“Here,” Therese says, pointing to a narrow gravel road nearly hidden by the tall oaks and birches clutching the side of the road. “This is it.”
Birch trees line either side of the drive like white-gloved ushers. About a quarter of a mile up, a small, yellow, two-story house with white shutters, a front porch and gabled upstairs windows peer back at us.
“You’d never know there was a house back here, would you?” Therese says as she slips out of my truck. “As a little girl, Olivia would pretend that passing the fifth set of birches backwards, on foot, would make a castle appear at the end of the drive. If you passed through it by car or with your eyes straight ahead, you’d only see the house.”
I smile at the thought of little Olivia walking backwards—maybe skipping backwards—up the drive.
“What do you think?” Therese says now, inspecting the hydrangea bushes flanking the steps leading up to the porch.
I take the shallow stairs in one big stride. “It’s charming,” I say, my boots thumping against the wooden planks as I walk toward the front door. “Idyllic and...” The sweet aroma of baked apples sidles up to me and interrupts my train of thought. “Wait...is that apple pie?”
Therese is all smiles as she unlocks the front door, hands me the key.
Inside, caramel and cinnamon scents envelop us in a homey hug. I rub my hands together and try not to whoop as I locate the still warm apple pie sitting on a dessert stand on the small kitchen table.
The note in Therese’s elegant handwriting says, “Welcome Home, Jake. Ice cream is in the freezer.”
As we continue the tour of my new house, Therese tells me its history. Nathan had purchased and renovated the old colonial style two-story for her as a wedding gift. “Surprised me with it the morning of our rehearsal dinner. The sun was pouring in everywhere—like a blessing. He and our good friend Sam worked on it with the help of a contractor. Nathan kept it a secret for eight months!”
They had lived here for the first eleven years of their marriage. When construction on their new house on the bluff had been complete, Therese had been heartsore at the thought of selling her first home. With the real estate market the way that it was in Tomahawk Hill (a complete standstill—as it still was), they realized that the benefits of keeping the house far outweighed the costs of maintaining it.
Until now, they’d loaned it out to friends who had family visiting from out of town, or to a family in need, or offered it on occasion as a vacation rental. “And we still use the house as a family. We deck it out for Christmas and sometimes get snowed-in down here. And then Livy uses it as a place to write when she visits. Both of us stay overnight here sometimes, so the house doesn’t get that desolate feeling old houses often do.”
Walking around the house, I can imagine Olivia with her feet curled under her in front of the living room fireplace or sitting in the upholstered chair in the little library at the rear of the house with a good book.
“Would it be possible for me to move-in tomorrow?” I ask, the thought of another night at the Tropical Palm torturous now that I know a firm mattress and sun drenched mornings are within my grasp.
“What about furniture? Wouldn’t you like me to move all of this out of here so you can move-in your things?”
“Not at all.” I sweep my eyes across the buttery fabrics and rich, dark woods. I think about the more feminine touches in the upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms. “I’ll switch out some of the smaller items but, the furniture seems to belong here. I wouldn’t want to disrupt any of it. I’d be happy to compensate you further to rent it fully furnished.” A lot more. One month of rent and utilities here was going to cost the same amount as a one-night stay at the Hurst in Santa Monica.
Therese nods with approval. “I would only be storing it anyway. Treat everything here as though it’s your own. If you don’t want something, there’s a shed out back. Eli--he’s my helper--can get you all the information you need for cable and Wi-Fi.”
Impulsively, I scoop Therese to my side as I would my grandmother and hug her. “Thank you for this. I love this house, and I will take great care of it. I might be a city boy, but I’m pretty handy.”
I sense that she is holding back a sudden wellspring of emotion and a glance down at her face confirms it. She pats my stomach, which is about how tall she is next to me. “I’m sure that you are.” She sniffs. “Now how about some pie and ice cream?”
“This is where you should start,” Parker says, pulling out his sketchbook. “I’m telling you Jake; this little place has something.”
I eye him warily as he makes a light sketch of the marble slab soda fountain in the center of the diner where Brenda Golder is currently making us chocolate malts.
“You do realize that this is the one existing business I have not purchased, right? Oh, and it’s also not for sale.”
Parker sighs and drops his tools on the table. “Oh yeah, that’s right. Too bad you’re broke, have no knowledge of the restaurant industry and have no way to get in touch with the current owner to find out if they might be interested in selling it to you.”
I ignore him as Brenda approaches our table. “Your ham and cheese sandwiches will be right out.” She gives Parker a kind smile and sarcasm falls away from his face like crusty scales.
Therese, Sam, Dana...everyone in Tomahawk Hill that Parker had met so far had a transformative effect on him. When Therese had gathered him to herself for a long hug last night, I’d watched quietly as they both choked back tears, the shared loss between them unspoken and profound. “I cannot wait to meet your little Emma,” she’d whispered fiercely. “You have family in Tomahawk Hill now. When you come back with her next year, you will not be alone.”
Staying at the Tropical Palm over the past two weeks had highlighted how very different the rhythm of my daily life would be. I no longer had to allocate two to three hours of my day to sitting behind a string of angry red lights. There were no more unscheduled phone calls or last-minute meetings set by my assistant and dictated by my father. I wondered, staring at the peeling wallpaper in the motel lobby, what I would do with the extra hours of my day.
But as Parker and I explored the property I now owned, compared sketches and dreamed aloud about what could be, the hours dissipated in a rosy blur. I called my pops, commiserated over the euphoria of building something from scratch. The night of my farewell party, my father had stopped by my room to say goodnight. The going away gift that Olivia had given me sat at the foot of my bed in a handsome walnut frame. John Wayne riding through the desert. The note accompanying it was in Olivia’s loopy hand, stating that the poster had been hanging behind a plastic frame at the Tomahawk Hill movie theater downtown for as long as she could remember. I think it’ll smell like popcorn forever. Hope you like popcorn. And then underneath, she’d penned, go get ‘em, cowboy.
Looking at the poster, pops had said, “you’re determined to do this on your own, and I respect that. But you don’t have to.” He’d crossed over into my room, laid a heavy hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay to take advantage of the good name we’ve built. You have been a part of that too.”
Last week, the new interim COO had moved into my offices and acquired my assistants. I could access the company as I always had, but I was no longer receiving hourly pings on my phone with new emails, added to calendar invites, my presence no longer required at company mixers, meetings, and PR events.
Parker also told me last night that he didn’t think it would be necessary for him to move to Tomahawk Hill right away and that it might be better for Emma (and her grandparents), if he took a little more time to make the transition.
His announcement had made me feel at a loss for a moment; like a quarterback without his team.
I move my malt glass away as Parker tries to grab it. “It’s great to see you have your appetite back, but could you please stick to your own food?”
Parker gives me a grin, and I shoot one back at him. Maybe I’d see this Parker more often when he moved here. “If you’d like me to begin this thing by designing the resort, I’ll do it. But what if you were to start smaller? It might do a lot more for the community here and give you more of a foothold when you start building the rest of the resort.”
It’s not panic that swoops over me, but the feeling is nearly as paralyzing. “Start small?” I say, my mind sluggish with implications: failure, caution, minimizing risk.
Parker holds up his hand as though he’s physically holding my suppositions at bay. “I’m not saying ‘start small’ to limit you, Jake. You said you wanted to go about this project in a new way. I’m only suggesting a way to do that. This isn’t another Hurst hotel you’re going to build on already coveted soil.” He shrugs his shoulders. “Maybe start this project with the heart of this town in mind. Just think about it.”