Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Adelaide, Nov 11, 2014.

  1. [​IMG]
    Margret Ashford sat back in her seat and let the pull of rushing gravity take her. Her eyes closed and though she was smiling, her knuckles were white. She forced herself to relax and reminded herself that this descent was not the worst thing that had ever happened to her. Not even close. Her life had exploded, rather messily some months back. In a series of almost comedic mishaps everything had fallen apart. It had begun when she’d met her boyfriend Seth at one of their favorite restaurant on their second anniversary with a certainty that they were going to take it to the next level. Only not only had he forgot that it was their anniversary, but he’d broken up with her. It had been messy, noisy and far too public for her tastes and in her distress (distress that was perhaps fueled by a little too much alcohol) she’d crashed her car on the way home. When she woke in the hospital she was mostly fine, just a minor concussion and some abdominal bruising. She had been so grateful that was all that had happened until the nurse had patted her hand and told her that she could always have another. Margret would never forget the look on the nurse’s face when she’d replied flippantly “Well there are always other men.” The horror and disbelief in that woman’s expression begged for explanation. It seemed she’d been pregnant. No longer.

    As if those losses were not enough, she’d been unable to hold her shit together at work and her manager had told her to take a sabbatical or take a hike. In more polite terms for certainty, but there had been iron in the commands. So Margret had left, packed up her things and gone home where she hadn’t left the house or answered the phone for weeks. The mail came and it was her only contact from the outside world and that seemed to be nothing but junk and bills. A fitting thing all in all. But then one day a letter came.

    She wasn’t certain but she may have thrown out similar envelopes without opening them. For whatever reason that day she opened the cream colored envelope and laughed. Who the hell inherited mysterious Romanian Manor houses? What was next, Nigerian Princes? She threw that one out. But another came and then another and the idea began to grow on her. Hadn’t her Nona been Romanian? The woman was many years’ dead but she recalled a thin-haired woman with an iron tipped cane and an almost lascivious dedication to Soap Operas. So she sent the letter to Becky, a friend of hers that was a Lawyer.

    It was a whirlwind after that. Through some labyrinthine twists of inheritance laws (Nona had an Uncle it seemed, whose heir hadn’t left any heirs) backed by some strange Romanian government incentive she was the proud owner of an estate in Romania. It was hers, provided she could see to its upkeep. That was the trick, it was a working farm with tenant farmers and livestock and though she knew nothing about it seemed like too much of a coincidence to let slip through her fingers. She spoke with the Romanian Law-firm who had sent the letters and in a matter of months things were arranged. Papers were signed, help was hired, it was all set. She would go. A complete change of scenery seemed in order, something to get her mind off of all the things that were wrong and maybe, just maybe in the beautiful backdrop of rustic Romania she’d write that book she’d been dreaming of since she was an undergrad.

    She didn’t open her eyes until they were touching down on the runway. It took another moment for her cramped fingers to let go of the armrest and even longer for the plane to dock and the tired, stiff passengers to shuffle out. Bucharest, what a strange and exotic name for a city. It hadn’t ever been on her list of places to go in that someday list that most people held dear. Regardless she was delighted to be there. Bucharest and Romania, the location of her peace of mind, the home of her dreams. She was certain of it. It was a new start and she was eager to get going. That was if she could find the man the Law firm had hired to be her translator, guide and the manager of her estate. What was his name?

    She stood in the middle of the airport, a lone American standing out like a sore thumb in subtle ways that were apparent to the locals but lost on her. Her well-tailored dark blue suit was wrinkled but still flattered her slim curves and if there were black circles under her equally dark blue eyes they could be forgiven in the light of her long flight. Her hair was equally mussed but the tendrils of black hair that had slipped out of her chignon flattered her lean face and slightly too long nose. She pulled a piece of paper out of her coat pocket and looked it over, her mouth moving in an adorable habit she hadn’t been able to break as she tried to sound out the foreign sounding name of the man who was supposed to meet her.
    • Love Love x 1
  2. As Margret stepped into the terminal of Henri Coandă International Airport, Ciprian Iliescu practiced his smile in the reflection from the well buffed floor. His mother always said he should smile more. She claimed his natural expression was gloomy and off-putting. “Why do you look so sad?” she’d ask. “You’re too young to have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Smile and people will like you.” Funny how even so long after her death, he could still hear her voice as if she stood right beside him, whispering in his ear.

    Never one to admire his own appearance, Ciprian nonetheless thought he looked quite presentable as he brushed his long bangs into place. He was not what one would consider classically handsome, but he looked far mores distinguished than was right for a twenty-seven year old. His eyebrows were thick without being unruly, his features sharp without being overly aggressive. While his dark hair was in need of cutting, it fell in a complimentary way around his face.

    “Margret Ashford,” he whispered to himself, “what can I expect from you?” He knew little about the woman he was to meet, save for the rather unflattering photo the law firm provided, but he’d already formed some opinions of her. It took equal parts courage and foolishness to embark on such a grand adventure, which meant he both admired and pitied her. What could drive a person to sever all their ties and come to a place that must surely feel so alien to them? Ciprian suspected she was running away from something. Isn’t that why most people sought new beginnings? Of course, it would not be his place to pry into such matters. His job was to see that she was successful, not to criticize her for her choices.

    When he looked away from his reflection, Ciprian spotted Margret immediately. It wasn’t her appearance that gave her away. In fact, her features and complexion were similar to the typical Romanian. No, it was the way she stood and the ‘fish out of water’ expression she wore on her face. It wasn’t exactly a lack of confidence, just an eager aura of being in an unfamiliar place.

    Embarrassed that he’d left her standing there while he stared at the floor, he walked over without hesitation.

    “Ms. Ashford,” he greeted with an outstretched hand. His English was impeccable, only the merest hint of a Romanian accent shown through. “I am Ciprian Iliescu, I was sent to assist you. There is much to discuss, but the trip to Heudin is long. If we have any hope of making it before sundown, we will need to go now. We can talk in the car. Shall we get your luggage?”

    As he waited for a response, Ciprian remembered to smile… just like his mother had taught him.
    • Love Love x 1
  3. Margaret looked up at the sound of her name on a stranger’s lips, her mouth in something of an O shape as it tried to form the last syllable of her translator’s name. She’d done so badly it seemed as she took in the sight of her guide who made a lovely musical sting of syllables out of the name she’d just been mangling in her head. Moreover his English was flawless and made charming by just the hint of an accent. The effects of which made her want to hang her head in shame. She hated being a stereotype and in this she was one, an arrogant American who had come to a foreign land without learning the language. She had tried, sort of. Things had come together so fast and she’d kept falling asleep when she listened to the Romanian language tapes. Though she would admit to herself that she hadn’t really given it her full effort, telling herself she was planning on the immersion method.

    Besides, she’d hired this guide. She smiled at the man and took the hand held out to her, giving it what she hoped was an acceptable squeeze. Her relief was palpable as she shook and smiled tiredly at him. He was taller than she’d expected, but then she wasn’t sure what to expect or why she’d expected short. Was that an arrogant American bit showing through again? His suit was nice enough, though it bore subtle differences in cut and creation that spoke of it being of foreign make. No, she corrected herself, she and her clothing was of foreign make, not this tall dour looking man with lovely, if too long hair.

    “I am very pleased to meet you Mr. Iliescu,” her clumsy tongue was not as kind to the name as his was, but it was better than her earlier internal attempt since it was guided by his own example. “By all means, let’s get the luggage and get started.”

    In truth she was a little disappointed that she wasn’t going to get to stretch her legs after the long flight but she was just as eager to get going and see her new home. Besides, it would be foolhardy to hire this man and then not take his advice. Plus she felt she was building up a debt of mental idiocy with all her stray arrogant thoughts. She was going to have to work off that debt by being sensible when she could and not being a taxing employer for this well-spoken man.

    She gestured for him to proceed her, not even certain where her luggage was. There was more being shipped over, but that would come in a few days to a week, her computer, her important stuff was in her carry-on which she slung up onto her shoulder. She followed after him, her eyes on his form as he wove through the terminal.
    #3 Adelaide, Nov 12, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2014
  4. Ciprian led the young American through the airport, arriving at the baggage carrousel just as the first pieces of luggage dropped onto the conveyer belt. There were so many things he needed to tell the woman, but where to begin? There was the remaining paper work that needed signing, the details of the farm, an explanation of the Romanian culture, and so much more. In the end, he decided the best place to begin was with a warning.

    “Ms. Ashford, I feel as if I should prepare you for what to expect when you get to Heudin,” he said, hoping not to sound like a parent lecturing a child. He most definitely didn’t want that, but at the same time he felt it important for her to start this endeavor with both eyes wide open. “I fear that you may have some misconceptions about your new home. Please don’t misunderstand, it’s just that most visitors to our country see us as but another part of a modern, sophisticated Europe, but we are very different from our European neighbors. We have deep and wonderful traditions, but we also hold fast to our old superstitions. What I’m trying to say is please don’t be surprised if not everyone in Heudin is pleased that you’re there.”

    He glanced away, fearing he was coming on too strongly. Instead, he focused on the luggage as it passed by, as if he could somehow spot her bags despite the fact he hadn’t the foggiest idea what they looked like.

    After only a brief moment to inhale, he continued, “Romania is of two ages, Ms. Ashford. Bucharest is a modern city, with all the amenities I’m sure you’ve come to expect. But the countryside is a different place, a world literally lost in time. Heudin has a population of less than four hundred. Some of the houses there, including yours, have electricity, but many do not. Virtually all the water comes from wells, and you’re likely to see more horses during your time there than cars. You’re house has a land line, but you’ll find you will not have a signal for your mobile phone.”

    With sudden shame, Ciprian realized he’d been talking non-stop without letting his employer get in a word. This frenetic pace of talking was common for him, a bad habit he was trying to work on.

    “I apologize,” he said, “where are my manners? I did not ask you how your flight was. I’m sure you are quite exhausted from your trip, and the last thing you want is to hear me prattle on about Romania.”
  5. “Well yes,” she said in a dry voice. “I am exhausted and my flight was lovely and all that,” she waved her hands dismissively though her face bore a smile.

    Electricity, she hadn’t even thought about that. She felt her knees give a little in relief that her lack of foresight wasn’t going to bite her in the ass. She had electricity, thank god. And water from wells… Did that mean…? No, she was not going to ask about plumbing. She’d come too far to go back now and she just might if she knew that there was no plumbing. So she focused her thoughts on the idea that she might not be welcome in the village of Heudin.

    Was it a foreigner thing? That she was American or simply that she was not from the village? She supposed it didn’t matter which, if she was to be unwelcome she was to be unwelcome. She’d just have to be mindful of it and try to charm them as she could.

    “No need to apologize, Mr. Iliescu, I hired you to help me ease into things in my new home and telling me about what to expect is exactly what I need. Though I don’t suppose that I’ll be meeting anyone this night.” God she hoped not.

    She stepped forward when her luggage swung by, two moderately sized black suitcases monogrammed with her initials in electric blue. She tugged them off the belt and onto the floor and then quickly pulled up the handle on them both before grabbing one.

    She wasn’t certain entirely how to proceed, true she’d hired him but as a guide, not as a man-servant and she wasn’t certain where the roles crossed. She didn’t want to demean him, but asking him for help with a suitcase wasn’t demeaning was it? She wasn’t even making any sense in her head, she was filled with that exhaustion so deep it felt like her head was floating, disembodied above the floor, that strange disconnect that somehow still led her to feel how weak her knees were. She’d figure out the nuances of things when she’d had more sleep.

    “Would you mind?” she asked gesturing to the second suitcase.
  6. Without hesitation, he grabbed the handle of the second bag and led her toward the parking lot. Truth be told, he expected to have to carry much larger luggage. He was under the impression that all American women over packed. Clearly, Margret Ashford was not the ordinary American woman (if such a thing even really existed). It seemed like such a small thing, but it gave Ciprian hope that everything would work out well. Sometimes it’s the little things that inspire confidence.

    They arrived at his blue Dacia Sandero, and Ciprian threw her bags in back. It wasn’t a fancy car, he knew that, but the hatchback would serve them well during their infrequent supply runs. This would be especially true in winter, which, while still quite some time off, would offer few opportunities to leave the village. He bought the car specifically for this job. Well, in reality it had been heavily subsidized by the law-firm that hired him.

    Stepping to the passenger door, he opened it for her. It was not a maneuver designed to impress her or demonstrate what a good little employee he was, but simply reflected his upbringing and specially the etiquette instilled by his mother.

    In moments, they were leaving the airport, and in less than ten minutes the signs of urban existence began to fade.

    “As I said, the trip is many hours, and there are many things to discuss,” he said “I’m sure you have many questions. I’d be happy to answer all of them, but I also know you are tired as well. I will take no offense if you would rather sleep than talk.”

    In many ways Ciprian was just as nervous as Margret. Oh he’d been out to Heudin a few time to lay the ground work, but always he returned home to his apartment in the city. However, this marked a new chapter in this adventure. Today he traded his city life for a rural one, at least for the next year if not more. So while he appreciated her need to recover from a long trip, he hoped she wanted to talk, if only to calm his nerves.
  7. She slid into the car with an appreciative smile for his courtesy. She didn’t think too deeply into it, but reacted out of appreciation for the gesture, the old world charm of it. How long had it been since she’d had a man hold the door open for her? She didn’t think Seth ever had. He wasn’t that sort of man, he’d quipped that equal rights meant equal treatment. She’d been amused by his candidness at the time, thinking it good natured but now she wondered. Now she re-thought every impulse, every moment and memory in regards to her ex and doubted herself. That is until she caught herself at it and took herself firmly in hand.

    Enough, she told herself. Seth is dead to me. He hadn’t even come to the hospital, or sent flowers…

    She turned to her companion, when he spoke, happy for the distraction. Mr. Chilies with his attractively shaggy hair and his somber, earnest eyes was eager to tell her all. She was eager to listen. He was going to be her rudder on his exciting, mad adventure of hers. The lights they passed as they drove flashed on his teeth as he smiled one of his practiced smiles.

    “No, please, tell me all you think I need to hear.” She said, shifting in her seat, still regretting the chance to stretch her legs. She had quite a jogging habit, or had before things had gone to hell. Recently as they readied herself for the move she’d begun to move back into it as a way to focus and calm her nerves. Now she found she was restless when she didn’t get enough physical activity.

    “I’ve been told the best way to deal with Jet Lag is to power through it, so let’s have at it. I can sleep later.”
  8. Equally glad for the distraction, Ciprian began, “I suppose, Ms. Ashford, the best place to start is with the house. I do not know your precise lineage, but one of your relatives was the mayor of Heudin back in the 1920’s, as was his father before him. They had a great deal of influence and therefore money, so they built what was, at the time, the largest house in the village. After WWII it was converted to a library for a short while, but when the communists took over, it became a repository for all the regional records. You see, the communists had as low an opinion of majestic manors as they did for churches, so no one was allowed to live in it.

    “However, it is no longer the largest house in town. After the communists fell, a rich man from somewhere in Western Europe decided to retire in Heudin for who knows what reason. He built a large mansion on the eastern side of the village. Still, he has no roots in the town and the house is not old. My point is, your house comes with a great deal of history and is an icon of sorts for the villagers.”

    As Ciprian spoke, the car slowly slipped from one world to the next. Eventually even the last vestiges of civilization disappeared, replaced by pristine landscapes. The rolling hills were green, the trees lush, and even though the late afternoon sky threatened to rain, there was still a magnificent beauty to it.

    “As for the land,” he continued, “You own 80 Hectares that can be farmed. I’ve already hired three hands to help us get things running, but I’m afraid it’s not all good news. What equipment you have is old. Some of it can be fixed, much of it needs to be replaced. It is also already late in the season and there is much to be done before we can plant anything. The soil is also poor. I would suggest we plant rye in mid-September. That will at least give us something to sell in late winter and early spring.

    “Oh there is a small apple orchard on the property. There’s not enough there to make a real income, but at least enough to barter with villagers for some of the other necessities.”

    Once again, Ciprian realized he’d been talking nonstop. The woman’s head was probably reeling from all the information. He forced himself to take a breath, and asked, “Any questions?”
  9. Questions she had a plenty. They spent the rest of the car ride engaged in a mostly one way exchange of information. Her knowledge about farming grew exponentially, which wasn’t surprising since she’d known nothing before but a few childhood songs and nursery rhymes and she supposed that Mary Mary Quite Contrary didn’t really count as a solid agricultural reference. It was new enough information, and vital enough to her future success that it held her attention and kept her away through the empty, slowly darkening Romanian dusk.

    Once they were well past the city they passed a few cars at first and then none, though off in the distance away from the ribbon of highway she could see movement in the few small clusters of house that she supposed were villages not unlike the one she was moving to. It was unsettling for the city-dwelling Margaret until she happened to look up as well as out and then gasped to see the sunset-drenched sky, unpolluted by artificial lights. Opposite the almost garish display were the first stars of the evening and she felt moved to make a wish. She closed her eyes, the same blue that held the boldest stars and wished with all her might that this mad adventure she was on proved to be fruitful. She wished that it would be the new start she needed.

    It was not too much later that Mr. Iliescu pulled the car off the rough road that passed for highway this far from the city and onto an even narrower, bumpier road. Wheel ruts, narrow and probably dating from the last century ran down the middle of the road. In the distance she could see lights in windows, some of which flickered in a way that told her they were not bulbs. The feeling of rolling back in time grew until her skin was prickling with it. As they finally entered the village proper she could see faces pressing up against windows, peering into the growing dark. It was as if a car rolling into the village was so unusual that it roused people from their evening meal. Seeing an old woman with a kerchief on her thin white hair stepping out of her front door with a long pipe between her teeth and watching the woman watch her until they rounded a bend Margret had to admit that that was probably the case.

    Home proved to be both more than and less than she’d expected. It wasn’t the sprawling castle she’d painted in her head, but it was much larger than the houses she’d passed. There was a charming, neo-roman feel to it with a touch of byzantine and the Middle East to it. As if the architect wasn’t certain which way to go and so borrowed from all. The lawns that spread before it were ragged but where a few sheep munched on the grass, lazily watching the lights turn off. The steps that passed through the sheep’s “Pasture” were crumbling with grass peeking up between the stones. The front porch was lovely, if in need of some cleaning and there was a strange arrangement of three doors that led off of the porch, each one a different style. It made her paused and look, wondering what that was all about. In the end she chalked it up to a quirk of her ancestor’s and slid out of the car to stretch her legs and regard her new home.

    “Are the sheep mine?” she asked pointing to the small herd.
  10. During their discussion, Margret never asked how he knew so much about farming. Just as well, it was not a story he wished to share, at least not yet. But as they approached the village, the lulls in conversation grew longer, and this gave Ciprian an unwelcome opportunity to dwell on the past. So many tears in the past, so many unforgivable acts. Why had he agreed to come back to this life?

    As soon as the car stopped, his employer was out and stretching her legs. How long had she been traveling? There was no direct flight from the United States to Bucharest. Ciprian knew that, which probably meant that, including their long drive out to Heudin, she’d spent the better part of two days sitting in cramped quarters. He felt guilty. He should have let her take time at the airport to walk around a bit. They hadn’t made it to the village before sundown anyway.

    Leaning over, he reached into the glove box and withdrew a set of keys and a flashlight. He turned on the flashlight to make sure it still worked. While the house had electricity, it could be spotty at times. Better to be safe. Finally emerging from the car, he went around back and took out Margret’s bags.

    “The sheep?” he said, dragging the luggage toward her. He would come back for his own bags later. “Luckily, they are not yours. They belong to Mr. Dobre. They’re part of a much larger herd, but he’s kind enough to let some of them graze here. It’s the cheapest way we can keep the grass from overtaking the whole place. If that’s not to your liking, I can talk with him tomorrow to cancel the arrangement.”

    Letting go of one of the bag handles, he handed over the keys. It was her house after all. She should do the honors.

    “There’s a little place out back,” he said. “I will stay there, but let me at least help you settle in and make sure everything is still in working order.”
  11. She was honestly a trifle disappointed for a moment when she learned that she sheep were not hers. It might have been jet lag or the strange giddy excitement she felt brewing the moment she stepped out of the car. She was here, at her new home, an inherited Romanian Mannor House. It was so wonderful, so odd and charming that she felt her toes curling in her shoes. But she supposed sheep were a bit much for her to start with. Farm animals were well beyond her experience, and if the sheep were someone else’s she could have all the fun of watching them and none of the responsibility for care. That worked just fine for her.

    “Oh no,” she said casually to the dutiful Mr. Iliescu. “That’s fine, the arrangement works just fine for me. Mr. Dobre’s sheep are most welcome here.”

    She paused at the base of the steps looking up to her new house which was looking rather dark and foreboding despite her excitement. Home, she told herself and tried to really feel it. She didn’t. But then what was she expecting? Foolish, jet-lagged Meg, she chided herself as she took the keys from her companion, offering him an excited smile.

    “Little place?” she inquired as she began to make her way carefully up the slightly crumbling walk, past the watchful eyes of the sheep.

    She hadn’t really thought about living arrangements, only that she was to provide them for him while he was under her employ. It was a manner house, big enough for a great many people, she supposed she’d thought he was going to live in the house with her. But knowing that he wasn’t made the great black windows and the size of the place seem much more daunting than charmingly gothic.

    “A servant’s cottage?” she wanted to know, her fingers clutching the keys rather tightly.

    He would want his privacy she presumed and he’d said this place was really old world. An unmarried man and an unmarried woman living under the same roof might be scandalous. But still… it was an awful big roof, wasn’t it?
  12. “I believe it belonged to the grounds keeper many decades back, but nobody has lived in it since before the war,” he explained. “It’s a small place, just a kitchen and a bedroom really, but it’s all I need. I’ve already done some repairs to it, so it should keep me warm during the winter.”

    He watched her expression carefully as he relayed the details of the cottage, looking for any sign that she might prefer he stay in the house. Ciprian Illiescu had many talents, but reading people was not among them. And so her face remained a mystery, her intentions and desires unknowable.

    “I will be close by,” he said, awkwardly trying to prolong this conversation. “If there is anything you want you need only open the back door and holler. Unfortunately, the cottage does not have a phone or electricity. I tell you this not because I wish you to feel sorry for me, but just to explain why the hollering is necessary.”

    In truth he hoped she would invite him to stay in the house, though he knew it was improper to ask. Oh, it wasn’t the fact that she was a beautiful young woman that enticed him. To be sure, her appeal was undeniable, and any man would count himself lucky to live under the same roof. For his part, it had been a long time, too long in fact, since he had shared a place with a woman, and even if their relationship was employer and employee rather than that of love struck couple, it would still have been nice.

    But no, the real reason he didn’t want to stay in the cottage was simpler and far more primal. He didn’t want to be alone. The thought of going to sleep night after night in the silence of that cottage, with only his memories to keep him company, made him shiver. Better to have the distraction of another’s footsteps, the occasional clatter of plates in the sink, or the sound of running water as they drew a bath. All these little noises could help to drive away the demons of the past. Perhaps that was why Ciprian had lived in the city for all his adult life (there were always sounds to distract you in the city). Perhaps that was why at this very moment he was second guessing his decision to take this assignment.

    Ciprian glanced at the front door, as if to subtly say I’d love to let us in, but you have the keys.
  13. Holler…? Some repairs? She watched him with her eyes, the very same color of the twilight sky filling with incredulity. He was going to live in a partially repaired shack without electricity while she rattled around in a large, partially repaired manor house that had the luxury of electricity? That just wasn’t going to happen. By giving her the details of his domicile he really gave her justification for doing what she desperately wanted to, insist he stay with her. She could tell herself it was fairness, human decency, kindness, compassion, ethics, anything but it what it was: Fear. She totally didn’t have to admit to being scared of the big, dark house.

    She wasn’t going to make him look in the closets and under the bed before she got in it, but knowing she wasn’t alone in the house, that someone was closer than a Holler made her ease some. She smiled at him and shook his head.

    “I can’t let you do that.” She said and then noted where his glance was falling. She made a soft apologetic sound and began to fumble the keys into the lock, trying to angle her body out of the way of the flashlight.

    “I can’t, in good conscience let you stay in the cottage. It isn’t finished, it doesn’t have electricity…”

    She looked over her shoulder at him, still fumbling somewhat with the keys.

    “If you need your privacy we’ll get it finished up nice for you, but if you don’t want to make me feel like an Ogre you’ll stay in the house until then.”

    She paused and looked back at the keys, frowning.

    “Unless of course that would scandalize the neighbors.”

    Ok, even if it scandalized the neighbors she wanted him in the house with her. With a final turn the door swung open on lightly creaky hinges. A cool waft of air scented with dust and disuse brushed past her. It felt a few degrees cooler than the air on the porch. She took a deep breath, let it out and then turned to her companion waiting to see his answer.
  14. Ciprian dreaded the next few awkward moments when his ignorance of the human condition became glaringly obvious. He was afraid to decline Margret’s offer for fear she might rescind it, and he didn’t want that. At the same time, he didn’t want to accept too eagerly lest she think she’d just been played. In the end, a poor compromise was the best he could come up with.

    “That is very kind of you, Ms. Ashford,” he said, “but if we are to have that kind of arrangement, I must insist that I stay in one of the servants’ quarters in the back of the house. I couldn’t possibly stay upstairs. It’s not that I need much privacy, but you are right, we must keep up appearances for the villagers.”

    As he stepped over the threshold into the house, Ciprian released one of the bags and felt along the wall for the switch. He remembered it being in a slightly unintuitive place. Almost reluctantly the lights in the front hall flickered to life, revealing an expansive room that was largely empty. There were marks on the wood floor where furniture had once been, and the main staircase was as grant as always. On one wall hung a massive portrait of a rather stern looking man. It seemed very much out of place in a room that was nearly stripped bare.

    To the left a pair of French doors opened into what could only be assumed to be the dining room, while to the right a single swinging door led to an as yet unseen room.

    Ciprian seemed almost embarrassed at the emptiness of the place, and tried to explain, “As I mentioned on our drive, the house has been used to store records for many years. Most of the first floor, except for the kitchen, was full of filing cabinets when I arrived. I put them in a pile out back, but they will need to be hauled away. It seems the current government had no use for old communist records.

    “We will need to purchase furniture to replace the missing pieces, but there’s at least one excellent carpenter in town that can help us with that. Don’t worry, the upstairs appears to have been largely untouched, so you will find all the bedrooms have at least beds and dressers.”
  15. Dammit! She’d given him some wiggle room with her question about the village. Having him in the servant’s quarters at the far end of the house, on a different floor was certainly not much of an improvement. It was still hollering distance away. She scowled down at her feet, keeping her expression to the shadows while she composed herself and struggled to find an excuse to insist he stay upstairs, closer, where she wouldn’t have to holler for him.

    She’d just barely managed to compose herself when he reached around her and flicked on the switch. Even the sound of the switch flicking was different, she noted absently, deeper, as if the material to make it was not the same as back home. The deeper click led to light that was also foreign in its nature. The quality, its very air of almost reluctance changed the room for her. It was a lovely room, if in disrepair. That was until she caught sight of the portrait. She shivered and then wrinkled her nose at the austere man, wondering if it was whatever relative had left this place to her, or his father or something. She stepped closer, trying to see if there was some name or plaque announcing who it was and then chided herself for her foolishness. Like a Romanian plaque was going to help her just yet.

    She looked back over her shoulder at Ciprian and tried to let her sense of adventure take the forefront over a slowly growing doubt.

    “Let’s head upstairs and see.” She said cheerfully. “Then I can badger you with good sense and sound arguments for why you simply cannot stay in the servant’s quarters.”

    She took a firm grip on the handle of her suitcase, housed it and began the journey up the stairs.

    “Is there a light at the top?” she asked though she did not slow her steps. It was a lovely old staircase, if a bit creaky from disuse and it made her stiff muscles sing to mount it for all that it was too short. She paused at the top, smelling the disuse in the air and feeling along the wall for another of those clunky light-switches. Her fingers stumbled upon one a few feet past where it would have been convenient and she muttered to herself about the placement.

    With another dull thunk and a reluctant flickering of light the long hall with its staggered doors was revealed, to a point. Along the walls, not lit, were light fixtures made to look like candles. It seemed that the hall ended in some sort of arched glass doorway. Had there been a porch or balcony? She tried to orient herself and realized she was facing the back of the house.

    “Which one is mine?” she asked, indicating the doors that lined the hall.
  16. Ciprian watched as Margret stepped toward the portrait. No doubt she was wondering how the man in the painting was related to her. Truth be told, he didn’t know either. For the many days it took him to clear out file cabinets and boxes of documents from the first floor, Ciprian had glanced at that painting countless times and asked himself who the stern man was. Even more curious, why had it been left there? Nearly all the furniture had been removed to make room for the filing cabinets, and yet no one thought to take down the painting. They had taken down the other ones. The walls bore signs that many paintings once adorned them, yet only this one remained.

    He had no chance to protest her suggestion of staying in one of the upstairs bedrooms before she headed up the stairs. Dutifully following behind her, he grimaced at the creek of each step. There was so much work to do on the house. That along with the organization of the farm would make this a very busy year. Well, the house repairs would have to wait for winter, when outside work was impossible. He had yet to tell Margret exactly how harsh the winters would be. There would likely be weeks on end when they could do nothing but stay indoors. At those times, he would be thankful for handiwork to do around the house.

    “They are all yours,” he chuckled when she asked which of the doors was hers. “All the rooms in the house belong to you. If you mean which one is the master bedroom, then that’s the one on the far right. I went through all of bedrooms, and they’re in good condition, so if you prefer a smaller room, that’s your choice to make.”

    He stopped chuckling, and looked at her. For the first time he really saw her: not the employer who paid his wages or the American woefully out of her depth in a foreign country. He saw a woman standing in the upstairs hallway of an imposing house, unsure about her future but brave enough to embrace this unique opportunity. In that instance, he felt a great deal of respect and responsibility for her. The moment was fleeting, but he hoped she hadn’t noticed it.

    “Now as for my room,” he said, letting the words draw out, “this is your house, Ms. Ashford, and I am in your employ. I will sleep wherever you prefer, but know that people will talk. I am looking out only for your interests and reputation here.”
  17. There was a moment when he looked at her that something in his eyes, in his expression changed. It was subtle, it was fleeting but it was enough to freeze the quip that had been on her tongue. She paused, felt the pregnant moment weighing on her and then, like a soap-bubble coming to the end of its time, it burst. The quip felt leaden in her mouth and so she let if stay there and simply looked back to the hall and all the potential rooms.

    The silence felt strange to her but she couldn’t bring it upon herself to break it, so she reached for the doorknob to her room. But he was moving past the moment, speaking again and she smiled at him in gratitude for bringing the odd moment to rest.

    “I am your employers, not your master, or rather, not your mistress I suppose,” she mused not fully thinking about all the innuendos that might be taken from the turn of phrase.

    “You sleep where you like, I won’t insist. But in all honesty I will feel better with someone up here with me. Call me silly, but this house is so big, so empty that It would feel strange to have the floor to myself. But if you think people will talk then I must consider that.”

    The door creaked as it swung open and more cool air slipped out to join that in the hall.

    “But I imagine they will talk regardless. The eccentric American and her odd notions and all that. I am sure I will make many blunders and mistakes that will titillate and entertain. But you, you will maybe suffer more than I from talk. You are Romanian and must suffer the reins of the crazy American.”

    She stepped into the darkened bedroom and fumbled for the light, finding it a good few steps into the dark room. She muttered under her breath about electricians with no depth perception as the light flickered on.

    “So the call of where you sleep is your own.” She called back into the hall.

    The room was lovely, if a bit masculine, with big, dark wood furniture. Thick, heavily carved posts on the bed and a headboard that held some sort of tableaux she couldn’t make out from the doorway. The dresser held a large mirror which was cleaned and all the surfaces were mostly free of dust. She knew the place had been cleaned once she’d taken claim of it, but that had been a few months back. The bedding was dark and looked modern, which was something of a blessing. Ancient sheets were not something she was sure she wanted to try out. She stepped into the room, the floorboards creaking under her a touch as she walked towards the bed trying to discern what that tableaux was of.

    It was hard to say, for all the craftsmanship on the bed the carving on the headboard seemed out of place, rough, inexpert and hard to make out. That there were people at the heart of it was all she could say for certain, but people carved by a hand that lacked much skill. A battle? An Orgy? Lord, she hoped not. It was interesting, she decided and something she would ponder no doubt when one of her bouts of insomnia struck her sooner or later.

    She was pretty certain she’d take this room, simply because it was convenient and made sense for her, the master of the house, to take the master bedroom. But checking out the other rooms would be fun. She turned back to her companion, eyebrow cocked, a smile on her face despite the bags under her eyes.

    “So any thoughts on the sleeping arrangements?”
  18. “They will talk regardless,” he agreed as she stepped into the master bedroom.

    Patiently, he waited in the hall. He’d been to the house numerous times, explored each room and all its nooks and crannies (primarily to assess how much work needed to be done). The place had long since lost its mystery. Now it was just an old house, brimming with character to be sure, but also battered by time and neglect. That said, something did feel different tonight, but Ciprian couldn’t put a finger on it. He would swear the lights shown just a bit brighter, the paint seemed somehow less faded, and even the air smelled less stale. It was as if the presence of new inhabitants had invigorated it, woken it up. But of course that was impossible.

    He didn’t exactly respond to Margret’s question about sleeping arrangements, instead saying, “I will be right back. I must retrieve my bags.” He remember to smile (as his mother had taught him) to ensure she didn’t think he was in a foul mood. Far from it, in fact. Her persistence about him sleeping nearby was precisely what he’d wanted, even if his sense of decorum wouldn’t let him admit it.

    Descending the stairs and heading back outside, Ciprian found that one of the sheep had wandered over to investigate the car.

    “Nothing for you here,” he said, shewing it away with a wave of his hand. But the sheep paid him no mind, continuing to sniff at the tires. A few more were heading over now to help their friend investigate.

    Ciprian, not wanting to be on the bad side of the sheep, decided to ignore them and went to the back to open the hatchback, pulling out two very large duffle bags and slung them over his shoulders. Unlike Margret Ashford, he had no additional luggage being sent. All the personal belongings he needed for the next year were in these two bags.

    A random thought struck him. He had neglected to mention to Margret that the house had no washing machine or dryer. Surely that was not something she'd expect. He chuckled, though not maliciously, at the thought of her reaction to that piece of news.

    He was about to head inside when he became aware that someone was watching him. While he couldn’t see them, he could feel their presences. He turned in the direction of the apple orchard, knowing that was the location of those watchful eyes. Branches rustled and swayed in the breeze, but that was all. He was about to investigate, but the insistent weight of the duffle bags on his shoulders gave him pause. Probably just a villager come to check out the town’s newest inhabitants. Nothing more.

    Returning to the house, Ciprian headed back up the stairs, and made his way toward the bedroom furthest away from Margret’s.
  19. Ciprian had been right, most of the rooms upstairs were furnished, some better than others but all had the basis of beds and dressers. The rooms varied on an almost conscious level as if the person furnishing the rooms was trying to give each a different feel but lacked materials to make them truly different. The same wood with slightly different cuts or the same cuts with slightly different wood sort of made the tries to be a little sad. She wondered if the textiles of the time would have helped. But they were long gone and the modern bedding helped to blend them together even more. She’d lingered one room where the wood of the bulky furniture had been painted white with rosy accents that had faded in time. It was clear to see that an attempt had been made to try to make things seem feminine. It was not an effective effort but she could appreciate that it had been made. Even so she stuck to her preference for the master bedroom with its odd bed.

    As she was coming out of the white room she watched Mr. Iliescu slipping into the last room on the floor, on the opposite side of the hall from hers. She grinned and rolled her eyes, something she wouldn’t have done if he could have seen it. She didn’t want to offend him and she wasn’t certain how much of her strange giddiness was her exhaustion. They were strangers still and she didn’t know his sense of humor or the limits of his amusement. They would figure things out, she had no doubt, but not on day one of their acquaintance. She was just pleased that he’d acquiesced and she wouldn’t be alone in the floor.

    One thing she had not found yet, was the bathroom. That was troubling and she still hadn’t ascertained if there was plumbing or not. She hoped so, if there was electricity there had to be plumbing, didn’t there? She moved to the last room on the hall, the one opposite the one her guide had chosen and with held breath opened the door. If this wasn’t the bathroom, then she’d have to start hoping that there was one on the ground floor. If there wasn’t, well then she’d be looking to book a flight back home because that was not something she could live with. That turned this from adventure to nightmare.

    “Oh thank god!” she said aloud as the dim light shone on a bathroom that was surprisingly opulent. She stepped in, fumbled again for the awkwardly placed light switch and took in the vintage glory of an old bathroom. Things were marble, not porcelain, with brass fixings and lots of bars and hooks. The tub was of decent size, certainly bigger than the economy tub in her old place but certainly not Jacuzzi sized. The shower stall had two heads which was interesting, they were big brass affairs that probably had little water pressure but much volume. She stepped over to the sink and noted that not only where there two knobs, there were two spigots. That gave her hope, there might just be hot water. She turned the left one, then the right. For a second, nothing then a clanging of pipes off in the distance and water just a little bit rust colored came out in a few spurts followed by a more vigorous stream and then clear water that upon checking was warm and growing warmer.

    “Hallelujah!” she shouted and splashed her face with the warm water and then realized she had no towels. Her shirt was better than nothing and cleared her eyes enough to fumble through some drawers under the sink to turn up a few, thin, towels. Dried and mostly presentable she went to see what Mr. Iliescu was up too.

    “Rooms chosen, bathroom discovered, now what?” She stood in his doorway, not stepping in though she knocked on his doorframe, trying not to nosily peer in.
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  20. Setting the bags down on the bed, Ciprian heard Margret’s footfalls in the hall. When she turned on the water and shouted with excitement, he knew she’d found the bathroom. He stifled a laugh but could not help a twinkle from creeping into eyes. That little surprise had been a lot of work, and hearing her reaction made it all worthwhile.

    The original bathroom had been a disaster. Most of the fixtures had been missing, no doubt torn out and sold decades ago. The bathtub had been a cast iron monstrosity, probably only left behind because it was too much of a hassle to remove. So Ciprian had called in a favor, a few favors to be precise. He had a cousin who sold marble, and who, still feeling sorry for Ciprian so many years after the “incident’, had given him a good (make that great) deal. Everything else he’d either scrounged or traded for. None of it was new, but with a lot of spit and polish, it looked that way.

    He’d heard American women really liked their bathrooms, that they saw them as sanctuaries of sorts. He thought this woman (at the time he knew next to nothing about Margret) would be dealing with culture shock and feeling the full weight of her decision to move here. The gesture was meant to make the transition just a little easier, and from the sound of things, he guessed it was having the desired effect.

    “Now,” he said when she appeared in the doorway, “We have a drink.”

    Reaching into his bag, he produced a bottle of red wine. He knew nothing of wine, but the clerk at the store in Bucharest assured him it was an excellent choice for one with a meager budget. Ciprian hoped the man was right.

    “It is good luck to toast to new beginnings,” he said, shaking the bottle for emphasis, “but sadly I have no glasses in my bags, so we will need to retire to the kitchen if we wish to do so. Also, I could use a little food in my stomach.

    “I tried to stock the kitchen as best I could. I have bought lots of canned goods: vegetable, fruits, and some meats.” The last item on the lists hinted at something that probably represented the Romanian version of SPAM. He continued, “They will serve us well if the electricity goes out. There are a few salamis on the counter, and there is cheese from the village cheese monger in the refrigerator. I’m afraid you won’t find too much else in there. With spotty electricity, it is not wise to rely too much on food that must be kept cold.”

    Once again, he realized he was talking too much. No doubt she didn’t need to hear the whole litany of the house's supplies, at least not on their first night. If he didn’t stop himself now, he’d be prattling on about the three hundred rolls of toilet paper he stocked in the storm cellar, or the box of feminine products he’d stowed in the cabinet of the downstairs bathroom.

    And so, awkwardly, he stopped talking.
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