Brick – M. Tasia

The house looked much the same as Brick remembered from childhood, except for the years of rot, infestation, overgrowth, and dirt. They were new unwelcome additions. The large wraparound porch looked ready to crumble if someone dared to step on the boards. Large broken and cracked singlepane windows had long lost their seals and any energy efficiency they might’ve had. The shutters were hanging by sheer will, at least the ones still attached to the faded and battered exterior. Brick got out of his truck and stood in the long lane as he tried to wrap his head around the truth: he was the lake house’s new owner. His Great Aunt Sophia had passed away two years ago while he was overseas during a tour of duty. She’d left him this place for some unknown reason, and today marked the day he moved in. He heard animals scurrying underneath the steps as he carefully navigated his way onto the porch, literally tiptoeing to the large ornately carved door. That would be one thing that’d definitely stay once it’d been restored. He’d enjoyed the time he’d spent at The Gates and had garnered a lot of information from the guys restoring the condo conversion above a swank restaurant in DTLA. Max Connor whose construction company was working the building reno had been a wealth of information and had said he’d come down to Texas and take a look at the lake house if Brick needed any help. Stand-up guys over there in California. The boards creaked underneath his boots as he pulled out the key and unlocked the back door. The stale air assaulted him, the stench of years of dust layered over everything: a musty reminder the house had been neglected for far too long.


Sheets covered most of the items in the living room and dining room, but the kitchen looked the same as when his aunt had been alive. There was an empty mug sitting beside the old six-cup coffee machine. Newspapers from over two years ago were piled on the counter, and a single chair was pulled back from the kitchen table as if waiting for his great aunt’s return. Even her sparkly cane stood leaning against the wall. It’d crushed him when he couldn’t make it back for her funeral. At the time, he was deep behind enemy lines on a mission. She had been so proud when he’d become a Navy Seal, though she didn’t like the danger he was sure to encounter on his missions. He well remembered her cheering him on when he walked up to the podium to have his gold trident pinned to his uniform. He went downstairs first and wandered the rooms in the basement, before returning to the ground, and then went up to the second floor as he tried to develop a plan. What was he going to do with all this room and ten acres of forested waterfront land? He stopped in the front room with its wall of windows facing Fire Lake. The view was stunning, with large red cedars and oaks framing the calm waters. The sound of water lapping at the shoreline was a melody he’d fallen asleep to more times than he could count. Brick had spent a lot time in and on the lake, and had caught bass his great aunt had fried it up to perfection. She’d always made a big deal every time he returned with a catch or two. She’d prepare them a special way, which she never shared, and set out the good china even though it was usually only the two of them.

He’d loved visiting Sophia. Even as he grew older, he’d make sure to visit as often as he could. Though he felt sure she understood why he couldn’t come stateside while she was sick, he was a long way from forgiving himself for not being there when she needed him. It didn’t matter other family members were with her when the end came. He wasn’t there, and to this day, he felt his absence was unforgivable. Brick opened the garden doors and stepped into the waning sunlight. Sophia’s prized flower beds were overgrown, and her climbing roses grew wild into the surrounding bushes. The stone birdbath was missing its pedestal, and the garden shed’s roof had caved in. The yard hadn’t been mowed in years, and all kinds of grasses reached all the way up to his knees. The more he looked, the more he found things needing fixing, cleaning, cutting, replacing, or exterminating. This was what happened when a building was left to sit without life in it. The same held true for people. As he neared the water, a chorus of ducks grew louder in the quiet of the twilight descending around him. The rich loamy smell of the earth and water drew him closer, and a patch of bluebonnets stood in vivid contrast to the green surroundings. Brick could almost hear Sophia telling the younger him to leave the bluebonnets alone after one misguided flower picking session.

That was the day he learned the pretty little wild plant was toxic. Sitting on the sizable rocks at the water’s edge, Brick took a minute to get his head on straight. He couldn’t keep the house. It was way too big for one person and required too much work to make it livable. He’d already spent a large portion of his life amid destruction. He didn’t think he really wanted to take on resurrecting a structure nearing decimation. He ran his palm over one of the rocks’ rough surfaces and felt deep grooves in the underside. Leaning over, he took a closer look and nearly fell off his rock when he found his great aunt’s name embedded into the stone. It wasn’t professionally done, more like a backyard hammer and chisel job. Had Sophia done that? As he felt around the rest of the rock, he found more marks and squinted to make out the letters in the last bit of light. Christopher. His legal first name. It appeared Sophia chiseled both of them into the rock. There was a month and date inscribed underneath his name. He thought he was seeing things, but he used his fingertip to trace the numbers.

Sure enough, it was dated the same month Sophia had been hospitalized. Damn. One of her final acts was adding his name, and maybe hers, to ensure they were both at the lake permanently. Surely, she knew she was dying, and the implications of him finding this. His hand shook as he brushed the engraving one last time before standing and looking back at the house. “Shit. I can’t believe I’m going to do this.” He took a deep breath and headed toward the house. This could be the beginning of the best decision he’d ever made or the expressway to insanity. Brick opened the garden doors and stood in the middle of the main floor as he took stock of everything around him. Home, Sweet Home. Chapter One Seriously, if whoever was at his door kept knocking like a caffeinated woodpecker, Brick was going to lose his shit. He’d been up most of the night dancing with his demons and had finally fallen into a deep sleep when the banging started. It didn’t matter it was eight in the morning. Nobody should be knocking on his door.

Everyone who knew him knew understood why they had to call first. Surprising a retired Navy SEAL wasn’t the wisest or healthiest thing someone could do. He tried ignoring the knocking, assuming whoever it was would fuck off when no one answered. But no, the idiot switched tactics and was now knocking on the garden doors instead of the back door. Did whoever this asshole was have a death wish? Brick threw his legs over the edge of his mattress, feeling his sore muscles fight his movement. Some old injuries made their presence known early and often. He grabbed a pair of shorts, palmed his 9mm, and stormed out of his bedroom. The same one he’d slept in when he’d visited his greataunt. While he was admittedly a creature of habit, the real reason he didn’t move into the master was the same as why all the other rooms that held Sophia’s things hadn’t been touched. He didn’t want to sort through the remains of her life. Stupid, he knew, but he’d been putting it off for months. Like not doing it would make her death less real. The floorboards creaked along with his body as he passed by the kitchen and through the living room. By the time he reached the door, he’d worked up a good head of steam, ready to unload on whoever was on the other side. His right hand at side, the 9mm lying against his thigh, he wrapped his hand around the handle, turned it, and peeked through the crack.

“What the hell do you want?” he growled before registering a woman was on the other side. Luckily, he was able to stop himself before carrying through with his intended tirade. He’d been raised right and yelling at women was off the table. The woman took a step back, but her perfectly painted smile never left her face. She was dressed in a black suit of sorts, with the skirt’s hemline way too high and a blouse cut far too low, leaving nothing to the imagination. Her sky-high designer stilettos rounded out the picture, and the vibes she was sending his way didn’t scream my car broke down. In truth, she appeared to be sizing him up. This should be interesting. “Hello there, I’m looking for a Mr. Christopher Matthews, the owner of this property,” she said without missing a beat or a suggestive glance. “That would be me, ma’am.” He was trying to be polite even though her smile turned a bit lecherous as she gave him the once over, her gaze moving across his chest to the small barbell pierced through his right nipple and down his stomach to the bulge in his shorts where she lingered. If that wasn’t an invitation, he didn’t know what was. Why did he feel like he needed to take a shower? She was so far from his type they weren’t on the same radar screen. “How can I help?” “Oh, it’s not what you can do for me.

It’s what I can do for you,” she said as she winked and sidestepped her way into the living room. She dropped her slim leather briefcase onto an old side chair, sending a cloud of dust up and onto her spotless clothing making her cough and desperately try to wipe the dust from her skirt. “I’m afraid to ask what you mean by that, ma’am.” Brick chuckled as he watched her fret over a designer suit costing more than he made in a month. “Julia,” she provided before taking a few steps closer to an old bookshelf covered in tchotchkes and books. Cobwebs stretched from one corner to the next, decorated with old fly carcasses encased in spider silk, waiting for the owner’s return. “This place hasn’t aged well. You should be happy to know I can take this headache off your hands.” She waved her finger in a circle as she grimaced at her surroundings. Real estate agent. That fit. He honestly wondered when one would show up, considering he now owned ten acres of prime lakefront property. People had approached his great aunt on multiple occasions attempting to buy the lake house, but she’d refused, and he was of the same mind. Once he’d made the decision to stay, he was all in. “Before you even get started,” he said.

“I’m not interested in selling.” He wanted to make that clear from the get-go. The woman spun around to look at him, calculating her next steps. “But you haven’t heard the offer. It’s quite substantial, I assure you.” “It could be billions of dollars. I’m still not interested,” Brick said before heading back to the door to lead her out. “Sorry, you wasted your time. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a lot to do today.” He gestured to the door, and of course, she headed in the opposite direction toward the kitchen. With a loud huff, he grabbed her briefcase and followed. Maybe he could get her out the back door. Brick doubted she’d heard the word “no” often. “Why would you want to keep all of this?” She gestured at the broken side window covered in plywood and the water stains on the ceiling. He hadn’t gotten around to finishing the roof.

It was on the list.

.

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Updated: 15 September 2021 — 03:07

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