Nicolette put her small bag in the back seat next to Stephan’s slightly larger duffle bag and hopped in the passenger seat of the little fuel efficient Volts wagon Beetle. It was a blessing to have a vehicle, even though gas cost an arm and a leg. And even though the bright orange colour of the little beetle, which had given it its name Orange Crush, made for less than inconspicuous travel. Stephan would be here in a minute, after he had finished locking up the shop.
Sure enough, he appeared a few minutes later, a small satchel over his back to add to his duffle bag.
“Have you been to the Burbs many times before?” she asked him, once he was seated beside her.
“Mmm, on a number of occasions.”
“I think I’ve been twice before. Once when I was really young—a’fore mum died. Don’t remember much of that. I think we were visiting some distant relatives, or something. Just remember a lot of wide smiling faces, and one old man who was dying, I think. He looked almost dead anyways. The second time… well, I don’t like to think about that time, and you already know about it. It wasn’t very long anyways. Prolly doesn’t count.” She fell silent and stared out the window as the dull grey buildings slid by.
“But you’ve been before?” she asked after a few minutes, realizing that she hadn’t given him a chance to expand on his reply.
“The suburbs. Yes. It’s been some time though.”
“That’s not an answer,” she prodded.
He shook his head, “You’re nosey.”
“You’re cagy and never tell me anything!”
“You know what you need to know,” he remained calm in the face of her accusing retort.
“Which is about, let see, nothing, about you, apparently.”
“Look, Nicolette, it’s not that I like keeping secrets from you. There are just things in my past that are private, and that don’t need to be brought up. Please try to understand. I know you’ve told me a lot about yourself, but I’m sure there are some things you’ve kept back too.”
“If you need to know something, I’ll tell you. Alright?”
They didn’t talk much for the rest of the trip—Nicolette settled into an un-talkative mood and Stefan rarely instigated conversation. The drive took about an hour and twenty minutes. Even though the streets were, as usual, nearly empty, Stefan was a cautious driver and slowed at all the intersections. Otherwise, the trip would have been much shorter. The directions Jeffrey had given them were clear and they arrived without any problem. Jeffrey’s red car was in the driveway of the huge red brick house that awaited them on a stately cul-de-sac called Rosewood Court. A little light shone out from each of the windows that were nestled under sharp, but elegant peeks. It was a strange way to waste electricity, Nicolette thought. Those little lights wouldn’t do much to light the inside of the rooms and there was no point in lighting the outside.
“Whew,” Nicolette said under her breath, “look at the size of it!” She paused her ogling to grab her bag out of the back seat, only to take it up again once she had climbed out and was walking toward the front door with Stefan. She noticed a small, curl-framed face peeking out of one of the windows, which disappeared when she opened her car door.
Stefan was looking for the doorbell when the door swung open and a sweet-faced, delicate little blond girl in a dark green dress and pink fuzzy slippers stood in the entrance. She held a little furry while poodle in her arms that was shaking and wining with excitement.
“Hi.” A wide smile accompanied her words.
Nicolette suddenly felt a little awkward. She was not used to being around children, especially not happy carefree ones like this girl seemed to be. She was happy to be able to sort of hide herself behind Stephan’s comfortingly large and powerful frame.
Jeffrey appeared a moment later behind the little girl. “Mr. St. Juste,” he said, pronouncing Stephan’s name in the proper way so that it slurred together, sounding like sain-jujst, “please come in. This is my littlest sister, Jenny." He placed one of his hand lightly on the little girl’s shoulder.
They stepped into the warm house, and Nicolette closed the door behind them, shutting out the cold air of pre-dusk in winter.
Jenny set the dog down and it immediately frisked about, putting its tiny little paws first on Stefan’s leg, than Nicolette’s. Nicolette grinned and bent down to pet the dog before it dashed off again to run a circle around Jenny.
“Her name is Marshmallow,” Jenny supplied, seeing that Nicolette liked the dog.
“Jenny, this is Mr. St. Juste and his assistant…” Jeffrey looked at Nicolette questioningly.
“They are going to be staying with us for a—.”
“Are you real detectives?” Jenny interrupted, her blue eyes wide beneath her blond curls.
“Yes, yes we are,” Stephan replied with a slow smile.
“Jenny, will you take their coats from them and show them to their rooms? I believe you two are just in time for dinner. Business can wait till afterwards.”
Jenny held out her hands and Stephan took of his large black corduroy jacket, which she put away in a little closet in the wall. Nicolette didn’t want to give the girl her jacket, and put her hands in her pocket, hoping nobody would notice. But Jenny looked at her expectantly, then, when no jacket was forthcoming, said,
“You won’t be needing that inside. Besides, if you get chilly, you can borrow a sweater from me or Janet.”
Everyone was looking at her, so she quickly unzipped her coat and handed it to the girl. “I’ll be fine,” she muttered, trying not to think about how red her face was turning.
Jenny was about to lead them up a flight of wide teal-carpeted stairs when Janet arrived, smelling of fresh bread, and they were introduced to her. She was a slender young woman with quick dark eyes and looked a lot like her brother, with her straight dark hair and plentiful eyelashes. She was very welcoming and soft-spoken.
Jenny then led Stefan and Nicolette up the stairs and directed Stefan into a large room with a big double bed that had a gold tone sign on the door which read Guest Room.
They left Stefan to put down his things and Nicolette followed Jenny up another, smaller flight of stairs to a little gabled room. “This is really the best room in the house,” she said. “I once begged for it to be mine, but Janet wouldn’t allow it. I don’t know why.”
The room was very cute and cozy with it’s slanted ceiling. She put her bag down on the bright quilt on the bed and followed Jenny back down the stairs.