Chapter 3

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Justin rolls up the window of his Explorer as he slides the SUV into a parallel parking space on a hill just off of Main Street in downtown Monroe. He steps out of the vehicle splashing his Birkenstocks into a stream of running water spurting out from a fire hydrant half a block up the street.

Stuffing his leather wallet into a front pocket of his khaki shorts he hastily tucks in his striped red and green polo shirt sliding a pair of black Ray Bans over his eyes. He shuffles down the sidewalk stepping out of the way of three kids on bicycles. He sighs and yawns as he sniffs the crisp clear morning air.

Glancing around at what was left of the downtown area, he surveys the four blocks of the City Park littered with beer bottles, decaying newspapers and broken benches. To the right of the Park, he sees the abandoned Jones' gas and service station that he'd been told used to be the town meeting spot in its heyday over twenty years ago. On the left side of the Park, he gazes at the rusty lime green Zirk's sign creaking on its hinges in the light morning wind. He stares at the large panel glass windows that had once housed colorful clothing displays replaced now with huge bright orange posters saying 'Everything Half Price' or '50% Off Sale.' Sighing, he turns the corner below Zirk's and enters the massive cement block building serving as the main branch of Monroe's Post Office.

Silently padding along the marble floor, he stops at Box 3611 pulling out a wide gold key. Turning the lock with a flick of his wrist, he yanks out numerous months of grocery store fliers, junk mail and a few letters. Scooping up the mail into his arms, he saunters over to the sorting table two feet from his mailbox tossing the letters onto the black Formica counter and throwing the rest into the wide gaping mouth of a trashcan.

Wadding the letters into his back pocket, he shuffles back out of the post office trudging up the hill towards his SUV. Traipsing up the hill, he hears birds chirping, kids laughing, and the strains of organ music and singing drifting from the First Baptist Church throughout the ten or eleven blocks of what remained of Monroe's downtown area.

Tossing his white Hardee's paper bag onto the kitchen table, Justin pulls out two steak biscuits, hash browns, and a large Coke spreading it out on the 4x4-kitchen table. Ripping open the paper of the first biscuit, Justin tears into the buttery bread gulping down two large mouthfuls before slurping down about a quarter of the soda. He grins remembering that his Dad always called them 'cold drinks', and that even his Grandparents had used the same term to describe what he referred to as sodas or soft drinks.

Setting down his Coke, he tugs the letters from his pocket dropping them on the table. Snatching out the first one, he slits it open pulling out the enclosed handwritten note. Glancing at the name, address and phone number, he stuffs it back into the envelope.

He does the same thing with the other three letters jamming the contents of each back into the appropriate envelope. Then he makes a neat pile of them on the table. Taking four more bites of biscuit, he chews his food shutting his eyes. Reaching into the short stack of letters, he pulls out one. Dropping the chosen letter on the table, he pulls out the note placing it on top of the envelope. Stretching out an arm, he grabs his cell phone from the counter then dials the number in the letter belonging to a Mr. H.R. Beane. Staring at the seven green neon numbers, he takes a deep breath then presses Send.

After five rings, he is greeted by Mr. Beane's answering machine with a gruff voice cheerfully asking him or anyone else to leave a message. He waits for the beep, then starts talking.

"Uh, hello, Mr. Beane. My name is Justin. I'm the one that placed the ad in The Union County Register for the house for rent. If you're still interested and would like to have a look around the place give me a call. I've got someone working a crop on the land surrounding the house like it said in the ad, but other than that it's pretty quiet here and it's furnished if that's what you're looking for. Please call me on my cell phone. The number is 799-4214. Thanks."

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