The Victorian rental suited Diana’s purpose for her three months of self-inflicted exile or punishment. She hadn’t decided which. Perhaps both. The house with faded black paint, a steep-pitched roof, peeling dull green trim, bay windows, and a large front porch sat low between two sandy hillocks above the shoreline of Potters Pond.
While they stood on the gravel driveway, realtor Cora Jacob’s words of praise about the home washed over her. “It’s quaint, has that New England charm, yet it’s wired for WiFi.” Cora faced her client, a frown on her lean, tan face. “I can show you something smaller, but you said you wanted quiet. Your nearest neighbor is Ursula Von Reiter, the artist. She’s owned the house across the pond for years. She moved to New York, but came back off and on. About five years ago, she returned to live here permanently. You’ve heard of her, I’m sure.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know of her,” Diana said.
“Perhaps only New Englanders know her work. She’s had shows all over the world. She’s in her eighties now.”
Diana studied the quiet waters of the pond and the gray Cape Cod beyond, but said nothing.
“Yes, well….” Cora turned toward the house. “You’ll love the inside.”
Diana followed Cora up the sandy path to the wood door with its etched glass window. The door creaked open, and they stepped inside the dark interior that held the pine scent of recently scrubbed wood. Cora hurried to the windows and pulled back the heavy velvet green drapes. No dust arose. Clean.
“Marlene Schukart comes in once a week to clean and sees that everything’s in working order.” Cora seemed intent to add the information as if this would be an enticement for Diana to rent. “She was Mrs. Feeney’s housekeeper for years. When Mrs. Feeney died, her nephew, Grant Cranston, became the owner and he’s kept Marlene on.” Light streamed into the room showing an eclectic style of furniture. A long couch against the bay window faced a coffee table of distressed walnut. The furniture consisted of three chairs, a Windsor, a rocker, and a mid-century yellow-upholstered wingback and a long sofa. A large roll-top desk dominated a far corner.
“I doubt I’ll need the woman’s services.”
“She’s on a salary and would take offense if she couldn’t come and check on things. Feels it’s her duty. Of course, if you want her to do something special, you’d have to pay her.”
“So, she’s a fixture.”
Cora shrugged. “You could say that. Come see the kitchen. It’s been updated and should fit your needs.” She flashed a smile, then walked through a swinging door, held it open for Diana and waved her hand at the spacious kitchen. A breakfast nook looked out over the backyard.
Diana nodded. “Quite modern for the vintage of the house. Is there a washer and dryer?”
“In there off the mudroom.” Cora motioned. “When you’re so close to the beach and the pond, the mudroom is a bonus. The water heater is tucked away behind that wall. Just in case something should go amiss. Not that it will, of course.” She pointed out the kitchen window. “The backyard has a tool shed, and you can enter the mudroom from the driveway.” She walked back to the living room. “There’s a main bedroom and bath on the first floor.”
Diana followed her guide, noting the queen-size bed and the full bath. She and Paul shared a king-size bed. Her reflection in the full length mirror, attached to the back of the bathroom door, gave her pause. Her eyes were red with fatigue, her beige pantsuit wrinkled, her shoulder-length black hair hung in limp strands about her pale face. As she left the room, she stood straighter hearing her mother’s voice in her head: stand tall, don’t slouch, what will people think, always look your best. Diana wanted to put her hands over her ears as if that might drown out the harping. To distance herself from the hold her mother had over her, she’d call her mother, Beatrice, instead of Mother.
“A second bathroom and three bedrooms are upstairs. Shall we take a look?” Cora started for the stairs.
“I doubt if I’ll use them, but I’d like to see the entire house.” Upstairs there was one small room unfurnished and two bedrooms with a Jack and Jill modern bathroom between them. Diana glanced at stairs leading upward. “Where does that go?”
“To the attic. Not much up there but a few suitcases. I’ll have them removed if it bothers you,” Cora said.
“That’s not necessary.” Diana followed Cora back to the living room and took in the desk. “I was looking for something smaller, but the price is right.” Actually, she was surprised by the low rent for such a large home. Was there something wrong with the house that she didn’t see? Finishing her latest murder mystery, her last in a series she’d contracted to write, was her excuse to get away. She could work here. Would she? “Will the owner accept a three-month rental?”
“I believe so. It was rented during the summer for a short time. Grant Cranston is overseas and won’t be back until Christmas.”
“I’ll take it until the end of November. Do you have the rental agreement with you? When I called, you told me you’d accept a check for the first month’s rent.” She pulled her wallet out of her purse. “I’d like to move in now. My luggage is in the car.”
“Oh, well, of course. There’s a cleaning deposit, too. I have the paperwork in my car.” Cora hurried out to get her briefcase.
Diana stood in the middle of the living room and gazed at the pond and the weathered Cape Cod beyond it. No other homes abutted the property on either side and this rental was the last house on a dead end road. Isolation, just as she’d wanted.
Now that she was here she wondered if she was doing the right thing, but staying in her Philadelphia home had become impossible. Her marriage was in shambles. Gossip had swirled. Paul said it didn’t matter, but it did to her. How could she face her friends? Her mother had ranted that she hadn’t raised Isabel or Jeffrey properly. Was she right? Is that why as adults her children had turned away from her? Or had Diana been at fault? Guilt rode her like a pack of wolves after their prey.
Family had been important to her. Family? No longer a family, only adults living different lives, in different states and countries. How could she have been so blind to her children’s characters? Instead of understanding them, she had tried to mold them to her preconceived ideas. In retrospect she realized she’d allowed her mother’s ideas to supersede hers. How had her life gone so wrong? Through misty eyes, she gazed at the large pond outside the living room windows.
Would three months away from Paul, away from friends, make a difference? She didn’t know. Time might heal. She wasn’t sure. She was scared, scared she’d never see her children again. Scared Paul would find someone worthier, younger. Scared everything that had gone wrong was her fault. Scared because she didn’t know how to fix the mess she’d created.