There was so much to do, but Jack didn’t mind. It was moving day. Their first house! He and Tyler stood in their yard, grid marks fresh in the newly planted grass, and watched as movers unloaded boxes from the truck. Their new neighbor, Jane, stood nearby holding a plate of cookies, tittering neighborhood gossip. He could tell Tyler hated her already, but neither of them were going to let a nagging neighbor ruin the day.
“So what’s with that house down there?” Tyler asked, interrupting Jane’s bless-their-hearts rant about the Indians living behind her.
Jane followed his gaze to the unfortunate house perched atop the hill at the end of their street. Once a fine two-story light and bright open interior, five bedrooms, two and a half bath, updated kitchen with tile backsplash home, it had clearly been abandoned. The windows were boarded up or simply missing, the roof was battered by hail and neglect, and the clogged gutters barely clung to rotting eaves. The paint was flaking off, and the stone chimney appeared to be on the verge of toppling over.
Yet the yard was immaculate. Several large, beautiful trees cast shade over almost the entirety of the lawn. The grass was a vibrant shade of green and at the exact height to wave gently (but not obscenely) in the wind. Several huge rose bushes provided a splay of color across the front of the dreary house. A tiered series of flower gardens hemmed in by tiny stone fences made good use of the hill’s steep grade, and hummingbirds danced around the birdhouses placed strategically throughout the gardens. It was a magnificent plot of land.
“Oh,” Jane said, and gulped as though she’d swallowed something distasteful. “Well, that is…well, was, Mr. Brown’s house. Mr. Brown passed on several years ago, so the house has fallen into disrepair.”
“Does his family keep up the yard?” Jack asked. “Maybe in his memory?”
Jane shook her head, looking pale. “No, there’s no family. Mr. Brown died alone and the house hasn’t sold. He still tends to the yard himself.”
“But you said he died,” Tyler said. “Who…”
“Yes, as I said, he passed on,” she said. “He still tends to the yard himself, and lets no one into – or out of – the house.” Jane’s knuckles were white as her grip on the plate of cookies tightened, and her voice dropped to a whisper. “In a full moon, sometimes you can see him out there, moving among the trees, tending the flowers. We never hear or see a lawn mower, but the grass is always perfect. I’m not even sure how he keeps it all alive, the city cut the water off two years ago.”
She trailed off. Jack cleared his throat. “Well,” he said. “That’s some dedication, I guess. I hope you don’t expect that from us!”
He nudged Tyler, who forced out a chuckle. “Yeah, we have a bit of a black thumb between us.”
Jane blinked, looking startled for a moment, and she started laughing, a desperate, too-loud laugh. “Well, you know, the HOA here can be very strict. Hahah!”