The sunset this evening looked much like this one? Should have whipped my camera out – perhaps Little Ben would have taken the hint….
Fortunately the call to Wood finished way before the silver Audi in front of me pulled to the curb. While I love books, and my major form of investing is tied up in paper, glue and string, I didn’t think there was much money to be had in selling them – even if Pulp (where Beatrice worked) was the largest independent on the West Coast.
Why, you ask, am I curious about her income? You need to understand that in our metropolis very few structures, monuments or companies are older than Nevermore. I had a sneaking suspicion this Lavender Lady (the house was a pale lavender with purple trim and a green door) was one of the few – I wasn’t hedging my bets here. The Lavender Lady resides in Old Town where the trees lining the streets are close to achieving old-growth status and yards are large enough to required a couple full time gardeners to maintain. My entire cottage would easily fit in the Lavender Lady’s main floor – with room left over for a nice kitchen, cook’s nook and parlor (this kind of house doesn’t have anything as common as a family room). She even sported a white picket fence and a trellis over an odd gate with creeping roses climbing over it (pale yellow if you’re wondering).
Other than greeting each other after we parked Beatrice was quiet, leaving me free to crane my neck while I followed her. She veered away from the front door onto a narrower walk which led around the side of the house, down a flight of stairs. “We are almost there.” I think she felt the need to reassure me, since this couldn’t be the short way. Finally we turned the corner and then I knew the LL was older than Nevermore. The Lavender Lady must occupy four full-sized lots, and I am saying four circa 1830 sized lots, and it was beautiful. The dominant feature was a massive oak tree in full autumn glory, much to the delight of several scurrying squirrels. The smell of flowers, decaying leaves and fermenting berries filled my lungs while a faint prickle ran across my curling toes – interesting. “Impressive” was the best description I could come up with for the LL. The complicated gate mechanism made more sense now – developers might be proving a nuisance.
However I still wasn’t ready to judge this book by its cover (who am I kidding? I’d live in a closet here before moving back with Aunt Pearl).
When I turned around, I found Beatrice waiting by an open door watching me take it all in, “Not as expansive as Nevermore, but for the city it isn’t bad.”
Smiling, I replied, “Not much around here is, but this is close. Big Ben’s family invested in land when it was cheap, before the city was more than a speck.” I pushed away feelings I didn’t want to feel and forced myself to sound bright, “Let’s see inside!”.
Beatrice’s apartment consisted of the entire basement of the grand house above, and while there weren’t any water stains, cobwebs or unidentifiable odors (the big three for subterranean living) – it did provide a certain je ne sais quoi. Nature vs. Nurture was all I could think of (or in this Architecture vs. Decorating) while Beatrice gave me the grand tour of the place. The kitchen, laundry and bathrooms all felt like a vintage 1940’s soap advert. The hallways and rooms were dominated by bookshelves meticulously arranged (I assume, though I am not sure by what method) – but each one had at least one shelf devoted to some sort of collection; stamps, shells, feathers, postcards and bones? If you wed a college library to a cabinet of curiosities you’d get the same feel. Each door made me think of a Phillip Marlowe detective novel; a brass door knob, key hole and large frosted pane of glass with bold gold lettering designating the room’s utility: Book Room (seriously), Washroom and such.
One pane, the last of the tour was blank. “This would be your room.” Beatrice stepped aside and let me turn the knob. Compared to the tidy array (neither cluttered or ruthlessly organized it felt like a lived-in museum. “Tidy” is the best I can do here) of furniture and interesting things this room felt like a shock – completely bare of anything, except for indents in the carpet (the sterling upside was it has its own bathroom). It was perfect.
“I can clear out some kitchen cabinets and space in the hall closet for your stuff and we can figure out how best to fit your furniture around the house. Anything else you can put in storage here on the property.” Still wandering around looking out the window and in the medicine cabinet, I assumed she was trying to iron out any future kinks or qualms I might have.
“So what do you think?”
Some lovely smelling roses peaking over the side-fence at Beatrice’s house.
I choked on my on the coffee. I was going to kill Wood – he’s such a liar – he never talked to her. Trying to compose a suitable answer in my head on the fly, while calculating the amount of money it would take to replace the titles of mine in his possession (I decided yelling at him would be more economical) when Beatrice started laughing.
“That was mean, forgive me. I wasn’t sure if Dourwood told you he tried to set us up the other night. I am glad he did, so I can clear the air – I am not looking for a girlfriend, I am looking for a roommate.”
Wheezing I nodded and waved for her to go on. Trying to listen, laugh and cough discreetly didn’t allow for much contribution to the subject at the moment. It also mitigated the relief I felt at the moment, since choking tends to drown out most everything else.
“You remember I told you about my break-in a few weeks back?” I nodded for her to continue, my power of speech not quite there yet.
“The thing is, the break-in made my landlady, Ms. Hettie, nervous – especially since I travel frequently. And when she gets nervous she gets cranky. Well, crankier. So I thought having a roommate might maker her feel more secure. I can offer a discounted rent; if you’re willing to grab stuff I send to a P.O. Box and coordinate your travel with mine, so we can have someone home most nights. What do you think?” She regarded me with a hopeful look, but there was that competitive gleam as well – like this was her master stroke in keeping the house breakers at bay. Once again I wondered if she regarded thwarting them as a competitive sport.
Working past my speculation into stupefaction, I’m not sure why I thought we were meeting but I never saw this coming. My shoulders started to relax for the first time since Ben dropped by. I swear she felt my natural hesitation of moving in with a practical stranger melting under the thought of an affordable rent or in fact simply a roof over my head. Twelve days to find a place and move into it seemed daunting, “Plus all the books you can read.” She knew her audience – I wavered, “Months before they are released.” Now she was playing hardball.
Practicality replaced surprise and the odd suspicion. Buying a bit of time I hedged, ”Can I see your place and my room first before I decide?” Making sure I didn’t commit to some dark, depressing house at the end of a dank lane. Though I am not sure I would turn it down even then (later I thought this a bit rich, since I lived in a cemetery), the specter of pleading for a place with Aunt Pearl – even short term – haunted me.
“No problem. Do you want to see it now?” she asked while she got ready to head out.
“Don’t you have to go back to work?” Mirroring her movements I put on my jacket and scarf.
“The joy of my job is the built-in flexibility. As long as I get my work done on time my boss doesn’t care when I come in.”
I asked for a to go cup and we left The Altar.
I counted myself lucky when we decided to take separate cars. It allowed me to call Wood while I followed her home (using a hands-free device, of course). He verified that as far as he knew Beatrice didn’t harbor any latent axe murdering tendencies. Or mental instabilities which would again lead her towards the aforementioned axe wielding predilections. Or general flakiness which would find her trunk filled with all my first editions, heading to New York with dreams of starring in A Chorus Line inadvertently financed by me (You laugh but my early twenties were weird and expensive). Wood assured me that these possibilities were extremely remote. The most unusual thing he knew of Beatrice happened twelve years previous and featured a herd of goats, a sorority house and the staging of an epic prank. When Wood hung up I felt reassured about Beatrice’s character, despite the goats.
The heady scents of coffee, sugar and bacon enveloped me when I entered The Altar of the Bean (or The Altar as it is known amongst the regulars, neighborhood and social media). The controlled chaos of baristas, cashiers and bakers behind the counter snagged my attention first, the pastry case came second and when I spotted the espresso machine in all its glory, I stood transfixed – I’d been absent from here for far to long. When finally I snapped out of the hypnotic reverie which gripped me, I spied Beatrice tucked in the best lit corner of the cafe reading a book with an impressively large cup in front of her.
I made my way to the marble-topped table, feeling a bit awkward. I always feel odd when meeting a friend of a another friend without said original friend there – acting as a translator or referee? You never want to put the original friend in an weird fix if it turns out you actual loathe each other (I am exceptional at borrowing trouble). Fortunately Beatrice glanced up from her book before I reached her and smiled.
“Hey. Mind if I get coffee before I sit down?” I deposited my outerwear accoutrements on the chair opposite her while she answered, “Not at all.”
“Would you like a refill?” She shook her head no and I went to wait in line. I dithered over my selection while waiting, lemon Danish? A bear claw? Croissant? Or chuck it all and get a bacon, egg and cheese on pita? I glanced back at Beatrice, sucked into her book again. Hazard of the job I suppose.
My vacillating was interrupted by the barista at the counter asking what I wanted to order – a raspberry croissant and caramel latte, please. When my order was up, I rejoined Beatrice at the table where she held up her index finger while her eyes moved swiftly over the page, “One page to the next chapter.”
“No worries.” Which was fine by me as the croissant was proving to be a challenge. The raspberry jam squished out of the end onto my chin and fingers with such precision I could only conclude the Altar some how worked out a way to turn a dollop of jam into a guided missile whose sole focus was to besmirch a shirt front. Perhaps if I light a candle and offer up a coffee bean as penance for my long absence from this holy place, my shirts will be safe again…. (Yes they have an actual altar, they’ve adopted the Greek god Dionysus as their patron. Like I said, they take their coffee very seriously, or perhaps the owners are Greek. Could go either way.).
Placing an index card in the book to hold her place, Beatrice set it aside and tried not to laugh at my struggles. I must admit the mound of napkins in front of me was impressive, but I won the day and managed to keep my shirt front free from stains.
I started with a soft pitch, “What book are you reading?” There was no cover art and I didn’t see who the author was before she put it away.
“The new Ernest Cline, due out next year. Pretty good so far.” She finished her coffee and arched her eyebrow at me. New Ernie Cline? Seriously? She’d put the book back in her bag so filching it was out of the question. Well that an our passing familiarity. I ruled out mugging her in the parking for the same reason. Curses! (You may ask why my go-to strategy for acquiring the book features a criminal element? One night of fun did not mean we were on book borrowing terms with one another – Wood and I took twenty years to achieve this level. I mean what if we stopped talking right after I lent my favorite out? Tragedy. Is theft the obvious answer? Perhaps my bibliophile priorities may need tweaking…not that I would really resorted to these methods…).
Focusing back on real life again, ”And while this is a fine book, I did ask you to meet me here for a slightly different reason.” Smiling I appreciated her directness, since the jam incident and my larcenous heart didn’t make me feel any less awkward and I was intrigued to figure out where this conversation was going. I picked up my latte and blew on it while I waited for her to continue.
“You mentioned the other night that you needed to move out your house at Nevermore rather quickly. Have you found a new place yet?” Her fingers tapped the the edge of her saucer while she spoke.
“Not yet. It’s number two on my list. Why?”, taking my first sip of coffee.
“I was wondering if you’d move in with me?”