"Mr. FitzGerald," she stammered. "This is the worst property I've ever shown! I know it's not my business to interfere, but...." She hesitated, before frantically flipping through her notes as though she'd lost something important among the ocean of paper.
"The boiler is rusted beyond saving, all of the pipes need replacing, there's dry rot in all the bedrooms and the kitchen, and - Mr. Fitzgerald, the subsidence!" She shook her head incredulously as she listed off the faults, her expression a mixture between disbelief and desperation.
Alan held up a hand for her to be silent. She looked at him with wild eyes now. Like a child about to be scolded by a parent. She suddenly seemed to realise how close she had scurried towards him; she backed up uneasily, clearing her throat and patting the neat bump of auburn hair at the back of her head.
"I hired you to inspect the place, not to give me advice," Alan murmured, instantly scolding himself for having been so harsh. After all, he hadn't found himself complaining too much about her being so close to him.... He stuck his cigarette back in his mouth and tried to calm his pounding heart. Only an hour ago, he'd never laid eyes on the woman, or the House from Hell before, and yet he could already envision the beautiful, intellectually gifted children he would have with her, and raise in the rooms of this written-off building.
He reckoned he'd be better keeping these thoughts to himself, as Miss Mercedes Elliott's clipboard looked like it could do some damage to a man's face should she will it to do so.
"I'm sorry," she spoke genuinely. "I just fail to see what you want this place for."
"Fix it," Alan replied simply, tilting his head so as to avoid casting his smoky breath on her delicate features. "I have the money to do it, and God knows I have the time too. Plenty of both."
She was still throwing skeptical glances about the hollow kitchen. Yet something in her manner - maybe the way she was now clutching her board subconsciously to her chest - seemed to suggest she would argue no further.
"Well, that's great," she asserted finally, meeting his eye. "I'll call the owners tonight for a quote, and I'll be in touch in a couple of days."
"When you do...." Ah, crap. Alan nervously rubbed at the back of his neck, where a small stream of sweat seemed to break out instantaneously. The hair of the neckline was shaggy and damp. Damn, he needed a haircut.
Miss Elliott was on her way to the door. Clack, clack, clack.
"Yeah?" she asked easily, fishing the over-sized old-fashioned key from the pocket of her blazer.
Alan waited and watched the golden afternoon sun hit her face; her eyes squinted in the sudden light, as she stepped onto the porch.
"When you hear back from the owners, maybe you'd like to get a drink, and discuss things then?" There. He'd done it. God, his chest felt tight.
The ancient door clicked as she pulled it shut. She turned her head and Alan saw a grimace there - a grimace he had not been wanting to see.
"I'm engaged. Sorry."
Alan swallowed as she drove the key into the door. Of course she was. His eyes even fell upon a sparkling white diamond on her left hand as she tucked the key away again. His idiocy almost made his insides crumble. How had he not picked up on that earlier?
"Oh. God. Sorry." That was all he could muster.
"It's fine." She smiled. She smiled at him for the first time. All of that nervous tension diminished by the glorious rays of gold. "I do have another question I would like to ask you, if you don't mind?"
"Course I don't, ask away!"Alan blurted all too eagerly. Oh well. As far as humiliation went, he was in for a penny, so why not be in for a pound?
"If money's not an issue.... Why buy this place? You'd get a much nicer property in a much more convenient location, if you keep looking. Somewhere closer to the town centre, better school districts, if you're planning on settling down here."
Alan was deeply fascinated by her curiosity. That. That was what he needed in his life. He needed to ask more questions. He decided he'd start by answering this one.
"I recently came into some money," he started. "Quite a bit. And.... well, I've been sitting on my arse for too long. Reckoned I'd better get up, make a difference somewhere. Do something productive. So maybe I can inject some life into this place, give it a second chance, y'know?" He tongued his cheek, eyeing her for a reaction.
She smirked at his corniness, assumedly. But Alan had the feeling he'd impressed her. Something in his explanation had tickled her fancy. "That's a very romantic notion. A bit idealistic, considering the market, if you're planning on selling."
Alan winked. "I can be pretty persistent."
She rolled her eyes playfully. "I will be in touch, Mr. Fitzgerald. About the house." She met his eye stonily on the emphasised topic, before lightening her expression and strolling away towards her silver Citroen.
For some reason, as he walked to his own car, Alan wasn't fully convinced he wouldn't end up raising a family with Miss Mercedes Elliott.