Kim and John flip houses. It hasn’t always been this way, but five years ago they decided to change their lives and work for themselves. Kim used to be a secretary at the local doctor’s office, and John was a contractor. After attending a seminar Kim had come home and given a compelling speech that convinced John they could make a lot more money flipping houses. At first he hadn’t been too sure of what she was selling, but after surviving the first couple rebuilds he had to admit he was sold.
Kim hurries through the door with a heightened level of enthusiasm.“John!” she yells, “John, where are you?”
“The shop,” he shouts from the basement.
He can hear the clicking of her heels against the wood floors just overhead. She had left the house dressed in one of her power suits that morning. Her straight black hair had been pulled back into a ponytail and she had taken extra time applying her makeup. When asked where she was off to she had replied, “a very important meeting.” John hadn’t pried, it wouldn’t have done any good if he had. Kim doesn’t like to tell him about any new properties until their a for sure thing. He knows she’s got some good news, but normally he gets at least a month off between flips and it has only been two weeks.
He can hear her going into the bedroom, probably to change, and he starts cleaning up his mess in the basement. He loves to spend the day in his shop. Tables, chairs, picture frames, decorative trim and an assortment of other things make up a list of items John has made to use in their houses. Some of it ends up in storage while others get left in the houses for the new owners. Today’s project is a kitchen island that will be beautiful once he’s done. As he puts away the last of his tools Kim comes down the steps in an old pair of yoga pants, a long oversized t-shirt, and her sneakers on. Her hair’s up in a messy bun with a bandanna tied around her neck. John knows what this means.
“Oh-la-la my love. Looking sexy,” he teases while dancing up to her and taking her in his arms. John twirls her around a few times while she laughs and plays along. “So, I see you’ve planed a fancy dinner for two tonight. What’s the big occasion?”
“Oh John,” she replies while hitting him playfully in the chest. “Promise you won’t be mad?”
John does a quick scan of the room and turns back to Kim while pointing at himself. “Me, be mad?” he asks with a hint of sarcasm.
“Oh stop. I know it hasn’t even been three weeks since we sold the last flip, but I just couldn’t let this house get away. I found it a week ago and when I called they told me it was going to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. I really did get it for a steal.”
John hasn’t seen her this excited over a house in a long time. He doesn’t doubt this was a special find. “Well, I assume by your alluring clothing, we’re going to go have a look at our new flip.”
Kim doesn’t answer, but her beauty amplifies before him as her smile lights up the room.
“Okay, lead the way pretty lady.”
They climb into his truck and head on down the old country road. John had built Kim her dream house out in the country seven years ago, shortly after they had gotten married. The town is only ten minutes away, but their property is a little slice of utopia. Someday they will have children to fill the three bedroom two bath house, but right now they’re saving up money and enjoying their lives. John follows Kim’s instructions and turns away from town. Another twenty minutes away he heads down a private drive that needs to be paved. He’s already adding things up in his mind. Paving a driveway is expensive enough, but to pave a whole private drive is going to be ten times more. The dirt leads up to a clearing where the old farmhouse sits. John’s shocked by the sight of it and sits in silence, staring. This has to be the largest project they have taken on yet. It’s far from the quaint little white farmhouse he had been picturing, and more like a mansion on a large plot of land.
“Isn’t it perfect!” Kim exclaims from the passenger seat. “I can’t wait to see inside!”
John takes in the wrap around porch that looks like it’ll crumble if the wind blows too hard. Combine that with the chipping paint that hangs from the structure like a peeling sunburn and the many cracked windows, and perfect is the last word he would use to describe this place. He pauses in thought and looks at Kim, “what do you mean you can’t wait to see inside? Didn’t you do a walk through before buying it?”
Kim looks down and wrinkles her forehead, “Well, see, that’s the thing. The house was being auctioned “as is” and we had to bid sight-unseen. They had one picture posted on the web page, but it was of the outside only. We can fix it up though, John. This is our diamond in the rough!”
John shakes his head and gives a quick little chuckle. He knew this would happen eventually, but he hadn’t expected it to be so soon. “We don’t really have a choice now, right? I’m guessing the house is already ours and you handed over a check.”
Kim holds up a set of house keys before she hops out of the pickup and walks up to the porch. John slinks out behind her and grabs his tool belt from the back. Time for him to find out how much of this house is a diamond instead of just rough. He walks up to the structure as Kim swings the heavy front door open and disappears inside. The porch is rather impressive, it stretches all the way around the house. This is a unique find indeed, most porches only wrap around the front. It could be a good selling point. Rather than go through the front door he decides to follow the porch around back and see what condition it’s in. So far he knows he will have to replace most of the floorboards and two of the support beams in front. While walking around he peers in through the windows and can see Kim standing with her back to him. Her long black hair stands out, but he thought she had on yoga pants and not a dress. Before he can tap on the glass to get her attention the sound of buzzing bees draws him to the roof of the porch.
He adds bee removal to the list of things to be done and quickly moves around to the back of the house. He turns the corner and stops just in time. There’s a hole in the porch that looks like someone took an ax and went to town. Bending down John can make out individual chop marks that missed the hole entirely. Now why would someone do this, he wonders. Standing back up he notes that the whole overhang on the back will need to be replaced along with the back steps that lead up to a screen door.
“You need to come in and see this!” Kim says while swinging open the door and scaring the daylights out of him. “This place is massive!”
“I hope it’s in better shape than the outside,” John replies while composing himself. “The numbers are adding up quick out here. Just look at that hole,” he says while pointing to the anomaly behind him.
Kim’s face drops as she looks over. John knows better than to bring up cost until after he’s able to asses the entire structure, but he can’t help and think she bought a real money pit.
“Please give it a chance. I know how it looks, but it’s going to end up being our money maker,” she says while pulling him inside.
As he steps over the thresh-hold John can hardly believe the size of the kitchen. It’s huge! There’s an old wood burning stove in the corner and wonders if it still works. There’s a fridge from the early 1900’\s up against another wall and storage cabinets everywhere. The room is dated and definitely needs a facelift, but John would love a kitchen this large in his home. He can imagine what this room can be, and will be, once they’re all done. The island he’s working on will be perfect for this workspace. Kim’s mood improves as she takes him around the house. The main floor has the kitchen, a formal dining room, a parlor, and a family room. Not to mention a grand entryway when you come through the front door.
His wife eagerly points out all of the trim work and carpentry details that just can’t be found in newer homes. Most people will jump at a chance to own a home that has retained so much of its original craftsmanship. They head up the old wooden staircase that protests loudly with every step. Once they reach the top John’s surprised to find construction has already been started. There are four bedrooms and two full baths already framed in off the main hallway. John opens one of the only doors expecting a storage closet, but is pleasantly surprised to find another room. This one counts as a bonus space and actually has a loft that’s accessible by climbing a spiral staircase located in the middle of the room. They head out and back down the steps, settling on the porch to run some numbers.
After a few moments of silence Kim speaks up, “so, is it a bust or did I do good?”
John runs his fingers through his hair, “Well, at first I thought it was a bust, but after seeing the upstairs I think will be okay. Someone already started demolition up there and it looks like they replaced a lot of the old electric nob and tube. Before I go rattling off a number, can I ask how much you paid for it?”
Kim smiles and tries her best to hold back her enthusiasm, “sixty thousand.”
It’s John’s turn to jump for joy, “that’s it!” he replies. “Kim, that’s amazing! You got all this house for only sixty thousand? There has to be something else wrong with it. Something I’m not seeing. Once we fix it up this house could sell for almost half a million easy!” Her smile tells it all, she already figured that out. John can hardly believe it, and he finds himself amazed at his wife’s determination and good sense.
It takes about a month for John to get all the building permits and work crew together. He visits the house frequently with Kim and they talk about the design and figure out what walls will come down and where they will put a laundry room. Kim wanted to make the bonus room into the laundry, but John talked her out of it. He likes the idea of a bonus space and convinces her the new owners will as well.
“If they have kids it will make an excellent homework room or library,” he had said. Kim had smiled at the thought of children and agreed that it should stay.
Once they had permits in hand the real work started. It was moving along quickly and John set a ten week time period for everything to get done. Kim said she may need a week to stage the whole house, but she doesn’t expect it to be on the market for long. The key to flipping is fast turnover, and Kim does an amazing job of staging houses the way the buyers like. John knows it helps that she’s also a Realtor, she had obtained her license after their first sale. She hadn’t liked having to pay someone else to sell their houses. Yup, they have a good thing going, and it’s nights like tonight that John really enjoys.
Kim’s out with her friends and isn’t expected home for a few more hours, so he’s free to come to the property and work on it alone. He loves her company, but sometimes he can do without the constant stream of questions and being pulled away from his work to walk through an idea with her. Nope, on nights like this he can crank up the tunes and really get lost in his work. Now that the sun has gone down it’s nice and cool on the back porch. He clicks on a few lights so he can see and continues pulling up boards that need replacing. The only sound he hears besides his music is the creaking of the boards as he yanks them up. He’s so caught up in his work he hardly notices the woman standing next to him on the porch until she clears her throat.
He glances up for only a moment and recognizes her long black hair, “Kim, you scared me half to death. I thought you were going out with the girls tonight?”
“Who is Kim?” the woman asks, causing John to take a longer look.
He’s taken aback by the similarities this woman shares with his wife. Her sundress flows gracefully around her curves and she has long black hair that hangs freely down her back. The woman’s olive skin almost glows and her dark brown eyes are kind, softening her petite features. In this way she is different, Kim’s eyes are lighter and lack any mercy behind their stare. John finally finds his voice, “I’m sorry, I thought you were... someone else. Can I help you?”
“I’ve been watching you work, and I felt compelled to tell you I love what you’re doing to the house.”
Her voice reflects everything he thought. It’s kind and smooth, and John can’t help but feel like he knows this woman. There’s a nagging thought in the back of his mind telling him if he tries hard enough her name will manifest somewhere in his memories. John’s suddenly scared of his own emotions. The desire he suddenly has for this woman is almost too strong to resist. She smiles at him as if she’s aware of his arousal and would welcome it with open arms. He manages to take a step toward her before a loud car horn pulls him from his trance.
John hurries around the corner of the pouch and recognizes Kim’s car pulling up to the front of the house. He glances back toward the women on the porch, prepared to ask her to leave, but she’s already gone. John looks around the yard, wondering where she could have departed to in the dark. It truly doesn’t matter, as long as Kim doesn’t see her everything will be fine. He composes himself as his wife leads three of her friends around the house. He can hear them talking as he goes back to ripping up boards. John finds himself annoyed that he can’t stop thinking about the nameless woman. Where had she come from? It had to be close by if she’s been watching them fix up the house.
“John! Hello?” Kim says while waving her hand in front of his face.
“Talk about getting lost in your work,” one of her friends' remarks.
John looks up and notices the worry on his wife’s face. “Oh, hey hun. What are you all doing here?” He asks while standing up to hug her.
He doesn’t linger long in the embrace, the nagging voice in his head reminds him he had just wanted to do the same to another woman.
“I just wanted to show the girls the house before we go to the movies. We had a little time to kill and I figured you would be out here,” she replies in her worried tone. “Are you feeling okay?”
John considers telling her what just happened, but he decides the conversation can wait until her friends aren’t around. “I’m fine, just a little tired. I want to get this house done so you can work your magic.”
“Okay,” Kim replies with a hint of concern still in her tone.
“Come on Kimmy, we're gonna be late,” one of her other friends says while pointing to her watch.
To Johns relief, they leave. Kim looks back at him once before getting into her car and heading back down the drive. He knows she’s going to want to talk later, but he doesn’t want to discuss it. Telling her about another woman that he knows nothing about is only going to start an argument. Kim tends to overreact and he doesn’t want her to get all upset over nothing. He finishes pulling up the rest of the back porch without any interruptions and goes home to bed. He hears Kim come in a little while later, but she doesn’t try to wake him.
The next morning John does his best to act normal around his wife. He’s surprised to find she doesn’t bring up anything about the night before. She gets ready for the day and kisses him goodbye before leaving to show some houses. John waits till she leaves and hurries to get dressed. He can’t deny he feels drawn back to the house. The crew will be putting up the drywall today since the electrician finished his job yesterday. John knows the new drywall means they have reached the halfway point. While they put up walls inside he works on the porch. As he places the last board his crew informs him they are finished with the drywall. John thanks them all and sends everyone home early, telling them he’ll call once he’s ready to put the floors in. John will do all the tape and mudding, trim work, and painting on his own. It saves on labor and he really enjoys doing it. He’ll never admit it, but deep down he just wants to be alone in the house.
Work that should have only taken John one week, gets pushed out to two. He spends every day at the house and doesn’t hesitate to put in late hours. Any time Kim tries to question him about his progress, John simply reminds her that the building is much larger than anything they’ve taken on before. She doesn’t fight with him and instead becomes more and more distant in the passing weeks. John can’t tell her why he’s gone every day, he knows if he does she will never let him go up to the house alone again. It’s the other woman. The one he only saw once but who has haunted his dreams almost every night since. His desire has grown in her absence, and he doesn’t know what will happen when he sees her again.
John wakes up early and leaves the house before Kim. He doesn’t bother telling her where he’s going, she already knows. The crew will be back on the grounds in about three hours to put the floors down. The walls are finished and painted, and John worked around the clock to get his handmade trim put up. The more he works on the house the stronger his connection with it gets. Out of all the houses' they have flipped he’s never felt this way. John doesn’t know if he’ll be able to let the house go.
He steps inside and brings his equipment down to the cellar. It’s not a large space but it will make for good storage once it’s finished. He had a few lights installed and today he’s going to level the dirt floor to be cemented. He drops his bag of wood stakes and wire right by the fiber mesh at the bottom of the steps. The only cement located in the room is under the water heater and the furnace. His day will be spent leveling the rest of the dirt and pouring new flooring to even it out. John decides to start in the far right corner and work his way back to the steps. He starts spacing his stakes and hammering them into the dirt to frame in the room. As he works he can’t shake the feeling of being watched, but every time he looks up he finds the room is empty.
John makes his way around the room and finds himself under the steps. As he drives another stake into the ground he hears a thud as it hits something concealed just under the surface. John doesn’t remember tossing his tools away, but he suddenly realizes he’s digging barehanded through the soil. For a moment he thinks he must be mad, but his fingers suddenly brush up against a crumbling wood container. He rips it from the dirty womb and hurries into the light at the bottom of the steps. The container is two feet long and about a foot wide, and he sets it down slowly so it doesn’t break. It reminds John of a smaller version of an ammunition box. Kim has used larger versions in her rustic decorating. The only embellishments on the crate are two thick rope handles on either side of the artifact.
Bits of dirt can be heard dropping over the contents as he carefully lifts the lid. He can make out pieces of fabric, some old pictures, three books, and a few other trinkets within the crate. The first thing he pulls out is a piece of fabric. He remembers the pattern, but from where? A smell suddenly fills the room. It’s not old and musty, but fresh and crisp like flowers on a spring day. He remembers the beautiful woman who had approached him on the porch was wearing a dress of the same fabric. Had there been flowers? No, but their smell brings long forgotten memories to the forefront of his mind. These memories are his from another life entirely. He holds the fabric against his cheek and then gently places it back into the box. John pulls his hand back and finds he has unknowingly picked up one of the pictures.
He can’t believe his eyes and has to blink a few times to clear them of tears. The yellowed photo has no color, but back then colored photography hadn’t even been developed yet. He remembers the day this photo was taken, and although the figures are void of any smiles he knows it had been a happy day. He recognizes himself first. It really is him, right down to the thinning hair. The woman in the photo looks like Kim, but her name was…
“Elizabeth,” he says out loud.
“Do you remember now?” a soft voice asks from behind him.
John turns to find Elizabeth standing before him. She’s in the same dress he saw her in weeks ago. The same dress whose tattered fabric remains are within the wooden mausoleum. A mausoleum he had buried over one hundred years ago with his own two hands. Does he remember now? How had he forgotten? She was a good wife to him and an amazing mother to their three children. The love he had felt for her had been his undoing. The crate had been placed in the ground after Elizabeth’s passing. John remembers doing a great many things after his beloved wife was taken from him.
They hadn’t understood Tuberculosis back then, but the illness usually claimed entire families in its wake. John had watched his wife die, slowly and painfully, and he refused to watch his children go the same way. He acted before the plague ever could. As the children slept in their bed he had crept in and place rags soaked in chloroform over their faces. He remembers his heartbreaking as each child took their last breath. After they were gone, he had gathered everything of importance and placing them in the box before digging a hole under the cellar stairs. The last thing he recalls is lying down next to his children and placing a chloroform-soaked rag over his own face.
“Do you hate me Lizzy?” he asks, ashamed.
Her eyes reflect a deep sadness and she shakes her head. “No, I could never hate you, John.”
He longs to hold her again and smell her sweet perfume on his clothes. Rushing forward he reaches out, but his arms pass right through her transparent figure. “I can’t do it, Liz, I can’t lose you again.”
“You can’t lose WHO again?”
John turns around to find Kim standing on the steps. She’s about halfway down and doesn’t appear to notice Elizabeth standing right behind him. John stutters as his brain tries to process the situation.
“Who did you just say you can’t lose, John?” Kim barks at him. “I swear, if you have another woman down here with you we’re through. I’ll take you for everything and you’ll regret ever crossing me.”
While Kim rants at him, John watches as Elizabeth materializes behind her. He utters no warning as Lizzy smiles and pushes his wife from her place on the staircase. Kim lets out a scream as she falls in slow motion. The sickening crack of her head hitting the wood crate echoes as her body comes to rest before him. John looks around desperately, but Elizabeth has disappeared. He kneels down by Kim’s motionless body and rolls her over, making note of a large knot on her forehead. She’s not breathing and he can’t find a pulse. Standing back up John needs to use the wall to keep from falling over. He’s dizzy with terror and doesn’t know what to do. Before he can go for help Kim lets out a large gasp at his feet and he drops to the ground. After pulling her onto his lap John brushes her hair out of her face.
“Open your eyes, Kim. I need you to look at me. I need you to say you’re okay,” he urges.
He pats her cheek lightly, but stops and stares as she opens her eyes. He can’t believe it, even though every part of him knows it’s true. An unmistakable kindness stares back at him from her now dark brown eyes.
“Do you hate me John?” she asks.
He doesn’t stop the tears from running down his soiled cheeks, “I could never hate you, Elizabeth.”