Landlord Wars: Chapter 18

Sophia

Elise called a couple days later, and she was losing her shit. “We have rats. Big, fat, greasy rats like you’d find in a New York City gutter. I called an exterminator, but Mom won’t let the guy in! I have a midterm in thirty minutes, Soph. Do something!”

So much for taking care of myself and not everyone around me. In truth, I’d just wrapped up with a client and didn’t have another appointment that day. At least, not one I couldn’t easily reschedule. “I’m on it,” I said.

Victor had given me the formal business proposal this morning, and I hadn’t taken the time to look at it yet, but that could wait too. I raced across town to my mom’s house.

She answered the door, her expression harried, wearing what Elise and I called her muumuu, an oversized, billowy dress she’d owned since Elise was born. Quite possibly a maternity dress she’d never let go of. “Why aren’t you at work?” she asked, as though there weren’t an emergency brewing in the house.

I scanned the floor for rodents before stepping inside. “Elise says we have rats.”

My mom’s gaze skittered to the side. “Maybe one.”

I rubbed my forehead and looked around. Were the stacks of newspapers and magazines taller today? Had things gotten worse? “The last time this happened, the exterminators couldn’t get to everything, Mom. This is a problem because of the condition of the house.”

“Rats are cute, don’t you think?”

My jaw dropped. “No, I don’t think they’re cute. These aren’t domestic pets. They’re rats coming in off the street because our home is a perfect breeding ground for rodents.”

My mother pouted, but I saw the worry in her eyes. “I pick up. There’s never any food left out.”

I rubbed my forehead and let out a strained breath. What was her rock bottom? Was she going to start cohabitating with rats now? “We have to pack up the extra stuff in the house and clean the place.”

Elise and I had managed to get my mom to “consider” packing up the house and garage and moving boxes to a storage facility once or twice before, but we’d never gotten her to commit. The timing was always bad, or she wasn’t feeling well. Getting rid of anything was out of the question, as that resulted in severe panic attacks and crying, but even she understood the house was a safety hazard. Elise and I worried that if we didn’t declutter and clean the place, Mom would get sick or hurt. Or Elise would get sick or hurt.

My mom paced the narrow track of carpet between the entry and the hallway. “Not now, Sophia.”

“Yes now, Mom. Not today, because I have to get back to work, but soon. And you’re letting the exterminator in. Elise said you refused.”

“He’ll spray toxic gas to kill the rats and poison us.”

Rats. At least she’d admitted there were more than one. “My understanding is that the place Elise called uses humane methods to get rid of the problem. Traps and such. Either way, the workers need access, but that won’t be enough. With the house in this condition, the traps won’t solve the problem long-term. Rats will keep coming back unless we do something major.”

She got a hopeful glint in her eye. “Then there’s no point in letting pest control in today. There’s no time to pack, as you said.”

I groaned. She had a mental illness, likely unresolved trauma from losing my dad. I understood that, but the situation drove me batshit crazy. My initial instinct was to lure my mom out of the house, toss everything in a dumpster, and set fire to it. But then I took a deep breath and calmed the hell down.

This was my mother’s house. Her things. Taking away her control in that manner could result in a worse mental state than the one she was in. I had no solutions, but I knew that much.

“Mom, you can’t live with wild rodents. What if they have rabies? Pest control will set traps today and return later to remove the animals they catch. But they’ll need to return once we clear everything out. They can’t manage the problem with all this stuff around.” Were other women forced to convince their moms to get rid of indoor rats, or was I just special?

“Oh, great!” my mother shouted. “Why not throw me out of my own house!”

Frustration burned so hot, tears welled behind my eyes. She never meant it when she said stuff like that. It was desperation. “Moving your possessions somewhere safe is not throwing you out. You’ll still have furniture and your daily household items. We’d only move the things you don’t regularly use, and we’d place them in storage. Where you can visit your stuff any time you like.”

She’d never visit the storage facility, and it would cost an arm and a leg in monthly fees, but it was the only thing my mom had ever considered. Her attachment to possessions was indescribable.

She glanced around, twisting her hands nervously. “I’m not agreeing to moving anything. And I’m going to my bedroom while those men are here.”

I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and walked her back. “I’ll take care of everything. They’ll be gone before you know it.”


The exterminator took longer than expected. By the time I returned to the shop, Victor was yawning and had cleaned off his desk for the day. “Everything okay?”

No. Not at all.

Victor knew some things about my family, but I never shared the trouble we had at home with anyone.

I turned toward my design desk. “You head home, and I’ll take care of any last calls that come in.”

He gave me a soft smile. “Why don’t we both leave early? The projects will hold until tomorrow, and I want you to take some time to consider the proposal. Can’t consider it if you’re working long hours and helping your mother.”

Victor knew my mom had issues, but he’d never asked for specifics. He was supportive without knowing the details, and I’d always appreciated that. “I don’t mind staying.”

He shook his head. “Nope. Go home. Have a good meal and a glass of wine. You deserve it.”

Okay, when he put it like that…

I often worked late, especially when we were short-staffed, but if Victor wasn’t worried about closing early, why should I be? There’d be plenty of time to stress myself out running the business later. For now, I did as he suggested and closed the shop with no intention of working from home that night.

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