundings.
“Only that the lawyer said I could have it if I signed over the house in Piney and everything else. I couldn't take the house in Piney away from Audrey and the kids and the baby, and besides, there’s nothing left for me in Piney. I'm going to start over here.”
Mrs. King looks at the doctor, but he just closes his eyes and speaks quietly. “So you're the owner now. Let me guess, the lawyer is Jameson Mason.”
His presumption startles me. “Yep, Jameson took care of everything.”
“That poor girl.” Ruth King pushes open the white gate.
“Now, Ruth, don't get all emotional about this. She's not exactly a girl, you know.”
“How old do you think she is?”
Making sure the gate is latched behind them, he turns and shrugs. “Thirty?”
“Yes, that's what I was thinking. Younger than our boys and definitely without the benefit of any real education. Poor thing.”
Dr. King touches his wife's back. “Okay, here they all come. What should we tell them?”
The group from the pool had grown by a few, and they all now came straggling off the shaded front porch of Esmeralda's home.
The short, fiery woman with the dark braid and red lips waves at the couple from her front steps. “Ruth, Eason. I've made some lemonade. Come have a glass.”
Anticipation hangs around the small crowd, but it leaks away as the Kings ease down in the just-vacated rocking chairs. When they sigh, the sigh echoes around the room, person to person, as the last dregs of hope fade away.
“She as simple as she seemed?” the bald man asks, his hat wadded up in his hand.
“John,” Dr. King admonishes. “You practiced psychiatry for forty years. You know people are rarely ‘simple.’” A long pause goes uninterrupted until Dr. King finally nods. “But yes, she's rather, uh, she seems rather uncomplicated.”
“And she really is the sole owner now?”
“Appears so. We got a look at the papers she signed, and they look tight. Magnus, you'll want to look them over and see if your legal eyes can spot anything fishy. However, as we've discovered, Jameson Mason doesn't leave a lot of loopholes.”
“Can we sue her?” Magnus asks.
“For what? According to her, this is all she owns.”
“But what about the rest of Mason's estate? He's worth millions, right?” Esmerelda declares with a flourish of the glass in her hand.
Eason King reaches for his wife's hand. “You tell them, honey.”
“From what we can tell it's tied up now in a trust. He has two children from a previous marriage, and his girlfriend is pregnant. Rebecca, or Becca Sue, as we've been told to call her, signed over everything to the children. She just wanted to get out of town. She has no idea of all the holdings and doesn't even care. She just wanted the house in Florida. Which she didn't even know existed until Jameson told her right before the funeral.”
“Are we sure he's dead?” pipes a voice from the other end of the porch. “Maybe he read my third book and faked his death to get out from under everything.” Heads swivel from the small, neat author sitting in his wheelchair deep in the shade, to the Kings in their rocking chairs. A faint bit of hope circles, then dies with the words, “Open casket funeral.”
“What did she say when you told her the situation here?” Magnus rumbles, “Did she understand?”
The Kings look at each other and then at their neighbors. Eason answers for them both, “No. She doesn't understand.”
They don't think I understand. Hot water from the faucet drips on my toes, so I submerge them under the silvery water. This tub may just ruin me for plain ol' tubs. Especially ones with rust stains and mold in the corners, like in Momma and Daddy's trailer. I hated to take a shower there, much less even think about taking a bath.
The back of the huge tub slants perfectly for laying my head back, and I can stretch my feet all the way out. No knees sticking up or getting a crick in my neck when I try to read. And there's a whole deep shelf, for candles and stuff I reckon, where I could lay my book.
When I close my eyes, I can pretend there are lit candles, music, and big, fluffy towels. With my eyes open I see uncurtained windows, bare floors, and walls, and my old faded beach towel waded up on the toilet seat. Next to the toilet is a stack of McDonald's napkins I found in the glove compartment of my car. Guess toilet paper should be the first item on my grocery list.
Imagine Caleb owning this beautiful house down here and never even telling me about it. Of course, he didn't tell me a lot of stuff. Most of it I knew, like him and Audrey. Him and Kimmy. Him and Janet. But it was a surprise when Audrey turned up pregnant, even bigger of a surprise when her daddy offered Caleb his farm to divorce me and marry his little girl. Oh, well, Caleb always knew a good deal, and besides, what was he going to get out of my daddy? A case of beer? Shoot, like my daddy would give up a case of beer to help me. And my babysitting job was about to end with Cab and Maggie grown up now.
Poor babies. The funeral was hard on them, what with Audrey being the center of attention now. Her and her big old belly full of Caleb's baby. Audrey's momma causing such a scene, and her brother sitting right up there on the front row.
No wonder Caleb’s first wife Margaret didn't show up for the
Momma said she wasn't coming to the funeral to witness once again what a failure I had turned my life into. Funny, for someone in whom no one placed any expectation, I sure have disappointed a lot of folks.
And now I've disappointed all these folks here. Well, they all look like they've got enough money to take care of themselves. So, Caleb left them high and dry with their big old mansions. So, they don't have no clubhouse or pool. So, they've got to deal with weeds and no landscaped entrance. So, they can't sell their houses. I look around the high-ceilinged bathroom with the tall, frosted window and the chandelier hanging above the round tub. Why would you sell a house like this anyway?
Holding my breath, I sink below the water.
I've never been happier in my life.
“We've put together some things to help you get settled in,” Ruth King says as she holds out the bags in her hands.
“Wow! Thanks. Here, come on in.” Becca Sue holds open the door, and Ruth enters followed by two other women. Country music blares from the boom box sitting in the middle of the bare living room.
The tall woman takes off her orange, floppy hat and places it on the kitchen counter next to the box she'd carried in. She raises her voice. “I don't think we exchanged names this morning.” She holds her hand out. “I'm Pearl. Pearl Manningham.”
“Hey, Miss Pearl. I said I was Rebecca Sue this morning, but please call me Becca Sue. You know, you remind me of my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Montgomery. She sure scared me to death.”
by Kay Shostak have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes