Two Proposals

by Deborah Rochford

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

part 4


Mr. Lawson held the boy’s legal pad in his hands, his eyes catching on the places where the ink had smeared slightly. It was damned messy-looking. The contrast between the thick, neatly typed legal jargon of the Moviemax Corporation and the yellow legal pad with its smeared ink and scratchy notes was laughable.

What was it about this young man that made him even consider his proposal? He looked over the top of his glasses to examine the boy. He was twenty-seven years old but looked younger. He had a five o’clock shadow and the hint of a crease or two around the eyes, but there was something almost boyish about him.

His hair was trimmed but was in a bit of disarray, probably from the cap he had been wearing earlier. He had dressed with care; that much was obvious. Mr. Lawson had been surprised to see a sport coat, dress shirt and tie underneath the young man’s parka.

The sport coat was a black-and-white checkered affair that must have been a hand-me-down from a different era, judging by the size of the lapels, and the tie was a little too colorful for a proper business meeting. Still he appreciated the effort. Susan would have liked this boy if she had been here to meet him. She probably would have made a big to-do over how green his eyes were.

“Well, Mr. Kellerman, I have the weekend to consider your proposal. The Moviemax Corporation is insisting on an answer by Monday morning. As soon as I have spoken to them, I will call you and let you know my decision.”

“Thank you, sir. Of course, if you were to accept my proposal, I would have a lawyer draw everything up properly.”

“Of course.”

“Today was the first time I have seen the old theatre; I couldn’t really do that before I arrived,” Mr. Kellerman added.

“True,” Mr. Lawson replied.

Mr. Kellerman leaned forward in his chair, his hands clasped in front of his body. “I hope you will give me a chance to make this work, Mr. Lawson,” he said in earnest. “I believe in the power of movies, sir, to make people take the time to stop and think about life. I promise I would never dishonor the intent your father had when he built the theatre.”

Mr. Lawson felt an annoying lump start to develop in his throat again. He nodded his acknowledgement to the young man, rose from his chair and walked over to the large picture window that looked out over the back of his property. He leaned against the window frame, suddenly tired.

The snow had stopped falling, but it would be several hours before the plows cleared the roads enough for the boy to leave. The thought put him a bit out of sorts. It was well past supper time. He was hungry and wanted a glass of wine. He heard Mr. Kellerman shift in his seat. No doubt the boy was hungry as well.

Mr. Lawson sighed. There was nothing for it but to invite him to eat. He wondered if Estelle might be persuaded to make the trip back to his house to make the two of them some supper. He was even willing to pay her the outrageous catering fee she charged for parties if she would consent to the task, and he was pretty sure her husband had a four-wheel drive SUV that should be able to make it through the snow. He glanced at his wristwatch. It was half past six.

He turned back to face Mr. Kellerman. “I have heard your proposal, Mr. Kellerman, and I promise you I will give it serious consideration.” The boy opened his mouth to respond but Mr. Lawson held up his hand to stop further conversation on the topic. “Can we call it quits for tonight? I am afraid you are stuck here with me until the roads are cleared. Why don’t we get some food and a glass of wine while we wait for the employees of Boulder to get the job done?”

The younger man stood and walked over to join Mr. Lawson by the window. He didn’t respond at first, and Mr. Lawson wasn’t sure he would be willing to let the matter of the proposal rest. He could see the struggle in the young man’s face and the tension in his stance. The boy was passionate about the theatre and really wanted this deal to go through, that much was obvious. Mr. Lawson simply waited, wondering what he would do.

By some force of will, the boy seemed to relax. His shoulders dropped and he smiled. Perhaps he understood that pushing the issue would get him no further tonight. “That would be great, sir. I was just wondering...” Mr. Kellerman stopped, looking like he had tripped over his own foot.

Mr. Lawson frowned. “Yes, what is it?”

“Would it be okay if you just called me ‘Josh’? I mean, now that our business is done. If you prefer to keep things formal, that’s okay too,” he added hurriedly.

“Yes. Of course, Josh.” Mr. Lawson smiled at the boy but did not offer his own first name. “Come with me,” he commanded. “Let’s go choose a bottle of wine.”

He walked briskly to a set of steps near the kitchen that took him down to the basement. He could hear Josh following, slowly. Understandable, this portion of the house was underground and dark as a cave.

Susan had wanted to dig out the hill and put in a couple of egress windows to let in the light. He had put a stop to that project. It was a waste of money. He felt along the wall until his hand hit the switch and flooded the room with light.

He glanced around out of habit, making sure everything was in its place. The pool table had been brushed, the couch and lounge chair were set in formation in front of a plasma screen TV that hung from the wall, a bland landscape. The wood of the coffee table was polished and a bowl of potpourri placed discreetly on a side table to keep the room smelling fresh. He nodded his satisfaction. Estelle was doing a fine job cleaning the house.

He moved on to a door at the back of the room that led to the wine cellar. He had closed all of the vents to the basement area. It didn’t make sense to waste money heating unused areas of the house. The difference in temperature was enough to make him feel the cold in his cheeks and the tip of his nose. He glanced back to make sure Josh was still with him. The boy had tucked his hands into his armpits to keep them warm.

“Have you considered that Boulder is quite a bit colder than California, Josh?” he asked, a note of playfulness in his voice.

“I’m sure you get used to it,” he said, “at some point.”

Mr. Lawson opened the door to the wine cellar and walked in. He stopped abruptly to stare at the racks of wine, Josh bumping him lightly from behind.

“Sorry, Mr. Lawson.”

He stared without really seeing the bottles he had so meticulously organized by region and price. His eye kept drifting to the rack itself, to the soft sheen of the carved oak. He examined the carvings of grapes and vines and an occasional barrel that seemed to swirl around the graceful necks of the bottles. The racks were supported by heavy, Roman-style columns that spanned the height of the room.

It was too ornate for his taste. He would have preferred the simple rectangular boxes that composed most wine racks, but his father had offered to build the rack for him, and Susan had said yes. He had to admit, it had been a pleasant time. His father had stayed with them for an entire month. Their son had flown in for a couple of weekends just to be around his grandpa.

He and Susan had felt close, knowing that they would have this memory to hold onto when his father was gone. The house had been filled with noise and laughter, walks around the neighborhood, picnics in the screened porch. Mr. Lawson shook his head to dislodge the memory. His father had died over four years ago, and life had changed since then.

He scanned the racks of wine and chose a Pinot Noir, a white wine made in the wineries of northern California, slightly acidic but with a smooth and silky texture and the barest hint of a honey taste. He pulled the bottle from the rack and handed it to Josh.

The young man read through the label and handed the bottle back. “I don’t know a lot about wine sir. I like white wine, and I have had pinot before.”

Mr. Lawson nodded his acknowledgement and made his way back to the kitchen, turning off lights and closing doors, Josh following close behind. He invited the young man to take a seat on one of the bar stools at the kitchen counter, poured them both a healthy glass of wine and then pulled out his cell phone to call Estelle.

“If you will excuse me for just a couple of minutes I will see if my housekeeper is willing to come back and make us some supper. She does a better job with fish and chicken than some of the better restaurants in town.”

He walked into the still dark living room to make the call. He detested people who spoke on the phone in front of others. He considered it a serious breach of etiquette. He let the phone ring until the answering machine picked up. Estelle refused to answer the phone until she knew who was calling, a habit that vexed Mr. Lawson to no end. “Hello, Estelle, this is Mr. Lawson. I would appreciate it a great deal if you would pick up the...”

“Hello. Hello! Rigel? This is Estelle. Is everything okay? Is Susan okay?” she said in a rush.

“Good evening, Estelle.” Honestly, if the woman didn’t do such a fine job cleaning the house he would fire her on the spot. She was much too familiar. That was Susan’s fault. Once he had come home during the middle of the day to find Susan and Estelle sitting at the kitchen table sipping a cup of tea, giggling away, even though he was pretty sure he paid Estelle by the hour.

“Yes. Everything is fine, Estelle,” he replied. “I have an unexpected guest for dinner and was wondering if I might hire you to come by and make us some supper.”

Silence.

He frowned, wondering why she didn’t answer. “Estelle, are you there?” With the phone to his ear, he walked over to a large window that faced the front of the house, wondering if he should hang up and try again. It didn’t sound like they had been disconnected, but his service sometimes dropped calls when the weather was bad.

He moved the drape aside and looked out. The whole world seemed to glow. Every branch on every tree, and even the broad expanse of his front yard, seemed to give off a light that was somehow generated from the snow itself. The call must have been dropped. He decided to hang up and try again, when he heard Estelle clear her throat.

“Yes, I’m here. What sort of unexpected guest are you referring to, Rigel?”

He dropped the curtain, confused. Her tone of voice sounded... angry? Suspicious?

He felt heat rush into his face.“Oh... for heaven’s sake, Estelle. A young man. A boy who is looking to buy the theatre is stuck here, at my house,” he stammered, angry at himself for feeling the need to explain to the maid. Much to his annoyance, Estelle giggled.

“I was worried there for a minute, Rigel. I was thinking I would have to give Susan a call and let her know there was some hanky-panky going on at home.”

He almost hung up on her, and after tonight, that was it, he would find someone else to clean the house, no matter how much Susan protested. Susan might never come back anyway. But he didn’t hang up. He was still hoping Estelle would come over and cook for him.

“I’m only kidding, Rigel,” she said, sounding as if she were trying to appease him. Maybe she realized she had gone too far. He felt mollified, a little. “The snow is pretty deep,” she said.

“I know,” Mr. Lawson replied, “but I thought your husband had a rather large SUV that might make it over here. It’s only a couple of miles, after all.” He could hear her fidgeting through the phone.

“Yes. The truck could probably make it, but I’ve cleaned three houses today. I’m tired, Rigel. These old bones need a break more often than they once did, and Harry and me are watching a movie tonight. Have you seen that new movie with Robert Downey Jr.? The Sherlock Holmes movie?”

Mr. Lawson listened to her ramble on for a few more minutes, waiting for her to take a breath so that he could extract himself from an apparently fruitless conversation.

“Yes, well,” he interjected during a short pause, “I understand. Have a good night.” He hung up the phone.

* * *


Proceed to part 5...

Copyright © 2016 by Deborah Rochford

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