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The Grump

By Wayne Mansfield

Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.

Copyright 2017 Wayne Mansfield

ISBN 9781634864138

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Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

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All rights reserved.

WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

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The Grump

By Wayne Mansfield

Chapter 1

Brad alighted from the bus onto Cadney Street and waited for the vehicle to pull onto the road. Opposite him, there was a large park with an ornamental lake at its centre. Trees lined the street on both sides, and the concrete footpath was strewn with leaves of every shade of brown. Behind him stood a row of hundred-year-old terrace houses, uniform but for the small embellishments added by the residents.

Yes, he thought. I could easily live here.

He glanced at the newspaper advertisement in his hand, then at the number on the brick pillar behind him—24. He needed 38.

“Please,” he whispered as he set off, the word a prayer for the room to be clean and comfortable, and above all, available.

It would be the sixth property he’d looked at that weekend, and when his only transport was public, it meant long waits and long walks. After working all week, it was tiring, and not at all what he wanted to be doing.

He arrived at number 38 and couldn’t deny he was a little disappointed. It was by far the shabbiest townhouse on the street. The windows were dirty, and the garden was nothing but weeds and dry grass. The grey paint on the front door was peeling and he could see from the footpath that the doorbell was hanging loose by its wires. Still, he was there now. He might as well go in. He took a deep breath and pushed through the wrought-iron gate to the steps, also in need of paint. At the top, he used the ornate brass knocker to announce his arrival. When he heard nothing on the other side, he checked his watch and the advertisement, and knocked again.

He heard an inside door opening, and a voice, a deep growl. “All right! All right!”

The front door swung open. A man wearing a deep frown, a white tank top, and a pair of navy shorts stood menacingly before him. Despite the man’s grim expression, he was reasonably good-looking, and his body, toned and muscular. He had dark brown hair with a touch of silver at the temples, giving him the appearance of someone in their mid- to late-forties.

“Are you Mr. Owens?”

The man nodded. “You here to look at the room?”

“Yes,” Brad replied.

“Come in then,” said Mr. Owens. “Follow me.”

Brad entered, passing an open door on his left, through which he could see a home gym and a television. The furniture looked old and worn, though the room, or as much as he could see of it, appeared clean and well-kept.

“How much is the rent again, Mr. Owens?”

They’d begun to ascend the stairs. “Isn’t it in the ad? And call me Douglas.”

“Yes, it is.” Brad’s throat constricted. He swallowed hard. “I wondered if there’s any chance of negotiating, that’s all.”

Douglas Owens stopped dead in the middle of the stairs. “You’ve got to be bloody kidding!” He looked over his shoulder at Brad with a face like thunder. “I thought the ad was pretty clear. If you don’t like it, then I reckon it’s time you pissed off.”

Brad’s eyes grew wide. Had he just been told to piss off?

“I can afford the rent, Mr…Douglas.” He found it difficult to maintain a friendly tone. “I thought there might be a chance we could discuss a small reduction.”

Douglas turned around, glaring down at Brad. “Well, there isn’t. You interested or not?”

Brad honestly didn’t know anymore. Had it not been for the convenient and beautiful location of the property, he would have said “no.” And the rent, even without a reduction, was entirely reasonable. But could he live in such close proximity to such a bad-tempered man?

For a hundred bucks a week, he could certainly try.

“Yes,” he replied. “I’m interested.”

Douglas looked at him a moment longer, then continued to the top of the stairs. “It’s self-contained.” He pushed open a door to the left of the stairs. “Your bathroom and toilet.”

Brad peered into the room, pleased to see it bright and clean. There was a porcelain bath with a showerhead, and at the foot of the bath, a toilet. The shower curtain looked new and the mirrors on the cabinet above the wash basin were clean and clear.

Next to the bathroom, further back towards the front of the house, was a second door.

“This is the room.”

Brad followed Douglas into a large space with freshly waxed floorboards and pale blue walls. Behind the door, to the right, was a kitchenette, with a stove and a sink, and an alcove with a power socket for a refrigerator. The rest of the space was open to be used however he wished.

He could put his double bed in one corner, the television in the other and his two-seater couch in front of it. And behind the couch he could put his dining table and four chairs. He’d need to buy a small wardrobe, and that could go at the foot of the bed. It would still leave more than enough room to get about easily. A couple of pot plants and a picture or two on the walls, and he’d have quite a cosy space.

“It’s nice,” he said without elaborating.

Douglas gave a single nod. “A month’s rent upfront. And I reckon you should get yourself a couple of rugs to put on the floor. I don’t like hearing a lot of clomping about. Especially at night when I’m trying to sleep.”

“No problem. When could I move in?”

Douglas moved to the door and held it open. “Soon as you get me the money.”

“Tomorrow then,” said Brad, proffering his hand.

Douglas shook it and stepped out of the room. “You’ll get your own front door key. I’d prefer you didn’t bring visitors into my house, but if you have to, keep the noise down. No parties.”

Brad followed him down the stairs.

“If you want a phone or internet, you can organise and pay for that yourself. Any mail gets left on that table down there.”

Brad looked over Douglas’s shoulder at the wooden table just inside the door.

“Don’t be late with the rent. If I’m not around, put it in an envelope and slip it under my door. I don’t want to have to come looking for it.”

Arriving at the foot of the stairs, Douglas opened the front door. “What time tomorrow?”

Brad hadn’t thought about details, and ummed and ahhed before answering. “Around ten? Eleven?”

“All right. See you then.”

Brad walked through the front door and turned.

“What about the front door key. Do I get…?”

“Tomorrow. When I get the rent.”

Brad forced a smile. “Okay, then. Tomorrow it is.”

Douglas shut the door and Brad went down the front steps to the gate. Once on the footpath, he stopped to consider whether he’d made the right decision. The practical part of him answered in the affirmative. It was in the same area where a lot of his friends lived, and close to where he worked in the city centre. In fact, if he gave himself an extra half an hour in the morning, he could walk to work. If he was so inclined.

The rest of him, however, remained unconvinced. Douglas Owens was, without doubt, the most disagreeable man he’d ever met. Sure, he’d met people who could be moody, but to meet someone who seemed to walk permanently beneath the shadow of a dark cloud was something else altogether. Still, he told himself, they’d hardly see each other, and if he really didn’t like it, he could move out.

* * * *

Chapter 2

Brad’s friends, Michael and Alistair, a couple who had been together since meeting at university, helped him move in, all under the watchful eye of Douglas Owens, standing at his door.

“It’s going to be like living with your dad,” said Michael as they reached the top of the stairs with Brad’s couch.

Brad almost had a conniption. “Jeez,” he hissed, rolling his eyes. “He’ll hear you!”

With a great deal of difficulty and a lot of huffing and puffing, they manoeuvred the couch around the top banister and onto the landing.

“Watch the walls, for God’s sake,” said Brad, ever mindful of Douglas’s presence.

The couch only just fitted through the door, and even then it required a good deal of brute strength. It was the bed, however, that required the most skilful manoeuvring. After lugging it up the stairs, it took all three of them to get it into the room. Finally, after forty minutes of going back and forth to the rented truck, the worst of it was behind them.

“Thank God that’s over and done with,” said Michael, flopping onto the couch that had given them so much trouble. “At least we won’t have to go to the gym today.”

“It’s a pity you can’t have parties,” said Alistair. “Though I see what you mean about noise. Floorboards are notoriously bad. Be good to put some rubber underlay beneath them to muffle the sound.”

“You should ask the miserable bastard to fork out for some,” said Michael. “Make your life easier.”

“Everything all right?” asked Douglas from the open doorway.

Michael started chewing his bottom lip, as he always did when nervous, or terrified; his wide eyes on Brad.

“Yes,” said Brad, standing. He took a single step forward. “Thanks Mr…Douglas.”

“Hope you were careful. Don’t want any marks on my walls.”

Alistair, sitting with his back to the door, rolled his eyes. Brad did his best not to laugh.

“I was very careful. I made sure nothing was scratched or damaged.”

Douglas, ever frowning, nodded. “Got the rent?”

Brad fished his wallet out of his back pocket. “Here you go.” He handed Douglas a wad of notes. “One month, wasn’t it?”

Douglas gave a single nod. “All right, then,” he said, pulling a key out of his jeans pocket and dropping it into Brad’s hand. “I’ll leave you boys alone. Keep the noise down.”

Brad watched him walk to the landing and descend the stairs. He waited until his head had disappeared before closing the door.

“Do you reckon he heard me?” asked Michael.

“Who gives a fuck?” said Alistair. “He is a miserable bastard.”

“I don’t know how you’re going to put up with him,” said Michael. “I couldn’t.”

Brad sat on his bed. “I don’t plan on seeing him much. Got my own key. I’m on a totally different floor to him. If I keep the noise down, I’ll only have to see him once a week to give him the rent.”

“It won’t be forever, anyway,” said Michael. “If you don’t like it here, you can tell him where to go and find somewhere else.”

All three of them broke into laughter.

* * * *

A short time later, after they’d had drinks, Michael stood. “We’d better get that truck back.”

“Hang on,” said Brad. “I’ll just get the fridge plugged in. Doubt I’ll be able to bend over, though, after lugging everything up those stairs.”

Alistair picked up the empty beer cans and put them on the sink. “Unlike you not to be able to bend over.”

Brad laughed. “There’s a first time for everything.”

“We’ll take the truck back,” said Michael. “You’ve got enough to do here, sorting this lot out.”

“You sure?”

“Absolutely.” Michael wrapped his arm around Alistair’s waist. “All that lifting and carrying has got me worked up. I want to get this one home and sexually molest him.”

Alistair kissed Michael on the cheek.

Brad sighed.

It was sweet the way they interacted. In the four years they’d been together, their affection for each other had never dulled. Neither of them could keep their hands off each other, and they were constantly showing their love for each other with kisses, strokes, and pats. And while Brad was as happy as he could be for them, he wished he could find someone that rocked his world like that. Someone who would touch him, kiss him, and care for him the way Michael and Alistair cared for each other.

“Only if you’re sure,” said Brad. “I don’t mind coming with you. Won’t take me long to get all this sorted.”

Alistair hugged Brad. “‘Course I’m sure. And remember, lift with your legs and not your back.”

Brad chuckled. “Yeah, thanks, Dad.”

Then it was Michael’s turn to hug him goodbye. “We can find our own way out. Just hope the grump isn’t down there waiting to pounce on us for rubbing up against his walls.”

“He looks like he could take a leg off,” added Alistair. “Better than a guard dog.”

“Okay, guys. Very funny.” He waved as they began descending the stairs. “See you later. And thanks heaps for helping me out. I appreciate it.”

“Later,” said Alistair.

He waited until his friends had reached the bottom of the stairs before returning to his room to start cleaning. Only when he knew the whole place had been scrubbed, bleached, and washed would he start putting things away, a trait passed onto him from his equally fastidious mother.

* * * *

It was dark outside by the time he finished. He was exhausted, and groaned when he realised the refrigerator was empty. He’d have to go out and find somewhere that sold food. It was the last thing he wanted to do, but he was famished. And he’d need something for breakfast.

Using the last bit of energy he could summon, he went downstairs and made it to the front porch before realising that while he’d been given a front door key, he hadn’t been given a key to his room.

Reluctantly, he knocked on Douglas’s door.

“What is it?” asked Douglas. “I hope this isn’t going to happen all the time.”

Brad felt a flash of anger, but stemmed the desire to tell Douglas where he could go. “Sorry to disturb you, and no, it won’t happen all the time. I just realised you haven’t given me a key for my room.”

The frown line between Douglas’s eyebrows deepened. “What do you need a key for? You think I’m gonna go up there and go through your stuff? You think I haven’t got anything better to do?”

Brad felt as though he was no longer twenty-five, but fifteen—an errant teen. “No, I don’t think that,” he said, sounding a little aggravated. “I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for a key to lock the door to my room—if only to give me a sense of security.”

Douglas stared at him in silence for an uncomfortable few seconds. “I’ll get one cut tomorrow and leave it on the table.”

He closed the door, leaving Brad wondering what the hell had just happened. He had half a mind to knock again and give Douglas a piece of his mind. His fist was halfway to the door when he came to his senses. It wouldn’t do to make trouble on his first day, even if it was justifiable.

“You’ll keep,” he muttered.

He knew the area well enough to know there was a major highway at the end of Cadney Street, and if he walked along it far enough, he’d find somewhere that sold food. He didn’t care what sort of food. Anything to take away the gnawing in his stomach.

The walk helped to calm his nerves. He was exhausted. A good night’s sleep is what he needed, and in the morning things with his new landlord wouldn’t seem so bad.

He happened upon a Chinese restaurant, next to a burger joint. The exotic aromas wafting from the restaurant made his stomach rumble, reminding him of how famished he was, but the Chinese takeaway would have to wait. Burgers were faster and he’d go crazy if he didn’t eat something soon.

“Is there a corner shop around here?” he asked after placing his order. “Somewhere that sells bread and milk, et cetera?”

The pimply girl at the cash register stared at him as if he was speaking a foreign language. Then she looked at the ceiling and said, “I think there’s a convenience store further along on the other side of the road.”

“You think?”

“Yeah. On the other side of the road.”

Brad thanked her and stood back to wait for his order.

Three minutes later, with a burger in his hand and another one plus fries in the paper bag he clutched in his other hand, he crossed the road and walked along it until he came to the convenience store he only half expected to find.

Finishing his burger, he grabbed a plastic basket from just inside the door and filled it with essentials. At the prices they were charging for the most basic of items, he’d go broke buying anything more than that.

A Vietnamese woman sat on a stool at the cash register, and as he took his items from the basket and placed them on the counter, he noticed a television through the door behind the woman. Three young children sat in front of it, eating rice from bowls.

“My chil’ren,” she said, smiling, her cheeks becoming two rosy plums.

“Nice. They look very cosy in there.”

“Nearly time for bed. They don’ wan’ to go. They never wan’ to go.” She laughed.

“Kids never want to go to bed,” said Brad. “I never wanted to go. I sometimes still don’t.”

The Vietnamese lady laughed again. “You new?”

“I moved into Cadney Street today.”

“Ah, Cadney Stree’.”

After paying her, he thanked her. “I hope your children don’t give you too much trouble at bedtime.”

She laughed yet again. “Good nigh’. See you agai’ soo’.”

* * * *

Chapter 3

The following day, when Brad got home from work, he saw a shiny new key sitting on top of the table in the foyer. He picked it up and his first thought was to knock on Douglas’s door to thank him. His second, and final, thought was to avoid the grief and climb the stairs to his room. Besides, both hands were full of plastic grocery bags, and his arms were starting to ache.

It felt good to have food in his home. He could get up and go to the fridge any time, and find himself something good to eat. Tomorrow he’d buy some beer, and on the weekend, he’d go shopping for a couple of rugs for the floor, and a pot plant or two, though he’d have to make individual trips since he only had two hands and the public transport system to rely on.

Even things at work were looking up. He met many people working as a physiotherapist. The Rendell Clinic was on the bottom two floors of a city tower, and catered, mainly, to businessmen and women. Yet professional codes of practice meant even the most handsome client was out of bounds. It was one of the only downsides to his job since barely a week passed by without some gorgeous white-collar hottie limping in for some therapy.

There were no such constraints on fellow employees, though, and a week after he’d moved into his Cadney Street room, he was introduced to a new therapist.

“Enzo Faraldo.”

“Pleased to meet you. I’m Brad.”

Enzo was tall, tanned, and toned. He had a closely trimmed beard and moustache, and beautiful green eyes. “You been here long?”

Brad was slightly taken aback at the bypassing of social niceties, but maintained his smile. “Coming up to three years.”

Enzo nodded as he looked around the room.

“Okay, thanks, Brad,” said Lorraine, one of the other therapists, and also his manager. “Over here…”

She led Enzo across the room towards Hydrotherapy, and where Enzo went, Brad’s eyes followed.

They were easily a match. Both had fit, toned bodies. Without any hint of arrogance, Brad thought of himself as somewhat better looking than Enzo, whose only possible flaw was a Roman nose. As he watched the twin orbs of Enzo’s buttocks tense and flex beneath his tracksuit pants, Brad also realised that part of the attraction, a good deal of it, to be honest, was the fact Enzo exuded masculinity. His forearms were muscular and thickly haired. A tuft of black hair curled over the top of his shirt, promising a luxurious pelt beneath. And it was also in Enzo’s manner, in his confidence and seeming indifference to his new surroundings, that captivated Brad as much as his physical charms.

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