Va-Cay

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“Mom, I’m old enough to get a job and help out now.”

“Honey, you’re thirteen.”

“I know, but I could babysit or mow lawns, right?”

“No. You don’t need to do that. We’ll find a way to get by. We always do, don’t we?”

Her daughter, Kayleigh, was a teenager, but not a typical teen girl. She never complained. Ever. She wore things until they wore out. She ate whatever her mom could afford to put on her plate. She never asked for anything even when that meant missing out on a field trip or something education-related. She’d even learned not to care about comments from other girls about her outdated clothes or that she never wore makeup, a luxury too expensive to even think of asking for.

Several girls, one of them a former best friend whose parents had money, were the ones who went out of their way to make Kayleigh’s life miserable. Most were neutral or didn’t care, but when even a handful of the most popular girls ostracize you, it’s painful no matter how hard you try and ignore them. Her mom knew that, and it hurt her deeply, too, knowing how cruel girls could be.

Boys were a different matter, and part of the reason her former friend and her new ‘posse’ never gave Kayleigh a break. Being poor, she didn’t have nice clothes, but the one thing she had was her mother’s genes. Kayleigh Sanders was pretty, and it didn’t matter what she wore. The boys knew it, too, and treated her accordingly, and that infuriated the little click of girls who resented her for it and saw her as competition.

Kayleigh believed her mother who often reminded her that school, and especially junior high, was a make-believe world that often bore little resemblance to real life. It was a training ground of sorts; the place where young people learned to become adults as they tested the waters, pushed boundaries, and charted their future course. As that process unfolded, a lot of…stuff…happened, and according to her mom, a lot of it could be very painful.

So Kayleigh held on to the hope that things would one day change for the better while doing her best to be the kind of daughter her late father would want her to be; a friend to her mother who really was her best friend, and a pleasant, cheerful human being who did her best to actually learn something at school in spite of the ‘stuff’ that went on in her life every day she was there.

Since her father’s untimely death, her mom’s experience was the same only without the kind of grief that ‘mean girls’ dished out. She never splurged. She never did anything for herself. The bills came first, then any money leftover—which was extremely rare—went to to take care of her daughter’s needs. But now they were struggling more than ever, and unless she could find a way to stay afloat, they risked losing their home.

Vanessa Sanders had been widowed for nearly two years, and through it all, she’d done her best to never complain, her example not lost on her daughter. Her late husband, Adam, was a Seattle firefighter who’d responded to a three-alarm blaze just shy of twenty-four months ago.

An apartment complex had been set on fire by an arsonist, and by the time the first trucks arrived people were streaming out of the building. Many were screaming at the firefighters to find their loved ones they’d lost track of in the ensuing chaos.

Adam made a total of four separate trips inside while other firefighters poured as much water onto the blaze as they could. He’d found an elderly man overcome with smoke inhalation the first time, and a small child the second. Both made full recoveries, facts Adam Sanders would never know. The third time he didn’t find any people, but he did carry out a dog that had been cowering in a corner.

A woman who was screaming hysterically begged him to go back in.

“My baby! My baby!” she kept screaming.

“Where? Which floor? Which room?” he asked even as his battalion chief told him not to to go back in.

He shook his head and said, “Sorry, Chief. I have a daughter at home. I’d want to know they made every effort to save her. If there’s even a chance there’s a child inside, I have to go back in.”

Short of asking one of the police officers helping to control the crowd to restrain him, the chief knew it was a losing battle. He told Adam to be careful and to get in and out as quickly as possible. He redirected every hose to the part of the building Adam was headed into, but within twenty seconds of his entering the building, most of the second floor came down. Moments later, much of the third collapsed on top of it leaving a huge, gaping hole in that section of the building.

Many hours later, once the fire was out and the rubble could be cleared, Adam’s lifeless body was found under a huge concrete slab, but there was no child inside. The little girl had just gotten separated from her mother and was fine, but Adam Sanders had given his life trying to find her.

The chief and the mayor both told Vanessa Adam was a hero at his memorial where Betturkey they posthumously presented her with the highest award the city could bestow on a first responder. They said the same thing to her then-eleven-year daughter, Kayleigh. Too young to understand, she’d withdrawn inside herself for the next year. She got up, went to school, and made it through each day, but only in the last six months or so had she begun to return to being her old self. And that was around the same time the ridicule and the criticism began as her clothes no longer fit.

Her mother had grieved in her own, very different way, but it had been just as difficult for her. She’d been unable to work at all for nearly six months, and even when she was finally able to find a job, it wasn’t enough to pay their bills. She and her daughter had been able get by reasonably well for for the first year or so by using most of the $50,000 of life insurance Adam had on himself. But with a mortgage that ate up just over $1,800 a month plus property taxes and repairs on top of all their other bills, that money was completely gone as of six months ago.

Making matters worse, Kayleigh had had a growth spurt, making her shirts too tight and pants too short. She was still unable to wear her mom’s things, and as a result, she was forced to go to school wearing whatever her mom could find at yard sales.

In addition, past-due notices were piling up, and Vanessa was ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ each month by making partial payments or skipping one bill to pay another as she tried to make ends meet. At wits ends, one of the guys from Adam’s battalion who still checked in on her once a week or so told her about something he’d recently heard of called ‘Va-Cay Stations’.

“What is it?” Vanessa asked him during a recent short visit.

“It’s an online site that’s kind of like Uber for your house. You can rent out a room or rooms in your home to people either long-term or for a day or two at a time. The amount of money people pay is about the same as they’d pay for an average motel in the area. Plenty of people prefer living in a home to a motel, and it’s really catching on. I was thinking you might want to give a try. You know, to maybe help get you through this rough patch.”

Rough patch. That was a very kind way of saying ‘unmitigated financial disaster.’ This friend, who was named Jack, had been one of Adam’s best friends and more than caring since her husband’s death, so Vanessa wasn’t about to mention how much of an understatement that was. There was a ‘delta’ of close to $1,000 a month between what she earned and what she needed just to break even so even a second, full-time job wouldn’t make up the difference. And with a 13-year old daughter to raise, working two jobs was a recipe for a visit from child services.

Vanessa had no family in the local area so there just wasn’t anyone she could turn to for help. Her mother lived alone down in southern Oregon, and she was surviving on social security, so that was also a financial dead end.

Recently, Vanessa was seriously thinking about selling their house or even filing for bankruptcy. And then what? If she sold their place, she’d have to buy another one, and since she couldn’t pay cash, she’d still have a mortgage. Yes, it would be smaller, and that would help, but she saw no way to earn enough to make that happen without moving to someplace far less expensive, and that meant moving a long way from everything she and her daughter knew and loved.

She could rent a place, but even small, one-bedroom apartments went for around $1,200 a month, and those were in some of the worst possible places to live. She could make ends meet, but Vanessa knew she would fear for her own and her daughter’s safety. A decent, two-bedroom apartment was closer to $1,700 a month and for that kind of money, she could buy a another house—just not anywhere in the King or Pierce County area.

“How do you weed out the bad folks?” she asked Jack. Kayleigh’s safety was her primary concern, and she wasn’t about to bring some sicko into her home.

“Again, it’s a little like Uber in the sense you can see ratings from other Va-Cay users. They’ll tell you what kind of a guest any prospective tenant of yours was at previous homes. They, of course, get to rate your place when they leave so that seems to tend to keep people on both sides honest. That doesn’t mean you know a whole lot about who’ll potentially be staying with you, but it’s at least a start,” Jack explained.

“Can you show me?” Vanessa asked, feeling cautiously optimistic.

He sat down with her at her computer and opened the Va-Cay Stations site then walked her through how to sign up and screen prospective tenants. He emphasized again there was no 100% guarantee about any individual she might bring into her home, but she could mitigate her concerns greatly by following the screening checklist to a tee.

“It seems too good to be true,” Vanessa told him once Betturkey Giriş he finished with the informal tutorial. “Why isn’t everyone doing it?”

“No, I understand. We all know what they say about things that are too good to be true,” he told her with a smile. “To answer your question, a lot of people don’t have a spare room. Others don’t need the money. And many, I’m sure, just don’t want to be inconvenienced.”

He smiled at her again in a way that told her this dear friend of her husband’s had feelings for her, and each time he came to visit, it seemed more obvious. She felt terrible about it because he really was a very nice, very decent man. The problem was Vanessa just didn’t find him attractive in the least.

Adam had been so good looking it still made her heart hurt when she thought of him. That smile of his had done her in on their very first date. But it was the quiet way he loved her from then on that stole her heart and made her feel like she was the most important person in the whole world. And when Kayleigh came along, he couldn’t have been a better, more loving and devoted father.

Vanessa was finally ready to consider dating and even remarrying, but not with someone she couldn’t imagine truly wanting to wake up next to. At 39, and dreading the ‘big four-oh’, she was still a very attractive woman and often received compliments from both men and women. None of them had ever mattered once she met Adam, but they still came streaming in on a regular basis nonetheless.

So until she could meet someone who made her feel the way her husband had, or at least something close to it, she would find a way to get by—financially and romantically.

She thanked him sincerely, and Jack told her it was nothing; that he was happy to do it. Vanessa could tell he was hoping she’d maybe ask him to stay for dinner, and when she didn’t, he finally told her how he felt about her, hoping against hope she might have some similar feelings for him.

Politely letting him know she didn’t was very hard. She was as gentle as she could be, but she could see he was hurt even though he said he understood. Jack made sure to let her know he wished her all the best in finding someone even if it couldn’t be him, and that he’d always be there for her no matter what. And with that he said goodbye.

Vanessa had tried dating here and there, but it had been nothing short of torture trying to pretend she was interested when all she could think of was the date ending and getting home to her daughter and the safety and comfort of their home. And that thought would trigger other thoughts like her overdue mortgage. That, in turn, caused her to wonder how she’d keep the power on after being so far behind. And so it had gone for some time now.

So now that this gentle man had shown her a potential way to bring in some real money, she felt horrible and guilty for not at least agreeing to have lunch him. And yet, did she have to repay his kindness by going on a date with him when she had no interest in doing so? As she sat there running all this through her mind, she realized that while she was long past the kind of ‘stuff’ her daughter was living through, being an adult was often accompanied by its own brand of torment.

Were money to start coming in and Vanessa found herself able to think about something other than bills and collections calls, would she possibly find herself ready to give love another try? She was almost certain the answer was ‘yes’. The bigger question was would she ever find another Adam or anyone even close. And if she did, would Kayleigh be able to love him, too, or at least accept him as someone she respected; someone who at least made her mother happy?

For now, she needed to decide what to do with the information she had. The amount of money people were willing to pay per night was exciting. Even those not interested in meals paid roughly the cost of a three-star motel in the local area and, and in her town of Auburn, Washington, that was just under a hundred dollars a night. If she could rent out even one room for ten days a month, that meant being able to pay all her bills. Were she to rent out both spare bedrooms, she could quickly catch up on most or even all of the areas where she was deeply underwater. Renting them both out for say…fifteen days a month meant…well, it meant the possibility of a normal life again.

“Hey, Mom. Whatcha doin’?” Kayleigh asked after watching her mom stare at the computer screen for over a minute after Jack stopped by her room to tell her goodbye.

“Oh, hi, honey. I didn’t know you were there. Just thinking. What’s up?”

“Nothing. I was just wondering how your visit went. Jack seemed kind of bummed.”

“Oh, right. He um…he asked me out, honey, and…I…I’m just not ready,” she said, rather than getting into the details. “But he did tell me about something I’d never heard of. Sit down and I’ll explain it to you.”

After hearing the gist of the Va-Cay thing, Kayleigh’s excitement became contagious.

“Mom, that would be so awesome! Let’s do it!”

“You think?” her mom said.

“Hey, nothing ventured nothing gained, right?” Kayleigh said with a smile.

She had her mother’s smile and her good looks, and it pained Vanessa terribly that she couldn’t afford to buy her daughter the simplest of things. For the last two months, the only things she’d been able to buy her daughter had indeed come from yard sales. And yet she was always cheerful and upbeat.

“Okay. You wanna help me get started?” Vanessa asked.

“Definitely! I can do it for you if you’d like. Just sit next to me and feed me the information when we get to something only you can provide, okay?”

Vanessa was fairly computer literate, but Kayleigh was extremely savvy when it came to such things, so she got up, pulled another chair over, and gave the one in front of their very-old computer to Kayleigh.

Vanessa slid in close, put her arm around her daughter and said, “Do you know how much I love you?”

Kayleigh smiled, told her she loved her, too, then said, “Okay. Let’s rock and roll, people!”

Fifteen minutes later, Vanessa Sanders’s profile was done, and once the site verified it, she would be able to advertise a room or rooms for rent.

The following evening, she had the approval, and Kayleigh helped her post some photos of the house and the one room they initially wanted to rent out. They spent some time cleaning, straightening, and ‘staging’ the room the best they could and then discussed a price. After checking a dozen decent motels in the area, they set their rate at $99 a night.

“Meals not included,” Vanessa said to Kayleigh when that option came up. “I don’t mind cooking, but after working all day, that’s the last thing I want to do when I get home.”

“Or before you go to work?” Kayleigh reminded her, were they to offer breakfast.

“That, too. Okay, I guess we sit back and wait, right? her mom said.

They sat there for ten minutes looking at the computer monitor before Kayleigh said, “Is this one of those ‘watched pots never boil’ kind of things?”

“Oh, gee. No kidding. Come on, let’s go watch a movie,” her mom said.

They’d had to shut off their cable connection several months ago, but the DVD player still worked, and one of their favorite free things to do was watch a romantic movie together. Even popcorn was out of the question as they debated which one to watch. Once the decision was made, the only thing left to do was see who cried first during it.

Vanessa won (or lost) this time although Kayleigh wasn’t far behind when the main character was diagnosed with cancer, the worst part coming from the knowledge she’d never be able to have children with the handsome man she loved.

“Come on, let’s go check the site,” Kayleigh said when the movie they’d seen at least a half dozen times ended.

Grateful for the distraction, her mom got up and followed Kayleigh back to the computer.

“Oh, ho!” her mom said. “Look what we have here!”

A single woman wanted to rent their room for the upcoming three-day weekend.

“Cha-ching!” Kayleigh said before offering her mom a high five.

Vanessa went to slap her hand then said, “Forget that! Give me a hug!”

Their first tenant was perfect. She was there for an art festival and was gone nearly all day for each of her three-day stay. She was also quiet as a church mouse when she came in, and neither Vanessa nor her daughter really knew she was there except for the occasional passing in the hallway.

And just like that, they were $300 better off, and the woman had given them a five-star rating! Taxes had to be paid, of course, but this was actual money deposited in a PayPal account! Even better, there were two more requests for the room by the time the woman left.

The first was for the rest of the following week (less Monday) which gave Vanessa a day to clean up, wash the sheets and towels, and get ready for their new guest.

Additionally, a couple wanted to stay there for a family reunion, and they needed the room for four days starting just two days after their second guest left. Evidently, the family they were reuniting with didn’t have any spare rooms, and they indicated they were very much looking forward to staying in an actual home.

Vanessa was thrilled until it hit her that this spare room was across the hall from Kayleigh. Her tenants were a married couple away from home. And married people on vacation tended to have sex, and having sex created…certain noises and sounds, sounds Vanessa hadn’t thought about once when deciding to rent out her room.

“Kayleigh? Could we maybe talk?” she asked her daughter that Monday evening after they got the room all spiffed up.

“Sure, Mom. What’s up?”

Kayleigh listened without laughing or even rolling her eyes, then said, “No worries. It wouldn’t be the first time I heard those noises.”

Vanessa gave her daughter a look that said, “How in the world could you know what those noises sound like?”

Kayleigh finally laughed then said, “Well, before Dad died, I was almost eleven, Mom. Not two.”

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