Irreplaceable Chapter 16

Rafferty’s leg was bouncing under his desk. Time couldn’t go fast enough. This morning he had woken up determined to win his wife’s heart. But he couldn’t do it alone.

Finally, the clock ticked to noon. Jumping up from his desk, he told Anderson he would get lunch, something Anderson almost always did. But he needed an excuse to talk to Ruth alone. Since he would drop lunch off for Ruth, it was covered. Also, he wanted to see his wife, and she was, as always, where the food was.

Today was their one-week anniversary, and he hadn’t seen her since Tuesday. That was two long days ago to be without his bride.

Heading out the door, he walked down the block to the café. He was sure she would ignore him—she always did when he went in. He had gotten used to it now. He just enjoyed looking at her and making sure she was alright.

Pushing his way into the café, he saw her right away as always, down at the end of the booths, taking someone’s order. Actually, it was her mom and aunt she was talking to, so maybe she wasn’t taking their orders. She mostly just talked to them for a while when they were in the café.

Turning to the waitress at the counter, he placed his order: the special for Ruth, and sandwiches for him and Anderson. As he waited, he watched his wife talk to her mother. After a week, he still liked calling her that, not that he had been able to say it out loud to anyone. But he said it all the time in his mind.

So far, he had done well at not telling anybody about where he had been for three days, and sadly, no one had even asked. Though he had friends, none cared what he did from day to day, except Anderson, and he knew where he was. Neither had mentioned the trip week, not even when they were alone. It was like it never happened.

When his order was ready, Mia was still talking to her mom, but she had glanced over at him at least once. As he left, he waved at his wife, and to his delight, she waved back at him and smiled. Maybe it wasn’t love, but it wasn’t hate either.

Across the street, he pushed into Ruth’s office. Since it was close to lunchtime, she was sitting in the outer office, still with her headphones on, listening to music while she did something on the computer that was up front. Since she was looking out the window and saw him approaching, she took off her headphones as he let the door close behind him.

“Rafferty. Is Anderson busy today?” she asked, looking out the window probably in hopes her husband was coming also.

“Nope, I just wanted to see my sister.” It was still weird saying it out loud after all these years, and he wouldn’t say it out loud if there was anyone around.

He handed it her the white box, and she opened it to see what it was. She looked at him. “No, really. Is he busy?”

Sitting in the chair that one of her earlier visitors had left in front of her desk, he chuckled. “Do you remember when you always sat out here?”

This had been Anderson’s insurance office, and Ruth had been his secretary for years. Then one day, Anderson had noticed her. Now he worked across the street, and she ran her rental office from this location. But she didn’t do much business in her rental properties. Mostly, she wrote books in the inner office away from the distractions of town.

“You mean six months ago?” She started to eat and looked at him. Their relationship was still strained from the years she disliked him.

“No, it was more like eight. You should keep track of this stuff. You’re a girl.” He opened his box and started to eat the chips beside his sandwich.

“I’ll write it down,” Ruth said, not writing anything down, just eating her potatoes. “What do you want, Rafferty?”

“Are you buying the Baker house?” he asked. He needed to know if he even had a shot at it. Because if Ruth wanted it, Ruth would get it. But since it was still on the market, he didn’t think she was all that interested.

Since Mia had talked about it months before, he’d kept an eye on it and the for-sale sign in the yard. So far, it hadn’t been sold. On his first day back as a married man in town, he drove past it and knew it being still for sale was a sign. He was going to buy it and show Mia that they could build a life together in that house.

His only hurdle was that he didn’t have the money for it, and his sister did. Once she knew he wanted it, she was sure to buy it out of spite. Maybe she already had bought it, and this was a wasted exercise.

“On The Hill?” she asked in surprise, looking out the window as if she could see it from her there. She couldn’t.

“Yes, that one.” He ate another chip, hoping he didn’t just show his hand.

“No, well, maybe. It’s still for sale, so I could buy it.” She shrugged and poked at her meal.

“I thought maybe with the baby coming, you would want to move to a house,” he said, then regretted it. There were other houses in the town, so why was he pushing that one? The only thing Mia wanted.

Slowly she closed her food container and set it on her desk. “Can’t kids be raised downtown?”

“They can. You were. But Anderson isn’t as keen on the idea of living downtown forever.” Rafferty knew he shouldn’t bring it up. Anderson had said it once, and that was months ago.

“Anderson is used to it now. I don’t think he would be interested in starting a car to get to work anymore.” She pointed her fork at him.

“That house is a block away. He wouldn’t have to start his car; he could still walk.”

“Just saying. Is he talking about it?” she asked.

“No, he hasn’t said anything.” He tried to put her at ease.

“I’ll talk to him tonight since I don’t trust you,” she said with a brittle smile.

“I went to your wedding!” he joked.

“Anderson wanted you there. I took Mia,” she pointed out.

The room fell silent for a moment. At the time, Anderson had asked him if he was sure that his sister had thawed a little toward him. But he could see that wasn’t going to happen. Not anytime soon anyway.

Taking a deep breath, he asked, “How is it priced? Is there wiggle room?”

“I think it is, but I have little experience with buying property,” she lied to him, but she couldn’t even keep a poker face as she did it because she was smirking. The woman owned half the properties on Main Street and a few more throughout town.

“By how much?” he pushed, because he knew she had an opinion on it.

“I would offer about 20 percent off and meet them as close to 10 percent as possible.” She spoke with confidence.

“How much of a down payment do you think?”

“I don’t do loans, but if I did, I would say 20 percent as well, unless there’s more available.”

Rafferty closed his box and leaned back in his chair. “I don’t have that.”

“I didn’t think you did. How much do you have?” She gave him a smile, obviously still enjoying his misery. Old habits died hard.

“Maybe close to ten grand, and then my house. I own it and would have to sell it. But besides you, not many people are buying in town.” It was a sad truth. It usually took months for anything to sell … unless Ruth was buying.

Ruth shuffled a few pieces of paper around on her nearly empty desk, not meeting his eyes. “If you sold your house, would you have enough for the 20 percent? Because if you still don’t have it, we don’t need to be talking.”

Doing the numbers quickly in his head, he knew he would. “Yes, but who’s going to buy my house? It’ll take time to get it sold before I can make an offer on that house, and then I might lose it.”

“Why do you want this particular house? It’s far bigger than what you have, and you’re just you.”

“I want a place to raise a family. I’m getting to that point in my life. Seeing everyone in town start to settle down. I want that, too.” He wanted to tell her it was for his wife and making her dreams come true.

“Or is it because Mia said she wanted it, and you’re buying it so that she doesn’t?” Ruth accused him.

A few years ago, that would be exactly why he would buy the house. But not anymore.

“That’s not why I’m doing this. I looked at the house, and I fell in love with it.” Or he had planned on looking at it. But if Mia loved it, he did, too.

“So, it has nothing to do with Mia at all? That she likes that house.” She raised an eyebrow.

“Not a thing,” he insisted as he felt his face heat up.

“Not a thing,” she mocked him,.“You can’t even lie well. What do you even hope to accomplish by buying this house? That she will fall madly in love with you, because of a house?”

“No!” he denied, maybe a little too quickly.

Ruth smirked and snapped her fingers. “That’s it. You want her to fall for you. I can’t even believe you think it would work. Why are you suddenly turning your attention on Mia? Have you made your way through every other woman around?”

“What the hell, Ruth? Is that how you think of me?”

“That’s how everyone thinks of you, Rafferty. You don’t exactly hide your dating habits.” Ruth stopped talking and analyzed him for a few moments. “That’s why you need to change. That’s why I wouldn’t help you before. If you want Mia to fall for you, then you need to change and change right now.”

“I’m trying.” Suddenly, he saw a glimmer of hope that Ruth would help him. Both with the house and with Mia.

“You haven’t been trying very hard,” Ruth stated flatly.

“Will you help? I’m trying to buy her a house.”

“I will, for Mia. But I’ll have you fired if you mess up and break her heart. If you’re the reason she ends up leaving town …” Ruth glared at him in challenge.

“You can’t fire me.”

“I sleep with your boss; I can do anything.” Frowning, she pointed at him.

“He’s my brother-in-law. I’m family,” he reminded her.

“Doesn’t matter. I’m giving you until the baby’s baptism to get this all straightened up. I want you two idiots to be the godparents, but I want a couple. If you can make it happen, the job is yours.” Ruth set out her timeline.

“But you’ll help?” He needed to make sure, to hear her say it one more time.

“Reluctantly, I’m saying yes. Now get back to work before I call your boss and tell him your lunch has run long.” Ruth picked up her headphones.

He had been dismissed, but he had what he wanted. Actually, he had more then he wanted. He wanted help with the buying process and the local market, and what he got was her help to actually buy the house. Mia’s dream house.

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