peeling back the layers

It’s hard on a man when his rival is a woman; harder still when she’s beautiful.

Deanna Crusoe brings out every contrary emotion in me. I’m usually calm and laid-back, but the minute Deanna begins speaking, it’s as if she’s raked her long, painted nails down a chalkboard.

Okay, I’d rather them down my back.

But I could murder her, hide her body and feel no guilt—except, I’d miss looking at her. Not that she’d ever consider me in million years.

She’s Waldorf and I’m Wendy’s – it’d never work… but sometimes, just before sleep, when my censor’s turned off, I find my heart wishing on her star.

 

“Hal, I want you and Deanna to checkout the Hodgson House.”

I can’t believe Trent Westcott would actually consider staging a train wreck.

“Look Trent—I know they have this CERN project in Geneva where they collide two particle beams head-on at very high energy, but I don’t think you should try simulating the Big Bang.”

“Ha-ha, you’re a funny guy, Hal—but I’m sure you and Deanna can put aside your differences and act professional.”

“You’d think so—but you don’t know her.” I make a gesture as if being hanged.

He gives me that look.

“You two are the best people I have and we’ve got a lot riding on this project. I need both of you to come to some sort of consensus. I’ve got to know whether to do a tear-down or renovate the estate.”

“So, when do you want this to happen?”

“I’d like the two of you to drive up to Elora this weekend—we’ve got you booked in a nice bed and breakfast—I need you guys to declare a truce.”

“Have you given the same speech to Deanna?”

Trent smiles sheepishly, “Nope, left that up to you.”

Before I can answer, he ducks out the door.

Oh, great! A two-hour car ride with Deanna—not to mention a weekend of having to find some common ground. Not bloody likely.

It’s not that I dislike Deanna—I don’t—it’s just that she’s not talking to me at the moment. In fact, she hasn’t talked to me for several months.

We work for Westcott-Martin, Trent’s firm. I’m a contractor-renovator and Deanna’s a former interior designer turned real estate agent.

We’re natural rivals like on those TV shows like Love It Or List It, where a contractor goes head to head with a real estate agent and they each try to convince a couple to reno their house or move—except in our case, we each try to convince Trent to reno the house or raze it.

I’m the reno part—Deanna’s the razing.

Deanna’s not talking to me because she had this brilliant vision for a tract of seniors’ lakefront condos, but I persuaded Trent to restore a 1930’s Inn.

It turned out to be a smashing success, but Deanna took it personally. So here we are. High dry and nowhere.

 

“Are we there yet?”

Deanna’s taken an emery board to her nails and I have to endure the scratching sound as she shapes her impossibly long talons.

With her bronze-streaked hair combed back, she reminds me of a golden falcon sizing up her prey.

“No, we’re not there yet—and how old are you? Do you have to scrape away at those nails?  You’re shedding DNA all over my car mats and I might have to kill you—so don’t leave any trace evidence.”

“You’d like that wouldn’t you? Do you get off on that Hal—fantasizing about abusing me?”

O God, give me strength. Doesn’t she know I could kill her with my bare hands?

I give her the silent treatment and stare straight ahead. I’ve come to the conclusion I can annoy Deanna as long as I don’t ignore her.

Women can stand anything except a man not being in love with them.

“This is taking forever,” she grumps.

I imagine tying her hands to the bumper and driving off, making her run in her high heels down the soft shoulder of the highway.

I glance over at her lovely tanned shoulders—such a waste!

We cross a huge steel bridge and pass several century-old buildings.

“Wow! This looks like a scene out of Dickens,” she whoops.

“Actually, Henry Winkler made An American Christmas Carol here—it’s one of the few towns left with so many Victorian buildings.”

“Yeah, it looks like a Christmas postcard,” she smiles.

“Here we are,” I say, pulling up in front of a huge, white, country-style home—“Ye Olde Inn”

“You’ve got a thing for old inns, don’t you?”

I ignore the barb. “Trent made the arrangements. I’ve got a view of the town and your room overlooks the river.”

“Oh really?” She smirks. “Nice.”

My hands are itchy. I want to strangle her.

“We’ll drive out to the Hodgson place after lunch,” I say, popping open the trunk to get our bags.

“That soon? I’m exhausted. I don’t want to eat. I need a nap.”

I look up at storm clouds piling up in the west.

“I don’t know if we should delay…”

“I’ll be ready by four—that’ll give us a couple of hours of daylight,” she argues. “We can’t do it all in one day.”

“Okay, Milady,” I bow sarcastically, “—I’ll see you here at four.”

I smile, and walk away leaving her holding her bag.

It’s kind of mean, but she bugs me—her voice tawny, in a spoiled, bratty rich-kid kind of way.

 

The clock in the nearby antique store’s chiming four when Deanna appears, gliding gracefully down the front stairs. My heart stops and my stomach does a flip. She’s breath taking.

The young guy tending the garden just stops and stares as she walks to the car. I doubt Marilyn Monroe in her heyday could make that guy’s heart beat any faster.

I open the door and she slips across the seat, sliding her shapely legs neatly in. I glance back at the kid holding the rake—he looks like he’s going to have a heart attack.

Deanna smiles coyly. Another conquest for the Man-Eater.

 

We speak little on the ride out. The Hodgson place is located on two acres outside of town.

Deanna’s about to ask if we’re there yet, when we round a bend and see the manse—it’s set back from the road, twin turrets rising majestically, and a huge mountainous cumulus cloud towering above it.

“Oh my God, it’s lovely.”

“I’ll bet you say that to all the dowagers,” she sneers.

I pay no attention to her, because I can’t take my eyes off the place.

I pull up onto the circular drive, just as thunder grumbles from the west. A red flare of lightning arcs over the ridge.

“I warned you it was going to storm,” I say.

She shrugs. “So what? We’ll be inside—Who knows? Maybe the roof leaks.”

“You wish,” I laugh. I wonder what she’ll find wrong with the place.

The inside is as impressive as the exterior. A huge, oak-paneled foyer greets us along with a winding staircase Scarlett O’Hara would love.

“What do you think?” I ask.

“It’s old,” she says, wrinkling her nose, “and musty.”

“It’s been shut up for months. I’d open a window, but it appears it’s raining.”

I point to the front windows crisscrossed with rain trails. We walk across and stare out at the garden. The shadows of rain trails mar her face, making her look mysterious.

I want her, but, of course, can’t have her. My arms never have felt so empty.

There are a few pieces of furniture draped with canvas. The rooms feel empty too—abandoned, just like me.

“I don’t like it Hal.”

“Why not?”

“Look at these walls,” she laughs, “they’re covered with hideous wallpaper.”

“Actually, that’s an 1850’s flocked Pugin design,” I smile.

As far as the extravagant Victorian prints, the wallpaper’s fairly conservative, even tasteful for its day, with a scarlet and cream color Fleur de Lis motif.

“I don’t like it,” she pouts.

I try my best not to roll my eyes, or pick up the fireplace poker and brain her.

She stares pointedly at me. “I’m cold.”

“I’ll put on the furnace.”

No sooner are the words out of my mouth, but there’s a mighty crash of lightning and the lights go out.

“Oh!” she screams and runs to my arms.

“It’s okay—nothing’s been hit—just the power’s out. I guess we can’t start the furnace.”

She shivers, and stays in my arms.

My right hand’s pawing air—I want to pat her back and console her—but feel awkward and constrained.

She looks up, dark eyes pleading. “I’m scared, Hal.”

She’s still clinging, and I look around helplessly. I can barely see through the front room window—the rain’s pouring down so heavily.

“Maybe we can light a fire,” I suggest.

“That’ll be cozy.”

She lets go and stands back. I feel bereft. I already miss her and a thrill of desire courses through me.

Reluctantly, I force myself to walk over and kneel by the fireplace. “I guess I should try to see if I can get this going.”

She comes over and sits beside me on the floor, her coat draped over her shoulders.

I find fireplace matches and birch logs in the grate and several maple logs piled in a neat stack on the hearth.

I look about for kindling, but there’s none.

I eye my prospectus and chuckle, “What the hell—let there be light!”

I begin balling the papers and pushing them between and beneath the logs. Then, I scrape the match and watch the logs flare into life.

The birch is dry and the loose bark easily catches. Within minutes, the hearth burns brightly.

Deanna seems visibly to relax.

“It kinda reminds me of when I was a Girl Scout,” she smiles.

“You were a Girl Scout?” A sudden picture of her in a short brown tunic leaps to mind, and I immediately shut it out.

“Of course, I was, Silly—I was a typical girl—okay, a little more princess than most, but typical.”

The firelight is dancing, gilding her skin, and I can’t imagine this goddess as typical in any way.

It gets warm in the room and before long we shed our coats. I stand up and begin exploring.

I’ve got a small pocketknife-penlight and I use that to poke around.

“You sure you weren’t a Boy Scout?” she giggles.

“Naw—this is more a gadget—kinda like Swiss Army gear for guys.”

All of a sudden I notice something.

“Hey, Dee—look at this!”

I pull away peeling paper from the dining room wall—“An Art Deco print. This paper comes from the Depression.”

She walks over and stops close behind me, peering over my shoulder. “It’s lovely—an ivory and sand color.”

I can smell her perfume and feel my knees go weak.

“Let’s go exploring,” I say and on impulse, grab her hand.

She looks up, startled for a second, and then smiles.

I lead her to the study and slide the pocket doors.

“Ah, damn! Someone papered this room in one of those modern zebra prints.”

She places her fingers on my lips. “Don’t swear, Boy Scout—besides,” she purrs, “you’ve got your Swiss Army knife—check what lies beneath.”

“Brilliant!”

I carefully slice through the top layer of paper and peel back a triangle.

She gasps. “Oh my God, a Frank Lloyd Wright Screen Print!”

“You know this?” I ask dumbfounded.

“Yes—I did a project on this for an interior design course—it’s a classic, circa 1956.”

I chuckle inwardly. For Deanna, the fifties would be about as close to classic as she’s going to get.

“This is fun. Let’s try another room,” she titters.

She then pulls me into a hallway. “Peel this back,” she demands.

Again, I make incision for our love.

“Hurry up, Silly!” she shouts impatiently.

I peel back the layer. Square shapes in beige and green appear, looking very geometrical.

“This is priceless,” she enthuses, then sees my face. “Don’t you know what this is?”

I shake my head and stare blankly.

“It’s Cubist—manufactured in one year only—1923, during the flapper era.”

I look at her with new eyes. “You amaze me.”  She smiles proudly.

Now, she drags me to the bedroom. This time she does the honors. “You’re too slow with a knife,” she jokes.

She peels back the layer, and we both grow silent.

It’s a print of rocket ships and spacemen from the 50’s—Richie Cunningham from Happy Days. or The Beaver and Wally would have had this in their room.

It feels strangely intimate being here with her—staring at a child’s wallpaper, thinking nurseries and family.

I feel her hand in mine and she raises her face to me.

I close my eyes and kiss her.

 

 

© 2016 – 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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