It was the small town that we had visited once, some years ago, that had enticed me back.
Those had been happier times, times when the stench of money hadn’t overtaken sensibility, and who we really were.
Not that I had changed all that much, except for the upper west side apartment, and posh car to go with it, but what had disappointed me was the change in Liz, the woman I thought once was the love of my life.
Without the trappings of wealth, she was the kindest, most thoughtful, and generous person I knew, but that had changed when I became the recipient of an inheritance that beggared belief. We both made a promise from the outset that it would not change us, but unfortunately, it did.
And that was probably the main reason I was standing outside an old fixer-upper house on several acres overlooking the ocean.
I’d asked Liz to come, but she was having a weekend away in Las Vegas with her new friends, or as one of the ladies rather salaciously said, a what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas kind of weekend.
Charmaine had told me about the house, one that she had admired for a long time, but didn’t have the means to buy it.
Charmaine was a painter, a rather good one, and both Liz and I had met her on a weekend away upstate, and I’d bought one of her landscapes to hang in our new apartment. Liz hated it, but I think that had more to do with the painter than the painting, and that was because Charmaine had flirted with me, and that, I had observed over time, was how she was with everyone.
She called it her sales technique. After all, it had worked on me.
I listened to the auctioneer go through the rules of the action and then move on to a physical description of the property. I’d been to several viewings and got a promising idea of what was needed if I were to buy it. It had good foundations and suffered from a lack of TLC. It was how the auctioneer summed up.
When he called for the first bid, I felt a hand slip into mine, and a glance sideways showed it to be Charmaine. I had asked her along for support, but she had something else to do, but it appeared now, that she hadn’t.
“So,” she whispered next to my ear, “you were serious about this place?”
I had been dithering, not being able to make my mind up, but Liz, in the end, made the decision for me. I’d overheard a snippet of conversation with one of her new friends, and to be honest, I’d been surprised.
“Perhaps it was time to find a hideaway.”
“Things that bad?”
I shrugged. “Maybe I’m writing too much into it. At any rate, I needed an excuse to get out of town, and being here was as good as any.”
The first bid came in at 450,000. I knew the reserve was about 700,000, and I was prepared for 850,000. But I was hoping to spend less than that because the renovations would be about 250,000.
“We could go and have a picnic. It’ll certainly cost less than buying this place.”
“I’m here now.”
Holding hands was just one of Charmaine’s ‘things’, and I had never written anything into what might have been called a relationship of sorts. We were not lovers, and the conversation had never been steered in that direction, but I did find myself gravitating towards her when Liz was off doing her thing with her friends. To be honest, I just liked the idea of a picnic and watching Charmaine paint her landscapes.
I raised the bid to 500,000. Another from the previous bidder, 550,000. Another at 600,000. It seems there were three bidders for the property. The other sixteen people attending were observers, probably locals interested in how this would help their property value.
I went 625,000 when the auctioneer changed the increment after a lack of bidding. It was countered, moving to 650,000. Another at 657,000, and then the first bidder went to 700,000, the reserve.
“You do realize the other bidders are friends of the owner and are there to push the price up?” Charmaine whispered in my ear.
I’d heard of it happening, but I’d not suspected it until she mentioned it.
“Going once, going twice at 700,000.” The auctioneer looked at me. “I’ll accept 10,000 increments.”
I nodded. 710,000. It quickly moved to 800,000, after I bid 790,000.
The auctioneer looked at me expectantly. “810,000, sir?”
That was more than I wanted to spend though an elbow in the ribs was the clincher, and when I declined, there was an air of disappointment.
“Going once, going twice, all done at 800,000?” A look around the crowd confirmed we were all done, and the gavel came down.
“Looks like we’re going on a picnic,” she said. “I’d expect a call in an hour or so.”
Two things happened that weekend, both of which surprised me. The first, Charmaine was right, I did get a call, and finished up with a hideaway in the country, overlooking the ocean. The second, Liz didn’t come back from Las Vegas. She had apparently found someone new, someone more exciting, or so she said.
I guess I was disappointed but not overly concerned. She had changed and I had not and if the truth be told, we were drifting apart. We parted amicably, sold the apartment, and moved on, each in a different direction.
I had a new residence, and renovations to take my mind off the break-up, and when I told Charmaine, she just said she didn’t believe we were that perfect match. And in the light of my new status, I could now ask her to come and stay in the spare bedroom, a lot better, I said, than the one-person tent she had been using, an offer she readily accepted.
Until, a year later, it became something more than that.
© Charles Heath 2020-2021
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