free rent

Robert nearly flipped over the handlebars of his bike when he saw the sign. Nestled between a poorly pruned shrub and a table full of household junk for sale, the cardboard, hand-lettered sign read, “Free Rent.”

As a bike messenger who liked to spend most of his money getting high, a rent-free apartment was akin to manna from heaven.

“I don’t know, it sounds fishy,” Jessica said with a toss of her auburn hair.

“The landlady said that she needs someone to mow the lawn and to pay utilities – she’d rather rent it for free than lose more money by shelling out for heat and stuff.”

“I still think it sounds weird. Why can’t she find anyone to rent it for real?”

“The economy sucks. Plus, it doesn’t have any parking. You have to park your car on the street. And I have a bike. So it’s perfect.”

“I guess.”

“Well, would you rather I move in with you?”

Jessica sighed. “You know my parents won’t be ok with us living together until we’re engaged, at least.”

“I know, I know. Your mom’s a preacher and your dad’s old school.”

“Then why do you keep asking?”

“‘Cause I keep hoping that you’ll change your mind.”

“Well, I’m not going to.” She shoved a pan at him, “Here, hold this.”

He bobbled the potholder, but managed to avoid spilling hot pasta sauce on himself. “So, do you think it’s a good deal, then?”

“Yeah, you’re not going to find a deal like that again.”

“Ok, good. ‘Cause I already signed the lease.”

Jessica rolled her eyes and shook her head. Robert smiled.

He moved in the next day. He had to make six trips on his bike, but eventually got all of his clothes and books moved over.

Since he didn’t have any furniture or appliances of his own, the small, semi-furnished, one bedroom apartment was perfect. The single closet held all of his clothes, the dresser contained more than enough room for his underwear and toiletries, and the small wooden was just big enough for his laptop. The only issue was lack of a bookcase. He had to pile his books in one corner for the time being.

He flopped on the bed, exhausted. The bedsprings creaked ever so slightly. “Hmm,” he thought to himself, “I’ll have to fix that.” He closed his eyes and tried to get comfortable, and then drifted off. A knock on the door woke him up, and he rolled off the bed, groggy and unsure how much time had passed.

He dragged himself over the door and opened it to find his girlfriend, Jessica.

“Hey,” she said, “sorry about not being able to help earlier.”

“It’s all good.”

She held up a six pack of Dortmunder. “I thought maybe we could celebrate your new place, now, though.”

“All right!” Robert exclaimed as he stepped back to let her in.

“So, what do you think?” he asked.


“Yeah, but free.”

“Right. It’s nice, I guess. Although it’s sorta dark, and it kinda smells musty.”

“Well, I’ll have to scavenge a lamp.”

“Do you have some place to put the beer?”

“And a fridge.”

Jessica sighed, and then set the beer on the desk next to the laptop. “Drink?”

“Oh, yeah!”

After they sipped down a beer each, Jessica leaned over to Robert and whispered in his ear, “Want to christen the bed?”

Robert smiled and winked at her, then pulled off his shirt. They raced each other to be naked first, tossing their clothes around the room with wild abandon. Soon, Robert was on his back and Jessica was astride him, gently rocking her hips against his.

Robert groaned as she moved. He helped guide the motion of her hips as she thrust against him. Then, suddenly, she stopped.

“What? What’s wrong?” he asked.

Jessica looked around. “It’s weird. It feels like we’re being watched.”

Robert shook his head and tried to coax her hips with his hands. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”

Jessica remained still and swiveled her head the other way. “Your laptop isn’t on is it? You’re not recording this, are you?”

“No,” he said, somewhat exasperated.

“Because that was a one-time thing.”

“I know, I know.”

“Are you sure?”

“Do you think I’m dumb? I know how mad you’d be if I did that without asking.”

“I don’t think you’re dumb. I just think you’re a guy.”

“Not every guy is a douchebag.”

Jessica contemplated this for a moment, then leaned forward and pressed her generous breasts against his chest. “Want to do it from behind?”

“You mean, butt sex?”

She groaned and rolled her eyes. “No, doggie style.”

“Oh, sure,” he paused as she climbed off of him, “Why?”

Jessica took up position on her hands and knees. “Because then whoever’s watching us will be staring at your ass, not mine.”

Robert frowned for a second, shrugged, and then grabbed her hips.

“This is an awesome lamp,” Robert thought to himself. Three giant, amber globes were stuck on the end of flexible, golden arms, which were then braided and encircled in bronze to make the long base of the floor lamp. In effect, it looked like a golden mushroom had mated with an anemic ficus. “This is going to look so good next to the fridge.”

He’d spotted a sea-foam-green mini fridge on a tree lawn the day after he’d moved in, and wasted no time in appropriating it for his new bachelor pad. This week, he’d lucked out again, and discovered the lamp waiting by the side of the road.

As he pulled his bike up the curb, he saw Edith, his landlord, was outside watering her garden. Her white housedress matched her white slippers, and she unsteadily carried a green watering can in one hand. Through an open window, big band music emanated from an equally unsteady record player.

“Oh wow,” he thought, “I wonder if she’s got a vinyl collection going?” He carried the lamp with him as he walked up the short sidewalk, and then paused, hoping to catch her attention.

Edith paid no attention to him – she seemed to be focused on examining her begonias. He stood behind her for a minute as she spoke to herself, “Well, well, what do you think, then?”

She paused for a moment, and then, “So it would seem. A good choice, indeed.”

After another beat she chuckled, and then said, “Good, good.”

Robert said loudly, “Hi Edith!”

She stood up with a start, “Oh! My goodness. I didn’t see you there.”

“No problem!” Robert continued, very loudly.

Edith frowned. “No need to shout, I can hear you just fine.”

“Oh.” Robert said at a normal volume, “Sorry – I figured…um…anyway. I just wanted to say that the room’s working out great so far.”

“That’s very nice to hear, Robert.” She looked at the lamp and frowned. “Where did you find that?”

“Oh, this?” he smiled proudly, “I found it on the curb. Isn’t it awesome?”

“Well, that’s one word for it, I suppose. My late husband had one just like it. It was the first thing I threw out when he passed.”

“Oh,” Robert wasn’t quite sure what to say. “Um. Ok. Well, thanks again. I’ll be sure to mow the lawn tomorrow.”

“That’s nice dear,” she smiled warmly. “Just watch out for the begonias.”

“I will. Thanks, Edith. Have a nice day.”

Robert admired the lamp as he carried it upstairs. “Don’t let her upset you, lamp. Her old man had good taste.”


Jessica had never liked Robert’s best friend, Molly. She was tall, with a lithe body honed by hours on a bicycle, and, despite an assortment of tattoos and piercings, she was effortlessly pretty. Moreover, she’d had a crush on Robert for years – one that he was the only person not to recognize. So, while he knew that Jessica disapproved of them spending time together, he nevertheless invited her over after work to show off his new place.

Molly showed up with a six pack of beer just as Robert finished cleaning up from the day’s ride. He answered the door in his shorts, and missed seeing her blush as he turned to grab a shirt from a pile next to his bed.

“Wow,” she said as she walked in, “that refrigerator is green.”

Robert patted the sea-foam green mini fridge. “Yeah, it’s so ugly it’s awesome, and…” he held up a finger for emphasis, “…it was free.”

“Nicely done,” she bit her lip as she snuck a glance at his muscular torso.

“I got a lamp, too, finally,” he said as he pulled the shirt over his head, “Still no luck with a bookcase though.”

Thankful for the distraction, Molly looked at the amber and gold floor lamp with a mixture of awe and revulsion. “It’s like the seventies vomited in here.”


“Totally vintage. I love it.”


“Yeah, it’s got a ‘fuck everyone’ attitude to it. Plus, it’s cozy.”

“Right on.”

“What’s that noise?” she cocked her head toward the door.

“What’re you talking about?”

“Don’t you hear that? It’s some kind of music.”

He could hear it now – big band music drifted lazily up from the apartment below. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“It sounds like old people music. Like you see in movies.”

“It’s just the landlady. She’s old.” Robert distributed two cans of beer from the six-pack and then stuffed the remainders in the fridge. He popped his open and began to drink greedily, but Molly fiddled with hers.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Oh,” Molly looked at him, nervously, “um, nothing. Hey, can I take a shower? I stink something fierce.”

“Uh huh,” Robert shrugged. “Sure. I think there’s a clean towel on the rack in there.”

“Thanks!” she smiled, set down the beer, and disappeared into the bathroom. She didn’t bother to close the door all the way, so Robert sat down on the bed and tried not to move while he heard the shower running.

A few minutes later, he heard the water turn off, and then looked up to see Molly standing in the bathroom doorway, wearing only a towel – on her head.

“So,” she said with a smile, “you like what you see?”


She crossed the room, sat down in his lap, and wrapped her arms around his neck. “So?”

Robert felt the warmth of her naked flesh pressed against him. His head swam, and then she kissed him.


Afterward, they lay across each other in bed, and Molly lit a joint. She took a deep drag, held her breath, and then handed it to Robert.

“I caught you watching me in the shower,” Molly said after finally exhaling.

Robert coughed. “What?”

“I could feel you looking at me, and when I looked over, I caught a glimpse of you in the mirror.” She smiled.

“No way, I’m not a creeper.”

“Whatever. I’m just glad that you finally noticed I have tits.” She reached over, stroked his chest, and took the joint back.

“No, but for real,” Robert sat up, visibly upset. “I wasn’t creeping. I was sitting here on the bed the whole time.”

Now it was Molly’s turn to wrinkle her face. “I’m sure I was being watched. Like I said, I saw you dart away in the mirror.”

“I swear to you, it wasn’t me.”

“Well, if it wasn’t you, who was it?”

Robert felt a chill race over his bare skin. “I don’t know, but you’re not the first person to say they felt like they were being watched.”

Molly raised an eyebrow.

“Jess and I were doing it the night I moved in, and she said something like that, too.”

“Ugh,” Molly rolled over and swung her feet off the edge of the bed, “fucking buzz kill.”

“Wait, where are you going?”

Molly extinguished the joint in the ashtray, stood up and walked into the bathroom. “I’m getting out of here,” her voice wavered.


“You think I want to hear about you banging that fat bitch right after we did it for the first time?”

“First time?”

Molly emerged from the bathroom, zipped up her jacket, and then wiped her eyes. “Jesus, you are such an asshole.”

Robert collapsed back on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He’d just cheated on his girlfriend with a girl he considered his best friend, and who, it was now apparent, felt a whole lot stronger about him than he felt about her.

“Fuck. I am an asshole.”

The brassy sounds of big band grew louder as he pulled the joint out of the ashtray and relit it. He took a deep breath and relaxed. A moment later, a movement in the bathroom startled him. He sat up and stared through the half-open door, waiting.

“There it is again!” he thought. A shadow flickered along the wall – something man sized. “What the fuck?”

He jumped from the bed and slammed open the door. The room was freezing, but, save for a pile of dirty towels, empty. He felt goose bumps run over his naked flesh as he pulled the curtain back on the shower, looked in the cabinet under the sink, and checked behind the door – nothing.

“Ok. That’s kinda fucked up.” Robert thought. “And now I’ve lost my buzz. And I’m cold. Awesome.”

The next day, Robert was in a funk. He spotted Molly as they crossed routes, but she wouldn’t look at him. He hadn’t talked to Jessica yet, and debated whether to tell her what happened. He rode erratically as he talked to himself, going back and forth, trying to weigh the pros and cons. Finally, after nearly running into a car for the third time in an hour, he decided he needed to come clean.

He stopped off at home to change before going to visit her, and, as he climbed the stairs, he heard Edith’s music in the background. It sounded like it was coming from his room, but when he opened the door he realized that it was just a trick of the acoustics in the stairs.

“Weird,” he thought. He shrugged off his bag and stripped off his hoodie then dropped them in the middle of the floor. He stopped and looked around. The pile of clothes that had been accumulating right where he dropped his clothes was no longer there.

Not only was the pile of clothes gone, but the pile of beer bottles that had been stacked atop his fridge had been cleaned up and his garbage emptied. The apartment was spotless – everything had been dusted, his books had been stacked neatly on the floor, and his clothes had been hung up in the closet and put back in the dresser. He scratched his head.

Edith must have cleaned his room for him. That was the only thing that made sense, and he smiled despite himself. It was a nice gesture that brought a little bit of sun back into his gloomy day. “Nice,” he thought. Suddenly, he felt a blast of cold air pass through him as the door slammed shut. He jumped and then shivered. It felt ten degrees cooler.

“Double weird,” he thought. He made a mental note to ask about the heat, and then stripped down and climbed into the shower. He rehearsed how he was going to break the news as he let the warm water soothe his aching muscles. When he was done, he toweled off and wandered out into the room to find clothes.

As he opened his dresser, he noticed that his hoodie was now hanging on a coat hook on the back of the door – one he hadn’t realized existed. His bag was slung over the back of his chair. A chill ran up his spine and he felt uncomfortable being naked in his own room.

“Ok. I’m going to have to talk to her about that,” he thought to himself. “She can’t just keep wandering in here while I’m in the shower. What if I was jerking off or something?”

Once dressed, he double checked himself in the mirror and took a deep breath. “Now or never, man. Now or never,” he told himself.

“What did you do?” Jessica asked, staring at the flowers.

“What do you mean?” Robert asked – his voiced strained.

“You’re a tightwad, and those probably cost fifty bucks.” She crossed her arms and glared at him.

“A guy can’t buy his girlfriend flowers for no reason?”

“Some guys can. You, no.” She frowned. “So you’re apologizing for something, but what is it?”

“I, uh.”


“Oh, Jesus, I’m sorry,” he broke down.

“So what was it?”

“Well,” he trailed off, “see…”

“Let me guess, you fucked Molly.”

“What, how do you know that?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake! You asshole!”

“Not on purpose!”

“Why would you do that?”

“Well, she was at my apartment, and she was taking a shower.”

“Oh my God,” Jessica’s eyes welled up.

“I’m sorry.”

“How could you do this?”

“It was an accident!”

“An accident?”

“She came out of the shower and she was naked, and I was kinda buzzed, and, you know. Well…”

“Out!” she screamed, “get the fuck out!”



Standing outside in the rain, Robert felt bewildered, confused, and adrift. “What now?” he thought to himself. He stuffed the flowers back into his bag, hopped on his bike and rode through the streets. He was well-versed at screwing up, but this time he’d outdone himself.

By the time he was back at his apartment, he was soaked to the bone. As he locked up his bike behind the house, he heard the big band music again. He rounded the corner and saw Edith twirling outside in the rain. She was standing in front of an open window, with her arms raised – as though she were dancing with someone a foot taller.

As he neared her, he could hear here talking to herself, “Soon, darling, soon.”

“Hi Edith,” Robert said, somewhat confused.

“Oh, hello,” she said, startled. She turned and smiled at him.

“Are you ok?”

“Oh, sure – sometimes I just like to dance.”

“In the rain?”

“Why not? You’re out in the rain.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Robert shook his head. “Oh, thanks for cleaning up, by the way.”

“What’s that?”

“I said, thanks for cleaning up the apartment.”

Edith frowned. “I never touched your apartment.”

“But,” he stopped and stared at her. “Ok.”

Bewildered, he slowly climbed the steps. “If she didn’t clean my apartment, who did?” He started to feel uncomfortable, but then shrugged it off. “Ah, hell, she’s old,” he told himself, “she probably just doesn’t remember.”

Robert lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. Normally, when he didn’t know what else to do, he would get high, but he’d smoked the last of his weed with Molly, and, after buying the flowers, he didn’t have enough spare cash to buy more. So, instead, he tried to see patterns in the texture of the ceiling plaster. He’d found one that looked somewhat like a giraffe, and was trying to think of an appropriate name for it when his cell phone rang.

It was Jessica. He took a deep breath, and then clicked answer, “Hello?”

“Hi. What are you doing?”

“Just lying here.”

“Are you high?”

“Nah, I’m out of weed. What’s up?”

“I miss you. I wanted to talk.”

“I thought you broke up with me.”

“No, I threw you out of my house. There’s a difference.”

“So you didn’t break up with me?”

“Are you listening to me?”

“Yeah, yes, sorry.”

“I have to ask you something, and I want you to be honest.”

Robert felt his stomach flop, “Ok?”

“Are you in love with her?” Jessica’s voice cracked as she asked the question.

“What? Molly? No! No way. She’s just my friend. I swear.”

“But she’s in love with you.”

“Yeah, yeah, I guess so. But I didn’t know, I swear.”

“No,” she sighed, “I believe you.”

Robert paused, unsure of what to say. Jessica broke the silence, “Are you at your place?”


“She’s not there, is she?”


“Ok. I’m coming over.”

“Did you clean?” Jessica asked as she entered the room and took off her jacket. She was dressed in a tight t-shirt and hip-hugger jeans. Robert felt nervous – he’d half-expected her to show up with a baseball bat, but instead she was standing in his room, looking fabulous.

“No – I came home yesterday and everything was put away.” He gestured toward the mint-green fridge, “Beer?”

“No, I brought something else.”

Robert’s eyes lit up as she pulled a bag of pot from her pocket. He went to the desk drawer and pulled out a pipe as she crossed the room and sat down on the bed. They packed and smoked most of a bowl before Jessica picked up the conversation, “So who put away your stuff? Tell me it wasn’t Molly.”

“No way – you’ve never seen her apartment, obviously. And besides, she doesn’t have a key.”

“Then who did it?”

“Edith – though I don’t think she remembers doing it.”

“Huh.” She thought for a moment, “That’s kind of creepy.”

“If, by, ‘creepy,’ you mean, ‘free maid service,’ and therefore ‘awesome,’ then yes.”

“I wouldn’t want someone touching my stuff.”

“Eh, whatever. It’s not like I’ve got anything to hide.”

“Except the pot.”

“Well. Er. Uh.”

“But anyway, that’s not the point.”

He stared at her blankly.

“You know that’s not the point, right?” she questioned. He shrugged. Jessica sighed and shook her head.


“Nothing. I’m just going to make sure to take anything I bring back home with me, so no creepy old lady touches it.”

“Ok.” Robert thought for a minute. “Hey, if you’re going to be bringing stuff over, does that mean we’re ok?”

They sat in silence for a moment until Jessica reached over and pushed Robert back on the bed. She climbed on top of him, straddled his hips, and then pulled her t-shirt over her head.

“What are you doing?”

“Reclaiming my territory.  Now get these pants off.”

Jessica lay across his chest, her soft auburn hair covering his torso. Her chest rose and fell in the moonlight as she slept atop him. Robert couldn’t sleep – he still felt incredibly guilty about what he’d done.

As he stared into the darkness, he heard the music again – though it didn’t sound like it was coming from the apartment below, but from within the room. He cocked his head and watched as the shadows near the foot of the bed began to move.

“Woah,” he thought. “Am I high?”

The shadows began to grow, rising into the air. Robert’s eyes widened and his breath quickened. He could hear his pulse echoing in his ears and feel his heard pounding in his chest. He looked down – Jessica was still asleep and he hoped that she didn’t wake up to see this. When he looked back, he saw a man standing directly in front of them. He was older – with white hair and sunken eyes, and he wore a crisply pressed army uniform.

“Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck.” Robert thought. The hair on the back of his neck was standing up, and it felt like ice water was flowing through his veins. He wasn’t sure whether to scream, or jump out of bed, or pull the covers over his head – so he did nothing.

The man stared at him for a few moments, slowly raised one arm until it was pointing directly at them, and then abruptly disappeared.

Robert didn’t sleep for the rest of the night.

After a sleepless night, coffee was Robert’s best friend. He had six espressos by the time that Jessica called to invite him over to dinner, and he gulped down another on the way. Beyond getting back into her good graces, he was happy for the invitation because it afforded him an excuse not to go back to his apartment.

“Hey, I know that things are still a little awkward and everything,” Robert said, as he helped chop tomatoes, “but, um…”

“But what?” Jessica asked.

“My apartment is starting to feel really creepy.”


“And, I know I keep asking, but maybe I could move in with you.”

Jessica sighed. “Yeah, that’s kind of awkward right now.”

“That’s cool. No big deal.”

“Why? What happened?”

“Well, when you were over last night…”


“After you were asleep…”


“I think I saw a ghost.”

“What? Are you for real?” She looked up from the salad she preparing and stared at Robert with wide eyes.

“Yeah. There was a guy at the foot of the bed. He was staring at us.”

Jessica blanched. “Please say you’re kidding.”

“No way. I saw him.”

“Is that who was watching us?” Jessica gasped. “Was he watching us last night?”

“I don’t know. But it’s totally freaking me out.”

Jessica shivered. “That’s fucked up. Are you sure you weren’t just high?”

“Well,” Robert chuckled, “we were totally high, but I’m sure I saw it.”

“Wow. That’s…wow.” She was quiet for a moment before she said, “I want to see it.”

“The ghost?”

“Yeah. Let’s finish dinner and then we’ll spend the night at your place.”

Robert shivered this time. “Well, ok.”

“But you have to promise that you’ll wake me up if you see it.”

“Uh. Sure.”

“And no sex.”

“What? Why?”

“If you really have a ghost, then I don’t want it watching us while we do it.”

Robert considered this and then asked, “So, you want to have a quickie before we go over?”

Jessica stared at him for a minute before finally shrugging her shoulders. “Yeah, sure.”

“Well, do you see him?” Jessica asked as they sat on the bed.

Robert looked around nervously. “No.”

“Hmm. How long do you think we’ll have to wait?”

“I dunno. Things seem to happen whenever.”


“Wait – do you hear that?” The sound of big band music seemed to float up through the floor.

“Yeah – it’s big band music. Where’s that coming from?”

“I thought it was coming from downstairs, but…” he shivered. The room was suddenly cold – it felt like it had suddenly dropped twenty degrees. Jessica noticed too, and she wrapped her arms around herself.

“Why is it so cold?” she asked.

“I dunno, but that usually means that something’s about to…” he trailed off as the bathroom door slowly swung closed.

Jessica looked at him in shock. “Is that for real?”

“Uh, yeah.”

The green mini fridge began to rattle, and then burst open with a crash. Bottles of beer began to fly out, shattering against the far wall.

“Oh shit!” said Jessica. She grabbed Robert’s hand.

“Oh fuck!”said Robert.

The room grew colder still, and then one by one, the books that had been neatly lined up began flying at their heads. Jessica screamed and ducked behind Robert as the bed beneath them began to shake.

“Shit!” Robert swatted the books away as he jumped off the bed. He grabbed Jessica. “Let’s go!”

As they stood up, the specter of the man in the army uniform appeared behind them, standing right in the middle of the bed. The music grew to deafening levels, and Jessica screamed again as the bed lifted up off the ground and raced toward them.

“Run!” Robert screamed as he dragged Jessica behind him. He flung open the door and pushed her into the hall. They nearly tripped over each other as they ran down the stairs, bouncing off the walls in their haste. At the bottom of the stairs, Edith cautiously peeked around the corner.

“My goodness!” she said, her eyes as wide as saucers. “What’s gotten into you two?”

“We’ve got to get out of here!” Robert said as he screeched to a halt. Jessica stopped next to him, but grabbed his arm for protection and moved him between herself and the stairs behind them.

“Whatever for?” Edith said in shock. “Do I need to call the deputies? I heard a lot of banging around going on up there.”

“No – we’ve just got to get out of there.”

“Are you sure? You look scared half to death.”

“This place is haunted!” Jessica blurted out.

“Haunted? Oh my, darling. There are no such things as ghosts.”

“Bullshit, lady,” Jessica said as she tugged at Robert’s arm.

“No, really, this place is fucking haunted,” Robert nodded his head in agreement. “I’m out of here.”

Edith frowned. “Well, I’m going to have to keep your security deposit if there’s any damage up there.”

Robert hastily fished his keys out of his pocket and thrust them at Edith. “Fine, keep it. Keep everything. There’s no way I’m going back to get any of it.”

“Come on, baby, let’s get out of here,” Jessica turned and fearfully looked back up the stairs. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”

The next morning, Edith smiled to herself as she set the golden floor lamp on the lawn, next to a table filled with Robert’s personal belongings.

“Must you get rid of that again?” said a voice from behind her. She turned to see an older gentleman, about a foot taller than her, with white hair and sunken eyes. He was dressed in an army uniform, and would have looked like any older veteran, if he weren’t ever so slightly translucent.

“It’s been ugly for the last thirty years, and it’s still ugly now. You, however,” she stepped forward and embraced him, “only get better with age.”

“You flatter me, darling,” the specter said.

“No, darling, I love you,” she said playfully.

“As do I – forever and ever.” He took her hands and twirled her around as the sound of big band music floated through the air. “I feel almost young again! The energy of those two was tremendous.”

“How long do you think we have before you fade again?” she asked.

“Two days, maybe three! Shall we dance?”

“Yes, let’s,” she clapped her hands excitedly, “just one more thing.” From behind the table, she pulled out a cardboard, hand-lettered sign and propped it up prominently – so it was visible from the street. It read, “Free Rent.”