Sherry’s ideal tenant would be a young man or woman. S/he would be respectful, polite and dependable, but not wound too tight. S/he would appreciate the cookies Sherry would bake on occasion and would confide in her every now and then. S/he would not be named Larry or Justin or Lauren.
The young man who ultimately ended up with her son’s former bedroom was not quite Sherry’s ideal tenant. There was nothing overtly offensive about him, but she got the sense he was putting her on. During their face-to-face, his answers had been brief and vague. But he met all the basic criteria and after two weeks of waiting and only a handful of tentative inquiries, he won out by default.
When he’d first come to look at the room, Sherry wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. He was lanky and fair-haired with blue eyes and a lightly stubbled chin. He favored cargo-style jeans and untucked (though collared) shirts. A good night’s sleep seemed a stranger to him.
“Come on in,” Sherry said as she whisked him into her kitchen. “Let’s talk for a moment, then you can see the room.”
“OK,” he said, settling into a kitchen chair. He’d sounded older on the phone.
“Would you like something to drink, Mitch?” she offered. “Do you go by Mitch?”
“No thanks,” he said. “Mitch is OK, but my friends call me Link.”
“Why Link?” she asked in a moment of embarrassing forgetfulness. “Oh. Right. Linkowski. Silly me.”
He shrugged and Sherry took a chair beside him. She’d typed up an application, which he filled out dutifully while she peppered him with additional questions. She just wanted to find out more about him. But being a landlady (an ugly word with spinsterish connotations, she thought) was new to her and she paused awkwardly a few times while searching for what to ask.
Mitchell Linkowski quickly revealed himself as a creature of contradictions. He was young – 19, he told her – but he had that same dispassionate demeanor she’d come to associate with older men. He was, in his own words, “between jobs,” but he had the security deposit and a month’s rent in cash (along with an assurance that he’d find work promptly). This was to be his first time renting on his own, though he seemed to be far removed from his parents’ roof. Careful probing revealed he’d been living with a girlfriend up until recently.
“I’m sorry,” she said when he mentioned the break-up.
“I’m not,” he replied.
She cleared her throat. “Ready to see the room?”
Out of the kitchen, past the front door and up a carpeted staircase, the two of them stood peering in to what had been Justin’s room. The boy and his belongings had departed; furniture and memories remained. Sherry pointed out the bed, the drawers, the small closet. She asked him if he had any questions and secretly hoped he’d say no. She didn’t like being in the kids’ rooms, not even to clean.
“So’s he up in college or something?” Justin asked.
“He’s living with his father,” Sherry explained. “Him and his sister both.”
She nodded and he thankfully said no more.
After he’d had his look, Sherry laid down the ground rules. The bedroom and the second-floor bathroom were his. If he needed more space, he could store things in Lauren’s room for the time being. She would also designate a shelf in the refrigerator for him and share her kitchen and den. His privacy would be respected.
In return, she asked $300 and a little common courtesy. There would be no drugs or alcohol. He would be responsible for his guests and any damages. Noise would be kept to a reasonable level. Her privacy would also be respected.
“What do you think?” she asked. “Are you still interested?”
“Yeah,” he said, his enthusiasm finally kindled. “Definitely.”
“Great,” she said, allowing herself a smile.
“So did I get it?” he asked.
“I’ll be letting you know very soon,” she said.
This was only a formality. Her mind was decided a few moments thereafter and she called him the very next day.
It wasn’t perfect, Link thought, but it was as good as he was going to get. He spotted the ‘Room for Rent’ sign when he was out on a walk. Things almost reached critical mass with his parents and he thought it best to step out and get some air before he did something profoundly stupid.
The sign jarred him from his brooding and forced him to take notice. It was posted on the lawn of a blue-trimmed white house about 3 1/2 blocks from his parents’ place. There was a number listed, which he committed to memory before making his way back home.
After one call, it became evident he wasn’t dealing with a real estate company. The woman he spoke to seemed nervous and he wouldn’t be surprised if she’d never rented to anyone before. Good, Link thought. That meant there would probably be no credit check.
When it came time to take a look at the place, he threw on one of his better shirts and shaved, steering the razor clear of his budding goatee. He’d hit his parents up for some cash to pay the deposit and they complied, either out of concern or a burning desire to get him out of their house. The rest of the money came from what had been his car replacement fund. He currently piloted a green 1996 Honda Civic Del Sol and while he longed for something more 21st century, he knew finding a place to live took precedence.
The woman who answered the door of the white-and-blue house was not what he expected. He’d pictured a graying, harmless, petite 45-year-old; perhaps with a husband named James and a kid off to college somewhere. Instead, he got a 30-something with light curls, a heavy chest and no husband in sight. She was eminently fuckable.
When he got to the application, Link listed some friends as references. He picked friends with jobs who would back him up, even though he suspected the woman, Sherry Byrd, wouldn’t do much checking up on him. He answered her questions, tensing only when she asked where he’d been living. He knew some people would not be cool with him living with D, but she didn’t voice any disapproval. In fact, she even threw some sympathy at him when he mentioned the break-up.
The room nearly matched the outside of the house. The walls were white, the trim and carpeting were blue. The bed was smaller than what he was used to, but it would be fine for just him. He could add a couple of beanbag chairs for his friends and he’d be good to go.
Overall, the room offered less space than a studio, but it rented for $150 less per month too. Besides, he’d really have the whole top floor to himself when he thought about it. And if that wasn’t enough, there was Sherry. He saw the way her eyes misted over when she looked at the room and how she reacted when he asked if she was divorced. It was obvious she was dying for the company.
In truth, Link knew he stood no chance of being able to bang his landlord. Such fantasies were the staples of sticky-paged magazines, but seldom happened in real life. And while he did hold out some hope that maybe he’d get a quick peak of her in a state of complete or partial undress, that wasn’t really what he was after. Instead, he’d hoped that her loneliness brought her patience; that she wouldn’t be up his ass all the time about doing things he didn’t want to do when he didn’t want to do them. He’d hoped she wouldn’t be his parents or D or the dozens of other people he suspected of feeling some measure of disappointment in him.
When she called to let him know he got the place, he thanked her. Then he told his parents. Then he told Will to skip class the next day if he had to, because he and the guys were going out. He spent his last night in his old room sleeping off beers, whiskey shots and infectious laughter.