"Jo, I need you!" rang loudly from my boss in the hallway as he casually strode into work at his normal 9:30ish hour. Hearing his bellow immediately threw me into full blown, nails on a chalk board, irritation.
Pushing thoughts of the House out of my mind I stared longingly at the freshly brewed, just poured cup of Joe steaming fragrantly upon my desk. A lovely caffeine buzz and uninterrupted time to think about my early morning adventure turned out to be too much to ask for.
Once again it's another cold cup of coffee day for me! I resolutely pasted a smile on my face and walked into the big boss' office.
"So what's up, Allen? It's awfully early for panic and peril," I said in a tone that I hoped would be considered lighthearted and witty, but ended up sounding bitchy at best. "Josie, I need you to figure out why our numbers are down. And, hey, is there any coffee?"
As the Assistant General Manager of the local weekly newspaper, my job consisted of doing my boss' job. He had declared many times that as General Manager he was a "BIG picture kind of guy" and I was "a nuts and bolts kind of girl". His rationalization meant that I had to manage Sales, Production, Distribution, and Accounting and, oh, get the boss a cup of coffee while at it. A four year degree, twenty years experience and still, as a professional woman in the workplace, getting someone else's coffee was my current task at hand.
So be it. I handed him the java, with cream and sugar of course, and pointed out that the reporting period was shorter this year and that our figures were actually up.
"Aaah, I knew I could count on you, Jo. Thanks. Send Corporate that response, would ya? I'm heading up to St. Augustine for lunch. See you tomorrow," Allen said as he grabbed his coffee and notepad and made for the door.
Once again Josie Holloway runs to the rescue. My so called career consisted of picking up everyone else's pieces, literally sucking the life out of me. Despite my desire to think about my mystery morning, this Tuesday turned out to be no different. The day progressed in typical fashion as my phone rang non-stop and emails showed up in my inbox faster than I could read them. An endless parade of people stomped in and out of my office until I finally made my escape.
Leaving the building, the blazing hot Florida sun blinded me as it sank down to the horizon. The humid air hung damp on my jacket. While the calendar still said May, in reality summer had definitely begun. Ninety plus degree temperatures would be around for a while at the World's Most Famous Beach, as Daytona was most frequently known, making my required corporate business attire agonizingly oppressive.
My thoughts as I turned the AC to Polar Express High in my unfashionable, but highly practical minivan were a jumble. Frustrations from the day battled with visions of the House.
My job did not fulfill me. Sick of middle management and all that came with it, my manager role ended up being a catch all word for babysitter, teacher, social worker and most importantly, therapist. More time was spent sorting out interpersonal conflicts than creating ground breaking initiatives. The tedium was mind numbing.
Seeing the House today stirred up my emotions in a way that made me question the path my life had taken. My dissatisfaction at work had become constant, my entire life monotonous.
Newly single at forty, I realized that routine had become the drug I survived on. My typical prescription consisted of working endless hours and heading to the gym for the thirty minute work-out that I was convinced would turn me into a svelte size ten even though the clothes still said fourteen. Then a quick trip to the grocery store for healthy food that I didn't want to eat and home to the cats. At this point in my life, I didn't want a refill of this deadly dull remedy. It had been comforting after my divorce, but this structured life was no longer necessary and, in fact, cut me to the core. Change had to be in order.
I thought about the good things that change brought about in my life in the past. A year ago I extricated myself from a very brief and very mistaken marriage to a man who was more into internet porn than he was into me. Adding fuel to my already raging fire, my father's estate was challenged by a backwoods Alabama third cousin who was convinced that I had wickedly coerced my aging father into leaving me all of his worldly belongings.
Today I could look back and say that the tumultuous fire overtaking my life had definitely been put out. With my inheritance I finalized the details of my divorce and settled my father's estate. In translation that meant that I had to pay big bucks to make the ex-husband and crazy cousin go away. While that ate up a considerable chunk of my new found change, it was worth it for my peace of mind.
I pulled into the driveway of my duplex rental and looked around. It stood in a nice neighborhood, but the homes were tightly squeezed together with tiny yards. Moving into my own place again after my divorce, this was as close to a real house as I wanted to get, but having a neighbor just on the other side of the bedroom wall had been disconcerting. The thought that someone might hear my snoring as well as the occasional odd sounds I could hear coming from the other side, made for less than spectacular sleeping conditions.
My current neighbor, and there had been many in the year that I lived there, was a single, thirty five year old surfer dude who from my observations, didn't seem to want to grow up. Loud music, late night parties and constant, suspicious traffic in and out, which I assumed supplied his income, made me edgy and occasionally anxious.
As I unlocked my door and heard the incessant blaring of Metallica from the state of the art Bose speakers next door, a vision of the House, rooms engulfed in roses, popped full blown into my head. The time had come to move on to a real home of my own.
Two pairs of eyes confronted me as I stepped inside the door. The cats were not pleased. White Socks, a black and white tuxedo cat, appeared to be miffed over my late arrival and subsequent late delivery of his evening meal. Grace, a grey tiger stripe, rubbed on my legs and loudly indicated her desire to finally be held, snuggled and adored as Princess of the house.
Heading straight for the kitchen, I made my apologies. "All right kittens, please forgive my tardiness, dinner is on the way."
I was grateful to see that today's feline fury hadn't resulted in the search for new play toys among Mommy's best crystal. Retribution for a late homecoming could occasionally spur the cats onto dastardly deeds as they tried to entertain themselves while waiting for my return. Pleased that they had been good cats today, I searched through my vast selection of over priced but supposedly delectable mini cans of cat food for something to tickle their fancy.
After attending to the cats, performing the mundane chores of home life and eating a bland chicken breast and tossed salad, I poured myself a glass of red wine, settled into my overstuffed chair and turned on the remaining half hour of American Idol. Being an interested, if not avid fan, the show usually captured my attention, if for no other reason than I knew it would be a hot topic of conversation the following day at the office. But tonight, Randy and the new, not so interesting, Simon and Paula replacements couldn't keep me focused, as my mind continued to dwell on the House.
Who had lived there? What was the deal with the roses? A single question kept repeating itself. What did the whole house look like inside? I had always wanted to know. Unfortunately, my earlier peak inside the windows had been only a tantalizing tease. The roses distracted my attention and now I had only a brief picture in my mind of what the rooms looked like. My curiosity wasn't even remotely satisfied.
Unable to contain my growing excitement I called my best friend, Roni, to find out what she might know. Roni, like me, is a native Floridian. Unlike me, she was born and had lived in this particular area her entire life. She knew everybody and everything. If anybody knew the scoop it would be her.
When she answered I told her about my discovery and asked if she had heard anything from any of her customers. As Sales Manager for our paper, Roni worked with every realtor in town.
"Sorry, Jo, I don't know a thing about that specific house. Right now, though, all of my Realtors are complaining about being stuck with white elephants. The drop in the housing market is hitting them hard. Why are you so interested in this one anyway? I didn't even know you were looking around."
"I'm definitely not looking around, Roni. It's this House or no house. I can just feel it. It's meant to be."
"Jo, how many glasses of wine have you had? You're not sounding like your practical, logical self right now."
"Only one," I said laughing. "Geez, give me some credit. Can't I have an illogical, spontaneous inspiration for once in my life?"
"Yes, you can, it's just not like you. But as your number one best friend, I promise to support you whatever you do. Who knows? The market might be in your favor and you could get a good deal. I'll see what I can find out and call you tomorrow."
While getting Roni on the case was a start, it wasn't the immediate gratification that I craved. Knowing I would never sleep until I knew more, I decided to do a little digging on my own. While hardly being a computer expert, I figured an internet search might help.
I quickly found the County Property Appraiser's Office web site and keyed in the House's address for a property record search. My first attempt was rewarded with a screen full of information including the legal description, tax values, and a lot of other technical stuff that meant little or nothing to me. I did discover that I had been right on the money about the House's age, though, 1906 being cited as the year built.
Aside from the rest of the dull details, what really captured my attention on the web site was the sales history. There simply wasn't any. In over a hundred years the House had never been sold, remaining in family ownership the entire time. In this day and age that was unheard of. Only a very special, well-loved home would remain immune from escalating waterfront real estate prices spurred on by land gobbling developers. Why was it being sold now? The reason had to be of some significance, particularly considering the current bust in the housing boom.
Finding no answers as 11 PM approached, way past my normal bed time, I showered, put on my comfy oversized t-shirt, a sure sign of any girl's single and solitary status and crawled into bed looking forward to a good night's sleep.
With Socks curled up at my feet and Grace snuggled tight to my side, my mind began creating mini dramas in my head as I visualized life in the House throughout an entire century. How many weddings and births and deaths and historic events had the House seen its residents through? It was a spellbinding fascination and as I drifted off to sleep, my last thought was of roses. Oodles and oodles of roses.