The developer frowned at having his property suddenly bid up again but he nodded.
“197?” The auctioneer glanced to Epi once more.
This time when he flashed the bidding card his hands were shaking.
“I have 197, 198?”
The developer glanced back to Epi before nodding to the auctioneer.
“199?” Some logical part of Epi’s mind said he should stop but he hated the look the developer had given him. It was dismissive and rude and he nodded and put in his bid.
“I have 199,000…. Looking for 200,000?”
The developer squared his shoulders and bid again.
“205?...I have 205…210? Thank you 215?”
“Epi stop this?” Tori whispered and wondered if he could somehow scream out that it was all a joke and still keep Epi as his friend.
“No.” Epi answered Tori simply and flashed the card again.
“220….225…230…235…” Yup the bid went and people began to whisper and glance around. “250…I have 250,000 dollars do you say 255,000?”
Epi nodded and heard Tori’s near panicked sigh.
“260?” The auctioneer asked the developer but the man paused. He glanced again to Epi and this time was met with a challenging smirk. The developer shook his head no. “I have 255,000 looking for 260,000… anyone else want in at 260,000 dollars? I have 255,000 looking for 260,000… okay…last call… the property will be sold today… anyone else at 260,000 dollars? 255…260…” The auctioneer swung his pointing stick about the crowd as he glanced around everyone once more before he tapped it loudly against the porch. “Sold, I’ve sold it at 255,000 dollars to number 343. Please see Mr. Murphy to sign the papers. Thank you.”
“What’s going on?” Dillon asked as he rejoined the pair with small bags of potato chips in his hand.
“Epi just bought the house.”
“You’re shitting me?” Dillon laughed.
“It’s not funny.” Tori snapped back. “Epi what’re you doing?”
“You told me I should live.”
“Yes, to go get a hair cut and a massage not buy a house two states away!”
“Sir?” The lawyer said carefully, not sure he wanted to get between the two fighting men. “I don’t mean to interrupt but I’m leaving as soon as we get this signed? There’s a picnic table on the back porch.”
“Okay.” Epi stood, wobbled but moved toward the steps up onto the porch.
“Ah there’s a ramp there too, round back, Minnie had to use a walker the last couple months she was alive, if that would be easier.”
Epi paused and glanced to around the house where the man pointed. “Thanks.” He hated to admit it but it would be easier and he made his slow way around the house. Sure enough attached the back side of the wrap around porch was a switchbacked wood wheelchair ramp that had a very easy, gentle incline. It took him twice as long to go that way but he got onto the porch without falling.
Only his way was blocked by Tori. “You’re crazy, you know that?”
“What are you going to do with a house in the middle of bumfuck Pennsylvania?”
“Live in it.” He turned a little sideways and moved around where Tori stood.
“You’ve lost it, what little mind you’ve had you’ve lost.” He followed. “You can’t live here?”
Epi paused as he maneuvered his way to sitting down. “Yes, I can.”
“This isn’t exactly a stronghold for culture! I bet there’s not even a gay bar within fifty miles and good God, Epi, they’ve been staring at us like circus freaks since we arrived! This place isn’t going to hold a welcome parade for the newest queer in town!” He would have pointed out the lawyers discomfort but he knew he didn’t need to, Epi saw it.
“Maybe people have been staring because your fetus’ ass has almost been hanging out of his shorts the whole time.” He propped his crutches against the picnic table and brought out his wallet and checkbook. “What do I need to sign?” He said as he turned his attention to the man across the table from him.
“Jesus Epi! You can’t cook and I don’t think anyone delivers here…”
“I can cook well enough.” He caught the look of unease on the lawyer’s face. “Ignore him.”
“Okay, this one here says you agree to paying ten thousand today and the remainder at closing which is generally thirty days from today.”
“Can that be sooner?”
“It can be as soon as you can raise the funds.”
“I have the funds. I just need to get a cashier’s check because I doubt you’ll take a personal one today.”
“You…you have over two hundred thousand dollars in your checking account?”
“I’ve recently sold my previous home.” He signed the paper.
“Ah… this one says you acknowledge that the house was sold at auction without warranty or inspection and is sold as is. This paper states that upon until possession the former home owner’s policy will cover accident or fire but as soon as we close you’re no longer covered.” There were a few more and each one had Tori sighing and pacing and nearly biting his nails.
“Christ I need a cigarette!” Tori finally declared.
“You haven’t smoked since college.” Epi reminded him.
“Don’t bother me with details!”
“And this last paper states that the current tenet of the apartment over the garage can have up to forty five days from closing to vacate if you’d like to terminate his lease.”
The name on the papers caught his eye. “Nickolaus Kern? Nick?”
“Was he the other man bidding on the property originally?”
“Yes, he was. This was his great aunt’s house. He’s been living in the apartment taking care of her and tending the property in exchange for rent. Whatever agreement you reach with him will be independent, it’s just been asked that if you’d like the space cleared, he has 45 days to find a new place.”
“That’s fine…” Epi nodded and signed that agreement. He signed tax papers and about four more forms, in duplicate, before writing a check for ten thousand dollars and turning it over to the lawyer.
“Thank you, Mr. Whitmore and it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m sure you’ll find the people in these parts quite welcoming. Call my office to arrange for closing when it’ll be convenient for you.”
“Thank you.” Epi shoo the mans hand and sighed as he left. He turned around on the picnic bench and caught Tori glaring at him. “What?”
“You can’t do this.”
“Of course I can, I’m not a child.”
“Epi… I don’t mean it like that. It’s just, you don’t drive and have to be at rehab every other day and there’s the problem of finding a good place up here and finding other doctors too and you being all alone. Who’s going to mow the lawn?”
“I’ll call a cab and I’ll hire someone.”
“A cab? There aren’t cabs here.”
“I’ll hire someone or take the bus or something.”
“Or something? That’s not a good plan.”
“I don’t need a plan.”
“You’re going to need one.”
“Tori, I’ll be fine.”
“The bathroom is upstairs and you’re not stable on stairs yet, what if you fall and break your stubborn neck?”
“I’ll manage. I’ll go up them on my ass if I have to.”
“How will you even get to the grocery store and good God what about your medications?”
“I’ll hire someone to come in and help if I have to. I can certainly afford it with the insurance money.”
“But you’re going to be all alone up here! Just sitting up here alone and brooding and alone and I’m going to be hours away and it’s not even like there’s a club you can go to and you’re never going to meet anyone here!”
“Damn, Tori, breath, if he wants to move let him move.” Dillon added in.
“Shut up!” Tori snapped. “This is between him and me and not you!”
The younger man held up his hands. “Geesh, whatever dudes!” And wandered back toward where the auction was continuing.
Tori rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know how you’re going to do this. I guess I can get off for a couple of weeks and come up here and help you settle in for a time…”
“Don’t be stupid. Help me move and I’ll manage.”
Epi sighed and glanced around the back of the yard. The plants that had obviously grown in the same spot for years if not decades and the wide branching trees all swayed in the breeze that slipped between the house and the garage and its apartment. “Look, I know it seems impulsive to you.”
That made Tori snorted.
“But I need this. I… I need to get away. I can’t go back to the same bars and clubs and have people know what I was before all this.” He waved to his legs. “I can’t stay there, not right now. In a year? Or two? Maybe I can come back but right now I need to get away. I…I just…that god damn shrink keeps telling me I need to figure out who I am now, as this person. I don’t know who that man is but I can’t do that back home. I need this Tori, I really do.” He glanced around the yard again. “It’s quiet here, I can think. I need you to support me doing this.”
Tori sighed and sat down next to his friend. He leaned over and dropped his head on the slender shoulder. “Of course I do, I’m just worried you won’t get the care you deserve up here in the middle of no where.”
“Tori, we’re an hour outside of Baltimore. I’m an hour drive to Johns Hopkins and Hershey Medical Center. It’s not like I’m moving to the middle of Alaska or something.”
Foot steps on the porch made both men look up and the man that had dropped out of the bidding came around the corner. “I’m sorry to bother you…” He moved closer. “Congratulations. It’s a great property.” He offered his hand.
Tori grinned brightly. “Hi.” He smiled and took the hand and shook it, openly glancing the man over.
“That would be me, pay him no mind.” Epi corrected.
The broad shouldered man nodded. “Ah.” Tori hadn’t given him back his hand and he wasn’t willing to pull it away and be rude.
“You must be Nick.” Tori purred.
“Yeah and you are?”
“Tori shouldn’t you be babysitting your just a sneeze past being jailbait boyfriend?”
Tori let go of the strong hand and turned back to Epi. He raised his eyebrows with an interested look as he came to sit back down. “This is my friend Tori, forgive me for not getting up.”
Nick stepped over, wiped his hand against his jeans and offered it to Epi. “It’s alright and yeah I’m Nick, I’m over the carriage house.”
Epi took the hand and glanced up and fell hard against the sincere blue eyes. For a moment he forgot what he was going to say.
“Indeed you are, Nick.” Tori purred and Epi smacked him in the chest with his free hand.
“Don’t mind him, he likes to push people’s buttons but he’s harmless.” Epi apologized as he always did.
“It’s okay.” Nick’s eyes glanced down not to the crutches but to where the brace on Epi’s wrist was peeked out from under his shirt sleeve.
Epi caught the glance and moved to tug his sleeve back down.
“So, yeah I just wanted to say hello. I need to get with you and figure out what you want me to do. No rush just, need to know what you’d like done.”
“Nick…” Tori leaned back against the table. “Do you mind that we’re gay?”
“Tori.” Epi scolded.
Nick glanced around and when he was fairly sure it all wasn’t some joke someone in town was pulling he shook his head. “Why would I?”
“So the fact that my best friend in the world Epi here likes guys doesn’t make you want to take a ball bat to his skull?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Kern he normally remembers his manners better.” Epi turned and gave Tori a harsh glare.
“Of course not. Look, not all small town folk are hateful.”
“Good….good… so you were taking care of your aunt?”
Nick rubbed the palms of his hands against his pants again. “I’ve been living here for the last four years helping out but more so in the last year. Aunt Minnie was a stubborn woman and didn’t let anyone do much for her.”
“So you’ve experience with stubborn people with limited mobility?”
Nick’s blue eyes darted across Epi. “Some.”
“How about you stay on in your apartment, rent free, if you help my friend Epi here when he moves in?”
“Shouldn’t I have a say in this?”
“You’re moving two hours away from me, he knows the house and property and the area, he’ll be a stones throw away and it’s this or I higher some crazy mean, horrible East German nurse and give her orders to sponge bathe you every six hours.”
He glanced between Tori and Nick. “I can bathe myself, thank you very much.”
Tori snorted. “I’ll do it, just you see if I don’t.”
“Well, it would depend on what you needed done. I’m not a nurse but I am first aid certified.”
“Beyond keeping up the yard and house?” Tori glanced to his friend.
“He needs someone to help him. He doesn’t drive and will need to be taken to rehab every other day and back home, other doctor appointments and the like as needed and out to get groceries. He needs someone about to make sure he doesn’t fall and break his neck and someone to nag him to do his exercises.”
“Do you have decent rehab centers around here? Physical therapy and the like?”
“Several.” Nick nodded.
“Good. He needs someone to keep an eye on his meds and to tell him to stop being stubborn and take a pill if he’s in too much pain.”
“Really, it’s just having someone on hand to keep an eye on him.”
“I’m not a child.” Epi almost snapped but he stopped. “I have limitations.”
Nick glanced between the two men and his face grew serious. “Can I…is it okay to ask what’s wrong?”
“Last September fourth Epi was in a car accident. It nearly killed him.” He nudged Epi in the ribs. “Show him.”
“Good lord.” Epi sighed but he drew up his pants leg. “I’m missing a leg now and the one I have left is shot to hell and doesn’t work right.”
“And he’s got enough wire, pins and rods in his skeleton to almost qualify to be a super hero.”
“A gimpy one.”
“Huh.” Nick grunted. “Bet that aches something awful when the weather changes.”
“Which is why he needs someone to smack him up side the head and tell him to take a pill.”
“Well…” Nick glanced around the yard. “I can take care the property no problem and no one can be more hard headed than Aunt Minnie. If I feel I can’t do it I’ll let you know and either pay rent or move out.”
“Good!” Tori smiled. “Now I’ll just need some information from you so I can do a background check, you know, just to make sure you don’t have a criminal record or like to chop gay men up into stew or something horrible.” Tori stood and clapped the clean cut, good looking man on the shoulder. “Let’s find a pen…hmmm?”
“O..okay?” Nick stuttered a little as he glanced away from where Epi sat and let Tori lead him away.
Epi stayed where he was sitting, turned around now with his back to the table and watched out across the field. It felt right, he felt right and the lingering sounds of the auction and people on the property annoyed him. He wanted them gone, off his space and his land and to be left alone. Soon enough, he promised himself, soon enough he could sit on the porch, his porch and just be alone.