“What are you doing out and about at this time of night?” says Lyla as she pops the veranda door open. “Stop lurking in my garden!” she grabs Marcus by the arm pulling him into the sunroom. “I simply want to make sure you are alright and to find out how things went at dinner. You seemed to be having a good time.” says Marcus as he plops down on the settee.
“Yes, I did have a good time. Crispin is very easy to talk to and I think it will be great working with him. I’m excited.” She says as she smiles. “He seems to be interested in your work as well so you may make a few sales in the future.” continues Lyla in a happy tone. Marcus is sitting quietly watching her. “What?” asks Lyla. “I don’t know. I just don’t want you to get hurt.” says Marcus calmly. “Hurt, now why on earth do you think I’ll get hurt? Crispin is very nice, I really like him.” states Lyla.
“I’m worried because I did a lot of research on the guy and found some things I think you should know about.” says Marcus in a very serious tone. “I had to dig and dig but found several stories about him and his business where people have gone missing and some even went to jail or mental hospitals due to their strange behavior after starting negotiations with Duff Industries.” continues Marcus. “Doesn’t that all sound odd to you?”
Lyla flips the lamp off and walks over to the staircase taking a quick look around before starting up the steps. She is on edge and a little nervous after being frightened by her cat. With her first step she catches a glimpse of herself in the tall mirror that rests on the wall at the base of the steps. Startled she jumps in fear. After realizing this is only her reflection she starts to laugh at herself for being so nervous. Lyla steps on the first step and looks back at the mirror still smiling from her foolishness.
She doesn’t notice it at first, but there appears to be something or someone behind her. It’s a dark shadowy form! Shocked Lyla quickly turns around expecting to see an intruder standing behind her. Her heart is pounding loudly in her ears as her breathing becomes heavy. To her surprise, nothing is there. She swiftly looks back at the mirror and sees that everything appears to be normal. Goosebumps have formed on her arms and she feels as if there is electricity in the air. Still very frightened, Lyla slowly looks behind her once again to see the room as it should be, no one is there.
Her breathing slows and she comes to the conclusion that she probably had too much wine and is incredibly tired. But the fear is still with her. “Well now Lyla, you need to get to bed, you’re starting to see things.” she says to herself as she quickly starts to walk up the staircase backwards so she can see what may try to follow. Halfway up the stairs she turns, moving forward. As she approaches the second floor landing she has an overwhelming feeling of someone behind her and it becomes so intense that it causes her to move a little faster than normal. With her fear level growing again she rushes to get to the landing where she quickly turns around expecting someone to be right there!
The restaurant is gorgeous with large saltwater fish tanks full of bright coral, lush sea plants, and vividly colored fish swimming about. Deep blue lighting accentuates every table as well as the various levels of the ceiling with inset and ornate fixtures. “I believe someone’s been doing their homework.” says Crispin. “Not that I’m at all surprised, you’re very detailed, I can tell by the way you gathered your notes at the last minute.” He waves his hand across the stack of folders Lyla brought with her.
Smiling Lyla says, “As soon as we ended our online interview I started pulling in all the data that I could find on you. I was very impressed with the kindness you show to people you’ve never met before. It was amazing to read about this big company known as Duff Industries, coming in to rescue simple little shop owners from certain financial doom.” states Lyla with excitement. Crispin is swirling the wine in his glass listening intently to her as she speaks. “Now those individuals are retired, off somewhere living it up, traveling and without another day of work on the calendar. Do you know how amazing that is? How thankful they must be to you?”
Grinning, Crispin sets his glass down and says, “Now most people probably don’t look at it quite like that. Some may think I’m a tyrant scooping up the entire world for myself. I find you very intuitive to my purpose, Lyla. It’s as if you truly understand me.” Crispin keeps eye contact with her and the conversation stops. Candlelight is dancing in both of their eyes and after a few seconds Lyla glances away, a little nervous with how long they were looking at each other. Crispin then touches the top of her hand with his. His fingers feel warm and soft and she does not pull away as her eyes meet his once again. He says, “So tell me inquisitive beauty, have we met before, possibly in a past life?”
“I was hoping we could go grab a bite to eat or something, I need to be out, around people, and talk some things through.” says Marnie as she fiddles with her hair and looks off to the side. She is usually pulling at her hair, twirling it between her fingers, or twisting it up as if piling it into a bun. However, she almost always ends up with it looking just as it did before she started messing with it. “I don’t know, I’m just feeling blue and need to vent I suppose. Would you like to go to dinner? I’ll treat?”
“Actually, Lyla will be dining with me tonight,” states a voice in the dark. Marnie overreacts as she usually does and turns around as if she has been frightened half to death. Her arms go up in front of her for protection. She stands there, motionless without saying a word. Footsteps draw closer and closer until Crispin appears in the light looking very businesslike and extremely handsome in a tailor-made expensive suit and tie.
“Oh, my,” says Marnie in a breathy tone. “My, my,” she says as she turns back to look at Lyla giving her the eye as if Crispin is the only man she’s ever seen before. Immediately brightening her attitude Marnie stretches out her hand and heads in Crispin’s direction. She meets him halfway down the steps practically blocking his path to the porch. “And who might you be?” asks Marnie with a devious grin.
“Marnie, this is Crispin Duff, Crispin meet Marnie Jones,” and the two shake hands. “Oh I’m a hugger,” says Marnie as she reaches out and pulls Crispin into a bear hug. “Welcome to our humble town,” she states as she holds on to him then very slowly releases Crispin from her clutches. He remains very calm and professional. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Marnie.” he says. In her squealing tone Marnie says, “Ooh, I just love your accent! Scottish?”
“Irish, and thank you, I was born with it.” replies Crispin nonchalantly. Marnie throws her head back laughing in a ridiculously dramatic way as if this was the funniest thing she’s ever heard in her entire life. Anyone can see that her actions are very deliberate and over done. Crispin glances up the steps at Lyla, raises his eyebrows as if asking her for help, and says, “Shall we go Lyla?”
“Don’t be Penny, be anybody but Penny.” murmurs Lyla to herself as she steps to the door and turns the knob. As she’s pulling the door open she is also looking down and tucking loose strands of hair behind her ear. She swings the door open wide and standing there with a bouquet of fresh white lilies is Crispin Duff. He is wearing an expensive black suit with a crisp white dress shirt and a dark tie. His shoes are very shiny and clean and the scent of the lilies is breathtaking.
“Oh, Mr. Duff, I wasn’t expecting you.” states Lyla as she takes a small step back from the shock of it being him and not Penny. With broad shoulders and a warm smile, he is far better looking in person than his internet picture even displayed. She feels flush as embarrassment sets in. Here is her new employer, a very handsome and wealthy world traveler that seems to think she is the perfect person to trust with his web design and she is a total mess. Her hair is pulled back in a floppy ponytail, she’s in a ragged sweatshirt with no structure at all to the choice of color for her sloppy attire and she hasn’t a single bit of makeup on. Come to think of it, now she doesn’t remember if she even brushed her teeth yet this morning!
“By the look of shock on your face, I can tell.” states Crispin with a wide smile as he motions for her to take the flowers. She reaches out and as they make the exchange, his fingers brush against hers slightly. He leans in close to her as if trying to conceal what he is about to say, “It’s Crispin, remember?” Now that he has reminded her not to be so formal, he leans back and smiles at her again. His green eyes are absolutely beautiful and she finds it hard not to stare at them.
“Yes, I’m sorry Crispin,” says Lyla as she nervously smiles and looks at the flowers in her hand. She breathes in their fresh sweet scent “Oh they smell wonderful. Thank you so much for the lovely flowers, please come in.” She motions for him to enter the house. As he walks past her she fiddles with her hair tucking the loose strands away behind her ears as best she can hoping he doesn’t catch her. Oh how she wishes she had fixed herself up a bit this morning. Lyla quietly closes the front door and turns toward Crispin who is looking up at the staircase and still has his back to her. Quivering slightly, she says “You’ll have to excuse me, I wasn’t expecting company today and have been buried in my work, and…”
Crispin cuts her short by saying, “You have a lovely home, Lyla,” his voice is very soothing and calm. “And don’t worry; one of the perks of working from you abode is that you can be comfortable and successful without all the fuss.” He turns to face her and continues with “It’s quite refreshing to see someone glowing in their own natural beauty.”
The warm sun from the day begins to settle low on the horizon as the trickling of the ponds waterfall creates a soothing inviting sound. Smokey is sitting just inside the window watching for birds and squirrels as she keeps an eye on the yard like a queen would oversee her kingdom. Her grey hair blends in with the window screen and the darkness of the room behind her. The only obvious things that stand out are her yellow eyes and they are fixed on something at the back of the yard.
“It’s so relaxing here, with you.” says Lyla as she leans back in her chair stretching her arms high above her head. She slowly brings her arms down resting them in her lap as she and Marcus continue to talk about how things haven’t changed much in town or with the individuals that dwell there. Several minutes pass and after more moments of laughter that cool and low humidity feeling of evening begins to roll in. It’s time for Marcus to go home and as he stands up he offers to help clear the table. Before he can lift a finger, Lyla quickly tosses everything into the bag the sandwiches came in.
“I’ve got this,” Lyla sets the bag on the floor near her feet. “You go ahead and start for home, it’s getting late.” Says Lyla as she stays seated in her chair. Marcus kisses her on the top of her head and he walks through the backyard and out through the garden gate closing it tightly behind him.
Lyla grabs the bag of trash and blows out the candle that is sitting at the center of the table. She turns to go inside when something catches her eye. Was it movement or a flash of light? She’s not sure what it is that made her look but there is a very dark figure, a perfect silhouette of a man, standing in the opposite corner of the yard near the privacy fence.
“Oh, it’s so nice that you’ve come back!” says Penny as she smothers Lyla with a hug. Penny has on a sizeable silky pink shirt with large blossoms printed on it. It’s slightly oriental with a touch of Hawaiian flair. “We have got to plan a party!” says Penny as she starts jumping up and down like a little kid. Her dry, wild colored and layered hair bounces around her face like brittle stringy feathers.
Penny has this weird way of wiggling her tongue back and forth across her bottom lip in a snake like manner. Not only is this tick unattractive but when she gets overly excited she starts wringing her hands around each other along with slithering her tongue back and forth. It’s quite annoying to watch and she is now doing both at a rather fast pace.
“I know the best caterer in town.” says Penny as she points to herself. “Let me plan it, please?” squeals Penny as if this is all she has to do. She is clicking her fingernails to together as she holds her hands out in front of her. “You know I make the best desserts, even though I don’t eat sugar, everyone knows my desserts are the best!” Penny talks as if she eats healthier than the average person, but about every person in town has watched her devour large meals along with rich desserts. Thus her claims have been proven to be false as does the scale at the doctor’s office. It’s pretty clear that Penny didn’t get her five foot four inch frame to 260 pounds by skipping dessert.
When dealing with Marnie, you should never expect to tell your own story or give an opinion. She may asks questions and seem to be interested, but the look in her eye is a sure sign she is not listening. She interjects with something that usually has nothing to do with the current topic and in her mind her tale is far more interesting that than anything you could fathom. The conversation may start with you but will always end up focusing on her and it’s best to just stop talking. Marnie bends her neck to try and see the top of the curved staircase.
“You hiding someone up there?” she says with a wide grin as if implying Lyla has a man hidden in an upstairs bedroom. “Not quite, Marnie.” says Lyla, trying to be nice but also stand her ground to protect her own privacy. “I haven’t been able to get all the rooms put together yet and would rather not have you up there until it’s complete. Surly you can understand that.” Lyla grabs Marnie’s arm and directs her to the living room.
“I find it amazing you have all this furniture. Didn’t I hear somewhere that it came with the house?” questions Marnie. Lyla nods yes. “That is absolutely amazing!” says Marnie as she starts to wander off again to a different room. “Why do you think they left everything here? Oh, do you suppose it’s tainted in some way and they didn’t want to take a chance of moving the bad vibes with them?”
Lyla tips her head slightly and leans in closer to the computer screen. She is quite taken in by the photo of Crispin Duff even though it is a bit shaded and dark making it difficult to see him perfectly. He appears to be close to her age, mid thirties to lower forties with very short almost shaved hair. His face is strong in structure with a firm jaw line sporting a five o’clock shadow for a defined beard. She can’t help but be drawn in by his striking green eyes. They are roundish in shape, nothing interesting about that, but of a color she has never seen before. It’s like a person with piercing blue eyes but his are multi shades of green maybe even yellow. As Lyla tries to zoom in Smokey leaps onto her lap causing her to jump and this breaks her focus and concentration. Smokey begins to purr.
“Hey there pretty girl, take a look at this handsome guy. He looks like he might have all the answers, hum?” says Lyla as she turns Smokey so she is facing the screen. Immediately Smokey begins to wiggle around trying to get off Lyla’s lap. She then growls loudly, hisses and scratches Lyla’s leg as she jumps to the floor and scurry’s off in the direction of the foyer.
“Ouch Smokey! What’s your problem?” says Lyla as she jumps up to chase after the stout cat who is quickly heading up the stairs to the second floor. It’s amazing how fast those short fat little legs can carry such a stout body. Smokey disappears from sight as she runs down the second floor hall. Stopping a forth of the way up the staircase Lyla looks up and says “Okay, you win! I’ll never force you to review my work again!”
Another reason for Lyla to move back to her home town was because of her favorite people. She is thrilled to now be able to hook up with her friends face to face, most of all Marcus Olwen. It sure beats chatting on the phone, texting quick notes, or video chatting on the computer through the evening.
Marcus and Lyla have gotten along well from the first moment they met as young children and they have been best friends ever since. They would spend their summers riding bikes along back roads and dipping their feet in the cool waters of every brook they passed. As they grew older they supported each other through school and work and broken relationships. Lyla is intrigued by his art history and restoration work but her favorite pieces are the ones he creates. It’s as if a part of him stays with each painting or sculpture and his compassion for art freely flows out of each piece. Lyla finds his enthusiasm for the world contagious; to him it’s one big work in progress.
Marcus is very much the good looking boy next door. He has a kind heart and a very quick wit. His sandy brown hair is slightly curly and he doesn’t fuss over it as he styles it by running his hands through it roughly several times a day causing it to lie haphazardly in all directions. This technique wouldn’t work for everyone, but it very much matches to Marcus’ laidback style. He is supposed to drop by sometime today, said he has a piece of art to display in Lyla’s new home. Who could turn that down?