November 2008 | iUniverse |
Trade Paperback | 978-0-595-53091-5 |$20.95 |
e-Book | 978-0-595-63147-9 | $6.00 |

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Chapter One

“What?” I punch the pause button on the treadmill and slow to a stop, the cell phone pressed against my ear.

“We’re getting back together,” Diana tells me.

“Umm…congratulations,” I say, straining to sound pleased. Damn, I’m going to have to return that Dior purchase. If Diana isn’t getting divorced, she won’t need that condo we were getting ready to bid on.

“But Jack and I are talking about downsizing,” she says, as if to cushion the news. “Maybe after Charlotte graduates.”

Their daughter is fifteen. Even if she skips a grade, it’ll be another year before they buy anything.

“Okay, great.” That’s one less sale I can count on.

I hang up and toss the phone on the couch and push the start button on the treadmill. A brisk walk quickly turns into an eager jog. That’s the third buyer this week I’ve lost. And it’s only Wednesday. Is real estate the only business where you can work 80 hours a week and still not make a profit?

I wouldn’t know. This is all I’ve ever done. And it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since I stepped into my first open house when I was eight years old. The saleswoman wore a smart red suit and passed out glossy flyers and gave us a tour of a remodeled ranch-style home the neighbors were selling because the mother was sick.

I pump my arms faster and shorten my stride. A trickle of sweat drips over my nose and lands on my mouth. With the back of my hand, I wipe my face. The cool spring air from the open window rushes in to fill my anxious lungs. Long slants of morning light fall across the room. I increase the speed and adjust the incline. My lungs feel like they could burst. Through short breaths, I smell coffee from the kitchen. Tom must be awake.

Madonna sings, “Express Yourself,” my ring tone for work. Not now. I’m almost finished with my three mile run. Okay. I won’t answer it. It’s probably just another buyer calling to cancel or reschedule a showing appointment. It can go to voice mail.

But what if it’s a buyer answering my Craiglist ad?

Before Madonna reaches the chorus for a second time, I punch the pause button and leap from the treadmill. I take a couple of deep breaths so I don’t sound like I’m in the middle of having sex. “Trina Kay, T & T Realty, how may I help you?”

“Oh, sorry, wrong number.”

What? I gave up the last sixty seconds of my run to answer a wrong number. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have cared about the call. I had more buyers than I could handle. And more money than I could spend. But now, with the market as bad as it is, I would give up my morning run entirely if it meant closing a sale and paying off my Visa bill.

I toss the cell phone on the couch and stalk out of the room.

In the kitchen, Tom sits at the table eating a bowl of shredded wheat. He’s already dressed in his best Armani suit. He glances up from reading the San Jose Mercury News and winks. “Cute outfit. Who has good taste?”

I smile. I am wearing the Elisabetta Rogiani workout wear Tom bought for my birthday last week. I had been eyeing her collection ever since I saw Monica Brant sporting her glitzy gold tank top and boy shorts on the cover of Oxygen. That’s one of the things I love about Tom. He’ll forgo season tickets to the A’s game in order to buy me something special. I bend to kiss his forehead. “You do.”

I pop two slices of bread into the toaster and pour a cup of coffee. It tastes rancid. I dump it in the sink. God, how I miss Starbucks.

A few moments later, I toss two burnt pieces of toast on a plate and sit down next to Tom. I glimpse the headlines and scowl. “How can you read that? It’s all doom and gloom. Subprime market crashes. Foreclosures rise. Home prices are down. Inventory skyrockets. It’s depressing.”

“Don’t worry,” Tom says. “I have a plan.”

That’s another thing I love about Tom. He’s always thinking of something bigger and better. Nothing ever gets him down.

“What is it?” I ask, buttering my toast.

Tom winks. “It’s a surprise.”

“How about a hint?” I ask with a seductive smile.

Tom tilts his head to the side. I love how his mop of golden brown hair flops over his forehead just above his eyes. I dust the crumbs from my hands and reach up to brush the hair away from his forehead.

He reaches under the table and places a hand on my thigh. “It’s catchy and dramatic.”

“Catchy? Like the Oscar Mayer bologna song.”

Tom shakes his head. “My god, that’s ancient.”

“It’s not. My sister and I sang it as kids.”

Tom laughs. “That’s ancient.”

I withdraw my hand. “Gimme a break! I’m not that old.”

“Didn’t that TV show air a few decades ago?”

Jeez. That’s one thing I hate about Tom. He teases me like I’m his younger sister, not his live-in girlfriend. I decide to change the subject. “Is it as dramatic as Val’s car accident on The Young and the Restless?”

He shakes his head slowly. “I’m not telling.”

I try to think of some catchy and dramatic business ideas, but my mind is blank. What’s catchy and dramatic about selling real estate?

Tom stands up and gathers his dishes. We no longer have a housekeeper, so he rinses them by hand and places them in the dishwasher for later. I abandon my toast and join him at the sink, pressing the length of my five-foot ten-inch runner’s body against his back. Tom’s slightly taller than me, at six foot two, and he’s built like a basketball player although his sport of choice is golf. I wrap my arms around his waist and trace the muscles in his stomach with one finger until he shivers. “Not now, Trina. I’ll be late for cold calling.”

I ignore his comment and start playfully licking his earlobe. “Mmm…maybe you should stay home and help me look for qualified buyers.”

He tugs my arms apart and turns around to face me. “I don’t tell you how to run your half of the business, so don’t start telling me how to run mine.”

“I was just kidding.”

“You don’t know how to joke.”

“That’s not true. Just ask Val.”

He laughs. “Your gay guy friend who thinks anyone wearing polyester is funny? That’s not what I mean by humor. Just look at you a few seconds ago when I made that comment about your age. You didn’t find it funny, did you?”

I cross my arms under my chest and shift my weight to one foot. If my mother wasn’t always harping about how I should be getting married and starting a family before it’s too late, then maybe I wouldn’t be so sensitive about how old I am. “That’s not the same.”

“As what?” he asks, his voice rising. “As joking about how I should be attracting buyers? That’s your half of the business, not mine. Maybe you should spend more time door knocking than surfing the Internet for shoes.”

“I’m window shopping. It’s stress relief. Like you play golf.”

“My golfing has led to more sales than you’ll ever give me credit for. Your window shopping has only led to more debt than you’ll ever be able to pay off.”

I flush with anger. “That’s not true. I haven’t charged anything in months.”

“Then I guess your PayPal account doesn’t qualify.”

“That’s linked to our checking account, not a charge card.”

“Either way, you spend too much.”

I’m going to return the Dior dress today. Hopefully, the charge and the credit will show up on the same statement in case Tom gets to it first.

I think of the other items I’ve purchased over the last two months: a shabby chic sweater for my sister, Dee, for making honor roll during her first semester back at college and a new set of golf clubs for Dad so he could better compete against Tom. They were both essential purchases. How can anyone argue with that?

Oh, yes, there was one other thing. A silky baby doll from La Perla. Little good that purchase did me. If I could, I’d return it and get my money back. But I’ve cut the tags off and worn it, so I can’t.

That’s Tom’s fault, not mine. Maybe it’s good his libido has weakened since we had to cancel our health insurance. If we spent as much time making love as arguing, then maybe I’d be endangered of jump-starting that family my mother wants so desperately for me.

Tom pushes past me and stalks down the hall and grabs his briefcase. “See you at the office,” he says, before slamming the front door.

The 5,000 square foot mansion we live in seems hollow and empty once he’s gone. Only the stuttering of my heart threatens the silence.

It didn’t used to be this tense between us. We used to agree on everything from where to eat dinner to how to run our business. But living together and working together for two years have created a tangle of confusion. One I really don’t want to sort out just now.

The fax machine clicks and whirs in our downstairs office, but I ignore it. All I’ve done since graduating from college with a business degree and broker’s license is work, work, work. Maybe I should take Val up on his offer for a weekend getaway (if only I could afford to hire someone to host an open house).

Instinctively, I reach for the Wednesday ads buried in the center of the paper and start flipping through the glossy pages, daydreaming of all the purchases I would love to make, but can’t because it’s not in our budget. Like new satin sheets. No, Tom wouldn’t appreciate them. Hmm…those Prada purses look good. But I don’t need another purse. How about a pair of shoes? You can never have too much footwear.

Madonna sings, “Express Yourself.” I drop the ads and scurry down the hall. The rubber soles of my Asics gels squish squash against the marble floor. I snatch up my phone just before it switches to voice mail. My voice is crisp and professional. “Trina Kay, T & T Realty, how may I help you?”

“Do you have the disclosures?” Mr. Wong asks. “I’m leaving for China this evening and won’t be back for one week. I want to make sure everything is okay before I go.”

I reluctantly pad into the office and grab the pages spooling out of the fax machine. “They’re arriving just as we speak,” I say. “I’ll look them over and forward them to you in just a couple of minutes.”

After I hang up, I read over the pages, line by line. Minor electrical repairs. No problem. Shared driveway. No big deal. A death in the house within the last seven years. Okay. Don’t panic. Maybe the seller is being overly cautious and wants to include the fatality of his goldfish. But my hands keep shaking as I dial the other agent to get the facts. I know the Chinese are sensitive about death. And I don’t want to have to show more houses today when I already am booked with appointments. I swallow, waiting for the seller’s agent to answer.

“Hell-o,” he says. “Greg Colby, Home Seller’s Realty.”

My voice quivers with concern. “It’s Trina Kay from T & T Realty. I just received the disclosures you faxed on the Saratoga home and I need to know more about the death that’s mentioned.”

“It’s just a rudimentary fact,” Greg says. Although I’ve never met him, I imagine he’s a skinny man with a great sense of fashion from his falsetto voice.

“I need to know the details because my client will ask.”

“It’s not AIDS or the bird flu,” he says, trying to reassure me.

I close my eyes. Please, please, please tell me Grandma was visiting when she died. “Then what was it? A heart attack?”

“Not exactly,” he says, slowly. He clears his throat. “It was a suicide.”

My knees buckle. I grab the back of the chair and sink into it. I know how the Chinese feel about suicide. Bad karma. Someone else’s ghost. “I wish you would have disclosed this earlier. My client may cancel the transaction based on this fact.”

“It wasn’t violent,” the agent says, as if that makes a difference. “The woman hung herself from the banister. She was depressed over her divorce.”

Oh, god, no. This news can only mean one thing—escrow canceled, home search resumes. And I was counting on this sale closing quickly. I need to make a payment on my Visa card.

I cup my head in my hand, feeling a headache start to bloom at the base of my neck. Maybe I can hire someone to give the house a blessing and help the spirit move to the other side. Then I won’t have to start over.

I call Mr. Wong. “I have the disclosures, sir. There’s nothing wrong with the house, but the last resident hung herself from the banister. I could schedule a house healing—”

“Why did she kill herself?” Mr. Wong’s voice cuts across impatiently.

“She was upset over her divorce.”

“Aiya! Broken family, broken house. No good.” His voice rises with anger. “Cancel escrow. We’ll find another house.”

“But I know someone who can give the house a blessing. He comes highly recommended.”

“No blessing. I take no chances with my family’s welfare. I do not want the dead lingering in my house to fill it with its sadness. I want only happiness and good luck. You find that for me, okay? That’s all I ask. Now good day.”

By nine-thirty, I have already drawn up and faxed over cancellation papers to Mr. Wong and scheduled appointments to see property during his lunch hour.

Madonna sings, “True Blue.” I snatch the phone. “Yes, Tom?”

“Where are you?” he barks.

“At home. Canceling Mr. Wong’s purchase. There was a suicide in the house.”

“Wong thing to do,” Tom teases. “You have a client waiting for you.”

“I do?” That can’t be right. I never schedule appointments before ten. I sit down at the computer and bring up my Outlook calendar. Nothing is scheduled before noon.

Tom lowers his voice. “Maria is waiting to see condos. You promised you’d take her.”

Oh, right. Maria. Tom’s client. He found her accidentally when he was cold calling for sellers. I tried to convince him to show her houses since he speaks Spanish, but he made some excuse about how Maria prefers to work with women only.

I’m still in my running clothes. I haven’t showered or decided what I’ll wear. “Tell her I’ll be with her in a half hour. Do you think she’ll agree to that?”

“Hold on. I’ll ask.” The phone line clicks into the advertising melody we purchased last year when we had so much profit our accountant encouraged us to spend thousand of dollars to avoid a steep increase in taxes.

“The twins are getting antsy. So hurry up.”

“If the kids can’t wait, can she come back at two?”

“Wong time. Her kids take a nap from one to three. Then she goes to work at four.”

If I skip a shower and spray perfume on me, I’ll save fifteen minutes. And if I wear the dry cleaning I snuck in last night, I won’t have to iron. That will shave off another fifteen minutes. “Okay. Tell her I’ll be there as soon as possible.”

As soon as I hang up, Madonna sings, “Vogue,” my ring tone for Val, my best friend who lives two and a half hours north in Guerneville.

I’d love to catch up, exchange celebrity gossip, and complain about our lives, but I let the call go to voice mail.

I’ve work to do.


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