The manor house that stood in the middle of Dalrymple Avenue was a solitary kind of place. Its closest neighbors were two blocks away in either direction, and each of those neighbors faced away from the manor house as if by turning their backs they could pretend to forget its existence. The house didn’t mind. It simply continued its lonely tread through time, with the faded shutters growing daily more faded and the sagging front steps sinking deeper. The house was full of shadows, starting with the enormous oak tree that grew in the front yard and covered the winding front porch in gloom and acorns, and continuing through the dim hallway, the even dimmer parlor still lost in a time when people used parlors. Even the kitchen, usually the fast-beating heart of a home, was a mournful place filled with rusting iron and squeaking mice. It was as if the entire house had simply ceased to care or to be cared for, and had just stopped in time at the height of its prowess a hundred years before.
Andrea Bonnicello found it unbearably sad and nearly ran straight back to her modern condo in the foothills of SoCal.
“You can see that there’s a great deal of property,” gushed the too-enthusiastic realtor, desperately trying to rid herself of dead weight that she had been dragging for way too long. “It needs some TLC, of course, but it’s a steal for the right buyer.”
Andrea lifted one elegant eyebrow. “Hmmm…” she hummed noncommittally.
“And naturally,” said Enthusiastic Realtor, “it would be a terrific place to raise a family… all that room to run around in. Do you have any kids, Andrea?”
“No kids, I’m afraid,” responded Andrea politely, drawing back a little from the Enthusiastic Realtor, who was starting to look at Andrea in a definite savior-complex kind of way. “Not even a dog.”
“Well, this would be a great place for a dog…” Enthusiastic Realtor’s voice burbled away as she opened the creaky front door, in dire need of oil but lovely under a couple decades’ worth of accumulated dirt. Andrea rubbed a finger over the etched glass panels and wondered just how much Windex it would take to make it transparent again. Enthusiastic Realtor bounced through the echoing hallway, the hardwood floors almost wincing under the girl-power trip-trip-trip of the realtor’s heels. They – the floors, not the heels – were in terrible need of refinishing, but seemed level enough and didn’t seem to have any major damage. Andrea brushed her fingers over the dusty white walls. At least no one has been insane enough to try a popcorn ceiling, she thought.
“How long has this place been empty?” Andrea heard herself asking, and the sound of her voice seemed to bounce off those dusty walls to be swallowed up by the listening house. Enthusiastic Realtor perked up at the thought of a question that might indicate actual interest.
“It’s been nearly twenty years, I think,” she said, after thinking a minute. “The Garrison family built this house in the late 1890s and it was handed down through four generations. The last owner was Emily Garrison, but she was an only child and never married. When she died, it passed into the Garrison family estate and has been empty ever since.”
“And there was no one to inherit the estate? What happened to the rest of it?”
“The estate passed to one of Emily’s cousins, but that family lives in Boston and doesn’t want the house. It’s been on the market quite awhile, I’m afraid.”
“I can see that,” replied Andrea neutrally. She cursed herself for a fool for actually considering it, but there was something about the house that was appealing to her. Maybe it was the way the shadows swished across the sixteen-pane windows from the breeze tousling the oak tree. Maybe it was just that Andrea had driven three days from LA and was too tired to be rational. Maybe the ghost of Emily Garrison was recognizing a kindred spirit and luring her to an early grave.
Andrea shivered at the macabre thought and scolded herself back into logical thinking.
Enthusiastic Realtor stumbled on the long, curving staircase. There were a few steps that were treacherous, but the staircase as a whole was a thing of beauty, a sweeping affair straight out of Tara that any bride would kill to glide down on the way to her besotted groom. Andrea couldn’t help visualizing what it might be like to get married in this house, once it had been shined and polished until it gleamed. The besotted groom and his blushing bride in front of the big bay window in the front parlor, the guests with champagne glasses and clinking spoons gathered around to throw rose petals and toast the happy couple. It was an intoxicating daydream of a thought, and Andrea lost herself in it for a moment. She was thrust back into reality by the irritating tinkle of laughter from the realtor and bit back a too-snarky remark about the intelligence of wearing stilettos to showcase houses as she followed the realtor up the stairs with a great deal more grace.
“There are six bedroom suites, as you know,” chirped Enthusiastic Realtor, opening a door at the end of the hall the stairs debouched into. The knob on the door rattled. “This is the master suite, and I must say, it is enormous.”
It WAS enormous. The master bedroom suite could have easily fit Andrea’s entire condo with room to spare. It had a bathroom that the realtor informed Andrea had previously been a valet chamber. “Emily Garrison put in a master bathroom when she finally convinced herself that her personal maid could assist her just as well while living in the second bedroom,” Enthusiastic Realtor informed Andrea. The bathroom, Andrea thought, was a singularly cold, barren, and inhospitable place, and she winced at the expense that would be incurred in updating it, but she continued to nod politely at various intervals, if for no other reason than to be supportive. She answered favorably about the size of the two closets, neutrally about the need for additional lighting, and followed obediently as the tour continued through more chilling and abandoned rooms.
“This is the second bedroom,” said Enthusiastic Realtor, turning yet another rattling doorknob. “I believe it was traditionally the bedroom for the daughters of the house, but after Emily Garrison started living here alone, this is where the maid stayed.”
Andrea stepped into the only warm room in the house and knew that she would have to buy the place. The rest of the house was tattered and worn, mournfully empty and mothballed, but this room had clung to the joys of its childhood. A hint of jasmine still seemed to hang in the air, sprayed from a perfume bottle of a long-dead Garrison daughter. In the second bedroom, the dirty windows could not quench the gaily shining sunrays washing across the hardwood and sparkling on the pale yellow walls. It was the only room in the house that had been painted in the last hundred years, as far as Andrea could tell, and the color seemed to seep into Andrea and sing with the adolescent voices of generations of girls, giddy and vivacious. The whole house was alive, but only the second bedroom seemed to be happy about it, and Andrea was charmed by its simple joy.
She was silent through the rest of the showing, nodding agreeably when looked at, hmmm-ing appreciatively when it seemed called for. The realtor, whose feet were starting to complain about the long day in the stilettos, chattered away about tax deductions and renovation grants and historic importance, all the while praying to the real estate gods that she might be able to move this ancient heap of an eyesore and make it someone else’s problem. They emerged into the late spring afternoon, starting to cloud over with the threat of April rain, and Enthusiastic Realtor made her last, desperate pitch.
“So what do you think?” she asked eagerly.
“I am seriously considering it,” Andrea replied, slowly and reluctantly. “It needs a great deal of work, you know.”
Enthusiatic Realtor nodded encouragingly, and waited.
“If you can convince the sellers to cut off another 15%,” Andrea said at last, “you can consider yourself to have a deal.” She tried not to be repulsed by the naked relief that immediately shone out of the realtor’s round face.
“I think given how long it’s been on the market that I can all but guarantee that,” said Enthusiastic Realtor with such fierce determination that Andrea was confident she would be busting balls if necessary to make this deal. “I’ll contact the sellers and see what we can do, yes?”
They exchanged all the necessary information, scheduled a call to touch base, and went their separate ways, both as satisfied as the unsettled situation would let them be.
It was only in her antiseptic and impersonal hotel room late that night that the idiocy of the idea of buying a house to remodel into an inn swept over Andrea, and she curled herself into a ball against the wave of discouragement and tried not to talk herself out of the only original idea she had ever had in her life. She succeeded, mostly, although it was not for want of reasons.