The A to Z Challenge – D is for – “Did you hear that?”

It started with a phone call, a phone call that I never expected to get.

I was one of those people who went through life, almost invisible.  It was not what I wanted, it just happened.

I was not the sociable sort, at school I tended to spend my time studying and then being labeled a nerd, I didn’t make friends, except for those who wanted help with their homework.

Few friends in elementary school, fewer in middle school, and none in college, that is no one that you could call a true friend.  They were more acquaintances that were there for the help I could give them, but no one that would invite me to parties, or to just hang out.

That continues on into university. Except there were several new acquainted that were a little more than that, though not quite BFFs.

There was one, in particular, Anna, who was one of the study group, the one who needed the most help, someone who had been wavering on returning after the first year.

My trouble was that I liked her more than she liked me, my opinion of course, based on what I called the indifference factor, but perhaps I had more expectations than she did

She was doing uni because it was expected of her, not because she wanted to be there.  She could take it or leave it, and the last time I spoke to her, she was going to leave.

And when she left to go back home, it was the last time I expected to see or hear from her.

Until that phone call.

“What are you doing this weekend?”

A dumb question, nothing of course, but I wouldn’t tell her that.  I was still in shock that Anna would call me, for anything other than school, if at all.

“Not a lot.”

“Good.  How would you like to housesit with me?”

House sit?  Surely she had a dozen others who would do anything for her.  She was that popular and well-liked.  And would probably be far more amusing than I ever could be.

“If you like.  I had no idea you did house minding.”

“I don’t, but an aunt is going away for the weekend, and she wants someone to look after the cat.  I hope you like cats.  And gardens.  It has a nice garden.”

Cats I could take or leave.  Gardens, it was probably a birdbath, two beds of roses, a large tree with a seat under it, and neighbors peering over the fence.

But it was a weekend somewhere else other than my little room, and Anna would be there.  Maybe I could try to get past my shyness and actually talk to her.

“OK.  I’m in.  Do I need to bring anything?”

“No.  I’ll send you the address and see you there at 5 pm. Friday.”

Why did I get the feeling I was being set up?

That feeling of impending doing followed me down the path from the front gate to the front door.

Far from the house being a small thatch cottage, based on the address she gave me, it turned out to be a three-story manor house with a large outhouse that looked to be once a stable and coach house

It seemed far too large to be a house for one person.

When I rang the doorbell, I expected a butler to answer the door, but it was Anna herself.

“Nice place,” I said.

“Too large and too hard to maintain.  Were trying to convince her that she would be better off in something smaller.  But you should see the back.”

Based on the front garden which could happily grace the front cover of any country living magazine, I couldn’t wait.

She let me pass and closed the door behind us.  It sounded like the vault was closing and there would be no damage until the timer released the locks.

Inside, the whole place reeked of heritage and antiques, and the personality of its owner.  The walls had paintings, table tops had old magazines, the seats worn leather, and worn carpet squares covered floorboards that creaked when you walked on them.

At the end of a long corridor was the kitchen at the end if the house, after passing several sitting and dining rooms.  It was a very large house and raised a very important question.

She had not mentioned any family or relatives with anything like the wealth this house exuded.  In fact, she had often implied that she was just an ordinary person.

This was anything but ordinary.

I caught up with her on the back patio, just off a large sunroom, to view what had to be an acre or more of manicured laws, garden beds, and trees.  All it was missing was a maze.

“Do you actually have a secret life?”

“I was always told not to advertise our wealth.”

“Isn’t showing me this, a form of advertising?  After all, I’m apparently from the wrong side of the tracks.”

“I trust you.”

“But you don’t know me, or anything about me.”

“Why do you think you’re here?”

If I wanted to make an educated guess, my first thought was to set me up for something, for the very reason she was aloof, and people like her, and those she kept company with, were not people like me associated with.

I was surprised not to see the two girls I’d once nicknamed ‘the dynamic duo’, Melissa and Winona, with her.  Maybe they would turn up later.

My second thought, the most improbable reason, was that she wanted to get to know me, but, why choose a place like this?  To make me feel small, grateful, impressed? Ten minutes in a Cafe was all she needed to find out what she needed to know about me.

An alarm bell went off when I asked her where I could get a drink of water, and she said, the kitchen, but didn’t really know where it was. I got an instant bad feeling.

That was followed by a bang that I thought came from the rear of the house.

“Did you hear that?” I asked.

“You hear all sorts of noises in places like these.”

If she wasn’t worried, neither was I.

Then the door chime rang.

“You expecting more visitors?”  My internal fear factor was rising exponentially.

“No, but I’d better find out who it is, just in case.”

I shrugged and headed towards where she indicated the kitchen was, the rear of the house, what I would call an educated guess

After I found the kitchen, not technically at the rear, I returned to find my worst fears had come true.  Not only the dynamic duo but also their boyfriends, Chad and Lester, two of the worst bullies from school days.

“Well, look who it is.”  Chad was particularly menacing.

A glance to the side, it was hard to tell if Anna was looking pleased or neutral, but she wasn’t surprised. I glanced in Anna’s direction and all I got was a tilt of her head.

“Shouldn’t you be down the country club trying to prove you’re a new version of your drunken bully of a father?”

His smile turned into a very angry look.  “Don’t go there, Scanlon.”

“Why are you here then?”

I expected to hear Anna had invited them.  Instead, “we’re here to make sure Anna doesn’t make a mistake.”

“I don’t need your help or advice Chad.  In fact, you should leave.”

None of the four looked like they had any intention of leaving.  “Not until we’ve impressed upon both of you, the error of your ways.  We thought you were smarter than this or did Scanlon force himself on you?”

She shook her head, not necessarily in anger, but more in despair.  “I don’t know where you get your ideas from Chad, but you are very much mistaken.  So, I will only say this once more, Chad,” she added quietly, “otherwise you will find yourself in a world of pain.  Leave now while you still can.”

Chad, being Chad, was the master of ceremonies, puffed up as he had been in the schoolyard when he was about the unleash his gang on some poor misguided fool, usually me, or one of three others.  But it was Melissa who spoke instead, “You go teach Scanlon a lesson outside by the pool while we have a talk to Anna.”

Lester took the cue, came over, and grabbed me by the shoulder.  I thought about trying to shrug him off, but Chad was across the room before I could initiate anything.  Best to leave calmly and sort it out outside.

I gave Anna a last look, but she was wearing her poker face.  Had she set this up?  It seemed as though she hadn’t, but then, it didn’t look like she was worried about the dynamic duo.

I shrugged.

Intentional or not, Chad and Lester were about to learn a very valuable lesson, and revenge, at least on them, was going to be sweet.

©  Charles Heath 2022

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