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Summer Rental(8)
Mary Kay Andrews

Ty had never worked as hard, or as feverishly. He had to replace the ruined twin-bed mattresses with a double bed he’d dragged out of the attic. The window shades were a total loss, so he rigged up some faded flowery curtains he found on a shelf at the back of the locked owner’s closet on the ground floor. He shoveled and mopped and scoured and plunged until his back and legs ached, and his hands were rubbed raw from all the bleach and disinfectant.

Check-in time was only minutes away. He knew that without looking at his watch, because he’d received three more e-mails from friggin’ Ellis Sullivan, wanting to know why he couldn’t have access to the house, like, now. He hadn’t bothered to answer. He was too busy staving off disaster.

And now he heard the tap of a car horn from the driveway. Not a blast, really, just a tap. He darted to the window and looked out. Christ! The silver Accord was parked in the driveway, blocking him in. And somebody was walking towards the door. No. It couldn’t be. But it was. Oh yeah. It was totally the dark-headed chick who’d caught him whizzing off his deck this morning. Ty Bazemore was having himself quite a day, all right.


On her third pass by Ebbtide, Ellis decided it was time to take action. She’d wasted half a day already. After all, it was five after two, so these people were now, officially, encroaching on her time. She pulled into the driveway and stared daggers at the Bronco, which was still parked in the garage. She gave two polite taps on the Accord’s horn. But the tap brought nobody scurrying out of Ebbtide. She glanced down again at her iPhone, but there was still no reply from Mr. Culpepper.

She parked and walked briskly towards the house and up the front steps. She hesitated a moment before stepping onto the porch—her mother hadn’t raised her to be the sort of person who just went barging up to somebody else’s house. Even fifteen years of living up north couldn’t change that.

“Hello?” she called softly. All was quiet. She took a good look around. The porch was broad, and although the clapboard frame of the house was brownish gray and unpainted, the trim was painted white. The porch railing had built-in benches that raked outwards, and a clothesline with bleached-out wooden clothespins was looped between the posts, just under the rafters. Four white rocking chairs were upended, two on either side of the front door. There was a galvanized tin pail half-filled with water sitting right beside the steps. PROPERTY OF EBBTIDE was painted on it in bright blue letters. She made her footsteps on the weathered gray porch boards loud and deliberate—sort of an early warning signal that she’d arrived.

The hinges of the rusted screen door squeaked loudly when she pulled it open. There was no doorbell, so she knocked briskly on the periwinkle blue door. And then she knocked, and banged, and knocked some more. She walked over to the window, and cupping her hands, peered into the darkened room. The place looked neat enough, but there was no sign of life.

Just then, her cell phone dinged softly, notifying her that she had an e-mail. She pulled it from the pocket of her capris and looked at the in-box.

To: [email protected]

From: [email protected]

Subject: Check-in: Sorry, it is our policy not to allow early check-ins. After 2 pm, you’ll find the key to the front door in an envelope under the front doormat. Be advised there is a $25 fee for replacement keys. Enjoy your stay.

“Prick,” Ellis muttered under her breath. She found the key, unlocked the door, and stepped inside.

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkened room. She found a light switch by the door and flipped it on. A ceiling fan hummed to life overhead.

“Hmm,” she said, looking around. “Not too bad.” She was in a large combined living/dining area. The walls were varnished knotty pine that had grown dark with age. The wood floors were still damp from a recent mopping, and the familiar smell of Murphy Oil soap hung in the air. Ellis smiled. Her grandmother always mopped her wood floors with Murphy soap. She decided this was a good omen.

The place was not fancy, but then she’d seen that in the photographs on the website. There was a faded oval rag rug on the living room floor, a large, lumpy sofa, and a couple of ’80s-era armchairs facing a soot-blackened fireplace. The walls were dotted with what somebody considered beach-appropriate art—paint-by-number scenes depicting lighthouses, fishing boats, tropical birds, and waving palm trees.

A nicely framed nautical chart hung over the mantel, but its glass was badly cracked. Ellis leaned in and examined it with interest. She loved the names of the rivers and sounds. Pasquotank, Croatan, Ocracoke, Currituck, and her favorite, Mattamuskeet. But then, Ellis adored anything with names and numbers and places: maps, graphs, charts. As a child, she’d traded a doll—an expensive Madame Alexander dressed as Princess Diana, sent to her by her godmother in Atlanta—for her older brother Baylor’s light-up globe. Baylor had turned around and given the doll to his little fourth-grade girlfriend.

Reluctantly, Ellis turned away from the chart. She had a car to unload and a house to set up.

The dining area held a long, scrubbed pine table and was surrounded by eight mismatched white-painted wooden chairs. A hideous plastic flower arrangement in a fish-shaped ceramic bowl was centered on a plastic doily in the middle of the table. It looked like somebody’s granny had just gotten up to fetch another cup of tea.

A smallish kitchen opened off the dining area. It was clean, yes, but it had definitely seen better days. Here, the board walls were enameled white. The cupboards were painted white, with green glass knobs, and the counters were yellow linoleum with aluminum trim. Instead of upper cupboards there was a pair of shelf units with scalloped trim nailed to the wall on either side of a kitchen window that looked out onto the sand dunes. A small stack of chipped plates, two plastic cereal bowls, and some plastic convenience store go-cups were lined up along the shelves. In the middle of the room stood a large wooden table with a chipped turquoise enamel top. The floors were of cracked and faded yellow-and-white checkerboard linoleum tiles. There was a four-burner electric stove with curious push-button controls and a white refrigerator with rust spots around the corners of the doors.

Ellis opened the refrigerator, which was empty except for a box of baking soda, and then she peeked inside the freezer, which held two miserly aluminum ice cube trays, but no automatic ice maker. She congratulated herself for picking up a five-pound bag of ice to keep the groceries she’d bought cold until check-in time. She noticed, to her chagrin, that there was no dishwasher. How had she missed this during all the hours she’d spent poring over the pictures and description of the house?

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