When the onion baffles the mind, best to chop it up - try and cook with it
|I'd left her to her devices over the first week or so ... although anticipation and curiosity both were really getting the better of me.|
We'd see each other typically first thing in her morning. She'd come bumbling into the kitchen, in her Doc Martens unlaced to the ankle, an indication she remained nowhere near settled in. I pictured the boxes and her clothing piled up everywhere around the wing I'd offered, and then I'd hearken back to that odd little trailer she'd hauled into the turnaround on that first day, a fraction smaller than the typical dual wheel box pull. Necessary, I'd supposed given the size of her bike -- hell, given the size of her. Anything larger would've been a danger on the road.
Not that the rig she'd cobbled together might've called enough attention to her on it's own, eyecatching as the contraption was rolling along behind her.
But most mornings, she'd basically blunder through the swinging door from my butler's pantry, other side of the dining hall, shoes all askew, loosely bound into some kind of terrycloth robe hanging off one shoulder, hem draped around the boots, and she'd stumble around bleary eyed and yawning. She'd hip-check most of the chairs in the breakfast nook. Shuffle over to the coffee pot completely ignoring the breakfast I'd prepared and left out for her.
Nothing too fancy nor too robust. Just a couple of eggs, slice of bacon, little brace of toast or a collection of english muffins. Marmalade set to one side paired with a butterdish and it's butterknife ... and a glass of orange juice ... or tomato ... depending upon my mood.
After witnessing this routine over the first week, around the next Thursday, I felt I'd become confident enough in my assessment of her comings and her goings to extend into conversation beyond our typical morning greeting.
"You aren't eating." I said as pleasantly as I could and motioning toward the little table as a kind suggestion.
"Oh, I thought that was for you." she said absently but with a little grin whilst spooning sugar awkwardly into her cup.
"No ma'am. I've taken it upon myself to prepare a reasonable repast each morning to help start your day."
"Oh!?" she'd considered with surprise. "You needn't trouble yourself. I usually just have coffee. The aroma is what usually draws me through the door." she thumbed over her shoulder and smooshed her hair down best she could, with hair typically springing back to "all-over-the-place".
"No trouble at all miss." I wiped my hands with my dishtowel, sized her up a bit.
She wandered over to the nook, considered what was there on the table, grinned thoughtfully to herself, nibbled at one end of the bacon, glanced at me apologetically.
"I trust you are comfortable?" I continued dutifully. "Do you have everything you need? Upstairs?"
"Yes of course Alfred, I ..." she said absently taking a long swallow of coffee, "mmmm ..." she sighed swallowing. She lowered her cup in a two handed brace and thought about her response. "Well no, actually that's not true." she said with a little, almost guilt ridden, frown.
"Go on ... please." I prompted genuinely concerned.
"Well you've done so much. Too much really. But ..." she paused ... not wanting to offend ...
I shrugged, hands extended. "Please, do tell. I would like to help ... if I can."
"This house is so large. It's astounding. It's so grande! Too grande really, and I'm just not accustomed to living on this scale ... or to having this much attention ..."
"At present, we hardly see each other ..." I intervened reassuringly ... hopefully. "I assure you if I have interfered in any ..."
"No no; it's not that. I meant more ... in a "having someone look after me" ... kind of aspect ..."
"Oh, I see."
"Just been on my own for so long. With all my ... y'know ... my "secrets"."
I was nodding. Of course. All this was too much all at once ... and coming out of the blue ... well, it was a lot to take in.
"Sure." I said confident I'd gleaned some understanding.
"And it's not just the size of the house. There's an odor ... odd, musty, aged ... I get this feeling everywhere. There's such a history here, I really know next to nothing about. And now, just you ..."
"Yes you. All that's left. In this big ... old ... place."
She finished the statement in a whisper and lowered her head almost in reverence ... or perhaps shame ...?
I choked back a little groan. It caught in my throat and ended up the beginnings of a dull headache at the back of my head.
Her eyes snapped up, and she forced a grin.
"Feels like ghosts everywhere." she continued a trifle too loudly.
"I see." I said folding my towel and placing it upon the counter.
"Anyway. Bed's too large. Pillow's too soft. House's too quiet. Ghosts. Whatever the case, I really am having a lot of trouble sleeping ... a LOT."
I noticed for the first time the dark, puffy circles around her eyes. I supposed I should've thought a little more upon how all this might affect ...
"So." she quipped, slugging another gulp of coffee.
... someone who had never been exposed to such affluence ... such excess ...
"In order to make this work ..." she said though I'd barely noticed the words.
... it was all I'd ever known after all ... I'd all but been born on the property ... and now ...
"Hm?" I shook away my thoughts ... feeling almost embarrassed and ashamed at having caused such thoughtless, unnecessary strain.
She blinked at me. I blinked back.
"I was saying: if we are to move forward with this ... whatever this is ..." she motioned around her head with an off hand. "Do you have ...?"
I exhaled. I'd been holding my breath she was about to run for the hills.
"Yes?" I interrupted in anticipation.
"A guest house?"
I blinked at her. She blinked at me.
"Why, yes, of course."
"Something nearby. No too assuming. With reliable, easy access ... to the "manor"?"
Without any doubt, Villa Serenita had immediately come to mind. 2 miles away. 5 bedrooms 4 baths, basement trophy room, marble foyer and big chandelier in the entry. Top of a hill overlooking the river. Smaller but not "unassuming" per se. Quite nice ... but no direct access to the main house.
No that wouldn't work. I rubbed at my temples.
Uuuhhh, well ok, Woodmist then - basically a hunters cabin with indoor plumbing. 3 bedroom, 2 full bath mountain house. Skylights. No garage. Basement apartment. Unassuming. Closer in. But still, a bit remote ... no real access.
I offered her a description of the cabin, but she cringed slightly and followed up with a scowl. She appeared to level her thoughts upon her coffee cup and began tapping the enameled ceramic with one fingernail.
Fretting and not wanting to disappoint, I then heaved a Hail Mary.
"Ma'am." I said, snatching up and flipping my towel over one shoulder, I pushed away from the counter as if on a mission. She noticed me crossing toward her and took a curious little step back. "If you would follow me." I urged affecting a low tone.
Together we tromped and strode through the dining hall, the adjoining bar area, a greeting parlor, mud room. We walked on until we emerged in the front hallway and took an abrupt turn between the descending staircases. I ventured into the main entry where I'd recently rejoined and manifested my Consuela character.
After unlatching the front door, we stepped outside into the morning sunlight at the top of the steps leading down to the turnaround. She stepped up beside me with a shiver, and I pointed.
Left hand side of the gravel, at the end of a long low series of roof tiled garages, 10 in all ... or were there 12 ... there perched a squat little addition above the last set of garage doors with stair access leading around the side. Ivy played down the plaster between and beneath two large picture windows facing the main house as if some stooped, green bearded old man in a red hat were staring back at us.
"It aint much." I said looking over at her. She held her cup to her lips, surveying the area in the direction I'd indicated. That excellent little twinkle reappeared in the corner of her eye. "but it's all yours if you want it."
She began nodding slowly. "It's ..."
"... a garage apartment. Master bedroom. Master bathroom. Apartment sized living room. Small private kitchen with a little bar area. Functioning wood fireplace. Laundry, two car garage beneath ... Oh and ..." I'd almost forgotten "A small balcony around the side. Fully furnished, of course."
"Perfect!" she finished, giggling.
She kept staring, did a little dance. Tipped her chin into the sunlight and inhaled a huge breath throwing her arms out wide to the sides. I had to duck the coffee cup as it careened toward my temple. Coffee sloshed everywhere. Thankfully nothing tarnished my blouse or my shoes.
She seemed to find newfound energy, her angst and anxiety completely faded away, and I was glad.
She took a step atop the step, froze in place. Spun back on one heel.
"Wifi? separate from the main house?"
"Oh, there are many channels, but I think you'll find the feed over there, is as good as anywhere on the grounds. Just peruse the network options when you try to connect, and I'll dispense a password."
"Excellent! Oh Alfred ... thank you! Thank you so much!"
And before I could do anything about it, her arms were around my waist and I found myself in an unbelievably sturdy bear hug. The top of her head and her disheveled hair found a place beneath my chin. I was taken aback so completely by this abrupt, unforeseen action, I found myself stammering and offbalance, arms flailing worrying I might fall against the stone tiles.
And for long moments, she didn't let go. She held me there upright in her rumpled terrycloth, her hair smelling of that faint, morning scent ... not repugnant ... not unfamiliar ... reminding me of someone else ... once or twice ... a long, long time ago. The truth was we were very good friends even though I started as a protector ... and we really weren't that far apart when it came to age ...
All at once, my thoughts overwhelmed and pushed away all else, and I embraced the memory. Similarly, I lowered my arms until I found I was hugging her back. I felt her warmth against me, drew it in, let it energize me, inhaled the scent of her hair ... thought about suggesting she go shower ... in a kindheartedly fashion. Amazing how much I needed this hug. Needed the appreciation. The affirmation.
She needed me. But I NEEDED HER ... whether I'd realized it or not.
Finally, she sighed. I felt the warmth of her breath through the fabric of my shirt. When she withdrew her arms from my waist. I found myself unable to speak.
To took a step back, took my measure and looked back toward the end of the garage(s).
"Was that weird?" she muttered at me out of the side of her mouth.
"Wei ... weird?" I stammered. "Noooo. Not at all. Unexpected is all. Too long out here all by myself ... but ..."
"Good." she interrupted simply and succinctly.
"Come on." I said with a grin turning back toward the house. "Let's find you some keys."
I paused halfway to the door holding up one finger. She careened clumsily into my thigh as I'd turned; I'd supposed because she continued looking back at the garages, laying grand plans as it were. "Sorry." she muttered righting herself and straightening her robe.
"Almost forgot." I pulled a folded paper from my breast pocket and handed it to her. "I took the liberty of drafting an advance for you. Normally you will receive your stipend at the end of each month, but I thought in this case, it might do well for you to have some funding ... to cover any immediate costs we hadn't considered. I hope you wont mind ..."
She snatched the check out of my hand and shoved it into her pocket without looking at it. Almost embarrassed by it.
"In future, I was thinking it would be of benefit for you to have a separate account set up via our private institutions. Untraceable. You would be granted full access and with no restrictions."
"Sure." she glanced back one more time toward the garage(s), "I'll do a mobile deposit on this one before heading into work."
"Very good. Let me find you those keys I'd mentioned. You can take your things over there anytime you like."
"After work tonight then?"
"Yes ma'am. Anytime." I said with a shrug.
"Can I make one request?"
I straightened almost clicking my heels together.
"Can we remove the vehicles from the garage under there?"
I thought about it ... because in truth, I wasn't exactly sure what currently occupied the space under the new Casa del Barbara?
"We will make room. And I'll teach you the code for the door." I said decisively with a nod.
Satisfied, she tromped past and headed for the front door, tongues of her boots lapping at the morning air like excited puppies.
"Gotta get dressed and head in." she waved.
"Oh one more thing." I prompted - last time, I swore. She turned back midstride. "How good are you with computers?"
She nodded, smirked pridefully, grinned at some point off to the left somewhere.
"I can get around."
Yeah ... so I'd heard.