“Well, there's time to change your mind.” Tori said as they pulled from the main road up the gravel lane to where the old brick house sat in the middle of it's green yard. They'd already stopped in the nearby city of York and finalized the sale. It was there that Epi traded off cash for a set of keys.
“I'm not changing my mind.” In fact he'd arranged to take possession of the house a week before he had to.
“Appliances will be here this morning, the movers arrive this afternoon.” Tori had driven them up and loaded the back of his car with cleaning supplies and overnight bags and the things Epi absolutely couldn't pack like his medication. He pulled the car around to the back of the house where the long ramp had been built on and turned the engine off.
Over the garage on the small balcony a door opened and Nick stepped out. He was dressed in casual shorts and another t-shirt but this time he had flip flop sandals on his feet. He stood over them for a moment as Tori got his door open. “Hey, you made it.”
“Like it or not.” Tori called back as he opened the back door and started to pull out mops and scrub buckets and cleaners. “Your background check cleared. I now trust you on a trial bases to take care of my friend.”
Nick had stomped down the wood steps. “That's good to know. Here I thought being a drug lord in the 80's would have caused trouble.”
“Ha ha, so funny.” Tori smirked and pushed the cleaning supplies at Nick. “Just for that you can help carry.”
“Seriously, whatever I can do to help.”
“Really?” Tori raised an eyebrow. “Anything?”
“You have a boyfriend.” Epi reminded his friend. “Can you stop messing with the mops and pop the trunk?”
“Sorry.” Tori moved around the back and got the crutches out of the trunk. Epi needed to be able to stretch his leg out on car trips and only could keep the crutches at the seat with him if they were going on a short drive. He got the crutches out and left the trunk open, they'd packed it full of things too not the least of which was Epi's wheelchair.
Epi got to his feet and didn't even try to manage the steps. It took him longer to go up the ramp and by the time he reached the door Tori and Nick had the car emptied. Boxes, suitcases and supplies soon lined the porch and Nick hauled the wheelchair up as well as Tori placed his last armload of things down.
Epi juggled the keys in his hands a moment.
“It's not like you haven't owned a house before.”
“Yeah but never alone and this is a real house, an honest to God one you know? Not a condo or townhouse.”
“Is all the same, the square footage just changes.”
“Yeah.” He put the key in the lock and told himself that he wasn't nervous about the whole crazy idea. The key turned easily but the door stuck a little in it's frame, Epi had to really shove it to get it open.
“Sorry about that, it sticks after it rains.” Nick apologized.
Epi went into his house, his new house, and sneezed. The air was stuffy and dusty from being shut up and suddenly he saw all the things that were wrong with the house. It seemed frumpy and old and run down. What had seemed like aged charm now seemed like an impossible repair job.
Tori put a hand on his shoulder. A silent show of support and acknowledgment that he wasn't alone. “There are cobwebs everywhere.”
“It's an old house. You'll have spiders or thousand leggers.”
“Spiders will eat thousand leggers and vice versa so you'll have more of one than the other.”
“Thousand leggers? I don't want to know. Well, nothing to do until the furniture arrives but clean.”
“I told you I have someone coming in this week.”
“Yes, yes but until then I can get the sink clean and the windows washed down and the bathroom cleaned. Shoo, go onto that porch swing and get out of my way. Keep an eye out for all these people that are supposed to be here. Phone and cable people are supposed to be here too sometime today.”
The morning passed quickly. Epi got to help as the appliances were delivered which mostly meant holding doors open and getting out of the way. Tori had insisted he get a new stove and fridge, something he'd almost not done. Now looking at the house and seeing it's age he was glad to have something new that was his and his alone. Even if the modern appliances looked a little odd in the obviously older kitchen he was still glad for them.
As he held the door open for the old stove to be carted away he caught sight of Nick across the yard, working on an old lawn mower, quietly watching. It wasn't the first time it had occurred to Epi how odd it would be to see someone else living in a relative’s house but it was the first time it occurred to him with the man there watching. Worse, he'd moved in and instantly changed things and it would only continue. Tori had someone coming in later in the week to remove the old shag carpet from the one floor and in a few weeks there would be painting and other cosmetic work. He stopped feeling badly when he stepped into his small, outdated kitchen and was faced with really nice appliances.
It wasn't long until the phone guy and the cable guy got there and while they were sitting at the picnic table eating the salad and sandwiches Tori had packed the movers arrived. That made them busy again as boxes and furniture had to be directed to the right rooms but Epi took up a spot at the door and guided the movers to the right general area.
“It's a good thing you've always had a taste for antiques, Epi, I'd forgotten how old a lot of this stuff was.” Tori said as a hutch was carefully placed in the dining room.
“I'm glad to have it out of storage.” All of his things had been put into storage and most of it Epi hadn't missed but he had missed his books and box after box of books was carted into the house and back to the library with it's stained glass window. “I'll have to go through it, sort out what... well what shouldn't be kept.”
“Don't throw everything of his out, asshole or not he was a big part of your life for long time.” Tori warned but Epi just nodded. “Come upstairs and tell me which bedroom you want set up in.”
He'd been dreading those steps and he knew Tori was going to make him go up and down them several times before he was satisfied and felt he could leave. Epi drew a breath and made his slow way up the steps, one step at a time. When he eached the top Tori stood smiling at him.
“You didn't come up on your ass.”
“No, but I'll sit down to go down them.”
“Good, know your limits but try to reach beyond them.”
Epi hadn't ever actually been upstairs of the house he owned. He'd made Tori take pictures but hadn't wanted to try to climb the steps on the day of the auction. There were four large rooms and one small room upstairs. One of the large rooms had been converted into a bathroom and one of the bedrooms had a sleeping porch off of it.
“This one..” He opened the door to the screened in second story porch and walked out onto it, the green of the yard rolling out before him and the branches of the nearest tree almost brushing against the screens. This was going to be his bedroom even if the bed that would be set up had once been shared happily in another bedroom.
“No closets, we'll have to get you a wardrobe or two, the rooms are big enough. For now we'll set your clothes up in the other bedroom here but you'd better set up a guest room soon. Dillon will get jealous if he learns we're sharing a bed all the time.”
“I don’t have near enough furniture.”
“The house is huge but you’ll have time.” Tori grinned as he pried open a box of clothing, found it to be summer things and tucked the flaps shut.
“Hmmm?” He glanced over his shoulder to where his friend stood.
“For what, sweetie?”
He waved with one crutch to the house around him. “For backing me on this. I know you don’t like the idea…”
“Epi…” He sighed and stood up. “You’re my best friend, you’re closer to me than my own sisters. If you need this, I don’t have to understand it. I’ll be a phone call away and really I expect you to set up a streaming video of mister beefcake there mowing the lawn with his shirt off.” He tossed an arm over Epi’s shoulder and tried to see if the sleeping porch gave a good view of where his friend’s new neighbor was working.
Tori straining to see made Epi chuckle a little. “You’re rotten.”
“Indeed but he is all manly and sexy…”
“I’m scared, Tori.”
Tori squeezed his friend closer. “I know. If it’s too much or you’re not happy we can have you back in my condo almost over night. Deal?”
He nodded. “Deal.” He’d never lived alone before and now here he was, in a 10 room old farmhouse in a town where he didn’t know anyone.
“Good, now come tell me what clothes you want unpacked and what you want left out. Because they’ll be up here soon to put the bed together and I want to clear the off season clothing into the other room.”
It took the better part of the afternoon to have the movers haul everything in and place it where it belonged. Even with furniture assembled and in place and boxes stacked in the center of rooms, the house seemed empty and unlived in. Epi stood at the front screen door and watched the moving truck rumble down the gravel lane back out to the main road. With the truck and the men gone he was now really doing it.
He glanced around the things that had once meant so much to him. “None of this stuff feels like mine anymore.”
“Well.” Tori pulled the wrappings off of a framed, antique US map from 1856. “Go through it as you unpack and what you don’t want anymore you can pitch or ebay or have a yard sale. No one says you need to keep all this.”
Epi wanted to push it all out into the yard and throw it all away. It was an itchy desire to toss everything away and start over. He doubted his shrink would find that amusing. Deciding on a whim to buy a house and move away could be seen as a bold step toward taking an active look at his life as it was today or it could be seen as a slip into crazy insanity. If he added in throwing everything he owned out, he knew which side of the fence his therapist would land on.
“I’m not going to be able to get near enough of this unpacked for you so let’s go to the store, get groceries, pick up take out and get the kitchen unpacked tonight. Kitchen and clothes and towels and the bed made. Sound good?”
Epi nodded. “Yeah. You know you don’t have to unpack any of this. I’ll manage.”
“I know I don’t but I’m going to anyway. Besides, you’re stuck with me until tomorrow afternoon anyway. Let’s go pester Mr. Hot Stuff about where the nearest store is.”
“You know this is why straight men hate us.”
“Oh pish they ogle women all the time and sexualize them. It’s about time they grow up and deal with the shoe being on the other foot.”
“There’s more to a man then sex.”
“Maybe, but it’s the best part of him.” Tori laughed and scooped up his car keys and totally missed the pained, unhappy look that flitted across Epi’s face. When he turned back Epi’s normal closed off look of frustration was back in place and Tori smiled brightly. “Let’s go get you pop tarts and microwave meals and all the other junk you claim is cooking.”
“Don’t forget fruit loops.”
“God you and your fruit loops.” Tori teased and hid his own worry behind a smile.
It was dark by the time they got home, got the groceries unloaded and the kitchen put together. They’d eaten while out and that had been a smart idea because Epi was exhausted and worn out and not in the mood for food by the time the task was done.
“Go see what the local cable is like, I’m going to run over and speak with Mr. Kern about coming by for lunch tomorrow and give him all my instructions.”
“The book.” Epi grumbled. “The care and feeding of the captive pain in the ass.”
“Something like that. I’ll be right back down.” Tori picked up the canvas tote bag he’d left by the door and let the screen door squeak and slam behind him. The lights were on over the garage and he climbed the steps to the second story balcony and knocked on the wood door. It took a moment but the door opened. “Hello, Mr. Kern.”
“Nick, my father is Mr. Kern.”
“Fair enough. Can I bug you for a moment?”
Nick glanced over his shoulder into the apartment and shrugged. “Sure, come in.”
Tori had been expecting the place to be the typical bachelor pad with tacky mismatched furniture and clutter everywhere. Instead, the decent sized open space had storage bins and shelves, a decent if not fancy coffee table and a nice, high quality futon sofa bed. The kitchen was small but clean and the coffee in the maker smelled fresh.
“I don’t get much company up here.” He apologized and moved to gather a few scattered books from the only side chair in the apartment.
The cover of the book caught his eye and Tori raised an eyebrow. “The Long Fall by S. Epitome Whitmore.”
Nick shrugged. “I googled his name, saw the books and ordered them. Town hasn’t caught on that a famous writer has moved in yet.”
“Well, Epi isn’t quite famous but he sells well enough. Do you like it?”
“It’s okay.” He shrugged and moved out of the way so Tori could sit down.
“I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon.”
“Okay.” Nick sat down on the edge of the futon.
“I printed out information for you.” He pulled the folder out and it really was almost thick enough to be a book. “It’s indexed for easy reference.”
Nick took it and opened it. “I see that.” He tried not to snicker because it was obvious the other man’s intentions were good.
“Contact information is there by order of importance. Call me before you even try to reach his parents and if you can’t reach me or them call his lawyer, he’ll know who to get in touch with. But really, try to find me as I have his power of attorney. There’s his list of current and past medications, what he needs to take when. He’s still on blood thinners and it’s important you understand what that means.”
“Aunt Minnie was on them. Is he bruising like she was?”
“You look at him funny and he’ll bruise.” Tori nodded. “Flash drive with his entire medical history on it, don’t let a hospital or doctor keep this, make them make a copy or you make one and take along. Hard copies have all been sent to his new doctors but it’s good to have a digital one for emergencies.”
“You trust me with this?”
“I’m trusting you with my best friend, his medical files are the least of my worries. Your background check came up clean as a boy scout’s and I’ll be back up here at least for an over night visit in two weeks. He won’t eat when he’s upset, we bought enough groceries for a week so if at the end of the week he’s still got plenty you need to call me so I can chew him out.”