If you’re just arriving, you may want to start with the first chapter. Here is a table of contents:
Stewart opened a bottle of Prosecco, filled both our glasses to the rim with golden bubbles, then lifted his in a gesture of salutation. “To best friends,” he said. “Now you tell me about your day.”
I gave him the highlights, moving quickly past class clowns and nascent crushes to the part about me living in a creepy old mansion for a year. It had all the makings of a B-grade horror flick. I felt certain that Gran, with our shared love of gothic novels, had not overlooked that aspect of it. I was both excited and appalled to be cast in the role of innocent ingenue running away from the house. I could picture the cover of the cheap paperback in my mind. That’s what I used to call them, the pilfered paperbacks I whisked away from Gran’s room when she’d discarded them, all dog-eared and coming apart at the bindings: “The Girl Running Away from the House Books.” I could never quite figure out why; after all, the house itself was rarely villainous and often held secret rooms and wondrous libraries and breathtaking, if a bit gloomy, vistas from the cupola.
I had no idea what a cupola was; in fact, I alternated between imagining it to be a sort of cupboard or a circular tower. Only years later did I lay eyes on one, and it struck me as sort of a gazebo-like thing stuck on the top of a house. Not at all the mysterious, architectural oddity I’d built it up to be, in my mind’s eye.
I imagined, then, that a gable – as in Anne of Green Gables – was just a cupola stuck to the side of a house, rather than a belvedere plopped atop the roof. It’s no wonder I didn’t study architecture; the terminology would’ve left me with bats in my belfry.
“So, you’ll finish out the school year, then head up the coast to this Farnsworth Manor?” asked Stewart.
“That’s the plan,” I said.
“Sight unseen? You’re just going to pack your bags and go. Is there some reason you can’t drive up there this weekend and take a look at the place, see if you’re not making a huge mistake? Maybe hire a cleaning crew to make it habitable?” At my puzzled look, Stewart reminded me that Gran had been living on a houseboat for years, and had never taken me to Farnsworth as a child. “A house can get pretty dusty and musty, sitting empty all that time.”
The lovely antique furniture I’d begun to picture filling the great hall, the thick and opulent mattress I’d envisioned in the master bedroom, all that now grew dim and dark in my mind’s eye as a rat skittered from beneath the covers and darted furtively behind a wall to join a small army of flea-infested rodents hell-bent on spreading The Plague across this land, all the way to Silicon Valley. That I had an active imagination was a gross understatement. I reminded myself that we had antibiotics, now, and that the dreaded Plague was no longer the deadly, genocidal scourge once known as The Black Death.
Did I mention the dragon in the basement?
“It’ll be fine, Stewart,” I said, not at all certain that it would be, but determined not to appeal to that part of him I suspected needed someone slightly needy to take care of.
“Look, what’s the harm in taking a look? I have to admit, Janie, you’ve piqued my curiosity. Why don’t we make an outing of it? It’s just a few hours’ drive, right?”
“Won’t Devon be jealous?”
“We could bring him with us.”
“Hmm.” Not a bad idea. I was as curious about this Devon as Stewart was about my old mansion. “All right, let’s do it. But of course I won’t have a key to the place till I take full possession of it – we’ll have to find some little Bed and Breakfast place.”
So, it was all arranged. The three of us would just drive up the wild coastal highway, two weekends from now, and take a look at my new digs. It gave me some comfort to remember that it wasn’t really stuck a thousand miles from civilization, accessible only by horse-drawn carriage a hard three-days’ ride hence. I wondered if it got cell service.
I called Beau Bailey and told him my plans. It wouldn’t hurt to ask if I could get a key and take a look around the old place. The lawyer quickly set me straight.
“The will states that you can only be given the key once you’ve decided whether to live there or to sell it. In fact, she was quite adamant about that, and I was to give you a letter from her if you expressed an interest in taking a peek at Farnsworth before making your decision.”
“You have a letter from Gran and you didn’t give it to me? Damn it, Beau, the woman’s dead. Don’t play games with me. I’m not in the mood.” Wow, that came out sounding far more surly and supercilious than I’d have thought possible. “Please, Beau. What could it hurt to take a look at the Manor before committing to live there for a whole year?”
“You’ll have to read your grandmother’s letter. She hand-wrote it, sealed it with wax and an honest-to-God signet ring, and handed it to me with clear instructions to give it to you when you asked for the key, if you hadn’t given me your directive to keep or sell the place, yet.”
I sighed, exasperated. This was the sort of adventure I’d have loved to have, if only Gran were there to have it with me. The only reason I was feeling so irritable about it was that she wasn’t there to have it with me. “Fine. Can you have a courier bring the letter by the school in the morning? My conference period is 9:00 to 10:00 AM.”
“I’ll bring it by, myself, Janie.”
Photo credit: Andi Jetaime
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