Tag Archives: Tess

Rent to Own

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Tess and Cody in the parking lot of the Marriott.

“You need to watch the other side,” Cody said. “There’s like six doors.”

“We just need to watch that car there,” Tess said. “He’s going nowhere without that.”

“He can walk. We’ve seen him do that.”

“Yes, he can walk.” But, she didn’t move.

“So,” Cody said. “I guess I’ll watch the other side. Keep an eye on your phone.”

“Wait. I’ve been thinking. We can just talk to him…”

“Now’s not the time to go all soft. We have to get him before he goes home or wherever.”

They stood outside the pickup truck, at the edge of the parking lot, facing the JJ’s rental Camaro and the hotel beyond. There was the whoosh of cars on the highway and the approaching dusk. Cody and Tess just looked at each other.

“What if we just let him go?”

“You mean, he just goes home and owns our ranch? How’s that okay with you?”

“We can’t storm the hotel!”

“No one’s storming the hotel. He has to come out eventually. He has to return that car to wherever he got it,” Cody said.

“We just can’t stay here watching. You look like a mad dirty redneck. Someone will call the cops.”

“Well fuck you, then. Why don’t you go inside and see if you can roust him from the lobby or something.”

Tess was staring at the entrance. “No need,” she said. “Here he comes.”

A woman, followed by a sheepish JJ, was making right for them.

“Here THEY come,” Cody said.

“I don’t know the whole story,” Lila said before she even reached them. “But we’re going to figure this out right here, right now.”

“Your boy there bought our land with a promise to sell it back,” Cody said. “And then he changed his mind.”

“I was tricked by her,” JJ said, pointing at Tess.

“She didn’t do any magic on you,” Cody said. “You were into it.”

“I was drunk! She was all over me.”

“Enough,” Cody said. “This fuckin guy got himself into this.” He looked at Lila. “How are you gonna get him out?”

Lila looked at the rail thin, angular and angry Cody. She looked at this Tess with her country girl jeans and big boobs. She could feel the pull to judge and dismiss them as some conniving rednecks from the hills. But the main thing that came to her was they were just so young. Young and just going from thing to thing, impulse to impulse, trying to get to a place that was always receding even as they approached it. Family ranches and banks and foreclosures. What the hell? And then dumb ass JJ stumbles (literally) into some harebrained scheme they hatched. She could feel their desperation and admired the effort, even while seeing they were doomed. Cody and Tess weren’t soft, but they weren’t criminals, either. They were naïve, not yet beaten into resignation.

“Jason here is going to sell the ranch back to you,” she said.

“What!” JJ said. “No fucking way!”

“Shut up,” Lila said.

“How the fuck are we s’posed to pay for it,” Cody asked. “That was the whole point of all this!”

“You shut up, too,” Lila said. “Whatever your bullshit plan was, it’s done.”

“Then how?”

Quiet. Then Tess said, “I heard of something called rent-to-own. You pay a little bit at a time and it’s like installments.”

“Jesus,” Cody said. “That won’t work. I won’t rent what’s really mine.”

“What’s really mine, you mean,” JJ said. “I wouldn’t trust them to pay.”

But Lila looked at Tess, whose eyes were turned down after making her suggestion. “Rent-to-own,” Lila said and Tess’s eyes rose to meet her’s. “That sounds about right.”

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The Surprises Never Cease

 

 

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JJ sat across from the hotel manager, explaining how he needed his stuff, especially certain bank documents. Quickly. Like now. No, he didn’t have identification because Tess and Cody took it. No, he hadn’t meant to leave his stuff behind but he was overtaken by events. No, he wasn’t aware of the hotel’s policy…

“Please. Please. I have to get my stuff and get out of here. Like now. I’m trying to remain calm. I’m trying not to yell. But, I have to get out now!”

“There’s the $200 cleaning and storage fee. That’s what I’m trying to…”

“But my wallet’s been stolen. That’s what I’m trying to tell you…I just need the papers, the bank papers.”

“Sir, the fee?”

JJ threw himself back in the chair, his head back, eyes bulging. He was rising to storm out when he heard Lila from the doorway.”

“How much?”

And there she was, leaning in the doorway, arms crossed, and JJ realized that he had been expecting her all along. Two surging streams, one of joy and one of sadness, flooded the hollow of his chest. She was here! He needed her. Why did he need her so badly?

“What kept you?”

Lila sighed. “How much to get this ungrateful drunk’s stuff?”

“$200.”

“Lila…” But what was JJ going to say? Allow me? Behind all this was the knowledge that Tess and Cody would be here at any moment. In fact, they could be pulling into the parking lot right now.

“JJ, don’t speak,” she said and counted out ten 20’s from her purse.

“It’ll just be a moment,” the manager said and left the room.

Quiet in the office, the drone of cable news coming from the lobby. The fucking election.

“Listen, Lila….”

“Not right now,” she said. “We can big picture it later. It’s not a good time for processing. Let’s just decide what to do right now.”

“I’m glad you said that because we need to get out of here like, immediately.”

Lila sighed.

“Someone’s after me,” JJ said. “Two people, actually.”

“No more running,” she said. She slammed her palm down on the manager’s desk. “No more!”

There it was, the boiling point reached. Lila was slow to get there, but then the green light flashed from her eyes and everyone better look the fuck out.

“Lila…”

“No more,” she said. “We’re going to fix it right here at this hotel. Then we’re going to make it right with those people. We’ll go down the line until it’s all fixed then go home. That’s it.”

“It’s not that simple.”

The manager returned with a box. JJ looked in, cringed at the ¾ empty bottle of 100 proof Smirnoff, but located the folder from the bank. He showed her the folder.

“What’s that?”

“I own these people’s ranch. I bought it at an auction.”

“How?”

“And they’re coming to get it back from me.”

Of all the dumbass things JJ could have potentially done to cause two people to pursue him, Lila was not expecting something like this.

“The surprises never cease,” she said. She looked at JJ and the hotel manager, at the cardboard box with JJ’s clothes, leftover Smirnoff, and bank documents, at the little sterile office and the lobby beyond. She laughed and knew that she was forever eternally fucked.

She still loved him, even after all this.

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Switchback

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JJ watched the parking area from the trees.   It reminded him of another time when he watched and decided, back when the cops were looking for him at college. Was that even real, or just something he imagined?

He could just see the top of Cody’s dirt colored pickup truck over the guardrail. He couldn’t see the Camaro at all. He checked his pocket for the key. Still there. He couldn’t see Tess or Cody and hadn’t heard their voices in awhile. He would wait. They were waiting. The flaw in his plan of going over the guardrail and hiding until they departed now became apparent. They could wait in the truck. He was outside. Night would come, it would get cold, and he would be fucked. JJ could always see the first few steps of a plan clearly, but beyond that…

Lila always said that about him. Too impulsive, she would say, never thinks ahead. Destructive to himself and those close by. If only she could see him now.

But JJ always answered that he was flexible and could shift on the fly. It was good not to be tied to any long range plan. This flexibility, this adaptivity, it complemented his destructive side like the beautiful sunsets caused by the ash of a volcano eruption. Just keep moving with fresh hope before the daunting despair sets in. So, after about an hour, he started walking down hill, picking his way through the trees and fallen timber, zigzagging along the path of least resistance. He knew he would come to the road again, lower down, since it switch-backed up to the pass. Just when he thought he should be seeing the road, he heard a tractor trailer grinding up the hill and saw it’s bulk through the trees. A minute later, he reached the guardrail and hopped over. Time to hitch a ride.

He had hitch hiked before and he tried now to exude the vibes and demeanor of a sane person, perhaps in trouble, but not unhinged, someone who good people wanted to help. Hitch hiking, like ringing someone’s doorbell, was dying in an increasingly paranoid and self-centered 21st century America. But, this was Colorado, where things were freer and easier, or so it seemed. Right on, bro, and where ya headed, dude. JJ stuck his thumb out.

It wasn’t long. The first car slowed as it approached, driver peering at him, scanning for weapons or a maniacal expression, then stopped just beyond. JJ trotted over to the passenger door and opened it. Marijuana smoke billowed out. And on cue, the longhaired thirty-something Colorado pseudo hippy leaned over and spoke. “Need a ride, man?”

JJ loved Colorado.

“Yeah, please,” JJ said. “Just up the hill a ways. My car’s up there.”

“Right on.”

He hopped in and the driver pulled back onto the highway.

“Listen,” JJ said. “After the switchback, you’ll see a bright blue sports car in a pullout. I need you to get right alongside it and let me out quick.”

“Is it car trouble?”

“People trouble.”

“Alright man. I don’t wanna get hurt, though.”

“No worries. They only want me and my signature.”
“Right on.”

They slowed and made the switchback, then climbed toward the pullout. As they approached, JJ could see that both cars were there, Cody’s truck parked about 10 yards behind the Camaro. Tess was outside the truck, looking down the hill, over the guardrail. Cody was in the truck. “Ok”, he said. “Pull up quickly next to the Camaro then get outta here.”

“Awright, here we go. Good luck.”

JJ used the key fob button to unlock the Camaro as they pulled alongside. He opened the door and jumped out.

“Power to the people,” the helpful hippy yelled.

JJ heard Tess yell but he was already in the drivers seat and starting the car. He put it in gear and roared off, passing the helpful hippy and roaring uphill. He looked in the mirror and saw the pickup pulling out and passing the hippy too.

2017 Hyper Blue Metallic Camaro vs. ten-year-old dirt-colored pickup truck on curvy mountain roads?

See ya later.

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Jumping the Guardrail

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The plan was, they’d drive back to town, JJ and Tess in the Camaro, Cody following in his pick-up. They would meet the attorney who facilitated the auction sale of the ranch ASAP. In the meantime, Tess would not leave JJ’s side. It was unspoken but understood that JJ could always run for it, but the next meeting with Cody would be very unpleasant. Besides, where would he go? They took his wallet and he had no cash or card.

As they drove up the valley and entered cell coverage, JJ’s phone vibrated and he looked at the screen. Eight text messages, all from Lila.

“Who’s looking for you?”

“No one,” JJ said. He had 4% battery in the phone, and no way to charge it. Most of his stuff was still in the hotel in Fort Collins.

“Must be someone,” Tess said.

“The lawyer. The bank. Checking in.”

“Checking in? By text?” Tess grabbed his phone. “No texting and driving,”

“Hey!”

“Oooooh, look at this. A lady friend coming to the rescue? Lila? That there’s a nice name.”

“Give me that!”

They were heading up toward the pass at the head of the valley, climbing up the long switchbacks as the scrubland of the valley turned to forest. There was a steep drop now on the passenger side. Tess rolled down the window and backhand tossed his phone out, well over the guardrail.

“What the fuck!” JJ swerved into a pull-off, a scenic vantage point with a view of the valley below. Cody’s pickup skidded to a stop behind them. JJ was out of the Camaro and trotting back down the highway along the shoulder, looking down the slope at the loose rocks and trees. It was pretty steep and rugged. The phone was a goner. It would take hours and too much luck to find it. And even if he found it, it was likely cracked and broken.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Cody was watching him from the parking area. Tess was out of the Camaro.

JJ looked up toward Cody and Tess. The Camaro caught his eye, hyper-blue and metallic, reflecting sunlight even while dusty. Why had he rented that thing again? It was garish and flashy, so obviously a compensation or cry for attention. He had the keys in his hand. JJ pointed the fob at the car and pushed the lock button. The tell-tale beep. Then he jumped over the guardrail and managed a controlled slide down the bare rocky hill toward the pine trees. JJ rode the little landslide of rocks and dirt, dust rising, turned to the side, leading with his downhill leg. He put his hand down once on something sharp, some mean and pointy mountain plant. Otherwise, he reached the trees intact and looked up toward the road. Cody and Tess looked down at him but showed no signs of pursuit. They stayed like that as the dust blew away and settled.

“Where’re you gonna go now, Fucko?” Cody yelled. JJ looked around. He moved down a little more to get in amongst the trees. He crouched down behind two trees that grew close together and peered between them, back up the slope. Cody and Tess were gesticulating and appeared to be arguing. JJ crouched and moved parallel to the road, staying in the trees, about forty or fifty yards, so he was below the pull-off were the cars were parked. Then he crouched behind another two trees and peered back up. They were still there, off to the left, arguing.

JJ hunkered down to wait. His heart pounded and he couldn’t seem to catch his breath in the thin air. He would just wait and see if they stayed or if they went.

Or, if they came down for him.

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Confrontation in the Valley

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Cody said, “So how’re we gonna make it so you’re gone from our land?”

They stood, the three of them, on the deserted ranch in the mountain valley.

“Cody, listen,” Tess said.

“No, you listen. You hijacked this guy to buy our land back. You took advantage. You saw the opportunity. Good for you. Good for us. Now you think you have feelings for him. Or your ashamed or some such shit.”

JJ said, “Wait, I think we…”

“Shut the fuck up! This here’s a family matter first.”

Tess said, “Yes, I took advantage. But, he’s a really nice guy.”

“You’re confusing nice with scared as shit. This fucker don’t even know where he is.” Cody turned to JJ. “Where are we?”

JJ looked around. Mountain ranges flanked the valley. There was that sense of vastness, glorious and daunting, he always felt in the West. The sky was way up there, far above the land. It was impossible to not feel small and limited out here.   Right-sized. Humility, uncomfortable and undeniable, was forced on you. They were always talking about humility in AA, how humility was the key to sobriety. Well here it was, for real. God’s presence was everywhere, if there was any God at all.

“I’ll tell you where we are,” JJ said. “We’re on my ranch. That’s where we are.”

Birds chirped nearby and the muffled roar of a distant wind grew from way up the valley, way up high.

“And how’re you gonna sign it over,” Cody asked.

“I’m not. I’m keeping it.”

The wind from the heights was coming down the valley now. JJ loved how you could hear it miles away, hear it growing like an approaching train, then it was upon you, sometimes little more than a breeze, sometimes a serious gust. You didn’t know which, but you could hear it coming. Sometimes it missed you entirely.

“Jason,” Tess said, “This here land’s been in our family since…a long time. Our people used to live here. Our parents are dead and you did a good thing buying it from the bank.”

“He wants it for himself,” Cody said. “Maybe I can convince him.” He walked back to his truck and got in.

“Jason, listen,” Tess whispered. “He’s crazy. Just tell him what he wants to hear and then we’ll work something out.”

Cody started the truck, put it in gear, and, engine revving, lurched toward JJ’s rental Camaro. The truck looked like it would drive right over the Hyper-blue metallic sports car, like a fullback breaking through the line and pancaking some defensive back. He skidded to a stop just short of the car. Cody rolled down the window. “Last chance, fucker. We can go back to town all together and straighten this out. Or you can walk back and think more about it. ‘Cause if you don’t tell us what we want to hear, I’m crushing this fuckin car.”

“Cody! No!” Tess ran toward the truck, stopped halfway and looked back at JJ. “Please,” she said. “Please just let us have it.”

“Last chance, sucker,” Cody yelled, revving and lurching the truck closer.

Options scrolled through JJ’s head. A lawyer, letting them have it, renting it to them, buying time, turning the tables…

“All right! Stop!”

“And?”

“I’ll sign it over.”

“He’ll sign,” Tess yelled. “Cody!”

Cody stared at JJ, calculating. Then he shut down the truck as a cold gust finally reached them, rustling sage and shrub, and rolling tumbleweeds down the valley.

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Sucker?

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Morning. JJ and Tess, a woman he hardly knows, camped at an abandoned mountain ranch. His land. Her land. Whose land?

They leaned on an old fence, eating Pop Tarts. A vehicle approached down the long dirt road to where they were camped, a cloud of dust rising behind.

“Oh shit, that must be Cody,” Tess said.

“Who’s Cody?”

“Just my angry twin brother.”

Oh great. Angry brother. Cody. Twin. Twin telepathy. What kind of gun toting maniac was coming down the road?

“How does he know we’re here?”

“He doesn’t. Or he does. He just comes here.”

“He comes here? For what?”

“To get away,” Tess said. “He doesn’t like people much.”

An old Chevy pick-up came to a skidding stop and just sat there with the engine running. Cody drove angry. JJ couldn’t see him clearly for the glare off the windshield. But he knew Cody was looking at him. The engine shut off and made little ticks as it cooled. Some birds chirped and tweeted from the brush but no one moved. It was midmorning and warm in the sun, not a cloud in the sky. Finally, the door opened.

Cody was Tess with a buzz-cut, only his eyes were harder, solid blue ice where Tess’s were liquid blue. “Who’s this guy,” Cody asked.

“This here’s Jason,” Tess said.

“Is this your boyfriend?”

“No, not really,” JJ said. “We only met a couple days ago. I mean, we’re just friends. New friends.” JJ walked toward Cody with his hand extended. “Nice to meet you.”

Cody looked at the hand like JJ held out a putrefying fish. He looked at JJ’s face. “What are you two doing here?”

Tess walked forward and got between JJ and Cody. “Cody, this here’s a miracle! Jason bought the ranch at the auction. He bought the ranch for us!”

JJ and Cody both looked at Tess. Cody stared with disbelief of the, “here’s some more of Tess’s bullshit” variety. JJ was just trying to keep up.

“I felt something,” Cody said. “Yesterday. I knew something was happening out here.”

The twin telepathy. Fuck.

“Um, yeah,” JJ said. “I bought the ranch.”

“I’m sure it was out of the goodness of your heart,” Cody said, looking at JJ over Tess’s shoulder. “What’re you up to?”

If JJ were honest, he’d say: “I left Massachusetts because my best friend was getting together with my erstwhile girlfriend, who was my other best friend. I tried to write a memoir but instead started drinking, which is really bad for me. I flew to Colorado on the advice of a guy named Shaboo and kept drinking. I’ve been here before, trying to find myself, so I thought I’d try again. Instead I found your twin sister in a blackout. She convinced me to visit the bank where we put in a bid two minutes before the auction ended. Phone calls were made and the remainder of my lottery winnings were transferred from my bank. I signed some papers and here we are.”

Instead, JJ said, “I dunno.”

“Well here’s the deal, man,” Cody said. “This ranch has been in our family since the 1800’s and no fuckin’ boytoy of my sister is going to own it. Where are the papers?”

“Still at the bank,” Tess said.

Cody looked around and seemed to notice the Camaro for the first time. “What the hell kind of car is that?”

“That’s a Hyper Blue Metallic Chevy Camaro,” JJ said with a renter’s pride. He would keep his dignity through all this no matter what, he vowed.

Cody snorted. “Jesus, she saw you coming a mile away. The plates should read, SUCKER.”

Tess said, “It wasn’t like that, Cody. He offered to help.”

Cody chuckled and walked to the Camaro, appraising. Tess whispered to JJ, “It wasn’t like that. We’ll figure something out.”

“I’m sure we will,” JJ said. “Things always work out for me.”

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Detoxing in the Mountain Air

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Withdrawing from alcohol. A mesh of electricity humming just under the skin, complete with unpredictable twitches, some lunatic doctor behind the one-way glass delivering voltage. Also, the feeling (the certainty!) of impending doom and imminent threat. Shadows behind rocks are crouching gargoyles, vigilant and silent. There is a lurking monster behind that tree right over there, some stick figure, an upright mantis keeping very still. And this woman, Tess, next to JJ in a sleeping bag under the mountain stars. They are camped on his land apparently, JJ’s land, in this valley in northern Colorado.

JJ lays on his side, shaky and alert, watching the trees and rocks, and wonders how the hell this happened. He knows the what, where and when. With the last of his lottery money, he bought this old mountain ranch that had once been in Tess’s family. But how? Why? Whither?

Next to him, Tess shifts in her sleeping bag, the nylon rustle amplified in the deep quiet. Is she asleep? JJ can’t get comfortable in his sleeping bag. He’s warm, he’s cold, he’s hot. Clammy nylon sticks to his cheek. His breath is fetid and there is a weird smell coming from his body, like the smell of an examining room in a hospital, some antiseptic cleaner trying hard to cover up the smell of human excreta- sweat, blood, urine, etc.  Also, there’s this rubber glove smell coming from God knows where. He must be getting better if he can catalogue these smells and place them in a hospital. Though, of course, he does feel more like a patient than a healthy human. He is detoxing.

This woman, Tess. Something is off but he can’t put his finger on it. She certainly smiles a lot. That’s never a good sign. She’s attractive, at least physically. Fit and glowing and endowed with…endowments. But, there’s an aura of disaster and chaos around her, an untethered feeling that infects JJ. He feels the same way when watching news footage from the scene of some explosion- whirling police lights and silhouettes moving and milling in a smoky background. You kind of want to be there, to see it, to have a part in it. To help out. That can’t be good. What did Dr. Shays once say to him? “Your attraction to a certain kind of person is automatic. It is machinery that you can’t see working. It chooses what it needs and by the time you catch up, it’s too late. You’re being ground up.”

JJ’s machine likes chaos. That’s why he could never stick with Lila. She’s crazy, but not crazy enough, too grounded to feed the beast.

But this Tess. She’s not right but she’s also very…very…alluring. Mysterious. Unpredictable?  More like erratic.

A voice, muffled coming from inside the horizontal lump of sleeping bag next to him. “Are you thinking about me?”

JJ shifts onto his back and looks into the vast mountain sky. Stars and stars and stars.

“Yes,” he says.

Tess sighs and again the voice muffled, coming from somewhere hidden, beneath the surface.

“That’s good,” the voice says. “That’s really good.”

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