Learning To Live

an excerpt

Chapter One

Avery held the pen in a hand that trembled.

"Sign this one." Louise dragged out a lengthy sheet at the end of the packet. "This is the last one. I promise."

Avery shook out his hand to dislodge the tenderness that ate at it. He swore he'd been signing his name for at least an hour.

She smiled when he did with a final flourish. His stomach flipped seeing his scribbled John Hancock, signing away his life. It certainly felt like it.

"Congratulations, Mr. Storey," the title agent across the table said.

Avery felt a mixture of elation and terror, corralled in a swath of exhaustion. He couldn't believe he'd done it. He looked across the table to his Realtor and the title agent. "It's mine?"

"The whole kit and caboodle. 1703 Lockney Way is now yours."

He went to hand the pen back and the young woman refused it. "Our treat. One of the few we actually get to give without being hounded by Uncle Sam for it."

"Oh, well, okay. Thanks." He clicked the pen and placed it on the table.

Louise, his Realtor, handed over the keys. "Front door, back door, and garage. I recommend testing all the keys and if anything needs changed, call us immediately. We can do a courtesy change on two locks."

"That's nice."

The other woman stood. His mind was mush. He couldn't remember her name. "Let me run your copies and you're all done."

Avery nodded and sank into his chair. He literally felt like he was going to throw up.

I bought a freakin' house! Ahhhhhhh! He laughed quietly as he had a silent mini-breakdown.

Louise patted his hand. "Martha is so proud of you."

"Thanks. For being here." Even though he knew she mostly had to be. Someone had to be there to witness all the madness. "And I'm sure Aunt Martha is just glad to see me finally doing something with the money Mom left me."

"Well, she's still your family. She's going to worry about you."

Avery smiled. That was an understatement. He looked at his watch. He still had time before he had to return to work at the bank. "I'm going to go by the house to check the keys before going back."

Louise nodded. "I recommend it. Make sure everything is still sound."

He knew the house was going to be a project. It needed cleaning and some repair. It had been vacant for more than a year. Honestly, the idea of it terrified him. Avery was comfortable behind a calculator, behind a computer, or a counter. A hammer? A saw? He tapped his foot to try to hide his terror at the undertaking he'd bought. His heart had said it was the right thing to do. His stomach was now trying to rebel and his brain was leading the march.

The door to the conference room opened interrupting his internal whipping. He stood and gathered his things to leave. She met him at the table. "Here you are, Mr. Storey. And again, congratulations. You'll be getting tax information from the city offices. Make sure you forward a copy to your mortgage holder."

"I will." He shook her hand. "Thank you for all your help."

She gave him a bright smile and he felt himself flush a little. He never knew how to handle women. Aggressive women were the worst.

"Bye," he murmured, ducking out while Louise and the agent talked for a few minutes. He was at his car door when he heard his name. He paused and waited.

Louise walked up and after a brief moment, hugged him. "You'll be fine."

"You're only saying that because you were my fourth grade teacher and probably know more dirty secrets than I want to admit to."

"No," she argued. "I'm saying that because you grew up to be a fine gentleman and you made a good choice. I know you're nervous, every first time buyer is. You'll be fine. Don't forget to check the keys, and call me if you need any advice."

He accepted Louise's short hug, then watched her leave. He owed his Aunt Martha for suggesting Louise. Ten years ago, she'd been Mrs. Blackmon, but she'd suffered a minor stroke and had made a complete switch in careers. Less screaming and able to work her own hours. He couldn't fault her for it.

Sliding into his car, he set the house paperwork on the passenger seat and buckled up. Drawing a deep breath, he started the car and aimed for his new home.

Nausea rolled in waves as he approached it on the street. In awe, he slowed to drift into the driveway. It wasn't an old house, merely one in need of TLC. And it wasn't like he was short on time. It was about the only thing he did have plenty of.

He huffed, then got out of the car. Taking Louise's advice, he checked all the locks and found they opened smoothly. That was nice. It was an as-is purchase so there wasn't much he wasn't fully responsible for. He'd have to find out who'd been handling the yard work. He was keeping them. If Avery was a fumbling wreck inside, he was a menace outside. Avery had lived with his Aunt Martha, then in an apartment. He'd never even used a lawnmower, much less something as dangerous as trimmers or edgers.

With his less-than-graceful luck, he'd whack off a toe.

Trying the lights, he realized the realty office had canceled the power. He sighed. It was just as well. He needed to figure out what he was going to tackle first. He'd start getting the basics handled next week. Avery walked through all the rooms, seeing what was now his. Spacious rooms with arched doorways and clean tile that made the rooms seem larger.

He ran his hand over the top of the fireplace and smiled. This was what had sold him on the house. He'd always wanted a fireplace.

His phone buzzed at him. Palming it, he answered.

"How did it go? Broke?"

"Very funny, Remy. But done and yes."

Remy laughed on the other end. "Thought you should know, the head cheese knows you're done and is starting to glare that your spot is still empty."

"Okay. Thanks for the warning. I'm on my way."

He should have known his teller supervisor would only allow so much leniency. His Aunt Martha also worked for the bank and he owed her for the job to begin with, so he couldn't screw around forever. Taking time for the closing was approved, but lollygagging around his new home wasn't.

Finishing his walk through, he let the ambiance of the house soak in. He could make this one his. He knew it.

Locking the door behind him, he strode to his car to finish his shift at the bank.