Home > 214 Palmer Street

214 Palmer Street
Author: Karen McQuestion

 

 

ONE

 

 

At first, Sarah disregarded the knocking on the front door. She was in the back of the house in the kitchen, out of the sightlines of any of the neighbors. All of the blinds were closed. As far as anyone outside could tell, no one was home.

Even as the rapping on the door became more insistent, she kept sipping her tea. They’d go away eventually. Most likely it was someone wanting to talk about security systems or lawn services. In this day and age, it was hard to believe that businesses tried to gain new accounts this way, but they did, clipboard in hand, ID badges hanging from their neck. When she’d encountered door-to-door salespeople in the past she tried to be polite in saying no, because it had to be a miserable job.

The knocking continued. The person at the door was persistent, which made her think ignoring them was no longer an option. As she drained her cup, she mulled over the repercussions of showing up at the front door, much less in her bathrobe. It was still early in the morning on a Saturday, so it would be perfectly reasonable not to be dressed just yet.

When the rapping turned to pounding, she sighed, put her cup in the sink and reluctantly made her way down the long hallway. At the front door, Sarah peered through the peephole and recognized Maggie Scott, the old lady who lived next door. Too bad. She’d been hoping not to cross paths with any of the neighbors.

“Yes?” she said, opening the door with a warm smile.

“Oh.” Maggie took a step back in surprise. “I don’t know you.”

“No,” Sarah said, in pleasant agreement. “I’m the house sitter. You must be Maggie Scott. I’ve heard so much about you.”

Poor Maggie looked as stunned as if Sarah had smacked her. Behind the lenses of her glasses, the old woman’s eyes narrowed in confusion. She turned her head to stare at the house numbers to the left of the door, as if trying to confirm she was in the right place. Finally, she said, “I’m sorry. Who are you again?”

“I’m housesitting for Cady and Josh. They’ll be back at the end of the month.” Sarah had the definite advantage here, and not only because she was a head taller. Maggie Scott was someone Cady had referenced often, so Sarah was well versed on their relationship. According to Cady, the old lady periodically brought over flowers and baked goods. In the fall, Maggie could often be seen cleaning out the leaves that accumulated over the street’s sewer grate at the end of the block. She was observant too, calling with a warning when suspicious vehicles went down their street or letting them know when they’d left their garage door open for what she deemed a long time. A raised garage door was something Maggie Scott found particularly troubling. She’d told Cady that an open garage door was an invitation to petty thieves, something Cady thought was hilarious. She gave the impression she found Maggie to be a lovable nuisance.

Sarah fidgeted with the sash of her bathrobe. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“No, I…” Maggie seemed flustered. “I thought I saw movement in the house, and it confused me because Cady told me she and Josh were going to be gone for four weeks.”

She saw movement in the house? Sarah had just arrived the night before and she’d been extremely careful to mask her presence. The fact that Maggie noticed meant she was even more observant than Sarah had anticipated. Clearly, she needed to be more careful. “You’re right. They’ll be away for a month.”

Maggie’s brow furrowed. “But I talked to Cady right before they left and she didn’t say anything about a house sitter. In fact, just the opposite. She was worried about the house being empty and asked me to keep an eye on the place while they’re gone.”

Sarah tilted her head and nodded sympathetically. “I can see why you’re confused. The arrangements for me to stay were made very last minute. I flew into town just as they were leaving. We might have even crossed paths in the airport.” She smiled. “I’d just messaged Cady to let her know my mom was dying. My mom loved Cady like a second daughter, so I knew she’d want to know. Mom is over at Angel’s Grace Hospice right now and I was certain Cady would want to visit her. I’m sure she would have, but the timing with their trip didn’t make it possible.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about your mother.”

“Thank you. It’s been difficult.” A tear came to Sarah’s eye and she brushed it aside. “Colon cancer.”

“It’s so hard to lose someone you love.”

Sarah sniffed. “And you know Cady, when she found out I was going to rent a hotel room, she said that was ridiculous, that of course I should stay at her house, that it was just sitting here empty. I offered to pay her but she said there was no need. That knowing I was here would bring them peace of mind. That I should consider myself their house sitter. She’s so kind.”

“That does sound like Cady.” Maggie looked visibly relieved. “Always so generous.”

“Always so generous,” Sarah repeated. “She’s been that way as long as I’ve known her.”

No one who knew Cady could deny it. She was the first to organize a meal drive when a co-worker or neighbor became seriously ill. She was an expert knitter who donated scarves and hats to the local homeless shelter. Until recently, she and Josh had trained service dogs. Right after she graduated from the university she’d done a stint in the Peace Corps, which was where she’d met Josh. Once married, they carried on with their philosophy of service to others. As if that wasn’t enough, they trained for marathons while keeping a full-time work schedule. Cady did more in one day than most people did in a week. Sarah added, “I feel like I know you. She’s mentioned you to me so many times. All good things. I hear you make the most delicious banana bread.”

Maggie perked up. “I do feel better knowing someone is in the house,” she said, her hand on the doorframe, leaning in. “The Caldwells are my favorite neighbors. We’re very close.” She craned her neck, trying to look past Sarah.

Sarah got the impression she was hoping for an invitation inside, but there was no way that was going to happen. “So you don’t need to worry about the house anymore. I’ve got things covered.”

Maggie didn’t move. “If you’re sure…”

“I don’t want to be rude,” she said, “but I really need to take a shower and go see my mom. I’m sure you understand.” Her hand went up to her hair, which was always messy in the morning.

“Oh, of course. Well, if you need anything, I’m right next door.” She gestured toward her house, which was unnecessary because Sarah knew exactly where she lived. In fact, she knew the color of the area rug in her living room, and where the framed Japanese prints of long-necked birds hung in her dining room. Sarah knew how many years the older woman had lived in her home, the name of the company she hired to replace her furnace, and the rating she’d given them on Yelp. If Maggie had any clue how much Sarah knew, she’d be horrified. “Anything at all, just come by. I’m always glad to help.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Sarah said, taking a step back. “Thanks so much for stopping by.”

“How did you say you know Cady?”

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