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The Birthday Present
Rylie Sampson-Smith cracked an eyelid and peering from beneath the covers, saw that the morning sun was filling her bedroom with light. She briefly squeezed the lid shut due to the brightness, then blinked several times and shifted. Lifting her head from the pillow, she glanced at the alarm clock on the nightstand and saw it was 8:15 am. The open French doors that led to the spacious patio next to the large pool that filled most of what would be considered the backyard of her spacious Palm Desert home, allowed a breeze to push at the lace curtains and she heard the entrancing melody of the wind chimes just outside, hanging from the eve of the roof.
She’d left the doors open to enjoy the coolness of the desert winter night. She also noticed the breeze had swept away the sultry humidity that had been a rare occurrence from the previous evening. Letting her head fall back onto the plush pillow, she smiled to herself, as the previous might’s party had been a success. Rolling onto her back and arching it to stretch her arms wide, she yawned loudly. She felt completely refreshed from her night’s rest and hoped Craig, her stepson had as well. She remembered hearing him and her friends going to the pool deck shower around 2 am.
‘I think they enjoyed themselves,’ she thought. Although they were a few years younger than her 34, Kaitlin was a vivacious 6’2″ with long, shapely legs and shoulder length, golden blonde hair worn in a ponytail, bright blue eyes, head turning good looks and a bubbly personality. Chuckling to herself she quipped, “I just didn’t know she couldn’t swim.”
Her other friend Sheri was as feisty as she was petite, at 5’5″, with bright pink hair wore in a short and sassy pixie bob cut, a lithe athletic build with perky breasts and amazing tattoos.
‘Shit,’ she thought as she chuckled aloud, ‘What 21-year-old, young stud wouldn’t have a hell of a time.’
Throwing back the bed coverings, she stretched again and admired the contrast of her deep, chocolate brown skin to the stark whiteness of the satin sheets that adorned the king size bed she laid upon. She was naked and with a thought admitted, ‘Of course, I’m no slouch myself.’ The cool breeze wafting into the room caused her nipples to constrict to rock harness, she ran her delicate hands over her breasts, which were the size of large grapefruits, and brushing the bullet-sized nipples and the brownish-black skin of the areolas that were the size of silver dollars, enjoyed the tingling sensation that coursed through her body in response. She then traced her fingertips down her flat tummy, to between her legs and let them glide along her vulva and briefly stimulated her clit.
Pushing up onto her elbows she glanced down at herself. She too was tall, at 5’11” and model perfect looks. Thinking back on the previous night’s frivolity, she mused that Craig must’ve thought she was good looking as well by his comments.
She sat up and rolled her head in a slow circle and rolled her shoulders. Crossing her legs, she used both hands to rub her short, frizzy hair. Craig was her stepson and with a wistful smile, recalled how she and her two friends had helped him celebrate his 21st birthday. Chuckling aloud, she said, “Damn! It’s hard to believe all of this started with a box full of cards.”
She’d knocked on her stepson’s bedroom door quietly and asked, “Craig, do you mind if I come in?”
It was a bright summer day in Palm Desert, and she was dressed in a teal sports bra, snug white tank top, cut-off jean short shorts and sandals. She had to drive to neighboring Riverside to start sifting through family property before she sold her mom’s house.
“What do you want,” came the annoyed, muffled response.
Rolling her eyes and stifling a curse, she opened the door to see Craig Smith sitting shirtless at a desk next to his unmade bed. He had a trim physique and a bushy head of black hair. It was amazing how like his father he looked, she’d thought.
Typical of a late teenaged male, the room looked as if a cyclone had swept through it, with the desk he was sitting at cluttered with several stack of cards, college books, note pads and his lap top computer. The bed and floor next to the desk contained long white carboard boxes of other cards. To top things off, clothes were scattered about the floor, leaving little room to step safely and not worry about being injured or catching something.
Forcing herself not to explode, she took a deep breath of the dank air of the room, smiled, and calmly said, “I could use your help today,” and trying to sweeten the deal, offered, “I’ll buy you lunch.”
Sneering he hissed, “Shit! Can’t you see I’m busy!”
He went onto explain that he had better things to do and wanted to spend the day organizing some cards he had just acquired, hoping to then sell for a profit. He then stated he was going out with his girlfriend later.
Leaning on the doorknob she replied flatly, “Fine,” and then asked, “Can you at least clean your room up?”
He rolled his bahis siteleri eyes, cursed, and said, “Yeah. Whatever,” and dismissively waved a hand at her.
“You shouldn’t be treating me like this,” she spat back, “I’m your mother.”
“Stepmother,” Craig derisively corrected.
Turning to close the door a little louder than what she had wanted to, she shouted, “Just clean it up, please.”
As she walked down the hall, she cursed herself for losing another battle. She’d hoped to start learning about the son that she had gained after recently marrying an older widower, who had a son. Mike was an Executive in a high-tech company. He was a caring and thoughtful husband, but spent quite a bit of time traveling, as part of his job.
She had been a model and they had met the previous summer in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. She’d been there on a shoot for one of the casinos and they had met in one of the many night clubs in the tourist town. Things had clicked, they fell in love with and before she knew it, they were getting married on a beach in Maui.
She’d met Craig during their courtship, and he was aloof as most teenagers tended to be. He was cordial, but ever since the wedding, his behavior had slowly switched to passive aggressive. ‘It’s because he thinks I’m stealing his father from his mom,’ she had to remind herself, as she picked up her keys and purse from the table near the door to the garage. ‘Give it time,’ she heard Mike’s counseling voice.
The three-car garage was becoming hot, as the midday sun began to beat down on the roof above. She climbed into her Honda Pilot and on starting it, cranked the air conditioning to full, to begin cooling off. She was grateful for the one-hour drive to Riverside as it gave her a chance to calm down. She resisted the urge to call Mike, as she knew this was her battle to fight not his.
Turning on the stereo, she listened to a classic rock station and thought aloud, “God! There’s got to be some way to find some common ground with him,” as she slapped the steering wheel in frustration.
She used the drive through the rugged high desert of southern California to calm herself. Shifting her thoughts from Craig, she pondered what was ahead of her that day. Her mother had passed away a few months before and she had paid a property management company to maintain it, but she’d decided to finally sell the homeplace. Reaching her right hand down to pat her purse, she’d remembered to bring a lot of Kleenex, as she knew that this was going to be an emotional day. She allowed the dulcet tones of the Eagles, Foreigner, Styx, and other bands to take down her down an avenue of memories.
She was the only one left from her branch of the Sampson family. She had little recollection of her father other than family photos she’d seen and knew would still be adorned around the house. Grimacing and wiping at a few tears that leaked from her eyes, she recalled that a drunk driver had killed him when she was young.
In her mind, he had been a gentle giant. Her petite mother had always told her that’s where her and her brother had received most of their genes. From what she knew, her dad had been a hardworking man, who had served in the Navy and settled in San Diego, where he had met Cecilia Gregory, as strikingly beautiful as she was small. They had settled in humble little Riverside, back in the day when it was transforming from a dusty crossroads to a vibrant suburb of nearby Palm Desert and as a general contractor, he had been quite successful.
Heaving a deep sigh, she recalled that in the late 1990’s he had been hit head-on by a drunk driver and instantly killed. It shattered their world and forced her older brother Jerome to grow up early. He rose to the challenge, setting aside the hobbies that had consumed his teenaged life to support them. Where her dad had graduated from the school of hard knocks to become a success, Jerome applied and was accepted at Cal Poly to become a Mechanical Engineer on a full ride scholarship. Graduating at the top of his class in the early 2000’s, he’d hired-on with a successful company, which had landed a contract to rebuild Iraq, in the wake of its liberation from dictatorship. Sadly, he too died before his time, as he was killed by an improvised explosive device, as he was rebuilding a bridge near Tikrit.
Mom had lived off the insurance money, as they owned the house free and clear. When she’d suffered a debilitating stroke, Mike had helped her with making the arrangements for long-term care. They had moved her from Riverside to Palm Desert and she all but gave up her modeling career to help care for her. With Mike traveling and Craig playing the role of a walking storm cloud, she would’ve been all alone if it hadn’t been for a small group of girlfriends, she knew from her fashion and travel days.
Her old home was just a few minutes from the interstate. Driving from memory, she took the off ramp and then drove the remaining distance, as the memories of her youth continued to flood her thoughts. The neighborhood friends, going to school, the holiday celebrations, and growing up. canlı bahis siteleri Each place she saw as she drove, seemed to cause a memory of a past event to explode within her head. As she pulled onto Apricot Drive, she was wiping tears from her eyes. When she pulled into the driveway of her old home, try as she might her emotions won and after parking the Pilot, sat behind the wheel for several moments and cried. She earnestly desired her husband to be there to comfort and encourage her.
After several moments, she cursed herself and then stepped out of the car. Glancing around, she saw that except for a few minor changes, it was as if she had exited a time machine. Using a hand to shield her eyes from the sun, she looked the house and yard over. She could see that although it had been maintained, some work would be needed to enhance the curb appeal. She spent several hours in the sweltering interior of the house cataloging assorted items and making a list of upgrades and repairs that would be needed. Each room contained one or more memories that caused her to cry.
It was when she went into the utility room that was once the garage that she found them. Along one wall was a stack of twenty boxes, all with ‘Jerome’s Stuff’ written with a sharpie in her mother’s elegant cursive. Wiping her sweating brow, she remembered her brother had been quite the collector. Baseball cards, comic books, and cards for some silly game.
Taking one of the closest ones from the stack, she opened it to find it contained six white, three-ring binders, each with cards that had been organized and stored on transparent plastic pages. “I wonder how much these might be worth,” she wondered aloud, as she wiped a hand across her sweating brow, and decided to take them with her to see. She spent another hour looking through the boxes and found that half of them were brown backed cards that had ‘Magic: The Gathering’ printed on them. Five of which, had the cards in binders. Three contained baseball cards in a variety of organizers, and the last seven contained comic books, all in clear plastic sleeves with cardboard backing.
Glancing at her watch she knew it was past the time she had wanted to leave. “Fuck,” she swore and restacked the boxes, hefted the one she had decided to take and after grabbing her purse, locked the front door and headed to the Pilot. Her clothing felt like it was plastered to her, as it was wet with her sweat. Even though it was a hot 95 degrees outside, she issued a loud, satisfied sigh, as the difference was significantly lower than inside the house.
She put the box on the back seat and headed home. On the way, she had stopped for a bottle of water and something to eat. While she did so, she looked up game stores near her that might deal with these cards. After careful consideration, she decided to look outside of a ten-mile range from their home, as she didn’t want to run across Craig while she did her research on their value.
She found a shop in a business district of North Palm Springs that looked promising. Red Dwarf Games was the name and clicking on the link to their web site showed they dealt in these Magic cards, along with sports cards and comic books. She saw that they were open late and decided to give them a call after she got home and cleaned-up. ‘I can kill three birds with one stone,’ she thought. And smiling to herself, she looked forward to showering and changing into a bathing suit to lounge by the pool.
– – – – –
“Oh my God,” she gasped and asked, “How much did you say they’re worth?”
Cheerfully smiling at her from across the display case was a short, barrel-chested man with chubby cheeks and a greying full beard and mustache. He had a full head of salt and pepper hair that cascaded to the collar of the floral Tommy Bahama shirt he wore. He had introduced himself as Paul Patterson when she’d arrived at the Red Dwarf about an hour earlier.
She’d gone to the gym, hurried home to clean up, ate a quick breakfast and had another spat with Craig as she was cleaning the kitchen. She grabbed the binder from her bedroom and hurried out the door. Following the directions on her phone to the shop, she arrived five-minutes late. Priding herself on punctuality, she apologized profusely as she entered the business.
It was a large, open space with a variety of shelves throughout most of the business’s main area. Several long glass display cabinets ran along one side with shelves that were packed with a variety of colorful boxes. Posters hung from the walls advertising what she assumed were several games, including Magic: The Gathering. ‘I guess I’m in the right place,’ she thought.
When a bell on the door jingled, Paul came out from behind the glass case, greeting her and said, “Ah, you must be the woman I spoke with last night, on the phone.”
After shaking hands, they had chatted at the display case nearest the cash register for a bit and then patting the binder that she had brought, asked him to look over the cards and give her a rough appraisal of their value. “I’d be happy to,” was his response and with the canlı bahis wave of his hand, he said, “Why don’t you walk around for a bit, and I’ll let you know when I’m finished.”
The ‘bit’ dragged to an hour and a half, as she could hear him quietly whistle and occasionally let slip a “Holy shit!”
As he had gone about his appraisal, she’d browsed the shop, looking at a few of the games and books. Towards the rear of the shop, several tables were arranged. Smiling, she thought, ‘It looks like people can not only buy games here, but also play them as well,’ admiring the shrewd business strategy.
When he was finished, he called her up to the front of the store. Next to the binder on the countertop had been a calculator, a few sheets of paper, and some post-it notes he had scribbled on to make his estimate. Chuckling, he congratulated her and said, “These cards are worth about two-point-five-million.”
She couldn’t believe what he said and blurted, “They’re freaking cards.”
The short man jovially chuckled and replied, “And diamonds are just rocks. Right?”
While she did her best to wrap her mind around the concept that a few cards were worth a king’s ransom, Paul asked, “Do you mind if I ask where you got these,” patting the cover of the white binder.
Looking at him wide-eyed, she replied, “They were my brother’s,” and went onto to explain finding them at her mother’s house the previous day, along with several other boxes of collectibles.
Nodding his head in acknowledgement, Paul carefully opened the binder. The plastic organizer sheet was divided into three rows, with each row accommodating four cards, all with colorful and ornate designs and writing. The previous night, she had noticed that each pocket had contained several copies of each card. Tapping one in the upper row with a stubby finger, “Paul said instructively, “These are your holy grail,” as he carefully slid one from the sleeve for her to see.
Looking at it, she saw that it had a picture of a black flower on it. The white text in the brown border stated, ‘Black Lotus.’
“One of these,” he began instructively and smiling broadly, said, “Recently sold at auction for four-hundred thousand and you have four, right here!”
She was stunned at the remark, “Holy shit,” she gasped and then apologized.
Laughing and waving the curse off, Paul said with a chuckle, “My sentiments exactly,” and then added, “Your brother must’ve been quite a collector, because all of these are in pristine condition.”
After she explained the circumstances, Paul brightened and exclaimed with surprise, “Oh my God, you’re Jerome Sampson’s sister?”
She flashed a bright smile and responded, “I am.”
Paul then swore and after commenting what a small world it was, shared that he’d grown up two streets over from them in Riverside and that he and Jerome had been friends. He then became serious and reaching a hand across the display case to pat one of hers, saying, “My condolences on your loss. Jerome was a good man.”
Paul went onto explain he knew Jerome had a collection to die for, but he didn’t realize it had become this extensive.
Rylie, raised a slim finger to make a point and asked with the wry smile, “Would you be willing to appraise the whole collection for a generous fee?”
Paul said he would and that she could store the collection in his storage room where it would be safe, finishing with, “I have a couple of helpers to run the shop, but this is mostly a one-man show,” and smiling sheepishly finished with, “It might take a while.”
Nodding in agreement, she asked for a pen and piece of paper. She drew up the contract, signed it with a flourish, and handed it to him for his approval.
When he read it, his eyes got wide and he blurted, “Son of a bitch!”
Chuckling, she reached out and tapped the rare card in his hand and said, “Yep. It’s yours.”
Back to the Present…
She got out of bed and went to the bathroom. Afterwards, she donned a pink silk robe, tied the sash at her waist and slipped her feet into sandals. Quietly opening the door and walking down the hall past Craig’s room, she walked through the spacious living room of the home to another short hallway that contained two doors. The one on the right led to the garage and the one on the left led to the guest room.
Softly opening the door, she peered in and saw the bed was empty, but the bedding was quite rumpled. The curtains were wide open, but the sliding glass doors to the pool deck were closed. Through the doors she could see a collection of towels laid on the deck and draped over the back of a padded chaise lounge was a lacy black thong. Giggling, she thought to herself, ‘It looks like Sheri forgot something.’
Closing the door, she returned down the hall and turning right entered the kitchen, where she got a mug from the cabinet above their Keurig and setting it in the coffeemaker, selected a pod from the carousel next to it and made a fresh, hot cup of morning brew. A few minutes later she took the cup and walking around the breakfast bar, sat at the table that adjoined the living room. Sitting at the table and enjoying the quiet, she reflected on the intervening months between the discovery of Jerome’s collection and the previous night. ‘A lot had happened,’ she thought.
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