“Gran…….Grand…….Grandma’s crying!”

“What?” That’s the last thing either one of them expected to hear.

“She’s crying. He yelled at her…and then…..she talked to them…….then…then….they left for a little while….then….they came back….and they….she….” He was sobbing so hard he could hardly get a coherent word out.

Ephraim kissed the top of Joshua’s head. “Where’s Grandma now?”

He took in a deep breath. “She’s downstairs crying, people are yelling, others are crying. It’s horrible! I’m so glad you’re back, Ephraim!”

Ephraim looked at Madison. “Me, too. Do me a favor and go to your room and relax for a while.”

“No! I need to make Grandma feel better and Jill’s crying too!”

“Let’s go.” Ephraim held Joshua against his body with one arm and held Madison’s hand as they made their way downstairs. Halfway down, they heard loud arguing coming from the living room.

He quickened his pace and stepped into the room as Chris threw his hands in the air. “All right, everyone shut up and stop yelling at her!”

Mrs. Buckman, the one woman he thought was tough as nails, was practically backed up against the wall with several of the renters screaming at her and sobbing.

“Rent more rooms because I’m not paying another dime!” one of the men said.

“Stop yelling at her!” Brad yelled. “There are no more rooms available.”

“Of course not, there are five rooms being taken and no one is paying.”

“I said shut the hell up!” Chris yelled. No one paid attention to him and no one noticed Ephraim in the doorway with Madison and Joshua.

“Mama, you said I could come here rent free and now you’re demanding I pay? That’s not fair and you know what? I’m moving out tomorrow. My friend is going to let me crash at his place for a while,” Candy sobbed theatrically. “I can’t believe my own mother would do this to me!” Most of the people stopped yelling in time to roll their eyes.

“Look I said I would try! I can’t afford this anymore. I’m sorry,” Mrs. Buckman cried into her hands.

“I don’t know why everyone is yelling at her. I told you all to come in here and nicely tell that her we’re moving to the boarding house on Smithson not scream at her!” Brad said.

“You’re all moving out?” Candy asked.

Brad nodded. “We can’t afford to pay more and the Boarding House on Smithson charges less to start with and has more amenities. We had to make a choice.”

“She’s going to lose the house,” Mrs. Adle said to no one in particular. Mrs. Buckman cried harder and tried to turn away. The people around her made it impossible.

“If she hadn’t taken in that dead beat and her kids she’d be fine!” one of them said, looking at Candy who pretended not hear.

“No, if that dead beat would help out she would have been fine.”

“She was fine before they came. No mortgage on the place. Did I tell you she tried to get a loan and they denied her?” Mrs. Adle informed everyone as if Mrs. Buckman wasn’t there crying.

“This is bullshit. I’m not leaving.” Ephraim recognized the newest renter.

Brad scoffed. “That’s because they won’t take you. You haven’t even paid her since you moved in. You’re part of the problem.”

Jill sat in the corner crying. Everyone was ignoring her. Chris was trying to push his way to Mrs. Buckman. In a few seconds he was pulling her into his arms. After a moment of hesitation she wrapped her arms around him and cried against his chest. “Stop it all of you,” he said. That sent them off again.

“Do something!” Joshua begged.

That was fine with him. He’d seen and heard enough. He put Joshua down. “Cover your ears,” he said softly. Joshua nodded and did as he was asked. Madison didn’t wait to be asked before she covered her ears.

“I want my last week’s rent back!” some of them started to scream. Then it became a tangle of screams.

“Quiet!” Ephraim roared.

Everyone in the room covered their ears and cowered back from the deafening noise. It was probably the loudest and most frightening shout they’d ever heard.

They were still cringing when he walked into the room. Under normal circumstances he was intimidating. Right now he was frightening as hell. He was half na**d with every muscle in his body flexing, readying for a fight. His arms were folded over his chest as he stood in an authoritative stance. His eyes had an icy glimmer to them as they moved around the room, challenging anyone to speak.

“That’s better. Now, everyone move back so Chris and Mrs. Buckman can sit down on the couch.” The small gathering stepped backward in one uniformed move. Chris threw Ephraim a relieved look as he brought Mrs. Buckman to the couch.

Ephraim’s eyes moved onto the newest member, a man in his mid thirties. Ephraim didn’t have a chance to run a background check on the man as he normally would before he left, but he had a feeling he knew what he was going to find.

“How many weeks do you owe?”

The man’s jaw clenched. “That’s none of your f**king business, pig.” The man had a problem with cops. Interesting.

“Five,” Brad said. “He never paid a cent. He gave her a sob story and you know that’s her weakness.”

Ephraim nodded. “Consider the free ride over. You’re to be packed and out within an hour or I will run you and we both know my search will come back with a warrant or two.”

The man’s mouth dropped open. “Fine but I’m not paying a cent.”

“I never thought you would. Just get out, you only have fifty-nine minutes left.”

Jenny, one of the female boarders he couldn’t stand spoke up. “That’s not fair we have to pay so should he!”

He ignored her. “Now, raise your hand if you’ve made arrangements to move out.” Every paying hand went into the air even Candy’s.

He nodded. “When are you moving out?”

Brad cleared his throat. “Tomorrow. They’re able to take us then. If we don’t go tomorrow we lose our spots.”

Ephraim nodded.

“I want my last week’s rent back!” Jenny said.

He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to keep himself under control. “You are leaving with less than twenty-four hours notice. You are not getting your rent back. You signed an agreement for one week’s notice. So let it go because she is not giving it back.”

“That’s not fair!” Jenny yelled.

Ephraim’s hand dropped away and he took a step forward. His eyes pierced Jenny’s and she stumbled back. “Take it to court then. You signed a binding contract.”

Mrs. Buckman sat on the couch, sobbing. He couldn’t stand to see a strong woman broken like that. “Has anyone paid for this upcoming week?”

“No,” they said collectively. That meant she was completely out of money and no way to pay the bills. It was probably for the best otherwise she would owe them.

“Okay, then you are all free to leave. I suggest you go pack and prepare your rooms for inspection if you want your deposits back,” he said dismissively.