Pulling up to the House after my thankless afternoon I saw an abundance of vehicles parked up and down the street. Quite different from the peaceful scene I had witnessed the day before. Vehicles is probably an inadequate word to describe what I saw. Lexus', BMW's, Cadillac SUV's, Mercedes, and even a lone Jaguar were all proudly parked, sleek and shiny in the evening sun. My minivan seemed woefully out of place.
"Well, Bessie," I said, "you may not be the most expensive car here, but I'll bet you're the most reliable!" I named the minivan Bessie, because she and I shared quite a bit together. She had been packed up and moved my belongings numerous times as I changed addresses throughout the years. She was also the perfect beach mobile, ready for a day of adventure and travel at a moment's notice.
Exiting Bessie, I did a mental thank you to the clothes gods above that today had been one of those good days when selecting my outfit du' jour. Smart tailored, professional jacket that hid all of the lumps and bumps. Sleek black pants that make me look at least ten pounds thinner, or so I hoped. And stylish sandals with a bit of a heel, adding sophistication to the ensemble, but comfortable enough that I could walk in the grass without stumbling. Clothes may not make the person, but a great outfit certainly helps keep a girl's confidence up when entering a pool of sharks. I put on my I Belong Here Even If You Don't Think I Do face and forged ahead.
Walking up the sidewalk I took my time, scanning the house next door for signs of the surly neighbor from the day before. Relieved that he was nowhere in sight, I approached the front porch and looked longingly at the white wicker rocking chair with it's chintz covered pillow sitting invitingly by the door.
This would be a prime coffee sipping spot. Watching the sun rise over the river wouldn't be a bad way to start the day either. My mind was jumping ahead of itself for sure.
Stepping inside the front door, I immediately smelled a light, sweet fragrance wafting through the air. Roses. Of course, it's the roses. Looking about I could see them in their containers presiding over the front rooms as the gentle river breeze coming through the open windows made their petals flutter ever so slightly. The sheets on the furniture had been removed and people were slowly meandering around helping themselves to the multitude of hors d'oeuvres on trays that were placed throughout the bottom floor.
Two rooms flanked the hallway. On the left the living room, the right the dining room, and directly ahead a staircase leading to the rooms above. The hallway wasn't enclosed by walls as you might first expect. Low cut glass fronted book shelves, waist high with beautiful columns towered to the ceiling on each side. Four sets of these structures mirrored each other as room dividers, with openings in between to access each space. The dentil woodwork on the crown molding topping the columns looked delicate, but sturdy, and I saw that the pattern repeated itself throughout both rooms and on the landings of the staircase.
Visible from the hallway were two great fireplaces, one in each room. The living room fireplace, centered on the south wall, had beautiful rosebud tiles surrounding the hearth. Its large mantle copied the dentil woodwork present in the rest of the house. On each side of the fireplace were huge windows that also had nine over wavy windowpanes. The windows of the east front wall of the living room faced the river, spotlighting a spectacular view of the water and dock beyond. The solid back wall of the living room appeared to be the casing for the stairway leading upstairs. Shabby furniture was visible, but obscured by the prospective buyers milling about.
I looked toward the dining room and saw a near duplicate of the living room. Large windows on the front with another breathtaking view of the river dominated this room as well. The placement of the fireplace differed. Centered on the back wall, a door adjacent lead into the kitchen where counter tops sparkled.
As I began to move forward for a closer look at the kitchen, Sue Kenilworth came towards me with hand out stretched. I approached her, took her hand and said, "Josie Holloway. So nice to see you again, Sue." Being the consummate sales professional that she was, Sue's face only fell slightly from disappointment that I was not a bigger fish coming into her pond.
"Josie, so kind of you to make it," she said as her eyes darted away from mine to gaze over the slowly thinning crowd behind me. "Please take a look around. Enjoy yourself. I'll catch up with you in a bit, but I must chat with the Wilmington's before they leave." And off she was, hoping to hook the big catch of the day.
Watching her depart it occurred to me that Sue was physically everything that I would never be. She was one of those rail thin, willowy blondes, that, unlike me, could easily wear a white pencil thin skirt with four inch heeled, strappy sandals. She was also the type that would never break a sweat, even on the most humid of Florida days, and would always attract every eye in the room, as she was doing now.
While blonde myself, with the help of monthly visits to my very talented hair dresser, I was only five foot three, and, as I like to think of myself, curvaceous. Others, however, might be more prone to describe me with a phrase popular in eras past as having great child bearing hips. While not having tested the theory, and at this age having no plans to do so in the future, I had become more comfortable with the fact that I had some meat on my bones. My exercise regime, such as it was, at least kept me toned and healthy. I felt confident enough that an occasional indulgent cheeseburger didn't send me into a panic attack that so many of the young scarecrow skinny girls of today's generation experience when a morsel of food passes their lips. I like to eat, good food being one of God's gifts to be enjoyed and savored and, in my case, should be complemented by a nice glass of wine.
Life is too short to live in a constant state of starvation. My thoughts were disrupted when I heard a commotion originating from what I presumed to be the kitchen moving directly toward me. "Sue! Sue Kenilworth where are you?" a man yelled.
The nasty neighbor had arrived.
Sue's head popped up from her conversation with a grey haired couple I assumed to be the Wilmington's and she began making her way across the hallway towards the dining room. As she stepped in front of the noise maker, I heard her say in a syrupy sweet voice, "Why JT, what can I do for you?"
"You know exactly what you can do for me. I've told you before. Keep those cars off of my property or I'll call the police and have them towed," he replied.
Sue was doing her best to contain the situation, obviously fearing that the distraction would scare off potential buyers. As she tried to guide the now named neighbor, JT, back toward the kitchen I took the opportunity to get a closer look at him. He definitely wasn't typical of the crowd currently present in the House. Frayed khaki shorts, leather flip flops and a Harley Davidson tank top were topped by a denim baseball cap with some sort of fish on it. Brown shaggy hair and a full bushy mustache gave him the appearance of a leaner, younger version of Tom Selleck with Jimmy Buffet overtones. Now that I had an up close and personal view I could see that he was attractive in an outdoorsy, casual sort of way.
Yep, no doubt about it. He is one great looking guy. Too bad his temperament doesn't match his looks. My initial impression of him as cranky had been confirmed, overriding any appeal his appearance may have had.
Dismissing him in my mind as the conversation continued in quieter, although no less intense tones, I made my way back to the hallway with the intention of exploring upstairs. Walking through the dining room I began picking up comments from the remaining visitors.
"Hot as blue blazes," someone said.
"I can't believe there's no air conditioning! It's Florida for goodness sakes," said a middle aged woman to her husband as she wiped her brow.
It finally dawned on me why all of the windows were open. I had originally thought it was to emphasize the lovely breeze flowing off of the river, blending the smell of salt water and the fragrance of roses into something that was reminiscent of another era. Now I realized, although I wasn't hot, the open windows were a vain attempt to cool others who were not used to the humid, hot air in the sub tropics. The cross ventilation supplied by all of the strategically placed windows were in my opinion doing a fabulous job of cooling the bottom floor. It being only May, however, I could foresee that when the wind died down and the humidity rose in the depths of a hot Florida August, the lack of AC might be a deal breaker for most people.
The stairs led up to a hallway that divided the second floor with three rooms to the back of the house and two rooms splitting the front. Exploring, I discovered that the front rooms were large bedrooms with huge dormer windows overlooking the lawn and river beneath. The back rooms were two more slightly smaller rooms with expansive views of the back yard on either side of a fairly large, but outdated bathroom.
All of the rooms were carpeted in a gold, 1970's shag that looked like it might literally have something growing in it. The walls were papered in a green flocked pattern that had also seen better days. Though spacious for a home from this time period and architectural style, it was apparent immediately that the entire second floor needed a lot of work. The bathroom alone needed complete refurbishment, although the claw footed tub did hold its own charm.
About to make my way downstairs, I noticed a small door beside the bathroom, barely wide enough for a person to fit through, that I had at first taken to be a linen closet. Opening the door I discovered a very narrow set of stairs that appeared to lead up to the attic. Feeling as if I had taken too much time and noticing the quiet coming from below, I determined that I would have to save the mystery of the attic for some other day.
Entering the downstairs hallway I realized that I was alone in the House. Through the front door's wavy glass panes I could see Sue speaking with JT as the last of the remaining vehicles pulled out into the street.
Looks like JT got his way. I was surprisingly pleased that the stunning Sue Kenilworth could not dissuade him from his mission.
Taking full advantage of the opportunity I had inadvertently received, I stood in the hallway, slowly pivoting in a circle, taking in full view of the front rooms, without the obstruction of the earlier visitors. Peaceful. Warm. Enchanting. Those were my feelings that first time alone in the House. Little did I know that the sense of peace and serenity I felt then would become something I would obsessively crave to possess permanently in the future.