I made my word count at around 2:30 AM last night. My total word count for the month was 50,157. While I would not call the story complete, I did work to give some closure to the events so far. I consider this the end of “Part One”. Thank you to those who read along, or at least gave it a sample. I hope you enjoyed it.
Day 29-30 – 50,157/50,000 words
Marshall arrived at Seaside Espress a couple minutes early. He got his iced coffee and a dark chocolate chip cookie. Then he headed up to the balcony, where Benton Noro was already sitting. It was another warm and clear day, and Benton Noro had positioned herself in the center of the balcony, where the awning still provided protection from the sun. Marshall had offered Catrin the chance to come with him to the coffee house, but she had declined, citing her homework and her basic discomfort with Benton Noro and the idea as a whole.
Benton Noro said a pleasant hello, and Marshall said hello back. As Benton waited patiently, Marshall sat down and extracted the cookie out of the paper bag it had been placed in. He took a bite, had a sip of coffee, and then sat both the cup and the cookie down on the table. Then she began. “There’s a two-story building down the street two blocks. It’s fairly close to the pier.”
She handed him a picture of the building. It was wooden, and painted yellow. It was empty at the moment but appeared to be well-maintained. “The building is zoned for business, but the top floor is a two bedroom apartment. It’s nothing fancy, but it does have a balcony. I know you like those.”
“I know the place,” Marshall said. I’ve walked past it more than once.”
“It’s an older building,” Benton Noro said, “But I’ve had it completely remodeled. The wiring is redone. The bathroom is new. The roof has all new shingles. When it first opened in the forties, it was a candy shop. In the seventies, it was more of a general store, providing groceries and such for the neighborhood. People tried a number of things in the eighties and nineties: books, videos, used music, custom t-shirts, curios. None of them lasted more than a year or two. When I first came here, it was a bike and board rental shop. I picked it up at auction a few years back, when the economy was in the tank. Up until last year, I was renting it to a guy who was trying to make a go of it as candy shop again. He did ok, better than you would think, but one day he decided he’d had it with Santa Creda and left town. There’s an interesting story about that, but one for another time. Suffice to say I had a devil of my time getting rid of all that candy. It’s a good place to live. If you like, you can turn the whole place into your living quarters, or you are welcome to start a business on the lower level. If you decide to go that route, I can help you with that.”
Benton Noro extracted a set of papers about sixty pages thick. She put it down on the table and slid it over to him. “You can read these later and let me know if there are any changes you’d like. If you accept, we can sign the paper work at my lawyers on Monday. Essentially, upon the birth of our first child, you become half-owner of that property. Until then, you may live in it rent free. Utilities, plus any required repairs, will be paid by me. Additionally, you receive a stipend of $500 a month. That stipend goes up by $500 each time a child of ours is born or ages by a year up to eighteen. To receive the stipend, however, you must continue to live in that house at least eight months out of every year. You won’t exactly have to punch a time clock, but you get the general idea. It’s where you live and are expected to stay. You also agree to be an active, involved participant in our children’s upbringing, although custody, financial responsibility, and final decisions on things such as school and medical care rest with me.”
Marshall leafed through the agreement, and asked, “What happens if you die?”
Benton Noro gave him a long look. “Page 47 covers that. If I were to die, custody of the children would go to you, as would full ownership of the property on Seaside. You would continue to receive your stipend. My children would, of course, inherit the bulk of my estate through a trust, which would be overseen by my lawyer.”
Marshall took the contract. “You don’t happen to have a key to the building with you?”
Benton Noro reached into her bag, pulled out a small envelope, and handed it to him. “Do we have an agreement then?” She said.
Marshall took the envelope and stared out at the water. “It’s a generous offer,” he said. “I assume you’ll want some proof that I can deliver on my end of the bargain.”
“I have complete confidence in your abilities, but of course there will be tests and such, for both of us. If for some reason we are unable to conceive after a period of two years, we both have the option to end the arrangement. That will not be the case though. I am absolutely sure we will conceive.”
“One other thing,” he said, “there’s nothing in here that says I can’t marry or have children with someone else, is there?”
Benton Noro shook her head. “I would not stand in the way of true love, of course. How can you?”
Marshall nodded. “I’ll review all this and look at the building, but yes, I intend to go through with this.” The words were out of his mouth without hesitation. Only afterwards did he ask himself if this was a wise choice.
The two of them continued to sit on the balcony, while Marshall finished his coffee and cookie. They made small talk about the weather. Benton Noro said, “It always stays warm until Halloween. After that, the summer will really be over.”
Marshall took the paperwork with him, saying his goodbyes to Benton Noro, and he left the coffee shop. He walked along Seaside Avenue toward the building Benton Noro had offered as part of the deal. It was a beautiful day, and there were plenty of other people out walking. Everyone was friendly, exchanging hellos as he passed them. Marshall thought about Catrin as he walked. He knew she wouldn’t be happy with his decision, and he wondered if they would get past it. He felt bad about that, but he also knew that he was making the right decision. However odd the circumstances were, he felt like it was the best way forward. He thought of the Sheriff’s description of Santa Creda as a superorganism. He could feel it surrounding him, and trying to find a place for him. Doors opened and then shut again.
It occurred to him that, if this was not actually meant to be, something would happen to stop it. The town found the proper use for you, sooner or later. That led to a troubling thought. What happened when you were no longer useful? What did the town do to you then? He thought about the sheriff, dying in his car, alone. He thought about Catrin’s brother, disappearing without a trace. Well, almost without a trace. He remembered the shoe they had found near the cove with the hidden cave. Why would a boy disappear? Surely he had still been important. Then again, the cove wasn’t in the town. Maybe that changed the rules.
Marshall came upon the storefront. He tried his key in the front door. It slid smoothly in the lock, which was clearly new. Marshall opened the door and stepped inside. The front room of the store was mostly empty. There were a couple display cases pushed up against one wall, but otherwise the room was empty and the floor was clear. They were hardwood floors. Benton had either had them resurfaced or replaced, because they were smooth and new looking. He looked out the large plate-glass windows facing the street. Across the street, at a bit of an angle, he could see the pier. There were several people out there, fishing with rod and reel. A couple others appeared to be sitting at one of the tables, playing a game of chess.
Marshall walled into the second room. This one was a little smaller. There were built-in shelves on the side walls. He pictured the shelves lined with jars of candy, with parents and their kids going through the shop, picking out jawbreakers, different colors of M&Ms, and candy canes in two dozen flavors. It felt like that must have been a pleasant place, although selling candy had zero appeal to him.
The third room, in the back, was large and clearly meant for storage. It contained several rows of shelves, plus a small industrial bathroom and laundry hookups. That was where the staircase to the second floor was located. He walked up the stairs and found himself in the living room of the apartment. It wasn’t particularly large, but was easily spacious enough for a couch, a couple of overstuffed chairs and a coffee table. That room blended in with the open kitchen, which had a breakfast nook. There was still a table sitting there, the remnant of some former occupant. The kitchen was fully built out, with a large new stainless steel refrigerator and a built-in microwave, as well as a dishwasher.
Marshall walked down the hall and found the bathroom. It was reasonably sized with a claw-footed tub and a small separate shower. Walking further back, he found that there were two bedrooms. The first was small. He wasn’t sure if you could even fit a king-sized bed in it. The master bedroom, however, was actually larger than the living room. It was easily larger than the entire apartment he was living in now. On the far side of the room was the door to the balcony. The balcony extended across the whole front of the store, and was wide enough for a table and a set of chairs. The view was a marked improvement from the ground floor. He could see out onto the ocean with no problem.
Marshall stood out on the balcony for a long time. He found it difficult to leave. Any misgiving he’d had about his decision evaporated. He felt like this was where he was meant to be. He wasn’t sure what he would do with the lower half of the building, but he looked forward to exploring the possibilities.
Marshall sat at the hotel bar with Anne and Charlie. It was their last night in town. First thing in the morning, they would be heading home. The kids were out enjoying the DJ by the beach, although occasionally one would come in and sit with them for a few minutes before heading out again. Both Anne and Charlie looked considerably more tan and relaxed than when they had come. More than once through the night, Charlie had declared that they should move there. Anne had merely patted him on the back and said, “You go ahead and sell all of your stores, then we’ll talk about moving.”
“You should do that,” Marshall said, “I can always get you hooked up here in town. I know people.”
Anne and Charlie had both laughed at that. Marshall knew that any thoughts they had about moving would evaporate within minutes of getting into their routines back home. Marshall had considered telling them about his deal with Benton Noro, but he had held back. He was due to come to their house for Christmas, and he figured that it would be a smarter to wait until the deal was made. He had reviewed the papers himself, and was having a lawyer go over tt. He was sure his sister’s input could be valuable, but the risks on his part were very minor in his opinion. He still had his money, so at worst he would get a couple of years of rent-free living out of the deal.
Anne asked where Catrin was, and Marshall said that she had a paper due. In truth, Catrin was still upset about his deal with Benton Noro. She was having trouble accepting it, and had told him she would call him when she had “made up her mind about the situation”. Marshall felt bad about that. He hoped she would still come around, but he wasn’t at all sure that she would. If not, he would have to accept that as a cost of the deal.
His sister looked at him and said, “I think she’s a nice girl, but shouldn’t you be dating women your own age?”
Charlie gave her a sharp look and said, “Don’t you listen to her. If she makes you happy, she makes you happy.”
Marshall looked at his sister though, and gently smiled. “You’re right Annie. I am too old for her. You are absolutely right. There’s really no chance of it working out.”
Anne blanched at that. Whatever she had been expecting, her face said that she did not expect him to agree with her. “I’m not saying you should break up with her or anything,” she said.
“You shouldn’t have said anything at all,” Charlie said to her. He seemed more upset that Marshall would have expected. “We talked about this. You’re sabotaging him again.”
Anne looked genuinely upset then. Marshall put his hand on hers. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “I am fine. Relationships have never been one of my strengths. This will either work out or it won’t, but I will be fine either way.”
There was a long pause in the conversation after that. Marshall took a sip of the Cabernet Sauvignon he had ordered. It was very bitter, even more so than the one he had gotten the other day. Marshall liked it because it tasted real to him.
They said their goodbyes a while later. The kids came back up off the beach and they all got a group picture taken by their server. Marshall gave each of them a hug, and then he headed off into the night. He walked back along the street, rather than the beach, so that he could walk by the place that would be his home. He had tried to picture what he could do with the retail space. He had daydreamed about a lot of things, knowing that it would not be his only source of support took some of the need for practicality away, and daydreams didn’t need to be practical anyway, so he had pictured everything from a computer store, to a coffee house, to an electronics store. Nothing had really stuck so far though.
When he got to the storefront, he stood looking into the plate glass windows. It was inky black inside now, which gave the place a slightly haunted feel, but Marshall felt good there anyway. He was pretty sure he could handle whatever ghosts came along. At this point, his life was full of ghosts anyway.
Over a thousand people showed up for the funeral of Sheriff Dwight Weatherly. The day was clear and warm, to the point that those who had chosen to wear suits were sweating in the heat. Marshall was one of those people, wearing the same suit that Rainman had picked up for him to tend bar in. Catrin stood next to Marshall, holding his hand. She wore a simple gray dress. They were close to the back of the crowd. Marshall hadn’t been sure how she would respond when he asked her to come with him, and was happy when she agreed to go.
The funeral had been delayed by almost two weeks. The coroner had been thorough. There apparently had been several small puncture wounds in different spots on his body, no bigger than a needle. Those had raised some questions, until it came to light that he had been seeing an acupuncturist about issues related to osteoarthritis. In the end, the cause of death was simply listed as heart failure. There was still talk, of course, that this was all very suspicious, but Marshall accepted the answer. The question of who had been at the hotel that night, however, had not gone away. Because the death was not ruled a crime, there was no reason for the sheriff’s department to investigate that particular mystery.
The eulogy was given by a Baptist minister who spoke of protecting the good and the bravery of those who put their lives on the line. He talked about the Sheriff’s long history of service to the city, and discussed the sacrifices families make when someone leads a life of service. He mentioned both Shelby and his daughter, but also his ex-wife and his two grown sons, who Marshall had known nothing about. Once the minister had finished his eulogy, he led a long prayer, and then the honor guard of the sheriff’s department performed a bell ceremony and a final radio call ceremony. Quite a few of the mourners broke into tears at that point.
Marshall shed some quiet tears during the speech. He found himself looking at the Shelby and her daughter. He had no standing to be a part of their grief, but it seemed to echo outward from them to the entire crowd. He squeezed Catrin’s hand tightly.
When the ceremony was over, Catrin and Marshall got in Catrin’s car. She drove him back to his little apartment. He asked her if she wanted to come in for a while but she declined. They sat silently for a minute before she said, “I think we need to just be friends.” She sighed sadly. “I just can’t be more than that with you. I feel bad. I know what you’re doing. You’re not doing it selfishly. I think you’re doing it out of hope, but I just don’t think I can be in a relationship with you.”
Marshall thought about disagreeing, but he chose not to. Something in him had known it would be over as soon as he committed to moving forward with Benton Noro. He couldn’t blame Catrin. The path he had chosen did not include her. “Thank you,” he said, “for trying.”
They said their goodbyes and he got out of the car. Walking into his apartment, he did not look back.