November crept its way into my office. My feet were propped up on the old baseboard heater. It’s constant ticking rhythm was like a metronome below me as I fought off the chill that wrapped itself around me tightly. The thunder of the waves in the distance pulled at me. It was moments like this that I felt a deep sense of serenity, a stillness which filtered in through the unadorned white walls of the office and sat with me like an old friend.
My tranquility was suddenly interrupted by the jingle of the door. The familiar pale blue uniform of our local mailman came into my peripheral view.
His chipper tone fell on me with an enthusiasm I could not reciprocate. I smiled wanly up at him.
He nervously sifted through his stack of envelopes, placing a small pile down upon my desk. His eager brown eyes searching for an opening.
“Any plans for this weekend?” Mark flashed me a large smile. He was nice to look at, with his bedroom eyes and tawny complexion. He was used to the attention of woman, perhaps he viewed me as a challenge?
I shook my head. “No, just looking forward to some quiet.” I knew Mark had been dancing around me for years, dropping hints. But the idea of going out on a date with him and his impatient excitement, saturated with forced witty banter and vague innuendos, filled me with exhaustion.
A harsh ring punctuated my thoughts as Mark’s eyes flickered over me. I sifted through the papers that lay out amongst my desk and found my phone, throwing Mark a polite but dismissive wave goodbye.
“Hello, Jezebel’s cleaning?”
There was a long pause on the other end, as I watched Mark nod to me with a twinge of rejection in his eyes, as he softly closed the door behind him.
“Are you Jezebel?” A deep male voice filled the receiver.
“Yes, this is her. How may I help you?” I tapped my pen against the faded grain of the desk, as I glanced out the window and found the midafternoon view of the New England coastline engulfed in mist. The week’s shift sheet was spread out before me.
“I am seeking a house cleaning service.”
“Ok, what type of service are you looking for? We have deep cleaning, a move in ready package and then your general weekly or monthly maintenance.”
“I do not know.”
There was something in the infiltrating richness of his voice on the phone that I found myself drawn to. “Ok, that’s fine, what I can do is appraise the scope of work needed and then draw up a price bid for you. I can swing by your place and take a look. I do happen to have this afternoon available.”
“Good, I will be here. I am the big red house up on the bluff, you can’t miss it. I look forward to seeing you, Jezebel.”
There was a sudden click and then the line went dead.
As far as I knew, the old red colonial house that lay atop the bluff had been boarded up and unoccupied for the last hundred years, if not more. According to local lore, nobody knew who owned it but every decade or so, workers would arrive and meticulously restore the place. I had always found it beautiful standing there, filled with secrets as if it were some silent empty beacon that kept sentinel over the water.
I drove slowly through the sleepy storefronts of main street and out to the edge of town, past the docks and towards the jetty, where the cliffs caressed the sea. The sky was a slate grey against the stormy ocean. Icy fog snaked its way along the rocks that sharply jutted out to the water.
As I pulled up the narrow winding driveway, my pulse began to quicken as I saw a tall man. His gaze was fixed on the water as wind swept through his thick dark hair, hands in the pockets of an expensive looking dark suit. He stood there on the second story of a wide wrap-around porch that looked out to the view of the horizon in all directions. From where I sat in my car, engine idling, I could view his profile. He could pass for early forties, his face rugged but at the same time, ethereally striking.
I stepped out of my car, feeling the wind pull at my clothes. I went to push the tangled, unruly auburn strands of my long dark hair away from the grasp of the wind and as I did, he turned toward me, eyes locking with mine from above. I shot a friendly wave up at him, calling above the roar of the surf.
“Hi, I’m Jezebel.”
He nodded, then disappeared into the house. Almost instantaneously, the front door opened wide and he was beside me. “August, nice to meet you.”
He held out his hand, and I took it in mine. His grip was firm, engulfing my fingers in its warmth. A small current passed through me as our skin touched, something faint that stirred deep within. When I looked into his eyes, I found them to be a deep blue gray, like the ocean. It was a startling contrast against his dark features and faint olive complexion.
“Welcome, Jezebel, please come in.”
I followed him into the house. It was dark inside, thick curtains covered up the large windows which framed the walls.
“Do you need the light?”
He stepped past me and began to draw the curtains open without waiting for my answer. The room flooded with a pale overcast glare. I took in the expansive view stretched out before me. “Wow, this place is so beautiful! I’ve never been able to understand why it has been empty for so long. Did you just buy it?”
“Oh, renting then?”
“Something like that.” As he spoke, he gazed out the window, seeming to be lost in thought for a moment.
After a long pause, in which it became clear that he was not going to offer me up any more information, my eyes trailed around the room. The house had the familiar damp and musky smell, from years of the ocean’s spray which battered the foundation and attempted to seep in through the cracks. The windows held a faint opaque film of salt that I knew no amount of cleaning would remove. The furniture was covered up by thick canvas cloth. A grand piano sat in the corner. Antique pictures lined the walls, embossed in gold designs. I stepped up closer to them- they were faded black and white photographs that looked to be from the 19th century.
“This isn’t a museum exhibit.” His voice was brusque from behind me.
I turned around to find his penetrating gaze on me. He was close enough that I was able to pick up the faint spicy aroma of earth and pine on him, like the forest. His eyes had turned a bluish black in the muted light as he silently watched me with an intensity, I found unnerving.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” I felt heat come to my cheeks. “These are really very intriguing. Do you know if the previous owner was a collector?”
“No.” He turned from me and walked towards the kitchen. “Please come with me. I will show you the rest of the place.”
I followed this man through the kitchen, past the dining area and then up the long wooden stairs that led to the second floor.
This man was a bit dark and strange. But at the same time, I felt no danger from him as I followed him up the stairs, only a deep, probing intrigue. Throughout the years I had grown accustomed to my senses, the subtle visions and acute feelings that enabled me to gauge a person’s intentions. This is what had kept me safe, as I was shuffled around in foster care during my childhood.
August was a locked box to me, I could not read him, but I sensed a gentleness underneath his rough exterior.
We came to a large room, lined with floor to ceiling windows. A sliding glass door led out to the porch I had seen him standing on when I arrived. In the corner of the expansive open floor plan, lay an old wooden desk. Papers askew and stacked in precarious piles upon the worn mahogany wood. And then there was the large ornate four poster bed, which seemed to impose itself against the far wall, draped in lush silk fabric. If you were to lay down upon it, the view would surround you. I felt an unexpected longing to run my fingers across the sheets. A sudden sharp and lucid image washed over me. Of my arms being pinned above my head. My body pressed against the sheets by this strange and silent man standing beside me. A shiver ran through me, as the vision subsided as quickly as it had come.
He looked at me with a sudden amused expression on his face, as if he could read my thoughts. I cleared my throat nervously. My whole body abruptly felt overheated as tiny beads of sweat begin to trickle down my chest. I quickly slipped on my professional business persona as I glanced around the room, calculating space and cost formulas in my head while trying not to notice his steady and persistent gaze on me.
“So…It looks to me that you will be needing a move in restoration, followed by a weekly upkeep as well? Depending on your living arrangements of course.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
I turned to him. He was a shadow against the brightness of the overcast ocean. “What won’t be?”
“The move in. Now that I think about it, I believe that a weekly upkeep will be enough, Jezebel.”
There was something in the way he said my name, a soft overtone of such concentrated intimacy that it caused a gentle flutter deep inside of me.
“Ok, then I will make out a work order and have one of my cleaners start next week.”
“I would prefer it if you were the one to come every week.”
“Well, I generally do more of the administrative details these days.”
“I will pay double.”
A part of me was trying to find a way out of this. While another part was deeply drawn to him. He seemed to radiate an intense complexity that I found incredibly alluring. And to be honest, I could use the extra money. Business was always slow in the winter after the crush of vacationers fled back to the city. Leaving a sedated hush that settled over the town. I found myself agreeing.
“Good.” He nodded and slipped past me, heading silently back down the stairs.
The cold wind mixed with salty spray slapped against my face and as I made my way to my car. August followed close behind. Dark ominous clouds outlined the horizon, and I could feel the sea grow angry around us. August’s face was tense but composed as he watched me fumble around for my keys in my purse. I looked up at him, flustered by the intensity of his unwavering gaze. “Can I ask you something? Why do you want me for this job?”
His face grew soft and I noticed his eyes were a shade of blue gray again, as if they were able to shift with his mood. This caused goosebumps to tingle along my skin, and I shivered against the eager wind.
“My wife…” He sought out the ocean as he spoke, his voice full of emotion. “Her name was Jezebel as well.”
“Really? I’m so sorry for your loss.” I could feel his sorrow, like a palpable weight around him. It was a familiar feeling, for I carried my own pressed tightly against my chest.
He shook his head and turned to me again. He leaned in so close that strands of his dark black hair touched my face like a soft caress. I took a small step back from the sudden intensity of his proximity, my pulse quickening.
“But if you must know. I feel drawn to you. You are open and receptive, and I feel that you can be trusted.”
His candid words seized my breath for a moment and my voice wavered in reply. “Yes… I like to believe that I can.”
“Good, will next Monday at 8pm work for you?”
“Oh, I’m sorry but any time after 6pm would be outside business hours, I’m afraid.”
“Will it be possible for you to make alternative arrangements? My schedule unfortunately requires it at this time.”
His request did strike me as a bit odd, but when his gaze fell on me, warm and open, my discomfort was quickly dispelled.
“I suppose I can make accommodations.”
“Thank you, I would greatly appreciate that.”
He watched me as I got into my car, the wind dancing wildly against his clothes. I went to put the car into reverse and when I looked back out the window, he was gone.
********Thank you for giving my story a read*********
This is an editing platform for my work, so bare with me as there will be some tweaks and changes along the way. I greatly appreciate and I am very open to any and all feedback. So please let me know what you think.