Chapter One: Old Man Brute
Nathan Heisman stood just outside the home, staring up at the fixtures that underlined his childhood, it seemed. The house looked exactly as he remembered it, right down to all the droopy trees about the grounds that shaded the soft grass. Nothing appeared different on the outside, Nathan knew, but Uncle Andrew had gutted just about all of the interior design leaving the Victorian style home with a modernized feel on the inside.
He gazed up at the sky. Overcast, as always, and threatening to bring the rain that the weatherman had promised. Sighing, he tried to grasp the fact that he now owned this house.
"Why he left this old thing to you will always be a mystery, I guess." His mother, Patricia Tiller, remarked as she dropped a cardboard box next to where he was standing. "Maybe that's what you could write about in your new novel."
"I already told you-" Nathan began, watching her wave her hand to cut him off.
"I know, you're only staying here to get away from the real word or something and then you're going to sell it. Blah, blah, blah."
"I'm staying here to have a quiet place to work." Nathan rebutted, looking at the woman icily. She shrugged with a cigarette dangling from her lips, nudged the box with the toe of her boot and rummaged around her purse for a lighter.
"Because Litchfield gets so rowdy." Patricia muttered sarcastically after she successfully lit her cigarette. Before Nathan could get a chance to say anything, he found himself staring at his mother's back as she walked up onto the front porch and unlocked the door. "Well," she said with a note of finality before continuing. "At least he had some sense to do something with this place."
"He had always talked about it." Nathan reminded her, hefting the box into his arms and staggering up the stairs to drop it on the threshold.
"One thing you should remember about your uncle is that he was a whole lot of talk," she said, exhaling smoke and turning her hawk-like stare to Nathan. "And not a whole lot of follow-through." Patricia reached up to smooth her hand over her blonde hair piled up into a bun just on the crown of her head.
"What about your husband?"
"What about him?" Patricia snapped. His fourth in what's sure to be a long line of stepfathers had declined to help Nathan move into his new house. And who could blame the man? Robert had only technically been his stepfather for two years, and during that time, he had been away at college in New England. Nathan's own father had died when he was only about six or seven, leaving Nathan with nothing but his last name and a few photographs scattered here and there. Cancer, probably. Some sort of health ailment either way, but his mother never liked to talk about it and he knew better than to ask.
"Nothing." Nathan muttered.
Around the time his father started getting pretty sick was when Nathan was shipped to his uncle's house often. This was never taken as a punishment in Nathan's eyes. In fact, it was the opposite. As a kid, he remembered running around in Uncle Andrew's huge house that seemed bigger in his memories than it did in real life, playing hide-and-seek on rainy days. For Washington, that happened pretty often. Uncle Andrew was more of a father-figure than any man his mother ever married. He had taught Nathan nearly everything he knew and even got him into reading. There was a bookshelf piled high with books, mostly crime novels, and he would give Nathan a dollar per every book he read from cover to cover.
It never became about the money to Nathan or to Uncle Andrew. Mostly just for enjoying a book with a big mystery that Nathan felt like he had to solve. In fact, that was probably a very large contributing factor to Nathan's own profession; a mystery author. He specialized in murder mysteries and crime novels, having two published recently at the ripe old age of twenty-three.
"Is that it, Nathan?" Patricia asked, irritated that he had not been listening to her for the past ten minutes.
"Is what it?"
"All your things. I trust you can unpack yourself."
But she didn't give him time to tell her one way or another. Nathan heard her heels walk down the porch stairs before clicking on the cobblestone walkway to the SUV she borrowed from Robert. "Bye, Mom." He called to her halfheartedly only he was sure she either couldn't hear him or only pretended she couldn't. With a final wave, she left Nathan with his boxes and his own solitude. Exactly what he had told her he wanted.
The house had come with Uncle Andrew's furniture, which suited Nathan just fine considering he was only planning to stay for a short time. A year, maybe two years tops. Enough to just finish this novel and then leave, making a profit on the house he had spent most of his childhood in.
But if he was honest with himself, and he didn't really want to be, he hadn't even started the new novel he was supposedly writing. Inspiration wasn't sparking at all. Not a single thing he could think of to write. Nathan figured that if he got away from the familiarity of Connecticut, where he's been since he was eighteen and in college, and back to his family in Washington, that something would come to him. So far, looking around the modernized house decorated in a muted grayscale, still nothing.
Nathan spent a few hours unpacking things like his clothes and a couple bottles of wine that were mostly housewarming gifts, but he became exhausted pretty quickly and slumped down on the couch, absently watching the flat-screen TV he had turned on for background noise.
He couldn't believe he was there right now, in his Uncle Andrew's house without him in it. Somehow, it just seemed strange. Nathan hadn't gone to the funeral, hadn't wanted to but told everyone he couldn't make it. Lung cancer. That's what took him. But even as his mother called about the news, Nathan couldn't believe that it was true. He knew, right when he got the call, that he would not return to Washington. Not even for the only man Nathan ever regarded as a father.
He told himself it had nothing to do with what had happened, but even he couldn't tell if he was lying or not.
And then he got the call sometime after that. Again, from his mother. Again, about Uncle Andrew. This time, regarding his estate.
"He left it to you. The house. The things in it. Damn near everything, Nathan." She said, sounding perturbed.
"Okay," Nathan said, not knowing what else to say.
"So I suggest you get over here. At least so we could get this all settled out."
He was originally going to just sign it over to his mother, but then the second thought had occurred to him. Why not stay? Why not just get away for a bit? The lease on his apartment was going to be up by the end of that month, so why not? And so, there he was, sitting on a black couch in front of a TV mounted on the wall over the warm fireplace in a house that still smelled like smoke, still smelled like his uncle.
Yes. Nathan told himself he was there for writing. Really, he feared he was there for closure.
It wasn't until the next day, while he was unpacking sheets, that the doorbell rang with its single high-pitched note. Nathan, sighing, rose and headed down the stairs. When he opened the door, he found himself staring at a girl that couldn't be much younger than him, holding a plate that was covered in tin foil. Twenty, maybe twenty-one. The thing he had a hard time determining was what was more red: her hair or her lipstick.
"Hi," she said brightly, beaming at him. "I'm your neighbor." Then she laughed. "Well, I guess the closest thing to a neighbor you have." She wore a dress even though it was far too cool outside for that, and had a headband in her hair, even though it was pulled into a loose side ponytail.
Nathan was at a loss. When he moved into his apartment, his neighbors couldn't even be concerned with introducing themselves, even though little more than some plaster separated them from each other. Yet, here was this peppy redheaded girl with a big smile staring at him with a plate of something who lived who knows how far away.
"Oh, um." She looked down at her hands, only just realizing. "I baked you some cookies. Just like a sort of 'welcome!' thing." The girl held the plate out to him and Nathan took it, unsure, yet trying to force a smile. "They're chocolate chip." She added.
"Thank you." Nathan offered weakly.
"God!" she exclaimed. "I didn't even tell you my name. I'm Aimee. And I live a little ways down. The driveway on your right when you take that road down from here. What did you say your name was?"
Nathan set the plate of cookies down on the table just inside the door. "I didn't." he admitted, trying again to smile when Aimee blushed. "I'm Nathan."
She laughed again, shook his hand. "I always thought this house was cool. I don't think it was on the market very long, though." Aimee said. "Did you know Old Man Brute?"
Nathan blinked at her again, furrowing his brows at her. At his perplexed look, Aimee continued.
"Andrew Brutus. He was the guy who used to live here. The kids around here used to call him Old Man Brute." She laughed. "He never left very often."
It felt as though ice had taken over his insides. Again, he tried to smile at this girl, but he feared that there was nothing to show for his efforts on his face. "My uncle." He admitted.
Aimee looked taken aback and blushed a deep crimson. "Oh!" she said. "I'm sorry. I had no idea. Wow, that was stupid of me. I'm very sorry." She apologized, swallowing. "I…I never really knew him. I'm sure he was a very nice man."
Nathan shrugged, the corner of his lips raising noncommittally. "Yeah,"
She looked awkward, clearing her throat she said, "Well. I just wanted to welcome you and let you know if you needed anything that I'm just right down there." Aimee jerked her thumb behind her.
He watched the girl go, closing the door and locking it. Old Man Brute? That was all they could come up with? His uncle really was a good man. None of those kids knew what they were talking about. Even after everything that happened.
Even after everything Nathan had gone through.
Uncle Andrew was probably still the best man he knew in his entire life.
That's what Nathan was reassuring himself about as he stood in the kitchen, looking out at the window to the small, secluded backyard where an old abandoned swing set stood. The proof that what had happened all those years ago was true.