The Richardsons: Chapter 2 – The Realtor

—|| This is a novel I’m currently writing for my graduate school thesis, it’s not in it’s final form by any means, but if you liked it I’d love feedback and comments! Check out other chapters by clicking on the tag “The Richardsons”|| —-

I’m not sure if you’ve ever dealt with realtors, but this was the fifth time the Richardsons had to deal with one and it was getting very tiresome. It’s not because there’s anything particularly wrong with realtors, but it’s much like having to see dentists – the more you see them, the less you want to.

The Richardsons, you see, constantly had to move for Mr. Richardson’s job. As lead salesmen for a fiber optic paper mill, Mr. Richardson had the distinct privilege to move often. Jack had always heard Mr. Richardson describe it as such. Privilege. Well, the most recent privilege meant that the Richardsons had to move from their Nigerian bungalow in New Tokyo to Totleigh Terrace. It was a move that Kendra Richardson hated the most.

Jack was increasingly worried about his family. They no longer seemed happy. Maybe they would stay in Totleigh Terrace for some time. Start having game night again. He used to love game night (even if Igor did cheat at Yahtzee).  Jack’s mind was full of these thoughts as they left the house. So much so that he didn’t see the figure looming in front of the door and, consequently, Jack ran into her.

Mr. Richardson popped his head around the large lady. “Oh Jack and Kendra, did you find the chickens?”

“No father,” Kendra said stepping to the side to avoid running into the strange woman the way Jack had.

“This is Mrs. Miggleston,” Mrs. Richardson said.  “Mrs. Miggleston, these are my children: Jack and Kendra.”

“And who is Jack?”

Jack blinked. It wasn’t often that people were confused about who the boy was in the Richardson family. He thought it was pretty clear himself, but he decided to be polite. “I am, Mrs. Miggleston,” Jack said extending his hand.

Mrs. Miggleston sniffed. “Well, Jack, you shouldn’t be in the house without me. I was going to give a grand tour.”

Mr. Richardson cleared his throat. “We don’t want a grand tour, Mrs. Miggleston. This is clearly not the house we agreed to rent when I was here three weeks ago.”

“The house you requested has disappeared. This is the only one I had available. You can’t sleep outside, now can you?”

“Disappeared?” Mr. Richardson exclaimed.

“Outside?” Jack asked.

“Only one!” Mrs. Richardson said.

Kendra didn’t say anything; she just looked around for her new chicken friend. She found the hen sitting in the middle of the lawn, looking quite content. Kendra knelt in the grass beside the bird, spreading her ruffled skirt around her. Jack laughed to himself when Kendra did that, because it looked like she had no legs. Smiling at the thought of Kendra and the chicken, Jack looked up his parents talking to Mrs. Miggleston.

Mrs. Miggleston pursed her lips like adults are wont to do when something is “unpleasant.” Jack sneaked away slowly. He knew that look. It meant a long conversation.  He knew if he waited long enough he could sneak back into the house and discover exactly where those chickens had been hiding. Unfortunately, his parents and Mrs. Miggleston had chosen to stay right in front of the front door. It would be hard to sneak past them. Jack took off his jacket. The sun was already overhead and it was getting hot.

“Here, give that to me Jack,” Mrs. Richardson said.

Jack sighed for two reasons. One, because his mother fussed about him losing his clothes and two, because this meant she was watching him. How will I ever get back upstairs? Jack thought.

Jack handed his jacket to Mrs. Richardson just in time to hear Mrs. Miggleston say, “As you know, the economy has been taking a downward turn. It hasn’t quite hit the big cities yet, like New Tokyo, but small towns like this are feeling the effects.”

Mr. Richardson squinted his eyes. “You mean, it’s the Great Crash again?”

There was a short laugh from Mrs. Miggleston. Jack had studied the Great Crash in school. Even though he hadn’t understood it all, he did know it was not very funny. It was a time back when Jack’s grandfather had been born. The Grand Exchange, where people traded money for some reason that Jack still hadn’t figured out, had crashed. Suddenly, like flipping a switch, no one had any money any more. Jack swallowed.

Mrs. Miggleston put a hand on Mr. Richardson’s arm. “Nothing as dramatic as that, I assure you. The houses will return when the economy gets better. You remember twenty years ago? Just a bump in the economy, nothing drastic.”

Jack listened intently, wondering to himself how many times one could say economy in the span of two minutes. Mr. Richardson started to say something, but then changed his mind. Instead he asked, “Why hasn’t this rental gone then? If all the other houses have?”

“Well, this was rented up until a week ago,” Mrs. Miggleston said.

“But, it’s all dusty inside,” Jack said without thinking. He clapped a hand over his mouth.

Mrs. Miggleston frowned, almost glaring at Jack. Then she seemed to remember herself and smiled warmly. “Aren’t you a clever child? Why yes, it is dusty. We live near the Whedon Flatlands.  A good strong gust blows through here and everything gets dusty fast.”

Jack had the sinking suspicion that Mrs. Miggleston was lying. He kept the suspicion to himself, like one would the feeling of really hating someone you’re supposed to like. Telling someone would be futile because, as everyone knows, kids have very little authority when it comes to “Right” and “Wrong”. Something about just surviving to a couple more birthdays gave you the privilege of really commenting on the rightness or wrongness of a situation. Kendra, being first born, seemed to have a fast pass to this ability, but Jack would have to wait a good long while before anyone would believe him.

“Shall I give you the tour?” Mrs. Miggleston said, waving a hand to the front door.

Mrs. Richardson sighed. It was a subtle gesture, but Jack saw it. “Kendra, stop touching that disgusting bird and come along. Mrs. Miggleston is taking us on a tour.”

Kendra huffed, but stood up. Stickle berries clung to the black material of her skirt. “Oh Kendra,” Mrs. Richardson fussed once Kendra had walked up to the porch. She proceeded to brush at the stickle berries, attempting to dislodge them. “And your new dress.”

“It’s too hot anyways,” Kendra said, unbuttoning the top collar of the dress. “If we were in New—“

“Hush now.” Mrs. Kendra said her voice dropping into a harsh whisper, cutting Kendra off. “We’ve discussed this. We are not in New Tokyo, we won’t be in New Tokyo. We’ve moved. I don’t want to hear about it again.”

Kendra’s eyes flashed, but she stayed quiet. The tension in the family was electric, but Mrs. Miggleston still seemed cheery. “Welcome to Epson House,” she said. “Built over 100 years ago, the Epson House is one of the first houses in Totleigh Terrace.” Mrs. Miggleston opened the door and the Richardsons stepped inside.

“Oh my!” Mrs. Richardson said. Mrs. Miggleston pressed a button on the wall by the door and L.E.D. gas lamps flickered to life. Jack noticed so much more about the front room now that the lights were on. The wallpaper was gilded with dark green vines and dark purple flowers.

Jack grabbed his mother’s sleeve. “Look Mother, purple!” Purple was the Richardsons’ favorite color. Jack wasn’t sure when the family decided this, but it was a decision they had made long before Jack was born. Personally, Jack was more fond of the green in the twisty vines.

Mrs. Richardson walked over to the wall and traced it with her gloved fingers. She nodded approvingly. “This will do Gregory,” Mrs Richardson said as she turned towards her husband.

Mr. Richardson smiled for the first time in days. “I’m glad you approve, Meredith.”

Jack wanted to do a dance of joy. He knew that look that passed between his parents. They were staying! Jack snuck a glance at Kendra. Kendra looked happy! Jack could barely contain himself. The Richardsons continued examining the front room, under Mrs. Miggleston’s watchful eye.

“Is she watching us?” Kendra said, once she had made her way over to Jack. The two stood in front of a tall bookshelf full of economics textbooks.

“I think so.” Jack tapped the side of his glasses. They silently shifted so he could view behind him. The glasses were like rearview mirrors and he watched Mrs. Miggleston who was intently peering at their parents. “But why?”

“Maybe she’s worried we won’t take the house,” Kendra said with a shrug. “Mother and Father haven’t told her yet.”

Jack tapped his glasses again. He wasn’t so convinced. He moved over to the Cortex computer he had seen earlier. “What an old Cortex terminal.” Jack remarked. “Is it wired?”

“No, you won’t be using this one. It’s really more for show.” Mrs. Miggleston replied. “Shall we tour the rest of the house?”
“Must we climb all those stairs?” Mrs. Richardson asked looking up at the three staircases. Jack looked at the stairs as if for the first time. He tried to see what his mother was seeing. With the gas lights turned up he could see that the carpet on the stairs was extremely threadbare. His eyes traveled up and down each staircase quickly. Several of the steps were warped and there was a section of the left staircase that was completely missing. She thinks it’s unsafe, Jack concluded.

“It doesn’t appear sound.” Mrs. Richardson said to Mrs. Miggleston. Jack allowed himself a smug smile.

“Oh no! No one goes upstairs.” Mrs. Miggleston’s voice dropped deeper, but she attempted to still sound cheery. The overall effect gave Jack chills. “There was an earthquake about fifty years ago. The upstairs needs many repairs. You really should stay down on the first level of the house.”

“Is it safe to live here?” Mrs. Richardson said.

“Completely safe.” Mrs. Miggleston assured. “Just keep the children from wandering upstairs. You know how children are. Curious.” Her upper lip curled and Jack once again caught sight of her gold tooth. He tried not to stare, but he couldn’t help himself. Gold teeth were extremely unusual since the invention of the holo-projector. Movie stars, now being seen in all three dimensions in their movies, had insisted on even better dental work. True to form, much of the Eastern and Western world had followed the celebrity’s lead.

“And I wouldn’t want the children to damage anything.” Mrs. Miggleston explained. “The home is a historical landmark.”

Mr. Richardson stepped closer to Mrs. Miggleston, pulling himself up to his full six feet height. “I assure you, Mrs. Miggleston. Kendra and Jack are very well behaved children.”

Mrs. Miggleston waved a hand. “I’m sure they are, I wasn’t implying anything else.

Jack snorted and Kendra shoved an elbow in his ribs. “Ow,” he hissed.

Kendra seemed unaffected by his pain. Jack rubbed the spot that she’d elbowed and looked up the staircases. The flickering gas lamps only made the staircases more inviting. He couldn’t believe that Mrs. Miggleston had said upstairs wasn’t safe. Then, a thought occurred to him. “What about the chickens on the roof?”

Mrs. Miggleston looked surprised. “How did you know there were chickens on the roof?”

“One fell earlier,” Mr. Richardson said. “It’s quite all right, but a bit dazed.”

Shaking her head Mrs. Miggleston’s eyes darted up the stairs as if looking for someone. “They’re cared for by the gardener. He has a ladder system to get to them. So you don’t need to worry. Come, I’ll show you the bedrooms.”

I’m sorry to say the rest of the tour was almost as boring as Totleigh Terrace, which the Richardsons explored after they looked at their new house. For some reason the first floor of the house was, in every which way, normal. Jack couldn’t believe his eyes as they went from room to room. The bedrooms were empty, not lushly furnished like the room he had seen earlier with Kendra. There were no strange stairs or large oil paintings. Even Igor, who was normally an unflappable reptile, looked bored with the house.

To top it off, there was just so much of the house. There were 10 bedrooms, a study, a library, a parlor, a kitchen, a dining room, a game room and a rather large pantry that was approximately the same size as Jack’s last bedroom.

“Just close off the rooms you won’t be using,” Mrs. Miggleston said, as they concluded the tour in the back yard. “It’ll save your heating and energy bills from running too high.” Mrs. Miggleston pulled a large ring of keys out of her pocked and flipped through them. “Here, I’ll close off this door to the front room. Most residents use the back door anyway.” Jack watched sadly as Mrs. Miggleston locked the door that lead back to the staircases.

At the sound of the click of the key in the lock Jack grew despondent. There never was a time to slip away from the adults and now his chances of seeing the attic and the roof were, in his own words, slim.

“I presume, we will get a copy of that key? In case of emergencies?” Mr. Richardson asked as he watched Mrs. Miggleston.

Jack’s heart leaped. Verbal confirmation that they were staying and the promise of a key to get back upstairs! He was so happy. He must have been grinning, because he realized after a few seconds that the muscles in his face hurt.

Mrs. Miggleston, however, did not look as amused. “Of course,” she grumbled. “I’ll see to that right away.” Mrs. Miggleston smiled, but it didn’t meet the corner of her eyes. It’s like when you have to tell someone you really like that electric-blue hand-knitted sweater they made you for Christmas, Jack thought. “I’m so glad you are staying here.”

“Me too.” Jack said softly.

Mrs. Richardson, who had mother-ears, heard him and ruffled the top of his head. “Get in the car children, lets get something to eat before Igor starts licking at the dust on the floor.”

That was all Jack needed to hear. In all his excitement he forgot that his stomach was growling. They hadn’t eaten anything since the last rest stop. The place had smelled of raccoon and soggy newspapers, so Jack hadn’t eaten much. “Yes, Mother!” Jack said happily. He scooped up his pet Iguana, grabbed his jacket from his mother and hurried out to the car.

It wasn’t long before Jack was peering out the side of their convertible motorcar at the main street. So far he had seen a music store, a hardware store, a salon, and a fiber optic paper store. “Is that where you’re working, Father?” Jack asked, pointing at the store in question.

“Why yes,” Mr. Richardson said. “See how close it is to the house? You can come visit me.”

Jack liked that idea. Often Mr. Richardson had to work late and did not return until after Jack was already in bed for the night. “May I come after school?” Jack asked.

Mr. Richardson smiled at that thought. “Only if you bring some cookies,” he teased. It was a well-known fact that the male population of the Richardson household loved cookies with an undying passion. In fact, one day Mrs. Richardson declared that Mr. Richardson should have just married a Chocolate Chip cookie and had tiny cookie babies. This outburst only made Kendra roll her eyes.

Jack adjusted his glasses. The sun had caused them to go dark, but had also made it difficult to see everything. This was his favorite part of moving, after all, the exploring. The Richardsons were grand explorers of new places. They often found the spots that other people missed. At a garden party in New Tokyo they had asked the Emperor, “Have you ever visited Wong Chung’s Museum of Oddities and Sealing Wax?” The Emperor, who had lived in New Toyko all his life, blinked in surprise. He had never heard of such a place! The Richardsons took him there the next day.

“When is the pod truck coming?” Kendra asked. Her mood had improved dramatically after being inside the Espenson House. It was almost like the weather had been in Antontown. Jack remembered that it was so fickle that it could be raining in the front yard and sunny in the back yard.

Mrs. Richardson consulted her watch. Jack, who was sitting behind her, leaned over her seat to see the screen. Mrs. Richardson held the watch up to her mouth and said, “Delivery.” Then she set the watch back down to consult it. The screen blinked from showing the current time to black. Then it whirled to life, scanning through Mrs. Richardson’s messages.

Finally it stopped on one of the messages. A small, tinny voice, said, “Delivery will arrive at half past two.”

Kendra nodded. Jack grinned. “Mother?”

“Yes, Jack?” Mrs. Richardson touched the top of her watch and the screen resumed a normal clock face.

“When may I—?”

Mrs. Richardson turned in her seat to look at Jack. The movement made jack stop his question abruptly and he sat back in his chair. “Jack, you know full well that your father and I do not want you to have Cortex access wherever you may be. It’s not safe. When you’re older you may have a Cortex watch.”

Jack sighed. Adults always seemed keen on keeping the good things for themselves. Jack wondered if this was also a reward for living a long time. If so, having ice cream for breakfast, eating rippled eggs every day, and riding the zeppelin to school were also rewards.

Despite this, Jack knew his parents were very generous. He did spend more time on the Cortex than most kids his age. Mostly corresponding with friends from places they had left. Jack’s favorite person to talk to was Mr. Gilleous, who lived in Austria. Jack was only four when they left Austria, but Mr. Gilleous, their downstairs neighbor, who adopted their pet parrot, kept in touch. The parrot, named Winston, had always been at home in the climate of Austria. Often Mr. Gilleous would send photos of Winston’s adventures. Only last week, the two had attended a fancy dress ball. Winston had even sported a top hat for the occasion.

“Oh!” Kendra said. “There’s a Coffee Star.”

Sure enough, the familiar green and white colors of the chain store appeared to the left of the car. “Anyone want to stop?” Mr. Richardson teased. This was, if you hadn’t already guessed, a rhetorical question. Mr. Richardson knew his entire family loved Coffee Star almost as much as they loved purple.

Mr. Richardson parked across the street from the store and everyone hopped out. Kendra’s face was glowing now as she climbed out of the motorcar. Since the top of the car and the windows were both down Kendra hadn’t bothered to open the small door, but instead crawled over it.

Mrs. Richardson sat in her seat still, waiting for Mr. Richardson to open her door. “Kendra Lilian Richardson!” She exclaimed. “You are not a tomboy, open your door.”

Kendra pretended not to hear her mother, but examined her hair in the shiny gold lantern that hung off the side of the car. Kendra smoothed her hair and readjusted her hair while she waited for Jack to climb down.

Jack, who was never one for climbing, opened his door. He scanned the other auto cars parked on the street. Some serious black Model A’s lined the street by the town bank. There were also a couple sporty Mustangs by what appeared to be a café. One the whole, however, most of the cars were hybrid cars. There wasn’t another convertible in sight. And none of the town’s cars were painted in bright, metallic red and gold colors like their car.  Jack sighed and hoped, for the fifteenth time since he knew they were moving, that they would fit in to this town.

“Lets go Jack.” Kendra said watching her parents who were already heading across the street. Jack took her hand. Not because he was a huge baby or anything like that, but because he wanted to ask her about Mrs. Miggleston. Kendra’s lacy gloves were itchy, but he kept a hold.

“Why do you think,” Jack whispered, as they crossed the quiet street, “Mrs. Miggleton doesn’t want us upstairs?”

Kendra looked thoughtful. “I don’t know. It’s obvious someone’s been upstairs.”

“How did you know someone has?” Jack said. “Everything was so dusty.”

“Don’t you ever pay attention? Remember the holo-show about the crime scenes?”

Jack nodded and tried not to scowl. Of course he paid attention.

“There were footprints in the dust by the doors. And someone had drawn chalk X’s beside the door frame of the room I looked at.”

“What does that mean?” Jack asked.

Kendra stepped in line behind their parents. The Coffee Star counter was polished so shiny she could see the large brim of her straw hat in it. There was just a hint of the dark gray ribbon that encircled the side brim. “I don’t know, Jack,” she said softly. “But we need to find out.”

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