Home > All Rhodes Lead Here(5)

All Rhodes Lead Here(5)
Author: Mariana Zapata

I choked. At least inside I did. Because no.

No.

I hadn’t even realized when I’d dropped my hands from the position they’d been, still in the air, but they were down and my palms were flat on my stomach, the pepper spray in my fingers, the rest of my body consumed by a mixture of worry, panic, and disappointment at the same time.

I was thirty-three years old, and like a tree, I’d lost all of my leaves, so much of what had made me me; but just like a tree, my branches and my roots were still there. And I was being reborn with a whole new set of leaves, bright and green and full of life. So I had to try. I had to. There weren’t any other rentals like this.

“Please,” I said, not even wincing at just how croaked that one single word sounded out of my mouth. It was now or never. “I understand why you’re upset, and you have every right to be. I don’t blame you for wanting to take care of your son and not risk his safety but….”

My voice cracked, and I hated it, but I knew I had to keep going because I had a feeling I was only going to get one shot at this before he kicked me out. “Just… please. I promise I won’t make a peep or bother anyone. I took an edible once when I was twenty and got so high I had a panic attack and almost had to call an ambulance. I took Vicodin once after my wisdom teeth got removed, and it made me throw up so I didn’t take more. The only alcohol I like is really sweet Moscato and a beer every once in a while. I won’t even look at your son if you don’t want me to, but please, please let me stay. I’ll double the rate the listing was set for. I’ll send it over right now if you want.” I took a breath and gave the man what I hoped was the most pleading face ever. “Pretty please.”

The man’s facial expression was hard and stayed that way, that square jaw locked tight even at this distance. I didn’t have a good feeling. I didn’t have a good feeling at all.

His next words made my stomach drop. He was staring straight at me, those thick eyebrows flat on his absurdly handsome face. He had the bone structure you could only find on old Greek statues, I thought. Regal and defined, there was nothing weak about any part of his features. His mouth—his full lips the kind of inspiration women went to expensive doctors to try and replicate—became a flat line. “I’m sorry if you got your hopes up, but it’s not happening.” Those hard eyes moved toward the maybe-teenager as he growled in a voice so low I almost couldn’t hear it—but I had great ears and he didn’t know that—“It’s not about the money.”

Panic rose up inside of my chest, steadily, and I could see this opportunity disappearing before my eyes. “Please,” I repeated myself. “You won’t know I’m here. I’m quiet. I won’t have any visitors.” I hesitated. “I’ll triple the rate.”

The stranger didn’t even hesitate. “No.”

“Dad,” the boy cut in before the older man shook his head.

“You have no say in this. You aren’t going to have a say in anything any time soon, are we clear?”

The kid gasped, and my heart started beating faster.

“You went behind my back, Amos. If they hadn’t found another warden last minute, I would’ve been in Denver right now without a fucking clue you did this!” the man explained in that murderous, not loud or quiet voice, and honestly… I couldn’t blame him.

I had no kids—I’d wanted them, but Kaden had kept putting it off—but I could only imagine how I’d feel if my child went behind my back… even if I understood his reasons. He wanted an expensive guitar, and I guessed he was too young to work or his parents wouldn’t let him.

The kid made a weak, disgruntled noise of frustration, and I knew my time was just about to run out.

Rubbing my fingers together because they suddenly felt clammy, I tried to clamp down on my panic because it was more powerful than my strength. “I’m sorry about all of this. I’m sorry this wasn’t done with your blessing. If some stranger moved into… well, I don’t have a garage apartment, but if I did, I wouldn’t be a fan of it. I value my privacy a lot. But I don’t have anywhere else to go. There’s no other house for short-term rental nearby. That’s not your problem, I get it. But please, let me stay.” I sucked in a breath and met his eyes; I couldn’t tell what color they were from this distance. “I’m not a drug addict. I don’t have a drinking problem or any weird fetishes. I promise. I had the same job for ten years; I was an assistant. I got… divorced, and I’m starting over.”

Resentment, bitter and twisted, rose up over the back of my neck and shoulders like it had daily since things had fallen apart. And like every other time, I didn’t brush it off. I tucked it into my body, real close to my chest, and babied it. I didn’t want to forget it. I wanted to learn from it and keep the lesson for myself, even if it was uncomfortable.

Because you had to remember the shitty parts of life to appreciate the good.

“Please, Mr. Rhodes, if that’s what your name is,” I said in the calmest voice I was capable of. “You can make a copy of my ID, even though I already sent one. I can get you character references. I don’t even kill spiders. I would protect your son if he needed it. I have teenage nephews who love me. They’ll tell you I’m not a creep too.” I took a step forward and then another, keeping our gazes together. “I was going to see if I could rent this out for longer, but I’ll move on after a month if you could find it in your heart to give me a chance for now. Maybe another place will open up. I’d rent a place in town, but there isn’t anything short-term, and I’m not ready to sign something for long.” I could buy something, but he didn’t need to know that; it just created too many questions. “I’ll pay you three times the daily rate and won’t bother you at all. I’ll give you a five-star review too.”

Maybe I shouldn’t have added that part. It wasn’t like he’d wanted this place up for rent in the first place.

The man’s gaze narrowed just a little I was pretty sure because his eyebrows didn’t move much, but I thought I noticed a difference. A notch appeared between his thick, dark eyebrows, and that terrible feeling intensified.

He was going to say no. I knew it. I was going to be fucked and living out of a hotel. Again.

But the boy joined in and said, talking just a little louder, genuinely sounding excited by the prospect, “Three times the price! Do you know how much money that would be?”

The man, maybe Tobias Rhodes, maybe not, glared at his son as he stood there, tense and still pissed. He really was furious.

And I braced myself for the worst. For the no. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but… it would still suck. A lot.

Instead though, the next words out of his mouth were aimed at the teenager. “I can’t believe you’d lie to me.”

The boy’s entire body seemed to soften and fall, and his voice turned smaller than ever. “I’m sorry. I know it’s a lot of money.” He paused and managed to say even more quietly, “I’m sorry.”

The man ran a hand through his hair and seemed to deflate too. “I said no. I told you we’d figure it out.”

The kid didn’t say anything but nodded after a second, looking like he felt about an inch tall.

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