The Man On The Other Side Of The Door

Tom Wilson accepted a temporary position at Blue County Community College, filling in for a Professor who was out on Sabbatical. The temporary replacement needed to find a place to live for the semester and he narrowed the choices he found on line to a handful of worthy selections, making appointments to see the places during a December visit to Blue County.

Most of the living options were apartment buildings and condos but Tom liked the idea of a mother-in-law apartment in a nice neighborhood of Hillsboro, especially when he saw that it was an attractive Colonial on a pretty street overlooking the Blue River.

The out-of-towner walked up the front walk of the house and rang the doorbell at the appointed time. The front door opened and a woman in her late thirties appeared, wearing jeans and a Christmas sweater with black leather winter boots, her blonde hair almost shining on her shoulders.

"Claire Furgerson?" Tom asked, glancing at the piece of paper in his hand.

"Tom Wilson?" Claire asked, looking surprised.

"Yes," he confirmed. "Is there a problem?" He asked, noticing her reaction.

"No, I'm just used to college kids renting the apartment," She explained with a polite smile. "I wasn't expecting someone...older."

Tom wasn't much older than her, actually, but the early streaks of gray in his longer black hair did give him the veneer of maturity.

She stepped back to let him in. "Please, follow me," Claire said, leading him through the attractive house to a side hallway with a door at the end which she opened and Tom saw the apartment on the other side of the door.

"You have your own private entrance, of course," Claire let him know as she showed him around the small apartment - a living room, a small kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom. "And your own private driveway, hidden from the street."

The apartment was clean, modern, and well maintained, and – perhaps mostly importantly, furnished.

"We built it for my mother-in-law when the kids were young," Claire explained. "She was recently widowed at the time and it seemed like a good idea to have her close by."

"But?" Tom asked.

"She got sick a few years later," Claire sighed. "So sad. We've been renting it out ever since, mostly to community college and Green College kids."

"Would there be a problem renting to me?" Tom wanted to know. "I'm very quiet. There won't be any visitors. I'll be working a lot."

"Well, to tell you the truth, my husband is starting to get concerned renting to college kids now that our own kids are becoming older teenagers," Claire admitted. "Maybe you would be a better choice."

"I think I'd really enjoy the quiet solitude here," Tom said.

"I know the ad said $895 a month but because you're not a college student I think it's only fair that I bump the rent up," Claire said, sounding a little nervous. "A thousand a month," she said.

"Sounds fair," Tom replied without concern, pulling a check book out of his tweed suit jacket. "I'm interested."

Claire took a contract out of the thin black binder she was carrying. "You'd have to put down first and last month's rent up front," she said.

"Okay," Tom agreed, filling out the check on the kitchen table and signing the contract too as Claire patiently stood by observing his actions.

"Albany?" Claire asked when Tom handed her the $2,000 check.

"That's home base," he smiled. "I've sort of been a collegiate missionary the past few years."

Claire nodded her head in understanding, handing him a key to the apartment and walking him out the private side door to show him the private access.

"Well, thank you very much," Tom said pleasantly when the tour was completed. "I'll be back around the 10th of January to move in if that's okay."

"Sure, just give us a call in advance and we'll see you then," Claire replied.

"Great," Tom smiled, taking her hand in a shake. "Thanks for everything."

Claire watched her new tenant walk down the stone driveway that was hidden by bushes and the design of the house to where his car was parked on the street.

Tom returned on a Sunday in January with his car packed full with his personal belongs which he moved into the apartment - in addition to his clothes were boxes of books and supplies, three computers, a radio and a television set. Claire met him at the apartment, reporting that her husband and children were skiing for the day. She confirmed that there was cable and internet service in the apartment and she even helped the new tenant by carrying some of his boxes although he told her it wasn't her responsibility.

The apartment looked much more personal once Tom settled in and when Claire knocked on the hallway door later to introduce the new renter to her family, Tom was feeling right at home with his books, photos and CDS. The apartment seemed cluttered with the three computers set up on the kitchen table which Tom had moved in front of the window in the living space.

Claire's husband was David, a well-polished, well dressed, slick and cocky individual who shook Tom's hand with a double - then triple - pump and a confident grin on his face. He looked to be a good ten years older than his wife and Tom didn't like him already. The couple's two good looking kids seemed friendly and polite enough, although they were clearly disinterested in Tom's presence as the new tenant.

Claire's family returned to the main house but Claire hung back for a moment. "Anyway, welcome," she said. "I hope you'll feel at home during your stay. We won't bother you unless you need something. You have my cell number or you can just knock on the hall door. I'm a stay at home Mom so I'm usually here."

"Oh, I won't be any bother," Tom told her. "You won't even know I'm here."

"Okay, then," Claire smiled as she walked down the hall and closed the door behind her as she disappeared into her house.