When Charlie and Wayne began making their way toward the owners, the older couple closed the distance.
"Hi." Said the old man, extending his hand. "Nice to meet you. My name is Karl. This is Grace." He said, swaying one hand in the direction of his wife.
Wayne smiled and accepted the handshake. "I'm Wayne." He said. He was taken aback by the man's firm grip and coarse hand.
"Hi, I'm..." There was a moment of hesitation in her voice. "I'm Charlie." She finally said, a slight blush in her cheeks. She wasn't accustomed to revealing her true name.
"Oh that's interesting! I bet there's a good story behind your name." Grace said.
There was a brief awkward silence. "In any case." Grace continued.
Karl interjected. "Thank you so much for coming. We haven't had many visitors lately."
Karl had a Germanic facial structure and looked to be in his late sixties, but was in great shape so far as Wayne could tell. He had a slight accent, but Wayne couldn‘t quite pin it down.
Grace on the other hand, was of the oriental persuasion and had a noticeable accent. "Please, come in." She said, waving the couple toward the large wooden doors. "Welcome to Booth House Manor."
Wayne and Charlie followed them into the house; a veritable castle from their perspective.
"This is an amazing house." Wayne said as he walked in to the foyer. His eyes wandered up the walls and to the ceiling while he gawked at the intricate boiseries.
"We were pretty lucky." Karl said, pulling Grace close to him with one arm. "Weren't we? We almost lost the house to the government a few times." He looked down at her and she rested her head against his chest.
"Quite lucky." She replied, before breaking the short embrace. "Don't worry about your shoes."
Charlie too, was in awe. "It must have a lot of history."
Karl nodded. "It does. It was built near the end of the eighteenth century by a wealthy English colonist who became a lumber baron in the valley. The family that owned it before mine had a request that we not change anything. We kept that promise as best we could."
"I think your family did a great job at honoring that request Karl. Nothing's really changed, other than the cedar room." Grace said. "Speaking of which, I suppose we could get to the reason you're both here. We wouldn't want to keep you."
"Oh no, we have time. Don't feel rushed." Wayne said.
"Unless you have any prior engagements." Charlie added.
Karl laughed. "No, our schedule is quite free."
"That's good to hear. I am already getting lost in the beauty of this place." Wayne said.
"Come on, let's show you the rest of the house."
The couple brought Wayne and Charlie from the foyer through a mezzanine that boasted a wrapped staircase. A set of intricately ornate double doors sat across the open space and immediately peaked Wayne's curiosity as to what lay behind them. They were not to discover that right away however, as they firstly made their way left of the foyer and into a large sitting room. Comfortable looking couches furnished the room, their embroidered upholstery stacked high with pillows.
Afterward they went back across the mezzanine to the right side of the foyer, where they were led into a large formal dining room. There was a double hinged door at the back of the dining hall which they used to reach a far more modest informal dining room and kitchen. It was obvious that this was were the couple spent most of their time. There were books strewn across the table and a small but adequate flat screen television mounted on the far wall. A set of windows let in just the right amount of sunlight as the red sky painted the room a soft orange hue.
Grace showed Charlie the kitchen and a large cooks pantry that was only partially used nowadays. Next to the pantry was a narrow doorway that led up a claustrophobic staircase. Grace explained that this was once used by the servants to reach their living quarters on the second floor.
Meanwhile Karl and Wayne engaged in small talk. The first item was meant to acquaint them with each others sports interests; ironically neither of them had very much interest in sports.
When Grace was satisfied with what she had shown Charlie of the kitchen, they moved to a study that revealed what Wayne's curiosity had been craving for. A large personal library and dark leather seats surrounded a fine mahogany desk. This is what lay behind the double doors beneath the wrapped staircase in the mezzanine.
There was a large door at the back of the study that Wayne was sure led to an outside courtyard. However, when Karl turned the aged steel knob and the door creaked open, there was no glare from the setting sun or brisk dusk breeze floating in from a well kept yard. Instead, the couple brought Wayne and Charlie into a room that seemed far different from the rest of the house.
"And this." Grace said, walking past her husband at the door. "Is the cedar room."
Karl waved in the two of them and they entered.
The smell of the wood hit them immediately. It was a welcoming and powerful scent. Cedar wainscot panelling dominated the room from floor to ceiling. There was a loft spanning half the room that could be reached from a wooden staircase on the left hand side. Just behind the stairs was an open door leading into a decent sized bathroom. Beneath the loft was a family room with a couch and entertainment system.
"This is what you'd be renting." Karl said. "You see, when I was a small child this was a summer kitchen on the bottom floor and a large study on the top. However, there was a fire that destroyed the majority of this section of the house. When my father rebuilt it, cedar was the cheapest and most efficient material to use. It‘s a sturdy wood and naturally repels insects. He kept as much of the original structure as possible. There's actually a doorway just above us where the second floor once met the now missing part of the room."
"So the floor of the loft once spanned the whole room and this was not an open concept?" Charlie asked, somewhat rhetorically.
Karl nodded. "Exactly. You can actually see damage from the fire on the door above. We never removed it, although it hasn't been opened in sixty years."
"Sixty years?" Wayne asked. "Not to be impolite Karl, but how old are you?"
"I'm eighty one in a little over a month." He replied.
Charlie‘s eyes widened. "Wow. You look far younger."
Wayne was dumbfound. "I would have given you sixty eight."
"That's actually my age." Grace said, smiling."
Karl patted Wayne on the shoulder. "I'm flattered. I've been lucky with my health for the most part."
"I can tell." Wayne said.
"So what do you think?" Grace asked.
Wayne looked around the room with an ache in his heart. "It's beautiful. It's close to work. It's an amazing opportunity, but unfortunately... " Wayne hung his head. "There's no way I can afford this."
"Well, you didn't even ask us how much we want for it yet." Grace said.
Wayne laughed. "That's because I'm terrified to know."
Karl started. "We're only looking for sixteen hundred dollars a month, all included. We consider our deal a form of room and board since you're welcome to use our kitchen and any food in the fridge."
Wayne winced. "I wish I could-"
Charlie interrupted him. "We can afford that." She said smugly.
"What?" Wayne blurted with unrestricted shock in his voice. He cleared his throat as his face went pale. "Um. Karl, Grace, could you excuse us for a minute?"
"Sure, we'll leave you two here to talk about it." Said Karl as he took Grace by the hand and walked out of the room; closing the door behind them.
"Charlie!" Wayne started. "What do you mean ‘we' can afford it?"
"Calm down Wayne, you're overreacting."
"Well, I'm just a little bit confused."
"Look, consider this a business opportunity Wayne. I need a place to stay. I don't want to work with my dad anymore. I've got money saved up that can hold me through until I find a job, and you've got your job. Together we can afford this place."
Wayne stood there, still in shock. His eyes were glazed over.
"Yeah, sorry." He shook his head.
"Look, if you don't want to-"
"No, Charlie, please don't get me wrong. I..." He passed a hand through his hair nervously. "I just didn't expect you to want to live with me. This is huge news, it's..." He smiled. "I'm ecstatic!"
Charlie smiled too. "Good." She kissed him on the cheek before walking over to the door and opening it.
Karl and Grace were waiting patiently on the other side. "Have you made a decision?" Karl asked.
"Yeah." Wayne said, with unexpected confidence. "We'll take it."
"Great." Karl smiled extending his hand.
Wayne shook it firmly.
Grace was clapping with joy and brought her hands up to her mouth. "Oh, I'm excited for the both of you. Hey would you like to stay for supper? There's plenty to go around."
"That's a great idea." Karl seconded. "I can introduce you to my cinnamon ale." He said, slapping Wayne on the back.
Wayne smiled and looked over to Charlie.
"I'd love to stay for dinner." She said to him.
"Well that's that."
"Wonderful!" Karl exclaimed. "Follow me."
They made their way back through the rich study and into the kitchen. Karl had them sit at the table as he fetched his home made ale from the cellar. Meanwhile Grace prepared the meal and happily accepted Charlie's help when she offered it.
Time seemed to evaporate as the evening aged on with the perfect meld of good drink, fine food and engaging conversation. Wayne and Karl got to know each other rather well while Grace and Charlie prepared the meal. They were the perfect gentlemen when they cleared the table afterward and cleaned the dishes, giving Grace and Charlie their turn to chat. After dinner all four enjoyed a few card games and several more drinks before Wayne realized what time it was.
"My god." He said, staring at his watch with incredulity. "Is it really that late?" He asked.
Karl looked at his as well. "It would seem so."
"I have work tomorrow, I've got to get-"
Grace shook her head, a playful smile on her lips. "Young man, you're not going anywhere. I may not be big on beer and malt liquor, but I know my husband makes good mash and you're nowhere near fit for driving. Tonight you can stay here, in the cedar room." She said, with the firm intent of a mothers protective instincts.
Charlie smiled. "Thank you so much Grace, your offer is wonderful, but I haven't-"
"You heard the lady." Karl said, interrupting her. "Consider it your free trial."
Wayne smiled. "Thank you." He said, "Sincerely, thank you."
"Not a problem." Karl nodded to him, lifting his drink.
They both took a swig.
When the evening came to a close, Karl and Grace bid them goodnight and disappeared upstairs, leaving Wayne and Charlie in the kitchen.
"Can you believe those two?" She asked.
Wayne finished his drink. "What do you mean?"
"I'm not used to that kind of hospitality. Where I grew up, everyone's out for themselves. Even in my small troupe, there are countless thieves that would take anything given the chance. These two just left us alone in their home. We're strangers! They have no idea what kind of people we are."
"That's not true." Wayne said. "I think Karl's a good judge of character and trusts us. I mean, I haven't known you for all that long but I know you wouldn't just up and steal from someone you just met after they invited you for supper."
"You're right, I'm not like that. Still, I was raised to be suspicious of everyone."
"Hah, are you suspicious of me?"
Charlie raised an eyebrow "Sometimes."
Wayne yawned. "Ugh. I'm exhausted. I have to get up for work pretty early tomorrow."
Charlie smiled with devilish intent. "Let me tuck you in." She said, leaning over the table to kiss him sensually. "Come with me." She took his hand and they made their way out of the kitchen. They had to stop for a brief moment in the study, to admire its beauty, but soon moved on to the cedar room.
Once she had closed the door behind him, Wayne picked her up off the floor. He ignored her surprised yelp and turned around, walking up the stairs to the loft above. He moved around a chair as she kissed his neck. When he reached the bed, he set her down softly. The hand he had behind her knee slid steadily up her thigh as he leaned in to kiss her.
When it passed beneath her skirt she slapped it and pulled away from the kiss. "Where do you think you're going with that?" She asked, a teasing eyebrow raised inquisitively.
Wayne was smiling. "I don't know." He said, sarcasm dripping from his lips. His hand tried again, this time without reprimand.
Her eyes closed, her lips parted and she sighed lightly. Suddenly she sat up and wrapped her arms around Wayne. "Come here." She said, forcefully pulling him on to the bed.
"Whoa!" He uttered, awkwardly falling on top of her as he accidentally flicked the light switch, plunging the room into darkness.
Playful laughter echoed through the shadows. A band of silver moonlight marched slowly across the cedar room during the hours they did not sleep through. Needless to say, Wayne was going to be tired in the morning.