Marcie snipped one more time at the hair on the back of Kayla's head before stepping back to survey her work. "There. How's that?"
Kayla stared at her blurry image in the mirror. "I don't know. Let me put my glasses on." She pulled her glasses from under the cutting gown and slid them onto her face. As her face came into focus, she turned her head one way and the other, briefly examining the style. There was no need to examine the haircut. Marcie knew how she liked it. Haircuts were mercifully fast and easy with Marcie doing the cutting.
Kayla sighed. "The haircut looks good, but my face is as ugly as it was when I came in. Isn't this supposed to be a beauty shop?"
"Hair salon," Marcie corrected with a hint of annoyance in her tone. "I wish I had naturally curly hair. Yours is so shiny and falls exactly where it should. Mine gets frizzy anytime there is a little moisture in the air and it won't stay in any style.”
Kayla glanced at her friend in the mirror. Marcie's hair had volume, and only Marcie knew for sure if the auburn color came out of a bottle. Marcie had style, and she was exceptionally attractive, if not downright beautiful. Marcie knew how to fix her hair to make the most of her face and what to wear to enhance an already perfect figure. To the person who didn't know Marcie, it might even seem that she had everything. In fact, Marcie was struggling through difficult times, doing the best she could with what she had - and that wasn't much. Marcie was a widow with a five-year-old daughter.
Marcie carefully placed the scissors in their bottle of cleaner and restored everything to its place. She removed the gown from Kayla and shook the hair out of it. She was uncharacteristically quiet today.
Kayla stood and stepped out of the way so Marcie could sweep the hair from under the chair. She extracted a ten-dollar bill from her pocket and poked it into Marcie's donation jar.
"I thought about going to the movies tonight. Would you and Stephanie like to go with me?"
Marcie made a face. "I can't afford to. The landlord is on my back about the rent again. I don't get paid until tomorrow and the rent is due today." She shrugged. "Not that it matters. After I pay the rent and sitter, I won't have a dime left."
As Marci dumped the hair into the waste basket, Kayla walked to the checkout counter.
"Surely he would understand. It's not something you can control and it's only a couple of days. Doesn't he have a grace period?"
Marcie laughed without humor. “If the rent money isn't in his office at 5:00 pm on the first, he's calling me and threatening to evict me."
Kayla shook her head. It was difficult to imagine a landlord that heartless and greedy. "Why don't you move out of that place? He sounds like a dragon of a landlord."
Marcie expelled her breath in a humorless laugh. "You have no idea how accurate that term is. His name is Drake."
Kayla frowned. "So?"
"In old English, Drake means dragon; and he is. He’s proud of it. He even has a dragon collection. Still, I can't afford to move. I've checked around. I'd have to have two months’ rent in advance. It’s a good thing there is a law against charging more than two months advance, or they’d be collecting that too. Then there is the cleaning deposit - that you never get back no matter how clean you leave the place. Add utilities deposits…. It gets expensive. Besides, I still have four months left on my lease."
Marcie was always neat and clean in appearance and she was a neat freak about the salon, even cleaning up after everyone else. It was hard to imagine her home being any different. So many people complained that they never got their cleaning deposit. It was just another way landlords made money. Two months advance rent on top of a cleaning deposit? That was outrageous. How could anyone afford that?
"You're lucky," Marcie continued. "You have a sweet landlord."
Kayla nodded. She couldn't deny her good fortune in finding a duplex with a sweet little old landlady living next door. Mrs. Langley had accepted references in lieu of a deposit and had not requested additional rents in advance. She was a wonderful landlord. In fact, it was like having grandma live next door instead of six hundred miles away.
It was more than a simple case of having a sweet landlord, though. Unlike Marcie, she had a good job and only herself to support. She had been fortunate enough to use referrals instead of deposits to get her utilities turned on. From there on it was a simple case of paying her utility bills and rent on time. Even her car payment was small. Of course, her car wasn't as nice as Marcie's, but she didn't have to maintain an image for the sake of her job, either. Life had been kind to her and she was grateful for that fact. Watching Marcie struggle made her all the more aware of her good fortune.
Kayla handed Marcie a twenty. "I wish there was something I could do to help you.
Marcie shrugged. "Not unless you could rent me a place cheap."
"I sure wish I could." Kayla said, and grinned. "I suppose I could make use of my magical sword and defend you from your dragon landlord."
Marcie thrust her hand into the air, gripping an invisible sword. "Kayla, the dragon slayer!" She announced in a stilted voice. At that point, a customer walked through the door. Marcie spoke quietly. "I'll slay the hair. You slay the landlords."
Kayla left the salon in deep thought. Was it so far-fetched? Not slaying the landlord but rescuing Marcie from her hopeless situation. Kayla's duplex had two bedrooms. Marcie could use one and they could let Stephanie sleep on the couch. Sure, it would be crowded, but in a few months, Marcie would be able to save enough to get a decent apartment with a good landlord. Of course, she'd have to talk to Mrs. Langley about it before she said anything to Marcie. Mrs. Langley would agree; she was certain of that. They could discuss it when she took Mrs. Langley to her doctor appointment Wednesday after work.
Drake the dragon was greedy – and arrogant. Imagine having a dragon collection to intimidate tenants. Marcie said he lived in a beautiful old house with expensive landscaping while renting dumps to his clients at inflated prices. She said he had a good job, working from home as an architect. He could afford to be generous, but people like him could never get enough money. Landlords like Marcie's probably brought on their own troubles by price gouging and treating their tenants with distrust and disrespect.
Kayla pushed thoughts about Marcie's problems to the back of her mind. At the moment there was nothing she could do to help Marcie. It was Friday night and, unlike poor Marcie, who had to work, Kayla had two days of freedom ahead of her. One of those days would be taken up with visiting her parents tomorrow at their country home near Jasper, Arkansas. An autumn ride through the colorful mountains would provide her father with endless photo opportunities. Much as she looked forward to seeing her parents, she wasn't looking forward to the questions about her current marital status. Mom wanted a grandbaby - the old-fashioned way: First comes love, next comes marriage, then comes Jr. in a baby carriage. She was enjoying the single life. She had a meaningful – if not challenging - office job; a nice apartment and a few dollars to spare for frivolous things. Love, marriage and children were in her future plans, but so far, she hadn't met mister right. In fact, she wasn’t even searching for him. She was content to wait. After all, she was only twenty-four and it wasn't as though she never dated.
The idea of going to the movies was a spur-of-the-moment idea intended to help Marcie. Normally Kayla spent evenings watching a movie with Mrs. Langley and Friday nights out. She didn't have a date tonight and a quiet evening alone actually sounded more inviting. She stopped at the store and bought a few things to cook for supper and headed home in her economical and dependable little 15-year-old car with the new seat covers. Life couldn't get much better.
When she arrived at her apartment, there was a note on the door from Mrs. Langley asking her to come talk to her before she left in the morning. Kayla put her groceries away and went next door to see what Mrs. Langley needed.
When Mrs. Langley opened the door and saw Kayla, her wrinkled old face folded into a friendly smile. Her faded blue eyes held an unmistakable welcome as she stepped back, inviting her tenant into the room. She tucked a stray strand of gray hair back into the bun with gnarled fingers.
"I was hoping you would be home early."
Kayla was instantly concerned. "Are you feeling all right? Do you need to go to the doctor right now?"
"I'm fine, honey. I just wanted to ask you something and I thought you might want to talk it over with your parents tomorrow." She indicated a chair at the table. "Sit down, sweetie, and I'll get us each a cup of hot tea."
"I can get that for you," Kayla offered, moving toward the stove.
"No, I can get it. I'm not feeble. You sit down and relax for a little bit. You're always on the go. All that energy makes me tired just watching you."
Kayla sank into the chair. She certainly didn't want to make Mrs. Langley feel uncomfortable, but it seemed so wrong to have an old lady serving her. Still, if it was a matter of allowing her to maintain her dignity, she’d comply.
Mrs. Langley put tea bags in two cups and filled them with hot water from a pan on the stove. Kayla stifled an urge to rise and take the cups from her as she limped across the room. This was all wrong. She should be getting the hot tea for Mrs. Langley.
Mrs. Langley set both cups on the table and slid one over to Kayla, oblivious when she sloshed some of the tea onto the table.
"Thomas called me today."
Mrs. Langley's son had been calling her several times a week lately, asking how she was. He used to call several times a month, but her health was obviously going downhill. Her mind seemed clear enough, but her shoulders were drooping more now, and she had developed that limp.
Mrs. Langley slowly lowered her body into the chair, wincing as she dropped the last few inches. "He wants me to come live with him in Colorado."
Kayla's first thought was that she was going to lose her apartment. Her second thought was that the first thought was selfish.
Mrs. Langley lifted her cup with a shaking hand and sipped from it before continuing. "I told him I would." Her pale gaze searched Kayla's face. She wanted a response.
"I'm sure you will both enjoy that."
Mrs. Langley gave her a weak smile. "I told him I wanted to sell this duplex to you."
The statement was so sudden and unexpected that Kayla stared at her stupidly for a moment. "Sell me your duplex?" she finally echoed.
Mrs. Langley patted her hand. "I suppose the idea is a shock to you, but I've been thinking about it for a long time."
"But why me?" Kayla asked. "Surely you wouldn't have any trouble selling it."
Mrs. Langley shrugged. "Why not you? Yes, I could sell it to someone else, but I'd rather sell it to you - if you want it."
Kayla studied her for a moment. "You don't owe me anything, you know. I wanted to spend time with you, and I wanted to take you places. I never felt obligated, or…."
"Or played up to me to get anything." Mrs. Langley concluded. "I know that. You have a good heart. I knew that the day I met you. I've been watching you over the last year - the way you are always stopping to talk to old folks in the park - and giving them money."
"I enjoy talking to old people." Kayla blushed. "I mean elderly people…."
Mrs. Langley smiled and patted her hand again. "I know what you mean."
Kayla let her breath out slowly. "I never thought about buying a place. I mean, I don't have enough money saved up for a down payment or anything."
Mrs. Langley's head bobbed again. "I thought that might be the case, you being so young and all. I don't want an answer tonight. I want you to think about it and talk about it with your parents. Then if you think you might like to buy it, I'll finance it with no down payment."
Kayla frowned. "But what about your son?"
"He doesn't want to mess with this place. With all the rent I've collected over the years, it has paid for itself. I don't want to bother with the taxes and insurance. I've thought about it and I want to give you an opportunity to buy it…but only if you want it."
"I don't know what to say. Of course I'm interested, but…."
Mrs. Langley nodded. "That's good enough. You just think about it for a while. My son will be here in a few weeks to get me. I'll take a few things with me, but I'm leaving most of the furniture here. Whoever buys the place can sell the furniture or use it. I won't be needing it anymore."
Her statement sounded so final that Kayla became concerned. "Will you be okay?"
"I'll miss you, girl. You have made my life so much brighter since you came. I love you like the daughter I never had. But my time is getting short and I want to spend the rest of my days near my family."
A lump formed in Kayla's throat and she blinked back tears. She realized Mrs. Langley had not been feeling well lately, but this sounded like Mrs. Langley didn't expect to recover. To make emotional matters worse, it had never occurred to her that Mrs. Langley thought of her as a daughter. She felt flattered - even honored.
She had taken her current relationship with Mrs. Langley for granted. Nothing lasted forever, though. She fought tears as she finished her tea and stood. Her vocal cords felt constricted as she excused herself.
"I need to get back to my apartment. I'll think about your proposal and talk to my parents about it tomorrow. I'll let you know something before your son gets here."
That night Kayla lay awake a long time, thinking about the offer and how it provided an opportunity to help Marcie. What was the place worth? If the payments weren't too high, she could get enough from renting the other half to make a monthly mortgage payment. Marcie still had four more months left on her lease, though. How much would it take to get out of that? She wouldn't charge Marcie a cleaning deposit or make her pay two months’ rent in advance, though. Maybe she could swing it. What would her parents think? Somewhere between all that thinking and two in the morning, she finally fell asleep.
When Kayla told her parents about the offer, she was surprised by their reaction. She was certain they would try to talk her out of it, but they thought it was a great opportunity for her to make an investment.
On the flip side, when she suggested renting the other half to Marcie, they had endless cautions. One was that she should never rent to a friend. Ordinarily she might agree, but when a friend was in need, you helped them. Surely the opportunity to buy the house when her friend was in such a great need was an indication that it was meant to be. Besides, she had known Marcie since grade school. Sure, she had moved away during her high school years, but she had returned after her husband died. They had resumed their friendship as though no years had elapsed.
Their ride through the hills was pleasant, if uneventful. Once she was over the initial shock, Kayla was so wired about the possibility of home ownership that she left early that evening. As soon as she got home, she looked online to find answers to the many questions her parents had asked. Her first question was what houses were selling for and renting for in the area. It didn't take long to realize why her parents considered it a good investment. Did Mrs. Langley realize how much the place was worth? Borrowing that much money wouldn't be easy.
Another thing she looked for and found was a standard Arkansas rental contract. Good grief! Why would anyone need that much paperwork? It covered a lot of things she would never have thought of - most she would never need. She had no intention of forcing Marcie to sign a lengthy lease. If Marcie wanted to move out, why make her pay? Why would anyone force someone to stay longer than they wanted to? There were plenty of people out there looking for a place to live. A simple month-to-month contract would be fine. There would be no security deposit or rent paid in advance. That might be necessary if she was running a business of renting to strangers, but not for someone she knew so well. Utilities were something else she hadn't thought of. Marcie was paying her utilities where she lived now. All she would have to do was transfer them to the duplex. There were lots of rules about the house, common sense rules. Most of the stuff she would never need and might even offend Marcie. Maybe she could tweak the lease a little.
The most important information she needed from Mrs. Langley was the cost. It was late before she finished all her research, so she waited until Sunday afternoon to talk to her landlord. As it turned out, the price was much lower than Kayla expected. At that point she was certain that Mrs. Langley didn't know what the house was worth.
"Are you sure?" She asked the old lady. "I was looking online at what the houses sell for and it was much more."
Mrs. Langley smiled. "That's what they are asking for the homes, honey. That isn't necessarily what it's worth or what they can get. They have to add real estate fees to their price too. Don't worry. I've looked into it." She leaned on the table. "Now, let's talk about the financing. I'm going to charge you three percent interest on a twenty-five-year loan."
Twenty-five-year loan? But Mrs. Langley wouldn't live to collect it. For a moment she was so distracted with the thought of how she would approach that subject that she didn't notice the interest rate. When she did, she caught her breath. “Three percent? That's not fair to you.”
Mrs. Langley laughed. "I'm sure glad you came to me for your first home purchase. When someone gives you a good deal, jump on it."
Warmth crawled up Kayla's neck. If it had been anyone else, she probably would have, but she didn't want to take advantage of Mrs. Langley's friendship.
Before she could respond, Mrs. Langley continued with the payments. Kayla mentally divided it in half and gasped. "But that's less than I'm paying for rent now."
Mrs. Langley's eyes twinkled. "Buying a home is cheaper than renting, but you will have to pay your own taxes and insurance, so that will bring your payments up, and then there will be any repairs.
Of course. She hadn't thought of that. "How much will all that be a month?"
"The taxes won't be much, because this building will be your residence. The insurance varies, depending on deductible and coverage." She grabbed a tablet and pencil from the table and began writing figures.
They worked for the better part of an hour until Kayla felt comfortable that she could afford to buy the place.
"I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am for all your help. I didn't have a clue," Kayla said.
"Oh, I understand. My husband and I felt the same way when we bought our first home. Of course, back then it wasn't as complicated as it is now."
"I still feel like I'm cheating you."
Mrs. Langley patted her hand. "Sweetie, if they wind up putting me in a home, they would take this place for bottom dollar anyway. This way I get a monthly income to play with. When I'm gone, my son will have the money and not the hassle of selling it. I'm happy I found someone like you that I can trust, and you've been so good to me. I'm going to miss you." She sat back and sighed. I'll have an attorney write up the paperwork and when Thomas gets here, he can sign it too."
Kayla figured how much it would cost her a month for the mortgage, insurance and taxes, and divided it in half. That was the amount she would charge Marcie for rent. It was still less than she was currently paying for rent.
The next evening, she dropped by Marcie's salon to share the good news. "Guess what?" she said as soon as Marcie's customer left the salon.
"It must be good news," Marcie said with a smile as she swept the floor. "You look radiant. Did you get engaged?"
Kayla laughed. "No way. I'm buying my duplex apartment." She explained the situation to Marcie.
"That's great,” Marcie said. Some people have all the breaks."
"But you get a break now too. I'm going to rent my apartment to you and move into Mrs. Langley's apartment."
Marcie stared at her. "How much is this going to cost me?"
Kayla's mouth went dry. She had been so busy planning how she would help Marcie that she hadn't even considered the fact that Marcie might not want to rent the place - or from a friend. Her face burned as she stammered an apology.
"I'm sorry. I didn't think…I thought you wanted to get away from your landlord. I won't…wouldn't charge you a cleaning deposit or advance rent. The rent would be less than what I am currently paying." She paused.
Marcie frowned. "Have you forgotten that I still have four months left on my lease?"
"Surely it wouldn't cost that much to get out of it."
"I’m not about to ask him. You don't know how he is. He just stands there and stares at you as if he doesn't like what you're saying." She shuddered. "He gives me the creeps."
Kayla released a heavy sigh. "I should have asked you. If you don't want to rent from me, that's all right. I'll just rent it to someone else."
Marcie looked down. "It isn't that I don't want to. It's a good deal, but…I've been working all these hours and I'm exhausted. I just don't want to face that dragon." She lifted her head and looked Kayla in the eye. "You're supposed to be the dragon slayer. Why don't you talk to him?"
Kayla didn't want to talk to him any more than Marcie did, but she was the one who had dragged Marcie into this. If it would help Marcie, she'd do it.
She sighed again. "All right. I'll talk to him - after I sign all the papers and make sure I have the place.