No one knew anything about him, that man that showed up last Spring. He had purchased the Mainsfield house, which had been vacant for at least 10 years. Most people in town didn't even know his name, they referred to him as “that newcomer on 4th Street.”
Jack, from the Hardware Store, knew him a little better than most. Mr. Cromwell was a regular at the Store, buying various supplies and tools a person would get when fixing up a house. One week it would be paint and paintbrushes, along with a drop cloth and some painter's tape. The next week it would be 2x4's, nails, saws, and a crowbar. Jack knew his name only because Mr. Cromwell used a credit card to purchase his things. No pleasantries were ever exchanged, nothing more than a nod and a quiet thank you after the purchase was complete.
“Why would someone move to a small town?” inquired Rita as she looked out of Betty's Bakery window towards the old Mainsfield House. “There is nothing here!” she exclaimed.
“I heard a rumor that the old house has a secret treasure and That Newcomer is searching for it.” Greta interjected after taking a bite of her cinnamon roll. Betty's Bakery sold beautifully decorated cakes, and colorful cupcakes, as well as donuts, cinnamon rolls, and other smaller snacks that patrons could consume in the shop. Rita, Greta, and Carmen met weekly at Betty's to unwind and catch up on gossip.
“Hmph,” scoffed Carmen, “there can't be. The Mainsfields both died penniless. The bank was going to foreclose right around the time old man Mainsfield passed away. If there was a treasure in that house, surely Mr. Mainsfield would have used the money to keep his home.”
Rita shook her head. “He was in too rough of shape to uncover any kind of well-hidden treasure if he had one. No, I'll bet it killed him knowing he had a way to pay for his house but couldn't get to it.”
“You don't mean you believe that rumor, do you?” Greta accused Rita. Rita nodded. “Why not?” she asked defiantly. Carmen and Greta shrugged their shoulders as their eyes met. “Right, why not?” added Greta.
“Well, I think this mysterious man purchased the house to fix it up, then flip it,” opined Carmen. “How else would you explain his reluctance to interact with the “townies”?”
“Maybe he's shy?” suggested Rita.
“Or hiding something?” added Greta.
Carmen laughed. “Like what?” she challenged Greta.
Greta looked down at her hot chocolate and stirred it. Looking up, she caught Carmen's gaze. “What if he's a thief and came here to hide his ill-gotten gains?” Carmen and Rita exchanged glances.
“That's probable,” said Carmen. She brought her teacup to her lips and sipped the fragrant Cinnamon Spice tea.
“You know, there is only one way to find out for sure,” Rita suggested. “We could go over there, introduce ourselves and say welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Yea, right,” scoffed Carmen.
“No, I'm serious. We should introduce ourselves. Maybe the reason no one in this stupid town knows anything about this Newcomer is that no one asked. I say let's ask!”
Greta and Carmen exchanged glances. Greta rolled her eyes. “You know, Rita has a point,” suggested Carmen. “Maybe we should go talk to him.”
Greta sighed. “OK. But if any of us go over to the Mainsfield house we go together, along with our guys. I'm not going to meet a total stranger who has power tools without some protection.”
Rita and Carmen nodded. “I think that's fair. When should we schedule our housewarming visit?” asked Carmen.
“This Saturday. It will give us time to put together a gift basket so we have a valid excuse to be over there.” Again, Carmen and Rita nodded.
“Who is in charge of this basket?” asked Rita reluctantly.
“Well, you of course!” said Greta. “You are the best at organizing things. Aren't you, after all, the person who organizes the Fair, and the bake sales, and the parties?”
“And your family reunions? And who throws the best graduation parties this town has ever seen?”
“Ok, OK! “ laughed Rita, putting her hands up in front of her face. “I'll organize the gift basket. Give me a budget and I'll get to work on it right away.”
“Don't you think we need to check with the guys to make sure they are willing to come with us? I don't feel comfortable planning all of this without knowing if they can accompany us,” said Greta.
Carmen pulled out her phone. “Sounds reasonable,” she said as she typed out a text to her husband Robert.
Rita nodded. She pulled her brightly bedazzled pink phone out of her pink purse and started texting Cory. Her phone pinged a notification right away. Cory could attend.
Greta reluctantly pulled her purple phone out of her dull black shoulder bag. She texted Gabe. While she was typing, Carmen got an affirmative from Robert.
“Looks like it is just you that we are waiting on,” said Carmen after reading the message from Robert. Greta's phone chimed soon after Carmen's statement. Greta looked down and smiled. “Gabe is in. I guess it's a go.”
“Wonderful!” Rita exclaimed. “Time to get started!” Rita finished her muffin and coffee. The other two finished their snacks too. After cleaning up the table, they left the Bakery, and each headed home.
Walking down Main Street, Rita passed the window in front of the Hardware Store. “This might be a good place to start”, she thought and she went inside.
“How are you doing, Rita?” asked Jack as he looked up from the cashier counter.
“I'm fine, Jack, how are you?”
“Oh, you know me. I'm always doing wonderful!” he said enthusiastically. “How can I help you today?”
Rita wandered over to the counter. “I'm looking for a large basket,” she said. “One of those woven baskets they use for the prize drawings.”
Jack left the cashier counter and walked over to Rita. He pointed to their left. “Those are over there,” he said. “What are you doing, planning another fundraiser for the Church?”
Rita shook her head. “Nope. We are just providing a tardy community service.”
“What are you talking about?” Jack asked as he walked Rita over to the baskets.
“Well Jack, do you know that newcomer on 4th street?”
“You mean Mr. Cromwell?” Jack asked smugly.
“Yes, I think so. This is the first time I've heard his name. Do you know his first name?”
Jack thought about the credit card. “Darn, I never paid attention to his first name,” he said, a little disappointed in himself.
Rita smiled. “Well, that's more than I knew. What else can you tell me about Mr. Cromwell?”
Jack rubbed his beard. “Well, he comes in here once a week to purchase supplies. I've sold him gardening tools, carpentry tools, plumbing tools, and painting tools. My guess is that he's fixing up that darn house he purchased.”
“What kind of personality does he have?”
“Oh, he's quiet. Doesn't say anything to me except “Thank you” very quietly before he leaves. Never saw him smile either.”
Rita nodded. “OK.”
“Why are you asking?”
“Some of us think it's time to welcome Mr. Cromwell into the community,” Rita smiled.
Jack shook his head. “Don't know if he wants to be welcomed. He keeps to himself.”
“We are not the friendliest group of people. Maybe he keeps to himself because no one's introduced themselves?”
“I don't know. I'd suggest you not go over there alone. Find some other curious people and go there as a crowd.”
“Great idea!” Rita exclaimed. “Want to come too?”
Jack shook his head. “Don't matter what day or time you're going, I've got to work. Sorry.” Jack scratched his beard again, “I'm sure there are plenty of curious folks just like you who would be willing to join you in this enterprise.”
“I'm sure you are right,” Rita replied. “Jack, is there anything from the Hardware Store you would recommend we put in the basket?”
Jack looked around the snack area. “Mr. Cromwell is partial to Twizzlers,” he said as he grabbed a package and handed them to Rita. She smiled as she accepted them. They walked back to the cashier counter and Jack rang the purchase up.
Rita left the Hardware Store and headed to Jimmy's Grocery and Liquor store. There she picked up some fresh fruit, cheese, crackers, and a 6 pack of the local beer. She also grabbed a wine, just in case Mr. Cromwell didn't drink beer. Then she headed home.
Saturday arrived quickly and the group gathered at Betty's Bakery to organize. The men were excited to go meet the new guy, even more now that they knew his name. Holding the basket that Rita had skillfully arranged with washcloths and a large bow, Cory spearheaded the group with the others trailing behind him.
They walked up to the door. The once overgrown lawn was now freshly mowed and the garden looked well cared for. The sidewalk was weed-free and well-kept. They marveled out loud at how well Mr. Cromwell had fixed the yard up. They reached the front steps and Cory rang the doorbell. They all stood quiet, listening for a response. Nothing happened. Cory rang the doorbell again and heard a faint ring towards the back of the house. They waited patiently, expectant smiles on their faces. Cory rang the doorbell a third time and knocked loudly on the door. After what seemed forever, they finally heard someone coming toward them.
A younger man, dressed in coveralls that were covered in various shades of paint opened the portal. His dark brown hair had specks of white paint in it as well as his arms. In his left hand, he held a paintbrush with the same white pigment on it. A look of surprise crossed his face when he saw all the people standing on his steps.
“Hello!” Carmen said from behind Cory. “We are the neighborhood Welcome Committee.”
Mr. Cromwell smiled. “You are a little late with that, aren't you?” He looked around at all the eager faces. “No matter, you might as well come on in. I could use a break now anyway.” He opened the large, dark, heavy door so his unexpected guests could come inside.
“We are sorry, we would have been here sooner except the Committee was just formed this week.” Carmen apologized as she stepped into the house. “We don't get many new people to this area.”
Mr. Cromwell nodded. “I heard most people refer to me as “The Newcomer on 4th Street”, he said. “Just to set the record straight, my name is Quincy Cromwell.” He reached out his cleaner hand to Cory, who stood in front of him with the basket.
“Cory Hastings,” Cory said, grabbing Quincy's hand and shaking it. “This is my wife, Rita,” he said, pointing to Rita who was standing at his left elbow. Rita reached out and shook Quincy's hand. “Nice to finally meet you!” she said, shaking his hand vigorously. Gabe moved forward and extended his hand, releasing Quincy from Rita's enthusiasm.
“Name's Gabe, and this is my wife, Greta,” he said, noticing Mr. Cromwell's good grip. Greta nodded her head rather than crowding in closer to him. “Nice to meet you,” she said quietly.
Robert edged closer to Quincy and extended his hand. “Bob and Carmen Carlson,” he said, reaching out to shake the new man's hand. Quincy grabbed it firmly and shook it. He shook Carmen's hand too.
“Please, have a seat here in the sitting room. It's the only room in the house that's furnished.” Quincy directed them forward and into a room with pale rose-colored walls, four pale rose-colored chairs, and a pale rose-colored davenport. In the middle of the room stood a coffee table made of honey oak with decorative brass handles on doors covering a compartment under the tabletop. There was a vase of flowers on top of the coffee table, as well as a coaster holder and a serving tray. There were several paintings of flowers on the walls. One of them, a single red rose, hung behind the davenport. The other, a bouquet of roses in a beautifully painted blue vase, hung on the opposite wall. “You might have guessed, I call this one the rose room.”
While everyone was being seated, Cory brought the basket of goodies and handed it to Quincy. “Consider this a belated housewarming gift,” he said sheepishly.
Quincy took the basket and noticed the Twizzlers right away. “I see you spoke with Jack when you were compiling this,” he said as he pulled them out. “I must say, I do have a soft spot for Twizzlers.” He turned to face his guests. “Thank you for this housewarming gift. It means a great deal to me.”
Rita blushed. “We are just sorry we didn't think of this sooner,” she said. Quincy nodded. “I didn't exactly go out of my way to interact with people either.
“This house once belonged to my mother's parents. When I was really young, we would visit the house two or three times a year. When I turned ten, my dad got a job in Alaska, and visits to my grandparents were few and far between. Mom was here when Grandma died, but was unable to get back in time before granddad died. She was devastated. She managed to pay off their mortgage with their insurance but hadn't had the heart to come here since.
“Then my dad died last year and mom got to thinking she'd like to move back to the house she grew up in. Since no one's lived here in over 10 years, I volunteered to come back and fix the place up. I am a contractor by trade, so it made sense for me to take this project on. It is far more work than I anticipated, unfortunately, so Mom is going to have to wait a while longer until she can move in.”
Robert raised a hand. “Do you want any help?” he asked. Quincy grinned.
“I'll take any help you can give me!” he said, excitement creeping into his voice.
Robert looked around the room. “Well, between us here we have an electrician in myself, a plumber in Cory, and a bean counter in Gabe.” Robert laughed, “But Gabe is pretty good with a paintbrush too. And the ladies can help with the painting, if you ask, as well as other decorative touches.”
Quincy smiled. “Boy, am I glad you folks decided to be nosy today! I will take any kind of help you are willing to give me, just let me know when you are available.”
“How about now?” asked Cory. “We can all pitch in and help you finish painting whatever room you are working on.”
Quincy looked at the clothes his guests were wearing, especially the dress shoes both Robert and Gabe had on their feet. “I would love the help now. Do you have a change of clothing?”
Everyone said they did, or could run home quickly and change. So, what began as a group of women sticking their noses into a neighbor's business turned into a painting party at a new friend's house.