A Set of Keys
Memories washed over Gregory as he dangled the keys in front of him. He had gotten them the day before, after the reading of his grandfather’s will. He’d not seen the man in over ten years.
After a restless night guilt had mixed in with the nostalgia. He knew it to be unnecessary. His grandfather wasn’t someone to hold grudges. Old Jake Kendrick had the strong notion that everyone needed to live their own lives.
Gregory vividly remembered the keys hanging on a hook next to the backdoor in the kitchen of the small house by the lake. “Why would I lock my doors? What if anyone passes by and needs something?” On a few occasions they had gotten home from adventures to find cups on the kitchen counter or food missing from the fridge. Even young Greg was already indoctrinated with the idea of possession. “They stole your food!”
“They didn’t steal it, son. They ate it. They must have been hungry.” And that was it.
He had spent long summers at the lake house. Greg’s mother had a job in a local hospital and usually had to work through vacations. Greg loved to go exploring with his odd grandfather. Or questing. His grandfather always knew how to convince him there was treasure to be found somewhere. On most occasions they did indeed find it. Although in retrospect Gregory was sure his grandfather had planted it. Endless summers, swimming, hiking through the woods or sailing on the lake. Greg often brought friends along. There was very little that threw his grandfather off.
The keys fell off Gregory’s finger and clashed to the wood of the desk in his hotel room. The best hotel in town. There was no room service, he’d had to go out there and get some food. Being back here felt weird. It was easier to breathe in the open air of the small town than it was in busy New York. The people were friendly. He’d already seen a few familiar faces since arriving the day before. Today he’d have to go take care of a few things. When his mother passed away ten years ago, all there was left was a stack of hospital bills. His grandfather had not owed anything of real value either. Apart from maybe the house. On his way over he’d already done the research. He could make good money on it. Money. That was all he made these days. In the beginning it had felt like the quests with his grandfather. The hunt for treasure. These days it was a nearly automated process.
His eyes caught the keys again. Most of them were old keys. Hanging useless on a hook for years had taken away their shine. Apart from one. It had taken him until now to notice. Gregory was certain it had not been on the key ring before. It was smaller than most of them. And shiny. New shiny. He took it between his fingers and looked at it from all sides. For all the other keys he knew what they were for. Not this one. A safety deposit? A money box? A drawer? Could be anything really.
It got him curious. Over breakfast in a small diner he stared at the key. His father never locked anything. Why would he need a new key?
He should dismiss it, get to his appointment with the realtor and be on his way out again by nightfall. That was the plan. There was nothing out there but memories and guilt. And no one could pay their mortgage with that.
He closed his eyes.
“Are you alright, love?” The elderly waitress asked him. She stood beside him with a coffee pot. What year was this? Despite missing his fancy espressos he nodded. “Please. Yes. I’m fine.”
“We’re going to miss that grandfather of yours. So sorry to hear about his passing.”
“You’re Helen’s boy, right? I remember you rambling about in your shorts on bare feet.” She waved outside to the street outside. “Such a happy kid. Where are you hiding out these days? We’ve not seen you in ages.”
“I run a business in New York.” Last thing he wanted to was to do small talk with a waitress. His mother and grandfather had raised him well though. It wouldn’t do to be impolite. Not here.
“Business in New York, he says.” She said in disbelief. “Oh, are you visiting the house?” The keys had caught her attention.
Gregory shrugged. He had not planned to. The keys had made him curious however. Moving to New York had not been able to get that out of his system.
The waitress left him alone with his thoughts again. Visions of the lake, the house and the woods came to mind. He really owed it to his grandfather to go back there one last time.
Once he had decided on that, he checked the time. He had a good two hours before meeting the realtor. He could check on the house and be back well in time for that. Suddenly in a hurry he threw some money on the table and walked out to his rental car.
On the drive up to the lake, Gregory saw the changes the last ten years had caused on the landscape. More houses were built, there were better roads.
The lake house looked pretty much as it always had though. That in itself was a shock to see. It looked like it had gotten a fresh coat of paint recently and there wasn’t any sign of it’s deterioration. How had his grandfather managed to do that? The man had been well in his eighties. Gregory knew him to be stubborn enough to climb up on the roof to fix things. Still, some signs of wear would have been expected.
After staring at the house and the back porch for a full minute, Gregory got the keys from his pocket and proceeded to the door. Nearly there he changed course and went for the kitchen. Using the front door made him feel like a visitor. They’d never used it.
He didn’t know if he should be surprised to find it locked. As far as he knew, the undertakers had been the last ones in the house, a little over a week ago.
Walking into the kitchen felt like being zapped back in time. Nothing had changed. The same cups hanging above the counter. That same sturdy wooden table where they’d spent so much time crafting, reading, or just talking. It nearly choked Gregory.
A draft caught his attention. Cautiously he walked through the kitchen into the living room to find the door to the back porch wide open. On one of the rocking chairs, his grandfather had been a traditional man, sat a woman. Cup in one hand, book on her lap.
“Hello?” Gregory greeted her in surprise.
She jumped up. Throwing the book on the ground and the rest of her coffee zooming out of the cup.
“Crap, you scared me.”
Gregory looked at her. Woman, her grandfather would call her. Fat, his friends in New York would say. She was clearly above average in both length and width. Her curly hair was mousy brown. Her blue eyes stared at him. He could see the freckles in her face. She wore a long blue summer dress with a peacock pattern. Why did he notice all of this?
“You’re Greg, right?” She asked. She’d put down the cup and looked at him equally curious. It was hard to see the boy in shorts, in the man wearing the crisp black tailor made suit. His dark hair was arranged on his head with surgical precision. He was tall. About an inch taller than she was. And she wasn’t short by any means. His dark eyes had gone over her body. She could guess what he’d think. Well, she didn’t need his approval.
“I am. Gregory Kendrick.” He held out his hand. She shook it. “Abby.”
“Abby. It seems you have the advantage. I… Do you live here?” She seemed to feel right at home.
“God no. I wish. Your grandfather offered me refuge. I live with my mother, a bit further back.” She vaguely pointed to the back of the house. “She’s quite… demanding at times. Your grandfather sometimes did things around the house for us and offered a place to get away from her on occasion. I thought since no one was here…”
“Of course.” That sounded exactly like his grandfather.
“Don’t worry, I brought my own coffee.” Abby was ill at ease. Gregory was everything she was not. He looked successful, rich, big-city-posh. And then there was her, in her cheap summer dress. Nearly penniless, friendless, living with her sick mother.
Greg saw the smile on her face. She really had an enchanting smile. Her voice was warm. “I better leave you to it. I suppose you’ll sell the place, right? It’ll go quickly. Houses around here are very popular.” She made to walk down the steps onto the beach.
“Wait.” Gregory stopped her. “It seems you knew my grandfather well. How about another cup of coffee?” It was stupid. He should lock up and go back into town for his meeting.
A bit surprised Abby looked at him. “Sure.”
“I’ve not been here for ages.” He confessed. Abby had made coffee and together they sat at the kitchen table. She noticed how his hand stroked the wood. You could remove a boy from his home, but never the other way around. They chatted for a while.
“Your grandfather was very proud of you.”
“He talked about you all the time. What a kind person you were. How you used to take care of stray animals around here, and were always the one your friends could count on.”
Didn’t sound like him at all. At least not like New York Gregory. Little Greg maybe. When had he become such a bastard?
“Ah.” She said when he didn’t answer.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He asked. There was that smile again. The one that told him she knew so much more than she said.
“Don’t worry. We all make our own decisions in life. You really don’t owe anyone an explanation.” Who was this mythical creature, he started to wonder. After processing his first impression of her, he started to notice other things. How open she was towards him.
“You sound like my grandfather.”
“Maybe that’s why we could get along so well. I’m going to miss that old man.” It’s what everyone in town had told Gregory. They were going to miss him. That man he’d seen for the last time at his mother’s funeral. They’d both been in tears and both too stubborn to admit it. Gregory had not planned to stay away this long. Somehow he never came around to visiting. Too much business. Or going to wherever with friends he’d considered his new found family. Sitting at this table, far away from all of that, he wondered if they really were friends. They’d been all too happy to pat his back and go out on a brawl with him, when his wife had left him. None of them had seen him home, had talked to him. None of them had really cared about his hurt.
Again he looked up at Abby, who gazed at him with that same warm smile.
“It’s hard to be here, I can see. Why did you come back? You could have just sold the place off and be done with it.”
Gregory sighed. “I’d not planned to come here.” He admitted.
“Wow, I bet that’s quite rash of you.”
“It is. Why?”
“You don’t strike me as the rash kind of person.”
“I’m not. How about you?”
“Oh, I fly from trouble to mayhem. That’s why I’m poor and live with my mother. Whom I should get back to. She’ll be done with her soap-operas by now and in need of lunch.”
Gregory got up with her. She walked towards the kitchen door when he stopped her again.
“Maybe you can help me.” He wasn’t sure if it was curiosity or reluctance to let her go. She was so unlike any other woman he’d ever met. His ex-wife wouldn’t be caught dead looking the way Abby did. And yet Abby had such a peculiar energy over her. Maybe it was the combination with this house, but for the first time in maybe decades, Gregory had the sense of being at home.
“Anything.” She was equally unwilling to leave. After all Jake’s stories, she had gotten to know Gregory. Abby could see how New York had changed him. Bit by bit she saw the Greg Jake had told her about shine through. He wasn’t happy, she could sense as much. Probably he didn’t even know it himself. Men like that were so busy making a life that they forgot how to live.
Gregory dug up the keys from his pocket. “I know all of these keys. Except for this one.” He held up the small, shiny one. “Do you happen to know…?”
Abby closed in on him. Her hand over his holding the key. Her energy spilled over and he felt the tingle all through his body. “It’s from a small box in the top drawer of your grandfather’s desk.”
They were so close. Her hand stroked his arm as she stepped back. The urge to reach out and pull her close was nearly too overwhelming.
“I once walked in on him, and he quickly shoved it in there.” She explained.
Gregory stepped away from her, in the direction of the small room his grandfather had used as study. Abby turned the other way.
“I’m curious, aren’t you curious?” His words made her turn back towards him.
“I am. But this is between you and your grandfather.” She answered.
“I’m certain he wouldn’t mind.” Greg held out his hand and Abby wasn’t able to resist it. She put her hand in his and followed him.
Side by side, less than an inch of room in between them, they stood at the desk as Greg lifted the beautiful, wooden crafted box from the drawer and put it on the desk. The key slid in, the box opened.
In it was a note, in his grandfather’s elegantly, messy handwriting.
“Dear Greg. I hope you found the treasure you were looking for.” And underneath the note Greg saw his mother’s wedding ring. He picked it up and looked at Abby.
Then he started to laugh uncontrollably. At first Abby frowned, right until Greg pulled her close and kissed her.
“One last quest, old man. One last treasure hunt. The greatest treasure of them all.” Greg said happily after his lips had left Abby’s.