Cookbook-2 Begins! Cherries, Mascarpone, Marsala

Cat_menu_Episode-1Hello and welcome back!

I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’ve been patient during the past couple of weeks, while I got ready for Cookbook-2 of our Three Ingredients Serial.  

The first set of “ingredients” for Cookbook-2 came from Evelyne Holingue. I guess they’re leftovers,  because I’ve been hanging onto them.  Evelyne sent them just before the first Three Ingredients Serial concluded.  Thank you, Evelyne for being patient while I got around to using them.

The first time I visited Evelyne’s blog I was amazed by how much I feel she has accomplished.  The blog is charming and includes posts in English and French.  There are also links to some National Public Radio (NPR) recordings of her lovely voice as she reads her stories.  (Yes, Americans are always charmed by accents, but hers really is lovely.) You will also find information about her books, including Trapped in Paris.

I can’t promise to dive right in for immediate shenanigans and chaos. Sometimes it1920s face
takes a bit of writing for the ingredients to lead the story, but I hope to entertain you just the same.

The cupboards are bare — so leave a comment with your three food-related ingredients.  

As before, I’m determined to let your “ingredients” drive the story.  I considered moving this story several years forward… but that was just what I wanted to do.  When I sat down with the ingredients, “Marsala” had other ideas.  So Cookbook-2 picks up about a month after the previous story.  It also brings back an old friend from The Three Things serial. (And watch out for that Marsala. Wink.)

Bon appétit!

1.  Cherries, Mascarpone, Marsala

Lucille Ball teenaged 1The pile of pits grew steadily as I worked.  My thoughts were a million miles away so I did the task absently.  But I wasn’t so preoccupied that I didn’t pop one of the dark ripe cherries into my mouth now and then.

It had been a month since the spirit of Daisy, the dainty dish, asked me for help.  She wanted me to find out who killed her.  However, I was no closer to solving that mystery than I had been the night she made the request.  Daisy helped me get incriminating evidence against the murderous gangsters, but she asked for my assistance in return.

I sighed and ate another cherry.

I had not seen Daisy again since that night.  Despite her claim that both Granny Fanny and I could see spirits, I hadn’t seen her or any other ghost.  I was actually relieved about that part.  However, I was very frustrated at not finding any new information about Daisy or her death.  I didn’t see how I was going to be able to do anything helpful.  The idea of not keeping the promise I made to her irked me.1920s Owl Clock

Occasionally I looked up at the clock on the counter.  I didn’t want to be late.  I wondered where my grandmother had gotten that unusual clock.  It was set into a hand carved wooden owl.  It took a while for the clock to grow on me, but I decided that I liked it.  When the owl chimed fifteen minutes past the hour, I got up and washed my hands, popping one last cherry into my mouth.

As if on cue, Granny came into the kitchen.  She began mixing milk, coffee, and mascarpone cheese, humming an old song as she worked.

“If the train is on time, you and your friend are welcome to have a snack with us.  Arabella’s cousin might come with her, but I expect it will just be Arabella and me,” Granny said.

Arabella Wong’s family came to the United States from England.  (It was many generations since that branch of their family had been in Hong Kong.)  So tea was customary with the Wongs.  It was something Granny enjoyed too.

1920s RefrigeratorEver the generous and flexible hostess, Granny wouldn’t mind if I brought half the people on the train, or if Arabella brought her family and everybody who worked at Wong’s Chinese, for that matter.  The friendship between Granny and Arabella Wong
had grown since the night of the big shindig Granny catered.  The two women, without guns or knives, fought back Queenie Wetson’s henchmen long enough for Detective Daniels and the mysterious Mr. Farceur to move into action.

“Is it okay if I play that by ear, Granny?” I asked.

“Of course, Sweet Pea.  I know you young people have a lot of catching up to do,” she said amiably.

Excited yapping preceded the sound of a knock at the front door.  Granny didn’t seem surprised, but I wasn’t expecting to hear a dog.  I followed her to the door and greeted Arabella.  She had brought a little pug dog.  Its curled tail wagged merrily.

“Where did you come from?” I said as I stooped to scratch the dog’s back.

“I haven’t had him long.  This is Wriggles,” Arabella said and the little dog wagged his tail so hard that his entire back half wagged along with it.Vintage Pug

Granny laughed.  “I can see how he got his name.  It’s too bad he didn’t get to be in the pet parade,” she said, referring to part of the aforementioned party.

“Oh no, he gets into things. You know how puppies are, and Wriggles is only six months old.  There’s no telling what trouble he would have caused at a posh party like that,” she said, but then she put her hand to her mouth and giggled.

Arabella was right. The pet parade had turned into utter chaos, so we all laughed.  “But I suppose he would have fit right in with the other pets,” she added.  “Anyway, there wasn’t anyone at home today, and I didn’t want to leave him alone.  So thank you Fanny, for letting me bring him with me.”

A moment later I was on my way to Union Station.  To my delight, Granny let me use her yellow automobile.  It was as old as the hills, but she kept it in pristine condition.

When I reached the station I realized the train arrived early.  I looked all around for a familiar face.  Finally I saw a man standing at the courtesy desk, talking animatedly on the telephone.  I’d know him anywhere.  I moved up behind him and stayed quiet while he finished his conversation.  He hadn’t heard me sneak up on him.  After a moment he hung up the phone.

Union Station, Savannah, GA

Union Station, Savannah, GA

“Andy, look at you puttin’ on the Ritz!” I said, causing him to jump and turn around.

“Pip!  You’re the cat’s pajamas for picking me up.  It’s great to see you,” Andy Avis exclaimed.

Back where I lived in the same building with my group of friends in Florida, I had nicknamed Andy the Astronaute-man because he wrote science fiction type stories.  You know, like H. G. Wells or Jules Verne.  Thanks to John Ringling, Andy made connections out in Hollywood, California and sold one of his screenplays.  He had been living out there ever since.  Based on the nice suit of clothes he wore, Andy was doing Buster Keatonpretty well for himself in Hollywood.

“Mona wrote to say she was going to Hollywood for that short film thing you got started back at Ca’d’Zan.  So I was surprised you would leave,” I said, trying not to let speculation show on my face.

My shy little Astronaute-man had always carried a torch for our beautiful friend Mona, but she didn’t return his feelings.  I knew he took it hard when she developed a really serious interest in our other friend, Boris.  Andy blushed and looked down.  I figured he was still hurting from that.

“Actually, that was one reason why I took this trip.  It kind of smarts to see Mona.  But she was looking great, as always.  Said to give you a big hug for her,” he said and followed Mona’s instruction.

Andy wasn’t much taller than me, so he had to bend back some to get my feet off the 1920s Friends at Beachground in a big bear hug.  We both laughed.  It was the bee’s knees to see Andy again.  Yes, I had been missing my little group of friends.  But I didn’t realize just how terribly I missed them until that moment.  I brushed a tear away while Andy wasn’t looking.

“One of the executives at the studio, Manny Mayer, he knows I’m from Florida, and he figured that wasn’t much different from Savannah,” Andy said and rolled his eyes.  “The guy needs to brush up on his geography… But I remembered you were here.  So anyway, I’m here for a couple of reasons,” he chattered away.

I chuckled to myself about the executive.  From then on, I’d think of him as Manny Mayer the Movie Maker.  After all, it went along with the other nicknames I’d given folks, Andy the Astronaute-man, Boris the Ballerina, and Frankie the Fireman.  Frankie — I didn’t want to think about him any more than Andy wanted to think about Mona.  Wishing my thoughts had not gone there, I turned my full attention back to Andy.

“So Manny asked if I could look at an abandoned factory he’s thinking of buying here.  He even gave me power of attorney to buy it, if I think it’s decent.  So I’m hoping we
can go take a look at it,” he said with an imploring expression.

“Sure thing,” I told him.  “Want to go check it out right now?” I asked and he agreed wholeheartedly.1914_Ford_Model_T_Speedster

“But here’s the fun part,” Andy said in a conspiratorial tone and wriggled his eyebrows playfully.  “The building predates the Civil War.  I looked into it before I ever left Hollywood.  It was a stop, a sort of hideout for blockade runners back then!” Andy said excitedly.  “There’s no telling what kind of stuff we might find in there — Naturally I told Manny about all that.  I wouldn’t swindle anybody.  He laughed and told me if I found anything I wanted that it was mine.”

I got caught up in Andy’s enthusiasm and grinned at him.  “That was a long time ago,” I said gently, not wanting to disappoint him.  “It’s probably been ransacked of anything good years ago.”

Maybe not…” he said in a meaningful tone.  “It’s supposed to be haunted!

Well, I can tell you… that was one spooky old building.  There was no wonder it had a abandoned factoryreputation for being haunted.  With all the cobwebs and the thick coat of dust that covered everything, it was hard to tell much about what was inside the old factory.

So Andy set about business first, and went over the big old place from top to bottom, making sure it was still solid, at least for the most part.  He said that it fit within the guidelines Manny Mayer gave him, so afterward went into town and took care of the paperwork.  Mr. Mayer was the proud owner of an abandoned Civil War era factory.

We decided to come back with flashlights the next day, so we could get a better look at things.  However, there was one storeroom where part of the floor above it had fallen in.  Under the debris we spotted some old crates that turned out to be filled with bottles of Italian wine.  The crates were heavy, but the two of us managed to get them to Granny’s automobile.

I told Andy that he could store them at Granny’s for the time being.  Granny Fanny also offered the guest room to him.  So we headed back to the cottage.

When we got there I found a note from my grandmother saying that she would be spending the evening with her ladies group.  She also left fried chicken, hush puppies, and coleslaw. “Incase Andy decided to stay,” the note said.  Based on the amount of Back porchfood, she must have been pretty sure he would stick around.  Andy’s expression when he saw all that home-cooked food was enough to confirm he was at least going to stay for dinner.

We had left the crates of wine on the cottage’s wraparound porch, beside the kitchen door.  All the crates looked old, but one of them was even older than the rest. We had to move it very carefully because it was about to fall apart.  Andy opened the crate and pulled out a remarkably ornate bottle.

Marsala!  I guess we should have white wine with chicken, but I won’t stand on formality.  Will you?” he asked with a wink.  Then looking more serious he warned, “It might be spoiled.  I can’t make out the date, but this must be plenty old.”

Andy dusted off the label.  We could make out a vineyard name, and Italy, and other words that told us it was in fact wine, but the date was not readable.  The bottle was so dirty that I insisted on washing it before we opened it.  I took a damp cloth and carefully cleaned every curve and crevice of the lovely old bottle.  Some of the designs were amazingly intricate.  This was going to be a very special bottle of wine, I was absolutely certain!

1922 Cherry RocherI didn’t realize that I was humming as I worked until Andy asked me what I as singing.  Suddenly puzzled, I stopped because I had no idea what the song was.  It was a tune I wasn’t even aware of knowing.  I hummed it louder for Andy, but he didn’t recognize it either.  I shrugged it off.  Obviously I must have heard the tune somewhere.
Turning the bottle this way and that, I admired my handiwork, as well as the beautiful design.  Only then did I notice that the top of the bottle’s neck was shaped like a skull with two swords beneath it.  I made a face and showed Andy.

“You don’t think that means it’s poison do you?” he asked.  “I’m sure the label doesn’t say that. And the seal hasn’t been broken.”

I had really been excited about that gorgeous bottle of wine.  I didn’t want to think it was anything other than what the label said.

“Wait.  For poison they use a skull and crossbones.  Those things look like swords — not bones.  Isn’t that the pirate symbol?” I commented and Andy nodded and grinned.

“Maybe that means it really is a pirate’s bottle!” he offered.  “This wine could have been made before the Civil War.  Or even before that.  It could date back to the American Revolution — or who knows how far!”

I handed Andy the corkscrew and told him to do the honors.  However, the cork was stubborn.  Finally I held the bottle with both hands, while he removed the cork.  It came loose with a reverberating pop, which I felt inside my teeth and eardrums.  The harmonic sound shifted into the melody I was humming a moment before.

“Holy Hannah,” Andy commented quietly.Skull Ghost Bottle

For a moment I thought the bottle must have been mislabeled. I thought it must contain Champagne rather than marsala.  A sort of fizzy purple vapor filled the air, expanding wider and taller.  I started waving a napkin, trying to clear the air.  Then I sneezed.  It was a big bend your neck, eye-squinting, bless-you-and-everybody-around-you sneeze.  Like I said, the vapor was weirdly fizzy.

I was about to make a smart-alecky remark to Andy about the fact that he didn’t say “Bless you.”  But as I raised my head and opened my eyes I saw a man standing where the vapors had been.  He wore a white apron, but his clothes were from an era long past.  When I looked closely, I realized that he wasn’t particularly… well… solid.

He bowed quite formally.  “At your service, Signorina,” the ghost said.

***

Recipe:  Coffee Milk Mascarpone

Coffee Mascarpone

Recipe and Photo Credit:  Purewow.com

Yields:  1 cup

Total Time:  2 hours 25 minutes (includes chilling time)

Ingredients

½ cup mascarpone cheese

¼ cup strong espresso

2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Ladyfingers or shortbread cookies, for serving

Cinnamon, for garnish (optional)

Directions

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cheese with the espresso, condensed milk and salt on medium speed until medium-stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight.

2. Remove the coffee milk mascarpone from the refrigerator and let warm until just slightly chilled. Garnish with the cinnamon, if desired, and serve immediately with desired accompaniments.

 

All images from Pinterest unless otherwise noted.

Copyright © 2014 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.  Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.

Atonement, TN: Beginning

veil_of_sky_open_1 copy

The Story Begins

I’m posting this especially for those who have requested something longer to read.  I’m listening to your comments, and I aim to please!  So here is a rather long excerpt from the beginning of “Atonement, Tennessee,” my debut novel, published on Christmas Eve 2013.

With our “interactive” serials, The Three Things, and The Three Ingredients, I’m considerate of the fact that you might not have time to settle in with the story.  So I try to keep the episodes brief. Here, I’m giving you a large chunk from the beginning of Atonement, Tennessee.  It’s doesn’t take itself too seriously. The urban fantasy is set in our world, in the current time, but with supernatural elements, and a side order of mystery.

Naturally I hope this leaves you with a taste to read the rest of my novel.  It’s for sale at Barnes & Noble [online only of course], and at Amazon/Kindle. In case you’re curious, here’s my Amazon author page.  I hope you’ll check it out:   http://www.amazon.com/Teagan-Riordain-Geneviene/e/B00HHDXHVM

Prologue

Dawn’s light cast shadows that shifted amid branches of magnolia and mountain laurel, and danced upon statuary and grave ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????stones.  A mouse scurried out from the darkness of the mausoleum, narrowly avoiding Lilith’s expert pounce.  The big calico cat gave chase to the mouse, romping between headstones and tumbling the fallen leaves for some little while before losing interest.

Lilith held her head up expectantly, as if suddenly aware of something unseen.  In a series of graceful but quick motions she jumped to a tall grave marker that had toppled against the mausoleum, and then onto the tomb’s roof.

From her high perch the calico could see a house that was on the opposite side of the street, down a short distance from her new home.  Lights were on inside, silhouetting a large shape that moved from room to room.  It looked like a man.  He approached the tall, broad window on the second story front of the house.  There he stopped, seeming to look outside as if aware of being observed.

The cat continued to stare.  The silhouette seemed to shift and bulge, extending to fill the big window.  Huge appendages moved rhythmically.  Lilith watched, fascinated.  After a moment the shape diminished and the house went dark.black_eagle_with_open_wings_design-t1

Now that certainly wasn’t anything native to this place, she thought.  Lilith wondered just how badly he had erred to be in this unique place.  He surely wasn’t there of his own choice.

The calico sat meditatively swishing her tail as a pink sunrise gently lit the sky.  Her ears pricked as she turned toward the distant sound of a rooster crowing.  As morning light touched the tip of a spire on the mausoleum’s peaked roof, the calico abandoned her perch and trotted back toward her new home.

Sunlight glittered the morning dew on the grass, so she walked along the stone path.  The cat stopped in a sunny spot to watch a spider.  It disappeared beneath a stone, so she started washing her face, but listened for anything that might prove interesting.

Early sounds of the day were pushed aside when a shaggy dog with a ribbon bow on its head made his escape.  The owner began Puddles in grasschanting the dog’s name, “Puddles, Puddles!” in a loud, displeased monotone.  The dog, having thus far outwitted the master, scampered between hedges and under a fence, where the hateful bow was happily lost.  Skidding round a corner the dog came upon the fat calico cat.  Lilith stopped washing her face, paw in midair, and looked disdainfully at the dog.  An expression of comprehension sprang to the dog’s eyes.  He turned with a shrill yip and ran back to his still chanting master.

The shadow of a hawk passed overhead as the cat sauntered to the back door of her home, entering when it opened, and meowing her opinion of the dog.

***

I        A Home

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, ready to savor the moment.  Then I opened my eyes, and for the first time, looked out the kitchen window at the morning.  No.  It wasn’t the kitchen window, it was my kitchen window.  It seemed like forever since I’d had my own home.

Fogy DCI had felt terribly displaced.  Renting.  In the big city.  I wasn’t exactly thrilled with my life there in other ways either.  Many people thought I should just “catch a man” to solve all my problems.  Yes, in this century, if you can believe that.  But I’ve already made that mistake… more than once.  I won’t make it again.  Man, woman, or miscellaneous other.

Besides, I tend to freak out people when they’re that close to me.  I have very strong intuition, that’s all; nothing special.  I don’t see the future or anything, but apparently I “get” enough on my inner network to make some people very uncomfortable.  I hide it as much as I can, but in close relationships, people usually figure out my freakish intuition.  Then they’re weirded-out.  So I was on a sabbatical from relationships.

All I really wanted was a home, and now I finally had one.  Though how I came to have my home could be a story in itself.  One day at work, I was doing some fact checking.  Something just didn’t feel right about the piece I was editing.  That’s my job – ??????????????????????????????????????editing.  While searching the Internet, I stumbled on a website where houses were being auctioned.  I’d like to think it was my extraordinary intuition that took me to the website.  However it wasn’t my intuition that led me to the site.  I didn’t know it at the time, but something else was responsible for that.

Anyway, one particular house caught my eye.  It was called Sunhold, though it looked more gloomy than sunny in the photos.  Despite the melancholy pictures, it felt… comfortable, maybe even familiar; I couldn’t say why.  It gave me goose bumps when I looked at the pictures.Old House_dreamstime_xs_22975594

Then through a stroke of luck that continued to amaze me, I won the auction for the house – and at an unbelievably low price.  Granted, I was way overdue for some good luck, but things like that just don’t happen to me.  It was too good to be true.  Even so, only the night before, I arrived at the huge and empty old house in the quaint little town of Atonement, Tennessee.

Looking around the kitchen I felt a sense of satisfaction.  It was spacious, but only a corner Raldas Kitchenof it was set up for modern use.  The listing had referred to it as a caretaker’s kitchen.  It was furnished with an old but well-kept dinette set — 1950’s chrome-plated tubular steel frame chairs with green vinyl covered seat and back cushions, and a green and yellow dappled Formica table.  There were also retro metal cabinets in a slightly lighter green than the chairs.  The gas stove was low tech but relatively new, and there was a refrigerator.

The porcelain sink had a couple of chips in it, but it was in pretty good shape.  I leaned against the sink as I watched a hawk settle upon the highest branch of an ancient oak, and remembered that they were supposed to be messengers.  I should have wondered what the hawk’s message might be, but I marveled at its grace instead.  Maybe its message was that I had just gotten my pajamas wet while leaning against the sink…  I looked down at the big wet spot at my stomach and sighed.

Then I heard an unexpected feline noise at the kitchen door.  It couldn’t be my cat.  Or could it?  The first thing I did when I got there was check the house to make sure it was “cat proof,” so she couldn’t get outside.  The meow came again.  That was definitely my cat.  I hurried to the door.cat raspberry

“You know it upsets me when you get out, Lilith.  What would I do if anything happened to you?” I complained, but was ignored.  “Did Puddles get loose again?” I asked, noticing her catitude.

I’d heard the neighbor calling the dog the previous night, and again that morning.  I gathered that was a frequent occurrence, based on the annoyed and bored tone of his voice.  My answer was a long and very catty sounding meow as the calico walked past me to her food dish, fluffy tail held high and swaying.  She inspected the contents for any change that may have occurred while she was outside, nibbled one kibble, and then strolled away to resume her investigation of her new living-room.

There was no microwave, I suddenly realized as I took the jar of instant coffee out of my bag of kitchen stuff.  Fortunately I had included a pan among the odds and ends I thought I might need before the movers arrived.  Before too long I had a steaming cup of coffee in my hand, but knowing Lilith had gotten out had been enough to wake me up, and no caffeine necessary.

There was a lot of work ahead of me.  Decades of dust needed to be cleaned, and I held small hope of making progress before the moving truck containing my meager belongings arrived.  Now a new task went to the top of my to-do list.  If the cat had found a way out of the house, I had to find it and close off her exit.  She had probably already met more neighbors than had I, and she wasn’t even supposed to get outside.

TN Autumn RoadThe neighborhood was rather charming, in its own way.  Sunhold sat atop the hill, with a very long driveway to the road.  The driveway was practically a street, the house being so far off the road.  The drive was lined with tall shrubbery that had gone wild.  I hoped that it bloomed at some point during the year, but I had no idea what the plants were, not yet.

Though the property was quite large, it was fenced all the way around.  There was a comfortable degree of “closeness” to the houses on the opposite side of the street, though there weren’t any immediately next door.  I moved dusty lace curtains to one side to look down the street.  The neighborhood didn’t seem to be up and about yet.

I was wrong.  There was a knock at the door and I nearly jumped out of my skin.  Then I looked down at my ratty pajamas and the big wet spot at my stomach…Feeling-Frumpy-ad

Did I say my intuition was freakish?  Well, it’s also extremely unreliable.  I was not expecting a knock at the door.  I looked around in an undressed panic.  The sweat jacket I’d worn the night before was hanging on the stair rail, thank goodness.  I put it on to camouflage the fact that I was braless, but nothing could hide my lack of makeup, or the dark circles under my eyes.

The knock came again.  How could anybody be that insistent so early?  I reluctantly answered the door, opening it just a crack.  All I could see was a bunch of flowers, in bright fall colors.  Maybe the caffeine hadn’t kicked in yet and I was dreaming…  Then I heard a lilting voice come from behind the flora with a cheery, “Welcome Wagon!”

I didn’t think the Welcome Wagon still existed.  Plus, how many people could sound that bubbly at that time of the morning?  Usually I’m the one who’s a morning person.  However, it had been a long drive from Gwydion white flowersDC to Atonement, Tennessee.  It was evening when I got into town, and it was very late by the time I settled down to go to sleep.  I had a good case of moving exhaustion.  I stood in puzzled, sleepy silence.

Then a handsome face with an engaging grin peeked around from the flowers.  I was even more bewildered — and horrified at having a nice looking man, on my front porch, while I stood braless and frumpy in my pajamas!

As he moved the flowers to the side I saw one of those magnetic nametags on his jacket.  It read “Guy, Fae’s Flowers,” but my foggy brain didn’t readily absorb the information.  Then I saw the florist truck in my drive way.  My driveway, part of my brain cheered.  I remembered seeing the florist shop next to the antiques store on my way through town the evening before.Faes Flowers

“I was so delighted to know we finally have a new lord of the manor — or I should say lady of the manor, living in the old Sunhold estate, that I simply had to do something to welcome you to the neighborhood,” he said in the most charming accent.

Was it Irish?  No, not really.  Scottish maybe?  Not quite.  Something else?  I’m not good at figuring out accents.  I couldn’t place it, but he was surely from somewhere around that part of the world.  Then I noticed the mischievous twinkle in his green eyes.  Mesmerized, I had to shake my head before I could look away.

Had I even spoken to him?  I honestly couldn’t remember whether or not I had so much as opened my mouth.  Or rather, whether I had uttered a word, because I think my mouth actually was hanging open.  I felt my cheeks blush, and stammered a thank you.

“Oh, here.  Let me get you a tip,” I started to excuse myself, and then realized that he was already standing inside.  When had he gotten inside?  I must have been really flustered to have let him get past the front door.  Yet I honestly couldn’t remember him stepping over the threshold.  It was very bewildering.

“No, no,” he said in a happy tone, waiving his hand.  “I’m the shop owner.  It wouldn’t be proper for you to tip me.  Allow me the honor,” he said with a playful expression and a half bow.  “Where can I set these?”

Victorian parlorMy face reddened further at my inadequate furnishings, but I spotted a dusty table across the room.  The dust of course, was embarrassing as well.  However, he placed the flowers there and pretended not to notice.

“I’m sorry,” I began, “the movers won’t be here for a while.  I only got in last evening, so I haven’t had time…” I couldn’t manage to finish the sentence.

He pulled a cloth from his pocket, and I winced thinking he felt the need to clean the horribly dusty table before putting those lovely flowers on it.  However, he only gave the cloth a snap over the table, and then used it to wipe the moisture from the vase.  When he set the flowers down, that tiny area in front of the bay window looked like the only livable place in the house.  It practically shimmered in the early morning sunlight.

“You know,” he spoke conversationally as he adjusted the arrangement, “flowers have a language all their own.  Each one has a meaning.  For instance in days gone by, someone might give you white heather, like this one,” he said, pointing to a blossom, “to say they hoped all your wishes would come true.  It’s also for protection.”

Looking at this man, Guy, from a different perspective, he did strike me as the type of person who had a great deal of knowledge in general, not just about flowers.  He had that kind of modest self-confidence.  However it was combined with the contrast of cocky playfulness.  So why did I feel so uncertain about him?  A first impression was the area where my intuition never led me astray.  But now it wasn’t leading me anywhere at all.

I commented that I had heard that flowers had meanings, but I wasn’t familiar with the Victorian wild flowersparticulars.  I don’t have expert knowledge about flowers, but I recognized brightly colored oleander, orange roses, and the white heather among others that I didn’t know.  It was an attractive, if unusual arrangement.

Reaching into his jacket pocket he withdrew a tiny green dropper bottle.  The morning light was behind him as he held up the bottle, and it made the green glass shine like an emerald.  “Put a few drops of this in the water, every other day or so, and the flowers will stay fresh,” he said and walked over to the spot, to which I seemed to be rooted, to hand me the little bottle.

Just then Lilith sauntered in, twined around my legs, meowed prettily, and then moved to rub her head against the man’s shin.

“Well, hello there beautiful,” he playfully said to my cat.  “I hear calicos are supposed to bring good luck.”

At that Lilith jumped up into his arms.  I’d always known she liked handsome men, but she’d never been quite that bold before.  Startled, I started apologizing again.  However, he held the cat as if he’d always known her, and scratched her chin, which she clearly enjoyed.

“I’m sorry, that’s Lilith.  I can’t believe she jumped on you like that,” I said, blushing even more.  My face must be scorched by now, I thought to myself.

Calico getting scrached“Oh not to worry, I like cats.  Pardon my lacking manners.  I haven’t introduced myself.  Guy Fabdon, at your service.  Owner, florist, and sometime delivery man of Fae’s Flowers,” he introduced himself.

The city must have dulled my manners, I thought, when I realized that his name was on his jacket, while I hadn’t thought to introduce myself.  I held out my hand and said, “Ralda Lawton.  Pleasure to meet you.”

Suddenly curious I asked, “Who is ‘Fae,’ your wife?”  Then I felt humiliated that I had asked.  It sounded like I was fishing for his status, and I really wasn’t.  “I shouldn’t be so curious,” I added awkwardly.

Thankfully he didn’t seem to take it that way.  “That’s alright, Esmeralda,” he said.

I blinked in surprise.  Most people didn’t deduce Esemralda from Ralda.

“Fae was my gran.  She taught me about flowers and I named the shop after her.  Well, as I said, welcome to Atonement, and pardon the early morning intrusion,” he said.

He let the cat jump down as he moved toward the door.  “Oh,” I blustered, “would you care for some coffee?  It’s instant… sorry.”

Guy laughed.  “Do you realize how many times you’ve said you’re sorry in the past five minutes?” he asked with a grin.  “I should apologize for catching you off guard.  I know you must have a ton of things to do…  The house and the grounds — it’s a huge place for one person to take care of.  I hope you’ll call on me if you need a hand with any of the ‘heavy lifting,’ I think they call it here,” he said.

There was that twinkle in his green eyes again.  I could see a faint image of my frumpy reflection in the window behind him.  I Victorian Guy flowerswondered what kind of… of trickster this man could be.  That was what he seemed, a twinkle-eyed, mischievous, trickster.  There was no way he was flirting!  …Was he?

I opened my mouth but nothing came out.  I cleared my throat, and graciously told him I’d keep that in mind.  It was graciously said.  Really it was.  Unfortunately it came out as more of a croak from my suddenly dry throat.

“Thank you for being kind enough to let me have a look at this fine old place.  I admit I’ve had an itch to see inside.  However, I’m shorthanded today, and had best get back to business.”

When I thanked him for the flowers he said it was his pleasure, and then he was gone.  Lilith jumped onto the windowsill and watched his florist truck turn around and head back down the long driveway.

I went to the window to pet the cat.  That was when I noticed something different about the little area where he placed the flowers.  The woodwork on the windowsill seemed brighter.  Maybe it was a trick of the light.  And the old lace curtains, which seemed so dusty moments before, weren’t showing any dust even though the sun was shining through them.  That was odd, but it was early and I had an awful lot of work to get done that day, so I didn’t allow myself time to think about it.

I turned from Lilith to the flowers.  They almost shimmered in the light, and I had to smile at how beautiful they were.  Then I looked at the table and saw that there was not a single mote of dust on it.  The wood grain shown as if it had just been polished.  I Sunny lace windowblinked.  Shaking my head again, I figured he had quickly wiped the table after all.  I must really need more coffee, I told myself.

He’d called himself Guy.  I didn’t care for the name… but what was his last name?  I looked more closely, to admire the flowers, and saw the business card on the plastic stick.  It read, Fae’s Flowers, Gwydion Fabdon proprietor.  Gwydion?  That was even more unexpected than Guy.  But I liked it better.  I tried it out for sound.  Gwydion.  Lilith meowed and turned a pirouette on the windowsill.  Yes, much better than Guy.

I finished my coffee and went upstairs to get dressed.  The truck from the Annie’s Antiques and Consignment Shop might be early too, I thought, catching another mortifying glimpse of my reflection in the window.

I spotted the consignment store when I drove into town.  The moment I saw the shop, I knew there would be some things in the house that bothered me.  You know — because of the freakish intuition.  So as soon as I got into the house, I checked for any furnishings that I didn’t care to keep and called to arrange for their removal.  Annie promised to send two men first thing the next morning

I told myself that after the selected furnishings were removed, it would be easier to finish dusting and generally make myself at home.  However, the truth was I had Annies antiquesimmediately spotted a few pieces that while they were quite nice, they felt very wrong to me, and I wanted to be rid of them as quickly as possible.  That kind of thing was part of my “intuition.”  Over time I had learned to listen to it.  If something felt wrong to me, there usually turned out to be a good reason for the feeling.

Choosing what to wear was no problem; most of my clothes were on the moving truck.  I pulled a knit top over my head, and put on a pair of jeans that were comfortable for working.  As I tied my red hair into a ponytail, I heard plaintive meowing and the noise of a rattling door.  The ability to jiggle open a door that wasn’t closed properly was one of the first “talents” I had discovered Lilith possessed.

As I walked down the hall Lilith’s meows grew louder.  Turning the corner I saw the calico trying her best to open a bedroom door.  When I admonished her, Lilith stood, placing her front feet against the door, pawed the doorknob, and cried, “Purrr-yeow,” her most affective combination of purr and meow.

“Please don’t tell me you hear a mouse in there,” I said with a sense of the inevitable, as the cat inserted her paw beneath the nearly empty roomdoor and tried to lift it upward, a tried and true feline technique for opening doors.

It occurred to me that I had only glanced at the contents of that room.  I scooped up the calico and opened the door.  Lilith struggled to get free.  The room was almost empty except for the wardrobe and a chair.  I didn’t see anything with which the cat might hurt herself, so I let her down.  She went directly to the armoire and pawed at the latch.  Raising an eyebrow at the cat, I opened the wardrobe, ready to jump if a mouse ran out.

At first I thought the armoire was empty, but then I realized a large mirror stood at the back.  I pulled it out into the light.  The metal frame was elaborately worked, and the mirror was in perfect condition.  It was a fine piece.  Yet when I looked into the mirror I experienced sudden intense wave of nausea.  Lilith hissed.

“Nasty!” I said with a look at the cat who clearly agreed.  “This can be the first thing on the truck.”

Despite the bad feeling the mirror gave me, it was an intriguing piece.  I propped it in the old chair (I hadn’t decided whether to keep the chair) so I could examine it better.

The top part of the frame was worked with the image of a sword that stretched across its width, and served to connect the designs at either corner.  On the right corner was a woman with arms raised.  She was blindfolded.  On the left corner I saw a pair of Mirrorscales.  “Lady Justice and the scales of truth and fairness,” I said and looked at the calico as she swished her tail in displeasure.  “Maybe it’s Victorian to be so moralizing,” I pondered aloud.

The lower center of the frame was engraved.  I polished at it with the edge of my long-sleeved T-shirt.  The writing was so elaborate that it was almost impossible to decipher.  “See in your reflection, truth and justice most poetic,” it read.

The mirror itself had a light haze of dirt that I hadn’t noticed at first.  So when I looked into it, my reflection was cloudy.  The haze made my hair look more brown than red.  For a moment I thought it looked like my hair was up on top of my head.

I rubbed at the mirror with my sleeve and cleared a small round area.  I looked at my reflection again and just saw my red ponytail and makeup-bare face.  Ugh.  I wished I hadn’t seen it.  I looked travel-weary and generally awful.

Suddenly the light caught my silver locket.  The reflection shot out so brightly that I saw spots for a moment.  At least, I consoled myself, the locket was one thing that didn’t need cleaning.

***

Atonement, Tennessee

Copyright © 2012 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

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