34 • The Room
“I don’t think that’s quite it yet, ” Cameron said, shaking her head.
“Okay. Fourteen years, two months, three weeks and five days since I’ve been free from Barbara.”
“Nope.” Cameron smiled and touched Will’s arm. “Try again.”
He pulled away almost imperceptibly. “Fourteen years, two months, three weeks and five days since I left. Happy?”
“Getting closer. It’ll do for now.” She ran a hand through her bangs. “We were on our way to the roof, remember?”
“We were.” He motioned toward his room. “After you, Milady.”
Cameron stepped inside the darkened room, Will just behind her. She felt along the wall inside. “Where’s the switch?”
“Oh, yeah. Got it right here.” Will flipped on the light and moved quickly to place himself between Cameron and the rest of the room. “You know how Pearl’s house is really magnificent, right?”
“Of course. It’s beautiful, and full of treasures at every turn.” Cameron leaned to see around Will.
“Well this room is sort of the exception. Don’t hold it against her.” He stepped to the side and let Cameron in. She stood under the bare light bulb and turned around slowly, taking in the painted woodwork and peeling wallpaper.
“What in the world?” she said, still staring.
“I know. When I first moved in she didn’t want me to stay. And she wanted me to feel like she was doing me a huge favor finding a space for me. Saw herself like the innkeeper in Bethlehem, you know? So she gave me the worst room hoping I’d move along quickly. This was the one room in the house nobody ever got around to refinishing.”
“Does she still want you to go?”
“Oh, no. Hell no. She needs me here, though she’d never tell you that. Now she just doesn’t want me to think I’m anything too special so she never had me move to one of the finished rooms. Either that or she’s just long forgotten it. And I’d never embarrass her by saying anything.”
“She’d never know if you used another room, Will.”
“Oh, I know. And I should show you the others. The master bedroom has an antique four-poster bed and a fireplace with a fabulous granite mantle. But the truth is I really like my little bad boy room. I’m at home here.”
“And you have a window to the roof.” Cameron walked to the window.
“I do, yes. Out of bed and through the window in a snap.”
“Really nice view of my house, ” she said and turned back to Will.
“I don’t look, you know.”
“What?” Cameron crossed her arms.
“I don’t look. I don’t watch you, even though I could. Being seen when a guy can’t see who is doing the seeing is upsetting. So when you come outside, I look away.”
“Isn’t that your job? To watch people?”
“Oh, no. I couldn’t, ” Will said. “Almost got fired from my first job for it. I hire other guys if I need surveillance done. And I try not to need it.”
“I see.” Cameron ran a hand along the top of Will’s television, mounted on the wall facing his small bed. “So my guys got you your cable alright?”
“I think so. Haven’t had a chance to try it out.”
“Well, I don’t usually do home visits to check on my staff, but maybe we should check it out since I’m here.” Cameron moved the bunched up quilt and sat down on the end of Will’s bed and crossed her legs. “Where’s the remote?”
Will felt warm. He rushed to the bookcase and rustled through the box left by the cable installer. He turned around in a circle and ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t see it. Maybe they accidentally took it with them.”
“I’m sure not, ” Cameron chuckled. “But look. My technicians offer top notch service. They even lose the remote for you, to give you the full man-gets-cable experience.”
“We don’t need to test it. I’m sure it’s all good. Come on, maybe I should finish showing you around.”
“Showing me around?” Cameron leaned back on her hands and tossed her head. Her soft curls fell around her shoulders and Will thought of all kinds of cliché things he might be able to say about them but his dry mouth prevented him from making a fool of himself with any of them. “Will, it’s a room. What more is there to see?”
“Well, umm. It’s a very interesting room, actually.” He felt perspiration beading on his neck and he rolled his shoulders. “Look up here, for instance.” He pointed at the ceiling. “You don’t see exposed plaster and lathe just anywhere these days. It’s a very authentic grunge look that not everyone has in their bedroom.”
Cameron looked up and laughed. “Okay, now I think I have had the whole tour.”
“Nope, not yet.” Will bent down in front of his bookcase. “See, these are books. I keep them here. Sometimes I read them.” His breathing quickened. He tried not to look at Cameron sitting contentedly on his bed.
“You have books. This is good.”
“Uh, what else?” Will asked himself quietly as he got to his feet. “Oh, look.” He walked back toward the doorway. “Here’s something you should see.” He waved a hand through the open space. “No door. Nope, none, nada. So anyone can come in at any time. Imagine that. Any old time they want.”
“Yes, imagine all the scores of people wandering around on Pearl’s nearly-empty second floor that might stumble in at any time of day or night.”
Will took a deep breath, and then another. “Listen, I’m a terrible host. I’m not used to having people here. Can I get you something? Water? A beer? Bourbon?”
“I wouldn’t mind a glass of wine, now that you mention it.” Cameron stood and Will breathed a small sigh of relief, then realized he did not have wine.
“I, uh, I don’t have any wine. I’m really sorry.”
“That’s fine. A glass of water would be fine.” Cameron walked to the other side of the room. “What’s this door go to?”
“The room has two closets. That one connects to the master bedroom. This room was actually the dressing room back in the day. Now Pearl just keeps stuff in that closet, tablecloths and such.” Will thought a moment. “Hey, you know what? Pearl likes a nice Pinot at night sometimes. I’ll bet I could sneak you a glass from downstairs.”
“Oh, gosh. Don’t break into Pearl’s. Water is really fine. Or tea if you have it.”
“No, I think I could really use a beer and I don’t know how I feel about drinking while you sip water. I’ll just be a minute. Maybe you’ll figure out where your guys stashed my remote while I’m gone.”
Will hurried out of his room, through the kitchenette and tiptoed down the servant’s staircase to Pearl’s kitchen. He turned the knob without a sound and pushed the door open. It creaked and he held it still, listening for Pearl to stir. He pushed it open the rest of the way and crept down the last two steps.
“Good evening, Mr. Phillips.”
“God! Pearl!” Will shouted and then clapped his hand over his own mouth, missing the last step and stumbling into the kitchen. He caught his balance holding the doorknob. “What in the hell—”
“Language, Mr. Phillips. It might be the middle of the night but we can still use our manners.” Pearl was standing in her housecoat with her back to the sink, some sort of puffy sleeping cap on her head.
He gathered himself and stood straight, if not a bit winded. “What are you doing here at this time of night?”
“This is my kitchen, Mr. Phillips. I can come here anytime I like. The better question has to do with you and my kitchen and the middle of the night.”
“But I thought you’d be sleeping.”
“I thought I would be too. And I was, until all that racket upstairs. Are you having some sort of dance party?”
“Racket? We were as quiet as mice.”
“We? So it is a party. And you didn’t invite me.” Pearl raised a tall clear glass to her lips and took a sip of water to hide a smirk.
“Well, I didn’t mean we so much as I. I was as quiet as a mouse.”
“Then maybe the other mouse up there needs to learn some tricks from you if you’re going to sneak around together in a creaky old house.” Pearl set the glass on the counter. “At least tell me it’s worth me being awake and you didn’t drag one of your bar buddies home for a game of billiards on my table.”
“Not a bar buddy, Pearl.” Will wiped a hand across his face.
“Then who? Some floozy you picked up?”
“No! Pearl, stop, ” Will said. He felt his cheeks flush. “If you must know—and I know, you must—Cameron is upstairs.”
Pearl clapped her hands together and smiled. “Cameron? She’s upstairs? You got a second shot with her after that fiasco you made of our dinner?”
“Yes. And I’m trying not to screw it up. She’d like a glass of wine and I don’t stock it.”
Pearl cocked her head. “You want a girlfriend and you don’t have any wine?”
“Who said I wanted a girlfriend?”
“You brought a girl home to your room, of all places. Only a girlfriend would put up with that. A hookup would be gone as soon as she saw your unmade bed. Tell me you at least hung up your towel today.”
“Hookup? Pearl, where do you learn these words?”
“I know my way around. The towel, Mr. Phillips?”
“My towel was hung up. I hang it up every morning, just like you asked.”
“But you don’t keep wine for your new girlfriend.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend. Or wine. But if you could give me one, I might be able to manage the other.”
Pearl leaned against the counter and took another drink of water.
“Come on, Pearl. If Mrs. Wilcox came over from next door to borrow an egg or cup of sugar, you wouldn’t interrogate her about whether she was making a pie for old Mr. Waldner. So maybe you could let me borrow a little Pinot Grigio? And a glass?”
“You don’t have a wine glass, either? Oh, Mr. Phillips. How could I not know by now how much work there is still to do with you?”
Will walked into Pearl’s pantry looking for the wine bottles. “Well, we’ll never get it all done tonight. Maybe you could tell me where to look so the woman waiting in my room doesn’t give up and go home?”
“She won’t go home, Mr. Phillips. I’m quite certain of that. She’ll want the Pinot Grigio chilled. Take the bottle from the fridge.”
Will opened the refrigerator and leaned down to peer into the bottom shelf. “If you have that glass, I’ll just pour her some.”
Pearl reached into the oak cupboard above the sink and lifted out two stemmed wine glasses. “Take the whole bottle. And two glasses. You’ll drink wine with her tonight, not that pale ale you’re always drinking that smells like deer piss.”
“Don’t want to hear it. There’s too much at stake.” She pushed the glasses into Will’s free hand and opened a drawer. “You’ll need one of these, I imagine.”
Pearl held up a corkscrew and Will shrugged. “Here.” She slipped it into his shirt pocket and patted him on the chest. She turned Will around by the shoulders and gave him a little push toward the stairway door.
“Thank you, Pearl, ” Will said. “I owe you for this.”
“Yes, I imagine you do. Now let’s get going.”
Will started up the stairs and looked back as Pearl closed the door behind him.
“You’re a lucky man, Will Phillips, ” she whispered. “A very lucky man.”
(to be continued)