Today's Reading

"Wait. You're Ezra Wheeler?"

"Correct."

All of her communications with the agent had been conducted through emails or text messages. Ivy had pictured a kindly white-haired gentleman in a bow tie and sweater-vest. Not this . . .

"You were expecting some old geezer, right? Nobody under the age of seventy is named Ezra these days. What can I say? My mom thought she was birthing a sea captain."

"Doesn't matter," Ivy said. "So. This is Four Roses Farm."

"Yup."

"What happened to all the hollyhocks? And the delicate pink roses clambering over the porch railing and the blue hydrangeas?"

"Huh?"

"The pictures from the real estate listings. Everything in those photos looked so lush and green and vibrant." She gestured at the brown, stubbled yard and the colorless, skeletal bushes. "I don't even see one rosebush, let alone four."

He rolled his eyes. "Those photos were taken in the summer. When the house was first listed. And now, it's winter. Winer."

Ivy didn't like his patronizing tone. Like he was explaining the seasons to a toddler.

"Also, the Four Roses is a reference to the owners—well, former owners now—Bob and Betty Rae Rose, and their two daughters, Sandi and Emily Rose. Get it? Four Roses."

"I thought the seller's name was James Heywood," Ivy said.

"Yes," Ezra said. "James Heywood's late wife was Sandi Rose Heywood, who inherited this place from her parents, Bob and Betty Rae, who are now deceased. I guess those were roses growing on the porch railing, but since it's December, I'm thinking they're, like, hibernating or something. I'm no gardener, so I can't be sure. Okay? Are we good?" He glanced at his watch, signaling his eagerness to be done with this annoying buyer.

"Fine," Ivy said, holding out her hand for the keys.

"I'll have to unlock the front door for you," Wheeler said. "The lock is old, like the house, and it's kind of tricky."

"Thanks, anyway. But I'm sure I can somehow muddle through a lock all by myself," Ivy said, her tone deliberately frosty.

"Suit yourself," he said, shrugging. "Congrats on the house, by the way. I left you a little housewarming gift on the kitchen counter."


As soon as she opened the Volvo's passenger door, Punkin was off like a shot. He raced to one of the bushes bordering the porch and christened it before returning to Ivy's side as she dragged a suitcase up the porch steps.

The first thing she noticed about the porch itself was that the worn floorboards seemed to bounce slightly with every step she took. Did that mean she had foundation issues? She sighed and for the first time felt a twinge of regret that she hadn't actually toured the 106-year-old farmhouse in person before making her offer.

There were six keys on the ring Ezra Wheeler had handed her, none of which was labeled. Ivy tried four different keys until she finally managed to fit a black, old-timey-looking skeleton key into the front door lock. She held the egg-shaped doorknob firmly in her left hand and managed to make a quarter turn with the key. She turned the knob, but the door didn't budge. She pushed against the doorframe, sending a shower of pale blue paint flakes down the front of her jeans. Nothing.

Ivy tried jiggling the lock and jiggling the door. She walked completely around the house, trying keys in four more doors, to no avail. She peered in a window at the back of the house, into the kitchen, but the glass was wavy and blackened with grime, so she only got a glimpse of a kitchen sink and a small wooden table and chairs.

"Come on, Punkin," she said, heading back around to the front of the house. She pulled her phone from her jacket pocket.

"Looks like we're gonna give Ezra a call and admit defeat."
...

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